The Ladies of the Monday Night Club

by Madlynn Haber (Northampton, MA)

When the Ladies of the Monday Night Club

met in our living room, I helped my grandmother

put chocolate candies out in crystal dishes.

I sat on the floor by the swinging door

watching the ladies who smelled like flowers.

They took their seats around the room

talking in loud accented voices.

Some were called by their last names,

no Miss or Mrs., they were just

Homnick, Goldman, and Levine.

Some called by their Yiddish names,

Manya and Malka, and some by their modern

American names like my grandmother, Ruth.

Their laughter and chatting was hushed

by a leader when the meeting’s rituals began.

The one I most remember was the collection

of money for Tzedakah, for charitable causes.

Each woman in turn rose, walked to a basket

making her donation, her addition to the kitty

in the name of an honor or blessing in her life.

A grandchild’s graduation. A daughter’s pregnancy.

A husband’s promotion. I listened to discover

if my latest report card would earn me a mention

when my grandmother took her turn.

After the sharing, there was a card game

and home-baked apple cake and coffee

The Monday Night Club Ladies, always on hand

for celebrations, came out in full force

for my grandmother’s seventieth birthday.

There were less at her eightieth and only a few

when she turned ninety. By then, the meetings

had been moved to Monday afternoons

and I had grown-up and moved away.

I hold cherished memories of sounds, smells,

and stories, I recall from my spot on the floor

when the Ladies of the Monday Night Club met.

I inherited my grandmother’s membership pin,

a fondness for women’s groups, her recipe

for apple cake, and a commitment to making

donations when good fortune comes my way.

____

Madlynn Haber lives with her dog, Ozzie, in a cohousing community in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her work has been published in the anthologyAdult Children (Wishing Up Press, 2021), Buddhist Poetry Review, Dissonance Magazine, K’in Literary Journal, Hevria, The Jewish Writing Project, Muddy River Poetry Review, Poetica Magazine and other journals. Visit her online at www.madlynnwrites.com

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My Father’s Hands

By Elaine Freilich Culbertson (Philadelphia, PA)

My father’s hands were what saved him. He became a shoemaker because his father was one, because his desire to be an engineer would not have helped him stay alive in the concentration camps. Nobody saved theorists, it was manual labor that was valued. It was only that he could watch and quickly imitate what others were doing, his quick mind absorbing and his talented hands obeying. He learned to value the leather and to shape it with reverence. He put aside the pencil and the slide rule for the sake of his life and became expert with a knife and an awl and a needle and thread. Later, after the war, these tools and materials would feed his family in the new land of America. The engineer in his head had to become the shoeman.

For many years his hands were stained with the dye that he used to color the shoes ladies bought to match their fancy dresses. His eye for color was amazing, and the potions that he mixed made his store a mecca during those years that everyone had to have shoes dyed to match. He taught himself to embellish the shoes with designs of rhinestones, pearls and lace. Everyone in the city knew where to find the closest match to their outfits. He customized the shoes, cutting the heels, modifying the fit so that even the woman with the biggest bunions and the most foot trouble could feel glamorous when she wore the shoes bought in his store. His hands were steady as he picked up the tiny gems one by one and placed them on the heel or toe of the shoe, not only devising the design but executing it perfectly.

He could tie your shoes so tight that your feet would throb for hours until the laces loosened a bit. He could bend an iron rod with his bare hands, as he did the time some mischievous boys ran away with the wand that raised and lowered the awning in front of the store window and he had to improvise a new one so that customers could see the shoes for sale. He could sketch, he could devise, and he could create almost anything. His grandson still talks about the pair of dice he carved out of blocks of wood, when the original dice were lost that day he was babysitting and the boy was heartbroken that his game was ruined without them. What he couldn’t do with finesse he did with sheer force, willing whatever tools and material he held to do his bidding; to disobey was useless. I remember the time he made wallpaper stick to the wall even after he had run out of glue! Sheer force!

When he shook your hand, he squeezed with intensity. Hugs were bearlike and delicious. Even in his later years, even in his dementia, he retained the strength in his hands. Those fat fingers that we used to laugh at, those huge paws so different from my own elongated fingers (my piano hands, he called them) are so vivid in my mind that I can still see them. He had a strangely misshapen index finger that I wondered about even as a child. The nail did not grow properly on that finger and I was never sure whether it was something he was born with or from an injury he sustained in the camps. If we meet again someday, I will know him not only by his blue eyes, his hair which did not turn gray even into his 80’s, his big nose that I used to tease him about, but by his hands as he grabs mine and pulls me toward him for that hug that I miss so much.

Elaine Culbertson is the chair of the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, a statewide organization of teachers, survivors, and liberators who volunteer to keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive in the schools of the state. She is a member of the Pennsylvania Act 70 Committee and a convener of the Consortium of Holocaust Educators in the Philadelphia region. Elaine represented the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a Museum Fellow and a Regional Educational Consultant in the Mid-Atlantic. She presently provides professional development for teachers using Echoes and Reflections, a curriculum resource developed by the Shoah Foundation, Yad Vashem and the Anti-Defamation League.

Elaine retired as the director of Curriculum and Instruction in the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District, ending a 36-year career in public education. She is the executive director of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. For the past 18 years she has served as program director of the Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Teachers’ Program, a seminar based in Poland and Germany, that has provided professional development to more than 1100 teachers in its 36-year existence. She works with teachers and students to connect the events of the past with the genocides of the present day. Elaine has written chapters in five different books on Holocaust teaching methods and lectured across the United States, using the story of her own parents’ survival as the basis for her presentations on developmentally appropriate and morally responsible pedagogy. She is working on a memoir that incorporates her mother’s writing with her own reflections on being the daughter of survivors.

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friday night

by Rick Black (Arlington, VA)

june 17, 1977

i hear

my mother’s

last breaths

28 years 

later

in my daughter’s 

first laughter

time melts

like a Dali clock

and piles up

like dripping 

Sabbath candles

inside

Rick Black is an award-winning book artist and poet who runs Turtle Light Press, a small press dedicated to poetry, handmade books and fine art prints. His poetry collection, Star of David, won an award for contemporary Jewish writing and was named one of the best poetry books in 2013. His haiku collection, Peace and War: A Collection of Haiku from Israel, has been called “a prayer for peace.” Other poems and translations have appeared in The Atlanta Review, Midstream, U.S. 1 Worksheets, Frogpond, Cricket, RawNervz, Blithe Spirit, Still, and other journals. 

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Observations

by Linda Laderman (Commerce Township, MI)

At a press conference a Texas Ranger claims

the recent synagogue attack in his state 

wasn’t aimed at the Jewish Community.

A piece in the Wall Street Journal opines

that most Jews are safe if they are not among 

the eccentric few who still frequent synagogues,

where they are more likely to be targeted 

by extremists. Best to stay away from Kosher 

butcher shops, Jewish grocery stores & bakeries.

On my eighth birthday, I watched my neighbor

Kathy walk toward the Cathedral on our corner.

Her stride purposeful, her pure white dress bridal.

Gloved hands folded in front of her,

she moves in anticipation of what

she is about to receive. I am envious.

My Hebrew school teacher’s bare forearm 

exposes numbers inked into her flesh. 

She smiles & pats my cheek when I ask why.

I tell my friend Patty what I witnessed.

Her mother says I lied. That it’s impossible

for human beings to be numbered.

In a fourth-grade discussion on family trees,

my secular granddaughter raises her hand

to praise her Jewish heritage. 

I don’t encourage it.

Linda Laderman grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where she has wonderful memories of walking to services and sitting in the balcony with her mother and grandmother at the old Bnai Jacob Synagogue. She earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from the E. W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. Her news stories and features have appeared in media outlets and magazines. She returned to school in the 1990s graduating with a Masters of Liberal Studies and a Juris Doctor degree from The University of Toledo. Her memoir piece, “Grandmother’s Warning” was published in the summer 2021 edition of the Michigan Jewish Historical Society Journal, and later reprinted in the Detroit Jewish News. Her poetry has appeared in The Jewish Literary Journal, The Bangalore Review and The Sad Girls Literary Blog and is forthcoming this spring in The Scapegoat Review, The Write Launch and Beyond Words Literary Magazine. Linda currently lives in the Detroit area. For the last decade, she has volunteered as a docent at the Zekelman Holocaust Center, where she leads adult discussion tours and is a member of the Docent Advisory Committee. 

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Bound by stories

Elan Barnehama (Boston, MA)

I am the progeny of refugees with thick accents who passed on a heritage of the gloom of war and the promise of peace. They had the self-assurance that came from having survived and the mistrust of having had to.

My mother’s family fled Berlin for Jerusalem when Hitler came to power. My father’s family escaped Vienna for Haifa in the days following its Kristallnacht. Soon after Israel’s War of Independence, my father contracted polio and was shipped off to New York for medical care. That’s where my mother met him, as she was in New York City visiting friends and relatives. And there they stayed.

And there I grew up, in a place where no one could pronounce my name and no one considered me American. To them, I was Israeli even though I was more focused on why they killed Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I wanted to know why Newark was burning. I was worried that the war in Vietnam would still be going on when I reached draft age.

When it was time for me to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah, I had little interest. Why would I want to celebrate a God who allowed the Holocaust, a God who looked away as my father got polio and became confined to a wheelchair?

The thing is, while we were not remotely observant, my parents were proudly Jewish, and we marked the holidays at home. About our table were family and friends, most of whom also had their own stories of survival and persistence, who came to discuss and debate the meaning of those holy days, and not just recite pages in order to get to the food.

From an early age, Biblical stories drew me in. The writers offered different points of view, were comfortable with contradictions and highlighted that most of life resided in uncertainty. The opening chapters had two very different tellings of creation. It only took a few pages to encounter the first lie, quickly followed by the first murder. Brothers did not fare well. The stories were not simplistic or dogmatic. Context mattered.

The more I read, the more these texts resonated with me and helped me make sense of a senseless world. Increasingly, I felt connected to the Jewish story, if not the Jewish God. And that was how I knew I was going to follow through with my Bar Mitzvah. The Tribe had survived for thousands of years and countless attempts to get rid of it. Who was I to mess with a streak?

I remain strengthened by listening to and retelling these stories, even when they are not easy to hear or easy to repeat. And I am proud to add my story to our shared history.

_ _ _

Elan Barnehama’s new novel, Escape Route, is set in NYC during the 1960s and is told by teenager, Zach, a first-generation son of Holocaust survivors, and NY Mets fan, who becomes obsessed with the Vietnam War and with finding an escape route for his family for when he believes the US will round up and incarcerate its Jews. Elan is a New Yorker by geography. A Mets fan by default. More info at elanbarnehama.comEscape Route, available now

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The Passover Walk

 by Jacqueline Jules (Long Island, NY)

It was his idea to go to Central Park.

 “You love to walk, Mom,” he said. 

He was 26, in law school, and not as a rule, the kind of son who suggested outings his mother would like. I suspected he felt guilty for begging out of the second Passover Seder at his brother’s apartment on the West Side. I could have absolved him. Could have said that one Seder was enough for someone who’d been glancing at his phone under the table all night. He always suffered stoically at Seders, not being a fan of matzah ball soup, charoset, or the long service his older brother liked to lead. His only joys at Passover were the brightly colored fruit slices everyone else criticized as being full of carcinogenic dyes.

“If you can’t come tonight,” I agreed, “a walk this afternoon is a nice trade-off.”

The weather was glorious for early April. Sunny and sixty-five degrees. His step was uncharacteristically peppy, pointing out blooming flowers he said I’d like. I panted sometimes, trying to keep up, not daring to ask him to slow down, afraid he’d think I was too tired to continue. Time alone with a grown son was worth sore feet later on. 

He was a proud tour guide, insisting we visit Belvedere Castle, an attraction I hadn’t seen on any previous trips to New York. 

Reaching the balcony and the panoramic view, he grinned at me, sharing the small endearing space between his two front teeth.

“I knew you’d love this, Mom.” 

We leaned against the railing for a good twenty minutes, admiring the greenery, framed by the Manhattan skyline. I felt so full, so grateful he’d given me these precious hours.  

“When I’m old and gone.” I touched his arm, rock solid under his light jacket from lifting weights. “Remember how happy you made me today.” 

It was a year before his diagnosis. Colon cancer, stage four.  Neither of us ever imagined what kind of gift this day would become, how at Passover, I would be the one left to recall our animated walk through Central Park in place of his bored presence at seder. His strong legs striding beside me, still pulsing with life. 

Jacqueline Jules is the author of Manna in the Morning (Kelsay Books, 2021) and Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String, winner of the 2016 Helen Kay Chapbook Prize from Evening Street Press. Her poetry has appeared in over 100 publications, and she is the author of 50 books for young readers including four Sydney Taylor Honor winners, two National Jewish Book Award finalists, and ten PJ Library selections. To learn more about her, please visit her online at www.jacquelinejules.com.

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My Father’s Holocaust

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

My father escaped the Holocaust,
but suffered for it, and when, as a kid,
I pointed out he never actually
spent time in Auschwitz or Dachau,
he stared at me, “Same thing,” he said.
“You’ll see,” he added. When I pressed
him further, he said only one word: “Family.”
I didn’t see, the Holocaust becoming 
just one more historical fact.
I began my own very secular career.
Then I saw a picture at a lecture
given by a famous art historian.
Thumbprints of dirt, blood, ink, 
mounted upon rows of stripes
in different colors, an abstract
suddenly becoming very real— 
a line of prisoners awaiting the 
morning roll call in the freezing cold.
I looked closer at the thumbprints
and could see my father’s face.
“I am here, remember me, never forget.”
A generation later I am still safe, still free, 
but the picture still haunts me.
“I escaped,” I said to the thumbprints.
“Oh, no, you didn’t,” I heard my father say. 
And finally I understood his words.

Mel Glenn, the author of twelve books for young adults, is working on a poetry book about the pandemic tentatively titled Pandemic, Poetry, and People. He has lived nearly all his life in Brooklyn, NY, where he taught English at A. Lincoln High School for thirty-one years. You can find his most recent poems in the YA anthology, This Family Is Driving Me Crazy, edited by M. Jerry Weiss. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit: http://www.melglenn.com/

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Condolences

by Rita Plush (New York, NY)

People have surprised me since my son died—and not always in a good way. Some of those I thought would be there with a note, a call, a “How’re you doing?” have fallen by the wayside. Yet others I hardly knew have reached out in a most caring way. One such person called out, “Rita?” as I was leaving the synagogue one Saturday. 

Never having spoken, I knew this man only by sight. And name, if I could ever recall it.

He told me he had read an article I wrote about my son’s death (such a terrible and final word) when I had volunteered as a phone friend to an elderly shut-in as a way of reaching out to someone instead of wallowing in my sorrow. The man offered his condolences. But I sensed in his manner, in his almost hesitant way of speaking, that there might be more on his mind. I waited a beat and he asked if I had a minute, or did I have to get going? I said I had time.  

He shared that his father had died when he was five and a half, and his mother when he was 21. 

“Everyone has their own grief,” I said. “That must have been very difficult for you.” 

I wondered if this was going to be one of those conversations—if you can call it that—where people insist their grief is just like yours, or tell you about someone who has it worse than you (no one has it worse when you lose a child!). Or what you should be doing to get out of your funk.

But then, as if not to take anything away from my suffering, he said, “Losing a child is the greatest loss of all.” He was glad I had come to services and not stayed home brooding, grieving alone. It was important to get out, he said. To be with others, to socialize. “It’s key in the healing process.”

It’s also key in Jewish tradition to perform acts of kindness. The 12th-century sage Moses Maimonides wrote that by comforting mourners you fulfill the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. My neighbor was doing just that. 

“I hope you don’t think I’m preaching or telling you what to do,” he said. “I’m just passing on what worked for me.” 

“Not at all,” I said, taken with his compassion.  

There had been mentors, he said: a neighbor, an uncle, later on teachers, role models who shaped him and became important in his life. A job well done, I thought, considering how he had sought me out, a stranger, to comfort. 

We stood there talking by the exit door but I don’t recall seeing anyone come or go, so absorbed I was in our exchange. And though he spoke more than I, it wasn’t a me, me, me assault. An us talk is what it was. One sufferer (he) trying to make another (me), feel better in the most sincere way. 

How kind. How lovely. How a five-minute conversation, if it was that long, cut to the heart of things. 

“You’re Sam, right?” 

He nodded.  

“Thank you, Sam.” 

He reached out his hand to me. I could feel the slight damp. This had not been an easy talk for him. Then gently, almost shyly, as if the gesture might be too familiar, he drew me in. It did not occur to me then how much I disliked being touched by strange men. Perhaps because it was I who was the stranger, and he had welcomed me, as the Torah says one should. So that when he brought me closer and his cheek tapped mine, it seemed the most natural thing in the world. A complete understanding of what had passed between us.

Rita Plush is the author of the novels Lily Steps Out and Feminine Products, and the short story collection Alterations. She is the book reviewer for Fire Island News and teaches memoir at Queensborough Community College and the Fire Island School, Continuing Ed. Her stories and essays have been published in The Alaska Quarterly Review, MacGuffin, The Iconoclast, Art Times, The Sun, The Jewish Writing Project, The Jewish Literary Journal, Down in the Dirt, Potato Soup Journal, Flash Fiction Magazine, Backchannels, LochRaven, Kveller, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Broadkill Review, Avalon Literary Review, Jewish Week, and The Best of Potato Soup 2020. 

If you’d like to read more about Rita and her work, visit her website: https://ritaplush.com

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Pesach

by Simon Constam (Toronto, Canada)

Who today asks 

down to the last detail,

as the Haggadah wants us to do,

down to the revi’it of wine, 

the kezayit of matzah, 

whether in the absence of children 

the afikoman ought to be hidden? 

And we rush over the business about it being us 

in Mitzraim. 

Our people were slaves in Egypt,

isn’t that enough

someone always asks. 

And someone always says that there are natural explanations 

for all the plagues.

And someone always mentions the Palestinians. 

And at least one kid always asks, aren’t we done yet. 

“Call down thy wrath upon…” begins then

and some of us and always the guests shift uneasily in their chairs. 

And Eliyahu 

disguised as the cat

no longer comes in 

when the door is opened

as he used to when I was young. 

Grandfather (it’s always a surprise to know that is me)

is a baby boomer who’s going to live too long.  

Here it is early April and he’s already been out on his motorcycle.

To some this is mildly embarrassing. 

But he’s still needed, 

the only one with even a smattering of Hebrew, 

one of only several now who can remember 

how Seders used to be. 

Simon Constam is a Toronto poet and aphorist. Since late 2018, he has published and continues to publish, under the moniker Daily Ferocity, on Instagram, a new, original aphorism every day. He also sends them out to an email subscriber list. His first book of poetry, Brought Down a book of Jewish poetry, was just published by Wipf and Stock Publishers. He can be reached at simon.constam@gmail.com

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Funerary Blues

by Simon Constam (Toronto, Canada)

As idly as she possibly can, she asks

where we’ll be buried. She says we ought to,

as a couple, even past the end, stay married.

But her long-dead first husband she already has

placed in primary honour in the family plot.

His name is raised on the gravestone.

What place might I take there and which one not?

Perhaps I ought to be in a nearby grave alone.

Or should I think about Jewish burial somewhere else?

She could remain with her once and greater love as

I am not jealous of a presumed hereafter. 

But oh, what will my children, learning this, be thinking of? 

And, alas, she and I, on another matter, we’re also in disarray

as she favours cremation and I favour decay. 

Simon Constam is a Toronto poet and aphorist. Since late 2018, he has published and continues to publish, under the moniker Daily Ferocity, on Instagram, a new, original aphorism every day. He also sends them out to an email subscriber list. His first book of poetry, Brought Down, a book of Jewish poetry, was just published by Wipf and Stock Publishers. He can be reached at simon.constam@gmail.com

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