Archive | July 2011

Do Jews hold a Grudge Against Germany?

edit: To add some more to this sentiment: My parents this summer visited Germany. My mom was hesitant to go but she went. They took a river cruise on the Rhine and had a wonderful time. And, everywhere they went, there was not a single place visited where their tour guide did NOT make a mention of the atrocities that happened to the Jews during the Holocaust. The tourguide was extremely compassionate as he discussed the plight of the German Jews with my parents. They would certainly recommend a trip to Germany now that they visited. 

A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of participating in some intense Jewish study with some very intelligent women in my neighborood. The study session was held in preparation for a nine-day mourning period in Judaism that happens each summer culminating with the fast day of Tish B’Av, or the ninth of the Hebrew month of Av.

During this time,  no meat is consumed. Religious women run lots of clothes through the wash before the nine days because no clothing can be laundered in this time period. Swimming is off limits as well.

Why?

This time marks some of the saddest occasions in Jewish history, most notable are the destruction of the two Holy Temples - first in 423 B.C.E. and then 70 C.E. – that once stood on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temples also marked the Jewish Exile from Israel, which ended only with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948.

So, why mourn something that happened millenia ago?  The issue of how to make  that feeling of mourning relevant today was the topic of our study session.

I started to write this post a day before our study, but what gave me the chills is how our moderator opened the talk with another time of destruction in recent Jewish history: the Holocaust. Even if you didn’t have a direct loss in your family, it was a loss for the Jewish family as a whole, a loss that is still viscerally ingrained in the Jewish psyche today. We should also strive as Jews to make the loss of the Temples just as palpable.

Getting back to the Holocaust:

A few things I deducted from my Hebrew school education about the Holocaust, as taught by our rabbi, son of Holocaust survivors:

  • After the destruction of Jewish life and Jewish culture under the Third Reich, Jews should Never Forget.  Therefore, Jews should never again set foot in Germany
  • Because of Hitler’s infatuation with composer Richard Wagner, because Wagner’s music was the soundtrack of music played as Jews marched to their deaths in concentration camps, Jews shoud Never listen to or play compositions by Wagner.
  • Jews don’t buy BMWs or Volkswagons
  • Again, Jews don’t visit Germany

I held onto these notions a for a long time, including during the summer of 1989, when I spent a month in Israel volunteering on a kibbutz in Israel’s northern region.  To my surprise, many of the other volunteers were not Jewish kids; most were European. To my further surprise, many of them were German.

I never knew any Germans before this encounter.  As I got to know them, I found them to be gentle and kind. They also had a thirst for learning all they could about Jewish culture, Hebrew, Jewish holidays – anything Jewish they could get their hands on, they wanted to learn about.

I asked them – why?

Their explanation: Germans of their generation felt an enormous sense of guilt as to what happened in their country, and that guilt was unjustified. They wanted to learn about Judaism, because, at the time, there were very few Jews in Germany. Still, I expressed my reluctance to ever visit their country.

Instead of being angry with me, their reaction was one of sadness.

Over 20 years have passed and I still struggle with my feelings about contemporary Germany. But just in the last week, there was media coverage about Jews and Germany that is making me reconsider.

The other evening, I listened on NPR the unthinkable: that the Israeli symphony was in Germany playing Wagner compositions.

Former Soviet Jews and young Israelis are settling in Berlin. There, they enjoy a thriving cosmopolitan culture with nighclubs, art galleries and community centers – all with an Israeli twist.

Another one of my brilliant neighbors, Athene Goldstein, returned from a visit to Germany, where her son-in-law, a professor, was delivering a talk on Jewish history in Germany. There, she also visited a museum in Berlin dedicated to Jewish culture. From her working knowledge of German, she could tell that none of the museum’s visitors were Jewish, but again, just as I experienced on that kibbutz, there was that intense curioustiy of wanting to know about Judaism.

“The museum was filled with basic Jewish artifacts: Sabbath candles, Torah Scrolls, a menorah for Chanukkah,” said Athene. “It was Judaism 101. But that is where they are. Germans are very up front about what happened in their country under the Nazis. Now, they just want to know about who their country tried to completely destroy.”

Is the fact that the Jewish population is growing in Germany a sign that Jews are forgetting their past? Or is it perhaps, maybe the best way to deal with the memory of the six million lives lost is to replace what was lost by renewing life there once again?

What I’ve learned from one year plus one month of Blogging

LoveLetter

I’ve seen a lot of posts that celebrate bloggerversaries, for lack of a better word. So, as my blog approaches 20,000 hits by the end of the month,  here are some things I’ve learned about blogging, and the blog statistics that keep track of how my blog is viewed:

  • First, I am thankful for every hit to my blog and thank people for visiting Transplantednorth and the encouragement given through your comments.  To reciprocate, I do my best to read a few blogs each day and if I am searching for a topic, I search WordPress posts in addition to searching on Google.
  • There is a definate feeling of euphoria after a blog post has become Freshly Pressed. I got freshly pressed after blogging for only four months. But after that one glorious time, I am forever chasing to repeat that high like  a common  street junkie. Checking stats has become an obsession. One blogger likens the additiction to getting a high score on video games.
  • Like many bloggers, I am making no money doing this – yet. But like many bloggers, I am going to do my best to figure out how I can turn every hit into a dollar. Or at least a quarter.

Here is what I have learned from WordPress’s statistic keeping tools:

  •  There are people out there who really want Trader Joes to come to the Rochester area. The proof:  Over the last year, almost 100 searches about “Trader Joes Pittsford” or “Trader Joes Rochester” or “Trader Joes Western New York” drew readers, or at least clicks, to my blog post about my longing for Trader Joes to find a home in Rochester.  This post has received 259 views since I first put it up in September. And, it still gets about five views each day.
  • In spite of the ever-present permeance of  tweets and texts in everyday life, everyone still loves a good, old-fashioned, handwritten love letter.  There are people out there who are either lonely and want to read hand-written love letters, or who are searching for a love letter template to emulate. How do I know this? My post Hey…vs. the Love Letter, which I posted during National Letter Writing Week back in January, has received the most hits on my blog: a whopping 6,554 views.  I am almost tempted to take this post down. I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into becoming the love letter blogger. I never even posted an actual love letter.   But, it is a reliable draw to my blog, and it is my hope that once there, people will explore other dimensions of my writing. 
  • Hits to my blog definately slow down during vacation weeks, like Christmas and Easter week, and are slower in the summer months.
  • Bloggers are interested in gardening. At least they are interested in arugula:  I’ve had 172 hits to my blog in the last year as a result of people searching for “arugula.”
  • Since I’ve blogged about a cleanliness checklist for sleepaway campers, many out there are searching for “shampoo bottle” or “fish shaped shampoo bottle” have discovered my blog. I have no idea what or why these searches were performed, but I hope the searchers were happy to find my blog.

Overall, I have discovered that I have things to say and thoughts to think and there are people who want to read them. Even more than writing my weekly column in Rochester’s main newspaper, the Democrat & Chronicle, blogging has given me the confidence to know that yes, I can come up with ideas that I can put down and express in written words. And these ideas are sought after and (hopefully) read. With some fine tuning, I can turn these ideas into articles that I plan to pitch to publications.  Then, at last, my dream of writing for my life will be fulfilled.

…..Well, one can dream, can’t they? In the meantime, I’m off to wake the kids and make breakfast.

The Case of the Magically Disappearing Transplant

Brace yourself. This post is a bit of a downer….

Something happens each summer to me, I don’t know if it is because I’m a transplant, or maybe you feel this way in a place you’ve lived all your life. But, each summer, I feel like Harry Potter who has donned his invisibility cloak, though not voluntarily. And it seems as though I have disappeared.

The phone hasn’t rang. Well it rang once.I actually picked up the phone the other day and willingly offered to participate in a marketing research survey about childhood immunization. But, because I do not have an infant between the ages of 2 to 22 months, I didn’t qualify and – a telemarketer actually hung up on me.

It’s hot. I have no pool to invite anyone over to swim. No boat to invite friends to have drinks and tapas at sunset.  I just have – me to offer you.

Do you ever feel like you are just missing out by not having the most fantastic incredible summer ever? The ever permanence of social networking like Facebook and Twitter make it all the more evident. If you are not at your vacation destination in the south of France, or off at a lake house each weekend, it feels you are left in the hot summer dust.

Maybe its the timing of our vacation that sets my summer off kilter. Like the sea turtle or salmon, each year we travel back the beaches and shores of our ancestry and go Island hopping – in the New York metro area.

 Our usual vacation resort destination: Our childhood bedrooms and basements. We spend time with family, try to see some old friends who never transplanted far from their roots, and take in some sites in one of the greatest cities on the planet.

Then, we head “home.”  To quiet Rochester. To seemingly absolute nothingness.  As much as we scramble to see the friends we left behind in New York, it seems like there is no one to get back in touch with back in Rochester. No one seems to be around and all attempts to make plans fall short and are met with “maybe some other time.”

The first years I encountered this lack of social contact and plans in the summer, I felt quite lonely and isolated. Now, I look forward to these low-profile weeks. They give me an opportunity to catch up on:

  • Organizing sock drawers
  • Reading
  • Weeding my garden
  • Going through the clothes in the attic
  • Baking peach pies

But still, it would be nice to find a walking buddy in the early morning or evenings, like I see so many other women pairs. I think – how do they do that? How do they keep standing walking dates – who calls who?

We did get one summer invitation this summer: to a princess birthday party of my new neighbor’s daughter who just turned four. A real princess party with crowns and ballet tutu wearing girls. And neighbors who go months living next to each other but not seeing each other on a social basis that much.

My new neighbors are also transplants. She is American, and her wonderlust sent her on a one year trip around the world that lasted 10 years. She met her husband in India, and now they live here, with their two beautiful children, to settle down. I am very thankful that they reached out to us and invited us to celebrate their daughter’s birthday over chips, salsa, cake and Sangria (the Sangria being drank by the adults, not the four-year-olds.  

Okay. I’ll admit it:  some company in these long summer days would be most welcome.

I must snap out of this involuntary invisibility:  So, next week, after I return from seeing my kids off at sleep away camp. I may pick up the phone and call you to make plans. A walk? Morning Coffee? Shabbat dinner? So, please pick up the phone too.

Yes It’s Hot, even in Rochester

rochester-ny

Think cool! Rochester skyline on a wintry day

A few months ago, were we ever really complaining about the snow and cold?

A few months from now,  will we long to feel as hot as it will be today?  

When I visit friends and family “downstate” New York, I get a lot of jabs about living in Rochester.

“So, it’s June… has the snow melted yet?”

“You know what the two seasons are in Rochester? Winter and July 14.”

“Do you get snowed in all the time and how do you go grocery shopping to get food in the snow?”

But guess what, folks? We really do get summer in Rochester, and it’s just as hot as anywhere else, especially this year.

Today, if temperatures reach 100 or above, as forecasters are predicting, it will be the hottest recorded day on this day in Rochester since …..  1894

One of the many advantages of living in Rochester – less traffic, one of the nation’s most affordable housing prices, and great cultural resources – is our pleasant summer. Usually, after a brutally cold winter, our summers are pleasant and comfortable.

Since I moved to Rochester in 2000, we have had summers where the rain fell more than the sun shone.  Some summers, the temperatures barely climbed out of the 70’s. Some summers, we feared we would never get a summer.

Right now, I am glad that I did not sign up for a spot in my community garden, as this has been the driest summers in some time.  There, gardeners must haul water in cans to quench their crops. I’m content with my little garden that is watered with several yards of irrigation tubing. 

Instead of hauling buckets in the heat like a peasant woman, all that is required is connecting a hose and turning a spigot.

So far, I’m getting  plenty of tomatoes – though still green,

a few pumpkins

and some peppers.

Most summers, I complain about the limited hours of sun my garden receives. This year, it is getting just the right amount of heat to grow and the limited sun is preventing it from completely shriveling up and dying.

The only thing, or person, I’m worried about shriveling up or wilting in the heat is my son, who is on his first overnight at day camp. I slathered him up with sunscreen, slapped on his white, sun reflecting hat, packed his frozen metal water bottle, and will hope for the best.

“Mom, is this the hottest summer of my life?” The seven-year-old inquired at the breakfast table.

“Yes” I said, popping his Eggo waffles in the toaster.

“Will summers get hotter than this even?”

For that, I don’t have an answer.

So, besides sweltering day campers, what will most Rochesterians do? They will survive just as they do in the winter:

They’ll duck inside a mall, movie theatre, or museum, if not a chilly office

At camps, they will stay inside and play board games, do lots of arts & crafts. And only brave the heat for a dip in the pool.

But in Rochester, we’ll take the heat.  After all, the burn of summer’s swelter is better any day than the bite of winter’s wind chills.

As for me, I finished writing and filing my two newspaper articles for the week.  I’ll catch up on some summer reading and spend time with my oldest son, already packed up for summer camp. Then, I’ll settle down for a long summer’s nap.

Training the Trainer – Guiding Eyes for the Blind

puppy

I think I have wanted a dog as long as I can remember. I wanted one as a child but my parents said no because it would be too much of a burden to care for a dog and kennel a dog when we traveled. I couldn’t get a dog when I lived on my own during my single apartment dwelling life, but I would borrow my landlord’s dog to get my doggie fix. Then, I vowed I would get a dog once I had a house. Then, we had kids, and that put having a dog way low down on our priority list.

But now….

My kids are getting bigger. The desire for dog ownership has transcended into the next generation. My children ask us for a dog  almost on a daily basis. The answer is usually “no” and sometimes “maybe someday.”

One day, my youngest son bounded off the schoolbus and said: “Guess What?!”

I replied with great interest: “What!!”

My son’s reply: “Can we get a dog?” Poor thing, he was only answered by my sigh of refusal.

But now….

My oldest son Nathan will become a Bar Mitzvah in November. In addition to the studying and the party planning comes the obligatory fulfillment of a mitzvah project, one thing to do to make this world a better place. Nathan’s proposed mitzvah project: to raise a Guiding Eyes dog for the Blind.

Now —  now we’re onto something.

I know. I know if we do decide to train a guiding eye dog, it will not be the way you train an ordinary mutt.   It will need to be more than obedient. It will not even be our pet forever. But truly, what a mitzvah it will be to train one of these beautiful creatures that may one day be a companion for the blind.

“These dogs are not your typical dog pets,” I explain to Nathan, not to discourage him but to make him understand these are not dogs put on Earth for our amusement or enjoyment. They have a job. And it would be our job not to just love and cuddle it but to train it for its intended job.

 And he knows.  For the last two weeks, puppyless though we are, my son and I have tagged along to GEB puppy kindergarten classes to see how the training is done. As I watch the volunteer trainers patiently and lovingly working with their dogs, I am not only humbled at the dedication these volunteers show to their temporary canine companions, but the fact that they have taken Nathan under their wing to train him how to train a guiding eye dog. If we do one day adopt a dog, I will be in their debt.

The Monroe County region of GEB has approximately 25 puppy raisers.  Each year along the Eastern seaboard, Guiding Eyes pairs and trains 170 teams of dogs with blind handlers who receive these dogs at no expense. Puppy trainers are at the heart of this process that in the end enables the blind to live more independent lives.

Being a volunteer puppy raiser is no small commitment. There is a rigorous application process. A regional coordinator visits a potential volunteer to make sure their home is suitable for puppies, and then visits every three months to check the progress of training.

Nathan and I went to two classes: the first was in the community room of a church in Henrietta. The second, on the University of Rochester campus during the carillon bells concert held every Monday evening in the summer.

We’ve learned  few things so far:

  • Guiding eye dogs cannot be distracted: by other dogs, by blowing leaves. They must have their attention at all times on their master. And puppies, like children, are easily distracted. Nathan spent one solid hour working with a puppy named Ben to keep his focus.
  • Once a dog regains its focus on the master, praise it like crazy. Puppies, like children, love positive praise.
  • Nathan learned the difference of luring a dog – using a treat to get them into a position like “down” or “sit” and rewarding it – giving the dog the treat only after it has performed the command with no handling.
  • The dogs must restrain their urges to play with other dogs and people.
  • The potential puppy trainer – and the potential puppy trainer’s mother – must restrain with all their might their urges to squeal “PUPPIEEEEEEEESSS!!!!” and play and joust with every yellow lab in the class.

Classes are held in parks, busses, shopping malls, and even classrooms. The goal is to get these puppies accustomed to as many different situations as possible.

It takes immense dedication, love and patience to train a guide dog.  The process begins at birth and they receive constant human contact from volunteers at the Guiding Eyes Canine Development Center in Patterson, NY.  At nine weeks of age, the best pups already know the commands for “sit,” “stay,” and “down.”  Over the next year, the dogs learn commands such as “come close” – necessary for riding a bus or eating in a restaurant, “load up” – get in the car, and “get busy.”

Yes– if well-trained, these dogs will even do their business on command.

If this blog post has tugged at your puppy-loving heartstrings and you would like to learn more about volunteering, contact www.guiding-eyes-monroe.org

What’s that Purple Thing from the CSA and what do I do with it? – CSA week 4

kohlrabi

Joining a CSA Farm is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re going to get.

The adventures of my first summer with a CSA continue. Here is what I’ve learned so far:

  • Don’t expect to live on what you get in your CSA share. In spring and early summer, you’ll still have to supplement your local produce with things like peppers and other salad vegetables
  • Locally grown produce from a Northeast CSA will not include summer plums and peaches and berries, so you will still have to buy that at the supermarket
  • Expect to get a lot of Kale.  Learn different ways to prepare it, you’ll be surprised how much you like it.
  • Don’t expect vine-ripened tomatoes until at least late July

This week, like last, we received  a bunch of sugar snap peas.

They can be prepared in stir-frys and salads, but my family likes them best raw. Easy enough.

We also received some beautiful purple basil which I shredded and used as a topping for pasta. It’s also good in Thai cooking.

But last week, after getting back from a great trip to see the family back in NYC, I went to pick up our family’s half of the share from our friends. They took the basil because they knew I have a ton of it in my own garden.

What they gave me was this:

This weird, bulbous thing is called Kohlrabi. It’s pronounced: Call Robbie. It looks like it could have grown on futuristic farm on Venus. Just the sight of it made my sons laugh. I have never had Kohlrabi, neither did our CSA partners, so they let me be the brave one and try it first.

So what to do if you encounter Kohlrabi in your CSA share this summer:

  • First you peel the purple away. I thought this was a bit disappointing because it was the vegetable’s purpleness that made it so intriguing to my kids. Underneath, you will find a white flesh, like a turnip.
  • Slice it thinly with a sharp knife. Kohlrabi is tough!
  • Toss it with Olive oil Salt & Pepper and place it on a single baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees. It has a sweet taste and the texture of roasted potatoes
  • Make a Kohlrabi Green Apple Slaw, as featured in A Veggie Venture 
  • Make a Kohlrabi puree, as recommended by Farmgirl’s blog 

I will wait patiently for the mounds of zucchini and tomatoes we’ll get in our CSA share. But in the meantime, I’ll have fun with this strange vegetable that looks like it was grown on another planet.

And After All, You’re My Wonder Wheel

on the moving car of the Wonderwheel with Craig

And how could I not visit Coney Island?

After all, it’s en route in our Island hopping tour – between Staten Island and Long Island.

My family plunked down its roots in Coney Island, on 21st Street. This is where my great-grandparents on my grandmother’s side lived. My grandmother with her three sisters and one brother.

This is the subway train stop that takes you to the boardwalk. The very spot where my grandmother and her sisters would stand and offer visitors and beachgoers a clean place to shower and change after beachgoing at their apartment  – all for a quarter.

On the boardwalk, there are signs of souvenir stores that are so old they advertise Suntan Oil – NOT sunscreen, or sunblock – but good, old-fashioned melanoma inducing suntan Oil.

This is the famed Coney Island boardwalk. On this spot – or around here somewhere –  my grandmother met my grandfather and told him to go home and grow up. They were married for 67 years. This is also the Boardwalk and the beach where my brother and my cousins and I ate chicken salad sandwiches with grapes and then had to WAIT on the beach blanket for 30 minutes before we can go jumping in the waves. It was a cruel ritual that we endured each summer.  

This is the Cyclone. My grandmother rode it, as well as my mother. Skipped a generation with me. Now, this week, my husband and son got a chance to ride its rickety hills.

Me? I agreed to ride the Wonder Wheel with the family.

My husband, two boys and my parents crammed into one of the moving cars that shoots out into nothing over the beach.

This is the sign that tells the rider just how old the Wonder Wheel is, and that there has never been an accident in all the Wonder Wheel’s 89 years.  This is the view up top of Nathan’s Famous Franks below:

And after a few hours, hot hungry and tired, we left the boardwalk to find our car which was parked by the Luna Park apartment projects. These were the apartments where several branches of the extended family lived for several decades.

I took a walk on the grounds. I looked up at the terraces where my cousins and I played tag.

The buildings were under a much-needed renovation. As I walked along memory lane, I noticed that the playgrounds of my childhood had been upgraded. Old school monkey bars and jungle gyms have been changed to the plastic, safer playgrounds of today.

But wait – some were JUST the same. The same concrete play structures were still there that I played on. So, for one more time , I climbed on them, with my youngest son:

Stealing glimpses of other fireworks from the Piers of Staten Island

Mostly thought of as NYC's garbage dump, Staten Island has many places of beauty, like the pier

Mostly thought of as NYC's garbage dump, Staten Island has many places of beauty, like the pier

Last night it seemed that every other town with a beach or shoreline had a fireworks show. Every town, except, Staten Island.

Staten Island really does have some fine beaches that have come a long way since their more polluted and burned down boardwalk days of the 1970s and 1980s.

But, no fireworks. Staten Island, stuck between the sands of Long Island and the New Jersey Shore, remains the bastard stepdaughter for deserving her own fireworks display on the 4th of July.

Even the famed Macy’s fireworks, once visible from the waterways around the Staten Island Ferry, have been moved up the Hudson River and away from the Statue of Liberty. Got me mad enough to think about tearing up my Macy’s charge card.

But, my two sons had come down from Rochester to the Big City to see the Big City fireworks. We can’t see the Hudson River along the Upper West Side from Staten Island. And we were not driving to Jersey City.

They had two options: watch the Macy’s fireworks like the rest of the country – on TV – or take our chances and see what we can see from the Ocean Breeze Fishing pier off the South Shore of Staten Island. The Ocean Breeze Fishing Pier opened in September 2003. It is 835 feet long and 30 feet wide, making it the largest steel and concrete recreational pier on the Atlantic Ocean built in 100 years in the New York region.

As the sun set, families gathered. People continued to fish off the pier. The air smelled of rotting fishheads, cigarettes, salt air and tar. A woman yelled at her young daughter “Do you know what you said? That’s a curse word in Italian and I better not hear it again…” And then, something bright exploded off in the distance. In every direction.

From the pier, we had a panoramic view of nearly every fireworks display – from the Atlantic Highlands of the New Jersey shore, to ones out in the Far Rockaways. Some “homemade” shows were on display in nearby South Shore neighborhoods. But we didn’t feel the boom of fireworks that can rattle your insides like a drum like when you see them up close. Most were too far off to even elicit a sincere “oooooh” or an “ahhhhh.’ But they were fireworks, alright. They were just meant for some other place, some other town.

And then, around 9:45, one could make out the very top glow of the Macys Fireworks coming from the other side of the Island. Maybe we could have seen them from Bay Street after all. Maybe. Maybe next year.

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