Archive | November, 2017

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.


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.