Tag Archives: #covid19

A Family of Stores

Before 23andme.com DNA kits, before genetic testing, before people poured through old census and courthouse records, our family had the best tool to connect with our ancestors—our parents, Fran and Bill Cohen.

Bill Cohen claimed he could sniff out family from ten feet or from 200 years away. According to Dad, we were related to Sir Moses Montefiore, a nineteenth century British financier and philanthropist; Stubby Kaye , American actor and comedian most famous for his role as Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls; and Madeline Kunin, the former governor of Vermont. 

Dad didn’t regard fame as the only criteria to be considered mishpachah (Yiddish for a Jewish family or social unit including close and distant relatives ). If one had any Jewish connection, Dad would find some link no matter how obscure and embrace them as one of our own .

While my father connected, my mother, Frances Cohen, kept a more reliable account of our family tree. Even into her nineties, my mother could share the convoluted genealogical history of our huge family. To add to the complexity, my father’s grandfather married my mother’s great-aunt, first cousins married first cousins; and two sisters from Vermont married two brothers from Toronto.That is not only a great deal of mishpachah but a great deal of mishagas (confusion)! My brother Jay would listen for hours, jotting down rough drafts of the convoluted branches on yellow legal pads that he filed away for “later.”

Jay also spent a great deal of time talking to our parents about the chain of family run department stores that are intrinsically entwined into our family’s history.

Pearl’s Department Stores began in the early 1900s, when our maternal great-uncle Paul Osovitz, unable to continue in the New York City sweat shops because of respiratory problems, was given money by his older sister Lillian to start a business in Vermont. Initially living with his uncle Archic Perelman in Burlington, Paul peddled wares he carried on his back throughout the rural parts of Vermont and Upstate New York.He saved enough to purchase a horse and cart. As his business grew, he invited his brother Joe to join him. 

Paul and Joe opened up their first store in Alburg, Vermont. As people knew them as the “Perelman Boys,” they chose the name of “Pearl’s Department Store.” To make the moniker even more accurate, they and most of the family changed their surname to Pearl. They opened a second store in Swanton, Vermont. Joe eventually went back to New York City. Paul began building a small dynasty of over 20 stores, employing his relatives as managers and clerks. Our father, Bill Cohen, was one of those relatives, spending most of his life managing one of Uncle Paul’s stores in Keeseville, New York.

By the late 1980s, however, big box stores and highway systems like the Northway, rang the death knell for small-town family run businesses. Pearl’s closed its last store in 1988, only remembered through those that worked or shopped there and dusty records.

In 2015, my brother Jay, retired and always loving “minutia and trivia,” began researching the history of each of the stores and the families involved. He Googled the internet for news stories, advertisements, and pictures. He contacted historians in the stores’ towns. He reached out to the descendants of the relatives that managed or worked in Paul’s stores. He then expanded his research to include stores and businesses owned by mishpachah that were not connected to Pearls, including paternal relatives and my in-laws, who owned Shapiros of Schuylerville in Upstate New York.

Jay incorporated all his findings into a website he called afamilyofstores.com. “If you grew up in upstate New York (‘the North Country’) or in northern Vermont anywhere from the 1930s through the 1980s you probably remember a Pearl’s Department Store in your hometown,” Jay wrote on the site’s home page. “You went there with your mom or your friends. You bought your Wrangler jeans and your school clothes or a Christmas gift. A Pearl’s store was there before the Kmart’s, Ames, and Walmart’s and the Northway.”

The ongoing project, which Jay calls a “labor of love,” also drew on his interest in genealogy. His two sons began hounding him. “Learning about Pearl’s is fine,” they said. “But when are you going to pull out all those yellow legal pads you have stuffed in a drawer and create a family tree for posterity?” It took a pandemic to motivate Jay to dig them out.

Early in the COVID lockdown, my three siblings and I connected with our paternal first cousins through weekly Zoom sessions. As we continued to shelter in place, our group of seven expanded to include over 22 cousins, their spouses, and even their children. 

Each meeting was consumed by the question, “How are we all related?” Jay, who had screen shared his afamilyofstores.com website, offered to pull it all together. 

Using a template from ancestry.com, Mom’s notes, his website, and updated information he gathered from the Tuesday Zooms, Jay  meticulously created the framework of a family tree that will document both paternal and maternal sides of  our ever expanding family. When finished, it will include everyone from Moses Montifiore (Dad was right, as he was about Stubby Kaye and Madeline Kunin) to my nine-month old grandson, a span of over 200 years. Thanks to Jay’s efforts, we not only know our roots but also our far-flung branches.

Why don’t we all submit our DNA to one of the popular ancestry sites to learn more? Two reasons. First, our entire family history goes back to the shtetl in Eastern European. Those of us who have had tests done show us as 98% Ashkenazi (Jews with roots in Eastern Europe). No surprises there. The second reason is that—well— we have more relatives than we can handle! Jay said that he expects to connect the family tree to over 1000 people. 

And if we finally cave in, send a sample of our saliva to a testing site, and find even more? Bring them on! After all, we are Bill and Fran Cohen’s children. And we love our family…all of them. 

Published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World on January 7, 2020.

Let’s Hear It for the Girls!

Victoria has a secret during the pandemic.

She is NOT wearing an underwire. And so are many other women. Yes, we have expunged our Exquisite Forms, ousted our Olgas and wiped out our Warners. nsItead, we have traded our confining, pokey attire for the comfort of sports bras, bralettes , or maybe even nothing! Not since the Sixties,when we were burning our Balis have women felt so liberated! 

I conducted a very scientific research study by posting the following question to my women friends on FaceBook: “Have you liberated your girls since you’ve been sheltering in place/working from home?”

One friend wrote, “NEVER!” Others wished they could, but were afraid of their “flapping in the wind.” Many, however are ditching their underwires for more comfortable alternatives. Those who went full commando were positively gleeful. “I haven’t worn one since quarantine time started, in or out of house, replied Becky. “Quite enjoying this and might have a hard time going back!” Bev wrote, “Best part of quarantine!”

I am retired, so maybe my casual life style isn’t a stretch.  But you have had to live under a mushroom not to know that very few people are dressing for success these days..It’s not only our underwear that has changed. We have ditched constrictive clothing for yoga outfits, caftans, or pajamas.

We may put on more public clothes for our trips to the supermarket, and we may don nice clothes (at least from the waist up) for our Zoom sessions. Personally, I have said “So long!” to restrictive clothes and said “Hello!” to sarongs. I purchased my first green wrap (also know as a pareo in Tahitian or a shmatah in Yiddish) in Jamaica to wrap around my bathing suit when heading to the resort beach. I now own about ten in different colors and fabrics. They are light, versatile and perfect for Florida’s heat and humidity. Larry has even purchased a men’s mini version. Dinners on our lanai (Florida for covered porch) wouldn’t be the same without our strategically knotted wraps with Radio Margaritaville playing in the background 

So here is the first mystery of this pandemic. Larry and I are obviously not putting much or effort into our attire. So why are we doing so much laundry? We need to wash our exercise clothing after one use (you cannot swim, bike, or play pickleball in a sarong.) And we do dump all clothes we have worn on one of our exciting outings to the supermarket and library directly into the washing machine.. But we still seem to be working our Whirlpool quite a bit. I have decided that pandemic as brought out the “Happy Homemaker” in me. I am cooking and baking more. Coupled with our obsessiveness for hand washing, surface wiping, and sanitizing, I end up with piles of towels and cleaning rags.

And here is the second mystery of this pandemic.Somehow, when I do venture into my closet for something with a waistband, it appears that my clothes have shrunk. Again, using my very scientific method of asking the question on FaceBook, it seems that this phenomenon is widespread (especially in the hips and waist). It has to be the something that is causing this issue has taken residence in my closet. It certainly isn’t related to all our homemade meals. Or the glass of wine we have been imbibing in every day since lockdown. Or binge watching Schitt$ Creek or Outlander or repeats of The Big Bang Theory. Or even worse, what is now known as the Covid Curve or Quarantine 15 (which thankfully has not happened to me!). I have left several messages with my pest control expert r to see if he can exorcize this demon along with the occasional ghost ant infestation, but he hasn’t responded. 

Until then, I will rely on my sarong to keep me happy and stress free. Hopefully, when this pandemic is over, we may see a permanent change in our wardrobes. Those in cold climates can have their yoga outfits and sweatshirts. I will be stocking up on sarongs!

SOURCE: https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/quarantine-15-weight-gain-pandemic/

First published in The Jewish World (Capital Region NY) in October 23, 2020 issue.

Measure for Measure: What Goes Around Comes Around?

Hindus and Buddhists call it Karma. Germans call it Schadenfreude. But do Jews have an expression to express fate or to express pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune? The closest corresponding phrase is “midah k’neged midah,” —“measure for measure.” One’s actions and they way they affect the world will eventually come to that person in ways one might not necessarily expect.

In a 2017 dracha, Rabbi David Wolfe described two Biblical passages from Bereishit (Genesis) that demonstrate this concept. In the first passage, Jacob takes advantage of his father’s age and blindness to fool Issac into believing hat he is his older twin Esau. As a result, he receives his older brother’s birthright/blessing.

Years later, Jacob falls deeply in love with Rachel. Agreeing to work for seven years for her father Laban, Jacob finally joins his bride under the chuppa. When he wakes up from the wedding night, however, Jacob realizes that under that heavy veil was Leah, the older and less desirable of the sisters. Rabbi Wolfe then calls on a midrash to explain the aftermath. Understandably, Jacob is very upset and demands to know why Leah tricked him. Leah ’s response: “You fooled your father into thinking you were your brother; I fooled you into thinking I was my sister.” In other words, what goes around comes around. 

Just past midnight, on Friday, October 2, President Donald Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.The president’s diagnosis came after he spent months playing down the severity of the outbreak that has killed more than 215,000 in the United States and hours after insisting that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” He has downplayed the virus again and again. More egregiously, this cavalier attitude has been passed on to his supporters. Republican leaders have incorporated this non-scientific approach into their politics, resulting in dismissing the need for masks and social distancing; opening up cities and states way before it was deemed safe by experts to do so; and touting the “success” of such operations that in truth do not exist.

After initially experiencing some of my own Schadenfreude, my Yom Kippur prayers of repentance kicked in. I sought out the high ground, which I saw in the Book of Proverbs: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; if he trips, let your heart not rejoice” So summoning up my best self, I hope that the president has a “Refuah Shleimah,” a complete recovery. I hope even more that this experience changes how he views COVID-19 and its impact on those not able to take a one mile plane ride to the country’s top hospital after experiencing “mild symptoms.”

My husband Larry and I have seen our lives upended, as have our extended family and our friends. Aborted trips. In person visits replaced with FaceTime calls. Cancelled bar mitzvahs, graduation parties, weddings, Zoom funerals. Limited visits with relatives in nursing homes.

But what we have experienced is nothing compared to the physical, emotional, and financial impact it has on others. On March 31, 2020, my friend Kathy, who had returned from a cruise “under the weather,” sent out a FaceBook post that she was being admitted to the hospital for what she believed was bronchitis. Within two days, she was hooked up to a ventilator. Her brother Bryan kept us informed daily on social media, describing Kathy’s ordeal in ICU in which she almost died several times. When she was finally breathing on her own, she spent several more weeks in rehab. She returned home two weeks ago, only to be rushed back to the hospital for more surgery related to complications of COVID.. As I said, I hope for the president’s recovery, but I wish he could experience just a fraction of what Kathy has been through.

Kathy has survived, but at least seven people in our community have succumbed. In the Orlando, Florida, area, thousands have lost jobs as Disney and other theme parks, Central Florida’s main employer, have seen low attendance. The ripple effect has closed many of our area’s restaurants and other businesses. 

So, I know I join many Americans who hope that the Rose Garden Debacle, which lead to innumerable cases of this fast-spreading disease, will result in policy changes from President Trump and his supporters. Will the federal government finally organize a national response? Will masks and social distancing be mandatory everywhere, even when the president and like-minded Republicans are in attendance? Will first responders be finally given all needed supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and enough tests? And will all leaders take a harder look at returning to Phase 1 protocols?

Or maybe I am just dreaming. On Sunday, October 4, I watched in disbelief as news stations covered the president’s commandeering a motorcade to greet his supporters outside of Walter Reed Hospital. Let us put this ten minute joy ride into perspective. Because of COVID, millions of us cannot see people we love. Because of COVID, thousands have had to lie in hospital beds with no contact with relatives. Because of COVID, many have DIED alone. But the president thought nothing of spending thousands of our tax payer dollars to get the adulation he cravenly requires. And he thought nothing of the danger he put his secret service staff (who were subsequently  put in quarantine) and others to pull off this publicity stunt.To use the words of a popular meme on the Internet: I don’t wish this virus on anyone. I hope the president has a speedy recovery.And I hope he gets demolished at the ballot box. That will be for me “midah k’neged midah,” the most satisfying measure for measure.

First published in The Jewish World, October 8, 2020.

Source

https://www.sinaitemple.org/worship/sermons/toldot-training-hands-esau-voice-jacob/s

Too many questions! What I miss most during the pandemic is certainty.

This article was written in May but never got onto my blog. I am catching up with my posts now. When reading, think of where we all were before Summer 2020 started. Marilyn 9/8/2020.

Yes, I know the old adage that says life changes on a dime, and that you never know what will happen tomorrow. But now my life is filled with too many questions regarding the future. Will Larry, my husband, or I contract COVID-19? If we do, will we die? How about my children and grandchildren? What are their chances of getting the disease?

The Drill
We know the guidelines. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face. Wear a mask. But will that be enough? We have gone to stores three times since March 6. The first time was to Publix, during a “senior’s only” hour. Huge mistake. The store was mobbed, most people were not wearing masks, and the wait at the checkout was a minimum of 30 minutes. We switched to Instacart. Just recently, however, we ventured out to Publix and Lowes, donned in masks and gloves, for some targeted shopping. I would estimate 80% of the people and almost all the employees (except one young woman sorting produce) were wearing masks. Were we safe? Every time we are in a public place, we reset the clock to see if symptoms occur in the next 14 days. The biggest uncertainty is “When will this end?”

End Agenda
The first thing on our end agenda will be to see our children and grandchildren.This week, we cancelled our summer plans. As we had done annually for the past five years, we had booked our plane flights and rentals in Colorado for eight weeks. Going there gave us a chance to escape the summer heat and enjoy  the beauty of the Rockies. The best part of the summer was being close to my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Along with meeting with them for dinners or concerts, we often were recruited to bring our granddaughter to pre-school or pick her up. We often watched her so that Julie and Sam could get some private time.

We have worked with our rental person so that we can use the condo at a future date. But when will that be? August? September? Next summer?

The pandemic has also put our meeting our new grandson on hold. Prior to his birth in March, we had made plans to fly out and stay at a bed and breakfast blocks from their home.

Longing For Connection
My children have been wonderful about keeping in touch through video conferencing. Adam and Sarah often arrange the screen so that our new grandson fills the picture. We have seen him poop, burp, yawn, sleep, and squirm. We have hear him cry and sigh and make what Adam calls his “pterodactyl” sounds. But we haven’t held him. When will that day arrive? Our granddaughter, with the help of her parents, also checks in often. We talk, read or tell stories to each other, and bake chocolate chip cookies together “virtually.” But—again the but—when will we be able to actually hug her and kiss her beautiful “punim” with those big blue eyes and wonderful smile?

Of course, we are not alone in this pandemic. Everyone faces an uncertain future, whether it be as trivial as getting a haircut (and a long-overdue hair color!) or as critically important as having necessary surgery. For parents working from their kitchen tables, they daily juggle their workload and their childcare and even home schooling. Will daycare resume this summer? This fall? Next January? Is it safe even to send the children?

For those working outside the home—especially those on the front lines—they wonder if they will bring the virus home with them. For those who have been furloughed or—worse—lost their jobs, they wonder when they will able to return to work. When they are, are the benefits of a paycheck worth the risk of also exposing themselves and/or their families to COVID-19? Now that Florida has eased up restrictions, a beautician told her client that her husband is battling cancer. “If I go back to work, I may bring the virus home. Do I stay safe or have money for food, rent, and other necessities?”

As most of my friends are also grandparents, they speak to me of so many missed opportunities including a Mother’s Day visit, or a high school or college graduation. Even those who live close to their families must watch their grandchildren play from10 feet away or on the other side of the fence.

What is one of the saddest parts of the virus are those whose loved ones are in assisted living or nursing homes. One friend shared with me the loss of a parent who passed away “from a broken heart” when he realized that he could not see his family in the foreseeable future. Another friend is limited to FaceTime with his wife who, even though physically two miles away, could be on the other side of the moon. My friend Allison, a member of my writing group, has her 99-year-old mother in a medical crisis in Trinidad, and she can only call her siblings to get updates. There is one certainty: many people who do not survive will die without being surrounded by their family. Many will also grieve alone.

Certainty And Control?
Before COVID-19 (BC) life had been more certain. Or was it? “The pandemic has handed out a stark reminder that the idea of us humans ever having had a locus of control is a complete myth,” Allison shared in a note to the other members of our writing group. “Now that’s a different type of loss— thinking we’ve lost something that we never really had.”

This morning’s headlines carried a glimmer of hope. The manufacturer Moderna said that the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to “be safe and able to stimulate an immune response.” Reading further dimmed my excitement. The vaccine was tested on eight healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55. Will this be the answer? Or will several other possibilities in the queue turn out to be the answer? Meanwhile we wait and hope and deal as best we can with these very uncertain times.

First published in The Jewish World, May 28, 2020.

Keep Calm and Bake Challah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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