Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Chanukah and Thanksgiving.... Part 2

This morning my mother messaged me on Facebook and sent me a link of one of my old blog posts from two years ago titled...wait for it...Chanukah and Thanksgiving.  Since it was two years since I'd written it, I read it again and decided it was high time to write a follow-up.  (Thanks Mom!) The reason I had written the post two years ago was that it was the first time in a very long time that Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincided.  It won't happen again until the year 2070, but I still think it's important to point out reasons to be thankful on a regular basis.

So while my 14 lb. turkey is defrosting in my fridge, I'm taking the time to reflect on what has changed in these last two years and what new and great things have happened in my life to be newly thankful for.  Below are eight reasons I was thankful two years ago....

1.  Two years ago I spent two weeks with my family in Toronto for a family simcha and to visit my grandparents.  My grandfather was in the hospital at the time and while it was difficult to see my robust and very hip and active grandfather in a hospital bed, I was truly thankful to have had the opportunity to spend time with him.  Unfortunately, he passed away during that Chanukah.  So while I'm staying put in Israel and have not seen my siblings or my extended family since the summer, I'm thankful that we are all healthy and moving forward in a way that would make him proud.

2.  Two years ago I was thankful that my family was able to spend Chanukah with my daughter before she went into the army.  Well, timing is everything.  She just came home today - on erev Thanksgiving, ironically - having finally finished her army service.  So she will be able to spend Chanukah yet again with us, but this time as a civilian.

3.  Two years ago I was thankful for the fact that I live not only in Israel, but on the same historical soil as the famous Maccabee family who fought courageously against enemies that sought to destroy the Jewish nation.  This resonates even more so today, when the threat of our enemies has intensified and serves as a daily reminder that we can stand up and fight for our right to live in this land.  So ditto to that and Am Yisrael Chai!

4.  Like every year at this time, I'm grateful and thankful that my husband and I continue to celebrate our wedding anniversary - it's truly a gift to be in love with your best friend...
5.  Two years ago, I was grateful and thankful that my kids still like singing Maoz Tzur when we light Chanukah candles every night.  While I think that as they all edge into adulthood, our games of dreidel have become a thing of the past, we still set aside a night to do something together as a family and that it something to be thankful for.
6.  I'm thankful that yet again this year we will be sharing our Thanksgiving dinner again with our same friends. Sharing is what every holiday is about and I hope we continue to do so for years to come.
7.  Two years ago I was thankful for leaving the frigid Toronto weather behind and being able to spend Chanukah in a warmer climate.  While I haven't been traveling as of late, it's still quite warm here and I haven't had the need to dig out my down coat and winter boots yet, so yes, thankful for that....
8.  Two years ago I was especially grateful that both Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincided so that my inevitable weight gain was concentrated in one short week and is not spread out over several weeks....there's no hoping for that this year, so I'll just have to up my exercise routine if I want to enjoy that chocolate pecan pie....
And eight new reasons to be thankful:
1.  I'm thankful that my son is super happy in his army unit.  His happiness eases my nerves...
2.  I'm thankful for my health and my family's health.  You can never be thankful enough to be able to wake up in the morning and feel well enough to take on whatever challenges the day throws at you.
3.  I'm thankful for my good friends.  They are always there when you need them.  And living so far from family, your friends become just that.  The Flinstones was my favorite cartoon growing up and I always envisioned a life where I would be able to talk over my fence to my neighbors to shoot the breeze, ask for advice or borrow a cup of sugar.  I've been lucky enough to have great neighbors and friends who are the "Bettys" to my "Wilma"...
4.  I'm thankful for my biological family.  Both close and extended.  I'm grateful for your support whether you are located near (Modiin, Jerusalem, Shomron) or far in Toronto...
5.  I'm thankful for my kids.  You are special and gifted in your own unique way.  And when you're not driving me up the wall and around the bend without the benefit of a good set of brakes, you make me laugh.  
6.  I'm thankful that I am able to do what I love.  Being able to teach music and bring that love of music to kids is a gift.  Hearing my student play Fur Elise a year after I taught him where Middle C was, is an amazing feeling.
7.  I'm thankful that despite her old age and various health issues, our dog, Mo, is still wagging her tail and barking at strangers...
8.  I'm grateful and thankful that I belong to a nation of patriotic, moral, ethical, spiritual, and charitable people.  I'm constantly amazed and humbled by the giving nature of our people and it's an honor to be counted among them.
What are you especially thankful for this Chanukah?

Monday, July 27, 2015

July 29th...more than just a date...

My only son is going into the army.  On July 29th.  He recieved his induction papers not too long ago and the date was automatically entered into all our calendars.  He's entering a unit called handassa kravit - technically, it's a combat engineering unit but besides building things they are also the unit that was responsible for blowing up the tunnels in the last war.  While my friends and family asked why on earth would he want to enter this type of unit, I answered instinctively that considering he's been blowing things up since he was barely out of diapers, it seemed apt.  

There is a very common saying that when the cat is away, the mouse will play.  I was overseas visiting family for two weeks and while I was gone, he had decided to build a foundry on our front porch.  Granted, the boy is not stupid.  Had he decided to build such a thing while I was home, it would not have happened.  No way, no how. So he smartly waited until I was away.  He gathered up the necessary equipment, like an iron pot, coal, plaster, sand, pipes and a blow dryer (?) and then he began melting anything metal he could get his hands on - old license plates that he found on the side of the road and a metal baseball bat that has been lying around the house for the past few years along with other metal scrap lying around the garage.  Of course, in retrospect, he probably should have drilled a hole into the metal baseball bat before attempting to melt it at 1200 degrees so it wouldn't have literally exploded into a ball of fire while simultaneously singing all the hairs off his arm and almost injuring my nephew (sorry, sis....), but boys will be boys.  Of course, he is now pleased as punch that he's managed to blow something up even BEFORE he enters the army.

This day, July 29th bears even more importance than simply the date my son becomes a soldier in the Israeli army.  It also, weirdly, happens to be the same date as my grandfather's birthday.  This may seem like just a coincidence to you, but it has much more meaning to me.

When my son went on his Poland trip in the beginning of 12th grade, he came home and didn't talk too much about it.  I know it affected him, but he's never been a touchy-feely kind of kid.  But what he did say is that he had this weird feeling - a goose-bumpy kind of feeling - when he first walked under the infamous sign "welcoming" visitors into Auschwitz.  He said, that as he stepped under the sign, he couldn't stop wondering how it must have been for his great grandfather (Melech Good z"l) to walk under the same sign under vastly different circumstances so many decades ago.  It resolved something in him about being an Israeli and what exactly that entailed.  That he was nearing a time in his life where he would get the chance and the opportunity to help and protect his country and his countrymen from those who wish to do us harm.  And that he was lucky to be living in a time where this is possible, unlike his great grandfather, who was unfortunately unable to do so.

My grandfather died three months after my son's bar mitzvah and we were fortunate enough to have him travel all the way from Canada to celebrate with us.  I remember him crying as my son finished reading from the Torah and when I asked him why he was crying, he said it was because he never thought that he'd ever have the chance to witness his great grandson become a bar mitzvah in Israel.  It was about two years after his death that I went on a roots trip to Poland.  And it was there that we discovered my grandfather's real birthday.  He never knew it.  Like so many Jewish parents in rural Poland at that time, his birth wasn't registered until he was almost 21 years old in a common tactic to avoid their sons being conscripted into the Polish army.  And as a result, he never knew his actual birth date.  Since his bar mitzvah consisted of just an Aliyah to the Torah, a shot of whiskey and some chick peas and herring, there wasn't even a Torah portion that he might have remembered.  And so, upon coming to Canada, Canadian immigration officials picked Christmas as his birthday and that was the day we celebrated for years, knowing all the while, that it wasn't real.  

But now we know.  We know it's July 29th.  They say that with enough time, things often come full circle.  I couldn't have asked for a more auspicious day for my son to enter the army.  And I can't help but think of it as fate.  And when I watch him walk away from me in Givat Hatachmoshet and head towards the bus that will take him to basic training, I know my grandfather will be spending his birthday watching over him.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

184652 - Zaida's name from 1939 - 1945

A few years ago, on Yom Hashoah, my brother posted the number that had been tattooed on my grandfather's forearm. He had been "catalogued" in Auschwitz before being sent to a work camp called Blachenheimer. When I first saw his post a few things ran through my mind. One was how I had known him for over 37 years (he was approximately 96 when he died) and yet while I had seen that number at least a million times, I had never paid attention to the actual numbers, and two, was that it never occurred to me to write them down somewhere.

My brother did. 

At first I thought it was a weird thing to do - to copy down the number, but after I thought about it for a while, I'm glad he did.  Now that my grandfather is no longer alive I'm glad that someone in my family thought it important enough to write it down.

The idea of branding humans, reducing them to a number instead of the complicated beings they are, complete with physical differences, unique personalities and individual emotional makeup was just the beginning of the Nazi plan to eradicate the Jewish people. Shaving their heads and stripping their clothes was just the physical removal of their individuality. But taking away their names and replacing them with a number was their attempt to strip them of what made them who they were. 

But for five long years my grandfather had no name as far as the Nazis were concerned. He was 184652.

It's time everyone got to know the man behind the number. 

Thankfully my Zaida survived the Holocaust and married the girl he was in love with before the war, also a Holocaust survivor. He emigrated to Canada and had two children. He worked for a mattress company for many many years and was the Gabbai (caretaker) of his small shul. He was a fun grandfather, too. We would spend Sunday afternoons picking wild strawberries from his backyard, and he taught me all the Yiddish I know (which isn't much...). He helped me open a savings account and taught me about interest rates and what would be the best account for my meager savings. While I was in college, we bought lottery tickets together once a week fantasizing about what we would do with our winnings. He would take me to his small single-car garage and I'd watch him upholster new couches for my mom.  I loved the way he would shine with pride when he would show me how he still fit into the same pants from twenty years ago - and they were the SAME pants. And how he'd demonstrate his expertise on the rowing machine that he'd use every night while he watched the news. He'd tell me how he preferred stale bread because you had to chew it longer and therefore ate less - hence his ability to fit into those twenty year old pants. And I loved how he treated my grandmother. She'd scold him and he'd tease her and then he'd end up laughing so hard his false teeth would clatter in his mouth. And my grandmother would roll her eyes at him, exasperated. I loved the way he cared about others, the way he listened. He always said a smart person was one who listened more and talked less. I loved the way he'd pronounce the word 'knife' sounding out the k instead of leaving it silent. And when I'd correct him, he'd laugh and say 'then why is it there?'  

To them, he was known as 184652, but to me, he was Zaida.  He was a great man, father, husband, uncle, grandfather and great-grandfather.

He was Elimelech Gut (Good) son of Chava Rachel and David, z"l (may his memory be a blessing).