When buying apples, a painful moment evokes a powerful memory of Rosh Hashanah – San Gabriel Valley Tribune


I was at the market picking apples when a grocery cart rolled over my little toe, making me scream in pain.

“I’m so sorry,” said the driver of the offending cart as she retrieved the apples I had dropped. “I’m so sorry,” she repeated several times, the distress in her voice validating her words.

I smiled at him and said, “I forgive you.

Forgiveness was on my mind because I was buying apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. I was happy with such an easy forgiveness even as the memory of a more difficult forgiveness came back to me.

It was on Rosh Hashanah that my grandmother Sarah broke her hip and came to live with us, leaving a tiny Bronx apartment for life in a Virginia suburb. She was very religious and would not get in a car, or do anything else considered work, on the Sabbath or on Jewish holy days. So she observed the holidays at home because we didn’t live close enough to a synagogue to go there without driving.

When I got home from services, I waved my hand and told him I was going to wash my white gloves so they would be clean for services the next day. She shook her head, “No,” and her eyes told the story: You don’t work on a holy day. Laundry was a job.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, kneeling in front of her wheelchair. As I looked at her gray eyes, exaggerated on her face because her silky white hair was pulled back into a bun, I felt great sadness that I had done something to upset her.

This moment taught me the truth of apologies. It was a pain in my heart. It was knowing that I would do anything to reverse the harm I caused.

Grandmother, who spoke only Yiddish, patted me with her hands joined on her knees covered in Afghani. “Shana Madela,” she said softly.

I knew Yiddish well enough to recognize the words of praise. Beautiful girl. Honorable girl. Clever girl. There are probably as many translations as there are Jewish grandmothers. All good.

I couldn’t translate what she said next, but her eyes told me. She forgave me.

I walked into the bathroom where my gloves were soaking in the sink, lifted them all wet from the water, without washing off the soap, and put them on the edge of the tub. They stayed there until the next morning when I put them on, still slightly damp and etched with dry soap.

Understood. Forgiveness included responsibility.

We didn’t have to speak the same language for grandma to teach me that.

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