Archive | December, 2014

Loudspeakers Often Interrupted Life And the Quiet of the Catskills

30 Dec

Our bungalow colony was very small.   So we did not have loudspeakers to make event announcements and communicate phone calls. We could easily run over to the bungalow and get the needed person. And since we did not have a day camp or a casino or clubhouse, everyone would make plans while visiting during the day.

But we were so close to Fink’s Kauneonga Park, Top Hill, Sheppy’s and Friedmans that we heard all their announcements. To be honest, sometimes they made me crazy.

Phone calls, camp events, activities, emergencies, all were announced; sometimes over and over again. “Mrs. Shirley Katz, bungalow 7, you have a phone call.” The first time it was announced, it was very polite. But after a few minutes, the “Mrs. Katz, bungalow 7, you have a phone call,” had a much more emphatic tone.

Remember though that poor Mrs. Shirley Katz was up in the Catskills by herself. Her children were around. Her husband was not. She had to get everything settled before she ran to get the phone. Usually the couples arranged in advance when they would have the weekly phone call. But sometimes things just did not work out.

One summer, my friend Vicki was in charge of answering the three phones at Fink’s.  I was a mother’s helper that summer, also at Finks.   I took care of a little boy named David about seven hours a day, while his older siblings were in camp and his mom relaxed and played mah jonng. I think I earned $12 a week.

While I got to be outside, Vicki had to sit in the phone room waiting for phone calls. So often I would take the baby and sit with Vicki while she waited for calls. A most boring job except when the phone rang. We would sit on the back steps, play with the baby and visit while she waiting.

When a phone call did come in, Vicki would jump up to answer it. Then she was the voice on the loudspeaker, announcing who had the call and which phone to go to. Fink’s had three phones and people would get calls on the phone closest to their bungalows. Vicki also announced what movies were playing in the clubhouse. I find that amazing now, that a young teen had so much responsibility.

The main three-phone bank was at the main house where the Finks lived. So sometimes Mrs. Fink, who was also a friend of my grandmother, would give us snacks and something to drink. At times, she sat and visited with us or even let us watch television. That was a treat because most people did not have television reception in the Catskills.

If it started to rain, and I could not get back to the bungalow where David’s family lived, I would just stay at the ‘big house,’ until David’s Mom came an got us. She knew that we were safe with Mrs. Fink. So I do not think she ever worried.

I also took the baby to the front lawn and read a book while he sat in my lap. Sometimes I read out loud to him. I often wonder what happened to David. I read him many mysteries. Perhaps he is a lawyer or judge? He has to be about 45 or 46 now. I watched him for two summers, before I got a ‘real’ job. So I was 12 and 13.

The second summer, Vicki no longer answered the phones. She became a mother’s helper as well. I digress, but being a mother’s helper was a popular job for young teen girls and the moms at the colony.

Back to the announcements: Loudspeakers and announcements became part of everyday life. When I was watching David, sometimes I did not even notice that someone was being called. I was intent on what I was doing. Taking care of a baby is hard work! And little David just sat and played. He could ignore the announcements as well. He would just sleep through them when he was napping!

But for the people in the colony the announcements were very important.

“Tomorrow at Camp is color war day! Remember to dress your camper in the correct color T-shirt!”

“Tonight at the casino is bingo night! “

“This weekend the entertainment will be (insert your favorite low cost entertainer)!”

“Tonight’s movie is (insert a favorite from the 60s and70s). It will be shown at 7 pm.”

“Mrs. Levy, bungalow five, your son is at the concession stand. Please come and get him!”

“Alert, our-year old Bruce Gordon is missing. If you find him please take him to his Mother, Mrs. Gordon at bungalow 23! Let me know when he is found!”

“Ladies, the (type of peddler) is here at the main entrance.”

“The Good Humor truck is in front of the pool. Any one who wants a treat should come now!”

There were all sorts of announcements. And with four bungalow colonies nearby making announcements, we heard them all day long. I remember the one that started the day with the National Anthem. I think it was Fink’s for the day camp.   “Good morning campers! Let’s sing the Star Spangled Banner!” I hated that the announcement was so early in the morning, especially on days when I could sleep in!

Oh I cannot forget the overnight camps. Camp HiLi was just across Kauneonga Lake from our colony and our dock. We heard all their announcements as well. Some were food announcements, telling them it was time to go to the dining hall. Sometimes it was activity announcements and other times telling them to get ready for Shabbat. We could see the campers down at the lake and watch them scurry up the hill when certain announcements were made.

The loudest and most interesting of all the announcements, however, came during the weekend of August 15-18, 1969: Woodstock!!! Usually on the weekends there were not as many announcements because the dads were up, the camp was closed and there were not as many phone calls.

But during Woodstock, we heard all of the concert announcements.

“Let’s welcome Joe Cocker (or any other entertainer) to the stage.” Thunderous applause and the ground shook. YES it did shake with the vibration of the music and the bass and the people.

Each act was announced.   Bad drugs were announced. Food distribution was announced. I even remember the rain being announced. But really we all knew it was raining.

I loved hearing the Woodstock announcements. I remember lying in my bungalow listening to the rain, the music (we could hear it from our house) and the announcements. But those were out of the ordinary. Not the boring usual weekday announcements that could make me crazy.

Actually, the peaceful sounds of the Catskills cannot be remembered without also remembering the sounds of the loudspeakers over the quiet summer days.

Thanks to Vicki for remembering with me.   Also all the names of people in the announcements are fictional!

An Actual Announcement:

Personal Mail Delivery at the Bungalows

27 Dec

Each summer before my brother could have a ‘real’ job, he had a job devised by my grandfather. Since my grandparents owned the small bungalow colony where we stayed each summer, they were responsible for certain amenities. One of these was mail delivery.

It was before the time of email and cell phones. Communications with people who had stayed behind in the City for the summer relied on mail.   And since most people did not have cars at the bungalow colony, someone had to walk into Kauneonga Lake and pick up the mail. It became my brother’s job when he was 10 years old.

Before him, he believes one of our cousins got the mail for a year. My Grandpa gave the job to the boys until they could get a real job. Then it was passed down to the next younger boy.

My brother got the job for several reasons. First, of course, someone did have to get the mail. Second, my brother was a grandchild. Third, my brother was an extremely active child. I think my grandfather was trying to give my Mom a break and also to wear my brother out. But honestly, nothing wore my brother out!

My brother’s morning went something like this.   Get up early. Eat a bowl or two of cereal. Then walk to the bungalows. We lived about 1/3 mile up the road from the colony in a bungalow behind our maternal grandparent’s home.

When he arrived at the bungalow colony he first went to the bungalow where our paternal grandparents and great aunt Minnie stayed to have the second breakfast waiting for him. Usually they had eggs, toast and cookies for him. My Grandma Esther was a great baker.   They had to give him enough energy to finish the walk to get the mail. I think she also gave him a nickel or so because he picked up her newspaper.

He would take the mail that people had given him or my Mom the day before, but first checking to see if anyone left him anything on their front steps, and set off for his journey into town.   Sometimes he was given additional jobs, like buy a newspaper at Vassmer’s.   Or buy stamps. So he always had a little bit of money that he needed to take with him and to keep track of it.

It was about mile or so walk into town. Sometimes he would have company. Another boy would walk with him. But other times he had to go on his own. If it was raining, he did not have to walk into town. The mail could wait. No one wanted him to get sick!

The post office to the left and the fire station to the right, across from the lake side on the other side of the grassy triangle.

The post office to the left and the fire station to the right, across from the lake side on the other side of the grassy triangle.

The town of Kauneonga Lake has a grassy triangle in the middle. Around it are the streets that lead to 17 B, West Shore Road and Swan Lake Road.   On the other side of the street were the stores on one side, the fire station on the other side, along with the buildings for the post office and the bakery.

Once he returned from his two-mile journey he would go to each bungalow and deliver the mail and whatever else they had ordered. It was a lot of work for a young boy, but he had a routine.

After he delivered the mail he would wander over to the bungalow where our Aunt Leona stayed. And, as he says, “If the timing was right I would deliver their mail and have my third breakfast.” That is right, breakfast number three. Goodness knows my aunt did not want him to go hungry! And since she was feeding her three boys, what was one more?

He ended his deliveries with my maternal grandparents. He would walk back up the hill to their home and deliver their mail. And have his fourth breakfast with our Grandfather.   My brother said that was usually burnt rye bread toast and coffee. It was burnt on purpose; Grandpa loved burnt rye bread toast! (Honestly I love it as well.)

Yes, my brother ate three or four breakfasts every single weekday morning.

But after he ate the fourth breakfast, Grandpa Nat would give him a chore to do before he could play: cut the grass, pick up leaves, or even straighten nails.   To be honest he and one of my cousins had the nail straightening job whenever they misbehaved.

He would come back to our bungalow and check in with Mom delivering the last mail of the day to her. I think she always asked him if he was hungry because my parents did not know at first that he was eating so many meals. Once they found out, they were amazed. Where was the food going? Did he have a hollow leg? He was so skinny!!! But he was able to pack it away.   I do not know how he did it.

The most amazing aspect is that he still had room for lunch a couple of hours later.

My brother enjoyed his four summers as the mail delivery service.   After he ‘retired’ and got a real job, I became the part-time mail person. Yes, I was a girl, but by then Grandpa had run out of boys.  So a change was made.

The next summer I worked at the bakery in town three or four days a week, and the bakery was in the building attached to the wooden building that housed the post office. So it made sense that I got the mail when I finished working. I only worked in the mornings. So the mail was delivered by lunch. And no, I did not get four meals!

The first summer I worked at the bakery, Grandma Thelma worked with me. But many days, when the store was not busy, she would just go and visit with Mrs. Driscoll.   In reality the post office was the center of town. You not only got your mail there, you also got all the gossip from Mrs. Driscoll.

I loved going to the post office with my Grandma.

While I walked to the left hallway where all the mailboxes were located, they would continue their discussions about Kauneonga Lake happenings. Sometimes when I got too close to them, they became quiet. So I knew to stay by the mailboxes or make believe I was looking at all the “Wanted” posters, so I could listen to all the gossip of the town.

I continued to get the mail one more summer, when I worked at the bakery by myself. But after that summer people started having cars at the bungalows and opening their own post office boxes. So they went to get their own mail.

We had the same mailbox for over 50 years, Box 792. We no longer have a mailbox in Kauneonga Lake. And of course Mrs. Driscoll and my Grandma are no longer with us. But my brother and I have wonderful memories of the post office and our years as the mail delivery service.

Thank you to my brother for sharing his memories and helping to make this an accurate description of a summer activity.

I Am Proud To Be A Cotton Thread Yarn Addict

25 Dec

I snuck over to the fabric store today. I needed one little spool of ribbon, but I knew it my heart it would be difficult to avoid the yarn aisles, especially the thread yarn that I use for crocheting doilies and table clothes. I am somewhat addicted.

I quickly found what I actually needed. But then, even with a creaky cart, I strolled over to the aisle with my favorite yarns: Aunt Lydia and Bernat Number 10 cotton thread yarn.

There were so many beautiful colors. So many colors I have not seen for a while. This is my favorite time of year. Right around the holidays the store seems to stock extra colors and extra yarns. New books filled with doilies patterns often appear.

Suddenly, I found myself in the right aisle, even though I had not been in the store for several months. The cart seemed to know the way on its own. I had a little chill of a thrill when I saw my yarns.

Yes hats and scarves are supposed to be here as well. A few are mixed in. Yes hats and scarves are supposed to be here as well. A few are mixed in.

Did I need any yarn? NO. I have lots of yarn in my house. I have a cabinet filled with colored cotton yarn. I even have started putting my yarn in the closet. Where there is supposed to be hats and gloves, now yarn has taken over. But I bought so much today, that I do not think I will find enough room there. I might have to find a new storage area.

But I did get the most delightful colors: a deep plum and then a multicolored yarn that goes with it. I got turquoise and teal, bright coral and grey. I never saw grey thread yarn before.   It is lovely! I even found two books that I did not yet own. I own them now.

Thank goodness for the coupons I found on line. It did save me a little on my spending spree.

I must admit, I stood in the aisle for a good fifteen minutes going through all the yarns that I liked and checking to make sure they had the same dye lot code. This is important because even if the yarns are the same color, if the spools of yarn are not made at the same time with the same exact formula, they often a slightly off. As the doily or other crocheted article ages, it will fade differently with different dye lots.

As other people came into the aisle, I was a polite consumer. I did move my cart out of the way. But I stayed in front of the yarn I was inspecting. Luckily the two women who came down the aisle were looking at other yarns.

Sometimes I can control my yarn addiction. When my daughter still lived at home she would stop me from going to the yarn store. But she is out of graduate school, out of the country and living far away. This gives me free rein.   I could fill my house with yarn and she cannot stop me.

I filled my cart with new yarns! I filled my cart with new yarns!

I actually took a photo of the yarn as I was filling my cart and I sent her an email of it.   Yes, I did! I told her that she could do nothing to stop the addiction now. And buying yarn gave me enjoyment. I could envision in my mind what I was going to make. One of the items was for her!

To be honest, I am not the only person I know who has a yarn addiction. My friend, Sue, is much worse than me. For a while she was using a loom to make shawls and afghans. She had tubs upon tubs of wools and yarns in color-coordinated bins, divided by yarn types, colors and weight.

My yarn cabinet is stuffed with yarn, books and finished doilies. My yarn cabinet is stuffed with yarn, books and finished doilies.

I am beginning to think that is a good idea, as my thread yarns are just all thrown into a space in no order. My main yarn cabinet is a bit of a mess filled with yarn, books and finished doilies. When my husband, who loves to do jigsaw puzzles, told me that my yarn cabinet would make a great puzzle, I decided I might need some help. I think next time Sue is over, I am going to show her my mess and ask for help. She has always been much better organized than me.

An additional reason for my yarn addiction ‘issue’, concerns the debate of nature versus nurture. Although some of my yarn enjoyment is learned behavior from friends who also love yarn, I am not the first person in my family with a yarn issue. I definitely remember that my paternal Grandma Esther had tons of yarn as well. She was always making an afghan or a sweater for one of her children or grandchildren or great grandchildren.   I remember her forays to yarn stores.

Yarn stores are much more prolific in the Midwest, in the Kansas City area, where I live. But near to where my parents lived in New Jersey, I finally find one store where I could get cotton thread yarn when I was visiting. This was important because I sometimes finished all the yarn I brought with me. And to be without a project causes me some stress.

One time I was in the middle of a project when I ran out. I was in the Catskills, and I was desperate. One of my cousins was going to a store in Monticello. I gave her a small piece of yarn to try to match it. There was not much of a choice. My lovely sea foam doily has a beige border. Beige was the only color she could find.

Having yarn was especially important when my parents were ill and in the hospital. I spent hours crocheting in hospital rooms while I sat with a sleeping parent.   Crocheting calmed and soothed me. While crocheting I could control what was happening around me, the only thing I could control then.

Perhaps that is why I find discovering new yarn colors so exciting?   Crocheting is a pastime that relaxes me and takes away all tension.

So why should I feel badly about this yarn addiction? I will not. I love cotton thread yarn. I like getting new books and trying new patterns. It makes me happy. That is it! No more making excuses or sneaking to the craft store! I am proud to be a cotton thread yarn addict.

Giving Tzedekah is Entwined In The Essence of My Soul

22 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growing Up In New Jersey Meant Having a Cuban “Family” For Me

19 Dec

Growing up in North Bergen, New Jersey, in the early 1960s, I will tell you that I knew many people who left Cuba. For some reason a large number of Cuban refugees ended up in West New York, New Jersey, the city where my Mom grew up and where she taught elementary school.

Among my Mom’s close friends were three women who had left Cuba after Castro took over. In Cuban, two of them had lived upper class lives, with servants and large homes.   The husband of one had had an important position in the previous government. He did not come over with her, as he was imprisoned.

Our lives became intertwined with the families of these three women, We knew their spouses and children. We went to their homes. Although I never learned to speak Spanish, I could understand it as I spent time with the grandmother who never learned to speak English.

They hated Castro. They had a good reason to hate him, as he had destroyed their lives as they knew it. But the years passed. They did make a life in New Jersey, although they always talked about the cold here and the beautiful island of Cuba.

My Mom and these women shopped together, ate together, had parties together. They formed a family at school that continued when they all retired. They took my Mom shopping and always made sure she was dressed appropriately!! They were much more formal at first. And knew all the great places to shop. Gloria, Elvira and Belkys were part of our lives.

At my wedding, it was Gloria who brought needle and thread for my wedding gown. She was concerned because I chose not to have a bustle made. Instead, I had a loop to put the train over my arm. She was right. I grew tired of that very quickly. And Gloria sewed an improvised bustle to my gown at the reception.

They shared happy events and sad ones with us. I remember at my Grandmother’s shiva in 1991, they all came, “the Cuban contingency,” as my Dad called them. At the shiva was a new friend of mine, who was Chilien. I cannot erase from my mind the vision of Gloria and my friend, Vero, standing opposite each other, hands clasped, as Gloria interviewed Vero in Spanish. Thank goodness she passed. We have traveled the world together and have become family, just as my family united with Gloria’s family decades before.

My father and Gloria’s husband, Raphael, drove into NYC together for years. My Dad took his car in, leaving from our home on 78th Street near Boulevard East, and pick up Raphael who lived on Boulevard East right near the border with West New York. They were a team! A comedy team at times!

These three women had an important impact on my life. They were always there. They were at my wedding, my children’s bar and bat mitzvah.  All family events!  They were there at my Mother’s funeral and a few months later at my Dad’s funeral. Their love for my parents and for us never wavered.

So as President Obama, Raul Castro, the Pope and Canada worked in secret to change the relationship between Cuba and the USA, I wondered what they would think of all this.

Perhaps by now their anger would have disappeared. It is over 50 years. The USA has made peace with Germany, with Japan, with Vietnam with South Korea, with China. Why not Cuba?   It makes sense. The world is too small for this distancing from a neighbor who is so close.

No other country has agreed and supported the USA’s blockade of Cuba. No other country has agreed with this decision.

If you read the history of the Island of Cuba (I recommend the book, Havana Nocturne), you would learn that the mob and the dictator before Castro, Fulgencio Batista, were not better than Castro. They were destroying Cuba. Castro, not that I am endorsing what he did, had a reason for the overthrow of the existing government.

Fidel Castro is no longer at the helm of Cuba. It is his brother, Raul.   I believe from the moment he took over, Raul Castro was looking to make a change. I have a personal story that endorses this belief.

My parents went on a cruise in February of the year Raul took over the helm of Cuba, for my Mom’s birthday. My Dad had a heart condition, but was not known to follow medical advice very well when it came to eating correctly. He became ill on the cruise going into congestive heart failure.

The ship had to make a very quick trip to the Grand Cayman Islands where my Dad and Mom were taken off the ship and directly to a hospital. There my Dad was stabilized and then my parents were flown by air ambulance back to the USA. As they flew, the pilot spoke to my Mom.

“Look out the window,” he told her. “That is Havana.   We are the very first air ambulance that has ever been given permission to fly over Cuba!”

Thanks to Raul Castro’s new government, the air space over Cuba was opened for medical emergencies, and my Dad lived three more years.

It is time to make a change.

While growing up in New Jersey, I had a Cuban family! I think the USA and Cuba could form strong bonds, just as the USA and Japan, Germany, and other former adversaries have formed bonds.

A Sad Traveler Comforted by a TSA Agent Who Really Understood The Holiday Spirit

17 Dec

Four years ago my Mom had a massive stroke on Monday, December 20.   My sister was actually on the phone with her when it happened.   My sister told my Dad to call 911. And then she hung up and called my brother and me.   We knew it would not be good. Mom had cancer and had been undergoing radiation treatments.

They had stopped the treatments for a week because she had not been reacting well to them. But on this Monday the treatments were started again.

I went into panic mode. It was December 20 and I had to travel from Kansas to New Jersey as quickly as possible.   I went on line and purchased a ticket for the next morning.   I packed. I organized. I did not know when I would be coming home and what would be happening.   But I had a good idea.

I called my daughter in Israel and let her know that her beloved grandma was very ill.

I tried to sleep.

The next morning, I was tired and emotional. My husband drove me to the airport. There was not much discussion in the car. The main point was that I was to stay as long as I needed. And he would come when the time came.

There was an enormous line to go through security. Something we do not usually see at the Kansas City airport. But it was four days before Christmas. Everyone was in the holiday spirit, chatting and joyful.

But not me, I was praying in my mind that my Mom would still be alive when I got to New Jersey; I wanted to be able to say goodbye.

The TSA agent checking everyone in was glowing and cheerful. She was chatting with everyone; just a pleasant as can be. And that is a lot of pleasant in the Kansas City area. Then she saw me.

“Cheer up,” she said. “It’s the holiday. You will be through this line soon and be celebrating with your family.”

It was too much for me.

“No, I am not going to celebrate. My Mom had a massive stroke yesterday.” I was in tears on the TSA line and very embarrassed.

The agent stopped what she was doing.

“You need a hug, “ she said. And came out from behind her counter and hugged me — a long and needed hug.

I went through security strengthened by her hug.

I arrived in New Jersey, where my Mom was still alive. And I got to speak to her. It was so important to me.

My Mom died a one week later during the worst blizzard in the New York City area. 27 inches of snow fell. It was horrendous.   We could not be with her when she passed away.   My husband and children could not make it to the funeral.

There was nothing to be done. I stayed. I sat shiva in New Jersey and then came home and sat shiva in Kansas for one night.

Six weeks later, my Dad planned a memorial service for my Mom at their synagogue.   My daughter flew in from Israel. I flew in from Kansas.

The lines at the TSA were much shorter in early February. But as I got up the TSA agent, I was surprised, the same woman agent was working.

She looked at me, and recognized me immediately. “How is your Mom?” She asked.

“My Mom passed away,” I said. “I am going to her memorial service.”

“You need another hug,” she responded.

And once again she came out from behind her podium and gave me a long and comforting hug.

Only in Kansas City!

I wish I had taken her name. I wish I could tell her how much her two hugs meant to me.

I hear about how awful the TSA agents can be. And they can. I have had my bags opened, my hands swabbed and my body touched. But even when I am a little bit annoyed, I think about the agent who stopped being an agent for a minute to give a sad traveler comfort. And who really understood the holiday season.

The Catskills’ Peddlers Brought Wares and Excitement

14 Dec

In the 1950s and 60s, when I was a child, weekdays in the bungalow colony were fun, but somewhat routine. Yes we played, we swam, we fished. We enjoyed being outside. But we were basically confined to an area whose boundaries were determined by how far we could walk.

In those days, most families only had one car, and that car was with the Dad, who had driven back to the City for the week. So during the week, we stayed put.

We were unable to go far to shop, and definitely could not carry too much back with us. A walk into town, Kauneonga Lake, to Vassmers, Newman’s or Sylvia’s S & G were the most we could muster. We could not go out for meals, except for the Chinese restaurant that was across the street or sometimes walk into town for ice cream at Newman’s. Those were our choices, until the late 60s early 70s when my grandparents were up and we had my grandfather’s car to use during the week.

The big excitement during the week, before we had a car, was when the peddler arrived with a station wagon filled with items for sale drove up the driveway. Some peddlers specialized in one item, like purses or linens; others carried a variety of many items.

I loved the arrival of a peddler car. Everyone would stop what they were doing and walk over to the car, where the peddler had already opened up the truck and started spreading things out: clothing, and linens, toys and dolls. It was a wonderful barrage of color and merchandise.

The moms would quickly pick through the items they needed. Sometimes we got clothing, because it seemed in the summer we were always growing, especially my brother. His jeans always seemed to shrink during the summer. But in reality he was just getting taller and taller. My Mom used to tell him that he would bankrupt the family because she had to buy so many jeans. But it was okay, I actually wore his hand me down pants then.

I remember the ‘muumuu’ dresses that the Moms wore during the week. The peddler often had a wonderful selection of these brightly colored, easy to wear dresses. My Mom got one that she loved. It had a multi-colored stripe like pattern. And along the edge was a white fringe. Once she got a ‘muumuu’ that she stopped wearing very soon after purchasing. It made her look pregnant. And with three small children, she definitely did not want that mistake to be made.

I still remember the day when we were shopping and someone she knew asked if she was expecting. I thought my Mom would collapse in the store. When we got home, she immediately changed. I never saw her wear that dress again.

My favorite memory concerns a doll. My Mom and Grandma promised me a new doll. I do not remember why. I must have either been very well behaved that week, or my brother destroyed my doll. In any case, I saw this lovely nurse doll. She had a beautiful white uniform, with warm brown skin. I loved her.

My Mom, my Grandmas and the peddler tried to talk me out of wanting that particular doll. But I would not back down. I loved the warm color of the doll. I wanted only that doll. And a promise is a promise. So they purchased the nurse doll for me. It was not until years later that I was told the doll was African American. At that age, to me, a doll was a doll.

Getting fresh food was also an important issue. I vaguely remember that we had milk and cheese delivered directly to the colony. But fresh fruits, vegetables and eggs were another story. Everyone helped each other. There was always at least one dad up during the week. And when he and his wife went shopping, they often had small orders from many families.

We also had trips to farms where we would go out into the fields and pick the fresh tomatoes, corn, string beans, peas and other vegetables. You paid by the weight. I loved to go. There was one up on Hurd Road and even further up on West Shore Road. There was also food sold at farm stands. One in White Lake on 17B was great for fresh corn and other vegetables. It was my Dad’s favorite stand.

When I think of my Dad, I always think of eggs! My grandfather was a retired baker, who continued to bake. So he needed lots of eggs. The Goldstein’s had a chicken/egg farm on West Shore Road near Happy Avenue. They were good friends of my grandparents, and they sold my Grandpa eggs wholesale. My Dad was in charge of getting the dozens of eggs that Grandpa needed. Over the years, others at the bungalow colony started asking for eggs. My Dad started taking orders and buying crates of eggs filled with large trays holding two and half dozen eggs per tray. He always took one of us to go with him. It was a treat!

Shopping in the Catskills was much more fun than shopping in Jersey. A grocery store had nothing on going directly to the farm. A clothing store was fun, but not the same a rummaging through the trunk of a station wagon. I still get a thrill when I see an old fashion station wagon! The Catskills’ peddlers brought wares and excitement to the bungalow colonies!

I Love Decorating for Hanukkah!

11 Dec

When I was growing up there was no such thing as Hanukkah decorations, except for owning a family menorah and several dreidels for my siblings and me.

We did have a major family Hanukkah party each year at my paternal grandparents.   All my aunts and uncles and cousins would come. We had latkes and potato kugel. Of course we each got a new little driedel and some chocolate Hanukkah gelt.   And then we each got a small gift from each of our aunts and uncles and grandparents. I always loved being with everyone.

When we got older my uncle, who was involved with the Broadway theaters, gave us each tickets to a show.   Now that was fun! All the cousins would go together during winter break and see some new show. Thanks Uncle Bernie! His gifts instilled in me a love of musical theater that continues!

But there was no decorating. My Christian friends all got to put up their trees and decorate their homes in a fantastic manner. Over the years I decorated lots of trees with many Christian friends. Dorothy and her mom had me over to decorate when I was very young. That was my first decorating experience. I enjoyed planning the perfect tree.

A high school friend, whose mother was German, would get special decorations each year from Germany. Included in them were chocolate circles covered in white sprinkles. I think they were called kringles.   We loved hanging them on the tree. And the ones that broke got eaten!

But for us, there was nothing.   And, yes, I do know that the holiday is not about decorating.   It is about celebrating the Maccabee triumph over the Greek/Syrians and religious freedom.   However, I still wanted decorations!

So imagine my joy when I had children and suddenly there were Hanukkah decorations! Lots of decorations everywhere, even here in Kansas!!   I went a little berserk!!

We could get Hanukkah banners and paper goods; tablecloths, napkins and aprons. Even Hanukkah towels to put in the kitchen and bathrooms are available now.   I have Hanukkah dishes and glasses!

The most exciting is that I could get these items at regular stores like Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond.   Hanukkah was mainstream. I went wild!!! Each year I decorate my house for Hanukkah.   And even though my children are adults, I still decorate! To be honest, I even buy new items each year!

hanukkah placemats

We even could get fabric with Hanukkah designs. Last year I had a friend who loves to quilt take all the Hanukkah fabric I had collected over the years and make placemats. They are lovely! This will be the first year that I can use them when I set the table with my wonderful dreidel dishes and glasses.

My favorite of all the newly available items are the numerous hanukkiahs and driedles. It used to be that families had just a simple brass ‘menorah’, with the eight branches and the higher spot for the Shamas. But now!!! Oh my goodness, there is a major change. First of all, we no longer call it a menorah. That is just for seven-branched candelabras. Now we use the Hebrew word, hanukkiah, which indicates the nine-branch candelabra used for the holiday.

I have hanukkiahs decorated with cats and favorite childhood characters. I have a hamsa hanukkiah and one that looks like the Kotel in Jerusalem.   I own about 12 hanukkiahs. And I love each and every one.   I actually keep my hanukkiahs out all year long. I have friends who own many more hanukkiahs!


My driedel collection is another story.   I think I have over 100 driedels. Some are the little plastic ones that we got as children. But I also have lovely art driedels as well. Each year I take a number of them out and put them on display in the foyer of my home.   And each year I try to buy a new dreidel.

Draydel Store in Tel Aviv

This year was special. I spent the last week of November in Israel with my daughter. We walked through the new shopping area, Sarona, in Tel Aviv. There was a driedel store, called the Draydel House, Beyt HaSivivon.   Of course I had to purchase a dreidel there for my collection. It will be one of my Hanukkah gifts.

But I do not stop there, I even have a collection of stuffed Hanukkah bears. Yes I do. Every once in a while I see a stuffed bear decorated for Hanukkah and I have to buy it. I try to get two if possible, one for each of my children. But it is not always possible. I admit I do have Mickey Mouse holding a dreidel and other Disney Hanukkah decorations.

Hanukkah bears

Some might say that I have bought into the holiday hype. And I agree, I have. But it brings me so much joy to know that I can decorate my home and share my enthusiasm of my religion and my holiday with others.   I love decorating for Hanukkah. My enthusiasm will last as long as I do!

The Nuances of Nu!

4 Dec

It is amazing how two little letters can have so many meanings. Just an inflection of the voice, a shrug of the shoulders, a smile on the face, a touch of the hands, and ‘Nu” means something totally different.   It is not that surprising though, ‘Nu” is a Yiddish word. And translating it would be almost impossible.


As a question “Nu” lets you say in one word so many sentences: Are you okay? Did everything go well? What are you planning to do? What will happen? What is the story? Do you need help? What do you need? What can I do?

All those questions from one two-letter word. But all are questions to show concern for another person.


As an exclamation “Nu” has a different meaning. For a mother, this version of “Nu” is very important. Nu! Did you get your homework done?! Are you ready?! Let’s get going! I have had enough! Get your act together! Listen to me! What is going on here!

Mothers and fathers who use Yiddish have been asking/demanding of their children the “Nu” demand for generations. I can still hear my Grandmothers or my Mom saying “nu!” to me in my head.   Who needs a conscious when you have “Nu”?

There is another parental use of “Nu.” This is used for an older child with a long-term partner. This is the “are you getting married? What is happening? Nu? What is the story here? Do I get to plan a wedding?

Then there is always the parents’ very happy “Nu!” The Nu of joy comes about when you are almost a grandparent and you call to ask Nu? What does the doctor say? When? Or you can call your friends and say, “ Nu! I am a grandparent!”

So, Nu?

This more gentle version of the “Nu” question is more comforting. This is when you take someone’s hand in yours and try to offer comfort.   This is the compassionate Nu.

You went for your Mammogram today? So nu? How did it go?

Your Mom or Dad is sick? So nu? How are things going for them and for you?

Your child is having problems? So nu? Can I help?

You are depressed? So nu? You have friends, are you getting help.

The compassionate ‘Nu’ is very important. It is beyond just friendship. I think it shows compassion for acquaintances as well as close friends. So nu, I will be there for you. Don’t worry is part of tzedakah and rachmanis. We need to show others how we care. And the right ‘Nu’ at the right time can help.

Oy, Nu!

The Oy Nu is much more intent. The Oy Nu offers sympathy on a much higher level. Your parent passed away, “Oy Nu!” What can I do to help with the shiva with comforting you.

Your child was in a car accident. Oy Nu!

The Oy Nu! Is sort of an ‘I cannot believe that happened.   How? Why?’

A definition of “Nu” says it means “so.” But that is not really correct. It has many more meanings than that! Nu is nuanced. It is a small word with big aspirations. With intonations, inflections, shrugs and sighs, flashing eyes and temper, each of these changes the meaning of Nu.

I cannot imagine a world without this word. The nuances of ‘nu’ keep language fun and exciting, as well as simple. With one word, I can say so much!

Take Mom to Work Day, at The Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, Israel

1 Dec

My visit to Israel would not be complete without the ability to kvell about my daughter and her job. So I was excited when she told me that she would take me to work with her for a few hours to see her office and meet the people she works with at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, Israel.

Situated in a unique glass and concrete building, the Peres Center for Peace is the vision of Shimon Peres, former president and prime minister of Israel and the recipient of the Noble Peace Prize. Now that he is retired from any political roles, and past the age of 90, he works each day at the Center, where he hopes that ideas and programs will help to create lasting peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

My daughter began working at the Center earlier this month, just a few weeks before I arrived. But it is her dream employment. With her master’s degrees in both Middle East Studies and the Politics of Conflict from Ben Gurion University in the Negev, she has wanted to devote her life to working for a world of peace.   In her previous job she did have a opportunity to work with non-profits that focused on community building, which gave her some satisfaction. But, now she has an opportunity to contribute. Yes it is in a small way, but she has a start. What mother would not kvell in delight and pride? So I will and I am.

A private tour through the building with my daughter was one of the highlights. It included a walk through the lovely auditorium, which faces the Mediterranean Sea. Just last week I saw pictures posted on the Center’s Facebook page of Peres meeting with a group in this very room. And in the back of the photo, I saw my daughter! Now I am walking down the stairs of the empty room and standing near the podium on the stage where Peres sat a few days ago!

Walls of concrete and glass reach to the sky around the bookcases.

Walls of concrete and glass reach to the sky around the bookcases.

We also visited the library, which one day will be open to the public. The library is an amazing space with ceilings that seem to reach to the sky, surrounded by walls made in alternating waves of glass and concrete.

Then we walked through the offices, where I met some of the people she works with each day. I enjoyed meeting every person, because now I have a face and a voice and a place for the people she had told me about. They are no longer just names floating in the internet cyberspace between the USA and Israel. Now they are real people who had the foresight to hire my daughter to join their important team.

Another highlight was to listen to her field a phone call from a potential volunteer who wants to help at the Center. My daughter (among other duties) is in charge of all volunteers and interns who want to also be a part of the Center and its work towards peace.

And it is okay that I did not meet Shimon Peres, I did not expect to. However, I looked through the frosted glass into the area where his office is located. And I saw the outlines of the people who were meeting with him. Again I kvell thinking that my daughter is working on the same floor as Peres. She told me the first time she saw him was on the elevator. How cool is that?

The view of Jaffa and the Sea from my daughter's office

The view of Jaffa and the Sea from my daughter’s office

As I sat in my daughter’s office, I looked out the window to Jaffa, and then to the Sea. I am looking at the view that she sees each work day. I look at this extremely modern building and it’s concrete floors, glass walls and wave like structures. I imagine my daughter working here for years as she lives her dream. But most important is the smile on her face and the joyful gleam in her eyes when she talks about her job!

On Facebook: The Peres Center For Peace. The one with over 16,000 likes. The other one is not it.