Tag Archives: helping others

Giving Tzedekah is Entwined In The Essence of My Soul

22 Dec

For the past week I have been writing checks. It is the time of year when every charity I have ever donated to sends me reminders. Many of them I give to throughout the year. But at the end of the year, as much as my husband and I are able, I give more: to Harvesters, the food bank; to domestic violence shelter, to organizations that help children; to Jewish charities, to schools. The list goes on and on.

I was taught that you have to give to others. Not just money but time. Volunteering is an important part of my life. In the years when I was not working, I volunteered so much that it seemed I had several jobs. Yes I do have favorite organizations I for which I do most of my volunteering. But there are many that I do one-time events when asked by friends.

My favorite volunteer job is chairing a scholarship committee for the Greater Kansas City Section of National Council of Jewish Women. I became a member of NCJW because of scholarship, and I recently realized that I have been on this committee for almost 30 years. WOW.

As chair, I keep my committee going. Our numbers had fallen. But over the past three years, I have been able to have six or seven new members join. And this past year, I have gone after even younger women. We need continuity. Keeping the scholarship committee alive and well is important to me.

Each year we provide college scholarships for almost 30 students. They come to us first as high school seniors. And if they get our scholarship, they can continue it for all four years of college as long as their grades are relatively good and they still have financial need.

Over the years we have provided many scholarships for students who are the first in their family to go to college. And many have had hardships that make the committee members want to cry. As chair I am fortunate to read all the thank you notes that they send. And see the difference we have made in the lives of these students.

I often wondered when did the importance of volunteering and helping others first become so important to me? I honestly cannot remember a time when I was not involved in something. In high school I was a Candy Striper, a hospital volunteer. In college, I chaired and served on many committees to help others, including the first ever Orientation Committee.

Even my jobs have focused on not for profit work. It is in the essence of my soul.

My father was the president of his synagogue for 11 years. I think this has to be a record! My parents helped people and taught us to care for others. It was important to them that we had a ‘gutah neshama,” a good soul. It was important to be a mensch.

A favorite saying of my Dad’s was “You have to be able to get up in the morning at look at yourself in the mirror, and like what you see.”

Giving to others; understanding Tzedakah, righteousness, was important.

My Grandparents in the Catskills in July  around 1954. It was my Grandma's birthday.

My Grandparents in the Catskills in July around 1954. It was my Grandma’s birthday.

Today I received an email that shook me up in a way and made me realize that the need to do tzedakah came not just from my parents, but also my grandparents.

Through this blog I am in contact with several people who I knew as a child in the Catskills. Several have reached out to me over the year and asked if I remember certain people or places. One reached out to me in the past week. It is someone we knew not only in the Catskills, but in New Jersey as well. His mother is still alive. And he sent me this message:

“…she (his mother) was always grateful to your grandfather for helping my parents out when my brother and I were babies:  Even though the rent on the bungalow was ridiculously cheap, my parents were broke and Mr. Amsterdam (as she still calls him) let my parents pay out the summer rent through the entire winter a little bit at  a time. Otherwise we would have been stuck in steamy Hudson County.“

I have to be honest, I cried.   My grandparents were very quiet people. But I already knew that during the Great Depression, they allowed many people to buy groceries and bread from their bakery on credit, even though they knew they would not be paid. My Mom told us the story of people coming back years later to pay their debts.

But I never knew that they had allowed people to pay off the summer rent during the year. This was a major mitzvah. The cities in the early 1950s were not safe for children in the summer time; it was the season of polio.

I always knew my grandparents were righteous people.   And I know now that giving tzedekah is entwined in the essence my soul from my parents and my grandparents.

The Moves of Summer Result in New Beginnings

23 Sep

With the arrival of autumn, I look back on a hectic summer. Four members of the next generation of my family moved this summer, while at the same time my siblings and I did the final cleaning of the Catskill home that once belonged to our grandparents and parents. It was a summer of change.

One nephew spent the summer in Tulsa, Oklahoma, training for the “Teach for America” program. After traveling from New Jersey, he meet up with 100s of other college graduates to begin this adventure in Oklahoma. On his way back to Indiana, where he is teaching, he and a friend stopped overnight at my home in Kansas.

He wanted to see his cousins, especially my daughter, who lives in Israel and was visiting. We had a great time. His presence helped my daughter as she frantically packed, and he quietly played the guitar.

But in the morning, before he and his friend left, there was a slight issue. Would they be able to fit everything back in the car? And still have room for two 6’3” young men. Before they left Tulsa, they had just thrown everything in. Now it needed to be a bit more organized.

My nephew's car before he left for Indiana.

My nephew’s car before he left for Indiana.

 

That was my job, and I was happy to help. My family would tell you that I am a bit OCD about having things fit in place. I have a map in my brain that cannot be stopped. Spatial relationships work for me. No one loads my dishwasher, but me. And when I buy groceries, no one puts them away but me. I have a program, a diagram in my mind.

In any case, when they drove off, I will not say with room to spare, because there was none. But they had some legroom.

Next was my daughter, she was flying back to Israel. She had come with two, basically empty suitcases, her carryon packed inside the other, larger bag. She was returning with three, all full. I did not have to help her pack. She has my talent for fitting things in, even more so! I just had to judge weight. I am really good at judging the 50-pound limit.

My daughter's room in the middle of the packing mess.

My daughter’s room in the middle of the packing mess.

Then she was off! When she returned to Israel, she was also moving into a new apartment. Some of the items she took back with her were to decorate her new home.

My other nephew called me a few weeks later, on a Thursday. He lived in Lawrence, Kansas, where he earned a master’s degree in math…with honors.   His request, the movers were coming on Monday morning, and he needed help packing. I was glad to assist. My husband and I drove out to his apartment of three years on Sunday.

“Do you have boxes?” I asked. His entire kitchen needed to be packed. He did not. We left my husband at the apartment while we went off to purchase boxes. On the way we had the following conversation:

“I might have to give some of my clothing away,” he stated disappointedly.

“Why?” I asked.

“Well in the three years I have lived here, I have purchased new clothing, and they don’t all fit into my suitcases,” he replied.

I did not laugh out loud. I kept calm and said, “That is why we buy boxes.”

“You can put clothing in boxes?” He asked.

“Yes, I will show you later.”

And we went into the store and purchased boxes, tape and packing supplies. I had bought lots of bubble wrap and newspapers with me, but I needed a few extra items.

My husband put the boxes together as I packed the kitchen. I had four boxes sitting on the floor as I analyzed where to place what items and how to pack most successfully without breakage. I gave my nephew four Tupperware containers to put in a box. He threw them in. “No,” I cried. “Put one inside the other. They take less space.”

“How do you figure out where to put what?” He asked.

At this point my husband looked up from his e-book and spoke out, “Think of it as a mathematical problem. That is what she is doing.”

One nephew taped boxes after I packed them.

One nephew taped boxes after I packed them.

It helped, that is when my nephew saw a little light in understanding on how to pack.

After I finished the kitchen, and we had packed other items, I had one large box left. “Bring me your clothes now.   Keep them on the hangers,” I told my nephew.

“ON the hanger?” He was stunned. “How will you fit them all in the box?

As I folded the clothes in half and put them in the box, I looked up at him. “Bring me more!”

He was elated. “They compress,” he said. And they do. The clothes compress and they all fit in the box.

“This is great,” he exclaimed.   “I can just hang them up in the closet when I get there.”

I was laughing at loud at this point. I even tried to text my sister, but I was laughing too much to send a coherent sentence.

He came and lived with us for a few days before driving to Florida with a friend. He is going to study for his PhD in math.   Before they left, I analytically loaded his car so everything fit including the two young men. Success.  My organizing talents were coming in to good use!

I left a few days after he left to visit my sister in New Jersey for a week. We went up to our Catskills home and met up with our brother. He had ordered a 20-cubic yard dumpster to be delivered. “We cannot leave till this is filled.” He said.

My brother filling the dumpster.

My brother filling the dumpster.

I thought, “No way.” But we filled it!

We emptied out the basement, garage and attic of all the junk accumulated over 52 year. What amazed me is that we had been slowly cleaning this house out for two years, in bits and pieces. But I never imaged we had that much more that needed to be ousted from the bowels and hiding places. Now the house is ready for life again. We will be spending more time up there. And all the junk is gone; the dumpster was filled!  (Do not worry, anything that can be recycled, will be.  The items that could be used were given away!)

I returned home from New Jersey and New York, to my son’s move. He left his small one bedroom apartment to move in with a college friend. This move was a little smoother. He and his girlfriend had been packing while I was gone. And he was just moving across the parking lot to a two-bedroom place.

Setting up the kitchen in my son's apartment.

Setting up the kitchen in my son’s apartment.

 

My son, three friends and his girlfriend did all the moving. I stayed in the new apartment and put the kitchen together; lined shelves, put away dishes, glassware, utensils and food. Then I loaded books, videos and games into bookcases. I also directed the boys and where to place the furniture. We got it mostly done in about four hours on a Friday. WOW.   His roommate moved in on Sunday. I was exhausted and did not have to help with his move.

Four moves and a house cleansing — sort of like four weddings and a funeral. The moves are all new beginnings for my nephews, son and daughter. Cleaning the house was, in a way, like a funeral. As we cleaned away the items in the attic, basement and garage, we found treasures that brought back wonderful memories. We sat and talked.  My sister, nieces and I shared memories.  My brother said we were doing the harder work, looking at all the memorabilia.

New beginnings for our children and for us as we celebrate a new year with sweetness and joy.

The First Day of School is Exciting, Frightening and a Memory Forever

25 Aug
The 74th Street side of Robert Fulton Elementary School.

The 74th Street side of Robert Fulton Elementary School.

Last week, as I sat on my front stoop waiting for my walking partner, I watched as parents and children walked to school. The start of a new school year always has Moms and Dads walking with their children pass my home to the elementary school two blocks away. I love the first day of school. The children and parents are so excited. Perhaps for different reasons, but excited together. Dads stay home from work for an extra hour or so to be part of the first day rituals. Some moms cry, especially when their first or last child starts kindergarten. It is a glorious day. And this year the weather was perfect!

Whenever I see the start of a new year, I flash back to my older brother’s first day of kindergarten. I cannot help it. It was so traumatic for us all. My Mom had given birth to my younger sister on September 2. My brother and I were in the Catskills while this happened, and then we came back to North Bergen. I think my brother missed the first few days of school as we were with my grandparents.

In any case, he was only four; we had spent about a month away from our Mom; there was a new baby in the house; and now he had to go to kindergarten at Horace Mann Elementary. That first day my parents and I went with him. I still remember his screaming, “Please don’t leave me! I promise to be good! Come back!”

He was at the door of the classroom pounding, trying to get to my Mom, who was hysterical crying. All those hormones and my scared brother made for a very unhappy Mom.   My brother thought that they were trading him in because they had a new baby. It took a while for him to realize he would be coming home every day.

In fact for two weeks, Doris, a childhood friend of my Mom’s, came each morning to our home on Third Avenue to pick my brother up and take him to school with her daughter. And I mean pick him up. At first he fought so much she would carry him screaming out of the house. I never wanted to go to school if it was that bad.

Two years later it was my turn to start kindergarten. I was petrified. But a few days before school started my brother came over to me and whispered in my ear, “School is really not that bad,” he said. “You will be okay.”   And so I went to school without any screaming!

By the time my sister started kindergarten, she was more than ready. I had been playing school with her for years. She was the student and I was the teacher. She would read and write better than most first grade students. I thought I was a great sister because I got her prepared. Although she might tell you that I was a very mean teacher. But I disagree.

I spent my entire school career in one school district, North Bergen, New Jersey. I did change elementary schools when we moved across town. Some teachers I never forgot. I was in Mrs. Wall’s third grade class when President Kennedy was assassinated.   I will never forget that November day or the look on Mrs. Wall’s face when another teacher came in to tell her.

I went from Horace Mann to Robert Fulton in fourth grade. We would be moving in October, but my parents had us start the new school year at Robert Fulton. It seemed like a giant change at the time. I missed my friends. (Our schools went from kindergarten to eighth grade; then a separate high school.) But we were not so far away that I could not visit with them. And once I got to high school, we were reunited.

Most people stayed in one place then. But now it is so different. Families move around much more. Children start in new schools more often now. So the first day of school is a bit more stressful. New home, new city, new school, these can all stress a family and a child

My two children had easy starts to kindergarten. Their elementary school was in the same building as their preschool. So it was just a change in the building’s entrance. By the time my son started kindergarten, I was teaching in the same school, which made his transition even easier. We sometimes saw each other during the day.

Because I still work at a school, the beginning of the school year impacts me. I work throughout the summer on a limited basis. But the week or so before school starts everything amps up. This year my office moved, I got a new computer, so I had lots of changes as well. I felt the excitement I always feel when school starts, with a little extra because of my own changes.

My daughter is now done with school, so she is not impacted by this cycle. However, my son is still in college. I recently helped him move into a new apartment with a friend. He is back in classes now after a summer of just working at his fast food job. And his school cycle continues.

Besides helping my son, I also try to help others. For many the expenses of a new school year are daunting. I volunteered to help for our local National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Kansas City Section’s ‘Back to School Store.’ We provided school supplies and back to school clothing for over two hundred elementary school children. The names were provided to us from outside agencies that knew of children in need. It was a wonderful experience buying school supplies, sorting clothing and then helping children pick out the perfect supplies and clothing.

To be honest, when I helped sort the clothes the week before the event, I saw these bright pink jeans that I thought were a bit too bright. But the little nine-year old girl, I took through the ‘store,’ was in heaven when she saw them. And when they fit, Wow.  She told me that the entire event was like “a wonderful dream.”   It made my day!

It is such a magic time: students going to elementary school, high school and college. So many of my friends were taking their older children to away to college. Many were taking either their oldest or youngest to college for the first time. Others were taking their children for their senior year or graduate school. These children are ready to start a new adventure without the constant presence of their parents.

As the new school year starts, I think it is normal to glance backwards to our own time in school, our children’s time, while at the same time looking to the future. Another year of school impacts us all. I hope, in Kansas, and throughout the nation that spending for schools and children improves this year. And that everyone has a wonderful year free from bullying, able to learn with teachers who care.

And I hope that parents remember, the first day of school is exciting, frightening and a memory forever.

I Am And Always Will Be A Jersey Girl

17 Aug

Lately I have seen lots of little ‘funny’ lists on what makes a woman a Jersey Girl. Some are funny, and some I find somewhat insulting. I hated the television show, “Jersey Shore,” because it showed people from NY/Long Island on the Shore. And people assumed that is what Jersey Girls were like. And it is so NOT true.

So here is my Jersey Girl/Woman list. It is not in any priority order because all of these are Number One to a Jersey Girl!

First Jersey Girls stand up for what is right and for other women. An example from my life:

My niece, who is now in her 30s, played baseball when she was in middle and high school. As the only girl with four brothers, including a twin brother, she never played softball. Instead she was one of the catchers on the elite team that her twin and next older brother played on. She was strong and she was fearless. Even though she was from St. Louis, she had some of the markings of a true Jersey Girl.

One year her team played in a regional competition in Kansas near where I live. I took my daughter to see the team play as much as possible that weekend. But the first game that was played stands out and remains a family legend. My niece was one of only two or three girls playing during that tournament. There were hundreds of teenage boys.

The first time my niece went up to bat, she was hit by a ball thrown by the pitcher. Of course she got to walk. But I was mildly annoyed. The pitcher did not hit any of the preceding batters. The innings went on. And eventually my niece was in the line up to bat again. And yes, she was once again hit by a ball. The only batter to be hit… and twice. I was sitting right behind the catcher. I could see the eyes of the pitcher. I knew he did it on purpose. I was furious!

None of the men said anything. Not the coaches, not the umpire, none of the other players. I stood. I walked to fence behind the catcher right at the field. And I yelled to the pitcher and to the coaches. “ If he hits my niece with a ball again. I am coming on the field. It is Enough!” Those might not have been my exact words. But they got the message. No one throws a ball directly at my niece! My Jersey Girl instinct went into full gear. And I was protecting her. Not something that happens in quiet Kansas so often.

She turned back and smiled at me as she walked to first base. Later she told me it happens all the time. Some boys do not like girls playing baseball. My standing up for her became a beloved family legend.

Second, Jersey Girls do not take fools and stupidity quietly. I recently had to help a nephew buy a car. I will not go into full details. Let’s just say the financial guy at the dealership was not very good and made several errors. I will admit he was young, but that was no excuse. Eventually I had the manager of the dealership called. And we had a little talk.   I explained my point of view and all that had gone wrong. I was angry.   I explain that my next step was Facebook, Internet and letters. And that this had to be fixed now. They had wasted my entire day with their stupidity because they had not checked their facts!

They let my nephew drive his car that evening.   We had to go back the next day to finish up the paperwork, since they had messed it up the first day. When we met with the financial guy again, I asked if he had learned anything from the experience. To be honest, I thought he would say that he would check his facts first. But no, his response surprised even me, “I learned never to cross a woman from New Jersey ever again.”

A good lesson, I am sure.

Third, Jersey Girls are very compassionate and will always help the underdog. We might seem tough on the outside. We might give all the air of confidence and competence, which is true to our nature. But when we see someone hurting. When we see a wrong being committed, we help.

I volunteer for an organization that works to help disadvantaged children and families in our community. This year we had a “Back to School” store where we provided school supplies and clothing for about 200 elementary school children. The day of the event, I was one of the volunteers who took the children around to pick out their supplies and clothes. My first little girl got to pick pink jeans, a pink top and a pink coat. She even got new shoes that had pink and purple stitching on them.

As we walked, holding hands, through the room and picking out her school supplies, she looked up to me and said, “This is Like a Wonderful Dream.”

We made the start of her school year wonderful. And I, the soft-hearted Jersey Girl, melted.

Fourth, we will always help a neighbor in need.   I am so tired of hearing that people in New Jersey are uncaring; that they don’t help people in need; that they could just walk past someone hurting. No, not true!

Years ago, when my daughter was a toddler, I was out on my deck when something unusual happened across the street. My neighbor was collapsed in her driveway, her five-year-old son was next to her, and the police and ambulance were coming down the block. I quickly crossed the street. The Mom was rushed to the hospital. The police locked the doors to the house and gave the young boy to me. I brought him home.

I called the school office, as he was in afternoon kindergarten, to tell what was going on. They gave me his Dad’s work number so I could call him. He was understandably distressed: wife in the hospital, son missing. I reminded him who I was, and that I was going to feed the boy lunch and take him to school, as I felt being with his friends and in his routine would be best.   And I told him how wonderful his son was, as he called 911. I told the school as well, when I walked the boy to the school two blocks away.

I have a special place in my heart for this boy. He is in his 30s now. And his Mom and I stay in touch. We Jersey girls never let a child or neighbor in need go unassisted.

Fifth, a Jersey Girl takes action when others are standing around not sure what to do.   My husband and I went on a cruise around the Greek Islands. When we returned to Greece, it took forever for the luggage to get off the ship. Suddenly a man collapsed. Some people went over, including a doctor.   I asked what was happening. “A diabetic who took his insulin but did not eat.” I could handle that. I reached into my bag and pulled out rice cakes covered in cinnamon and sugar. They melt in your mouth. I brought it over and gave the doctor the bag. “This will work,” he said. I knew it. The man recovered. His wife came to thank me. No problem. I had a diabetic Dad.   I would want someone to help him one day. Taking action is what a Jersey Girl does in times of crisis. We do not panic!

Six, a Jersey Girl is there for her family. (Jersey boys as well.) As my parents used to tell us, “Brothers and Sisters stick together.” To my brother, when we were little, that meant “No one but me can hit my sisters.” But as we got older, we work together as a team, which we did when our parents passed away and in dealing with other family events that were tragic. My siblings and I are a team. And my extended family is always there when we need them or they need us!

Finally, Jersey Girls never forget! Do something good for us, we will remember you with love and return the favor over and over. Do something mean and nasty to us or to someone we love or know, and we will never forget. Do not get on the wrong side of a Jersey Girl.

We Jersey Girls have learned to be strong, to stand up for the rights of others, to protect our families and friends. We take no gruff from people.  We teach our daughters and our sons to be strong, independent, proud and good people.  And we defend ourselves.

We might not be perfect, but as the song says: “Cause nothing matters in the whole wide world, when you are in love with a Jersey Girl.”

 

 

http://www.lyricsfreak.com/b/bruce+springsteen/jersey+girl_10051738.html

Watching Antiques Roadshow Inspired Me to Donate My Great-Grandmother’s Matzah Cover

12 Jun

 

Matzah cover made by my Great Grandmother Chava.

Matzah cover made by my Great Grandmother Chava.

Watching the Antiques Roadshow, a PBS show, is one of my favorite television experiences.   I started watching it with my parents years ago. Whenever they came to visit, this was one of their favorite shows. They got me hooked on it!

I love learning about different items of furniture, jewelry and knick knacks. It is a history lesson along with seeing the beautiful items. But every once in a while, someone brings in a special ephemeral item: photos, letters, a diary. In my opinion, these items should really be in a museum, some place where researchers and students and others can see the items and learn from them.

It drives me crazy. I even say it out loud. Occasionally we find out that the family did donate the item. Like when a family had the musical notations of the “Star Spangled Banner.” They donated it to a museum, and that made me feel good!

I often wondered: would I be able to do that. Would I be able to donate a family treasure to a museum? The answer is yes.

When my siblings and I were cleaning out our parents’ apartment we found two items that my brother, sister and I all wanted, but knew something special had to be done with them. One was a program from the 1930s for a benefit to help the Jews of Europe, the other was a cookbook in English and Yiddish to help immigrants learn to cook American meals.

My sister contacted the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park and asked if they would want these documents. The answer was a resounding yes. So we donated them. This way they will survive, and others who might be doing research or want to know about life for immigrant women would have these items. They will be protected. The curator told us that they had only seen one other program like ours, but it was from a Chicago event. Ours was from a New York City event.

The three of us were glad that we made this decision.

I recently made another decision to donate.

I am donating the matzah cover my great-grandmother Chava made in 1901 to the same museum. I have thought about this for several years, and decided it was the best choice for this family heirloom.

The matzah cover is made of beige linen and a teal silk. I think the silk was originally blue. On the matzah cover my great grandmother embroidered the date she made it in Hebrew letters and the words: “Seder shel Pesach” (Seder of Passover) in Hebrew. It has beautiful cut work embroidery made into a Jewish star (Mogan Dovid) with embroidered roses along the edge.

My mother gave it to me about 25 years ago for several reasons: first because I was named for my great grandmother; second, because I also do embroidery; third because my parents would come and spend the second night of Pesach with me; fourth because my daughter is the oldest grandchild. I think they thought I would pass it on to her.

But I will not.

The matzah cover was made in Galicia before the First World War. I think it was made for my grandfather’s first birthday, as he was born in 1900 on the first of Nissan. It came to the USA in 1932. My Grandmother took my mother, then age 2, and her brother, age 5, to Europe for six months. They stayed with my great grandparents. And my great grandmother gave the matzah cover and some other family items to my grandmother to bring back to the United States with her family.

At some point my grandmother gave the matzah cover to my mother. And then it became mine.

I used it every year for Passover. I would cover the matzah on the table before the meal. But as soon as the food and wine came out, I would switch to a matzah cover that I made. I did not want anything to happen to this cover because I was not sure how I could ever clean it without destroying it.

As the years have passed, it has become more and more fragile. I want it to survive. My great grandmother did not survive. She and most of my grandfather’s family perished in the Shoah. This is the only religious item she made that remains.

I also thought about donating my matzah cover because I had a mild infestation of fabric eating bugs. Ugh. They are gone now. And the matzah cover is safe. But part of me was worried. What if they had reached the cover? Perhaps there is something better I can do with this item?

First I asked my daughter how she felt about my donating this item. She thought it was a great idea.

So I contacted the museum and the woman who helped us with the other donations. She asked for photos.

And then she said yes, they would like the matzah cover for their collection. She told me that the matzah covers they had that were that old were all stained and in disrepair, while mine was in wonderful shape. Which is true.

I told her I wanted to use it for one more Passover before I donated it.

2014 Passover Seder.  Matzah cover in the middle of the table.

2014 Passover Seder. Matzah cover in the middle of the table.

She asked that I take photos of it in use. Which I did and you can see here.

She promised me that anyone in my family would always have the right to come and see it privately when it was not on display, although we would never be able to touch it again. (Probably a good thing as fabric decays.)

In August I will take my matzah cover from Kansas back to New Jersey, and then to its new home at the museum. I hope by sharing it with so many people, it will have continued life, and perhaps help people understand how extraordinary Jewish life was in Europe before the Shoah.

I donated the matzah cover on August 12, 2014.

Building Projects Are Family Friendly

30 Apr

Whenever my parents came to visit, I always had a list of jobs around my house and yard that needed to be done. My Dad was not the type of person to sit around and do nothing. If he did not have a goal, he would just get too antsy.

Over the years he helped my husband put together bookcases, desks, closet organizers and more. They planned and dug flower and vegetable gardens. And spent hours together walking through home improvement stores and buying much needed equipment!  My Dad and husband loved going to home improvement stores together.  If they spent less than $100, I thought it was wonderful.  Most times they spent much more.

One year they built a giant closet organizer for my walk-in closet. They went to the home improvement store and brought home information on how to do it.  We designed it. Then my husband and Dad bought all the shelving and hanging poles, and spent a few days putting it together. I have had the best use out of that one project.

My son enjoyed helping as well. The first time he really got into putting something together, besides Lego sets (which he was quite good at completing), was when he was in seventh grade. I think it was because he was taking ‘shop’ in middle school. He got the urge to really build and use tools in that class.

My son builds his first project with my husband and Dad.

My son builds his first project with my husband and Dad.

The first project they all worked on was a desk that needed to be put together for my computer. My Dad, husband and son set up a command center on my dining room floor near the stairs. Why there? I am not sure. I think it was because my dad could sit on the stairs and direct.

They pulled out the instructions, got some tools and spent the next hour happily bonding through building. It was fun for the three of them. And, eventually, they actually finished putting the desk together.

These type of projects were easy. All the pieces came in a box. They only had to assemble it. My husband and son put together three bookcases for our basement family room with these box projects. There were drawers and closet doors, which was a bit more of a challenge. But they were able to complete their mission.

Building his first independent project for the cats.

Building his first independent project for the cats.

My son wanted a bigger challenge. He wanted to build a place for our cats to hang out. We had seen some of the cat platforms in the pet store. But the one he wanted was expensive. At the same time, I was reading a magazine for cat owners, in it was the instructions on how to make one at home.

That was all information my son needed. He begged my husband to help him build it. So they took the magazine to the hardware store and bought all the needed supplies. It took several weekends, and several trips to the store. But the time they spent together building the cat hideaway and platform was worth much more than the money spent to make it.   An added benefit is that the cats love it.

The cats loved the finish project.

The cats loved the finish project.

But my son is not the only one to get the building bug. My daughter was often right there with them putting things together. She had the patience to actually read the instructions. Her Dad and brother were more likely to go by instinct. Her help was always appreciated, as she used her calm to keep them on target when the building was not going exactly as planned.

When my Dad had a more difficult time putting things together, my daughter, who went to college near by, was the helper. But she was more than just a builder, she was often a tech support. Spending a weekend with her grandparents meant also fixing the computer, the internet connection or a television’s reception.

She was not the only one to help, but since she actually stayed with them, they often saved up chores for her to accomplish when she visited. My brother-in-law and nephew were the usual tech support because they lived close by. But I think they enjoyed the ‘vacation’, when my daughter could take over for a bit.

Cousins putting together a coffee table.

Cousins putting together a coffee table.

Years later, my nephew moved to Kansas for his master’s degree.   My children and I took him shopping for a coffee table. It came, of course, in a box. The three of them had a great time putting it together. Their Grandfather would have been so happy to see them on the floor with the pieces and the screws and the directions. I sat on a chair and directed…taking my Dad’s role.

Building is fun. But more important, in our family, it brings us together for a glorious time as we reach a common goal.  Dad would be smiling.

Doing Good Will Make You Feel Good!

4 Jan

I guess the essence of me is to try to make the right choice.  Doing good things for others makes me feel good.  If I am in the grocery store and someone needs a bit more money, I always offer.  When someone is having a bad day, I try to think of something to cheer her/him up.  I am genetically disposed to be happy and help others.  It comes from my parents.

My Dad loved people.  He was president of his synagogue for 11 years.  Anyone who knows synagogues boards, knows it takes a strong, yet kind person to navigate this job.  But Dad loved to schmooze….talk to people about anything.  When he spoke to you, he gave you his undivided attention.  He made people feel good and loved.  Not saying he did not have a temper and could get angry.  But am saying that his overall actions were ones to help others and chat.  He loved to chat.

My Mom was the kindest person ever.  There is nothing else to say.  She opened her home and her heart to many.  For my sister’s friends it is her comment to a friend of theirs who arrived at our home late at night, waking my mom from a sleep.  My Mother’s comment….”Victor, are you hungry.”  Because anyone coming into the house had to be fed, no matter the time or reason.  My Mom possessed the ability to be calm and centered.

She and my Dad were intertwined and committed in their efforts to be good people, to help others and do good in the world.  Being a mensch, a good person; being a “gutah neshuma,” a good soul, was important.

They passed this belief on to their children and grandchildren.

I remember stories about my Mom’s parents. They owned a kosher bakery during the Great Depression.  My Mom would talk about how my grandparents gave people food on credit.  Many years later, people would come to the bakery to pay back because my grandparents had provided them in those tough times.

So doing good things for people, speaking to people, chatting, feeding, helping and just being kind, is what I was taught to do.

Now I am not saying I don’t have a temper and I don’t get angry.  I am my father’s daughter, and my mother’s daughter.  If I see injustice, I get angry.  If I see someone hurting another person, I get angry.  I try not to have useless anger, for me the best thing to do is to do something.  And I try.

The way I try is to attempt the make the world a better place.  For many years, when my children were young, I was a PTA/classroom Mom.  Field trips, parties…I was there.   I served as a PTA president and on the boards of all their school’s PTA/PTO.  I served on standing committees of the school board, providing my input on important issues.

As my children aged, my volunteering grew.  My son wanted to volunteer at the local animal shelter, Wayside Waifs.  For the first two years, I had to go with him.  It was a great time to bond and a great place to help.  My daughter and I volunteered together for NCJW and at our synagogue.

All the helping and volunteering made me feel so much better. Helping others brings you out of yourself.  I highly recommend it to all.  Feeling badly?  Find someone to help.  There are so many in need.

I have tried to do one good thing every day of my life.  Sometimes it is volunteering for an organization.  Sometimes it is donating money for a good cause.  Sometimes it is organizing a program.  If a neighbor or a friend needs help, I am there. (Just don’t ask me to cook for you.  That is not something I do well.)   It makes me feel so good to help someone else.

I read somewhere that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. And if you smile, you actually feel better.  So to all I say, doing something nice is like smiling, when you do it, you will feel so much better.

Have a great day!