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Other benefits to that cruise

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

In this new year, I’ve started to think about downsizing. It makes sense for me, especially since I’m now involved with the Conversation Project, which I’ve written about recently; it’s the great new effort — now gone nationwide — to make younger generations comfortable with asking their elders how they would like the ends of their lives to be. This should no longer be a taboo subject, and should make the thought of dying more comfortable and more palatable, if not more pleasant, than it has been in the past.
I’m inspired by my own sister’s recent downsizing from a spacious two-bedroom condo to a studio apartment in a senior residence facility. Her recent heart surgery has actually dictated this move, and she was unhappy about it until this flu epidemic hit. She’s now under quarantine, but very grateful now that she is where she’s taken care of; no need to worry about medication and doctors because they’re on hand, and no need to go shopping or prepare meals since they’re delivered three times a day. (It is taking her a while to get comfortable with the masked strangers who make the deliveries, pick up the trays afterward, and don’t say a word about anything…)
But I digress. A possibility I’ve learned about may be more pleasing than any senior residence, if one can stay well enough to choose it. This is something to consider: moving into a cruise ship cabin! There’s not much that’s smaller, but nothing can provide more overall living comfort. Read on, and even if you don’t find this serious, you’ll enjoy the fanciful logic of our favorite author, Anonymous. I’ve adapted his firsthand proposition here:
While on a Mediterranean cruise, this man noticed an elderly lady sitting in the main dining room alone, but the whole staff seemed to know her. The waiter told him she’d been on board for the ship’s last four cruises, back-to-back. When the man asked her about her recent travels, she said,.”It’s cheaper than a nursing home!”
Investigating at that time, the writer found average nursing home costs of $200 per day, but with long-term and senior discounts, cruise accommodations came in at only $135, and daily gratuities would use up only about $10 of the remaining $65 difference. He was stunned: “I could have as many as 10 restaurant meals a day, and even room service: Imagine! Breakfast in bed, all week long!”
On board: a swimming pool, workout room, free use of washers and dryers, entertainment every night. Free soap, shampoo, toothpaste… No monthly TV bills. Vacuuming and dusting, clean sheets and towels every day — all standard. Bed made by someone else when you leave the cabin, then turned down for you in the evening, maybe even with a candy left on your pillow. Need a light bulb changed? No problem!
So pick your first destination; whatever cruise line you choose should have a ship ready to go there. And after that — sail anywhere and everywhere. Your bonus: meeting new people every week or two.
(My own more recent reading of cruise ship literature shows somewhat higher prices than those quoted by Anonymous, but nursing home costs are up, too. I’ve also learned that those necessary but annoying lifeboat drills are things of the past on most lines. And even if you choose one that still requires a full-non-metal-jacket appearance on deck, you‘ll probably rate a “bye” after your first voyage. because, unless you fall and break a hip — when they’ll probably upgrade you to a suite — you’ve successfully downsized to your new permanent home!)
My daughter will cruise the Caribbean in March, so I’ll get an update afterward on whether the alleged facts above still “hold water,” as it were…But I especially resonate to the idea of meeting brand-new people every few weeks while having those who “serve” you already used to caring for your needs.
If Anonymous is correct, he may be on to something!

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Hungry for food, learning? Try this event

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Next Monday, all of us will pause to remember the late Martin Luther King, Jr., his achievements and his unfortunate, untimely assassination.
We will honor him, whether we were alive or not even born yet at the time of his death. I’m fortunate to be able to recall those early days, when things were finally beginning to heat up after a long time of simmering in Alabama.
Contrary to common belief, Rosa Parks wasn’t the first black person to challenge segregation on a public bus — there had been at least a half-dozen before her. But behind-the-scenes efforts to end that longtime practice were at work in Montgomery, where black leadership decided — wisely, it turned out — that she was the best candidate because her story wasn’t a “cause”: She was just a very tired day worker at the end of many hours on her feet, and when the “Whites Only” front of her homebound bus was filled, all she was “resisting” was having to stand some more so the next white person to board could have her seat. From such little acts, big changes may arise.
I was fortunate, all those years ago, to be teaching religious school for a very social-action-oriented congregation in a moneyed Chicago suburb. And as my students were teenagers, I was invited to sit in while members began to work on their next project: taking a bus to Selma — then at the heart of resistance and protest on both sides of the color line. I could not afford to go myself, with a young social worker husband on a low salary and a very young child at home. But I will never forget that dinner as long as I live.
That group did go to Selma, while here in Dallas the late, beloved Rabbi Levi Olan marched with MLK himself. We feel the results of their actions, and those of so many others, every day since, and once a year, we formally remember …
Many activities honor MLK’s achievements on the holiday celebrated nationally on the Monday nearest his birth (Jan. 15, 1929). Among the parades and banquets, there’s a special event I particularly like: It’s the speech contest featuring young black students who emulate and interpret in their own varied ways both the fiery oratory and the deeply-felt sentiments of Martin Luther King, Jr. But the one I enjoy and appreciate most is the Dallas Dinner Table, held every year on the evening of MLK Day. Founded in 1999, it’s a local, independent nonprofit that brings together people representing many races, religions and ethnicities in a safe situation for open communication. Alumni of Leadership Dallas had the idea that talking together over a shared meal might have the possibility to encourage a sharing of life perspectives as well.
And they were right! My late husband and I attended one of the first year’s Dinner Table events, held in the private home of a couple who happened to be both black and gay, its free-wheeling discussion guided only by a short list of some matters we might like to consider. Try to imagine the conversation of that long-ago evening! We, like many other first-timers, were hooked; the two of us didn’t miss many dinners after that, and I’ve continued to go on my own since Fred’s passing.
Most Dinner Tables have moved now from individual homes to larger public venues, but the drill is the same: You sign up, tell how far you’re willing to travel, and soon get an assignment for a group guaranteed to include a variety of people, with a moderator to keep the discussion moving on-track.
It’s surely too late now for this year’s sign-ups, but please mark your calendar for 2019. Want more details? Just Google “Dallas Dinner Table” and read all about it. Then go — hungry for food and learning. You will receive both, in no small amounts, at absolutely no charge, while honoring a great man’s dream.

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Your ‘real work’ begins after busy work ends

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Here we are, in a brand-new year. A fresh start. We’re none of us going to make the same mistakes over again, are we?
Who are we kidding? Our resolutions, from before the ball dropped at midnight last weekend — have you broken some of yours already? I have. I always do, because they’re always the same: Eat more healthily. Exercise more. Be kinder/nicer to everyone, and don’t get into any more fights with (you know who — we each have our own “you-know-who,” don’t we?).
I briefly remembered the warning given when I moved from elementary to high school: Everyone gets a clean slate, and then everybody scribbles on it. Still, once again, I wrote down my resolution list and went to hang it on the side of the refrigerator (not on the front; I never wanted these things staring me in the face every day). And when I did, I found last year’s list still there — untouched, unread. Guess what? I didn’t have to write a new list at all! Everything for 2018 was exactly the same as for 2017. I didn’t even bother to replace the paper; I just changed the date (with a big sigh, wishing that I hadn’t written it last year in ink).
Well, I hadn’t really forgotten about it altogether, because its main item is the most important one: “Do the piddly little things quickly, in order to get on with the bigger, more important things.” In other words: Finish up the dishes and wiping the sink in order to move on to my “real work.” Stop spending so much time with newspapers and magazines, and concentrate on “more valuable” reading. Do some “more valuable” writing than what is assigned to me, or what I volunteer for because I want to educate, or support causes. What would “more valuable” reading be for me? And what would be “more valuable” writing? I guess I’ve been entertaining a vague idea that, somewhere — ‘way off over the rainbow with Judy Garland — my “real work” awaits.
By now, I should have learned that I’ll never get to that “real work” — whatever I may think at any moment that it might be. So I’ve decided to resolve that in this New Year, I will finally stop pretending, and recognize what my real work really is…
My “real work” as a child was going to school. That continued through college and my first graduate education, after which my “real work” — in accordance with the dictates of that time — entailed getting married, keeping house, having children, and watching those children grow up (which defined their “real work” as well as mine). I always suspected that, in adulthood, my “real work” would be writing of some kind, but I could never see myself beginning, let alone completing, anything of any sustained length — too many interruptions by the demands of that ever-present “real world.”
But now, I think I really understand, thanks to the brilliant gift a good friend has given me: a little phrase I’ve adopted as my newest byword. It finally explains to me how my “real work” is my “real world” work: a compilation of all the little things I do every day. These are not interruptions; they are what together weave the overall fabric of my existence. And those magic words of understanding are incredibly simple: “Life Is a Sequence of Moments Called NOW.”
So NOW, I’m changing my new year’s thinking. I’m taking that bit of paper with its broken resolutions down from the side of the refrigerator and, instead, posting my new motto on its front, so I will have to see it every day of my life. Because “real work” comes in many forms, and I finally recognize that I’ve already been doing it — every day of my life.
May all of us have good health and success with our “real work,” whatever that may be, throughout a Happy New Year!

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In 2018, remember Rachel’s tears remain with us

Posted on 27 December 2017 by admin

One of my cousins in Pittsburgh is our family historian. But sometimes, he is more than that; maybe because of that, he is our family conscience as well.
So he sends all of us this reminder of our heritage, both family, and religious, as 2017 comes to an end. And it bears repeating…
“Coincidentally (or not),” he begins — and by now you know how I feel about that! — “I found myself around the corner from the cemetery where my great-grandmother Rachel was buried in 1936. More than 80 years since she died. So I went to her grave and said a few appropriate prayers on behalf of the family…” And then he began to think, in writing:
“Most of you know about our Biblical Matriarch Rachel, and how she cries for the Jewish people. This quintessential mother of Israel resides ‘on the road,’ always with us through our wandering. We all hope and pray for biological mothers who will protect and nurture us. But even when we’re so blessed, we must remember that all of us live in a form of spiritual exile, and even when we are deprived of such a mother, we are never deprived of Rachel. She always stands vigil, adoring us unconditionally…
“To this very day, Rachel weeps for her children. She watches over us, shedding a tear for every suffering youngster or adult. And hers are not mere tears. They are tears that water the seeds of our parched souls, allowing them to be, as Jeremiah said, ‘…like a watered garden, and they will sorrow no more…’
“All of us must know that regardless of our biological mothers’ efforts on our behalf, Rachel always remains on watch and does not rest. When trouble brews, she intercedes on our behalf. We can only wonder whether it was her tears that have kept our people alive for all these years, allowing us to survive against all odds…”
And then, Cousin Michael quotes some lyrics from a Yiddish song by Abie Rotenberg, an Orthodox Jewish musician from Canada:
“Mama Rochel, cry for us again. Won’t you shed a tear for your dear children? Won’t you raise your sweet voice now, as then? In a roadside grave she was laid to rest, in solitude forever. But her voice gave hope to the broken hearts of her daughters and sons bound for exile…Yet a frightened child, numb from pain and grief, remains forlorn and uncertain, clinging to the faith as it cries out to its mother…Mama Rochel, won’t you shed a tear for your dear children? Mama, Mama, cry, cry for us again…”
I’m afraid I never really understood that ancient, persistent image of Rachel crying for her children. Probably, I still don’t fully “get it.” But Cousin Michael encourages me to try. Encouraging all of us to reach out, to reach back, to draw hope in the motherly love of our fourth matriarch, who cried for our people once, so long ago, and may yet be weeping for us as we go through time after time of trials that bring forth our own weeping and cries for help, but from which we somehow always manage to emerge in Jewish unity.
Maybe Rachel is crying for us now, helping us get through the current divisiveness about relocating our United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. So it certainly can’t hurt for all of us to remember her tears as we pray for peace — not just in our own country, not just in Jerusalem, not just in Israel, not even just in the Middle East, but in an entire world very much in need of peace. In need of healing. In need of Mama Rochel’s tears…
As we enter 2018 together, we make promises that always accompany our entrance into something new. But inevitably, we’ll break them. I thank Cousin Michael for reminding me that Rachel’s powerful tears of renewed hope are always with us. Happy New Year!

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Ponder, accept God’s changes to your plan

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

I did not expect to spend all of Hanukkah at home this year. I’d planned to give up a good chunk of it during a week’s travel in Peru — from Lima to Cuzco, and finally to the two places I’d longed almost all my life to see: the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu.
But you surely know that old saying: “Man proposes, and God disposes.” Or sometimes God just laughs at our presumptuousness. I was here for all of the eight nights after all, “thanks” to a small washing machine break that sent a flood of water to come up from beneath my teak parquet floors. This happened the night before my scheduled early morning departure; I was all packed and ready to go, and heading up to bed, having first kicked off my shoes to wiggle my toes and walk along in my bare feet…
Sometimes God himself proposes: Had I still been wearing shoes, I would not have felt that early, first dampness! I pressed on the wood, and the water rose up. And I got on the phone to find some emergency help. But it was well after midnight, and no plumber would be available until the next morning — some time after my scheduled airport pickup at 8:30 a.m. A sad goodbye to my travel dream …
I don’t tell you this because I’m looking for sympathy, which I’m not. Rather, I’m sharing my feeling — once again — that there are no coincidences of importance in our lives: There are “only” times when God wants something to happen, but would prefer to remain anonymous, so we encounter them in different ways — as different as water under one’s bare feet …
I canceled my trip, and I doubt I’ll reschedule it. I’ve long since lost the physical ability to climb the heights of Machu Picchu, and was grateful just for the opportunity to see it — if somewhat from afar. But my walking is compromised as well by my multiply-broken left leg, and the longer I put things off, the less likely I will be able to do them at all. This trip — although I was sad that it would cost me much of Hanukkah at home — offered the best weather in Peru, which is summer when it is winter here. Another year would be a long time away…
Combined with what I truly believe was God’s desire for me not to go is my father’s well-taught and well-learned lesson: Take whatever life hands you, and do the best you can with it. So I was able to attend a number of holiday events I would have otherwise missed. And then, there is this, which I write about last, but is first in importance: My dear cousin Pat, who has lived here in Dallas for the last five years, died on one of the days I was scheduled to be away, and so I could be present for her funeral service, and for the shivas. I saw this as a present from God…
Have you ever watched the candles in your menorahs as they burned down to their very, very ends? If you’ve never done so, tuck this away in your mind for something to experience next year: As each flame dies, it burns lower and lower, then sends up a final burst of brightness immediately before it gutters out completely. Humans are sometimes like that, with a person showing a quick crescendo of life with that very last breath before that candle of mortality finishes its burning. Many years ago, I was at the bedside of an aunt at that moment. My parents had taken me to say goodbye, not knowing, of course, that we would witness her final, bright goodbye to us all.
So much we do not know: when a trip must be abandoned, or when a life must end. But I believe God knows, and has reasons for us to perhaps ponder, but definitely accept…

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Remember when it was spelled Chanukah? I do!

Posted on 14 December 2017 by admin

When you reach “a certain age,” as I have, younger folk start asking such questions as: What was Hanukkah like when you were growing up?
First answer: We always spelled it Chanukah! Then, truth told, it wasn’t so “much-of-a-much,” as an elderly relative used to say. Low-key. So low it might have vanished, had it not been for the menorah, the candles and the visits by my Boubby the Philosopher, who would arrive at our house with a dreidel and her very worn leather change purse filled with pennies: one for each of those candles, no more and no less than the 44 needed for eight days of lighting. Then we’d sit down in the middle of the living room floor and spin that dreidel, winning and losing those pennies.
Our menorah was tin. Such menorahs (nobody knew the word “hanukkiyah” then!) could be bought for a dime. Several years ago, I bought one — clearly a replica, but actually tin — to show various groups of non-Jews and our own children what the “olden days” were like. I paid $3 for it …
Then, the candles were orange, packed in a dull gray box bearing the name and address of its origin in Brooklyn. I learned an important generational lesson when I found a box of those ancient candles on a holiday bazaar table and excitedly showed them to my daughter, a teenager at the time.
“They’re ugly,” she exclaimed. I was crushed. “How can you say that?” was my response. “These are the candles I grew up with! These are the real Chanukah candles!” She picked up a box of the then-ubiquitous Israeli multicolored ones from the same table and shook it in my face, saying “These are the candles I grew up with! So these are the real Chanukah candles!” Thus do perceptions and customs change with the times …
For our parents’ silver wedding anniversary, my sister and I bought them a “real” menorah, made of silvery chrome. When my daughter married, the only gifts she wanted from her grandparents and parents were our menorahs. Of course, we gave them gladly. How could we not? My mother reverted to her old tin model; I decided to buy a new one the next time I visited family in Pittsburgh, home of a wonderful Judaica shop. But when there, and I mentioned my need to an uncle while we were talking over coffee, he said “Wait a minute! I have one in the basement!” And down he went, coming up with something that was hiding its identity under a full coat of deep black. Then he filled the kitchen sink with muriatic acid and soaked the dark object; it soon emerged as a beautiful bronzed menorah in the old style, with a lion standing tall at its center to support the shammash. He told me, this longtime plumber, that he’d recently found it in the basement of an old vacant house undergoing demolition, and had received permission to take it home, where it wasn’t needed: His family had a much larger, very regal one to shine throughout the holiday.
To this day, that relic is my very favorite menorah. Over many years, I’ve collected many others; you can see some of them on current display at the Dallas JCC — along with this one that “cleaned up nice,” as another long-gone family member used to say.
But I think the main difference between now and then is our holiday’s public nature. This small, private celebration entered the American mainstream as we Jews emerged from a sort of hiding, and the calendar convergence of our festival with Christmas began what’s become the overdone gift-giving “ritual.” Yet for me, the real change is reflected in language: Non-Jews often have trouble with the guttural “ch” sound, so we gave in, gave up, and stopped saying Chanukah ourselves in favor of the easier-to-pronounce Hanukkah.
Whatever! May it be happy for all of us!

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Not too late to remember WWII heroes

Posted on 07 December 2017 by admin

Today is the 76th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. President Franklin Roosevelt said it would “live forever in infamy.” But has it?
I mentioned recently that our World War II veterans are now dying at the rate of more than 1,000 every day. And so are those of us who were too young to fight, but are now old enough to remember…
In grade school, we sang the national anthems of every Allied country along with our own, plus a new song, “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor…as we do the Alamo.” But we don’t remember the latter much today. We do remember ration books — Meatless Tuesdays — Victory Gardens — a grass-roots children’s organization called Junior American Citizens, devoted to scrap collection — and the triumph of finding a single, treasured can of peaches available for purchase …
When it finally ended, my Boubby the Philosopher removed the Five Star Flag from her front window as she welcomed her sons home. Only one is still alive today, active at 95, telling us of his time at the U.S. Air Base in Bari, Italy, repairing the B-17s that dropped their bombs over Berlin. Which brings me to a current concern:
Last week, I attended a showing of The Tuskegee Airmen, a film telling the sad but ultimately triumphant story of some brave Black Americans who literally “fought for the right to fight for their country,” and finally succeeded in making their enduring mark on United States history. This event was sponsored by our own Dallas Holocaust Museum, which has wisely — as years have passed — broadened its mission to emphasize “Upstanding,” the act of acting rather than simply standing by in the face of wrongs, from children’s bullying to adults’ racial and religious slurs, exclusions and persecutions. The Tuskegee Airmen’s story is a somber, sober example of fighting alone when your countrymen are far from upstanders and even worse than bystanders, contributing to a culture of prejudice that, sadly, still exists today. We Jews know about this, and should be upstanding ourselves about how this affects others.
Although the film’s audience was a large one, only a handful of us there were white, and not all of us whites were Jews. Our Black neighbors came early to view the Center’s current Tuskegee Airmen exhibit beforehand, bringing their children to learn this poignant story of their people’s history. Why weren’t more of us there, to learn ourselves and to support these others? We expect much today for ourselves, and are hurt and angry when our expectations aren’t met. But if we want a certain kind of equality and appreciation in how we are treated, shouldn’t we be showing the same to others? I was saddened, and more than a bit ashamed.
Our forthcoming new Dallas Holocaust Museum, for which ground has recently been broken, will be physically larger, and have an even broader — in fact, an ever-broadening — mission of action in the face of wrongdoing. We Jews created this institution, and are now sharing it with our wider community. Let’s not forget to take advantage of it, to continue to learn from it, ourselves.
When World War II ended, we kids wove crepe paper streamers through the spokes of our bicycles and rode around our neighborhoods making joyful noise. But we knew little about war’s realities. Those of us who were there, and remain alive and sentient today, are still learning what it was all about — and, by extension, what war is all about. We Jews have learned from our precious survivors, and have succeeded in passing that knowledge, now broadened far more inclusively, to a much wider audience. Let’s not get complacent ourselves. Let’s not miss any opportunity to learn about others who have also suffered — differently from us, but in the same way: at the hands of the hateful.
Please go to the Dallas Holocaust Museum to see the Tuskegee Airmen exhibit. The movie showing is over, but it’s not too late to learn…

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Return of Torah remarkable tale

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

By now, every Jew should know about the Czech Torahs, and most have probably seen at least one — so many have found new homes in American houses of worship since their reclamation following the Holocaust.
Hitler had sequestered them after he raided synagogues throughout that country, with the idea of someday putting them on exhibit in his intended “Museum of an Extinct Race.”
Of course, his aims were foiled and those precious scrolls were saved — more than 1,500 of them — and transported to Westminster Synagogue in London, where they were evaluated, repaired for resumed ritual use if possible, or for display and educational purposes if not. Czech Torahs are now important fixtures in the institutions that have “adopted” them, for they are not in anyone’s ownership; they are on perpetual loan from the Memorial Scrolls Trust…
Except for one, which has now been restored to its actual place of origin. And its heartwarming story involves a family in our very own community!
Gary and Ellen Ackerman of Dallas have one son who is a rabbi, and one daughter who is married to a rabbi. This last, Corey Helfand, is the center of a very recent event: the return of one of those precious Czech Torahs to the same place from which it was taken by the Nazis. Over past years, some of those precious scrolls have been passed on to European congregations, but the fact that there is still a congregation to welcome back its very own Torah — that is truly a miracle of sorts. A story worth telling, one that has now been told in the Jewish Chronicle of London and is traveling around the world.
The Ackermans’ son-in-law, Rabbi Helfand, traveled with his congregation’s precious cargo almost 6,000 miles, from Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, California to Olomouc, Czechoslovakia, to return this Torah to the very place from which it had been removed more than 75 years ago. His synagogue raised the money necessary to make the holy scroll — thought to have first been scribed in 1880 — kosher again. Its original home was burnt down by the Nazis in 1939, but there is now a growing Jewish community in the old neighborhood that was there to welcome its Torah back again.
Peter Briess is 86 years old. He and his immediate family were able to leave Olomouc when they gave their home to the German invaders, but the rest of his relatives all died in the horrors that followed. He now lives in England, and came back to his hometown with his sister and a nephew for the Shabbat morning service during which he carried the restored Torah, and for the formal welcoming ceremony the next day.
The Chronicle quotes his joy: “I was the only person there who had actually attended the original synagogue where this scroll was used,” he said. “I still remember going there for Simchat Torah and other festivals. My parents were married in that shul.”
A varied crowd of dignitaries was in attendance: Jeffrey Ohrenstein, chairman of the Memorial Scrolls Trust, was there, along with the Czech Republic’s Chief Rabbi Karol Sidon; also Daniel Meron, its Israeli ambassador, whose wife’s family was originally from Olomouc. But most important was Rabbi Moshe Druin, the American sofer who restored the Torah; he called upon those men — and of course Mr. Briess — to fill in the very last letters. When that was completed, “I cried,” said Petr Papousek, president of the town’s Jewish community. “That doesn’t happen to me often. I hope it (the Torah) will bring our community more energy and enthusiasm for the future.” Then singing and dancing accompanied the scroll as it was placed into the Ark that has become its new, permanent home.
Last Shabbat, when Rabbi and Mrs. Helfand were visiting her family, he told this remarkable story to an especially appreciative audience: the worshippers at Beth Torah, the Ackermans’ home congregation for many years.

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Giving special thanks for Honor Flight

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

As we give our thanks today, each of us is thinking about something different for which we’re truly thankful. Of course we’re all happy to be sitting at bountiful tables, sharing good food with friends and family. But if we went around the table and asked each person to share a story of thanks for something that happened in the past year — wouldn’t that be an interesting, maybe uplifting, experience? Well: Here’s my holiday dinner tale…
Do you know about Honor Flight? I was introduced to it while waiting for a plane change at the St. Louis airport. A woman came by to ask everyone there if we would mind walking to another nearby gate for a few special moments: “An Honor Flight is about to deplane,” she said, “and we’d like a crowd for a special welcome.” Not knowing what this was about, I got up and joined the double lineup forming two gates away.
When the passengers began to exit, I understood. All were World War II veterans, wearing special new caps identifying them as such, and as Honor Flight vets as well. Most were on their feet, some with canes and walkers for assistance; some were even in wheelchairs. Each was accompanied by a volunteer who had been with his or her assigned vet for a two-day trip to Washington, D.C., to see the memorial of their war — and all the other wars — on the National Mall. They were smiling and waving flags; all of us on our literal sidelines cheered and waved back.
It was an unforgettable moment, and I made it my business soon afterward to learn more about Honor Flights. They’re offered across the country, to give as many of these vets as possible (they’re now dying at the rate of more than a thousand every day!) a chance to see how their service has been officially recognized in our nation’s capital.
I had seven uncles who served in World War II. All survived that conflict, but only one has survived in life up to this point. When I asked him if he’d like to go on an Honor Flight, he said he had means of his own; he’d donate some money so that another vet could go. But he got into his own car and drove from Pittsburgh to D.C. to join with a group at the Memorial. And then I thought of someone else…
My late husband was a Korean vet, never Honor Flight eligible. But this year, I thought to contact his brother-in-law, a widower living in a senior residence in San Diego, who was. When I called him to ask if he’d been on one, he not only hadn’t; he actually knew nothing about the program! So I contacted his city’s Honor Flight coordinator, who sent someone to meet with him to collect information verifying eligibility, and off he went! And so, as it worked out, did two of his poker buddies who lived in the same facility, both eligible and able to go on the same flight!
Honor Flight is totally free for eligible vets. Volunteers work tirelessly to identify vets and raise funds to secure planes, hotels, ground transportation, meals, and other volunteers as one-to-one caretakers. The experience is brief: an early Friday a.m. departure, return late afternoon the following Sunday, with a packed schedule of site visitations in between. But for many, it’s the experience of a lifetime.
Because I made the contact that gave someone dear, and his friends, this opportunity, I’ve added the program to my end-of-year giving list. Alone, I can’t cover full cost for even one vet, but I can help. And I’m hoping others will learn about this incredible program and give something to keep it flying until the last World War II vet has left us. Local contact: honorflightdfw.org.
I knew World War II as a child. That’s why I give special thanks for Honor Flight today!

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Make, discuss memories at women’s group

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

I decided to write this after returning from the recent memorial service for an old friend — the latest loss in a string of old friends. One more to miss…
This is what age brings: joys accompanied by losses. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren; funerals, memorials and shivas. My women friends are fading fast.
I first joined a large “friendship group” during the ’60s, at the dawn of the women’s movement. I never burned a bra, but I did read the very first issue of Ms. magazine, in which Gloria Steinem wrote an article titled (something that every working woman then understood) What I Need Is a Wife! No, she wasn’t promoting lesbian relationships, simply fantasizing about having someone to do the child-raising and household chores while she was at her day job.
My first small group also formed during that time of personal upheaval. But after a few years, we had scattered to homes in four different states, so we decided to “reune” for a week in New Mexico, which was so much fun, we repeated it a year later in Colorado. But Marj and Jan fell victim to breast cancer, and Nan to Alzheimer’s, which leaves me holding all the memories.
The next group was here in Dallas, six of us meeting monthly for lunch and conversation. But then, Camille and Suzy both died of breast cancer; Shelley, who had a lung transplant, eventually succumbed to COPD; and I won’t name the fifth because she lives on, but with dementia. So again, I am left, holding all the memories.
That most recent memorial service honored the second of four women in my latest little group. You may have known both the deceased: both teachers, both Temple Emanu-El activists, both named Shirley. Now, only one other remains to share our memories, and I can’t escape this question: Which of us will eventually find herself alone with them?
I have no picture of my earliest women’s group, the one dedicated to discussing women’s issues. But I treasure the ones from the others: the four of us, a formidable bridge quartet, around a table at the Dushanbe Teahouse in Boulder; the six of us, who had forged our friendship within a larger group of men and women, lunching at an Olive Garden right here in town; the quartet who first went to Saturday morning services and then discussed books over lunch, having that special tea at the Dallas Arboretum. Of all of us in all three little groups, only two from the last are left. Again: Which of us will inherit all its memories, as I already have from the first two? This is a tontine without money or other welcome treasure; this is the “bet” that nobody would ever want to win.
Gloria Steinem and I were born in the same year. Of all the women in my three small friendship groups, only three were older than I; the others who have passed away were all younger. There are medical miracles yet to be hoped for, especially as concerns breast cancer. But there are already medical miracles that keep people alive for an amazing number of years as compared to the generations immediately before us — and yet, they cannot guarantee that these longer lives may be lived in full possession of one’s mental faculties. And so I wonder: Is simple “existence” really living? Is that what any of us really wants?
However, I’ve recently joined another women’s group. It meets monthly for lunch at a local La Madeleine, with no agendas, no planned trips, no other activities. Its membership runs the full gamut of ages and experiences, and we simply converse about our lives. I don’t yet know these women well, but I already like them all. Maybe I will come to love them as I did the others whom I’ve already lost. But then — who will be left, off in the future, as keeper of these new memories?

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