Archive | April, 2015

A Blueberry Patch Was the Site of My First Kiss

29 Apr

The summer of 1969 was famous for many reasons; the July walk on the moon of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the Woodstock concert in August. But for me, even though I remember those events vividly, and lived just 1 ½ miles from Yasgur’s farm, for me the summer of 1969 was the summer of my first kiss!

It happened near my grandparent’s bungalow colony in town of Kauneonga Lake. It happened on the path between the two sections of the blueberry patch that covered the ground between the bungalow colony and Cooper Drive.

Why it happened there, I do not know. But I remember it as if it was yesterday. My first kiss was very shy. I was 14, I think he was as well. Perhaps 15, but no more than that. Looking back, I realize that kissing on that path was a very poor choice. I had lots of boy cousins, a brother and friends who could have seen us. But they did not. We kissed in the middle of the path, then went our separate ways back to our respective homes.

To be honest, the kiss did not lead to dating. We were just friends. I have no contact with him, although I remember his name and what he looked like.

We, of course continued to see each other. But it was a one-time event.

There were other boys I dated in the Catskills over the years. But not one was ever serious. Usually they became my friends.

One Catskill friend took me to my high school senior prom. He was a freshman in college, so it was a big deal. Another boy I met while working at Daitch Shopwell was beloved by my grandparents. He and I remained friends for years. We both married others — not people we met at the Catskills.

The boy I loved the most in the Catskills, never really took me seriously. I think it was the age difference. I was 16 and he was 22. I was smitten. I also met him when working at Daitch. He had a great voice and would sing and play the guitar during our breaks. To this day when I hear the song, “You’ve Got a Friend,” I think of him. But to be honest, although I remember what he looked like and the sound of his voice, I cannot remember his name!

Not all Catskill summer romances end. Two of my cousins married the girls they met in the Catskills. Both have been married over 30 years and are grandparents. They and their families still come up to Kauneonga Lake every summer.  And there are many others I know who also married the love of their lives that they met while teens in the Catskills.

Although for me, the Catskills was not the place I met my husband, it was the place I brought I children to visit every summer. A place of great fun and memories.  My children got to spend wonderful times with their many cousins at the lake and in the house where I spent my summers.

As for the walk and kiss in the blueberry patch; it was not unwelcome. I still hold it in my heart. I am sure I picked some blueberries on the way back and ate them.   Although my love for that boy did not last, my love for blueberries has lasted forever.

Behind the Beauty and Facades of Vienna

19 Apr

My husband and I took our children to Vienna in 1999. We went to Austria and Hungary primarily to see the total eclipse of the sun. But our tour started in Vienna. I was not sure I wanted to go there. My grandfather was from Galecia, when it was part of Austria. His entire family was murdered in the Shoah. So should I go to a place that hated my family, my people and my traditions so much?

But on the other hand, my grandfather also told me that he bought his property and built his bungalow colony in the Catskills because the hills reminded him of his home. I wanted to see that part of Austria. And I did, when we left Vienna to go into the Vienna Woods, into the rolling hills above the city, I saw what he meant.

It did remind me of the Catskills. And I understood that even though he would never, ever leave the USA. That he would never go back to Galecia, he still had that piece of home in his heart when he was in the Catskills.

In Vienna we also saw the Hundertwasser haus designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Born, Friedrich Stowasser, the son of a Jewish mother, as a child, he and his mother posed as Catholics during the war. His mother lost almost 70 members of her family. When we went up into the mountains, we stayed at the Bad Blumau Spa, which he designed. My son called this place the wacky hotel. It was an amazing spot. It is a place of beauty and peace designed by a Jewish man who was able to survive and provide beauty to the world.

While in Vienna, I made sure that my children went to the Jewish Museum and to the Judenplatz, the area of Vienna where most of the Jews had lived. At the time there was no memorial to the Shoah or an additional museum to memorialize what happened there. When we went, the central grounds in the Judenplatz was in the midst of construction. There were signs about what would be built there. And there was a plaque on one of the buildings describing, in German, what had happened during the war, after the Anschluss with Germany in March 1938.

We stayed for three nights in Vienna. Because we were traveling as a family of four within a tour group, the hotel reservations clerk upgraded our hotel rooms from two small rooms next to each other to an actual apartment suite that was on two floors. It was a lovely suite. We had a view of the city. Our children loved this elegant accommodation. But the entire first day, I felt unsettled.

On Saturday morning, as we were eating breakfast in the hotel dining room, I heard chanting and prayers. I followed the sounds and found several women sitting in a hallway outside a room where a traditional Shabbat service was being held. I was amazed. There was still a Jewish presence in Vienna? People were celebrating Shabbat here? We were not the only Jews in the city? I felt a bit comforted that the hotel we were staying in allowed Jewish services and provided a spot for those who wanted to celebrate the Shabbat and keep kosher. A bit of my angst left me.

We did all the tourist stops in Vienna. We went to the Schonbrunn Castle; The Belvedere; and the Spanish Riding School, home of the Lipizzaner horses. I had to see the Spanish Riding School, because I remember seeing the Disney movie, “The Miracle of the White Stallions,” as a child and have always been intrigued by these horses. At the Schonbrunn Palace we learned about Sisi, Empress Elizabeth of Austria and her very long hair!

I bought souvenirs, some lace, white ceramics, gifts for the children, and of course post cards of art work from the museums, including the beautiful Klimt paintings. They were magnificent.

The Klimt paintings, especially the one of the woman painted and then covered in gold, was amazing.   But there was much going on in the background of that painting that we did not know. There was no mention that the woman in gold was stolen from a Jewish home during the Shoah, along with other artwork.

My views of Vienna changed again when I went to see the movie, “The Woman in Gold” and found out the true story of this painting and others like it. I had a totally different reaction than when I saw the “Miracle of the White Stallions” so many years ago.

Although “The Woman in Gold” has not received wonderful reviews, I found it fascinating.   Perhaps with my somewhat Austrian roots and my previous time spent in Austria and Vienna, I related on to the film a different level. Perhaps because my family was destroyed after the Anschluss, so I felt the story on that level as well.

Of course my family was not multi-millionaires. But they did own a farm and property that was all stolen. And they did suffer through the murders and destruction.

I wish the movie shown that Maria Altman had children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The Maria in the movie seems to be alone. And that was not the case. I wish the movie shown her triumphant in her life as well as in her fight against Austria to win the return of what belonged to her family.

For me the continuation of her family, as well as the return of the stolen property would have made the story even stronger. Not only did she get the beautiful Klimt, but she also made a lovely life.

I do not know if I will ever go back to Vienna. But I know that with the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world, we cannot stand back and say nothing.   So I am glad that movies such as “The Woman in Gold” have been made and are shown throughout the world.

Vienna in 1999 was a different Vienna than in 1938, but now I know that they were still not facing the truth of what had happened.   Vienna is a beautiful city. This is a fact. The pastry shops, the museums, the buildings, the parts are all stunning. But behind the facades, for me, will always be the homes, art, jewelry and lives taken.

A Traditional Jewish Wedding Created A Family’s Magical Wedding Ring

16 Apr

In traditional Jewish weddings, the marriage ring has to be completely round, made of gold with no embellishments. No diamonds or stones; just a plain gold ring.

When my maternal grandparents were married in 1925, they used such a plain white gold ring to ensure a blissful life. Both from Europe, they had no parents to be with them when they married. But they followed the traditions. First they got permission from my great grandfather. Then they married. My grandfather said the traditional words, “With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel,” when he placed the ring on my grandmother’s forefinger.

The ring adorned my grandmother’s hand for the first 26 years they were married. But in 1951 my mother and father married. My Dad was in the army and was being sent to Korea. My grandparents were not exactly happy about my Mom getting married while Dad was on leave. They were worried. Would he survive? Would everything be okay?

My parents got married while my Dad was on a two-week leave. They did not have time to find and buy a ring. So my grandparents decided that my Mom would get married using their ring. My father paid my grandmother for the ring, as it cannot be borrowed. It must belong to the groom. Thus my parents were married using my grandmother’s wedding band. Once again the traditional marriage words were said, “With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” My parents were now bound together.

My grandparents were married for over 60 years. My parents were married 59 years before my Mom passed away.

Mom made sure that the tradition continued. She felt that since the ring had been a vital part of two wonderful weddings and marriages, then it would bring mazel to others as well. She decided that her daughters would also have to be married using this ring.

Notice the two gold rings by my engagement ring, several hours after my husband and I were married.

Notice the two gold rings by my engagement ring, several hours after my husband and I were married.

When I married in 1980, I also was married in this special ring. My husband paid my mother one dollar for it. And even though I had another plain gold ring to wear, during the service it was my grandmother’s and mother’s ring that was placed on my right forefinger, and later moved to my ring finger.

My husband recited the same words to me, “With this ring, you are consecrated to me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” And I, being a more modern bride, wanted to say something as I placed a ring on my husband’s finger. So I said, “My beloved is mine and I am my beloved. Ani le’dodi v’dodi li.” I wore the family ring, along with my gold ring, for several years until my sister was to be married. 

Selling the ring to my brother in law just before he married my sister.

And then, as my mother wished, my sister’s groom purchased the ring for one dollar from my husband and me. Once again the ring was placed on the forefinger of a family bride.

As grandchildren were born into the family, my mother asked that the ring be used for each granddaughter’s wedding. And of course we agreed. My sister and I also feel that the ring should be used for the grandsons’ weddings as well, if they want to use it.


My grandmother’s ring and the dollar bills each groom paid for the ring: my Dad, my husband, my brother-in-law.

The ring is now in my sister’s safety deposit box waiting for the next family wedding. With the ring are the dollar bills that my Dad, my husband and my brother-in-law all used to pay for the ring. Each dollar bill has the name of the bride and groom and the date of the wedding written on it. They are part of the tradition of the ring.

Soon the ring will come out of its resting place. It will be time to adorn the finger of another bride. I am happy that it will be my daughter’s wedding. The oldest grandchild, my daughter and her boyfriend recently announced their engagement. They plan to wed next summer, in 2016.   I hope that her groom will want to buy this ring to use for their marriage ceremony.  So that for the fourth generation, 91 years after my grandparent’s wedding, this magical ring will be used again.

I cannot wait to see my daughter and her groom stand under the huppah together.  I hope that they will use my father’s tallit for this special day. I cannot wait to see my grandmother’s white gold wedding ring slide onto the forefinger of my daughter. I cannot wait to hear the traditional words spoken by the groom. I wonder if my daughter will respond as I did, or in the way more modern brides do repeating the same words that the groom says to his bride.

I only hope that the magic of the ring continues and that my daughter and her groom celebrate throughout their married life with the joy of marriage that went through the lives of all the brides who have worn it.

Having My Childhood Neighbor As My Physic Teacher Was a Challenge

5 Apr

In the Kansas City Star today there was an article about a man who has searched for some of his high school teachers to thank them for all they had done for him. This article made me think of one of my teachers. Not to thank him, but to ‘sort of’ apologize for a bit of misbehaving.   There was a reason! Imagine if your neighbor became your teacher!

My home from fourth gra

My home from fourth grade till I married.  Bobbie’s home is just past the parking area.

Growing up on 78th Street near Boulevard East, in North Bergen, we had wonderful neighbors. We knew all the children on the block, and we often played stickball in the street after school and on weekends. Everyone knew everyone else. It was a community.

Our next-door neighbor going up the hill was the DeSocio family. The son, Bobbie, was about six years older than I. So although he was part of the community, he really did not hang out with the kids on the street. But of course we all knew him.   And he was part of the teasing and kidding that went on daily.

When I was about 12, and he was 18, he helped my brother and his friend, Jack, put me upside down into a garbage can. Bobbie was raking leaves. And the three boys thought it would be funny to dump me in. I did not find it so amusing. From that point on, I saw Bobbie as an adversary instead of my friend. He had joined the boys!

The next fall Bobbie went on to college: Steven’s Institute of Technology, which was in Hoboken. Not far from home. I believe he earned both a BS and an MS in physics.

During these years, we really did not have much contact with him. My Dad and his Dad would talk. And we would hear about what he was doing at dinner. Sometimes he would come by and we would wave. My parents talked to him the most. I think my brother, who was a bit closer to his age, and two-years ahead of me in school also talked to him. My brother actually got his master’s at Steven’s Tech, years later.

But then life changed. I was a senior in North Bergen High School. I was a good student and active in many school activities but focusing on the school newspaper and yearbook. However I did take physics and I loved it.

When we returned from winter break something had changed. They had divided our physics class. Some of the students stayed with the original teacher and some of us were put into a class with a new teacher. Someone just starting out; someone named Mr. DeSocio. Yes BOBBIE! And guess whom he got in his first class? Yes, ME!

I cannot imagine how he felt when he saw me walk into his class. But I know how I felt. Bobbie is my teacher! Impossible. I really did not know what to do or how to act. So I acted with all the maturity of an 18 year old. I totally goofed off. I giggled. I laughed. I really could not take him seriously.

I do not know why he did not request that I be put into the other class. But he did not.

However, I do know what happened in my home. I think my Dad and his Dad had a little talk over the back yard fence. And I got the parental lecture. I was in BIG trouble.

I was to treat Bobbie with respect at school and I was to call him Mr. DeSocio. When he was over at the house, I could call him Bobbie. But at school I could not. I could not tell my friend’s any Bobbie stories. I had to treat him just like any other teacher.

The parent lecture worked. I started behaving. I listened in class. It took about a month for me to calm down. And yes, I believe I had an A in physics.

But years later, I taught high school journalism in a small private school. Although none of my students were my peers, many were the children of my friends. And later, some were friends of my daughter. It was a bit difficult. And I often thought back to North Bergen High School and Bobbie.

I wondered if Bobbie continued teaching. I know he did for a while because my younger sister attended North Bergen High School until 1976, and he was still there. In fact she also had him as her physic teacher. But since she was so much younger, there was not the same issues that I had faced. I also found a yearbook listing on line that showed he was still there in 1978. Did that semester having me in his class toughen him up for anything?

In reality, I was really not that bad. (Although my sister disagrees, she says I was terrible. ) In 1973 there was a decorum that had to be followed. I loved high school and I loved learning. I did learn physics from Bobbie. So in the end, I guess we worked it out to everyone’s advantage…. I hope. But I will say that having my neighbor as my physics teacher was a challenge!

Frogs Jumping At the Passover Seder

2 Apr

Over the years my desire to have an educational and entertaining Passover seder merged with my love of creating paper creatures using origami.

Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding to make figures. Many have seen the origami crane. But it can also be used to make flowers, boxes, insects, and animals. An unlimited number creatures and objects can be created by the intricate folds used in origami.

I have loved origami for over fifty years. When I was in fourth grade I went to a birthday party for a school friend who was from Japan. As part of the party fun, her mother taught us how to make several origami figures including a crane and a box. I was hooked.   I have been dabbling in origami ever since.

My collection of origami books and special papers grew when I was in graduate school. My roommate, Pekoe, was Japanese. When she found out about my love of origami, she was intrigued that I was capable of making the more advanced figures. Upon her return to Missouri, after winter break, she presented me with the most beautiful handmade origami paper and several figurines. I still have them all.

I used origami when I taught. I used origami when I was a hospital candy striper while in high school. I used origami as a mother. Many times I was able to cheer up rainy days and airplane trips by the aspect of making origami figurines. I always carried the special brightly colored, square paper with me when I traveled. It entertained not only my children, but others as well.

Making origami frogs before the seder. Making origami frogs before the seder.

At Passover, Pesach, origami frogs became an important part of our holiday tradition. I was always looking for ways to make the seder more enjoyable, especially for the children who were with us. So I started giving my son and daughter enough sheets of paper to make a frog for each person at our Seder.

We always made frogs that could ‘jump.’   Did I tell you that the frog plague was always our favorite? My son loves reptiles, lizards and amphibians. So of course he loved frogs. And green was his favorite color. So we made many frogs of different shades of green. Whenever we made our frogs and hopped them during the seder, we sang the Passover frog song that ends with “Frogs here, frogs there. Frogs were jumping everywhere.” And then our paper frogs would start hopping.

Jumping frogs

Last year at Passover my children went bonkers. They made multiple origami frogs of many colors. They also decided to make paper locust. We used all these origami figurines to decorate our seder table.

When we read about the plagues, everyone tried to hop these frogs. Some jumped directly into the wine, the charosets and the seder plate. Frogs were really jumping everywhere. Everyone had a great time.

The frogs remained on the table throughout the meal. When we sang the end of seder songs, frog jumping took over. The aim was to get the frog onto a tissue box. Several of the young adults at the table were quite good at this. So while we sang songs like ‘Had Gad Ya’, we also had a group still making the frogs jump.

Perhaps it is not taking the plague seriously. But I know that everyone who attends my seder will always remember the plague of frogs. They will always have fond memories of the Passover seder.


Click to access The%20Frog%20Song%20lyrics.pdf