The Shoah Impacts My DNA Relatives

24 Apr

Today I went on my 23 and Me account to access some information.  I manage both my account and that of my now deceased father, since I am the one who had him provide a sample about six months before he passed away.  I am so glad I did that.  It has provided me with my father’s Y chromosome information, which I otherwise would not have had.

I have over 1100 relatives on 23 and Me.  Most are third or distant cousins.  But today I had a revelation.  An unhappy one I must say.  There are 49 pages of relatives.  I just started scanning them.  And page after page after page, I kept seeing the same words, “on your father’s side,” after every entry.  Over and over again, not a single relative from my mother’s side. NO close relatives.  No distant relatives.

I started to cry.

Then I finally found ONE.  One distant relative. One.  I know that there were cousins who survived the Shoah. Not many.  And there were a few relatives already here in the USA. But I guess they are not on 23 and Me.  But in reality, most of my mother’s relatives perished.  She had one aunt and two uncles who survived. But among them, they only had two living children.  I know them well.   They also had descendants, I am happy to report.  Some live here in the USA, others in Israel.

But all those distant relatives are GONE.  Those distant relatives who share bits of my Dad’s and my DNA are welcome. But the missing ones from my mother’s side are so obviously a result of the Shoah that it reminds me of the horror of the loss.  I should have an equal number of distant relatives from my mother.  Instead of 1100 people, there should be 2200 people who share a bit of my DNA.

I am feeling a sense of loss I have not felt before.  Maybe because I am working on an article about my grandparents’ survival story.  So I am already feeling the dread of reliving their sorrow over their family’s loss.  But this was a blatant reminder that my family really is not like every other.

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.

img_7231

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.

img_7223

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.

Savannah Sojourn Is for History Lovers

19 Apr

For our 38th anniversary we went to Savannah, Georgia.  I have been wanting to visit Savannah for our entire married life because my first job out of graduate school was for a local Girl Scout Council.  And all Girl Scouts know that the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was from Savannah.

It exceeded my expectations.  I want to go back!

img_6606

Juliette Gordon Low house.

On our first day,  I did go to the Juliette Low Gordon house.  I saw the rooms she walked in.  I saw ceramics and paintings she had created.  I walked in the garden with my husband.  Yes, I did buy something at the gift shop.  I had to.   Later we went to the Andrew Low house, where she spent her adulthood and passed away.  Unfortunately, we were too late to get on a tour.  But we did walk over the first Girl Scout headquarters, which is just beyond the gardens.  While there, a purchase of Girl Scout cookies was made.

But Savannah is not only for Girl Scout fans.  There was so much else to see.  So many lovely old homes from the early 1800s. Due to a group of women who started saving these homes in the 1960s, Savannah was saved from being a faceless and bland city to one that kept its local charm and ambiance.

I loved those restored homes.  We went on an architecture walking tour of the historic area, seeing many houses from the outside.  The next day, we visited three homes that were designed by William Jay in the 1820s: Owens-Thomas House, a home museum;  the Telfair Academy Art Museum which was once the home of Mary Telfair; and Scarborough House, built for the owner of the Savannah steamship.  This home is now the setting for the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. This museum is packed with wonderful models of sailing ships.  But the history of the building is also unique, it was once a school during segregation.

img_6856

Inside the Owens-Thomas house.  There is actually a bridge on the second floor connecting the two sides.

At each home I learned a bit more about William Jay, the architect, and even more about the economic slump of the 1820s that led to most of the original homeowners losing all their money and their homes, soon after they moved in.  These homes passed to other families and some fell into disrepair. Thank goodness for the Historical Society and the ladies that saved them!

img_6664

We walked the paths in Colonial Park Cemetery, reading the markers that told of the famous and infamous people who were buried there.  The saddest were the number of children who perished.  So many died in the epidemics of Yellow Fever that swept through Savannah several times.

I loved walking through the historic district and visiting every one of the 22 squares that still exists.  Yes, we went to every single one.  Each square has its own personality, some with a statue and a historic marker telling about that area.  I loved it.  I took photos of almost every marker.

We also meandered along the river and walked in and out of candy stores and gift shops.   The many diverse restaurants served the most delicious foods. My favorite was Elizabeth’s on 37th Street.  We ate in two different restaurants each day, some fancy, others just fun. Some we enjoyed were: the Funky Brunch Café;  Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern, near the river; The Lady and Sons Restaurant, surprising delicious; and Lulu’s Chocolate Bar.  I was surprised that I did not gain an ounce. But then we did walk 4 to 6 miles most days.

We also learned how Prohibition impacted Savannah!  It seems that lots of booze smuggling and speakeasy joints were part of the riverfront during the 1920s. A visit to the American Prohibition Museum is a must.  And yes get a drink at the end in the speakeasy.  You do not have to have an alcoholic drink…but my husband loved his.  I went for an original lemon soda mixed from scratch!

 

I found the history of the city is intriguing.  But for me, the Jewish history was amazing. Who knew that just a few months after the first settlers arrived, a group of 42 Jewish settlers arrived in 1733 bringing a Torah and starting a Jewish community in Savannah that survives today! This group of Sephardic Jews had been forced to leave Spain and settled in England just a decade or so earlier.  They then traveled to the unknown on their search for religious freedom.  WOW!

img_6638

Built in the late 1870s, this building has always been a synagogue: Mikve Israel.

We went to visit the current synagogue building in the historic district:  Temple Mikve Israel.  Built in the late 1870s, the building is still used as by a congregation.  It contains a small museum and you can visit the chapel area.  But when we were there it was undergoing renovations, so we could not enter.

img_6629

The Torah brought to Savannah in 1733, written on parchment made from deer hide.

We got to see one of the oldest Torah’s in the USA. The one that was brought here from England in the 1700s.  It is written on deer skin.  For me this was a thrill to see that a strong Jewish community still exists and has been a part of the Savannah community for 285 years.

I did not see all that I wanted to see in Savannah.   I loved staying in the Marshall House, with its evening wine and cheese, speakers and musicians, and wonderful staff.  But next time I want to stay in a bed and breakfast.  I have the spot picked out.   I could spend another five days in Savannah eating, walking and visiting museums.  I love learning about history and walking through Savannah is a living history lesson!

 

Grandma’s Depression Glass Dishes Brighten My Seder

2 Apr
img_6934

Depression Glass Dishes

Each year as I set my seder table, I cannot help but think about my Grandma Thelma, who died in 1981. Grandma had a collection of amber depression glass in the Patrician Spoke pattern.  It was not a complete set, but there were about 30 pieces: luncheon plates, serving dishes, a few cups and saucers and a creamer and bottom of a sugar bowl.The dishes were in our bungalow in the Catskills. After I married, in 1980, I claimed them.   I knew that they would be perfect for Passover.  Over the years I have purchased many pieces.  I now have a complete service for 18: dinner plates, soup bowls, small bowls, small dishes (bread and butter I think), luncheon plates, five serving pieces; two sets of creamer and sugar bowls; and the original cups and saucers from Grandma.

Depression glass was manufactured in the 1920s and 1930s.  It was often given away for free as part of a food promotion or to bring customers into a store.  I wonder if my Grandma had so much of it because my grandparents owned a bakery in West New York, New Jersey, that also sold some groceries.  This might have made it easy for her to collect the pieces she liked.

In fact, a cousin of my husband’s also has a collection of depression glass from her grandmother (my husband’s aunt).  Aunt Jean and Uncle Dave owned a grocery store in St. Joseph, Missouri. In my mind, I believe this clear glass set also came as giveaways that Aunt Jean was able to select and keep. Now her granddaughter is enjoying her dishes, as I enjoy my grandmother’s set.

Their patterns are very different. But that makes sense.  Over 100 different patterns were made in many colors, mainly clear, green, pale blue, amber and pink.  Although other colors like red and white were also manufactured.  Wikipedia states that most manufacturers were located in the Ohio River Valley. The website lists all of them and which patterns they produced.  My dishes were made by the Federal Glass Company

I have a few other pieces of depression glass.  In my years of searching for my patterns, I sometimes found a piece that just delighted me.  I have a cake plate in Madrid, pink, as well as a creamer.  It’s matching sugar bowl was destroyed years ago in a conflict with one of my cats.  That is the biggest problem with depression glass, it does break.  I do use them for my seder as well.

For my seder I use the dishes in my way.  The creamer and sugar bowls are filled with charoset.  The cereal bowls have become my soup bowls.  The bread and butter plates become small seder plates for each guest.  I use the small dessert bowls for an egg dish that starts my seder.

img_6946

My Rueven Glass pitcher, glasses and my parent’s seder plate.

But it is not only Depression glass that I place on my seder table.  I also have several pieces in the style of Rueven glass that were my parents. Some are originals, as he works in New Jersey, where my parents lived.   My art glass wine glasses, matzah plate and  water pitcher brighten my table.

img_6948

Miriam glass and Elijah’s glass

From my husband’s parents we have Murano glass kiddish cups that we use for Elijah’s glass and Miriam’s glass.  My in-laws purchased these when they were in Italy over 40 years ago.  I ended up with three in different sizes.

My Lenox seder plate was my parents.  They presented it to me over 30 years ago, as they came to me for Pesach, always arriving in time for the second seder.  They purchased an identical one for my sister, because they spent first seder with her.

Seeing these glass items on my table reminds me of our parents, my grandparents and the many wonderful seder memories from years ago.

Adorning my table with items from my grandparents, parents and in-laws brings me joy.  It promises me that traditions can continue.

The Art of Kintsugi is Changing How I View The River of My Life

12 Mar

I recently learned about the Japanese way of repairing broken ceramics through a process called kintsugi.  When a beloved pot or plate or mug or bowl or vase breaks, we usually throw it away.  There is not good repair for these items. But the Japanese developed a way to bond them together and make them more beautiful.   After a resin used to bond the broken pieces together and the edges are smoothed, the repair is completed with gold (kintsugi) or silver (gintsugi) painted into the mended areas.  They form golden veins.  This ‘Golden repair” makes the object more beautiful than before.

When I first read about kintsugi, I had one of those moments of epiphany that occurs when two totally different areas of my life combine.   I was going to be facilitating an evening class with my friend.  We had 19 women signed up to do a project called “the River of Life,’ which is part of the Wise Aging program designed by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.

My friend and I participated in a two-day workshop to become instructors several years ago.  We had taught a full class on the topic of Wise Aging, but this was our first class in a while.  We were only going to touch on this one area where participants look back through their life, remembering the stories that were important to them, while seeing the threads and trends that impacted how they journeyed through life.

Sometimes people have a difficult time looking back on their lives. Events occurred that bring them distress because they have been unable to overcome the emotions that those memories bring to them.  They cannot get past and cannot move forward.  They see this as a broken thread; an unresolved flaw in their river.

img_6566

Although not Kintsugi, the turquoise embedded in the bowl’s cracks and flaws makes it more beautiful

It was while I was preparing for this class that I was reading a book for my job called, “The Growth Mindset Playbook, A Teacher’s Guide to Promoting Student Success.”  In Chapter 5, subtitled as “Failure As A path to Success,” the authors ended the chapter with information about kintsugi. In the book the authors wrote, “These restorations are not seen as a flaw in the piece, but as part of its history and something that makes it uniquely beautiful, and more interesting and valuable than before.”

YES!  The journeys we take in our lives are like the rivers with bends and falls and excitement, thrilling moments followed by peaceful floats.  Events occur that we cannot control.  We can only control our reactions to these events.  We have some control of the boat and the steering, but oftentimes events shatter our world.  We feel broken.  But we, like items repaired through kintsugi, are actually more beautiful and interesting because of our experiences.  We learn through each event we see and experience.  We become wiser and we can provide so much guidance.

Through failure we learn.   But is it really failure?  I think not.  Each episode or event in our life enriches our understanding of ourselves and of others. Empathy and compassion for others is increased when we can see the world in their place.

I am feel emotional attachment to those who suffer from infertility, because I too suffered though this.  I also underwent procedures and surgeries in an effort to have a family.  I feel what they feel.  But the golden veins of repair have helped me be a compassionate friend.

I saw kintsugi as the perfect way to explain this philosophy to the class.

The important aim, for me, is to always keep positive.  I want to see my life’s journey completed by golden and silver streams of repairs. Each one making me stronger and more lovely.  My outlook on the world might be different then before I needed the repair. When I look back at my life I want no regrets.  I want to believe that all that happened made me stronger, just as the repairs increase the strength of the broken ceramics

I believe, like kintsugi, each of our journeys through the river of our lives is uniquely beautiful.  It just takes us opening our eyes and seeing the best and not focusing on the hardships that will get us through.

In Honor of Our Children: Working For Safer Gun Laws Is My Personal Plan For Respecting Life

24 Feb

February 27 would have been my Mom’s birthday.  I have thinking about her so much since the latest school shooting. My Mom taught school for 30 years. Most of the time she taught fourth grade. There are some families for whom she taught multiple generations of children.

I also work in a school. It focuses on helping students who do not learn well in a traditional school setting. We have children who have anxiety disorders, ADD/ADHD, extremely brilliant children, bullied children, those on the autism spectrum, gay children, transgender children, depressed children, all special, all worthy and all needing an extra boost.  And I wonder how we will continue to keep all children safe from the outrageous behavior coming from the adults in our country.

I have been wondering what my Mom would think of all this gun violence and what she would do if she was still alive. Our family nickname for my Mom was ‘Norma Rae.’ This was based on the Sally Field character in the movie of the same name. Norma Rae had enough at her job and becomes a labor activist. She makes a difference.

My Mom might not have been a labor activist, but she never stayed quiet if she saw a wrong. She also made a difference. She taught me to speak up and speak out!  Maybe it is because she knew the tragedy of mass murder, since two of her grandparents and many family members were murdered in the Shoah. Or maybe it was because she learned from example. Her parents were strong willed people who came to the USA on their own in the 1920s with nothing, and built a business, a life and a family.

I believe my Mom would not have remained silent right now. So to those who have asked me who I am working for politically. I am not working for anyone. Rather I am working for every child who goes to school. I will keep calling my legislators. I will keep supporting organizations that combat gun violence. I will keep posting about topics that upset me, that I think are wrong. And I will not remain silent.

Dante wrote in his famous poem, “The Infernal,” that the hottest place in hell is for those who remain silent in times of moral crisis.  I will not remain silent. I feel my Mom with me and I feel her fire and passion for her students.

We really need to keep our children safe and let them know they are loved, special, unique and worthy.  How do we do that?

First there are about 5,000,000 members of the NRA. But there are over 325,000,000 citizens of the USA! Easy to see that 320,000,000 Do Not belong to the NRA. The NRA uses its money to buy our legislators by lobbying and giving them so much money for their campaigns.

We, the people, need to STOP this NOW!

1. Do not buy from companies that support the NRA. A boycott has started, and I will support it.

2. Give money to legislators who promise to fight for safe gun laws and the banning of assault weapons and items that boost these weapons to more dangerous levels.  I plan to continue to do this.

3. Let us work to get a ban on ammunition used in these killing guns.

4. Do Not vote for elected officials on any level of government who is financially indebted to the NRA.

5. Reject the NRA’s messages of hatred and divisiveness. I do not dislike people who own guns. I just dislike certain types of guns.

6. We have to put our money where our heart is and use it effectively. I am for a buy back of all assault weapons. I understand they cost about $600. I will give $1800 to buy back three. This amount calls out to me because 18 is the numerical value of the Hebrew word chai, life. I would give a hundred times life to save one life.

7. Let us insist they tighten the laws surrounding gun sales and the raffling off of guns as fundraisers. People should not be allowed to buy guns at gun shows and privately without background checks.

8. Tighten the laws surrounding background checks. We see they are failing us right now.

9. Increase funding for mental health care. Our government is supporting a cut to health care for all. The only industrialized nation that dies not provide health care for its citizens!  Let us work to change this.

10.  Keep calling and writing my elected officials to express my views on gun control laws and health care laws.

11. Support an organization that works to counter gun violence, like Grandparents Against Gun Violence, https://moksgagv.org, Gabby Giffords group Americans For Responsible Solutions https://giffords.org, Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence http://www.bradycampaign.org.

12. Be KIND!  There is too much divisiveness and hateful speech right now.  Use your words for good.

I will be wearing this pin that says Chai to remind myself to work for life.

Working for safer gun laws is my personal plan to respect life.

My Dad Created My Snapple Addiction

13 Feb

I realized on a recent trip to Mexico how deeply I am addicted to Diet Peach Snapple.  I had accepted the fact that I would be without it for eight days and was in day five when I made a discovery: the resort’s small grocery store carried Snapple; however there was no peach!

img_6137

My Mexican Snapple!

When I went back the next day to check, there it was: Diet Peach Snapple. I purchased a bottle. I was so happy I even took a photo of it, and it’s Spanish label. My last few days in Mexico were a bit more joyful with my favorite drink.

My Snapple addiction comes from my Dad.  I think he started drinking Diet Snapple Peach Ice Tea from its beginning.  The company that concocted Snapple teas was founded in 1972 in Valley Stream, Long Island, New York as a juice company.  It was not until 1987 that they started producing tea, starting with lemon (Wikipedia).

I do not know when exactly they started making peach ice tea, but I do know that around 1993 my Dad was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  At that point he needed to find a new drink, and he found it in Diet Snapple Peach Ice Tea.  He drank it constantly.  Whenever I went back East to visit, it became my drink of choice as well.  A cold ice tea in the summer was wonderful.  In fact, a cold ice tea anytime of the year is great for me.

Since my parents came to visit me in Kansas twice each year,  and since I am a devoted daughter and hostess, I wanted to buy the tea my Dad loved when he came here. But it was impossible to find. None of the grocery stores carried it.  I went to the Snapple website to see if there was anywhere in Kansas City area where I could find it.

Nowhere! I sent them a message asking if they could sell it here.  The response, ask my grocery store to carry it.  I started a campaign.  First, I went to my two favorite grocery stores and asked them to carry it.  Then I started talking to other transplanted New York City area people about Snapple.  Since they also missed it, they started asking their grocery stores as well.

Soon I was able to find the two-liter bottles of Snapple.  But that was not enough!  We needed the individual serving that we could carry around. Back East I could find Snapple in many different size bottles. That is what I wanted in the Kansas City area.

img_6209

All sizes of Snapple are available.

And it worked.  There is Snapple Ice Tea everywhere now.  Of course, the small company was purchased by a much bigger company with nationwide and international distribution, which also probably helped as well.

Whenever my parents came, I could now provide a good supply of Dad’s favorite drink.

img_6212

Trivia I had not seen before!

Of course, it wasn’t just the drink my Dad loved.  He also loved the bits of trivial that were always under the lid of the drinks.  Some of them, I have seen them so many times, I think I have them memorized. Recently however, I had one that was new to me!  That was exciting.

Just over six years ago, my Dad passed away.  When my Dad was in the hospital before he passed, I purchased and brought him Snapple every time I visited.  Sometimes I could not find Diet Peach. It is often difficult to find.  It must be everyone’s favorite.  I wish I could say the Snapple nursed him back to health, but it was not to be.

img_3253

My love for Diet Peach Snapple lives on.  I cannot drink a Snapple without thinking of my Dad.  Every year on Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, I go to the local Korean War Memorial.  I bring a Snapple and a few roses from my garden to place on the stone I had donated in honor of my Dad.  I leave the flowers, I take the bottle with me.

Do I love the drink, or do I love the memory of my Dad?  I am not sure.  All I know is that when I drink a Diet Peach Snapple, I am happy.