Tag Archives: Israel

This Jacket is a Survivor!

20 May

img_3411

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

Finding A Charity Donation That Fits Perfectly!

29 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitions:

Rebbizin:  Rabbi’s wife

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

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

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

www.ripmedicaldebt.org

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

Halvah, My Favorite Childhood Treat

26 Dec

Sometimes walking through a store brings back a memory. It happened to me today. One minute I was walking through a grocery store in Holon, Israel, with my daughter. And in an instant I was transported back in time and place. I was in my grandparents’ bakery in West New York, New Jersey.

I am sitting at the counter while my grandparents work. In front of me are three large rectangles of a most delicious treat, halvah. My favorite, marble halvah, is in the middle. And I so want to eat some of this sesame and sugar delight. My grandmother sees me sitting there. “Just take a small piece,” she says. And I do. I carry the love of halvah with me till now.

After some weekend visits, Grandma would send a half-inch slice home with me. My father and I were the biggest halvah fans. We would savor that slice, trying to make it last for a week. A feat that was a bit difficult to achieve!

After my grandparents closed their bakery to retire, my Dad would go to the local deli to buy halvah to satisfy our family’s cravings. My sister also loved the marble halvah. She remembers, “The halvah from the deli came wrapped in wax paper inside the white deli paper, like how lox came. I think because of the innate oiliness.”

In the summertime we could always get halvah at the bakery in Monticello or the deli. Halvah was always part of our life. But moving to the Midwest took me away from this treat.

In Kansas I never see full chunks of halvah. If I am lucky I find packaged process halvah By ‘Joyva’. However it is not the same. I have not tasted this treat in at least four years, since I don’t like the taste of the processed packaged squares of what should be a delectable treat that melts in my mouth.

The sign says “Halvah and sweets.”

But there in the large supermarket, Hetzi Hinam, was an entire counter of halvah with many different flavors. It called out to me. It took me back in time. I craved it. My daughter told me to get some. But I decided no, I just took a picture. I have been regretting that decision since we came home.

I have been going through every instance of halvah memory when I was denied my treat. When my husband, then fiancée, and I were in school, I kept my halvah in his refrigerator wrapped in a plastic bag with a handwritten sign saying this was mine, “Do Not Eat”. I would bring the halvah back from New Jersey to Missouri for those moments when I really needed cheering up. You can imagine my furious anger when I found out my husband’s roommate, David, ate my halvah without my permission. Let’s just say he never did that again.

My disappointment that day was overwhelming, I can still feel my anger even now 40 years later. So although my angst is not that bad today, I keep thinking, why. Why did I deny myself this treat? I could have purchased just a small chunk. But I said no.

Part of it, I think, is that I have such high expectations of halvah. I know what I remember it should taste like. But after eating those packaged chunks I have been disappointed. So I think seeing all those lovely rectangles made me a bit afraid. What if this halvah’s taste did not match my memory?

When I had it four years ago, I also purchased it in Israel. My daughter was living in Tel Aviv then, and I purchased a piece at a little shop. It was delicious. Perhaps my fears are unfounded. I should have purchased some! I could be eating a piece right now!

Instead I am here writing about halvah, remembering the taste, and wishing I had purchased just a bit of my favorite childhood treat.

Perhaps we can go back or find another store!

For those who wonder, according to Wikipedia, “The word halva entered the English language between 1840 and 1850 from the Yiddish halva(Hebrew: חלווה‎), which came from the Turkish helva (حلوا), itself ultimately derived from the Arabic: حلوى ḥalwá, a sweet confection .

Merry Christmas from Israel

24 Dec

It has been 15 years since I have been in Israel during Christmas. I like to come in early December before the tourists make their pilgrimages to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberius and the Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee. But I am here.

In most of the country Christmas decorations are not a high priority. However in the cities with a more mixed population or that have a connection to Christianity, decorations are set up. I have been to both Yafo and Ramle this past week. Both have large Christmas trees in the center of town. And although, when I was in Yafo there were a few tourists visiting the sites, I understand that this past weekend the center of the old city by the clock tower was packed.

Another point I love about Israel is the ability to practice the religion of your choice be it Judaism, Christianity or Islam. In both Yafo and Ramle I passed by mosques and churches. In the shops of Yafo I saw jewelry, religious objects and art for all denominations.

‘Christmas trees’ are somewhat popular here, I saw decorations in Tev Tam, an Israeli grocery store chain that Russians frequent. Why? Because of the large influx of Russians to Israel in the 1990s. This population continues to celebrate Novy God, the Russian New Year holiday, which includes having a Yuletide tree in your home. These trees, although decorated, are not officially Christmas trees, but considered New Year’s trees.

It is interesting to note that Turkey, a Moslem country, also has the tradition of having a New Year’s tree. In both countries fir trees, like those used for Christmas trees, are used for New Year’s trees.

Israel is filled with pilgrims here to celebrate a holy day. To celebrate the birth of a Jewish man who preached the word of Torah, helping others, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, healing the sick. I pray that this winter season turns into a new year where we can unite against senseless hatred. And open our hearts to kindness.

To all who celebrate, I wish you a Merry Christmas from Israel.

Several Days At a Hospital Gives Me Hope For Israel

20 Dec

Sitting in a hospital in Holon has been a most eye-opening experience. The hospital sits on the border of Holon, Tel Aviv and Yafo serving an area mixed with Jewish and Muslim and Christian citizens. And it illustrates what I love about Israel.

I came to Israel because my daughter needed surgery. They day of her scheduled surgery we arrived at 6:25 am. After all the intake she was shown to her room where she would wait for surgery. Her roommate was a Muslim woman who had acute appendicitis and also needed surgery, ‘K’.

We were now linked together. They went down to surgery about the same time and returned to their room around the same time: five hours after we first went down. While we waited we sat in an area with many others: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim parents, children, spouses and friends waiting for their loved ones to emerge.

I do speak some Hebrew, but in my mother anxiety, my Hebrew left me and I mainly spoke English. Of course my daughter’s husband speaks Hebrew. But it really did not matter. Most of the nurses and aides could quickly move from Hebrew to Arabic to English and at times a Russian and Yiddish.

As patients were wheeled into the surgery area a barrage of languages wished them luck. And as families were reunited after surgery, those remaining behind sent prayers for speedy recovery to all no matter the religion; we were united in our need to comfort each other in our time of stress and anxiety.

When a 13-year-old boy was left to wait alone as his father had surgery, we banded together to speak to him and keep him calm till his much older brother arrived. It was K’s husband who told him what to tell his brother after the doctor came out, because the boy’s happy tears rendered him unable to speak. When his phone’s battery died, my son-in-law gave him our charger so he could call his brother again.

We became a team. When the nurse came in and started to speak to me in Hebrew, I responded in Hebrew, “more slowly please”. While K’s husband told the nurse to speak to me in English. When he left to walk his two young children out along with his sister, I held his wife’s head and cleaned her face after she vomited. She was young enough to be my daughter too.

At first, before the surgery, K’s husband put her Hijab over her hair when we were in the room. But after the surgery he did not bother. We were in this together. Only when visitors came did she put her Hijab on.

Later that evening, when my daughter started to vomit, I grabbed the garbage pail for her, while my son-in-law brought in another trash can. Then K’s mother began to laugh, the idea of the two of them vomiting simultaneously was just too much. I started to laugh as well. My son-in-law was a bit confused as to why we were laughing. But it was fine. We were in close quarters as the hospital was full, and we were put together in a single room.

When the nurse came, to check my daughter, we two mothers were asked to leave for a few minutes. We stood outside together and spoke about our daughters. We were together in wishing both a speedy recovery. It did not matter our language or religion, we were just moms whose daughters just had surgery.

Actually I really enjoyed listening to all the conversations, not to the words, but to the switching in one sentence from Arabic to Hebrew to English. The cadence of the melody changes with each language like a symphony of sound. At times I would be confused as to what language I was hearing, as the speakers would switch so fluently from one to another.

My daughter told me that Arabic spoken in Yafo is filled with Hebrew expressions.

Late that evening, after I had spent over 15 hours at the hospital, my son-in-law and I went back home. K’s husband spent the night. In the morning we found out that my daughter had been sick and he helped her after she threw up.

I felt terrible that I was not there. That she had not told us to return. Her answer when we asked was the room was way too small for us all to be there. Also in the morning before we came, it was K who told the nurse who came to check on her that my daughter had been sick during the night; that she needed to be checked as well.

That morning I purchased tulips for both of them because they were going to have to spend another night in the hospital. Yes being sick at night landed both of them another night in the hospital.

My daughter and K are now home. Their room is empty and being readied for the next patient.

In all I spent parts of four days at Wolfson Medical Center. While at the hospital I felt a sense of companionship. People working together to help everyone else. I get so sick of hearing about hatred and bigotry and stereotypes. At Wolfson we are one people. That is the Israel I love.

I am aware of what is happening elsewhere in Israel. At the borders and in the West Bank. But when you are at the hospital you know that the everyday people can live together and wish each other well.

Doctors, nurses, aides; patients and families; Jewish, Muslim, Christian; all together in one purpose: to help everyone feel better. At least that is the impression I had at Wolfson. That feeling is what gives me hope for Israel.

While In Israel, I Have Been Crying For Aleppo

17 Dec

It is relatively peaceful where I have been the past two weeks. In Jerusalem I walked the old city at night.  Yes we stayed in the Jewish Quarter. But we walked and talked and saw children walking or riding their bicycles without fear. 

While in Jerusalem, we took a tour to Herodium, the final resting place – the tomb of Herod the Great, master builder and king who died in 4 BCE. It is in the Gush, the part of the West Bank close to Jerusalem. We lunched at a winery and traveled by car along the trail of the patriarchs passing gated communities enclosed by barbed wire. But it was quiet and seemingly peaceful.  We passed Palestinian communities and saw farmers working their lands. 

We saw the news and read about the soon to be evacuated community of Amona.  And how the settlers don’t want to leave, but the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled they must leave by December 25 this year. A double holiday. Hanukkah and Christmas. 

We stayed in Holon, a suburb of Tel Aviv for a week with our daughter and her husband. We visited with her in laws in Modi’in. From her home a tour guide took us around Tel Aviv and the old city of Jaffa. We visited the Peres Center for Peace, to hear about programs to bring people together. 

 In both Jerusalem and Jaffa, I was amazed to see the new and innovated ways that both Moslem and orthodox Jewish women were now using scarves to cover their hair. Slightly different ways, but in many ways the same.  They pass each other peacefully in the streets and shopping centers. In Mamilla, a outdoor shopping center near Jaffa Gate, they mingled together in a colorful picture of head coverings from my view in a second story restaurant. 

We traveled north to Ceaseria, the port city built by Herod. So much of it still buried beneath the sand, but amazing with its Herodian, Byzantine and crusader ruins. It is a must see! Then another winery in Zichron Yaacov, a Jewish city that sits across on a hill side from an Arab village, near Haifa where Jews and Moslems both live and attend the Technion University. 

And all the while Aleppo burns. And children, women and men perish in the fires of another genocide. And the UN is useless. Still condemning Israel, but staying silent on the true terror of the region: Syria.  I cry for the children of Aleppo. I cry for all children who sees destruction and feel the fear of war. 

The children of Gaza suffer. But each day 39-40 trucks of cement enter the Gaza from Israel to help rebuild. Where is the cement going?  I can’t answer that.  But Gaza could be rebuilt if its leaders turned away from violence and settled for peace. While in Aleppo, there is no choice. The government and the Russian military has decided for them. 

In Israel, the Peres Center has a program, Saving Children, to bring Palestinian children from Gaza and the West Bank into Israel for urgent and complicated medical issues. Each year about 1000 children are cared for in Israel. Another program brings doctors from the West Bank into Israel for their residencies and fellowships to learn and bring back to their homes. In Aleppo the Air Force targeted hospitals and killed the most needy. Destroying the places of healing and hope. 

I had hoped the world had changed in 80 years. But it seems not.  So while in Israel, I have been saddened and cried for the destruction of Aleppo and Syria. For years I have wondered how the world leaders could do nothing. I will head home to the US today, but those who survive Aleppo will not have that opportunity.  Power breeds contempt. An entire country destroyed. While in Israel I have been crying for Aleppo and all of Syria. 

The Necklace I Never Wear

2 Apr

In a box in my closet is a small scrimshaw necklace that I never wear. I will never give it away. I will never sell it. I hope one day one of my children will take it.

The necklace I purchased with the money from Zeisel.

The necklace I purchased with the money from Zeisel.

It is not that old. I bought it when I was 20, when I spent my sophomore year of college in Israel, 1974 to 1975.

Many holocaust survivors were still alive. Some of them related to me through my maternal grandparents who were both from Europe. My grandparents came to the USA in the 1920s. But most of their family remained behind. Many perished, others survived and moved to Israel.

My grandmother went to Europe in 1931 with my Mom and uncle. I have written about this before. She stayed on the farm owned by her in-laws. While she was there her mother-in-law, my great grandmother Chava, gave her some family items. Two pieces of jewelry, a pearl necklace and an opal ring; and several embroidered and handmade pieces that Chava had made.   I own all but the pearl necklace. They were all given to me as the one named for Chava.

The pearl necklace disappeared in 1931. My grandmother went to use the shower at her inlaws. She took off the necklace to bathe and forgot to put it back on. When she realized it was gone, she went back to the bathroom. It was missing.

But she knew who took it. Zeisel. He was the only one who had been in the bathroom. But he denied taking it. And that was the end of the matter for 43 years, until I went to Israel for a year of college.

A month after I arrived in Israel, I received a letter from my grandmother telling me the story of the pearls. I had never heard it before. In the letter she wrote that the ‘goniff,’ Zeisel Feuer, my grandfather’s cousin, was going to give me some money to pay her back for the necklace he stole in 1931. I was to take the money and give my great uncle, her brother, half the money. The other half was to buy myself a necklace because I should have the pearls.

What? Was my grandmother insane?   I did not really want to do this.

I wrote her back saying that I thought 43 years meant the statute of limitations on a theft were over. And that she needed to let it go. And I did not need to have the necklace. But a few weeks later I received another letter instructing me how to find Zeisel in Tel Aviv. He worked at bakery on a specific street and I was to go there and speak to him. She said I had no choice. I had to do this. It was important to both of them to end this. And I would be the one to fix it. What?

Grandma ordered, so I obeyed. The next time I was in Tel Aviv, I went to the bakery. There was a man who looked so much like my grandfather, except smaller and bent. I knew it had to Zeisel. I introduced my self. He held for minute and had me sit at a table. He brought tea and a pastry. I waited while he finished working. Then we walked back to his apartment.

There he gave me Israeli lire, which in US would be worth about $100. And he told this story.

He was married with two children. He had a wonderful life. But he wanted more for his family. So when my grandmother left the pearls in the bathroom, he thought, “She lives in America. She is rich and has money. She does not need this necklace.” And he took it. And he lied.

In return the Nazis came. They killed his wife. They killed his children. They tortured him. He could no longer have any children.

And he knew that taking the necklace had brought all this pain to him and his family. And before he died he had to make amends. So he gave me the money. I was to do with the money whatever my grandmother said.  He had made peace.

I was stunned. I was 19. I did not know what to say but to cry.   When I left him, I took the money back to my dorm in Jerusalem at Hebrew University. A few weeks later I took half the money to my Uncle Isaac. The other money I kept in my room.

Each time I went to Tel Aviv after that, I always went to the bakery to see Zeisel. He always gave me tea and a pastry.   There were not many phones in Israel at the time. So I could not call in advance. I would just show up, or send him a letter telling him when I thought I would come. When my parents came to Israel that December of 1974, I took them to meet Zeisel and speak to him. It was a meeting my parents never forget as well.

In January I turned 20. I finally spent the $50 on a necklace for me. A necklace that carried so much pain. I could not wear it even though I knew my grandmother wanted me to have this jewelry from my great grandmother. So I keep it in a box in my closet. I know it is there. I know it is safe. It will not be lost. But I cannot wear it. When I see it, I always think of Zeisel and how much he lost.

It was not the pearl necklace that doomed his family. It was the rise of hatred. But he did steal it.  So for him giving me the money was closure. He had repented; he had done his “tashuvah.”  But for me it was the beginning of truly understanding the past.

I have written about the Zeisel and the pearl necklace before. It is a story that stays in my heart and my soul. But I have never talk about what I bought with the money. In my mind it is just not enough. It does not make up for the suffering surrounding one pearl necklace.  Zeisel was also the person who let my grandfather know that his entire family had perished in the Shoah.  He is forever bound in our family history.

Zeisel, my grandparents and my parents have all passed away. I am the only one who can remember this story. And so I tell it again.

 

 

 

https://zicharonot.wordpress.com/2014/08/22/i-believe-mystically-and-magically-great-grandma-chava-watches-over-me/