Monthly Archives: September 2010

Devotion to Faith

by Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc (New York, NY)
Translated from the Polish by Suzanna Eibuszyc (Calabasas, CA)

Painful though this will be, I have decided that she is right. I do this not so much to preserve my own story, but rather that my brothers and sisters will not have perished with their stories untold. I risk feeling again the tormented sleep on an open field with one, thin blanket between me and the sky. My stomach will again be gnawed away by the constant hunger.  I will see the German planes over Warsaw and hear the explosions of bombs. Will those who read of my life be ready for the lice, the humiliation, and the never-ending fever and chills of malaria? Will they understand that it is possible to lose one’s mother two times?  Should I describe the beatings that put Sevek at the edge of death, or the cold that seeped into my bones and never quite left? They tell me I am to ‘bear witness,’ that I ‘have an obligation.’   So be it.  It was beshert, meant to be that I live the life I’ve had, and I suppose beshert that I now write what I remember:

We lived in Warsaw in a tiny fourth floor apartment in an old tenement building on 54 Nowolipki Street. That apartment comes back to me in my dreams. I see the eight of us living in one room, although in reality I could never have seen this; I was a one year-old baby.  The First World War had not yet ended when my thirty-six year old father died.  It was a sudden death from something as simple as an ear infection.  When I was older, I remember going with mother to the cemetery. A cut down tree trunk marked his grave.

I can not imagine how mother managed with no husband and six young children in a city ravaged by war where most everyone was struggling to survive.  My oldest brother, Adek, was twelve at the time father died. It was a blessing that the owner of the textile factory where father worked let Adek take father’s job. I am sure that it was thanks to that owner’s generosity that we survived that first year, as well as later on. My twin sisters, Pola and Sala, were eleven, and as hungry as we were, Mother did not have the heart to send them off to work. That this was not the case with other parents says so much about my mother. Many children were sent to work at a younger age than twelve.  My sister, Andza, and brother, Sevek, were seven and four at the time of father’s death.

My first memories still haunt me to this day. I don’t know how old I was but I see myself with my brothers and sisters, hungry, cold, and alone in our room waiting for Mother to return. It is not difficult, even now, to feel the gnawing hunger and the cold in my bones from that day.  I sat on the edge of the narrow bed I shared with Mother and watched the door for hours, just waiting for her to come home. We didn’t know where she had gone but she had been gone all day.  My fear that she was never coming home grew stronger as darkness descended. We were forbidden to light the kerosene lamp when we were alone.  I remember how mother looked when the door opened. She was disheveled and out of breath as though she had been chased. She paused for a few seconds, walked over to me, and gave me the small piece of bread she clutched to her chest. I devoured it turning away from my starving brothers and sisters. Intellectually, rationally, there is no reason to feel guilty. I know I was too young to be accountable. But, in my heart, I ask myself over and over, how could I have eaten this piece of bread and not shared even a bite?

Regardless of how little money she had to feed us, mother secretly saved for the whole year to make sure we had a proper, religious Passover. She made sure we understood the importance of this holiday, and of celebrating the Exodus of our people from Egypt. Today, when I contemplate Mother saving like this, in view of the fact that on many days we had practically nothing to eat, I am struck by her devotion to her faith.

At age 50, after working in a factory all day long, Roma Talasowicz-Eibuszyc enrolled in night school and soon became fluent in English, was able to get a job in a bank, persevered and never gave up, and always tried  to better her situation.

In her youth Roma joined the Bund movement.Their philosophy had a great impact on her way of thinking for the rest of her life. While still in Warsaw she endangered her life many times fighting for workers rights, for socialism.

Before her death in 2006, she wrote her memoir, Beshert – It Was Meant To Be, from which this section was excerpted. To read more of the memoir, visit: http://www.theverylongview.com/WATH/ and click on “Mothers.” In the left-hand column you’ll see chapters 1 – 4 of Beshert – It Was Meant To Be.

Her daughter, Suzanna Eibuszyc, translated the manuscript from the original Polish in 2007. Born in Poland, Suzanna graduated from CCNY where she took classes in the department of Jewish studies with Professor Elie Wiesel, who encouraged her to translate her mother’s memoir into English. She now lives in Calabasas, CA and writes: “On the day my mother died, I opened the box containing the memoir which she had brought six years before from NY to Los Angeles.  Her handwriting, her words, connected me to her.  As I started to read her pages, she came to life. Translating and researching her story took me four years.”

All rights reserved to “Devotion to Faith.” No part of this work may be used or reproduced without written permission of the Author/Translator/Rights-Holder, Suzanna Eibuszyc. For more information about the work, write to: suzanna_eibuszyc@yahoo.com

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Yom Kippur Ritual

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Every year I assail the heavens,
lashing out at redundant ritual,
keeping the prayer book shut,
and my mind shut even tighter.
I would like to connect to Him,
but not here, oh, no, not here
in this box of old men and ancient chants.
The mournful songs loop around my neck,
and the text, when I peek, lies prostrate
on the page in supplication and obeisance,
a one-themed dirge to a devotion I do not feel.
In answer, He has already suggested
my year may not go well, a trip here,
a pain there, a sign that my fate
may have already been sealed.
However, I would like to state for the record,
I continue to bang the walls in frustration,
dying for a way in, but highly averse
to mouthing the words with the old men
who await along with me the final verdict.

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 a new YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy,  edited by M. Jerry Weiss.

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An Argument for Jewish Observance

by Orah Friedland Zipper (Denver, CO)

I received a comment from “Anonymous” on my previous post (http://lady-light.blogspot.com/2009/12/archeological-find-proves-ancient.html), which was about the archeological find  of a 2000+ year old cave from the time of the Hasmoneans.  The commenter asked why that could be a reason to become a religious  Jew.  Good question.  To the average non-Jewish person, perhaps, the find might be interesting in a general way; to an archaeologist or historian, it would be interesting as a historical find which would validate and increase our knowledge of the past.

For a Jew, however, such a find as this means so much more.

Look at it this way: we live today in the “Information Age,” right?  We are bombarded with information and have been for years, through the media–through radio, television and newspapers, and in our high-technology era on the Internet through virtual news sites, blogs and now social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.  How can we assimilate all this? How do we know what is truth and what is fiction?  And, for that matter, how can we know how to behave, in general, and how to react to events?

Now, we Jews have been blessed with a ‘code book’ which we’ve had for thousands of years, which tells us how to act, and tells us why we are here on this Earth.  This book is called the Torah.  It consists of the Written and the Oral Law, as well as the history of our people.

In our ‘modern’ times, however, people are constantly questioning and arguing religion versus science.  Which one offers the real explanation for the existence of the world? Now to me, there is very little contradiction between science and religion–they are one. Both science and the Torah are a means of explaining the truth of existence.  The more we learn things through scientific study (think ‘Big Bang’ and ‘Quantum Theory’), the more we understand about the nature of G-d (can you tell I’m reading Gerald Schroeder’s books?), and the more it seems to (yikes!) match the depiction of G-d as written in the Torah.

But you’d never know it by listening, reading or watching debates on which one, science or religion, is “correct.” This can–coupled with global anti-Semitism towards Jews and Israel, (which according to many can ‘do no right’ in this world)– really confuse one, especially someone who might be searching for the meaning of his existence.  Doubts abound.  Are any of the religions valid? Maybe Judaism is no more valid than any other major religion?

And then, a Jew goes to the kotel and has a “spiritual experience.” Or a Jew goes to a grave of one of our Tzaddikim, prays before the grave, and is greatly moved–by something—what? Or he visits and walks around, say, Emek ha-Elah, where the future King David, as a young boy slew the giant Goliath, and he (the visitor) is in awe, and his soul is stirred.

Or, a secular Jew, who went through life without a strong connection to his Jewishness, unearths a two-thousand-year-old cave while digging out his basement, which he discovers is the burial place of the last Hasmonean king.  Furthermore, the cave has an inscription on the wall in his people’s alt-neu language, the language in which his Torah was written, and which was revived in the twentieth century as a spoken language.

Is that not awesome?  Is that not enough of a spiritual experience to touch one’s neshama?  Is that not enough that it says to that Jew, ‘evidence of your history in your historical homeland  is before your eyes being unearthed and is unfolding, bit by bit, and proving that history true.  Jew: Is it not time to return?–to return to your Jewish roots?’

If that is not enough of an experience for one’s neshama to do teshuva, I don’t know what is.

Orah Friedland Zipper, a former Hebrew/Judaic Studies educator currently living in Colorado has also worked in various incarnations as translator/transliterator, administrative assistant, test evaluator and team trainer, as well as website writer/editor.  She currently teaches Hebrew privately to adults, writes and is an avid blogger.  Her blog, Tikkun Olam, can be found at http://www.lady-light.blogspot.com, where this article was first published.  In addition, she is also the proud mother of five grown children, bracketed by her eldest daughter, a successful new product inventor and entrepreneur, and her youngest daughter, recently discharged from active duty in the IDF as a Commander in the Combat Engineering Corps.

Three of her children live in Israel , and she has six grandchildren.  She sings soprano, too!

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The Rising of the Dough

by Janet Ruth Falon (Elkins Park, PA)

I’m in Cheryl’s kitchen.  It’s fitting.  In the nearly 17 years we’ve lived no more than a mile from each other, she’s been in my kitchen only a handful of times because she’s allergic to my cats.  She gets miserable, and quickly, and symptomatic in a big, wet, unhinged kind of way.  So I’m in Cheryl’s kitchen, again.

I know this kitchen well.  Each summer since we’ve lived so close, I’ve taken care of her house when Cheryl and her husband and two sons go away for two months, to a Jewish camp in the Poconos where she’s director.  Every day for those nine or 10 weeks I take in and sort their mail, flush all the toilets, feed the goldfish, check to make sure there are no mice camped out in the laundry room, water the plants, and generally make sure things are up and running.

But now it’s the other side of summer, and Cheryl has been home from camp for about a month.  It’s a couple of days before Rosh Hashanah, and I’m back in the kitchen; after having let myself in with my own key all summer, it’s always odd to have to knock, again, when I visit.  Each autumn, in the week before Rosh Hashanah, I go to Cheryl’s kitchen and we bake challah together.  To be precise, she leads me through the process, step by step, while making four or six of her own loaves at the same time.  This has been going on since I moved into the neighborhood in 1988, two years after Cheryl and her family.  In fact, I used to live so close to them that I could efficiently walk home and get some work done between risings of the dough.

So you’d think that after baking challah with Cheryl for 17 years that I’d have learned how to bake it on my own.  I’m sure I could have picked it up, but early on I made a conscious effort not to: If I knew how to make challah on my own there’d be no need for me to do it with Cheryl, and I like the ritual.  I play dumb, and it works.  I like knowing that I can count on Cheryl, that this is something I share with her and no one else.  I like to depend on her for this (even though I assert a tiny bit of my own culinary independence by making my challahs with one-third whole-wheat flour).

I always forget to bring an ingredient, too: Salt, maybe, or raisins, or egg yolks for the shine, any of which she lends me.  Cheryl has huge, industrial-sized vats of poppy seeds, which she shares, and she’s the only person I know who owns, let alone uses, baking parchment (which, after it’s been in the oven, and the edges are browned, always looks like it was meant to be written on in Hebrew).

It’s not like Cheryl isn’t a good teacher; she is.  I met her, in fact, when she taught the adult bar and bat mitzvah class I participated in at the Hillel at The University of Pennsylvania.  Not having been a bat mitzvah at the usual time, I’d determined to pay myself back  and do it before I was 30.  My bat mitzvah was one of those big “M” memorable days, the type that become mythic and you pass down to your children.  As I recited my portion I was totally unaware of my surroundings, of my minyan of friends who were there, of Cheryl, who was leading the service in the nasal voice that I now recognize as her davening voice – all that existed was me and the words.  I was totally alone, while simultaneously unaware of the circle of well-wishers surrounding me, a pretty Zen experience for a nice Jewish girl like me.

For as long as Cheryl has had sons, first Jonathan and then Ari has been part of our challah baking.  Whichever boy was old enough – but young enough — to want to help his mother and her friend bake challah would stand on a stool on the other side of the kitchen workstation, and help measure ingredients, or pour them in, or mix.  He would receive his own clump of dough to play with and, as we did with the real challahs, separate off a tiny portion and burn it according to tradition, an attempt to replicate a sacrifice that makes baking holy.  The first time Cheryl let each son knead the clumps of dough that would be used for the actual challahs has been a rite of passage, like the first time you play Candyland with a child without holding yourself back so you don’t win.

So we measure.  We mix.  When the dough becomes too difficult to mix with a spoon, we use our hands, getting in up beyond our wrists, and the smell of liberated yeast hangs over us like a cloud in a beer garden.  We let it rise. We punch it down, and we knead it.  Kneading is a funny business, I think; we give the dough mixed messages: We abuse it, beating it down with our fists, and we coddle it, encouraging it to open up like a flower, to unfold and reproduce itself.  We give it time to breathe, and in spite of its apprehension that we’ll beat it down again, we ask it to rise.

We flour the countertops so the dough won’t stick when we roll it out.  And then we braid it.  To this day, I have not gotten the hang of rolling out three long dough “snakes,” then weaving them together in a motion that feels like when you turn the ropes in double Dutch, and finally tucking the ends securely underneath.

“Show me how to do it again,” I tell Cheryl.

“You mean you forgot from last year?” she says.  “Ari, you remember how to do this from last year, don’t you?” She teases me.  She shames me.  We do this every year; it’s as predictable as my commenting that the poppyseeds look like ants.  Cheryl makes a face I’ve seen many times, a sort of lip pursing that might make you think she was disapproving.  By the time I met her mother, Bea, and saw her make that precise look, I had figured out that it was a disguise, a one-style-fits-all crusty cover to keep back the tenderness.  Neither Cheryl nor her mother exude tenderness like other people you’d automatically peg as “sweet”; if you were in a room full of people you didn’t know, and you were hurting badly, they probably wouldn’t be the first ones you’d think to turn to for comfort.  But you’d have made a mistake.

“Come on, just show me,” I say, and she does, demonstrating how she takes three strands of my dough and braids them evenly, and I remember the motion from when my mother used to do that to my hair when it was so long I could sit on it.  Cheryl does this deftly, and the dough responds to her touch, knowing it had better or else.  Then she starts to unbraid my challah, so I can do it myself, and I stop her.

“Just leave it,” I say.  “I’ll do the other loaves myself.”

“Sure you will,” she says, knowing as well as I that in the end, she’ll rescue me.  Cheryl will do whatever has to be done to help me turn out challahs that will impress my family and friends, challahs that have beautifully browned crusts and are soft and sweet inside, perfect for spreading with honey and wishing a “sweet new year” to everyone around my holiday table.

Janet Ruth Falon, the author of The Jewish Journaling Book (Jewish Lights, 2004), teaches a variety of writing classes at many places, including the University of Pennsylvania.  At the moment she is teaching journaling and creative-writing classes to people with cancer, and she’s working on a project that she hopes will be published as The Breast Cancer Journaling Workbook.

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