Category Archives: Jewish writing

Honey

by Saraya Ziv (Jerusalem, Israel)

Joëlle’s humongous plasma TV takes up a whole high wall of her hairdressing salon. You can’t miss it. And I, not having a TV of my own, don’t want to: an appointment with Joëlle is an appointment with culture.

Besides French soaps, she favors Israeli cook-offs or the spitfire chat-chat of talk shows. Her natal French and acquired Hebrew lead me through the weird life of chanteur Johnny Hallyday to an ancient and skilled woman teaching her great-grandson to make honey cake. The cake is for Rosh Hashana, which is imminent.

Commercials wish me Shana Tova, and, at last, six glamourosos of both sexes sit in a wide U, mikes clipped to their hip clothes. One woman sports long sleeves but naked shoulders, one curly haired man wears sunglasses nipped into the cleavage of his shirt. All of these people are Jews, and they are all talking at once.

I hear them say Rosh Hashana, but I don’t know if they’re condemning or celebrating. They talk straight into the commercials. They’re talking when the camera returns. They don’t seem to care that I’m out here. They’re busy.

Another commercial with more Shana Tovas, and when we return a young woman, sweet faced, dressed plainly, warm with smiles, is talking about her career.

Joëlle tells me the woman is a chef, a new Israeli from New Zealand. The panel pelts her with questions ensemble, and gently, smiling at the onslaught, she replies. Black-and-white stills show her at her pots and ovens. Joëlle says, “They’re asking her what she makes special for Rosh Hashana.”

She describes a honey upside down cake in English and Mr. Curly Hair translates to Hebrew. “Ha-fuach.” I pause. It’s the word in the Megilla of Purim, where good and rotten, optimism and dread, normal and insane, are tangled: upside down.

They throw her more questions. It’s a mosh pit of noise. She describes a complex dish, then slips back to English to say, “Honey coated ham.” No one needs to translate.

This panel of hip Jews, to a one, becomes absolutely still. Ms. Shoulders looks down at her shoes. Mr. Curly stares ahead.

The director must be nervous with this hush. His timing wildly off, he cuts to commercials, which wish me, again, Shana Tova.

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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A Taste of Home

by Tania Hassan (Gilbraltar)

It will be kibbud av va’em,
I tell myself before leaving the little ones behind.

I fly the 9 hours to gain some eternity.
My oldest friend picks me up at the airport. It’s been ten years.

Shehecheyanu for keeping me alive.

I walk out into the pouring rain,
I bless it.

Inhaling the sweet smell of wet cedar and grass into every pore of my being,
We duck into a tiny coffee shop in a Montreal alleyway.

Rich, thick and nutty, that latte goes down like
Abuela’s autumn bean soup.

Vekiyemanu – for sustaining me.

We pass the steel moose cut-outs at every major intersection,
I stop for the requisite selfies.

Later I reflect on the expression on my face;
The way my smile reaches the whites of my eyes.

I embrace my parents,
My father’s Ralph Lauren aftershave,
The nephews I never met.

I never noticed their scattered freckles on FaceTime.

Vehigiyanu Laz’man Hazeh – for bringing me to this season in my life.

I laugh with brothers. Hearty guffaws we have to stifle with anyone else.

The boundaries fade away and I am 13 again.

Honouring my parents is easy when my husband is neatly tucked away at home,
meals prepared in the freezer, and I’m sleeping in my childhood bed.

The baby weight I just about lost,
Was greedily piled back on as my palate stopped pretending it was a cultured European.

Though the height of kavod/honour would have me preparing Shabbat for my parents,
I took a back seat and allowed my mother to serve her traditional Morroccan feasts

Honey and cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and all the love you could cram into five days and nights..

Filling my heart with home.

Five days and not a day longer.

Baruch – A blessing.

Tania Hassan is an ABA therapist who lives in Gibraltar, a 2.2 km squared British peninsula that shares a border with Spain.  Her Spanglish is superb, her British accent less so.  When she has spare time, she writes and pines for Canadian winters. 

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Anne Watches Me

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Anne Frank and the Marranos of the
Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam
would not be proud of me as I walk, with cane,
a second day in this canal-laced capital.
Even surrounded by rich Jewish tradition,
located in the center of town,
I feel tangential to the teachings of
Spinoza and Maimonides.
What will make me feel more Jewish?
I have broken too many rules,
avoided too many rites, to lay claim to
being an active participant in my own religion.
And yet,
I am my father’s son,
he who escaped the Holocaust,
who suffered survivor’s guilt,
who nevertheless passed his heritage on to me.
I think of him, and all Jews, those who perished,
those who survived, as I slowly climb the stairs
in the Anne Frank House in the heart of a city that
has remembered and respected its Jewish history.
Ascending those stairs to the “Secret Annex,”
I can hear Anne’s footsteps behind me,
asking questions for which there are no answers:
Why me? Why us? Why now? –-
questions that echo both past and present
as tyrants then and now seek to control the world.
Anne, I feel your strength and bravery
wandering the rooms of your abbreviated adolescence
as a renewed Jew here in the old city of Amsterdam.

 

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Finding Genuine Connection  

by Paula Jacobs  (Framingham MA)

When the world appears bleak – school shootings, human rights violations, and even day-to-day aggravations that seem magnified in challenging times – I have sometimes opted to bury myself in distractions rather than genuinely connect with others. But then I hear the words of Hillel the Elder in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers 2:4), Al tifrosh min ha-tzibur, “Do not withdraw from the community.”

So what do I do? On Shabbat I come to synagogue. No cellphones or texting allowed. As the hazzan leads us in spirited prayer, I join in the animated communal davening where, whether in harmony or off-pitch, everyone feels welcome. It’s here that the anxiety that envelops me and the outside world temporarily disappears.  And it’s here that I feel closely connected.

My soul comes alive as I chant from the Torah. As I vocalize the words of our ancient tradition, I connect to the past, reflecting how my ancestors clung to the teachings of the Torah for the strength to overcome seemingly insurmountable hardships and struggles.

These days I attend Shabbat services regularly, and find it uplifting to be in the company of familiar faces. I kvell with the bar/bat mitzvah family, and am grateful for the privilege of sharing the joy of a simcha such as a special birthday, anniversary, baby naming, or upcoming trip to Israel.  And, of course, I love socializing with friends young and old.

It is here at shul during kiddush lunch where I am able to engage in the genuine and intimate human conversations that create and strengthen connections.  Importantly, in this safe space we each can be our authentic self, instead of an idealized screen image projected by social media on our mobile devices.

I listen empathetically when friends regale me with their tales of joy or woe, sometimes sharing my own stories or kvetches.  As I look at smiling faces, listen to voices in pain, or hear opinions that conflict with my own, I reflect how we truly learn to develop empathy and understanding:  It is by observing a facial expression, hearing an emotional tone of voice, and learning to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes – and not by clicking on an emoji or Facebook “like.”

It is here – unplugged from mobile devices – that genuine human communication has been reclaimed.  And it is here that I am reminded that when our only connection is superficially via text or email or social media, we miss the opportunity for meaningful human interaction, the sort that occurs via face-to-face conversation and one-on-one personal dialogue.

In today’s uncertain world, real human connection feels more important to me than ever, and why I so appreciate my spiritual Jewish community where I have found genuine connection, comfort, and family. It’s in this sacred space that I have learned what connection is really all about. That’s why it’s the place I am so proud to call my haven, my harbor, my home.

Paula Jacobs writes about Jewish culture, religion, and Israel. Her articles have appeared in such publications as Tablet Magazine, The Jerusalem Post, and The Forward.

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Lion of Hope

by Brad Jacobson (Columbia, MO)

Black stocking feet and no shoes.

Blue and white prayer shawl
wrapped around his head and arms.

He stands in front of the ancient Wall,
his face hidden.

Large as a lion, he raises his hands
like a street performer before the worshippers.

He sweeps his arms above
the old man in white,

above a boy
in a blue baseball jersey,
#32,

above the rabbi
in back of the Torah.

The Lion of Hope roars, and
his prayers speed like Lefty’s fastball,
soar to the top of Mt. Moriah,
pure as tears protecting a child’s prayer.

He steps slowly to a chair by mine.
I touch the Wall and hear
the Big Man whisper,
I am exhausted.

After prayers we walk together
to the Kiddush table by the stairs.

The Rabbi raises a cup of wine.
Big Man turns to sing sweet
Shabbat songs to Chinese tourists.

He shakes my hand.
Shabbat Shalom.
Be healthy. Have peace.

Brad Jacobson is a volunteer every summer in Israel in the SAREL program. He teaches TESOL at the Asian Affair Center at the University of Missouri, where he has an MEd in Literacy. In the summers he enjoys exploring places with his camera like the Old City of Jerusalem, Tzfat, and the Red Sea where he scuba dives. He has been published in Tikkun, Voices Israel, Poetica, Cyclamens and Swords, and the University of Missouri International News.

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Lisa and Stanley

by Janice L. Booker (Malibu, CA)

Shortly after the end of World War Two, I received an excited call from my husband’s Aunt Frima. Her voice was shaking with urgency as she told me, “I have a niece in Russia who wants to contact me. I never even knew her.”

The contact was an example of serendipity.  A young Jewish soldier from Brooklyn was determined to reunite as many Jewish families as he could, as passionate to do this as was his mother in Brooklyn. Lisa told him she had an aunt in Philadelphia. She knew her last name but that was all. He sent his mother Lisa’s scant contact information, and his mother placed a notice in a Philadelphia newspaper that served the Jewish community. One of Aunt Frima’s daughters saw the notice and asked her mother, “Do you have a niece in Russia named Lisa? She’s looking for you.” That started the ball rolling

My husband’s Aunt Frima and his Uncle Ben had been in America as immigrants for many years. They had five American born daughters and lived  a normal middle class life. When I was married to their nephew, we became part of each others families. She was particularly fond of me because I could speak Yiddish with her. She and Uncle Ben came often to our home for holiday meals. Aunt Frima was kosher so she brought her own food.  Uncle Ben ate what she brought and also what I made.

Lisa, 32, was widowed and the mother of two small children. She was evacuated from Moscow when the German army invaded Russia. A day after the invasion in 1941, the Soviets established a makeshift evacuation program to move Soviet citizens from major cities and the probabilities of German bombings. Tashkent in Uzbekistan, 1734 miles from Moscow, was targeted as the site. Lisa and her two small children were among the evacuees. Tashkent had become a makeshift refugee center, and Lisa and her family settled in with primitive housekeeping facilities, hoping the city would escape German occupation, and she prayed for peace.

Stanley, a single, unattached male, was also evacuated from Moscow to Tashkent. Stanley was a loner, a quiet intellectual with an absorbing profession. He restrung fine violins with horse tail hair for violinists all over the world. The war halted his business and he, too, wondered what his life would be like after Tashkent. Lisa and Stanley met and a romance developed in the detritus of the camp. They both wanted to emigrate to the States.

As was necessary, Lisa needed a sponsor in America to facilitate immigration. Aunt Frima and Uncle Ben accepted that role, and, with the help of their daughters, the flurry of paper work and bureaucracy began. After about a year, Lisa, Stanley and her children  arrived in West Philadelphia on Aunt Frima’s doorstep. She called me to say, “They’re very tired now but come here tomorrow to meet them.” I did and found Lisa and Stanley sitting stiffly and stone faced on a blue velvet sofa. I could understand their apprehension of this new life. How long could they stay in this house? How would they support themselves? Had they left familiarity for the unknown? Lisa had assured her aunt that she and Stanley had been legitimately married in Tashkent, but Aunt Frima was skeptical. She insisted on taking them to a rabbi to witness an official Jewish wedding.

They were quickly integrated into the entire family and turned out to be warm, intelligent and helpful. Although extremely grateful for Aunt Frima’s willingness to sponsor and facilitate their repaired lives, Stanley and Lisa knew they must find ways to take charge of themselves. Stanley got a job selling hot dogs at the Philadelphia baseball park and Lisa worked in a hat factory.  Eventually, Stanley was able to return to his unique profession, and Lisa became a designer in the hat factory.  They prospered and eventually retired to Florida.

I was very fond of them, and we became friends as well as family.  They were so grateful to be given a new chance in America. And I was grateful to have them part of my life.

Janice L. Booker is a journalist, author of four books, including The Jewish American Princess and Other Myths, an instructor in creative non-fiction writing at the University of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia radio talk show host, and a free-lance writer for national publications.

 

 

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My First School Bus Ride

by Maureen Rubin (Los Angeles, CA)

When I finished second grade, my parents moved to the Detroit suburbs.  Mom was expecting another baby so we needed a bigger house. This was 1956. Nobody lived in the suburbs yet.  The roads weren’t paved and there were plagues of earthworms after it rained. 

In September, I took my first school bus ride.  As soon as I was seated, I felt a wet spitball sting on my neck.  

“You kike,” yelled one girl.  “Get off our bus.  Get out of our school.  We don’t want you dirty Jews here!”

This made no sense.  What did I do?  I took a bath last night.  I was clean.  I was only eight. I wasn’t even sure what a Jew was.  

When I got to my classroom, the girl who threw the hardest, wettest spitball was sitting at one of the desks.  Her name was Marsha. She told all my classmates not to speak to me because I was a Jew.  They complied.  

I was often tormented throughout elementary school.  If I raised my hand in class, I heard whispers of “Smarty-pants Jew.”  At recess, I stood alone. The other kids jumped rope or played jacks.  If I tried to join them, they twirled the rope at warp speed and made me fall and skin my knees. They stole my jacks,

I finally learned why.  Our new house was built in the middle of farmland. My subdivision had expensive new houses that many Jews had purchased.  Jealousy probably fueled the hatred.

In high school, Dave asked me to a school dance.  He was very cute and very not Jewish.  The day before the dance, I saw him speaking with Marsha.  That night he called me and said he couldn’t go to the dance with me.  I cried.

For most Americans, anti-Semitism is abhorrent, but most likely abstract.  Perhaps someone in a college dorm asked to see a Jewish student’s horns. Maybe a fellow vacationer advised bargaining with the natives because, “You can always Jew them down.”  But to me, anti-Semitism has always caused mental and physical agony.

Over the years, though, I got stronger.  I earned a law degree and worked in social justice organizations.

At my 25th high school reunion, I saw Marsha.  She came up to me and said, “It’s great to see you.  I have lots of Jewish friends now.”

That sentence finally gave me the power to confront her.

“You tortured and bullied me when I was a kid,” I said.  “You might think it’s admirable to tell me you have lots Jewish friends now, but that statement proves you’re still an anti-Semite.  A racist. A bigot. You don’t understand how dangerous it is to see people as Jew first, and anything else second. Even a friend.”  

Maybe I shouldn’t have confronted Marsha that night.  Maybe instead I should have thanked her for motivating me to fight ignorance, bigotry and racism in all the Marsha’s of the world.  

Maureen Rubin is an Emeritus Professor of Journalism at California State University, Northridge. In her 30 years on campus, she taught writing and media law , served in a variety of administrative positions, published widely and received numerous teaching and public service awards.  Prior to joining the university, Rubin was Director of Public Information for President Carter’s Special Assistant for Consumer Affairs in the White House, and held similar positions for a U.S. Congresswoman and several non-profits. She has a JD from Catholic University School of Law In Washington, D.C., an MA in Public Relations from University of Southern California and a BS in Journalism from Boston University.

 

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