Archive | April, 2016

Am I A Passover Slacker?

14 Apr

I am feeling like a slacker. I was at a meeting recently with several other Jewish women. One said “I made my chicken soup today. ”

We all knew what she meant. She was getting her food ready for Pesach. Wow. I am always amazed at those who start cooking over a week in advance.

I have not even started cooking. I have started cleaning. And I did start buying matzah and other staples. But cooking. No!

I really felt badly when the numbers started coming. 30, 25, 24. I am only having 14 and only second night. First night I am going to a friend who is hosting 45 people. All of these women either empty their family rooms of all furniture or set the Seder up in their basements. With just 14, I can use my dining room. I am a Pesach slacker!

Seder Table

2014 Passover Seder. 

However we all agreed that under 25 is the best number for Seder. Large enough to be inclusive but not so big you feel overwhelmed.

There is a definite learning experience that comes with making a Seder. I think it is Passover Seder that creates the ability for most Jewish mothers to easily have extra people for dinner. After preparing a Seder any other meal is simply a breeze.  After cleaning, chopping, cooking and creating the festive Seder meal, nothing can faze me.

We learn so young. I cannot remember the first time I helped prepare for a Seder. I learned to make charosets as a small child. I loved sprinkling the cinnamon into the mixture. There are a few recipes that were only pulled out for Pesach. Most we could just cook as we went along. It was a brain memory. But at the time for the Seder all was in order.

We always did one Seder with my Dad’s family when I was little.  It was at my Uncle Bernie and Aunt Mickey’s house after my grandmother could no longer fit us all in.  And we did the second seder at my Mother’s family.  Sometimes Mom made it, sometimes my Aunt Paula and Uncle Stanley.  But we all knew the routine. And everyone brought something to the table.

I have friends who ask me how I can make a party or dinner without days of planning?  And I am surprised. Without the need to make charosets, Maror, five courses and all the other special  foods demanded for the Seder meal,  any other dinner creates no anxiety. It just easily occurs.

Like so many, I always prepare more food than we need. I never want anyone to go hungry and there always has to be enough for one more, or two, if needed.

Preparing the Pesach Seders taught me how to organize, use my time wisely, plan for the future and make my guests comfortable while running an extraordinary busy meal. We learn to have everything set to go and how to effectively clean between courses and after the meal.

I have a special scrapper just to get the matzah crumbs off the table!

Perhaps I am not a Passover slacker!  My Seder meal will be ready when we need it as it has been in the past and will be in the future.

The Necklace I Never Wear

2 Apr

In a box in my closet is a small scrimshaw necklace that I never wear. I will never give it away. I will never sell it. I hope one day one of my children will take it.

The necklace I purchased with the money from Zeisel.

The necklace I purchased with the money from Zeisel.

It is not that old. I bought it when I was 20, when I spent my sophomore year of college in Israel, 1974 to 1975.

Many holocaust survivors were still alive. Some of them related to me through my maternal grandparents who were both from Europe. My grandparents came to the USA in the 1920s. But most of their family remained behind. Many perished, others survived and moved to Israel.

My grandmother went to Europe in 1931 with my Mom and uncle. I have written about this before. She stayed on the farm owned by her in-laws. While she was there her mother-in-law, my great grandmother Chava, gave her some family items. Two pieces of jewelry, a pearl necklace and an opal ring; and several embroidered and handmade pieces that Chava had made.   I own all but the pearl necklace. They were all given to me as the one named for Chava.

The pearl necklace disappeared in 1931. My grandmother went to use the shower at her inlaws. She took off the necklace to bathe and forgot to put it back on. When she realized it was gone, she went back to the bathroom. It was missing.

But she knew who took it. Zeisel. He was the only one who had been in the bathroom. But he denied taking it. And that was the end of the matter for 43 years, until I went to Israel for a year of college.

A month after I arrived in Israel, I received a letter from my grandmother telling me the story of the pearls. I had never heard it before. In the letter she wrote that the ‘goniff,’ Zeisel Feuer, my grandfather’s cousin, was going to give me some money to pay her back for the necklace he stole in 1931. I was to take the money and give my great uncle, her brother, half the money. The other half was to buy myself a necklace because I should have the pearls.

What? Was my grandmother insane?   I did not really want to do this.

I wrote her back saying that I thought 43 years meant the statute of limitations on a theft were over. And that she needed to let it go. And I did not need to have the necklace. But a few weeks later I received another letter instructing me how to find Zeisel in Tel Aviv. He worked at bakery on a specific street and I was to go there and speak to him. She said I had no choice. I had to do this. It was important to both of them to end this. And I would be the one to fix it. What?

Grandma ordered, so I obeyed. The next time I was in Tel Aviv, I went to the bakery. There was a man who looked so much like my grandfather, except smaller and bent. I knew it had to Zeisel. I introduced my self. He held for minute and had me sit at a table. He brought tea and a pastry. I waited while he finished working. Then we walked back to his apartment.

There he gave me Israeli lire, which in US would be worth about $100. And he told this story.

He was married with two children. He had a wonderful life. But he wanted more for his family. So when my grandmother left the pearls in the bathroom, he thought, “She lives in America. She is rich and has money. She does not need this necklace.” And he took it. And he lied.

In return the Nazis came. They killed his wife. They killed his children. They tortured him. He could no longer have any children.

And he knew that taking the necklace had brought all this pain to him and his family. And before he died he had to make amends. So he gave me the money. I was to do with the money whatever my grandmother said.  He had made peace.

I was stunned. I was 19. I did not know what to say but to cry.   When I left him, I took the money back to my dorm in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. A few weeks later I took half the money to my Uncle Isaac. The other money I kept in my room.

Each time I went to Tel Aviv after that, I always went to the bakery to see Zeisel. He always gave me tea and a pastry.   There were not many phones in Israel at the time. So I could not call in advance. I would just show up, or send him a letter telling him when I thought I would come. When my parents came to Israel that December of 1974, I took them to meet Zeisel and speak to him. It was a meeting my parents never forget as well.

In January I turned 20. I finally spent the $50 on a necklace for me. A necklace that carried so much pain. I could not wear it even though I knew my grandmother wanted me to have this jewelry from my great grandmother. So I keep it in a box in my closet. I know it is there. I know it is safe. It will not be lost. But I cannot wear it. When I see it, I always think of Zeisel and how much he lost.

It was not the pearl necklace that doomed his family. It was the rise of hatred. But he did steal it.  So for him giving me the money was closure. He had repented; he had done his “tashuvah.”  But for me it was the beginning of truly understanding the past.

I have written about the Zeisel and the pearl necklace before. It is a story that stays in my heart and my soul. But I have never talk about what I bought with the money. In my mind it is just not enough. It does not make up for the suffering surrounding one pearl necklace.  Zeisel was also the person who let my grandfather know that his entire family had perished in the Shoah.  He is forever bound in our family history.

Zeisel, my grandparents and my parents have all passed away. I am the only one who can remember this story. And so I tell it again.