Archive | January, 2016

Mazel and Good Luck: My Middle Eastern Hamsa and Native American Hand Symbol Collection

26 Jan

I have always been a bit superstitious. Perhaps it is because my grandparents had little things they did to keep evil away and bring good luck. Their Eastern European/Jewish roots had me putting red ribbons or thread on my children’s cribs; saying Yiddish phrases that warded off the evil eye whenever someone said something nice about my children; and learning about the power of a name.

When I went to Israel as a college sophomore, I came in contact for the first time with the hamsa, the palm-shaped, Middle Eastern sign to keep evil away. Specifically, a hamsa usually has the symbol an eye in the middle of the palm to ward off the evil eye, the “ayin hora.”

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The first hamsa I purchased.  It is not totally traditional because it depicts a true hand, not the three finger/two thumb usual hamsa.

On the “My Jewish Learning” website it states that the hamsa has been seen by different groups as a Jewish, Christian and Islamic amulet, and even a pagan fertility symbol. But in now it is recognized as a “kabbalistic amulet and is an important symbol in Jewish art.”

I became intrigued by the hamsa and its ‘magical’ powers to bring “mazel,” good luck, and keep evil away when I was a college student. The first hamsa I purchased was for my parents. This wall plaque adorned the wall near the entrance to their home for over 35 years.   When they passed away, I brought it to my home, where it now hangs near my front door.

I wish I could say that is the only hamsa I have purchased. But it is not. For years, it was very difficult to find one. Occasionally an artist would draw or design a hamsa. Then, about 10 -12 years ago, hamsa art went crazy. I started seeing them in stores and catalogues that had a Jewish base. But I even found them in regular gift stores.

I purchased hamsas to bless new babies and homes. They are made of so many different materials: metals, ceramics, glass, pottery, clay, fabric. Each artist has his or her own vision. They can be wall hangings, picture frames, designs on tzedakah boxes, trivets, jewelry. I even have a hamsa mezuzah! That must have double positive energy!

I have seen necklaces, bracelets, earrings and pins made in the shape of a hamsa. I admit I own some.

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Left: The Middle Eastern Hamsa; Right: the Native American Hand Symbol

About six years ago I found out that the hand symbol for protection was not just a middle eastern amulet.   I was in Arizona on vacation, in a ‘western’ store, when I came upon a hand with a circular spiral design in the center. This hand symbol, I found out “represents spiritual power, strength, domination and protection” for Native American warriors, according to the Warpaths2Peacepipes website.

So, of course, I purchased some of these hand symbols as well. They are different. The Native American hands actually look like hands, whereas the hamsa usually has a large center palm and three normal fingers, but what looks like two thumbs one on each side.

For me, their similar designs which provides the same message of protection for those who wear them makes sense. How many times to we hold up our hand to say, Stop!” And so with the hand we ask people to back off, calm down and stay away.

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Top two designs are hamsa, the bottom one is a hand symbol.

Thus cultures in two distant parts of the world created similar symbols for protection. I love it. My hamsa/hand symbol collection is intertwined with art from both displayed together.

But I must add that one type of Native American hand symbols is actually called the Hand Eye symbol. This symbol looks remarkably like the hamsa. This symbol was used by a group of Native American called the “Mississippian culture of the Mound Builders.” It was an important symbol for them but there is a belief that it related to entry to heaven and a solar deity. (According to the Warpaths2Peacepipes web site.)

Although it is not a protection amulet to me it seems to still send out positive energy with its relationship to heaven.

Perhaps my collection cannot truly do anything for me. But in my mind, it cannot hurt to have these symbols of protection and love and strength scattered throughout my house.

 

 

 

 

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hamsa/

http://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-symbols/hand-symbol.htm

 

Oh Canada: My love of Canada Was Nurtured in High School

23 Jan

I have been fascinated with Canada ever since I read my first “Anne of Green Gables” book. The books made me want to see Prince Edward Island and the people of the island, and I loved the character of Anne Shirley. But it wasn’t till I was in my junior or senior year at North Bergen High School that I was able to really learn something about modern Canada.

At school, the administration decided to have these little one-quarter classes. You had a choice to take one or two each semester. Among the classes offered was one about Canada by Ann-Ruth Enowitz, a history/social studies teacher. For me she brought Canada to life. And my desire to see Canada and learn more about it intensified.

I loved her class. I liked her as well. We learned about the provinces, the history with England, France and the United States. We even learned to sing the Canadian national anthem, “O Canada!”. There were just a few of us in the class. I think we met in a conference room in the library.

Although I had not been to Canada, I knew that many Canadians came down to New York. It was so close to travel and visit. Many had families in both countries. But for me, the closest I came to Canada was the Canadian exhibit at Disney World’s Epcot Center. But I wanted the real thing!

The class only piqued my interest!

My first trip was to Montreal for a family wedding. My plane was late, of course, and I could not remember the name of the hotel. But luckily I had the address of the party I was supposed to go to that night. By the time the taxi got me there, the party was over. But my mom and dad were sitting on the stoop waiting for me. In the time before cell phones, they were worried and could only hope and wait for me.

Once that emergency passed, I had a great time. We went on tours around Montreal. I loved the old town by the river and visiting all the French sites. We enjoyed the wedding, and my love of Canada continued.

My next trip to a Canadian city occurred when my husband and I were living in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a hop and a skip to get to Windsor, Canada. Many people went shopping there because the dollar bought more. My friend Ginny and took a trip there to shop. I will admit I almost caused a big problem at the border, but we finally got through.

My husband and I went back for a week’s vacation, driving through Canada; negotiating the weird signs. The signs don’t say, ‘merge’; they say ‘squeeze.’ Or they did. We went to Stafford and saw a Shakespearean play.   We drove to Toronto…just missing the traffic for the Pope. We got there the day after he left, but all the barricades were still around. It was September 1984.

We made our way all the way to Niagara Falls and spent a day and night there: taking the boat ride to the falls, walking along the Canadian side. We drove back along a southern route, but stayed in Canada. We stopped at Alexander Graham Bell’s’ home and the Royal Botanical Gardens. I loved that trip.

Ms. Enowitz’ class so many years before helped me on all these trips. She had spent much time on Toronto, Montreal and Niagara Falls, discussing border issues, and the wars between the French and English, as well as the US and Canada. Who knew that we once went to war with Canada!!! But her history lessons came to life as we visited forts and cities along the way.

Houseboats Vancouver

Some of the houseboats we saw as we walked to Stanley Park.

Many years later I went to Vancouver.  My husband was there for a meeting, and I was there to see the sites. But he had some time off and we took long walks and visited Stanley Park together and looked at all the houseboats along the way. I went to museums and Granville Island with a friend.

It was just two years after 9/11 and security was very tight. There were talks of terrorist trying to get over the border from Canada to the USA. So perhaps it was not the smartest move on our part to fly home on September 11. But it was my Dad’s birthday. And my parents were staying with our children. I promised my Dad he would be off duty for his birthday.

For some reason, security focused on my husband. They checked him at least three times. And even when I went down the walkway to the plane, I noticed he was gone. I walked back and there at the entrance they made take off his shoes and were checking him again.

But we still loved Vancouver. I always thought we would take our children there, but never did; just a pass through on the way to Alaska.

Another trip to Canada with my husband took us to Montreal as we started a cruise up the St. Lawrence Seaway. We spent several days first just walking around Montreal. The first stop on the cruise was a day in Quebec City. I loved it there so much, a few years later we travel to Quebec City and spent a week there. This French and English town is so interesting. Like being in Europe, but staying in North America.

We also went to Halifax, where several important battles were fought, and the survivors and victims of the Titanic were taken to after their recovery.

However, most important part of the cruise was finally making my way to Prince Edward Island and visiting all the sites made famous by Lucy Maud Montgomery (LMM) and her Ann of Green Gables books. I told my husband in advance that we had to do the Ultimate Green Gables tour. He agreed. And my favorite part of the cruise occurred on this tour.

Green Gables

Green Gables, the Anne Shirley home!

My husband was not an Anne Shirley fan. He knew nothing about her, nor about Lucy Maud Montgomery. Needless to say he was not as excited as the other 50 or so mainly women on the bus. So when we got to Green Gables, the house owned by LMM’s aunt and uncle that the house in the stories was based on, my husband was not that impressed.

Anne Shirley's room

Anne Shirley’s “room,” at the top of the stairs.

And when we went up the tiny staircase to the second floor, the tour guide said as you get up the stairs look to you left and you will see Anne Shirley’s room. I was so excited; I exited the staircase, with my camera ready and started taking photos. My husband said, “You know, Anne Shirley was just a fictional character and that is not her room.”

I turned to say something back to him so he would understand my joy and not undercut it! But I did not need to say anything; the woman behind him said, “You know you could just go back to the bus.”

From that point on my husband was silent. He just enjoyed the rest of the tour realizing he was with a bunch of Anne Shirley fanatics. And I had pure joy.

I thought that was it. I had satisfied my Canadian obsession. But then my daughter became engaged to a Canadian. I now learned that you can put maple syrup on everything you eat and there are such things as maple syrup lollipops.

To this day I think of Ms. Enowitz whenever I travel to Canada. It was a very brief class, but one I always remember.

 

 

Temple Beth El Has Closed, But It is Not Gone

15 Jan

I was sad when I learned through a North Bergen Facebook group that after 91 years, Temple Beth El on 75th Street in North Bergen was closing. This synagogue was where I spent most of my childhood, from third grade until I married. Right across the street from Robert Fulton Elementary School, Temple Beth El is where I spent four days each week in Hebrew School after I finished my secular classes.

I remember going to synagogue for holidays and Shabbat. I loved going when I was young because my great Uncle Leo and Tanta Esther belonged to Beth El. And Uncle Leo always had candy in his pocket. When we came to services he would slip us some candy. Uncle Leo was a very quiet man with a German accent. But when he put his hand in his suit jacket and brought out a sweet, a gentle smile would come over his face as he said, “here.” And handed over the candy.

When my brother and I would go by ourselves as we prepared for our confirmation classes, Uncle Leo was still there. And even though we were in our early teens, we made sure to sit next to him to get our candy!

I remember Cantor Ovstbaum and Rabbi Sidney Nissenbaum. The Cantor  wrote a Purim Spiel play using the melodies from the opera, “Carmen.” I can still sing some of the lyrics to these songs: “My name it is Vashti,” “Ahasverus, I the Glorious,” “Haman’s Seven Sons are We,” and more. I remember Ella P. who was Queen Esther. And my friends who all got singing parts like Shashi. I was not allowed to sing. But I still loved and remember those songs!

Walking to services with my Dad was fun. I especially enjoyed going to services for Succot, when they built the Succah in the small parking lot across the street from the synagogue.   I have so many good memories of the shul, the people, and my many friends who went there with me.

So when I read it was closing, I felt the pangs and sadness of the end to an era. It was a closure that completed with the deaths of my parents, another part of my childhood forever gone.

But then I had a revelation! I got a letter in the mail, which changed my feelings.

When my parents moved from North Bergen to Cliffside Park, they joined Temple Israel on Edgewater Road. My parents became extremely active in this congregation. My Dad served as president for 11 years! It was Rabbi Engelmeyer and the Cantor Peter and the congregants who were so kind to my parents as they aged and helped my Dad so much after my Mom died.   I loved the people of Temple Israel.

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

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

Although I never belonged there, I went to many services there with my parents and always heard so much about it whenever I spoke to my parents. It was at Temple Israel where we had a memorial service for my Mom. It was at Temple Israel that we endowed a library for my parents. It was at Temple Israel that we put up memorial plaques for my parents.

These two congregations were important to me even though I now live in Kansas. I still send donations several times a year in honor of my parents’ and other relatives’ yahrzeits.

So my revelation?   Temple Beth El was not closing. NO! It was merging with Temple Israel.   The new name is Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades!

My Dad would be so happy. Throughout his years as president and board member, he was always searching for ways to keep the congregation alive and financially sound. With the combining of these congregations, perhaps they both will survive.

And in my mind, my Dad had a celestial part in the merging of these congregations. With Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades the memory of my parents and my childhood continues.   Perhaps Uncle Leo never went to services in this sanctuary. But my parents and my siblings and my cousins and my parents friends all have sat there. I can close my eyes and see so many loved ones who are no longer with us.

Temple Beth El is not gone, even though many of the Jewish population have left North Bergen. It is still close by in another form. It has changed with time, as we all do. But it lives in my mind.

The I Cannot Decide What To Do. Really.

11 Jan

The summer before my mother died (2010) she told me that one of her regrets was losing touch with the family of one of her best friend, Evelyn Daitch (Deutch).   She showed me pictures of the two of them together when they were young women.(I have since found out it was spelled Duetch.)

Evelyn Daitch Manowitz

Evelyn in West New York, New Jersey.  December 1945.

Evelyn married and moved to Texas with her husband, Cy (Seymour) Manowitz. Mom and she kept in touch throughout their lives, until Evelyn passed away in her 50s from cancer. And then Mom lost touch.

She asked me to find Evelyn’s family on the internet. She said, “You know how that internet works. I bet you can find them.” Also I lived in the Midwest, so she thought Dallas, Texas, is close to Kansas City.   I did ask some of my friends who were originally from Texas, if they knew the Manowitz family. But no one did.

Grandma Mom 1945

My Mom in West New York, NJ.  Same day as Evelyn. Note the matching outfits!

Then so much happened. Mom took ill suddenly died. My Dad died nine months later. There were other painful family tragedies. I did not have the energy to even remember this.

So I did not complete this mission.

But recently I have been on a roll completing things my Mom left behind. I finished two afgans she had started. My siblings and I cleaned out both homes. I gave her sewing machine to someone who loves to quilt.

So this weekend, I finally looked at the note that I kept in front of my computer with the family’s names, and went on line. Within minutes, I found Evelyn’s husband in Texas. He is 90 years old.

Should I even contact him? I have his address.   I could send him a letter with a copy of a photo of Evelyn. Or should I let this be? I have fulfilled Mom’s request. I found Evelyn’s family.

Evelyn passed away almost 30 years ago. I am not sure her husband would want a message of love from someone else who passed away.   I am not sure what his mental state is these days. I do not know him.

I have his address.   I have his name. I have at least one photo of Evelyn.

But he is not family. And I really do not want to disturb him with a piece of the past that cannot change anything. My Mom is now dead. She wanted to contact Evelyn’s family when she was alive. She did not know she would become ill.

I think finding Evelyn’s family was the last thing I wanted to do for my Mom. And it is done. I don’t think I have to contact him

But part of me cannot decide what to do….really.

Thanks to members of Tracing the Tribe, I know Seymour passed away over a year ago. But that someone with the same last name lives in his house. So I sent a letter with the copy of the photo. Another TTT member found a nephew on Facebook. So I messaged him. I hope to give this photo to a family member. Thank you all for the help.

Finding The Nina’s Starts A Perfect New York City Day

3 Jan
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My Al Hirschfeld Collection, including the article that appeared in the NY Times a few days after his death.

Like many who grew up in the New Jersey/New York City area in the 50s, 60s and 70s, my Sunday morning routine included one important item, I had to open the New York Times and find the Nina’s in the newest Al Hirschfeld drawing!

My Dad started me on the search for Nina’s. Little did he know what would happen to me. I became obsessed.   I loved looking at the newest entertainment stars Hirschfeld had rendered in ink. They often were stars of Broadway musicals, another passion I developed. I especially loved when he did a complicated drawing that had more than one Nina! Heaven!

Thus it is not surprising that over the years, I purchased books of Hirschfeld’s drawings so that I could look for Nina’s even when I was not getting the “New York Times.” Especially when he passed away at age 99 and his long run of drawings for the paper and the world ended. I was saddened when he passed away close to my birthday in January of 2003.

I even saved the article that appeared in the New York Times on January 26, 2003, six days after his death. He was that important to me.

When I was older and moved to the Midwest, I was glad he was born in St. Louis, the same city where my husband was born.  Another connection!

There is something about his drawings that are so free and moving. He captured the essence of each person with such simple lines; it is deceiving. And so many of his drawings are just joyful.

I have been to the Al Hirschfeld Theater in NYC, (last time to see Kinky Boots) where a permanent display of replicas his works adorn the second floor walls. I made my daughter look at each drawing with me to find the Nina’s. A tradition she had to share!

This past summer, in July 2015, when I visited my family, I enticed my sister to go with me to the New York Historical Society to see the exhibition: “The Hirschfeld Century: The Art of Al Hirschfeld.”

To be honest, it did not take too much enticing the get my sister to leave New Jersey with me to see the exhibition. She knew how much I loved his drawings. In fact she and her husband purchased the book, Hirschfeld on Hirschfeld for me as a gift many years ago!

And, of course, she also grew up looking for the Nina’s. We might have had one or two arguments over his drawings through the years. Who would find the Nina’s first was a big deal!

The exhibit was wonderful. My sister and I went from drawing to drawing, checking the number by his name to see how many Nina’s we needed to find. And then the search was on.   We looked at every sketch, drawing and film.  It was delightful.

I wanted to take a photo at the art table that was set up. But the guard would not let me. Sigh.   I could almost imagine myself as Hirschfeld, but no such luck. I am not a good artist. But I was disappointed not to have the photo at the replica of his desk.

The gift shop lured us in. Luckily they would ship my purchases home! A book, a mug, a t-shirt and some gift cards went to the Midwest. My sister’s purchases spent the rest of the day in Manhattan with us, even attending a show with our Aunt and cousin.

It was a glorious New York City type of day: subway ride, taxi, show, lunch, ice tea at Bryant Park, dinner at the Bryant Park Grill in the City, hanging out with family, and Finding the Nina’s!