About nine years ago, it seemed like my family and the extended family of my husband wished to run away and join the circus.
So, in honor of my mother-in-law’s 60th birthday, we booked a family getaway to Club Med Sandpiper in Florida.
Fearless flyers that they are, my WHOLE family, with the exception of my then-pregnant sister-in-law and my husband’s 80something grandmother, had no qualms of climbing a narrow, straight-up ladder nearly 50 feet to the trapeze platform.
It was a slow week there – the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – so my flipping and catching in-laws had ample opportunities to perfect their trapeze swinging, hanging from their knees, and even getting caught by the muscular trapeze artist who effortless swung from a trapeze on the other side of the net.
Then, at last buckling to the pressure to suck it up and get over my fear of heights, it was my turn.
At 15 feet up, and unharnessed (adults didn’t get a harness until we stood above on the trapeze platform), I just lost it. And started to cry. But a Sandpiper staff member wouldn’t let me give up.
From the opposite side, she nimbly climbed the ladder until she was eye level with me.
“You’ve got this. Just hand over hand. And don’t ever look down.”
I made it to the top. I swung. It was all captured in this very unflattering picture of me. The look on my face shows I would have been MUCH happier if I just stayed on the ground watching the rest of my circus-crazed family.
This has been a surreal summer. Summer usually offers a welcome change of pace, even though it can be lonely at times when friends all scatter and go off on vacation.
But when the shortening days of August arrive, they serve as a signal that it’s almost time to go back.
Back to routine.
Back to the friends, neighbors, faces and places that are so familiar.
Back to school.
Back to normal.
In the life of being a multiple-city transplant, there exists three rings.
There is the ring of your own upbringing and the family and friends you’ve left behind in your hometown.
There is the second ring of the surrogate “family” you’ve just left behind in the town you made into your new hometown but was truly your children’s hometown. The only place they’ve ever called home in their memory.
Now, I stand in the third ring of the new city. At the edge of a new school year in a school district that is completely unknown and strange,
it is easy to get sucked into all those memories and thinking about all those familiar places and people with whom you usually reconnect at summer’s end. But right now, thinking of old friends and places I’ve left behind in Rochester, thinking about how hard it will be for daughter to say those last good-byes to her friends as they board one bus and she boards another, is just too hard. It’s too sad right now to look back.
Years later, I’m taking the advice from the circus lady: don’t look down.
When my kids get off the bus from camp tomorrow and step into their new life, into their new home they have not yet seen and into three separate school buildings, this time, I will play the role of the seasoned circus pro, telling her kids from the other side of the ladder not to look back and down, but only, if only for the next few months, up and forward.
To my dear readers: This post is mainly about American Jewish culture. It has lots of unfamiliar lingo to those not exposed to Judaism, so my complete understanding if you skip reading this. Or, if you want to get an inside glimpse of what goes on in the minds of practicing Jews in the face of moving to a new place, do read on.
Have you recently entered a house of worship when it is not a major holiday or occasion going on? Chances are there will be plenty of room in emptying pews. Congregations merge with one another as membership dwindles.
This is an age when less Americans seek out organized religion, and regular attendance to religious services in churches and synagogues gives way to baseball and soccer fields. Perhaps it is there, where they understand the cheers for the players rather some antiquated texts and chantings, where they feel the most connection to community.
A rabbi I knew, when confronted with a person who would say: “I feel spiritual but I don’t want to get involved with any organized religion” responded by replying, “Judaism is very unorganized.”
My husband and I go against the grain of our contemporaries. As soon as we move to a new town, and not long after we purchase a home, we go looking for our second home, a synagogue or shul. It’s not because we have kids that need to go to Hebrew school. It’s not because we need a Bar Mitzvah date. It is because, away from family, we need a community.
Fortunately, we have many choices in a city with a Jewish population of about 70,000. That more than three times the size of the Rochester Jewish community we left.
We went to two different synagogues. Were we ignored? Did we sit quietly praying unnoticed?
The first house of worship we entered, about four individuals approached us – during the Torah service to find out our story. Were we from out of town? Visiting? Just moved here, well WELCOME! Eyes in pews across the aisle in faces middle-aged, elderly, familiar and unfamiliar all at once, turned our way to see the newcomers in their midst. One congregant, through family connections to the Jewish community in Rochester, actually was told to look out for us. The men on the bimah threw a stern look our way to be quiet as he whispered about the degrees of separation on how he was connected to Rochester. Another man approached us and asked if our nine-year-old son would like to lead Ein Keloheinu or Adon Olam from the bimah. These are prayers at the end of the service usually bestowed to be led by children. I knew my son knew these prayers cold, and he is not a shy kid. But still, we just got here. As I expected, with a smile, he turned the invite down. He has been such an easy-going kid through this whole process, but he is a kid and it was too soon.
The next Shabbat morning, in the second synagogue we tried on, came an even warmer response. The welcomes. The excitement of the newness of us. An older Israeli woman who sat in front of us explained: “You see? No matter where you go, the siddur, the words, the Hebrew prayers and melodies? They are all the same. No matter where you go you are always home.”
We were honored with an Aliyah to the Torah. In my experiences in our former synagogue, this is not something that was bestowed upon us until we were members for several years.
My son spent some time in the service and some time playing cards with about seven other children in the social hall. The fact that there were seven children in the synagogue in the middle of the summer was a promising sign. During the lunch after services, we were introduced to more people who were excited and passionate to tell us about their congregation.
The third synagogue I went to alone. It was Jewish Detroit’s community-wide observance of Tish B’Av, meaning the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the saddest day on all of the Jewish calendar. It is the day when in Jerusalem, both of the Great Temples were destroyed, when the Jews in ancient Israel began their exile from their land, an exile that lasted two millenia. On this day history recorded countless other acts of persecution and massacres put upon the Jewish people including the Spanish Expulsion of the Jews.
I only began to observe this somber, little known holiday in the summers my children started attending Camp Ramah. To add to the somber mood, worshipers remove their shoes, sit on the ground. Under low lights, and at camp, with the aid of only a candle or a flashlight, the Book of Lamentations, or Eicha, is sung to a haunting chant. If you’ve never heard it, take a short listen here and the sadness comes through even if you don’t understand the Hebrew.
I sat alone on the floor, shoes off as a symbol of communal mourning. Each chapter was chanted from a member of a different area shul. Yet even when sitting alone, I never feel isolated or a stranger within a shul. Even after two weeks, there were some familiar faces. The guy with the Rochester connection who was told to look out for us sat nearby. The young woman rabbi from the first shul. I watched her as she sat on the floor, followed along in the prayer book for a while and then watched her as she closed her eyes just to meditate on the sadness of the chanted words.
And the words are indeed sad. It is sadness of Jerusalem likened to a raped woman. Childless and friendless abandoned by all humanity. Her streets are filled with ragged people walking through burned out ruins. It was a time when Gd, because of our baseless hatred and corruption, delivered us into the hands of our enemies.
An ancient, outdated story?
As I read the words of the Book of Lamentations, both in Hebrew and English, another city came to mind. The city to where I just moved. With its blighted houses and skyscrapers. With its government on the brink of bankruptcy.
But then, in the last chapter, hope.
In the back of the synagogue were some very young faces. White faces and black faces. But all young faces. These were the congregants of the Downtown Detroit Synagogue. Founded in the 1920’s, it is the last standing synagogue in Detroit proper. And instead of aging and decrepit members, its members were young. Way young. These were the determined young people living in urban Detroit. Waiting for Detroit to come out of its destruction. Making it happen by living and working in downtown Detroit and not like the rest of us in the ‘burbs.
In our shul shopping quest for the ideal synagogue for our family, I know that this synagogue is not the one we will be joining. But out of all the synagogues I have visited or heard about in Detroit, the existence of the Downtown Detroit Synagogue is the one that gave me the most hope.
Guess what, everyone? I’ve made it to the other side. And I’ve unpacked enough boxes to rationalize that I’ve earned some time to write you my very first blog post as a Michigander!
The long months of goodbyes are over.
And the hellos to new neighbors and friends are beginning.
Most of the uncertainty is also gone. I’m sitting in my new house. The kids are registered for school. And after my first week of being a freshly minted Michigander, it’s not so bad. In fact, it’s great.
Off the bat, Michiganders are living-out-loud, go out-of-your way NICE. And they are proud to be from Michigan.
Take our first morning in town. With no pots and pans, and not even a table to eat upon, we had to dine out for every meal, including breakfast (oh well.).
It was a Sunday and I wanted to buy a copy of the Detroit Free Press from the vending machine outside this local diner. A woman seated in a booth next to us saw me fishing for some change. Without me asking, she offered me some quarters in exchange for some single bills. How nice was that?
The second (and third) instances I caught on to the kindness of the people of Michigan was at the grocery store.
Now, as I have written in some of my “Good Bye to Rochester” posts, and I knew this would come, but leaving Rochester has put me in a bit of a mourning period for Superior Mother of all grocery stores.
So, on one of my first trips to a supermarket here (and that’s all it is, just a supermarket), I must have been mumbling to myself on how much I missed Wegmans or how I couldn’t find anything in this dingy Michigan grocery store when another customer, a woman my age approached me, looked me in the eye, and actually inferred: “Are you alright?”
This brought me to some clear distinctions between Michiganders and New Yorkers: Most New Yorkers try to avoid looking one another in the eye at all costs. Ever look someone in the eye in a crowded subway car? Unless you want to start a fight, I bet you wouldn’t.
And, if you are in New York, and you happen upon someone mumbling to themselves, you walk the other way.
But here this woman was, actually caring about my well-being because of my grocery store aisle mumbling. I simply explained I was new in town, well, in STATE, and I was having a hard time finding my way around. Even in a grocery store.
When I found the stuff I was looking for, I got on a check-out line behind a tall African-American man. After putting all his items on the belt, he realized he had forgotten a few items he wished to purchase. He turned to me and said:
“Ma’am, why don’t you go ahead of me. I might be a while.”
Again, I was astounded by the kindness.
Another unexpected find at the supermarket: fireworks.
Two years ago, Michigan recently passed a bill allowing for the public and legal sale of fireworks. So, along with picking up your milk and eggs at the supermarket, in the days leading up to July 4, you could also stock up on Bone Breakers, Power Surges and Detonators
This new development is receiving mixed reviews from Michigander retailers and consumers. But, if increased availability of fireworks is making you edgy, you can also pick up a nice bottle of Chardonnay or Merlot. Sale of wine and liquor is also legal in Michigan supermarkets. You can even purchase some Mondavi “Private Label” at Target.
With the arrival of the moving van and the hard work of our movers (a shout out to professional movers everywhere: thank you for your back and arm breaking work. Our head mover in Michigan was working with four torn ligaments in his rotator cuff. Didn’t stop him from hauling in box after box and participating in bringing up some heavy dressers up to the bedrooms. I believe he is scheduled for surgery this week and I hope the moving company is picking up his medical bills.), it is starting to feel like home.
We couldn’t find our placemats right away. Instead, we are dining on the plethora of paper used to wrap all our possessions. Add some crayons, and it’s like we are eating out at Macaroni Grill!
Next time, I’ll write about walking and bike riding in the Motor City.
Tonight, my kids will lay their heads down in their bedrooms in this house for the very last time.
Tomorrow, they’ll wake up early, duffel bags in tow, and leave their rooms, and this house, and this town as they catch the bus for camp. I usually have very mixed feelings about this departure – sad that we’ll be apart for a summer, but happy not to have to do their laundry or dishes for an entire summer, a parental sabbatical, if you will.
Tomorrow, I will nave no mixed feelings, as tomorrow the packers are also coming to pack us away for Detroit.
Get the mop, people! I’ll be a puddle on the floor.
I guess if you’ve lived in a place for a while, the days before a big move can feel like somewhat like a mourning period. You long to hang onto the familiarity of the same streets and buildings. I will miss the sidewalks. I will miss knowing exactly what stars I’ll see during what time of year from the window above my bed.
The other night I took a final walk around the neighborhood with the husband. It is all we feel like doing Even though summer is heating up and there really is so much to DO in town (can you say, International Jazz Fest??),
We are ready to go. Like Jodi Foster’s character in Contact, as she sat strapped into a chair on that weird launch pad, saying over and over again.
Ready to Go.
Ready to Go.
The next morning, husband and I woke up and went through our usual morning routine. We have been apart for four months now save the weekends, so the bathroom with the two of us in it has been kind of … cozy.
I brushed. For the full two and one half minutes required for proper dental hygiene.
And he waited.
I then flossed.
Still he waited.
Then I cleansed and moisturized.
All the while, husband patiently waited. Isn’t he a darling?
Then, a realization. An epiphany!
In just a few days, husband and I will have his and her sinks!
Good Bye, Rochester!
P.S.: This will be my last post for a while, as I’ll be going off the grid during the move. Good thing I have one guest blogger lined up. A shout out: if any of you have a moving story to share about MOVING, write away, I’ll need some guest bloggers in the weeks to come as I come out from under a house worth of boxes!
This cautionary tale has a lesson: Before embarking on a bike ride, make sure you have taken the right key for your bike chain.
It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late April. The kind of afternoon in early spring when every tree is a different color of flowering buds, each branch has that blessed tinge of the lightest green. On that day in April, I wish I could freeze time then and there and live and linger in that feeling of potential that early spring gives. I wished to go no further.
There was nothing pressing on our family schedule for the evening: no plays, baseball games, concerts or meetings. And, our family of five was down two people: hubby in Detroit and my daughter on her way to a youth weekend retreat.
If you have a family, you know that the absence of even one member changes the dynamic of the household, and can inspire you to make a change in an otherwise humdrum weeknight.
Tonight, it would be just me and the boys!
I said “boys, let’s do something different. Let’s bike to the library, get out some books. Then I’ll grill for dinner, and THEN, let’s go to the Canal
for some yogurt for dessert!”
And who could argue with that plan? Not even my boys!
So off we went to the Brighton Memorial Library.
We locked our bikes and spent about 30 minutes reading and selecting some books.
Then, the tale of a wonderful evening took a dark turn.
My eldest son presented me with the key. It wouldn’t fit.
“You told me you had the right key.”
“Yeah, that’s the key, I took it out of the keybox.”
“Did you actually check if it worked?”
Obviously, he did not.
So, we walked home from the library leaving our locked bikes behind to locate the lost key.
Now, during the de-cluttering and staging of our home, somehow the key in question went AWOL.
Now, we had three bikes securely locked at the library and no key.
The grill remained unlit. Our bellies remained unfed.
Armed with a hedge clipper, I loaded the boys into the Traverse and headed back to the library.
Funny thing about a good bike chain. Underneath that rubber coating is a network of woven and twisted wires that don’t snap but merely bend when you try to clip them.
I called the good people at the Park Avenue Bike shop to explain my predicament and see if they had a lock cutting service.
“Are you far from home? Are you in a remote rural area?” asked Park Ave Bike Man.
“No, I’m at the Brighton Library. And I have a car.”
Folks, here is a bit of helpful information: Park Ave Bike is many things to many local bikers, but they do not have a lock clipping service for stranded, keyless bikers.
He then suggested I get some bolt cutters.
So, with the sky darkening, and are bellies growling even louder, we headed to our nearest big box hardware store.
A patient but doubtful man wearing an orange apron helped me select bolt cutters for the job.
“You may have to work at this for a while. This is not a one-person job. You may have to attach pipes to the end of each handle for best leverage at some point to break that lock.”
So, at this point, I am a starving mamma wielding a bolt cutter on the check out line of Home Depot. All I wanted that evening was a cup of soft serve yogurt on the Erie Canal.
At this point, my boys and I were beginning to feel like we were caught in a scene from our favorite comedy. I was taking on the role of Claire Dunphy.
We get back to the library and it is now nearly dark. I start chomping away at the bike lock. Next to me are some more unattended bikes. They don’t even have a chain on them.
A man exits the library and gives us a weird look. He takes out his cell phone.
The librarian comes out and also gives us a funny look.
At this point my eldest son shouts “THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS. WE ARE NOT BIKE THIEVES. THESE ARE OUR BIKES WE ARE STEALING.”
Now, if I was going to steal a bike, I wouldn’t do it at the Brighton Library. The police station for the town is attached to the same building.
Finally, after a few chomps – without the aid of pipes – the bikes are free. The boys and I give a triumphant yelp and there are high fives all around.
We didn’t grill that night. Nor did we make it to the Erie Canal for a yogurt treat. I think I ordered in a pizza.
And the next day, I went back to Park Ave. Bike and bought a new bike lock.
With five extra keys.
A very long time ago, in a New Jersey city far far away, a young girl dressed in all black stood pressed against a mob of other darkly clad classmates waiting for the Smithereens to take the stage. In one hand was a pen. In the other a skinny reporter’s notebook. She was covering the concert for the daily student newspaper for Rutgers University. Her very first concert review. She wondered: could writing for Rolling Stone be far off?
She didn’t have to pay because she had a student media pass. She felt so COOL!
Her date, well, he had to pay.
Fast forward, em, several decades later.
She can’t even remember who her date was that evening or who ditched who.
That student reporter jumping up and down in the Rutgers Student Center while covering that great local New Brunswick band? The band she loved so much she played a tape recording (yep, tape recording) of their album Especially for You in her dorm room until it broke?
That would be me.
I’m all grown up. But I still love the Smithereens – the honey smooth baritone voice of lead singer Pat DiNizio. The timeless garage band sound.
So when I learned the Smithereens were playing the Rochester Lilac Festival for free, I thought:
“I’ve GOT to go!”
Then I checked on the date.
Hmmm. Being Jewish, practicing Judaism makes you make some tough choices.
I really wanted to have my eardrums blown away by this band who got their start in my college town. But you see, it was Friday night. And the grown-up me — the wife and mom with three kids — has a rule. Friday night is Shabbat. Friday night is family night.
And for nine years now, my family has spent every other Friday night celebrating Shabbat with a chavurah, pretty much a circle of friends who has served as our extended family in a city where we have no family. And with the move coming, we really only have three more gatherings like this left.
Now, our communal Shabbat celebrations start at 7. And, the host’s home was a hop skip and a jump through the lilacs from the stage where the Smithereens would play. And on such a beautiful Rochester night. And who knows if or when I would ever get a chance like this?
I’m a grownup, right? I can make my own decisions, I could have just walked over to listen to one of my fave bands to take me back to my college days, right?
But I made my decision. To set an example for my kids, who have sacrificed many a social outing to be together to celebrate Shabbat.
And, to see my teen kids leading our prayer services with the other teens in the group….
To hear them sing the prayers for years I had begged, prodded and NUDGED for them to follow along?
As I sat and listened to my kids lead the adults in prayer, I knew I made the right choice.
To Pat and the rest of the Smithereens, I’ll have to catch you another time. And in the meantime, I promise to buy your latest stuff.
This time, I’ll just download it.
Have you ever had to make a choice because of the religion you practice?
The months of uncertainty are over.
Ever since October 5, when General Motors announced it would be shutting down its Western New York research facility , life’s carpet of stability had been snatched out from under my family’s feet.
Every night – and I’m not kidding – EVERY night before managing to get to sleep, I’d look around the teal walls of my bedroom and wonder – what’s next? Where will we find a house? What will it look like? Where will home be next.
House hunting in the Detroit area did not put my squirreled brain at ease. Contrary to what everyone believes: (You are moving to Detroit!? You can probably buy two mansions for a dollar!), the housing market in the Detroit suburbs, the ones with the lakes and the great schools, is murder.
NO inventory.Still a decent amount of foreclosures that need so much work that someone would do them a service to tear them down and start all over.
So when a good house comes up, the buyer better be ready and jump on it.
And jump we did. At an open house. Cars lined up and down the street and around the corner to check it out.
We put in our bid. And waited. And the sun went up and down and still no word. And the sun did that two more times.
There were fourteen offers on the table. Ours made it to the final two.
And then the phone call from my transplanted beloved.
We got it!
So overjoyed was I, that the months of pressure, worry and uncertainty were finally over, that upon calling my parents to tell them the deal was done….
I screamed for joy with them over my phone in the backyard.
And we screamed. And laughed. And I jumped. And jumped and jumped.
And busted my knee.
There a was a pop. And a freakish twist that no leg should ever move.
And I wound up on the ground on my patio. Writhing in pain. Gasping, crying and laughing all at once.
Go ahead. Laugh, it’s funny!
Now, I’m off to my doctor and hope that I will not have to find a orthopedist as soon as I move into my new home.
Okay, April fools! We’re really not refugees. But during this very weird week of “vacationing” in extended stay corporate housing, you can say we are a family in between states.
This week, the kids and I joined my husband to live in a hotel just outside of Pontiac, the blight-stricken city just outside of Detroit where General Motors has relocated him.
The hotel is just across the street from the abandoned Silverdome, the former home of the Detroit Lions until 2002.
This stadium cost $55 million to build in 1975 was auctioned off in 2009 for $583,000, property and all.
That’s about the cost for a starter home in the Boston area.
I’ll talk about housing in the Detroit ‘burbs in a minute, but back to the Sonesta:
We are in the company of other GM families in our situation: spouses living here on a temporary basis and commuting back “home” (wherever that is) on the weekends. Wives and children also spending their spring break here in hopes of finding their next home. Only problem (and it’s a big one): there just are not that many homes here on the market that are worth living in.
So many of us are scrambling for the same properties in the same subdivisions. We talk in terminology like “foreclosure” and “short sale” and “HUD ownership” over the breakfast buffet in the common dining area.
Our first room was a bit – fragrant. The previous guests liked to cook with a LOT of cumin and turmeric and the pungent aroma invaded our nostrils the minute we entered. The hotel manager claimed that the room was ionized yesterday when we were out for the day house hunting, but the stench was that of “the beast.” Like Jerry Seinfeld’s car that could not be purged of the B.O.
Then, there were the roaches.
Yes, it was starting to feel like home more and more.
So, after I woke this morning to find a tiny cockroach crawling up the wall of my bedroom, I demanded the front desk to be switched from our cumin-encrusted suite to a smell free, cockroach free one. So now I am sitting in a much better suite.
I may have to like it for a few more months into the summer.
Yesterday, our realtor, sick with a horrid cold, greeted us at the first property.
Now, as we get ready to list our home (no, I can’t call it that anymore. It’s our house. A house. An investment.), we fret about the chipped brick on the front porch stoop. Or the grouting around the kitchen sink.
When I saw these properties, listed for way more than my house could ever fetch, I wondered, “WHY am I killing myself about the clutter?”” The hardship that the previous owners must have faced, to walk away from a house with an underwater mortgage, was evident with each cracked door, torn off sheet of wall paper, or appliances ripped from the wall:
Still, there are friends who have settled happily here, who have transplanted themselves to Detroit, who gave us shelter from the house-hunting storm to feed us not one home-cooked dinner but TWO, and show us around the neighborhood that they are glad to call home.
So, I will still hold out hope. It’s early. Too early to settle for a house that will need months of work before it can even be lived in. Come May, I’ll start to panic. There’s got to be a house out there somewhere that will be our new Detroit home.
This gallery contains 11 photos.
WordPress asked us bloggers for an in the moment day in the life photo challenge. I am sure That others will post about their day on a safari or exploring some Eastern European hamlets. I wish I could offer a post as exciting. But, here is an honest glimse of my life from yesterday. The last […]
This week is my husband’s final week in town. Next week begins his new beginning in Detroit but the beginning of my family’s long drawn out departure from Rochester as we yet again become transplants.
The sentence I have repeated hundreds of times to well-meaning family, friends, and acquaintances is finally here:
“Craig moves in March, I stay through June.” ‘
March is tomorrow.
As the move to Detroit moves closer, uncertainty clogs my brain and there are daily reminders that we are leaving Rochester. We know what we have here, we don’t know what we are getting there. It’s that simple.
But then my nine-year-old taught me a valuable lesson. However small, finding one certainty, one thing that will be a known each day might make this whole transplant thing a bit easier.
On a drive to school the other day, my youngest declared he did not like his current room. It was boring.
And he might be right on this one. His room was never intended to be a kids’ bedroom but a spare guest bedroom. It remains the same since we moved in 13 years ago, way before he was a glimmer in our eye.
It is beige. It is very plain.
But (AND PAY ATTENTION POTENTIAL HOME BUYERS) it is brightly lit, private, and has its own bathroom and a huge closet.
He continued to petition his case for a more exciting room in our future unknown home from the back seat.
“My room is really boring, mom, so I am excited to get a new room when we move that is NOT beige. And I want my room to be blue.”
“But there are so many kinds of blues, how will you know which one to pick?” I asked from the front seat.
“I don’t want aquamarine, or turquoise, or teal. Just original, plain blue. Like the blue in a Crayola box, the kind with only 8 crayons.”
And there you have it. One bit of certainty in this very uncertain time.
My son’s new room in our new house in our new town