Archive | Columnists

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

It’s time to help Israelis now living in poverty

Posted on 02 January 2019 by admin

Dear Readers,
I would like to share with you a little-known situation in our beloved Holy Land.
The unfortunate situation I am referring to is the abject poverty that so many thousands of Israeli families live in. In Jerusalem alone, tens of thousands of families live below the poverty line. Add to that the population in Sderot and many other towns in the Negev and elsewhere throughout the country, and so many have lost their livelihoods and are subjected to lives of poverty.
On a visit to one organization which combats this poverty, Chechnov Institutions, I heard a bone-chilling story. A teacher in one of its schools noticed that a student wasn’t performing so well that morning and seemed hungry. Upon questioning the boy, he answered, innocently, that yesterday it was his turn to have breakfast and today it was his sister’s turn.
Unlike widespread rumors that this situation exists only with large Haredi families, the truth is that poverty spans the spectrum of Israeli society, from religious to secular. It exists, to a large degree, in the larger population centers, such as Jerusalem and is prevalent in many of the smaller development towns.
This caused me to do a lot of thinking about how we American Jews are doing our spending — the many luxuries we enjoy, the lavish weddings — when so many of our brethren are literally going to bed hungry. Even with regards to many of our philanthropic expenditures, donations that are directed to myriad good and important causes perhaps need to be re-evaluated. Would I, in good conscience, give my dollars to an arts or music center if I knew that my own brother in Cleveland just lost his job and doesn’t have food on the table for himself, his wife and children? We need to view every Jew as our own brother or sister.
The Talmud says that if one is faced by two situations of poverty, one is a Jew in his own city and the other resides in a different city, “Aniyei Ircha Kodmim,” meaning that the poor of one’s own city take precedence over those of another city (Talmud, Tractate Bava Metziah 7a and Sifri Parshas Re’eh 116). The authorities of Jewish law have ruled that the poor of the Land of Israel are considered “Aniyei Ircha,” as the poor in one’s own city (Shulchan Aruch, Yareh Deah 251:3).
In times like those that we live in, surrounded by dangers and threats to the survival of Israel, including proclamations to wipe it off the map, Heaven forfend, this is a special time to perform acts of chesed, loving kindness and tzedakah.
One could contact the Jewish Federation and see how to have a donation earmarked for the poor in Israel. If you would like to contact me, I will be happy to provide you with the names of worthy organizations in Israel who are valiantly attempting to turn the tide and provide basic needs for poverty-stricken families of all backgrounds and affiliations.
Although we can’t change the situation overnight, every person we help makes a huge difference to that person.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Jews were leaders in photography movement

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

I cannot help but smile when I see people taking “selfies” with their phones.
I guess that I am somewhat old-fashioned, but I associate “photography” with cameras and not with cell phones. If you want to think of your cellphone as a camera, be my guest. Who am I to argue?
Obviously, we have come a long way in the history of photography. My belief is that most people do not know that Jews have been a significant force in the field of photography.
One of the earliest Jewish contributors was Levi ben Gershom, who, in the early 1300s, used a camera-like box to temporarily capture and observe images and eclipses of the sun. It wasn’t an actual camera, but you have to start somewhere.
Two years after the Daguerreotype was first developed in 1839, Herman Biouw, a Jewish artist, became famous for portraits of royalty as well as the earliest news photographs, of the Great Fire of Hamburg. Other of Biouw’s historic photos were the first Jewish family portrait (the Hahn family of Berlin) and the first portrait taken of a rabbi, Rabbi Samuel Hirsh of Hamburg.
Biouw’s achievement’s included making prints from copper plates, gold-toning and hand-coloring of prints. Tragically, he died as a result of inhaling the fumes of the processing chemicals.
Around the same time period in Melbourne, 1842, George Goodman pioneered photography in Australia, opening that nation’s first portrait studio.
As interest in photography grew in Australia, Jabez Small opened studios in Melbourne and Sidney and, eventually, a chain of camera shops that his son extended to every major city in the country.
In the 1840s, father and son David and Solomon Nunes Carvalho brought studio photography to Charleston, South Carolina. They eventually founded a photographic shop in Los Angeles as well as the city’s first Hebrew School.
Other Jewish photographic pioneers included Friedrich Lessman, Mendel Diness (first Jewish photographer in Jerusalem) and Michael Greim (1860).
In addition to portraiture, Jewish photographers documented life around them. They were sensitive to the issues facing other Jews like themselves. Photographers, especially Jewish ones, knew Jewish folkways, likes and dislikes.
Jewish photographers had the opportunity to capture old, traditional folkways, some of which were changing and disappearing. One cause of picture postcards becoming so popular was this very reason.
In addition to its growing commercial success, photography was also gaining acceptance and expanding as an art form. Jews and others found it easy to join with other artists and groups to learn and expand in this relatively new area of expression.
One example of how Jewish photo-artists developed and flourished is that of Andre Friedman, known to the world as Robert Capa. Born in Budapest, he left for Berlin at age 18, escaped to France as Hitler gained power and became world famous with his photo coverage of the Spanish Civil War.
Who could forget Capa’s photo of a soldier falling backward at the moment of being struck on the battlefield?
You may recognize the name of Margaret Bourke-White, in reality Margaret Bourke-Weiss, a Life magazine photographer whose grandparents were Orthodox Jews from Poland.
Alfred Stieglitz left his family’s printing business, becoming one of the first great art photographers of street scenes, portraits and nature.
The most famous images of World War II were captured by Jewish photographers such as Capa, Walter Rosenblum, Martin Lederhandler and Louis Weintraub.
AP photographer Joe Rosenthal captured the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising image, probably the most memorable photo of World War II.
Life magazine was considered the prime publication for creative photographers. Look magazine, another pictorial magazine, achieved success under Arthur Rothstein, its director of photography, and its creative artist, Ben Shahn.
And if you are not convinced by now that Jews played a significant role in the history of photography, I need only remind you of that famous Life magazine cover photo of the V-J Day Times Square celebration showing the sailor kissing the nurse.
The famous image was captured by Life photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt, a German-born Jew.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Fairness a good lesson as Christmas nears

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As we get close to Christmas and some children (and adults) still wish for all the fun and, especially, the great music, I thought it might be good to talk about fairness.
Kids always tell their parents, “That’s not fair!” What exactly are they thinking? What is “fair”? Fairness is a word that is really about justice (mishpat in Hebrew), and justice may be an even harder word for kids and for us.
Judaism has the message of justice deeply implanted in the spirit of Jewish life. The Torah and the Prophets are filled with laws and examples of how to make a fair judgment and the importance of being fair and just.
“You shall not render an unfair decision: Do not favor the poor nor show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.” (Leviticus 19:15)
“Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
Rabbi Hillel said, “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” This is a very easy way to understand how to treat others. However, being fair isn’t always easy or simple. Fair doesn’t always mean the same.
Here are some good questions to talk about and a great discussion-starter story:
• Have you ever been treated unfairly? How did it make you feel?
• Do you think it is fair that older children get to stay up later and do more things than younger children? Why or why not? Do you think it is fair that boys get to do things that girls don’t get to do? Why or why not?
• Some families have a rule that if there is a piece of cake to share, one person gets to cut it and the other gets to choose the first piece. How is this a fair way to divide the cake? Can this system be used in other areas?
Here’s a story for discussion:
A young boy came to a woman’s house and asked if she would like to buy some of the berries he had picked from his father’s fields. The woman said, “Yes, I would, and I’ll just take your basket inside to measure out 2 quarts.”
The boy sat down on the porch and the woman asked, “Don’t you want to watch me? How do you know that I won’t cheat you and take more than 2 quarts?” The young boy said, “I am not afraid, for you would get the worst of the deal.” “How could that be?” she asked. The boy answered, “If you take more than 2 quarts that you are paying me for, I would only lose the berries. You would make yourself a liar and a thief.”
Talk about the meaning of this story with your family.
We should always try to do the fair and just thing. It is an important value to live by.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

It’s fine to wear tefillin outside of Israel

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I heard that the mitzvah of tefillin is only for the land of Israel, and that doing it outside of Israel is only for practice. (That is a short version of what was said.) If it was just me that was confused about this, I would have written it off to my ignorance, but I would say almost all were not comfortable with this. Could you please comment?
Etta K.

Dear Etta,
I would assume that the lecture you heard was based upon a famous section from the classical commentary to the Chumash, known as Ramban.
Ramban writes the following: “…and (if you don’t listen to the word of God) you will quickly be ejected from the land” (Deuteronomy 11:17); even though I will exile you from the land to the diaspora, remain distinguished in the performance of mitzvos in order that, when you shall return, they should not be new (unfamiliar) unto you. Similarly, Jeremiah (who prophesized the exile) said to the Jews, ‘establish for yourself markers,’ these are the mitzvos which the Jews will be distinguished through (in exile). In the Diaspora the Jews will only be obligated in mitzvos, which obligate the personage such as tefillin and mezuzos (not in the mitzvos upon the land). The Sages explained that the fulfillment of mitzvos there (in the diaspora) is in order that they will not be unfamiliar when they return, because the main fulfillment of mitzvos is for those whom are dwelling in the Land of God. For this reason, our Sages said that living in Israel is compared to the fulfillment of all the mitzvos (as all the mitzvos are complete there)” (Nachmanides Leviticus 18:25).
It is important to understand the full meaning of the words of Ramban, to better understand the importance of Israel as well as to gain a deeper appreciation of mitzvos.
Through the performance of a mitzvah, we become partners to the Almighty in the ongoing creation and perfection of the world, the true meaning of “tikkun olam.”
The word mitzvah reveals two aspects to its fulfillment. The simple meaning of the word is “commandment.” We fulfill a mitzvah because we are commanded to do so. The second meaning is “partnership,” based upon the root tzavta, or “together.” With the performance of a mitzvah, we partner with God in the ongoing creation and fulfillment of the world and its purpose.
The foundation of this partnership is man’s creation in the “Image of God” (Genesis 1: 26-27). Implicit in that creation is God’s empowering us with the ability to powerfully affect the universe. The world is God’s “hardware,” the Torah is the “software,” and when He gave us the Torah, He handed us the “mouse.” We “click” with our observance of mitzvos and affect the entire universe.
There is no difference between Israel and the diaspora as far as the first aspect of mitzvos. To the extent we are commanded to perform the mitzvos, Jews in Israel and the diaspora share the same obligation.
The second aspect, however, the extent that our mitzvos affect the universe, is different when we are in the diaspora and distant from Israel, known as the “Throne of Heaven,” or if we are at the very “Gates of Heaven,” in Israel. Our observance has a greater impact when we are in the vital energy center of God, when we are at our highest spiritual level and greatest level of connection to the Almighty.
It’s important to note that the Ramban is not referring to the Israel of today, which, although geographically is the Land of Israel, is not the complete Israel we are waiting for. What we have been praying for is not simply to dwell in the physical borders of Israel, rather for the full return to Israel with its complete holiness. That includes the Temple, the Shechinah or Divine Presence of God, where we will return to our past spiritual glory.
May it be speedily in our days.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Plaskoff creates podcast launching pad

Plaskoff creates podcast launching pad

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

Photo: Kevin Porier
On-Air Media’s podcast studio

By Leah Vann

Melissa Plaskoff never thought her “Carpool Talk” show would lead to her being a local podcast sensation. But now, she’s helping others like her dip their feet into podcast media.
“I never thought it was possible,” Plaskoff said. “I’ve tried a lot of things and this is definitely my path, and if I were to go back and talk to myself 20 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘It’s OK, you got this.’”
Plaskoff, a lifelong Dallasite, grew tired of looking for something entertaining to listen to in her endless carpool commute as a mom with three kids, so she started “Carpool Talk” in 2015 as something all parents could listen to while waiting for their kids in what seemed like a monotonous daily routine.
Plaskoff’s podcast grew in both popularity and guest appearances. With that, networks came calling, but she wanted the freedom to dictate the direction of her podcast. She had meet Chris Jagger, former 102.1 The Edge host with experience in both radio and film industry through CBS and Warner Bros.
Both found out that the only way they could foster their own and others’ creativity was to start their own media company, On-Air Media.
On-Air Media would find its permanent home in a 12,000-square-foot facility outside the Dallas design district this summer, complete with two studios professionally equipped with four part-time production and sound engineers with editing experience.
The studios are soundproof with green screens, professional microphones and cameras. One has a 4K camera, while the other features an HD camera. There’s even a lounge with Kombucha on tap, where professionals can collaborate freely with people looking for ideas.
“We’re creating this environment where everyone is in it together, we can all win,” Plaskoff said. “We won’t have to charge a fortune and have our hands in everyone’s pocket.”
On-Air Media offers monthly memberships that include a package of four shows a month. The company keeps costs down with only three full-time employees and four part-timers. It streams every show live on Facebook, YouTube and On-Air Media’s website simultaneously, enabling it to keep the space affordable. Livestreaming cuts post-production costs, and all shows are stored away to stream on-demand via iTunes. The company is also leasing extra space in the building to other companies.
“We wanted to keep in mind there’s a number of different types of people that use it,” Jagger said. “Hobbyists, they have an idea for a show, want to do something that is interesting and entertaining, looks good and sounds good and has sound elements, that looks like it’s not embarrassing shooting out of your home somewhere. We also knew that professionals would want to come in.”
When new clients come in with an idea for a show, they first meet with Plaskoff and Jagger to find direction before launching. They can also schedule additional consultations. Jagger said that while it’s a freely creative environment, they’re able to balance the guidance.
“There’s a lot more freedom here,” Jagger said. “One of the things I ran into later in my career, at iHeartMedia, CBS Radio, you had program directors who tried to control everything because they were trying to be told what to do. Radio started to contract, eliminating a lot of jobs, fewer people involved in making decisions; it turned out to be a bad thing because they were just handing down edits. It became so restrictive, it was ridiculous; it continues to be that way. With what we do, anything goes at this point.”
And he adds that Plaskoff is a natural talent at pointing people in the right direction when starting or struggling with a show.
“She’s a natural-born producer,” Jagger said. “I tell her, ‘You should’ve been working for Oprah.’ She has the natural instincts. Had she been in that circle of people, she would’ve. You can’t teach that. I was like, ‘OK, you have a lot to learn, but you have great instincts, and if I’m not with you at some point down the road, you’ll fully understand what’s going on here.’”
Some of those instincts include which ideas resonate with an audience and how to execute those ideas in the best way possible.
“The way we structure the onboard of a new show is highly organized,” Plaskoff said. “Everyone knows their role and everyone knows their part.”
On-Air Media has produced an array of successful shows, including “The Benet Embry Show,” an unbiased progressive podcast that talks about today’s current issues while also promoting local artists in the R&B, neo-soul and hip-hop genres.
All podcast shows own their own content and can monetize if they choose. Sometimes, if a podcast needs help getting its feet off the ground, On-Air Media has professional co-hosts waiting in the wings with years of experience for consulting. They include former WFAA anchor Alexa Conomos, Dallas Observer and Pressboxdfw journalist Richie Whitt, KSCS voice Jasmine Sadry and Dallas blogger Julie Fisk.
It also provides an avenue for city business owners to try to get their messages out. Plaskoff and Jagger often meet with companies on how they can produce video and content professionally and how to spread it on social media.
Whatever the goal is, Plaskoff hopes that she’s providing a platform that helps people pursue their media dreams the way that she and Jagger have.
“It gives me so much energy,” Plaskoff said. “I love hearing the different stories people come in and tell me every day. No two are alike.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The network makes it hard to keep secrets

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

This week in Parashat Vayigash, Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers before reconciling with them. He then asks them to bring his father and their families to come live in Egypt, where Joseph had risen to such prominence.
At the emotional climax of this revelation, we read in Genesis 45:1-2: “Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Have everyone withdraw from me!’ So, there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.”
If Joseph thought that he might keep his news private, he was badly mistaken, as confirmed in Verse 15: “The news reached Pharaoh’s palace: ‘Joseph’s brothers have come.’ Pharaoh and his courtiers were pleased.”
Secrets have a way of getting out, no matter the precautions or methods one takes to prevent them from doing so. I love what Benjamin Franklin had to say in Poor Richard’s Almanac about the keeping of secrets: “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” Joseph’s hope of keeping his news private was doomed from the start, which is an important reality for us to keep in mind.
Information passes from person to person, whether we will it or not, through a network of friends and acquaintances. It can also be surprising how extensive those networks are. It’s fun to play Jewish geography, that social game when you meet someone for the first time and try to see if you have any connections within your overlapping Jewish networks. But, it is also illustrative of how far and wide information may flow.
I remember distinctly how surprised I was the first time I visited Israel. My friend and I took a Pan Am tour (which gives you an indication of just how long ago it was) of Israel over winter break during our sophomore year in college. We had a day to explore the Old City in Jerusalem and saw a sign in the Jewish Quarter for free tours. As college students, free was important to us, so we took the tour.
Before we got started, the guide asked us where we were from. “The United States,” I answered. “Yes,” he scoffed, “I know. Where are you from?” “New York.” “Yes, where are you from?” “Long Island.” “Where on Long Island?” “Syosset.” “Where in Syosset?” “‘Miller Boulevard,” I said, getting frustrated. “Oh, by the railroad tracks.”
It turned out he had had a girlfriend in Syosset and took the train out to meet her, and so he knew Miller Boulevard. I was astonished, though today I wouldn’t have been. A few weeks ago, I was honored to officiate at a wedding in New Orleans and met two different people at the reception whom I had a connection to through two different synagogues where I had served as rabbi. I know now that it is a small world and we are all connected in one way or another.
We live in a time when division and discord seem to be sky high. It would be better for us to remember how deeply connected we actually are, even when we aren’t aware of it. We should be careful of what we speak about and how we speak because what we say will be repeated farther and wider than we might believe to be possible.
We should also remember that we have far more connections and similarities than we have divisions. When we remember our connections, our differences begin to fade and we can live in a more harmonious world.
Rabbi Ben Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

A late take on December Dilemma

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When you read this, Hanukkah will be over, so why keep talking about a holiday that truly is not the most important in Judaism and has its share of myth-making (meaning the story we tell our children is not the whole truth)?
I am an avid reader of many Jewish internet sites, spanning all Jewish perspectives — it is good to expand to get the full picture of Jewish life. I have often recommended myjewishlearning.com, as it presents a variety of views. A part of the site that is specifically directed to families with young children is kveller.com.
In a recent post, there were a number of writings about Christmas and the age-old December Dilemma. A few that caught my eye were from either interfaith families or converts to Judaism. Each has a different struggle from our “typical” family with two Jewish parents. I say “typical” in quotes because there is no such thing.
Let me also recommend a book titled “Two Jews Can Still Be a Mixed Marriage” by Azriela Jaffe. The point being that we all come from different families with different traditions and ways of managing every part of our lives, Jewish and not specifically Jewish (for a discussion on what that means, I need another column). How do we live in this world of diversity and honor all, yet keep our uniqueness? This is a challenge for everyone.
So what did the various people say? Some converts and spouses in an interfaith family had a lot of trouble with “giving up Christmas.” All are a work in progress coming to terms with changing lives. For all of us celebrating whatever holidays we choose, it is an evolving process as we change and our families change.
We go from our parents’ home to perhaps time as a single to married to children and all the possibilities in between. Of course, there are differences, changes and challenges. And every family is different. Plus, there is no wrong way, just the way you make it work for your family.
Why talk about this after Hanukkah? As we know, the Jewish calendar is a strange thing, and this year Hanukkah was a bit early. We will soon have two months of Adar to get us back on track, and soon we will be saying that the holidays are late. Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations pose a problem whether early or late. This year, Hanukkah will be long gone by the time it is Christmas. Does that make it easier or harder?
As many of you know, I’m great at asking questions, then letting you decide the answers that work for you and your family. What will happen this Christmas for you? The bigger question is which Chinese restaurant will you be at and which movie will you be seeing on Christmas Day? Yes, that is a common tradition for us Jews.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

View or Subscribe to the
Texas Jewish Post

Advertise Here

Photos from our Flickr stream

See all photos

Advertise Here