Tag Archives: parents and children

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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After school refuge – 1963

by Annette Friend (Del Mar, CA)

Leaving behind
the petty fights and fires
taunts and turmoil
of 7th grade in Newark, N.J.
I’d set my walking compass
to Linda Telesco’s house.

A large oak towered over
the rickety porch, roots
eating into the sidewalk.
Furniture too large for the living room.
A gold brocade couch covered in plastic.
Jesus hung from a cross
directly over a scratched dining table.

We were best friends.
Craved the same crazy TV shows.
Reading was the outer limits of joy.
Gossiped about boys whose hair
seemed to grow longer each day,
and our teacher Mr. Ransom
who sneered at our grim pronunciation
of his beloved French.

I was only a generation from my parents’
Yiddish accents, wallet was “Vallet”
Vacuum cleaner, “wacuum cleaner”
Linda still salty sweet
from the oceans her parents
crossed from Sicily
before World War II.

We pulled out the Ouji board
clandestine in her closet
to connect to the spirit world.
Mainly the actors from our favorite
TV show “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”

Her crush the exotic Ilya Kuriakin.
Mine the suave Napoleon Solo.
The pointer would glide
letter to letter guided by our fingers
or perhaps the spirits
while we inquired about their favorite colors
flavors of ice cream
when and where we could possibly meet.

Sometimes she’d cry afterwards
as she stared at Jesus on the cross.
Scared she was doomed to the fires of Hell
because she contacted spirits
and liked boys way too much.

I never wanted to go home
where the fires from the Holocaust
still burned every night in my parents’ eyes.                   

Annette Friend, a retired occupational therapist and elementary school teacher, taught both Hebrew and Judaica to a wide range of students. In 2008, she was honored as the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Jewish Educator of the Year from San Diego. Her work has been published in The California Quarterly, Tidepools, Summation, and The San Diego Poetry Annual.

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Shevat—the month that makes my soul ache

by Carol J. Wechsler Blatter (Tucson AZ)

Shevat, it’s the month that makes my soul ache, my heart hurt. It’s a cruel month, usually cold and bleak, sometimes damp and dark. Rarely do the rays of sun seep through my windows and lift my spirits. It’s during this month that I light three yahrzeit candles–one candle on 2 Shevat for my mother, one on 9 Shevat for my sister, and one on 13 Shevat for my father.

***
It was on January 16, 1965 that my mother, sister, aunt, uncle, and I were present at the burial of my father, Albert, in the oldest Jewish cemetery in Middlesex County, NJ, Mount Lebanon. It was a frigid, snow-covered Sunday morning in central New Jersey. Rabbi Yakov Hilsenrath (of blessed memory) gave a very brief eulogy. Over my down winter coat he pinned a black ribbon cut to simulate the physical act of death ripping me apart from my father who, from that time forward, would only be in my memory.

I remember how bleak and alone I felt losing my father. I was only twenty-two years of age. I was angry. I felt cheated at not having a father. Even when my father was alive, he worked so much to provide for us that I had very little time with him. He had grown up with minimal emotional support, love, and self-esteem, and as a result he was unable to be supportive and complimentary. He was an expert in delivering put-downs. Yet once he was gone, I imagined that if he had lived longer, things would have been different between us. How could I have fooled myself into believing he would have changed his ways and been more fatherly to me? Yet, despite his flaws, I still miss him. After all, he fathered me and, in his own way, he loved me.

***
It was on January 2, 1986, twenty-one years later, that my husband, my sister, my brother-in-law, my brother-in-law’s mother, and I were present at the burial of my mother, Bertha, in Indianapolis. Rabbi Dennis Sasso spoke about my mother and described her as a powerful, intense, and passionate woman filled with love for her family and her heritage. “You could agree or disagree with Bertha,” said Rabbi Sasso, “but you could never be indifferent to her.” I was forty-three.

Unlike my father, my mother supported, nurtured, and loved me. She was always my cheerleader and made certain that I had every possible opportunity to be successful. It was a shock when she died to find that she was no longer at my side. It was very hard to let her go.  

***

And it was on January 14, 2019 that I lost my sister, my life-long friend, who died unexpectedly of a catastrophic brain hemorrhage. Although we had a minyan prayer service in her memory in our home in Tucson with our rabbi and many congregants, we were unable to attend the service and burial in New York. I never had the opportunity to say goodbye to my sister. I never had the opportunity to put shovelfuls of dirt over her coffin. I never had the opportunity to sit shiva with other family members. This has left an emotional gap in my life and an unfillable hole. There is one thing I do, though. I keep on my bed a tiny green velvet embroidered pillow which she gave me which says, Sisters Are Special.

***
As long as I can remember I have sensed God’s presence, as a supreme being who governs my life in unexplainable and unknowable ways. It’s as if God beams a light leading me to insight so I can glean what had been until that moment unseeable and unforeseeable. I feel that God is — and will always be — my protector.

But is this the same God who allows death? How can I praise God, I ask myself as I recite the mourner’s Kaddish prayer with a broken heart? And I tell myself it’s because I also believe that God is not all-powerful. God cannot prevent death. This is not God’s job. Death is not about blame. Death is what death is. It is my job to accept death.

***
The Kaddish prayer is always said in the presence of ten adults, a minyan, and a community of worshipers. As part of a minyan for eleven months after the death of each of my parents and my sister, I reaffirmed and praised God’s presence in unison with other mourners.

Healing took place slowly.

Day by day.

***

Now I’m seventy-nine years of age. I am acutely aware that my time on earth is limited. I am here only for an extended visit. Some day I know I will die. So I am trying to make each day count. I am trying to be fully present, especially when I arise at all services, on Shabbat, and on holidays, and say my prayer:

I give thanks before you, O God living and eternal, for You have returned within me my soul with compassion; abundant is your faithfulness!

_____

Carol J. Wechsler Blatter is a recently retired psychotherapist in private practice. She has contributed writings to Chaleur Press, Story Circle Network Journal, and One Woman’s Day; stories in Writing it Real anthologies, Mishearing: Miseries, Mysteries, and Misbehaviors, Pleasure Taken In Our Dreams, Small Things, & Conversations,The Jewish Writing Project, and in 101words.org; and poems in Story Circle Network’s Real Women Write, Growing/ Older, and Covenant of the Generations by Women of Reform Judaism She is a wife, mother, and grandmother of her very special granddaughter who already writes her own stories. 

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A Brief History Of One Jew

by Gerard Sarnat (Portola Valley, CA)

15 years ago, we flew south to be around during our 1st grandchild’s birth, then stayed a decade which included our eldest’s #2.

5 years ago, my wife and I returned home up north that night #4, of eventually 6 grandsons, arrived at a nearby hospital.

Every Friday, when both family tree branches are in town, as well as friends, we now gather at our younger daughter’s welcoming house for Shabbos.

Although meditation may offer inklings or glimmers of some higher spirit, I am a hand-me-down true-blue once-hostile Stanford community atheist.

But since others seem at least sorta believers, it’s become much easier to hospitably sit back eyes closed while enjoying my Israeli son-in-law’s gorgeous chanting.

Perhaps particularly since those Hebrew words oy remain absolutely Greek to me. Plus who could ever get enough of multi-millennial traditions 

Such as three generations lighting candles, drinking from the grape, breaking bread, drumming together on this week’s most festive well-appointed table?

Gerard Sarnat won San Francisco Poetry’s 2020 Contest, the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award, plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for handfuls of 2021 and previous Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry’s work has appeared in numerous journals and publications, including Hong Kong Review, Tokyo Poetry Journal, Buddhist Poetry Review, Northampton Review, Texas Review, Vonnegut Journal, Brooklyn Review, San Francisco Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, and The New York Times, as well as in books published by university presses such as Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and University of Chicago. He’s authored the collections Homeless Chronicles, Disputes, 17s, and Melting the Ice King. Gerry is a Harvard-trained physician who’s built and staffed clinics for the marginalized, as well as a Stanford professor and healthcare CEO. Currently he is devoting his energy and resources to deal with climate justice, and serves on Climate Action Now’s board. Gerry’s been married since 1969 with three kids plus six grandsons, and is looking forward to potential future granddaughters. If you’d like to learn more about his work, visit his website: gerardsarnat.com

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When I Think About Prayer

by Rachel R. Baum (Saratoga Springs, NY)

We did not belong to the synagogue my grandparents attended

On the High Holy Days I stood next to my father

Surrounded by anonymity in dark suits

He mumbled the Hebrew fussed with the slippery borrowed tallis

As I followed the dots and lines of text with my finger

My father elbowed me “Look at that” he stage whispered

A diamond ring my sister would call a third eye

Dangled from a well-dressed woman’s finger

“I’m her” he teased, knowing how the benediction he bestowed

On any female with enviable money, talent, beauty, would be

Hurtful to my sister and me, and then “Read! Read!” he insisted

Though we both knew we were there to gossip not to pray

Real prayer was the cluster of swaying bearded men

We were observers gazing from the rim of an alien civilization

Although we rose for the silent Amidah

We vied to be the first to finish and sit

My mother admonished us for our whispered disregard

She turned the pages of the Siddur

As she would an album of photographs

Reciting the Hebrew from transliterated words

We left early to avoid the rabbi’s sermon

The Bema a distant stage with its costumed Torahs

An usher collected the pledge envelope

At the tollbooth of a sanctuary door

At home, another yarmulke was added to the drawerful

That my father forgot at shul to remove and return

Evidence of our yearly pilgrimage

Marking the passage of time and of faith.

Rachel R. Baum is a professional dog trainer, former librarian, licensed private pilot, kayak angler, and Covid Long Hauler. She is the author of the blog BARK! Confessions of a Dog Trainer and the editor of Funeral and Memorial Service Readings: Poems and Tributes (McFarland, 1999) Her poems have appeared in High Shelf Press, Ariel’s Dream, Drunk Monkeys, Wingless Dreamer, New England Monthly Poetry Digest, Poetica Review, Bark magazine, and Around the World anthology. To learn more about Rachel’s work, visit: https://rachelrbaum.wixsite.com/my-site

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A Moment of Truth

by Susan Rudnick (Pleasantville, NY)

      Just days after they had become available, I had snagged an appointment early in January for my first vaccine. I did a little dance in front of the computer to celebrate. The night before I had stayed up till after 1 AM and then had gotten up before 7 to go on both the New York state and city websites, as well as my local Westchester county medical provider’s site. I had stayed with it through the mire of questions and red tape. It had paid off.  Caremount, my medical provider, came through. 

     But the next day a text message abruptly canceled it.

     Caremount was no longer able to provide the shots.  

     My vaccine rollercoaster rolled off the rails. I felt vulnerable, jealous of the friends who had already gotten their vaccines, and ashamed. 

     How come I couldn’t make it happen? What lead hadn’t I followed? Why me? I’m a first-generation child of Holocaust survivors, and that night I woke up shivering from a nightmare about the visa I had which was no longer valid. I was trapped in Germany while others were able to leave. 

     Around 7:30 AM,  the day of my canceled appointment, I woke up to a phone call. Nope, it wasn’t a last-minute call for the vaccine.

     In a supposedly unrelated matter a few weeks ago I had received an e-mail from a second cousin I had never met who lived in Israel. Her sister, Ruth, and I had visited each other several times, both in Israel and NY, and we had become close. A year ago I had mourned her death from breast cancer. But Nomi lived on a kibbutz in the south and for a combination of reasons we had never met.

     Now in her eighties, Nomi was looking to connect with me. Her daughter, living in California, had found me. She mentioned that her mother had health problems and, realizing her time was short, wanted to meet me, and also learn what I could share about our family. We had all gone back and forth a few times about using What’s App and how to meet. But nothing had been settled.

     When I picked up the phone on that morning, I heard a voice that sounded familiar. It was Nomi. Her voice was comforting, and sounded a lot like her sister’s. Her English was not the best, but we managed a lovely back-and-forth conversation about our family. She had met both my parents on their trips to Israel.

      At one point I asked if she knew my parents’ refugee story: how they escaped Germany, made it to Brazil and then to New York while my mother was pregnant with me.

     “Yes” she said, “and how your mother lied about the pregnancy because for some reason at the time you were not supposed to fly if you were.”

     My heart missed a beat.  As a child, and, even now, I loved telling friends how I was conceived in Brazil but born here. But my mother had never told me about the lie. Nomi didn’t remember where she had heard it, but she knew it was true.

     My brave mother! She had lied to get us here. I literally wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t. She desperately wanted a better life for us in the United States.  My parents had risked everything several times.  On this very last leg of their journey, I imagine them standing on an airport line together, and my mother not hesitating for a second to omit the truth about me in her belly.  

     In that moment I could feel my mother’s strength and wily wisdom coming to me through this fragile phone connection with someone I had never met.

     If I had been driving to get my shot I could not have picked up the call that held this vital fragment, a glorious puzzle-piece of my story that I would certainly enjoy sharing with friends.  

      I didn’t get the vaccine that day.

      But I was gifted with another kind of boost: a testament to the resiliency and creativity of my parents in a far more complex situation than my current one. I would surely find my way through the miasma of hotlines and websites to get my vaccine. 

Susan Rudnick is the author of the memoir: Edna’s Gift: How My Broken Sister Taught Me To Be Whole. It is the story of how her differently abled sister has been her greatest teacher. Susan is a published haiku poet and maintains a psychotherapy practice in Westchester NY. To learn more about her and her work, visit her website: susanrudnick.com

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On Watching “Fiddler” Once Again

by Mel Glenn (Brooklyn, NY)

Like a petulant child,
I have spent much of my life
railing against the constraints,
as I saw them, of Jewish practices,
advanced by my father who came
from an Orthodox upbringing.

I protested vigorously against
Hebrew school interfering with
afternoon baseball games with friends,
the getting-up-and-sitting-down
for long hours on important holidays, 
and most notably, that my Bar-Mitzvah
was less for me than my extended family.

Yet, despite all those objections,
I am drawn back to my roots by the
familiar opening strains of “Tradition”
in “Fiddler” in a PBS special
on the making of the musical.

I have seen “Fiddler” many times, even in Yiddish,
and each time it brings me back to Anatevka,
a village not unlike my father’s birth place,
which makes me believe I still hang on to
an emotional lifeline to my father, to his faith.

I may have spent years running, but
a simple score I know so well, brings me,
with tears in my eyes, back into the fold.

And I’ve come to realize I am never that far away from the village, 
never that far way away from my father 
and from my own faith.

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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Every day a little death

by Karen Webber (Baltimore, MD)

I rehearse my own death each Yom Kippur.

Pearls nap in the jewelry box, shiny Mary Jane’s poke from

the rack and sackcloth stands in for silk.

I prefer not to sleep in a coffin, as I plan my funeral with

Sharon Olds reading her latest and the Emerson string

quartet playing Bartok.

Elul’s moon is weighted down by custard and should haves. 

The corner of a shroud lifted by the wind whispers, “keep what

is precious and forget the rest.”

I beg you to do the same.

Speak with me, to me, thru me of forgiveness and of regret.

All I can leave you is this perfectly fragranced afternoon,

because my father sold all the good jewelry when my mother

died. I do have her half moon Seiko whose battery hasn’t

been changed in 20 years. Time stops. 

But now, it is time to preheat the oven. To shape the

Portuguese sweet bread round as the moon and pull it fresh

from the oven steaming.  It is time to invite my mother and

my father to sit down and break bread with me.

Death is my teacher and every fall I rehearse, as mine

marches closer. But for now, life.

Karen Webber is a Reform cantor, artist, and poet, whose  poems and essays have been published in chapbooks, Lilith Magazine, and on-line at Voices of Eve. Her newest original program, “Keep on the Sunny Side,” is a musical conversation on positivity, loneliness, and relationships, which she created in partnership with the Mental Health Association of Maryland.  To read more of her work, visithttps://issuu.com/richardholleman/docs/voiceofeve_issue11 (Pgs. 122-127)

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Bone on Bone

by Linda Albert (Sarasota, FL)

I turned my back on some of your skills

before I really learned them—bridge parties,

lemon tarts with whipped cream piped around the edges,

three-layered tea sandwiches without the crusts—

because of all the hours I judged you’d lost there,

the chaotic kitchen, the clean-ups that always fell to me.

I got rid of your impatience

right from the beginning—

the time keeper tyrant

who kept you running until

it seemed to me you missed your life.

In that, I might have gone too far,

and now I want some back.

Your maxims, I weeded out along the way—

though I confess that job took years.

If it’s true that God will only help the ones

who help themselves, then who needs God?

Airing dirty laundry in public is sometimes therapeutic.

The bed I make is not the one I always have to lie in;

There is no actual law.

But I do cherish your English bone china,

that set of thirty two with the gold rim and green border

you bought from Uncle Jack’s jewelry store in Ottawa

and confirmed at the Sweet Sixteen

luncheon you made for me.

In fact, I think it would please you to know

I use that china every day.

Whenever I take a plate from the cupboard

I share the meal with you. It’s easier now

since you’ve become my guest.

An internationally published poet, essayist, and former theater director, Linda Albert is also a certified Jungian Archetypal Pattern Analyst and communication coach with a Master Certification in Neurolinguistics, and in recent years her work has focused on conscious and creative aging. Linda’s poetry is influenced by her interest and academic training in those areas as well as by her Jewish heritage, the changing roles of contemporary women, and her personal joys, struggles, and insights.

Author of Charting the Lost Continent: Poetry and Other Discoveries (https://bit.ly/ChartingtheLostContinent), her awards include the Olivet and Dyer-Ives Foundation Poetry Prizes and the Atlanta Review’s International Merit Award for poetry. For more about her and her work, visit: www.lindaalbert.net.

“Bone on Bone” first appeared in Voices Israel 2015 Anthology and is reprinted here with permission of the author. 

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A Taste of Home

by Tania Hassan (Gilbraltar)

It will be kibbud av va’em,
I tell myself before leaving the little ones behind.

I fly the 9 hours to gain some eternity.
My oldest friend picks me up at the airport. It’s been ten years.

Shehecheyanu for keeping me alive.

I walk out into the pouring rain,
I bless it.

Inhaling the sweet smell of wet cedar and grass into every pore of my being,
We duck into a tiny coffee shop in a Montreal alleyway.

Rich, thick and nutty, that latte goes down like
Abuela’s autumn bean soup.

Vekiyemanu – for sustaining me.

We pass the steel moose cut-outs at every major intersection,
I stop for the requisite selfies.

Later I reflect on the expression on my face;
The way my smile reaches the whites of my eyes.

I embrace my parents,
My father’s Ralph Lauren aftershave,
The nephews I never met.

I never noticed their scattered freckles on FaceTime.

Vehigiyanu Laz’man Hazeh – for bringing me to this season in my life.

I laugh with brothers. Hearty guffaws we have to stifle with anyone else.

The boundaries fade away and I am 13 again.

Honouring my parents is easy when my husband is neatly tucked away at home,
meals prepared in the freezer, and I’m sleeping in my childhood bed.

The baby weight I just about lost,
Was greedily piled back on as my palate stopped pretending it was a cultured European.

Though the height of kavod/honour would have me preparing Shabbat for my parents,
I took a back seat and allowed my mother to serve her traditional Morroccan feasts

Honey and cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and all the love you could cram into five days and nights..

Filling my heart with home.

Five days and not a day longer.

Baruch – A blessing.

Tania Hassan is an ABA therapist who lives in Gibraltar, a 2.2 km squared British peninsula that shares a border with Spain.  Her Spanglish is superb, her British accent less so.  When she has spare time, she writes and pines for Canadian winters. 

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