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How The KinderTransport Touched My Family

5 Nov

I have always been intrigued by the KinderTransport that saved 10,000 Jewish children during the Shoah as they were transported out of Nazi territory and on to England by train and then across the English Channel.  In my mind I imagined the heaviness of heart of the parents as they put their children’s safety first and sent them to live in a foreign country with people they did not know.  What brave parents they were to know they might not survive, but to give their children a chance no matter the peril!

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My interest sparked me to read books about these trains.  And even brought my attention to the orphan trains that brought children from the east coast out to the middle of the country on Orphan Trains. In my mind the two were linked together.  The KinderTransport children were not yet orphans, but many would be by the end of the war.  The Orphan Train children were often in orphanages or living on the streets when they were sent away.

But I did not know of anyone who actually rode the trains to a new life brining the children to safety away from the horrors of Europe, except for a man I met on a cruise several years ago.  (See blog below.)

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The sisters,  Martha and Rosa, who I now know survived thanks to the KinderTransport.

However, recently that all changed.  I now know that two of my relatives survived the Shoah when their parents put them on a train to England from Breslau, Germany.  Their mother was my grandmother’s first cousin.  These two girls were around the age of my mother, their second cousin. Except for a photo I found and wrote about, we would not have known about the sisters.

Their mother, Celia, perished in the Shoah.  I thought they had as well.  All I had was a photo of two girls and a brief inscription on the back.  But from that inscription, I was able to find out that at least one of the girls survived.  I did not know how she survived, but I knew she lived and wrote a Yad V’Shem testimony for her mother.  From little information I had,  I wrote a blog (see below) about a year ago, wanting to know more.

Recently that blog was read by someone in England, who gave me the news that both girls had survived and had come to England on the KinderTransport.  That one girl, Martha, had lived with this person’s in-laws during the war. The families had been in touch until Martha’s death.

Now I have new wonders.  Did my grandmother know that her cousin’s children had survived?  Did anyone know?  The testimony was not written until 1999 from Australia.  So perhaps not.  Perhaps the sisters had been lost to the family forever because of the Shoah. I think this is a question that will never have an answer as anyone who might have known is long gone.

I wish I knew more.  I have reached out to the person who contacted me to see if she has more information.  I have not heard back.  But I thank her for contacting me at all and helping to solve another Shoah mystery for my family.

My searches continue.  I must admit, that this one at least gave me some hope and some joy. The KinderTransport touched my family; saved two lives.  That is the best knowledge of all.

 

https://zicharonot.com/2017/04/06/cruise-conversations-that-linger-in-my-heart/

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

 

A Burst of Emotion: Kukaniloko Birthing Stones Sacred Site

13 Aug

(We recently cruised around the Hawaiian Islands.  This is the first of five blogs about my favorite spots.)

Fertility, pregnancy, healthy births, all topics that are important even today.  Childbirth is, at times,  life threatening for the mother and for the infant.  In ancient Hawaiian times, women went to sacred spaces in an effort to safely give birth.   In Oahu, there is such a space dedicated to the women of the royal family.

Fertility for those who cannot conceive is also a painful topic.   At the Kukaniloko Birthing Stones Sacred Site, these two quests: a safe and pain free birth, and the request for a pregnancy come together.

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Before we arrived at this sacred site, our guide pointed out part of the Wai’anea Range on Oahu.  As you drive along the Kamehameha Highway, part of this mountain range looks like a giant sleeping pregnant woman,  the “Wahine Hapai.”  You can see her head, then breasts then pregnant belly rising to the sky.  She embodies fertility and health.

He told us that Wahine Hapai overlooks a sacred site that many tourists do not go to but thought we would like to see.  (Perhaps because my husband is a pediatrician.)  The  Kukaniloki Birthing Stones Site is unmarked and is not easy to find.  There is just a small indentation of an  entrance off the highway, with a gated road.

Before we walked down a bright red dirt road to reach the site, we read the warnings that this was a sacred site and we should respect it. “Do not sit on the stones. Do not move or wrap the rocks. Do not trample the plants.” These were the top three rules.  I thought I was ready to visit.  But in reality, it was much more emotional than I thought it would be.

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It is a quiet spot, an oasis of trees and stones in the middle of a field. The first indication that you are entering the sacred site, is two stones standing by the entrance.  These were two of the birthing stones: One to sit on and one to lean up against. They have been moved from their original place in the grove of trees.  Just past these stones are two parallel lines of smaller stones, leading to the tree-shaded main site, where the trees surround a group of large stones.  Behind the site, watching from above is the Wahine Hapai, the pregnant woman, helping those in labor.

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In my effort to know more, I looked up information on line when I returned to the ship.  I read that the two line of stones were for the chiefs to sit on, while a royal woman gave birth.  The chiefs came to help her through this time. It is also said that women who gave birth here felt no pain.

My husband and I were not alone in our visit.

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Walking along the two lines of stones, I noticed a woman squatting by each stone, touching her forehead to the stone and praying.  She went down each line, holding the stones between her two hands, resting her head, then moving on.   I was not close enough to hear what she said. I tried to give her space, but I knew in my heart what was happening.  I could almost hear her prayers for a pregnancy and for a child of her own. And my heart opened.  I began to pray silently with her.  Sending my positive energy to comingle with hers.  Hoping perhaps a stranger who knew her pain could add to her prayers.

Do Not tell me this is a ridiculous quest. 

I too suffered from infertility and prayed to become pregnant.  I spent days, weeks, months and years wondering why everyone else was able to get pregnant but me.  I hated family gatherings, where all the new babies would be the center of attention and people would ask me when I planned to start my family.  Little did they know of the emotional pain I was in just being there.  I lost my faith for a time.  At the high holidays when we read about Hannah, I left the service.  It was just too difficult to bear.

Although I am now way past the age of giving birth, and I do have two children, I carry that black hole of pain in my heart.  I keep it covered.  I try not to visit it.  I moved on, I believed.  But watching this woman in her prayers removed the cover I keep over this abyss of pain, and I felt tears rise to my eyes. No one could truly help her.  No words can ever make that pain go away.  Watching your friends and relatives get pregnant is a slap. Each month a new cycle is just a reminder that you failed once again.  It is an enormous, deep black hole of grief.  And I saw that grief on this woman’s face.

She was not alone.  A young man squatted close to the square enclosed area where the trees and many birthing stones were assembled.  You cannot enter this sacred area.  But he sat just outside the roped off area, watching.

I felt the spirit of their prayers around me.  It would be hard not to feel it.

We did not spend too much time at the site.  I took a few photos, and then told my husband it was time to go.  I wanted to give them the privacy they needed. (I learned later that although tourists might not visit it, the site was well visited by locals who celebrated the birth of their children or who were wanted to have children.)

As we walked away, my memories and my prayers rose up.  I hope that the Kukaniloko Birthing Stone Sacred Site, and the energy of life and birth within it, helped her move forward.

This was my most memorable spot in all of Hawaii.

Reading Obsession Comes From My Mom

21 Apr

Reading Is my passion.  I cannot imagine life without a book by my bedside, magazines by my chair and my IPad with its digital books with me when I travel. If I love to read, then my Mom needs all the compliments.  She was an elementary school teacher, who believed books and reading were the best gift to give to a child.

Mom taught fourth grade for most of her over 30 years teaching career.  She taught as a young woman after college, while my Dad was in Korea.  Then stayed home with three young children.  She started back to full-time teaching when my sister was in first grade.  From then on, Mom’s life was split between us and her students.

Each summer when she went shopping for our school supplies and clothes, she also went shopping for her classroom. It is true that teachers spend their own money for their classrooms.  But this is not a new phenomenon: Mom was buying things for her classroom in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Throughout the year, whenever her students had a Scholastic Book order, Mom would order books for her classroom.  Some were free, some she purchased.  But the good part, for us, was that we got to read these books as well.

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My Mom’s library system.

Mom built up quite a library in her classroom.  Bringing in bookshelves from home to stash her class’ reading choices.  Mom would make them as NF, non-fiction, or F, fiction.  She numbered each book and wrote her name inside.  Whenever the school purged old readers, my Mom would take some for her classroom as extra reading for her students.

She also would bring one of each home for me. Personally, I love old readers.  Whenever  Mom brought some home, I was delighted. Even when I was in college, I would curl with a reader just for fun.

When my Mom retired, I took at least one of each of the readers she still had.  I even have original Dick and Jane books from 1946-47.  Three to be exact.  One is quite decrepit, but I do not have the heart to get rid of it.  Those were actually being thrown out by the school. She asked if she could take a few for me.  And the principal said yes.  I still thank him, Mario, in my mind.

I know exactly which books were in my Mom’s classroom, as I still keep the numbers taped to the front of those books.  Inside I see my Mom’s handwriting and I have a bit of her with me.

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Some of my readers.

But my love for readers created a bit of an obsession for me as my children were growing up.  I often went to garage sales to find books and toys for them to play with.  Among the books, I often found readers.  They were sold for anywhere from a quarter to a dollar.  I then went big time: I started going to library books sales and I would pick up a few readers there.  These were a bit more expensive.  Then came the big book sales in the local convention center.  Yes, they had readers as well. This were even more expensive … three or four dollars!

I now have over 50 early readers and other school books.  My oldest school book is from 1914.  Many are from the 1940s and 1950s.  A few from 1960s.  But I did not stop at readers, not me.  I have science books, math books, language art books. I have readers that were published by the state of Kansas (where I live.)! I even have some very old story books. They are quite fun to read.

In my collection of books, I have an early Disney true life book; an early Nancy Drew; and much more.  My children learned to read with these readers.  Why not!  My daughter was reading the early Dick and Jane books when she was not quite four.  My son a bit later.  Those pictures draw the children in!

I happily passed my love of reading onto my children.  Each summer I would enroll them in the local library’s reading program.  For every five books they read, they got a prize. If they reached a predetermined number of books, they got a really special prize.  I did not have to do that for long for my daughter. She is an avid reader. She learned to read before she even went to kindergarten.  It caused a few problems because her ability to read was a much higher than her maturity.

I have some favorite reading memories.  She loved this scary series, Goosebumps.  One night she was reading a book in bed, way past her bed time.  I guess a thunderstorm was going on in the book, when a thunderstorm started in real life.  She threw the book across the room as she screamed in fright.  We loved that. Her favorite book for the longest time was Pippi Longstocking.  My husband actually hid it.  Many years later, when she was in college, we were cleaning bookshelves, my daughter found the book.  She knew instantly that he had hid it, as it was very high on a shelf.

In fact, in seventh grade, when the English teacher started a reading contest, my daughter blew everyone away.   I don’t remember how many books she read, but her list was extensive.  The teacher even called me into the room to make sure my daughter was really reading that much.   I realized she was not even telling the teacher about all the books she read!

My son was not as avid a reader as my daughter.  He has some dyslexia.  However, he also loved reading from my collection.  He loved the stories about the Spot and Puff.  He moved on slowly to riddle and joke books, then to the Bailey School Kids books. He loved these. His memorable moment was actually meeting the co-author Debbie Dadey and having books signed by her.

He moved on to more ‘boy’ books with time.  Animorphs were a favorite. But then he focused on graphic novels: manga.  The middle school librarian told me of his love, because, of course I volunteered in the school library.  As I re-stacked the books, I also read.  One day she informed me that I had to buy him some manga, as the school library was not carrying that many then.  I am sure there are many more now than in the early 2000s.

I am so glad that my Mom was a teacher.  Her love of books and learning, led to my love of books and learning.  I am glad I was able to pass this joy on to my children.  And whenever I want a little time reminiscing about my Mom, I just pull out a reader, settle into a chair and read.

Your Heart Just Gets Larger

26 Jan

Recently my cousin uncovered a photo, I had never seen before. When my Grandma Esther died, my Dad and his siblings divided up the family photos.  My cousin is now investigating the ones in her Dad and Mom’s album. This photo actually had something written on the back of it.  And I am the one with the story, because of my story.


When I married, I never expected infertility. I was in love, we were healthy, there were no problems. So when decided to get pregnant, I was devastated when we seemed unable to have children.

After the first year , I was sent on to a specialist and started on years of tests, surgeries and medical treatments.  Throughout this all, I had one major supporter, my Grandma Esther.  In her late 80s, Grandma was not one to let me give up. During a time when long distance phone calls cost extra before 11 pm, Grandma became my late night phone call.

I lived in Kansas, so when my phone rang after 10 pm, I knew it was an East Coast call. If it was not my parents, it was Grandma Esther with advise!  Her first calls were to tell me that she also had problems when she first tried to have children. She told me to stop stressing and go to the ocean. She and grandpa went to the ocean and she got pregnant with my uncle.

Well, I could not go to the ocean from Kansas. But I felt the love. Over the next few years Grandma’s phone calls came with more involved medical advise. I could see in my mind’s eye, multitudes of grandmas sitting around and coming up with cures.

Eventually I did have a healthy baby girl. My Grandma was so excited. At age 88, she flew to Kansas to be here for my daughter’s naming. Grandma’s advise did not end. Having nursed three infants, she was an expert. She announced one day that I was doing it all wrong. “If you are going to nurse, you need to do it the right way,” she said. With in minutes she had placed cushions and a footstool around me, and nursing became so much easier.

I wish I could say that was the end of my struggles, but it was not. I was unable to have another pregnancy. But I was not done with motherhood. My husband and I turned to adoption.

It was not easy. We had two strikes against us. One, we already had one child. Two, we were Jewish. Agencies in Kansas were basically religion based. We were told we could register, but when a better qualified (Christian) family came, we would be put to the back of the line.  We tried private adoption. But two weeks before the baby was born, the mom changed her mind. Again difficult.

Finally we found the Adam’s Center, a local agency that helped Jewish families.  No longer in existence, it helped about three dozen families adopt babies. Not all were Jewish.  We were one of the fortunate ones, and our son arrived.

My Dad was a bit nervous about this. On his way home from a business trip in California, he stopped in Kansas to meet his newest grandson. My sister called in advance, “Dad is nervous that he won’t love him the same.”

No worries. Dad arrived. I put the baby in his arms. My Dad looked up and said, “how could you not love that punim, that face.”  And then he told me, “With each child and grandchild, you do not split the love you have. No your heart just gets bigger and bigger.”  My parents had big hearts.

Dad was still nervous about how his mother, my Grandma Esther, would react. As far as he knew, there had never been an adoption in the family. How little he knew.

Grandma was now 92.  She did not fly out, but she called. She was so happy and told me the story of her cousin, Messuganah Esther.  She told me  in the old days, early 1900s, people, who had no children,  often adopted orphan children. Most of the time they were related. But sometimes, they were the children of friends. I must say that orphan sometimes just meant one parent had died.

In any case, my Great Grandmother Ray, had a sister, Chamka.  When Chamka finally made it out of the Bialystok region to join her siblings in the USA, she was a widow with three young children. And she was pregnant.  What was she to do?  Her sister Sarah had no children. and Sarah had a good job and could support a child.  So when Chamka gave birth, the daughter Esther, was given to Sarah to raise. Because so many girls were named Esther, she received the nickname, Meshugganah Esther. (See previous blog, Too Many Esthers.)

The photo is touching. It shows Chamka (Champy) holding Meshugganah Esther’s daughter, Lenore.  And it tells part of the story on the back.


Needless to say, when I brought my son back East for the first time, my Grandma Esther showered him with the same love she gave every great grandchild. She had a handmade afghan waiting for him as she did for all 18 of her great grandchildren. Because in my family, with every child, grandchild and great grandchild, you do not divide your love, your heart only gets larger and able to hold more love.

The Purloined Blankets: A Winter’s Tale

30 Dec
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Blue purloined blanket and plaid purchased blanket.

With the bitter cold weather, I am thinking about my Dad and one of his lessons to me.

Always keep a blanket in the car during the winter months, especially when driving long distances.  His insistence about blankets used to drive me crazy.

My parents would come to Kansas to visit and not understand the Kansas winter mentality. Many people here do not wear winter coats most of the time.  Since we have a ‘drive up to where you are going attitude’ in the suburbs.  We really do not walk around that much.  We get into our cars and drive to where we are going, then run in.  So why wear a winter coat? A sweater is more than enough. I admit when I was younger, I would do the same thing.  But I always kept my children bundled up.

This attitude sometimes backfires on our children.  My god son went from the Kansas City area to Madison, Wisconsin, for college.  His mom suggested that he take long sleeve shirts and a winter coat up to college with him, his freshman year.  No, he did not want any of that.  Then came Thanksgiving break.  His main request was a hat with ear flaps.  He was so cold walking across campus.  Winter coat, gloves, scarf and long sleeve shirts returned with him to Madison.

My daughter went to college in New Jersey.  She also was impacted by winter in this unexpected manner. Walking across campuses really is different than Kansas ‘run in and run out.’  Her request that first winter was a coat that covered her tush. I quickly agreed to that request.

But back to my Dad.  When my family was young, we often drove to and from St. Louis in the winter months.  My husband’s family lived there. It made my parents nervous.  So they purchased a plaid blanket for my car in case the car broke down.  Having a blanket in the car was their idea of safety against the cold of winter.

He also purchased a car emergency kit for me that had a first kit, jumper cables and a flash light. Even though that kit is long gone, I have made sure we always had one in every car. That makes sense to me. So I never argued about that.

It was the blankets in the car that really drove him crazy. He wanted me to have a blanket for each person in the car. What would happen if we were stuck? We needed a way to keep warm. His passion became stronger after the time my husband, children and I got stuck in a snow storm on the way back from St. Louis.  But we spent the night in Columbia…at a hotel… I told him.   It did not matter.  He was now truly concerned. I  needed blankets,  now!

Dad did buy me another blanket.  But I have to admit, even though he was an honorable, kind and gentle man, my Dad had one flaw that I hesitate to tell you about. But I will.  He was a bit of a goniff, a thief!  He stole the blue blankets from airlines. Do you remember them?  We used to get one each time we flew…not any more.  But years ago, they always had a blanket and pillow on every seat. (His favorite airline blanket….Continental.  The airline no longer exists, except for the many blue blankets in my life.)

Dad would not use his.  He would bring in to my house still wrapped in its plastic bag. It made me crazy. When he flew to visit in the winter time, he often would come off the plane with a blanket. When he got to my house, he would pull it out of his carryon bag and quietly place it in my car.  I soon had a collection of blue blankets. During the winter, I kept a canvas bag filled with blankets in my car in case of emergency. Some purchased, some purloined.

We had disagreement after disagreement as the blue blankets continued to enter my home.  Finally my Mom had enough.  “Don’t tell him not to bring you the blankets.  The more you complain, the more he does it,” Mom demanded.  She was right, once I stopped yelling at him and arguing, he stopped taking the blankets off the planes.

Dad passed away in 2011.  I no longer worry about the blankets in the car.  Or so I thought.

My son’s girlfriend lives over an hour away. They drive back and forth every weekend. One coming here, or one going there.  It is so cold today and she has to drive home, so I asked, “Do you have a blanket in your car?” The answer, “NO.”

Oy,  I feel my Dad’s spirit rising up in me!

The plaid blanket my Dad purchased for me over 30 years ago is going into my son’s girlfriend’s car. My son will get the canvas bag filled with purloined blankets.  When it is this cold, you do need a blanket in your car for long distance travel!

As we enter the new year, I realized more and more that we do become our parents. My sister also has our Dad’s safety gene. She gave me a Vera Bradley blanket that folds into a pillow for Hanukkah. It is my new car blanket.

Wishing everyone a safe, warm, and happy memory filled year!

Girl Scouts Should Not Be Banned

3 May

I feel a need to speak out against the banning of Girl Scouts by Diocese of Kansas City, Kansas (KCK). Why me?  I started my adult  career 37 years ago working for the Girl Scouts in Kansas City, Kansas.  I was one of the women who went out and recruited new leaders for troops; I was a troop leader for Troop 77 in KCK; and I trained new leaders there.

Although 34 years have passed since I actually worked for the Girl Scouts there, I was a volunteer for many years after my daughter was born. I was Vice President of what was the Santa Fe Trail Council of Girl Scouts headquarters in KCK before this Council merged into a larger Council   based in Kansas City, Missouri.

I am well aware of the low income areas of KCK.  And I have to say what a mistake it is to sever ties with the Girl Scouts. Many households in KCK live in poverty. Girl Scouts (and Boy Scouts) provide a way for these young women to learn about the world outside of their difficult life. As new immigrants moved into the area, it was Girl Scouts troops that helped the girls acclimate to living in the US. And it helped the parents as well.

Girl Scouts of the USA is a secular organization. It does support organizations that in turn support women and women’s rights.  But those that are affiliated with a religious organization have always been able to decide what they want to do in terms of national activities.  So if the troop leaders do not want to participate in a March for Women, the troop does not need to march!

Severing ties with Girl Scouts will be a detriment for the girls of KCK. It will cut girls off from a sisterhood of  women throughout the country and the world.

I have been a Girl Scout, a Girl Scout Leader, a Girl Scout staff member, a Girl Scout board member, the mother of a Girl Scout and a Girl Scout Volunteer. I am a Girl Scout life member. I was trained to be a Trainer of Trainers at the Girl Scout Edith Macy Conference Center in New York. The trainings and relationships I made through Girl Scouts impacted my life.

I hope this decision is reconsidered. Banning Girl Scouts is a mistake.

 

http://www.kansascity.com/living/religion/article147857619.html

 

Costume Characters Just Made My Children Crazed

20 Apr

I know that people have the best times taking photos of their children with big costumed characters.   Not just the Easter bunny or Santa Claus, but also characters like clowns or at Disneyland and Universal Studios. This did not go over well in my family for several reasons.

First, since we are Jewish, I never took my children to have a photo with Santa or the Easter bunny. But that does not mean that we did not have encounters that shook us to the foundation. Second my daughter, and then my son, were petrified of costumed characters. Just seeing their oversized heads could start a squall! Finally, both of my children were shy.

When my daughter was three, we were walking though a mall’s lower level, a few days before Easter. Along came the Easter bunny and his helper. My daughter was the only child around, so the Easter bunny decided to walked over to say hello. Ad my daughter looked up, I noticed you could see a man’s face through the mouth in the costume.  I had a bad feeling.

My daughter started screaming, “The Easter Bunny ate someone!” Full out screaming. Needless to say the Easter bunny ran away as quick as he could, while I was left with a screaming traumatized child. True story. 28 years later. I still can hear her screams in my memory.

When she was young my daughter had panic attacks whenever she saw a clown. This was unfortunate, as her great-great Uncle Mike worked hard to make her a beautiful ceramic clown. It was lovely and colorful. However, she would not sleep at night with the clown in the room. I had to put it away, in another room. Eventually, the fear abated. But when she was small, clowns were an emphatic NO.

Our Santa experience was less stressful in some ways, but more in others. We have all seen and spoken to the many Santa’s who collect money for the Salvation Army.   We always put money into their collection pails whenever we could. And at first this created no problems. As long as they did not speak to her we were fine.  She would shyly walk up and drop the donation in the slot.

But when she was about six, she had an epiphany. “Mom,” she asked as we drove away from the mall, “How can there be so many Santas in one place?”

I was not thinking. I just told the truth. “Honey, there really is no such thing as Santa. He is a made up character. “ I immediately knew I had made a mistake. Her best friend was Greek Orthodox. Her quick response was, “I have to tell my friend.” That would not be good! OY! Dilemma of high magnitude!

Quickly I came up with an answer. “Wait. Not all Santa Claus’ are fakes. These are really Santa’s helpers. The real Santa Claus cannot do everything. So he has helpers.” Whew….that seemed to help. And I hope she never said anything.

With my son, I was no longer surprised by any fears.  I just avoided the malls during the heavy holiday season. Or at least I did not take my son there. But then came an experience I did not expect. When my daughter was 5 and my son was one, we went to Disney World. My parents came along. I expected a fun-filled adventure. But no!

I had booked a special Goofy breakfast with some of the Disney characters. But it did not go as planned. My son was petrified of all the big characters: No Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, or Donald for him. They could not come near him without screaming emanating from his little body.

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A breakthrough! My son allows the Dream Finder a high five as my daughter looks on.

We had a minor miracle in Epcot with Figment and the Dream Finder, when my son was three. Thank goodness the Dream Finder looked like a real person, without a big head. Figment, of course, was cute and adorable. My son and daughter came home with their own Figment plush toys.

But the fear does eventually end. Years later we went to Disney World again. My children were older and ready to meet all the characters. My son even got an autograph book for all the characters to sign. We still have it. He ran up to the characters and led the way to the autograph areas. I am glad the childhood fears are gone.