Tsundoku, My New Favorite Word

14 Sep

A teacher at my school sent me an email today using the word tsundoku to describe his reading habits.   It was a Japanese word I did not know nor heard before.  Which for me is unusual as I have had an affinity for Japanese words since my days in graduate school as the roommate to a Japanese exchange student.  (See blogs below.)

Of course, I had to look it up.  According to the Cambridge Dictionary tsundoku is “the practice of buying alot of books and keeping them in a pile because you intend to read them but have not done so yet; also used to refer to the pile itself.”

WOW.  How did the dictionary editors know about my secret?  Wait how do the Japanese know what I am doing?  I thought it was well hidden.  However, although I have those piles, I do eventually get around to reading all of the books piled on shelves and in a queue in my I Pad library.   I promise!!!

I will also admit that after getting onto BookBub, my online Tsundoku has increased.  Many days I just delete the email from BookBub to avoid adding more books to my online tsundoku collection.   I will also admit that sometimes I forget which books I have purchased, till I try to buy them again. Luckily Amazon sends me a note saying, you already own this book.  Thankfully they keep track.  When I cleaned out my house, I found several books I owned in duplicate and triplicate!

I have a book issue.   I thought I had released this when we moved 18 months ago.  I gave away thousands of books.  Not an exaggeration.   I really did.  (See blogs below.) I only moved about 1500 books to the new house.  I ended up purchasing four new bookcases, because the new house does not have built in bookcases.  So I took a deep breathe and told myself that my book buying days needed to end.  I made a promise to myself to go more frequently to the library and to stop buying as many books.  I could do this!!

But you all know, the libraries were closed for a long time.  And my so-called friend told me about BookBub.  She actually sent me an email telling me about it.  Putting in my face. That sometimes you could even get books for FREE!  Yes, you can!  And books for $1.99, $2.99, $4.99, and so on.  And if you like one of the free books, you can be drawn into a series and then need to pay to find out what happened.  Thanks friend!!!  You know who you are.

I do need to go to the library and not to Costco, where, when I am grocery shopping, I need to go past the tables filled with books. I inch around snooping at what is there.  Sometimes, I take a picture of the book.  I don’t buy it then.  I think if I come back next week and it is still there, I will get it.  But sometimes that does not work, I slowly walk around the store and return to the book table.  The book jumps into my cart by itself. I don’t notice till I go to checkout. And there it is still calling my name to join my tsundoku pile.

I have to be honest, now knowing the name of my syndrome, I feel much better.  But most of all, I can relate to the many others who share this same compulsion.  I always knew I was a bibliophile.  My love of books is well known.  For goodness sake, I was an English literature major in college. How much more booky can you be, unless of course a librarian.  I know them as well.  Some of my good friends and even relatives are librarians.  I just realized that they live a life surrounded by tsundoku piles. All those books to read piled up around them, calling them.  How do they get anything done?  I guess I need to ponder that as well.

Tsundoku is definitely my new favorite word.

How a Shoe Store became a Jewlery Store

8 Sep

Growing up in the New York City metro area, one thing I will say, we had connections.  The majority of my extended family lived in New York and New Jersey.  Family get togethers were important.  Besides that, our summers in the Catskills with my cousins made us extremely close.

So of course engagements, weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs and the arrival of babies were always celebrated.   This continues today as well into the next generations.  But when I was a teen and young adult growing up, everyone lived within a short distance of each other.

When we needed new shoes, we did not go to just any shoe store.  No, we drove from North Bergen or West New York, New Jersey, to Yonkers, New York, to get our shoes.  Why?  There were lots of shoe stores near by.  But my Uncle Jack was the manager of a shoe store in Yonkers.  So, of course, that is where we went for our new school shoes each year.   If ever we had a shoe problem, or issue, we knew to stand up and see where our toes ended in relationship to the edge of the shoe.  I have written about my Dad’s fixation on healthy feet. And wearing good shoes was part of this. (See blog below.)

My Uncle Jack had other connections.  One of his best friends, also named Jack, was a jeweler.  I asked my cousin if he was related to them.  But No, Uncle Jack and Jack A. met at the Sephardic synagogue they went to in NYC.   Uncle Jack lived in Israel as a child and teen.  ( I wrote about his mother, my grandma Rose, and her experiences during the siege of Jerusalem in 1948, see the blog below.)  

So why a shoe store and a jeweler and family gatherings all in one story?  Because in 1979 I got engaged to a nice Midwest boy who wanted to buy me a diamond engagement ring. I was shocked.  He wanted to go to a store and buy it retail?  Who heard of such a thing?  Not when my family was involved.

To be honest, I do not remember exactly what happened.  All I know is that we were in town for my brother’s wedding.  It was nine months after we got engaged, but I still did not have my engagement ring.  We were waiting until we went to see my family.  Finally, a meeting was set up.  My husband, then fiancé, thought we were going to go to a wholesale jewelry store in Manhattan.  But that is not what happened.  He was a bit shocked.

My parents drove my husband and I to the shoe store in Yonkers. My then 24-year-old fiancé asked, “We are getting your ring in a shoe store?” I just nodded my head yes. My father said something like, “Don’t worry, it’s fine.”

When we got to the store, my Uncle was waiting for us, and led us to the back of the store.  Mom stayed in front to shop!  Next thing I know is that Dad, my fiancé and I are in the shoe storage racks in the back of the store.  Jay was a bit shy about entering the back stacks, but as we were all going, he went along. It was here that we met with Jack, the jeweler!

When we were situated where no one was coming, way in the back, Jack, the jeweler, opens the shoe box he was carrying.  Inside were five or six diamond rings, all about one karat, all different shape diamonds.  I tried several on and finally decided on the ring I wanted.  A check was written.  We were given an appraisal, but Jack was firm about us getting an appraisal from another jeweler as well.     If there was any problem, we were to let him know.

We left the stacks.  I was now wearing my engagement ring.    Jack the jeweler stayed behind.  My Uncle went in to say goodbye to his friend, who left through the back entrance.  Quite the covert mission.  You did not want anyone to know you were carrying a shoe box filled with diamonds!

I wore my engagement ring for years.  But about five years ago, I had a ring I inherited from my grandmother that I used to make a new ring.   I put my engagement ring away with the idea that one day my son would use it.  That time is now.  He and his girlfriend got engaged.

https://zicharonot.com/2020/01/20/beautiful-feet-a-shoe-store-and-my-dads-sage-advice/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/07/24/movie-night-in-the-catskills-was-a-wonderful-magical-night/

Ralph, Pete and Bambi, Turkeys And A Flock of Birds

29 Aug

My husband loves to feed birds.  We have always had bird feeders and books identifying birds outside our kitchen window so we could not only watch the birds but identify who was visiting our feeders.

When we moved 17 months ago, my husband was extremely concerned that the birds would not find us!  He even put a sign up on our deck beneath the bird feeders telling the birds our new address.  Yes, he is a bit crazy.  But then he is a pediatrician, so he has never grown up.

Happily, the day we moved in, a cardinal perched on his bird feeder.  I was able to say, “Look the cardinal read your sign.  I am sure the other birds would follow.”  Follow they did!   We now have a flock of birds of all sorts lounging near our yard.

Our new, small subdivision backs up to a park and a golf course.  Acres and acres of natural beauty along with several small lakes and a stream.  The animals love it.  And our home has become a gathering place for all sorts of nighttime and daytime visitors.  All due to my husband’s bird feeders.  You see, he does not just buy any old bird food.  No, he buys what I call the Mercedes Benz of bird food, hearts of sunflowers.

We have had turkeys and mourning doves and chipmunks happily munching on the seeds that fall to the ground.   We see chickadees, finches of all colors, Blue Jays, cardinals, woodpeckers, robins, swallows, and a multitude of other birds gathering on the feeders, many times waiting their turn to eat.   We buy bird food in 30-pound bags, several at a time.  And yes, we do have a hummingbird feeder as well, which we recently moved. 

Our garden is surround on two sides by a limestone wall, one side by our house, and the other by a wrought iron fence.  It is lovely and peaceful during the day.  But we have found out that at night, it is a place of high demand and drama.  We recently put in a security camera in the back of the house.  Included in its scope are the birdfeeders. 

We have found it quite exciting to watch and the videos explain much.  We were going through so much bird food, we really could not understand how the birds were eating so much especially at night.  We found out that our bird feeders were being raided by a raccoon, who my husband promptly named Ralph.

Ralph draining the bird feeder!

Ralph would stand on his tippy toes on the fence and reach up to tip the bird feeders right into his mouth and just drain the seed. So first my husband put bricks under the pole to raise the height of the feeders. Ralph won that battle. He climb up the fence, climb up the pole and shimmied down to the feeders. Then another raccoon joined him, I named him Rocky. They did not get along and often had loud fights with growling. I honestly did not like that.

Now the war was really on.  My husband started bringing the bird feeders in at night. Ralph and Rocky showed up, but there was no food. Friends started recommending solutions.  Put a slinky on the pole!  Get a dog!  (Cats don’t work.) Then the best advice came from a friend of mine, who got us into bird feeding and watching years ago. She recommended we get this raccoon baffle thing that is put on the pole. The first night it was on, we just put up two bird feeders to see what would happen.  Ralph could not get the food.

Birds waiting for a morning perch to eat!

With the raccoon baffler in place, we can leave our feeders out at night.

But in the meantime, my husband had been putting humming bird nectar out on a low pole.  And one evening when Ralph moved out of the vision of the camera, we noticed a deer, named Bambi of course.  Bambi had been draining our hummingbird feeder.  So now the humming bird feeder is inside the garden behind the gate, and the hummingbirds are happy. So the deer is back to eating all of our sedum plants! 

Ralph and Rocky can no longer climb the pole, so the birds are happy.  In fact, the raccoons have not even shown up for a week now.  But our yard is not empty.  Now that the raccoons are gone, an opossum, who my husband named Pete, has spent some time walking along our walls at night.   He joins the chipmunks and lizards who already inhabit the hedges.

As for the turkeys, Tom and his three lady friends, they come whenever the mood strikes them. It has been entertaining and fun to watch the wildlife, and I guess feed them. And no animal was injured in our battle to keep the birds happy.

An earlier battle: https://zicharonot.com/2014/05/18/man-versus-squirrel-devastation-disaster-depression-and-destruction-of-dreams/

The Catskills House Delivers A Father’s Day Surprise

21 Jun

I really thought we had found all the treasures there were to be found in our grandparent’s home.  But I guess not.  Our home in the Catskills keeps pushing out surprises.  This time it was my Dad’s high school diploma and his sixth-grade graduation photo. My brother found it on Saturday, June 18. What a great surprise for Father’s Day!

My brother, sister and I share this house which has been in our family since 1962. First belonging to our grandparents, then our parents and now the three of us.  Every once in a while, my brother, who is lead ‘administrator,’ decides we have to clean out some more of the decades of stuff squirreled away in the house.  Several years ago, we all went up and worked on the attic and the garage for several days.  We filled a dumpster and were physically and emotionally exhausted.  (See blogs below.)

Due to the pandemic, my nephew, my brother’s son, has been living in our house.  I guess my brother decided to take advantage of his son’s presence.  It was time, in his mind, to finally tackle the basement.  I was glad I did not have to be part of that cleaning as it is a dusty, damp mess down there. He ordered a ten-cubic-foot dumpster to be delivered to the house.  This past week, the two of them focused on filling it up. And they did!

I must say, my brother is not sentimental and is quite decisive in his cleaning and tossing of what he considers useless items.  I know because the two of us cleaned out our parent’s apartment over eight years ago.  While I had a hard time letting things go, my brother would say, “Do you really need that.  Just put it in the to go pile.”  We had piles for each of us, for trash and for donating.  I will admit that perhaps sometimes when he left the room, I moved things from trash to donate, and perhaps from donate to one of the to keep piles.

So I was really happy that when my brother and nephew did clean the basement, they did a little searching before just throwing.  As it was in a box of old broken picture frames that they found these two treasures.  The high school diploma is not that much of a surprise, as we knew when Dad graduated from DeWitt Clinton high. (See blog below.). But the class photo was the treasure!

The class photo is from PS 70 in the Bronx, June 1940, just over 81 years ago!  Behind the students is an American flag with only 48 stars. Hawaii and Alaska did not become states until 1959. The photo is not in great shape.  It looks like it has moisture damage.  But the part with my Dad is a bit better.

The boys are wearing white shirts and ties. The girls are in dresses with many of them wearing scarf like a tie.  The teacher is a man in a full suit.  Our Dad is the boy in the second row, standing behind a sitting girl at the far right of the photo.  His abundant hair is obvious.

This photo makes me happy.  I love seeing my Dad with his classmates.  I sent it to my Dad’s best friend to see if he was also in the picture. But he was not.  However, it gave me a chance to be updated on what was happening in his life.  My Dad’s friend said: “I think of him almost every day. He was my best friend.”  To be honest I cannot imagine one of the them without the other. They met when they were 12 years old. And were best buddies till my Dad died in 2011.

Since the basement is not yet totally cleaned out, I have hope that a few more treasures might come to light.  In a way I will be sad when all the alcoves and crannies are clean because I know I will not have any more happy surprises. But in the meantime, I am happy for this Father’s Day surprise.

My Personal Pillars of Life

27 May

I recently was asked to write something about myself for our synagogue’s newsletter because I am a vice president of the congregation. I was unsure, did the president want my qualifications as to why I was a vice president? No, he wanted me to tell the congregation something about me. I decided to discuss my philosophy of life.

The first time I actually wrote down my philosophy was on a cruise ship in September 2019. It was our last big trip before the pandemic cancelled everything. We were in the Baltic Sea. During a sea day, I decided I would pamper myself and get a message. The young woman who was my massage therapist was on her first cruise. She was home sick. So we spent quite a bit of time talking. And among the topics we talked about was my philosophy of life. I am not sure why it came up. But she needed moral support and a way to deal with the daily onslaught of people to serve.

It was not my usual, I will fall asleep massage.  Instead, it was my, I am a mother and here is someone in need.  She also gave me a great massage.  So during the second week of the cruise I had another massage. We had another nice discussion.  When it was over, she handed me a notebook and said, “Please write it down.”  It was strange to put my personal philosphy into writing for someone else, but I did.  I hope it helped her in some way during her six-months on the ship, but more important perhaps during the pandemic. 

Below is the third time I wrote about my philosophy of life.

My philosophy of life is based on four pillars, Gemilut Chasidim (good deeds), Tzedakah (righteous charity), Kindness and Family.   Because I believe in creating a positive energy in the world, I volunteer quite a bit besides what I do at my synagogue.   Currently I am involved in Women’s Philanthropy as campaign chair; for NCJW I chair the scholarship committee providing funds for high school seniors going on to college; and I am a Spiritual Care Volunteer for Jewish Family Services. Every Wednesday I visit with seniors in an elder care facility. I also work at a small, private, non-profit school for children who do not do well in a traditional school setting.  I keep busy!

I believe in being positive!  I have learned that doing an act of kindness for someone brings so much more happiness than buying a gift for yourself.  That act of kindness is the gift!  I keep a happiness journal.  Each evening, I enter something that made me truly happy during the day.  I list at least one good deed I did that day.  And finally, I list five things that I am grateful for that day.  Almost every day that includes my family and my cats.

One way I keep happy is to crochet…mainly baby blankets for the multitude of young couples I know who are having babies.  I could just buy a gift.  But for me, making something filled with the positive love I feel when I make one, has more meaning.  I make other things as well.  My daughter often sends me a photo of something she likes and asks, “Can you make this for me.”  So I do.  I also make items for special people. A friend who donated a kidney loves ducks. So I crocheted her a duck doily. A friend whose son died way too young got a heart doily. A little girl with cancer received a long Anna wig to wear. When I make these items I feel like I am infusing them with love.

I love to I read, because books bring me to other worlds and entrance my imagination.   I usually travel, but for the past 15 months I have been home. Books have given me the opportunity to continue to visit new worlds, both real and imaginary.  My mind is filled with trivia thanks to these books. Reading brings me joy.  I enjoy discussing books with others.

My path to tzedakah comes from my family.  I knew from an early age that giving to others was important. My great grandfather Louis was one of the founders of the Bialystoker Home for the Aged in NYC.  He also was the president of the Free Loan Society for the Bialystokers.  My family supported this institution throughout my childhood.  My Dad, his grandson, was the president of his congregation for 11 years.  We were all taught to help others as we could.

My path to kindness comes from my family as well, especially my Mom. She taught elementary school for 30 years and had great experience in teaching kindness.  I learned from her, and from my experiences in the world, that you do not need to love everyone you meet. However, you do need to be Kind.  You never know what type of day someone is having. By being kind, you can brighten a day for someone else and in turn make the day better for yourself.

Yes, I also get sad sometimes and worry about the future.  No one is happy all the time. When I feel blue, I often go for a walk outside with a friend.  Just being outside helps cheer me up. But sometimes I go back to my foundation of Gemilut Chasidim, Tzedakah, Kindness and Family are my foundation, focusing on something good I can do to bring me out of the blues.

Here are two other blogs that touch on my world view.

A Day’s Escape to Ft. Scott

20 May
The hospital, now Visitors’ Center.

In 1988 I went on a road trip with my parents, husband, and then two -year-old daughter.  My Dad was a big Civil War and also Harry Truman fan.  Since we lived on the border of Missouri and Kansas, he had sites he wanted to see.

We drove down Hwy 69 to Ft. Scott first to see the old historic site. It was in the beginning of its renovations and restorations. I just remember one building. From there we went to Silver Dollar City, Mansfield where we visited Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house (for my Mom and me) and finally on our way home, we stopped in Lamar, Missouri, to see Truman’s birthplace. This four-day trip was a highlight for my parents.

For me, there was just one place I wanted to return to, Ft. Scott.  For the last 33 years, I have been commenting that I need to go back and see what they did with the fort.  It is not that I haven’t been to the city of Fort Scott.  I have driven through it at least once a year on my way to Arkansas or other spots in Kansas. 

I have even stopped in Ft. Scott to visit the Lowell Milken Center, Unsung Hero Museum. This museum focuses on taking action to improve the lives of others. I was interested in it through my volunteer work with the Kansas City Section of the National Council of Jewish Women. We were involved in the development of the play about Irena Sendler: Life In A Jar, which is highlighted at the museum.

But I never got over to the Fort!  Each time I went it was raining, not a gentle rain, but a good Kansas downpour.

When I went the first time, in 1988, the renovations and restorations had only been going on for a decade. The Fort Scott Historic Site became part of the National Park System only in 1978. For a long time, From the late 1800s to 1978, it was part of the town of Ft. Scott.  Some of the buildings, that were not torn down, were used by town’s people as homes or community buildings, like a home for girls.  

In the 1950s community members started working to restoring the fort.  Most buildings are not original, rather recreations. Since 1978, recreations of buildings have been built around the common area.

The Fort was important during the time of “bleeding Kansas,” as Kansas and Missouri fought over free and slave states. In fact, during that time, two of the buildings were used as hotels. Across the square common area from each other, one was for those who supported a free state, the other was for those who wanted a slave state. Sometimes, violence broke out!!

During the Civil War, the Fort was used as a supply depot and hospital for Union soldiers. In the Visitors’ Center they have a room set up as the hospital would have been like in the 1860s.

For the past 33 years, I have been wondering, did it get completed? What happened? I have been wanting to see the Fort! I tried to arrange field trips with friends to take our children there. It never happened. I tried to get my husband to go with me. He did not have time to take the drive.

Finally, I completed my quest.   In the time of Covid, my husband had 25 vacation days that have to be used before July 1. He is taking every Thursday and Friday off for three months.  Good friends of ours drove down from Wisconsin.  Our first overnight company in 15 months.  We are all vaccinated.  I suggested a field trip to Ft. Scott. Most of the time we would be outside.  They agreed.

I have to admit, it was better than I imagined.  When we were there 33 years ago, the place was ragtag and a mess of construction.  Now it is a lovely well-organized group of 20 buildings that you can enter and see cannons and carriages; the places where supplies were kept and bread was made.  The best was the officers’ quarters. The building we entered was an original 1845 building.  It is the same building we went into in 1988.  This building had been a private home and then a school for girls.

There is even a Tallgrass Prairie planted with a trail, so that you can imagine yourself walking the prairies of Kansas in the 1840s.

We spent about 90 minutes walking around the grounds and into the open buildings.  Several of the buildings were closed for various reasons.  The Visitors’ Center, which once was the hospital, has a small gift shop, and clean restroom. There is no entrance fee to visit the historic site. It is opened almost every day until 5 pm. But even when the buildings are closed, you are still allowed to walk around the park.

After we toured the site, we walked across the street to a nice little Mexican restaurant and then walked through the quaint town, entering a few stores. 

There is one other museum I want to see in Ft. Scott, the Gordon Parks Museum.  Located on the grounds of the Ft. Scout Community College, the museum highlights the work and life of well-known photographer Gordon Parks.  I will get there one day!

To be honest, I enjoyed my day in Ft. Scott so much, I have decided that this one-hour drive will be added to my activities whenever we have out of town company.  It is a great way to spend a day.

Center of the common area. Across the way are the soldiers quarters and the stable.
The officers’ quarters. The building on the right, known as the Wilson/Goodlander Home.This is the building I saw in 1988.
The back of the officers’ quarters. They had private gardens.
Inside the hospital.
The bakery.
The basement of the storehouse. The stone floor is the original floor.
The prison.
The Tallgrass Prairie

https://www.lowellmilkencenter.org/
https://www.nps.gov/fosc/index.htm

http://www.gordonparkscenter.org

Our First Foray ‘Post’ Pandemic

4 May

Since Late January, 2020, my husband and I have stayed close to home.  In our normal life we would have been all over the globe.  We had several international trips planned from March 2020 to March 2021.  It amazes me how much time we would have been traveling.  Our destinations included United Kingdom, Spain, France, Holland, Hungary, Germany, Bulgaria and Romania, in Europe; Israel in Asia; Australia and New Zealand.  These do not include the little trips we would have taken in the United States to meetings and to visit family.

When I look at this list, I tense up just thinking about all packing and arrangements I would have been doing to make these trips enjoyable and stress free.  We did so much traveling that we never worried about packing and making these arrangements because traveling was second nature.

In an instant everything changed.

Instead, like most everyone else, we stayed home.  Our March and April trips were immediately cancelled.  But before that, on March 2, we actually closed on a new home and moved in April.  I was going to do all of the packing and moving in between travels! Now, when I think back about having all these trips planned, I am stunned at my own arrogance.  I would have had a new home and all the issues that go with that while traveling!  I honestly just did not think about it.  I would have just done it… with much stress!

In a way, the pandemic did me a favor. 

I am glad all those trips got cancelled and I had a chance to stay home.  I enjoyed having time to get everything accomplished with less stress and just being in my own back yard, eating in my own kitchen and walking along the paths with friends in my community.

However, we did miss our family and friends.  Zoom and phone calls were nice. But to me they are not the same as seeing people in person.   With both of us being fully vaccinated, and with many of our friends vaccinated, it seemed like the time had come to plan a trip. The pandemic was not over, but with vaccines, it was definitely better in our area.

View of Beaver Lake From

We were both a bit nervous about leaving home and venturing out.  So we planned our first trip as a road trip to Arkansas where we have some really good friends, our long-term neighbors, who retired to the Eureka Springs area of Arkansas.  We loved the Beaver Lake area, and the great views from their home. We knew with them we would have a great time.  Feel safe.  And, most of all, be with friends we missed!

While there we could also meet up with other friends who lived in Bentonville and Fayetteville.  It was especially important for me to meet up with my Bentonville friend.  She and I had grown up together in New Jersey.  Her Mom and my Mom were good friends.  And during COVID, her 94-year-old mother passed away.  With all the restrictions, I could not go to see her.  This made me really sad.  Like so many others, she had to do her grieving alone.

Plans were made.  Arrangements to meet up in Bentonville were finalized.  We went on our first foray out of Kansas.  The drive down was uneventful. When we arrived, we had the best hugs with our friends.

Later we realized our packing techniques were a bit out of practice. My husband forgot socks.  Not a big problem.  But reminded us we had not done this for a long time.

Getting ice cream.

The next day was a trip to Bentonville.  Six of us enjoying a the lovely weather.  We Visited the C21 Museum Hotel and saw the exhibits. We got ice cream at the ice cream parlor by the original Wall Mart. We walked around the town square.

At lunch my childhood friend turned to me and said, “I am really glad you are here today.  It is the one-year anniversary of my Mom dying.”  I think we both had tears in our eyes at that moment!

I did not remember that it was on April 30 that her Mom passed away.  I knew it was early in COVID.  I thought how serendipitous that we arranged this trip.  But then I thought how sometimes events happen for a reason.  Arranging this trip, being there at this time, in a way made up for the time we lost, when I could not come.  Now, I was there when she needed me. It was a moment that felt had some divine intervention.

The one-lane Beaver Bridge in Arkansas, reflected how I felt…tentatively venturing out.

I am glad we went trip for so many reasons.  We needed to be able to travel again. To cross over the bridge of just staying home to going somewhere close, and with people we feel so comfortable with made a difference.  It felt strange to be away from home; to be eating at someone else’s kitchen table and speaking with people; to be watching my favorite reality show, “Escape to the Chateau,” with another person who also loved it!

But most of all, I am glad I was there to mark the anniversary of my friend’s mother.  So many lost people they loved in the past year and were unable to follow the usual path of grieving.  Marking the first-year anniversary helped.

It will take time for me to feel back to normal when I travel.  I am not sure when I will feel comfortable flying again.  But this trip gave me hope that there will be a post pandemic return to some sort of normal.

The Murder of Chava Feuer 1942

22 Apr

It is not every day that you find out exactly how your great grandmother was murdered in the Shoah.  But it just happened to me and I am in shock.

I was taking a webinar called “The Case of. The Missing Ancestors: Genealogy Tips from Nancy Drew, that I signed up for from the Erie Community Library.  The speaker was Ellen Shindelman Kowitt. I am still searching for my grandfather’s three siblings.  After hitting dead end after dead end, I thought maybe this workshop would help. 

The speaker mentioned looking up the name of the town instead of the name of the person.  So while I was listening on one device, I entered the name of my grandfather’s birthplace, Trzciana, Poland, on another device.

At first I just found a short Wikipedia entry telling me that Trzciana was a small village in Buchnia County, the seat of the administration office, and so was called Gmina Trzciana.  It was just outside Mielec, which I knew.  It currently has a population of 1462.  No mention of the Shoah.

Then I entered “Trzciana and the Holocaust.”  A book popped up:
The Holocaust and European Socieities: Social Processes and Social Dynamics edited by Frank Bajohr and Andrea Low.  There was also some sample pages that I could read, including a section on an event that happened in Trzciana.

I knew my great grandmother, Chava, was murdered in her town.  I knew she had been hidden. And that saved her when the rest of her family was taken. I thought she was murdered at the end, after the war was over. But that is not the case.  She was murdered in 1942. There is an entire paragraph about the murder of my great grandmother Chava, the wife of Gimple.  MY Great Grandmother.

I can imagine the fear she had when she knew the Nazis were searching for all the Jewish people in the area. When she knew that the Polish people were afraid and turning the Jews in.  How in fear she must have been when she went to a family that had hid her before. But I am sure she knew there was no hope.  No hope, no help. Just death. And did it really matter when everyone else was already gone? Her husband, her four children. Her extended family.

Yes, I am crying.  Yes, I think I am in shock.  This I never expected.  I did not find my great aunts and great uncle.  But I found this. 

I have ordered the book.  I need to see it and touch it.  To really believe it.

But read for yourself the murder of Chava Feuer, my great grandmother, for whom I carry her name.  May her name and memory always be a blessing. (Yes, I know it says Chana, but believe me it is Chava.)

(She says’ “Do with me as you please.” This touches my heart. I was an obstinate child. I would often say to my parents and grandparents, “Do what you want, I am not moving.” My grandfather would shake his head and laugh, while my grandmother would say, “You are just like her”. The her being Chava, whose name I carry. )

What Happened to Grandpa’s Twin Sisters?

16 Apr
My great aunt Tova, my great Grandparents Gimple and Chava. The man driving is an Uncle. And the horses and cart they bought with the money my grandparents sent. They all perished.

Would it be horrible to say that I am disappointed to find that my grandfather’s two sisters were not the victims of Josef Mengele?  It sounds horrible even to me.  But I have been searching to find out what happened to them for over a decade.  And I thought I finally found a glimmer of hope.  I remembered that they were twins.  Perhaps they made it to the right concentration camp and were separated out. I could at least have some closure.

But no.  Another dead end, I write without a pun.  I had already searched through Yad V Shem, where I found my grandfather’s parents and one brother.  I have found my great grandparents, Gimple/Mordechai who died in Auschwitz and Chava who died in the town.  My great uncle, Shimon died in Belzec.   All three testimonies were put in Yad VShem by a cousin, Shalom Hollander.  Although he entered many other testimonies, there are none for the other three siblings.

I have searched through the Jewish Gen files.  I have found many, many, well hundreds of family members who perished in the Shoah.  But I cannot find my grandfather’s two sisters and their families and his other brother.  It is what I have been searching for since I started my genealogy searches. 

I tried the place that usually helps, Tracing the Tribe Facebook Group.  From one member, I found out about the the Arolsen Archives, International Center on Nazi Persecution, in Bad Arolsen in Germany.  And I had great hope.  I filled out three forms with all the information I had on my great aunts, Tova and Tzelia, and great uncle Nachum.  I admit it was not much.  Just their names and town of birth, parents and approximate date of birth. 

I was sure to add that Tova and Tzelia were twins.  I have a photo of Tova.  I knew she was married.  She probably had children. But by the time I spoke to my grandfather about her and his other siblings in the 1970s, he had forgotten the names of her husband and children.  So my search was based on somewhat limited information.

Unfortunately, the Arolsen Archives could not help.  For each of my requests, I received the same message. “We can inform you today that we – based on the data you provided – have made an extensive check of the documentation available to us.
To our regret, it has not proved possible for us to ascertain any information.”

Another dead end.  But I was not totally surprised.  I know that Mielec and Grandpa’s home town of Trzciana, were among the first cities that the Nazis chose to kill all the Jews.  Only 100 Jewish residents from the area survived the war.  Some were killed at the Denbica/Dembitz Murder site.  Others went to the Lodz Ghetto and then Belzec  Some died in Auschwitz.  But some died in their community, like my great grandmother.  Some were burned in the synagogue.  Some were burned in the mikve.  Some were shot. 

I have discovered many people with similar names, but not these three.

I assume they died nameless, not a number in the Nazi machine.

So perhaps not finding them is a good thing.  Perhaps they died quickly.  They did not have to suffer the indignity of being a victim of Mengele.  They did not make it to the Concentration Camps.  But what is so sad is that no family member was able to write their testimonies.  No one could enter their names in to Yad VShem data base.  And I cannot either, because I do not know what happened.

Perhaps my quest to find out the names of their children will never be achieved.  I will never find out what happened.   Each time I have found out what happened to a family member. I have had another little stab in my heart.  Perhaps it is time to let this search end.

Bittersweet Return After A Pandemic Year

12 Mar

One year and five days have passed between my visits to the elder care facility where I am a Spiritual Care Volunteer.   I last went on March 4, 2020.  I returned on March 10, 2021.  In between there was a pandemic.  Most of the year, I was not allowed to visit.  For a short period I could see people outside, and I did met with one of my people.  But I could not meet with my group.

On March 9, I was two weeks past my second Pfizer vaccine.  This means life changed for me.  As soon as I could I returned.

It has been a most stressful year for so many.   But I think the elderly took the brunt of the stress.  Many were kept isolated, away from their family and friends.  This isolation took its toll.  So many died, so many advanced in dementia, so many suffered from loneliness.  I cannot comment on my people. But I will just say that they faced the same challenges as others.

For me, personally, it was difficult not to visit.  I had been seeing them once a week for over a year.  We had formed connections and friendships.   They even surprised me with a birthday party when I turned 65.  At which time, these friends of mine, in their 80s and 90s, told me how young I was.  They told me I was Just a kid.   Which made me feel better about turning 65, if only I could be as independent as so many of my people.

Six weeks later I was no longer young: in the pandemic announcements it stated that elderly people over the age of 65 should stay inside, be careful because their lives were at higher risk.  In a short time I went from being a young 65 to an elderly person. 

I thought back to my aunt over 50 years ago.   It was summer in the Catskills.  I had run into her bungalow to see my grandma.  My aunt was reading the newspaper.  She turned to me and said, “I went to bed last night, a young woman, I woke this morning, elderly.“ 


What was she talking about?  She showed the newspaper, The New York Daily News.  An article stated that an elderly man, aged 59, had died on a tragic accident.   I looked at her and laughed.  I knew her age.  But I also knew the age she said she was.  “Aunt Leona, don’t worry.  To me you are always 39!”

But I now really knew what she meant.  I went to bed on March 11, 2020, a young 65.  I woke on March 12, 2020, an old, elderly 65.  It was a shock.

My life changed as did everyone.  But I had an added concern.  How would I keep in touch with my people who were so important to me.   I was not allowed to see them.  But I could write.  I started writing letters and notes.  I started sending goodie bags about every six weeks.  Two of my people emailed me.  One sent me everyone’s phone numbers.  I tried calling about once a month.  Some months I reached everyone. Others I only reached a few.  But I kept in touch.

The organization I volunteered for originally told the Spiritual Care Volunteers to not give out our phone number. That was now obsolete.  I gave my number to whoever wanted it.  I put them in my phone list and answered them whenever they called. They needed me. And I needed to know I was helping them in any way I could.

Over the year, some of my people did pass away.  Others moved into more skilled nursing.  At least one had Covid  and survived. I kept in touch the best I could.

Then came the vaccine. My people were among the first vaccinated in Kansas. It was so exciting. I was so glad to know they were safe and their quarantine was beginning to ease up.  I could go see them once I was vaccinated.

But for me it was difficult at first to get a vaccine.  I also have an autoimmune disease, so I was being oh so careful.   I found a spot that was providing vaccine to those who volunteer and worked with the elderly.  That was me.  I signed up on their list and soon was accepted.  I got my first vaccine in early February.  My second on February 21.  As soon as my two weeks was up I knew where I wanted to be…with my people.

I emailed the elder care facility and got permission to visit.  We set the date at my usual time, Wednesday at 2 pm, two weeks and one day past my second vaccine.   Because of my volunteer work I got my vaccine early.  So I intended to make sure I would be with my people.

I now needed permission from my volunteer agency.  I sent my Covid vaccine record.  But I did not hear back.   It was getting close.  To be honest I planned to go no matter what.  The elder care facility said yes, my people were expecting me.  I had to go!

Early in the morning on March 10, I got my approval from the agency.  I was told that I was the first Spiritual Care Volunteer returning to their facility. I was eager to go! Two in the afternoon I was with my people.  Six were there.  I was so happy to see them.

I knew what we had to do. We had to bench Gomel.  I read them an essay written by Rabbi Neal Gold that I got from a website. I read it to them.  In his essay, Rabbi Gold said, “In our time, the spirit of this prayer has expanded to all sorts of other life-and-death situations, such as surviving a car accident, recovering from major surgery, or enduring childbirth…..It is not designed for people ‘who merely with headaches or stomachaches who are not confined to bed.’ Rather, it is only for those brushes with mortality that leave us shaken — and profoundly grateful for our survival.”

 I think surviving the COVID pandemic counts!

So we benched Gomel, even without a Torah, thanking God for the goodness he sent to use to allow us to survive.

“Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the world, who rewards the undeserving with goodness, and who has rewarded me with goodness.” We did the response as well.

We then talked about what happened to each of my people during this time.  The one who spent two months in the hospital with Covid. The one that was lucky because she lived on the first floor with her own entrance and could see her daughter.  We remembered the three that died. We thought of those who have moved into more skilled nursing.  We delighted in being together.

It was definitely a wonderful and joyful event for me, and I believe for my people as well. 

A pandemic year is a year I will never forget.  But the joy of reuniting with others, although bittersweet, is definitely a gift!