Archive | September, 2014

The Beauty of the Palisades Needs to Remain

29 Sep

Although I no longer live in New Jersey, in my heart I carry a love for the city I grew up in, North Bergen, and the beautiful view of the Hudson River and New York City I had every day from the Palisades. I was so lucky to grow up just a few houses in from Boulevard East and the Palisades, just a block away from Hudson County Park, now known as James Braddock Park.

But over the last ten years, I have noticed a terrible change in my town and the areas along the Palisades. Each year more and more of the solid rock has been carved by giant machines to make way for more businesses and apartment buildings springing up at the bottom of the Palisades along River Road. They are destroying this natural beauty. Destroying rock that has stood for centuries.

As they destroy the cliffs, they often build high-rise buildings that block the views of people who have lived on the top of the Palisades. They block the view of people who want to walk and see the view. They are destroying such a lovely sight.

It did not start just ten years ago. But I have noticed an increase in destruction over the past ten years.

When I was a child, River Road was a small two-lane street that meandered along the bottom of the Palisades and looked out over the Hudson River. It is now a four-lane thoroughfare in many places. And the view of the River is gone, blocked by apartments that have been built on landfill. I know that people need places to live. So I am not against homes being built. But I wish that more green and open spaces were left for people to enjoy.

There are organizations that have sprung up to save the Palisades, but in typical New Jersey fashion, many of the politicians and the planning boards are not listening. They only see the opportunity of more stores and more homes and so more tax income.   All the time they are damaging what makes New Jersey so beautiful and so popular, the Palisades.

Growing up near the park and the boulevard gave my siblings, friends and I lots of opportunity to climb down the cliffs. Of course our parents did not want us to do this. But the thrill called. The wall along Boulevard East was not in great repair, so we were able to slip through breaks in the wall and go down. And some places had intentional gaps.

Palisades, Suicide bridge May 2013

Palisades, Suicide bridge May 2013

See how much of the mountain has been carved away from the May photo.

See how much of the mountain has been carved away from the May photo.

We lived very close to Suicide Bridge. The view from the bridge is magnificent. We often went for a short walk to look over the top.

When I crossed the boundary and scampered through the wall, I stayed near the top. Sitting on boulders, walking along old terraced areas. But I have found out that my sister and her friends would often climb down along the terraced hill almost to the bottom. They would play among old stone walls and a stone staircase. I was shocked to hear that, as that was a definite “NO,” in our parent’s view. She would have been in big trouble if my parents knew!

Me early 1970s in HC Park

Early 1970s, I am sitting on my favorite boulders.

I loved just to go through the wall and just sit on the boulders and look over to New York City. It was and still is a wonderful view.   From here we watch the World Trade Towers, the Twin Towers go up; we saw the famous black outs of 1965 and 1977; we watched fireworks from the Palisades. They were such a part of our lives.

Some days I would just sit and watch the traffic across the River, thinking about how long it might take my Dad to get home from work. When I close my eyes I still see that wonderful view.

I still enjoy the drive along the Palisades Interstate Parkway (PIP).  And I will always remember stopping at one of the overlook sites to see the Hudson River, the Palisades and New York.

The Palisades are one of New Jersey’s and nature’s loveliest cliffs.I hope those who still live in North Bergen and other cities along the Hudson and throughout New Jersey would keep working to keep the Palisades available to all and not destroyed by more developers. I know there are many who are doing this in an effort from having large corporate offices be built on pristine land.  And those of us who moved away need to join our voices to save the cliffs that provided us so much beauty.


“We Have a Bingo!” The Happiest Words at Bingo Night!

26 Sep

Although my grandparent’s bungalow colony was quite small, we were able to take advantage of many of the amenities provided by other Kauneonga Lake institutions.   One of my favorites was Bingo Night at the White Lake Estate homes.

Deep in the middle of the homes, between Hilltop Road and West Shore Drive, was the large round clubhouse, sitting next to a pool. The only time I usually walked by it was when we had to walk past it to get to Amber Lake.   We loved walking around Amber Lake. Before Donnefeld Drive was built up, it was a great place to find salamanders. But after houses were built there, Amber Lake was the place to go to discover all sorts of amphibians.

However, once a week was Bingo Night!!!   Anyone could go to the clubhouse to play. Or I assume so. But it might also have been the fact that my grandparents had many friends who lived in White Lake Estates homes. And now that I think of it, we usually sat near them when we went to play.

We walked along West Shore Road to Donnefeld Drive to West Shore Drive on our way to pay bingo. It was daylight when we walked there, but on the way home it was a very dark journey. At the time there were barely any homes on Donnefeld Drive, so we walked carrying flashlights to help on the way home. That was part of the adventure!

My brother often told us scary stories, as we walked, ones he had heard at Boy Scout camp. The scariest was about Cropsey. Oh my! He set my sister and I up for fear. He told us one day that Cropsey always came to get you after you saw a can swinging in a tree branch. Then, one day before we left for the bingo game, he hung a can on a tree on our path to bingo! As we passed the swinging can on our way, he pointed it out to us, to tell us it was a sign that Cropsey would come! That night when we got home and went to bed, he jumped up at our window with a mask and ax, screaming. I still cannot look outside into a dark night. I do not think I slept for a week!

But that was just an added and usual Catskills sibling event. The main attraction was Bingo Night.   My Grandma and Mom usually went with us for Bingo Night. Sometimes, just my Grandma. I think it was a time for my Mom to have a bit of peace and quiet. We were three very active children. And Grandma liked to go because she sat with her friend Nan. Sometimes one or more of our friends went with us as well. The more the merrier for bingo!

We carried our money carefully in our pockets. It was so exciting to enter the filled hall and stand on line to buy our cards. I cannot remember the price. But it was not expensive. We would buy a drink and a snack before we found seats. Now came the best part: the bingo games.

I remember the angst and excitement when we would be one away from bingo. Would we win? Or would someone else get the last number first? And what if two people won? We all knew not to move the see-through red buttons off our card until the caller yelled, “We have a Bingo!” That was the best call, especially if one of us was the winner. I will be honest that did not happen very often. But when it did! Wow!

The worst thing to happen was to accidentally move your card and have the red markers move. That was a disaster because it was really hard to recreate exactly what numbers had been called. Everyone would help, but it made for a sad game.

I always loved the last game of the evening, the all over board. You had to fill every single number on your card to win this one. And it usually had a bigger prize, perhaps $5.00 instead of the usual $1.00 or $2.00 prize. As I would get closer and closer to filling my card, my heart would begin to pound. I so wanted to win that prize! When a friend or a sibling won, I would be happy. But not the same type of happy I would feel if I actually won.

The joy of bingo stayed with me even as an adult. My mother-in-law, Lee, loved bingo. I remember going to St. Louis and going to her bingo game with her. It was always held in the same church, and was a fundraiser. Lee had a special bingo bag with colored markers and other paraphernalia.   By this time you would buy throw-away, thin paper cards that you marked with a colored marker. You no longer had to worry about the little round buttons moving. When Lee died, way too early at 59, I remember finding that bag and wondering what we should do with it. She loved bingo so much. I kept that bag for a while. But eventually the markers dried out, and I threw it all away.

In Kansas I never found a bingo game. But I have found that on cruises, there are often big bingo events. I actually won bingo on a cruise ship. The pay off is much bigger. I received $150 for winning! That was exciting!!

My daughter and I with our Minnesota bingo winnings.  My friend and her son also won that night!

My daughter and I with our Minnesota bingo winnings. My friend and her son also won that night!

But it was not as exciting as taking my children to play bingo at a resort in Minnesota. We spent a week at the resort with friends and their children. There was a Bingo Night. It brought back so many happy memories. Between the two families we won four hands of bingo. I could not believe it. We even took a photo of the event holding up our winning bingo cards. This was the closest I have come as an adult to the excitement and joy of the Bingo Nights in the Catskills.

We always had something to do in the Catskills. It did not matter that there was not television and no transportation most of the week. Walking to Bingo Night, being with friends and family was enough to bring enjoyment in the Catskills.

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.

Sweet Remembrances of Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake

20 Sep

From the time I was seven or eight we spent every Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, NY. Unlike most people who left their summer bungalows to return to the ‘City’ on Labor Day weekend and did not return until the next summer, we always came back to celebrate the holiday.

My grandparents owned a small bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake. This meant that after the season ended, the bungalows had to be closed for the winter. Water drained; windows covered; everything locked up. My Mom and Dad would help my grandparents perform many of these chores. And when we got older, my siblings and I would also help out.

Since my grandparents owned a ‘real’ house in Kauneonga Lake, we always had a place to stay. The house was sub-divided into four apartments by the woman who owned it before my grandparents. After they purchased it in 1962, my grandparents returned it into one home, with four bedrooms, and lots of spaces to sleep. There was also an attached apartment that they remodeled.

Over the years the house has seen many additions and upgrades. But the most important part was that it had heat and was livable all year. So for Rosh HaShanah, the five of us always went to stay with my grandparents to celebrate the holiday and the start of a sweet and wonderful year.

Our home was located about a mile and a half from the synagogue, Congregation Temple Beth El. This meant no heels for my Mom or Grandma. It was a long walk in a dress and nice shoes. We had to make our new finery stay in good shape as we walked. Along the way we often met up with others who were going to shul.

When the holidays were close to Labor Day, there were many more who stayed to celebrate. Some even kept their boats on the Lake for the extra weekend. It could be very warm when it was early in September, but sometimes, later in the month, it could be extremely cold on Rosh HaShanah.

Going to shul was a treat and fun. Everyone knew my grandparents and, of course, us. The shul was full. Men sat downstairs; women sat upstairs in the balcony, except for the few elderly women who sat in the two rows of seats behind the mehitzah on the first floor.  (See blog below for more about Beth El.)

I liked it when I was very young and could sit with my grandfather in the main floor, and he would cover me with his tallit. But eventually, that ended. My Mom, sister and I would climb the narrow staircase, and sit with the other women.

My Cousin took this photo from the women's balcony, at least 26 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima. My Cousin took this photo from the women’s balcony, at least 26 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima.

It was different in the balcony. We could see everything that was going on down below. We watched the men with the torah and listened to the chanting. I loved to watch when the Cohanim went forward to do the dukhanen, my grandfather among them. While upstairs, we did pray, but we could also chat and visit. As I got older, I began to resent being upstairs. But it was I tradition I was so used to that I never argued.

We went both days of the holiday and stayed till about 1 pm. Then would come the long walk back to the house after the Kiddish. I could not wait to get home. There was always fresh raisin challah baked by my grandfather. I loved eating the raisin challah for breakfast schmeared with cream cheese. YUM!

For lunch there always was warm soup made by my grandmother. Grandma was not a great cook, but her soup was wonderful: chicken soup, with delicious chicken feet filled with fat immersed in the brew. And if it was mushroom barley soup there were always knee bones to thicken the broth.

Grandma and I were the ones who loved to nibble around these items!

My Grandma made the best homemade egg noodles as well. She would put towels on all the chairs and hang the cooked noodles on them to dry. These were usually for Pesach, but I begged her to make them for Rosh Hashanah as well. I loved making them with her.

When I became a teen, and my friends were up for the holidays, the routine changed.   We often walked to shul together. One stayed at the Indian Lake House for Rosh HaShanah. Her family rented a bungalow from my grandparents, but by the holiday the bungalows were all closed for the season. So her family rented rooms at this bed and breakfast on West Shore Road. The other’s grandmother lived on West Shore Road, and his parents had a home in the White Lake Estates. We would visit on the terrace of the synagogue before services.

After services and after lunch with our families, we would meet. If it was early in September, the one friend always had his family’s boat for us to go out on. We would bring our homework, and take a boat ride to Camp Hi Li’s raft. We would sit on the platform raft doing our homework on the lake. What a great place to study!

As my grandparents aged, they could no longer walk all the way to the synagogue, so my Grandpa would drive most of the way. He would park his car across from Sylvia’s S & G, ‘shlock’ store. I remember saying, “Grandpa, why don’t you just park at the shul? It is just over the hill!”

He looked at my like I was crazy. “You walk to shul on the holidays!” He said. He was from Europe. And traditions were very important. Grandpa was a Cohan. He had rules that he had to follow and obligations that he had to keep.

When I was very young, there was a deli, Elfenbaum’s, almost directly across from the synagogue. We would stock up on special treats there. It closed when I was about 10. I still miss that deli. I remember going there on Sunday mornings with my Dad during the summer and then right before Rosh HaShanah to have delicacies for the holiday.

We usually spent Yom Kippur at our synagogue in New Jersey, unless the holiday was very early in September and on a weekend.   Then we would go back to the Catskills. But Yom Kippur was much more strict. Although, we, the children, were allowed to eat, I always felt the sadness of this holiday more when I was with my grandparents. Of course, when we were older and fasting, that walk back home seem to take forever!

But still I loved going to the shul on the hill. We loved sitting outside on the terrace before services began, or coming outside to take a break when it got too hot upstairs.

I see myself standing in the balcony. And as I am leaving the synagogue, as it empties, I call down to a friend. It is only the two us left. Every one else is out.   Rosh HaShanah is over.   “See you next summer. Next year in Kauneonga Lake.”



Sometimes Rainy Days Were the Best Days In the Catskills

17 Sep

There is something special about a rainy day.

Perhaps it is my memories of summer time respites. On rainy days we were not expected to run around outside, we could stay in and read a book. I still love reading a book on a rainy day! It brings me such joy.

My friend and I were diehard Nancy Drew readers one summer. I remember wonderful rainy day afternoons lying on her bed near the window with our Nancy Drew books. We wanted to read every single one! I think we got close to accomplishing our goal.

Other days we worked on art projects. She wanted to be a dress designer and was always making paper doll dresses. Designing her own special dresses to fit the paper dolls we had. Hundreds of dresses were produced on the kitchen table during summer rains. And yes, she did study fashion design in college!

But for me the love was reading. I love murder mysteries and I am sure that this love started on those rainy summer days. I loved when our fathers came up on the weekends, especially if they brought along another yellowed-spine Nancy Drew book. However, I was not that picky, I read my brother’s Hardy Boy mystery books as well.

On those miserably cold rainy days that occurred in the 1960s in the Catskills, my grandfather would bake. That was a joy. The smell of fresh bread and cookies in the house was wonderful. He had an entire bakery shop set up in his basement, the remains of his bakery, which he had sold in the early 1960s. The giant mixer, the pans, the cooling shelves were all there. We would help him braid challah and shape cookies. Then we would run up and down the stairs with the pans for my Grandma and Mom to put into the oven. Sometimes we had three ovens going: in the house, in the bungalow and in the apartment where my friend stayed. It was a great rainy day event, especially since we knew we were going to have treats to eat!

My Mom did not always like rainy days, especially if there were clothes hanging on the line. We had no dryer then!   When the rain started we often ran as fast as we could to get the items off the line and hang them around the bungalow. This was especially important in summers when there was a lot of rain. We sometimes would run out of dry clothing.

One summer we actually did run out of clothes. I remember my Mom telling my brother to stay out of the lake! My brother was known for ‘falling’ in the lake. (Although one of my cousins admits helping my brother ‘fall in’ a few times.) Well you can imagine what happened. He was in the lake with his last dry pants. I do not really remember what happened. But I think he had to stay in the bungalow for a day or two in pajamas!

It was on rainy days that I learned to knit and crochet. I would sit with my Mom and Grandmas and all the other women knitting away in someone’s bungalow while having tea. While they knit sweaters, I and the other younger ‘girls’ had easier projects to work on. Those sweaters lasted forever. There are still some in the family.

Mahjong, gin rummy and canasta were important rainy day events for the Moms and Grandmas. While we played our board games, sitting on the floor; they played their games at the kitchen table. As soon as my sister and I were old enough, we were introduced to the importance of Mahjong.

It is true that on sunny days we were outside riding our bicycles, swimming, picking blueberries, running around, playing on the swings, and just having adventures. But sometimes a rainy day was really the best day in the Catskills. It gave us a chance to recharge and relax. Actually, I guess every day in the Catskills was truly the best day ever.

My Family’s Holocaust History Impacts My Observance of Rosh Hashannah

13 Sep

As Rosh Hashannah approaches, I have a new view of my family’s heritage, a new reality that will impact my observance and prayers this year and in all future years.

It started with a Facebook Group called, “Tracing the Tribe.” I actually was able to find a family member due to a blog I posted about my grandfather’s family history and his town in Austia/Galecia called Mielec. I met Susan when I was in New Jersey this summer. It is actually her husband who was related to me.

We spoke about the family and how we might be related. I actually found the connection. My great grandfather and her husband’s great grandmother are probably brother and sister.

She emailed me a testimonial written by her husband’s first cousin, “E”, about her Holocaust experience. “E” survived the Holocaust and settled in the USA. In this memoir, “E” recounts a story about the Jews of Mielec and how they died. She wrote that 600 were rounded up and burned alive in their synagogue. She received this information from relatives in Mielec.

What! I was somewhat stunned. No one had ever mentioned this to me before. Whenever there was discussion about our family who died, we were told that they were burned alive in the fires of the Holocaust; or that some had died in Auschwitz; or that my great grandmother had been hidden and then murdered by the people who had stolen the family farm. But this story was never mentioned. Never.

But I remember thinking, when my Mom would tell me that our family was burned alive, that in the crematorium, the people were dead before they were burned. Weren’t they? So why would I be told that they were burned alive? Could this be what happened?

My Grandfather never talked about his family. He lost almost everyone who still lived in Europe: his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins. Everyone! Only a few cousins survived. When I finally got him to talk to me and tell me about his family, he was vague when talking about the Holocaust. He would tell me a little about life when he was a boy. But he did not like to mention the names of the dead.

When I found out that Germany was giving money to those who could prove they had owned property, I suggested that he apply to get money for the family’s farm.

He was furious. “Will this money bring back my mother and my father?” He yelled at me. “Will this money bring back my brothers and my sisters and their families? NO! NO! I don’t want their blood money! Let them keep their blood money!”

I can still hear him yelling at me. So I stopped. I never asked again.

My mother told me that a relative, Zissle Feuer, came from Europe and told my grandfather what had happened. And then my Grandfather contacted the Red Cross. Everyone was confirmed dead. My mother was about 16 when they found out that everyone died. She said that every morning when my Grandpa came upstairs from the bakery she would hear him cry while sitting at the kitchen table; sobbing over the loss of his family.

Now I read this testimonial. What is the truth? How did they die? “E” was not there. She only heard about it. So I looked through all the papers I had gathered through the years. And I found one document that I guess I never read entirely. I just read the part about the city of Mielec before the war. I never read the section that was call Holocaust Years. Because there it states, halfway down the page, that on September 13, 1939, on the eve of Rosh Hashannah, 20 Jewish were pushed into a burning synagogue. If they tried to escape they were shot. Then the German soldiers put Jews into a slaughterhouse and set it on fire. Then they went to the Mikveh and killed Jews there. On the second day of Rosh Hashannah a second synagogue was set on fire.

So many burned alive on Rosh Hashannah. I do not know if it was 600, but even one is too many. What a horrible death!

How can I ever see Rosh Hashannah in the same way again? How can I understand that on this holiday my family might have been murdered, burned alive. Up until September of 1939 there were 4,000 Jews living in Mielec. When they were deported in March 1942 only 2,000 were still alive.

Did 600 get burned alive in the four buildings set ablaze during Rosh Hashannah of 1939? Did my great aunts, great uncles and cousins suffer in those flames? Did my great grandfather die there? Is this why my Grandfather could never talk about it? Did he know that is how most of his family perished? When my mother said they were burned alive, did she know as well?

Was it just too horrible to tell us?

Mielec, the home of my family, was one of the first to be totally depleted of its Jews. This report said only 200 Jewish people survived the war: 200 out of 4000. I know that four of them were cousins of my grandfather. I met them all: one settled in Montana; one in England; two in Israel. They have all since passed away.

On Rosh Hashannah we chant the Unetanah Tokef.   It is a prayer that has always made an impact on me. But this time when I read “who by water and who by fire,” I will be wondering: “Who died this way? Who?”

And I will chant Kaddish.

A Day Like No Others; We Can Bring Back Light

9 Sep

It was my Dad’s 73rd birthday, ten days after the death of my father-in-law. I planned to call my Dad when I got home from the gym and have a nice long chat with him while my children were in school. But the day did not go as planned.

It was September 11, 2001.

I never made it to the gym, while driving there a special alert came on the radio. A plane had flown into the World Trade Tower. I turned my car around and went home. I grew up in New Jersey. My entire family, except for one cousin, lived in the metropolitan New York City area. So many worked and lived in Manhattan. I was a little scared.

My sister worked near to the Towers, and that was where her subway station was located.   It was about 9:40 am NY time. And I needed to hear her voice.

A photo taken by my father on 9/11.

A photo taken by my father on 9/11.

My first call was to my parents. They were watching the Towers from their apartment window. My father was beside himself. We had watched the Towers be built in NYC from the Jersey side. He loved them. In fact, my daughter thought my Dad owned the Towers, he talked about them so much when we drove to their apartment from Newark Airport.

But now he was watching in horror and fear. I told my Mom to give him a camera. The photo you see here of that day was taken by my Dad from their apartment. He never saw the photos he took. He gave me the unexposed film on the Thanksgiving after the Towers were destroyed. He said, “Here, I did what you asked. But I never want to see it again.”

As for my sister, I did not get to speak to her right away. She was in the City, trying to get home.   And all the cell phones were out since the Towers fell. I spoke briefly to my brother in law. He was beyond upset. His anxiety oozed through the phone lines.

So I sat in my house with a neighbor, another New York area transplant. We watched the news, and over and over again watched the Towers fall. We were united in fear, until we heard that both of our sisters were safe.

Then I called the high school where my daughter was a sophomore. “Are they watching this?” I asked the school secretary. “It is on in every classroom,” she told me.

“Then I need to get a note to my daughter. Can I do that today?” I asked. “Tell her that my sister is alive, she is fine.”

“I will send the note right away,” the secretary said.

It wasn’t till 11 that evening that my Dad called to say everyone in my family was accounted for and safe. Not all families had such good news.

A piece of metal from the World Trade Towers in Overland Park, Kansas.

A piece of metal from the World Trade Towers in Overland Park, Kansas.

In Overland Park we have a 9/11 memorial. It has a piece of a steel beam from the towers that were destroyed. Since it opened two years ago, I go on September 11 and sit there for a while and think about my Dad and the changes in NYC and in the USA since the attacks.

The 9/11 Memorial in Kansas tells the story.

The 9/11 Memorial in Kansas tells the story.

They have a ceremony there on September 11. I do not go for that. I wait till everyone is gone. Then I sit and think. I remember my Dad and his love of the Twin Towers, and I think about the changes in the world since the horrid events that day.

This past summer, when I made my annual visit to New Jersey and New York, I went back to the site of the towers. We have many good memories concerning the site, including eating dinner at the Windows on the World restaurant the night before my sister got married.

The imprint of one of the towers.  A fountain of tears.

The imprint of one of the towers. A fountain of tears.

But as I looked into the giant fountains of tears, the footprints of the towers, as I read the names of those who perished, as I saw the beautiful white roses left in the names of victims, I was hushed like all the others who were there.

I did go into the Memorial Museum. I went by myself. It was a mistake. I really think you need to go with someone to be able to share the sorrow. And parents, do not take young children behind the glass doors into the area that advises you not to take children in. No child needs to listen to the voices of those who no longer live or to see the videos of people falling. It was almost too much for me to bear. I did not linger in that area.

As you go down, down, down into the bowels of the ground between the footprints of the towers, you can only imagine the fear of those who were there that day.

It was a day like no other, leading to a world that had changed in a flash of fire. September 11 will never just be another day.

While I add September 11 to days I will never forget, and I think of all those who perished, I also know that we need to stand united.

There are people in the world who are filled with hatred. But I do not believe we should bend to their will. We remember what happen, but we also reach forward to life.

As Anne Frank stated, ““Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”

Freedom Tower

We must, in memories of the Towers and those who perished, be candles defying darkness. As the new Freedom Tower nears completion, we know that we can bring back light.

Sharing Yiddish and Superstitions in Kansas

8 Sep

One of the most difficult adjustments I made when I moved to Kansas is to stop speaking Yiddish. In New York and New Jersey it seems even those who are not Jewish know the most important Jewish words: schlep, gonif, meshuganah, punim, shayna, tottale, madelah, gor nish, keppi, kibbitz, yenta, mishpocha and more!

I never had a problem slipping in a work of Yiddish when I was talking with friends. But then I moved to the Midwest. And I realized that even Jewish people here did not speak Yiddish. Not even the English/Yiddish I spoke.

The little bit of Yiddish I spoke to my own children was about all I heard most of the time, except when I made my yearly journey back East to visit family.

So when I discovered someone with my knowledge base I was thrilled. It was actually someone I knew for years, but we just did not speak about our childhoods and our American/European Yiddish upbringings.

We not only had the Yiddish in common, we had the superstitions.

One of the early indications that she and I spoke the same language had to do with a bindle. That red thread you wear to keep the evil eye, the ayin hora, away. We discussed bindles an entire evening. I told her about the red bindles I had placed on my children’s cribs. I told her that when I was pregnant with my first child, the only thing my Grandfather asked me to do was to put a bindle on the crib. And so I did. I also put one on the highchair, the car seat and playpen.

To this day I have bindles on our cars. There are the bindles I put on each of the kitchen chairs. One of my friends, who heard the conversation, said, “I thought those ribbons were for the cats to play with. “ Nope, there were all red. Whenever we get a gift with red ribbon, it goes somewhere in the house to act as a bindle. I figure if someone gave me a gift, the red ribbon has positive energy.

My friend made her son wear a bindle when his wife was pregnant. I carried a bindle when my husband had surgery. It doesn’t hurt! And I believe it helps. And for extra good fortune or ‘mazel,’ I tied 18 knots in to the red yarn, as did my friend’s son!

I told her that the one on my son’s car had fallen off, and I had not put a new one on yet. She encouraged me to do it soon. And I did. A few weeks later he had a tire problem. It started on the highway, but did not get bad till he got home. The bindle worked! So I am keeping it there.

But do not worry, even when his car did not have a bindle, my son’s car did have 18 cents to keep it safe. Now it is just double safe.

Which brings me to money in cars. Last summer my husband and I sold two of our cars to neighbors. Each car had multiples of 18 cents in them. In Hebrew the word for life are the two letters that add up to the number 18, so multiples of 18 are considered lucky. When we sold the cars, I left the money in the glove compartments. The boy next door brought me back all the things he found in my car that I did not get out before he took it, including the money. I gave the money back. I have known him since he was three years old. I want him safe as well.

The other neighbor, who bought my other car, I exchanged the ‘gelt’ (money). My parents had given me the 36 cents in that car. And since they are no longer alive, I wanted to keep their coins. I gave my friend an equal amount to keep in her car. My two non-Jewish, Kansas neighbors are happily driving around with good luck money in their cars!

Yes, we are a little superstitious in our Yiddish beliefs. But they are important!

Which is obvious about our next Yiddish/European Jewish belief. One day, at a holiday meal, my friend asked me, in front of her son, “What did your Mom do when you got your period for the first time?” My answer, “It wasn’t my Mom, it was my grandma and she slapped my face.”

”I knew you would know!” She exclaimed. “I knew it.” She then told me her somewhat sad story. I will not repeat it because it is her story. But I will say, I felt badly for her when I heard what happened.

Our conversation went downhill for her son. He left. Even though he is a doctor, he just did not want to listen to this discussion. But my friend and I had a great time talking superstitions and Yiddish.

Of course she grew up in New York and spent her summers in the Catskills. I grew up in New Jersey and spent my summers in the Catskills. We cannot help but share many experiences about growing up that people who grew up in Kansas and Missouri just do not understand.

We can spend hours talking about our childhoods. And we have! Our discussions bring back so many happy memories.

I think we need to spend a day speaking about Yiddish expressions. My grandparents would say, “Hock mir nicht ein Chinok,” to mean stop bothering me.   It really means ‘don’t bang the tea kettle,’ but it makes sense. My favorite was “Ge Loch in kupf in Vald.” I might not be spelling it correctly. But it means go bang your head against the wall. That was their favorite saying when we said we were bored.

As my children in their 20s and are dating now, I remember my grandfather telling me that there is a “‘lid for every pot.” And I say “From Your Mouth to God’s Ears,” to a friend who has just made a prediction that I would like to happen, when I want something good to happen.

The Jewish superstitions, Yiddish sayings and language will always be with me, wherever I live. But it is nice to have someone to share Yiddish and superstitions in Kansas.

What a week! A Murder and a Campus Lock Down Impact My Life

5 Sep

I honestly thought that with my daughter living in Tel Aviv, Israel, that when the bombing and war there ended, I would be able to watch the news again and be calm when watching. But that did not happen.   This past week in the Kansas City area has been emotionally stressful.

On Tuesday there was a triple homicide in south Kansas City. A friend of mine said it happened on 107 and Wornall, I corrected her and said it was further south, because I knew the area well. Someone I knew lived there. But having said that, at the same time, I had no concern about this friend. It was not possible that something would happen to her.

On Wednesday, I found out that I was wrong. Another friend told me the horrifying news that the woman I knew was one of those murdered. We were in a store when she told me. I paid for my items, went out to my car and began to shake. I had just seen this woman a few days before at clothing store. We showed each other the outfits we were trying on. And gave opinions. Now she was dead. It did not seem possible.

I called another friend.   I needed to talk to someone before I drove; I was so shook up. And it was true. Thank you for calming me down so I could drive home.

Yesterday, Thursday, the college campus that my son attends went on lock down.   He was there in a class. When I saw on the news what was happening, I texted him. And yes he was on lock down.   He was okay.

His girlfriend also texted me to tell me where My son was and that he was okay.

But a few minutes later, my son texted these words, “I am very scared.”

At that point my heart broke and my panic started. But I knew I could not let him know that I was scared as well. And due to the shootings earlier in the week, I could not say ‘nothing will happen.’ I felt anxious.

I started sending him text with information from the news, from the police reports. I believe it helped calm him as there was no active shooter, just reports of a woman with a gun.  We could text, but he could not speak so I could not call him.

I texted him to come to our home immediately after he got out…not to go to his apartment. The campus was just two miles from our home.  We continued texting for two hours. But then there was silence.  I hate silence!

After a half hour of silence, during which I sent him six texts, he arrived home. He got a very big and long hug from me.  He then laughed and said,  “I have lots of texts from you!”  I glad my texting gave him some comic relief!

He told us an armed police officer in tactical gear came into their class and told them to barricade the room, turn off the lights, get on the floor and stay quiet, till the police came again. And there they sat for three hours.  Their professor gave them updates when he received them.

The police searched every building. When his class was released they had to go through other buildings. All students had to exit from the same place so the police could see them. And when he drove away, he had to stop so the police could look into his car.

We drove to his apartment and picked up his roommate, and we took the boys out to dinner. It was after 7 pm and we were now hungry.

My son told us what happened again during dinner. I think he needed to get it out of his system. He said, “I thought about every scenario that could happen.”  I told him that everyone was scared. As they interviewed other students they all talked about thinking about what might happen, just as he did.

After dinner, before my son left us, I again hugged him for a very long time. He told his Dad, “Get a crowbar!” I did not want to let go.

Now I am getting ready to go to the funeral of the woman who was murdered in her driveway. The week ends tomorrow.

I will go to synagogue and pray for the family of the woman who died. I will also pray and be thankful that the college campus only had an inconvenience and not a disaster; and that my son came home safely to me.

I never expected in one week that a murder and a campus lock down would impact my life!  I have always felt so safe in Kansas, but this year with the shootings at the Jewish Community Campus, and this past week, some of my beliefs and feelings of  calm have been impacted.

May Her Name Be a Blessings

3 Sep

I had a shock today. I think many of us did.

On the news yesterday I saw that three people were murdered in South Kansas City. In an area where many retired people live. I knew exactly the spot as someone I knew lived there.

And then today I found out that she was one of the people murdered. I am in shock. For me writing is a way to deal with emotions. So I need to write about her.


We only meet about five years ago.   She became active in National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Kansas City Section.   And we began working together on committees. She was very interested in two issues important to me, interfaith relations and the issue of ‘chained’ women, agunot, Jewish women who could not get a religious divorce. So we began working on these issues together.

When we met, we realized that our lives had touched once before we met.   I had replaced her as a speaker at an interfaith event when she was ill. She was supposed to speak about Judaism. Since I was at the event with my daughter, I was asked to fill in.

Later, when we met, it was this incident that gave us something in common. It was where we found our commonality. She also had a strong belief in interfaith communication and cooperation.

Besides our NCJW connection, I once interviewed her husband (for the Jewish Chronicle) when he received a wonderful award from the synagogue they belonged to. The three of us sat together in their dining room while I interviewed the two of them. He wanted her there. They were so close. He had prepared a small feast of Middle Eastern finger foods. It was hard to type, interview and eat. But that is what I had to do that day. Luckily they both loved the article when it was published.

This past March, I drove her to the National Council of Jewish Women Convention in St. Louis. We had spent five hours driving there and five hours driving home together, besides the four days at the convention. You learn a lot about someone when you spend so much time alone together.

In the car we talked about our families. She was very proud of her nephews. And spoke about them as I spoke about my children. We talked about interfaith, as we would soon be having, our interfaith event.   We had combined learning about different religions and the issue of divorce in these religions: Judaism, Catholicism and Islam. As these three religions had different and definite rules on divorce. It turned out to be a wonderful panel discussion. And she was one of the panalists.

We talked about her mother, who was ill. And I talked about the death of my parents. Her mother died just a month ago. I know it was hard for her.

I took her to her home and parked in the driveway. I pulled out her suitcase. And her husband came to get it. And I left them.

A few days later, they both showed up at my house. He had made Hamantaschen for Purim. And they wanted me to have some as a thank you and because the holiday was soon. It is tradition to bring snacks, ‘shaloch manot,” for Purim.

I last saw her last week. We met by chance in a women’s clothing store. I feeling blue about something. She was out shopping for the first time since her Mom had passed. I had been out of town when her Mom died, so had not been at the funeral or paid a visit.

We talked about NCJW and when she would get back to volunteering. I told her everyone understood.   It is difficult to lose your mother. When she was ready it was time enough.

We showed each other what we were trying on. She had on a long black skirt, with lace and tiers, very her, and a black and white top.   She asked my opinion. I said I liked both pieces, but not together. She told me I was wrong.  And that was okay because we are both opinionated and strong willed women.

I knew she was back to herself. I smiled and said, Okay. To each their own style.

And now I feel sad.  I do not think she ever wore the new outfit she had tried on.  I see her in my mind twirling the long black skirt for me.

She will never volunteer again.

I am shocked.

Baruck Dayan haEmet, May her Name be for a blessing.