Chanuka Lights


One thing I had to take care of was buying a chanukiya (menorah).  Before we left America I gave most of our precious valuables to our children.  One of those was a family heirloom, a silver menorah handed down from my husband’s parents.  My in-laws, who were Holocaust survivors, bought some sterling silver flatware on the black market after the War, and a fellow survivor who was both a rabbi and a jeweler was commissioned to melt down the silver spoons and create a chanukiyah.  It is a work of art and we were very proud to use it for 39 years of our marriage.  I suppose we could have waited until we were no longer part of this world to bequeath it to our oldest son (who will in turn, someday, give it to his oldest son), but we felt it was time to pass the baton and we wanted the nachas of knowing it was being used by the third generation.

I looked for a chanukiya in Jerusalem but didn’t really find anything that appealed to me.  That left me with only one solution:  I would have to make it myself.  I’ve been taking a mosaics workshop and thought I could figure out something.

I actually made two chanukiyot:  one from glass tea light holders I bought at IKEA, and another I made from empty Tuborg brand beer bottles (which are a gorgeous shade of cobalt blue) and and a bottle of wine (it was really fun emptying the bottles for the sake of art 😉 ). I created mirrored mosaic tile trays to put them on which further reflected the light.  Here are the results:

IKEA hack:


Tuborg blue beer bottles and wine bottle:

Truman gets into the Chanukah spirit:

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It’s All About the “Poh”

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Chanuka is about miracles, and the very fact of our being here in Israel and that things are going well seems pretty miraculous in and of itself.  It seems hard to believe that we’ve been here for 9 months.  The time has flown so quickly. First I want to say:  Thank you, HaShem: we’ve settled in quickly and made many new and wonderful friends; I can daven at the Kotel and other holy sites whenever the mood strikes; we’ve learned all kinds of new skills and our Hebrew continues to improve; our house construction has still not started but at least we have a very nice rental apartment in the meantime; we have great medical care and it’s actually affordable; the fruits and vegetables are bountiful, delicious and reasonably priced; we live in a place with gorgeous views of mountains, the city, villages, and the Mediterranean; and my husband found work at age 69 only 30 minutes away, in a job that is technically challenging, pays decently, has good benefits, with a great boss and wonderful coworkers.

There is an interesting difference between dreidels sold in in the Diaspora versus dreidels sold in Israel :  the letters on the dreidels are different.  In the Diaspora the letters are nun, gimel, hey, shin. These letters stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham – – “a great miracle happened there” which refers to the miracle of the oil and the victory over the Greeks.  In Israel the letters on the dreidel are nun, gimel, hey, peh – – Nes Gadol Haya Poh – – “a great miracle happened here.”  For us that just about sums it up:  it’s all about the “Poh.”

 

Shachar, a’h

IMG_20171207_111725.jpgIn the midst of the hustle and bustle of packing up everything on the eve of our aliyah, my son called.

“If you can get it to fit, would you mind taking something for someone in your lift?”

My son had been storing Shachar Weissberg’s shtender (a type of bookstand intended for supporting heavy tomes on a tabletop) for several years in his shed in Baltimore, with no way to get it to him now that he was living in Israel.

Although Shachar had always dreamed of living in Israel and had strong roots there (his mother is Israeli and many of his siblings live there), you might call his aliyah “accidental.”  While on a visit to Israel, Shachar fell seriously ill, yet another episode in a long string of ups and downs that were part of the degenerative illness that had plagued him for years.  There were many times when he almost didn’t survive, but this time it was clear that he would be unable to travel back to America without great risk to his life.  He was happily “stuck” in Israel, and Jerusalem is where he would spend the remainder of his too-short life.

He made aliyah only with the clothes that were in his suitcase, intended for a short visit.  From Israel, Shachar asked my son if he could store his shtender.

Normally when we think of a shtender, it’s a tabletop model.  But this was a large piece of wooden furniture, designed especially for use with a wheelchair.  Its tabletop stretched across the width of his wheelchair, and its legs reached along the sides, to the floor.  Shipping it was simply not feasible – – until now.

Our lift arrived 4 weeks after we made aliyah to the Galilee, in northern Israel.  At the time I had no car, and couldn’t figure out how I was going to get the shtender to Shachar in Jerusalem.  It sat in a corner of my rental apartment for several weeks. After speaking to his mother, who also didn’t have a car and was immersed in her role as Shachar’s caretaker, it was clear that somehow, I’d just have to make it happen.

Fortunately there is a direct bus from my village in the Galilee to Jerusalem’s central bus station.  With a hand cart, I was able to roll the shtender from my apartment to the bus, load it in the storage area under the bus, and so I made the two hour journey to Jerusalem.  Shachar lived in an apartment near Machane Yehuda, a short 10 minute walk from the bus station, and thanks to the dolly, I was able to roll it all the way to his house.

Although I had davened regularly for Rafael Shachar ben Zehavit, I hadn’t seen Shachar for several years, and I’d heard his condition was poor.  Nothing could have prepared me for the shock of seeing how much he had deteriorated.  He was bedridden in tremendous pain, could barely speak, and was clearly suffering. I will spare you the details, but it was clear to me that he would be unable to use the shtender in his current condition, and things were unlikely to improve.

I felt terrible for bringing Shachar the shtender!  I was bringing him a relic from his past that was a bitter reminder of how much better things used to be, and it only emphasized all the things he could no longer do.  If the purpose of visiting the sick is to bring comfort, this was not it!

But Shachar greeted me with a huge smile.  And his face lit up when he saw his shtender. With great effort to speak, he thanked me profusely for bringing the shtender.

“This shtender is a source of great joy to me,” he said.  “It reminds me of such happy times.  I made this shtender with my own two hands in Camp Simcha.  I worked so hard on building it, and I was so happy that I was able to accomplish it.  That was huge for me.  Every time I learned Torah with this shtender, it made my learning so much sweeter.  Having it now will give me so much joy and strength, even if I can only just look at it.”

And that was the greatness of Shachar Weissberg a’h.  He only saw the good in situations, in people, in life. He lived every moment of his life to the fullest and with meaning. He never took anything or anyone for granted.  He appreciated everyone, and anyone who came to visit him with the idea of giving him encouragement, instead walked away encouraged and strengthened by him!  He loved people from all walks of life and they loved him – – literally thousands of people from across the globe. His neshama was holy and pure.

He transcended his illness with his indomitable fighting spirit, yet was a gentle, kind, patient and loving friend to all who crossed his path.  I confess I wondered how much longer he would be forced to suffer the ravages of his illness; it was awful and so unfair. But the world needed him more than he needed the world, and perhaps that is why he lived as long as he did.

His quiet greatness will never be forgotten.  May we merit filling the tremendous void of his passing with kindness, fortitude, love and hope, as he would have wanted.

Rest in peace, Shachar Weissberg.

Down Under

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On Friday I visited two attractions just outside the town of Beit Shean.  I almost didn’t get there, as unbeknownst to me, there was a marathon race going on and many of the roads were closed to traffic.  Waze (the traffic and map navigation app) took me a roundabout way, telling me to go on dirt “security roads” that bordered kibbutz agricultural fields and Arab villages.  Instead of taking an hour from my home, it took nearly 2.5 hours’ travel time and I got lost repeatedly! I finally passed a concrete bus stop where a soldier was waiting for a bus to take him home in time for Shabbat.  I gave him a ride which he gratefully accepted all the way to his home on Kibbutz Nir David (where his mother anxiously and proudly awaited his return with all sorts of special treats and foods for Shabbat; I think every Israeli mother gives her son a hero’s welcome when he comes home on weekly leave).  He had come all the way from south of Eilat, so this final leg of his long journey was a big relief to him, and he was of course a big help to me in finding my way.

The first place I stopped is called Gan Garoo (which is next to the aforementioned kibbutz).  It’s an immaculately kept zoo that is dedicated to Australian-Israeli friendship, and all the animals within are those found in Australia.  There are many different unusual birds large and small, but the real highlight is the “mob” of different varieties of kangaroos of all ages and sizes – some 53 in all – who roam freely in a large enclosure where humans can not only interact with them, but oblige the ‘roos with a much-appreciated back scratch or neck massage.

lorakeet
lorakeets
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neck rub

What a delightful experience!  The kangaroos were as tame as one’s pet dog, and each one had its own look and personality.  The joeys (baby kangaroos) were adorable, but my favorite was actually the oldest and largest, a red kangaroo with the expressive face of a donkey (others had faces that looked like rabbits, hares, deer and goats).  They reacted equally well to being petted by a 3-year-old little girl as they did an adult human.  It was truly thrilling, and I hated to leave, but on a short winter Friday, I wanted to leave time for a swim at the three spring-fed natural pools of Sachne (also known as Gan HaShlosha).

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a punim only a mother could love
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joey with child

Sachne’s waters are a crystal-clear turquoise blue and maintain their 84 degree F temperature year round.  The swimming there is fantastic.  The springs, part of Israel’s national park system, are visited year round by an extremely diverse group of people: Israeli Jews (Sephardi, Ashkenazi, religious and secular, and lots of Russian, French, and Anglo immigrants) and Arabs (Christian and Muslim) families, along with a sprinkling of tourists, who are seeking an enjoyable, relaxing and beautiful way to spend the day.  There is plenty of picnicking alongside the water in park-like grassy areas, and this is just one of many places where tolerance and cooperation between peoples defies the anti-Israel propaganda promoted by world media.

sachne1sachne2

As the sun started to get lower, I regretfully said goodbye and continued on another 5 or 10 minutes by car to the town of Beit Shean, where I would be attending a special Shabbat weekend with other Anglo immigrants to Israel who are associated with Nefesh B’Nefesh, the organization that facilitates aliyah to Israel from North America, and provides many helpful services to help olim navigate the bureaucracy that challenges every newcomer.  This annual gathering is specifically for olim (immigrants) who’ve chosen to make their permanent home in northern Israel (the Galilee and the Golan Heights).  We stayed in a government-run youth hostel that was newly remodeled and expanded, with attractive if simple dorm-like rooms and a general dining hall where the dozens of Anglo immigrant families shared meals together.  It was a great opportunity to meet and make new friends, and encourage one another with a deep understanding and empathy about the joys and challenges of living in Israel.  Everyone was nice, but I was especially excited to meet some new potential friends and we have already made plans to get together next week.

On Saturday afternoon, the entire group meandered over to the Beit Shean archeological dig, which is located about a block away from the youth hostel.  I was wondering why I had never visited the remnants of old Beit Shean and the subsequent Roman city of Scythopolis, which at one time housed a staggering 40,000 residents, when I lived in Israel many years ago!  The beautiful amphitheater, which has been partially restored, had seats for 7,000 Roman citizens.  You can wander down the Cardo (the shopping lane, lined with many stores), visit the arena where gladiator games were held; you can see the remains of a fountain, a temple, a brothel, and several restored mosaic floors.  Perhaps most amazing, Scythopolis had only been aggressively excavated in the 1980s and 90s – – before that is was mostly unexcavated and buried completely under the ground (the city was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 749 AD) and the extent of its size until then was unknown – – which also explains why I hadn’t known about it when I lived in Israel in the early 80s and it was not yet open to the public.

Overlooking the ancient city, which was a half-way point for trade between Damascus and Caesarea, is a huge tel (mound) which was first excavated by archeologists from the University of Pennsylvania in the 1930s.  Eighteen different civilizations were uncovered from the different strata, including Crusader, Muslim, Roman, Greek, Philistine, Israelite and Canaanite periods.  The relics were shipped mostly to Philadelphia, where the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology was constructed especially to house the extensive finds (and is still in operation today).  A small portion of the finds were donated to the Israel Museum where they can been viewed.

But for me the most meaningful events of Beit Shean occurred years before the Roman conquest.  For it was at nearby Mt. Gilboa that King Shaul fought his final battle against the Philistine king.  Three of Shaul’s sons were killed in that battle, and King Shaul himself was gravely injured. Rather than face capture alive, he threw himself upon his own sword, ending his own life.  The Philistine king would not permit the corpses of Shaul nor his sons to be buried, and instead decapitated them and took their bodies to the gates of the city of Beit Shean, where they hung on those walls as a final humiliation.

It never fails to amaze me that I am walking on the very ground where my forefathers walked, lived, loved, prayed, fought, and died.  Everywhere – everywhere! – in Israel, the ground is rich with the holy blood, sweat and tears of the Jewish people.  I am not only reliving that history, I am part of it and it is part of me.  The connection to the past is palpable, and the realization that I am part of its future fills me with humility and awe.

Only in Israel could I go from a modern Australian zoo to a natural oasis to an ancient city where Biblical battles were fought, all within a few minutes of one another.

Not a day goes by without me pinching myself that I merit living here on a daily basis, something my great-grandparents could only dream about in the most surreal of fantasies from their pogrom-ridden shtetls.

This new life of ours is very good indeed.

(I do not use a camera on Shabbat, which is why I didn’t take pictures of Beit Shean, the youth hostel, and the archeological park.  Please feel free to click on the highlighted links for pictures taken by others.)

 

Happy Birthday

Dear Son,

A couple of weeks ago when I was applying for a job in Israel, I was asked to write an essay as part of the psychometric exam on two meaningful and life-changing experiences in my life. Perhaps my choice of topic wasn’t very original, but one of the examples I chose was the day you were born – – or perhaps better stated, the day I gave birth to you.

Childbirth is of course an amazing and miraculous experience, especially the first time around, mostly because despite all the preparation in the world, every birth is different and you cannot predict what it’s going to be like. There is simply no greater act of faith! I remember as my due date got closer and the La Maze exercises changed from theory to practicum, I stopped feeling excited and started feeling genuine fear and dread. How could I bear the pain? (I was opting for natural childbirth.) What if I couldn’t handle childbirth in any form at all? Well, there was no going back now!

Baruch HaShem, the LaMaze technique truly worked like self-hypnosis for me. I didn’t scream from pain; instead I worked with the pain with incredible focus and concentration and determination. I got so involved in the moment that I didn’t really suffer at all; instead, I felt it was a very aptly named process: “labor.” I had never ever worked so hard in my life to accomplish something. The feelings of elation and accomplishment beyond my wildest expectations after giving birth to you have never really left me. I have consciously and proactively relived that experience of working through the pain — and knowing that eventually, no matter how strong the hurt, the discomfort would eventually end and life would go on – on so many physically or emotionally painful occasions, and each time it has helped me heal, look to the future, and move forward with joy. I think the metaphor for the time leading up to Mashiach as being like labor and its birth-pangs is probably very accurate. Childbirth taught me that I can get through what is seemingly impossible at present, and impart that strength as a reassurance that I can use and fall back on to get me through whatever the future may bring. That is such a gift (a gift that many women who are afraid of pain and choose epidurals will never know. Not that I want anyone to suffer needlessly, but it is such an epic moment that changes your life forever, knowing that you have unlocked a heavenly key that shows your life’s potential in all its force. In that precise moment, “I can do this!” has been revealed to you without any curtain or filter.)

So, on your Birth Day, I may have given you the gift of Life, but you (with HaShem’s divine assistance) gave me the gift of Strength – physical and inner. You empowered me in a way I would have never known possible otherwise. For this I will be eternally grateful to you – – I thank you deeply – and wish you a happy, healthy birthday, now and forever more until 120.

Love

Mommy

We Want to Live!

This Saturday night following Shabbat we reconnected with the world.  We turned on our phones, our computers; we looked at the news and at Facebook and Twitter.  And then we wished we hadn’t:  3 innocent Israelis dead, 1 fighting for her life, massacred by a terrorist beast while waiting for guests to arrive to celebrate the birth of a new grandson earlier that day in the Israeli yishuv of Chalamish.

We are all tired of terror, violence, hatred, murder.  Instead of “Never Again” it seems to be “Again and Again.” And Again.

Which is why, only 2 hours before I heard the horrible news, I am so glad I attended a lecture in our Galilee village by Hadassah Chalamish, an Israeli psychologist and 2nd generation member of that terrible club:  Holocaust survivor. (The unsettling coincidence and significance of her last name, Chalamish, as being identical to the location of the terrorist attack,  would be apparent only 2 hours later.)

Hadassah told about growing up in a home where her mother, Esther, simply refused to talk about her personal survival story during the Holocaust.  It was the elephant in the room, whose presence was always felt but never identified.  As a little girl, she knew only that she had to be Good.  She couldn’t be anything else, lest it upset her mother, and then the guilt – – guilt that she didn’t understand but strongly felt – – would overwhelm her.  Hadassah always felt guilty, even if she didn’t know why.  Even though she wanted to, she never cried, not after her mother admonished her, “You’re crying for that?  That’s nothing!”  There was simply a no-tolerance policy for crying, no matter what the reason, even if she fell down and hurt herself or someone said something unkind.  It seemed to Hadassah that her feelings were never validated; she was made to feel guilty for feeling anything at all. Hadassa loved her mother, but she wasn’t sure she liked her.  Esther was determined to rebuild her life, move forward, and lock away the past; she held too many secrets.  And she would protect her daughter Hadassah no matter what.  There was no point in discussing the War.  Esther knew only that she would never allow what happened to herself, happen to her daughter.  There was a lot of anxiety every time Hadassah was out of sight.

Mealtime was always a source of tension.  Hadassah had to finish everything on her plate.  No. Matter. What.  Food – – portions were large – –  became a battleground, yet ironically Hadassah realized she had a tremendous, irrational fear of being hungry – – a sentiment she lives with to this very day.

One day a few years ago, Hadassah got a call.  It was Yad VaShem, Israel’s largest, most famous Holocaust museum.  They had located a diary that might have belonged to her mother’s cousin, who had perished shortly after liberation.  The cousin, named Rywka Lipszyc (Polish spelling of Rivka Lipshitz),  had been with Esther in the Lodz Ghetto.

This was the first Hadassah had heard about Rivka’s existence.  She was upset that her mother had never told her about Rivka, who was only two years younger than her mother.  It turned out that they had been holed up in the Lodz Ghetto together; were then deported to Auschwitz together where they shared a bunk; worked in a satellite camp laying heavy sewer pipe, digging in the frozen dirt with their bare hands under whips and worse; had miraculously survived a death march together; and were liberated together from Bergen-Belsen.  And yet Esther was so traumatized by her past that she could barely remember Rivka’s name, and had absolutely zero recollection of what Rivka looked like.

When she began writing the diary, Rivka was only 14 years old.  Two years before, her parents had been murdered by the Nazis.  She and her surviving younger brother Ahron and sister Tzipora had been taken in by her grandparents, as had her now-orphaned cousins – sisters Mina, Esther, Chana.  The grandparents soon died of starvation in the ghetto. Rivka’s little brother was rounded up with hundreds of other children and exterminated.  When the five girls arrived in Aushwitz, Rivka’s youngest sister, Tzipora, 12, was sent to the left and marched straight to the gas chambers.  The four surviving girls managed to make it through the war, although Chana, the eldest, died on the day of liberation.   But I am getting ahead of myself.

Throughout their time in the ghetto, the diary was Rivka’s only refuge.  The diary,  in which she wrote nightly, was the sounding board for her pain, her starvation, her observations, her questions, her faith and never-wavering belief in God, her hopes, her dreams, and her disappointments.  She was devastated when her teacher, a woman she idolized, cheated the girls of a potato when doling out rations, keeping it for herself.  Look what hunger does to a person, she cried.  When her cousin Esther sneakily took a scant teaspoon of jam for herself, she felt completely demoralized and betrayed by Esther’s moral failure. And yet, this young girl found the good in people, and found that when she was starving – – she was tortured by constant thoughts of food – – she could be grateful for living for yet another day, and thanking God for everything good that he bestowed upon her.

Before the Nazis herded the girls from the ghetto into cattle cars for Aushwitz, they were told they could take one item with them.  What to choose?  What was most precious?  Some of the girls chose a memento, a photo, an article of clothing.  Hadassah held on tightly to her diary.

Still clasping the diary when she disembarked from the cattle car, she made it past Mengele’s selection and was told to strip, leave clothing and anything else behind. Her head was shaved, her arm tattooed and she was disinfected with her cousins in a large shower room.  Her diary stayed behind in her bundle of hastily discarded clothing.  From there it was carted off to “Canada,” the place where the Sonderkommando hauled all the belongings of Jewish arrivals to Auschwitz.  There it was sorted, and anything of value was either secretly pocketed by camp Nazis (or sometimes by Jewish slave labor sorting everything in Canada, to be exchanged later for a morsel of bread) or sent back to Germany.

But this was only 5 months before the end of the war, and by then it was clear Germany was losing the war.  In a frenzy, they stepped up the pace of their killing machine; the sheer output of goods and bodies overwhelmed even the Nazis’ well-oiled system.  The bundle of Rivka’s clothing, with her diary, sat untouched and unsorted in a huge pile of flotsam in an Auschwitz warehouse.

Rivka and her cousins Esther and Mina were long gone from Auschwitz, walking the tortuous miles on a death march until they ended up in Bergen-Belsen.  Aushwitz, meanwhile, had already been liberated by the Russians.  A non-Jewish Russian woman doctor by the name of Zinaida Berezovskaya was traveling with the liberating troops.  She stayed on at Auschwitz for 9 months following liberation, treating the sick and trying to save lives under brutal conditions with a bare minimum of supplies,  teaching survivors to sit up, eat, and walk again until they were strong enough to be moved to sanatoriums for more extensive rehabilitation.  One day she went into Canada – – the storeroom – – in search of warm clothing and supplies for her patients, and she stumbled across Rivka’s diary.  It was written in Polish – – a language the Russian doctor didn’t know – – but she recognized that it might be something important, so she took it for safekeeping.

During the post-war chaos, the good doctor forgot about the diary, although she stored it in her suitcase.  It returned with her to Russia, and every few years she would remember it but never knew quite what to do with it, so she did nothing.  Sixty years went by, and then, the doctor passed away.

Meanwhile, the three remaining girls – Rivka, Esther, and Mina – were near death; the hard work, utter starvation, beatings, disease and deprivation having taken their toll.  Slowly, Esther and Mina began to recover enough to warrant being sent by the Red Cross to a sanitorium in Sweden.  Rivka had been sent to another hospital after liberation, and they had no idea where Rivka was located.  Before they agreed to be sent to Sweden and still terribly weak, Esther and Mina were determined to find Rivka.

And then one day they heard that she was located in a different hospital in a different location.  With her last remaining strength, Esther went to the hospital to visit Rivka.  The doctor showed her to Rivka’s room, where she lay unconscious and dying in the hospital bed.  The doctor told Esther there was no hope; that Rivka would be dead in another day or two.  So Esther made the difficult decision to leave Rivka, and returned to her sister Mina where she reported back.  The train was leaving for Sweden and if they weren’t on it, they would possibly have to wait weeks for the next one.  So Esther told Mina that they were getting on that train, and that there was no chance that Rivka would survive.

The doctor’s granddaughter, Anastasia Berezovskaya, by then living in San Francisco, went to Russia to clean out her grandmother’s apartment after she died.  It was there she found the diary, and like her mother, took it for safekeeping.  It stayed in her closet in San Francisco for many years, but it always nagged at her.  Finally, she thought she would write to museums dealing with the Holocaust in the United States.  They recommended she send them the diary for evaluation.  “I didn’t want that.  I realized that it must have been very important if my grandmother kept it all those years, and I was afraid I’d never see the diary again if I would send it away.”  But then the Holocaust museum in San Francisco contacted her, asking to meet with her.  “That’s what I wanted:  I wanted to speak with someone face to face, to be sure that they would revere and care for the diary as my grandmother had.”

In fact, the researchers at the museum were floored.  Here was a complete account of a young girl’s experience in Lodz Ghetto, written with such eloquence and brilliance that it seemed impossible to have been written by someone only 14 years old.  Could Rivka be alive?  Or the 3 girl cousins?

Rivka had not signed her name in the diary, and identified the others only  by their first names.  How the museum identified Rivka Lifshitz as the author is a story fantastic and miraculous in itself which I won’t share here.  But following some clues worthy of a best-selling detective story, when they looked at Pages of Testimony online at Yad VaShem, they were able to find Rivka’s two girl cousins, Esther and Mina, and there was a phone number and address in Israel.

And so Hadassah, visiting her mother, picked up the phone that day when Yad VaShem called, and was told of the existence of the diary.  Hadassah was so excited!  She had so many questions!  Her aunt Mina was talking non-stop.  But Esther, Hadassah’s mother, withdrew.  She uttered not a sound and didn’t want to talk.  Could it be that Rivka was alive?

After much research over the following months, they found that Rivka did indeed survive the war.  As she applied for a visa to Palestine, not knowing that her sisters were in Sweden and would eventually end up living in Israel.  Ever the writer, she wrote down some thoughts on her visa application.  Now 15 years old, she expressed her gratitude for surviving so she could bear witness, but more than anything she remarked on what a blessing it was to be a Jew.  Can you imagine any other people, so beaten down?  Yet she witnessed miracles!  She felt life was a tremendous gift, and she said the thing that made her experience unique was that – –  unlike any other people who may have gone through this – –  the thing she learned most from her terrible experience was the importance of love.  She felt that her Jewish soul gave her the ability to love, and to experience hope, and to appreciate and make something of life on behalf of those who succumbed, and to know that unlike her captors, her humanity was never lost.

And then, a dead end.  All trails leading to Rivka ceased.  It is believed she was unable to recover her strength and died alone before making her way to Israel – – no one knows how or where.

When the sisters found out this bitter news, Hadassah witnessed a horrible scene.  Mina screamed at Esther.  “It’s your fault!  You should have never left her!  We shouldn’t have gone to Sweden!”  Mina seethed with resentment and blame.  And Esther shrank further into herself, silent.  Guilt?  Remorse?  Self defense?

Only silence.

Months later, Hadassah planned a giant celebration for her mother Esther’s 90th birthday party.  There would be a new generation of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews attending.  All the relatives were asked to write a page of greetings and blessings for Esther, which they would assemble into a book of mementos.

But much to her surprise, Hadassah found she could not write a thing about her mother.  She hit a wall.  She could not think, or even feel.  She wished her mother well, but she had nothing to say.  Hadassah, who is a psychologist by profession, realized she was angry.  Angry that she had to bear so much responsibility as a child and as an adult to be the perfect daughter.  Angry that her mother never talked about her past.  Angry that Hadassah wasn’t even allowed to cry.  Angry that she was angry,  She felt so much guilt for having such negative feelings about her mother, after all her mother had been through.

One afternoon she was sitting with her mother, children and nieces and nephews discussing the plans for the party, when the nieces and nephews asked Esther to tell about her experiences during the War.  Hadassah was shocked when suddenly, for the very first time, her mother began to talk.  She didn’t look at Hadassah; she didn’t acknowledge Hadassah; but she talked and talked and talked.  Even though the trauma remained and she said she still couldn’t remember what Rivka looked like, she was able to talk about her experiences in the ghetto, in Aushwitz, on the death march, and at liberation.  Hadassah couldn’t believe it, but she was too intimidated by years of guarding her behavior to ask her mother what precipitated this incredible change.

She took her mother back home; there was silence in the car.  Finally, her mother said to Hadassah, “I want to ask your forgiveness.”  Hadassah looked at her mother, who looked deeply at Hadassah as though really seeing her daughter for the first time.

“I want to tell you how sorry I am that I never let you cry,” Esther said.  “After I spoke today, I understood for the first time what this must have done to you.”

Hadassah stopped the car, shocked.  And then Hadassah cried and cried.  She took her mother home, and then came to her own home and sat down and wrote and wrote and wrote, bestowing countless blessings in honor of her mother’s 90th birthday, celebrating her life.

Note:  “The Diary of Rywka Lipszyc” — published by S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services in partnership with Lehrhaus Judaica is available in English from Amazon.com.  The Hebrew translation from the original Polish will be published in Spring 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Things in Life are Free

We knew it was going to be 18 months to 2 years before we’d be moving into the house we are building, due to permits bureaucracy and construction process in Israel being so slow.  With that in mind, and the realization that most of our American furniture was either too large for the smaller room sizes in Israel; that the furniture we had was worn out after 40 years of heavy family use; and that much of our furniture was collected over the years from yard sales and dumpster diving and the shipping costs were too high to justify moving what was essentially junk:  we knew we’d be buying our furniture in Israel.  We also didn’t know what type of apartment we’d be renting while waiting for the house to be built.  So the only furniture we ended up bringing was an antique armoire I wasn’t successful in selling beforehand;  a well-worn futon couch for last-minute guests; a circa 1955 dresser that we had been given many years ago for free; and the one piece of furniture I really wanted to bring all along:  a hand-made pine dining room table we had gotten at a farmer’s yard sale in Maine for $75.  The table was beautifully made but the farmer’s Labrador retriever puppy had chewed the corners, leaving lots of teeth marks; plus their kids hadn’t been careful about putting hot things or cups of liquid on the wood, so it was pretty scratched, stained and banged up.  I figured that only added to its charm and the price was right.  Unfortunately, however, when we stacked hundreds of pounds of boxes on the sturdy table top when we shipped our stuff to Israel, the soft pine wood could only take so much weight, and the cartons of books left deep gouges from the impressions of the boxes on the tabletop.  Our table no longer looked so charming by the time it was delivered to us in Israel.

Meanwhile I hadn’t brought my bedroom set or mattress from America.  We bought a $40 blow-up air mattress on sale from Target a week before our flight, and slipped it easily into our suitcase.  We figured we’d buy a real mattress the first week after we arrived, and the air mattress would tide us over until then. It has:  it’s so comfortable my husband is in no rush to replace it, 3 1/2 months later. We are still sleeping on it.

But one day while browsing on a Facebook group that is dedicated to the sale of second-hand furniture in the Karmiel region, I noticed a picture of a bed being given away that looked to be in good condition.  I contacted the owner who explained the bed was 17 years old but in great shape.  They were moving that week to a new house and wanted to get a new bed.  So without telling my husband, I hopped into the car and drove to Karmiel to take a look.

It was a very sturdy platform bed, and with its built-in lift mechanism, there was a huge amount of storage that one could easily access under the mattress.  It looked like the frame’s side and head rails would come apart easily enough with a screwdriver, so I told the owner we’d take it.  My one worry was the mattress support, which was a single piece of mason board.  There was no way it would fit in our car.

When I got home I told my husband that we needed to go into Karmiel the next day, because – surprise! –  we were now the owners of a real bed and that we needed to take it apart before we could bring it home (thankfully my long-suffering husband is an awfully good sport).  But I knew I’d need to get a mover for that mason board, so I posted on one of the gazillion WhatsApp groups in our village to see if anyone could recommend a mover.

I instantly got a reply:  someone knew someone who was a carpenter in Karmiel; surely he’d have a truck.  I contacted the fellow and he was a bit reluctant, since he’s a carpenter by trade and not a mover, but yes, he had a large van and for a pretty sum he was willing to deliver the mason board.  The carpenter was an oleh chadash (new immigrant to Israel) who made aliyah with his wife and kids eighteen months ago.  He was a third-generation carpenter and woodworker from North Carolina. and his specialty was custom kitchen cabinets.   Hmm, I thought.  It would certainly pay to get an estimate for a kitchen for my new house while he’s around.

That’s when I remembered my beat-up table.  I asked him if he had a belt sander, and if so, would be interested in sanding down the table top when he delivers the bed?  So for another pretty sum we arranged that he’d do just that.

When my husband and I got to the owner’s house the next day, we tried to take apart the bed, but it wasn’t as simple as I originally thought.  It turned out the base was one big piece that you couldn’t unscrew, so we took the headboard and side rails and left the rest, telling the owner that the carpenter would be there the next day, assisted by my husband, to move the rest of the bed out of her house.

The next day my husband met the carpenter in Karmiel.  No one was home, but the landlady let us in to the apartment with her extra key and so they loaded the truck.  The bed was delivered and the carpenter spent two full hours outside our apartment on a very hot day sanding down the table top.  It looked like a new table when he was done and I was thrilled.  I wanted to put oil on it to make the wood more resistant to stains, but wasn’t sure where to buy it, so I asked the carpenter.  He suggested a store in Kiryat Bialik, a suburb of Haifa.  He wasn’t sure of the name, but he knew the name of another store that was nearby.

Re-assembling the bed would have to wait.

The next day I plugged the name of the store into Waze, but Waze didn’t recognize it.  I found an alternate spelling and it took me to a mall.  There was no such store in the mall, so I called the carpenter.  He told me the store was near a supermarket, so I found the supermarket, but not the store I needed for the oil.  I called the carpenter back and he tried to explain how to get to the store.  I finally found the store it was supposedly near, and that store owner directed me to another store and then the second store directed me to a third store.  Eureka!  It was a wholesale factory that produced finishes for wood products.

The secretary couldn’t believe I wanted shemen pishtan (linseed oil).  So she called a young man from the warehouse to the reception area.  He was sure I wanted a water-based polyurethane.  But when I repeated that I wanted linseed oil, he called his father, who came from the back of the warehouse.  The father thought I wanted an oil-based polyurethane.  When I repeated that I wanted linseed oil, he called his father from the warehouse.  The grandfather proudly explained that he was the founder of their varnish “empire,”  and it now supported and was staffed by 3 generations of his family.  He felt it curious that I wanted such an “old-fashioned” finish for my table, and wanted to know where I was from.  America!!!  He couldn’t believe it!  He was so proud that someone would come all the way from America to his varnish factory in the decrepit industrial zone of Kiryat Bialik just to buy his products!  He was beaming; he was kvelling.  His grandchildren were amazed.  Now, he insisted, I had to sit and tell him why I wanted linseed oil for my table, and tell him why I wanted to make aliyah; am I married? Do I have children? Why did I want to live in Moreshet? But no, he repeated, I didn’t want linseed oil, I wanted something called “dek” which is a blend of linseed oil and pine resin which would create a hard finish on  the surface of my table. He insisted on calling the carpenter because surely I was mistaken and the carpenter would convince me to get dek , if not the polyurethane.  The carpenter told him to give me linseed oil.  He glanced my way.

No, I insisted, I didn’t want dek, I wanted linseed oil.  The factory owner thought we Americans were a strange and confused lot.

“Fine!” he sighed dramatically, and told his secretary to ring it up.  “How much?” I asked.  He told me a price but his secretary quickly interrupted.  “Give her a 20 shekel discount,” she insisted.  “How often do you get customers from America?!?!

Light-headed from the combination of my newfound celebrity status and the fumes from the varnish factory, I made my way home. I got a call from the original owner of the bed.

“You forgot the mason board!” she said.  “It’s sitting here in my living room waiting for you to take it away!”  The well-meaning lady had moved the mason board from the bedroom, away from the bed, into the living room; and my husband hadn’t thought to look for it when they moved the bed out of the owner’s bedroom.

The carpenter and his truck were long gone, his pocket newly cushioned by a check written by my husband for services rendered.  I sighed.  I needed that mason board, but I had no interest in paying twice to get it moved.  With a friend, I  made my way to Karmiel and put the mason board on the roof of the car, tying it down with some rope I happened to have in the car.  I felt like a Girl Scout, prepared and capable! And of course I said a little prayer, so it wouldn’t fly off the roof of the car while driving on the twisty mountain highway that would take me home.

How ironic, I thought.  The very reason we originally hired the carpenter was to move only the mason board to our house.  In the process, we got a bed, our table was refinished, I had an adventure in an industrial zone in the middle of nowhere.  The mover-who-is-really-a-carpenter  is now giving me estimates for kitchen cabinets for our new house, and ironically, in the end, I moved the mason board on my own, anyway!