Jerusalem In My Heart

7 Dec

Yesterday I told my daughter not to go to Jerusalem. She and her husband live in Holon, about an hour from Jerusalem. I know that violence will explode as Hamas lashes out over the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It makes me ill.

Nothing has really changed.  But those who work toward hatred use it as a cry to kill and destroy.  And the way the media and the politicians across the world reacts adds to the mob mentality of hatred.  If you show people rabble rousing then they will turn into hate filled mobs.  Why not use some common sense.  And just relax.  The US Congress recognized Jerusalem as the capitol of Israel decades ago. This is not news.

I love Jerusalem. It is in my heart. I spent my sophomore year of college in a Jerusalem attending Hebrew University, living in both Givat Ram and then Har Hasofim campuses. I traveled the roads and went throughout the area surrounding Jerusalem with ease. In 1974 and 1975 we could easily go anywhere in and about Jerusalem. There was no intifada. There were no walls and barricades. We all went where we wanted.

But still my family worried.  It was less than a year after the Yom Kippur War.  My Grandma Esther, who was born in the USA, would send me letters with newspaper clippings and write, “You could kill me in easier ways.”  My Grandma Thelma, who was born in Poland, would send me letters telling me to meet up with her family who had come to Israel after the Shoah.

My love of Jerusalem started before I even saw it,  when I was 11 years old.  The movie, “To Cast A Giant Shadow,” came out. I went to see it with my cousins and grandmas during the summer. I sat next to Grandma Rose, my cousins’ grandma. But we shared her. She had been a citizen of Jerusalem during the siege in 1948 when the Arab nations declared war on Israel after the UN declared the new country of Israel.  Jews in the Jewish Quarter of the old city were cut off without food or water as the siege started. They survived due to old hidden waters in the City.

Grandma Rose, Grandpa Asher and Uncle  Jack survived. But Grandma Rose told me she never forgot looking back to her city, to Jerusalem and wondering if she would ever see it again, when she was forced to leave. When all the Jews, families who had lived there for centuries, were taken out of the city by the Jordanian soldiers. She did not go back, but she never forgot. She died in the USA.

When I lived in Jerusalem, I was there when Uncle Jack returned for the first time, 26 years after he had been forced out as young man. My uncle and aunt came to Israel for their 25 wedding anniversary. And I got the benefit of being with them as my Uncle relived his childhood and told me about the siege and how they survived. He also never forget the last look back as he left his home.

I have been to Jerusalem many times. The heart of Israel. Where the Israeli government has its parliament, the Knesset; where the Israeli Supreme Court makes decisions that benefit those of all religions; where the holy sites of Jews, Christians and Moslems exist in close proximity.

It was in Jerusalem,  the city of peace, that I was taught to use an Uzi and an M-16 automatic rifle to survive.  It was soon after the Yom Kippur War and it was not always safe.  It was in Jerusalem that I became used to the bus drivers who would walk through the bus and ask about every package to find out who it belonged to , to make sure there were no bombs.  It was in Jerusalem that I felt the ground shake as the military detonated bombs it had found nearby in an empty field.  The terrorist groups have been attacking Jerusalem and Israel for decades.  Nothing seems to stop it.  There is always another reason they claim to try to kill or cause chaos. So this decision really changes nothing. The violence ebbs and flows like a tide.

I have been to the Temple Mount and visited the mosques; I have seen the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem; The tomb of Rachel on the road to Bethlehem; the tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. Some of these places are difficult for Jews to access now.

Every time I go to Jerusalem now, I see signs of hatred rising. I love Jerusalem, like many others say they love it as well. But some times I wonder about their signs of love; they are are hard to decipher, to understand. Throwing stones, setting fires, stabbing, terrorists attacks. These are not signs of a people loving a city.  These are signs of destruction.

Recently I was at the Harry Truman Presidential Library.  I read about his recognizing the State of Israel and how so many American and international politicians were against this decision. But he did what he thought was right.  The world survived.

Instead of focusing on the one issue of Jerusalem, why is the world not focusing on the proxy war between the Shia and Sunni that is taking place in Syria?  Why not focus on the war occurring in Yemen?  Why not see the horrors that are happening in Turkey?  Why not Iran and Saudi Arabia?  Hundreds of thousands people have been killed.  Millions have been displaced.  Israel has nothing to do with any of it… so the Arab world stays silent.

Jerusalem is not the reason for all these conflicts.  There are much bigger conflicts within the Moslem Arab nations that is causing unrest in the Middle East.  I hope one day there will be a end of hostilities.  That both sides will decide to just live in peace.  That they will move forward and not ruminate on the past.  To be honest neither side can win, unless they let the past go free.

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The US Passport: A Matter of Life

4 Dec

I recently saw the documentary, “Big Sonia,” about a local Kansas City area woman who survived the Holocaust and three concentration camps from ages 13 to 19; how she and her husband started their own tailor shop; how the tailor shop became an important part of her life; and how the Holocaust impacted her life, her family and those around her.  Although I do not know Sonia, I do know her sister-in-law, who belongs to my congregation.

Both Sonia and Ann are contemporaries of my Mom.  And when I hear of their Holocaust survival story, I cannot help but think, “there for the grace of G-d, could have been my Mom.” But she would have just been 10 when the horrors really began, and she might not have survived.  It stabs at my heart.  Here is why:

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When I look at the smiling children in the 1931 passport, I feel fear in my heart.  They are my Mom and my Uncle.  My grandmother is getting ready to take them to Poland.

In 1931, most Jews in Poland and Europe were not yet concerned about escaping. Although Hitler’s rise to power was advancing, he did not become chancellor of Germany until January 1933.  Thus, I guess in some ways, my Grandmother was not afraid to take her two small children, my Uncle, who was 4 ½, and my Mom, who was 2 1/2, to Europe to stay with family while she tried to regain her health.

Boat to Europe 1931

The kneeling sailor is speaking to my Mom;  behind her my Uncle; behind him my Grandma.

I always knew this had occurred. I have seen the photo taken of my Mom and Uncle on the ship to Europe. I knew that my grandmother almost died aboard the ship on the way to Europe. I have seen several photos of my grandmother in Kalsbadt and with family members during that trip.

Both their visa and Passport were issued on May 18, 1931.  I think their visa was good until May 18, 1932.  This part of the Visa is in German. Since my Grandfather’s family lived in the area of Galicia which was then Austria, it makes sense. They arrived in Europe on May 26, 1931.

I heard the stories of my Mom and Uncle coming back from Europe only speaking Yiddish. Their English left them while they spent six months with their paternal grandparents.  This would not happen again, as these grandparents perished in the Shoah.

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This registers my uncle and mom as living in Boleslawiec.

But now that I have the Passport, and have had part of it translated,  I know that this story is not totally true.  They spent at least two and half months in Boleslawiec, Poland,  from August 14 to October 3, 1931.  This is where my Grandmother was born.  They spent at least that time staying with their maternal grandfather and his children. That was a surprise.

So at some point, my Grandmother traveled across Europe with two small children, going from Mielic, Galicia, Austria, to Boleslawiec, Poland.  WOW.  I wonder how the trains were then.  I am sure she went with her American dollars and was able to travel easily.  But the idea of them on a train in Austria and Poland sends shivers through my body.  I can so easily image the other members of my family who traveled on much less kind trains a number of years later to their deaths in the concentration camps.

I also knew it was this trip and her visits to the mineral waters of Kalsbadt that saved and cured my grandmother.  Her experiences in Europe over these months also made her resolute to get as many family members out of Europe that she could.  Unfortunately, she was only successful in rescuing her father and sister.  Her in laws refused to leave, and they perished.

However, until I held the Passport that jointly named my Uncle and Mom as USA citizens and saw the visas, I somehow did not quite fathom the enormous consequences.   This passport was only valid for two years. What if they had been stuck in Europe? I had asked my grandfather when I was younger what he would have done if Grandma died in Europe.  He assured me that he was not going to leave his children in Europe.  He let her go because she was ill, but his children would return to the USA.

That always made me feel better, as the family they stayed with, my grandfather’s family, all perished.  I always believed that Grandma took the children to her in-laws and traveled by herself.  But that is not true.  She also took them to see her father and siblings as well. And miraculously my Grandmother’s two brothers and their wives survived even though Grandma could not get them out of Poland.

The Passport was originally made out only for my Uncle in May 1931.   I found that strange.  Was my Grandmother going to leave my 2-year-old mother with my grandfather in the States, while she traveled with my Uncle?  What changed her mind? I will never know that story. I found the Passport long after my grandmother had passed away.

I do know that they came home.  They arrived back in the USA on October 13, 1931. I can see the US Immigration stamp. The trip itself took a week or so crossing the Atlantic.  They grew up in New Jersey.  They married. They had children and grandchildren. Their memories of Europe faded quickly.  Perhaps my Uncle remembered more, but for my Mom it was just stories she heard.

My Mom did not go through the horrors and Hell that Big Sonia experienced.   Her American Passport and visa and ticket to return saved her and my uncle.  In 1936 Mom went with my Grandmother to Ellis Island to gather my great grandfather and Tante (great aunt).  My Grandmother was successful in saving them.

Not everyone had a life saving Passport. I often think of those who perished.   I still remember the day I found out about the Holocaust.  I cannot forget.

With the vitriol and anti-Semitic language and acts of bullying throughout the country, I think it is important that no one forgets.  Everyone should go and see “Big Sonia” and learn about real courage, and the horrible consequences of baseless hatred and bigotry.

Thank you to members of the Facebook Groups: Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestry in Poland for the translations.

http://www.bigsonia.com

https://www.facebook.com/bigsoniamovie/?fref=mentions

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-mysterious-kalsbad-photos-who-are-they/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

At Times, I Hear My Dad Laughing

30 Nov

Sometimes I think I can hear my father laughing. It happened this past Tuesday. My husband, who is not religious, gets up early every Wednesday morning to attend our synagouge’s minyan.  He does not pray. But he is there as a tenth male for those who need to say Kaddish, the prayer said by mourners.  He calls it his community service time.  And he finds it very peaceful and soothing.

Tuesday afternoon, he told me that he is going to go on Friday this week.  I said, “Oh instead of Wednesday?”  “No,” he responded, “they need someone on Friday as well, so I said I would go. But only this Friday.”

I swear,  I heard my father laughing.  My husband’s lack of interest in religion was never an issue with my Dad.  But I know he would love the irony of my husband, of all people, helping to form a minyan of men.

Dad at Temple Israel

At Temple Israel in 2006. My Dad is with a scribe as they work on repairing older Torah scrolls.

After my Dad retired he became extremely active in his synagogue.  He started on the board, when he was still working, and then rose to the ranks of the officers.  When he became president, it was unexpected and tragic.  In a short period of time, first the president passed away unexpectedly.  And Dad became president.  Then within months, the young, in his 30s Rabbi, died in his sleep.  Dad was stunned as was the congregation.  And so Dad ended up doing so much more than anticipated and stayed as congregation president for 11 years.  YES eleven years.  I think he was on the board for over 25 years.  He was still on the board when he passed away.

None of us, his children,  ever expected to serve on a synagogue board.  We saw the anguish and stress Dad had over his term.  Finding a new rabbi, working on the finances, changing from traditional to conservative/egalitarian.  Dad faced many hostile members as he charged forward in his role. But he held the congregation together, as dad was a schmoozer. He was large and loveable and could charm people.  He was a born salesman, and he used these talents to get the board to work together.   When that did not work, I think he pouted.

In any case, we knew that being on a synagogue board was not for the feeble hearted.

When I was first approached to be on my congregation’s board, I demurred politely.   But they came back again and explained why it was important.  Yes, I am on the synagogue’s board.  I think I am in my eighth year.  Recently I was appointed to the rabbi search committee.  Daddy is having a really good laugh over that.  But I am doing my job as best as I can.   Often when I am at shul, especially those Shabbats when it is my turn to sit on the bima, I hear Dad’s laughter. His big belly laugh was especially contagious.  And when I walk and greet the congregants,  I feel my Dad’s schmooze rising in me as I chat with as many people as I can.  It feels as if I am channeling my Dad.

But then I was the most faithful of my family in going to services and making sure my children had a strong Jewish upbringing, sending them for at time to the local Jewish day school.  So in a way, if anyone would serve on the board of a synagogue it would be me.

I laughed out loud, along with the echo of Dad’s laughter in my mind, when my sister told me she was asked to serve on her congregation’s board.  My sister joined  a congregation nearer to her home after my parent’s passed away.  She did not want to travel as far, since they were no longer there.   In this congregation she had friends attending.   So when one friend suggested that she join the board, my sister accepted.   I gave her my sound advice.  And then just chuckled…for days.

Last time I was in New Jersey, I went to services with my sister, as she was the official greeter that day.   The Dad schmooze runs strongly in our family.  Dad would have been proud, even as he laughed.

I Love Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

22 Nov

To me Thanksgiving always means staying in my pajamas and watching the Macy’s Day Parade. Yes the Macy’s Day Parade! That is what I called it as a child and that is what I still call it in my mind.

Growing up in the New York City metropolitan area meant that the Parade was an important part of our life. We lived close to Hoboken. And as ‘everyone’ knows the floats are built in Jersey, the giant balloons are stored in Jersey and the participants practice in Jersey.

As a child I remember my Dad driving us to Hoboken in order to drive up and down the streets of warehouses and peek in. You probably cannot do it anymore, but when I was a child it was possible.

I remember seeing the color guards and bands practicing in the street.

It was part of the annual build up to the great event itself! The parade.

I loved watching the parade on television. But most exciting was actually seeing the parade in person. My Grandma Esther was the executive secretary for shoe company’s whose headquarters were across the street from Macy’s!

The best year of my life was the time we all went into NYC to her office. We watched the parade in the warmth of her office through the giant windows overlooking the Avenue. It was tremendously exciting! I remember the balloons flying right past the windows. Wow. I had such joy. Did I say I love the giant ballooons. Many people make an annual trek just to see the balloons filled with helium!

I will admit getting there was a hassle and getting home was the worst. But seeing the parade in person was worth it. I still get a thrill just remembering.

Watching the parade on television November 23, 2017.

When my children were little, we would lie in bed together and watch the parade. To be honest, they were not excited as me. It did not matter. Thanksgiving morning the television stayed on the Parade channel.

Eventually my children moved out. But it does not matter to me. I need no excuses to watch the parade. When the Rockettes make their annual appearance I smile. When the bands play and the color guard twirl their flags I feel satisfaction. Each broadway show tune makes me want to see a play. And then their are my favorite floats like Sesamee Street!

When Thanksgiving morning arrives I will still stay in my pajamas. Get a mug of coffee. Cuddle with my cats. And spend three hours watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I cannot imagine a better way to spend a Thursday morning!

Too Many Esthers!

16 Nov

My Grandma Esther had a problem with her name.  She did not mind that she was named after her grandmother, Esther (Etka) Lew Wolf(f).  She enjoyed being named after the heroine of the Purim story.  She just hated that she had four first cousins all named Esther and all named for the same grandmother.

This caused her years of anguish….really.  She even told me about it when I sat down with her in the 1970s to get her family history.   She was already 80 when we spoke.  But  it still bothered her that there were so many Esthers.

Why?  Because each of the Esthers, except for the oldest, was given a nick name to  designate which Esther people were talking about.  There was Pepi Esther; Meshuganah Esther, Curly Esther, Little Esther, and of course, Esther (the oldest who could just be that).

When you look at the family tree, it is confusing, so many Esthers and some with the exact same first and last names! Part of the genealogist nightmare.. They were all born in the late 1890s, when census taking was not as organized as now. But my Grandmother’s memory was fantastic.  So I have an accurate listing of all her aunts and uncles and cousins, including the many Esthers.

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My Grandma ‘Curly’ Esther with her three curly haired children.

My Grandma was Curly Esther, because she had very curly hair.  Thank goodness she was not called Meshuganah Esther, she told me,  that would have made her so mad. But then she said,  Meshuganah Esther was really crazy.  So there you go.  But I think, did the name depict her, or did she conform to the nick name she was given?  We will never know.

Grandma told me NEVER EVER to give my child the same name as another first cousin.   It is too confusing.  That is why, when my Dad was born, although he was given the Hebrew name David, his English name just started with a D.   He already had a first cousin named, David, and Grandma was not taking any chances!!. Her children would not have nicknames!

The Esther story followed me to Ann Arbor, Michigan.  My husband and I spent two years there when he was studying.  Grandma said, you have cousins there.  You should go for Passover.  He is the son of Pepi Esther, Joel.  So of course, my husband and I had seder with my second cousin once removed and his family.

When we were ready to leave, I told him to say hi to his Mom, Pepi Esther.  He had NO idea what I was talking about.  Pepi Esther did not suffer the same trauma as my grandmother.   My cousin called me later that week to tell me he spoke to his Mom and found out about the Esthers.  He was laughing as he told me about his conversation with her:  “All my cousins call me Pepi,” she said.  “We just never used it at home.”

Later, when I had my first child, I received a sweater in the mail.  Knitted and sent with love, from ‘Pepi’ Esther.

Needless to say, I was careful about how I named my children.  Since my daughter was the first grandchild on one side, and only the second girl on the other side, I was safe.  She was the only one named after her grandmother who had passed away a year before she was born.  And, although I used her Hebrew name,  my daughter’s English name was different.. My son also was the only one named for my grandfather and my husband’s uncle.. So no duplicate names there either.

However, I now understand my Grandmother’s issue.  My husband and I each have a nephew named Josh.  Well they are both our nephews, but from different sides.   Whenever we talk about them, we add a qualifier, usually their last name or the name of their father.

I would never call anyone Curly or Meshuganah.. I know my Grandma would disapprove.

House Seats Started My Love of Theater

6 Nov

This weekend my husband and I attended a benefit concert at our synagogue. It was great. A four-piece band led by Neal Berg and five fantastic Broadway singers. They were focusing on the top 100 songs from Hollywood, with much overlap to Broadway musicals.   I knew every song. I was “in heaven.”

Why do I know so many Broadway melodies?   I could say it was because I was raised in New Jersey, giving me the opportunity to see shows. But I have to be more specific I think.   We have the fortunate luck of having an Uncle who was involved with the Broadway theaters. It made it much easier for us to get tickets in the time before on-line purchases.

I am sure my parents got our show tickets from him, as we went as a family to see “Fiddler,” “Man of La Mancha,” The Rothschilds,” “Pippin,” among other shows.  My Dad loved going to shows. And thanks to my Uncle, we often had house seats. In fact, it never occurred to me as a child that you did not sit in house seats. These were seats reserved in the front center. My Uncle could get us the best seats. And if we were not in the center, we were always in the Orchestra section.

I remember the awe of watching the actors and actresses on stage, listening to the live music and hearing the lovely voices. It was magic. I still get that feeling when I see a play.

My Uncle also provided all of his nieces and nephews, as well as his own children, tickets for a Broadway show each Hanukkah. That was truly wonderful. We almost always had the best seats. Except one time, when we were in the top balcony. I remember as we kept walking up and up and up, I turned to my cousin and complained, “What happened?” We found out later that our grandmother did not want us too close to the stage….It was “Hair” and the actors disrobed.   Maybe she thought we would race to the stage.

My original Playbill from Hair as well as the flyer I picked up at the theater.


This memory came back to me on Saturday night when the musicians ended their performance with a rousing rendition of “Aquarius” and “Let the Sun Shine.”   I was moved back in time. It was December 1971. I was 16, a junior in high school,  and I was in the Biltmore Theater seeing “HAIR!” “Aquarius” was my lucky song growing up.   I was born under this astrological sign. So I believed whenever this song played, something good was about to happen. And yes, something I was hoping for did occur the next day.

When I met my husband, he had never been to a Broadway show. Makes sense, he was born and raised in the Midwest. But the first time he came East, when we were engaged, I changed his world.   I called my Uncle and asked if he could get us seats for “They’re Playing Our Song,” with Lucie Arnez and Robert Klein, at the Imperial Theater. It was the hottest show. My Uncle did it. I took Jay. But for the first time, I actually paid for the house seats. Ouch!!! But it was worth every penny! My husband loved it as well.

I am glad he caught the ‘bug.’ I love shows. We have season tickets for three different production companies. I used to have four, but gave up a summer series this year after 32 years, as we travel too much in the summers.   There are many shows I have seen a number of times. But I don’t care.   Most shows I don’t mind seeing several times.   There are just a few I am done with seeing. And only two that I never want to see again. I still try to see a show on Broadway at least once a year! 
Seeing a show takes you away from the world for a few hours. Just like a book, it moves you across time and location into someone else’s world. I thank my parents and my Uncle for giving me the gift of musicals and drama.   I was glad that my husband and I passed this gift on to our children. The memory of sitting in House Seats with be with me forever.

 

A Touch of Jewish Philanthropy In Lincoln, Massachusetts 

30 Oct

The entrance to the museum. The house is on the hill.

I always enjoy going to Boston, as I can immerse myself in our nation’s history. And I love history.  I also enjoy going because I get to visit with my college roommate. She is my official Boston tour guide.  With this visit she decided it was time to get out of Boston and see some of the surrounding sites. It was a beautiful fall day. I am always ready for a new Museum.

Her choice was the de Cordova art museum and sculpture garden in Lincoln. With my interest in Jewish genealogy, I was very familiar with the name De Cordova or Cordova as a Sephardic Jewish name.  But searching for the name of Julian De Cordova online, there was no mention of any Jewish roots.   Just that he was a the son of a Jamaican merchant with Spanish roots.  So to me it was obvious that this was a family which left Spain due to the expulsion of the Jews and ended up in Jamaica.  I love the white wash of history.

In any case I was excited to see this museum, walk through the sculpture garden and visit with my friend.  We decided to go inside first and see the exhibits.  The main topic was screens and  the different interpretations of a screen:  television screens, screens that separate rooms,  screens that keep people out. It was interesting.   But as we wandered the through the museum, we passed a little display on a wall that discussed the history of Julian de Cordova.

Part of the house.

Julian was the son of a Jewish family of merchants in Jamaica who was able on his own merit to become a successful business man in Lincoln,   He and his wife, who was from the local Dana family,  I assume not Jewish,  traveled the world and purchased art wherever they went.  He loved going to Spain because of his family’s Spanish roots. While there,  He also fell in love with castles and so remodeled his summer home in Lincoln to look like a castle.

He also set up that when he died, this summer home, its land and his art would be donated to the city of Lincoln as a museum.  When he died in 1945, the de Cordova Museum was established.

One of my favorite pieces.

So although most do not know that this lovely estate and museum was once the abode of a Jamaican, Sephardic Jewish man, to me it added a bit of joy as I walked the grounds, enjoyed the art and the lovely setting.  It made me appreciate how immigrant Jewish families have added to our country and the arts.

My friend and I spent two hours walking through the museum,  most of our time was spent walking around the sculptures, along the paths that led to the pond and lovely gardens.   Afterwards we spent time in Concord and the Minute Man National Park.  But this little jewel of a museum is well worth the visit.