Category Archives: Jewish Life

Happy Japchae Day!

Thanksgiving is hands down my favorite holiday. I love celebrating with a large group of family and friends. I love reflecting on all for which I am thankful. And I love foods that we traditionally load onto our holiday table: the turkey (especially tasty when eaten while it is being carved), Ocean Spray whole cranberry sauce, my mother’s stuffing recipe, Marilyn’s World Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies, Anita’s rugelach, Adam’s vodka infused apple pie, and Hannah’s japchae.

Wait! Japchae? What is a Korean recipe that features translucent sweet potato noodles, thinly sliced beef, and vegetables doing on our Thanksgiving table?

For many years, Larry and I spent Thanksgiving with our cousins Freya and Randy. We literally had to travel over the river and through the woods to their Washington County home—which I referred to lovingly in Yiddish as in ekvelt— to share the day with at times over 30 family members and friends. Their daughter-in-law Hannah, a first-generation Korean-American, brought japchae every year, and I considered that to be as traditional as apple pie. In 2014, the holiday was especially sweet as our daughter Julie and her husband Sam had told us that they were expecting a baby in mid July. Larry and I were so grateful to harbor the secret throughout that memorable weekend. 

True, a few Thanksgivings were not exactly times of gratitude. Larry’s 78-year-old grandmother Bubbie Rose passed away on Thanksgiving morning in 1974, three and a half months after she beamed throughout our September wedding. My father passed away a week before the holiday in 2008, much to the annoyance of the congregant who was responsible for arranging for the food at the traditional Jewish gathering after the funeral. “I hope you realize this is a lousy time to ask people to help set up a shiva minyan,” she informed me. Fortunately, members of our Upstate New York shul gladly showed up. And despite our grief in both occasions, we were all grateful for their long lives and all the blessed memories we share.

In 1984 the day before our family’s planned departure to visit my Pennsylvania siblings for Thanksgiving, a section of our garage door hit Larry on the head when the spring snapped. Fortunately, Larry avoided what could have been a catastrophic injury by mere millimeters. Upon the advice of our doctor, however, we cancelled our traveling plans. A quick supermarket run to secure a turkey and all the fixings and a Blockbuster run (remember those?) for a stack of family friendly movies resulted in a quiet cozy long weekend. We were grateful for that unexpected intimate family time. 

The most sobering Thanksgiving came in 2016. As we were packing for our flight the next day to Colorado for a gathering with our son-in-law Sam’s family in Fort Collins, our daughter Julie called to tell us that our 15-month-old granddaughter was in the hospital with pneumonia in a hospital a mile from their Rocky Mountain home. By the time our plane had landed, she had been rushed to Denver’s Children’s Hospital. 

The next few days are still etched in my memory: Our wan granddaughter, connected to oxygen and IV’s, rushing to hug her Zayde. Julie and Sam holding their daughter as she watched endless repeats of Frozen on their iPad. Her wails every time a nurse entered the room. Our 120 mile round trips to the hospital while listening to the depressing news of the recent presidential elections. Adam rolling out a vodka-infused crust for the apple pie. Sharing a lovely Thanksgiving dinner with Sam’s family around a table missing three important people.

As Larry and Adam headed to the airport, I remained behind to provide needed help as Mountain Girl continued her recovery. Despite the circumstances, I have to say that week caring for my granddaughter, still connected to oxygen by a three foot hose because of the 9100 foot altitude, was precious. We sang and danced to “Wheels on the Bus” and “Rubber Duckie” and “The Alphabet Song.” We stacked toys and put together puzzles. She learned how to walk up and down the stair. I fed her so many blueberries, her favorite food, that she had numerous “blueberry blowouts,” for which Gammy was responsible. It was not the Thanksgiving we had planned. But we were thankful for modern medicine that saved her life and that provided the needed interventions, including a twice a day nebulizer, that resulted the healthy, thriving second grader she is today.

By the following year, Larry and I, who had moved to Florida that June, headed up north. Thanks to dear friends who let us “house sit” while they visited relatives for a week, we again shared a wonderful Thanksgiving with Larry’s huge extended family. Freya and Randy had passed the Thanksgiving reins to our niece Laura and her husband Paul, who had recently purchased a home in Guilderland, New York. The buffet table was laden with almost all the Shapiro traditional food except one. Hannah bypassed on making japchae. Oh well! We still had plenty to eat.

Maybe it was because airports were especially crowded on this holiday weekend. Maybe because we weren’t used to the cold. Or maybe it was because I no longer could depend on Hannah for japchae. In 2016, Larry and I decided to join a large group of friends from around the country and the world at a nearby resort. By the second year of shredded salty turkey over gluey mashed potatoes and subpar pies, our friend Peter declared that Larry and I should host a Thanksgiving potluck at our home. 

We happily agreed. Plans were going smoothly until we realized a few days before our scheduled Thursday feast that Peter and his wife Margaret were flying home on Thanksgiving Day. “I thought you Americans had all your holidays on Monday,” he said. No, Peter, I explained. Thanksgiving is ALWAYS on Thursday!

Fortunately, everyone was able to adjust their schedule, and we celebrated Thanksgiving on Ere of Yontiff—Wednesday. I prepared a 22-pound turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and my World Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies. Everyone else filled in with their own favorites. I was hoping the Hunters would bring scones and clotted cream. Instead, their contribution of two bottles of Moet & Chandon champagne worked out, as did the orchid they brought that continues to bloom. Not surprisingly, no one brought japchae.

We got to celebrate our International Thanksgiving one more time before COVID shut down the world, necessitating that Larry and I share our 2020 meal with extended family on Zoom. By 2021, however, we were up and running with the understanding that everyone bring their favorite dishes and COVID-vaccine infused arm. 

What a joy it is to know that 2022 is ushering in what I hope to be a new string of large gatherings of friends and family!

You may be reading this the day after Thanksgiving when Larry and I will be eating leftover turkey, stuffing, and apple pie. Meanwhile, we will have had what we hope will have been a wonderful day with many of our “regulars” as well as several new friends. We hope the day will be joyful and uneventful. If not, I will find reasons to be grateful—no matter what challenges pop up and even if we don’t have japchae!

Remembering wonderful past Thanksgivings, including our 1979 gathering with our family in Pennsylvania!

Oshinsky Story Published in The Forward

I am proud to announce that my three part story about Harry Oshinsky, a World War I Jewish immigrant, was published in The Forward, one of the most influential American Jewish publications.

Over fifty years ago, the Forverts published a series of stories in Yiddish by Chonie “Harry” Oshinsky, describing his childhood in a shtetl in Lomza Gubernia, his two-year trek to Brooklyn and his life in “di goldene medine,” the golden land. 

Many years later, Oshinsky’s son, Lenny Oshins, brought an English translation of the story to me, his friend and  a writer, for a potential article. Using the manuscript as a basis, I retold his story in three chapters, including details I discovered during my own research that help shed light on the history surrounding Harry’s extraordinary life. 

The three articles were originally published in The Jewish World, a bi-weekly subscription based newspaper located in upstate New York. The original article may be found on the web at https://jewishworldnews.org. I appreciate all the support Laurie and Jim Clevenson of The Jewish World has given me and my writing over the years.I also appreciate the help of Rukhl Schaechter, the editor of the Yiddish Forverts, in preparing the story for publication in The Forward.

Here are the links to the article as published in The Forward:

To read Part One: “From Bialystok to Brooklyn: A Jewish immigrant’s trek across three continents,” click here.

To read Part Two: “Two Jewish teenagers escaping Bialystok arrive in Harbin, China,” click here.

To read Part Three: “A Jewish teen from Bialystok lands in a Chinese prison,”  click here.

More about Marilyn:  Since retiring from a career in adult education and relocating with my husband Larry from Upstate NewYork to Solivita, I is now writing down my own family stories as well as the accounts of ordinary people with extraordinary lives. I have been a regular contributor to the bi-weekly publication, The Jewish World (Capital Region, New York), since 2013. My articles have also been published in Heritage Florida Jewish News and several websites including the Union of Reform Judaism, Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America, Growing Bolder, the Memorial Scrolls Trust (England), and Jewish Women of Words (Australia). I am the author of two compilations of my stories,There Goes My Heart (2016), Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World.(2018), and Fradel’s Story, (2021) a collection of essays co-written with my late mother, Frances Cohen. All three books are available in paperback and e-book format on Amazon. My fourth book, which will be published in late 2022, is entitled Keep Calm and Bake Challah: Surviving the Pandemic, Politics, and Other Life’s Problems. I am also working on a fifth book, Under the Shelter of Butterfly Wings: Stories of Jewish Sacrifice, Survival, and Strength.

More about The Forward: Founded in 1897 as a Yiddish-language daily newspaper, The Forward is considered one of the most influential American Jewish publications. I, along with many of my friends and family with Jewish heritage, remember my own maternal grandparents reading Forverts, the original daily Yiddish paper, when I visited them in Coney Island in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1990, an English-language weekly offshoot began publication; in 2019, it became an online newspaper. A more detailed description of The Forward  may be found on Wikipedia.

Holocaust Stories Needed!

“You really need to talk to Harry.”

My friend Marilyn Glaser gave me this advice before one of our Friday night Shabbat services in our Florida synagogue. I was aware that Harry Lowenstein was a Holocaust survivor. But Marilyn, the shul president, knew I was a writer, and she knew his story needed to be preserved.

By this time, I had been writing for the (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World for over four years. The majority of my stories had been about my family: growing up in a small North Country town in New York; meeting my husband in 1973 to learning to live with him after our retirement in 2010; raising two children; moving to “The Sunshine State” in 2015. Up until that point, I had not tackled biographies. Fortunately, Harry was a willing story teller.

 As I sat at his kitchen table, I was riveted by his description of four years of hell, first in a ghetto and then in Nazi concentration camps. After liberation, Harry returned home to find that every one of his relatives had been murdered by the Nazis. He eventually made it to the United States, married Carol Sainker, raised three children, and owned and operated a clothing store in Kissimmee. Meanwhile, he was determined to carry on his family’s legacy. “I saw a synagogue burn,” said Harry, “and I was determined to build another one.” With the contributions from friends and fellow Holocaust survivors, the Lowensteins raised enough money to build our synagogue.

After Harry’s story was published, my writing became more diversified. I was still writing my sometimes funny, sometimes poignant family stories, but I also took pleasure from interviewing what I referred to as “ordinary people with extraordinary lives.” A woman who has raised over $150,000 for cancer research after losing her 32 year old daughter to leukemia. A man whose introduction to a doomed ship as a boy resulted in his becoming a “Titanic fanatic;” a group of former Catskill workers celebrating a reunion.

But the stories that moved me the most were about who lived through—or died in—World War II. Jewish soldiers. Concentration survivors who were haunted with their memories until their passing. Righteous gentiles who had rescued others from the horrors. 

I have never been shy about my retirement avocation and never fail to tell friends and strangers I am a writer. This summer, I shared this information with Eva Nozik, who was visiting Summit County, Colorado. 

“My aunt, Golda Goldin Gelfer, who recently passed away, was a Holocaust survivor,”Eva said.”You need to talk to her children.” 

She set up a Zoom call with Anna Livits and Sofia Zukerman, Golda’s two daughters, and other members of the Goldin family. The Nazis, they told me, invaded Glusk, Belarus, on June 22, 1942, Golda’s 14th birthday. Six months later, Germans and local supporters rounded up and murdered over 1000 Jews, including Golda’s mother Elke and her two sisters, Chaisoshe (19) and Malka (8). Golda and her father Meir escaped certain death by hiding in an attic and eventually finding their way into the forest. The two soon joined Soviet partisans in their efforts to sabotage the Nazi offensive until Belarussian liberation on July 4, 1944. Several revisions (and many nightmares about the Holocaust) later, it was finished and ready The Jewish World’s next issue.

Even before it was published,, Anna expressed her gratitude. “I don’t have enough words to thank you for the work you have done,”she wrote me in a December 13 email. “I had a dream today that my mom was smiling. It’s like  she was in peace that we remember her family, Elke, Chaisoshe, and Malka.”

The descendants of Meir and Elke Goldin have more stories to tell. They are eager to recount Golda’s time in the woods, her life in the Soviet Union after the war, her move with her children to the United States. They also want me to connect with the son of a cousin who survived “murder by bullets” by falling into the pit.And, by the way, they have a friend whose parents survived the Warsaw ghetto. 

Meanwhile, I have other stories on my “To Be Written” file. My cousin Eric (Z’L) Silverman came over on a stolen visa just before the war. Trudi Larkin Wolfe’s parents, both concentration camp survivors, recently passed away, but their oral history is preserved on video as part of Stephen Spielberg’s Shoah project, and she and her sister will fill in any gaps. Ruth Gruber, a brilliant Jewish woman who was appointed by the FDR administration to oversee the Oswego Project, a refuge for Jews that is the subject of a New York State Museum exhibit. And I made a promise to a friend that I would write an article about his father, who came to the United States in the early 1900s via, of all places, China.

After hearing Golda’s story at the most recent meeting of SOL Writers, my group of fellow writers said that I am “a woman on a mission.” “You make the unbearable bearable,” one said. “Keep writing.”

Despite my passion, I initially questioned about pursuing more stories about this terrible time in humankind’s history.The Holocaust has already been the subject of innumerable novels, memoirs, plays, movies, and, and even children’s books.

I found the answer in a teaching from Pirkei Avot, a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims from Rabbinic Jewish tradition. It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work,” wrote Rabbi Tarfon (46 CE-117 CE), “but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.” (Pirkei Avot 2:21) When the Anti-Defamation League reports that Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms have “cracks in enforcement” that allow Holocaust deniers to disseminate hate speech; when a school administrator in Texas can tell a group of educators during a training session to “have an opposing view” when teaching the Holocaust; when 77 years after Soviets liberated Auschwitz, anti-semitism is on the rise; I must continue to tell the stories. My writing will certainly not “complete” the work of masters such as Elie Wiesel, Victor Frankel, and Steven Spielberg. But I cannot use that as an excuse.Whether my articles and, in the future, my book is widely read or languishes in an Amazon warehouse, at least I did not “desist.”

But I need help. If any of you have a Holocaust story you would like to be preserved in writing, please contact me via email at shapcomp18@gmail. com. Those who were lost as well as those who survive deserve to have their lives remembered and honored. Never again.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Thank goodness they are only First World problems, OR That’s the way my cookie crumbles!

The last few weeks have been consumed with what my friend Judy refers to First World Problems.

First World Problems, according to the Urban Dictionary, are “problems from living in a wealthy, industrialized nation that third worlders would probably roll their eyes at.” So I give my readers my permission to roll their eyes at my recent series of First World woes.

In all honesty, I actually brought some of this on myself. Tired of the original orangey-brown pseudo-oak cabinets in our kitchen, I convinced my husband Larry that refacing the cabinets in white would be worth the time and money. When the company’s time frame to do the work coincided with my planned trip to Colorado, Larry graciously turned down my suggestions to delay the work until I returned. He would handle the last couple of days of installation and most of the clean-up on his own.

The weekend before my departure, Larry and I emptied out the entire contents of our cabinets into our living/dining room. When I attempted to run one last load of dishes before we had to close up the kitchen for the next few days, the door on the machine fell down with a thud, almost taking out my knee. The door springs had unsprung.

My washing machine must have decided it would have sympathy pains. Less than an hour later, I attempted to run a load of laundry. In the middle of the cycle, the machine stopped, and all sorts of lights began flashing. A Google search informed us that it was either a lid latch ($) or motherboard ($$$) malfunction. We threw the soaked clothes into our fairly new dryer [the old one had died in November]. First thing Monday morning, as the crew descended on our kitchen to begin work, I made a phone call to an appliance repair company to repair the dishwasher door and washing machine latch. 

Unfortunately, the appliance people couldn’t help me with my crown on my back molar, that had fallen off that morning while I was flossing my teeth. And the dentist would have to wait, as I didn’t have time to get to his office before my trip. I stuck it back on and hoped for the best.

After driving me to the airport Wednesday, Larry returned to a torn-up kitchen sealed off in plastic and a house filled with the overwhelming smell of paint. Meanwhile, my attempt at self-dentistry only lasted until I bit into an ice cream cone I had grabbed at the airport while waiting for the shuttle to take me to my daughter’s house. An emergency trip to Ten Mile High Dentistry was for naught. After a valiant, 45-minute attempt to glue the sucker back on, the dentist gave up and recommended I think about pulling the remains of the tooth out when I returned home. 

Meanwhile, back in Florida, the appliance repairman was one for two: the dishwasher was an easy fix, but the washing machine’s motherboard was gone. Larry and I spent an hour on the phone choosing a new machine from a local hardware store’s website. While I was hiking with my family on a beautiful Saturday in the Rockies, Larry was waiting for the new machine to arrive. No worries. He had plenty to do in the meantime as the kitchen work was completed. Larry put most of the kitchenware back into the new cabinets, leaving the spice drawers and some other cabinets for me to organize to my liking. (Yes, I married a gem!) 

I returned Tuesday night, and by Wednesday afternoon, the kitchen was completely back in business—or maybe not. Our nine-year-old refrigerator was not only freezing the ice cream but also the eggs, milk, lettuce and grapes. We made another call to the appliance man, who said that repairs could run up to $500. Maybe we should consider just biting the bullet and getting a new one?Another run to the appliance store, another swish of the credit card, and we only had to live with frozen foods for six more days.

On Thursday day, I got a call saying the truck delivering our new side-by-side would be there in thirty minutes. This gave me just enough time to move the contents of the old refrigerator into laundry baskets and boxes commandeered for the project. When the deliverymen arrived, they pulled out their tape measures, stretched it across our front door, and shook their heads.“Sorry. Doesn’t look like your new frig will fit through the door.” Some quick problem-solving resulted in a “through-the-lanai-if-we-dislodge-the-screen-door” option. An hour later, the old frig was in the truck and the new one was sitting in the middle of a kitchen filled with warming and—worst yet—melting food. 

“The new hose for the ice maker doesn’t work. Wrong clamp.” Roy explained from the back of the machine. “I’ll attach the old one.”

“As long as it works, I’’m fine with that,” I said.

Ten minutes later, the refrigerator was ready for the final push into place.

“It’s too wide,” said Roy. “I can’t get it into the space.”

“Just remove the molding,” I suggested.

“We don’t do that,” Roy informed me

“You are not leaving here until that refrigerator installed,” I said between gritted-minus-one-uncapped-molar teeth. “If I have to, I will remove the damn molding!”

Roy shrugged and tried more push. Miraculously, it squeaked in with centimeters to spare.Whew! After two hours of work, these guys deserved a tip, which I gave willingly.

Now let me offer a tip. Before the appliance people leave you with your new refrigerator, check to see if the ice maker and water dispenser work. As I write this, I am still waiting for the callback from the store to arrange for someone to come back and properly attach the line.

All the fails joined the Mr. Coffee, microwave, Ninja blender, electric tea kettle, toaster oven, and aforementioned clothes dryer that had all died in a six-month period. How many appliances did I have left to replace? To add to the mix, I blew  out two electrical outlets when I saturated a power strip while washing down our the lanai floor with a hose. 

The following week, Larry and I welcomed Chris and Bernie, old friends whom we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the pandemic, The four of us celebrated our reunion by enjoying a delicious dinner at a local Asian restaurant. 

As we were waiting for our waiter to return with our receipts, Chris noted that we hadn’t gotten any fortune cookies. “No problem!” I said. I walked up to the basket of cookies next to the cash register, grabbed four at random, and dropped them on our table. Mine read “GO FOR THE GOLD TODAY! YOU’LL BE THE CHAMPION OF WHATEVER!”

After all that had happened to us over the previous couple of weeks, I was pretty happy to get this fortune. As I shared it with everyone, I proclaimed, “A sign! My luck is changing!” 

As I was saying this, our waiter came by with the receipt and four more fortune cookies. When he saw we already had them, he said maybe these would be even better! I opened up mine, only to read this: IGNORE PREVIOUS COOKIE

In the scheme of things, these are all First World Problems. I only need to hear about another friend’s illness or read the latest headlines or see another heart-wrenching picture from the Ukraine, to remind myself that our challenges, as Rick tells Ilsa in the last moments of Casablanca, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” A wise woman once told me, “If it can be [legally] fixed with money, consider yourself lucky.” We are grateful that we only have had to deal for a short time with unwashed clothes, dangerous doors, frozen eggs, and unfortunate fortune cookies!

You cannot make this stuff up!!! My fortune cookies May 7, 2022.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Keep calm and carry on? A return to tradition

Flashback to March 14, 2020. COVID-19 was the top news story. My daughter Julie and her family were leaving for the Orlando airport after a week’s stay. We had spent a few days on the beach and been delighted  by news of the birth of our grandson in a San Francisco hospital. We had cancelled our planned visit to Magic Kingdom the day before Disney announced it was closing the park that weekend. Instead, we spent hours in a community pool making sure we weren’t too close to anyone else. 

Julie’s last words as she got into her rental car were, “Mom and Dad, promise us you will stay safe!” She begged us to skip our plans to see Death Trap, which was being performed by our local theater group that evening. She must have called her brother, because Adam FaceTimed us an hour before we were to leave for the play. “If you stay home, I will keep the camera on your new grandson for the next hour.” Seeing our grandson won. We had no idea we would be feeling its effects—masks; sheltering in place; cancelled trips; cancelled events; hours of Netflix’s and puzzles; new variants; tragically, loss of friends to the virus—for the next two years.

Within the first month of the pandemic, I decided that celebrating with a Sabbath dinner every Friday would bring some joy. I polished my grandparents’ candlesticks; bought a new Kiddish cup on ebay (I must have lost mine in our move); brought out my embroidered challah cover, and located a friend’s challah recipe I had always meant to try. With some difficulty—the whole world decided along with me to make bread—I purchased flour, yeast, and sugar to make the traditional Shabbat bread. And I mixed and kneaded and braided my first challahs. Delicious! 

The following Friday, I was a little more confident. I made four small ones, and shared one with president of our (closed down) shul and one with a friend whose wife had just been placed in memory care.By April, I had totally embraced not only the baking process but also the spiritual elements. I learned that it was appropriate to say prayers during the kneading process, a way of feeding the body and the soul. I initially prayed for my family as well as our country and for all impacted by the pandemic. But my prayers soon extended to the sick, the grieving, the lonely. I kept a Mi Shebeirach list on my phone as reminders and often played Debbie Friedman’s version of the beautiful prayer as I kneaded the pliant, soft dough.

We developed a rhythm: Every Friday afternoon I baked the challahs, and just before sunset, Larry would head off in our car, delivering two or three still warm fragrant loaves to needy people in our community. When I couldn’t physically share them, I attached pictures of the challah onto an email with a note. “I kneaded prayers of healing into this loaf of bread. Thinking of you. Love, Marilyn.”

By the time Larry and I were finally able to travel to see our children and grandchildren in June 2021, I was a seasoned challah maker—to a point. Baking bread in someone else’s kitchen proved to be a challenge. In San Francisco, I realized the sound of the mixmaster cranking out the initial steps of challah process woke my grandson from his nap. In Colorado, the 9100 foot elevation resulted in loaves that looked more like amoebas. I had to learn to work around nap time and altitude. 

Meanwhile, I was tweaking my technique. I replaced the butter in my friend’s recipe with canola oil, which meant less noise and more kneading time, my favorite party of the process. Rocky Mountain challahs, I learned, needed to go into the oven immediately after braiding to prevent over-rising. A straight egg yolk wash resulted in browner, shinier loaves, which Larry wholeheartedly approved “This is the way challah is supposed to look,” he said, biting into the harder crust.

Over the past two years, I have baked and shared dozens of challahs, many that were appearing on our shul’s Zoom services. As our world finally has begun opening up, however, finding the time to make the challahs on Friday has been more difficult. I “cheat”by making seven or eight loaves and freezing 2-4 braided unbaked challahs, to be defrosted and baked when needed. (I still feel Jewish guilt when I use that shortcut!)

Friends have asked me if they could buy my challahs or even sell them at our Farmer’s Market. I decline, telling them emphatically I am not starting a new career. Instead, I offer them my challah “recipe,” a nearly 3000 word tome with numerous tips. Recently, I even invited two friends over for a “challah workshop.” After we all enjoyed slices oof the warm loaves smothered with butter, they went home with a batch of the still-rising dough they had prepared. They sent me pictures of their finished creations, beautiful in their own right. I am just following an old Yiddish expression: “Give people a challah, and they eat for a day. Give them a recipe, and they become challah bakers!”

Initially, I was hopeful that this would be the last article I would be writing about the pandemic. Two vaccines and two boosters later, Larry and I have pretty much resumed our lives. But there are now disturbing numbers that show another upward trend. Will we have to resume mask wearing? Sheltering in place? Only time will tell. 

When I wrote this mid-April, I was on a challah hiatus. Instead, Larry was enjoying sponge cake, Passover popovers, and matzo brie. But Passover ended next Friday. I soon will be pulling out the ingredients for the challah and donning my special apron. Stay safe, my friends.Better yet, Keep Calm and Bake Challah.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Realizing What I Have Missed

Up until now, I thought that maybe I hadn’t missed that much in the past 16 months. My husband Larry and I had our health, had managed to keep a level of contentment throughout the pandemic. We missed our family terribly, but we had frequent Zoom calls with our children and grandchildren.

Even throughout our two weeks in California, I had felt pretty good. Larry and I had hugged our fifteen and a half month grandson, overwhelmed with emotion. I knew I had missed a huge chunk of his first year, but I took comfort again from the hours on Zoom and FaceTime. We were starting our in-person relationship late, but I didn’t dwell on what we had missed. He knew us. He came to us. We savored every minute with our visit with our son Adam, our daughter-in-law Sarah, and the beautiful little boy who had been named after two of his great grandfathers.

But then, after our flight to Denver and an easy drive  up to Summit County, we hugged our granddaughter. (She had been warned: We would be hugging her so hard that she would squeak!) But who was this taller, more beautiful, more poised person? Where was the little girl with whom we had last hugged goodbye in Florida in March 2020? The gap between her and this person who     poured her own tea, rode a two wheeler, swam underwater in her community pool was so great. Yes, we had missed time with her, with her new cousin, with all my children that we can never make up. 

And I hadn’t realized how much I had missed our time in the mountains. On our third day, I finally made the hike up to Rainbow Lake, a short distance from our daughter’s home and our summer rental. As I walked up the trail, I took in the columbines and the wild roses and the aspens. Then I reached the lake, my happy place, the spot in which I find peace and contentment. How could I forgotten how much I love this spot over 9100 feet above sea level in the Rockies? Had it been almost two full years since I had sat on the log and drank in the beauty that surrounded me?

Larry and I had spent the Fourth of July in Frisco for at least ten years. We watched the parade down Main Street with Sam and Julie, then, six years ago, Sam and a very pregnant Julie. The next few years, our granddaughter watched from her carriage, then her father’s arms, and then as a participant on a tricycle in the Cavalcade of Children. 

This year, however, we headed out of town and, by 11:30 a.m., five humans and one dog were floating down the Colorado River. Sam manned the raft while Julie completed the entire trip, including some level 1 and 2 rapids, on a paddle board. Larry, our granddaughter and I found spots on the raft and took in the beauty surrounding us. We spotted a bald eagle perched in a tree, Canadian geese gliding along the shore, red cliffs rising above us, the Rocky Mountaineer weaving its way on the train tracks above us, fellow travelers on rafts and kayaks and paddle boards and inner tubes catch the currents with us. It was a beautiful Fourth, made even more special in contrast to last year’s isolation in our Florida home. 

The day ended with our granddaughter reading Go Dog Go, one of our favorite children’s book, to Larry while sitting on his lap on a rocking chair in her bedroom. Behind them, the window gave us a view the sun set in the aspen tree. 

As we finish our time in the mountains, Larry and I  have also been able to connect with the friends and extended “mishpacha” (family) that we had not seen since August2019. We took in outdoor lunches and evening concerts with dear friends from North Carolina. We celebrated our granddaughter’s birthday with Sam’s family by riding the Georgetown Railroad, eating lunch along side Clear Creek, and singing “Happy Birthday” over cupcakes and a candle-that-refused-to-stay-lit in a breezy park. After two full years, we are again finding our Colorado rhythm. 

Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht is an old Yiddish expression meaning man plans and God laughs. Recent events have shown us how unpredictable life can be, whether exemplified in a terrible pandemic that has lasted for months or a catastrophic building collapse that happened in seconds. On a personal level, these past eight weeks of my reconnecting with family and friends has made me  realize how much I  have missed, how much time I have lost, and how important it is to never take what I cherish for granted. 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in July 2021.

The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls

On a beautiful morning in theRockies, I weave my way up the two mile Mount Royal Trail. Geared up in hiking boots, pants, and my new “Mountain Mama” teeshirt, I enjoy the solitude, the sounds of mountain streams and chirping birds, and the sight of butterflies that lead me up the path. Small wooden bridges span the occasional creeks. Arriving on the bank of Rainbow Lake, I take in the beauty surrounding me before starting the trip down the Aspen Trail. 

Despite my pure joy of being in my “happy place,” I know my family worries about my frequent solo hikes. It would be generous to say their fear emanates from possible encounters with moose, elk, or bear. Unfortunately, it actually comes from encounters with rocks and roots. No, they don’t fear my being eaten by a forest denizen. They fear I might trip on the gnarled tree roots, the patches of loose stone, or the small boulders that are a part of the hiking experience. 

Not that their concerns are unfounded. Over the past 16 months, COVID-19 has not felled me. It has been my own stupid feet.

My first trip down free fall lane came early in the pandemic.” With pools and exercise classes in our 55+ active community shuttered, my husband and I were taking one of our long morning walks. It was hot, as usual. It was humid, as usual. What wasn’t usual was the dead snake lying on the sidewalk in front of us a mile into our walk.

“Watch out!” I yelled to Larry. He crossed his right leg in front of me to avoid the snake, and I I fell fast. And hard. And as I slammed face first onto the pavement, all I could think was “Damn that snake!”

I felt incredible pain and tasted the blood that was pooling in front of me. For one of the few times in my life, I was grateful my nose was more Barbra Streisand that Amy Adams, as it appeared to have taken most of the hit.

When I gingerly stood up, Larry and I assessed the damage. Scraped elbows and knees that did not require stitches? Check. Bones intact? Check. Teeth whole and still in mouth? Check. Ability to walk home. With the help of an ice pack wrapped in a towel provided by a Good Samaritan who had witnessed the accident from her front porch, also CHECK!.

Fortunately, outside of two black eyes and multiple minor scrapes, I had avoided major injuries and a trip to the emergency room.

My second adventure in face plants occurred twelve months later when the world was finally opening up. Larry and I were visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Sarasota, Florida, our first time we had been able to connect with family since COVID hit. On the second day of our visit, the four of us took a trip to Spanish Point, a 30-acre outdoor museum site. We were weaving through a section which was being set up for an evening concert. As I was wearing the required face mask, sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat, I didn’t see that the sound bar the sound technician had placed between the bottom rungs of two of the chairs. My foot caught on the pole, and I did a hard splat in the grass. It was a second lucky “break” in that I walked away with a scraped up face, another set of black eyes, and no ER visit. 

Three months later, my luck ran out. Larry and I were in San Francisco visiting our son, daughter-in-law and sixteen-month-old grandson. On a Saturday morning, we took an easy, scenic three mile round trip hike on the Tennessee Valley Trail in nearby Marin County. We were off the trail and walking over to our parked car when I tripped over a stupid rock—or is it that stupid me tripped over an innocent rock? Fortunately, I fell right in front of a doctor and his family who were about to begin their hike. He bandaged me up with the diagnosis that nothing appeared to be broken but the cut on my forearm was deep and required stitches.

After striking out at our attempts to get help at two urgent cares (One was closed; the second “didn’t do sutures.” ) our son dropped Larry and me off at University of California San Francisco’s emergency room. At first, judging from the number of people in the waiting area, I thought that I would get in and out quickly. Four and a half hours later, however, the ER manager announced that, along with those of us cooling our heels in the waiting room, there were at least 25 ambulances lined up outside with people in worse shape than us low priority patients with mere ear infections, head bumps, and cut forearms. We should expect a possible ten hour wait.

I was about to ask for a sewing kit and a prescription for antibiotics and call it a day when—thank goodness—I was taken into a room to get patched up. Six stitches and a tetanus shot later, I was good to go. Thankfully,I have had no lingering effects from Pratfall #3.

Initially I was worried that maybe I was having balance issues. In the days and weeks that followed, others of all ages have told me of similar situations that resulted in much worse endings—broken elbows, wrists, and legs. Yes, I consider myself lucky.

As I was getting ready for my first solo hike in Colorado, my daughter encouraged me to wait for her so that she could watch over me and make sure I didn’t fall. I said no, insisting that this almost-71-year-old body was still more than capable of hiking up and down trails, thank you very much. She did meet me halfway and showed me a longer but less steep trail that I have taken on my own as well as others with Larry and my granddog.Larry and I have also tackled longer, more difficult hikes without a scratch—or splat—between us.

Our most memorable Colorado hike this summer was the one Larry and I took with my granddaughter. When we reached the Rainbow Lake area, she insisted we ford a small stream by scrambling across the logs that spanned the water. Larry questioned whether she should attempt the crossing. “Don’t worry, Zayde!” she said. “I’m a Mountain Girl I got this..” Taking my cue from her, I successfully made my way across the logs, albeit slower, more cautiously, and certainly more awkwardly. But I did it. After all, as my new teeshirt proclaims, I am a Mountain Mama. I got this!

Epilogue: Soon after sharing this story with my writing group, Larry and I spend the afternoon exploring Vail Village. In one of the stores, I decided to try on a shirt that had caught my eye. As the salesperson led me to the changing rooms. he said, “Take the room on the left,There is a lip on one on the right, and I won’t want you to trip.” 

“Do I LOOK like someone who would trip?”I bristled. He quickly backtracked, “Well, even sixteen-year-olds have tripped over it.” Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy the shirt. Before I left the store, however, I sought out the salesperson and gave him my business card with my blog address. “My next article will be The Pandemic in Three Pratfalls,” I said.”Your comment will be in it!” 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, August 5, 2021.

Manna From Heaven: Vanilla Ice Cream

My maiden name is Cohen. In all honesty, however, it should have been Cone. As in ice cream cone. As in my favorite summertime/anytime treat. As a matter of fact, if I were one of the Israelis wandering the desert with Moses, my manna from heaven would have tasted like Breyer’s Natural Vanilla.

My love for ice cream is in my genetic makeup. While I was growing up, a day wasn’t complete in the Cohen household without our dishes of ice cream. In the 1950s in Keeseville, our small town in Upstate New York,, choices were limited. Our freezer usually held one or two half gallons of Sealtest Neapolitan. Having all three flavors for six people worked out well. My father chose vanilla topped with a huge helping of strawberry preserves. My mother went for the strawberry. The four children took whatever we could scoop up with our vintage gray aluminum Scoop Rite ice cream scoop.

Our favorite food also played into all of our family’s special occasions. We dished out ice cream at birthday celebrations, Yom Kippur break-the-fasts, the first post-Passover meal, and Thanksgiving—what was apple pie without the a la mode! As an added treat, my parents would take us for ice cream at the Frosty Dairy Bar, a restaurant on Route 9 in Plattsburgh. Going there allowed us to go beyond Neapolitan, giving me my first tastes of “exotic” flavors like pistachio, chocolate chip, and cherry vanilla.

Fortunately, I met and married a man who, although not as fanatical as me, enjoys ice cream. He loves me enough to tolerate my addiction. Otherwise, I doubt if the marriage would have lasted. Our first date was a movie and a trip to Friendly’s. Larry had a chocolate Fribble, and I had a hot fudge sundae with—you guessed it—vanilla ice cream. It became our go-to place after every movie or play for many years.

Once we had children, we usually kept at least one half gallon of ice cream in the freezer, vanilla for me and Stewart’s Swiss chocolate almond for Larry—he still hasn’t forgiven Stewart’s for phasing out his favorite flavor. Once they could hold a kiddie cone, we would bring Adam and Julie during summer months to the Country Drive-In, a popular hamburger/soft-serve ice cream stand off Exit 8 of the Northway. Julie took Larry there every Father’s Day for a hamburger, fries, and an ice cream cone from elementary school until she graduated college.

My now-adult children don’t place ice cream as high on their favorite food list, but they take care of their mother. Julie and Sam makes sure they have Haagen-Dazs ice cream or gelato waiting for us in their freezer when we visit them Colorado. Adam humors us by taking us to Bi-Rite Creamery for a waffle cone whenever we visit him in San Francisco.

As empty nesters, we usually have a half gallon of vanilla ice cream in the freezer. I will have a small scoop once a week. Larry will indulge a little more often using his own “in-house ice cream routine.” First he softens the ice cream by putting the whole carton into the microwave for a few seconds. He then uses the Scoop Rite ice cream scoop we inherited from my parents to transfer one or two scoops into a cereal bowl. He squirts on Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate syrup, throws on a few Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips, and tosses on a healthy handful of chopped walnuts and sliced almonds. When Larry was laid up with a leg surgery, I tried to cheer him up by ‘recreating’ his masterpiece. I failed miserably as I messed up the proportions of ice cream, chocolate syrup, and nuts. To be honest, I think Larry treats ice cream as another way to eat nuts.

For me, however, a simple unadorned dish or cone of vanilla ice cream is my favorite food, a link to my childhood as well as one of life’s great pleasures. Ice cream even has played an important role during one of the most poignant times of my life. When my mother fell gravely ill four days before she passed away, she lost her desire for food. I asked her if she wanted anything special to eat. She whispered, “Strawberry ice cream.” The cafe at Coburg Village, the independent living place where she was living, had none. The wonderful young woman working behind the counter, upon hearing the story, went up to the main restaurant and brought me back a huge dish of strawberry ice cream to honor my mother’s request. When I got back to Mom’s bedside, she ate three or four spoonfuls before she pushed my hand away. “That was delicious! Thank you!” That was the last food she ever ate, a true Cohen to the end. I can only hope that I, like my mother, will a long, happy, healthy life that concludes with the sweet taste of vanilla ice cream on my tongue.

Until we relocated to Florida, one of my favorite stops was the three-mile trip to the Country Drive-In for a vanilla soft serve. As a matter of fact, I needed to make a trip there to take a picture of my eating my cone for the Jewish World, It was a cold, rainy, day, making it quite tough to buy that cone and eat it. Someone had to do the job, however, and who better than Marilyn Cone Shapiro?