My Mother Never Told Me

It would be expected that I would think about my mother, as my daughter and I sat down for Kol Nidrei. From my seat I could see the daughters of the woman who died last Rosh Hashanah, the wife and daughters of another shul member who died a few months ago, and behind me were the wife, daughters and granddaughters of the Holocaust survivor whose eerie, yet moving, funeral we attended at 11:30 PM the previous night. And the next morning we would say the Yizkor prayer for deceased relatives.

So there we sat, and something made me remember that I had once checked a perpetual calendar and learned that my mother’s birthday, September 27, 1925, fell out on Erev Yom Kippur—or theoretically in the evening, on Yom Kippur itself. I don’t usually mark her birthday, my mother always played it down when she was alive and never admitted her age. I asked my daughter the date and sure enough, it was September 27, even though we were not in the same year of the 19-year cycle. But the eight and the 19th year are usually close together, and in 1925 Erev Yom Kippur also fell out on Sunday.

What I find bizarre is that my mother, assuming the documents are accurate, was born on a significant day of the Jewish year and that this fact did not become part of the family folklore. We all knew that my brother was born around Rosh Hashanah and my parents asked the rabbi what would happen if the brit were to fall out on Yom Kippur (in the end he was born on Erev Rosh Hashanah).

Was this part of my mother’s natural reticence? But it’s exactly the kind of thing my grandmother would have talked about. Maybe, being the youngest and having the least contact with my mother’s extended family, I was somehow out of the loop?


  1. You weren’t out of the loop. I never knew your mother was born on Erev Yom Kippur. Grandmother only said wonderful things about Aunt Toby.

    • Hi Sharon,
      Thanks for your comment. Someone suggested that maybe my mother never even realized it herself.

  2. It’s interesting to hear more about your mother.

    Also, I never realized that the 8th year falls out on or close to the English date. But it makes sense; my husband’s English and Hebrew birthdays just coincided (4th of Tishrei), and he just turned an age that is 8 plus a multiple of 19.

    When I turned 38 it was actually off by a day.

    My oldest and youngest children are 11 years apart: their English birthdays are off by a day and their Hebrew birthdays are off by 2 days, but my daughter was born after sundown. So those years are actually a perfect match.

    • Tesyaa, she was a fascinating person. Few people knew her well, including me, it seems. The days don’t always match up, even at 19, often because of the February leap day.

  3. Dear Hannah,
    It sound like your mother was a naturally modest person who did not like to make a big deal about herself. (I have a husband like that). Your descriptions of her are hartwarming. I am so sorry you lost her early.
    Chag sameach,

  4. These are the kinds of things that if you start asking around you might find lots of interesting stories.

    There are usually one or two family members who are, by choice or default, keepers of the family memories.

    My mom is really into family tree stuff and she has troves of stories that she has gathered, just by asking questions…. (she grew up in a time when nobody talked about anything)

  5. Your post about your mother makes me think about my own mother – her birthday just passed, and then her yahrzeit is upcoming, the day before my son’s bar-mitzvah.

    One often thinks about missing loved ones on a holiday, but it is all the more poignant if one was at the funeral or knew the missing parent. As one of our shul’s biggest donors mentioned some names of dead loved ones from the bimah, I saw an elderly woman (who is a dear person) nodding her head to the names.

  6. Some people are just naturally reticent about talking about personal information; others just don’t see things like birthdays as a very big deal. There’s also this: a large number of Holocaust survivors became very reticent after they returned from the camps to talk about anything that happened in the past. One cousin explained it to me that thinking about her younger days, before the war, was just too painful. She said that life began again after the war and anything from before was locked inside of her, not for sharing, because start remembering one thing and then all the other things come along with it.

  7. were birthdays that big of a deal back then? we’re not even sure when my grandfather was born due to conflicting evidence. (otoh, we are celebrating my grandmother’s 100th in a few weeks)

  8. I’m beginning to think she didn’t know herself. ProfK, it’s true she didn’t have fond memories of her childhood in Germany, to say the least, and LoZ, birthdays weren’t a big deal. But she was Americanized enough that they weren’t ignored completely. She came to the US in 1936.

  9. Sibling of MominIsrael says


    The continuity is truly amazing. Through generations we are one.

    Our grandfather Pinchas Shlomo Ztz”l HY”D lived in Ozharov, a shtetl in Poland. The Nazis destroyed the entire community, except a handful of survivors (may they live long). Father tells me that he served as the Baal Tefila for Ne’ila in his Gerrer Shteibel in Ozharov. Perhaps the prayers he chanted Yom Kippur in Poland transmute into our our Mazal Tovs today and in the future.

    Thank you for sharing the thought.

  10. mominisrael says

    Thanks, sib, for sharing the memory of our father and grandfather.