Updated: Sep 22, 2021
I have very little knowledge about many of my ancestors on my maternal side. I don’t have pictures of them. I don’t know their life stories. I don’t know their personalities, the color of their eyes, or what we have in common. I don’t speak their languages or know their prayers. I don’t know their hopes and dreams, what they enjoyed doing in their free time or what their talents were. It was all stolen from me in the Holocaust.
"Day of Atonement" by Isidore Kaufmann (Wikimedia)
I know little tidbits my Bubee and Zaide shared with my mother and us before they passed, tidbits about their families and lives before the war. But overall we know so little.
Most of my connections to my ancestors reside inside me. It is my very DNA, the blood running through my veins. I carry their trauma and sometimes I wonder if I also carry their joy.
I have found great comfort and connection to my Bubee and my ancestors as I learn about and celebrate their holidays. Earlier this week Jews around the world celebrated Yom Kippur, the most holy and solemn day of the Jewish Calendar.
On Yom Kippur most Jews spend the day in the synagogue praying and fasting and participating in a number of services. The very first communal prayer service of Yom Kippur is called the Kol Nidrei, named after the Kol Nidrei declaration.
One tidbit my Bubee shared about her father in an interview as part of a Holocaust Documentation Project was that he had a beautiful voice and during the high holidays when everyone was unable to fit in the synagogue many would meet in a nearby hotel and her father was the honorary person to say the prayers. She spoke specifically about her father performing the Kol Nidrei. She spoke of the first time she heard Perry Como perform the Kol Nidrei on television after they arrived in Canada and being amazed that he sounded exactly like her father.
"In 1953, Perry Como recorded "Eli, Eli" and "Kol Nidrei", and performed the latter on his television shows each year at the appropriate time on the Jewish calendar."*
I have listened to and watched my Bubee’s interview countless times but it wasn’t until the beginning of this year that I was able to piece together this piece of the puzzle about the Kol Nidrei and found this video of Perry Como singing it.
Now every time I listen to Perry Como singing the Kol Nidre I feel like I am hearing my great Zaide’s voice. It is such a blessing to be able to listen and feel close to him. And all of my maternal ancestors.
This past week during Yom Kippur I listened to the Kol Nidrei over and over again and felt overwhelmed for the gift of being able to hear and know my great Zaide’s voice.
My Jewish Learning notes the following about the Kol Nidre: “This legal ritual is believed to have developed in early medieval times as a result of persecutions against the Jews. At various times in Jewish history, Jews were forced to convert to either Christianity or Islam upon pain of death.”**
At a time when antisemitism is at an all-time high, listening to the Kol Nidrei seems more important than ever.
Written by our founder.