Archive | Light Lines

Historic church visit enjoyable, valuable decision

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

As I write what you read now, it is last Sunday afternoon, after Kever Avot, our annual pre-Rosh Hashanah cemetery visit to recall and honor those we love who have predeceased us.
I visited many family graves during a recent stay in my hometown, but I remembered everyone again as I placed a stone on the local grave of my husband. And this was certainly a far different Sunday experience for me than the one I had just a week before …
On Sept. 10, I was in a small group of National Federation of Press Women members who stayed on after the conclusion of the group’s annual conference (this year in Birmingham) for a four-day tour of the homes, and other places of importance, in the lives of Alabama’s most honored writers. Our first stop — and its picture graces the front of the state’s official Civil Rights Tour brochure — was Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first pulpit of Martin Luther King before he became a figure of history. Its name has long since been expanded to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and it is a current candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This was an auspicious Sunday for our group of 30-plus to visit: It was the church’s Women’s Leadership Day Celebration, with all elements of the service introduced and/or led by women, some of whom are ordained ministers; current Pastor Cromwell A. Handy, latest in the line of MLK’s successors, had only a minor role.
The enthusiasm with which Black worship is so often portrayed on TV and movie screens was somewhat in evidence — but only somewhat. Decorum ruled. Parishioners arrived wearing what I would call “Sunday best,” their young children in suits and party dresses. The nearby parsonage which was once MLK’s home is now a museum; although it is closed on Sundays and no tours of it or the church are given on those days, there is a sign welcoming all to worship. And indeed, our group was warmly welcomed by the large congregation already in attendance as we entered and took seats on several of the old wooden pews toward the back of the second-floor sanctuary.
A period of quiet meditation with an organ music background preceded the Call to Worship: “…we are God’s handiwork, created to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth…”
After several readings and musical selections, by percussion ensemble and choir, came the formal recognition of visitors. As we entered, we had been given press-on cards to fill out with our names and addresses. Then, when the offertory was taken — called the “celebration of giving” and involving the ritual passing of collection plates — we were asked to remove those badges from our clothing and drop them into the plates, so the church would have a record of its visitors. (Of course, all of us also contributed something more tangible to the collection…)
But what was most interesting, and most touching — quite literally: As money flowed and music played, everyone rose, and many parishioners left their rows to walk where we visitors were standing, to give us handshakes and hugs, and to say, “God loves you, and we love you.” There was no reason to doubt their sincerity.
In our visiting group, only three of us were Jewish, and afterward, we talked a bit about the service, which we found paradoxical — very informal in a very structured way — but a most enjoyable and valuable learning experience. I didn’t hear anything from the Catholics among us, but the Protestants, almost to a woman, said they’d be much happier if their own church services were more like the one we’d just attended and participated in.
And that — the participation of loving and giving — was my takeaway from this very special interfaith Sunday.

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Auschwitz Album reminds us: Never again

Posted on 07 September 2017 by admin

The Holocaust is with me all the time.
I can’t say I’m “haunted” by it, but its everlasting importance informs virtually everything I read, or see, or hear about.
I, personally, lost “only” one family member — a great-aunt — in that greatest of all Jewish horrors. But I didn’t even know about that, or about the enormity of others’ losses, for many years…
I was an uninformed child when those things were happening. Did my parents know? If so, they never told me; both of them passed away without a word of it. I didn’t find out until 1978, when a four-part miniseries aired on television — NBC’s brave introduction to this sordid history. And neither did many others. Before that quartet of shows — starring a young Meryl Streep as the non-Jewish friend of a Jewish boy — most of America was either uninformed or silent. Afterward, there was no way not to know.
An apt metaphor: What happened was like someone had finally removed the recalcitrant first olive from a packed jar. Survivors began to come out of what had been a kind of hiding to share their experiences.
I belonged then to a congregation that had been founded by German Jews who recreated in Chicago the minhag of their own destroyed synagogue. At the time, I was writing for a general-circulation newspaper, and one of our temple’s founders asked if I would tell her story for everyone to read. I was incredibly humbled, and frightened, but it was my duty, my terrifying responsibility, to honor her request. On the morning that the story ran, my first telephone call was from that woman’s daughters, thanking me profusely for letting them know what their mother had never, ever told them…
And now, even after all the passed time, after the trials, after libraries have filled to overflowing with everything from academic histories to heartbreaking memoirs, materials continue to emerge that confront us once again, as if to make sure we will never forget. Some are not new, but there is one that is new to me: I have only recently become aware of The Auschwitz Album, which came to Yad Vashem for restoration exactly a half-century after the pictures in it were taken. They are the work of an SS man officially tasked in 1944 with photography as Hungarian Jews were arriving at the death camp.
It is still hard to imagine, let alone understand, how once-normal people could act as they did:  screaming curses at their longtime neighbors as they were led from their homes, and then ransacking those homes afterward. Making people dig the pit that would be their own graves, then shooting them at its rim and watching them fall in. And this man, taking pictures as if he wanted to fill an album with vacation memories. But Yad Vashem tells us the truth: “In the photos, we see men, women and children step out of the overcrowded train, traumatized and fearful after their horrendous journey. They have no clue that they have just been delivered to a death factory, and that few of them will survive.” But the photographer’s snapshots have survived for them…
A recent column on the Dallas Morning News’ editorial page reminded us that many European nations’ churches signed a sort of apology after the war, an act of repentance for getting into Hitler’s “moment” and behaving like wild animals instead of human beings. We marvel at the coldness of one who could take such pictures as those that fill the Auschwitz Album and not see suffering humanity in his viewfinder.
Today, you can Google The Auschwitz Album, read its remarkable history of survival, and see the photos for yourself. You can also Google Holocaust TV miniseries to view the Emmy-award winner that brought awareness to America and helped traumatized survivors begin walking their paths to healing.
And may we all remember, always:  Never Again!

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Non-Jewish info useful, but use mental faculties

Posted on 31 August 2017 by admin

I love radio — I have since I was a pre-TV-era child. And I still treasure this wise remark of a 12-year-old boy, so many years ago: “I like radio better than television, because radio has better pictures!”
We can never discount the mind’s ability to make pictures even better than the ones we saw on movie screens during kids’ matinees decades back.
So ever since I bought the old car I’m still driving now, I’ve had my standard dashboard presets. FM: KERA and WRR for brain stimulation and classical music; AM: KRLD and KAAM provide news and the pop songs of the ’40s, ’50s, and not much beyond.
However, I had a recent rude awakening, fueled by current chaos in our country’s government. I drive a lot, and the news being what it is — almost always a surprise! — I’ve stayed with KRLD virtually all the time. But the other day, I tuned to KAAM for some respite, and found an even bigger surprise: No longer a music station, it has become Christian radio! Completely!
I confess total fascination, despite the warning I received a long time ago from an Orthodox well-wisher who disapproved of my ongoing efforts to meet with and learn from evangelicals: “Why are you wasting your time and messing up your mind with that stuff?” I’m still on the mailing list of some “Messianic Jews,” who — annoying as they are — continue to educate me. But now, at the touch of a button, I can find my own education on what’s current with right-wing Christians.
Most of what I hear isn’t new. Some of it isn’t “pretty,” by which I mean that I find it lacking in understanding of basic Judaism while giving lip-service to, but underrating, the debt its faith profession owes to ours. I do hear mention of the fact that Jesus was a teacher of Jews. But the parallel fact that not all Jews of his time followed those teachings, leads inevitably to hellfire and damnation as predicted in the New Testament’s final book, Revelation. (Please note: this is a singular noun, not a plural one. Ponder that for a moment…)
However, in listening to KAAM more than KRLD as I “vacation” from daily politics, I’ve already had two major lightbulbs pop up over my head. The first: I heard an evangelical minister state, quite definitely, that he does not approve of, nor believe in, Messianic Judaism and organizations like Jews for Jesus! Yes! Really! Christians are supposed to evangelize, but not muddy the religious waters with half-beliefs. His bible says one cannot serve both God and Mammon, which he defined as money when it becomes a false object of worship. Ours specifies the non-worship of any but the One God, so no one should be trying to engineer some kind of hybrid faith that is true to neither Christianity nor Judaism. Hooray for him!
The second is fascinating, but a bit strange: Another minister believes that we — the Jews of our current generation — will soon be rebuilding the Third Temple in Jerusalem! Yes! In our own time! He says a group of us (he doesn’t divulge who’s in it) has already put together the Biblical plans with a stockpile of all the original holy accoutrements, and everything is now in readiness for construction! He’s enthusiastic; after all, the alt-right Christians need us to fulfill their New Testament prophecies. And this man sounds to me like a would-be prophet himself.
So there’s my new “music!” I’ll continue to follow KRLD for news, but occasionally I’ll switch over to KAAM to hear Christian financial advisors, a variety of question-and-answer shows, some Biblical quotes,  some prayers, even some hymns.
Despite the earlier advice I received, I’ll keep on listening. For better or worse, I can learn a lot about today’s America, yet always remain secure enough in my faith (OUR faith!) not to be tempted to pervert, redefine, diminish and certainly not forsake it…

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Can pen truly be mightier than sword?

Posted on 24 August 2017 by admin

I am not now, and have never been, a political person.
I vote — but I don’t talk about whom I vote for. I support organizations and causes I agree with by lending my name and writing my checks, but I don’t attend rallies. I still, in this time of guns and violence, continue to believe in the power of words.
That’s why I’m using this space today to present a poem:

This is the land where hate should die —
No feuds of faith, no spleen of race,
No darkly brooding fear should try
Beneath our flag to find a place.
Lo! every people here has sent
Its sons to answer freedom’s call;
Their lifeblood is the strong cement
That builds and binds the nation’s wall.
This is the land where hate should die —
Though dear to me my faith and shrine,
I serve my country well when I
Respect beliefs that are not mine.
He little loves his land who’d cast
Upon his neighbor’s word a doubt,
Or cite the wrongs of ages past
For present rights to bar him out.
This is the land where hate should die —
This is the land where strife should cease,
Where foul, suspicious fear should fly
Before our flag of light and peace.
Then let us purge from poisoned thought
That service to the State we give,
And so be worthy as we ought
Of this great Land in which we live!

Yes, I know it’s old-fashioned poetry. It should be, because it’s almost 100 years old. It was written in 1920 by Denis McCarthy, born in 1870 in Ireland, an immigrant who arrived in America at age 15 and fell in love with his new homeland. He became a teacher, and his poem was widely used in acculturation classes for newcomers from many places, for many years.
I first read this as a high school senior, back in 1950, and never forgot it. For all the years since, I could have recited it from memory. But I never had a reason to — until now. Suddenly, this old poem seems to speak directly to every major problem we’re having in America today: immigration, religious conflicts, racial conflicts, fears of “others,” whomever they may be. And there is also this irony: The poet’s name harks back to another McCarthy, who in his Communist witch hunts silenced many.
Can the pen be mightier than the sword?
I was a child during World War II. Then, we knew patriotism, but we never learned the realities of war. When the State of Israel was born in 1948, the Jewish population of our neighborhood cheered, and our high school responded by adding Hebrew to its standard language offerings: Spanish, French and — yes — German. We didn’t see the irony in the latter yet; we knew little or nothing of the Holocaust for years to come. We grew into adulthood in college years that ended for me just as Korea exploded; later, the newspaper I worked for assigned me to compile a column about servicemen; it was killed itself when most of what I had to report each week was the deaths of local young men who had been fighting in Vietnam.
Then, I never understood why we were involved in either of those far-away places. And I still don’t…
But I understand that our country is now confronting problems that have simmered under its surface for many long years, bursting out then with full force only occasionally. Now, those problems are our everyday occurrences. That’s why I’m putting the words of this poem in front of you, and asking you to read it again, and to pass it on to others. Denis McCarthy lived through the era of “No Irish Need Apply” to write his dreams for his country.
Now: “This is the land where hate must die.” That is not political. It is our only hope for America.

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Read through lesser-known Holocaust texts

Posted on 17 August 2017 by admin

When Jews think about Holocaust writings, we often first remember Anne Frank.
That’s true for me, but never again will I count her as the only young girl who left a diary behind. I had no idea there were any others until I read Rutka’s Notebook, subtitled A Voice from the Holocaust. The cover calls it “the long-lost diary” of another young girl, and adds that some are now calling its author “the Polish Anne Frank.” I don’t agree with that; the two girls — and their writings — are so very different. But for many, their similar ages during a similar time spur the connection.
This old/new Holocaust story first surfaced about a decade ago, when, after 61 years, a non-Jewish woman — then 82 years old — finally made public that she had kept to herself, for all that time, the slim notebook a childhood friend had asked her to hold for safekeeping — just before she, Rutka, went off to die in an Auschwitz gas chamber. It was finally published as this book in 2008, with copyright owned by Yad Vashem.
As a document, this defies comparison to Anne Frank’s diary — the two are incredibly different. Anne, as we all know, showed us the interior life of a maturing teenager, defining her future hopes and dreams. Rutka left a different kind of record: of a younger but still maturing teenager’s everyday activities and escapades, very much “in the moment” of approaching adulthood. Anne’s writings might be termed “philosophical” when read next to Rutka’s down-to-earth reportage of actual personal happenings.
The difference: Rutka was never in hiding, so she had the kind of exterior life that Anne was denied. Although her small family — parents and a much younger brother — were moved several times by the Nazis into ghetto settings, she had constant open contact with her friends. Most of her notebook is frivolous, even childish. But Rutka did see the horrors of roundups and deportations, and even ugly murders, before it was her turn to experience all three of these herself. And her knowledge of reality underlies everything; she writes as matter-of-factly about watching a baby coldly killed before its own mother’s eyes as she does about wondering to whom she’d give her first kiss. Also, this is a very brief document, covering only January to April of 1943.
By itself, Rutka’s notebook would be only a pamphlet. But its finding sparked much else, all now parts of this book. Although her mother and brother perished with her, her father survived; he remarried after the horrors, had a child, and it is this daughter, the later-discovered Zahava Laskier Scherz, who introduces Rutka with a moving essay on “The Sister I Never Knew.” Zahava also writes the fascinating story of her father’s three very different life stages — perhaps the most important reading of all.
This book surprised me with a bibliography of more than a dozen other adolescent Holocaust diaries and notebooks that I had never before known existed — five young boys among the authors. And for me especially, there was also a bit of family learning that provided previously elusive information to answer a question my sister and I had asked all our lives: Her name is Ruth, but those in the generation of our Boubby the Philosopher always called her “Root.” Here, I found that this wasn’t because those elders couldn’t pronounce the “th,” but that Rutka is the eastern European diminutive of Ruth, and is often shortened in conversation to that formerly mysterious “Root”!
This volume would make a worthy addition to the library of anyone wishing to explore one of the lesser-known aspects of the Holocaust. It’s easy reading, although some of the subject matter is painful to confront and absorb. I bought my copy at a bookshop clearance for $1, but it’s still available on Amazon for less than $5. Either way: so very little for such a big lesson in our history.

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‘Balloon people’ filled with more than hot air

Posted on 10 August 2017 by admin

I have a lot of “theories.” One of them is that there are only two basic types of people in the world: balloons, and stringholders.
Balloons are full of ideas; stringholders rein them in, putting dampers on things that will never fly.
By definition, I’m a balloon. Anyone who has been writing personal opinion columns for as long as I have must generate many ideas in order to meet deadlines (the hardest part of being a balloon). Stringholders are the people we balloons count on to tether us to reality: accountants, attorneys, and — especially for me — editors. And there are important others …
My newest stringholder is an archivist. She has taken over a good bit of my office in order to make order out of about 60 years of my published work, most of it “preserved” (some of it barely) as old, now yellowed and brittle, newspaper clippings. The piles and boxes and bags finally had to come out of the closet, either to be saved or tossed. And I hated to part with all of them — there were memories I wanted to keep (although I didn’t know where most of them were…).
I’m not the only one who hates to part with things. In a back corner of the closet was a box I had never even opened. In it, on top, was a note from someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years. She may even be gone from this world; the last time I tried to contact her, my letter was returned for a wrong address, and I couldn’t find any other. Her simple message read “I couldn’t bear to throw this out.”
The note was dated 2008. In the box were the “leavings” of a massive party I had engineered in 1979! It started out to be a simple get-together of others from the south Chicago area who, like me, were ex-Pittsburghers with a love of the old hometown. It wound up to be an extravaganza: more than 150 people in Fellowship Hall of a local church, each bringing some “artifact” he or she had carried around for years as a talisman, “native” food and drink items (including Klondikes, which were then exclusive to Pittsburgh) flown in for us, historic home movies and — here’s the big, important part — an informally formal collection of materials related to words and phrases that are idiomatic to western Pennsylvania and define its speech. In this latter, I was cooperating with the late Dr. Robert Parslow, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh; our findings were instrumental in his successful effort to have “Pittsburghese” officially declared as a recognized subset of American English!
Everything was in that box! Word of our party got much advance publicity in the daily papers of both Chicago and Pittsburgh; four Pittsburghers actually got into a car and drove 500 miles to see if this could possibly be “for real”; we even got a telegram from the then-governor of Pennsylvania, Richard Thornburgh, reminding us that his surname — like that of our beloved city — ends with an “h”!
My archivist dropped her work on my personal writings and began to codify this collection, which I will take with me on a forthcoming visit to the old hometown, where I will meet with the acquisitions and archival staff at Heinz History Center for a potential exhibition! A balloon’s dream come true, made possible by the work of a standout stringholder!
And there’s also this: The museum is considering two of my party-unrelated documents for permanent display in its Jewish section: the ketubahs of my Boubby the Philosopher and of my own mother. The back of the first was used by Zaidy Dave to record the birthdates of their 12 children; the second was printed locally and clearly displays its Pittsburgh origin. And I have wedding pictures of both couples to go with them!
One never knows where a balloon might fly!

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Sweet, bitter memories intertwined

Posted on 03 August 2017 by admin

My son turns 61 tomorrow. On a recent morning, as I wrapped his gift for mailing, I realized the nightgown I was wearing had a connection with his bar mitzvah 48 years ago, early in August 1969.  I had postponed vital surgery because of it, but would enter the hospital two days later — after the out-of-town family had left. I had told none of them about it.
The evening after the bar mitzvah was also Selichot. I excused myself from the ongoing conversation and went to my synagogue, to sing the start of the High Holy Days liturgy with our volunteer choir.  I’d been involved in choral work since elementary school and loved Jewish music best; I had no idea then that I would never sing with any choir again.
A tumor had grown around the facial nerve behind my right ear.  The surgeon cut a flap that enabled him to remove the entire parotid gland, reroute some salivary glands, and scrape the nerve clean.  I awakened with a Bell’s palsy that lasted for many weeks.  But even afterward, fully normal facial motion could never be restored.  I had bought that nightgown to take to the hospital with me…
My face was horribly deformed.  No one, including me, had been prepared for this. The children came to visit; my son was stoic; my daughter, at 9, was not: Tearfully, (sadness? fright? anger?) she averted her eyes, crying out “That’s not my mother! Take her away! Bring her back when she’s my mother again!”  The last thing I cared about then was a nightgown…
After weeks of daily electric shocks to my face, the damaged nerve finally responded — but only partially. To this day, my right eyebrow and eyelid cannot rise to the level of my left. If I’m not judicious about the spicy foods I love, I still salivate outside, on my right cheek.  I don’t smile much, and the old habit of keeping a Kleenex balled in my right fist, to quickly cover my crooked mouth when I laugh, still persists. My “revised” face is why I resist being photographed; when it’s in motion, most people notice nothing.  But a camera catches the whole truth, every time.
And the scraped nerve vibrates — so much that I cannot sustain a note when I try to sing.  This has stolen the joy of choral participation from me forever.
About that nightgown: like so much women’s personal wear then, it is made of pure nylon.  Garments like this — ankle-length, with delicate neckline floral embroidery — are long out of fashion. But they never wear out; they are the clothing equivalent of iron. I’ve worn and washed this nightgown so often all these years, and it still looks new; I’m sure it will outlast me!  And it’s forever locked into my memory of that bar mitzvah and that Selichot, my final songs with any choir…
People who didn’t know me before the surgery don’t know that this is a different face than I had for the first 35 years of my long life, while the others continue to remember me as I was. My daughter never got her same old mother back, but as she grew older herself, she accepted me as I was. As most others also did. However, my first husband dissolved our marriage soon afterward.
Fred, my dear second husband, was a “widowered” old friend from long before the operation. When we came back into each other’s’ lives so many years later, the first thing he did was touch my right cheek, ever so gently, and quietly say, “It must have been terrible for you.” That was when I knew I would marry him…
As I look backward, the bitter and the sweet mingle inextricably, as things in life so often do. This weekend, I will be remembering my son’s bar mitzvah, my last Selichot song…and Fred, while I observe his third yahrzeit on our forthcoming Shabbat.

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That distressing but unavoidable conversation

Posted on 27 July 2017 by admin

I recently sat in a small circle of people in someone’s living room, learning how to have The Conversation. Capitalized, because it’s such an important conversation, one most of us don’t even want to think about it, let alone have. It’s the advance talk about what we, and our loved ones, want for the very last of our lives.
Yes, it’s open talk about dying. But the emphasis is on making life’s end — the inevitable for all of us — the way we choose. So first, we must be honest about accepting that inevitability, and then we can go about having The Conversation.
Some people are unlucky enough not to have any end-of-life choices. They’re killed in a random drive-by shooting. They’re hit on the head by something heavy falling from the top of a tall building when they just happen to be passing by. Or they’re marched away by a Hitler henchman, as so many of our people were in a past time we don’t dare forget. But for us who are living, and thinking about living but aging family members, having The Conversation should be at the top of the to-do list.
In the quiet room where I so recently sat, Laurie Miller led us through The Conversation’s steps. She knows how to do it, because for over a decade she’s been caring for the sick and the elderly in our community, and now she’s working with the Senior Source, the Dallas Area Gerontology Society, and other service groups to get the word — and the words needed! — out to many others.
Everybody is going to die, regardless of anything else. It’s interesting, I think, that it’s Jews who are leading this effort to make personal choices for end-of-life living: This project was the brainstorm of Pulitzer Prize-winning Ellen Goodman, the Boston columnist who first articulated the need for The Conversation as her own parents aged. And Laurie Miller proudly announces her local temple membership along with the work of her company, Apple Care and Companion.
We didn’t have The Conversation itself in our little group; we spent a couple of hours of learning when and how to broach the subject, and what should be talked about. Everybody got a Conversation Starter Kit outlining a Ready-Set-Go method of approaching those we should be talking with, a gentle path from thinking about matters that nobody really wants to talk about to acknowledging the reality that we must confront them. Because if we don’t, our final decisions are likely to be made by dispassionate strangers.
The Conversation itself will include such simple things as a preference for where to die: at home, or in a hospital or other care facility? Personal comfort: sheets tucked around the feet or not? Pain: ask for medication, or let others make that decision? Company: someone to hold your hand? (And who should that someone be? Or would you rather be left alone?)
Music? Words being read aloud? (It’s widely believed that the sense of hearing persists almost to the very end of life, so what — if anything —would you like to hear?) Would you or your loved ones choose to have a rabbi or other clergy person — remember, this is a non-religious project, open to all — pray with you? These decisions should all be made in advance of need, in addition to estate plans and wills for taking care of post-death financial matters.
The Conversation Project also puts emphasis on the people who will make our end-of-life medical decisions when we can’t do so for ourselves. In addition to the Starter Kit, it provides an invaluable second booklet on both choosing a health care proxy and on being one ourselves.
In our little group, some people cried. Many asked questions. Everyone said thank you at the end, and meant it. I’m hoping many more will soon prepare to have The Conversation. The Conversation Project, now a recognized nonprofit, is ready to help.

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All Jewish kids deserve camp experience

Posted on 20 July 2017 by admin

Bradley Laye, the Dallas Federation’s CEO, recently wrote to our community praising the beneficial effects of Jewish summer camp on children’s future lives. I’m seconding his motion, because my love for Judaism, and all my involvements in it, are rooted in that experience.
My camp began at the turn of the 20th century as a needed getaway for overworked immigrant women and their small children living in a teeming, smoke-filled city. A wealthy family first endowed a settlement house to help with Americanization, naming it after a daughter, Irene Kaufmann. The camp came next, named for Emma. Because the site was a quiet place in the farming area 30 miles outside Pittsburgh, Emma Kaufmann Camp quickly became known as Emmafarm!
My childhood home was Jewish in name only. Mother, a social type, served as president of her Sisterhood but attended synagogue only on the High Holidays. Father didn’t even do that; remembering his unhappy childhood in cheder (and when I read Philip Roth’s amazing story, The Conversion of the Jews, I know what he went through), he would never again walk into a institution headed by a rabbi! But as a doctor who was a declared, although never devout, Jew, he volunteered annually to do all required pre-camp physicals for kids going to Emmafarm at no charge.
The summer I would turn 9, he asked if I’d like to go to camp, too. I said yes. And the time I spent there 74 years ago shaped my Jewish future!
It wasn’t the physical place that did it; Emmafarm was practical and undistinguished. Far away from any lake front, it had only a pool. The flat main campus, like a rectangular college quad, had four large buildings running down each of its two longer sides — on one, the boys’ units; opposite on the other, the girls’. All were named for birds: Girls began as wrens and eventually grew up into woodpeckers; boys progressed as they aged from robins to eagles.
But at the head of the quad was the dining hall, and that’s where Jewish magic took place every Friday evening. We would file quietly into that huge, echoing room, which was full of chaos three times a day every other day as kids reached and grabbed across tables for whatever bowls and platters they wanted, hardly deterred by their exhausted counselors. Yet with Shabbat approaching, without anyone having to say a word, the mood shifted into something totally different. Something quietly wonderful…
First of all, the tables were clothed in white. And so were we. Everyone, all white, from head to toe. And as we entered, we sang that old, old hymn: “Come, O Sabbath day and bring … Peace and healing on thy wing … Thou shalt rest. Thou shalt rest …”
I recently read a piece, written by a minister, suggesting that Christians should look again into their hymnals and bring back the singing of some very old songs. I think we Jews should do the same. I don’t know how many of my fellow campers (and many of us, including me, continued on as Emmafarm counselors) still remember that song. But I sing it to myself, in my head, every Friday evening as I walk into synagogue. That one hymn alone was enough to make me Jewish for a lifetime!
I don’t know, either, how many others those Shabbat evenings similarly affected, but I do know that Emmafarm “graduated” an astounding number of adult Jewish professionals — teachers, social workers, camp directors and — yes — rabbis! Among them: the distinguished Earl Grollman, who served a Massachusetts congregation for 36 years while establishing an international reputation for his counseling and writings on bereavement. (And, btw: He met his wife at Emmafarm!)
So: Thank you, Bradley, for reminding our entire community that every Jewish child deserves a Jewish summer camp experience. Truly, its positive effects will last forever!

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My birthday prayer at 83

Posted on 13 July 2017 by admin

This-coming Shabbat will mark my 83rd birthday. It might be an occasion to celebrate my second bat mitzvah — if I had had a first …
When I was a youngster, I went to Sunday School, of course, but I couldn’t attend weekday Hebrew school. And I couldn’t stand on the bimah of our shul, or hold a Torah.
I don’t say I was denied these experiences so much as brought up to recognize that they were meant only for males. I wasn’t resentful, just resigned. But I wasn’t happy with the restrictive roles that Judaism then assigned to women. I didn’t question the expectations: Certainly I would marry and have children. But I didn’t like the centerpieces of that life: I was totally un-fond of the kitchen, and hated dusting, sweeping, washing, ironing, and all the other routine chores that fell to my sex.
Years later, as my children still recall, I once told them that some mothers stay home and bake cookies, and other mothers do other things; like it or not, life had given them one of those “other mothers.” So I stepped outside my home, working even when that was frowned on by the traditionalists surrounding me. In this I was enabled by a neighbor woman who had sought help from her minister: Staying home and baking cookies caused severe depression. She was able to face down the local critics only because she’d received “permission” to take a paying job and hire some household help.
A journalist, she opened the local newspaper’s door for me. I compromised, working only when my children were at school; my understanding employer granted me the freedom to leave my office when those children were doing something at school that mothers should be attending. (How interesting: Nobody ever thought fathers had to attend those daytime functions …)
But look at all that’s happened since! Women not only learn Hebrew; in non-Orthodox congregations, they stand on their bimahs, holding Torahs, leading services — even as rabbis! And soon, after a struggle of years, I thought they would be able to worship openly and freely at the Western Wall, in an egalitarian venue created specifically for this purpose. Imagine a woman standing by her son for his bar mitzvah instead of having to peek at him over a barrier! Imagine her there, with a daughter or granddaughter becoming a bat mitzvah!
But the voices of dissent to all of this are loud ones. Not surprising, because Israel, with all its exciting freedoms, is still bound religiously by traditionalists who cling most closely to the old, women-restricting ways. The backlash has not been pretty, and even reasonable protest has been less effective than hoped for. However, although the Torah tells us that Eve was brought forth from Adam to be his helpmeet, it does not say that she or her female descendants should be relegated forever to kitchen duty and household chores. Yes, it says she will bear children for them both, in pain, while Adam sweats to earn a living for them. But nowhere does it specify that the Torah and its mandated reminders, those threads of blue, are altogether forbidden to her.
When all the women of my generation are gone, these dichotomies will have virtually disappeared in modern Diaspora Judaism. However, I continue now to straddle the issue, with one leg firmly planted in my traditional upbringing, the other steady in the camp of the more non-restrictive life my heart and soul long ago led me to pursue.
Today, I applaud each bat mitzvah of my congregation as her parents present her with her own tallit. I do not wear one myself. I do not carry a Torah. But maybe, just maybe, I will do both — if I am privileged, someday, to stand by the Wall in Jerusalem, in a place that our once-and-forever homeland will see fit to grant for women. This is my 83-year-old birthday prayer…

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