Monday, April 23, 2012

Wrong Impressions of David

This past Shabbat we were invited to someone's house for lunch. In the course of the conversation the husband turned to the wife and mentioned something about their teenage child behaving well on Thursday. The wife said that they need to note it on the spreadsheet because they keep track of his behavior. Apparently he is a difficult child.

I just sat there shaking my head and wondering, "holy crap, does it ever end?" I was depressed for the rest of the day. Will I still be sitting with Kinneret in ten years, biting our nails and tearing our hair out because of our failed attempts to control David?! I was depressed for the rest of the day.

* * *

Last week I was going to post about something cute that David did. I realized that I mostly only write about him in a good, adorable and sympathetic light. I'm afraid that I've been giving the wrong impression. He's not a perfect child. He can be quite difficult at times and real pain in the tuchus. But I'm sure we won't forget the stubbornness, disrespect, poor behavior, etc. On Sunday he was pretty bad and Kinneret wanted to kill him. I couldn't come up with any defense for him other than to plead on his behalf as the only male that will carry on the family name. Killing him will kill the family name.

Those bad moments--oh how they sometimes drag out into hours and days--will remain etched in our memories. I'm sure that in years from now we'll regale the grandkids with tales about their naughty father. But I also want to make sure we recall the good moments. (If only they too would stretch out into hours and days!) Will it really matter in twenty years from now that because of him Kinneret came late to work? Or do we want to remember that one morning when his sister complained her eyes hurt her. We were still sleeping so David led her to the bathroom and washed her eyes out.

So many times the kids do something that really makes us laugh, smile and just plain happy. Very often, however, when I sit down to record the memory in writing--sometimes even the same night--I forget what it is I wanted to write about. Hopefully in some small way this blog will give me some positive stories to tell the grandkids about.

Of course I'm sure they'll just want to hear more about how naughty he was.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

My Grandmother's Holocaust

Photographs of Yitzchok Aaron Goldblum
(clockwise from top left; click above to enlarge):
1) ca. 1928; 2) With my grandfather in 1928;
3) With his bride and her brother (r.) in 1934; 4) 1930s.
On Yom Hashoah Vehagevura/Holocaust Memorial Day I remember my grandmother’s brother, Yitzchok Aaron ben Wolf Zev Goldblum, who was named for their grandfather, Yitzchok Aaron Bogdansky. In 1920 my grandmother, then nine years old, was granted a visa to settle in the United States. Yitzchok Aaron, who was younger than her, also received a visa, but owing to family politics he was forced to remain in Europe. Three years later he once again had an opportunity to come to America, but this time as well he had to remain in Europe because of family politics. My grandfather, David Solomon, visited Poland in 1928 and tried to secure another visa for him, but by then it was too late as immigration quotas had become prohibitively restrictive. Yitzchok Aaron Goldblum was murdered in the Lodz Ghetto.
Holocaust survivors are often described by their children as one of two types: the type that talks of his or her experiences and the type that remains silent.My grandmother falls into neither category, as she is not a survivor. She was lucky enough to have come to these shores in 1920. Nonetheless, when I think of her in the context of the Holocaust I still categorize her with the silent ones.
My grandmother’s closest loss was her younger brother. She doesn’t talk about him, and hence I consider her a silent one. But the truth is her silence is not a consequence of repression or avoidance of painful memories. I simply doubt she has more than a few memories of him, if any at all. She never saw him after she left for America in 1920 as a ten-year-old. I’m also not sure how well she knew him before that, as they lived in separate households in neighboring towns for at least three years previous (when they were orphaned). So her main memories of him are probably more than ninety-five years old.
Yitzchok Aaron ben Wolf Zev would have been about 99 this year had he lived. My grandmother could have had an additional nine decades of memories of him.

(Click on image to enlarge.)
Left picture: in the center is my grandmother's brother Yitzchok Aaron; to his right is their paternal grandfather, Kalman Goldblum (d. 1931); on the far left is Kalman's second wife, Rivkah Cheved (Weiss?); in the back is Ziprah, daughter of Kalman and Rivkah Cheved; in the front are Ziprah's children. Rivkah Cheved and Ziprah (with her children?) died in a concentration camp.
Right picture: Rivkah Cheved and Ziprah are center; the girl and younger boy are Ziprah's children. The boy on the left is unknown (another child of Ziprah?).

Yom Hashoah 2012; Reference Points; Educating David

Last night I attended a local Yom Hashoah commemoration. It was pretty pathetic. Not the program itself, but the turnout. I remember when the auditorium was packed, and now there are many more empty seats than occupied seats.
The one "positive" element in last night's program was that the keynote speaker was herself a survivor. In the past I've noted that one manifestation of the dwindling survivor population is that it isn't uncommon for the speakers at these events not to be survivors themselves. Sometimes they are the children of survivors relating their parent's tales second hand or what it was to like grow up as the child of survivors. Other times it is a historian or a figure with something poignant to add to the day.
So it was refreshing and an honor to listen to this cute little Hungarian woman for thirty minutes. Without rehashing the debate over Yom Hashoah, these people deserve to have a day set aside for them to be honored with the opportunity to speak of their experiences. The right wing refuses to observe Yom Hashoah and claims it incorporates this memorial into Tisha Beav. But it isn't just about remember the dead victims. I hope that they give the survivors their due on that day as well.
In the course of her address she related how years later her path crossed with another woman whom had been with at some point. They each recognized each from somewhere but it took a few minutes to figure out exactly from where. Was it Auschwitz? One of the other two camps to which she was subsequently evacuated to when the Germans abandoned Auschwitz? The final internment in Nuremberg? The first DP camp? The refugee center back in Budapest? The second DP camp?
How different from the reference points we use when we reconnect with a long lost acquaintance, as we try to figure out if we know each other from elementary school, high school, day camp, sleepaway camp, Israel, college, grad school, sitting next to each other at Yossi's wedding, etc.
* * *
Last night I spoke to David about the Holocaust. I wasn't sure how much to tell him, but I wish I hadn't left it for the last minute. In the course of the conversation I told him about my grandmother's baby brother, who was murdered in the Holocaust. (He was really an adult at that point, but she hadn't seen him since he was a baby.) I told how thankful I am that my grandparents themselves were in America long before the Holocaust. And that we have to be thankful for America and for Israel.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thank God for Pesach Cleaning; and, Preparing for Next Pesach

One of the mistakes I made when we moved into the house this summer is that I kashered the oven/stove rather than buy a new one. It literally took me days to kasher it, and it's not even a good unit so what was the point? Had I realized how difficult it was going to be, I certainly would have just purchased a new one.
Part of the problem was that the previous owners, it seemed, hadn't cleaned the oven/stove even one time in the thirteen years they lived here. (Likewise for the kitchen as a whole.) Layers and layers of grease were caked onto the oven and in every nook and cranny. Every time I removed a panel I uncovered another layer. It was disgusting, and not just physically. I felt so defiled having to swim through the tarfus. I've never immersed in a mikve nor have I ever felt the desire to do so, but for the first time in my life I now wanted to go. I needed to get this tumah off of me.
After it was all done and over, I remarked to Kinneret that we should be thankful for Pesach and not complain about the associated cleaning chores. We are not necessarily the cleanest people in the world ourselves, but at least Pesach makes us do some basic housecleaning at least once a year.
* * *
We are not big Pesach cleaners. I personally am a big believer that dirt isn't chometz. Pesach may be chag ha-aviv, but Pesach cleaning isn't spring cleaning. I am always amazed by people who start preparing for the holiday weeks or even months before it actually begins. I've always thought the record was held by the Jews of southern Germany, whom Hugo Mandel relates in his wonderful memoir would begin to prepare right after the conclusion of Chanukah.
Well this year Kinneret broke that record. As we were in the midst of turning the kitchen back over she pulled out a paper and pen. She proceeded to start of list of all lessons she learned this year for how to prepare for next year. Yikes.
* * *
(Click here to register as a bone marrow donor. It's theeasiest way to save a child's life.)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Haggadah and Zionism (and Rav Kasher)

Pesach is the "Zionist" holiday par excellence. Not just as events originally unfolded in ancient times, but also as refracted through a twentieth-century lens by modern Zionist re-interpreters. In the early decades of the twentieth century it was not uncommon to find "Hatikva" appended at the conclusion of printed Haggadot and the great popular Haggadah artists of mid-century (e.g., Szyk and Forst) blended ancient and contemporary themes into a continuum of imagery.
Even Rav Kasher was swept up in this euphoria of Haggadah Zionism. Many are familiar with his encyclopedic Haggadah Shelemah (1967), but his earlier Eretz Yisrael Haggadah (1950) has fallen by the wayside. It happens to be one of my favorites for various reasons,* one of which includes its Zionist pathos. For Rav Kasher, Pesach was about yestzi'as mitzrayim (exodus), but also contemporary shoah (Holocaust) and tekumah (national renaissance). He even promoted the idea that the era was ripe for the adoption of a fifth cup of wine as part of the standard Haggadah ritual. Rabbinic literature long knew of a fifth cup, reflecting a fifth language of redemption--ve-heveisi ("and I will bring"). Living in the very midst of post-1948 kibbutz galuyos (ingathering of the exiles), what better way could there be to recognize the aschalta di-geula (flowering of the redemption) than by drinking a fifth cup of wine with a separate beracha in order to commemorate ve-heveisi!**
Well here we are more than half a century later. For most of us the Haggadah is once again nothing more than a document of ancient history. We mumble through hashta avdei le-shanah ha-ba'ah benei chorin ("this year we are slaves, next year we will be free people") and sing le-shana ha-ba'a be-yerushalayim ("next year in Jerusalem") without really thinking about it. Personally, I have barely been able to get myself to sing the latter for the last few years. Has it really become a matter of ilu nasan lanu es artzos ha-beris li-peletah ve-lo hevi'anu le-medinas yisrael--dayenu!?
* It is printed on heavy stock paper; includes a simple and accessible commentary; contains an appendix with realia, etc.; and is adorned with a wonderful bifolio steel engraved illustration. The Hebrew-only edition contains additional material in the appendix. Whereas Haggadah Shelema is an academic-type publication appropriate for scholars engaged in research and laypeople preparing for the seder, the Eretz Yisrael Haggadah is a great table-side haggadah. (Later editions were printed on poorer paper and reproduced the bifolio engraving in a less-than-pleasing manner.)
** Rav Kasher's Haggadah Shelemah contains an expanded essay on the Fifth Cup, but in this work he retreated somewhat from his initial support for instituting the practice. The instructions in the haggadah text itself don't refer to it and in the appended essay he seems to argue that it is a good idea to drink a fifth cup but not to recite a beracha (one should have the fifth cup in mind when reciting the beracha over the fourth cup). The essay makes no mention of the modern post-1948 ve-heveisi and in general the edition is devoid of any Zionist character. One should, however, be cautious in attributing this apparent volte face to him having experienced a change of the heart with regard to modern Israel. Indeed, after the Yom Kippur War Rav Kasher published a tract to refute claims that the 1973 war proves that the Zionist endeavor lacks Divine approbation.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012


During one of my internships I worked for a few days on the pediatric floor. I was stunned every time I walked through the halls. So many rooms had young kids with no visitors. No family, no friends. Kids were crying. They were in pain and/or scared. It was very depressing. And maddening.
I can't say that I'd never leave my child's side during a hospital stay--life continues and there are other obligations to tend to. But I like to think that I'd be sure to arrange so that he is never alone.
Parents who leave young children unattended while they are hospital patients should be charged with abandonment.