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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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Missing Link in My Family History or My Biggest Genealogy Block

25 Oct

 

Harry Rosenberg

We think this is Grandpa Harry on his bar mitzvah day.

Help!

I know basically nothing about one set of my paternal great grandparents. My grandfather, Harry Rosenberg… Hersh Zvi ben Avraham, was the son of Abraham and Sarah Rosenberg. His father, Abraham, abandoned the family when my grandfather was about 13 or 14. Grandpa was borned in 1888 or 1889. So in 1901 or 1902, his father left and ended up in the Seattle, Washington, area. He came back to the east coast around September 1941, because he showed up at my Dad’s bar mitzvah. I know that he had a second wife, or a woman that he lived with on the West Coast. He supposedly became quite wealthy. Who knows?

Grandpa was born in New York, the oldest of six children: Harry, “Hady” (Harriet), Jacob, Muriel and two maiden sister.  (I am thinking one of my great grandparent’s parents had an H sound in their name, since both my grandfather and his oldest sister were Harry and Harriet.)

After Grandpa traveled to the west coast to find his father, he returned to New York to help support his sibling. He was a tailor. And through his work, all five of his siblings went to college Grandpa never did.   He found out much later that his mother had lied to him for many years.   She had been getting money from her husband, but never told my grandfather, and so kept him working for the family. (See blog post below: “The Sad Scandal That Forever Scarred My Grandpa Harry )

Grandpa married my grandmother, Esther Goldman, on February 26, 1922. He died February 29, 1984.

I know that Jacob got married and had a son named, Betram, and a daughter, Delilah. Delilah was around the same age as my Aunt, so born around 1931. I know because my Aunt would go to their house for piano lessons once a week. They lived in New York City at least until the 1940s. But supposedly he was an important lawyer and moved to England at some point and never came back to the USA.

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Standing: Great Uncle Lenny, Great Aunt Hady, Grandpa Harry, Grandma Esther. Seating are my great grandmother and great aunt from my Grandma’s side.

Haddie married Lenny.   I knew them when I was a child. They lived to the end of their lives in Sullivan County, New York, in the Monticello area. (See blog post below: The Littlest Gambler: Learning about Horse Races in The Catskills.)

The two maiden sisters, and Muriel, I never knew. But Muriel also married and had sons. But that is all I know. The only story I know is that my grandmother asked them if they had any names they wanted when my aunt and uncle were born. Hence my Uncle’s middle name was Prime, and my Aunt’s middle name was Gwendolyn.   Grandma did not offer when my Dad was born.

I know my great grandfather’s original last name was “Grau.” He was one of three to five brothers who came to the USA at different times. We believe they all took different names.

I know nothing else. I do not even know my great grandmother’s maiden name. I don’t know when she was born or when she died. I do not know when my great grandparents’ married. But I know it had to be on or before 1888. I do not know when they moved to the USA.  We have no known photos of my great grandparents.

I am hoping one of the wonderful researchers from Tracing the Tribe can help me.

I would appreciate it. My Grandpa Harry’s family is the missing link in my research.

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/06/14/the-sad-scandal-that-forever-scarred-my-grandpa-harry/

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/the-littlest-gambler-learning-about-horse-races-in-the-catskills/

I Hate Having to Say, “Me Too”

19 Oct

I hate having to say, “me too.”   It makes me a bit sick to my stomach to be honest. So many of us were harassed on the job or in school or just walking down the street in the 60s. 70s, 80s, and even today. I wish the culture would change. Perhaps it will.

I remember when my husband would watch, Mad Men. Sometime he would say something like, “I cannot believe they treated women like that. “ And I would respond. “Yes they did. And it was sometimes much worse.”

So I will relate my two worst encounters.   To be honest, I have a list of about ten incidents that impacted my life. But I was lucky. There always seemed to be an angel near by that saved me from the worst. As Fred Rogers would say, I always looked for the helpers. Here are the two worst work-related incidents and the angels who saved me.

I started working In the 70s.   When I was in high school and college, I worked at a grocery store in Monticello, NY. The Catskills my happy place. For five summers I worked at Shopwell. I actually loved my job. I worked behind the Deli counter. I knew the other worker, almost all men.   I made friends with some of the cashiers, almost all women.

For four years, I never had a problem.   I loved going to work. I hung out with my friends. I made two great friends over the summers and we looked forward to being together. Until the fifth year. The year I was 20, entering my junior year of college.

I admit I was adorable. And small. That is important. I did not look strong, but I was. I was raised to be independent. I had just returned from living in Israel for a year, and nothing frightened me. But the store hired a new manager of the deli. Eliot. He was young, perhaps 30; he was obnoxious; and he was after me in a not nice way.

It became an extremely unpleasant place to work. He would whisper horrible comments in my ear, and give me the most obnoxious jobs to do.   Victor, one of the long-term employees, who I had known for years, started standing next to me whenever he could.   I actually started keeping a giant butcher knife near me all the time. And once I threatened Eliot. I told him that if he touched me again, I would cut off his penis. And I meant it. He was insidious.

One day I went to eat lunch in the staff lounge, upstairs and away from everyone. Eliot followed me. He cornered me in the room and said something like, “IF I rape you right now no one would believe you.” I never had the chance to respond.

Out came my angels. Two of the cashiers, who I had known for years, were in the ladies’ room. They heard every thing. “How long has this been going on!” Anita demanded. They chased him out of the lounge. Held me and said, “We are going to the manager.” To be honest I was a bit afraid of losing my job. But no worries.

The manager was appalled.   He told me to call my grandfather to come and get me. (I did not have a car, and my grandfather often drove me to and from work.) When Grandpa got there, the manager and he had a talk.   We drove home basically in silence. I could tell he was upset, but did not know what to say. He had a talk with my Mom when I got home. My Mom and I had a short discussion.  When she found out he had not touched me or harmed me physically, she calmed down.   We never spoke about it again.  It was a part of life for women.

Two days later I went back to work. The manager told me that Eliot was fired and was not allowed on the Shopwell grounds. That if I was to see him there, I was to come to the manager immediately. Eliot never came back when I was there.

I was fortunate that I had people who protected me and kept me safe.

The next incident happened four years later. I was working on my master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri. I was also working part time at the Missouri School Boards Association. I loved working there. We had a great staff. I was in charge of the PR, newsletter and publications. I made great friends with the two secretaries, the other women in the office. Susan and I got especially close. The Executive Director and Assistant Executive Director were men, but really nice. It was great.

Once a year we would all go to Tan Tar A, near Lake of the Ozarks, for a convention. My job was to put out the convention newsletter and write the articles. I was worked about 16 hour days during the convention.

The first year, there was one school board president who was persistently bothering me. He was often drunk and unpleasant, middle aged and married.   I was 24 and engaged. I wanted nothing to do with him.

Luckily, Susan was with me the first time he tried something. She told me to never get on an elevator with him. In fact she and the other secretary would go down with me in the morning. One would come to the printing room at night to get me to my room safely. But they were going home a day before me.  That last night they would be gone. I was worried. So were they. This guy would not stop! NO! said emphatically did not deter him.

We finally told the Assistant ED.   At first he would not, could not believe it. But in the end he agreed to come to the printing room to walk me to my room that night. The drunk was already there when he arrived. My boss was really stunned.  I think somewhat ashamed. He walked me to my room. The next day, when the convention ended, he drove me back to Columbia, Missouri. We spoke about it briefly. His telling me that not all men were like that. But as a young woman in 1979, I knew the truth….more men were like that then he realized.

Again I was fortunate.   I had angels and helpers who kept me safe. But there are many women who are not as fortunate. Who suffer undo duress and pressure. My “Me Too” is small in comparison to the stories of others..

Honestly,  I think because of these incidents I looked for a safe place to work when I got my master’s degree.  I found that working for a Girl Scout Council.  No men.

As women, we never knew who would be safe and who would make unanticipated and unwanted advances. At work, at school, on the street, on a bus, in a store, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in a bar! When I was younger, I was always on the watch.

My daughter once made fun of me. She and a friend traveled to Egypt together. I said, “Do not go to the bathroom by yourself. Always go together.” She laughed until her friend did go to the bathroom by herself and was assaulted by the male attendant, but luckily another woman came in before anything happened.

I hate having to say,  “Me Too”. I hope by the time I have granddaughters, the world will be safer.

My Favorite Catskills Photo of Me

16 Oct

Summer 1957

There are many reasons why I have always Loved this photo. First it was taken in the Catskills when I was 2 1/2. I am blissfully happy sitting in the grass. I love seeing the old wooden outdoor furniture.  I know that bench is Blue. I spent many hours on it over the years. 

I love seeing the women on the bench. The one to the far left is my maternal grandmother. She and my grandfather owned the bungalow colony. And with many family members there, I was surrounded by love. To be honest I am not sure who the other woman is, but I think it is my aunt.  I love that bench as my paternal grandmother taught me to knit and crochet as we sat on it when I was about seven or eight. 

I love that my aunt’s feet are resting on that single chair, as I know she is really relaxing. They mothers only put their feet up when they were settled in for a rest.  There is another chair to my side. It indicates to me that there is a square table to my side as well … the table where my grandmothers, great aunt and their friend spent endless hours playing canasta. 

Further on I see some of the white painted bungalows. This was the original colony. Eventually my grandparents purchased more land and moved some of the buildings. Only two of the original bungalows still exist. The land has been sold off and newer homes were erected. Two of my cousins purchased some of the land, so I am fortunate that I can still walk this property. 

I love how I look in this photo. I remember my Dad telling me that this was his favorite picture of me as a child because in this photo he could finally see how I would look as an adult. But I also love it for the curl in the middle of my forehead. I had and still have thick, curly hair. I cannot tell how often one of my parents would recite this poem to me: “There was a little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good she was very, very good But when she was bad she was horrid.” 

I know that hat and outfit. It was red and white. Because of my black hair my mom often dressed me in red. I rarely wear red now. Blue is my favorite color. But when I envision myself as a child I am often in red or pink. But that hat I specifically remember. I must have worn it for several years before my younger sister was born and she have the chance to wear it. 

I wish I knew what was in the box I am holding. I am sure it is crackers or cereal. But I wish the front of the box was facing out. It would add to the memory. I guess it does not matter.  Whenever I see this photo, I am filled with joy. I am in my happy place. Our home in Kauneonga Lake, in the Catskills where summers were always delightful.