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My Obsession With Grandma’s Album Leads to the Shoah

17 Jun

My Tante Esther played an important role in my life.  My grandmother’s younger sister, Tante Esther came to the USA in 1936 along with my great grandfather.  My grandmother was able to bring them here and away from Poland.

Tante Esther and her husband, Uncle Leo, lived close to us in North Bergen, New Jersey.  Uncle Leo also came from Europe, from Germany, and worked for my grandparents at their bakery in West New York, New Jersey.  He was not family then, just someone who needed a job.  When my Tante came over, she married my Uncle.  Grandma had already told Uncle Leo not to get serious about any one, as she had a sister for him.

Uncle Leo worked with my grandfather as long as the bakery was in existence.  It was Uncle Leo who dropped off a box of bakery goods every Sunday morning on his way home from baking all night.  It was Uncle Leo who once brought my brother home from the bakery after my brother had mixed the sugar with the salt.  I still remember, my brother being handed off to my Dad with Uncle Leo’s terse words, “Here Take Him,” before he left to return to the bakery.  My Mom had to call my grandmother to find out what had happened.

We often saw Uncle Leo at our synagogue, Temple Beth El.  He always had candy in his pocket, so we always made sure to give him a hug and say hello.  We loved him for other reasons, but the candy was always special.

My grandmother came to the USA when she was 16 years old.  I have written about Grandma and her family many times.    As I have written about her photo album filled with unidentified photos.

Here are two more photos.   Luckily my cousin is still alive and can help identify her mother.  She is positive that her mother is the woman on the left in the photo of the two women and two boys.

But the other photo, my cousin says is not her mother.    I thought it was.  But after having the back translated by several different people on the groups Tracing the Tribe and Jewish Ancestry in Poland, I think my cousin is right.  This is not her mother!

Inscribed on the back is a note to Talci, or Talei, or Palci,  as a remembrance from Estera.  My grandmother used the name Tala in Europe.  I assume, Talei could be a nickname. But I would think that if the photo was her sister, the message would have mentioned that!!!  Thus, I am thinking this is a cousin about the same age and named for the same person as my Tante Esther!  Definitely not my Tante.  I put the picture here so you can see how difficult this becomes in identifying people.

As for the photo with the two women and the boys, I am stymied as to who the other woman and the boys could be.  I know my grandmother had many first cousins. I am assuming they are members of the family. Someone important to my grandmother for a photo to be sent from Poland.

My obsession with these photos  makes me know who I hope it is.  I hope and wish it is her cousin Tova Malcha and perhaps these are her  sons.  Tova and her family were murdered in the Shoah.  I have no idea how many children she had or her married name. There are 135 people with her maiden name murdered from the town she lived in Viroshov/Wieruszow Poland.  I know she died and her family died.  What I do know, I heard as a young woman when my grandmother met with Tova Malcha’s brother in 1976 in Israel.  (Read blog below.)

I have no identified photo of her.  But I am hoping that when this photo was sent to my grandmother, sometime after she moved to the USA, that the two women she loved the most, her sister and her first cousin, her best friend, were in this photo.  (See blog below.)

But I know it could be someone else.  Another cousin perhaps?  I have written about others.  All I know is that when I search through this album, many times I am caught up in the Shoah.  I end up at the Yad VeShem database searching for names that match these photos.   Then I cannot look at the album again for months.

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/20/viroshov-wieruszow-a-jewish-community-destroyed/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/07/11/the-yad-vashem-shoah-database-each-name-becomes-a-memory/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/06/26/amazing-what-information-two-photos-can-provide/

https://zicharonot.com/2015/11/03/who-are-you-these-photos-call-out-to-me/

 

This Jacket is a Survivor!

20 May

img_3411

I am cleaning out my cedar chest.  I had no idea what was piled up inside.  But surprises keep coming! My biggest surprise find was a jacket belonging to my mother.  I honestly forgot it was there.  I thought I had lost it in my many moves years ago.  But here it is:  A grayish brown wool jacket.  It is definitely from the late 1940s/early 1950s in both style and by history.

This is not just any jacket.  It was made by my mother’s uncles.  I am not sure which one, either David or Isaac.  They survived the Shoah because they were tailors.  When they escaped Poland they headed into Russia, where I am told they worked making soldiers’ uniforms.  I have no proof of this. But that is the story I was told.

After the war, they ended up in Italy first, where they waited for papers.  My uncles had my grandmother and another sister in the United States.  My aunts had relatives, sisters I think, in Australia.  They decided they would go to live in whatever country and near whoever sent visas first.  They just wanted out of Europe and away from fear.

The visas came from Australia.  So they went to Melbourne.  This jacket was made by my uncles in Melbourne after they settled there and sent to my mother in the United States.  Can you image? I can’t.

I know they were in contact throughout their journey of survival.   I know that my grandmother and aunt tried to get them visas to the USA and sent them money to survive after the war.

I know that they helped to support them throughout their lives.  My Uncle David died when he was in his late 30s in Australia.  He is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Melbourne.  Eventually the survivors, my Uncle Isaac, his wife Bronia and, David’s widow, Rosa moved to Israel with my cousin, where she still lives with her family.

When they moved to Israel, we sent care packages to them.  It was 1965 or 1966.  I still remember when I was 11 learning about my cousin. We became pen pals, writing back and forth for many years.  We still keep in contact, but now through What’s Ap and Facebook.

The year (1974-75) I studied at Hebrew University in Israel, I would spend time with my family, my uncle, aunts and cousin in Kiriat Haim, which is just north of Haifa.   During one visit, Uncle Isaac surprised me with a bag to carry my school supplies when I traveled from Jerusalem to visit family.  He also made me a pillow to decorate my room.  I was a great bag for that as it was the perfect size with a zipper.  And no one else had anything like.  I actually used it to go to class.  I still have both of these items.

After my return from Israel, my mother gave the jacket to me.  It longer fit her and she thought I would wear it.   Since I spent so much time with my family in Israel, the jacket carried so many emotions with it.  When I was younger, I would wear the jacket and think of all my great uncles and aunts went through during the war.  How they survived the war and got out of Europe.  It is a jacket of survival and strength in my mind.

So I guess I will continue to keep this jacket.  It has a few moth-eaten areas.  The color has faded.  But to me, its symbol of survival and new lives makes it so valuable.  It tells me to never give up.  To survive and be a survivor.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2016/10/01/the-rosh-hashannah-card-has-a-story/

 

https://zicharonot.com/2014/04/28/speaking-yiddish-always-brings-me-holocaust-memories/

 

Finding A Charity Donation That Fits Perfectly!

29 Dec

I am a person of faith who believes in prayer.  I also believe in actions.

Some of my friends will be surprised because I also am a strong believer in science and medicine, biology and evolution.  But in my mind both work together in harmony.

What this means for me, is that when someone I love is sick, I trust the doctors, who I have researched; I trust the hospital, which I have checked out; and I pray and ask others to pray as well.

Recently, when my daughter was ill and needed surgery I went all out.  I had her name, in Hebrew, added to several synagogue mi’sheberach lists, which adds that person’s name to the prayers asking to heal the sick. These names are read during the Torah service, when the weekly section of Torah is read, and a special prayer, the Mi’Sheberah,  is read.

I asked family members to add her name to their synagogues’ prayer lists and to keep her in their prayers.  I asked several friends of mine who are of other faiths to add her to their prayer circles as well.   There is just one G-d, and he listens to all prayers in my mind.

I called a friend of mine, who is the wife of a Chabad rabbi, and asked that my daughter’s name be added to their mi’sheberach prayers as well.  The rebbizin asked that I meet with her before I left my trip to be with my daughter.  So I went.

She had her agenda as well.   She reminded me to check my daughter’s mezuzah.   There are those who believe that a damaged mezuzah could cause ill health.  She also suggested I make donation to charity on the day of the surgery, bringing a tzedakah box with me to the hospital.

These are two beliefs that I knew about.  Although I knew my daughter and her husband had a mezuzah on the front entrance of their house, I was not sure about other rooms.  And as for charity… well. I am not one to bring a tzedakah box to a hospital to ask others to give.  But I always donate to charity.  I just needed to find the right one for this specific event.  I needed a charity that would speak to a medical need.

Soon after I arrived at my daughter’s home in Israel, I realized they did not have a mezuzah on their bedroom entrance.   That I could rectify.  I specifically went shopping to find the perfect one to fit their home.  A small purple mezuzah cover fit that need.  But of course, the most important part was the kosher scroll.   I purchased both at a small store in Yafo.

As an additional purchase, because I guess I am a bit superstitious as well, was a hamsa.   A purple hamsa with the Sh’ma prayer on it.   I love the hamsa symbol, so it made sense to me.  (See my blog about hamsas with the link below.)

However, the most important for me was identifying the best charity to make a donation.  I needed to fulfill this part of my promise to the rebbizin.  But not just for her, so many people were praying for my daughter.  I needed to make a donation both to help others as a way to thank my friends and family.  I needed to find the perfect fit.

Then I saw in a newspaper article about two women in New York who had eliminated $1.5 million in medical debt for 1300 people by raising $12,500!  That looked like something that would fit my need perfectly!

They had given their money to RIP Medical Debt. This charity works to eliminate medical debt of those who cannot pay “by buying medical debt for pennies on the dollar and then forgive it, forever,” as the website says.  Every dollar can forgive $100!

I gave anonymously to the charity. But I am saying it here to encourage others to give to this charity as well. From now on, when someone in my family has surgery or faces a medical problem, I will be donating to RIP Medical Debt.

We are fortunate to have great health insurance and also have the finances to pay off our medical bills.  I truly believe that no one should go into debt because they could not afford the treatment!  This is one of the biggest crimes in the United State, the rationing of health care based on finances and not on need.

Luckily my daughter’s surgery was a great success.  Luckily my daughter lives in a country with universal medical care.  She will have no costs for this surgery.  I wish everyone had such wonderful insurance.  Thus for now, I will be supporting RIP Medical Debt!  A charity that perfectly fits my need to donate.

Definitions:

Rebbizin:  Rabbi’s wife

Tzedakah box:  a box to put in money to give to charity

https://jezebel.com/two-women-erased-1-5-million-of-strangers-medical-debt-1830888079

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/mi-sheberakh-may-the-one-who-blessed/

www.ripmedicaldebt.org

https://zicharonot.com/2016/01/26/mazel-and-good-luck-my-middle-eastern-hamsa-and-native-american-hand-symbol-collection/

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.