Category Archives: Jewish Interests

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.

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.

A High Holiday Romance–or Two

The High Holidays are a special time, but it is even more special when family—and a little romance—are part of the season. 

In 1951, Larry’s father Ernie, a World War II veteran, was called back into the US Army. Larry’s mother Doris, along with Larry and Larry’s older sister Anita, moved from Schuylerville, New York,to Syracuse,  her hometown, to live with her mother Rose and brother Asher during Ernie’s deployment. 

Larry, who turned three shortly after their move, remembers riding the family coal truck with Asher and tagging along with Bubbie when she went to her card games. Relatives and friends, filled the house, including meal times, as Bubbie was a wonderful and plentiful cook. 

This was especially true during the Jewish holidays, a tradition that continued after Ernie returned home. Doris, Ernie, Anita, Larry, and later Marilyn and Carole would pile into the car before each holiday to share huge meals around a crammed dining room table in the flat on Jackson Street.

By the time Larry had completed his bar mitzvah, Bubbie Rose found making the huge dinners for the entire family for High Holidays was too much. Doris took over responsibility for not only the meals but also for opening up her house to friends and family. Doris spent weeks preparing the food, and the table showed it. Matzah ball soup, chopped liver, brisket, chicken, kishki, potatoes, kugels, several vegetables, honey cakes—it was a feast that was repeated on the evening before Kol Nidre. Then Doris would outdo herself with the Break Fast.

The 1973 High Holiday season especially stands out for Larry and me. In March 1973, Larry and I met at Jewish singles Purim party. We both knew fairly quickly that the connection we made over hamantaschen was special. We dated throughout the summer, and six months after our Purim meeting, we were both ready to commit. On a beautiful day Indian summer day. Larry took me to  romantic overlook at the Saratoga National Battlefield. As he was about to pop the question, he got stung by a bee. Man plans; bees sting. Oh well! Larry felt terrible, but I was clueless. 

Rosh Hashanah fell only a few days after the bee debacle. Larry and I turned down offers for a ride home from services. While walking home, Larry talked hypothetically about where we would live, how many children we’d like, our future dreams together. I finally kiddingly asked him if this was a proposal. He said “Soon.”

When we got to Larry’s house, we said hello to the family who were about to sit down for dinner. Larry and I went into a bedroom to drop off Larry’s tallit and my purse. Larry said, “Will you marry me?” I said yes. We started to kiss when Corky, the Shapiro’s wire haired terrier, jumped up and licked my face.

As I wiped Corky’s saliva from my lips, Larry and I made a pact: We would keep our engagement a secret until after the holidays. Larry’s father’s birthday was on Yom Kippur. We would announce our engagement at the Break Fast.

The next week  went by slowly, especially for me, who wanted to shout our news from the rooftops. After Yom Kippur services ended, Larry and I called my parents to tell them of our engagement. We then sat down with Larry’s family for-the-Break Fast dinner.

We brought out dessert and birthday cake. Ernie blew out the candles and opened a couple of presents. Then Larry was ready for our big announcement.

“Dad, I have a present for you too!”

“What?” said one of his sisters. “Another stupid tie?”

“No,” said Larry. “I am giving you a new daughter-in-law. Marilyn and I are engaged!” Everyone was thrilled. My now future father-in-law regarded it as one of his best presents ever. 

Larry and I were married on September 8, 1974. A few weeks later, we attended High Holiday Services with Larry’s family. After the last shofar blast we went back to the Shapiros  for their annual dinners, a tradition we maintained for almost twenty wonderful years. 

When Larry’s parents passed away only eight months apart in 1994, Larry and I hosted a Rosh Hashanah dinner at our home in Upstate New York for over twenty years until our move to Florida. Since our move so far from family, we have shared Rosh Hashanah dinners with our friends at each other’s homes. and our Break Fast with our fellow worshippers in the synagogue.

This year, the High Holidays are about creating new memories and celebrating another romance.  On a visit from his home in San Francisco this past January, our usually reserved son told us that he was “kinda sorta seeing someone,” a woman whom he had taken out for Chinese food on December 25. As Larry and I had similarly experienced many years before, Sarah and Adam both knew fairly quickly that the connection they had made over fortune cookies was special.They dated throughout the winter, and only six months after their Asian dinner, they were both  ready to commit. On a beautiful summer’s evening, Adam took Sarah to a romantic overlook in Bernal Heights. Fortunately, no bees ruined their moment. Adam proposed. Sarah accepted! They were engaged!

Adam and Sarah will be getting married in San Francisco in October 2019,on the same day as the 46th anniversary of the day Larry and I announced our engagement and what would have been Ernie’s 100th birthday. Life has come full circle. 

After the wedding, Larry and I will remain in San Francisco to attend Yom Kippur services with Sarah, Adam, andSarah’s parents. The six of us will share a pew in the synagogue. After the last shofar blast, we will all go back to Sarah’s parents’ house for their annual Break Fast, an event that will include Sarah’s Grandma Minnie’s blintzes. “As we prepare for this time of reflection, renewal and rebooting of our spiritual lives,” read their invitation, “ we wish you L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevuh!” And we wish our newlyweds much health, love, and happiness. 

My Zayde by Francis Cohen


My mother Frances Cohen with her brother Eli circa 1922.

In honor of what would have been my mother’s 102 birthday on September 1, I am sharing with you, my readers, one of her wonderful stories.

I was around four years old when Zayde (Jewish for Grandpa) came to live my parents, my brother, Eli, and me. 

Life had been difficult for my Zayde. His first wife died giving birth to my father Joseph. When she died, she also left a beautiful red haired five-year-old daughter Becky. Zayde could not raise two young children alone, so shortly after his beloved wife died, he remarried as he needed someone to take care of the children. His new wife was cruel to the children, and he divorced her. He remarried a third time to a woman who raised the children as her own. 

When Becky was twenty years old, Zayde brought Becky to American. He arranged with a matchmaker to get her a husband, and then returned to Europe. Soon after, when my father was fifteen years old, Zayde sent him to America to live with Becky and her husband Louis. My father worked in the garment district as a tailor, married my mother Ethel. 

In 1921, the war had ended in Europe, and the Germans had ravished the village of Ragola in Lithuania. Zayde wanted to leave to come to America to be with his grown children, and he begged his third wife to leave. She didn’t want to go, so Zayde came to America alone. He sent money to her for the rest of his life but could never persuade her to come to New York. 

When Zayde arrived in New York, my parents, my brother and I were living in a crowded three-room apartment that shared a bathroom with four people in the next apartment. Soon Zayde began giving Hebrew lessons, and he was able to contribute to the household. 

Despite the further crowding, I loved having my Zayde living with us. As soon as Zayde arrived, Zayde and I became very close. He adored me, and I loved him. He kept telling me that I reminded him of his first wife, the love of his life. 

Zayde soon found out what the rest of the family knew:  Becky’s marriage wasn’t a happy one. Becky had had several miscarriages, but she and her husband Louis never had any children. Louis blamed Becky and treated her terribly. Louis was also a show-off. They had a nice apartment and dressed nicely, but he never gave Becky enough money for food. He said, “The stomach has no windows. No one can tell you what you eat.”

Zayde and my parents felt very sorry for Becky. Besides having no children and a bad marriage, Becky felt guilty that her husband would not let Zayde live with them, even though they had a larger apartment than my parents did. Louis was so selfish that he would not even allow Becky to have her father over for dinner. Becky’s only option was to visit us to see her father.

When I was eight years old, Zayde took me to the Bowery Saving Bank and opened a trust fund for me with $700 he had saved for this purpose. He told me, “A girl has to have a dowry.” Here was an immigrant who could not speak English but was very smart. 

Four years later, in 1929, my Zayde died. I was devastated, and I couldn’t stop crying. My Auth Beau, my mother’s sister, set me straight. “I know how much you loved your grandfather. However, he was an old man and very sick. He was very frail and almost blind. Your mother had to take care of him around the clock. It was a blessing for him and your mother that he passed away.” I accepted his death but never forgot how good he was to me, his shayna maidelah (beautiful girl).

After Zayde passed away, my mother and father kept in touch with Becky and continued to invite her to our home. My mother tried to send me to visit Becky while Louis  was not home, but he caught me just as I was leaving, yelled loudly for me to get out, and I never went back to my aunt’s apartment again. 

When I was married in 1940, I took $500 out of the trust fund my Zayde had established for me and purchased furniture for our first apartment, including a maple bedroom set and maple furniture for our living and dining rooms. A few years later, the remaining money was used as the down payment on our first house. 

My Zayde’s legacy lives on through his great grand children. All of the children have at least one of the pieces of furniture we purchased with my Zayde’s trust fund in their home. The maple bedroom set, which moved with us our entire marriage, eventually settled in our bedroom in our cottage in Lake Champlain. My son Jay and his wife Leslie, who purchased the cottage in 2000, now have the set. Marilyn and Larry have a table and a bookcase in their home in Florida.

And Becky? Louis died two years before Becky, and at that time it was found that he had a condition that had prevented him from ever having children. After all those years of abusing my poor aunt, he was the one who was to blame. Two years later, my aunt died of cancer, and problems created by the multiple miscarriages. My only regret is that I did not spend more time with Becky. 

Into the Woods—a place for contemplation and renewal

Neva and I at Rainbow Lake July 2019

The mountains are calling, and I must go. John Muir

Across the street and behind the houses on the other side of my Upstate New York home was a wooded area. I remember it as a mountain . I am sure it would not look so imposing  if I viewed it now from my adult eyes 

On many a summer day I would take a path to the right of the Douglass’s home and head into the oaks and maples. I would sit on logs and imagine myself as Heidi or Lcittle Red Riding Hood.

This was a lone adventure. Although we were perfectly situated between the shores of Lake Champlain and Adirondack Mountains, our family never headed for the woods. 

When my parents purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay, I replaced the trips to the woods with walks to The Point, an area about a quarter of a mile from our cottage that offered views of Lake Champlain and Burlington, Vermont. It was my get-away, my place to sit and think and deal with teenage angst.Even as a adult, I viewed The Point as one of my favorite places. I shared it with friends and, of course, Larry the first time he visited me in the summer of 1973. 

And then I finished college and married and started a family. Larry and I purchased a home with a private, wooded backyard. We biked along quiet country roads in Saratoga County. We took occasional short hikes into  the woods in Lake George or Vermont or Williamstown in the fall. But I felt that I had lost touch with the woods, with the mountains.

That all changed in 2003. Our daughter Julie moved out to Colorado after graduation  from college She took a “one-year” job as an environmental education teacher two hours west of Denver and in the middle of the Rockies. 

Julie soon fell in love with Colorado, the mountains, and Sam, not necessarily in that order. On our first visit in June 2004, she took us on easy hikes in Eagle and Summit Counties. By the following summer, Sam and she were trusting us to accompany them on longer, more challenging heights.

As our hikes became longer, so did the length and frequency of our visits to the mountains. Julie and Sam completed grad school degrees, got married, found jobs, and bought a house in Frisco, elevation 9096 or 9097 feet above sea level, depending on which tee shirt you purchased. In anticipation of the birth of our granddaughter in the summer 2015, we rented a place for several weeks, a tradition we have continued every year.

Frisco, located in Summit County, is amazing in the summer—once it stops snowing! This year a long hard winter gratefully came to an end June 21.Even my then three-year-old granddaughter had had enough. “I’m so over winter,” she said. “I am ready for summer and my birthday!”

When we arrived June 30, the still-snow topped mountains had already exploded in shades of green Our first hike was to Rainbow Lake, only a mile up an easy trail near Julie’s home. As we got more acclimated to the altitude, we hiked such colorfully named trails as Lily Pad Lake, Shrine Pass, McCulloughs’ Gulch, and Cataract Lake.  Creeks churned through meadows and fields. Columbines and wild roses and cone flowers peaked out between fallen logs and rocks on trails that led to waterfalls and lakes and vistas that took my breath away.

We often share the trails with both locals and others who have found, like us, that it doesn’t get much better than a beautiful summer’s day in the Rockies. We pack water and a snack and find a spot in the middle of the hike just to sit and take in our surroundings. 

Larry has found a pickleball league in Summit County (“We Play with an Altitude!”), and several days a week he heads out the courts. On those days, I get ready for my alone time to Rainbow Lake. 

I apply the only “make-up” I need, liberal amounts of sun screen. I put on my hiking clothes and lace up my boots, fill a small backpack with water, bug spray, dog treats and poop bags. I then pick up our granddog Neva, and we head up a trail to Rainbow Lake. Neva pauses frequently to sniff at her “pee mail” and to check out a squirrel or magpie. I savor the beauty surrounding me—the columbine growing from a dead trunk, the sunlight reflecting through the aspens, logs stretching over a small stream.

Once we get to Rainbow Lake, I let Neva off her leash and toss a stick into the lake. After a few dog paddles into the chilly water, Neva settles down next to me on my favorite rock. A beaver paddles away from its lodge and few ducks swim across the still water with its reflection of trees and mountains. A woodpecker hammers away on the bark of a pine tree. 

Images of Heidi have been replaced with images of Cheryl Strayed on the Pacific Ridge Trail or Bill Bryson on the Appalachian Trail. It is my time. I am grateful to G-d for the opportunities open to me in the mountains and for the health to enjoy it. I am at peace. I am back to my Adirondack roots.

First published in The Jewish World, July 25, 2019.