To the well-trained eye, the dollar store is a potential treasure trove. I have stumbled upon some real gems among the chazarei. But even I was shocked to discover a cache of coveted Panini soccer albums randomly shelved with the party favors on the eve of the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Chaim Potok captured the strain of transition from religious traditionalism to artistic expression in his fictional character Asher Lev. As a young boy, Asher, a painter prodigy and the son of a chasidic luminary, is drawn to a Brooklyn museum where he surreptitiously views crucifixions and nudes. He subsequently paints such scenes.
The mere mention of the place conjures images of frozen tundra, extreme hardship and of course, the horrors of the gulag. But for me, my husband Phil, and the seven other intrepid travelers who recently journeyed with us, Siberia is a surprising Jewish oasis, even at 30 below.
The Jewish Theological Seminary professors who signed my diploma 50 years ago were names for the ages: Heschel, Kaplan, Lieberman, Finkelstein. As a student, I also studied with the likes of Baron, Scholem and notable junior profs. They all decided that I had learned enough to be called “rabbi, teacher and preacher.” I was skeptical. How did I ever pass their muster? In retrospect, I’m grateful that their greatest generosity was in allowing me to study not only with great scholars but also with great Jews.
For as long as I can remember, Pesach has conjured up the image of a mound of whole walnuts on a white kitchen table. My mother, grandmother, sister and I encircled it, as if sitting around a campfire telling tales. We dismantled the shells with unwieldy nutcrackers, filling three bowls: one with the shards, another with the meats, and the last, with the mortar wrought by a hand-cranked nut grinder.
A few months ago I reunited with a stranger who was an important part of my life more than three decades ago. For a few years in the late 1970s, while I was working as editor of Buffalo’s weekly Jewish newspaper, I decided I wanted to personalize the plight of Russia’s imprisoned refuseniks, the Jews who lacked the freedom to live as Jews in their homeland, or leave for freedom elsewhere.
I’m proud that both my children have a serious appreciation for Classic Rock, one of a select few testaments that I brought them up right. My 20-year-old son’s bedroom walls are adorned with memorabilia of years gone by, my favorite being a hand-sketched reproduction of Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia performing together. My 16-year-old daughter, while equally enthusiastic, has designated her walls mostly to her own creations, all of which — in my unbiased opinion — are quite impressive.
It snowed something fierce on the night we closed on our home. My mind, distracted by the weather, quickly leapt from talk of escrow to the fact that we did not own a shovel. I also thought of the future, when our sons, then all under 5, would set up homes of their own and leave us behind with echoes of their childhood in these halls.
I was watching my children chase fireflies when the siren from a local New Jersey firehouse put my body on full alert. The plaintive wail, eerily reminiscent of a siren’s call from another time and place, seemed to emanate from the heavens, rising and falling. I closed my eyes and let the sounds transport me back to a cold Jerusalem night when sirens signaled existential threats and fears of poisonous gas, not emergency calls to the volunteer fire department.