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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

If It Needs to be Done, I’ll Make Sure to Like it -An interview with Rebbetzin Lana Greenwald



As I make my way up Rechov Solovetchik, a small alleyway bordering the famous Zichron Meir shteibelach, I am transported back in time to the Yerushalayim of old, where the very cobblestones are permeated with kedusha; a city without pizza shops or ice cream parlors, or telephones (let along cellphones!) or even tape recorders; when there was only one women’s dress shop in all of Geula; a city populated by anshei maaleh, where simplicity was viewed as a virtue and limud Torah and avodas Hashem the ultimate profession.

After double-checking that I have the right address, I climb the worn stone steps leading to a large, spotless courtyard. Rebbetzin Greenwald comes out to greet me. Dressed in a simple skirt and blouse, topped with an old fashioned flowered tichel, she is the embodiment of simplicity and modesty, yet I can sense a strong undercurrent of inner strength.  I realize that this is a woman I can learn from. 

BINAH: Could you tell us about your roots?

“I grew up in a home where both parents were constantly searching for ways to help the klal. From an early age we learned that that when we notice something that needs to be done, it’s our responsibility to ahead and do it - and Hashem will help. My parents came from homes of askanim. My mother, Miriam Adler, a”h, was from the famous Pappenheim family. Her brother, Rabbi Shlomo Pappenheim, shlita, founded the well-known girls’ home, Bayis Lepletos, and is one of the leaders of the Eidah Chareidis. My father, Rav Moshe Adler, ztz”l was the son of Rav Yosef Adler, ztz”l, the Turda Rav. We grew up understanding that it was our tafkid to be moser nefesh to help Klal Yisrael.

“When my father, Rav Moshe Adler, ztz”l was fourteen, he left his home in Turda, Romania, prior to what appeared to be the imminent Nazi takeover of the city. As the end of the War he joined the Satmer Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum ztz”l on his journey to Eretz Yisrael. Since my father had no legal papers, he spent most of his time in transit hiding beneath the Rebbe’s bed. In Eretz Yisrael, he succeeded in escaping the British detention camp for illegal immigrants, and made his way to Yerushalayim.

“Interesting enough, although the city of Turda suffered terribly during the holocaust– there was almost no food, and of course the Jews were in constant fear of an imminent Nazi invasion, the city never came under Nazi rule. My grandfather, Rav Yosef Adler, ztz”l continued to serve the community throughout the war years. My grandparents’ home was a haven for refugees, including the Skulener Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Zushia Portugal, ztz”l. My grandparents arranged his shidduch with another refugee, also staying in their home, and then made their chasunah. Of course my grandfather was the mesader kedushin. After the war, my grandparents left Turda and moved to Yerushalayim.

“Alone in Eretz Yisrael, my father, Rabbi Moshe Adler, learned in the Dishinsky Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. The Rebbe, Rav Yosef Tzvi Dishinsky, the Maharitz, insisted that the young teenager join his household and he treated my father as his own son.

“During this time, my father became close to Rav Aharon of Belz, ztz”l, and eventually became a Belzer Chassid. Throughout his lifetime, although people referred to my father as the ‘Turda Rav,” my father, who despised kavod, viewed himself as nothing more than a Belzer Chassid.

“My maternal grandparents hailed from Germany. After my grandfather, Rabbi Gavriel Pappenheim, ztz”l, was taken to Dachau, my grandmother Chana Pappenheim nee Goldshmidt a”h sent the four older children, my mother, her two sisters, and my uncle, Rav Shlomo Pappenheim  on a kindertransport to London, where they spent the war years in a non-orthodox institution. Meanwhile, together with the two youngest children, she managed to escape to Eretz Yisrael.
My grandfather survived the war. My grandmother first heard about it when another survivor told her about a very special Jew in Dachau who put aside part of his bread each day so that he would have lechem mishneh on Shabbos, and then commented that a Jew that has such mesirus nefesh for a mitzvah could only be a Pappenheim, and that therefore he must be her husband. The war left Rav Gavriel weak and sick and he died a few years later.

“My maternal grandparents were not satisfied with the girls’ chinuch in Eretz Yisrael, so they arranged private tutors for my mother and her sisters. One of these tutors was Rebbetzin Yaakovson, who had taught the survivors in Sweden.  Eventually my grandmother, together with another askan, opened Jerusalem’s Bnos Yerushalayim.

“My maternal grandmother was involved in so many things, helped so many people, and established so many institutions that she literally changed the face of Yerushalayim.  Someone once asked her if she enjoyed doing these things. She responded, “I enjoy doing what needs to be done. So if something needs to be done, I will make sure to like it.” She was an incredible woman, with lofty ideals, yet practical and down to earth.
My parents were very particular about our chinuch. Everything was al pi taharas hakodesh, with the strictest levels of kedusha. But at the same time we were encouraged to expand our horizons, to learn about the world around us.  Years later, I did the same thing when I was the mashgiach ruchani in Chinuch Yerushalayim, a girls’ school affiliated with the Eidah Chareidis. So, for example, before I took the girls to visit a small museum about the Jews of Yemen, I first arranged with the administration that they remove those displays not appropriate for our girls, that we have the museum to ourselves, and that our teachers guide the girls.   

“Growing up, I was very, very close with my grandfather, the Turda Rav. In those days people had very little material things – I had two dresses – and there were no telephones or technology to distract us. Since there was really nothing to do in Yerushalayim, we stayed home and spent a lot of time talking about Yiddishkeit. My grandfather loved to tell me stories about mesirus nefesh, and a Jew’s tafkid in this world. I attribute this time I spent with him, together with the chinuch I received in my parents’ home, to my present kochos hanefesh.

“After my chasunah, I worked at Bayis Lepletos. One day a woman walked in with what appeared to be an infant, but in reality was a three year old child, and told us that she wanted to place her in our Home. The child, Toby, had spent the first one and a half years of her life in the hospital, without any stimulation or love. She was developmentally delayed, and so severely malnourished that her kidneys did not functioning properly and she was lacking teeth and hair! It was obvious to everyone that it would take a huge amount of time, and effort (and lots of love!) to get her to the level that she could enter Bayis Lepletos.

“I decided to take on this project. I assumed it would only be temporary, but it didn’t take long for Toby to become an integral part of my family. Both my husband and I invested a tremendous amount of time, effort and money into her care, and as a result I grew to love her and could not imagine living without her.

“Although Toby continued to have many challenges – she has borderline intelligence, and does things very slowly – she attended a regular school (in those days special education for chareidim did not exist in Israel) and was part of the crowd. And then the miracle happened. After twelve years of marriage, when Toby was twelve years old, Hashem blessed us with a son.

“Toby married at age twenty-nine. It was obvious that the young couple would need a constant support and supervision, which we are able to provide. Despite their limitations, they are very happy and living a normal life. They have three children, all boys, and all with special needs. My husband and I are raising them, with my daughter’s help.

“The two oldest boys had severe communication problems and did not speak a word until after they were five years old. In addition to communication problems, the oldest is also developmentally delayed. But although the two boys appeared to be lacking intelligence, the experts diagnosed the oldest as having normal intelligence, while the youngest is a genius.

“When the two older boys were eight and six, we wanted them to have a cheder education, but no cheder would accept them. Even the special education schools would not accept them; they told us they were severely retarded and that it would be a waste of time to try to teach them! So I realized that I had no choice but to open a special cheder for intelligent children with developmental delays and learning disabilities. The truth is that Hashem had been preparing me for this tafkid. During the forty years that I was the mashgiach ruchani at Chinuch Yerushalayim Girls’ School to be able to help those girls with serious challenges I studied child psychology, special education and didactic testing privately with some of the top professionals in the field.

“People told me I had no idea what I was doing. After all, I don’t have a formal degree, nor am I an official non-profit organization with worldwide connections. But my parents had instilled in me that if I see something that needs to be done, I should do it. 
Before acting on my decision, I brought the two older children to Rav Yaakov Meir Shechter, shlita for a bracha and eitzah. Rav Shechter was adamant that I do not place the children in any of the suggested frameworks. He told me that the younger boy will become a gadol b’Yisrael, and that I must do everything in my power to provide him with the proper chinuch al pi taharas hakodesh. He also told me that if I open a cheder for children like my grandsons, it will be a success and a yeshua for Klal Yisrael.

“Tzon Yaakov Cheder opened its doors ten days later with a total of two students: my grandsons. Within three months, these two “severely retarded boys" were reading beautifully, and ready to start learning Chumash. As more children joined the cheder, we divided the children into two classes.

“The following year, prior to Rosh Hashanah, I brought the Tzon Yaakov students to Rav Shechter for a bracha. Since the Rav does not see women during the month of Tishrei, I waited outside while the boys went in with their Rebbe. But Rav Shechter requested that I be asked to join them. As I entered, he said, “Ashreichem, ashreichem, scharchem l’olam haba ein l’sha’er.” 
“Today, three years later, Tzon Yaakov is thriving, and several of our boys have graduated to a regular, mainstream cheder. All of these children were children that no one wanted; children that were considered “uneducable.”
“Shortly after opening Tzon Yaakov, I realized that the students needed to learn how to interact with more “normal” children. In addition, many children in the Eidah Chareidis community were in need of therapy or educational enrichment, but there were no options available al pi taharas hakodesh. So I opened an afternoon program for cheder boys with learning disabilities. The kids eat a hot lunch, have supervised play, and then work privately with special education specialists, paramedical professionals, and a kriyah rebbe. Once a week, all twenty four children pile into a minivan to travel to farm near Petach Tikva for therapeutic horseback riding!

“I’m presently working on establishing a special kindergarten for my youngest grandson, who is five years old. He has low muscle tone, and as a result is unable to walk and has great difficulty eating. It’s a tremendous amount of work to get it started, but since there’s a real need for it, I am sure that with Hashem’s help, it will succeed.

Binah: When do you sleep?

“Sleep? Older people don’t need much sleep! I usually finish everything after midnight, and then I get up before five am to clean the cheder and wash the floors. After that, I get my grandchildren ready for school. It takes me over an hour just to give my youngest grandson his breakfast, which is finely ground and fed through a bottle! While the youngest sleeps, I cook lunch for my family, as well as the children in the afternoon program. Afternoons and most evenings are devoted to private clients.


 “Many children with developmental delays are really intelligent, but lack the ability to express themselves. They understand that they are different and need lots of encouragement. Children, all children, have so much within themselves, so much potential. It is our responsibility to believe in them and do everything in our power to enable them to reach it. And that’s what I’m trying to do.” 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

promoting peace and understanding, as appeared in the binah, July 27,2016

I love having my children for Shabbos. I really do. The grandchildren are so adorable, and I have such nachas watching my babies raising their own. All week long it’s just Zaidy and me; it’s so quiet, and I miss the noise and balagan.

After Shabbos, when the boys’ peyos are perfectly curled, faces washed and the babies fed and diapered, I (finally) walk to the bus stop, and although I gaily wave goodbye as the bus pulls away, I feel a tug of sadness at their leaving. Then I return home, prepare a mug of hot tea, and savor the quiet.

When my husband walks into the living room half an hour later, I’m still sitting on the sofa, staring into nothingness. “Whew,” I say. “That was some Shabbos. I’m exhausted.” The truth is, there’s really no reason for me to be so tired. I had a long Shabbos nap, and the grandchildren helped me serve and clear the table.
But I’m no longer used to the noise. And the balagan.

It’s such a paradox. I love spending time with my family. It’s really my greatest joy in life. But at the same time, it leaves me drained and exhausted. And watching how beautifully my children manage with their growing families, I wonder how they do it.

I think one of the most difficult challenges facing both parents and their adult children is to accept that things aren’t the way they used to be. I can’t imagine how I ever spent my days wiping sticky chairs, putting away mountains of toys, preparing massive pots of food, and (sigh) throwing away half-eaten sandwiches and barely touched plates of that delicious soup that cost me so much time and energy (let alone money) to prepare. Today, those enormous pots, once used on a daily basis, are regulated to the far end of the closet to be pulled out for special occasions, and instead of buying fruits and vegetables by the carton, I purchase individual units, carefully perusing each tomato and cucumber for flaws.

Time marches on.

Having an empty nest means just that – the nest is empty. On a daily basis, it’s just me and my husband living in a small two-bedroom apartment. I make two pieces of chicken for lunch; after all, there’s no need for a third.

But my kids remember a mother cooking in bulk, who didn’t bat an eyelash at unexpected company. After all, there’s no real difference if you cook for twelve or fifteen, but now that it’s just the two of us, adding another three portions is a real game changer. I don’t keep a lot of extra food in the house (especially the goodies — I’m afraid that you-know-who will eat them in the middle of the night), so if company’s coming for Shabbos, or any other time of the week, for that matter, it means an additional foray to the grocery store.

According to my editors, this column is dedicated to the needs of the more “mature” woman, but I would imagine that there are some younger women reading this as well (and if there aren’t, may I suggest that any older women reading this causally leave her copy of the Binah on the coffee table, open to this page). So, for the sake of promoting peace and understanding between the generations, I hereby would like to make a few suggestions (in other words, lay down the law) to the younger crowd.

Remember, your shvigger did not tell you this, so continue to adore her, and hopefully she’ll reciprocate in kind, especially after you’ve learned the following rules:

1.       If you want to come for Shabbos, please let me know before Wednesday morning. That’s when I do my shopping; before the pre-Shabbos rush, when the stores are still fairly empty. Of course if there’s a real emergency, you’re always welcome, but please, for your sake and mine, try to avoid emergencies!

2.       If you’re bringing something, let me know beforehand. I love eggplant salad, but four different types is a bit much! Had I known, I would have made something else instead, or even better, not made a salad at all!

3.       Let me know if anyone in your family has special dietary requirements. Bli ayin hara, there are a lot of grandchildren, and I can’t keep track of everyone’s allergies or personal quirks. So please remind me that Shmuelik can’t eat (or refuses to eat) challah sprinkled with sesame seeds, and that Channie can only drink boiled water.

4.       Take care of your children! I love children, especially my grandchildren. I really do. But I also need my Shabbos nap, and (I know this might sound crazy, but it’s the truth) throwing balls in the living room (especially when my good china is out) tends to make me nervous.

5.       I love it when, right after Shabbos is over, I take the grandchildren to the park and you surprise me by cleaning up the house! No, this is not a rule, but if you do this, you’ll get brownie points for good behavior.


6.       Last but not least, please remember to go home! I love it when you come, and I love it when you go. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

a letter sent to Bina by an anonymous reader

Thank you, Debbie for your article about giving away items to children and acknowledging that we will not be in this world forever. Because the concept of death is painful an scary, we frequently bury our head in the sand and pretend that it does not exist. This is all the more so in our generation, when the influence of the outside world makes us perceive aging in a negative light, so different from the Torah perspective.

Paradoxically, openly facing our mortality can enhance the quality of our lives, because we then prioritze energy for the eternal over the transient, which brings us happiness in the Next World as well as in this world. (We have less stress about material/physical/external issues, and character growth, while painful in the short term, brings to inner tranquility, far more than being stuck in the default pleasure focused place.)

Nevertheless, it takes a greatness of spirit to face our mortality in a helathy, honest way. I admire you, Debbie, for achieving that, and wihs you many more happy, healthy years together with yo husband with loads of nachas.

a reader


Monday, July 4, 2016

Needlepoints and Embroidery as appeared in the Binah


 Twenty some years ago, after my mother was moved into a nursing home, my siblings were left with the overwhelming task of figuring out what to do with her belongings. There were a lot of them: seven rooms and a garage packed with over half a century of memories. I am certain that much of what they assumed to be worthless junk was, in reality, precious belongings with great sentimental value, but sadly enough, without being privy to the accompanying stories, almost all of her things ended up in the garbage. I have no doubt that at least some of it was, in reality, precious family heirlooms. 

That’s one of the reasons why, when I cleaned for Pesach this year, I spent a lot of time sorting through my belongings and gave many of them to my children. Among the treasures were several embroidered pictures that I had made years ago, during those long, sunny afternoons at the park, when my friends and I would sit together, watching our children (who are now beginning to marry off their own children!) as they climbed the jungle-gym and slid down the slides (those were the days, my friends…). 

Every year on Erev Pesach, when I carefully remove the pictures from their cloth bag, I am transported to a different period of my life, when, between taking care of the babies and running my home, I never dreamed of finding the quiet that I need to be able to write. Yet, each afternoon there was an oasis of time when I would join a group of young mothers to discuss everything from recipes to the meaning of life while watching my children, and embroider fanciful pictures (I have always been a multi-tasker!).
This year, however, instead of returning my works of art to their cloth bag and promising myself that as soon as Pesach is over, I’ll have them professionally framed, I decided to leave everything and do just that.  The results are stunning.

Some twenty-three years ago, when my first child got engaged, I decided that I would try to give each of my newlywed couples a very special wedding present: a large needlepoint embroidered by yours truly. Well, um, rabos machshavos b’lev ish; some got, and some didn’t. Now, I was delighted to (finally) be able to give the other children what I hoped would eventually become family heirlooms, a piece of myself, something to remember me by, as well as assure that, at least b’derech hateva, these labors of love will not erroneously end up in the dumpster. I can just imagine that half a century from now, one of my great-grandchildren will point to my handiwork and tell her offspring about how the elta, elta bubby, the great tzedekes Devorah (hmmm….) would spend her afternoons at the park, fervently reciting Tehillim (while gabbing away with her friends) as she davened for her children’s hatzlachah and, never being one to let her hands sit idle, embroidered family heirlooms.

This Erev Pesach, I also spent quite a bit of time looking through all our old photographs — boxes and boxes of them, over forty years worth — and gave away over half of them to my children. (Disclaimer: poring over old photos does not magically get rid of the chametz. Rather, it’s using Pesach as an excuse to have fun.) Grinning toddlers in diapers, their faces and hair (ugh!) smeared with toothpaste; freckled girls in freshly pressed uniforms, their hair pulled tightly back into ponytails, showing off their brand new school bags; large hats balanced on the heads of new bar mitzvah bachurim; slightly dazed newly-engaged couples drinking a l’chaim, family wedding pictures. Not only did I enjoy a delightful trip down memory lane, I now have an entire empty shelf in my closet (hmmm… I better place a few strategic knickknacks there, before the tides of clutter rise to cover that shelf).

Reb Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, teaches that a person should strive to leave his daas in this world through doing something that will inspire future generations to come closer to Hashem. I have no doubt that my desire to leave a footprint on the world, to make sure that the children understand the stories behind the treasures, is part of a deeper need that all of us have to leave a piece of ourselves to those who come after us, to ensure that they will learn from our challenges and struggles as well as from the choices that we’ve made, and that by doing so, we have accomplished something of real, eternal value.  


Oh, and speaking of leaving something for the next generation, while cleaning for Pesach this year, I stumbled across a needlepoint that I started over a decade ago and decided to finish it. Another yerushah for the grandchildren, and besides, it’s great therapy for stiff fingers.  

Saturday, June 4, 2016

A Link In the Chain as appeared in the Binah


Taanis Esther (the fast of Esther). I was busy in the kitchen making the final preparations for our evening meal when the phone rang. I glanced down at the caller ID. It was my daughter calling from England.

“Hi, Sush,” I began. “How’s…”

A child's voice interrupted my monologue. “It’s Faigie,” began my eight-year-old granddaughter. “Bubby, what are you going to dress up as on Purim?”

“Me?” I was surprised at the question. I never get dressed up, at least not in a Purim costume.  “Oh, I’ll just be me. Bubby.” And then I added under my breath, “Maybe I’ll even pretend to be a balabusta.” 

“That’s what I’m going to be. You. I’m dressing up like you.” I assumed she wasn’t referring to a balabusta

“Ah, so you’re going to be dressed up as a bubby?” It was more of a statement than a question.

“No,” she responded. “I’m going to be a very, very old lady, just like you. And Chaim’s going to be a very old man, just like Zeidy.”

For once, I was speechless. But right after Purim my daughter sent me the pictures and they really were an adorable couple, him with a long, grey beard leaning on his wooden cane and her with a short grey sheitel and enormous plastic glasses!

Children think of their parents as being old and wise. (When my children were little, my oldest daughter asked me, “Mommy, how old are you?” I blithely responded, “Thirty.” She shook her head in wonderment that a person was anyone could possibly reach such a ripe old age, as she repeated in an awe-filled voice, “k’neinah hara, k’neinah hara.”) And they view their grandparents as being ancient. But children are children, and young children, especially, have a very strange understanding of the concept of time, as shown in the following story (and yes, it’s a story about one of my grandchildren. But I’m a bubby, and bubbies are allowed to shep nachas).

My four-and-a-half-year-old very verbose grandson commented, “Bubby, when you were little, you must have had so much fun."

"Why do you say that, shefela?" I asked.

"Because when you were a little girl, you got to ride horses. And camels. And donkeys."

"I did? What makes you think that?"

"Because there were no cars then. Only horses, and camels, and donkeys."

I will let you in on a little secret. Beneath my matronly appearance runs a dark, mischievous streak. So I couldn't help but continue and say, "But shefela, it really wasn't fun in Mitzrayim (Egypt). It was terrible, and I was miserable! The Mitzrim (Egyptians) made us work very, very hard!"

My grandson laughed. "Oh, but Bubby," he countered. "You're not that old! You were born in the Midbar (desert), after the Yidden left Mitzrayim!"

It’s great to feel young! But the truth is, his words contained more than a kernel of emes. After all, all of us, every single one of us, were present at Har Sinai. We all accepted the Torah, unconditionally, as a moreshes kehillos Yaakov. (inheritance to the Jewish people)

And that’s really what being a bubby is about. It’s not just that we are (at least in the eyes of our einiklach) very, very old, but we are a living bridge to the past, creating a solid chain of mesorah leading back to even before yetzias Mitzrayim, (the Exodus) he prevailing idolatry to proclaim the truth of One Hashem.  

When we tell our grandchildren stories of parents, teachers or neighbors who learned under prewar Gedolim, or were exiled to Shanghai, or were among the talmidos of Frau Sarah Schneirer, a”h, we are creating a very personal connection to the chain of kedushah extending all the way back to Har Sinai. We are providing them with real models to emulate.

It’s not an easy image to live up to. But like every other challenge that Hashem gives us, we have within us the capability to become worthy of emulation.

Yup, even very, very old ladies (and men) not only can, but must, continue to grow. After all, we wouldn't want to disappoint the einiklach, would we?



Monday, May 30, 2016

GOOD NIGHT, MY SOMEONE, GOOD NIGHT

I run an internet based writer's workshop, and was inspired to write this after one of the women described how her father is slowly slipping away from her. 

 “Excuse me,” I said to the tall Hispanic man. He stared at his cellphone. “I’m looking for Rose Levine.”

He  pointed to a small, frail woman sitting in the corner. I quietly walked over to where she was sitting and stared at a stranger. Finally, I recognized her.

“Hi, Mom,” I began.

No reaction. Her hairy chin remained resting in the hollow of her chest. Her bony arms (Mommy, you were always dieting. Was this the goal?) hung lifelessly on her lap.

“Mommy, it’s me. Debbie.”

Nothing. Her eyes were barren, the color of an algae polluted pond.

I sat on the empty chair next to her and gently grasped her hand. “Mommy,” I smiled, stifling my tears. “It’s Debbie. Your daughter. I came to visit you. From Israel. Mommy, I love you.”

Not a ripple of recognition.

Then I felt her hand grasp mine. “Mommy,” she said. “Mommy, mommy.”  She lifted my hand to her lips and gave it a kiss. Her saliva dripped HerHHdown my forearm. I didn’t wipe it away.

Mommy loved music. She had a voice like a nightingale, and she was always singing; as she washed the dishes, made the beds, did the laundry.  Whenever I’d come to visit her at the Home, I’d take her to some secluded corner and begin to sing. She always joined me. Even after she forgot the names of her children, and who she was, and almost everything she said sounded like gibberish, she was able to sing all the lyrics to her favorite songs. And sing them she did, with an intensity that could only be described as deveikus.  When we sang together, our souls communicated; and we soared.

So now I sat close to Mommy and quietly began to sing, “Climb every mountain…”

Silence.

“How much is that Doggy in the window?”

Nothing.

“K..k..k Katy, my beautiful Katy…”

No reaction. None whatsoever.

An immaculately dressed woman, her hair pulled tightly into a bun pushed a man in a wheelchair up to the  table behind us and sat in the empty chair next to him.  There was  too much rouge on her cheeks and her lipstick was  a shade too bright.

“Sam,” she began. “It’s me, Elaine.”

Nothing.

“Sam, do you remember when we were seventeen? We were so much in love.”  

I moved my chair away to give her privacy. I could hear her sniffling.

“We were so young then, but I’m still in love with you. Don’t you know me? It’s me Elaine. Your wife. Your sweetheart.”

Silence.

I stroked my mother’s hand. My tears flowed. I didn’t bother to wipe them away.

The Music Man was playing on the large video screen opposite us (every time I came to the Home, it was the same video. Always the Music Man). The song “Sweet Dreams, My Someone,” filled the oppressive silence.
“Sweet dreams be yours, dear,
If dreams there be
Sweet dreams to carry you close to me.
I wish they may and I wish they might
Now goodnight, my someone, goodnight”
Later that night I tucked my mother into bed and kissed her goodnight. I returned to Israel the following morning. My family needed me.
Three weeks later I was back again. This time, for my mother’s funeral. 




Monday, May 23, 2016

Roots and Sprouts as appeared in the Binah



I’ve always loved learning about my family history.  Over the years I’ve collected a whole shoe box filled to the top with miscellaneous sheets of information, including interviews with elderly family members, a barely decipherable family tree hand written some thirty years ago in my mother’s shaky handwriting and snapshots of old kvarim. I’ve jotted down the stories that my paternal grandfather, Alexander Mendel Levine, a”h, told me about his father (my great-grandfather), Yehoshua Yaakov Levine, a”h, a Rav in Nezhin, located not far from the Ukrainian city of Chernikov. As a young child, Yehoshua Yaakov’s father (my great-great-grandfather), whose name I don’t know, was kidnapped and forced into the Czar’s army. Somehow, against all odds, he succeeded in holding on to his Yiddishkeit, and when he returned home, over twenty-five years later, he married my great-great grandmother and built a beautiful Jewish home. I wonder if he is the source of his descendants’ tenacity?

Over twenty years ago, while visiting my great uncle in Montreal, I spent an afternoon interviewing my grandfather’s first cousin, Max Budd, who was then in his early nineties. He had immigrated to Canada as a young child, and at first, was unable to remember even a single incident of life in the shtetl. Finally, after some gentle prodding, he related how, on his third birthday, his father had carried him proudly through the streets wrapped in a tallis toward the cheder. His eyes glistened with tears as recalled the sweet taste of the honey as he recited the alef-bais together with the rebbi. Today, when my grandsons turn three and are brought to cheder wrapped in a tallis to experience the sweetness of limmud haTorah, I tell my own children how my grandfather’s first cousin wiped away the tears as he recalled his initial introduction to Torah learning.

From my mother, I heard stories about my grandfather, Michael Meyer Margolick, a”h, who arrived in Montreal, Canada at the turn of the century, together with his widowed mother and siblings. His mother, my great-grandmother, Riva Marolick, a”h, passed away almost immediately after the family’s arrival. My grandfather went on to establish a very successful pant manufacturing company, and did so much for the fledging Montreal Jewish community that he was eventually written up in a book about prominent Canadian Jews. My mother often told me stories about her private nurse and nanny, as well as the cook and housekeeper, and the four-story mansion that she called home. To me, growing up in a small working-class suburb in California, these stories sounded like fairytales.

My mother’s mother, my grandmother, Helen (Chaya) Margolick nee Greenberg, a”h, grew up in Rochester New York. Her parents, Avraham and Rose (Salinski) Greenberg both came from large families. Every once in a while, one of these long lost cousins would send us a newsy letter or even visit our family in California. My mother would become misty eye as she’d reminisce about all the cousins (there were so many that at one point they had a cousin club with a monthly family newsletter!) she had left behind on the East Coast.

A box of family stories and legends, hazy memories, but nothing concrete; until I decided to join a computer-generated family tree maker. As I started putting the pieces of the puzzle together, the family tree program automatically sent me pertinent data. I spent hours poring through censuses taken at the turn of the century, and felt as though I struck gold each time the names of great-great-aunts and uncles appeared, together with their spouses, and children. I was seeing the history of American and Canadian Jewry in my own family’s story – poor immigrants, but proud Jews (in all the early censuses, when asked their race, their automatic response was “Jewish,” never American or German or Russian), who worked hard to attain the American dream, yet succeeded in instilling a fierce love of their heritage in at least some of their descendants.

I’m still in the process of putting it all together, and I’ve made some interesting discoveries (my husband’s great-grandfather and my great-grandfather davened in the same shul in Buffalo, New York!) as well as been introduced via the family tree program to some cousins that I never knew existed. Eventually, I plan to compile all the information as a small family history book, with pictures, inspirational stories, and of course, a detailed family tree. I have no doubt that it will become a treasured family heirloom.

When (and if) I finish this project, I’ll let you know. And who knows? Perhaps as I do my research, I’ll find out that you, too, are among the many relatives that I never knew existed!