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Learning to Dance at the Swift Sisters School of Dancing

25 Feb

In my mind, every little girl in North Bergen went to the Swift Sisters School of Dancing in Cliffside Park in the 1960s and 1970s and more.    Set in a two -story building on a quiet street, the school was my favorite spot for several years of my life.  To this day, when I am in New Jersey, and drive through Cliffside Park, I still recognize the building on Lawton Avenue, and a memory of those days returns.

To be honest, I was not one of the better dancers.  I only took lessons when I was 6, 7 and 8. But I adored the older girls who went up on their toes!  I loved my carrying case, a Ballet Box,  that had a picture of a young girl dancing in her pink tutu and dance shoes on the outside.  I learned both tap and ballet, taking two classes when I went.  So I needed that case to carry my extra shoes.  To be honest, it looked like the Barbie doll carrying case, but this one had compartments for shoes, instead of dolls.

I liked tap dance better than ballet.  I think I was better at that. But I honestly cannot remember.  What I do remember is that I liked the costumes we wore for tap much better than the ballet costumes.  I hated the stiff tulle that was under the ballerina skirts. But for tap, we had much more comfortable outfits.

 

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In fact, my favorite photo of me from those days was in my tap costume in 1962.   I was seven years old.   I remember my Dad doing an entire photo shoot of me in my costume.  He also took many photos of the show itself. I now have all these photos! I guess he waited a bit to have the film developed, because the show itself was in June.  I know because I still have the program!!!

It is amazing what I found when cleaning out my parent’s home!

What I remember most about dance classes were the Swift sisters themselves.  They were the queens of the building.   I remember that one of them had been a Radio City Rockette! (Anyway I believe that is true!)  This led to my fascination with the Rockettes.  It was around that time (1965) that my Grandma Esther took us to see the movie “That Darn Cat” at Radio City Hall, and to see the Rockettes.   I still watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and am in awe of the Rockettes’ performance.  I only wish I was tall enough and talented enough to join them.

My joy of dancing, led me to enroll my daughter in creative movement classes and ballet classes when she was 5 and 6.  Like me, she was not the best little ballerina. She lasted two years.  I think she might have suffered through it and not enjoyed it that much.  But she loved her little pink tutu leotard.  Designers are so much smarter now, designing outfits where the tutu is actually attached!  Not like in my days of learning to dance.

However, I believe, like me,  she still remembers her first through fifth positions in ballet.  I also am aware of the dance terms, such as barre, grande, plie, pas, petit, pirouette, promenade, and on pointe.  Thank you to my years at the Swift Sisters!

Even though neither of us were the best dancers, we both loved going to see the Nutcracker Ballet each year.  The dance school where my daughter spent two dance years, run by Kathy and Dennis Landsman, always put on a student production of the Nutcracker, and each year we went to see the ballet at the Johnson County Community College.

I must say, although I was not the best dancer in either ballet or tap dance, I received encouragement and lasting memories from my days learning to dance.  For me, the time I spent at the Swift Sisters school gave me a start to loving dance, music and movement.  A joy I have to this day.

 

 

 

 

A Memorable Day My Senior Year at Drew

10 Feb

As I try to sort through old photos we found when cleaning out my parents’ and my grandparents’ homes, I find some that trigger strong memories.   Recently a few appeared that brought me back to college at Drew University in Madison, NJ.

It is my senior year.  I will only be there for one more semester, as I completed college in three and a half years.  It is the fall 1976, and my parents decided they were going to take advantage of the lovely weather and spend a day with me, along with my paternal grandparents.

Although both born in the United States, neither of my grandparents went to college. Grandpa finished eighth grade, I believe.  Grandma finished high school, she might have also gone to a secretary school, as she worked as an executive secretary until she was 77.

On this Sunday, since I was only an hour away from my parent’s home in New Jersey, they all came out to see me and take me out to lunch.  It was a wonderful planned surprise.

I took my parents and grandparents all around the college campus.  They met my friends. Saw my dorm room.  They finally could visualize where I was going to college.  This was a treat for all of us.

My grandfather, who was usually a solemn and taciturn person, was happy. He enjoyed the entire day.   I was almost surprised that he came because he was never outgoing with us.  But he and I shared a bond because I sewed and he was a tailor.

You will notice in one photo I stand with my grandparents and mother in front of a window.  They had a good laugh because that window led to my dorm room.

I was living in the first floor of what was then New Dorm.  It had recently opened. And I was so excited to have a room to myself!!!  Each ‘suite’ had four little rooms surrounding a common bathroom.  I thought it was the biggest and the best.  I never ever had my own room before. In fact, it was the only time in my life I had my own room.

Across the bathroom from me lived one of my best college friends. We are still friends to this day.  Another room was filled with a girl who lived with me my junior year in a real suite, where we even had a living room.  The fourth girl I did not know.  She spent most of her time in her room.

New Dorm was built into a hill, so on one side the rooms were below ground level.  That window was high up in my bedroom. But I did not care.  I told my parents that it kept me warmer and allowed me more shelf space!! They still could not understand why I would give up a suite with a living room for this arrangement.  But I loved it.

My daughter went to Drew 30 years after I did.  She lived in this dorm as a senior as well, after spending her junior year in a real suite.  It was just great to have your own space.  When she graduated, I was there to help her clean out her room after four years of college.  And when I entered Riker Dorm, once New Dorm, the rooms and the bathroom seemed so small!  I was mildly shocked because my memories made everything so much bigger.  But it was still a great place to live!

But back to my grandparents and parents.  They were laughing because I thought living in the basement was a great improvement over sharing a room.  My grandparents told me that in their day, living in the basement apartment was not considered a treat.  Rather it had lower rent because there were no good windows and no light.  They could laugh all they wanted, for me it was the best ever.

I had a wonderful senior semester at Drew. These two pictures bring back memories of college and delightful memories of my parents and grandparents.

 

 

Does My Takasago Couples Bring Happiness to My Marriage, Perhaps!

19 Jan

My Japanese carved celluloid pieces are bits of memories of my Dad, who fought in the Korean War in 1951-1952.   He spent time in Japan as well and purchased little carved objects that he gave to my Mom, as well as to my grandparents.

I remember four items in particular, there might have been more: the clamshell with its tiny diorama, the elderly couple, the rickshaw, the seven lucky gods of fortune.  When I see them, I think of his service, and his pride of serving his country.  But I also see the lovely art made in Japan.

I have the clam and the elderly couple.  My sister has what remains of the seven gods and their pedestal.  They were on a corner shelf in my parent’s apartment as long as I can remember.  We often played with them as did our children and some are lost.  As for the rickshaw, it has disappeared.  The clam, couple and rickshaw were always in a curio cabinet and so remained intact.

I wanted to find out more about these objects.  Why they were made? Were they made for the soldiers who came after World War 2 and were occupying Japan?  Was it a way to earn money in an economy that needed to grow?  A cheap gift that soldiers could buy and bring home?

I have no idea. I tried going on line and finding out about them. But all I could see was multiple images of items similar to mine.  I saw about 30 different clamshells, including one so similar to mine.  It had the cute little red crab on the top, the two little shells on the bottom as feet, and a similar boat floating in a river. The tiny people carved inside were different.

I found rickshaws carrying geishas similar to the one I remember.  There were also several collections of the seven gods available for sale.

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My parent’s Takasago couple.

The only items I did not see available for sale was my elderly couple.  I understand that, because they are considered lucky for married couples!  My parents got married just before my Dad was shipped overseas. And my Dad brought this couple home for my mother as a gift.

I remember my graduate school roommate, who was Japanese, seeing these at my parent’s home and telling me that they were good fortune given to a couple when they married to bring long live together.  It did work for my parents. They were married for 59 years before my Mom passed away.  Pekoe loved these figurines and was so happy that my parents had them.

I have since learned that they represent the Takasago Legend about an elderly man and his wife.  They figurines are to help a couple live together in harmony until they grow old together.  The couple are often shown in drawings with the elderly man raking to bring in good fortune, while the woman is sweeping to push away trouble.  I love this legend!  You can even see that my couple, the man is holding a rake, and the woman holds a broom.

At Japanese wedding ceremonies, these Takasago figurines are put on a special shelf called Shimadai with other items that bring good fortune.  The figurines can be made from many different items and are to invoke a long, harmonious married life.

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The couple I received .

My roommate gave me another Takasago couple, carved from pine wood, which she sent from Japan, when my husband and I married.  The Takasago couple are also called the ‘twin pine couple,’ hence the wooden couple has much significance as well.  Because of my immersion into Japanese culture, my parents gave their couple to me when to me when I got married.

My parents had a second well-worn couple from Japan. They might also be Takasago. But I am not sure.

So I have three sets of figurines.  One is a young couple just beginning their journey. The other the embodiment of an elderly couple who has grown old together.  The other is another young couple, who shows that it had been handled over time. Perhaps for good luck?

We will be married 39 years this year.  And I see by our greying hair, that we are maturing.  I do not know for sure if these two Takasago couples helped us in our journey, but I tend to think their presences daily in our kitchen, watching over us, could not hurt.

 

 

https://japanesemythology.wordpress.com/the-takasago-legend-of-the-meoto-couple-or-the-happy-couple-and-the-twin-pines/

Cemetery Records Impacts Family Stories

11 Jan

Recently I received a cemetery record from a friend of mine, who grew up with my husband’s cousins.  Her grandfather and my husband’s grandfather were great friends.

In any case, she is researching her family history and did research on the Jewish Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas, where my husband’s grandparents and aunt are buried.  (Mount Zion Cemetery or Sons of Truth. )She found their funeral records as well, and sent them to me and other family members.  I sent it on to one more.  For me they were enlightening.  My husband’s mother had told me many stories about her family before she died.  And these records impacted these stories.

Story Number One:  Her mother, Esther, died in childbirth when she was in her 40s.   The cemetery records make this clear.  She died in the early 1930s and was buried with an infant.  This would have been child number 11, although her oldest daughter had died years before.  Born in 1889, she died in 1933, when she was just 43.  On another note,  her birthday was October 4; and many of her grandchildren are born October!

Story Number Two:  My mother in law was named for her older sister, Molly, who died in May.  I was told she died in the swine flu epidemic in 1918 or 1919.  Not true.  Molly died from the pneumonia in May 1924, when she was 19 years old.  What amazes me as well is that she was born and died on the same day in May just 19 years apart!Still a tragedy!  But what is true is that my mother in law was born almost exactly a year later.  And so was given her sister’s Hebrew name, along with another name.  This impacts me, as my daughter is named for her grandmother and so also for this great aunt.

A story we did not know, is that Malvina or Molly or Malcha, was first buried in Wichita, Kansas, where the family lived.   The family moved to Leavenworth some time after she died, leaving her grave behind.  But after her mother died, Molly’s remains were moved to Leavenworth in 1935, to be with her mother.

My mother in law told me that her father went every to visit the grave of his wife and daughter.  I have been at the cemetery and I know there is a bench there where he sat.

Story Number Three:  My husband’s grandfather died in the middle of World War 2 in Leavenworth, which impacted his three youngest children.  So true.  His date of death is listed as December 6, 1942.  Just one year after Pearl Harbor.  He had been a widow for nine years.  And was just 64 when he died.  The same age my husband is now!

At the time of his death, three children were minors, the others were married or serving in the military.  The oldest of these three was my mother in law.   She was a senior in high school.  We think she stayed with friends for the rest of the school year.  We know after high school, she moved to St. Louis to attend Washington University and live with an older sister and her family.

My mother in law told me that one day when she came home she saw her brother and sister sitting on the steps.  Some family friends were there. And she just knew something horrible had happened.  It had.  After losing her mother when she was only 8, she was now an orphan.

The two youngest, 12 and 14 at the time, were first taken to Wichita.  Remember the good friend?  She told me that her grandfather drove through a horrible storm to get the youngest children so they would not be alone.  He brought them back to Wichita.  From there they went to Arkansas to live with their oldest brother and his family.  Officially they were supposed to live in Kansas, according to my mother in law, but the state gave permission for them to leave the state to live with family during the war.

After the war was over, the youngest son was still a minor.  He went to live with another brother and his wife in Wichita.  The next youngest, a daughter, was in nursing school,  at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita,  but would stay with this brother as well during vacations.

That two of these youngest children went to college and one to nursing training,  I find amazing!  But I remember my husband’s aunt, the one who lived in St. Louis, telling me that although there was not a lot of money left after their dad died, there was enough for education, and the older siblings made sure the younger siblings went.

After I received the cemetery records, there was some serious texting back and forth between this friend and I, as well as an older first cousin who grew up in Wichita.  Her parents are the ones who took in the youngest sibling.

It is just amazing that different people know different parts of the same story.  But when you put it all together, a truer picture appears.   Most  amazing how finding the right records can answer so many questions!

 

Thank you to /www.findagrave.com/.  I was able to see grave stones.

Oy, An Egg Kichel! Delicious!

9 Jan

Amazing how the taste of a freshly baked egg kichel can bring back so many joyful memories!

It started with a Facebook post by a friend.  She posted something from My JewishLearning.com, entitled “Kichels Recipe: Jewish Bow Tie Cookies.    (See link below, it includes the recipe.)

A few of my friends started commenting on the post about how much they loved these cookies, including me.  I commented: “My grandpa made these in his bakery and continued making them for us.  I loved them.  I would glad to be a tester for you!”

Next thing I knew I had committed to meeting a different friend and making them.  What a delight! She had posted that her Bubbie made these treats.  And she wanted to make them again.  I was all in!  (I do feel a bit of guilt that we did not have the person who posted the article with us!)

You do not bake egg kichel, you fry them.  You do not need much, just flour, salt, vinegar, eggs, oil and powdered sugar.    Mixing bowls, a mixer and a frying pan, along with lots of paper towels are required.  I promise you an hour or so of fun, and then a delicious reward.

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One of our early batches.  A bit too thick!

We learned something from our foray into making them.  The dough does have to be paper thin!  It is best to have all the dough rolled out and cut into strips before heating up the oil.  And really, you must make sure the oil is hot, hot, hot before you start putting the dough strips into the frying pan.

My friend was in charge of mixing, then rolling out the dough, and making the paper-thin morsels for us to fry.  The learning experience commence with our first frying. The strips were too thick.  So for the next batch, she started cutting the strips and rolling them out again. SUCCESS!

The excitement once we did it correctly was encompassing.  Each rectangle of dough would almost instantly turn white, bubble up and float to the top of the oil.  In a few moments one side would be golden brown, and I would flip them over.  Watch them a few moments more and then out into the towel to soak up extra oil.  Then I sifted the powdered sugar over them.

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I combined some batches.  But here they are letting the oil soak out!

We had to try one from each batch to taste the difference.  The thinner the dough, the hotter the oil, the crispier the fried kichel, the better it tasted.  We had six batches, so we had to try six. YES!  We really did!

I am so happy my friend not only said that we need to make them one afternoon, she set a date! It was not only the fun of tasting and frying, it brought back the memories of cooking with our grandparents.  We cannot bring them back, but we can in our minds relive happy moments like this!

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 Mine are on the right!

Even after tasting, we had so much left over.  We divided them up relatively evenly.  I suggested she keep extra as she has a grandson living close by to help in the eating.  But I was happy to bring a plate home for my husband and me.

My husband doesn’t have the same memories.  He never tasted egg kichel.  A Shanda!  Can you imagine never eating them?  I cannot.  But then he did not have anyone to bake traditional cookies and treats when he was growing up.  Both of his grandmother’s died very young.

For me, however, each snap of a kichel in my mouth along with the melting of the powder sugar gives me joy.  Oy!  Egg Kichel!  It is so delicious

 

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/the-nosher/kichels-recipe-jewish-bow-tie-cookies/?utm_content=buffer717d6&utm_medium=social&utm_source=thenosher&utm_campaign=buffer

 

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.