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Empty Chairs

It is coming onto to Passover. A month ago I invited people over to share seder with us. The first time in ten years. More years. The first time I have celebrated passover since Lee died. The first time I have written died instead of left. The anniversary of my first year in my new house.

I asked Lisa if she wanted to have Passover in our new home. She said yes. She was excited. That was all I needed.

We used to have a house full of people. In the haggadah, the book that has the order of the seder, the Passover celebratory supper, it says we recline on this night. It is one of the four questions asked by the youngest child. Mah nishtanah, ha-laylah ha-zeh,mi-kol ha-leylot. Why is tonight different from all other nights? Why do we recline tonight when all other nights we sit straight? We recline to represent our freedom, the freedom from bondage. In our house there was no choice but to recline. Forty-two people in one very small house left us sitting, reclining, leaning and otherwise enjoying the story of Passover on the floor, leaning against the sofa, on the sofa, at makeshift tables, draped over each other, waiting for the Angel of Death to pass us over..

Each we did this, and people would come. Students who could not get home would hear about it through Hillel, the Jewish student group, at UF. From Santa Fe Community College. Neighbours. Friends.Jews, Christians, Pagans, Buddhists. Everyone brings something. We tell the story of Spring, of rebirth and renewal, because passover is, at the root, a Spring holy-day. We tell of release from bondage, real and metaphoric, and how those who have been slaves but are now free must then reach down to others, extend a hand, to help lift them to freedom. How those who have been freed must never enslave another. A holy-day of social action, equality, and freedom.

I’d even take red streamer paper and cover the outside doorposts and lentice-piece, as the old story says they were painted with the blood of the sacrificed lamb, to tell the Angel of Death to pass over our home. There would be no death here tonight.

Some days earlier we had met Joyce. And she was invited. Her first time in our home for the woman with whom we had become instant fast-friends, and not even a place to sit. There would be no death here tonight.

Sef and I baked matzah, the unleavened bread, the bread of haste, and prepared the house. The seder plate was set. People arrived. We told stories, sang songs, ate bitter herbs, broke matzah, tasted salt water, enjoyed charoset, tolerated horseradish on, and those of use who did not like it, made fun of those of us who enjoyed the gefilte fish. We hid the afikomen (a small piece of matzah) for the children to find, for there were many children there, including our own, and we left a cup of wine for Elijah, in case he should arrive at our door. For Elijah, and all those who are missing, being missed, absent. Metaphoric. Abstract.
This year we have invited people. Most have not responded. One person said she understood this was an honor, and, with appreciation, told me she would be away. Others just said they’d see. They don’t understand – it isn’t game-night. It isn’t just a friendly invitation to come over for a drink. It’s Passover. It’s a different world, it feels like. I don’t know how they don’t get it. But, also, I don’t know how to explain it and have no real desire to.

I know the right people will be there. Lisa. Arlene. Family. That is family. They are family. The nextdoor neighbours will be there. The children are far away. Anyone else, it seems not. There will be no need to recline this Passover.

But there are people who would be there. And for them, the empty places are no longer metaphor. No longer abstract, but painfully, concretely, empty.

Joyce will not be there. She is dying. Close to death. Close enough that she has been visited by Lee, who sits with her. Two empty chairs.

The Angel of Death is a myth. Or, if not, certainly being able to protect loved ones from its grasp is most certainly. Nothing painted over the door will work. No feng shui mirror will reflect it. No prayers will avert it. Death comes.

This Passover, as we are celebrating freedom, I’ll be noticing the empty chairs. And I’ll be thinking, while we are alive, do something with that freedom. We must. Because nothing will protect us. Nothing will stop death. Old age is never guaranteed, only death, at any time.

This is what I’ll be telling myself so I can, the best I can, turn the empty chairs into something more meaningful than symbols of loss, vacuity, grief. Because I suspect there will be many more empty chairs for me to get used to. More cups of wine to pour that will not be sipped. More memories to step around, to not become lost in, as I open my eyes for each coming dawn, go about my days, close my eyes in the dark nights.

Or maybe I’ll be an empty chair, a cup of wine, a quiet moment.

This Passover I will not be covering the doorposts. There is no need. The Angel doesn’t care. Come or go, we’ll celebrate. With life and death, we’ll celebrate. With love, we’ll celebrate, while we can. And lift our glasses to each and every empty chair and know there is one thing the Angel of Death cannot kill.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2019 in Culture, Family, philosophy, Religion

 

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State of Being

Verbs are words that show a state of being—present, past, future. Transient or continuous. When we use the verb “was/were,” we mean something that has passed. It happened in the past. It is done. It is over. When we use the verb “is/are” we speak of something that is present. Something that exists now, current. An action that is going on right now. This moment.

For the purpose of my question, tense is not important. Past participle, continuous, perfect—none of these important to my question. What is important are simple tenses. Past and present.  

And so I ask, why do we say someone is dead?

We can say someone is alive. To be alive is a continuous state. Continuous, until it ends, either abruptly, or slowly, slowly over a period of time. Suddenly, or counting down, day, day, day. One hand. A few fingers. Done. Present becomes past very easily.

Someone is alive. Then they are not alive. But they are not dead. If we insist on using present tense we should say something that is an actual ongoing state. Something that is active. Her body is in the ground. She is decomposing. Her ashes are disappearing into the snowy stream.

Death is not an active state. It is not something someone does. It is the end of doing. She is alive. She is laughing. She is loving. She is healing. She is holding your hand, raising children. She is putting her feet on the dashboard on a long ride, talking, laughing, singing.  Under your hand, her leg is warm.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2016 in Culture, Family, philosophy, psychology, Social

 

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Collecting Stones

Collecting Stones

Today is the day I collect stones.

Years ago, far away, Jews, before they were Jews, back when they were a wandering tribe of anthropo-theists who believed in a single god that they insistedGrave 1 was unlike any other, met the Canaanites, who believed in no such thing. Before they merged, even back then, we buried our dead in the ground. At first this was in caves. Then, in the ground itself. In areas that were too hard to dig, too rocky, a body would be placed on the ground and stones would be heaped on and around the body. The community would bring stones and the more people who attended, the more stones would be piled. One could tell how important, or how loved, and they are not the same, by how high the pile of stones was.

Still today, the tradition continues. One can walk through a Jewish cemetery and see graves with stones on them. Someone comes to visit and leaves a stone. “I was here.” “People still care about this person.” Over srtre gravetime, the piles grow.

The Hebrew word for pebble is tz’ror—a word that also means bond. In the memorial prayer, El Maleh Rahamim, we ask the deceased be “bound up in the bond of life”—tz’ror haHayyim. By placing the stone, we show that we have been there, and that this person’s memory continues to live on in us, through us. And the practice is not kept to just Jews who have passed, but one may see pebbles on the grave of any beloved or respected. If you see pebbles, you know a Jew has been there. You know the person is loved.

Tomorrow I bury my father. Unlike my grandmother, whom I myself buried, my mother—and soon my father to join her—is buried in a “waterproof” concrete casket buried in the ground over which a concrete lid is placed over which a marble lid is placed and secured with four large bolts. I shooed the workers away and secured the bolts myself. It was not the same, one shovel after another, but it was some closure. Tomorrow I will do the same.

bernstein graveWhat strikes me about this cemetery, other than the non-Jewishness of keeping a body from the elements, securing it from the waters, protecting it from the natural process that brings it back into the Earth, is this—a nearly complete lack of stones. Oh, the graves have stones. They are brought in, small ones, in pockets and handbags and baggies. But there are none to gather—as though the ground had been cleared, swept, scraped free. There should be a sign. “There will be no gathering of stones here. No. We have made sure of it.”

First breath. Last breath. In between, we collect stones.

And, so, today I collect stones.

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2015 in Culture, Family, Religion

 

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Already It Is Too Long

Already it is too long 
For you 
To lie there 
With your one eye open 
Staring at nothing, or 
Something only you can see. 
I cannot quite tell 
If you are conscious but 
Incapable of movement, or 
Vacated so fully 
you do not even care to swallow 
However much we may plead. 
 
I ask how you are doing. 
They tell me facts - 
How many squirts of apple juice, 
How many half-teaspoons of pudding - 
But I don't want facts. 
Lives are not made of 
facts and measure and scales and 
What do they know? 
They didn't even know 
Which way to comb your hair. 
So we brushed it back and 
Now you look like you again and 
You can go now. 
Really. It's OK.
 
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Posted by on July 2, 2015 in Family, Poetry

 

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My Novel

At the edge of the waves, at the rising tide, where the surf dug a cliff of the sand, a father was flying a kite. His daughter of nine or ten is digging a hole, arm deep, water filling from the bottom, scoops of mud pulled out one by one. His son stares at the sea. He is seven or eight, and he stares at the sea. His father asks if he wants to fly the kite. His sister asks if he wants to dig. “I just want to go fish.”

His name is Javier or Julian, Emiliano or Felipe and he just wants to fish. He is a young man of nineteen and he is out on his boat. His father is an accountant, or a lawyer, and he wants him to go to college. He presses. They don’t talk. He is a man of thirty-five, and he fishes. His sister has moved far inland. She wants him to visit. Stay. Meet a girl. She says she loves him. She worries.

He is fifty. His nephew calls. Wonders when he will visit. He is fifty five. His father calls. He has not seen him in ten years. Fifteen years. They draw near, fall away, decide to connect, find their egos, fall away again.

He is fifty-eight. His sister has died. She had an illness. Or an accident. She lingered, gave in. He wasn’t there. He is sixty-one, his father makes a last call. His son answers but all he hears is the sea.

He is seventy, and the waves roll up and down. The horizon fades. This is the novel. But I know nothing about fishing. All I know is the child we passed as we walked the beach. He said something. Six words. I heard him. This is the novel. But I don’t know what to write.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2015 in Writing

 

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Silence

I have taken a break to grab some lunch. A small Chinese restaurant. A family of four sits across from me, one table ahead.

This is the family that typifies an average – a mother, a father, both middle aged, a daughter of late teens, a son nearly a teen or recently so.

Each eats without word, but the only silence is among them. Within each there is a shield of sound. Each has headphones on. Earbuds, full phones, hangers, and, for the father, Bluetooth speakers reminiscent of Uhura at the communications console on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Each is listening to music. It bleeds beyond the headphones and earbuds, mixes into a pandemonic of sounds. Loud enough to carry the treble to my table of each individual island at theirs, as they listen, look down, fork, plate, food, mouth, plate, food, mouth, down, up, down, up, wordless, silent.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2015 in Culture, Family, Social

 

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Something My Mother Taught Me

Something My Mother Taught Me.

I know this is not what she set out to teach me, but I am grateful for the lesson about life, even if it cost my mother her own.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2013 in Culture, Family, Poster, Social, Uncategorized

 

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After You, I Insist

I am forty-eight. not old by a long shot. But still, this year, as I begin to think of myself as fifty, as half-way, I and my friends, my close friends, those long friends, those who have been with me for decades, for lifetimes, and those with whom I cannot recount decades but feel as though lifetimes have been spent in their splendid company, with those friends I have begun discussing who goes first.

Perhaps it is the death of my wife nearly two years ago. The shaking out of any sense of permanence and security. The blowing of the ram’s horn, the clanging of the cymbals, that shocks off the clinging illusion that anything lasts but love.

Perhaps it is the suicides, both successful and non,  that have surrounded me. The conscious choice to leave on one’s own terms.

Perhaps it is just age.

I have been asked to perform a wedding. It is an honour and a joy and I will happily bundle myself up to Boulder to help write vows and join Joyce and her Ryan in wedded (we hope) bliss. I also performed the naming ceremony for her daughter, my god-daughter, Sloan.

She told me, you know, I have you in my will. I knew why. She has it that I am supposed to do her funeral as well.

Joyce is younger than me by about seven years. She does Pilates, Jujitsu, dances, lifts weights, fight tigers, climbs poles, eats nails, and I think every bit of her gorgeousness is made of warm, soft and cuddly indestructibility. Near as perfect a human female body as I think anyone could imagine, like an android from a science fiction story. Heinlein’s Friday.   And she wants me to do her funeral. Barring a (lucky?) strike by a space toilet fallen from orbit or a sudden disease (like I don’t know those happen) I can’t see her going first. I told her so.

“Well, you’d better quite the pilates and Jiu Jitsu and start eating crap then, because otherwise, I’m pretty sure I’m going first.”

This morning I sent her a text.  “You know… You are the only person who knows everything. Did you know that?  You had better NOT go first. No one else knows all the stories.”

It’s true, though I’m not sure how this happened. We are very much alike, she and I, in so many ways that nothing I say surprises her. Nothing. She understands it all. She always has. Never a laugh except at our similarities and how funny humans are. Never a shame, or a judgement, or even a question. She knows it all. All about the kids, their stories growing up, about Lee and love and life with her and after her. She knows who I am and how I am and loves me anyway.

Someday, I will be on my deathbed, unless I’m on the grill of a truck, of course, or inside a bear, and there will be stories. That is a good thing. How sad to be dying and be, one would hope, surrounded by loving family and friends, and have no stories. How terrible for the children to have had no embarrassments to recount, no mishaps to retell, no tall tales to let grow over time. It will never be said of me that I worked, came home, slept, and did it again. No, there will be stories.

When Lee died, when we had her memorial, it was stories.  All night. The all night slumber pool party memorial and story-a-thon. I told so many. So did Lee’s mom, and sister. And Craig, and others. And Joyce had her share. She told them in the living room, she told them sitting with the kids, Sef, Alek, Ari, on the kitchen floor, each story leaving their faces a bit more red.  She told them as we all divested ourselves of our various bits of cloth and jumped into the pool. She told them over drinks, and breakfast, and whispered them to me when I could not sleep. She knows the stories.

And she wants me to preside over her funeral. No, dear. No. She needs to tell the stories. So the kids can pass them on. So everyone can laugh, or sigh, or cry, or shake their heads, or wonder how on Earth I made it that far.

And she wants me to preside over her funeral. Joyce, I think you shall have to preside over mine. And everyone better laugh. I know they will.

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2013 in Family, Social, Suicide

 

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My fourth book is out and you must buy it. Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief

An author must practice promotion. And be utterly shameless about it. In this case, it is easy.

Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief.   Out in time for Lee, my wife’s (I cannot use the word “late”) birthday.

From Amazon: Songs from the Well is a memoir, selected from the author’s writings and told in essays and poetry, of the author’s life with his wife, Lee, through her diagnosis with brain cancer and death five months later, to the aftermath of dealing with his grief and facing a life without her.

100% the profits go to the local charity, Cancer Care Center of Brevard Foundation. They do not do research or anything alike that and have no administrative costs. All the money goes to pay for things those in treatment and their families can’t afford due to their treatment. Like water bills. Gas to get to appointments.Rent.Like that.Please please help us raise fund and help those who have gone through this process, but think they are alone.  So buy the book and share this link.

Or just scan the QR below with your phone and it will go right to the correct page.

We can celebrate her birthday with her by reading her stories. By celebrating her. And helping those who helped her when she needed it the most. And, frankly, if you don’t want to read it, buy it anyway. It is $4.95.

It is an ebook. It can be read on a Kindle, or on an iPhone or Android phone with a free Kindle app or on any PC with the free Kindle program or on Amazon with their CloudReader. If it goes well, we’ll do a paperback edition as well, but, for now, ebook was the way to go to raise the funds.

Don’t want to read it? Fine. it is $4.95. Download it into nothing. let is spend it electrons into the free air. But buy it. The idea is to raise money for the Foundation in Lee’s name. And as much as we can by her birthday, 4/22.

And we got it out in time for her birthday. I want to see how much we can raise for them and how far we can get this.

Please buy one, share this, send it out, whatever we can do to help refill their coffers and remember her birthday.

Thanks.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Books, Family, philosophy, Poetry, Suicide, Writing

 

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A Letter to Sadie

I have just come back from a three and a half mile walk. Why? I am just a little bit more serious about long walks. Soon I’ll be pushing a stroller with you in it. Then walks in the park. Then maybe some road-trips to places you want to go. Then, who knows?

I want to be here a long time. Not just for you. That would not be true. I want to see your Father older, happy, smiling at you as you grow up. I want to see your Aunt Sef, my daughter, achieve everything she wants in life. I want to see your Grandmother, forever.

I want to see the family together. Your Father, your Mother, your Aunt, your Grandmother. Together. Again and again and again. And I want to see you. I want to see you crawl and walk and graduate college or learn the arts or whatever it is you want to do, I want to see it. I want to see my granddaughter. I want to see you happy.

As I write this, you are a month before you are born. I have felt you kick, I have talked to you through the wall of the womb. “Hello? Is there anybody in there? Just nod if you can hear me. Is there anyone at home?” Yes, Pink Floyd lyrics. If you like Pink Floyd, you can blame me. You heard them in utero.

See, even before you are born, I love you. I can’t help it. Maybe it is biology. Maybe not. It doesn’t matter. I can imagine talking you for walks, playing in parks, seeing things together. Being a good Grandfather.

I’m sure I’ll make as many mistakes as a Grandfather as I made as a father. There are no instructions for either. And I have no role models for it but I’ll do my best.

Last night I was sitting at the kitchen table with your Aunt Sef. She is, as I write this, 25 years old and in pre-med in New York City. I am telling you this because I hope you, unlike me, will know who your family is without having to put puzzles together. In part, that’s why I am writing this letter.

In a chair, near us, is your Grandmother. Dusty is on the couch with Sef’s boyfriend, Joe. Maybe he will be your Uncle. We sort of hope so. Her dog, Godiva, is on the other side of him. On the other couch are your Father and your Mother. She’s kind of on top of him and you are happily warm inside her. You three are startlingly cute together.

Sef and I are going through boxes of pictures brought up by your Great-Grandfather. He doesn’t know who most of the people are. I asked my Mother, your Great-Grandmother, Sheilah, for whom you are named, but by the time the pictures came to my attention, she could not identify some of the people, was unsure of others, changed her mind. Remembering not remembering was hard for her, stressful, upsetting. I let it go.

Really, that’s what this letter is about. It’s about introducing you to your family. And, as time moves on, I will label pictures better, Years, people, events, relations. I’ll do a better job than those before me.

Let’s start before there were pictures.

Your Father’s side of the family is all I can describe, of course. So I’ll talk about your Grandmother and Grandfather, Lee and myself, with that understanding.

Way back, maybe six or seven generations, both families were in Galicia and Galacia. Don’t confuse those. A letter can make a big difference. Language is funny that way, as you’ll discover.

Galicia is in Spain and it borders Portugal. Galacia is in Eastern Europe and it is sort of between Austria and Poland. Both had an awful lot of Jews which is why they got their own names and they got invaded a lot because when Jews live somewhere, it’s treated like no one really lives there.

Your Father is Jewish. I know – it’s hard to tell. See, it’s a religion, yes. It’s a culture too, yes. It is also a race. Sort of. Kind of. No one can tell from your genes if you are Catholic or Baptist or Mormon or Buddhist or what-have-you, but you can tell if you are Jewish. Even if you are a Cohan, Levite or Israelite. Your Father, by the way, is a Cohan, a member of the priesthood, traditionally. I can explain all that to you later. It’s kind of cool and kind of doesn’t matter anymore.

Genes. You can track the genes for the Jewish people for the female lineage by mitochondrial DNA. And for the male lineage by the haplotypes of the Y chromosome. Ok, so you are minus one month old and maybe not up to anthropological genetics. Besides, your Aunt loves genetics and she can explain it to you when you are older and able to understand. When you are four or five maybe.

You Father is Jewish. His entire side of the family is. Here’s how we got here.

Your Great-Great-Grandfather, my Grandfather, my Mother’s father came from England. Albert Cohen. His family was from Galicia. Near Portugal. His last name was Cohen. His family had to leave Galicia and went to Portugal. Had to means the governments said, “Hey, you. Jews. Convert or leave.” Sometimes it was just, “Leave.” And sometimes the request to leave sounded an awful lot like hoof-beats and rifle shots. They settled in Portugal and then they were told to leave again. This was 1496.

They could be forcibly baptized, or killed or leave. They could stay as “Crypto-Jews” which are also called Marranos, which means they outwardly convert but practice in secret. Many Marranos find out centuries later their families are Jewish and that is the reason they have customs and practices that are not quite Christian. Many even practice in cellars as part of their heritage but didn’t know why. Your family chose to leave.

They went to The Netherlands. There they were welcomed and in the 1670s you family helped create The Portuguese Synagogue. There is a lot of history there and we should go see it someday.

In England too. I have a picture of my Grandfather’s father or uncle. I cannot tell. He is the Lord Mayor of Hereford. He is standing next to King George VI and The Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth’s mother. King George is in military uniform. They are on a street, in a group, in one picture. In another, looking at a bomb site. This is WWII Britain.

I never met my Mother’s father. He died of pneumonia when my Mother was a teenager. Or younger. He ended up in England, following his father, I think. Or his Grandfather. I am not sure. But he then came to Canada before WWII and was in the Canadian Forces and fought in that war. He was an electrical engineer. He met your Great-Great-Grandmother. I am not sure how. He became an American.

Looking through the photographs, I find pictures of him. He is in his 40s, maybe. Some in uniform, some not, some in a suit, a wedding picture. I find pictures of his brother, Uncle Dave and his sister, Aunt Jane. Great Uncle and Great-Aunt, actually. Your Great-Great Great Uncle Dave (Wow, three greats) was a jazz musician. He died in the late 1990s. He was amazing on a piano and would tell us stories of all the famous people he played with. He was married to Aunt Ester. We would go over to visit them often when I was small. Less than seven years old. They lived in New York then. They lived in an apartment. Their chihuahua bit me.

When they moved to Florida, as did we, we’d visit them in their home in North Miami. She would give me gin and tonics. I was twelve, thirteen.

Aunt Jane. There is a picture of my Mother with Aunt Jane and Uncle Al. My Mother is in her 20s. Great-Aunt Jane met my Great Uncle Al when they were both 14. He had a pushcart in New York City. He sold various items from it. He met Aunt Jane. They were married 78 years. In their late eighties they would go to the old age homes and play for what Aunt Jane called “The Old People.” Most of them were ten to twenty years younger than they were. Aunt Jane would play the piano and sing and Uncle Al played accordion.

She got sick and died within two weeks. She was in her nineties. That was 2007. Uncle Al took me aside and asked me what he was supposed to do. What do you do without your best friend? He asked me this because, he said, he knew I would understand. I didn’t have a good answer. We just sat. He died in 2009. I still have his number in my phone.

His daughter, Judy, my cousin, lives in New Hampshire.

Your Father met them. He was lucky. Aunt Jane and Uncle Al were two of the nicest, kindest people I had ever met. I believe, if there is no heaven, surely one was created for them.

Back to your Great-Great-Grandfather. Albert Cohen. Here is what my Mother told me about him. He was never cross, never unhappy. There was no day he did not smile.

My Grandmother. My Mother’s mother. I have pictures of my Grandmother with my Grandfather’s parents. I saw a picture of her at the dock when the survivors of the Titanic were brought back. It listed her as a survivor too. She wasn’t. She was just at the right place at the right time and the journalist took her picture, her name, and made an assumption. Her last name was Governor then. It had been changed when she came through Ellis Island. It was Governosa. Ukrainian. Her Grandmother’s last name was Chansky.

Names. You can’t tell a Jew by their name no matter what some people try to tell you. We were pushed, pulled, kicked from so many places. Forced to hide, assimilate, evaporate, leave, relocate. That meant being flexible. So we each had two full names. A Hebrew name and a regular name. We let the regular names go and come as we needed. We didn’t tell anyone about the other names.

So when the border between Poland and The Ukraine shifts east or west, now you are Polish, now you are Ukrainian, today you are Austrian, tomorrow, Slovakian. Pass through Ellis Island and your name is hard to spell. They change your name for you. Let it change. You are lucky to be here. They can still turn you away. Life goes on.

Most ethnic groups have a landscape they can adhere to. It is made of space and mountains and rivers. Not us. Our landscape is made of time.

So Grandma Chansky, as my Grandmother used to call her, came to the US. It wasn’t really by choice. Jews were being expelled from Russia and The Ukraine. In the Pogroms, which were official systematic forced removal of Jews. If you were in the rural areas, by Cossacks. If you were in the cities, by mobs, by not being allowed to hold jobs or go to school or buy bread.

They came to the US. One day, you and I and your Father, at least, should go to Ellis Island. And we should try to get Aunt Sef to go too. She loves to learn about her family and she and I both like research. Sef went by herself one year. And your Grandmother and I, another. Here is what we found in the archives.

Blue Star Line. From Kiev to Buenos Aires, Argentina to the US. My Grandmother, her mother, her sisters. I have pictures of them. Aunt Ann, Aunt Gert, Aunt Ethel. And there are pictures with their husbands much later. Uncle George. Uncle Red. Uncle Murray, whom I adored and still do. I made sure Sef got to meet Aunt Ethel. And she met her Grandmother many times. She missed seeing Uncle Murray. Your Father had not met any of them. All are gone. The links to the old land are gone and nothing is left but time.

He did not meet his Great-Grandmother either. He was very young and she was very sick. She was sick a long time. She did not help herself to not be sick. She was angrier even longer than that. She did not help herself to be not angry either. My Mother told me that, when her father died, her mother became angry and stayed that way. Grandma sure did love me. I know that. But it didn’t help her to not be angry. She died at eighty two or eighty six and she was angry half her life. Isn’t that a shame? All the things we could have done, what we could have laughed over, the games we could have played. Don’t spend your time angry.

She lived with us from when I was little. She died a few weeks after your Father was born. He came in and she went out. I buried her myself. All I can say about her is she loved me and she was angry.

I have pictures of her as a bride. In a bathing suit. Outside with my Mother. After your Great-Great-Grandfather died, the pictures nearly stopped.

She had your Great-Grandmother and your Great Uncle Teddy. I saw Teddy a dozen times, maybe. He talked me into going to speech therapy when I was in second grade. I could not tell “F” from Th.” Imagine that. Sadie, I don’t think you will get to meet him.

Your Great-Grandmother Sheilah. Some of the pictures of your Great-Grandmother are stunning. I see photographs of her at age three or so. Age six or seven with her father. Playing, on a bike, at the park. Age ten with Uncle Al, in her teens at the beach, in a bathing suit. Pictures of her at her wedding.

She was born in a suburb of Boston. She was smart but not well educated. She went to secretarial school. She met my Father, your Great-Grandfather, in her 20s but I’m not sure when. Or where. I know my Father snuck her aboard ship when he was in the navy. My Father’s father had friends in high places and my Father got an honorable discharge. Not just for that.

She was active, rode her bike, went hiking, went prospecting for gold, diamonds, emeralds. We did lots of stuff when I was a kid. As much as we were able. We didn’t have much. I can remember sitting on the floor watching Star Trek when it first was on TV, walking to kindergarten, taking trips. She made dolls, painted clothing, refinished furniture, made wood puzzles, did arts and crafts. She played the piano and sang.

But she didn’t rest. Your Grandmother and I took a trip with her and your Great-Grandfather. She had pneumonia. She refused to rest. She ended up in the hospital on the trip. She took no time off. So she got sick. Then she got very sick. I wrote a lot about your Great-Grandmother. You can read some or all or none later on. Let’s say that she was pretty cool most of the time.

Anyway, she had me. And she had your Uncle Merrill. Great Uncle, I guess. He is three years, one month and four days younger than I am. We don’t hear from him much. You can ask me why, but I would not be able to give you a good answer. I just don’t have one. Sometimes, things are like that. It upset your Great-Grandmother though. She was hoping everyone would be closer.

Your Father didn’t know your Great-Grandmother well. He never met her when she was active. She died when he was barely eighteen and she was sick for that many years. He knew her only with a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. But your Aunt knew her as a more active person. One day, ask your Grandmother about her. They were good friends from even before your Grandmother and I were married.

Me. I was born in 1964, in Brookline, Massachusetts, outside Boston. I was kind of sick. Learned to walk really late. I was nearly three. I didn’t see well. I still don’t. My Mother taught me to read when I was four because the doctors and the schools said I never would. I taught myself most everything else. Except math. Your Grandmother taught me that. It took me a long time to figure out who I was and what I was doing. Or maybe just to figure out how things work and not be angry with the world. Or just to figure out what I really wanted.

I met your Grandmother when I was fifteen and she was twenty-one. She was a good friend of my Mother’s. I remember her asking my Mother if there was any way she, as in my Mother, could get rid of me. My Mother said yes. Your Grandmother and I got married when I was twenty. My Mother, your Great-Grandmother, told your Grandmother she should have been more specific.

Your Grandmother and I were best friends. Still are. Like Uncle Al and Aunt Jane. Best friends. I wish the same for you. It is the best wish I can wish for you. Really.

She and I made plans. It took a long time. We made them real. So whatever you want to do, I’ll back you. You can do it.

My Father’s side. I can’t tell you much. I wish I could. There are nearly no pictures. They don’t talk much. They tend to be not very close. I could tell you a few things though.

They are from Galacia. Remember, that middle letter means a lot. That is the area around Poland and Austria. The Gal in that word, both words, means the Gaels, the Celts settled there. A very Jewish area. Where they lived became Austria. Their name became Tritt, which means “step” and then they had to leave. That was in the early part of 1900s. The ones who stayed aren’t alive anymore. The ones who stayed died in the Holocaust. Sorry. I can’t make that sound good or pretty or nice. Your Aunt and I once went to the Holocaust Memorial in Miami Beach. You should do that someday. I can go with you. Your Great-Grandmother went to the one in Washington DC. When you go in, they give you the name of a victim to carry through with you. She was given a relative. What’s the chance of that? She was not ok for weeks. It happens, I guess. I have never been. I don’t know if I could.

Some of your Great-Grandfather Fred’s family lives in Israel now. His brother, Warren, your Great-Great Uncle, and his wife Merav, live in Tenafly, New Jersey. You have cousins in New York. And in Israel.

Let me tell you a little bit about your Great-Grandfather. He can be fun. In his own way, he is, has been, was, brilliant. He designed things. You and I, out and about, will probably see some of them. Some even in museums. Some in supermarkets. Labels, posters. He is a paradox. That means, in some ways, some of his qualities seem out of place when you look at some of his other qualities. I can say there is certainly no one else like him though.

He and your Great-Grandmother were activists. They were busy in lots of causes and, without a doubt, played their part in history.

Your Father and Aunt call your Great-Grandfather Pinkponk. Go ahead. Ask him why one day. Your Great-Grandmother they called Grandma. She really really loved them.

Let’s go back to your Grandmother Lee and her side of the family.

Your Great-Grandmother Shirley, she’s Bubbie. It’s Yiddish for Grandmother. Grandfather in Yiddish is Zeda. Great-Grandfather Lou didn’t want to be called that, or Grandfather, or anything like that. He wanted to be called Lou. He got it.

I have no idea, by the way, what you will call us. It doesn’t matter to me.

Your Grandmother and I grew up hearing Yiddish. But no one would teach us. The generation before, your Great-Grandmother, could understand it but not speak it. So it goes.

Back to your Grandmother, little one.

Remember Ellis Island and that Blue Star Line in 1922? Guess who else was on that? Your Grandmother’s family. Funny, huh? From Kiev to Buenos Aires to the US. Some of her family stayed in Buenos Aires. There are lots of Jewish people there. How? Well, remember The Netherlands, where they were accepted? They could start business and be part of culture. Many got involved in the Dutch East India Tea Company and they helped start business, on behalf of that country, in South America. You still have relatives there.

Your Grandmother’s Great-Grandmother went to Montreal. Then the family ended up in Philadelphia. Your Great-Great-Grandfather, your Grandmother’s mother’s father, a huge fellow who looked shockingly like Rasputin, was a deserter from the Tsar’s Army. Tsar Nicholas II. He left before the October Revolution and Lenin. He left during the Pogroms. The same things that sent my Grandmother and her Mother and sisters to the US. The Army carried these out with the help of Cossacks. There were several. This one was between 1903 and 1906. Who could blame him? I never met him.

Your Grandmother’s family on her mother’s side is really really nice. And fun too. You will meet lots of them, no doubt. Her sister Fran is wonderful. Great Aunt Fran. Really. You’re going to love her and she’ll love you. Your Grandmother has a brother too, Great Uncle Mitch. He’s in the Air Force. We don’t see him much. He’s a nice guy. He has three kids. They are your cousins. Jonah, Sydney and Danielle. Your Grandmother’s cousins are cool too. Fran and her kids, Harriet and her kids, Cheryl and Bob and their kids, Robin and her kids (and one of her kids has kids.), Jack and his kids. They all look a lot alike. At least the girls do. The Levin Girls, they call themselves.

Those cousins are the kids of your Great-Grandmother’s brother Ed, a wonderful fellow, and her sister Helen. Great-great uncle and great-great aunt. Helen was married to Uncle Shelly. He died not long after I met him. Some liked him, some didn’t. He was kind of unusual. But he was great to me and helped smooth me into the family. I miss him, really. He died pretty young. Here’s a hint how. Don’t smoke. Just don’t. Funny, but I don’t have any pictures of him. But I have pictures of all your cousins.

On her Father’s side, I have met Margo, your Grandmother’s cousin. She has two kids. She is nice and very kind and will love to meet you. Past that, I can’t tell you anything about your Great-Grandfather’s family. They don’t have much to do with each other, it seems.

You and I will look at all these pictures together. In this age of Internet and Facebook, there are a lot more pictures and, in some ways, it is easier to keep track. But the old pictures need to be saved, fixed, labeled and appreciated. We can do that together.

We can do lots of things together. Because you are going to be amazing.

Let me tell you. I liked your Mother from the first moment I met her. Really. I’d do anything for her. She’s wonderful. She is strong-willed and has a really good brain. And I am looking forward to getting to know her better as the years grow.

You are going to be proud of her. And she loves you already. You should see her walk around with you, showing you off. She is so looking forward to being your mommy. You two are going to be great together.

And your Daddy. He is as good and kind a person as anyone could want a person to be. And he is crazy smart! I’d be happy to know him even if he wasn’t my son. The world is lucky to have him.

Maybe he’s a little like I was in that he’s still figuring things out in some ways. But one thing he doesn’t have to figure out is that he loves you. He is so happy you are on the way that it’s obvious to everyone who sees him. He is doing everything he can to make a wonderful life for you. Everyone is. But he is working extra hard at it. You are going to be proud of him too.

And I can’t wait for you to meet your Aunt Sef. She is bright, and nice, and fun, and, and… Oh, Sef is Sef. She’s wonderful and amazing. You two will be friends, I am sure.

And your Grandmother. She is the best. I mean that. I hope you get some of her drive and determination and brains. Your Grandmother is incredible.

And, so, I know the best, most amazing ladies in the world. Your mom, Sef, your Grandmother and you, Miss Sadie. And that makes me the luckiest Grandfather this world has ever ever seen.

Welcome to the family.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Culture, Family, History, Social

 

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