Eighty-nine-year-old Madeline Kochman, a long time resident of Forest Park, got together with two other women last Thursday to bake honey cakes in the kitchen of Oak Park Temple B’nai Abraham Zion, 1235 Harlem Ave., in preparation for the Jewish High Holy Days.  Rosh Hashanah begins Sept. 28 after sundown and Yom Kippur starts on Oct. 8.

Honey – which Kochman loaded into her cakes (about one pound for each batch of batter she poured into five bread pans) – is an important part of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s a way of wishing that, for everyone present, the coming year will be “sweet and fruitful on many levels,” explained Paul Ellstein, of Forest Park.

Ellstein’s wife, Francine Dell Ellstein, described the spread she is planning for Rosh Hashanah: chicken soup, gefilte fish, chopped liver, brisket, potatoes, tsimmez (cooked sweet carrots), vegetables and dessert.

The Ellstein’s, because they are conservative Jews, will attend two services at West Suburban Temple Har Zion, 1040 Harlem, in River Forest, during the two-day holiday.  The readings at the services are from Genesis 21 and 22, and are stories about Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Hagar and Ishmael.

Although the 10-day period from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur is supposed to be devoted to self-reflection, Ellstein said that the mood of observant Jews becomes very solemn as they approach the Day of Atonement.

“We fast for 26 hours,” Ellstein said.  “This time is spent pleading with God for forgiveness just as Moses did when the Jewish people built the golden calf idol to worship.  It was on this day that God granted the Jews pardon for their sins, hence the ‘Day of Atonement.'”

Ellstein explained what a toll the Holy Day can take on an observant person’s body, though: “I always had smelling salts with me when I felt faint and or tired during services.  Many hours are spent praying.  There are traditionally five separate services, concluding with the sounding of the Shofar (ram’s horn) signifying being inscribed in the ‘Book of Life.’  The Yom Kippur fast is usually broken with a meal of easily digestible foods like kugles and blintzes.”

For Jews, Yom Kippur is not only a time to mend their relationship with God, it’s also a time to reconcile with their neighbors, to forgive and be forgiven even for sins they are not aware of. 

Madeline Kochman recalled an incident at her temple between her and another member that caused a rift between them for a period of time.

“It suddenly dawned on me that this is crazy,” Kochman said, adding, rhetorically, “Why should we go on like this?”

“So, I wrote her a very nice note [essentially saying] … Yom Kippur is a time to forgive.  Now that person and her husband always say hello to me. The person who stays angry is the one who is hurt more,” she said.

As the Jewish High Holy Days near, Francine Dell Ellstein had a message for her neighbors in Forest Park about the celebration of Rosh Hashanah in particular:  “This is a holiday where Jews around the world celebrate the coming of a New Year where we hope and pray for peace throughout the world.  It is appropriate to wish people a Happy and Healthy New Year!”

So, if you see one of your Jewish neighbors or coworkers during the next few days, you might want to greet them with “Leshanah Tova Tikateiv.”