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Archive for April, 2015

YU Baseball Sunday

On the Field

On the Field

I was at the beautiful Van Cortlandt Park in Riverdale (the Bronx) yesterday watching the Yeshiva University Maccabees (Macs) vs. Vaughn College’s team in a double header. Unbelievable. YU won both games! That broke a 67-game losing streak! The guys looked sharp in their white uniforms adorned with blue letters. There were some great hits and pitches, and lots of steals causing the dust to rise from the field. What a day!

Pirates Hat at 191st St Station

Pirates Hat at 191st St Station

The sky couldn’t have been bluer nor the clouds fluffier. Breezy and a bit on the cool side, it was a perfect day for baseball. Some trees in the distance blossomed; a nearby tree shed red florets. I took the 1-train up to its last stop, 242nd Street, and the field was right by the station. I came prepared, proudly wearing my vintage Pittsburgh Pirates cap (with the mean Pirate). With my sons being on the team, I had to show our Pittsburgh pride. I wouldn’t care to be mistaken for a Mets fan after all!

As I sat in the bleachers soaking up the sun (and pretending to be able to see the ball against the sky when someone hit a pop-up), I felt the sun warming my body and heart. A bit of happy deja vu floated up. It’s one more time that I’m sitting in the bleachers for my sons’ baseball game. I’m reminded of all the Little League games I’d attended when the kids were small, but now it’s the big time: college baseball. The kids are bigger, but they’re my still kids, and I’m busting* with pride!

After-Game Wrapup

After-Game Wrap-up

Being not too far from campus, there was a bit of a cheering section, too. I chatted with Coach’s mom, the photographer, and some of the other people on the bleachers. One player’s sister who was visiting from Chicago came and another’s grandmother even came! I had met a few of the guys before and it was nice to be remembered and smiled at.

Nostalgia set in. How many hours had I warmed the bleachers supporting my kids’ teams? How many times had I yelled “way to go” or cheered when our team came home? This seemed not much different, only this time, the players had beards and were taller than previously.

Best of all was hearing how the players spoke to their teammates. Cries of encouragement were voiced to the guys at bat or on the field, and guys were clapped on the shoulder or tapped with affection when they came back to the dugout. Some cute nicknames were bandied about, too. Even the guys who didn’t play supported their teammates loudly and with passion. Brotherhood and camaraderie were evident.

There were some funny moments, too. At some point they called out random Hebrew words to confound the other team’s pitcher. I remember hearing “iparon” (pencil) and “todah rabbah” (thanks a lot) thrown out and cracking up over the absurdity! It was weirder than if the other team had babbled Spanish. One could expect Spanish in New York. But Hebrew?

I took plenty of pictures. I called my Mom to tell her about the game. I followed the players accessing the team roster via smartphone. I even got my sons to pose with me at the end of the day, as the team was breaking down the practice nets and putting away equipment. I didn’t get in the way and wasn’t embarrassing to them. I suppose teen angst has passed and appreciation has set in. They are men in uniforms, now.

Only one thing was missing that would have made the day perfect: I didn’t bring a knitting project!

Team Going Home seen from Train Platform

Team going home seen from 1-train platform

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* Yeah, I know it should be “bursting,” but I felt like a balloon swelling with happiness and thought I’d bust out in song!

Creepy Tunnel Awaits Public Art

Creepy Tunnel at 191st St New vs Old - DNAInfo

Photo credit: DNAinfo/Lindsay Armstrong

I disliked using the 1-Train Uptown because of the tunnel. Until a few months ago, it symbolized the Portal to Hell, how lost souls would gain entrance to the netherworld. But not now.

How it used to be: After exiting the 191st Street Station, the dark, dank, dirty and seemingly-endless long tunnel from the station to Broadway captivated my imagination. I envisioned the helpful city planners and happy artists painting beautiful murals several years ago. But we all suffered the reality of ugly black graffiti, stuck-on posters that someone burned while on the wall, and dirty ineffective lighting fixtures. I even complained about the illumination to the local precinct police. Tunnels don’t bother me; I’m from Pittsburgh, a city replete with tunnels. The specter of violence and/or unsavory occurrences spooked me although regular, law-abiding people traversed it daily. My mind simply worked overtime. I wasn’t scared, just leery (and lazy, weary of walking uphill once I exited on Broadway).

Now: The Department of Transportation replaced the lighting with brilliant and energy efficient LED lights last autumn. That transformed the tunnel. It’s still dank and long, but doesn’t awake my automatic dread response. I wish I had a bike or skates to float along its inviting length. Along with the platform renovations, LEDs make the 191st Street Station a safer and more desirable destination.

Public art waits to happen here. See DNAInfo: City Seeking Artists to Paint Murals for ‘Creepy’ 191st Street Tunnel. I moved to the neighborhood after the “new” mural was already blighted, so I never got to see it in its glory. Curse the taggers and graffiti “artists” who’ve already marred and mauled the tabula rasa of newly painted walls! I, for one, happily await new, creative artwork (not spray paint) that will uplift community spirit and beautify our corner of Washington Heights.

Gallery

Jewelry Supplies

I’m going to make some bracelets! Or earrings! Or necklaces! Or all three! What a find on Craigslist. Thanks to the generous person who added all of this swag to the crimping tool I inquired about.

Crimping tool and beading supplies obtained via Craigslist

Crimping tool and beading supplies obtained via Craigslist

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!

 

 

 

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

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