Category Archives: Passover

Dayanu

Browsing recently at a Denver airport store on my way home to Orlando, I was greeted by the clerk. Exchanging pleasantries, I asked him how his day was going. “Counting the hours, ma’am. Just counting the hours.” “It can’t be that bad,” I replied. “I am working a fifteen hour shift in a newspaper stand in an airport, “ he said. “And this with a college degree. As I said, ‘Just counting the hours.”

Okay, so this young man was not living his dream. But all I could think of is that the clerk appeared to be the same age as a friend of mine who became a quadriplegic twenty years earlier as a result of a freak accident. “Be grateful for what you have,” I wanted to say to this total stranger. “Don’t count the hours; count your blessings.”

On Passover, we Jews celebrate the physical and spiritual redemption from slavery. Each year, we sing Dayanu, a song which lists the steps leading to our freedom. In it, we are reminded of our need—our responsibility—to be grateful for all G-d has given to us.

Yes, it is sometimes difficult to be grateful. College degrees and sometimes lead to menial job. Cars break down; toilet overflow; a bite into a hard candy results in a $3000 dollar dental bill. But as a dear friend said to me after I complained about a costly home repair, these are all First World problems.

In addition, in our highly commercial, secular world, it is sometimes difficult to be happy with just enough. We are bombarded with advertisements promising us happiness if only we purchase a new car, a new home, even a new brand of soap. We are exposed to all this noise on television, on billboards, on ever-targeted ads on the internet between our Facebook posts.

I am sure the Jews who escaped Egyptian slavery complained. Some of the kvetching is recorded in the Torah, but I can only imagine the grumblings that were not written down. “Manna that tastes like coconut cream pie again? For one night, can’t it taste like my mother’s matzoh ball soup?” Or: “Who put Moses in charge? We’ve been wandering this desert for forty years. The man can’t find his way out of a paper bag!”

The child of parents who were on different ends of the “cup half full”/cup half empty” continuum, I struggled as to whether my father’s rose colored view of the world was a better way to go than my mother’s practical but less than optimistic outlook. Whereas my father was content with his life, my mother often compared herself and our lives to others, and she saw the grass as greener in the other’s yard. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Theodore Roosevelt. And also, in my eyes, the thief of gratitude.

When looking for property in Florida, Larry and I made the conscious decision to downsize. We chose a smaller home that, in line with most houses in the Sunshine State, had no basement and a fairly inaccessible, extremely hot attic. We purchased the home with all its furnishings in a community whose  home owner’s association that took care of our lawn and shrubbery. As a result, we were able to  divest ourselves of much of our belongings and start over.  Once we unpacked—and gave another load of unneeded items to a local charity–we assured ourselves that we were never going back to having so much.

Despite my best intentions, however, I began to fall into my old habit of  acquiring more than we needed. The search for that one last item to complete our new home—a new outdoor seating set, a water softener, updated lighting fixtures— was taking me away from where I wanted to be: grateful for what I had.

One day, while at a salon getting my hair cut, I saw a poster with the following affirmation: “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” And somehow that quote from Melody Beattie was the kick in the pants I needed.

Researching studies in positive psychology, I learned that those who are habitually grateful are significantly happier—and even healthier— than those who are not. One recommended method to enhance these feelings is by maintaining a gratitude diary in which one records on a regular basis three to five things for which one is grateful.

Using a beautiful floral-covered journal a dear friend had given me as a going away gift, I started ‘counting my blessings’ each night before I went to bed. Some entries were major milestones: “I saw my granddaughter crawl for the first time!” Other day’s reflections were more mundane: “Larry and I laughed our way through a great ‘Big Bang Theory’ episode.” No matter what the magnitude, I was ending my day focusing on the positive.

In the process, I have turned the focus from how many material possessions I have to how much goodness I have in my life. “Collect moments, not things” says a Hindu expression. The journal gives me the opportunity to capture those moments: savoring an Upstate New York apple, reading a book to my granddaughter, sitting on our lanai and viewing the wildlife in our pond, appreciating one more day of good health.

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you,” wrote Meister Eckhart, “that would suffice.” Or, in the word of the Passover seder, ‘Dayanu.’ Chag Sameah!

Next year in…..Florida!

This year marks the fortieth year Larry and I have celebrated Passover as a married couple. Unlike the Israelites, we have not exactly spent it wandering in a desert wilderness. It has been a fruitful, productive life spent in the Capital District. For us, next year will not be in Jerusalem, but the extreme southern part of New York State known as Florida.

Moving Devon Court

Our home of thirty-six years!

A real upstate girl, I was born in St. Lawrence County and raised in in Essex County (Since when is Westchester County upstate?),relocating to Albany for college in 1968. Larry also had spent all but his college years in Saratoga County. We met in Albany, married, moved to Clifton Park, raised two children, made wonderful friends, and spent holidays with our families.

When did the desire to live someplace else begin? The germ was planted twenty years ago when our parents spent six to eight months a year in Florida. Our circle began to expand geographically: our children moved to California and Colorado; my sister moved to Arizona; an aunt moved to South Carolina; a niece moved to Virginia; and a number of friends and family started living two to four months in warmer climates. Other friends were spending time with their own children, who were scattered over the country and the world. We began a nomadic life, visiting friends and family and traveling on our own to Germany, Peru, England, Greece. Although we enjoyed our numerous trips, we felt finding “our spot,” a place that fit all our criteria, would keep us more grounded.

Every place we visited raised the question, “Could we live here?” We did some California dreaming, but the high prices of real estate and the high possibilities of earthquakes ruled it out. Julie and Sam live at 9000 feet in Colorado, truly a Rocky Mountain high. Summit County is beautiful in the summer, but the winters last nine months, and you think Boston gets snow? Try twelve feet a year, every year. Other places in Colorado offered warmer temperatures, but the homes we viewed were close together, and we would still need our snow shovels.We also Arizona would be out of the mix: The desert can be lovely, but no manna—and little rain—fell from the heavens, and we were always happy to get back to “green” and water on the East Coast. Ever the English major, I  even fell in love with the small villages in England, but we knew that would never be where we settled.

Once we retired four years ago, our interest in relocating intensified. The long winters and grey skies hadn’t bothered us when we were working, but once we were home all day, the weather became a factor. Our friends and family changed from asking, “Have you any trips planned?” to “Where are you going next?” And after forty years, Larry and I were ready for our next adventure.

This fall, everything fell into place. Julie told us over Thanksgiving that, after eight years of marriage, she and Sam were expecting our first grandchild in July 2015. After I stopped jumping up and down with joy, Larry and I made the decision that we would like to spend our summers in Colorado and the rest of the year someplace warm. We found that warm spot on a rainy December day in Florida, when we checked out an active adult  community where we were staying near Orlando. From the moment we drove in, Larry and I were impressed with the tranquil setting and the amount of green space and lakes. We fell in love with an immaculate home for sale on a lovely piece of land overlooking a pond and bordering a wildlife preserve. The community itself offered all we were looking for: indoor and outdoor pools, Hadassah chapter, book clubs, a writing club, bike paths, pickle ball courts, movies and shows, and exercise classes.It was close to world class entertainment and an international airport with direct flights to all major cities in the country.

We came back to Albany, to grey skies, piles of snow, and sub-zero temperatures. Even with the miserable weather, we still needed time. After much research, thought, discussion, and several sleepless nights, we decided to purchase the home in Florida and spend two to three months in Colorado. So, after forty years of New York Passovers, next year we will be celebrating with the Shalom Club in our new neighborhood.

If physically packing up the house is a challenge, emotionally leaving behind family, friends, and years and years of memories will be even more difficult. For the last twenty years, I have had the following framed quote hanging in our home, “Come my love and we shall wander, just to see what we can find. If we only find each other, still the journey is worth the time.” Like our Israeli ancestors, Larry and I will be wandering far from the home we have known to begin our next adventure.

Our Passover Bris

Larry and I at Adam's bris. Adam was asleep in his bassinet, waiting to go home.

Larry and I at Adam’s bris. Adam was asleep in his bassinet, waiting to go home.

This year, as we prepare for Passover,  my thoughts are not only on the upcoming holiday but also the memories of a very special Passover thirty-six years ago.

At this time in 1978, Larry and I were anxiously awaiting for the birth of our first child. My mother and my older sister had delivered their babies early and easily, and I was expecting the same experience for me. It didn’t turn out that way.  After I had gone through several hours of unproductive labor, our baby was delivered on his due date, Saturday, April 15, by Caesarian section. Despite the unexpected surgery,  Larry and I were absolutely thrilled.  We had a perfect healthy little boy, our little tax deduction, our Adam Michael Shapiro.

Now that we had a son, we needed to plan a bris. Unlike today’s births, the average stay for a woman who delivered by c-section in the 1970’s was eight days. We arranged to have the ceremony and celebration in one of the conference rooms in St. Peters on the following Sunday.

Now we faced the difficulty of finding a rabbi and/or moyel. Sunday was the second full day of Passover. As a C-section was not a “natural birth,” the holiday technically superseded the commandment of the bris on the eighth day.  Fortunately, my brother and sister-in-law had a close friend who was the daughter of a local rabbi, and he graciously agreed to officiate on “yontiff.” One of the doctors in my ob/gyn practice, who was Jewish, agreed to perform the circumcision.

By the time we had set everything up, it was Friday, the first night of Passover.  Larry was invited to a friend’s for seder and I had a decidedly un-Passover dinner in my hospital room. One of the nurses came in to check on me, and I commented that I thought I had developed a bed sore from lying around the hospital bed for the past six days.  She took a look, and said, “That’s not a bed sore! You’ve developed a cyst on the bottom of your tailbone.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not a doctor,” she started. “ But you probably will have to have surgery to remove it, and you will have to stay in the hospital for another week while it heals. Of course, as it is an infection, you will have to be in isolation and not be able to take care of Adam until you are healed.”

That did it for me. I was recovering from major surgery, we were planning on a bris on Sunday, and now I was facing more possible hospital time. I did what any other sane, sensible postpartum mother would do: I had a complete, hysterical melt-down. Unfortunately and to add to the drama, Larry was at a seder at a friend who had an unlisted number, so it took some effort to get the phone operator to agree to contact Larry and then have him call me back. Once he was reached,, Larry left his friend’s house mid-seder and drove back to the hospital to comfort me. The next morning, my doctor assured me that a good dose of antibiotics would work in the short run, with surgery only an option down the road if necessary. The bris was still on, and it was time for us to focus on the celebration.

The day of the bris, my mother and mother-in-law  came with Passover wines, cakes and cookies, along with fresh fruit. They covered the tables with white table cloths, and used an extra one to  cover the crucifix that was hanging on the wall. Our family was all there, the rabbi was sweet and kind, and the doctor who performed the circumcision was steady handed.  The adults, including the father and mother, handled the procedure calmly.  The most attentive guest was our five-year-old niece Katie, who took a unusually close-up interest in the procedure. When asked if she wanted to be a doctor when she grew up, she replied.  “Yes, or a fireman!” After the ceremony, we all sipped Passover wine and ate sponge cake and macaroons. Friends and relatives said good-bye, and Larry drove me and our soundly sleeping son home to Clifton Park. We now could begin our life as a family.

I healed nicely, never needed surgery on the cyst, and, outside of having to call the paramedics my second day home after I got my wedding ring stuck on my finger, things settled down to the new normal of having an infant. Over the years,  Adam has had to celebrate many birthdays with Passover sponge cakes and macaroons instead of the traditional birthday cake.. However, he and our family always enjoy the retelling of the Passover bris as much as the required retelling of our “sojourn from Egypt” at our seders.