Life & Culture

How our lives were changed at Yom Tov


I met my husband at Rosh Hashanah
Laura Blaskett, Atlanta

I was only a few weeks into my new job, for youth movement Young Judea. I'd moved from London to Boston, Massachusetts, so I was a long way from home.

My friend Alisa invited me to her parents' house for Rosh Hashanah. Alisa's family always got together with a few other families for Yom Tov, and they all crowded around me because they wanted to hear my English accent. Everyone wanted to talk to me, but this one guy was quite stand-offish. I was talking to him but only getting one word answers.

Later I found out that he was called Ian Platt, and he was a student at University of Massachusetts. He actually wasn't feeling well that day, and was wondering who this stranger was.

We met again when Alisa invited us out between Yom Kippur and Succot. Alisa never even thought of setting us up, because Ian was three years younger than me. But that day we started chatting about the local sports teams. I thought he was cute. He had the most amazing smile that lit up his eyes and face.

By the end of Succot we were going out, we got engaged a year later and have been married for 25 years. We have two sons, Alex and Noah, and live in Atlanta, Georgia. I came to America for a year and I've stayed 28 so far.

Meeting over the chagim makes us feel very special and blessed. We always talk about Rosh Hashanah being our anniversary. And Alisa is very proud of having brought us together, even though it was accidental, so I'm not sure if that qualifies her for a place in heaven!

I went into labour at Yom Kippur - twice
Danielle Shoffman, Elstree

I have never been a big fan of fasting on Yom Kippur, but I had to do it for my two daughters.

My husband Marc, and my faith, were already tested even before I became pregnant after a gruelling year or so that saw me battle endometriosis, twisted tubes and ovarian cysts, followed by a round of IVF to fall pregnant with our first little miracle.

But then at week 25 I was hospitalised due to placenta praevia. Now my pregnancy was high risk and I knew there could be just minutes to get the baby out safely.

I spent six weeks stuck in the labour ward at Barnet Hospital with my family by my side in between several scares, during which I often ended up nil-by-mouth preparing for an emergency caesarean, strapped to a machine checking the baby's heartbeat and sometimes requiring blood transfusions.

Marc and I spent Rosh Hashanah 2012 in the hospital wondering what the new year would bring. We were still waiting until the night after Yom Kippur when I woke up to a pop and felt the bed wet under me.

A few hours later and nine weeks early, our blessed Isabelle was born and rushed to the brilliant neo-natal unit where we watched as she developed from premmie to podgy in three and a half weeks before we finally took her home.

Around 16 months later we decided Isabelle needed a friend, but unfortunately the week of our first IVF appointment I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. We were further saddened by the news that this meant I would not be allowed all of the IVF drugs required, meaning any attempt would most likely fail. With the odds against us, and to everyone's surprise, I fell pregnant naturally in February 2014.

Things seemed to be going smoothly until Kol Nidrei approached and I felt what turned out to be early contractions.

It felt like Groundhog Day back at Barnet having to fast as the doctors and nurses pondered whether I was in early labour and if I was going to need a C-section.

Yom Kippur passed with no food and then it was decided that the contractions weren't stopping and Amelie was coming out, seven weeks early. Once again we were back in the neo-natal unit. She came home after a week and a half.

Now two years later our family is complete. We finally understand the meaning of faith and this year hope for a more normal Yom Kippur.

I decided to become frum on Succot
Mark Garfield, Edgware

It was the first day of Succot, 1989. I was 15 and I was at school in a design and technology lesson. My family were traditional but not religious and I never missed school for Succot. But I stood there, among all the sawing and the hammering, and I thought 'I shouldn't be here. It's Yom Tov. I should be in shul.

My interest in Judaism had been growing for a while. I had attended Hebrew classes since the age of five and was now doing GCSE Biblical Hebrew at Ilford Federation Synagogue. I loved learning. But this was the turning point for me. I felt so bad that I was in school.

When I went home I told my parents that I wanted to take Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah off. I absolutely loved being in shul at Simchat Torah with all the dancing and the singing. I realised I'd done the right thing.

After that, I knew what I wanted to do. I didn't go crazy frum in five minutes flat, but built it up gradually. My head of year was a religious Christian, but he was very supportive to me. I lived in Redbridge, but this was before King Solomon School existed, so I was at a tough comprehensive. I wanted to wear a kippah at school but he said that I might get bullied, so I agreed that I'd only wear it at home or when out and about.

My parents were surprised, but supportive. The next year we had a succah in our garden and celebrated the festival together.

That moment changed my life. Afterwards it was all one way, building up to what I am today - an Orthodox Jew, working in education. I'm now assistant headteacher at Akiva School in Finchley. People say to me, how can you be Orthodox and work at a Progressive school? I love the school. It is such a warm and caring place and I get treated with a lot of respect. It's a privilege to work with children and have a positive influence on their future.

Now, I celebrate Succot with my family. Our succah is our living room, so we are really able to 'live' the festival!

My dad died at Succot
Nina Simon, Barkingside

On the first day of Succot, 2009, my dad was in his usual seat at Birmingham Progressive Synagogue when he started to feel unwell. It was just before his 80th birthday, and he and my mum were looking forward to a trip to New Zealand to see my sister. My parents were very active in the community. They lived out in Warwick and were at the centre of the Leamington Group. Dad liked to go to synagogue, and despite some health issues there was no reason to worry. It was a dreadful shock to everyone when he collapsed with a heart attack during the Succot service.

He was taken to Selly Oak hospital. My sisters and I all live in or near London, apart from the one in New Zealand, and one of them had been with me to drive my daughter back to university in Cambridge. Mum called us just after I arrived back home that evening and we rushed up to Birmingham, all the time not knowing if he was still alive.

Dad died the following day. We had to wait until Succot was over before we could call the rabbi and start making arrangements.

Losing Dad made me re examine my own life. Things were difficult with my husband. I thought about my parents and how happy their marriage had been, and how unhappy I was. My husband had been behaving strangely, and was very difficult to live with. The following spring I bought a flat and moved out. I'd been scared of being on my own and being lonely, but realised things were not going to change unless I did something.

I also booked a trip to New Zealand to see my sister, something I'd always wanted to do.

We didn't divorce, and I went on looking after my husband, making sure he had food, cleaning the flat, feeding the cat. I became his carer as he just couldn't cope on his own. In 2014 I finally persuaded him to go to the doctor and he was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which explained his difficult behaviour. He had an operation to remove it, but died soon afterwards.

My coping mechanism has been to keep myself busy. I've had to be strong for my daughters, and we are very close. I miss my dad, especially at Yom Tov. It's a sad time of year for my family.

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