When I think back to my youth, some of my most treasured memories are of the chagim, which in my case meant Rosh Hashanah (RH) and Yom Kippur (YK).
I come from a traditional Manchester Jewish family, where going to shul 3 times a year was quite enough, thank you very much!
Preparations for RH and YK always started early. Social arrangements were very important. Where would we go for the first and second day RH? Was it our turn to make lunch? Had any family ‘broigusim’ occurred since last year? Who should we invite? Who wasn’t speaking to who?
Heaven forbid we should have no arrangements at all…that would have been social suicide!
Once the arrangements were in place, we could then turn our attention to that other important matter.
A new outfit had to be worn on each day of RH with one being recycled for YK. The buying of the outfits was a tradition in itself.
When I was a teenager, for some strange reason I tended to buy my ‘best’ clothes in the same shop as my mother, ‘Samuel Cooper’ in Wilmslow. I loved that shop. It was on 2 floors. When you walked in it was like entering another world!
The shop was divided into sections and staffed by lovely women who clucked around us like mother hens. We were also fortunate enough to be friends with the owner who brought things out for us from ‘the back’ to try on. Only the close friends got to try these clothes on. They were reserved especially for us (or so I thought).
The whole clothes buying experience took hours. My mum, my sisters and I tried on dozens of things until we’d all settled on the perfect shul outfits. I thought I was really stylish and modern. That was until my bubble was burst one RH morning in shul.
I was at a rather delicate age, around 15 or so. I’d bought a new shul dress. I can still remember it vividly. It was green and black, but mainly green, with batwings. It had large green squares at the top laid against a black background. The bottom half was plain green…you get the idea (it was the 80’s).
I chose to wear it on the first day of RH as I loved it so much (the second, lesser loved outfit was always relegated to the second day).
I walked into shul feeling a million dollars. My hair was huge (my mum had treated me to a perm), my green eyeliner was in place and I was still able to walk in my new shoes (also green) even though they’d cut off the blood supply to my toes by the time I got to shul.
I met my friends outside and we managed to find somewhere to sit together in the overflow. We chatted happily for a while until Yiskor when my mother came over and told us to leave the shul. We obliged and quietly made our way outside.
We all stood around in the car park admiring each other’s new outfits and trying on each other’s hideous jewellery.
I stood there looking all green and fabulous when a friend, who I secretly fancied, walked over to speak to me. We kissed hello, both cheeks. Very sophisticated. Was he about to ask me out, I thought. He wouldn’t be able to resist me in this amazing dress. He then turned to me and asked where I’d bought my dress from…I grinned like an idiot and asked him shyly if he liked it… “well,” he replied, “I suppose it’s ok if you want to look like a big green piece of Velcro.”
I’ll never forget that morning, or that dress…and I never went shopping with my mother again!