I Escaped, But Only Just - Part 2: Safer Times
‘Boys,’ my mother called. ‘Time for Kiddish.’
A Friday evening. A Jewish family about to welcome in the weekly Sabbath. Bathed and dressed for the occasion, my middle brother Robin and I filed into the dining room to hear our father recite the prayers from a dark blue book called the Siddur. A bottle of homemade wine stood on the table, along with a goblet for the wine, a collection of skullcaps that Jewish males wear during prayer and a cloth with embroidered Hebrew lettering to cover the two loaves of bread, the Chollahs.
Our family consisted of five: parents and three boys. Robin and I were closest in age and tended to stick together. We put on our skullcaps. After filling the goblet with wine, my father read from the Siddur in hesitant Hebrew before pouring wine from the goblet into a small glass and intoning the blessing, or Bracha. He took a sip, poured a second small glass of wine and handed it to my mother, who recited the Bracha over the wine. Brian’s turn for the wine came next, followed by Robin’s. Finally, mine - since I was the baby of the family.
A tiny sip. It was sweet stuff, made from fermented raisins.
The blessing for the bread followed. Afterwards, we shook hands and wished one another a good Shabbos.
Orthodox Jewish families avoid using electricity on the Sabbath, but our family didn’t, and we tended to disregard the more stringent requirements of the religion, such as not switching on lights on the Sabbath or the ceremonial washing of hands before meals - although we kept to strict dietary laws and celebrated the Jewish festivals, all of them. We certainly would never write during the Sabbath.
Sometimes, we'd watch the football results on Saturday afternoons, but we always kept the television switched off Friday night and Saturday morning. If one of us boys asked why, we'd receive the following answer:
'Because it's Shabbos, and Jewish people don't watch television on Shabbos.'
Apart from an hour or two before the end of the Sabbath, it seemed.
We were observant, and yet we weren't. We sort of picked and mixed the rules in the same way that a kid might pick and mix sweets in a supermarket. As a family, we were traditional and nuclear. Meals at the table, no TV on while eating. After supper each night, Friday included, we’d sit in the dining room, listening to a drama on the radio – “the wireless, as we called it” – my tired eyes closing long before half past seven, which was bedtime for me and Robin. Our parents were strict about things like that.
‘Time for bed,’ my father would say as I sat yawning and blinking in confusion.
At other times, my parents referred to Robin and me as the babies.
‘We’re not babies,’ we’d say crossly, our small voices sounding in unison.