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  People Like Us

 

 

There were cherries growing on the barren tree. But what was the shiny glint behind each precious fruit? A woman remembers her first poignant encounter with kindness.... Memories Grow on Trees by Malka Adler

There she was, rubbing elbows and shoulders with the Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the American elite and aristocracy. Suddenly she realized just how cold it can get when you've reached the top of the mountain....

Meeting God at a Garden Party by Bracha Goetz

Mom wasn't a career woman. She wasn't even Supermom. But she was always there when her children needed her.... Milk-and-Cookies Mont by Malky Lowinger

 

Horizons: The Jewish Family Journal

proudly presents the best of the best 

45 carefully chosen articles

that will delight the heart

and elevate the spirit.


 

People Like Us

Edited by

Chaya Baila Kaganoff and Miriam Zakon

TARGUM PRESS
First published 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Targum Press
ISBN: 1-56871-180-8

Contents

 Introduction

Miracle Family

Memories Grow on Trees

And Quietly Flows

the River of Time

 Loyalty

The Story of Yosef Chaim

Terror in the Night

Milk-and-Cookies Mom

 Meeting God,at a Garden Party 

The Battle

 Pesach on the Veldt

Fire!

Pa

Dolly and Me: A Clone Speaks

Walking past the Kotel

 "Don't Let Me Fall

Leah Abramowitz

Malka Adler

Naum Firsel

Debby Garfunkel

Susan Tawil

Arik Meir

Malky Lowinger

Bracha Druss Goetz

Hannah Kafree

Gita Gordon

Gila Schoenfeld

Sudy Rosengarten

Emmy Stark Zitter

Chana Levin

Galit Bar Or

I Married Her Sunshine

Nona Would Have Approved

Collision!

Babby

Boy, Oh, Boy!

What I Learned from Etti

Falling!

The Wheels on the Bus

Happen to Happen

Six Million and One

A Hotel Lesson

IV Poles,

Rehabilitation,

and Gam Zu LeTovah

Rescue at the Kotel

My Recovered Memory

The Gold Pendant

How Does One Mourn the Living?

Just Ask Me On Being a Ger

The Caregiver

My Baby Is Drowning!

The Voice of Survival

A Quick Trip Abroad

Thank You, Miss Goldschlag

Yom Kippur on the Highway

All My Children

Miriam Goldbrenner 100

Rahamim Abaye      105

Devora Reichel         116

Miriam Goldbrenner 124

Ghana Levin            130

Ruth Krohn              140

Miriam Dombey       143

Chani Schick           151

Lawrence Kelemen    156

Rose Stark                171

Rifkie Weisner         173

Ruchama Isaacs       178

Sarah Heller Lebor    186

Naum Firsel             195

Leah Abramowitz     199

Rivka Ruth Zak       202

Katie Green             209

David ben Avraham Avinu        211

Peggy Letvin            214

Ellen Katz Silvers     218

Garola Schiff          225

Hanna Abramov      228

Mimi Shine             232

Yakir Feldman         237

Sara Bracha Weiss   239

Inspiration

Just One More

Our First Visit to Israel

After the End

The Hardest Letter I've Ever Had to Write

Miriam Liebermann 246

Rivka Glick             248

Ida Katz                  251

Yocheved Golani 258

Hadassah R. White 268

 

 

Introduction

 

Extraordinary people tell extraordinary tales. You've read them, of course: stories of valor under fire or heroism against insurmountable odds. They are the epics of men and women who climb the highest mountains or create the biggest businesses or evade the most monstrous persecutions. In the more spiritual realm, they encompass women whose lives are solely devoted to kindness or men who make the greatest strides in Torah learning  usually at an unimaginably young age. They are the riveting, unforgettable accounts of life lived at the edge: under gunfire or over the rainbow.

And then there are the rest of us  the people we meet on the subway, at the PTA conference, or in our mirror every morning; ordinary people living ordinary lives, making ends meet, raising children, arguing and making up with spouses, in-laws, and friends. These are the people who build families rather than skyscrapers, who don't know the Talmud by heart but do manage to attend their daf yowi shiur most of the time. The people like us.

Six years ago, Targum Press decided to gamble on people like us. Like lions on the African savannah or dieters sneaking into a kitchen at midnight, our public was hungry, voracious, even, for a steady supply of reading material. Again and again they asked, like children in a Dickensian poorhouse: Give us more. More stories to interest, inspire, provoke thought and conversation and emotion.

As a full-service publishing company, we knew we had the staff to take on the challenge of providing a general interest periodical to the Torah-observant world. We had the copy editors, proofreaders, and graphics design staff to deal with the demands of a magazine. The big questions that needed answering  questions that could only be answered by plunging ahead  were: Are there enough writers out there? Is there a sufficient supply of people who have something worthwhile to say, and the talent and knowledge to say it well? Will we run out of words? Use up all the stories? Fill up half our pages and find the rest blank?

Can people like us really make a periodical that people like us will want to read?

Six years after the first issue of Horizons appeared, the answer is a clear and heartening one. Yes, there are plenty of people whose lives are worth examining, whose experiences warrant, deserve, and demand public expression. As we go to print with this book, we are in the middle of preparing our twenty-third issue of Horizons. Count 'em: twenty-three. That's 3,312 pages, close to seven hundred articles. Horizons has taken its readers all over the world: to the South African veldt, the Eastern European shtetl, the plaza of the Kotel, Thirteenth Avenue on Sunday. Our readers have accompanied Horizons' authors into hospital wards, Communist courtrooms, schoolrooms, and the past. Over and over we have seen greatness overcome petty interests and faith defeat despair. Most important of all, we have seen people grow, whether through unusual adversity or simple day-to-day living.

People Like Us offers the best of the best: forty-five stories from among the hundreds that have appeared in Horizons, chosen as the most inspiring, most beautifully-written, most exciting or important or beloved. No easy task, choosing from among so many done so well, and Targum Press acknowledges the contribution and thanks Chaya Baila Kaganoff for her dedication and incisive decision-making that changed this project from a good idea to the 280-page volume you now hold in your hands.

Like a parent beaming at his strapping young offspring towering above him, Horizons is proud to present People Like Us. Because, after all, people like us have stones worth telling.

 Miriam Zakon Editor, Horizons: The Jewish Family Journal

 

 

 

Memories Grow on Trees

Malka Adler

The workings of the human mind are strange indeed. Which memory will be retained for years, carefully filed away, and which event will slip through this "filing system" and fade forever into oblivion? One of the pictures that remains vivid after decades (never mind how many) is my first encounter with chesed.

I must have been a little girl of about six or seven. We lived in a dark-brick two-family house in Brooklyn. There was a minuscule rectangle of hard soil in the front dominated by a small, emaciated tree. So much for the landscaping. Mr. Wolman, the landlord, said it was a cherry tree. Each spring, half a dozen leaves would slowly emerge with great promise, but that was the end of the seasonal harvest. Sometimes, when I arrived home from school, Mrs. Wolman would call me into her apartment for milk and cookies. Mother had taken my seriously ill father to the hospital once again. My younger sister had been left with friends. After-school activities were limited. Playing with a ball was off-limits, since it might roll dangerously close to the gutter. Swimming was never mentioned. Roller-skating was relegated to my clumsy efforts in our front hall. Obviously there were no plans to groom a potential athlete on those premises!

The spectator sport I recall enjoying was sitting on the top step of the stoop listening to our elderly neighbor reminisce. He would hold court while seated on an old wooden kitchen chair in the entrance. What the subject of his tales were escapes me, and I don't know how much I grasped then. In my heart was a prayer to Hashem for a speedy recovery for my parent and the momentary appearance of some luscious fruit. Maybe even like those displayed in the grocery-store window. While keeping one eye on the street for the ambulance that would transport my parents home, the rest of me was focused on the soon-to-be fruit tree.

"So when do you think they'll be starting, Mr. Wolman?" The inquiry was injected at fifteen-minute intervals. He would patiently remove a tobacco less pipe, peer over his bifocals at the almost withered branches, and carefully predict, "Any day now, I'd say. Maybe sooner if you pray enough!" With wide brown eyes and a refreshed flicker of hope, the prayerful vigil would continue. Sometimes, after an avalanche of instructions and admonitions, I would be permitted to water the object of my hopes.

On one rather dismal gray day, I was meandering homeward, hoping to find all the occupants alive and well, when I suddenly halted. There, several feet ahead, was the tree. From its puny branches, amid a few leaves, were huge, deep-red cherries! Mesmerized, disbelieving, I approached cautiously.

Awaiting my arrival was Mr. Wolman, beaming his crooked smile. Incapable of speech, my beige leather briefcase fallen to the sidewalk, I stood, trying to absorb this mirage-like scene. Then this happening took on a deeper dimension. I noticed something unusual at the top of each stem, almost hidden by the leaves: a small safety pin.

Tears suddenly stung my eyes. A beautiful, moving picture was imposed upon the fruit. Mr. Wolman had slowly made his way down to the store. He'd handpicked the plumpest cherries from the boxes' top layer and had paid real money for them. Once home, he had assembled the pins and spent much time and effort arranging them, with painfully arthritic fingers  for mel

Not for a mountain of chocolate ice cream would I have revealed to Mr. Wolman (or anyone else) that I had guessed his secret. It took me many years to recall, without deep emotion, that singular act of kindness. Actually, in writing it, I see I haven't quite recovered.

.

 

 

Meeting God at a Garden Party

Bracha Druss Goetz


Harvard University, April 25, 1977. I am standing at a turning point  not one that will be written up in even one academic journal, but one I can almost see, while still feeling dizzy from all that turning.

It is the spring of my junior year here, and I've just gotten back from one of Harvard's most exclusive garden parties. Somehow I was invited to the Porcellian Club's big bash. Maybe it's because my boyfriend, Christopher, has been doing a lot of "power-seeking" lately, making friends in high places.

I was thrilled to be invited, but terrified, too, that someone would discover the mistake that had been made. What would they do if they found someone Jewish at the garden party? Throw me out? Harvard is very liberal now when it comes to clubs, but you can see that, deep at the very center of things, it remains as WASPy as ever.

Why would anyone suspect me of being different, though, once I was already there? My name isn't especially Jewish. And I don't really look Jewish.

All those years of dieting have been worth it. What a culmination  I could be as slim and rich-looking as every other woman there.

When I got to the party, all I kept thinking was, This is it. I have made it. I'd thought I had made it to the top before, but, wow, way up here you can really get light-headed. I was at the garden party people don't even dream of attending. Me! A one-time chubby, frizzy-haired, middle-class Jewish girl from Queens. Me!! Brushing my bony shoulders past the sons and daughters of the most powerful people in the world. It was such a joy to revel in standing there, classically poised in my white sundress. I fit in!

So I figured I'd just stroll on over and talk with some old chums  Caroline Kennedy and her cousin Robert F., Jr. Then I'd kind of glide over by the dainty tea sandwiches and chat for a bit with the Rockefellers and Moynihans. The only problem was that I couldn't move. I was afraid even to breathe. Could I do it casually? And if I blinked, would this whole scene disappear? It looked straight out of some fantasy or The Great Gatsby. So I just stood there, thinking. How did I get to be here on this hedge-enclosed, perfectly trimmed lawn among these people? Then the answer hit me: by running away.

I started running away years back, whenever my relatives came over. Our cramped apartment would always smell sweaty as soon as they'd arrive. There was loud chattering and cheap cigar smoke. When they'd all get together for the Passover seder, their deepest discussions were about  between huge mouthfuls  how fluffy the matzah balls were that year.

I slammed the door on all their mediocrity. Their lower-middle-class tentacles were trying to suck me in, too  but I wouldn't let them. I was different. I was un-Jewish and airy. I was the kind of person who loved to run through meadows and forests and across beaches in the wind, barefoot, hair flowing, in my beautiful, patched jeans. And I was going to get out of their clutches and become something great. Something un-Jewish, rich, beautiful, famous, and skinny.

So five years later, there I was at the garden party, unable to imagine any place higher. And all I was doing was standing there feeling relieved that nobody was noticing me.

Slowly, very slowly, I started moving from one group of people to another. I was dying to hear what the very rich and beautiful said to each other.

After a while, it began to dawn on me that everybody there was doing what I was doing. Everyone looked like he was dying to hear words of significance. Everyone's eyes were darting about, straying far from the people talking to him.

I did find one group of people talking animatedly. They were discussing a Newsweek article  just as anybody could! Each moment felt frozen and too clichd to be real. But then, that's how clichs come about  by describing the way things actually are. There, atop the peak of fame and fortune, was nothing. The conversations were no more real than the sound of ice cubes clinking  and not as interesting at that. Aunt Selma, come and sing the praises of fluffy matzah balls! It would be thrilling compared to this! Everybody at this elite party was bored through and through. And it was exhausting having to look expressionless for so long.

Suddenly I felt that a gigantic cloud had lifted. It was really odd, because more and more storm clouds were filling up the sunny sky. There honestly is nothing special about the big shots in the world, I kept thinking. I've been given the chance to see that they also have nostrils close up  but almost no breath of life inside. And a half hour ago, I would have sold my soul to be one of these people.

So what was left to strive for, then? If there was nothing up here on this peak, was there nothing at all above it?

It sounds too unreal even to put in a movie, but right then the clouds burst! A terrific thunderstorm came pouring down on all the skimpy white dresses and tanned, bony shoulders. It came down on all the white tablecloths and white table umbrellas. It came down on all the perfectly spread tea sandwiches. The whole shebang instantly became one big, sloshy mess. All the guests frantically ran off the manicured lawn to find shelter, so their naturally styled hair wouldn't get ruined. The privileged garden party had just collapsed before my eyes!

I skipped home alone, not bothering to find out where Christopher had run off to. It must have been years since I had gone skipping through the streets. But on this suddenly transformed, rainy afternoon, Cambridge was glistening for me. I skipped all the way back to my dorm, singing out loud, splashing in puddles, and thinking, There is something more. Something more than being rich or famous or beautiful. Something even more exclusive than Harvard's Porcellian Club. The next generation's potentially most powerful were at the party. And even they couldn't stop the rain from falling down.

 

 

PA

Sudy Rosengarten

Pa's day began at four-thirty in the morning in the beis midrash of the Bnei Brak old age home, and  other than at mealtimes and during his afternoon nap  that was where he could be found until late at night. If anyone wanted to see him, they'd first have to call us to check when it would be possible to squeeze a visit into Pa's busy schedule. After having struggled all his life to earn a living, as soon as he was able to retire, he settled in Eretz Yisrael, and, for the next twenty years, blossomed in his new, though belated, role of yeshivah bachur.

At the age of ninety-five there was a sudden decline. He couldn't see; he couldn't hear. Walking became an excruciating exercise. The simplest chores suddenly became insurmountable. He needed help with everything. Because of his loss of concentration he was unable to study the holy books that had, in the past, been his sole source of pleasure; he dared not linger in the beis midrash, the place he considered his true home. Life was suddenly a humiliating burden to the once proud, independent, sensitive old man.

He was always coming down with pneumonia, which often required hospitalization. Confined to bed so long, the muscles of his legs would atrophy, and we'd be forced to teach him how to walk again.

Before discharging him after one extended hospital stay, the doctor told us: The patient has got to get back on his feet or his whole respiratory system will collapse. You have no choice. As soon as you take pity on him, he'll die.

Every morning I would help Pa get out of his bed. He would tightly grasp his walker and take a few steps. Worried lest he fall, I would stand behind him, holding on to his caftan. Day in, day out, we did this until he was able to walk to the door of his room. Then, he started walking on the porch, from which seven doors opened into seven other old people's rooms.

For Pa, every day was a struggle; each step demanded supernatural strength. He'd hang on to the walker, lift one leg, then the other, stop a moment, lift the walker ahead. Another step and another; all over again. Sweat would break out on his forehead. His breathing would be a labored moan. One heavy step, two, three, and four. Then he'd stop, turn to me, and beg, "Bring me a chair."

I could usually tell by his voice if I dared coax him further. If I did, I'd first give him a few moments to catch his breath, then tug at his caftan to go on. Sometimes he'd be angry, sometimes he'd be meek, sometimes completely apathetic as though resigned to accept his share of suffering, We'd already gotten as far as the third door on the porch, but for a whole week Pa hadn't been able to get any further than that.

"Bring me a chair," he pleaded. "I can't anymore."

"Pa," I said softly, "another little bit...just until the next door. I'll bring the chair over there now. Then you'll walk to it and sit down."

"Sudy!" he cried in sudden tears. "What do you want from me? Why do you torture me so? Can't you see that I'm just an old sick man and can't take another step?"

I looked at the bent, shrunken Jew. He'd once been a giant, a tower of strength  not only to his own family, but to all the Jews around him. I remembered the stories my husband would tell me about his father as a young man trekking through half of Europe to escape conscription in the notorious Russian Army; boarding a ship without the slightest idea of where it would take him, ultimately ending up in Toronto. Unlike most of the people who arrived under similar circumstances and tried to blend into the new life as inconspicuously as possible, Pa never took a razor to his beard, never removed his long black caftan and wide-brimmed black hat. His wife continued to cover all her hair, his daughters continued to wear the same long-sleeved, high-necked dresses and thick homemade stockings that they would have had they still lived in tier alter helm. Long, curled payos dangled at the sides of his sons' shorn heads, making them the butt of taunts and titters as they sat in the public school they were forced to attend in the absence of a yeshivah.

Pa organized a shul, a mikveh, a "chevrah shas"; wherever he went he taught the beautiful Chassidic niggunim he had brought with him from Europe.

Throughout all the years, his house remained like the one in the "old country," becoming, later on, a home and haven for a steady stream of Holocaust survivors.

Over the years, Pa became a legend  the proof that regardless of where fate flung you, it was possible to remain a devout Jew; that, though you lived in a country where the stones were treif, your children could still grow up to become strong links in the chain of Jewish tradition.

And now this giant of a Jew was old and bent and broken. A large black skullcap, shiny with age, covered his hoary head. A long silver white beard hid his cavernous chest. A thin black caftan, old and stained, hugged his frail body. His nostrils dilated with the great effort I demanded of him. The look in his eyes was both a silent plea and a ferocious scream for me to stop tormenting him, to just leave him alone, not to force him to take another step. Couldn't I see that he was already beyond his final strength?

"Pa," I said softly, not wanting him to be angry at me but determined not to let him go. "Pa," I said again, giving him another pause in which to pull himself together.

With a force born of anger, he turned around to face me. "For what?" he cried. "For what?" His face had turned purple. The whites of his eyes were yellow with rage. "For what purpose do you insist on torturing me, forcing me to walk, when I have no place to even go!"

"Why do I force you to walk?" I yelled back in a show of equal anger. "So that when Mashiach comes, you'll be able to run to greet him! Don't you want to be able to run to greet Mashiach when he comes?"

By then I was crying out loud, not concerned that someone might hear, repeating hysterically, "How will you be able to run to greet Mashiach when you can't even walk the length of this porch?"

Never taking his eyes off me, he fumbled in his pocket for a handkerchief, loudly blew his nose, grabbed hold of his walker, and made it to the fourth door.

 

 

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