Somehow, back then, it seemed like the first day of school always fell on a Jewish holiday.

We weren't at all religious. My father was a dyed-in-the-wool, well, skeptic, who, as a Harvard sophomore, had tried mathematically to prove or disprove the existance of God, forgot to eat and ended up in the hospital. After which he have it up as a bad job, and as far as we girls are concerned never thought of God again. (although he loved to listen to Cantor Shapiro on the radio.)

But going to school on a Jewish holiday -- that was something different. Not that we'd ever do anything if we did stay home. We never belonged to a synagogue, never went to services, and our mother, who went along rather reluctantly, I always thought, with our father's rejection of religiosity, made it clear that if we stayed home there was to be no holiday frivolity. Moreover, fasting on Yom Kippur, she would suggest, wouldn't hurt anybody.

She made Hobson's choice look like a snap.

If there was at least one other child of Jewish forbears in one's class, then, even if it was someone with whom one was not especially close, one took companionate comfort in not being the only Jewish child in class, not suffering some public reproach from one's teacher -- teachers did those things in those not-too-long-gone days -- or from a classmate, or even being the subject of a raised eyebrow (real or imagined). Those were prayer-in-school days with a vengeance, and it seemed to our elementary-school senses that the one thing worse than being the Only Jewish Child In School on a Jewish Holiday was to publicly advertise that one was the child of an atheist. (I don't remember if I knew the word in those days, but I knew it was something akin to drunkenness.)

On the other hand, there was always the terror that if you didn't go to school you'd miss something crucial, some secret piece of information everybody else would know and you wouldn't. It was an altogether alienating experience. e

I remember those last-minute September phone calls. I can still remember the names of the children we called . . . or who called us . . . to find out Who Was Going and Who Was Staying Home. All we needed was one child in each class. And we'd go. I think we found somebody every year.

I don't remember that anything ever happened that first dat that couldn't have been recouped the next.

But I never wanted to take the chance.