Archive | In My Mind’s I by Harriet Gross

Unraveling a linguistic mystery

Posted on 06 February 2019 by admin

Today, I’m asking you to help me unravel what I consider a linguistic mystery, but which I bet most folks have never even noticed or paid attention to. I’m referring to a rather standard passage in “Siddur Sim Shalom,” the (if you’ll allow me to use this word in this particular context — no disrespect intended) “Bible” of Shabbat worship at many, if not most, Conservative synagogues across America.
My field is English, so I’m professionally and otherwise hyper-sensitive to words in that language and what they mean — not just by definition, but in context. And there is one particular word in the Amidah for the Shabbat evening service that “niggles” me every week. Here is the passage, which you can find at the top of page 299. I’m setting that bothersome (at least to me) word in CAPS:
“The heavens and the earth, and all they contain, were completed. On the seventh day God FINISHED the work which He had been doing. Then God blessed the seventh day and called it holy, because on it He ceased from all His work of creation.”
The problem I see here is this: We’ve all been taught to believe that God labored for six days to create the entire world as we know it, and then declared Day Seven as a time of rest. I thought we are enjoined to do the same as God had done. But here we have the strange word that declares God actually FINISHED THE WORK WHICH HE HAD BEEN DOING on the seventh day itself! He wasn’t done on the day before, according to this English wording; to say that He was done on the sixth day, this part of the passage should read that God “HAD FINISHED the work which He had been doing.” And there’s additional confirmation further along, in the very next passage: “He CEASED on the seventh day from all the work which He had done.”
In a classroom of students learning grammar, I would point out that both these verbs — as used here in this text — indicate ongoing activity, and the activity here, which is Creation itself, was completed at some time on the seventh day, when God FINISHED His work, and CEASED from working altogether. The “marker” of verbal tense is the opening phrase, “On the seventh day.” Somehow, this wording not merely suggests, but actually states, that the work we have all believed was completed on the sixth day held over for at least a bit into Day Seven.
So today, all of you who are reading this make up my “classroom” of English grammar students. The implication — if not the Biblical fact — is that God was not quite through; the text tells us quite clearly in the passage’s final sentence: “Then God blessed the seventh day and called it holy because ON IT (there’s the proof! not BEFORE IT!) He ceased from all His work of creation.” This bit of wording is even clearer than the others — it states, not just implies, that God’s work went on until He finished it — on the seventh day itself.
I really should have taken this matter up with the editor and translator of “Siddur Sim Shalom,” Rabbi Jules Harlow, many years ago. But not now: He will be 88 years old this coming June, and in his lifetime has written, compiled, edited, translated, etc., several libraries’ worth of Judaica, all of it highly praised. And rightly so. He also founded “My Jewish Learning,” which took our Judaism to the internet early on, making it easily accessible for so many. And this book, this truly beloved siddur, was made available to my synagogue and so many others back in 1985 — and we all took advantage of it, and are still using it. So no, I won’t bother him now. But if you understand my distracting dilemma, please let me know what you think about it.
Harriet Gross can be reached at


Dinner Table: diverse group, a hearty meal

Posted on 30 January 2019 by admin

Last week I asked what you did on Tu B’Shevat. This week I’m asking: What did you do on Martin Luther King Day? I chose to attend Dallas Dinner Table, a deceptively casual-seeming event started quite a few years ago by some folks who thought that race relations could be improved if a small group of people would simply sit down, have a meal and talk together. The idea was to mix ages, sexes, races, religions and ethnicities around a dinner table, and maybe some learning and mutual understanding could be the result.
Well, nobody has yet been able to measure the success of that idea in mathematical terms. But those who’ve attended — myself included — endorse the idea as an eye-opener, and at least a potential mind-opener. And when open minds lead to understanding, maybe changes will follow.
The first Dinner Table I attended was a free-for-all: There was no agenda, just talk; the food was the icebreaker. Or maybe it was our hosts: two gay young men who shared a house, which was where we had our dinner. In the years since, I’ve gone to Dinner Tables in a church — an office building — a restaurant — a shop in a strip center — but mostly in other private homes. Whether the food is catered, home-cooked or “takeout” brought to another venue, it’s always the responsibility of those who host — the food is their contribution to the idea, and to its purpose.
This year, I was assigned to an unassuming-looking house on one of the Dallas “M” streets. (Side note: Yes, participants are assigned. Yes, this is well-intentioned, but not always successful. First I was assigned to the same church where I’d been last year, and when I asked if that was a good idea, the answer was my assignment to the home of a family I already knew! But three is indeed a charm, and my final assignment was very successful.) The hostess is an artist, and the house is full of her amazing works — many, in many media. She and her husband are also good cooks and bakers, so the meal — simple, as are all Dinner Table meals — was salad, homemade stews (meat and vegetarian options) and wonderful chocolate cake. This was their third Dinner Table; they have enough space to host two tables of attendees, and at evening’s end they promised to do it again next year.
The first Dinner Table I attended had no moderator. But many — if not most — things change with experience. There are now some guidelines and actual guides: Leaders bring icebreakers and question-and-answer “games” to get the conversational ball rolling. There’s a leader at every table, a role given in advance to individuals who choose it. You don’t have to be a professional of any kind to do this; everyone wanting to take part in this human relations adventure is asked to choose in advance between leading or just plain participating. (I always pick the latter.)
The surprise at my table of seven was that the person most peppered with questions about life experiences wasn’t Black, or Oriental, or Muslim or Jewish — it was a Christian Hispanic female who had the most interesting stories to share. Our white host was seated next to our black leader, a woman who kept us on point and on time: Dinner Tables take exactly three hours, ending promptly at nine.
A bonus for me, as the only Jew in this group, was that this year, Martin Luther King Day actually fell on the same day as Tu B’Shevat, so I was able to give my table-mates a bit of information on a holiday none of them had ever heard of before. And everyone agreed that planting trees is akin to planting ideas, which we all did plenty of that evening.
So I encourage you to consider Dallas Dinner Table as a way to observe a great American’s birthday. I assure you: The present will be yours.


A fruit-based Seder to honor Tu B’Shevat

Posted on 24 January 2019 by admin

This past Monday was Tu B’Shevat. Did you celebrate it? Did you mark it in any way? Do you even know what it is?
I had the recent opportunity to lead a Tu B’Shevat Seder for Herzl Hadassah. I asked for this privilege to honor the memory of longtime Herzl member Natalie Lewis, who passed away in her 90s during 2018. Before she left Dallas to live near her children in the D.C. area, she was a noted area bookseller who advised book groups about their choices, a religious school teacher for more than 50 years, a dear friend to many (including me), and a Hadassah stalwart who conducted this early-spring event herself for several years.
Most Jews think that “Seder” is a word confined to Pesach. But in truth, it means “order”: to do things in a specific order, as we are commanded by our guidebook, the Haggadah, at the Passover table.
Popularizing the Tu B’Shevat Seder is a gift from the Reform movement, which produced a simple “Haggadah” for it several decades ago. Its form — its “order” — takes us on the same kind of journey we travel at the Passover table, giving us the same kind of understanding of how to observe the holiday as we go: At its table, we also drink four cups of wine, but instead of matzo and the Seder plate’s mandated foods, we eat at least three fruits (a word that in this context also includes nuts) that grow in Israel. We may choose those we like, but according to specific “rules” — one whose hard outside covers an edible center; then the reverse, one whose edible outside covers a center that we cannot eat; finally, one to be eaten whole, its inside and outside together. You can see how this can also become a delicious holiday.
In Israel, Tu B’Shevat (the 15th day of the Hebrew month of that name) is for planting trees, so some call it “the Jewish Arbor Day”; its other name is “the birthday of the trees,” because every living tree is considered one year older on that date. Here, like this year, planting is sometimes impossible. But uncooperative weather isn’t enough reason to neglect the annual celebration.
At our Hadassah Seder, we served up, along with our fruits, both white and red fruit juices — no wine for a bunch of primarily senior women at 10 a.m. These were poured and mixed appropriately as needed, at four times during the Seder, to represent four stages of tree and plant growth: first, all white, the earliest awakening; second, white tinted with red to make pale pink, for buds fully opening; third, a half-and-half of the two, showing a high point of growth; and the final fourth cup — all red — representing that growth in its ultimate fullness.
Our “fruits” of choice were oranges and almonds, because the almond tree is the first springtime bloomer in Israel; unpitted olives; and figs, which are totally edible, tiny seeds and all. Of course, before each fruit and each drink we offered the traditional blessings for God’s gifts of vine, earth and tree. This routine, this “Seder,” is a wonderful way to teach children (as well as our unknowing selves) about a holiday so little-known and little-observed by Jews in America.
I tell you this with hopes of encouraging more local observance of this springtime holiday. Even if we can’t actually dig in the earth to plant something new, we can remember and honor the advice of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, whose wisdom comes down to us from the time of the Second Temple: “If you have a sapling in your hand, and someone comes to tell you that the Messiah has arrived, first plant the tree, and only then go out to welcome the Messiah.”
P.S. If you dislike carob, the most traditional Tu B’Shevat fruit, as much as I do, no one will penalize you for observing the holiday without it.


A meaningful Star of David makes its debut

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

I made a promise to myself on the day of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in my native Pittsburgh: I would no longer go out in public without something identifiably Jewish around my neck. I have stars, Hamsas, even a miniature State of Israel made there from the metal of a scud rocket. I have silver and gold to match any outfit. As if that were the important thing, which of course it is not…
What is important: I can finally let go of the shaming insult I received as a teenager from a shoe salesman. Too bad my feet are long and narrow and hard to fit; what he commented on was the necklace I was wearing. And what he said was, “You Star of David girls are never satisfied with anything.” I didn’t wear anything identifiably Jewish after that — except in Jewish settings only — my Boubby the Philosopher’s old star, set with bits of marcasite that sparkled like diamonds.
She gave it to me immediately after my wedding, just before my husband and I left for New York to be unit directors at a big Jewish camp in the Catskills. I put it on and never took it off until, in mid-August, the chain broke, and I put the star aside to await my next chance to shop for a replacement. But it never happened, because that same night, the staff residence in which we lived burned to the ground, taking Boubby’s star along with it. I’ve tried for years to replace it, but — as the old saying goes — “close, but no cigar.”
That lost star isn’t my favorite story. This one is: When Fred and I visited Poland, first we saw the Holocaust horror sites, but then we visited one of the country’s other main draws: the Wieliczka Salt Mine in Krakow. It’s really an underground museum, since miners over centuries have carved statues in that salt. Down we went on an elevator with other visitors for a long look. Previously, in both Warsaw and Krakow, I had visited shop after shop stocked with items carved from the ubiquitous amber of that area, looking in vain for any Jewish star. There were hundreds and thousands of crosses in all sizes, but not a star anywhere. Should I have been surprised? Frustrated.
I just abandoned my search.
But of course, this mine, like most tourist attractions, had a gift shop, where I gave my hunt one last try: “Do you have any six-pointed stars?” I asked the young woman behind the counter. “A Jewish star?” She answered no, which didn’t surprise me. But as I started to walk away, she called me back to wait a moment. And, reaching under her counter, she brought up a small box of odds-and-ends, pulling from it a pair of earrings — small, dangling stars of silver, each centered with amber. I asked no questions, paid whatever she wanted and brought my treasure home.
I do not wear earrings, having been warned never to put any weight on either ear ‘way back in 1969, when I had surgery to remove a tumor from behind the right one. So, I took these to a jeweler friend, who formed a pendant for me — one star atop the other. Today was my day to wear it for the first time since the massacre.
Since making that personal promise to wear a Jewish symbol every day for the rest of my life, I have done so. And no one yet has ever made a comment on anything that was hanging around my neck. Sorry to disappoint you, but today (which was a week before you’re reading this), nobody said a word, either. I’m disappointed, myself. And I puzzle over this: Are my most treasured symbols invisible? Well, it doesn’t matter: It was enough just to be a proud, public Jew, wearing what may well have been the last Jewish stars left in Poland.


New customs are great, but I prefer the old ways

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

“Wow! That would really jar your mother’s pickles!” That was the nonsensical phrase my own mother always used when something strange hovered on her horizon. I’ve never used it until now, but there’s a first time for everything, I guess. For me, this is it.
The Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (since I’m a Jew strongly identified with a Conservative congregation, that’s one of my favorite organizations) has announced that — just in time for the annual World Wide Wrap begun years ago by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs — it’s now joining the men to “truly educate and encourage women to don tefillin, and embrace the mitzvah…” The premise — and promise — are to give women the increased spirituality that men achieve by drawing closer to God in this particular way.
“Spirituality” is a buzzword these days. I recently received a pamphlet about how to be spiritual without being religious. But I consider myself both: a person religious and spiritual, without separating the two. I have never thought tefillin would increase either of these things.
Full disclosure: My being religious and spiritual is not only possible and present without tefillin, but I embrace both without a tallit as well. My decision not to wear that came a long, long time ago, because I was educated in Judaism a long, long time ago by men. They said some things were not for women, and I believed them. And I live with those old “beliefs” — for that is what they are — to this day. I’m sure I’m wrong in the eyes of many, but I am content in myself. The things I was denied as a female Jew in the predominantly male Jewish world of my growing-up time set patterns for me that even now, when my choice is to keep or break them, I choose the former.
Believe it or not, this isn’t always easy. My congregation allows me to bless the Torah, but when I ascend the bima to do so, I do not touch it. I do not carry any on Simchat Torah. When one is paraded past me on Shabbat mornings, I “kiss” it with the binding of my prayer book. This is how I grew up, and it still satisfies me. However, a (male) rabbi once, fairly recently, chastised me for not donning a tallit: “Why are you denying yourself that spirituality?” was what he asked. And I answered, “My spirituality does not reside in a piece of cloth.” I was not happy with his question, and I’m sure he wasn’t happy with my response, either.
Girls of my time did not go to Hebrew school, and a bat mitzvah was not yet a rite of female passage. So, I never felt deprived of things that clearly were not mine, and I grew up happily Jewish without them. I still live happily Jewish without them. I have not wanted a bat mitzvah as an adult any more than I want to wear a tallit or adopt the straps and boxes of tefillin. I am happy for girls — and women — of today who have these opportunities and want to take advantage of them, but I am not envious.
For me, religion and spirituality — Judaism and Jewish spirituality — go together. They are united in my very bones, and cannot be separated. And I feel the latter in a way of internal peace that needs no external enhancement.
So: What does it mean, to “jar your mother’s pickles”? Maybe to put cucumbers and brine together in a jar and let them sit and mellow into something quite different — an act of creation of a sort. Or it could mean to shake the jar — maybe to the point of its falling and shattering, destroying its contents altogether. I choose the first. The opportunities open to women today do not upset my metaphoric pickles, which continue to satisfy me as I live happily, and Jewishly, without them.
Your opinions are welcome.


In memory of a dear friend from whom I learned

Posted on 02 January 2019 by admin

I begin the New Year without my dear old friend Charlotte. The adjectives are true: She was very dear to me for many years, and she was well over 90 when she left this earth.
When I moved to Dallas back in 1980, one of the first things I did was connect with the local unit of the National Federation of Press Women, which had been both my professional and friendship anchor in Illinois. And the first meeting I attended here was in Charlotte’s home. Yes, I have also made many friends in that group over these many years, but Charlotte was the first. And the first is often the best.
She lingered for a long time, but until very close to the very end, she remained the essence of herself. In truth, I worried more during those last weeks about her husband, who was the major caretaker even when hospice had been declared. He was long retired from teaching English to young women in the upper school at Hockaday; afterward, he organized a poetry group at the church he and Charlotte attended: Northaven United Methodist. It walks the walk when it talks about honoring diversity; this is the place that has given permanent welcome and space to Beth El Binah, our city’s religious haven for many LBGTQ Jews, when their congregation outgrew its former Oak Lawn home.
Yes, we have many differences, but we are very good friends who have learned from each other. Charlotte and Tom attended a Seder in my home; an ornament I gave them years ago now hangs this season in their home, despite the absence of the usual Christmas tree and no festivities, not even a trip to church. Charlotte’s worn body couldn’t last that long.
My friends and I differ in our beliefs, but respect and honor each other’s. I did not comment when Charlotte was cremated rather than buried; I had known for years that this was the end-of-life choice for both of them. She drew her last breath — which was the classic “death rattle” — at 5:10 a.m. one week before Christmas. By the time Tom had called and I arrived at their house, functionaries from the Neptune Society had already come, dressed Charlotte in her favorite yellow suit (yes, she had asked for that, long beforehand) and taken her away. Tom says her ashes will be flown over an ocean, and that is another choice they made together for her remains — and later, for his: to mingle as quickly as possible with the natural world.
I have attended church with them on important occasions, the best being Charlotte’s 90th birthday. Since she was born on Valentine’s Day, she wore a red suit then instead of her favorite yellow one. And her wheelchair was festooned with red ribbons and balloons. My takeaway from that occasion, in addition to the wonderful buffet of sweets set up in the foyer after the service — everything made by women of the church from Charlotte’s own favorite recipes — was what the minister said when it was time for everyone to stand for a particular prayer: Not the usual “Please rise if you are able,” but the much gentler and more inclusive “Please rise — in body, or in spirit.” I like that better…
The next time I go to their church will be for Charlotte’s memorial service, which Tom immediately decided to postpone until January, so that nobody’s Christmas and New Year celebrations would be dampened by his loss. And then, I will rise myself — in body if able, but certainly in spirit — to eulogize my dear old friend. With a voice no longer of much good use, I will still talk/sing Debbie Friedman’s “Mishaberach,” after explaining how and why it came to be, and translating the bits of Hebrew it contains. I hope the “renewal of spirit” will come to all of us who knew and loved Charlotte, and will remain with us always.


This book gets you going in the right direction

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

After the mountain of books I’ve read in my lifetime, I’ve finally found the one-and-only written just for me: “I’ll Never Get Lost Again: The Complete Guide to Improving Your Sense of Direction” by Linda Grekin.
Not everyone knows that I don’t have any. I never make a “thing” of it until something happens. But there it is. My mother was bad, I’m worse, and my daughter is even “worser.” She believes it’s a sex-linked trait because her brother and her two sons are not similarly afflicted. Whatever: It’s a real handicap.
On a recent Friday, I was due at my hosts’ home for a synagogue-arranged group Shabbat dinner. I knew how to get to the house: straight north on Hillcrest (I do know that street’s direction), turn left on Beltline, turn right on Meadowcreek, turn again at the third street on the right. And I was right. But somehow, I got lost anyway. I did something wrong somewhere, wound up on Hillcrest again, drove around fairly frantically while not knowing where I was or which way I was headed, until I finally hit (not literally, thank the Good Lord) a gas station that gave me specific directions. When at last I arrived, the group was lighting the Sabbath candles – and praying for my safety.
If you’re thinking this must be an occasional happening, please think again. One evening, I tried to find a home on a street that runs west of Coit (yes, I know west for some areas I’ve been before) for a meeting. But when I couldn’t even find the right street, I decided to go back to Coit and try again. And then, I couldn’t even find Coit.
So, I just drove, randomly, not recognizing any street names, until I finally located a gas station (always my best bet) and went inside to ask directions. Already too late for the meeting, I thought I’d just head for home. When they asked where I wanted to go, I said to any main street in Dallas. Guess what? I was in Addison, a few short blocks north of Beltline. I reached my house an hour and 10 minutes after I’d left, having done nothing but drive the whole time.
To help me out, I consult maps before I go anywhere. But I have to turn them around to figure out in which direction I must travel. This book tells me that’s a common “solution” for people like me. It also tells me there are others who can sit in their own dining room and not be able to tell what room is directly above it on the second floor – even after having lived in the same house for years. Or why I’m a whiz at word puzzles but a dud at solving mental manipulation of what something would look like if it’s turned around to another angle.
But it doesn’t explain why my high school geometry teacher somehow figured out that I was drawing my graphs by the “squint and guess” method (the same way I still hang pictures on walls) and was so good at faking it that until his class, I’d managed to fool everyone else…
I go into buildings by one entrance, go out another and don’t know the difference until I’ve walked several blocks in the wrong direction. I ride DART frequently, but I’m always worried that I might be on the wrong side of the platform to catch the right train. And while all this may sound funny to you, for me, it has major costs in time, energy, frayed nerves and embarrassment.
Author Grekin hasn’t really solved my problem, but she has reassured me how not-alone I am, that some big names share my problem, including the original Ann Landers. I always knew she never drove, but until now, I didn’t know why.
Today, I’m sending a copy of this book to my daughter. Mine, I’ll never part with.


A 7-year-old girl, Pearl Harbor Day and Zaidy’s watch

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

This isn’t the column I originally wrote for today. You can read that next week. Instead, I’m adding my story to Jerry Kasten’s great column of last week, the day before Pearl Harbor Day.
Dec. 7, 1941. Believe it or not, I remember it well. I was 7 years old, wearing a maroon taffeta dress, all fancied up because I was old enough to go to the special luncheon honoring my mother’s father for his service to the Knights of Pythias Lodge. I didn’t even know what a lodge was, but it was exciting to see Zaidy get a gold pocket watch with his name and the date engraved on the back.
A man gave a speech. Then Zaidy got up to read his thank-you when all hell broke loose outside. Everyone ran to the windows, and there were people screaming hysterically. The news had just broken: The Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor.
It took quite a while before things quieted down, and when my Zaidy finally stood up again, he tore up his own speech, looked around the room and pointed to each of his five sons sitting there. “All of you will go,” he said. “And I hope all of you will come back.” And then he cried. I never saw my Zaidy cry before — or any time after.
Yes, they all enlisted — the very next day. But before they left home, they took the watch to the jeweler and had him add “Remember Pearl Harbor” to the engraving. Uncle Ben, Uncle Srol, Uncle Yos — all joined the Army, serving (in this order) in Africa, Italy and Belgium. Uncles Lou and Nate went into the Merchant Marine, and sailed to places I’d never heard of before. And, yes — they all came back.
When they did, my Boubby the Philosopher removed her Five-Star banner from the front window, and her sons pooled their money to buy a really big house for their really big family. We’ve looked up the sale: three floors — seven bedrooms — very large living room, dining room, kitchen: $4,100 in 1945. The family’s first dinner there was on Thanksgiving Day that year. Imagine what a Thanksgiving that was.
Maybe I’ve told some of you all of this in the past. Maybe I’ve even shown you the watch — because I have it. After Zaidy and Boubby passed away, after Uncles Ben and Yos and Nate and Lou had joined them, Uncle Srol, the only son left, gave it to me — the oldest child of the oldest child in that family of 12 children: my mother.
Uncle Srol (Yiddish shorthand for his Hebrew name, Yisroel) is now 96, a proud World War II veteran. And healthy. He still drives — but not at night. He still works — but it’s his own business, so he can do as he pleases. And he still lives in that big house, all by himself, so that anyone in the family who comes “home” to visit has a place to stay.
And I wear the watch now, on a gold chain, on every patriotic occasion, and tell its story to everyone I can. I speak about it to groups, and when individuals notice and comment on it, I tell them, too. So maybe you’ve seen it and heard about it already. But if not, look for me whenever there’s a day to show the flag; I’ll be showing the watch as well. Keep an eye out for it.
But now: Do the math. I was 7 years old on the real Pearl Harbor Day, so I wonder today about what to do with the watch when it’s my time to join that crowd somewhere other than where I am now. Who should get it? My daughter Devra and my first cousin David are both my Zaidy Dave’s namesakes. (But of course, a girl would wear it on a chain…)
Jerry: Keep on keeping on, with my heartfelt thanks to you.


Final Hanukkah card stirs memories

Posted on 05 December 2018 by admin

It is the middle of Hanukkah, and in memory of a dear friend who passed away earlier this year (and if you didn’t know her, I feel sorry for you), I’m going to share some of her words. I saved the card she sent me last year at this time, because we both suspected this would be her last one…
Natalie Lewis started out by writing “I read your column ‘The Simplicity of Hanukkah’s Past.’ So — when did Hanukkah change from Boubby’s day of pennies?” She was already well into her 90s then, and began her own story of the holiday’s memories for me:
“What do I remember about my childhood Hanukkah? We did not have a menorah; we lit the candles — they were orange — on a tin lid from a coffee can. My mother made latkes. My grandmother gave me some coins — gelt — and I said ‘Oh! I can put these in the Blue Box.’ That was a big deal for me.” (Again: I hope you know what a Blue Box was — and still is. If you don’t, ask any member of Hadassah, which was Natalie’s most favorite organization.)
Then she continued: “I grew up, married, had a family and my mother-in-law gave us a menorah, which I still use. My young friends began talking about ‘a gift each night,’ and we fell for it. My mother and dad started sending gelt for the kids, my aunts sent gelt, so there was always more than enough for the eight nights. As the kids grew older, I started ‘Christmas Clubs’ at the bank. This was easy, and on Hanukkah, everyone received a big check. Then the banks discontinued the clubs, so I had a new challenge.
“Now I make sure I have Hanukkah cards and stamps — oh, this is a big deal. The adults get gift cards. I write checks for the grandchildren and call it gelt. Could I do it over again — why not a special story, or doing a mitzvah? But we cannot turn the clock back, can we? When the children were little, I dressed them in their red PJs and my husband set up the movie camera — that was such a big deal, with all the cords and bulbs — and then we sent the movies to my parents, and my mother said she cried when she saw them lighting the candles. So maybe we did something right after all…who knows?
“There have been many stories told about Hanukkah in the past,” Natalie continued. “Someone wrote about an uncle coming with a handful of quarters, and all the children would stand in line to get theirs, and as the family grew, he needed more quarters. And Margaret Smith (who also passed away last year — and if you didn’t know her either, I feel sorry for you again) told me she gave the children dollar bills for each candle — one for the first candle and two for the second, until they got eight dollars for the last candle.
“But the candle lighting is the best. Watch the small children’s eyes and faces as they catch the candles burning — and the old grandma who watches the candles and says ‘Look how beautiful they burn’ …
“I got a good box this year,” she said. And she ended with “So, let us see what next Hanukkah will bring.”
Well, of course we know. The holiday has come back, as it always does, every year, but it couldn’t bring Natalie back with it. However, I will never forget her and her menorah, which I helped her pack as she prepared to move from Dallas. I will have that memory always, and will save this card, her last words to me on Hanukkah, to read them over again as I light my own candles every year that I have left for me to do so. In that way, I will honor her while giving a special Hanukkah gift to myself.


25 tidbits to live by this season

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

As we prepare to enter Hanukkah this year, let’s pack a bag to take with us, filled with two dozen bits of wisdom from the late beloved Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.
These came from a number of different sources, and in no particular order, except you should be prepared for the last one. But don’t look ahead. (Do, however, pay special attention to No. 14; it’s perfect for all of us at this time of this year.)
1. You cannot add more minutes to the day, but you can utilize each one to the fullest.
2. Lead a supernatural life and God will provide the miracles.
3. Existence is the greatest of all miracles.
4. Wealth is not a mansion filled with silver and gold. Wealth is children and grandchildren growing up on the right path.
5. This is the key to time management: to see the value of every moment.
6. When the soul is starved for nourishment, it lets us know with feelings of emptiness, anxiety or yearning.
7. There is no need to accept the standards of the world at large.
8. When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.
9. God gave each of us a soul, which is a candle that He gives us to illuminate our surroundings with His light.
10. Man can never be happy if he does not nourish his soul as he does his body.
11. We cannot rest until every child, boy and girl, receives a proper moral education.
12. A successful marriage is dependent on inviting God into the relationship.
13. Love is the transcendence of the soul over the body.
14. Your home should become a light that illuminates the entire street and community.
15. Charity transforms matter to spirit, and turns a coin into fire.
16. We must translate pain into action, and tears into growth.
17. If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the work that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong, and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.
18. Miracles are all around us; we must open our eyes to see them.
19. Everyone must be a leader.
20. The world says that time is money; I say that time is life.
21. If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?
22. What matters is not so much where you stand, but with what force you are moving in which direction.
23. Our mission on earth is to recognize the voice — inside and outside of us — and to fill it.
24. All Jews share one and the same Torah, given by the one and same God. While there are more-observant Jews and less-observant ones, to tack on a label does not change the reality that we are all one.
25. This last is not from the Rebbe, but from Max Edelkopf of New York, who posted it on Facebook more than two years ago, but it is fresh and new and real, today more than ever:
At a conference for neurologists that took place in the United States, a professor got up to explain why it is that there are people who, upon arising in the morning, suddenly faint. It seems that this is a problem many people suffer from, and the speaker explained that it takes 12 seconds for the blood to leave the feet and get up to the brain, and if someone gets up very quickly, he or she could faint. She recommended that all people, upon arising in the morning, sit for at least 12 seconds before they actually get up. At this point, a Jewish professor got up and said, “I’d like to explain to you that the Jewish people have had a custom for thousands of years: to praise God upon arising. And the prayer that they say is exactly 12 words long — and if you say it properly, it takes 12 seconds.”
Enjoy. Have a Happy, Happy Hanukkah.
Harriet Gross can be reached at


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