family, life lessons, Uncategorized

THIS IS YOUR LIFE

“Grandpa, didn’t Grandma have a shortened version of a Seder that she wrote?’ I asked him a few days ago. Passover is by far my most favorite Jewish holiday. Jewish families all over the world share the story of Moses (and Miriam for those of us who like to add some female power to the night) leading the Jews out of Egypt into The Promised Land. We eat the symbolic foods and have conversations about freedoms, slavery, privilege, humanity and so much more over a delicious feast all under the full moon.

Passover is one of those transformative holidays that usually gives me some type of spiritual ahha moment and I always wake up with a more grounded sense of myself the next day. What I enjoy about Passover is that is it more than just Let’s Eat, it is a ritual, a tradition and a retelling of the story of a liberation.

The Seder is community and pausing with family and friends. It is celebratory and hopeful and it goes on worldwide with each family adding their own twists and turns. This is how I remembered that my grandmother had made her own service to condense it for the many friends my grandparents have had over the years to make it more personal, more meaningful. And shorter. Because traditional Seders can be many hours long before dinner and this is a recipe in this short attention span life we lead for invitation turn downs at some point. Being in the Reformed Judaism category, I take some bold liberties in making sure that the Seder is both interesting and concise so when my Grandfather suggested that I take a look in my grandmother’s computer, I bolted into her old office.

My grandmother passed away almost six years ago, but yet her computer is still going strong. As I made my way into her office I noticed some vestiges of her still lingering, like the abundance of scratch paper and address labels, you know those free ones you get as a bait to make a donation to whatever charity thinks sending free address labels will get you to do this. But it is her Mac that most reminds me of her presence. Isabelle had a Mac before people were really buying Macs. She was always on the hip side.

I opened up her computer and went to her file labeled “Isabelle” thinking that so much of ourselves, who we are, how we think show up in what is stored and how it is filed. I was also struck by the notion that all may have been lost if I hadn’t been lucky enough to remember to ask about the Seder, too.

As I went through the treasure trove of files, I saw all of the writings I had sent her in my earlier years of writing that she had saved. She too was an avid writer, albeit a closet one, and I quickly discovered every trip she had gone on with the date, her itinerary and even the tour guide’s name. My grandmother not only recorded the sights and sounds of their trips, but she did it all in rhyme and I was quickly transported to China shortly after the cultural revolution. I time traveled to Africa, Tibuktu among some of the points they traveled to in the seventies. There were her trips to Israel right along with the one they took me on in 1977, too.

While their friends were headed to the Carribean and The Grand Canyon for pleasure, my grandparents were off on wild adventures to learn about the world. Because I was the oldest grandchild and lived nearby, their influence on my ability to look at the world differently was significant. I was able to read about her joys in traveling with the love of her life and was reminded of how hip she was. Then like magic, like she had directed me to this very moment herself, I found her Seder outline and printed it, happy to have found her words to share.

Since my grandfather’s stroke almost five years ago, he hasn’t gone out much and certainly hasn’t had any Passover celebrations at his house. I had decided to come down to Florida this year to have a Passover Seder with my grandfather instead of the usual Seder with my lovely son and our circle of friends back home. so that he could participate in one at his 101st year. As I have mentioned in many writings, we never know if this one will be his last one, the odds shorten each year and my pragmatism abounds.

I set up the formal dining room instead of the usual breakfast area in the kitchen and took out the good china, all of the candlesticks, and the cloth napkins. This is the joy of a holiday. The excuse to make something a little more special than just another day. Flowers on the table, special wine glasses, the old china serving dishes that I will never know their origins of. I just know they are old and were saved for special occasions. I used as many as I had food to fill them. And I printed all of her itineraries right down to her memories of her marriage to my grandfather in August 1942. It was here I got to spend some time with her in her recollections of their beginnings, the draft, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and her young life. So right before dessert, I pulled out the story and announced, Herb, this is your life and began reading it as the story it was.

Passover is the story of Exodus, the Jewish plight, the enslavement of people, but also of our own prisons we put ourselves in by our thinking. My grandmother’s writings reminded me that she did not take her own personal freedoms lightly. She lived her life to the fullest, and after re-reading her own writings, I was clearly reminded of why I live the life I do. Even though many of the people I adore were not physically at this year’s Seder either because of proximity or because they have left us, having this Passover with my Grandfather felt like everyone was there at our table. Liberation in our own way, connecting generations on this one special holiday I got to celebrate my fifty fourth year with a most cherished father figure, Herb Horowitz, my shining example that life is what you make of it.

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MIRACLE OF LIGHT

MIRACLE OF LIGHT

With Hanukkah fast approaching this Sunday eve, there is a welcome pause that occurs in my world before the mayhem of December. My aunt and I joke about the holiday being “early” this year as many people compare the holiday, all Jewish holidays as a matter of fact, to the Christian ones close by. I can hear my former mother in law asking me, “When is your Christmas? When is your Easter?” Patience. Breathe. Don’t react. Jewish holidays are never “early or late;” they are perfectly on time because they are based on the cycle of the sun and moon, the Hebrew Calendar, not the Gregorian calendar we have been born and raised with. The holiday falls on the twenty-fifth day in the Hebrew month of Kislev, the darkest day both solar and lunar. Hanukkah falls during the waning moon into the new moon. If you are eager to learn about the moon cycles and Jewish Holidays this article is excellent-

http://telshemesh.org/water/jewish_cycles_of_the_moon_jill_hammer.html

There is no accident that the Festival of Light would fall on a waning moon and take eight nights to move towards the new moon. We are lighting a symbolic candle each night adding one to complete the holiday, reminding me at least that we have the power to bring our own light slowly and steadily to the proverbial table. We celebrate the miracle of light because the famous story goes that after the temple was destroyed around 165 BCE and the rebuilding was about to happen, there was not enough oil to keep the light burning- then a miracle happened and the oil burned for eight days. This has been the story we have taught our children for generations, but there is so much more to the story. This minor holiday is filled with symbolism of miracles and divine intervention, of resilience and resistance, but it is a minor holiday. In fact the whole gift giving is really not historical, but likely more of a tradition that happened because of its regular proximity to Christmas. I am not here, though to discuss physical ‘presents’ but rather the magic of reflection and the symbolism of light in its darkness.

What is light anyway? Why is it so important? As aging human beings, it is likely that we will experience areas of darkness in our lives, death, loss, tragedy, sadness are all part of the fabric of our lives. Darkness is part of the day, but so is light and the light is the wake up call. In Darkness, we go deep within, in Light, we open our hearts and broaden our view. In lightness we can see further on the horizon. Every Jewish holiday requires candle lighting. It is welcoming the light in the beginning of each holiday and it is the moment of reflection and meditation as we say hello to the moment. Thank you God for reminding us to light these candles by your commandments. It is a commandment to literally stop and smell the roses. Not just on Jewish holidays, but on every single Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, Shabbat, the most important ‘holiday’ in Judaism actually.

I did not grow up in a religious family; I grew up in a cultural one. This is the luxury in some ways of Judaism; there are so many options within the scope of its history to participate. This is also the potential downfall as it is not nearly as easy to “keep the faith,” when everywhere you turn there is the white bearded Santa Ho Ho Ho-ing and the Easter bunny hop hop hopping. So in some instances especially with no Jewish family around except for my son and me, I must make my own traditions. What I treasure about the Jewish Holidays is the lack of obvious predictability in their schedules; precisely their lack of consistency each time they roll around. Shabbat, though, is predictable. Every Friday night, every Saturday until the first three stars show up in the sky, Shabbat never lets me down. It is always there for the taking and most often I let it pass by with barely a glimmer except when I am visiting my grandfather, then it is full throttle Shabbat. Synagogue and all. Shabbat is the glorious reminder, if you are a believer in the divine, that God knew the days of the week would fly by and would come with excessive work. That life comes at you and despite it all, you need a day off to rest and recover and reconnect with a higher purpose. I take great comfort in this knowing that I can take a gigantic step back into the call to rest on a Friday night whenever I need to. I am usually surprised that I don’t because I feel so good when I do.

Last year Hanukkah landed on Christmas, this year it is December 2nd, a Sunday night. With the world accelerating each year passing me by, the Jewish Holidays are a welcome respite to bring light back in, to pause, to invite friends to replace my absent family, to see my son in the middle of a school week, to end the year with connection and spirituality. Hanukkah, this year, “early” in the month, gives me a chance to slow down and cook for people I love and to share my own light. This time around it also reminds me of my spirituality that in the busy-ness of my life has left the building. Judasim, my faith, my interpretation of its symbolic presence in my life kind of like an Alanon meeting is always there and I am guilty of taking it for granted thinking that because it is always there, it will always be there. This is a mistake that needs correction.

This year, after the horrors of what seems like a mass shooting a day, I must attend to my spirituality with more consciousness. Not doing so allows assimilation to move in and claim what my great grandparents escaped from when they left the Russian pogroms in the early twentieth century. Ambivalence and taking my faith for granted does not honor the prevalence of hate crimes increasing daily, it does not recognize the tragic loss of life at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg or honor any other group of citizens practicing and worshipping at their own churches and congregations. Whatever I decide to do, however it unfolds, there will be more of a conscious purpose to get back to something that I love. Judaism’s traditions and rich history of survival and resilience feeds my soul in a way like no other. This upcoming Hanukkah, like most of the Jewish Holidays gives me that gift. The gift to stop, think, act, participate, love, connect with my own light and with the people in my life who feel the same. This is a true miracle. May you have much light on any dark days and when there seems to be an absence of light, may the pause and connection remind you that the sun does indeed come up every day.

Hanukkah 101

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SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

SURROUNDED BY BOOKS

Everywhere I look at my grandparent’s house, there are books. Not as many as there used to be as my grandfather realized long before his stroke, long before my grandmother died that they should start to move some of them somewhere. I was an all too welcome recipient as I love not only books, but anything and everything that comes from their house. I realized this last trip their familiar presence has been a staple in my world since I was born and how much I take that presence for granted. Books have been a part of the fabric of my upbringing, their importance the foundation of my life just by their lives on the shelves everywhere I look. On this trip I notice the empty spots knowing that my grandfather kindly sent many of them to me over ten years ago when I gave him my book grocery list. He was all too happy to find a new home for his collection and I was too happy to invite them as a next generation who appreciates the stories they tell.

Most of the books from my grandparents’ home have Jewish themes, Israeli themes, WWII history and one could likely tell from the titles that my grandparents were really invested in their faith. When I say faith, I do not refer to the religious aspect of it, but the cultural element. My grandparents were not religious Jews, but definitely cultural ones and their belief about what is right and wrong and how to live a life that demonstrated this was most definitively led by their Judaism. Many religions can say this, thou shall not…. The familiar Ten Commandments has been a good set of human values for the most part and we were raised mostly with this as our examples.

I have many friends who did not grow up with shelves and shelves of books and in my past life when I was married as I made my way to their homes, this was a unique difference in my observations. Books on the shelves along with art on the walls seemed to go hand in hand. Along with the books, my grandparents have art everywhere and this too has made its way to my home over the years. Again a lot of Jewish themed art along with art from their many trips to places people simply weren’t going to in the sixties and the seventies, China in the late seventies when they finally opened their borders to tourism, Israel starting in 1966, New Zealand, Ghana and Timbuktu and many other out of comfort zone places that shaped their world views. In turn they passed them on to their grandchildren by their examples along with the stories and endless slide shows we had the fortune to witness. At the time though, watching a slide show of a safari made us kids groan, but it instilled a love of travel and adventure in all of us grandchildren that we wholeheartedly appreciate.

As I look around at the dwindling and many out of date collection of books, The Encyclopedia of Jewish Religion, Jewish Civilization to name a few I wonder what on earth we are going to do with all of these books when the time comes for my 101 year old grandfather to move on to his next adventure, hopefully with my grandmother and father and brother. Each time I have visited him for the past ten years, I have looked at all of the “stuff” and thought to myself what the hell are we going to do with all of this? For him as I have asked him repeatedly, he replies with the simple answer, it’s not my problem, it will be yours and Bobby’s. Haha, touche, I think. While it seems like his typical pragmatic approach to all things end of life would apply here, all of this goes out the window because there seems to be in that six foot body of his a small shred of sentimentality after all.

“You are an emotional girl,” he has been fond of saying to me over the years like it was some wart to try to remove from my nose or something. Ironically it turns out that he too has a touch of emotion as well. Even though the pragmatic approach would be to start doling out the art and the trinkets, this I have decided would be admitting that death was at the door waiting. It also takes out of the house my grandmother’s essence, their travels and adventures, and for this, I concede, it makes complete sense to hold on as long as he chooses. He deserves this. It is his stuff and his life. I am sure that when the time comes for him to move on, we will be all too happy to be reminded of his presence in the stories each of these items we will lay claim to tell. The books are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many beautiful items that will find their way into our homes for the next generations. For me it is not the value of the item, the great news for our family is that none of us need any of it, it is the sentimental that I will cherish, the kitchen gadgets of my grandmother, her incredible Corning Ware collection, useful, well cared for and endless reminders of briskets and salads and Jewish Holidays. I am in no rush for any of it because that just means that this world as I have known and loved has come to an end. I have nothing to cry about after all I have had my grandfather way beyond my wildest dreams. The books are just the metaphor for the words and actions he has instilled in me and all of his grandchildren and as long as they are there, this means that he is. This is just fine with me.