Saturday, April 18, 2015

Pauline Caplan’s immigration to the US

The year is c. 1899. Pauline Caplan is widowed in Bucharest with five living children.
Her sixth child, William, died in infancy just last year. Her beloved husband Heinrich
has died suddenly of appendicitis. He was a chartered accountant, and leaves her with a life
insurance policy.

Pauline decides to move her family to Antwerp. She has a brother, Carl, in business
there. She speaks French. She is a practical nurse. By c. 1900 she has found
employment with the Red Star Line, a shipping company that transports immigrants to
the US. Employees are given a discount on transatlantic tickets. She bring5 the
whole family to Ellis Island in July, 1900, but they are turned back for lack of sponsorship.

Disappointed but not deterred, she returns to Antwerp and develops a different plan. Like
a mother cat, she will bring her children to the US in stages. First, the two oldest, the
girls. They have a marketable skill: embroidery. In early 1903 she sets them up in an
apartment in Greenwich Village and rents them a concession on 59th Street at Bloomingdale’s
department store, monogramming towels, robes, and handkerchiefs. They are 14 and
15 years old at the time. The three younger children are left in Antwerp with foster families, the
boys with one, Antoinette with another. Antoinette later remembers her foster family as
having been kind. The boys’ foster family let Pauline know that the boys fight all the time and 
must be split up. Later in 1903, Pauline returns alone to Antwerp to collect her remaining three 
children. This time she sails to Boston and then takes a train to New York City, to avoid the ugly
memory of Ellis Island.

The family, now reunited, live on West 10th Street. But they move every year, because
landlords give a one-month free rent to new tenants. One year they move to Hoboken
New Jersey. Their cat who was left in NYC finds his way (via ferry) to their Hoboken
apartment. The following year they all return to NYC.

Antoinette is gifted at piano, and in c. 1916 begins to study seriously at the New York
Conservatory of Musical Art (subsequently Julliard). She is especially good at
accompanying singers. Jenny marries Fred in 1917. When baby daughter Miriam is
born in 1918, they rent a large brownstone house in Brooklyn and rent out extra rooms
for income. When Pauline dies in 1919, Antoinette, Sam, Julius, and Rose move in with
Jenny, Fred, and Miriam. Rose marries Will in c. 1920, and Antoinette meets Jack, a
friend of Will, at the wedding. Antoinette marries Jack in 1923. First, they have two boys, 
then they have me.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My post-college job offer letter -1957

It's from The Service Bureau Corporation, a subsidiary of IBM, dated April, 1957, received while I was still a senior at Cornell. I accepted the offer and worked at 635 Madison Avenue, for the princely salary of $400/month. There I was trained as a computer programmer using an optimized assembly language called SOAP, written for the IBM 650 by Stan Poley, a former jazz musician.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Slowing down time

It could be read as slowing-down time, musings on reaching the age of wisdom and retirement from the hustle of daily obligations to a client, a boss, a teacher, a student. But I want time to slow down, because I see how rapidly my granddaughters are slipping away from their childish dependencies and becoming separate people in the scary big world, and I want to spread a cloak of love and security around them that I still need time to weave, knit, paint, sculpt, to fit each one perfectly right now and yet to stretch and grow with them. Not so fast, please!

This photo was taken outside the gift shop of the Big Bend Manatee Preserve near Apollo Beach, Florida, on January 3, 2014. We were en route to the Tampa airport for Mermaid Girl (13) to begin her long trip back home to Vancouver. It was even longer than planned, because her plane was cancelled at the boarding gate due to the bad snowstorm in the Northeast, and she finally got home five days later! That is not exactly the kind of slowed-down time I had in mind, but it did give us a few more days together, so I'm not complaining. Much.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hand Delivery to Claude Lanzmann

Three weeks ago my best friend from NYC came to visit me for a week. When she was getting ready to leave, she gave me the book she had read on the plane coming to Israel, and asked if I had a book for her to read on the flight going back. I knew what I wanted her to read, but I had read a borrowed copy, so I went down to my local Steimatzky book store and bought "Memories After My Death" by Yair Lapid, written in the voice of his father Tommy Lapid.

The salesman reminded me that I could buy a second book at half-price. He first showed me "The Hare With Amber Eyes" which I had already read and enjoyed. "Show me something just as good," I said. He pulled out a book and his eyes lit up: "This one is really amazing. You must read it." It was a translation into English of Claude Lanzmann's memoirs, "The Patagonian Hare." I thought, well it has "hare" in the title, so that's a good sign.

Lanzmann was born in 1925, one year before my oldest brother, so I felt a kind of personal connection to his time, although his experience in WWII was in the French Resistance, whereas mine was in pins on a world map on our dining room wall in Forest Hills, Queens, NY.

I started to read the book during Passover week. By the time I got to the end of the memoirs, which covers the making of the movie "Shoah," I couldn't put the book down and I finished reading it on April 5. That night I had a dream in which I spoke French. The following morning I sat down and wrote Lanzmann a letter.

xxxxxx Street
Tel Aviv, Israel
April 6, 2013
Dear Mr. Lanzmann, 
I've just finished reading "The Patagonian Hare" (English translation). I was born in NYC in 1937, and after having studied French in school, participated in a student program living with a French family in Valenciennes for the summer of 1956. I knew I was becoming fluent that summer when I began to dream in French. Last night, 56 years later, after finishing your book and watching the first hour of Shoah for the first time - in my Tel Aviv apartment - I dreamed in French again. 
To be honest, and your memoir imposes this obligation on me, I don't think I could ever bear to meet you in person. The persistence and determination you exhibit in your book frightens me, but it is also a little bit thrilling. Since this meeting is  unlikely in this world, it doesn't stop me from daring to write how much your life's work has affected me. Or rather, how much the events that inspired your life's work also affected my life, leaving aside issues of personality. 
My oldest brother (z''l) was born a year after you were, and joined the US Navy in 1943. Because of that, my childhood in peaceful Forest Hills, NY, was preoccupied with WWII. The Germans and the Japanese were The Enemy, and my six-year-old self was filled with pride and apprehension to have sacrificed my precious brother to fighting The Enemy. What a let-down it was when he returned home, alive, only to depart once more for university studies in a faraway location. I'm wondering if the contrast between my physical comfort and my psychological discomfort in those tender years of 1943-1946 contributed to my decision to make aliyah in 1988, perhaps as a way to reconcile that conflict? 
In any case, reading your book this year, together with the coincidence of Yom HaShoah with my 76th birthday, inspired me to try to watch Shoah. Initially I thought I would only be able to watch it in a theater here in Tel Aviv, because I thought I needed the presence of a congregation. In the end, a wonderful thing happened to make it possible for me to watch it alone (only the first hour so far): my Tel Aviv friend's Phillippino caregiver became a father last month, and his wife and new baby were together at my friend's apartment the other day while I was visiting. I decided to knit the new little boy a sweater; knitting that sweater while watching Shoah gives me the encouragement I need. Like the barber Avraham Bomba, I need to do something with my hands to be able to face history. 
I wish you many years of good health and honors, which you have earned. 

Dorothy Kushner
So quickly did the letter pour out of me that I didn't even think about sending it, just getting the words down. When it was finished I thought I'd google Claude Lanzmann to see whether I could email it to him. That's when I saw that he was in Israel for Yom Hashoah, which started the following day (my birthday). He was going to be at a free screening of the film Shoah at the Jerusalem Cinematique at 6:45PM. Even though it was free, the Cinemateque wanted reservations, so I even decided to brave the rigors of their Hebrew ticket-ordering site to reserve a seat. I succeeded (a first!) so I printed out my reservation and the letter.

At my birthday lunch, I told my friends that I was planning to the Jerusalem Cinemateque to see Lanzmann and the first half of Shoah, and invited anyone who wanted to join me. One friend did, and we drove to Jerusalem together when lunch ended. She didn't have a reservation, but was ready to take a chance on getting a seat. We arrived very early, and she was able to get a ticket. While she went into the theater to save us seats together, I waited in the lobby next to the security guard to be sure to catch Lanzmann when he arrived, and at 6:30 I saw him approaching the entrance. I knew what he looked like thanks to Google Images. I tried to address him in French, but Hebrew came out. He took the letter and put it in his jacket pocket. Mission accomplished.

I just finished watching the second half of the movie on YouTube, taking it in daily doses of one hour. It is a true monument. I am in awe. My daughter was right when she said, "You sure know how to celebrate, Mom!"

Monday, February 04, 2013

The Amazing Purim Superhero Cake

My daughter wrote a prize-winning book. It's called "the Amazing Purim Superhero." It was just published by Kar-Ben. Some people in Miami decided to have a party to celebrate the publication of my daughter's book. They had a cake depicting the book's cover. I am overwhelmed.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

A voice from the past ... and the future

I can't believe over six months have passed since my last post. I guess facebook has replaced blogger as my habitual journal tool, but sometimes it's nice to stretch out and write some more rambling thoughts. Littlest granddaughter ("The Doodle") is now 13 months old and has stolen my heart. My time in Florida this year (well, actually last year, but let's not quibble) has been spent doing lots and lots of babysitting and some grown-up socializing for me, especially when The Doodle started mornings at daycare after her first birthday. This week's high point will be taking all three of my granddaughters to the kids day orchestra rehearsal conducted by Itzhak Perlman at his Perlman Music Program in Sarasota! Yes, the Vancouver branch is making the trek southward for some Florida sunshine, and I will have my brood all together for a week. My heart is full..

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Grandma Sophie Gold

Movie clip was recorded by my father in 1938, of his mother pushing me in my carriage, on Palm Street in Lindenhurst, Long Island. Dad's camera was 16mm. I transcribed the film to VHS cassette several years ago and then to DVD last year. Finally, yesterday, I got it into iMovie. Subtitles and music to come...stay tuned.