Happy New Year Memories

by Edna Anzarut-Turner


During the High Holy Days a gush of nostalgia and a feeling of wistfulness and yearning engulf me. I am sure it must be the same for so many who came from a similar background and had a similar exodus experience.
I remember going to the Anzarut family synagogue in Alexandria, seeing all the family,Great Uncles and Aunts, second cousins ..everyone dressed to the nines, smiling, welcoming, hugging, kissing,  shaking hands,and sitting in the pews with our family names on them.
I also remember going to the beautiful Nebi Daniel synagogue for services. At the end of the services, I was made such a fuss of, and so were my parents and grandparents.  Friends and relatives wishing us well and vice versa. There were so many of them
For a very long time the  love and feelings of warmth, security, peace and joy were so very tangible. Nothing could possibly change all this we thought...and we did take all of it for granted.
When the interminably long (for a child)  prayers ended, there was the kiddush (the blessing)...then we would go home, to another lavish dinner.
During  the High Holy Days there was a regular stream of visitors at my Nonno and Nonna's house.  ALL the relatives would come with flowers to wish us Happy New Year.  What heart warming recollections these are: their chatty stories, the jokes, the wonderful wonderful times.
Friends would also come to pay their respects...the house was open to everyone and anyone. The  supper on the evenings before the High Holy Days was  always  a splendid sit-down affair.  
Erev Yom Kippur  was no exception.  The table was set for so very many people..The next day was Yom Kippur and my dad would take me to synagogue and then we would walk on the Alexandria corniche, as I had too much energy to sit quietly in the synagogue for too long..
At the time of Yom Kippur it often poured with rain and there were breathtaking storms.  The turbulent Mediterranean waves crashed against the rocks, the air tasted and smelt of sea salt.
My dad, would take my hand and we would walk briskly on the corniche all the way to Ramleh soaked to the skin..through  the sheets of  rain, watching the angry  waves storm- battering the coast.  We would laugh and go as close as possible and get even more soaked by the spray.
Cars drove by, and friends would wave and ask whether we wanted a lift.  My dad waved them on.
As telephones were never answered during  Shabbat or the High Holy Days, the owners of the cars would either drop by our house and speak to my mother, or drop by at my grandparents' house to speak with my grandmother , indignantly  telling them  "Edgar est fou..il marche avec la petite en pleine pluie torrentielle !  Elle va attraper une pneumonie!". Well..I never caught a cold, although we were soaked to the marrow.  
If these walks in the rain occurred on other days than Yom Kippur, then my dad would take me across the Gare de Ramleh to a hole in the wall type of standing room only restaurant that served tall glasses of boiling hot sahlab.  A Turkish sweet milky delicacy topped with pistachio nuts and cinnamon

 After returning home and having a hot shower, I would then dress and we would go to synagogue until Yom Kippur ended. I recall with so much yearning the Sephardic rendition of Kol Nidrei.  I recall the soul-stirring long undulating poignant wail of the Shofar ending with  short uplifting sounds.  For some reason this always took me back to Biblical times.
We would then return to my grandparents' house, after being wished, and wishing everyone at the synagogue Happy New Year..
The beautiful  sparkling white embroidered starched and ironed table cloth was a backdrop for the magnificent china dishes, the silver goblets with our names on them, crystal glasses, the ornate cutlery.
The matching napkins were rolled into a silver napkin ring with our initials engraved on them.  The table cloth and napkins each had my grandmother's  married initials embroidered on them. I still have some of those enormous table cloths, and some napkin rings.  Nasser's Egypt kept all the rest.

My grandfather would put his hand on my dad's head and bless him, and then it was my turn to be blessed.. I have a lump in my throat when I recall these loving tender moments.
The lavish meal to break the fast started with an "ahwa" for the grown-ups.. a delicious Turkish coffee.  Then the meal was served by the suffraguis.
They were dressed in their best spotless new long white gallabiyeh with a green sash around their waist They wore a red tarbouche with its black tassel on their head.  They looked so smart, and had a dazzling white smile as they came into the dining room carrying the trays of food.  Their smile broadened as they saw all the family and guests joyfully sitting  around the very long dining room table joking and pulling everyone's leg..
The chicken soup with knoedels was then served from a large and heavy solid silver soup tureen   It was spooned with a heavy silver ladle into our soup bowls..
I remember the  silverware was heavy  and intricate  with the intertwined initials of my grandparents engraved on them.
Then came the rest of the meal.
My beloved  Austrian nonna, my dearest grandmother Caroline Melkenstein-Anzarut  had, as a teenager, gone to a Finishing School in Vienna, where she had also been taught cordon bleu style cooking.
She had overseen and helped with the cooking of our mouthwatering repast.
Ours was a patriarchal society, where the men were treated with enormous respect and deference.  They were the head of the family.The mothers, wives and daughters were treated with great esteem.  They were  ladies to their finger tips; elegant, erudite, dignified, very talented and capable, and so very affectionate and caring.
As for us children, we were taught about self respect and dignity. We were taught self control. We were taught about respecting others, no matter who they were or whether they were moneyed or poverty stricken.
We were taught to be gracious at all times, we were taught philanthropy, we were taught compassion, and we were taught that the world did not revolve around us.
We were taught to joke and to laugh and to have a sense of humour, and not to over dramatize situations.  We were taught coping skills, and although so many of us came from old and particularly affluent backgrounds we were not spoilt sick, or told that we were better than others.  

All this has now disappeared in the mist of time, and although I feel so much longing for what was, I know that I, like so many others,  should feel grateful for having been blessed with a past containing such grace.

Edna Anzarut Turner
October 2006

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