Monthly Archives: March 2016

The Simcha That Almost Wasn’t

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Bobbie and Emil at Marissa’s Bat Mitzvah November 2009

 

Every simcha is a cause for rejoicing. However, for the Cohen family, my niece’s bat mitzvah was an especially joyful occasion.

My sister Bobbie and her husband Emil started planning for their daughter Marissa’s bat mitzvah soon after their rabbi had given them the December 5, 2009, date. Since everything had worked out well at their son Michael’s bar mitzvah and party in 2005, they decided to have a similar service and a party at the same venue.

In May  2008, Bobbie received devastating news, Both her recent mammogram and ultrasound had come out normal, but Bobbie insisted of following up with a dermatologist to biopsy a small “cyst.” Everyone, including her doctors, were surprised at the diagnosis: she had breast cancer.

Bobbie called me on her way home from the doctor. She sobbed; I tried to console her; she asked me to be at our parent’s apartment that evening when she called them. My parents took the news especially hard. No one in our family had ever had breast cancer. How could this happen to their baby, their beautiful Bobbie? They told her that although  they were too old to be of much help, they promised that they would be there for emotional support and would pray for her recovery.

We all were sad that evening, but that was the last time I heard  my little sister cry. “There is a reason that everyone calls me Little Miss Sunshine,” Bobbie told me a few days later. “I refuse to be anything but positive. I will beat this.”

Over the next year, Bobbie underwent chemotherapy, a mastectomy, radiation and reconstruction, but she remained positive. She cheerfully went to her “chemo parties” and continued her exercise regiment. She embraced wearing wigs, declaring, “My hair now looks good all the time.”  A few hours after having her mastectomy, she was on the phone chatting with family and friends. The support of her husband, children, family and friends helped. It was Bobbie’s positive attitude, however, that got us all through this stressful time.  “I am on a road with a few bumps and turns, but it will straighten out again,” she said. “Meanwhile, I have a bat mitzvah to plan.”

In the middle of Bobbie’s ordeal, my father’s health began to deteriorate. Just before he died, Dad received a phone call from his oldest grandson and his wife to tell him that they were expecting their first child. “It will be a boy.” Dad said. “Name him after me, but call him William, not Wilfred.” He passed away a day later, November 20, 2008.

Now my mother was dealing with Bobbie’s illness and the loss of her husband of sixty-eight years. Mom was philosophical about being a widow. “Life is about change,” she said. “Bill and I had a wonderful marriage, and I have to accept that he is gone.” She spent more time with her friends and family. She drew strength from both Bobbie’s optimism and the positive reports from the cancer doctors.

By the following December, everyone was ready for the chance to celebrate. Friends and family came from New York, Arizona, Colorado, and California. The youngest guest was five-month-old William, or Will, my parents’ newest great-grandchild. Before Friday night services, we all gathered in the top floor of the hotel to enjoy a huge  Italian buffet set up by Bobbie and Emil.

The next morning, Marissa did a beautiful job leading the service and reading the Torah and haftorah. Bobbie, still sporting a wig, looked absolutely radiant, and Emil just beamed with pride for his family, and Michael cheered on his sister. The party was a joy. My mother, not looking at all like a ninety-one-year-old widow, danced every hora and electric slide and cha-cha-cha. We took pictures of the entire Cohen family, with the four children and their spouses, the eight grand-children, and the seven great grandchildren. I was not the only one to shed tears of joy. “We were not only celebrating Marissa’s bat mitzvah,” my mother later reflected.”We were also celebrating Bobbie’s good health.”

My mother passed away fourteen months later. For the last ten days, Bobbie came in from Boston and was there at her side. My little sister, who had never taken a medical class in her life, turned out to the best nurse in the family. Bobbie took command and guided us in tending to her needs until Mom joined her beloved Bill.

In September  2015, Marissa left for college. Bobbie and  Emil are enjoying their empty nest, often going into Boston on weekends to take advantage of all the city has to offer. They recently visited us in Florida. I pride myself in my energy and stamina, but I could barely  keep up with the two of them as we explored Spaceship Earth and the World Showcase at  Epcot, rode the Tower of Terror and watched fireworks at Hollywood Studios, and took pictures with ‘Albert Einstein’ and ‘Steve Jobs’ at Orlando’s wax museum.  And through it all, Bobbie sparkled and smiled. And I thank G-d everyday that my little sister is healthy, active, and still our Little Miss Sunshine.

Purim Princesses

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According to an old Borscht Belt joke, all of Jewish holidays basically come down to one theme:  ‘They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!’ Purim follows the plot line: Haman, an evil advisor to King Ahasuerus, recommends that all the Jews be killed. Esther, with the help of her brother Mordecai, saves the day. We eat hamantashen and drink wine.

Purim has always been one of my favorite Jewish holidays. On March 18, 1973, Larry and I met at a Purim party organized by an Albany Jewish singles group. We were in a “shpiel” based on The Dating Game. He was King Ahasuerus; I was Queen Esther. Over hamantashen and punch, we discovered that we had a great deal in common and, unsaid, a mutual attraction. The rest is history.

But there is another reason I love the holiday: it is in many ways a fairy tale about kings and queens and love conquers all. When it comes to costume parties, most little girls want to be Esther. And I was no exception. Each holiday, my mother would find a pretty robe, and I would make a crown out of cardboard and aluminum foil. Voila! I was royalty!

Much to my embarrassment, I still love a good romance where  true love conquers all obstacles and the couple live happily ever after. Some of my  favorite movies—Beauty and the Beast, You’ve Got Mail, Moonstruck— carry that theme. When we moved to Florida, I emptied my book shelves, only taking enough to fill a small bookcase full of my favorites. Not surprising, many of them follow the same plot: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, and a very dog-earred Golden book version of Walt Disney’s Cinderella. I spent many an hour on my mother’s lap listening to that story and its promise of happily ever after.

Now that we live only forty minutes from Disney World, I have had many opportunities to experience the “Princess Phenomenon.” At stores throughout the parks, little girls can purchase Princess costumes. The Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique offers salon services to “make one’s little princess… look and feel like royalty.” Throughout all the parks, Disney cast members—Disney’s term for all their employees— sweep past us dressed up in as Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty. At scheduled times throughout the day, one can have a picture taken with favorite Disney characters. Mickey, Donald, and Pluto have their share of people waiting in line for their photo opportunity. The one with the longest lines, however, are the princesses. I have not yet bought a “Cinderella” dress (I don’t even think one can purchase them in adult sizes). But I gaze wistfully at the long lines, hoping some day I can persuade Larry to wait for me while I have my opportunity to share a moment with one of them.

My fascination with princesses is small potatoes compared to many. According to wdw.com, more than 1,200 couples a year tie the knot at Walt Disney World Resort.  That is nothing to shake a magic wand at! And I can’t even begin to imagine the number of couples a year who honeymoon there. One can recognize them by the Disney bride Minnie Mouse and groom Mickey Mouse ear hat sets sported by many young couples.

What separates  Queen Esther from many of the Disney princesses is that Esther is not just a passive maiden waiting for the magic kiss of her Price Charming. Rather, she is actively involved in saving the Jewish people. In the Purim story, King Ahashuarus banishes his first wife Vashti after she refuses to show off her beauty wearing just a crown to a banquet room full of men “merry with wine.” After a search throughout the kingdom, Esther, a Jewish orphan, is chosen to wear the crown. The new bride learns from her Uncle Mordecai that Haman, the king’s evil advisor, is plotting to kill all the Jew.  Beguiling the king with her beauty at a banquet, Esther then reveals that she herself is a Jew and that her people are threatened.

On a recent visit to Disney, I saw an adorable princess outfit in a nine-month size, perfect for my new grand-daughter. I took a picture and sent it to my daughter. “What do you think?” I texted.

Julie called me  back immediately. “Let’s get one thing straight.   My daughter is not going to be wearing any princess outfits.”

To her relief, I told her that her father had already strongly encouraged me to put the princess outfit back on the store’s display.  I assured her that would limit my gift outfit choices to more acceptable themes, like hedgehogs or rainbows or, in honor of my son-in-law, the Denver Broncos.

However, I already have plans five years down the road of having Sylvie stay with me and whisking her off to Disney in a princess dress of her choosing. And the magical salon experience? Even I have reservations about the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

Or maybe, more in line with Julie’s thinking, I will share with Sylvie the story of Purim. I will tell her about a woman who is plucked out of obscurity to become queen of a large kingdom. She gets the man and the crow, Rather than living “happily ever after,” she uses her position to let good overcome evil. In the process, she became a Jewish heroine beloved centuries later.  And that story doesn’t require any magical kisses from Prince Charming.