Tag Archives: helping others

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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Trouble with the Office: An American Bialystoker Story

21 Mar

The following is a report my Great Grandfather, Louis Goldman, made in a 1937 issue of the Bialystoker Stimme. It explains the reason why the Bialystoker Bikur Cholim decided that the organization needed its own offices. It seems asking for help from the community was just not working out. It gives the history of the decision to rent its own office. I think this might have be the precursor of the Bialystoker Home for the Aged, which was built over two years in 1929-1931.

Here is his article, as translated by my friend Blumah and edited a bit by me for clarity.

“The Bialystoker landsman in that time mostly lived in the East side (of New York City). The Bikur Cholim decided to put in that neighborhood a place for the sick people to receive help without difficulty. So they would be close to their neighborhood.

They arranged for a doctor and arranged for a pharmacist to get them medicine.

It was decided to give to the poor sick people a free pass to see the doctor and also pay for the medicine.

A certain landsman, who had a hot dog /salami store on Essex Street, gave his store for the sick people to come to receive these passes and papers. This became the office where they could get the papers. But there was a problem: The store keeper would give out these free passes like a prize to his own customers who would buy meat from him. (This was not what was intended so,) It was decided to rent a place somewhere else.

Next they found a butcher store from one of the landsman, Philip T. However there was not very convenient for several reasons.

They moved the office again to a new place. To “Fisher” who had a printing shop on Clinton Street. But Fisher started asking every month for new ‘additions’. (Not sure if he wanted more money or what he is wanting. Probably more money.)

So the Bikur Cholim decided once and for all to rent a permanent office for themselves. It was decided that this office could also act as a club for the active members. Also there would always be a secretary who would be paid and who would take care all of the cases for the Bikur Cholim.”

As my great grandfather, or the editor of the Bialystoker Stimme, entitled the article, “Trouble with the Office,” I think that was a fine assessment.  Personally I loved how the store owner gave out free medical passes to his customers.  One way to build a clientele, even though it was not ‘kosher.’  I know that they were trying their best to help their landsmen in need, without using the money needlessly.  Building an office might have seemed that way to them.  But eventually, having a paid secretary made more sense.

The history of the Bialystoker Home For the Aged and the Bialysotker landsmanshaft, immigrant organization, can be found in the NY Landmarks Preservation Commission Report of May 21, 2012. See link below:

http://www.nyc.gov/html/lpc/downloads/pdf/reports/2529.pdf

The part of this story that impacts my great grandfather’s article, is this small section from the report:

“In its first year of existence the Bialystoker Center was located in an old building at 228 East Broadway just few houses down from the basement location of the Bikur Cholim. In 1922-23 it replaced the aging structure with a new five-story headquarters, which included office space not just for its own use but also provided meeting rooms for affiliated associations.”

So I assume the offices that my great grandfather is writing about was this office on 228 East Broadway. Eventually, definitely by 1937 when his article was written, the Bikur Cholim offices were included in the beautiful building that was finished in 1931.

As I have said in earlier articles about my great grandfather,  I am so proud to be his descendant.  Each of these articles brings him to life.

 

Why I Have to Write About Gun Control

3 Sep

It has been a bizarre week in Kansas.   First has been the trial of the man who killed two people at the Jewish Community Campus and one at Village Shalom in April 2014. I know his name, but it is not worth saying. He wants the publicity. He is a sick demented man who was able to get guns and act out on his baseless hatred.

Second it is the anniversary of the killing of five innocent people in a quiet cul de sac. I knew one of them. I saw her brother and sister in law when they came to our synagogue to say Kaddish for her yahrzeit two weeks ago. Her death was shocking, happening just five months after the JCC shootings. I think the entire Kansas City metro was in shock after these two mass killing events.

Finally, it is something her nephew posted. Saying that his aunt was an activist. She was. And she would want us to do something about the gun problem in the United States. And I believe she would.

So I will say something.

I have used a M-16 during target practice. It is a gun meant to use to kill.   I have walked a path along the dorms at Mount Scopus at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, holding an Uzi. I was taught to hold it to my hip and spray in a half circle if I needed to shoot. In was 1974. The Yom Kippur War was still on everyone’s mind. And those of us who lived in the dorms had to do guard duty once a month. Usually I held the lantern. But we had to know how to use a gun, just in case the other person was injured or killed.

I know that guns can be used for protection. But I also know that guns can be used to kill. And I do not believe in senseless killing.

I do not think anyone in the 1700’s thought that one day there would be guns that could shot out multiple rounds of bullets in seconds. I do not think that they imagined a nation that exists now. When people do not have to have guns to provide food for their families or that militias no longer are needed. They wrote the Constitution in different times

I believe that people are misinterpreting the Second Amendment because they are unwilling to accept what is needed: stricter gun laws.   The Amendment states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The right to bear arms is tied to the need for a militia. We have no need for a militia now. There is no need for all these guns to be out in the public.

I am not against people owning guns for sport, although it is not a sport I am interested in. I do not think that all gun owners would kill innocent people. But we see time after time, guns getting into the wrong hands.

I am sick of the NRA’s intense lobbying of our legislative representatives. And how their gun money is swaying the votes to go against common sense. They do not want regulations; they do not want more background checks; they do not want licenses.

To drive a car in this country, you have to have a license and insurance. You have to pass a test to prove you know how to drive. You should have to take a test to prove you know how to use a gun before you are allowed buy one!!!

To move into an apartment for the first time, you have to have a background check. My son did: to rent an apartment, not even to buy a gun.

But to buy a gun in some states people can just go into a store or go online or go to a gun show and buy a weapon of death. It has become too easy to kill in the USA.

We have seen time after time innocent children and adults going to school, or going to the movies, or perhaps shopping at a mall, or to the gym, or in the case of Susan C. just standing in her driveway at the wrong moment.

When will it stop?

When will we say to the men and women who serve in our state and national legislatures that we will not vote for them if they take money from the gun lobbies?

That is what I plan to do.

I think that enough is enough. Every one of us must make a stand and no longer remain silent. The NRA and gun owners should not be running our Congress. WE, The PEOPLE should be running Congress.

Aging, Wisely and Joyfully

21 Feb

I spoke to my daughter a few days before her 29th birthday (yesterday). She lives in Israel and I live in the Kansas, so we spoke through a video chat. (Always makes me think of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the astronaut calls his family from space.) My daughter was bemoaning her advancing age.

“I am going to be old!” She cried. “I am almost 30!”

“That is not old!” I insisted. “Look at me, I am 60. I am not complaining about being old.”

“Well once you are old, you are old!” She said. “I am not old yet, just getting there.”

We both laughed. But the truth is, I do not feel old. I feel pretty wonderful.

I recently participated in a two-day workshop on “Wise Aging” presented by instructors from the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. Although it was presented in Kansas City, there were participants from through the Midwest. We all learned how to be facilitators in this new program to help people transition in to the next stage of life.

I was surprised when I was called by our rabbi’s wife and asked to participate on behalf of our congregation. But she told me that she thought of me immediately when she realized she could not attend, as I was aging so wonderfully. That was two weeks before my 60th birthday, and I will admit to a bit of concern. But okay, I would do it.

The two-day workshop was intense and exhausting. Fourteen hours of learning and interacting with the other trainees as we attempted to learn about the Wise Aging program, bring this program to life and learn to teach it to others.

I loved the idea of helping people see themselves as elders as opposed to elderly. As we age, we have so much to give to others. We can mentor and teach from our experiences.

There was one part of the program I found distressing. There was much discussion about teaching people how to let go of bitterness and learn to forgive those in their past who might have hurt them. It seems many people, as they age, hold on to old hurts and real or imagined insults.

I say, “let it go.” As does this program. Let go of these feelings because bitterness only makes you feel worse. I am a firm believer of the rule of Rosh HaShannah and Yom Kippur to say I am sorry to any one I might have hurt and to forgive anyone who has hurt me. It is so much easier than carrying all that baggage around. And it makes life so much more joyful.

This workshop opened my eyes to how others see themselves as they age.   Whereas my husband and I are really enjoying our lives as empty nesters, others seem to have a difficult time.

So I say. Go to a lecture. We try to go to a program at least once a week.   There are many free lectures and programs available. Go to a concert. Take a weekend trip if you can. Get a kitten. Having a pet does wonders for people as they age. Travel with friends.

Yes the body starts to give out a little. But exercise is wonderful for keeping your body healthy. You do not have to run marathons like my meshugganah husband. But you can walk. I walk two to three miles almost every day.

Soup

Do something different. Yesterday, in honor of my daughter’s birthday, a friend of mine and I went to the new IKEA store in Kansas. I had not been there yet. We walked all around the showroom and the marketplace and the warehouse. I got lots of walking in and bought a few accessories. Then we went out for a bowl of chicken noodle soup and shared a black and white cookie at a deli. Happiness can be a bowl of soup and a cookie!

Find things that make you happy. And be happy. You have so many experiences to share and so much good to do. Volunteer for an organization you love. Meet new people. Keep being curious. My curiosity has led me to investigate further into my family history and I have found cousins I did not know I had. I love a mystery and solving it. Now I am focus on the mysteries of my family.

There is so much to do and so much more time to do it, now that I no longer have children at home.

So I plan to continue to age wisely and joyfully. I hope my example will help my daughter accept her almost 30 years and age joyfully as well.

Is Lassana Bathily, The French Hero, a Lamed Vovnik?

16 Jan

Since I was a teen, I hoped that I could be a Lamed Vovnik, one of the 36 righteous or just people who keep balance to the world. Of course in Jewish mysticism, the 36 are men. But in my modern mind, I believe that a woman has just as much chance of being one of these 36 special people as any one else.

I first learned of the Lamed Vovnik legend when I read the Holocaust novel, The Last of the Just, by Andre Schwarz-Bart. This book had a tremendous impact on my life. As I read about these two just men and the trials they suffered, I felt a kinship. I felt a need to bring good into the world.

The important belief about the Lamed Vovnik is that these righteous people do not know they are part of this elite group. So I thought, “What if everyone acted as if they were one of the Lamed Vovnik? What if we all practice looking for the good? What if we all do good deeds?”

And that is how I live my life. I try to find something good in everything that happens. Every event is a learning experience. Every one I meet teaches me something.

I focus on the positive, just as I think a righteous person should. I focus on the spark of God that is inside each one of us. I try to do gemulat chasidem, good deeds. I try to work on tikun olam, repairing the world. Just as I think a Righteous Lamed Vovnik would work.

That there are 36 righteous people is important. Each Hebrew letter has a number attached to it. The letters for the number 18 are Het and Yod. These two letters together form the word, Chai, or Life. So many Jewish people present gifts to someone in multiples of 18. There are 36 righteous Lamed Vovnik, which is twice Chai, twice life.

As I watched the events unfolding in France; when I heard of the wonderful deeds of Lassana Bathily, the Muslim worker in the Kosher market, I thought “Could he be a Lamed Vovnik? Could he be bringing balance to the world?”

Think: upstairs in the grocery as Black Muslim man was shooting and killing Jews just because they were Jewish.   He killed four. But two stories below a Black Muslim man was saving Jewish people, hiding them in a freezer. Balance!

Upstairs and man was hiding from the police. Downstairs, a man made the decision to go to the police to tell them about the Jews hiding downstairs. Balance!

He left the building. It took time for the police to believe. And thanks be to God, they did.

With him was a key to the metal gate, as well as in his mind a key to the layout of the store.

Lassana Bathily brought balance, love and righteousness to a horrible situation.

To me he is a Lamed Vovnik, a righteous man. A guttah neshumah, a good soul. And a mensch, a man of high standing.

Baruch Dayan haEmet . May the names of those who perished always be for a blessing. But the name of Lassana Bathily is also a blessing because he provided safety for those who lived. The spark of God within him shines!

Giving Tzedekah is Entwined In The Essence of My Soul

22 Dec

For the past week I have been writing checks. It is the time of year when every charity I have ever donated to sends me reminders. Many of them I give to throughout the year. But at the end of the year, as much as my husband and I are able, I give more: to Harvesters, the food bank; to domestic violence shelter, to organizations that help children; to Jewish charities, to schools. The list goes on and on.

I was taught that you have to give to others. Not just money but time. Volunteering is an important part of my life. In the years when I was not working, I volunteered so much that it seemed I had several jobs. Yes I do have favorite organizations I for which I do most of my volunteering. But there are many that I do one-time events when asked by friends.

My favorite volunteer job is chairing a scholarship committee for the Greater Kansas City Section of National Council of Jewish Women. I became a member of NCJW because of scholarship, and I recently realized that I have been on this committee for almost 30 years. WOW.

As chair, I keep my committee going. Our numbers had fallen. But over the past three years, I have been able to have six or seven new members join. And this past year, I have gone after even younger women. We need continuity. Keeping the scholarship committee alive and well is important to me.

Each year we provide college scholarships for almost 30 students. They come to us first as high school seniors. And if they get our scholarship, they can continue it for all four years of college as long as their grades are relatively good and they still have financial need.

Over the years we have provided many scholarships for students who are the first in their family to go to college. And many have had hardships that make the committee members want to cry. As chair I am fortunate to read all the thank you notes that they send. And see the difference we have made in the lives of these students.

I often wondered when did the importance of volunteering and helping others first become so important to me? I honestly cannot remember a time when I was not involved in something. In high school I was a Candy Striper, a hospital volunteer. In college, I chaired and served on many committees to help others, including the first ever Orientation Committee.

Even my jobs have focused on not for profit work. It is in the essence of my soul.

My father was the president of his synagogue for 11 years. I think this has to be a record! My parents helped people and taught us to care for others. It was important to them that we had a ‘gutah neshama,” a good soul. It was important to be a mensch.

A favorite saying of my Dad’s was “You have to be able to get up in the morning at look at yourself in the mirror, and like what you see.”

Giving to others; understanding Tzedakah, righteousness, was important.

My Grandparents in the Catskills in July  around 1954. It was my Grandma's birthday.

My Grandparents in the Catskills in July around 1954. It was my Grandma’s birthday.

Today I received an email that shook me up in a way and made me realize that the need to do tzedakah came not just from my parents, but also my grandparents.

Through this blog I am in contact with several people who I knew as a child in the Catskills. Several have reached out to me over the year and asked if I remember certain people or places. One reached out to me in the past week. It is someone we knew not only in the Catskills, but in New Jersey as well. His mother is still alive. And he sent me this message:

“…she (his mother) was always grateful to your grandfather for helping my parents out when my brother and I were babies:  Even though the rent on the bungalow was ridiculously cheap, my parents were broke and Mr. Amsterdam (as she still calls him) let my parents pay out the summer rent through the entire winter a little bit at  a time. Otherwise we would have been stuck in steamy Hudson County.“

I have to be honest, I cried.   My grandparents were very quiet people. But I already knew that during the Great Depression, they allowed many people to buy groceries and bread from their bakery on credit, even though they knew they would not be paid. My Mom told us the story of people coming back years later to pay their debts.

But I never knew that they had allowed people to pay off the summer rent during the year. This was a major mitzvah. The cities in the early 1950s were not safe for children in the summer time; it was the season of polio.

I always knew my grandparents were righteous people.   And I know now that giving tzedekah is entwined in the essence my soul from my parents and my grandparents.

The Moves of Summer Result in New Beginnings

23 Sep

With the arrival of autumn, I look back on a hectic summer. Four members of the next generation of my family moved this summer, while at the same time my siblings and I did the final cleaning of the Catskill home that once belonged to our grandparents and parents. It was a summer of change.

One nephew spent the summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, training for the “Teach for America” program. After traveling from New Jersey, he meet up with 100s of other college graduates to begin this adventure in Oklahoma. On his way back to Indiana, where he is teaching, he and a friend stopped overnight at my home in Kansas.

He wanted to see his cousins, especially my daughter, who lives in Israel and was visiting. We had a great time. His presence helped my daughter as she frantically packed, and he quietly played the guitar.

But in the morning, before he and his friend left, there was a slight issue. Would they be able to fit everything back in the car? And still have room for two 6’3” young men. Before they left Tulsa, they had just thrown everything in. Now it needed to be a bit more organized.

My nephew's car before he left for Indiana.

My nephew’s car before he left for Indiana.

 

That was my job, and I was happy to help. My family would tell you that I am a bit OCD about having things fit in place. I have a map in my brain that cannot be stopped. Spatial relationships work for me. No one loads my dishwasher, but me. And when I buy groceries, no one puts them away but me. I have a program, a diagram in my mind.

In any case, when they drove off, I will not say with room to spare, because there was none. But they had some legroom.

Next was my daughter, she was flying back to Israel. She had come with two, basically empty suitcases, her carryon packed inside the other, larger bag. She was returning with three, all full. I did not have to help her pack. She has my talent for fitting things in, even more so! I just had to judge weight. I am really good at judging the 50-pound limit.

My daughter's room in the middle of the packing mess.

My daughter’s room in the middle of the packing mess.

Then she was off! When she returned to Israel, she was also moving into a new apartment. Some of the items she took back with her were to decorate her new home.

My other nephew called me a few weeks later, on a Thursday. He lived in Lawrence, Kansas, where he earned a master’s degree in math…with honors.   His request, the movers were coming on Monday morning, and he needed help packing. I was glad to assist. My husband and I drove out to his apartment of three years on Sunday.

“Do you have boxes?” I asked. His entire kitchen needed to be packed. He did not. We left my husband at the apartment while we went off to purchase boxes. On the way we had the following conversation:

“I might have to give some of my clothing away,” he stated disappointedly.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well in the three years I have lived here, I have purchased new clothing, and they don’t all fit into my suitcases,” he replied.

I did not laugh out loud. I kept calm and said, “That is why we buy boxes.”

“You can put clothing in boxes?” He asked.

“Yes, I will show you later.”

And we went into the store and purchased boxes, tape and packing supplies. I had bought lots of bubble wrap and newspapers with me, but I needed a few extra items.

My husband put the boxes together as I packed the kitchen. I had four boxes sitting on the floor as I analyzed where to place what items and how to pack most successfully without breakage. I gave my nephew four Tupperware containers to put in a box. He threw them in. “No,” I cried. “Put one inside the other. They take less space.”

“How do you figure out where to put what?” He asked.

At this point my husband looked up from his e-book and spoke out, “Think of it as a mathematical problem. That is what she is doing.”

One nephew taped boxes after I packed them.

One nephew taped boxes after I packed them.

It helped, that is when my nephew saw a little light in understanding on how to pack.

After I finished the kitchen, and we had packed other items, I had one large box left. “Bring me your clothes now.   Keep them on the hangers,” I told my nephew.

“ON the hanger?” He was stunned. “How will you fit them all in the box?

As I folded the clothes in half and put them in the box, I looked up at him. “Bring me more!”

He was elated. “They compress,” he said. And they do. The clothes compress and they all fit in the box.

“This is great,” he exclaimed.   “I can just hang them up in the closet when I get there.”

I was laughing at loud at this point. I even tried to text my sister, but I was laughing too much to send a coherent sentence.

He came and lived with us for a few days before driving to Florida with a friend. He is going to study for his PhD in math.   Before they left, I analytically loaded his car so everything fit including the two young men. Success.  My organizing talents were coming in to good use!

I left a few days after he left to visit my sister in New Jersey for a week. We went up to our Catskills home and met up with our brother. He had ordered a 20-cubic yard dumpster to be delivered. “We cannot leave till this is filled.” He said.

My brother filling the dumpster.

My brother filling the dumpster.

I thought, “No way.” But we filled it!

We emptied out the basement, garage and attic of all the junk accumulated over 52 year. What amazed me is that we had been slowly cleaning this house out for two years, in bits and pieces. But I never imaged we had that much more that needed to be ousted from the bowels and hiding places. Now the house is ready for life again. We will be spending more time up there. And all the junk is gone; the dumpster was filled!  (Do not worry, anything that can be recycled, will be.  The items that could be used were given away!)

I returned home from New Jersey and New York, to my son’s move. He left his small one bedroom apartment to move in with a college friend. This move was a little smoother. He and his girlfriend had been packing while I was gone. And he was just moving across the parking lot to a two-bedroom place.

Setting up the kitchen in my son's apartment.

Setting up the kitchen in my son’s apartment.

 

My son, three friends and his girlfriend did all the moving. I stayed in the new apartment and put the kitchen together; lined shelves, put away dishes, glassware, utensils and food. Then I loaded books, videos and games into bookcases. I also directed the boys and where to place the furniture. We got it mostly done in about four hours on a Friday. WOW.   His roommate moved in on Sunday. I was exhausted and did not have to help with his move.

Four moves and a house cleansing — sort of like four weddings and a funeral. The moves are all new beginnings for my nephews, son and daughter. Cleaning the house was, in a way, like a funeral. As we cleaned away the items in the attic, basement and garage, we found treasures that brought back wonderful memories. We sat and talked.  My sister, nieces and I shared memories.  My brother said we were doing the harder work, looking at all the memorabilia.

New beginnings for our children and for us as we celebrate a new year with sweetness and joy.