"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Pouring Rain

My skirt got soaked up past my knees. My feet turned to icicles inside my wet shoes. Today gave us the hardest rain–and whipping winds–that I’ve seen for a while. And I had to go out, no ifs, ands, or buts. So I got wet. I leaped from my car to start toward my goal a half block down.

See me tiptoeing, as if that would keep my soggy shoes from getting wetter, avoiding the deepest puddles. Since the street was higher than the sidewalk I walked on it, but it was like dodging landmines. Luckily no cars came by to spray me with a fountain of water. The wind tried to whip my umbrella from my hands and I wielded it like a shield, nearly perpendicular to the ground. Dripping and shaking I made it to my destination.

Wow, did that cup of tea ever feel so good!

Going back out again I reversed my progress. My still damp clothing got drenched again. I cleverly avoided being splashed by five oncoming cars. Clicking the door open, I wrestled my umbrella to close and tossed it on the floor of the passenger side. It brushed the glove compartment, blessing that with a sheet of water. I sat in my car, teeth chattering, blasting the defroster. The interior fogged up while I regained control of my limbs.

Rain Boot

New Rain Boot

I don’t have a raincoat because where I’m from you generally jump into the car, then run into your destination. I didn’t need one much. Now located in NYC, I walk places a lot more and find I need one. I have to go shopping for one. Yuck.

I hate shopping for myself. I didn’t have rain boots, either. But after this episode, I found a pair at the local Target which 1) fit (yay!) and 2) were reasonably priced (double yay!!). Of course I couldn’t use them right from the store, so my feet got wetter as I ran from store to car.

Fortunately, by the time I got home, the rain had subsided to a gentle drizzle.  I found a parking spot (triple yay!!!) only 4 blocks from home on the Friday side of the street (Alternate Side Parking rules apply). I clenched my bags, managed the umbrella on my left shoulder, walked slowly so my heels wouldn’t slip out of my overstretched wet shoes, and clumped home.

Then I crawled into bed to chase the shivers away. What a day!

What Mess? What Noise?

 

Whatta lotta matzah!

Whatta lotta matzah!

Passover is done for another year.

I loved it. I loved having five of our children around and various guests. I loved the planning, cooking, and serving. Even the cleanup after meals didn’t faze me. I was “in the zone.” I felt connected and fulfilled. My shopping list on Google Drive made me ecstatic in the stores. I felt efficient and prepared. I loved the crumbs on the table, the potatoes, and having to reach into a different cupboard than usual for a plate. I loved the seeming mess, having things displaced, needing to walk new paths, searching for equipment. A change, a shake-up. Spring-cleaning for the mind. Last year we were slaves; this year we are free.

And oh my–the second batch of chicken soup was one of the best I’ve ever made! With matzah balls! (The first batch was great, but this second batch… ummm yummm!)

Single-Bottle Wine Caddy
Last Sunday I “turned my kitchen over,” i.e., boxed up and sequestered all of the Passover plates, cookware, and equipment so I could bring out the year-round items. I discarded unused equipment: the wine bottle caddy my husband received with a Purim package ages ago but is not useful at the Seder; his Chinese-patterned melamine plates from before we were married that we used before we bought the new purple ones; and the decorative metal and glass serving box for machine-made square matzah because we predominantly eat handmade, round matzahs. I climbed up the stepladder to the cupboard above the refrigerator–which is closed year-round–and lovingly tucked the Passover supplies to sleep for another year.

I wish there had been more noise. Crazy? I wish there had been more visitors. I wish the apartment had been full of our children and their friends laughing, playing games, and squabbling. Although we played Settlers of Catan one afternoon, people drifted away for naps instead of digging in for the noisy, competitive, seemingly endless tournaments we’d played in younger years. The friends live elsewhere and a small New York City apartment gets crowded quickly.

I have memories of family meals from my childhood. Adults babbled in important adult tones; children laughed and shrieked while spilling drinks and tracking crumbs. Blotchy with wine stains, the tablecloth reminded us of years past. There’s a photo of my sister and our cousin, both about 5 years old, pouring soda and laughing. That’s what I remember.

Don't open! חמץ (Chometz; leavened items) may be lurking there!

Don’t open! חמץ (Chometz; leavened items) may be lurking there!

That’s what I hope to recreate.

The noise, the mess, the planning, the excitement. The expectation of the Seder meal, retelling our exodus from slavery in Egypt. The drama of one whole week of the year dominating our minds so thoroughly. That is Passover of the past, present, and of the future. I hope our children will retain happy memories of this year’s holiday. Doesn’t every parent wish this to be so?

We pray: Let us all be reunited in Jerusalem as One People, celebrating the Passover together, giving thanks to the One Who freed us and continues to sustain us throughout all time.

לשנה הבאה בירשלים

Next year in Jerusalem!

Dark Satanic Mills

England Industrial Revolution illustration

England’s Industrial Revolution illustration

I was listening to the song “Jerusalem(1) and was struck with the oddity of the phrase “dark Satanic mills” among depictions of “England’s mountains green” and the establishment of a new Heaven (a/k/a Jerusalem) there. Blake poses these bucolic visions of beauteous England with heavenly pastures and clouded hills then plops down some odious hulking factory spewing viscous smoke and spitting brimstone. According to University of Houston’s John Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History, Blake refers to the Industrial Revolution by the phrase “dark Satanic mills.”

British Cotton Works, mid-1800s

Great Western Cotton Works, Barton Hill, Bristol, England circa mid-1800s

The Industrial Revolution turned civilization on its head. We once lived a largely agrarian, rural way of living. With the Industrial Revolution, we became an industrialized, urban-centered society in roughly 150 years. The railroads transported materials and goods widely from around the 1830s. Whether flour, bricks, cotton, or steel mills, the smokestacks darkened the skies and sulfured the air. One can imagine the hum of industry in the cities and the phenomenal social changes.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, the “Steel City,” before the demise of the steel industry in the late 1970s. At night the sky glowed red from the blast furnaces less than two miles from my bed. Rather than thinking of the mills as being “satanic,” they provided me and the other residents of the area with a stability and identity. For the longest time, Pittsburgh was steel. Long before steel, Pittsburgh was glass. The area has been synonymous with industrial activity for centuries.

People flocked to the region to work in the mills. Workers received relatively high wages. Aye, the work was dirty and dangerous. However, the mills symbolized opportunity, prosperity, and pride. I can imagine that the nascent Industrial Revolution in England had the same allure for workers there. More than one worker who left for the big city sent money to support his family back home.

If we think deeply about the changes that occurred during that time, we might opine that it was the change in the social dynamic that could have seemed “satanic,” and not just the mills. Spewing smoke, noise, and sparks, some industrial facilities could have seemed like Hell on Earth.

But look what they led to. Life today. Certainly we’re not living in Heaven, but we’re also not living in Hell.

Or are we?

 

 


(1) “Jerusalem,” based on the poem “And did those feet in ancient time” by William Blake (c. 1804), with music written by Sir Hubert Parry in 1916.

Freedom from Bondage

What’s all this spring cleaning about?

Passover starts this evening at sundown. Jewish families have been preparing for this holiday for weeks, if not months. In commemoration of the unleavened dough the Israelites took out of Egypt when fleeing on a moment’s notice, we have an obligation to rid our homes of “chametz,” i.e., leavened or fermented foods that primarily derive from five species of grain. So, not only do we remove all of the bread, crackers, pasta, and dough from our homes, we clean rigorously to eliminate any lurking crumb of chametz, that is ready to pounce into our mouths. So we wipe, vacuum, wash, dust, and generally go mad, rousting chametz from our homes. I can’t prove it, but I think searching for chametz established the basis for spring cleaning.

Chametz symbolizes the opposite of humility. A person puffed up from his own grandeur cannot connect spiritually to others or his Creator. The Passover seder uses many symbols to prod us to think deeply. The ceremonial meal is built around a seder plate. Questions are encouraged, and no question is too stupid. We use symbols and explanations to craft a memorable description of what happened to our ancestors. But why all the fuss about chametz?

When the Jews left Egypt, they were just beginning their journey to worship G-d. They needed to focus solely on their objective, which was to reach Mount Sinai and accept the Torah. Any thought of themselves, any self-consciousness or self-regard, would have hampered them in their ability to achieve their goal. To receive the Torah, they needed to let go of their own egos entirely, to give themselves over completely to G-d.(1)

Matzah is flat, poor bread, consisting of nothing but flour and water. It is humble. The dough didn’t have time to rise as the Israelites fled their homes in Egypt, their houses of bondage.

Today we task ourselves with very stringent requirements to prepare ourselves spiritually for the holiday and celebrate with the seder meal. Because we are human, we tend to focus on the preparations and not on what we’re preparing for. We’re getting ready to relive the Exodus: our freedom from bondage in Egypt leading to the giving of the Torah.

It is incumbent upon us to remember that we were delivered from slavery. It is vital to recognize and praise the One Who freed us. Two books of the Bible, Exodus (Shemos) and Deuteronomy (D’varim), detail the deliverance of the Israelites. Though this historical event happened to our forefathers, we still recount the story and teach it to our children year by year at the seder. How do I know it’s true? I heard it from my grandfather who heard it from his grandfather, and so on, and so on.

I could make myself crazy with cleaning. The drapes–no chametz there–the window screens, the bathtub. I could run around like a nut, Formula 409™ spray bottle in one hand and feather duster in the other, to clean the house. Or, I can rid my home of chametz from the usual places where we eat or trail crumbs. Since I don’t have small children broadcasting Cheerios all around, I can forget about the area under the radiator. I don’t have to dust the tops of the 6-foot tall bookcases. It’s all a matter of perspective. Spring cleaning or Passover preparation?

The cleaning can be a type of bondage in itself if we don’t see the connection to our freedom. For it is not spring cleaning that we should be doing. Certainly, we should be searching for the chametz in our homes, but it is equally important to rid ourselves of the “chametz” in our hearts and deflate our egos so that we can truly feel as though each of us, individually, had been taken out of Egypt him- or herself.

Tonight I shall raise my four cups of wine in praise, reliving how we fled from Egypt and were saved by the Almighty. I am free from slavery… and free from the bondage of spring cleaning!

Have a happy, kosher Passover!

 

 

 

/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*//*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*/*//*/*/*/*/*/*/

(1.) “Puffed Up.” Chabad of Central NJ, Accessed April 3, 2015.

R.I.P. Faithful Companion

Storm & Lightning

Storm & Lightning, 2008.  R.I.P, Faithful companions.

 

People become very attached to their pets. Pets become “part of the family.” I’ve heard them described as being “just like a baby,” “the only one who really understands me,” and “the love of my life.” I’ve had dogs. I’ve had cats. I’ve owned fish, turtles, hermit crabs, and took care of the 3rd grade’s reptile for the summer. I’ve given numerous fish a funeral at sea. I’ve also taken a dog to be euthanized, or “put to sleep” as we say. For me the pets were beloved friends, but they were just pets. My sister, Michele, and brother-in-law were more of the first sort of pet owners, head over heels about the dogs.

Storm was put to sleep today.

Storm and Lightning were “brothers,” German Shepherds from the same sire and dam, with Storm being two years the older. Storm’s ears cocked inward; thus he was not suitable for breeding. Lightning developed seizures as he aged and also could not be bred. They were big dogs, Storm the larger of the two, and they barked a lot if they didn’t know you. Great watchdogs. However, they were well-trained and responded to commands. Once they stopped barking I never feared them for they were affectionate and attentive. But they barked until I got out of my car and they were commanded to stop barking. Big noise.

Storm sensed the atmosphere and emotions when it came to my sister. When Michele’s remission from cancer ended, it was Storm who sensed something was off. His behavior prodded my brother-in-law to take Michele to the hospital. This 100 pound furry fellow kept her company, even climbing into the bed, when she was recovering from chemotherapy. He was stalwart. He was the leader of the pack. Meanwhile, Lightning needed more attention, and his health failed progressively until the only option was to put him down. Storm missed him terribly, looking repeatedly around the house for Lightning.

Then Michele died a few weeks afterward. The worst day of all……

Storm and my brother-in-law were buddies after that. Sure, there were the cats, but cats are aloof and didn’t comfort him like Storm did. Then last year Storm started to fail. The only decision was to put him down. Today was the designated day.

Here’s a nod to a good dog and good friend. He’s buried in the back acre near his brother Lightning. Goodbye noble friend.

 

Candle of HopeHow do we make sense of a tragedy such as that which befell the Sassoon family in Brooklyn last Friday night?

We cannot. We are too small, too limited. We can’t see what the Creator and Sustainer has in His plans. All we can rely upon is our simple faith that all G-d does is Good. That there IS a purpose and meaning to everything. That this family did not perish in vain.

I am no philosopher, ethicist, religious expert, or authority. I’m just a woman, a mother and wife, who cries and trembles in the face of this disaster. I try to put it sensibly in my world, but there is no sense, no bounds that can hold the magnitude of the horror. I can’t make sense of it. I can’t process the enormity. My heart is too stunned to be breaking and yet I go on with my quotidian life.

But it will not be the same. How do I make sense of this tragedy? I cannot.

So in come the experts to help us through. Chai Lifeline is an organization dedicated to serving seriously ill children and their families, and provides crisis intervention, counseling services, and community services amongst its many functions. On Sunday night, March 22, they sponsored several speakers to help people process tragedy. I heard the speakers in a live videocast. Today they were released on YouTube. I am presenting links to two of the talks, Rabbis Joey Haber and Yisroel Reisman.

Their messages are incredible and solace can be gained from each. Solace and comfort, but no understanding as the Rabbis themselves do not understand. As Rabbi Haber said, “It’s crazy.”

May there be a total recovery for the mother, Gila bas Francis, and the sister, Tziporah bas Gila. Blessed be the memory of the ones taken so young. May the One Who gives comfort be a Comfort to all of the family and community.

Rabbi Joey Haber: Making Sense of the Midwood Tragedy


Rabbi Yisroel Reisman: Making Sense of the Midwood Tragedy

 

-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-*-

(Photo credit: “A Candle of Hope” by ArcheiaMuriel, used under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

Sitting in Starbucks

Knitting in Public - aqua afghan

Knitting in Public – aqua afghan at Starbucks, March 20, 2015

At a Starbucks in New Jersey this time, taking refuge from traffic as we travel to our Shabbos destination. An impossibly heavy snow started falling shortly before our departure. Snow obscures my vision on the road. We left early and I drive slowly. We’re early and stop to savor time and a cup of warmth. We’ll leave in an hour, closer to the time we’re expected at our hosts. My nostrils twitch in anticipatory pleasure, a nice cappuccino to soon pass my lips. We settle on the leather armchairs near the front window and wait for our order to be called. I wait; he goes and fetches the cups.

The lady in the corner knits. I see her following the instructions with her finger. Bright orange highlighter marks the lines. I ask what it is, outing myself as knitter. It’s an afghan, she says. A most captivating color of aqua green spills over her lap.

I guess her age to be in the 70s. Seeing I am wearing a headscarf and long skirt, she tells me that her mother was from Poland, the youngest of 8 children. This is a form of Jewish geography, the unconscious attaching we do to connect ourselves in time and space. Her grandmother was very religious, she continued, praying copiously. The grandfather died at 39 leaving a widow to cope with all those children. How they made it to the USA was not disclosed. Despite the religious grandmother, l can tell that she is not, but she’s Jewish, too. She wears youthful blue jeans and a trendy hairstyle. She peers over her bifocals at me, one finger on the page, the other hand gripping the knitting needles. 

When I came in she had been talking with the man with a very strong New York accent. They compare their respective histories in the vast country of Brooklyn, discovering they had walked the same streets. Although he traveled all over the world, he never shed his Brooklyn voice. In New Jersey, however, it doesn’t hinder him. He tried to learn Spanish to no avail although his wife is Colombian and the children are bilingual. She lived in Vermont, Texas, Florida, North Dakota, California, and five other states, and lost most of her Brooklyn voice. She can camouflage herself almost anywhere while his New Yorkese blared as loudly as a foghorn. Together they walked through their remembered neighborhood. How they came together on this snowy afternoon is happenstance, coincidence, fate.

A second man joins Mr. Brooklyn. He speaks with a strong Spanish accent but he looks foreign to me, not like local Spanish. Maybe it’s his clothing or sibilant S’s that strike me as different. They launch into a discussion of pipes and fittings, fire sprinklers and city codes. Soon-to-be business partners I surmise. I don’t pay attention to their conversation. I let the business details patter around my hearing, so many wet snowflakes melting as they touch down.

They smile, plan, gesticulate. Ms. Aqua knits. I sip. Hubby reads. Snow falls. The hour inches closer to Shabbos and the time we will continue our trip.

Basement Monsters

Basement Monsters

Imagine these as monsters… in our basement.

Creepy faces stare out at me from the quiet, dark room. I resist the urge to tiptoe by.

It’s odd enough in the basement in the late hours, though it is well-lit. I’m on my way to the trash room with bags of recyclables. But first I have to pass the … monsters! I feel compelled to sidle past the doorway with my back against the wall. But I don’t. I peek in. The imaginative me sees blank faces with glowing eyes. Gaping maws. Guardians. Soldiers. Watchmen. Or monsters. The red eye glares and the blue eye freezes you in place if it catches you in its beam. The mouth gapes widely, blackly toothless, waiting to devour the unwary. The murky gloom beckons you inside in a soft, insistent voice even though you mean to walk past that opening. Fast.

I could be terrified… until I take one step into the laundry room….

The second I cross the threshold, the lights blink on, and the monsters become tame washing machines. No noise, no suds, and most definitely, no monsters.

Yeah, I knew it all along, but there’s a part of me that is still six years old, creeping up the stairs a bit afraid of the dark because I’m afraid of a shadowy lamp in the corner… the silhouette of which just happens to look like the man-eating plant I saw in a cartoon! There’s a part of me that stays awake long into the night, assessing the sounds, measuring the frequency of the sirens, hearing the tock tick tock tick of the clock as it counts the hours. I’m a creature of the night but it doesn’t mean that I can’t see things in its veils of gloom. I’ll exercise that part of my imagination happily because it makes me feel alive and safe—here in my happy home.

Now next time I go down there, who knows what I’ll see?

More multi-continental

Readers, December 2014

Readers of this blog in the first month, December 2014

 

On my blog post “Multi-continental!” dated March 7,  I  crowed, “Yesterday I got my first reader from another continent: Australia!”

Well, I was wrong. I just hadn’t known how to look up those things and missed the obvious: in my first month, readers from ISRAEL and GERMANY were my first “multi-continental” readers.

What do you know?

 

Wrecked on Broadway

Wrecked Camry in the Bronx on Broadway

Wrecked Camry in the Bronx under the 1-Train tracks on Broadway

Today’s blog comments on a scene not far from Washington Heights. I moved my car for the first time in two weeks the other day. No snow, no Alternate Side Parking. Bad news: a tire was flat. I drove slowly to the gas station and filled it with enough air to get me to the tire shop in Riverdale. Preparing for a bit of a wait, I walked down Broadway to the supermarket to get something to drink and came across this ruin.

The wreck sits under the 1-Train tracks. It has been moldering here at least since last fall, six months or so, judging from the dead leaves inside and around it. Ironically, a white police cruiser sits across the street, and two cars over is a black auxiliary police car. You would think that the police know about this eyesore and would be doing something to have it removed. I can’t fathom why it’s been here so long. The owner must be known; the front license plate is still affixed!

An intact shoe rests on the driver’s side rocker panel contrasting oddly with the condition of this wrecked Toyota Camry. How odd, I thought, my curiosity piqued. I walked around it noting the totally shattered windshield, the flayed innards, rusted metal, nightmarish wires jutting out, and the oddly unmolested back seat. I prayed that nobody was in it when it got crushed. No one could have lived through an accident that would cause this much damage.

What story could this car tell? What happened to cause this damage? And how did a lone shoe come to rest here, of all places?

Tag Cloud

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 236 other followers

%d bloggers like this: