Archive | September, 2015

Autumn Memories of the Great Fire

26 Sep

This is a memory of a Catskills event that could have been a disaster. It is about the day my brother and I almost set the entire forest on fire. I still get a cringe in my stomach when I think about it. But to be absolutely truthful, I also have to tell the not so happy stories as well.

My grandparents had purchased the ‘big house,’ about 1/3 of a mile up the road from their bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake. When the purchase was made, the house and the bungalow behind it were a bit neglected. They were still livable, but there was much maintenance that had to be done to bring the property back to life.

Among the issues was that the brush and trees had grown up around the bungalow. This had to be cleared out … eventually.

It was September, probably around 1963, the year after they had bought the property. We had spent our first summer there, living in the bungalow, instead of at the colony.

My brother believes it happened in the spring. All I remember was the grey. 

That summer one of the boys, who lived in the house next to the ‘big house,’ shown my brother and I how he made fire circles in the forest behind our homes and set fires. He was a few years older than us and seemed very sure of what he was doing.  We were intrigued. It was fascinating and scary at the same time. We never made the fires, we just watched him.
That fall, when we went back up to the Catskills for my Dad to help my Grandfather close up the bungalows, my brother and I went into the woods behind the bungalow at the big house and made a fire circle.

I hate to even say what happened next. But compulsion for the truth is making me.

We were young. I was 8 and my brother was 9. ( My brother thinks we were a bit older.) We did not make a very good fire circle. The rocks did not completely form a circle. The leaves were all around. It was now autumn and the leaves and brush were dry. Even though we had water with us, we did not have enough. And, yes, the fire escaped from the circle.

My brother said the problem was the wind. When Billy taught him to make the fires there was no wind. He had started two or three that were no problem. He had me come out to see the last one, which escaped. 

My brother and I were frantic. We tried to put it out. We threw water on it. We stomped on it. But it would not go out and it was getting bigger.  We got our sister out of the bungalow. 

We ran to the house and told Grandma and Mom that there was a FIRE. We had no phone and no car there. They told us to run to the bungalows and tell Dad and Grandpa. I don’t think we ever ran as fast in our lives. My brother was ahead of me.   We screamed when we got to the bungalows, “There’s a fire at the house! A fire!”

Grandpa and Dad came running!

I honestly do not remember how they called the fire department. Except there was a phone in the laundry house, perhaps it was still connected. Or perhaps one of them drove into town. It is a blur in my mind.

My brother said that Grandma ran to Finks and they called to report the fire. 

They drove back to the house. I think my brother and I walked back. As we walked, we could hear the loud noise as the volunteer fire department sirens went off. When we arrived at the house , Grandpa and Dad were already at the bungalow. It seemed as if dozens of cars were their with all the volunteer firemen. Then the fire engine arrived and drove up the long driveway to the bungalow.

We were lucky. The firemen put out the flames before they reached the bungalow or any other buildings. The fire never made it to the woods. The forest was safe as was the bungalow colony (Top Hill) that backed up to the side of our woods.

The brush and small trees to the sides and behind the bungalow were brunt and now filled with water.

The fire chief and my Dad and Grandpa talked for a while. My brother and I were scared. We knew we were in BIG trouble.

They came to talk to us. “We think it was spontaneous combustion,” they told us. “There were lots of bottles and rags hidden in the brush. We think that is what caused the fire.”

“What is spontaneous combustion?” I wanted to know but I kept quiet. They think that is what started the fire? I felt a sense of immense relief. We were not going to go to jail!!!

My brother and I nodded our heads. Of course they all knew the truth. But that is what the volunteer fire chief was going to put in his report. He knew us and our parents and our grandparents.

The firemen cleaned up, packed up their gear and left our property. They told my Dad to keep a hose near the scene of the fire, and keep checking it to make sure there were no flare ups. I think he watched it through out the night.  But there were no problems. The fire was OUT!

My brother and I walked back with our parents and grandparents to see what had happened. Grandpa and Dad sort of smiled at each other. “Well at least you cleared out the brush,” we were told. “But do not ever light a fire again. You could have set the entire woods on fire!!!’

We were told not to ever touch fire again. This was said to us multiple times for the rest of the weekend.  I think because we were so scared, they decided our fear was punishment enough.  Our only punishment: my brother and I had to help clean out the brunt brush, grass, small trees and junk that was left behind the bungalow under the watchful eye of my grandfather.

My brother says he had to dig out all the burnt blueberry bushes and clean out all the brush and plant the new grass. I did not have to do as much. 

We never, ever set another fire!

I have been scared of fire ever since. I always worry that it will get out of control. I don’t own a fire pit. I never light my fireplaces. I keep fire away from me. The memories of the Great Fire have stayed with me forever.

 

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What I Learned in My High School Typing Class Has Helped Throughout My Life

24 Sep

When I attended North Bergen High School in the 1970s, I took both a typing class and a short hand class. I did not want to. Typing and short hand classes were for the students who were not going on to college. And I knew that I would go to college. But my Mom made me take them.

“You never know when you might take a job that requires typing,” she said, and added: “These are good skills to learn.” I argued back, but obviously I lost.

My MOM insisted. So I took those two classes when I was a freshman in high school. I think one of the teachers was Miss Wirt. It was not the most exciting class for me, but by the end of the semester, I could touch type to the required words per minute without too many errors.  Being in class with good typists was a bit intimidating (As my friend Shashi reminded me). I will remind everyone that typing on a typewriter was much different than typing on a computer keyboard.  First there was the click clack of the keyboard.  You could tell how fast someone was typing by how quickly the clicks and clacks came together.

I did use these typing skills when I was on the staff of Paw Prints, the school’s newspaper. We had to type all of the stories into columns for them to be put into the layout and then copied and printed. I learned out to measure the space and fit the letters/words into the space correctly. A skill that came in handy much later in my life.

I have to say that my Mom was right. I will tell you that the skills I learned in the typing class have stayed with me forever. It is almost as if my Mom had telepathy and knew that eventually typing would be a much appreciated and required skill for college students.

Thanks to my typing classes, I excelled in my college and graduate school classes in the sense that my typed papers had very few typos and/or needed corrections. While I had friends who often had to hire someone to type their papers, I was set with my little typewriter.

In fact, only once in all of my undergraduate college career did someone type a paper for me. But there was a reason. My very last college paper at Drew University was due when I had an accident involving one of my eyes. After a long visit in an emergency room, I realized I could not type this paper since I had a large patch over my eye. Luckily for me, I had a great friend, Shari, who lived in the same dorm and was my savior. She typed the entire paper that evening in time for my morning class.

Later when I went on to graduate school, for journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia, my parents bought me the most wonderful gift, a self-correcting typewriter. This was the best typewriter available with a second ribbon of white out, so you could just back up, lower the white-out ribbon, and then cover the error and then retype. Amazing what was wonderful in the days before word processors and computers.

My typing class made it possible for me to complete my master’s degree exam in plenty of time. We had to answer four questions and had one hour to write the answer essays. They had to be typed. So as we thought out our answer, we had to actually type instead of write. I came to the exam with my typewriter and ribbons and succeeded.

This typewriter was also an important part of my Master’s Thesis, as I could easily correct mistakes.     Writing a thesis before computers was a nightmare. You had to estimate how much space to leave for footnotes. Getting everything perfect took experience and spatial coordination. As I said earlier, many people had to hire someone to type their thesis. But not me, as I knew how to type and I knew how to make words fit. Thank you Miss Wirt! Thank you Mrs. Whitehouse and my Paw Prints work!

The short hand class taught me the basics of taking quick notes using some symbols. Knowing a few of these symbols came in handy when I did an interview. I could write quickly by not writing all the words and using short hand instead.   Thanks to my Mom insisting that I take this class, my interviews as a grad student in journalism were always accurate. Yes I had a tape recorder as well. But some people did not like to be recorded. So accurate note taking was important.

I will admit that I have forgotten most of these symbols. And when I look at short hand symbols today they look like hieroglyphics. But when I was in graduate school I was so happy that I had an advantage.

Although I do not use the short hand, my touch typing skills are something I use every day for work and for pleasure. I am using those skills as I type and write this blog!

With the advent of computers, everyone needs to know how to use a keyboard.   Today touch typing, or as it is now known – keyboarding — is a skill that children are taught in elementary school. If you cannot type, you cannot use a computer successfully. Although probably in a few years, people will just talk to their computers and to have their thoughts put down, just as we talk to our smart phones to type a short message to someone.

It is amazing what a good teacher can help a student learn. I went into my typing class with a chip on my shoulder, not wanting to take it. I came out with a skill that has been with me for over 40 years. What I learned in typing class has helped me throughout my life.

Honey for Rosh Hashannah and a Sweet, Wonderful Year!

11 Sep
Honey, apples, serving dishes, flowers and my kitten make the holiday sweet and happy.

Honey, apples, serving dishes, flowers and my kitten make the holiday sweet and happy.

We must have honey for Rosh Hashannah: honey for our apples, honey for our challah, honey in our cakes. Honey brings the knowledge that the year will be sweet. And even in times of sorrow, we must think of the happy sweetness of honey.

For over ten years my local section of National Council of Jewish Women has been selling honey for Rosh Hashannah. A dedicated group of women organize this fund raising mitzvah. We enjoy the camaraderie of packing the honey and signing cards. Each year we send out almost 1000 boxes of honey throughout the USA to family and friends.

I enjoy helping with this fundraiser both as a volunteer and as a contributor. It is one good deed, one act of Tzedakah, that I truly enjoy. Each year it seems that I send out more and more honey to my family and friends. Most of the honey I send out goes to people who live far from me. It is a way for me to be part of their holiday experience.

It is a joy to know that these people/families will have honey for the holidays. And they will know that my husband and I are thinking of them.

For many it has become a tradition. I get phone calls and emails asking me if the honey is still coming. Of course it is. I will continue to buy honey as long as NCJW has this fundraiser.

I love getting the thank you emails when the honey arrives. One friend even sent me a photo of her honey in her thanks. Another cousin in California told me that she would definitely be using her honey. From New York I heard “We got your honey! Thank you!” A friend in Massachusetts sent a note that just entitled “Sweetness,” because getting honey is that!

I know getting honey makes people happy, which makes me happy. The recipients know my family and I am sending them love as well as sweetness. We are helping to make their holiday and New Year as wonderful as can be. And sweetness from honey helps.

When my daughter was in college, I sent honey to her and her friends, some who were not even Jewish. They called it the ‘holy honey’ and used it not only for Rosh Hashannah, but also whenever they were feeling sick or blue. Tea and ‘holy honey’ cheered everyone up! What a way to make a year sweet and healthy!

On Rosh Hashannah I take out my special honey and apple set. I actually have several now. The one I used when the children were little looks like a bee hive. They loved it.   I also have the honey bowl my parents used for their holiday. Each year I use them as we dip our apples and challah into honey.

The holiday is soon. My raisin challah and honey cake are ordered. My NCJW honey is ready to be opened. My holiday meals are planned. Whenever I get ready for Rosh Hashannah, I remember celebrating the holidays with my family, with my maternal grandparents.  My grandfather was a baker and his special, round Rosh Hashannah challahs were delicious.  So sweet and so wonderful dipped in honey.

As we celebrate I try to think of all the joy and happiness that is in the world, and block out the sadness. Although we cannot forget what is happening, for this moment in time we celebrate and prepare for the time of forgiveness and repentance. But for now:

L’shana tova u metuka! May you all have a good and sweet year.

Why I Have to Write About Gun Control

3 Sep

It has been a bizarre week in Kansas.   First has been the trial of the man who killed two people at the Jewish Community Campus and one at Village Shalom in April 2014. I know his name, but it is not worth saying. He wants the publicity. He is a sick demented man who was able to get guns and act out on his baseless hatred.

Second it is the anniversary of the killing of five innocent people in a quiet cul de sac. I knew one of them. I saw her brother and sister in law when they came to our synagogue to say Kaddish for her yahrzeit two weeks ago. Her death was shocking, happening just five months after the JCC shootings. I think the entire Kansas City metro was in shock after these two mass killing events.

Finally, it is something her nephew posted. Saying that his aunt was an activist. She was. And she would want us to do something about the gun problem in the United States. And I believe she would.

So I will say something.

I have used a M-16 during target practice. It is a gun meant to use to kill.   I have walked a path along the dorms at Mount Scopus at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, holding an Uzi. I was taught to hold it to my hip and spray in a half circle if I needed to shoot. In was 1974. The Yom Kippur War was still on everyone’s mind. And those of us who lived in the dorms had to do guard duty once a month. Usually I held the lantern. But we had to know how to use a gun, just in case the other person was injured or killed.

I know that guns can be used for protection. But I also know that guns can be used to kill. And I do not believe in senseless killing.

I do not think anyone in the 1700’s thought that one day there would be guns that could shot out multiple rounds of bullets in seconds. I do not think that they imagined a nation that exists now. When people do not have to have guns to provide food for their families or that militias no longer are needed. They wrote the Constitution in different times

I believe that people are misinterpreting the Second Amendment because they are unwilling to accept what is needed: stricter gun laws.   The Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The right to bear arms is tied to the need for a militia. We have no need for a militia now. There is no need for all these guns to be out in the public.

I am not against people owning guns for sport, although it is not a sport I am interested in. I do not think that all gun owners would kill innocent people. But we see time after time, guns getting into the wrong hands.

I am sick of the NRA’s intense lobbying of our legislative representatives. And how their gun money is swaying the votes to go against common sense. They do not want regulations; they do not want more background checks; they do not want licenses.

To drive a car in this country, you have to have a license and insurance. You have to pass a test to prove you know how to drive. You should have to take a test to prove you know how to use a gun before you are allowed buy one!!!

To move into an apartment for the first time, you have to have a background check. My son did: to rent an apartment, not even to buy a gun.

But to buy a gun in some states people can just go into a store or go online or go to a gun show and buy a weapon of death. It has become too easy to kill in the USA.

We have seen time after time innocent children and adults going to school, or going to the movies, or perhaps shopping at a mall, or to the gym, or in the case of Susan C. just standing in her driveway at the wrong moment.

When will it stop?

When will we say to the men and women who serve in our state and national legislatures that we will not vote for them if they take money from the gun lobbies?

That is what I plan to do.

I think that enough is enough. Every one of us must make a stand and no longer remain silent. The NRA and gun owners should not be running our Congress. WE, The PEOPLE should be running Congress.

Is It Serendipity, Just Pure Chance? Or Is My Dad Listening?

2 Sep

My daughter lives in Israel and works at the Peres Center for Peace in Yaffo/Jaffa. I am so proud of her and all that she has accomplished. So when I learned at a committee meeting I serve on for my synagogue, Kehilath Israel, that they wanted more women speakers at services, I made an offer.

I told our Rabbi that my daughter would be flying in from Israel for Yom Kippur and for Succot, and perhaps she could speak about the Peres Center on the Saturday after Yom Kippur.

I figured I was doing everyone a favor: first after Yom Kippur everyone is exhausted. I thought the Rabbi could use a rest from speaking. Second, they wanted more women to make presentations, especially women members. Since my daughter grew up in the congregation, she would qualify on that account. Third and finally, my daughter would have a chance to tell the congregation about the Peres Center for Peace, providing some publicity for this non-profit and its work.

So it would be a little something for everyone, with positive outcomes for all.

The Rabbi agreed it would be a great idea. My daughter agreed, and said she would like to do it. Thus on the Saturday after Yom Kippur, my daughter will speak during Shabbat services at our synagogue.

I told my husband that he had to go to services with me that Saturday. We would get to hear our daughter speak, and perhaps ‘kvell’ a bit. But it is not to be, as he has to be out of town that weekend on business. I was disappointed, and a bit sad that he will miss it and will not get to hear her speak. I had been looking forward to sitting with him, among our friends, and sort of bask in the glow of hearing our daughter.

I told a friend about my daughter’s talk, and my husband’s travel. She understood my disappointment. She said her husband is out of town that weekend as well; so even though she belongs to a different congregation, she is going to come to services with me to hear my daughter speak. Okay I am not alone.

But today, I realized I was never really alone. That same Saturday will be the Shabbat that my Father’s name will be read to the congregation because his yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) is that week. I will stand and say Kaddish (prayer to honor the dead) for my Dad at services.

I say Kaddish for my parents, my grandparents, some cousins and my brother in law. It is the last act of kindness I can do for them. I remember them. Each time I rise to say Kaddish, I feel as though that person is with me for that moment of prayer. I commune with the in my mind. Their name is not forgotten. And so on this day I will remember my Dad and he will be with me.

My Dad was extremely active at his congregation, Temple Israel, in New Jersey. He served as president for eleven years. YES, 11 years. He went to services almost every week. It was his congregation, the Rabbi and the members, who emotionally supported him when my Mom was ill and then passed away.

It was members of the congregation that supported my siblings and I when our Dad died nine months after Mom.   They came to every night of Shiva. They brought food and gave us comfort. The Rabbi was there for us for too many funerals that year, even as he himself endured the loss of his wife.

My parents were so involved in their congregation. They shopped each Thursday at Costco to buy the food needed for the Shabbat Kiddush. They cooked; they volunteers; they served on the board; they went to services.

Mom was the daughter of European immigrants. The granddaughter, niece, cousin of many who perished in the Shoah, she also believed it was important to support the work of her shul (synagogue). My Dad believed in the importance of being a proud Jewish man, a husband, a father, a grandfather and a friend. He was so proud of all his grandchildren. He would be delighted to know she was making a presentation to the members of our synagogue. He would be so proud of her!

In my heart I want to believe that my parents know where my daughter lives and where she works. I believe they are watching over her. I do not think it is serendipity that my Dad’s yahrzeit is that day. I did not realize it when I made the offer. But it makes so much sense. It ties everything together for me.

When I rise to say the Kaddish, I believe he will have listened to his oldest granddaughter as she spoke to the congregation. I know that my Dad will be there with us, beaming in pride. Sometimes serendipity is more than just pure chance!