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Halvah, My Favorite Childhood Treat

26 Dec

Sometimes walking through a store brings back a memory. It happened to me today. One minute I was walking through a grocery store in Holon, Israel, with my daughter. And in an instant I was transported back in time and place. I was in my grandparents’ bakery in West New York, New Jersey.

I am sitting at the counter while my grandparents work. In front of me are three large rectangles of a most delicious treat, halvah. My favorite, marble halvah, is in the middle. And I so want to eat some of this sesame and sugar delight. My grandmother sees me sitting there. “Just take a small piece,” she says. And I do. I carry the love of halvah with me till now.

After some weekend visits, Grandma would send a half-inch slice home with me. My father and I were the biggest halvah fans. We would savor that slice, trying to make it last for a week. A feat that was a bit difficult to achieve!

After my grandparents closed their bakery to retire, my Dad would go to the local deli to buy halvah to satisfy our family’s cravings. My sister also loved the marble halvah. She remembers, “The halvah from the deli came wrapped in wax paper inside the white deli paper, like how lox came. I think because of the innate oiliness.”

In the summertime we could always get halvah at the bakery in Monticello or the deli. Halvah was always part of our life. But moving to the Midwest took me away from this treat.

In Kansas I never see full chunks of halvah. If I am lucky I find packaged process halvah By ‘Joyva’. However it is not the same. I have not tasted this treat in at least four years, since I don’t like the taste of the processed packaged squares of what should be a delectable treat that melts in my mouth.

The sign says “Halvah and sweets.”

But there in the large supermarket, Hetzi Hinam, was an entire counter of halvah with many different flavors. It called out to me. It took me back in time. I craved it. My daughter told me to get some. But I decided no, I just took a picture. I have been regretting that decision since we came home.

I have been going through every instance of halvah memory when I was denied my treat. When my husband, then fiancée, and I were in school, I kept my halvah in his refrigerator wrapped in a plastic bag with a handwritten sign saying this was mine, “Do Not Eat”. I would bring the halvah back from New Jersey to Missouri for those moments when I really needed cheering up. You can imagine my furious anger when I found out my husband’s roommate, David, ate my halvah without my permission. Let’s just say he never did that again.

My disappointment that day was overwhelming, I can still feel my anger even now 40 years later. So although my angst is not that bad today, I keep thinking, why. Why did I deny myself this treat? I could have purchased just a small chunk. But I said no.

Part of it, I think, is that I have such high expectations of halvah. I know what I remember it should taste like. But after eating those packaged chunks I have been disappointed. So I think seeing all those lovely rectangles made me a bit afraid. What if this halvah’s taste did not match my memory?

When I had it four years ago, I also purchased it in Israel. My daughter was living in Tel Aviv then, and I purchased a piece at a little shop. It was delicious. Perhaps my fears are unfounded. I should have purchased some! I could be eating a piece right now!

Instead I am here writing about halvah, remembering the taste, and wishing I had purchased just a bit of my favorite childhood treat.

Perhaps we can go back or find another store!

For those who wonder, according to Wikipedia, “The word halva entered the English language between 1840 and 1850 from the Yiddish halva(Hebrew: חלווה‎), which came from the Turkish helva (حلوا), itself ultimately derived from the Arabic: حلوى ḥalwá, a sweet confection .

Merry Christmas from Israel

24 Dec

It has been 15 years since I have been in Israel during Christmas. I like to come in early December before the tourists make their pilgrimages to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberius and the Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. But I am here.

In most of the country Christmas decorations are not a high priority. However in the cities with a more mixed population or that have a connection to Christianity, decorations are set up. I have been to both Yafo and Ramle this past week. Both have large Christmas trees in the center of town. And although, when I was in Yafo there were a few tourists visiting the sites, I understand that this past weekend the center of the old city by the clock tower was packed.

Another point I love about Israel is the ability to practice the religion of your choice be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam. In both Yafo and Ramle I passed by mosques and churches. In the shops of Yafo I saw jewelry, religious objects and art for all denominations.

‘Christmas trees’ are somewhat popular here, I saw decorations in Tev Tam, an Israeli grocery store chain that Russians frequent. Why? Because of the large influx of Russians to Israel in the 1990s. This population continues to celebrate Novy God, the Russian New Year holiday, which includes having a Yuletide tree in your home. These trees, although decorated, are not officially Christmas trees, but considered New Year’s trees.

It is interesting to note that Turkey, a Moslem country, also has the tradition of having a New Year’s tree. In both countries fir trees, like those used for Christmas trees, are used for New Year’s trees.

Israel is filled with pilgrims here to celebrate a holy day. To celebrate the birth of a Jewish man who preached the word of Torah, helping others, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, healing the sick. I pray that this winter season turns into a new year where we can unite against senseless hatred. And open our hearts to kindness.

To all who celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas from Israel.

Several Days At a Hospital Gives Me Hope For Israel

20 Dec

Sitting in a hospital in Holon has been a most eye-opening experience. The hospital sits on the border of Holon, Tel Aviv and Yafo serving an area mixed with Jewish and Muslim and Christian citizens. And it illustrates what I love about Israel.

I came to Israel because my daughter needed surgery. They day of her scheduled surgery we arrived at 6:25 am. After all the intake she was shown to her room where she would wait for surgery. Her roommate was a Muslim woman who had acute appendicitis and also needed surgery, ‘K’.

We were now linked together. They went down to surgery about the same time and returned to their room around the same time: five hours after we first went down. While we waited we sat in an area with many others: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim parents, children, spouses and friends waiting for their loved ones to emerge.

I do speak some Hebrew, but in my mother anxiety, my Hebrew left me and I mainly spoke English. Of course my daughter’s husband speaks Hebrew. But it really did not matter. Most of the nurses and aides could quickly move from Hebrew to Arabic to English and at times a Russian and Yiddish.

As patients were wheeled into the surgery area a barrage of languages wished them luck. And as families were reunited after surgery, those remaining behind sent prayers for speedy recovery to all no matter the religion; we were united in our need to comfort each other in our time of stress and anxiety.

When a 13-year-old boy was left to wait alone as his father had surgery, we banded together to speak to him and keep him calm till his much older brother arrived. It was K’s husband who told him what to tell his brother after the doctor came out, because the boy’s happy tears rendered him unable to speak. When his phone’s battery died, my son-in-law gave him our charger so he could call his brother again.

We became a team. When the nurse came in and started to speak to me in Hebrew, I responded in Hebrew, “more slowly please”. While K’s husband told the nurse to speak to me in English. When he left to walk his two young children out along with his sister, I held his wife’s head and cleaned her face after she vomited. She was young enough to be my daughter too.

At first, before the surgery, K’s husband put her Hijab over her hair when we were in the room. But after the surgery he did not bother. We were in this together. Only when visitors came did she put her Hijab on.

Later that evening, when my daughter started to vomit, I grabbed the garbage pail for her, while my son-in-law brought in another trash can. Then K’s mother began to laugh, the idea of the two of them vomiting simultaneously was just too much. I started to laugh as well. My son-in-law was a bit confused as to why we were laughing. But it was fine. We were in close quarters as the hospital was full, and we were put together in a single room.

When the nurse came, to check my daughter, we two mothers were asked to leave for a few minutes. We stood outside together and spoke about our daughters. We were together in wishing both a speedy recovery. It did not matter our language or religion, we were just moms whose daughters just had surgery.

Actually I really enjoyed listening to all the conversations, not to the words, but to the switching in one sentence from Arabic to Hebrew to English. The cadence of the melody changes with each language like a symphony of sound. At times I would be confused as to what language I was hearing, as the speakers would switch so fluently from one to another.

My daughter told me that Arabic spoken in Yafo is filled with Hebrew expressions.

Late that evening, after I had spent over 15 hours at the hospital, my son-in-law and I went back home. K’s husband spent the night. In the morning we found out that my daughter had been sick and he helped her after she threw up.

I felt terrible that I was not there. That she had not told us to return. Her answer when we asked was the room was way too small for us all to be there. Also in the morning before we came, it was K who told the nurse who came to check on her that my daughter had been sick during the night; that she needed to be checked as well.

That morning I purchased tulips for both of them because they were going to have to spend another night in the hospital. Yes being sick at night landed both of them another night in the hospital.

My daughter and K are now home. Their room is empty and being readied for the next patient.

In all I spent parts of four days at Wolfson Medical Center. While at the hospital I felt a sense of companionship. People working together to help everyone else. I get so sick of hearing about hatred and bigotry and stereotypes. At Wolfson we are one people. That is the Israel I love.

I am aware of what is happening elsewhere in Israel. At the borders and in the West Bank. But when you are at the hospital you know that the everyday people can live together and wish each other well.

Doctors, nurses, aides; patients and families; Jewish, Muslim, Christian; all together in one purpose: to help everyone feel better. At least that is the impression I had at Wolfson. That feeling is what gives me hope for Israel.

December in Israel

16 Dec

I seem to spend a bit of December in Israel. Facebook reminds me. Ten years ago, four years ago, two years ago, and now, another December in Israel. I actually like coming in early December. There are not many tourists. The 70-degree weather is wonderful compared to the below freezing weather at my home. And I get to spend time with my daughter and her husband.

Today, my first day here on this visit, was the perfect December day. We walked the two tiny dogs the half mile to a small grocery store to stock up for Shabbat.

We purchased Challah and Challah rolls. The bread here is so delicious. Freshly made from the bakery, it reminds me of my grandfather’s baking. I do have a habit of over eating bread when I visit! My first roll here surpassed my tastebud memories.

As we walked we met others out and enjoying the day, walking with their dogs and small children. It was just delightful.

There are so many little parks along the way that we walked through. It made it fun for all to be outside. We passed children playing in three playgrounds on our way home. So peaceful. It almost makes you forget what is happening in other areas of the country. Almost.

It is difficult sometimes to connect reality to what is reported in world news. It is now my third day here and there have been three terror attacks near Jerusalem. Two soldiers dead; one infant dead, and by my count 11 injured. You have to wonder why? Killing by terrorists does not bring about peace, just more hate. And the cycle continues on and on.

In the meantime the international media usually does not report the Hamas attacks against innocent Israelis. When they do it is usually in the context that Israeli military strikes back. And then they barely mention that which lead up to Israel’s response. Frustrating on so many levels.

But here in the Holon, Rishon LeZion area, all is relatively peaceful.

The only indication that anything is happening is when we look at my cousin’s grandchildren and speak of their future. Someone says out loud, “well maybe there will be peace before they have to go into the army.” And my cousins says, “Oy They keep saying that. 20 years ago, 40 years and before. And still no peace.”

Israel in December is lovely. But you cannot disconnect from reality.

Identifying A Photo is Hanukkah Miracle

6 Dec

My grandmother’s photo album continues to amaze me.  As I revisit it every few months,  I always find photos that call out to me.  This time, the portrait of a middle age man caught my attention.

img_1010

I believe this is my great grandfather.

He looked so familiar, but at the same time, not so much.  Then I looked more closely at his ears.  Do not laugh!  But his ears were very telling.  And I thought, “Wait, I think that is my great grandfather.”  I pulled out my great grandfather’s passport. And compared the photos.  And yes, in my mind the ears are the same.  As are the eyes.  He is much older in the passport photo.  And much had happened in his life.  But it is definitely Avraham Shlomo.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

My Great Grandfather’s Green card that save him.

My grandmother’s album is filled with photos from the 1920s and 1930s.  I imagine that this is the photo she brought with her to the United States when she left Poland in the early 1920s.  Her mother had already died.  Her younger siblings, she left behind.

But she kept a photo album of the people she met in the USA And with the many photos sent to her from Europe.  Some I have identified.  But many more remain a mystery, because they have no identification,  that I still try to discover.  The hardest ones to see are the children.  Grandma put in several photos of large groups of children, I would assume from a school photo.  I wonder how many survived?

Each time, I figure out who someone is, I feel as if a great miracle has occurred.  So today I had  my Hanukkah miracle for the year, discovering this photo of my great grandfather in his middle age.  A younger vision of him before so much sorrow occurred in Poland and Europe.

Here is the blog I wrote when I first discovered this album.  But I have written many others since then.  Each discovering just an amazing find.  You can see more of the photos in the Category: Grandma’s Photo Album.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/08/19/old-photographs-bring-memories-to-life/

The Day My Brother Save My Life, And Other Stories About the Best Brother Ever

29 Nov

Today my brother turns 65.  I find that a bit shocking as we are just 14 months apart, and where he leads I follow.  I cannot believe we are nearing the end of our working careers.  He tells us he is retiring in December 2019.  But I am glad that we are aging together with friendship and love.

I had not intended to write a blog about my brother.  He is a somewhat private person, so I will not put in a photo and I will not give him a name here.  But I am going to tell some of my favorite memories.

First important memory.   We are about 8 and 9 years old.  It was a Sunday and we had just completed a visit to my grandparents in New York City.  With three of us, only two could get window seats.  And it was my younger sister and my turn to have the window seats.  My brother was in the middle.

It was a time before seat belts, so as the car moved, we moved.  Sometimes if we bumped into each other, we would scream out, “He touched me!  She touched me! Don’t touch me!”  Car rides were not always fun!

On this day, when we got into the car, the driver’s side passenger door would not close properly, but my Dad forced it closed and locked it.  Or so he thought.  And he took off driving back to our home in North Bergen, New Jersey, across the river.

I remember it in slow motion.  As he went around a big curve going onto the highway to the George Washington Bridge, that door, right where I was sitting and leaning up against, flew open.  I started sliding out of the car with the force of the movement.

I heard my brother yell.  I felt his hand grab my hand and pull me toward the center of the car. There was no teasing, not pushing, just a warm grabbing arm pulling me up against him as my dad pulled to the slide and stopped the car.  It was a scary moment.  But I was fine. Dad got the door closed properly this time. And we went home.

I always think of it as the time my brother saved my life.

Do not think it was always like that. Being just 14 months apart, we had our moments of fighting and our moments of companionship.

We often united in either protecting our much younger sister or wanting to rid the world of her.

But as we grew up, we grew together in our parents’ words, “Brothers and sisters stick together.”  (See blog below.)

Over the years, as we faced the deaths of our parents and other close family members, my brother has been the rock.   He continues to call us “Sisters” whenever he has something to say.

Like, “Sisters, sisters, let’s calm down.”  I think it is his own way to remind himself that we are his sisters and we must stick together.

But it is my brother who would pick me up at the airport many times I came in to see my parents in their last illnesses.  It was my brother who called to tell me my Dad had passed away.  It was my brother and I who cleaned out their apartment together, sorting through the things to keep, throw out and give away.  His strength made it doable.

It was my brother who dropped everything to be with my sister when her husband became deathly ill. Getting there as soon as he could, while I made plans to fly in with my nephew from Kansas. It was my brother who taught my niece how to drive after her own father died so young.

My brother’s adult calmness is so opposite his younger self.  However, his kindness was always there.  It was my brother next to me in a movie theater when a strange man sat next to me.  And it was my brother who got me away.  (See blog below.)

It was my brother who said to his friends, “Do not bother my sister.  Only I can do that.”  It did protect me a bit from his teenaged buddies.  But we still could drive each other crazy.

Of course, my sister and I love him in return.  We know that it is our brother who keeps the peace between us when we have a bit too much time together.  His laughing questions, “Are you two still speaking to each other?”  “Did you kill each other yet?” After I spend a week with my sister, are always answered truthfully.  Thankfully we are both still alive.  We give him the run down, only one or two fights so far. But we are okay.

I have seen many siblings stop speaking to each other after their parent’s passing. Not in our family.  We have affection and fun together.  And we have my brother’s words:
“There is no item worth fighting over, they are only things.”

And he is right.  He is the Best Brother Ever.  And he did save my life.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/01/19/brothers-and-sisters-must-stick-together/

https://zicharonot.com/2014/10/10/hidden-memories-they-do-exist/

 

The Day A Wooden Swing Almost Killed Me: And Other Catskills Accidents

25 Nov
Grandmas and us

I always had a bandaid on my knee!

I have many lovely memories of summer in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, the Catskill Mountains.  But I also have memories of injuries that came along with summer activities.

My grandparents’ bungalow colony was not large.  We did not have a pool, because we were directly across the street from Kauneonga Lake.  Who needed a pool? The dock and the lake were all we needed to spend hours of entertainment.

We had blueberry patches, where we would spend hours picking and eating blueberries.  We also used the blueberry patches for games of hide and seek, as well as war games that the boys among us organized.

There was also a swing set, which also provided hours of fun.  We would take turns swinging on the swings, seeing who could go higher; who could jump further from a swinging swing; who was the bravest.

At our colony, there were just three girls.  The rest were boys.  And of the boys, one was my brother and three were my cousins.  And they would urge me on to disaster sometimes.

Another fact about swings in the late 1950s and early 1960s is that the seats were made of wood.  Thick wood to hold the bodies of wilding swinging boys and girls.  Today swings are made of thick fabric.  So much smarter than wood.

Why am I so in favor of fabric swings?  Because a wooden one almost killed me when I was about six years old.

It was a beautiful sunny day.  We were all around the swing set, playing and spying on our neighbors, something we often did.  Looking over a small mound of dirt into their yard.

My brother was swinging higher and higher and then jumping off the swing.  I believe my cousins were doing this as well as the other boys.  I decided I wanted to do it as well.

I started to swing.  I remember my brother telling me to go faster and faster and to jump when the swing was as far forward as possible.   I thought I was fine, but I did not quite make it.

I jumped.   I fell to the ground.   The swing passed over my head.  I sat up.  I heard yelling.  And then nothing.

I woke up in my bungalow with my aunt and mom staring at me.  I was sick to my stomach.  My head was pounding.  I now understand that I had a concussion.  The swing had come back and hit me in the back of the head knocking me out.  I had to stay in the bungalow for the rest of the day.  Ice on the bump on the back of my head.  My aunt, Mom and Grandmas checking in on me.

To be honest, I stopped swinging after that. I would get nauseous just looking a swing set.

I would like to say that was my only adverse summer adventure.  But you know that is not true.  I remember the summer my Dad taught me to ride a bicycle.   For some reason every time I made a certain curve in the colony, where there was a little hill, I flew off my bicycle.  I was determined.   I would get passed that hill.  My knees tell the story. There are many photos of me with skinned knees all thanks to the bicycle and the hill.  But I did learn.

One injury was truly not my fault.   The Dads pitched in together to build us all a club house.  I remember sitting in it, when everyone ran out.  I was about three.  My understanding is that someone climbed on the top of the clubhouse…. I tend to think it was my brother as he was extremely active.

As the club house began to fall, everyone ran out, but me.  I was once again hit in the head. But this time, I had a deep, open wound.  Mom took me to the doctor, where I was given a tetanus vaccine and a butterfly on my scalp.   I really wanted to see that butterfly, but never did.  I still have a scar on my scalp and a tenderness.  I hate when any one tries to touch my head without notice.  It caused lots of aggravation as small child.  Especially since my other brother loved to see me scream as he pretending to go to touch my head.  Brothers and sister know how to push all the buttons!

I was not the only one to suffer from injuries during the summer.  I think everyone had at least one emergency visit to the doctor each summer.  But it was part of the fun and the excitement. The injuries became part of the summer stories, part of the memories that bound us together.