Monday, March 23, 2020

The Doorbell

After being at home for four days in self-isolation, I decided to sanitize my doorbell. It was really wishful thinking, because nobody’s supposed to visit me and I have no deliveries on order. It was also restlessness: cycling through WhatsApp, Email, FaceBook, and Youtube got a little tiresome and made me antsy. I found a nearly-full spray bottle of some cleaning product and a clean cloth under the kitchen sink, put on rubber gloves and went to work spraying and scrubbing. Not surprisingly, the doorbell rang in response to my efforts. And rang And rang. And kept ringing. A note about my doorbell: it’s a bird chirp, installed by a previous resident at least forty years ago. You should note that I like old things, because one of the reasons I made aliyah was to connect personally to history, and this apartment is full of those connections.

Continuous doorbell chirping is not a way to connect to history, and it's also not my favorite background noise, but my repeatedly pushing the doorbell did nothing to stop it. I considered cutting the wire from the bell to the birdhouse, but feared electrocution, so instead I decided to turn off the circuit breaker for the doorbell. First I went to the kitchen to find the circuit breaker map a kind electrician had once drawn for me. This required searching through the drawer containing all the instruction manuals and receipts for every appliance I ever bought (I save stuff like that, for my Time Capsule), while the doorbell continued chirping. Finally I found the map and carried it to the circuit box out in the stairwell.

Reaching the circuit breaker box requires a certain height over the staircase. As I have shrunk with age, I now have to stand on tiptoe to reach it, while learning over the staircase from the landing. It occurred to me that I might fall down the stairs during this procedure. Then I stop to wonder, if I die falling down the stairs to turn off a circuit breaker to make the doorbell stop chirping because I was sanitizing the doorbell to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, would my death count with the WHO as a Coronavirus death? With this thought in mind I leaned and tiptoed very carefully and switched off the circuit breaker. The chirping stopped. Proudly I returned inside, closed the door and proceeded to check what else was shut. The bathroom lights. No problem, I can find the bathroom in the dark. The hot water heater. That would mean I might have to listen to chirping for ½ hour to heat water in the morning. Doable. The washer and dryer are also located in the bathroom. They don’t work either. Well, no laundry needs washing just now. Perhaps in a few hours the doorbell will have dried out and chirp only when pushed? Wait and see.

A few hours pass quickly, thanks to WhatsApp, Email, FaceBook, and Youtube. Once again I risk my life to stand on tiptoes and reach the circuit-breaker, this time to turn it back on. No noise! Push the doorbell. Only one chirp! Yay! Check the bathroom. Lights work. Check the hot water heater. Heating light goes on. Check the dryer. Drying starts. Check the washing machine. Nothing. Uh oh. It’s a machine I bought one year ago, and foolishly paid for an 8-year warrantee. In theory, I am entitled to call the service company to come and find out why my washing machine doesn’t work, or I could call a kind electrician to come and do the same thing for money, but in reality I can’t do any of those things because, even without Coronavirus restrictions, it’s Thursday night. What I can do is think about how to get my laundry to a neighbor’s machine when I'm not supposed to leave my house.

Next morning (Friday) I go to check the washing machine again and it works! Why? Because sometimes broken electric and electronic things fix themselves if you give them the time they need. But after the weekend...

...On Monday I needed to do laundry and sometime during the washing I saw a lot of water on the bathroom and hallway floor. A small survey of the back of the washing machine showed that when I had checked the washing machine on Thursday night, unplugging it and re-plugging it, I accidentally knocked the water drain hose out of the drainpipe. A mopping up operation ensued. The cycle of events would have been complete if the doorbell had gotten dirty again.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Ursula's Beach Mitzvah August 5, 2016

Ursula’s Beach Mitzvah


The event would take place in the presence of Ursula’s immediate family at the end of a 12-day visit to Savta in Israel. Ursula had arrived first, taking her first solo transatlantic trip. Her parents followed her after a week 
Ursula (12) had no preparatory study, and very little exposure to institutional Judaism. Her closest family on her father's side (my side) are non-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews, plus  a couple of Chinese cousins.

Nova, her mother, is anti-Christian-religion, father English, mother Japanese.

James, her father, had a liberal Jewish education including Bar Mitzvah in a Reform Temple and some additional studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary's high school program, in New York city.

Savta (that's me), Ursula's paternal grandmother, had no formal Jewish education, and made aliyah (moved to Israel) in 1988 in search of community and a personal connection to Jewish history, and a strong distaste for rampant consumerism.

John, Nova's half-brother. John and Nova had the same English father, but John's mother is Ashkenazi Jewish-American. John has been a professor at University of Haifa since 1994. His daughters are Ursula's cousins.

Jan, James's cousin, Savta's niece. Jan is an Ashkenazi Jewish-American, coincidentally visiting Israel during Ursula's visit.


Discussing the idea

Prior to Ursula’s arrival on July 24, 2016, Savta consulted Nova to determine her constraints: no mention of God, no bibles, no synagogue, no rabbi. Then, after Ursula arrived in Israel, Savta consulted directly with her to determine her willingness, given Nova’s constraints. Then, at a family dinner on August 1 there was a lively group discussion about what to emphasize at the ceremony: various meanings of Judaism, Jewishness, Israel, peoplehood. Savta appointed John to officiate and John objected strenuously, mostly because of lack of time to prepare, but he promised to give it some thought.


Sent from Savta by email on August 3, two days before the event, only to people who could attend on such short notice: visiting family, Israel family, and Savta’s Tel Aviv close friends; no Shabbat observers, no overseas family or overseas friends.

In honor of Ursula Kushner's 12th birthday visit to Israel, which ends August 6, you are invited to her Beach Mitzvah at Cafe Tsfoni BeTayelet, Tel Aviv, on Friday, August 5, from 7pm until 9pm. In case you've never attended a Beach Mitzvah, neither has any of us. It might or might not include a public statement from Ursula herself. You will be welcome to speak or sing words of advice to her. In consideration of the family's "No Checked Baggage" policy, no gifts please. Donations may be made to Israel Guide Dogs for the BlindMagen David Adom, or the Tel Aviv Opera Workshop/.

We will be sitting on the sand and in cafe beach chairs. Swimming may happen. There will be homemade cake. You may choose to bring food to eat or to share, or order something from the extensive cafe menu. We will see the sunset.

Choosing Hebrew Name

At the Soup Salon on August 6, three hours prior to the procession to the beach, discussion centered on Ursula choosing a Hebrew name. Ursula means “little bear.” The Hebrew equivalent is Duba (feminine form), but that word has bad connotations in Hebrew and was emphatically rejected by all Hebrew speakers present. Various other criteria were proposed: similar spelling, similar sounds, something related to an animal. The choices were finally narrowed down to Or, Tslil, or Yael.


John’s words
We are here to celebrate Ursula's bat mitzvah. We're going to keep this short and simple.
Hebrew name?

[Ursula says "Yael"]

The purpose of the bat mitzvah ceremony in the Jewish tradition is to affirm publicly that the person is an adult member of the Jewish people.This is done at the age of 12 for girls and the age of 13 for boys, and Ursula recently celebrated her 12th birthday. So let me ask Ursula--do you want to affirm as an adult, as someone who makes her own decisions, that you want to be a member of the Jewish people?

[Ursula says "I Do"]

Well then I will affirm that you are indeed a member of the Jewish people.
Now regarding being an adult.

Being an adult in any society involves both rights and responsibilities, which you did not have when you were a child, and you are at a time in your life when you will begin to have these rights and responsibilities.

There are many of these rights and responsibilities, but I only want to mention here one right and one responsibility.

You have the RIGHT to call yourself a Jew and and you have the right to define being a Jew however you want. You can define what you want to believe as a Jew and you can define what you want to do as a Jew.

You can believe in God or you can not believe in God. You can observe Jewish religious laws or you can not observe Jewish religious laws. You can observe some Jewish religious laws and not others, of your own choosing. You can go to synagogue whenever you want, and you can choose never to go to synagogue. No matter what anyone says to you, you have the right to consider yourself a Jew and to call yourself a Jew.

However you also have the obligation to learn more about the Jewish people, our history, and to use what you learn in deciding how you think of yourself as being a Jew. You don't have to learn this at any particular time or in any particular way, it can start tomorrow or it can start in 10 or 20 years or at any time in your life, and you can learn this alone or from a teacher or in a group setting. And you will never be tested by anyone on this. But you have to learn more.

Do you agree to do this?

 [Ursula says "Yes"]

Speakers: James (Yaacov ben Reuven), Jan (Jan, bat Reuven), Merona Bat Avraham, Savta (Dvora bat Yaacov), Ursula (Yael bat Yaacov).

James’s words 


Jan’s words  [sung to the tune of “Puff the Magic Dragon”]

Ursula, my cousin, lives by the sea. 
She performs in opera, plays iPad games with glee.

Plans trips, read, acts, sneezes, Ursula does with flare.
Savvy traveler, patient sis, she aims arrows with care.

Whatever life brings her, may she keep her head high, 
Maintain a sunny perspective in her search for spinach pie.

May she grow up happy, seek new points of view,
Treat people kindly, keep an open mind, and learn what for her is new.

O, Ursula, my cousin, lives by the sea.  
She can sing all of Hamilton and write creatively,

Loves friends, acts, sings musicals, Ursula does with flare.
Growls when needed, knows herself. May she stay strong as a bear.

Merona's words 

Now that you're a Jew, learn how to flee! Jews are always on the run.

Savta’s words

To my granddaughter Ursula/Yael

Earlier this week your voice carried throughout the empty auditorium of the Israel Opera House for the first time. The secret is out (to the 12 of us who were there with you on stage: you have a powerful voice and a strong presence. My wish for you is to use them as your parents do: to teach, to learn, to share, to help, to accept help, to sing and dance with joy. And may you always have a full house!

Ursula’s words

I don’t know who I am yet, but I’m definitely getting a clearer idea than before. I am mostly interested in writing and here is some music.

Ursula then sings the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, in Italian, from Verdi’s opera Nabucco.

[Throw candy, eat cake, and go home.]

Photos [more to come]

Ursula arrives at Ben Gurion Airport, greeted by Uncle John and Savta

On the ramparts of Jerusalem's Old City walls, August 3

On Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard, July 25

 Sister reunited at Savta's, July 31

James (Dad), Nova (Mom) and John (Uncle)

Jan and Fadil (Dad's cousins)

Helena (Sister)

At John's house in Tel Aviv on departure day

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.