no sunlight, no healing

by Robert Feldman (Maricopa, Arizona)

out here in the promised land

10 helpless clay-baked goloms are bathed

in thick, koshered Dead Sea mud,

while Nazarath weddings blast saxophones and accordions just up the road,

and the passion of a hundred Tzfat hora dancers

toast along with the other tribes,

all the while beckoning to Haifa salt Mediterranean scholars

hustling Haggadahs on shakedown Ramalah Rumla Reza Street

out here in the promised land

while holy Jerusalem just nods to this music and her maternal knowing,

Mt. Bental’s brilliant sparks of light effervesce the night sky,

opalescing enlightened orange and date trees,

while Be’er Sheva’s golden desert doors

and Tel Aviv’s  hip hoppers down on Contemporary Road

harvest and garland yelloworange buttercups and purple pansies,

waving the bouquets up and back down these consecrated roads,

where yarmulked children hopscotch way past midnight,

dressed in innocent pigtails and peyus

their paisley sneakers swinging,

where bees become birds

become cherry trees

become exquisite, tender offerings

sharing salutary bonds etched in stone:

“all this is bestowed upon my people…

you have been given

the tears and the laughter of four thousand years,

endless sunlight to forever heal, 

King Solomon’s stone and shekels,

oil and olives

dates dipped in tahini

honey dripping from pregnant rosebuds…

chipped austere cups brimming with cool sweet water”

Inspired to write poetry by iconic members of his hometown Paterson’s literary tradition, most notably Allen/Louis Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams, Robert Feldman helped found the Bisbee Poets Collective and facilitate the annual Bisbee Poetry Festival while residing in southern Arizona. He continues to write, publish, and present his work (including “Hineni” 2018; “Sunflowers, Sutras, Wheatfields and other ArtPoems” 2019), make fire paintings, & play tabla. You can find more information about him and his work on his website: www.albionmoonlight.net 

Note from the author: “This piece was first composed while sitting early morning at an outdoor coffee shop at Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv; the energy around me was invigorating and transformative, the comings and goings of the venders and shoppers…everybody was there all at once, and translating all that into this poem was pure simcha!”

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Honoring your mother and father in lockdown

by Jay Prosser (London, England)

‘How about salmon stir-fry?’

‘Yes, weather warm and dry.’

I realise my parents are once again having a parallel-universe conversation.  This is the result of mutual increasing deafness, not helped by the depressing news virus updates at more-than-background volume.

Sitting between them at breakfast every morning, I’m often required also to translate between them.  The experience is similar to watching a movie with them.  ‘What are they saying?’  ‘I haven’t seen her before.’  I’m tempted to do sign language on the movie.

It would be one thing if I was 16, or 21, or even 30.  But it’s quite another if you’re a man in your 50s — with your life, job, and partner left behind in another city — to spend the lockdown months with parents in their 80s.  Neighbors have been very kind, and my parents relied on them before we could get online groceries.  But this is not The Graduate, and I’m definitely not Dustin Hoffman.  The neighbor’s wife is charming, but we bond only over tomato plants and coordinated deliveries.

Eleven weeks ago, my catastrophic worrying – the world is going to end – for once, proved the wise response. Just before lockdown, I packed my car with jars of halech (Iraqi Jewish date syrup), fermented beetroot and horseradish (it was just before Pesach, can you believe), piles of books so I could continue to teach, albeit remotely, at my university, and drove the 200 miles to be with my parents.

This week’s parashah includes the mitzvah about honoring your father and mother, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the extraordinary relevance of the 5th  commandment in lockdown.

The Hebrew word, kavod, translates as ‘honor’ or ‘respect,’ but its root, kved, carries the sense of heaviness, of a burden.  Our ensoncement has definitely not been easy.  We’ve had a series of domestic catastrophes.  The washing machine broke the day I arrived, releasing a flood that would have drowned Pharaoh’s horses.  Then the dishwasher broke.  The vacuum cleaner. The internet.  The landline.  It felt like a trial by ordeal.  I missed my partner.  My friends.  My ordered, other life.

The verse in Exodus, ‘Honor your father and mother and I will arrange your days on the land which your God gave you,’ is about commitment to your parents and their home, clearly meant to be Israel.  But returning to maintain my childhood home for my parents, the mitzvah has a different resonance right now.  My parents are fit for their age and definitely more social than me.  Their week is normally a cheerful merry-go-round of ballet and golf; French and tai chi; croissants and coffee; and, ever more occasionally, synagogue.  But since they’ve not been outside for ten weeks, I’ve been their lifeline. I’m living in the studio in the loft and admiring my parents’ resourcefulness and stoicism – really respecting them — as they do their 50 circuits daily around the 100-foot garden (about 1.5 miles), weaving in and out of each other’s way, as if performing a coded bee dance.

The Talmud says that to honor your parents is like honoring God, because along with God you owe your existence to them.  We learn that there should be almost no limit to honoring one’s parents, so that if our father was sleeping and we needed the key from under his pillow to unlock the chest and sell the contents that would make us a large fortune, we nevertheless shouldn’t disturb him.  We hear of the rabbi who willingly bends low so that his elderly mother can use him as footstool to get into bed at night.  But we also learn that all such actions must be done with a good heart and the right sprit: that we can be punished if we serve our parents a ‘delectable fatty bird’ resentfully.  This latter, at least, is not my problem.  I find it truly heart-warming to see my parents tucking into my easy-peasy roast chicken dinner.

Honor, the Talmud says, includes making sure your parents have provisions.  I’ve summoned this to mind as I help my mother with her online grocery order, explaining that, yes, you do have to pay when you get to the checkout, because you’ll lose your slot if you don’t — not always succeeding at keeping my head out of my hands.  Honoring one’s parents also includes providing for other needs.  I’ve planted salad greens in their garden to encourage my father to move more often from his chair to water them.  I’ve been baking (no one appreciates my challah more).  I’ve accrued gadgets to make their life easier in the enforced absence of their home help.  A secret joy is watching my mother gently order and nudge the new Roomba as if it were a small dog.

Jewish law even has something to say about honoring and dementia:  that we should continue to care for our parents until we absolutely no longer can, and only then should we delegate.  We learn Kaddish in order to honor parents after their death.  And the greatest honor we give them is by continuing to perform good deeds even when they won’t be here to witness them. As I’ve adjusted to my parents’ rhythms, I’ve realised what an honor it is for me simply to be here:  listening to their stories; watching their favourite film . . . which leads to the story of how they met; and I’ve heard that story a thousand times.

But in the end, honoring your elderly parents by spending lockdown with them is — unlike the normal filial fleeting visit home — not about you.  It’s about them and seeing the changes they’ve really gone through – their ageing process. It’s about realising your parents are mortal, fragile, vulnerable, especially to this virus.  It’s about carrying on the story from generation to generation.  And it’s about honoring all those who’ve come before you, and thereby keeping traditions alive.

And, yes, it’s about translating at the breakfast table.

Jay Prosser, a reader in humanities at the University of Leeds, has published his Jewish-themed writings in Tablet, Jewish Renaissance, and elsewhere, and has written and edited several academic books on various subjects. At the moment he is working on a book about his Asian-Jewish family.  For more information about Jay and his work, visit: https://ahc.leeds.ac.uk/english/staff/1076/dr-jay-prosser

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“What do you want?”

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)
Unscathed, I live comfortably in hibernation, 
my larder stocked, my outlook optimistic.
The morning air wafts through my open window,
and I can hear the call and response of birds
punctuated by the screams of ambulances.
Then there is a knock at my door.
It grows louder, and, finally, I say,
“What do you want?”
I peer out my window and go downstairs 
and see a strange man dressed all in black.
“I have some terrible news,
about your friend, Tony, I believe.”
“Tony?”
“Yes, I see you and Tony at the diner most days.
You often eat breakfast together. Is that not true?
And he’s a paramedic and loved by many?”
“He is a good friend. What’s wrong? Tell me!”
“He is in the hospital with Covid-19.”
“Oh, my God, Is he OK?”
“I’m sorry to say he’s on a ventilator.”
“Which hospital? Can I see him?”
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. Can I come in?
Perhaps we can pray together.”
“No, no, go away. You’re scaring me.”
“But there is more.”
“Don’t tell me he’s gonna die.”
“Most probably, but there is even more.”
“Are you coming for me?”
“Yes, possibly, and quite soon, I might add.”
Panic-stricken, I double-lock the door and shut the window.
I collapse in a chair and start praying for my friend,
but, upon reflection, I begin to say Kaddish for myself,
somehow hoping these words might save me.

 

Mel Glenn, the author of twelve books for young adults, is working on a poetry book about the pandemic tentatively titled Pandemic, Poetry, and People. He has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. You can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Uncle Leon

by Marden Paru (Sarasota, FL)

Uncle Leon (Label) came to Phoenix in 1947 and lived with us. 

He was the youngest and now the only survivor of the Parubansky family, barely a teen when he was sent to a concentration camp, and one of the very few out of several thousand prisoners to survive a Nazi death march to the Czechoslovakian border. 

HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) took care of Uncle Leon in a displaced person’s camp after the defeat of the Nazis until he was able to connect with American relatives.

At the time that Uncle Leon arrived, we were a growing family of seven living together under a single roof. My parents built an addition to the house since, with only one bathroom and a shortage of bedrooms, we were bursting at the seams. So, a large dorm-like room with clothes closets and a bathroom was added, along with an evaporative cooler, which was installed on the new roof. Suddenly, our Culver Street house seemed huge and spacious to a child of seven.

With no knowledge of English, Uncle Leon was aided by my father in finding a job and subsequently learned a new marketable skill. At the poultry market where Dad worked as a shokhet (a butcher trained in kosher slaughtering), Leon learned to candle eggs. The skill was in how to locate blood spots in the yoke within the shells of the eggs, then discard those eggs and pack the remainder by the dozen. This led to learning Spanish, the primary language among the Mexican employees of the poultry establishment, and driving a truck to deliver eggs by the gross to local supermarkets and bodega grocery stores.

In the mid-50s Uncle Leon went east to find a Jewish wife and married Aunt Sally in 1959. The chuppah (literally canopy/the wedding ceremony) ironically took place in the Vilna Shul in Boston, a landsmanshaft synagogue founded by recent Lithuanian post-war immigrants who’d  settled in Massachusetts. 

Uncle Leon became an expert candler and did this for the remainder of his working career, which lasted sixty years, most of which were spent later in the Boston area, where he was reunited with family cousins and was also in the company of Uncle Joe and Aunt Esther, though they lived several towns apart. 

Marden Paru is currently the Dean, Rosh Yeshiva and co-founder of the Sarasota Liberal Yeshiva, an adult Jewish studies institute, and a  former instructor at the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation’s Melton Adult Mini-School. He attended Yeshiva University, the University of Tulsa, and the University of Chicago, and was a doctoral fellow and faculty member at Brandeis University. Marden and his wife Joan are members of Temple Beth Sholom and Congregation Kol HaNeshama. To read more about Marden and Joan, visit: https://www.brandeis.edu/hornstein/news/newsletter/Hornstein-alumni-articles/My-1966-Computer-Arranged-Jewish-Marriage-by-Marden-Paru.html

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The Genuine Article

by Herbert J. Levine (Sarasota, FL)

My father’s grandfather, in photographs always an old man wearing a long black coat, his white beard gathered in two points, was the genuine article, the Jew who had never passed through Western Europe’s ordeals of civility. Because he loomed large in his grandchildren’s life, Peretz Satran of Sered, Romania and Winthrop, Mass. became the stuff of family legend, as exotic to me as his one-foot-high silver-covered spice box, which he, a dealer in scrap metal, had assembled out of the base of a lamp and other metal odds and ends and decorated with little copper bells hanging from the bottom of the two silvered tiers. At the top there was room for three small glasses–– for a l’chaim toast, I suppose, at the end of Havdalah. 

Sitting atop that huge spice box, engraved in Hebrew with the names of the patriarchs and matriarchs and the twelve tribes, he had placed an American Marine Corps eagle, for after all, had not God carried our ancestors on eagle’s wings out of their slavery in Egypt, and here was Peretz in yet another exile, where the trolley conductor sent him to Arlington Heights, seven, eight miles away, when he had plainly asked, so he supposed, for Orient Heights. After this misadventure, his grandchildren sought to correct his pronunciation to save him from getting lost again, but he said back to them in his best King’s English, “kiss mine hass, did I said it right?” 

In his synagogue, he may have been the only mystic. The story goes that he was so deep in the Shmoneh Esreh prayer each Shabbat, that he never noticed the little boys throwing sticky, purple cockle burrs into his beard, which they had collected from bushes growing just outside. A parallel story is that the birds wouldn’t leave him alone either, but this time he took action, tying tin cans on a rope hung in his beloved cherry tree; morning and evening, he would go out to shake the cans and scare them away from the maturing fruit. 

When this eccentric patriarch announced in 1928 that he was leaving America and going to the Holy Land to die, no one was surprised; the surprise came when he returned two years later in the midst of Arab rioting, saying, “you can get killed over there.” So he chose America after all, where I see him standing in his sunflower-covered booth on the eve of the Sukkot holiday, surrounded by two daughters and their children, holding the brimming wine cup that he is about to bless. The intensity of his gaze is not lost on me, even knowing that this image was posed by a photographer from the Boston Record American to show that some Jews in America still observed the ancient customs they had brought with them from over there. 

When his Hasidic rebbe was moving from the West End to East Boston and needed to set up a mikveh, the ritual bath collected from flowing waters that women use after their periods so they can resume having sex with their husbands, Peretz Satran traveled in his cart and horse to Walden Pond and there collected a large block of ice. I like to see him in that cart on the long road from Concord, transporting the frozen water of Walden Pond––which our transcendentalist sage, Henry Thoreau, likened to the eye of all the world, as sacred in its own right as the waters of the Ganges––and delivering that small block of eternity to a narrow house in East Boston, where it would be placed in a room dug out of the earth, melt into purifying water and set the stage for still another sacred rite, bringing husbands and wives together to produce new generations of Americans like you and me. 

Herbert J. Levine published his first book of poetry, Words for Blessing the World, at the age of 67. His previous books were scholarly treatments of Yeats and Psalms. To learn more about Herb and his work, visit:https://benyehudapress.com/books/words-blessing-world/

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Standing on the tram this morning

by Tina Oliver (Sale, England)

Standing on the tram this morning,

looking down at people’s feet,

I can think only of the holocaust trains.

I think of seeing no gaps. I see 

lime on the floor and for a brief 

moment I long for a seat, long not 

to have to hold on but I can think 

only of the holocaust trains.

I think of standing for four days.

I see arms held high. A father, 

mother, their children, jostling 

and laughing huddled together. 

I watch this family but I can think 

only of the holocaust trains.

I hear no laughter but see gasps 

for air. I look out the window to

see greenery rushing by but I can

think only of the holocaust trains. 

I think of a barred window

but see no light. A passenger 

gets up and out to depart and 

I watch him but I can think only 

of the holocaust trains.

I think of a guard. I see lines 

to the left. I see lines to the right.

I hear silence. I think only of 

the holocaust trains.

Tina Oliver was born in Connecticut and now lives with her family in Sale, England. Although she has no Jewish roots, she has always felt a deep connection to the Jewish people. Recently, she heard one of the survivors on the Anniversary of the Liberation speak about how “a thought becomes an idea, an idea becomes a habit, and to never allow an injustice to happen before your eyes.” These words moved her greatly and inspired her to write “Standing on the tram this morning.

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The Ultimate Truth

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

At a recent and joyous Orthodox wedding,
surrounded by dancing men all dressed in black
with most stylish hats, I was asked by a young scholar
why was I not singing in Hebrew.
“I don’t know Hebrew,” I said, embarrassed,
owning up to my lack of Jewish education.
“So why don’t you learn?” he said,
“The words are  the ultimate truth, the one truth,
the word of God given to His people.”
“But don’t other religions have their truth?” I countered.
“Spoken like an American,” he said. “Ours
is the only truth. We know this for thousands of years.”
Hard to argue with someone so convinced
of the certainty of his belief, while admitting to myself
I was jealous of his steadfast conviction.
Better not, I thought, to get so engaged
into such a theological discussion while
celebrating with cheers the bride and groom.
The search for truth continues for me
long after the final toast is offered.

The author of twelve books for young adults, Mel Glenn has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. Lately, he’s been writing poetry, and you can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Tikkun Olam

by David Hirshberg (Bedford, NY)

My grandfather spent his last year at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Boston, vibrant and spellbinding until the end. Our last conversation took place just a few days before he died in 1970. He was eighty-six, slowed but erect, with enough thinned white hair to hold a part that angled toward his left eye, adding an exclamation point to his winks.

“I have to ask you something, grandpa,” I began, and he instinctively motioned for me to accompany him to the far side of the common room.

“Let’s get away from the altekakers,” he said without irony, many of whom were younger than he.

“Did you . . .,” I hesitated, seeking to gauge his understanding that this was not going to be a question about some mundane issue, a message I’d  tried to convey by accenting the word have, a clear giveaway that something important was on my mind. “Did you have second thoughts about the events during the summer of 1952? And before, going way back, to the early part of the century?”

“O’Connor,” he said, lifting his voice ever so slightly at the end to allow for ambiguity that this was either a question or a declaration. At first, I thought this was a non-sequitur, and not in any obvious way a response to my question. Out of deference, however, I nodded, remembering countless stories of this Irish immigrant who worked for John Francis Fitzgerald—Honey Fitz—beginning before the First World War.

“He comes to me one day, David, and says, ‘Honey Fitz is gonna run for mayor,’” imitating Mr. O’Connor’s brogue, stepping back almost three quarters of a century. “‘So’s I need a favor, I do,’” he continues, and it’s as if I’m not listening to Ezekiel Ginzburg, but rather to an Irish immigrant who’d grown up with John Francis Fitzgerald. “‘Honey Fitz wants to know if youse,’ he meant me and the boys, ‘would help him, ha ha, off the books, coola boola? He asked me special to ask ya, he did, he sends his regards, personal. Ya see, Zeke, the thing of it is, this conversation never took place, are ya with me boy?’”

He was back in 1906, my grandfather staring at me, but recounting this tale to his Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish cronies, the good-hearted but tough-as-nails immigrants who’d decided that it was time to shed reticence and deference, and to turn on the Brahmin clans that had kept them from the best jobs, schools, political offices, and neighborhoods. When it wasn’t outright bigotry, they resorted to shunning, an effective tool that came without their using up any social capital.

He came back to me. “I didn’t have to respond, David, I’d been around O’Connor long enough to know where the conversation was going—it was all about getting the votes. And, then, well, more.”

He started up again channeling O’Connor in that sing-song Irish cadence that was second nature to this Jewish man born in a shtetl in the Pale of Settlement.

“‘Well, we won’t have to worry about us micks, don’t ya know, we’re as good as gold, darn near to a hunnert percent, I’ll drink to that, my friend. And the dagos, especially in the North End, well, Honey Fitz, he grew up there, practically a wop himself, if ya know what I mean. The polacks, too, good Catholics, ya see where I’m headin’ Zeke? Now the Yankees, their investments buy a pol’s pound of flesh, no offense, mind ya, and outside of town, they have the numbers, they do. Have ya ever seen a Pope’s man in Lexington? In Provincetown? In Amherst? Count ‘em up, Zeke, count ‘em up on one hand I tell ya. The numbers are against us and the cash is too, by Jaykers. Ya can’t fight ‘em with the nickels the firemen and the transit workers give us, not with the real money the customers’ men have and the dough they raise with the wives at tea. Did ya know, Zeke, that they spend more on tea than a workin’ man spends on rent? That’s a fact for sure, so it is. They laugh at us, they think we’re eejits, they roll prátas on our stoops at Christmas and throw lumps of coal at the kids on All Hallow, and don’t be fooled, they wished ya’d never come here, would’ve sent the boats back lickety split, one two three, be done with ya’, kicked over the meltin’ pot and spilled it into the harbor, they would. Then they’d send a bowsie Paul Revere, all over the place, he’d ride through every town and village, the yids are gone, the yids are gone, and all the folks would come out, clappin’ and hollerin’ and whoopin’ it up, yes sir. Yahoo! And now they’re saying that ya’re Bolsheviks, communists, and pretty soon ya gonna be blamed for the flu for chrissakes. Ya can’t let them do this, Zeke, will ya stand with Honey Fitz, will ya stand for the workin’ man, will ya stand for the immigrant, the sons of immigrants? ’”

And then he stopped, dead in his tracks, the musicality and poetry of this story replaced by the workaday language of 1970.

“You see?” my grandfather asked me.

I did. I saw all the post-1906 events in which my grandfather participated, the detritus that flowed from Honey Fitz’ election as the 38th mayor of Boston, how my grandfather worked the lists of voters who’d get the $10 bills stuffed into an envelope, the money culled from the shakedowns of officials who’d been caught in compromising positions, and the skims from the bribes of contractors who did business with the city, all to curry favor with the most powerful man in Massachusetts. I saw Grandpa Zeke with the phony documents for my father who left Germany in 1938 on a cargo ship with no papers, met in Montreal by one of my grandfather’s Italian hoods, who drove to the border crossing near Jackman, Maine and presented the agent with a U.S. birth certificate and driver’s license for his passenger, a German man named Heinz Lupholdt who’d never been to the U.S., and a marriage license as well as a Ketubah indicating his betrothal to my mother in Brookline, a place he’d see for the first time when he did eventually marry her in 1939 under his real name—Reuven Hirshberger. (He liked to remark that he had a second circumcision when he dropped the ‘er’ at the end of his name to become Hirshberg.) I saw the results of the polls prominently displayed on the front page of the largest circulation Massachusetts newspaper leading up to the 1952 election of Honey Fitz’ grandson to be a U.S. senator, showing the uptick in voting for young Jack, a testament to his surging popularity, a signal to the undecideds to get on the train of a winner, not knowing that the polls were false, created by my grandfather and the boys at the bar across the harbor in Southie, paid for by the paper’s owner, who’d been caught in flagrante by one of Grandpa Zeke’s hangers-on, only too happy to take on this assignment, knowing a refusal would be accompanied by crippling blows to his arms and legs, the usual punishment for a guy who couldn’t keep a secret from his main line of work as a secretary for the City Council. This was for the cause of taking down one Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., the Republican senate opponent, the scion of the well-known Cabot family, for whom the ditty,

“And this is good old Boston,

the land of the bean and the cod.

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

and the Cabots talk only to God”

was coined.

I saw it all, including the pride on Grandpa Zeke’s face, not a smugness associated with the arrogance of superiority, rather an admission that the ends had justified the means. He’d been at the epicenter of a social revolution, and had emerged not only unscathed, but had ridden the wave that sprung from this cultural tsunami to a vantage point where he could take satisfaction from seeing the results of what he and his pals had achieved.

I nodded. We sat quietly for a minute or two.

“No, David, I had no second thoughts. It was a measure of tikkun olam,” he said, rather matter-of-factly.

“How were you repairing the world?” I asked incredulously, my mind racing through the images of bribes, vote stealing, fixed races, betting on outcomes when the results were known in advance, theft, forged documents, illegal immigration, kidnapping, shakedowns, and beatings, the stuff of family legends, acted out at Purim, recounted at Seders and Shabbat dinners, so different from the stories my friends told of what went on in their family gatherings.

“Those were different times,” he pronounced as if he were an instructor in a classroom, “so context is everything, David. It wasn’t like it is today, where you, your sister, your children, friends, any of you has access to whatever you want, any kind of job or school. You can be a lawyer, work on Wall Street, join a big company, buy a house in any neighborhood, go places, serve in government, appear in a motion picture, and not think for even a minute about how being a Jew would affect you, not having to change your name.”

“But repair?” I asked.

“It was broken, the world was cracked, the seam right down the middle. The WASPs ate the cake for three centuries; they threw us the crumbs, patted us on our heads, told us we should be grateful. It had to be fixed; not by anarchy, you’ve seen how that plays out. We took a page from their book: the Irish built the railroads, the Italians the streets, the Poles the tunnels, the Jews traded.” If I’d been talking with one of my grandfather’s pals, he would’ve said the micks, the dagos, the polacks, and the yids. “We all saved our nickels, had lots of children, bided our time, got the vote, and then we turned on them; yes indeed, we gave as good as we got.”

His voice was clear, his tone serious; his eyes glistened. He’d given me an epilogue to his life story; there’d be no more chapters, no encores, no need to take a bow. He winked. I gave him a longer-than-usual hug as I took my leave, thinking about how he and his pals had harvested the resentments, slights, oppressions, and grievances of generations of immigrants, and transformed them into a powerful force that generated lasting changes for the good, using the only means at their disposal.

I’d never thought of a revenge motive associated with tikkun olam. I had to process this, in light of its seeming incongruity with the obligation to continually strive for social justice, which heretofore I’d associated only with behavior of the highest moral values. Were unethical activities ever justified in seeking to do good? Was Grandpa Zeke’s trying to right the wrongs of those who’d suppressed the civil liberties of immigrants in Massachusetts by carrying out various illegal schemes so different from his contemporaries in Palestine who plotted to use any means necessary to remove the Arab-aligned British, including blowing up the King David Hotel? Was there a scale of misdeeds where one could assign values from unjustifiable to acceptable, representing black and white? Trying to place myself in his time—and understanding how difficult it was for Jews and other immigrants for whom the American dream could be a nightmare—drew me to the gray that represented the ambiguity that could fit between these two extremes.

I couldn’t make a negative judgment on my grandfather’s methods—not because of our familial relationship (I like to think that I’d come to this conclusion even if he’d been a stranger)—but because of who I was allowed to be as a result of what he’d accomplished. The purity of his motives as evidenced by his acknowledgment that he was out to repair a broken world trumped the skirting of the law. This was the Jewish lesson he taught, and I was the embodiment of his legacy, which unburdened me to think how I might react, should I ever be in his position.

David Hirshberg is the pseudonym for an entrepreneur who prefers to keep his business activities separate from his writing endeavors. As an author, he adopted the first name of his father-in-law and the last name of his maternal grandfather, as a tribute to their impact on his life.

He is the author of the multiple award-winning debut novel, My Mother’s Son, published in 2018. His essay—A Gift—was also published that year. His second novel—Jacobo’s Rainbow—will be published in 2021. His work, Honor Code, is being developed as a stage play.

He is an active member of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, New York, and is the creator of the Shavua Tov Boys Breakfast Club that meets on Sunday mornings to discuss books that deal with the American Jewish experience, as well as the Sichah, a group of 10 Jewish men representing four denominations, who meet to discuss important issues that affect the lives of Jews today.

Hirshberg lives in Bedford, New York with his wife and two setters. He received an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and a graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently enrolled in a two-year course at the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan.

You can read more of his work here: https://www.amazon.com/David-Hirshberg/e/B078SZDGKZ?ref_=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000

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Kosher Cuisine (Phoenix, 1946)

by Marden Paru (Sarasota, FL)

My family and I moved to Phoenix, Arizona in early 1946. It was a very warm and dry climate akin to that of the Land of Israel. Surrounded by devout Mormon neighbors (who never drank alcohol or coffee), our home and our family’s lifestyle would accurately be described today as centrist Orthodox. 

We walked to shul as a family each Shabbat and Yom Tov and enjoyed special Shabbat seudot (meals). In the heat of Arizona, special adaptation of kosher cuisine was a must. 

With no air-conditioning and only an evaporative cooler blowing moisture through air ducts, our house felt cool in the 110+ degree heat. It must have been all of 80 degrees indoors but it felt like a mikhaya. (Yiddish for very pleasurable—not a Japanese word if that is what you are thinking.)

Often, we were served cold fruit soup or cherry borscht on Shabbat in place of hot chicken soup. During the hot season, I always missed the unborn, no-shell chicken eggs usually floating in the hot chicken soup, but that was due to climate necessity. Unfortunately due to the high bacteria count, ayerlakh are no longer available today and banned by the USDA. But we never got sick from them because boiling the chicken broth killed any bacteria that might have been present. Alas, now it is a culinary memory of the distant past.

Mom made the best pitcha (jellied calves feet with garlic—an aspic) which she learned from Bubbie. With Dad a shokhet, we enjoyed a delicacy which I have not eaten again during most of my adult life—baby lamb tongue—so sweet and tender. Zayde made his own brine pickles in big barrels in his basement as well as pickled herring which his “house guests” and grandchildren thoroughly enjoyed.

Gribbiness (caramelized onion and chicken cracklings) were noshed by us on erev Shabbes before the balance of the batch made its way into the gehakteh lebber (chopped liver). Early on Bubbie and Mom allowed me to assist in its preparation by hand-grinding the freshly-broiled liver, hard-boiled eggs along with celery, and the rendered gribbiness fried in chicken schmaltz (fat) The hand-operated meat grinder to this five year-old came across as a fun invention to play with. The produced output was tasty also. Hand-grinding chopped liver ingredients was my forte through my high school years. It was one of my regular chores for which I received an allowance later on.

Bubbie and Mom were fantastic European-style Ashkenazi chefs, which is all the more remarkable because both were born in the good ole USA—in Boston to be more precise. Bubbie was born 1896 in Malden, Massachusetts shortly after her family emigrated from Russia in the 1880s. Mother was born  February 22, 1922 at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and grew up in Roxbury.

Marden Paru is currently the Dean, Rosh Yeshiva and co-founder of the Sarasota Liberal Yeshiva, an adult Jewish studies institute, and a  former instructor at the Sarasota-Manatee Jewish Federation’s Melton Adult Mini-School. He attended Yeshiva University, the University of Tulsa, and the University of Chicago, and was a doctoral fellow and faculty member at Brandeis University. Marden and his wife Joan are members of Temple Beth Sholom and Congregation Kol HaNeshama. To read more about Marden and Joan, visit: https://www.brandeis.edu/hornstein/news/newsletter/Hornstein-alumni-articles/My-1966-Computer-Arranged-Jewish-Marriage-by-Marden-Paru.html

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Hell Breaks Loose

by Saraya Ziv (Jerusalem, Israel)

I’m in this new building in Jerusalem to observe a Torah class for Crypto-Jews (wrongly referred to as marranos) and to see how I can help two of them with the odds and ends of daily life.

With only five minutes before class Rabbanit Raquel, who is both teacher and guidance counselor, gives me a quick lowdown on Miriam, a young Colombian woman, and her mother, Señora Lopez.

Miriam is doing brilliantly. Her mother (Raquel turns a palm up then down), not so well. Before I can find out more, Miriam flies into the Rabbanit’s office. I hold my arm out stiffly for a good Anglo handshake. Miriam laughs, hugs me, and leads me by my hand to the classroom. Miriam has long loose hair and bracelets of yellow beads on her chubby wrists. The bracelets click as we rush inside.

In the back of the room at a three-seat table Miriam presents me to her mother. Señora Lopez wears her hair in a noose of grey braid. Arms marshaled across her chest, she hears my name, says acidly, “Ud. viene de Nueva York” (“You come from New York”), sighs, and turns away to the desk up front where a pile of books waits with Raquel.

The Rabbanit swaps to reading glasses, bookmarks with her index finger a large tome, and looks up.

“I said last week I want questions, challenging questions. If I don’t get them, I’ll sit down in this chair and stop teaching.”

She points to a void where her chair should be. The class laughs. The class is twenty adults from Latin America, two from Spain, one kid erecting a Lego monster on the Rabbanit’s stolen chair, and me.

I have to concentrate hard as the Rabbanit teaches, in Spanish, the Purim story. Her accent is castellano, same as the professoras who taught us the language in our public high school. Each professora, and most of our class, was Jewish. One teacher, Señora Wislitzsky, took us on a class trip to a fancy Spanish restaurant on Park Avenue, where we ate the rice, shellfish, and pork sausage dish called paella. In our Jewish archdiocese of Flatbush Brooklyn, not a single kid had been taught to abstain from chowing down on that perfectly treif stuff.

Miriam passes me a candy. She takes such fervid, galloping notes our desk shakes, and her mother booms out question after question. She interacts passionately, as though the Rabbanit were discussing today’s news rather than news of nearly 2400 years ago.

“Exactly how much time is there from one part of the story to another?” asks Miriam’s mother. The Rabbanit turns to the white board behind her and bullets and dates the events.

Here’s Esther, unhappy winner of a macabre Miss World contest appalled at her prize – she’s booked to marry the boorish king of Persia. Here’s Queen Esther spilling the beans to her husband and Haman, his prime minister: she is in fact, a Jew. If Haman’s plan to destroy every last Jew goes down, so does she.

Dates are written in red, events in black. I see that Esther hid her Jewishness for five years and think “got it, let’s move on,” but this class of Crypto-Jews, in hiding for five centuries, is stunned. Miriam’s hands fall limply over her pen. Her eyes are fixed on the timeline.

Her mother smacks our desk, then like pistols, fires both index fingers at Rabbanit Raquel. “Why did Esther tell? That king,” she yells, “will bury her on fire.”

I expect the Rabbanit to laugh, to explain that Esther lives, that Purim is joyous, a real holiday. Instead, Rabbanit Raquel picks up her book, marks it with a post-it, closes it, and looks up at Miriam’s mother, “.”

When Miriam whispers to her mother, “It ends well for the Jews” her mother shoots back, “but not for us.”

We break. From a tray onto the snack room table where her mother and I have been waiting, Miriam unloads three lemon sodas and three tall glasses of ice. Her mother holds an icy glass to her forehead.

“How easy it must have been to grow up Jewish in New York” she says. There is jealousy in her voice, and menace.

“No,” I reply.

I ask Señora Lopez how she knew her family was Jewish. Her reply is animated.

“My grandmother lived with us. She spent all day Friday cleaning the house and making sure we bathed and changed into clean clothes. By the afternoon she had a pot of beans and potatoes on our hearth. I wasn’t allowed to touch it. No one was allowed to touch it. On Saturday all my aunts and cousins came for lunch. Only then did my grandmother take this special stew off the hearth and serve us.

“She never ate pork, and she never let us eat it either. In fact we ate no meat. One of my friends from school asked her if we were so poor we could only afford vegetables. My grandmother lied, ‘My belly has never been able to tolerate rich foods, so I never cook it and I never serve it.’ That way no one was suspicious when we didn’t eat pork.

“And our names.” Señora Lopez looks at her daughter. “Outside she was Maria, inside, when the family was alone, we called her Miriam.” She pauses, “A name in our family forever.”

Miriam picks up her mother’s thread. “But we didn’t know what it all meant. I started looking on the internet, and found a rabbi in Colombia. When we told him about the Shabbat stew, he grinned.”

I look around. There’s the Lego kid in his yarmulke. On the streets of Jerusalem every day I see thousands of Jews who wear fun masks on Purim, few who wear the disguises of half a millennium.

Miriam must think I’m bored; she shifts the conversation. “Tell us about New York. To go to sinagoga on Shabbat, to fast on Yom Kippur in the open, to buy matzos in a shop – it’s true, right? In New York you buy your matzos in a shop?”

I don’t know what a volcano I’m leaping into. Stupidly, I tell the women the truth.

“My family never went to sinagoga, not once; we watched TV on Yom Kippur same as every other day. But yes, you could buy matzos in the supermarket, which my mother did. We had matzos and we had bread on Passover – both.”

I tell them more. I confess honestly that I was well educated in the civil rights movement but learned about the holocaust accidentally from a TV show, which made me vomit. I tell them my beloved cousin wonders if she was given a Jewish name. Was her mother? Her father?

This all sounds ponderous to me. I want to entertain the two women with funny stories.

I tell them I had the lead part as the Easter bunny in our elementary school play. In Spanish, I sing for them Here Comes Peter Cottontail. I recall my aunt’s yummy meat and cheese lasagna and confess I still miss that forbidden mix. I tell them that at age twenty-one I made embarrassing mistakes at a renowned rabbi’s Passover Seder, the first Seder of my life.

I am about to tell them the dumb things I did at that Seder when I see that Miriam’s mother has turned the color of lava. And now it’s too late.

It’s too late to explain that’s it’s not our fault. It’s been five generations since anyone in my family knew Purim or Passover; we’re not unusual. We’re programmed to throw away what Miriam’s family  has struggled to preserve.

Señora Lopez shakes her ice violently, then bangs her glass on the table and opens her mouth to speak. I brace myself. Now I know, when she does speak, hell will break loose.

Saraya Ziv attended SUNY Buffalo, worked as a Business Analyst on Wall Street, and left the United States one April morning in 2015 on a one way ticket to Tel Aviv. She was born and lived in New York City all her life, but now lives a short drive to Jerusalem. You can find more of her work at her website, Jerusalem Never Lies (https://www.jerusalemneverlies.comwhere this piece first appeared.

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