Monthly Archives: November 2015

Rescuing The Past

By Sheldon P Hersh (Lawrence, NY)

At a recent tag sale, I happened upon an item that just didn’t seem to belong there.

The sale took place at a small, non-descript house that stood out in sharp contrast to every other home on the street. Flakes of peeling paint littered the walkway and elongated weeds stood at solemn attention in the narrow front yard. A bold white and red sign proclaiming “Tag Sale Today was affixed to the porch and, within no time at all, brought forth a gush of interested opportunists in search of a good buy. I happened to be in the area and decided to stop and take a peek.

A wobbly screen door let out a high-pitched screech as I entered the premises. Once inside, I found myself transported back in time. There had been little if any updating over the years. What had been purchased sixty or seventy years ago now lay scattered about in every direction waiting to be pushed, poked and squeezed by a multitude of inquisitive fingers.

Initially, there was very little that caught my eye, but, upon entering the kitchen, I couldn’t help but notice a black and white photograph that seemed to be out of place. It lay partially covered by some old books and faded documents that had been carelessly tossed onto an old wooden table. In a dented tarnished metal frame was the picture of a solemn man dressed in what was likely his Sabbath attire. His distinctive cap and long unruly beard identified him as an observant Jew who, more than likely, had resided somewhere in Eastern Europe generations earlier. His sad eyes and resolute face immediately caught my attention. It was a face that could have served as the ideal cover for a book containing stories of a difficult existence in a far off place filled with conflict, tumult and hardship. The man in the photograph was silent but I could sense his strength and determination, and his desire to free himself from the past.

After picking up the picture, I asked the middle-aged fellow who was in charge of the sale if he knew the identity of the man in the photograph. “I think it was my wife’s grandfather,” he answered indifferently. “You see, this house belonged to her father, and, after his death, we decided it was time to empty the place of his belongings before we put the house on the market. My wife is fairly certain that the man with the beard was her father’s father. The photo was taken way back when in the old country. We have no use for it so if you want it, I’ll throw in the picture if you decide to buy anything else.”

Rather than have it end up in the trash, I bought a small-framed etching that I really had no use for and left with the picture pressed firmly to my side.

After getting into the car to head home, I glanced over at the front passenger seat where the picture lay and got to thinking about how little family photographs and mementos mean to some people. After all, this was more than likely her grandfather, the one person who was a critical link in a long chain of family members who played a role in her being here. There was not the slightest reservation about disposing of the only photograph that she possessed of her grandfather. It also got me to thinking about all of the other personal or religious items belonging to departed loved ones that so often appear at tag sales.

Elderly parents or grandparents may have kept personal mementos and prized religious items hidden in a drawer or cabinet and would, with the utmost respect and adoration, take them in hand during holidays, family events and special occasions. After loved ones pass on, children suddenly abandon old photographs, prayer books, prayer shawls, and other ceremonial items, and grandchildren feel no attachment to what are viewed as meaningless outdated relics.

The picture got me to thinking about how easy it is for some of us to jettison our history, our culture and, yes, our own identities. The man in the photograph was on a mission. It’s as though he came here to remind me that, like it or not, we can never escape from the past.

We must never forget who we are.

To this day, I don’t know his name but he resides in a new frame that hangs on the wall as you enter my home.

“Who’s the man with the beard?” a number of visitors have asked while pointing to the picture on the wall.

“I have no idea,” I reply, “but he belongs here, he just belongs here.”

Sheldon P. Hersh, an Ear, Nose and Throat Physician with a practice in the New York metropolitan area, is the author of Our Frozen Tears (http://tinyurl.com/kuzlscb), as well as the co-author of The Bugs Are Burning, a book on the Holocaust.

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Permit Me To Introduce You To

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

You’ve heard of names like

Auschwitz and Dachau?

Oh, good for you.

You have a passing acquaintance

with terms like “final solution” and “genocide”?

That’s nice.       

No, they are not answers to Jeopardy questions.

Permit me to introduce you to

Jews lined up at the lip of ditches,

(they, themselves, had been forced to dig,)

to be shot in the back of their heads,

to be sprayed by machine gun fire,

to be rolled into the open wounds of the earth.

What town was that?

Who was the mother trying to protect her child?

It does not matter; you’ll never remember.

They have all returned to the hard ground.

You go on with your life, that’s all right.

The dead have no hold on you, even if

their arms reach out from the blood-stained soil,

trying to shake your monumental indifference.

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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Bible Stories for Atheist Babysitters

by Roz Warren (Bala Cynwyd, PA)

What the five-year-old who I baby-sit for wanted to do yesterday was torture his Barbies.  

“Why would you want to do that?” I asked.

“Because we’re bad guys!” said Hanina. 

“Can’t we be good guys?”

“Not today. Today we’re bad guys.” 

You may wonder what a five-year old boy is doing with Barbies in the first place. They belonged to his mom. She’d hung onto them, no doubt hoping to pass them along to a daughter.  But Hanina is her third son and last child, so they ended up his.  

Hanina doesn’t dress them up and send them out on dates with Ken. Their fashionable outfits are long gone.  Hanina’s naked Barbies participate in the same activities as his other toys. They explore. They fight battles. They act out Torah stories. (Hanina is an Orthodox Jew.)  

We searched Hanina’s room but could only find one Barbie. We carried her to the kitchen table and Hanina got out the Play Doh. He popped off Barbie’s head, then stuck a glob of bright orange Play Doh where her head had been. 

He seemed pleased with the result.

“Can we be good guys now?” I asked.

“Not yet,“ he said, encasing Headless Barbie’s arms and legs in strips of green and blue Play Doh. 

As a feminist, I can’t say I was crazy about this game. But as a creative person, I could appreciate it as a form of self-expression. 

I’d seen works of art similar to “Headless Barbie Immobilized In Play Doh” at MOMA.

As the daughter of a psychoanalyst, I’m all in favor of working through a little boy’s perfectly normal sadistic impulses in a safe and harmless way.  Much better to pop the head off Mom’s hand-me-down Barbie than pop a real school mate in the nose.   

Once Headless Barbie was mummified in blue and green, Hanina lost interest. “Can we read “Bible Stories for Jewish Children?” he asked.  He snuggled up next to me on the living room sofa and I read to him.      

I was raised by secular atheist Jews. Caring for Hanina has meant, among other things, actually getting to know what’s in the Torah.  

We both got a kick out of the fact that when God commands Moses to confront Pharoah and demand that he free the Jewish People, Moses tries very hard to get out of the gig. Yet he rises to the occasion and ends up doing a pretty good job.  

Reading about Samson and Delilah, I learned something I hadn’t been aware of.  The book, calling Samson  “a champion of the Jewish People,” described several of the things he did, even as a youth, to torment the Philistines. One was setting fire to the tails of a thousand foxes, then turning them loose in the Philistine‘s fields, burning all their crops. 

“That’s not very nice,” I said. 

“The Philistines were the enemy of the Jewish People,” Hanina reminded me.   

“I get that,“ I said. “But what did those poor foxes ever do to the Jews?“ 

What I was thinking about  (although I didn’t share this with Hanina) was the so-called “triad of sociopathy,” three signs that a child might grow up to be a psychopath. These are: animal cruelty, fire setting, and persistent bedwetting. The young Samson seems to have killed two of these birds with one stone. (In fact, he’d killed way more than two birds. The kid had killed a thousand foxes!) 

This was a role model?

On the other hand, it put any qualms I might have had about Barbie abuse in perspective. 

“Can we just keep reading?” Hanina asked. 

We returned to the narrative. Samson grows up and falls for Delilah. She betrays him. He brings down the temple on his enemies, killing himself in the process. The full page illustration was of the bearded Samson lying with his head in Delilah’s lap as she signals to a soldier to sneak over and cut off his hair. 

At Hanina’s age, I was reading “The Cat In The Hat” and “Little House On The Prairie.”  Nobody ever sat down and read me Torah stories. This is what I’d missed.  Adult content! Seduction and betrayal! You don’t find a lot of  that in Dr. Seuss.

When we were done reading, we moved on to a game Hanina improvised in which we pretend to be mother and father birds caring for our babies. The living room sofa became a nest.   “We’ve brought you some yummy worms!” we announced to our young.  “Who’s hungry?”  

Being kind and nurturing is more in line with Hanina’s essential nature than being cruel and sadistic. I was happy that, at least for now, he’d gotten that out of his system. But I remained troubled by Samson’s treatment of those foxes. As I was leaving at afternoon’s end, I mentioned this to Hanina’s father, a Kabbalah scholar. 

“Samson was a thug,” he agreed cheerfully.

Not exactly the response I’d expected. 

“He could have used a good therapist,” I volunteered. 

Of course, if Samson had had a good therapist, he might have refrained from tormenting the Philistines. Or falling for Delilah, who, clearly, was a Very Bad Choice. 

And then where would the Jewish People be?

Hanina’s father told me that one eminent Jewish scholar had actually published an article concluding that Samson was a thug.

“A lot of people weren’t happy about that,” he said.  

Maybe not. But I am. And I’m even happier to know that my favorite five-year-old is being raised by an abba who is willing to call a thug a thug, even if he is a hero of the Jewish people. 

As for poor headless Barbie, knowing Hanina, when I turn up next it’s likely that she’ll have her head back and some clothes on, ready to perform the role of Moses‘s mom in our “story of Passover” play.  

But if she’s still encased in Play Doh, I’m sending her to MOMA.

Roz Warren (www.Rosalind warren.com) writes for The  New York Times and the Funny Times. Her work also appears in the Jewish Forward, Huffington Post and Christian Science Monitor, and she’s been featured on the Today Show. (Twice!)  Roz is the author of  Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. http://ow.ly/LpFgE   You can connect with Roz on Facebook at www.facebook.com/writerrozwarren and follow her on Twitter at @WriterRozWarren. 

This essay first appeared on www.womensvoicesforchange.org and is reprinted here with the author’s permission. 

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