Archive | September, 2017

In This Time of Asking Forgiveness, I Am Donating to Help Hurricane Survivors

28 Sep


We were in San Juan, Puerto Rico in June.  A lovely island for a day of sight seeing as we cruised the Caribbean.  We took a bus to the Fort in San Juan, and then a walking tour from the Fort back to the ship.   We passed beautiful flowering trees and plants, lush gardens, We toured the Fort that overlooks the ocean and once protected the island from invaders.  We looked down the coast to see the lovely beaches.


But Hurricane Maria has devasted the island.   So many millions without food, water, housing.  Searching for a way off the island, tourists who live elsewhere are stuck, stranded away from their home.  While those whose home is Puerto Rica are afraid of the future.  When where the power grid be repaired, when will the water and the food be available again. When will the roads be fixed.  When will medical care and schools be able to return to normal.


Puerto Rico is one of many islands that faced destruction in the way of Hurricane Irma and Maria, while Florida and Texas also suffered horrors during to hurricane season, Hurricane Harvey and Irma impacted these areas.  Connected to other states and cities,  Florida and Texas are fortunate in that help can come more quickly for these impacted areas, where as the islands of the Caribbean are isolated.

Cruise ships are cancelling vacation cruises in order to help evacuate the islands and bring supplies.  But in reality, there is no tourism or vacation in some sections of the Caribbean now as the destruction of the islands’ infrastructures make tourism impossible.

I cannot go there to help.  But I can donate. I can provide tzedakah to those in need. I chose the “oneamericanappeal.org” that was endorsed by and set up by our five former presidents: Bush, Bush, Carter, Clinton and Obama: Republicans and Democrats coming together to help our citizens in need.

I know that not everyone can help financially.  But those of us who can, must.   The island of Puerto Rico will never be the same.  But perhaps it can even be better as the power grid is rebuilt and the water supply fixed…as it will be updated and modernized. The Virgin Island of St. Thomas was also devastated.  These islands are our responsibility.  The citizens of these islands are citizens of the United States.

It has been a difficult time for many.  Fires in the west and northwest are causing destruction and health issues.  The many hurricanes have devasted areas with their high winds and flooding rains. I also sent sent a donation to help with these disasters as well through the Jewish Federation.

With this season of asking for forgiveness, the time between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, I think that doing good for others ,  tzedakah and gemilut Chasadim, shows my commitment to tikkun olam.  As I ask forgiveness for all that I might have done to hurt others during the year, I send donations to help those in need. 

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Are There The Ghosts At Holiday Celebrations?

21 Sep

Another holiday.  A festive meal. Visits with family and close friends. Celebrating. But as I entered the room for dinner, for a moment I saw my Dad the last time he celebrated a holiday at my friend’s home. And next to him was their mother.  Both passed away years ago. But I saw them smiling and talking. 

This is not the first time I saw a vision of a loved one who has passed at a holiday table or at a special event. I am sure some think it is just my imagination or a vivid memory.  Perhaps it is both. 

But I am not so sure. 

How can a vivid memory describe the moment at my daughter’s wedding when, for a brief moment, I saw my parents standing to the side smiling. Was it something I wanted to see so badly, that my brain produced the image for me? Perhaps. 

But what about those times when I can still hear my mother’s voice as I am preparing a holiday meal. I do not use recipes, I just listen to that inner voice telling me what to do next. But that voice is always my Mom or one of my Grandma’s.  So are they there?

Or when I went to purchase holiday challah. At first I thought I would just get one round raisen challah.  We really do not need two challah. But then there was My grandfather’s image pointing to the plain challah as well. Yes I purchased both. Grandpa was a baker, so I had to follow his advice. 

At our Catskills home I have the most vivid images.  One day this summer, as my sister stood at the kitchen sink, I saw two images next to her.  Both my Mom and Grandma stood there and each was superimposed on the kitchen that existed in their time.  It was just an instant, but for a moment I was in a time warp. My sister, my Mom and my Grandma all standing at the sink speaking to me. (They were probably all giving me instructions!)

We have spent over fifty years in the house in Kauneonga Lake, and the memories are so strong there.  We spent many Rosh Hashannah holidays eating a festive meal and preparing for the new year. But there are also so many summer memories infused in the being of the house.  It is not difficult to imagine a loved one walking in the rooms along side me. 

There are ghosts of people I knew in my synagogue as well. Since I go regularly, I am used to people sitting in certain seats. They are not assigned. But people seem to find a place that is comfortable and so sit there every week. I have my seat and from my vantage point I can close my eyes and envision the room filled with those who passed. 

Recently a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor passed.  When I turn quickly I still see him smiling as he sits in his seat, his walker close by. Other survivors who passed fill the seats as well. When I see their children and grandchildren still coming to synagogue, I feel their spirit of joy in the congregation. 

But the most poignant for me happened about two months ago. I noticed a young man come in to shul with his wife and newborn son. They walked directly to the seat where his grandfather always sat. He sat in his grandfather’s seat holding his son, whose name was a memory for his grandfather. I really thought I could see Sol smiling at his grandson and great grandson filling his seat. It is one of my new favorite memories.  

I believe when someone dies they do not totally disappear.  A bit of them, an essence, stays behind. A smell, a sound, a place can bring their memory and their spirit/presence  back to us. I hope I always see and sense the ghosts of the ones I love at my holiday and other celebrations. 

Grandma’s Ceramic Strawberries Were Meant To Be Mine

13 Sep


My Grandma had two ceramic strawberry shaped jam jars that she never kept jam in.  They were filled with thumb tacks, safety pins, buttons and other little items that she needed to keep corralled in a safe place. She kept the jam jars on her kitchen window sill along side her plants. 

I remember them always being in her home. When she moved out of her West New York, New Jersey,  apartment up to her home in Kauneonga Lake in the Catskills, she took the two strawberries with her.  And they once again graced her window sill. Always there.  A beacon in the kitchen. 

I don’t know why I loved them, but I did. They were a shine of color that brightened up the kitchen. Perhaps I loved them because the red strawberries look like two hearts sending a hug of love. 

When my grandmother died, my grandfather left the house basically how Grandma had it. The knick knacks stayed where they were placed by her.  So even though Grandpa lived about eight years longer, the Catskill’s house still felt like Grandma.  And the strawberries stayed in their place in the kitchen. 

The house in the Catskills went to my parents. Mom and Dad remodeled the kitchen and packed up many of my grandmother’s  tchotchkes and placed the boxes in the garage. 

Eventually my Mom had us go through the boxes. She wanted us to take what we wanted before she donated the rest to charity. So my sister, my cousin and I searched the boxes. I focused on finding the two strawberries. I wanted them. I did not know it, but my cousin wanted them as well. 

“I remember seeing them at Grandma’s!” My cousin said…whined…pled. She knew when I wanted something I was one minded, so she made her case to have them as well. 

I was the older cousin, so I should have them was my first thought.  But there were two. And she really wanted one. So we did the right thing.  We each took one. We shared.  I always say, I gave one up for her because I love her. 

My strawberry returned with me to Kansas, where I put it on my kitchen window sill. It looked lonely without its mate. No matter, I knew my cousin deserved one as well. 

But I think Grandma was looking out for me. I think she knew that I really wanted to have two. I am sentimental. Having one was great, but two would be better. I should have known fate would intervene. 

About a year after I brought the strawberry jam jar home to Kansas, I went out to lunch with a work friend on a summer day. I do not remember the exact day, but Grandma’s birthday was in July. 

  We parked near a small antique/trinket store.  After lunch, since we still had time, we decided to browse in the shop. We had never been there before and honestly, I never went there again. But it ended up being a magical place! 

I still remember the moment I saw it: a small ceramic strawberry jam jar.  It seemed to be exactly like my Grandma’s strawberry. EXACTLY!  I knew I had to buy it.  

The owner wrapped it up in brown paper.  I carefully carried it to my friend’s car. I was so excited. She tried to calm me down a bit by telling me it might not be the same.  But in my heart I knew it was a match. 

Later that day, when I  put it next to my jam jar, I was not disappointed. It was a perfect match.  To this day I cannot tell which one I purchase and which one was Grandma’s!  

Do I believe Grandma had a hand in my finding it?  Is it even possible? I am not sure, but sometimes events happen that have no explanation. I think the jam jar falls into this category.  

As for my cousin, the strawberry jam jar she so wanted, she no longer has in her possession.  She told me that she moved so many times since Grandma died about 36 years ago. At some point the strawberry was lost.  I only moved twice across the country, always taking my strawberries with me. 

But it really does not matter whether she kept hers, for I have the two strawberry jam jars that were meant to be mine. 

Monarch Butterflies Bring Joy

12 Sep

It has been a harsh end of summer. Hurricanes have devastated Houston, Texas,  and large swatches of Florida. Homes destroyed; trees down; major flooding; and entire communities destroyed in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean. 

 Major fires are burning throughout the northwest creating horrible smog throughout the region and destroying forests and homes. They could have used at least 12 inches of the 50 inches of rain that devastated Texas. 


It has been difficult to find a bright spot. But then I noticed an amazing sight. Instead of the two or three Monarch butterflies I have seen daily the past few years, this year I have seen a multitude of butterflies.

 Our home is an official butterfly garden. We do plant flowers and milkweed to attract the butterflies. And we do not spray any pesticides on our lawn or flowers.  (I wrote about saving the butterflies in an earlier post. See link below.) So we have been hoping we would eventually see an increase in butterflies. 


I was still amazed.  I have seen swarms of butterflies daily since Friday. And today the most I have seen in years, along with a multitude of bees. In fact, when I went to a garden center on Friday, I saw so many butterflies I could not even count them! 

I went on line to check on the Monarch migration for this year. Was it better than past years?  I found mixed results. One said there were 27 percent less Monarchs wintering in Mexico this past winter. But another said the migration this spring equaled last year or was better.  

No matter what the experts say, there a definitely more here than last year. Something that can bring a bit of Joy. 

PS: Since publishing this I have heard from many friends and neighbors stating they have also seen a tremendous increase in butterflies. This is wonderful as we are on the migration path!!
https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/saving-the-monarch-butterflies/

Learning About The Civil War While in Arkansas

5 Sep

When I woke up Sunday morning, I did not expect my day to end up focused on the Civil War. It was not even a topic that was remotely on my mind. I was in Arkansas visiting friends and we planned a trip over to Bentonville to see another friend who was busy with pet adoptions as they prepared their shelter to take in animals from Houston. 

But politics and the Civil War were waiting for us in Bentonville. 

We arrived in Bentonville exactly on time to walk to the town square and meet up for lunch at a local restaurant.  For those who have not been there, Bentonville is the site of the very first Walmart store.  There,  along the town square, is the Walmart Museum. A peaceful little park with a statue fills the town square.  I was surprised to see an abundance of American flags in the center of the square surrounding the statue. 

American flags surround the the statue in the town square.


My Eureka Springs friend said to my Bentonville friend upon greeting, “Well you have had some excitement here.”  My Bentonville friend, “Don’t even go there!” So of course I needed to know.  That lovely little statute I had seen several times was actually a monument to the Confederate soldiers who lost their lives in two battles near Bentonville, the most important was the Battle of Pea Ridge. 

I  never realized what the statue was before.  We had seen it and walked past it and never really looked at it. But over the last few weeeks, quiet Bentonville had been the scene of protests over this statute.  

We left town square for lunch and all conversation turned to the rescuing of dogs from Houston.  My Bentonville friend was involved with a shelter that was receiving dogs that afternoon that were being transported up from Texas.  The day before a truckload of pet supplies had headed south. My contribution had been cat litter. Our discussion of the Civil War ended as we discussed Houston.   

After lunch we left Bentonville and headed back to Eureka Springs on a different road. As we traveled, we planned the rest of the day. My husband was checking his phone to see what was around when he came upon the Pea Ridge National Park.  We had recently purchased our life time National Park passes and were excited to use them.  We were not sure what we would see.  But were delighted.  It is a gem!

Pea Ridge Battlefield.


Who know that one of the most important and vicious battles of the Civil War took place in Arkansas?  Not me!  The battle that changed the direction of the war was here!  16,000 Confederate soldiers  met 10,000 Union soldiers on Pea Ridge in March 1862.  At the end of the two-day battle almost 3500 soldiers were dead.  Many more were wounded. This battle changed the balance of power of the Civil War in Missouri.  It was here that the Union defeated the largest Confederate army ever brought together and due to that defeat were able to keep the Confederate soldiers out of Missouri and head south to split the Confederacy in half. This battle basically set the course for a Union win. 

Elk Horn Inn was a privately own home used as a field hospital.


Here at the battle site stands the recreated Elk Horn Inn, which served as a field hospital, where soldiers from both sides were treated and many died during the two day battle. (Right in front of this building runs the Mikitary Trail road. This road was also the path of Cherokee Nation on the Trail of Tears. Over 11,000 Cherokee passed this inn between 1837-39.)

  Although many soldiers were originally buried at this site, the graves of the soldiers were disinterred in the late 1880s and moved to two cemeteries: one for Union soldiers and one for Confederate soldiers, both in Fayetteville.  But in a field near the Inn are two monuments that were placed in a plea for unification. 

The large open field where the soldiers met is reminiscent of Gettysburg.  In watching the movie at the museum and walking through the museum displays, one can feel the sorrow that this battle caused. One sign commented that local farmers could not plant crops that year due to the destruction and the blood soaked lands. Agriculture was destroyed. 

We drove the circuit around the battlefield, stopping at several key sites. This was a battle for our nation’s soul. This was a battle that changed the course of the war. And so many lives were lost. We spoke to park rangers at the Inn who explained in more detail what had happened there.  

When we drive from my friend’s home in Eureka Springs to Bentonville, we pass a house where the owner flies the Confederate flag. That always angers us. Why fly this sign of hate?  Why not honor those who died by joining together to work in unity, and as is honored at the Pea Ridge site unification. 


In the car on the way back we discussed the Pea Ridge site. The impact of what we had seen. The next day, the local newspaper, “The Northwest Arkansas Democratic Register, had an article about discussions the Bentonville  community will have in a public forum. 

My personal opinion: The statue of the Confederate soldier should be moved. If it was a statue honoring both sides, I would feel differently. But it is not. I believe it could be moved to the Confederate Cemetary in Fayetteville. A plaque explaining its history should be placed by it. 

I am not for destroying monuments, I am for placing them in sites where their value as a lesson could be used. We should not be honoring those who battled to destroy the United States through treason and sedition.  But we also can never forget what happened here in the Civil War. Losing that memory will also remove our collective history. And we should never forget that in slavary human beings were once treated as cattle.  And that is wrong.