Shana Tova!



Neighborhood: Prospect Heights, Uncategorized

It was Rosh Hashana, 2010, and I had just moved into yet another new apartment, as I tend to do about once a year, sometimes twice. This place seemed good enough to fully unpack for, though, so there were boxes strewn around the floor, some open, some still taped tightly shut, waiting. But as much stuff as I already had, I needed more. I needed site-specific things. At the time, I was unemployed, so my run to Target was left until the afternoon when I was pretty sure it would be emptier than usual. Halfway home, I was sweating. It was weirdly hot out, Target was too close to my new home to excuse taking a cab, and I was carrying too many items to be able to put everything down and peel off my unneeded hoodie. I was, to put it lightly, irritated.

As I went to cross the last street before my door, I heard voices shouting “Shana tova!” Happy new year. I turned my head to see two young Hasidic Jewish men running across the opposite street, directly towards me. They kept shouting at me, “Shana tova!” So I said “Thanks, happy new year to you, too.” I put my foot into the road when they came right up and stopped me. “Have you heard the shofar today?” they asked me. I felt instantly embarrassed. I don’t go to temple, but they didn’t need to know that. So I told them that no, not yet, I’m going tonight… One of them smiled at me and suggested that they play it for me now. I put my bags down at that point. This was going to be way better than real temple.

The smiling man reached into his coat (he must have been so warm, I kept thinking) and pulled out a ram’s horn (the shofar). The other gentleman reached into his own coat and pulled out the book. Shofar explained to me that he would play and the other guy would read, and when he said Amen, I was to repeat it. OK. I can do that. Then he started playing and the other guy started reading, and I got really quiet. People were walking by and looking at us, confused. This was not, to be clear, a Jewish neighborhood. The corner we were on was at the intersection of three hipster bars and a blue-collar block of mostly black people. This was not Torah-land.

I was unsure where to look. Do I stare at the man reading, making sure to hear the Amens? Do I stare at the man blowing into the horn? Do I give them each equal eye time? It ended up equal, and I got all the Amens correctly. During the reading, I tried to remember the last time I had uttered “amen,” and was pretty confident that I never had before. Perhaps I’d mouthed it a few times at dinners with my father’s family, but the word felt funny in my mouth, like it didn’t belong, like I was stealing it from someone. But I wanted to feel something this time, so I concentrated so hard on saying it right and at the right time. Still nothing. But I was falling in love with my new companions a little.

After a couple of minutes, Shofar looked up from the horn, smiled at me again and said “Just one more minute, ok?” OK. He went back to the horn, and the reading kept up, two more Amens. Then it was done. “Shana tova,” they said again, and went to leave. “Wait a minute, let me ask you something,” I said. They turned and waited for my question. “How did you know I was Jewish?” Now their facial expressions changed from curious to amused. Shofar looked at me and said “Because of your face.” Oh. “Well, that’s funny, since my mother always says I’m the waspiest looking Jew she’s ever met,” I explained. “She’s wrong. Tell her we know better,” said Shofar. And then they left.

Simone grew up in Manhattan but has since become a dedicated Brooklyn transplant. She writes when she can, but in real life she works in TV. When really inspired, she reviews movies and TV at

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§ 2 Responses to “Shana Tova!”

  • Dean Rainey says:

    I loved this story! Not only a moving encounter, but well and evocatively told. (Yes, full disclosure, I’m related to the author.)

  • Todd Albert says:

    I loved this story too, and I’m only related to the author through the Diaspora.

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