Author Archives: shapcomp18

About shapcomp18

After thirty five years in education, I have retired and am free to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming a freelance writer. Inspired by my mother, who was the family historian, I am writing down my family stories as well as publishing stories my mother wrote down throughout her life. Please feel free to comment and share.

Challah–A Delight for the Soul

Every Friday afternoon since the corona virus has turned our world upside down, I have been baking fresh challah. I revel in the process: the measuring, the gradual rising, and especially the eating. But it has become so much more. As Roche Pinson wrote in her book, Rising: The Book of Challah, “We make challah from a place of commitment to nourish ourselves and our families in a way that goes beyond mere physical feeding and watering.”

Even though I can’t remember ever baking a challah before,  two recent encounters with fresh-out-of-the-oven loaves motivated me. Last August met my future daughter-in-law’s parents in their home at their weekly Shabbat dinner. Along with the candle lighting and the kiddish, we all joined in the prayer over Carol’s freshly baked challah, a tradition she has maintained for decades. The taste of her delicious bread stayed with me throughout the coming months.

On one of the last services at our synagogue in Kissimmee before services were suspended, we congregants enjoyed home baked challah made by Liz Ross. The daughter of a Jewish mother and an Inuit chief, Liz had discovered her spiritual roots as an adult. As the only Jew in  Unalakleet, Alaska, her only choice was to make her own challah to accompany her holiday meals. Years of experience yielded a wonderful, sweet bread. 

On that first quarantined Friday, I decided a home made challah would be a perfect comfort food.  I pulled out my friend Flo Miller’s challah recipe that I had stored in a recipe file for years and gathered all the necessary ingredients: yeast, flour, sugar, butter. I mixed and kneaded the sticky dough with my KitchenAid’s dough hook and covered it with a cloth tea towel. After it had risen, I shaped the dough into three challahs, brushed on the egg wash, and let it rise again.  Once out of the oven, Larry and I dropped one of the loaves over on the doorstep of a friend who was spending Shabbos alone in  as his wife was in isolation in the memory unit of a nearby nursing home. 

As the two loaves waited under my mother’s challah cross stitch covering, I lit the Shabbat candles that we had placed in my Grandma Annie’s brass candlesticks. Larry recited the Kiddish over the Manischewitz wine, and then we both recited the HaMotzei over the warm braided bread. We sat down to our first Shabbat dinner in quarantine. 

The following week, Larry and I headed to Publix at 7 a.m. as part of a “seniors only” shopping trip. I immediately headed to the baking aisle to stock up on my bread making supplies.  I obviously was not the only one baking. Yeast, like toilet paper and hand sanitizers,  had completely disappeared from the shelves, with flour, sugar, and eggs in short supply. We grabbed what we could and headed home.

Fortunately, the flour, sugar, and egg situation improved. Initial attempts on purchasing yeast online, however, were miserably unsuccessful. Amazon offered a three-pack of Fleischmann’s for $25, price gouging at its worst. I sent out an all-points bulletin on FaceBook, and three friends dropped off some packets they had in their cupboards. They each got a challah in return. Soon after, Amazon offered a one-pound bag of yeast. Despite the fact it was twice the normal price, I snapped it up.

Thus began my Friday ritual of making the bread and giving one or two of my loaves to others. As a thank-you for two homemade masks. As a “Mazel Tov” on finishing chemotherapy. As a wish for safe travels to their summer home.  If the bread came out of the oven too late for delivery before sundown, we dropped it off the next day with a suggestion to warm it up, toast it, or make it into French toast.

Each week, I tweaked the process. Too much flour made the bread tough. An extra egg yolk made for a richer taste. Covering the bowl with a tea towel and then loosely wrapping it in a garbage bag helped in the rising. Slamming the ball of dough on the counter a few times removed extra gases—and relieved tension! Raisins were a wonderful addition. Creating a challah with six braids or more will take more practice.

One night, when an afternoon nap killed chances for my normal bedtime, I went on YouTube and found a series of  challah baking videos made by Jamie Geller, the “Jewish Rachel Ray.” An Orthodox Jew who made aliyah to Israel in 2012 with her husband and six children, Jamie’s  demonstration added a spiritual component that touched me. Although she is a professed “shortcut queen,” Jamie said she eschews a dough hook in favor of kneading the bread by hand to infuse her love into the loaves. She uses that time to pray for her children, her family, for people in need of r’fuah sh’leimah [complete healing].” 

The  next Friday, I used an electric mixer to start the process but then turned the dough onto my floured countertop and began kneading. Like Jaime, I prayed for my children and grandchildren, who are physically so far away but always in my heart. I prayed for the wellbeing of my friends and family. I prayed for my friend Kathy who is on her way to recovering from COVID-19. I prayed for Minnie, a beautiful baby born at 29 weeks who will be spending her first weeks of life in a NICU unit. I prayed for Jesse, who just lost his wife Heddy to cancer. And I prayed for all those impacted by COVID-19, the sick, the grieving, the lonely, the unemployed, the hungry. Was it my imagination, or did the challah taste especially sweet, especially delicious that Friday night?

This week, the need for prayers is even greater. Along with the pandemic and devastating unemployment numbers, our country is marked with racial strife and protests—both peaceful and violent. So this Friday, I will knead my challah dough with additional prayers —for George Floyd (May his memory be a blessing) and his family, for our country, for the future of democracy. And as the beautiful, sweet braided loaves rise for the final time, I will call my elected officials to repeat the words of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, “We stand in solidarity with the Black community as they yet again are subject to pain and suffering at the hands of a racist and unjust system…. Systemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change. Now!” Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who brings forth bread from the earth. Amen

Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, a resident of Kissimmee, FL, is a regular contributor to the (Capital Region NY) Jewish World and the Orlando Heritage Florida Jewish News. She is the author of two compilation of her stories, There Goes My Heart (2016) and Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World. (2018). Both books available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. You can read more of her stories on her blog, theregoesmyheart.me. 

Mulling the Essentials While Sheltering In Place

Some day—hopefully in the near future—the COVID-19 pandemic will be behind us. Medical interventions to those infected will alleviate  the pain, suffering, and deaths. A vaccine may be developed that can prevent others from becoming ill. Social distancing will no longer be necessary. We can go back to our lives, our jobs, our schools, our vacations, our celebrations.

Larry and I have been sheltering in place since March 10, leaving our house only for daily exercise and essential outings. We consider ourselves very fortunate.  We still get our pension checks and our social security. Even though we are  considered more vulnerable because of our age, we are—so far—not dealing personally with COVID-19 illness. We are not trying to balance working from our kitchen table while home schooling our children. We have few appointments and fewer deadlines. 

These past few weeks have given us a perspective as to what is important in our lives. Once we have the required essentials such as toilet paper, masks, disinfectants/hand sanitizers, and a well-stocked kitchen, what do we deem necessary to get through the COVID-19 pandemic? Here is my own Top Ten List.

  1. Real News

Larry and I have gotten a newspaper delivered to our doorstep since we bought our first house in 1976. When we moved to Florida, we immediately subscribed to the Orlando Sentinel. I can’t imagine my morning coffee without the news, and our life would be a little emptier without the comics and puzzles. In the same way, I look forward to getting the Jewish World  in my mailbox every two weeks to get the Jewish perspective. We have on-line subscriptions to the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the New Yorker. They were invaluable to me before the pandemic but even more important now. 

  1. Exercise

Now that the pickleball courts, the pools, and the gym are all shuttered, Larry and I alternate between riding our bikes and taking long walks every morning. We get some fresh air and have the opportunity to wave and say hi to  friends and neighbors.

  1. A Sarong

If we were up north, we would probably be living in sweatshirts and pants. As Florida’s temperatures rarely go below 75 degrees, I love my sarongs.They are comfortable and no-fuss and keep the laundry to a minimum.

  1. A Kindle

Through the miracle of modern technology, I have access to public library with just a few clicks of the computer. If the book isn’t available, I place a hold and get an email telling me when it is available. Best reads so far: The Giver of Stars by JoJo Moyes and She Said; Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Help Ignite a Movement by New York Times writers Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey.

  1. Amazon Prime and Netflix

We can’t go to the movies, and every live performance has been cancelled. But we finally have the time to watch all those series that were on our to-do list. Larry and I can recommend Unorthodox, Schitt$ Creek, and Bomb Girls. I also have The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The Crown in my queue. 

  1. My Writing

Our calendars are pretty bare, but I still have my deadlines for the articles I write for the two Jewish newspapers.. Writing gives me a purpose. Recently, my articles about COVID-19 have helped me cope and put things in perspective. Once the article is published, I put it onto my blog and my FaceBook page. I love the sense of accomplishment I get from completing an article and love the feedback I get from those that follow me. (Hint! Hint! theregoesmyheart.me)

  1. Dinner

With all the restaurants closed and take-out options few and far between in our area, dinner is a main event. We even have a nightly happy hour with homemade hors d’oeuvres  Every Friday, we have a Shabbat meal complete with a kiddish, candle lighting, and a homemade challah. Ironically, along with toilet paper and hand sanitizer, yeast has also been in short supply. I finally bit the bullet and overpaid for a pound of yeast on Amazon so I don’t have to worry about finding it in our supermarket. I make three or four loaves a week and drop off one or two to neighbors who need some cheering up. 

  1. Our Lanai

Our lanai, which looks out on a small pond and a heavily wooded area, is our favorite place in our home. We are entertained by Florida wildlife, including a resident alligator,  an assortment of birds, and a rare bobcat sighting. It is where Larry and I spend our afternoons, reading  our books and doing  our puzzles. The lanai table is my office, where I do my writing. And it is where we eat dinner every night. 

  1. Video Chats

The hardest part of our quarantined life is not being with family and friends. Our trip to California to see our grandson and our summer plans for Colorado are on indefinite hold. At least four times a week, we FaceTime with our almost five-year-old granddaughter. We read her books, tell her stories, and watch her play. We usually end the call with her “reading” a book she has memorized to us. Holding our grandson is impossible, but my son and daughter-in-law are good about setting up the camera so we can watch him for a chunk of time. We Skype with Larry’s side of the family on Sunday morning and Zoom with my side of the family on Monday night. 

  1. 10.Our Support System

Absolutely nothing that I listed above would not be possible without those who continue to work. People still deliver our newspaper, our mail, our packages we have ordered on-line. In our community, people still mow our lawns and pick up our trash and recyclables. Those who work in essential businesses— pharmacies, supermarkets, gas stations— still  fill prescriptions, stock shelves and run cash registers. A delivery service drops our groceries on our front porch. Most importantly, our first responders and all those who work in the medical field put their own lives on the line every day to try to save the lives of family members and friends who have been infected. I am so grateful to every one of them. We can best show our appreciation by doing whatever we can to prevent further spread of this epidemic. Stay safe Stay healthy. Stay home!

“This too shall pass.” Meanwhile we sit tight and alone.

My friend Kathy in happier times. May she be writing again soon!

As we tread  carefully through the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic, the emotional and physical devastation this plague has caused is felt acutely by so many. As our days of sheltering at home continue, it has become much more real, much more personal, much more frightening.

My husband Larry and I are feeling the impact, as I suspect many of you are. Our community already has had two confirmed deaths from the virus. Kathy, a friend from my writing group who had been sick with bronchitis, posted the following message on a on March 30 on her Facebook page: “I have pneumonia and am in the Poinciana Medical Center where I am getting fantastic care. Take care. Be well.” Two days later, her brother Brian Joyce posted that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was on a ventilator. His daily updates report the news that she is still fighting for her life.

Friends and family are all sharing stories of people they know who have been diagnosed with the corona virus and those who have lost the battle. A longtime congregant of our synagogue in Upstate New York succumbed to the virus this week. My son’s brother-in-law’s grandfather in California died after contracting the virus from his daughter. Each day the numbers continue to climb.

Although most of my friends are retired, many have children on the front line as medical staff or first responders. They post and text pictures of their son or daughter in full protective gear or—worse yet—reused masks and garbage bags for scrubs. Originally, it was believed that the virus mostly attacked the elderly and those with underlying conditions. That “reassurance” no longer works, and my friends are worried that their children or grandchildren will contract it.

Any medical procedure becomes a cause for serious concern and even panic. A friend scheduled for cancer surgery was terrified that he would develop the virus and would be told he must cancel. Meanwhile, his wife had to drop him off at the hospital and pick him up two days later. She couldn’t physically be there for him.

Another friend, also diagnosed with cancer, was told by her Florida doctor that the surgery would be postponed until the pandemic had subsided. Fortunately, she was able to find a doctor in her home town of Pittsburgh who could operate within the week. She and her husband made a hasty trip up for the procedure. I am happy to report that her surgery was a success.

Last week,Larry was involved in a bicycle accident when he slipped on some wet pavement. His primary physician insisted Larry go to the emergency room for a tetanus shot and for potential stitches for the gash on his elbow. I freaked out, fearing he would contract the virus in the waiting room. “Please don’t go,” I begged. “Stay home. I’ll stitch it up myself.” That freaked him out. Wearing a surgical mask, he left for the hospital, where he was immediately ushered into a sterile examining room. He came home two hours later, tetanus shot administered and wounds bandaged—none requiring stitches. He had only the highest praise for the medical staff.

Two days after Larry’s ER visit, friends were anxiously awaiting the birth of their first grandchild. The impending delivery had made more stressful as it was uncertain whether their son could be in attendance as some New York City hospitals were not allowing any partners in the delivery room. Everyone was relieved to learn that he could accompany his wife during delivery, but the planned birth was still fraught with worry. If either the expectant parents had symptoms, would she have to deliver alone? And would she or the baby contract the virus while in the hospital? Thankfully, the baby was born without complications. The proud grandmother sent me a picture taken in the hospital of the father dressed head to toe in scrubs and a surgical mask gingerly holding the swaddled baby in his gloved hands. All that was visible were the father’s proud eyes. 

The coronavirus has taken much from us, but the inability to congregate, to be with those we love, to hug one another in times of joy or sadness, is the most painful. In normal times, we come together to celebrate the birth of a baby, to support ill friends, to say goodbye to a beloved friend or relative. During this time of a “new normal,” grandparents cannot hold their newborn grandchild. Friends and family cannot celebrate birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. High school and college students cannot celebrate graduations. Jews cannot gather around a huge table or meet in a large room to hold a seder. Most tragically, family and friends cannot even help those who lost a loved ones to grieve, to offer hugs and human touch. 

One day, in the unforeseeable future, the corona virus will be behind us. We will gather together and hug each other tightly and even plant kisses on each other’s cheeks that are wet with tears of joy. We will hold our friends and family not only in our hearts but also in our arms.

On Friday, March 20, for the first time since serving as our spiritual leader, Rabbi Karen Allen did not conduct Shabbat services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee. The synagogue, like thankfully churches, mosques, and other religious meeting places, were closed due to the pandemic. In a letter sent to the entire congregation, Rabbi Allen suggested the following:  At 8:00 p.m. that evening, “when we would all prefer to be together in the sanctuary, let’s do two things that are emblematic of the worship service:recite the Sh’ma and Mi Shebeirach prayers.”

Like Rabbi Allen, Larry and I could not be together with other members of our congregation.. Instead, we set the table with white linens and good china and crystal wine glasses. We lit the Shabbos candles, said Kiddish, and ate the delicious warm challah I had made from scratch. We recited the Sh’ma. Then we prayed for all of those—too many to even count— in need of healing.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu, m’kor ha-bra-cha l’avoteinu./Bless those in need of healing with r’fu-a sh’lei-ma./The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,/And let us say Amen.

Stay well. Stay safe. Stay home.

Published in (Capital District) Jewish World April 16, 2020 and in (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News April 17, 2020.

Why Is This Passover Different Than All Other Passovers?

One of Judaism’s most important holidays officially begins with the first seder onApril 8. Pesach in the Time of Corononvirus, however, will be very different.

During these difficult times, I think of my parents, Fran and Bill Cohen. .As did many of the Greatest Generation, they went through several challenging times.In 1919, the Spanish flu was raging throughout the world. My mother, born in 1917, fell deathly ill. The family doctor saved her life by making a deep incision into her right lung to drain the fluid. 

To help in her recovery, my grandmother Ethel left New York City with her daughter for Alburgh, Vermont. They stayed for several weeks with Ethel’s brother Paul and his wife Bertie at their home on Lake Champlain. One of their visitors was Ethel’s step-mother’s sister and her grandson Wilfred Cohen. Fran and Bill didn’t meet again until their blind date in 1939. They were married in August 1940. When anyone asked her as to how she got the huge scar on her back, she loved telling people how she survived the flu and met her future husband—all before her second birthday.

Several other cataclysmic events shook their world. The Great Depression, World War II, news of the Holocaust, the atomic bomb, the Cold War I am sure at times they were afraid—for themselves and later for their children and grandchildren. 

As I write this, we are in the second week of our own national crisis. Larry and I worry about our friends and family—especially our own children.Thankfully, my daughter-in-law delivered our grandson days  before the mass shutdowns in San Francisco were enforced. Adam, Sarah, and the baby are now “sheltered in place” in San Francisco. My heart broke when we had to cancel our trip out to meet the baby. It broke even more when I realized that Sarah’s parents, who only live a mile from them, have only seen him through a window when they have dropped off supplies, including a fresh baked challah for his first Shabbat. 

Summit County had the first case of the virus in Colorado. A young man who had skied in Italy before his next planned trip to the Rockies recovered in a hospital only a mile from my daughter Julie and her family’s home. They returned from a week’s vacation with us to closed resorts, schools, and businesses. They too are in mandatory “shelter in place” mode. They are telecommuting between keeping our granddaughter busy with both educational and fun activities, including learning about the height of a giraffe, the life of a butterfly, and the hands-on steps of baking a challah. 

As residents of Florida, Larry and I are not yet under the same mandatory restrictions as California, Colorado, and other areas of the country.  But restaurants, non-essential businesses, then even DisneyWorld and Universal are now closed down.In our fifty-five plus community, all activities and events have been cancelled or postponed.Most of the people here are respectful of the six foot distance rule, which we practice on our frequent bike rides, walks, and conversations with friends from one end of a driveway to the other.We give each other virtual hugs and then head home.

For the rest of the day, we do what we can to keep busy. Larry and I often sit on our lanai, reading books doing the puzzles, and watching birds dive into the pond behind our house. Larry spends a great deal of time Googling great moments in sports and watching reruns of his favorite shows. I spend an inordinate amount of time on FaceBook and watching Great Performances on PBS. We call and text with friends. We watch television. On the first Friday of the “new normal,” I made a Shabbos dinner, complete with wine and a delicious freshly baked challah—my first since moving down her from New York.

The best part of every day is FaceTiming with our family, an almost daily treat that began on March 10, just before the world changed. Larry and I were planning to go to a play that  was being put on by our local theater guild—what was to be our last outing before our own lockdown. Julie, who was very worried about our contracting the virus, begged us to stay home. She must have shared her fears with her brother. Shortly before Larry and I were to leave. Adam FaceTimed with us and offered us a sweet deal: If we didn’t go out, he would keep the camera on the baby. For the next hour, we watched our six day old grandchild poop and pee and eat and sleep and poop some more. With all due respect to my friends in Deathtrap, it was one of the best performances we had seen by a leading actor in our lifetime.

Despite the impact the pandemic has had on our lives, I feel very grateful. Grateful for good health with no underlying conditions. Grateful for the current health of extended family and friends.Grateful for our life in Florida with its abundant sunshine. Grateful for modern technology that allows us to connect with our family and friends, to stream shows and movies, to download library books onto our electronic readers. Grateful that we are retired and not dealing with working at home or—worse yet—possible unemployment.

We also feel grateful to have a fully stocked refrigerator and pantry, as not all people have that luxury. Those individuals in our surrounding neighborhoods who are losing income due to the shutdowns could especially use some help. The refund we received from the cancelled Shalom Club seder went to the local food bank. As our synagogue had already deposited the check, the board called everyone who was attending to ask if their money could go to the same place. Scott Maxwell In a recent column in the Orlando Sentinel, Scott Maxwell offers many other ways to give to veterans, hungry school children, and the homeless. My favorite of his suggestions: “Did you hoard? Pay it forward.” And we call all follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines and STAY HOME.

So why is this Passover different from every other Passovers? We certainly will not be emptying our house of chometz, as we have stocked up on many dry goods that certainly don’t follow strict Kosher guidelines. Community, seders have already been cancelled. Relatives and friends who usually have a houseful for the holiday will have only two or three at the table, possibly enhanced virtually thanks to FaceTime or Zoom.

No matter, I will make a seder for the two of us. In the days that follow—if we can somehow get more than the two dozen eggs per family limit at the local supermarket—we will feast on sponge cakes, matzoh brie, and Passover popovers. Most importantly, we will FaceTime with our family and give each other virtual hugs. And Larry and I will pray that the coronavirus will pass over all of our homes and leave us, like our ancestor, safe, healthy, and free from fear.

First published in Jewish World, April 2, 2020

Mulling my Hebrew and Yiddishkeit…

As I now write for Jewish newspapers in both New York’s Capital District and Central Florida, my articles often include Hebrew and/or Yiddish words. Understanding that people may not be familiar with these languages, I have made a concerted effort to make sure that I defined those words in the context of the sentence. 

I thought I had done a good job until a friend told me that she had difficulty with some of the “Jewish” words in my first book, There Goes My Heart. She especially was puzzled by one of my food references. “You talked about your husband Larry enjoying a Jewish drink at an Upstate New York deli..something called a Fribble.” I smiled and ,explained a Fribble was extra thick milk shake, one of the specialties served at Friendly’s, a Massachusetts-based restaurant chain famous for its ice cream. Nothing Yiddish about it, unless you consider it as dairy, not meat!

What is Yiddish? Yiddish is the historical language of the Ashkenazi Jews. With roots dating back to the seventh century, it is a mixture of high German as well as Hebrew, Aramaic, Slavic, and even Romance languages.I recently read an article in  The Forward that the Oxford English Dictionary has released its new words and phrases for this quarter, and no less than 71 are Jewish related. Some will make you cheer: Bialy, hanukkiah, and my favorite, Jewish penicillin. 

Some, however, will make you jeer. One of the controversial choices is a variation of Yid—Yiddo— which is defined as “fans of the British Tottenham Hotspurs soccer team.” Responding to debate, the dictionary’s compilers said they judge proposed additions by their significance, not whether they offend.In an interview on NPR, television writer Ivor Baddiel called the entry a “step backwards,” especially in light of the increased anti-Semitism in Europe. 

My own introduction to Yiddish came early in my life. My maternal grandparents, who immigrated from Russia circa 1900, spoke Yiddish in their home their entire lives. Their English was weak and heavily accented, and their chief source of news was Yiddish language paper,The Forward. My mother spoke fluent Yiddish when she was with her parents, especially when it provided a way for them to gossip about family and friends without worrying that we would understand. My grandmother called me her sheyn kleyn meydl  (pretty little girl), and we were all encouraged to Esn, esn meyn kinder.” After my grandparents passed away, my parents did not speak conversational Yiddish (My father didn’t speak it fluently), but they continued to intersperse their conversations with expressions from the Old Country Foolish people were schmendricks. When one wasn’t kvetching (complaining), they were knelling  (expressing delight) about their children. And we had to be careful about falling on our tuches (rear end) as we could hurt our keppie (head).

Larry and his siblings, had a similar experience as their maternal grandparents were also Russian immigrants.“Bubbie Rose and Zayde Moshie always spoke Yiddish—especially when they didn’t want me to know something,” recalled Larry’s older sister Anita. “When their friends came over  to play cards or Bubbie took me to play bingo, there was always Yiddish interspersed with the English.” There was always a Jewish newspaper in the home. Although Moshie passed away when Larry was young, he remembers Bubbie Rose and his parents speaking Yiddish to each other until her passing soon after we were married. As a result, Larry’s parents also peppered their speech with the same expressions my parents used. And even when Larry was in fifties, Larry’s mother Doris still called him her boychik.

With this background, I enjoyed using Yiddish to spice up my language, especially since many words in Yiddish cannot be replicated in English. The nuances were often expressed through jokes. One of my favorites is  one that defines chutzpah. Yes, it may mean “nerve,” but nothing catches all the layers than the old joke about the kid who killed his parents and then pleaded for mercy in court because he was an orphan. Another is the difference between a  schlemiel and schlimazel: The former is the one who drops his soup; the latter is the one on which it lands. Perfect!

Our  vocabulary and understanding improved after Leo Rosten published his classic, The Joys of Yiddish.  I knew few Jewish homes that didn’t have a copy of the instant classic on a bookshelf. My husband Larry kept a copy of it in his office desk to assist well-meaning co-workers who would use Yiddish terms incorrectly in their speech or writing.

I also love the beauty of Hebrew words, especially those associated with kindness and compassion.I have used Hebrew expressions Tikkun Olam, the principle of making the world a better place than when we received it, in public speeches, numerous articles, and even the title of my second book, Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World.  Meanwhile, I had learned my lesson and included a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew words. 

At times, it is not the written word that trips people up. It is the pronunciation. Recently, a group of us were talking about how we met our spouses. I shared how Larry and I met at a Purim party in Albany, New York. My contribution was met with dead silence, followed by the comment, “I can’t believe you told us this!” “What do you mean?” I asked. “You met a porn party?” they asked incredulously “Oh no, I responded, “It was a PURIM party!” After that, I always make sure that I say the name of the Jewish holiday v-e-r-y slowly and clearly!

Larry had no problem deciding that our grandchildren would call him Zayde. His father held that moniker, and Larry wanted to continue the tradition. The term Bubbie, however, reminded me of little old lady in an old-fashioned dress. With the help of my granddaughter, I became Gammy. But I tell her to watch her keppie, and I will kvetch when she asks me to schlepp too many things home when I pick her up from pre-school. And she will always be, like I was to my own grandmother, my sheyn kleyn meydl. 

As I was writing this article, my daughter-in-law went into labor. As the hours awaiting the news of the birth of our grandson passed excruciating slowly, Larry and I texted Sarah’s parents that waiting was tough !” Dave texted back, “I’m having schpilkes! [anxiety)” Thankfully, all went welll, and Adam called us at one a.m. our time to give us the wonderful news. The Nathans, who live near the new parents headed to the hospital the following day to meet who they called“our little boychik.” Life for us Yiddishkeits has come full circle.

SOURCES

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yiddish

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/16/806536059/-another-backwards-step-oxford-dictionary-expands-definition-of-yid

First published in Jewish World, March 18, 2020

Tu B’Shevat! Time to plant a tree or two!

See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it’” (Midrash Kohelet Rabbah, 1 on Ecclesiastes 7:13)

Would you like to celebrate Tu B’Shevat in a meaningful way? Plant a tree—or two—or be part of the Trillion Tree Campaign. No matter how many you plant, you will be doing your part for the environment.

Although there are still doubters, climate change is a real threat to our future. According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world has 11 years to take dramatic policy action and shift away from fossil fuels to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Reports like that keep me up at night.

In his 2019 book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? ,Bill McKibbon describes the present as a bleak moment in human history — and we’ll either confront that bleakness or watch the civilization our forebears built slip away. Okay, that information keeps me up at night AND gives me nightmares!

I can despair, or I can take action. As Jew, I am called to the social justice theology of Tikkun olam, the perfecting or the repairing of the world. This principal keeps me strongly anchored to my religion. Full disclosure: When I attend services, I love the music and the flow of the prayers. Often, however, prayers that praise God are not as important to me as prayers that call me to action. And some holidays call us to action more than others. One such holiday is Tu B’Shevat. 

Long before the first Earth Day in 1971, long before the first American Arbor Day was held in Nebraska in 1872, and long before the Spanish village of Mondoñedo held its first arbor plantation festival in the world in 1594, Jews celebrated Tu B’Shevat The holiday, which originated in the Talmud, was based on the date chosen for calculating the agricultural cycle of taking tithes from the produce of the trees, which were brought as first-fruit offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Although the holiday fell out of practice after the destruction of the Second Temple, kabbalists in the Middle Ages revived the holiday, adding the practice of holding a seder in which Biblical foods, including wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates, are eaten.

For those of us who care deeply about the future of our planet, 

Tu Bishvat offers a Jewish connection to contemporary ecological issues. Modern Jews view the holiday as the opportunity to educate Jews about their tradition’s advocacy of responsible stewardship of God’s creation, manifested in ecological activism. 

And one such way is to plant trees. Many American and European Jews observe Tu Bishvat by contributing money to the Jewish National Fund, an organization devoted to reforesting Israel.Founded in 1901 to buy and develop land in what was then the Ottoman Palestine, the JNF has planted over 240 million trees in Israel along with other environmental achievements including the building and development of dams, reservoirs, and parks.

More recently, planting trees has taken on a global focus. Inspired by Wangari Maathai, founder of the Green Belt Movement whose goal included organizing women in rural Kenya to plant trees, the Trillion Tree Campaign has already resulted in the planting of 13.6 billion trees in 193 countries. 

According to a recent study released by Dr. Thomas Crowther and fellow scientists at ETH Zurich, a Swiss University, planting billions of trees across the world is one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis. As trees grow, they absorb and store the carbon dioxide emissions that are driving global heating. New research estimates that a worldwide planting program could remove two-thirds of all the emissions from human activities that remain in the atmosphere today.

According to Crowther, the impact of planting billions of trees across the world is “mind-blowing.”one of the biggest and cheapest ways of taking CO2 out of the atmosphere to tackle the climate crisis. Best of all, it is “available now, it is the cheapest one possible and every one of us can get involved.”

In January 2020, members of the World Economic Forum, which was held in Davos, Switzerland, announced the creation of 1t.org, aimed to unite and promote reforestation efforts worldwide. It will  several other established initiatives including the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021 -2030; the Bonn Challenge, Trillion Trees Initiative, and the Global Partnership on Forest and Landscape Restoration.Even President Trump, while a sceptic of climate change, has signed on, stating he wanted to show “strong leadership in restoring, growing and better managing our trees and our forests.” 

I am not naive enough to believe that my making contributions to JNF or other agencies committed to reforestation will single-handedly solve the climate crisis. I will do my best to further reduce my carbon footprint by driving a hybrid car, bundling errands that require driving to use the least amount of fuel, and using energy-efficient appliances and light bulbs. I will continue to recycle despite changes in recent policies in many areas that limit what we can put in our bins. (I still feel guilty every time I throw plastic and glass containers in the garbage!) I will continue to read, study, write and advocate for the environment. And I will vote for politicians who share my concerns for our planet.

“It’s the little things citizens do. That’s what will make the difference,” stated Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her environmental efforts. “My little thing is planting trees.” If we can choose to do our own “little thing,” we may be able to keep our planet healthy. After all, as expressed in a popular meme, “There Is No Planet B. “

Sources: 

First published in Jewish World. February 6,, 2020.

Storm lover wakes up to the realization that life is fragile

Eli Helfand 1919-2019

When I was six years old, I loved summer storms. As the sky turned dark, the thunder clapped, and the lighting shot across the sky, I would watch from the safety of our living room window. My mother assured me that the noise was just God bowling.

When I was sixteen, I loved summer storms. By that time, my parents had purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay in Upstate New York  From the safety of our porch,  I would watch the rain come down in sheets and the waves rock our boat that was moored 200 yards off shore. 

When we moved to Florida, I still loved summer storms. But I soon learned to respect their intensity and duration. Our state has as many as 100 stormy days a year, and our climate means that these storms can happen any month of the year. Florida also has be dubious honor of being the lightning capital of the United States. I have been witness to their fury again and again from the safety of our lanai. And on several occasions, I have had to take shelter quickly as the weather changed too quickly for me to realize what was coming. 

But now, almost five years after our move, I now see these storms as a reminder as to how fragile our lives can be.

Last July, on what started out to be a beautiful July day a group of fellow residents were playing golf on the course in our 55+ community, Very suddenly, the sky darkened as huge black clouds moved in. The golfers, all seasoned Florida residents, knew what to do. They abandoned their game and headed for their golf carts and shelter. 

It was too late. A bolt of lightning struck two of the men. One was thrown to the ground, shaken but okay. The second person was struck full force, and the electric travelled through his body. By the time he was brought the the hospital, he was brain dead. The doctors kept him on life support long enough for his devastated wife and children to say their good byes. 

What are the chances of getting hit by lightning? According to Wikipedia, it is one in 700,000. For my neighbor, the odds were 1:1. 

What happened that fateful morning? Did they give each other a kiss before he headed out the door? And what were their last words to one another. “I love you! See you later.”Or was their conversation ordinary and mundane. “We need to pick up some milk” or “The Red Sox are playing the Yankees tonight.” Or were their last words those that she regretted? “You promised you would fix  that leaky faucet!”

I am 69, and my husband Larry is 71. The specter of death hangs over us a little more heavily than it did twenty—or even ten—years ago. Friends die suddenly from heart attacks or slowly from cancer. No matter, their loss is sad. 

Sad, but not tragic. To me,”tragic” is the death of a 31-year-old daughter to leukemia. Tragic is losing a nineteen year old granddaughter to a car accident on a rainy night one block from her home. Tragic is losing a sixteen year old grandson who had been severely disabled since he was a baby. And tragic is losing a husband from—literally— a bolt out of the blue. 

“Biz hundert un tzvantsig!” (May you live to 120!”) is  a popular Jewish blessing for a long healthy life. Each loss, whether the number of years were short or long, whether their death was sad or tragic, is my personal reminder to treat each moment with gratitude. “Life is so transient and ephemeral; we will not be here after a breath,” said Dr. Debasish Mridha,  an American physician and philosopher. “So think better, think deeply, think with kindness, and write it with love so that it may live a little longer.” 

Some of us are fortunate enough to live a great deal longer.My mother’s first cousin Eli Helfand passed away last April, three months after his 100th birthday. A World War II veteran and a graduate of Clarkson College, Eli spent almost all his working life in Richfield Springs, New York, where he owned and operated Ruby’s Department Store. He had two wonderful marriages, raised four strong, independent children, and got to enjoy his five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

What I remember most about my cousin Eli are our strong family connections. During the Depression, when his parents were struggling to get their Upstate New York store afloat, Eli spent summers and school vacations with my mother and her family in New York City. He introduced my parents and served as best man at their wedding. Eli drove the car that the newlyweds took from the city to Alburgh, Vermont. Mom shared the front seat with Eli’s mother Rose while my father sat in the back seat with all the wedding presents, including a floor lamp that Bill had to hold for the eight hour trip. My parents remained close to Eli and Florence, who attended my parents’ 60th anniversary. When Florence passed away and Eli remarried, he and Marty became an integral part of not only my parents’ life but also of mine. We visited them at their homes in Otsego County in New York as well as their retirement home in in Englewood, Florida. 

Eli and I share another close connection. His daughter Marsha and I are only weeks apart in age.  We spent time with each other as children as well as our four years as students at University at Albany. We have attended each other’s weddings as well as those of our children. 

In August, 1962, I spent a week with Marsha and her family at their cottage on Canadarago Lake. We played and replayed Ray Steven’s (what now would be considered politically incorrect)song about Ahab, “the sheik in the golden sand.” We baked cookies. We went swimming and boating. And when the storm clouds moved in, we ran back inside. From the porch windows, we watched the lightning flash across the sky and listened to the thunder echo off the surrounding hills. We turned the Ray Stevens second back on and danced around the living room in our bare feet. We were safe in the childhood belief t that life would treat us kind and that we would  live forever—or at least for one hundred twenty years. 

Remembering Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers in his iconic zippered sweater.

The murder of eleven Jews while they were observing Shabbat occurred in the heart of  Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood.

The Reverend Fred Rogers and his wife Joanne owned a home and raised their two sons in Squirrel Hill, just two blocks from Tree of Life, the scene of the October 27, 2018, massacre.

Who was Fred Rogers? Why did his former neighbors in this predominantly Jewish section of Pittsburgh turn to Mister Rogers for comfort after the tragedy? And why, seventeen years after his death has he become everyone’s favorite neighbor?

For several months, I had been reading reviews and seeing the trailers for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, the biopic starring Tom Hanks. I decided I wanted to learn more about Rogers before I headed to the multiplex.  I borrowed from our library Maxwell King’s biography The Good Neighbor: The Life and Works of Fred Rogers. I found the well-written, thorough account compelling and—well—fascinating. 

I was surprised. To be honest,I had not been a huge fan of the pleasant, bland man in the zippered knitted sweater and blue sneakers. My children frequently watched it when it aired on our local public broadcasting station (PBS). For me, the timing was perfect, as it acted as a calm, caring “baby sitter” as I prepared dinner. Years later, my children had only vague memories of watching the program.

But there was much to learn about the man behind the myth. I read about his difficult, lonely childhood in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; the taunts and bullying he endured (“Here comes Fat Freddy!”), and the respect he earned from his high school classmates through his music and leadership roles. I read about his meeting his wife Joanne at Rollins College, whose beautiful campus in Winter Park, less than an hour from us, has been a favorite place for us to visit.

I learned that Rogers originally planned on a career as a musician. After viewing television’s early programming, (“There were people throwing pies at one another!”) he decided that he wanted to find some “way of using this fabulous instrument to be of nurture to those who would watch and listen.” And who best to nurture than pre-schoolers?

I learned about his initial television experiences in New York and Toronto first behind the scenes as a puppeteer and later reluctantly as a person in front of the camera. I learned that his interest in public television and the promise of commercial-free programming lead to his move to Pittsburgh to join  the local National Educational Television (changed to Public Broadcasting Corporation [PBS] in 1970) WQED in 1953.

I learned that he had gone back to college in his thirties to complete a divinity degree and was an ordained Presbyterian minister. His lifelong interest in religion and theology expanded to his studying Catholic mysticism, Judaism, Buddhism, and other faiths. Most importantly, I learned that Fred Rogers values were those shared by all religions: civility, tolerance, sharing, and self-worth. Combined with his grandfather’s affirmation to his sickly, over-protected grandchild, “I like you just the way you are,” these principals shaped not only the person but the message he repeatedly emphasized in all 912 episodes of Mister Rogers Neighborhood. 

Despite his saintly, other-worldly demeanor, Rogers—as his wife repeatedly proclaimed—was NOT a saint. He had a temper, was prone to self-doubt and depression. In order to vent after a bad day, he would bang loudly on the piano. In one of my favorite passages in King’s book, Rogers stubbornly refused to give into the demands of PBS executives regarding a small element of the script, and angry words flew. “Tell me,” one of the executives said to the other, “how old do you have to be before Mister Rogers no longer likes you just the way you are?”

Armed with all this knowledge, I recently went to see A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I was surprised that the script, based on a 1999 Esquire article by Tom Junod, focused less on Tom Hanks’ Fred Rogers character and more on the troubled angry reporter who is assigned to interview the television icon. But I loved the story, the acting, and the cinematography, which included miniature scenery that imitated the colors and scale of the original set.

In one of the tenderest moments in the movie (and based on a real life incident) Fred Rogers was riding on a New York City subway filled mostly African-American and Hispanic children on their way home from school. Rather than approaching him for an autograph, the children quietly began singing “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the program’s theme song. Soon, the entire car joined in. It brought tears to Mister Rogers’s eyes..and mine.

As noted in both the book and the movie, Rogers had never been afraid to tackle difficult topics for pre-schoolers—the death of a pet, sibling rivalry, divorce, and the assassination of Robert Kennedy. Whether through his well-worn puppets in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe or through his “field trips,” Mister Rogers reassured children that there was good in the world.

The last episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood aired on August 31, 2001, but he came out of retirement to tape shows focused on the September 11 terrorist attacks. Rogers initially expressed concern that the specials would be of little value but then turned to a basic Jewish tenant to support his decision to go forward. “We all are called to be tikkun olam, repairers of creation,” he said.

On September 11, 2002, he shared his first anniversary message on prime-time.  “I’m just so proud of all of you,” Rogers told his viewers. “And I know how tough it is some days to look with hope and confidence on the months and years ahead.” Soon after, Fred Rogers was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer and passed away in February 2003.

Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood continued on PBS as reruns. In 2006, Fred Rogers Productions began the development  Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, an animated children’s television series based on Rogers’s Neighborhood of Make Believe and premiered the show on PBS Kids on September 3, 2012.

Three months later, on December 12, 2012, a 20-year-old  killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. In the midst of parents trying to explain the inexplicable to their own children. 170 Million American for Public Broadcasting shared on the internet an image of a tiny boy cradling Mister Rogers’s face. It was accompanied a passage from his1983 book, Mister Rogers Talks to Parents: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words.” The image went viral on Facebook, and within three days was shared over 88,000 times.

The “helper” quote went viral again after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, and the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. As Aisha Harris wrote in a 2013 article for Slate, “[The message] serves not only as a comfort to kids, but to adults as well, a reminder to ourselves that there is still much good amid the bad.”

The message was especially poignant for his former neighbors after an anti-Semite gunned down Jewish worshippers on October 17, 2018. The Fred Rogers Center, established at St. Vincent’s College, Latrobe, Pennsylvania under Rogers’ guidance before his death, immediately posted on their Facebook page a message tying the tragedy to Squirrel Hill’s favorite neighbor. “We’re holding Squirrel Hill in our thoughts today. “While we always believe in ‘looking for the helpers,’ we long for a day when there is no more tragedy born from hatred.” 

In an article published soon after in Yahoo news, Karen Struble Meyers, spokesperson for the Center, reflected on the question of what would Mister Rogers say. “Despite the deep grief in neighborhoods across the country, he would encourage us, just as he did after 9/11, to be good neighbors and to help the children in our lives to feel safe. His affirming message about our inherent likability and worth would bring comfort to many.” 

Mister Rogers’s legacy lives on not only through his quotes but also through television, books, movies, DVD’s and the Internet. This summer, my four-year-old granddaughter and I watched her favorite episodes of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood  on You Tube videos and played with the small miniature replicas of the characters. Recently, she and I read A Busy Day in the Neighborhood together via FaceTime. “Daniel Tiger is always doing something new,” she announced. “I just like him.” And then she sang. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, a beautiful day….” I happily joined in, as I wiped the tears from my eyes.

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World, December 26, 2019.

Marilyn Unplugged(?)

Marilyn surrounded by her screens

Thanksgiving is over! That means Cyber Monday was not far behind.

The term Cyber Monday was coined in 2005 by Ellen Davis,  the senior vice president of the National Retail Federation Senior Vice President of the National Retail Federation to encourage people to buy on-line. According to Adobe Analytics, Cyber Monday 2018 generated over $7.9 billion in sales, with one of the top sellers spent on smart phones. 

I will be one of those in the market. My iPhone 7, approaching its third year, is losing battery power. And, to be honest, the newer version offers a great camera. But when my cell phone cross the line from being a toy, a luxury, a “nice-to-have-one-but-I-don’t need it” to my constant companion? 

I didn’t feel that way about my first flip phone. In 1999, I talked my husband Larry into purchasing a Nokia 3210, convincing him for its necessity if we were stuck on the Adirondack Northway in a snowstorm. (That never happened.)The first model was followed every couple of years by the newest innovations. I probably misplaced those phones more times than I could count (See my earlier essay on losing things). 

The most notable memory I have of those earlier years of mobile communication was the day it drowned. One minute it was in my front pocket; the next minute I was watching it twirl in the air and land in a toilet. Forget the “stick it in rice” trick. I was too eager to see if I really had killed it and turned it on. Goodbye phone. 

By the time I got my first iPhone in 2014, I was using it—well—unconsciously. On a beautiful fall day, Larry and I went out of donuts and apple turnovers at Lakeside Farms in Ballston Lake. As Larry was putting our food on the table, he said, “Marilyn, put the phone away.” 

“What phone?” I asked.

“The one in your hand that you are playing on.” 

Yes, I had gotten so used to it that it seemed like just an extension of my hand.

And what was I doing on that phone when I should have been focusing on my date with my husband? Email. A latest Facebook post. Whatever.

I had —and have—become one of THEM:  One of the saddest sights I see is  a couple sitting at a table in a restaurant, each looking at their cell phones rather than talking to each other, Even sadder is the sight of a mother and or father looking at their cell phone while their child or children are trying hard to get their attention. “Mommy, Mommy! I have something to tell you!” “In a minute, sweetheart,” And the minute turns into five or ten. 

 I would like to say my attachment to my phone has lessened, but it has only gotten worse. Since the 2016 elections, I added digital subscriptions to the Washington Post  and the New York Times. I have become a 21st century version of my father, who spent hours watching cable television news. My iPhone allows me to check my email—often previewed with “Breaking News” notifications on the lock screen.  And only tonight, as Larry and I drove home from a restaurant, I was on my phone checking the latest on the impeachment hearings. “You have become your father,” Larry said. “On second thought, you are worse than your father!”

Since 2013, my avocation as a writer has only extended my screen time through the hours I spend on my laptop. Yes, much of the time is legitimately researching and writing my articles. (Case in point, I am tapping away on my iMac at 10:30 pm in hopes to get this article to my editors by noon tomorrow!) Bu I also waste a ridiculous amount of time reading emails and news articles, checking my Facebook accounts, and editing my 5000+ photos, and updating  electronic To-Do lists and calendars. 

Not only has my husband pointed out the error of my ways. My daughter has commented on numerous occasion on our visits to Colorado that I need to shut down my electronics.The most revelatory comment came from my sister  after Larry and I visited her and her fiancé last spring. “What I will remember most about this trip,” she said, “was the amount of time you spent on your cell phone.”

It is time for me  to take the advice of Tiffany Shlain, American filmmaker, author, and Internet pioneer. In 2008, Shlain’s father, Leonard, a surgeon, was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer. Recognizing the need to spend quality, undistracted time with him Shlain made a point to turn off her cell phone during her too short visits with him .

Soon after her father died, her daughter was born, and Shlain and her husband Ken Goldberg, decided to  extend the idea to a “Technology Shabbat,” a full day without screen use. Following the tradition and principals of their “close-knit Jewish family,”  they made the decision to turn  off all screens from Friday night through Saturday night, a commitment they have kept as a family since 2010. 

“The digital revolution has blurred the lines between time on and time off, and time off is disappearing,” she wrote in an August 11, 2019, article for The Boston Globe. “As for our leisure time, we’ve created a culture in which we’re still ‘working’ while we play: needing to photograph every moment, then crafting witty posts of our ‘fun, relaxing activities’ on Instagram, then obsessively checking responses. We can barely catch our breath in the tsunami of personal and work digital input, which results in us not being truly present for any of it.”

Shlain has published several articles and also has incorporated these themes in some of her films. In September,  she released 24/6: The Power of Unplugging One Day Week, a non-fiction account that according to the Amazon website “explores how turning off screens one day a week can work wonders on your brain, body, and soul.”

So, yes, I still want that new, improved iPhone for Chanukah. But  on Friday, December 27, before we go to our Chanukah Shabbat celebration at our synagogue, I will turn off new technological wonder, along my computer, my Echo Show and dots (Sorry, Alexa!),  and, hopefully unless Syracuse University has a  basketball game, even the television. And I will sit in my quiet house and read 24/6 to learn how we can create a “tech shabbat” in our own home.

Say Yes to the [Wrong] Dress!!

Our son Adam had his first date with Sarah on December 25, 2018. They got engaged on June 23. By the time my husband Larry and I met Carol and Dick, Sarah’s parents, in August, they had the rabbi, the October date, the venue, the DJ, and the photographer all lined up. All that was left to do was for them to send out the invitations and for all of us to figure out what we would be wearing. 

In August, Sarah found a beautiful long sleeve white lace dress. At the same store, Carol and Sarah’s sister Molly found their dresses; a long gold brocade for Carol and and a black off-the shoulder top with a lovely flowered patterned for Molly. Julie purchased a beautiful teal green dress on E-Bay, the same place she had found her wedding dress twelve years before. 

When Sarah and Adam asked our granddaughter to be flower girl, The Frisco Kid was thrilled—and prepared. “I will wear my Elsa dress” she announced. My daughter Julie gently explained that rather than her Frozen costume, Mommy would be buying her a special dress for her important role in the wedding. “Okay,” she said. “I will save the Elsa dress for MY wedding!”

Like my granddaughter, I originally planned on wearing a dress I already owned. I had purchased a cocktail dress the previous December for our community’s Shalom Club Ball.It was my favorite color—midnight blue—, and the v-necked sleeveless design fell perfectly on mid-knee. When I shared my decision with my maj jongg group, they objected.

“Your son only gets married once,” said Sharon, who led the charge. “You have been waiting a very long time for this! Get a new dress!”

Soon after this discussion, Larry and I celebrated our 45th anniversary by going out to dinner at a restaurant in one of Orlando’s largest shopping center. I suggested to Larry that we leave early so that we could look at suits for him(Adam and my son-in-law Sam had  already  purchased new suits) and at dresses for me. 

When we perused the men’s department at Macy’s, Larry refused to even try on a suit.”I don’t need a new one,” he said. “The one I have in the closet is fine.” His only concession was to agree to have a tailor remove the pants’ cuffs, definitely no longer in style.

I had better luck—or maybe a better attitude—in the women’s department. After several fails, I tried on a more sophisticated version of the midnight blue dress I had worn to the Shalom Club Ball. Sleeveless with a diagonal neck line, it had a beautiful silver broach on the right side. The saleslady who was helping me agreed with me that was perfect for the evening event. She suggested it would look even better if I also invested in some (expensive) shapewear that would smooth out some of my bumps and lumps. As the chances of losing twenty pounds by the wedding were slim, I agreed. Okay, the dress wasn’t a Size 10, but when I pulled the whole thing together— I looked pretty amazing, and Larry agreed. 

I asked the salesperson to snap a picture on my iPhone, which I sent to my mah jongg group. Within minutes, my phone was dinging like crazy. 

“Yay! You are going to look gorgeousssss!”

“You are one SEXY MAMA don’t play safe go for bold n sexy!”

“You go girl!”

Then the text messages took on a life of its own, where I became to topic of discussion.”She needs shoes to match the dress.”

“[Hair] updo would make it look better.”

“She needs new makeup.”

This discussion continued the following Friday at Mah Jongg. One by one, my “fairy godsisters”:helped me accessorize by shopping in their closets. Beautiful silver sandals. A glittery handbag. A midnight blue bracelet. “Sapphire” hanging earrings.

They had one more suggestion—a trip to Sephora. After a first class make-over, I dropped over $100 on makeup, including foundation, blush, and an eye shadow palette with some silver glitter. I was set!

I wasn’t going to risk a chance of losing the outfit on our flight out to San Francisco. So three days before we left, I packed everything I needed in my carry-on. I carefully placed the plastic clothing bag protecting the dress on top of the shoes, handbag and undergarments. Fortunately, there were no flight problems on our way out, and I hung the entire outfit in our hotel room closet.

That evening, Larry and I met Adam and Sarah for dinner. To our surprise, Sarah showed us Wedding Dress Number Two. She felt the simple white sheath reflected more of her personality than the original Seventies-design.

The days leading up to the wedding were a whirlwind of total happiness and joy. Friends and relatives flew in from around the country. Many took advantage of the beautiful weather and the San Francisco location to tour the area. The night before the wedding, Larry and I hosted a welcome dinner at Sarah’s parents’ home,

The morning of the wedding, my siblings and I took a bus tour of San Francisco while Larry and Adam had professional shaves. We all got back to the hotel in plenty of time to get ready. I put on my new make up, spent a little more time on my hair, slipped on my shape wear, buckled up my beautiful silver sandals, put on my sapphire earrings and bracelet, took the dress out of the plastic bag, and slipped it over my head.

“Larry, would you please zip me up?”

Larry finished knotting his tie and turned his attention to me.

“Marilyn, that is NOT the dress you bought for the wedding,” Larry said. “That is the Shalom Club Ball dress.”

I looked in the mirror. He was right. After all that, I had packed the WRONG dress. Not the dress I bought for the wedding and had spent three weeks accessorizing. Nope, it was the dress I originally was going to wear.

“I can’t believe I brought the wrong dress!” I cried. “I can’t believe I brought the wrong dress!”

In ten minutes, the Uber was coming to pick us up. There was no way in the world I could fly back to Florida and grab the right one. I shook my head and accepted the inevitable.

“I guess I will be wearing this dress to the wedding!” Fortunately, both were midnight blue with silver accents. The only touch needed  was a necklace to fit into the v-neck of the dress. Fortunately, my niece Laura had brought a sapphire and diamond necklace on a silver chain. Perfect!

When Larry and I arrived the wedding venue, we saw Sarah in her beautiful Wedding Dress Number Two and Adam in his new suit. Soon after, Carol and Dick came into the restaurant. Rather than wearing the dress she had purchased in August, Carol decided to wear the dress her own mother had worn at Carol and Dick’s wedding 48 years before.. 

Julie, Sam, and The Frisco Kid came in next. My granddaughter looked like a fairy princess in her pink and white flower girl dress and flower garland.”The only people wearing their first choices were Julie and Molly.  and the rest of the men, including Larry, whose old suit was perfect for the occasion.

To say the wedding was special is the understatement of the year. I may have brought the “wrong” dress, but Adam had married the right person—a smart, caring ,independent woman who was beautiful inside and out. And, in the end, that is all that matters.

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World October 31, 2019