Tag Archives: Rosh Hashannah

The Heavens Opened for RBG

19 Sep

I believe that the heavens opened on Friday night.

As we entered the holiday of Rosh Hashannah, the start of the new year, the days of Awe; and entered the holy day of Shabbat, the Sabbath, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, passed into the cosmos.  She left this world a better place for all women.  She fought the battles of women’s rights at a time when most women were treated as second class citizens.  She was a warrior for women.

In Judaism there is the belief that someone who dies on the Sabbath is a Tzadik, a righteous person.  Another belief says that a person who dies just as Rosh Hashannah begins is also a Tzadik, because the Lord waits for the very last minute of the year to take this person.  They are so needed on Earth, that their very time is counted to the minute.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg died erev Shabbat and Rosh Hashannah.  The moments before these two holidays connverged.  But more so, she died on the 18 of the month.  For those who are Jewish, the number 18 has its own significance, as the two letters, Het and Yod together spell the word, Chai, which means life. Her life had such meaning to so many women and men who she helped.

 Ruth Bader Ginsburg had such a life.  She was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court.  She spent her life battling for women’s rights and gender equality.  She never backed down.  She was a warrior.  She dissented.  Her great legal intelligence helped her seal many decisions as she could interpret the laws, which make her interpretation valid. She did not back down.

Earlier this year I joined a group of women from the Kansas City area to go on a virtual tour of the Notorious RBG Exhibit at the Illinois Holocaust Museum.  It was a wonderful experience learning about what this extraordinary woman had accomplished. I had to have both a I dissent pin and a t-shirt.  A t-shirt that I am proudly wearing now.

Earlier today, I went to services for Rosh Hashannah. Our shul has been having services for a few months now.  There are rules in place to keep us safe. We all wore masks.  The service was shorterned.  The doors were opened for air circulation.   We sat phsycially distanced. We were not to sing, only the hazzan. No children under 12 were to be present.  But still the soul of prayer was there.

When the Unetanneh Tokef was chanted by the Hazzan, I thought of Justice Ginsburg, as these words were ingrained in my being:

“Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth. It is true that You alone are the One Who judges, proves, knows, and bears witness; Who writes and seals, Who counts and Who calculates. You will remember all that was forgotten. You will open the Book of Remembrances — it will read itself – and each person’s signature is there. And the great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin voice will be heard. Angels will be frenzied, a trembling and terror will seize them — and they will say, ‘Behold, it is the Day of Judgment, to muster the heavenly host for judgment!’ — for even they are not guiltless in Your eyes in judgment.”

The Holy One knows the goodness of Justice Ginsburg.  Her death comes at the end of a horrible year.  But the Jewish New Year started after her death.  A new year is here.  I have faith.

As I said the Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, which I say every Rosh Hashannah for my family who perished in the Shoah, I also said Kaddish for Justice Ginsburg.

May her name and memory be for a blessing. May her soul be bound up in the bond of Eternal Life. May her family be comforted with the mourners of Zion. Her memory will not end. We will all remember and work to continue the example of the Notorious Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Yes, I believe the heavens opened last night to claim the astounding, amazing soul– neshumah –of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Tzadik, a good and righteous woman, Yita Ruchel.

Now we among the living must continue her work. Vote for women, vote in memory of a women’s warrior. Vote in the name of Justice Ginsburg.

In This Time of Asking Forgiveness, I Am Donating to Help Hurricane Survivors

28 Sep

We were in San Juan, Puerto Rico in June.  A lovely island for a day of sight seeing as we cruised the Caribbean.  We took a bus to the Fort in San Juan, and then a walking tour from the Fort back to the ship.   We passed beautiful flowering trees and plants, lush gardens, We toured the Fort that overlooks the ocean and once protected the island from invaders.  We looked down the coast to see the lovely beaches.

But Hurricane Maria has devasted the island.   So many millions without food, water, housing.  Searching for a way off the island, tourists who live elsewhere are stuck, stranded away from their home.  While those whose home is Puerto Rica are afraid of the future.  When where the power grid be repaired, when will the water and the food be available again. When will the roads be fixed.  When will medical care and schools be able to return to normal.

Puerto Rico is one of many islands that faced destruction in the way of Hurricane Irma and Maria, while Florida and Texas also suffered horrors during to hurricane season, Hurricane Harvey and Irma impacted these areas.  Connected to other states and cities,  Florida and Texas are fortunate in that help can come more quickly for these impacted areas, where as the islands of the Caribbean are isolated.

Cruise ships are cancelling vacation cruises in order to help evacuate the islands and bring supplies.  But in reality, there is no tourism or vacation in some sections of the Caribbean now as the destruction of the islands’ infrastructures make tourism impossible.

I cannot go there to help.  But I can donate. I can provide tzedakah to those in need. I chose the “oneamericanappeal.org” that was endorsed by and set up by our five former presidents: Bush, Bush, Carter, Clinton and Obama: Republicans and Democrats coming together to help our citizens in need.

I know that not everyone can help financially.  But those of us who can, must.   The island of Puerto Rico will never be the same.  But perhaps it can even be better as the power grid is rebuilt and the water supply fixed…as it will be updated and modernized. The Virgin Island of St. Thomas was also devastated.  These islands are our responsibility.  The citizens of these islands are citizens of the United States.

It has been a difficult time for many.  Fires in the west and northwest are causing destruction and health issues.  The many hurricanes have devasted areas with their high winds and flooding rains. I also sent sent a donation to help with these disasters as well through the Jewish Federation.

With this season of asking for forgiveness, the time between Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur, I think that doing good for others ,  tzedakah and gemilut Chasadim, shows my commitment to tikkun olam.  As I ask forgiveness for all that I might have done to hurt others during the year, I send donations to help those in need. 

The Rosh Hashannah Card Has A Story

1 Oct


In 1936 my Grandma Thelma’s siblings sent her a Rosh Hashannah card from Poland. On the front is a photo of her siblings. Seated are her brother Isaac and his wife, Bronia. Standing are her youngest siblings David and Esther. Soon after this photo was taken the world really began to change.

This photo looks so peaceful and calm. But so much was going on behind the scenes. Plans were already being made. Getting out of Poland was their main goal.

My Grandmother worked diligently to get her family out of Europe. She and my grandfather owned a bakery and had two young children. Grandma had taken her children to Europe in 1931 and since her return had been searching for ways to rescue her family and my grandfather’s family. It was very difficult.

Eventually, she got documentation to bring my great grandfather Abraham (her mother had died young) and her younger sister, Esther, to the United States. Esther was older than 21, but she was very tiny. So they made her younger. And thus she was able to come with her father.

The age difference was a bone of contention for years. My Tante always stating her ‘fake’ age, my grandmother always correcting her. It was made worse by the fact that my Grandmother had traveled by herself to the USA in 1922, when she was only 16. To get the papers she needed, she made herself two years older! The war over their ages went on for years.

It was great until Tante wanted to retire. Truly she was 65, but legally she was 62. I remember this as my Grandmother and Tante would argue about this as well.   Like sisters, with love, they found many things to argue about.

Front Great grandpa USA Visa

In any case two were saved. I have my Great Grandfather’s passport and visa. In the passport it states that he has to leave Poland within a certain time or the visa is invalid. Luckily my grandparents also sent money. Saving family was utmost in my grandparents’ mind.

But my Grandmother was unable to rescue her brothers and bring them to the USA.   They decided that they had to leave Poland: Uncle Isaac and his wife, Bronia, along with David and Bronia’s sister, Rosa. The Rabbi said that David and Rosa must marry before they left Poland. So a quick wedding was held.

They escaped Poland to Russia. Not as great, but they were tailors…or they became tailors. And so, my grandmother would say, they were employed to make army uniforms for the Russian army.

Their lives were not easy. They suffered. But they survived. Many were not as fortunate.

After the war they wanted to leave Europe. They were in Italy and the Facists were on the rise. They were afraid. They wrote to their sisters in the United States, and to Bronia and Rosa’s sisters in Australia. They decided whoever sent documents first , they would go to that country. They just wanted out of Europe as quickly as possible.

Once again they were among the fortunate ones with sisters on two continents working to save their siblings. The sisters in Australia got documents first. My great aunts and uncles moved to Australia. There my cousin was born. There my Uncle David passed away when in was in his 30s. He is buried in Melbourne.

When my cousin was a child, they decided to move to Israel. My Great Uncle and his wife; his sister in-law, and niece. My cousin and her family still live in Israel. My grandparents, great aunts and uncles have all passed away. But when I look at this Rosh Hashannah card, I see hope. I wish everyone a blessed, happy, healthy and sweet new year.




To read more about the family:





Honey for Rosh Hashannah and a Sweet, Wonderful Year!

11 Sep

Honey, apples, serving dishes, flowers and my kitten make the holiday sweet and happy.

Honey, apples, serving dishes, flowers and my kitten make the holiday sweet and happy.

We must have honey for Rosh Hashannah: honey for our apples, honey for our challah, honey in our cakes. Honey brings the knowledge that the year will be sweet. And even in times of sorrow, we must think of the happy sweetness of honey.

For over ten years my local section of National Council of Jewish Women has been selling honey for Rosh Hashannah. A dedicated group of women organize this fund raising mitzvah. We enjoy the camaraderie of packing the honey and signing cards. Each year we send out almost 1000 boxes of honey throughout the USA to family and friends.

I enjoy helping with this fundraiser both as a volunteer and as a contributor. It is one good deed, one act of Tzedakah, that I truly enjoy. Each year it seems that I send out more and more honey to my family and friends. Most of the honey I send out goes to people who live far from me. It is a way for me to be part of their holiday experience.

It is a joy to know that these people/families will have honey for the holidays. And they will know that my husband and I are thinking of them.

For many it has become a tradition. I get phone calls and emails asking me if the honey is still coming. Of course it is. I will continue to buy honey as long as NCJW has this fundraiser.

I love getting the thank you emails when the honey arrives. One friend even sent me a photo of her honey in her thanks. Another cousin in California told me that she would definitely be using her honey. From New York I heard “We got your honey! Thank you!” A friend in Massachusetts sent a note that just entitled “Sweetness,” because getting honey is that!

I know getting honey makes people happy, which makes me happy. The recipients know my family and I am sending them love as well as sweetness. We are helping to make their holiday and New Year as wonderful as can be. And sweetness from honey helps.

When my daughter was in college, I sent honey to her and her friends, some who were not even Jewish. They called it the ‘holy honey’ and used it not only for Rosh Hashannah, but also whenever they were feeling sick or blue. Tea and ‘holy honey’ cheered everyone up! What a way to make a year sweet and healthy!

On Rosh Hashannah I take out my special honey and apple set. I actually have several now. The one I used when the children were little looks like a bee hive. They loved it.   I also have the honey bowl my parents used for their holiday. Each year I use them as we dip our apples and challah into honey.

The holiday is soon. My raisin challah and honey cake are ordered. My NCJW honey is ready to be opened. My holiday meals are planned. Whenever I get ready for Rosh Hashannah, I remember celebrating the holidays with my family, with my maternal grandparents.  My grandfather was a baker and his special, round Rosh Hashannah challahs were delicious.  So sweet and so wonderful dipped in honey.

As we celebrate I try to think of all the joy and happiness that is in the world, and block out the sadness. Although we cannot forget what is happening, for this moment in time we celebrate and prepare for the time of forgiveness and repentance. But for now:

L’shana tova u metuka! May you all have a good and sweet year.

Drinking a Glass of Tea is a Family Tradition

5 Mar

Every evening, some time after dinner, I have a cup of hot tea. Each evening I ask my husband the same question as I prepare my tea, “Hey do you want a cup of tea?” Nine times out of ten he answers, “No.”

That was not the response in my home growing up. My parents always had a cup of tea together after dinner. That is when they would have some cookies or dessert. They would sit in the kitchen with their snack and have tea together. It did not matter if they were in our home in North Bergen or our bungalow in the Catskills, When they got older the tradition continued in their apartments in Cliffside Park and in Florida.   Wherever they were, after dinner they had to have a cup of tea.

Perhaps that is why I love tea.

Although they usually drank Swee-Touch-Nee tea (which I always called sweet touch me tea), when they came to visit me, they tried other teas as well.

photo (13)

I keep mint, chamomile, English Breakfast, Constant Comment, and all sorts of herbal teas in my home. For them I always bought some Swee-Touch-Nee tea, including some green tea. Whenever they stayed at my home, I always joined them in drinking a cup of tea after dinner. This tradition sometimes drove my husband crazy.

An example, we took my parents to eat in their first fast food restaurant when we lived in Michigan. We had to be somewhere at a certain time, and were eating along the way.   My Mom wanted a hamburger, cooked medium. That was the first indication to my husband that this was a bad idea. But Mom accepted that all the burgers were cooked the same.

It was when my Dad wanted tea after we ate that my husband lost it a little. “Dad,” he said. “We are here at a fast food restaurant because we have to eat fast. We really do not have time for tea.”

I promised that when we got home later that evening, I would make tea for them. And I did.

In fact, whenever we went out to dinner, Dad had to have tea before the meal was finished. We all learned to have something to drink along with him. It made the waiting easier. When my parents drank tea, they almost always shared a teabag.  Mom liked her tea really weak. As my brother remembers, five dunks of a tea bag were enough.  Dad liked his tea strong.  He would let the tea bag sit in his mug for a while.

Drinking tea had another tradition: the snack!  Some might call it dessert. But in our house it was a snack.  And, of course, having a piece of cake or pie with the tea made it much more enjoyable. Especially when we were at a restaurant and Dad needed his cup of tea.

When my children were growing up, they also liked to have a cup of tea with their grandparents. My son especially wanted to sit with his Grandpa and have tea. When he visits now, he often has a cup of tea with me.

Although I drink my tea without sugar, my son is a sugar addict. He makes me think of my grandfather, who he is named after. “Papa,” who was born in Europe drank his tea out of a glass cup and he often would put a sugar cube in his mouth as he drank it.   Although my son does not put the sugar directly in his mouth, he loves his sugar as his great grandfather did. We often accuse him of drinking some tea with his sugar.

My daughter also likes to have a cup of tea. She seems to like to put honey in hers, especially when she is not feeling well. When she was away at college, I would have honey sent to her for Rosh Hashannah. She and her college friends called it “Holy Honey,” They decided it made the feel better when they were sick. By the time she was a senior, I think I was sending honey to her and about four of her friends.

Drinking hot tea after dinner is not a seasonal event in my family. Tea is perfect throughout the year. It is a good way to end the day. To sit quietly and think about what has happened. A mug of herbal tea calms me.

Each evening as I ask my husband if he wants tea, I flash back for a minute to my parents. I still hear my Mom asking my Dad. I still see her preparing the tea. And I still see them sitting at the table discussing the day. I am so glad that drinking a cup of tea is part of my family tradition.

Sweet Remembrances of Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake

20 Sep

From the time I was seven or eight we spent every Rosh HaShanah in Kauneonga Lake, Sullivan County, NY. Unlike most people who left their summer bungalows to return to the ‘City’ on Labor Day weekend and did not return until the next summer, we always came back to celebrate the holiday.

My grandparents owned a small bungalow colony in Kauneonga Lake. This meant that after the season ended, the bungalows had to be closed for the winter. Water drained; windows covered; everything locked up. My Mom and Dad would help my grandparents perform many of these chores. And when we got older, my siblings and I would also help out.

Since my grandparents owned a ‘real’ house in Kauneonga Lake, we always had a place to stay. The house was sub-divided into four apartments by the woman who owned it before my grandparents. After they purchased it in 1962, my grandparents returned it into one home, with four bedrooms, and lots of spaces to sleep. There was also an attached apartment that they remodeled.

Over the years the house has seen many additions and upgrades. But the most important part was that it had heat and was livable all year. So for Rosh HaShanah, the five of us always went to stay with my grandparents to celebrate the holiday and the start of a sweet and wonderful year.

Our home was located about a mile and a half from the synagogue, Congregation Temple Beth El. This meant no heels for my Mom or Grandma. It was a long walk in a dress and nice shoes. We had to make our new finery stay in good shape as we walked. Along the way we often met up with others who were going to shul.

When the holidays were close to Labor Day, there were many more who stayed to celebrate. Some even kept their boats on the Lake for the extra weekend. It could be very warm when it was early in September, but sometimes, later in the month, it could be extremely cold on Rosh HaShanah.

Going to shul was a treat and fun. Everyone knew my grandparents and, of course, us. The shul was full. Men sat downstairs; women sat upstairs in the balcony, except for the few elderly women who sat in the two rows of seats behind the mehitzah on the first floor.  (See blog below for more about Beth El.)

I liked it when I was very young and could sit with my grandfather in the main floor, and he would cover me with his tallit. But eventually, that ended. My Mom, sister and I would climb the narrow staircase, and sit with the other women.

My Cousin took this photo from the women's balcony, at least 26 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima. My Cousin took this photo from the women’s balcony, at least 26 years ago. My Grandfather is standing on the right, walking away from the bima.

It was different in the balcony. We could see everything that was going on down below. We watched the men with the torah and listened to the chanting. I loved to watch when the Cohanim went forward to do the dukhanen, my grandfather among them. While upstairs, we did pray, but we could also chat and visit. As I got older, I began to resent being upstairs. But it was I tradition I was so used to that I never argued.

We went both days of the holiday and stayed till about 1 pm. Then would come the long walk back to the house after the Kiddish. I could not wait to get home. There was always fresh raisin challah baked by my grandfather. I loved eating the raisin challah for breakfast schmeared with cream cheese. YUM!

For lunch there always was warm soup made by my grandmother. Grandma was not a great cook, but her soup was wonderful: chicken soup, with delicious chicken feet filled with fat immersed in the brew. And if it was mushroom barley soup there were always knee bones to thicken the broth.

Grandma and I were the ones who loved to nibble around these items!

My Grandma made the best homemade egg noodles as well. She would put towels on all the chairs and hang the cooked noodles on them to dry. These were usually for Pesach, but I begged her to make them for Rosh Hashanah as well. I loved making them with her.

When I became a teen, and my friends were up for the holidays, the routine changed.   We often walked to shul together. One stayed at the Indian Lake House for Rosh HaShanah. Her family rented a bungalow from my grandparents, but by the holiday the bungalows were all closed for the season. So her family rented rooms at this bed and breakfast on West Shore Road. The other’s grandmother lived on West Shore Road, and his parents had a home in the White Lake Estates. We would visit on the terrace of the synagogue before services.

After services and after lunch with our families, we would meet. If it was early in September, the one friend always had his family’s boat for us to go out on. We would bring our homework, and take a boat ride to Camp Hi Li’s raft. We would sit on the platform raft doing our homework on the lake. What a great place to study!

As my grandparents aged, they could no longer walk all the way to the synagogue, so my Grandpa would drive most of the way. He would park his car across from Sylvia’s S & G, ‘shlock’ store. I remember saying, “Grandpa, why don’t you just park at the shul? It is just over the hill!”

He looked at my like I was crazy. “You walk to shul on the holidays!” He said. He was from Europe. And traditions were very important. Grandpa was a Cohan. He had rules that he had to follow and obligations that he had to keep.

When I was very young, there was a deli, Elfenbaum’s, almost directly across from the synagogue. We would stock up on special treats there. It closed when I was about 10. I still miss that deli. I remember going there on Sunday mornings with my Dad during the summer and then right before Rosh HaShanah to have delicacies for the holiday.

We usually spent Yom Kippur at our synagogue in New Jersey, unless the holiday was very early in September and on a weekend.   Then we would go back to the Catskills. But Yom Kippur was much more strict. Although, we, the children, were allowed to eat, I always felt the sadness of this holiday more when I was with my grandparents. Of course, when we were older and fasting, that walk back home seem to take forever!

But still I loved going to the shul on the hill. We loved sitting outside on the terrace before services began, or coming outside to take a break when it got too hot upstairs.

I see myself standing in the balcony. And as I am leaving the synagogue, as it empties, I call down to a friend. It is only the two us left. Every one else is out.   Rosh HaShanah is over.   “See you next summer. Next year in Kauneonga Lake.”




My Family’s Holocaust History Impacts My Observance of Rosh Hashannah

13 Sep

As Rosh Hashannah approaches, I have a new view of my family’s heritage, a new reality that will impact my observance and prayers this year and in all future years.

It started with a Facebook Group called, “Tracing the Tribe.” I actually was able to find a family member due to a blog I posted about my grandfather’s family history and his town in Austia/Galecia called Mielec. I met Susan when I was in New Jersey this summer. It is actually her husband who was related to me.

We spoke about the family and how we might be related. I actually found the connection. My great grandfather and her husband’s great grandmother are probably brother and sister.

She emailed me a testimonial written by her husband’s first cousin, “E”, about her Holocaust experience. “E” survived the Holocaust and settled in the USA. In this memoir, “E” recounts a story about the Jews of Mielec and how they died. She wrote that 600 were rounded up and burned alive in their synagogue. She received this information from relatives in Mielec.

What! I was somewhat stunned. No one had ever mentioned this to me before. Whenever there was discussion about our family who died, we were told that they were burned alive in the fires of the Holocaust; or that some had died in Auschwitz; or that my great grandmother had been hidden and then murdered by the people who had stolen the family farm. But this story was never mentioned. Never.

But I remember thinking, when my Mom would tell me that our family was burned alive, that in the crematorium, the people were dead before they were burned. Weren’t they? So why would I be told that they were burned alive? Could this be what happened?

My Grandfather never talked about his family. He lost almost everyone who still lived in Europe: his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins. Everyone! Only a few cousins survived. When I finally got him to talk to me and tell me about his family, he was vague when talking about the Holocaust. He would tell me a little about life when he was a boy. But he did not like to mention the names of the dead.

When I found out that Germany was giving money to those who could prove they had owned property, I suggested that he apply to get money for the family’s farm.

He was furious. “Will this money bring back my mother and my father?” He yelled at me. “Will this money bring back my brothers and my sisters and their families? NO! NO! I don’t want their blood money! Let them keep their blood money!”

I can still hear him yelling at me. So I stopped. I never asked again.

My mother told me that a relative, Zissle Feuer, came from Europe and told my grandfather what had happened. And then my Grandfather contacted the Red Cross. Everyone was confirmed dead. My mother was about 16 when they found out that everyone died. She said that every morning when my Grandpa came upstairs from the bakery she would hear him cry while sitting at the kitchen table; sobbing over the loss of his family.

Now I read this testimonial. What is the truth? How did they die? “E” was not there. She only heard about it. So I looked through all the papers I had gathered through the years. And I found one document that I guess I never read entirely. I just read the part about the city of Mielec before the war. I never read the section that was call Holocaust Years. Because there it states, halfway down the page, that on September 13, 1939, on the eve of Rosh Hashannah, 20 Jewish were pushed into a burning synagogue. If they tried to escape they were shot. Then the German soldiers put Jews into a slaughterhouse and set it on fire. Then they went to the Mikveh and killed Jews there. On the second day of Rosh Hashannah a second synagogue was set on fire.

So many burned alive on Rosh Hashannah. I do not know if it was 600, but even one is too many. What a horrible death!

How can I ever see Rosh Hashannah in the same way again? How can I understand that on this holiday my family might have been murdered, burned alive. Up until September of 1939 there were 4,000 Jews living in Mielec. When they were deported in March 1942 only 2,000 were still alive.

Did 600 get burned alive in the four buildings set ablaze during Rosh Hashannah of 1939? Did my great aunts, great uncles and cousins suffer in those flames? Did my great grandfather die there? Is this why my Grandfather could never talk about it? Did he know that is how most of his family perished? When my mother said they were burned alive, did she know as well?

Was it just too horrible to tell us?

Mielec, the home of my family, was one of the first to be totally depleted of its Jews. This report said only 200 Jewish people survived the war: 200 out of 4000. I know that four of them were cousins of my grandfather. I met them all: one settled in Montana; one in England; two in Israel. They have all since passed away.

On Rosh Hashannah we chant the Unetanah Tokef.   It is a prayer that has always made an impact on me. But this time when I read “who by water and who by fire,” I will be wondering: “Who died this way? Who?”

And I will chant Kaddish.

Our Shul in the Catskills

18 Jun

Temple in Kauneonga Lake.

Temple in Kauneonga Lake.

Congregation Temple Beth El in Kauneonga Lake celebrated its 90 anniversary last summer. I only found out because my daughter asked me a question about the shul in the Catskills — the shul that three generations of her family had all attended.

To be honest, I was not sure that it even still held services. I live in Kansas now, and only go up to the Lake once each summer. Even less than I used to. When my parents were alive I would spend 7 to 10 days at our home in Kauneonga Lake with my parents and one or both of my children. But since they passed, at most I have spent a weekend.

So I checked. I went on line, and there it was a website for the congregation! I sent a donation in honor of the anniversary and in memory of my parents. And then I joined the congregation.

It brings back so many memories. The shul was founded in 1923. I think I started going there in the early 1960s. Maybe before. But my memories before then are not very accurate.

We spent every Rosh Hashannah at the shul on the hill in the Catskills. It was an orthodox congregation when I grew up. The women and girls sat upstairs in the balcony, while the men and boys sat downstairs. I actually liked sitting upstairs. We could look down on everyone and see what was going on, while we could be a little less formal.

But my Grandma Thelma and her good friend, Clara Wagner, rebelled one year. They said enough was enough. They did not want to climb the stairs anymore. So the congregation made a mehitzah for the downstairs and made the last three rows of seating for women. Grandma and Clara much happier, and keeping them happy was important. They were both very strong willed women!

I think they would be thrilled to know that there will be a woman rabbi there leading services this summer. Obviously men and women are sitting together and the mehitzah is down.

The shul was where we celebrated special events as well. My parents wedding anniversary was in June. One year, in honor of their anniversary, we held a special kiddish luncheon. My Grandpa Nat, a retired baker, baked plum cake after plum cake. Every oven was filled. Luckily he had saved many of his cooking trays.

The day of the kiddish was special. We were all there, family and congregation members. My Grandma asked Grandpa to sing in Yiddish for us. Grandpa had the best voice. His first song did not make my Mother happy. He sang, “Was is Geven ist Geven it Nitch Du.” My Mom said, “Daddy, why that song?” ‘What was, was and never will be again,’ is not what my Mom wanted to hear on her anniversary. (I think he was reliving her wedding, which occurred when my Dad was in the army on his way to Korea. It was a difficult time for the family, I have been told.)

My Grandpa laughed and then sang Tumbelalika and Schtetla Belz among other songs. There was some singing along, but mainly Grandpa singing to all of us.

We also celebrated my Grandma’s birthday there once or twice. Her birthday was in July. So perhaps her 70 or 75th birthdays were celebrated in the shul.

Grandpa was a cohen. He did not want to go to shul every week, but if no other cohen was available he went. In his younger days he would walk the mile or so to shul. But as he drifted near his 80s and older, he began to drive. He would park at Newman’s or across from Sylvia’s store and then walk the rest of the way. He just could not bring himself to drive all the way to shul on Shabbat.

I remember that a rabbi was hired that was a bit too orthodox for the shul. He put strings up around the syngagoue. As we walked to the shul, my Grandpa stopped and stood so still. “Vas Machts?” He turned to my Grandma. “I haven’t seen that since the shtetl!” He said. (Yes, he said it in Yiddish, but I don’t know how to write the entire sentence.)

I wanted to know what it was; it was an iruv. It makes a wall around the area of the synagogue or community so that people can carry things. You are not supposed to carry on Shabbat, but with an iruv up you can.

My grandparents had many friends at the shul. Among their closests friends were Abe and Clara Wagner. I can still see Abe, a plumber, down in a hole at my grandparents’ bungalow colony asking for some tool.   And my Grandpa laughing hysterically at the sight of the little red haired, highly freckled plumber in a hole.   Abe was so mad, “Stop laughing and hand me the tool.” But they both had a good laugh.

I remember going to their home many times with my Grandma and sitting and talking with Clara.

When Clara passed away, my grandmother was inconsolable for quite awhile. But when Abe remarried, she was welcoming to his new wife.

It was Abe who was there for my Grandpa when my Grandma passed away. We got the phone call from the hospital early on an August morning. My Grandpa refused to go to the hospital. He said, “She is gone, why do I need to go there.” They were worried about him at the hospital as he was in his 80s. So my Mom called Abe.

I can see it as yesterday. Abe spoke to my grandfather briefly, then he pointed at me. “Ellen, you come with me,” he said.

We went to the hospital, and while I signed my grandmother’s name over and over again on documents, Abe said. “Stay with them, I will be back.” At the time the emotion of signing Grandma’s name was all I thought of, nothing else.

We left when he returned. He had a big plastic bag of Grandma’s stuff. As we passed a dumpster, Abe told me throw it all out. “Your Grandpa doesn’t need any of that stuff,” he said.

I then turned to him and said, “Abe, I never saw Grandma.”
“Don’t worry, I took care of it,” He said.

And he did.

Grandma was buried in New Jersey, in our family plot. We, my parents, Grandpa and I, drove back to the Catskills from the cemetery. Grandpa sang, Johnny Mercer’s song, “Autumn Leaves” all the way back. “We promised each other that whoever remained would sing this song,” my Grandpa said. I still cannot bear to hear that song.

When we got to the house, all was ready. There was water by the door. There was a spread of eggs and other dairy items on the table. I am not sure if it was relatives or the Jewish community who prepared everything. But I know that many members of Congregation Temple Beth El came to sit shiva with my Grandpa. They were there for him for the many years he remained living at Kauneonga Lake.

My grandparents and parents always supported Congregation Temple Beth El. And as a community the people of the shul comforted my family.

I am so glad that services are still held at the shul on the hill, and that I have renewed my membership to support it and keep it alive.