Archive | January, 2017

Speak Out In Times of Great Moral Crisis

29 Jan

“The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Dante


In March 2002, my husband and I took our two children to Washington, DC, for spring break. We decided that in order to show no fear in face of terrorism we would go to our nation’s capitol and visit all of the museums and sites.

The White House was still closed to the public. There were snipers on the roof. And new obstacles to block terrorist attacks were being put into place.

But we went to museums, to the Library of Congress, to the Ford Theater, to George Washington’s Home at Mount Vernon. We showed our children that these places will stand. And no matter what happens, we as citizens of the United States had freedoms.

My son was 11 and my daughter was 15. My husband had already been to the Holocaust Museum. We decided that I would take our daughter there, while my husband took our son back to the hotel. A good decision at the time, as it is a difficult museum to see.

My daughter and I walked the halls of the museum. We watched movies and videos. We listened to testimony. We looked at memorabilia. Then we went to the Hall of Remembrance. I wanted to light a candle in memory of my family who perished in the Shoah. For my great grandmother, Chava, for whom I am named; her husband, Gimple, and their children, in laws, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, nieces and nephews who had all perished in the fires of hatred.

But there were no candles left. And I cried. My daughter searched throughout the room for one last candle for me to light.   And then she sat with me as I cried.   I cried for all those who perished without a name. I cried for all those families who had no one left to cry for them.

When I left I purchased a poster, this poster that I show on this blog. This poster, which I framed and hung in my home office; its words call out to me even louder now.   We cannot remain silent in times of great moral crisis.   We cannot be silent like those who said they were only following orders.

We in the United States are now in a great moral crisis. There is no legality in singling out one religion over others. Timothy McVeigh was not a Moslem, he killed 168 people in Oklahoma City. He was a white Christian.   Should we ban all white Christians?

I am so shocked by what is occurring. Those in Congress who say they have values and care about family and country. You are living in a lie. Your alternative truths are lies.

For those of us of faith, we know what the Torah, the Bible says.  It says: “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.  The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native born.  Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.  (Leviticus 19:33-34).  We were strangers in a strange land.  And most of those who live in the United States now were also strangers in a strange land, the descendants of immigrants and refugees.

Anyone who really cares about our country and our people, you must not be silent. We must speak out in times of great moral crisis!  Call your Legislators and Senators; speak out.  Vote!  Support the ACLU! Do not remain silent.  If we do,  then we are condoning those who are the enemy of what the United States stands for: liberty and justice for all.

Why I Marched

22 Jan
my-coexists-sign

My personal rally sign.

Bring in the light.  Restore hope. Support those who are afraid. Make it known that we stand together.

I was not walking against Trump, rather I was marching for those who were feeling lost, frightened and scared since his election. I wanted them to see that we are not silent. That we stand together, and there is no return to the 1930s.

People are so down and pessimistic. While I am an optimist. I always try to find the happy, bright and light in each adventure that impacts me.

So on Saturday I saw the light. On this day when I had planned to go to synagogue and chant Kaddish on the yahrzeit of my mother, I took a different path.

My Mom was one of the kindest people. She taught fourth grade for 30 years.  And she opened her arms to all people. In her honor I marched with so many who were opening their hearts and arms.

My physical self marched in Kansas City, while my spirit marched with women and children and men throughout the world.

To all I say, ” Look at us. We are women! We stand together! We are not afraid! And we will be active in our pursuit of justice and equality for all.”

Brothers and Sisters Must Stick Together

19 Jan

“Brothers and sisters must stick together,” my parents would continually make this statement to my brother, sister and me throughout our childhood.  If we had a disagreement, they would intone this mantra. It was used in many ways.

If a friend of my brother’s bugged me, he would stop it. But then he would bug me.  Brothers protect sisters from others, but that does not mean he could not tease me. His interpretation of this saying.

Over the years my sibling and I have come together many times to help each other.  And this sentiment fills my mind and my soul. We will always stick together.  We repeated it many times when our parents passed away within nine months of each other.

As we cleaned and divided their homes, my brother would say, “Nothing is worth fighting over.”  And we knew that “Brothers and Sisters must stick together.”  It helped to hear these words from my parents. It was an emotional time, and sometimes we needed this reminder.

But I have to say my parents and their siblings took this to the zenith degree.  My Dad and his sister passed away within days of each other. It shocked us, as we sat shiva for both.   My Dad called my Aunt almost every day after my Mom passed, but even before they spoke often. And each winter spent months together in Florida. At the time I remember thinking that they could not survive without each other as they were so close. So although I was shocked when it happened,  I was not really surprised.  Brothers and sisters must stick together.

But this week it really amazed me.  To be honest my Mom and her brother had a separation.  They did not speak to each other the last years of my mother’s life. This broke her heart. Although she often spoke of her brother, Mom passed away before the rift was ended. Her mantra of “Brothers and Sisters must stick together,” did not help in this instance.  But my cousin, who I always kept close with, came to see her. And that help to ease her.

In the past six years the family has healed.  My siblings and I have visited with my Uncle. We see our cousins.  We help in times of need.  Brothers and sisters sticking together. The family has reunited. 

Yesterday my Uncle passed away.  He had been ill for a while, but this week he went into hospice. I spoke to my cousins multiple times during the week.  And texted in between.  I love her and I knew this was so difficult.  And then he slowly slipped away, just days before his 90th birthday. When I got the call I was not surprised. But a few minutes later it hit me, this day was my Mom’s yahrzeit, the religious anniversary of her death.

I texted my cousin: her response was perfect, “Maybe now they will make peace.”

But to me it was a sign. To my siblings I texted, “Brothers and sisters must stick together.”

Memories of the Multi-Colored, Rainbow Fence

19 Jan

My son and I recently completed a project in my home. We stripped wallpaper off the walls of a bathroom and covered the vacant walls with a lovely sea foam-colored paint. I loved working on this project with my son over his winter break!

While we were painting, I kept flashing back to my Grandpa Nat, for whom my son is named. Grandpa would have loved that my son was taking on a painting project and successfully meeting my expectations.   It was my grandfather who taught me the skill of scrapping and painting and keeping a home in shape.

As the owner of a small Catskill’s bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake, Grandpa did much of the maintenance on his own, with help from my Dad and us, his grandchildren.   The difficult plumbing and electrical work was done by professionals, the painting was a chore we could all do. And we did.

“IF you don’t Work, you don’t Eat,” Grandpa would intone. Of course we always ate, but he wanted us to know that it was important to have a good work ethic. In the real world, not working meant no money.

In the spring, that work ethic was obvious. We would go up to the Catskills before the season began for my Dad to help Grandpa get the bungalows ready. My brother and I were scrappers and painters. They would put us along the bottom of the bungalows that needed to be painted, where we scrapped off the peeling paint.

When that chore was completed to Grandpa’s satisfaction, my brother and I would be allowed to paint the bottom.   I actually loved it! It was my favorite chore, even though all the buildings were painted white. (I think my sister was too young to be part of the paint squard!)

Now I have to tell you that my Grandpa was colorblind. ALL colors looked the same for him. Whereas, my Grandma loved colors. So in a way what happened one spring is partly my grandmother’s fault.

Every other spring, my grandfather would paint the wooden fence that surrounded the colony. Our colony was located across from the lake along the side of West Shore Road.   During the week, the road was quiet with virtually no cars. But on the weekend, the road was zipping with cars.   The fence kept all the children safe.

I do not know why, but one spring Grandpa painted the fence when we were not there.   And instead of getting new paint cans, he decided to use all the old paint that was in storage: exterior and interior paint. Why waste it? He did not mix the cans together. That might have been better, as everything would have been grey.   However, that is not what he did!

Instead as he finished one can of paint, he opened another and continued painting where he left off, over and over again. It was rainbow like in its many colors, but not in any rainbow order. When we drove up to the Catskills and arrived at the colony, we were amazed to see, what I thought was lovely, a multi-colored fence surrounding the property. I cannot remember all the colors that covered the wood. But it was noticeable. My parents were stunned. And then they laughed.

My grandfather had no idea what the fuss was about. When they told him, he just roared in laughter. 

I think it stayed that way for two years, even though some of the tenants complained. Although my mother and grandmother were not fans of the multicolored fence, I was. It made me happy. We were the only bungalow colony with such a joyful fence. When he repainted it, he used just one color, grey. 

So as my son painted the walls in my bathroom, a joyful sea foam blue, I continually flashed back to the joyful multicolored, rainbow fence that surrounded our bungalows.

Fear Is Not The Right Response

11 Jan

I have heard the word, “fear,” way too often in the past few weeks. Really! Stop with the fear! You want to be angry. I can handle that. I am angry. I am angry that terrorism and politics are causing many to bend with fear. Do NOT!

White supremacist; ISIS; mentally ill young men with guns; shootings at an airport, at a school, a nightclub, at a mall; Nazi symbols defacing property and tombstones; tirades of racist and anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric during political events and elsewhere. Bomb threats phoned into Jewish Community Centers and schools.

Since 9/11 so many people seem to live in fear.  It seems  important decisions that impact many are based on that fear as well.  Yes, we must be careful. But we have to stop being so afraid!

People tell me and write on Facebook that they are afraid. Well I am not afraid. I am so darn ANGRY!  I believe what I have is righteous anger!

I am angry that in 2017 that people have not realized that this is one world, and we all live in it. That if a bomb goes off in one area, it impacts many areas.   We are all connected. And no matter what anyone believes, we really do have to work together to keep our world intact.

I am angry that guns are such a problem in the USA. That mentally unstable people can so easily obtain a gun and blast away, taking lives and destroying families.   I am angry that the sane gun owners do not stand up to the gun lobby and say, “Enough is enough.   We want the right to have guns, but we also do not want so many innocents killed. Let’s do away with semi automatic and automatic weapons.”  I am angry that this has not yet happened.

I am angry that instead of stopping gun violence with the only thing that would work, less guns. Some states, including my own, have legislators who voted to allow concealed carry for people who are not even trained to use guns. They are all insane in my mind. And they make me ANGRY!

I am angry that people are not kind to each other. They use words and actions that harm others and do not ask forgiveness. I am angry that some judges still allow convicted rapists off with a short sentence, and do not consider the victim of the rape. What is this? The judges should be impeached.

I am angry about what I perceive as a war against women’s health issues. I am tired of women being written out of history and their stories being hidden away, as men seem unable to deal with the competition of smart, intelligent women. I AM ANGRY!

I know I seem angry about many issues. But my biggest anger is for those who say they are afraid!   Franklin D. Roosevelt stated so wisely, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” And that is what I believe.

Do not let yourself be immobilized by fear. Words associated with fear include: “scared to death, “ “Frozen in fear,” “make your blood run cold,” “wild with fear,” panic, anxiety and terror.   These are not the words we need to use.

Be angry. This emotion promotes action. And we need action to combat what is happening in the world. My grandmother left Poland when she was 16 years old, alone, in 1922. She had lived through the First World War in Poland. And she had survived and was ready to move on. She did not let her fear make her inactive. NO, she lived. And she fought to get to the USA.   And then she helped members of her family escape Poland in 1936.   Her rightful anger gave her the energy to ACT. And her actions saved lives.

When you are angry, you might ‘bite someone’s head off’ but you will not be silenced!

I am not saying to be out of control angry. My mother would say, “When you lose your temper, you lose the war.” I do not advocate losing your temper, but I do advocate using your anger to bring to action to accomplish good.

No terrorist or terrorism or shootings or anti-Semitic acts will frighten me. But these actions will enrage me and move me to actions.

So stop being afraid! Fear is not the right response to evil. Work for good. Be angry and DO SOMETHING!

It is a GRAVE Matter…Really

6 Jan

photo-1

My parents and grandparents are all together.

Over the years I have avoided one important part of my estate planning.  Buying a gravesite for my husband and for me.

I know this is important. But the thought of buying a grave made me sad.  I do not know why. My parents planned ahead. They purchased their graves as part of a family plot in New Jersey. In this same shared area rest all four of my grandparents, my parents and my aunts and uncles on my dad’s side.  When I was a child, no one was buried there. Unfortunately, now all but one of the assigned graves are now filled. 

At the time the graves were purchased, only my two uncles’ names were placed on the contract, as the cemetery would not allow  three names to be on it.  This left my father out. It was not a big deal until my mom died, and we found out that we had no authority to open her grave.  Same thing with my dad.  Luckily we are a close family and my cousins immediately did all that needed to be done. In fact my one cousin went out of his way to help all the cousins as he not only arranged for us to purchase perpetual care for the graves, he has also kept close watch on the care.  When we suffered the loss of our parents and his mother within a year, it was this cousin who made sure the that all three stones were placed properly. We are so thankful for his concern. As we suffered multiple losses that year.

Every year when I go back east, my sister and I make a pilgrimage to the cemetery.  Besides visiting all of our relatives, we take a short stroll to the resting place of my cousin’s other grandparents and relatives.  They are all so close together.  Remembering to bring the correct number of stones, is the hardest part.

Across from our parents, my sister and brother have a resting spot that includes their spouses. Unfortunately one grave is already occupied.   In fact it was this death about five years ago that started my quest and my inquiries about cemeteries.  But it has not been easy for me.

It was convenient for my siblings to buy for all of them as they  live in New Jersey.  But for me it is different.  My husband is from Missouri, and we live in Kansas. We have no family here.  Our daughter lives out of the country. And though our son lives near us now, who knows where he will end up.  So we have been indecisive about what to do.

Where should we eventually be buried?  OY! The best was to ignore this nagging and difficult choice.

This fall one of my close friends, a walking buddy, spent an entire walk telling me about the arrangements she and her husband recently made for their final home.  She also wanted to be sure her children would have no worries. The decision is made and paid for in advance.  It made me start thinking about our grave matter once again.

To be honest my husband does not care where we end up.  “When we are dead we are dead,” he says. “It won’t matter to us at all.”   But I think it will matter to our children if they do not have to worry about this decision in the midst of emotional turmoil.  It is hard enough when a parent dies without having to make this decision as well.  I knew my obsession had to be dealt with when I found myself reading the cemetery plot ads in the Jewish Forward.  That was a bit too much even for me.

As I am interested in genealogy, it was important to me that  our descendants  to be able to find us. I have seen the joy of discovery as people find the graves of their grandparents, great grandparents and even further back. It is so wonderful to have these in one place. So even though we belong to two synagogues, and we could buy plots in their cemeteries,  I do not want to be alone, away from everyone. It might be crazy, but that is how I feel.

The issue came to a head this past November, when my husband’s stepmother died.  She always planned to be buried on one side of my husband’s dad.  He and his first wife, my husband’s mother, are already buried there, as well as my husband’s grandparents. But things did not go as plannned.  Even though there are four empty graves in the plot, my father in law had never designated her to be buried there.  And with my father in law and his brother both deceased, the four plots are owned by the five adults in the next generation.  Since we are out of contact with my husband’s cousins, we were not allowed to bury her in this grave. It made for a tense few days. But the cemetery’s executive director would not  allow it.  (We assume the cemetery must have had lawsuits in the past over similar issues! )

No matter,  she had to be buried in a different cemertary.   But at least it was with her family. A cousin of hers who had purchased multiple plots donated one to her.   I was glad she was not alone.

This situation, the days of trying to figure out what would happen, increased my determination that our children should not have to deal with the issue of a grave site.  I was so upset. I do not want my children worrying about where to bury me. I want it settled.

But now I had a plan.  It is stupid for us to go to New Jersey especially since there are four perfectly good plots in St. Louis.   I am on a mission.  I am working with the cemetery to track down my husband’s first cousins.  It seems we are all joint owners of these four graves. I want two of these plots. It is stupid for them to stay empty when they can be used.

Even the woman I am working with at the cemetery agrees it is foolish to leave them unused.  But she says it happens often. Families drift apart and move away.  The original owner is long dead.  And the ownership continues to pass on to the next generation involving more and more descendants. And the cemetery is stuck, unable to let anyone use the graves.

Well one thing I have learned through my interest in genealogy, and my great contacts on the “Tracing the Tribe Facebook” group, research.  The person at the cemetery told me she could not find my husband’s cousins.  I took that as a challenge.  Within 90 minutes I had their names, their spouses’ names and the names of their children.  I have sent that information on to the cemetery’s office for them to be contacted.  (My research did remind me that my father in law and his brother died just over a month apart.  Even though they had not spoken to each other in perhaps 25 years, they had this connection: One died two weeks before 9/11 and one three weeks after. )

I have another back up plan as well.  My sister in law in St. Louis also has a group plot with her brothers and parents. When I unloaded my stress over finding a grave, she told me that they had some extra plots.  “You probably could buy two plots from us, if that would make me feel better and calm you down,” she laughed as she made this suggestion.  But my loving niece understands.  She promised me that she would come to visit ” her crazy aunt” in St. Louis.

My new year’s resolution for 2017:  I am focusing on resolving this grave matter.   I hope to find my husband’s cousins and come to an agreement about the graves.  Or purchase two plots from my sister in law’s family.  It is my resolution to buy two graves…   NOT that I want to use them anytime soon.
Update: we have two graves with my sister in law and her family in the St Louis area. I am at peace. My children will have an easier time with this knowledge. 

The Antique European Hannukiah

5 Jan

When my husband’s mother died in 1984,  we were given the opportunity to chose some of her personal items.  My husband and I were the only children who were dedicated to having a Jewish family, so we took most of the Jewish religious items, including this Hannukiah that belonged to his grandparents.

My mother-in-law told me that  was her father’s and had come with her parents from Europe in the early 1900s.  This was the Hannukiah the family used when she grew up. It was the item she chose to keep after her father died, when she was 16.

I know it is bronze.   I know that once it burned oil, as the dark burn stains still are visible.  But we have never used it.

Years ago, when I went to the Jewish Museum on 92nd Street, in New York City, I purchased a book entitled, Treasures of The Jewish Museum, published in 1986.  While looking through the book, I discovered on page 66, a hanukkiah much like ours.  It said it came from Spain or France and was first used in the end of the 13th or beginning of the 14th century.  The book says, “The gabled end of a Gothic catherdral, rose window and all, was the model for the backplates of the first pendant lamps.”

I remember thinking, impossible.  But it is so similar.  The only difference was that on the museum hannukah lamp, the shamash area was elevated, instead of off to the side, as in our design.

And so the hanukkiah stayed on my book shelf as a decoration along with  other, more modern ones,  that joined the collection over the years.  But that was it.   I never did any follow up.  As long as it was part of the family’s lore and history, that was more than enough for me.

Until this past December, when I went to Israel for a visit.  While there, I spent the day at the Israel Museum with my daughter’s mother-in-law.  As a resident of the Jerusalem area,  she has visited the museum many times.  She suggested we take an English tour of the permanent exhibit.  So we did.  We were the only two who signed up for it.  Lucky for us, we had a private 90-minute tour of the museum.

Since it was close to Hanukkah, the guide took us to see the collection of Hannukiot/hanukkah lamps that the museum owns:  covering many centuries and many countries.  There, on the wall, the very first one, was an exact duplicate of my husband’s grandfather’s Hannukiah!  The one that came from Europe and that he had used when studying medicine in France during the late 1800s.  Wow.

I asked our guide about that Hannukiah, as the touch screen was not working.  She said it was the oldest Hanukkah lamp that the Israel Museum owned.  She thought it came from the 17th century.

So to my husband’s Matassarin/Matassaru family in the USA and Israel: the family Hanukkiah survived.  It did not get destroyed in the Shoah.  No Leon brought it to the USA with him and his family, and used it with his children.

It has been an amazing journey for this centuries old work of Jewish religious ritual item. It traveled with my husband’s grandfather from his home in Hungary with him to medical school in France.  From there, he took it to England, where he met his wife and they had their first three children.  Onward to Canada and to the United States, where he settled in Kansas!   He served as a colonel in the US military in World War 1, then settled in Leavenworth, Kansas.  After he died, his daughter (child 8 of 10) had it in her home in St. Louis.  And finally it resides with us back in Kansas.

I am honored that this Antique European Hanukkiah lives with us.