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Friday, July 22, 2011

Unchartered Waters

Dear Friends and Family:

Several years ago our son Michael turned left on I-80 and headed west to San Francisco.  While waiting the few months it took the California State Bar to let him know that he passed the exam, he decided to volunteer on Kibbutz Keturah in the Negev.  When he returned he told me that to his chagrin, when he was assigned to work “Mitbach,” kitchen duty, the crew chief asked if anyone knew how to operate the dishwashing machine.  Michael observed that it was a Hobart, something close to the hearts of any who have worked in Avodah at camp, or been an Avodah Unit Head, or run camp as Resident Director on weekends in the winter; all jobs Michael and his brother Jeremy held over the years.  When Michael confessed that he could indeed operate all of the kitchen machines in the kibbutz, he became the crew chief.  The “honor” of the appointment did not please Michael at all.

Now that Juca and I have moved to Bloomington, we are confronted with all things new in our lives.  We live in a new house (new for us) in a new town, with a new lifestyle (meaning we are retired and, for the most part, unemployed).  Adjusting to these new surroundings, not working, learning streets, new cable TV service, etc. has not been easy.  So, we have been looking at ways to get involved and even use some of our newfound free time to do some good.

Yesterday we met Pat over at the Shalom Community Center.  This is not a Jewish outfit; it was established by a Methodist church to help the homeless.  The Shalom Center’s philosophy is to welcome all and comfort those who have no place to be during the daytime hours (most live in shelters open only at night), hence the name “Shalom,” for “Welcome and Peace.”  We took a two hour orientation and signed up to work a few hours each week in their kitchen.  At the end of our time with Pat yesterday, she took us down to the kitchen to show us where to report next Monday for our shifts.  I was immediately drawn to the three-compartment pot sink.  Even Juca commentated on how many hours I spent over the years bent over the pot sink at camp on days and nights when the Avodah unit was cavorting in town or traveling to King’s Island for a day off.  The sink was definitely a reminiscence of those sweaty but very happy times.

Then I turned to my right and there she was, standing proudly in all of her glory, my long lost buddy, the Hobart.  I actually had a close relationship with three Hobarts during my time at camp.  The first was in the old kitchen in the area of the Beit Am that became the dark room thanks to Rabbi Bruce Lustig’s ingenuity, after we built the new Chadar Ochel.  Later that space became storage (paper goods, I believe).  When we built the new kitchen in 1977, I installed a new Hobart.  Then, as the camp grew we replaced that Hobart with a new-fangled track-driven, larger capacity machine.  Earl, our long-time custodian took the old Hobart and made it into a BBQ, down at his farm.  He’d lower the drop-down doors to smoke meat.  Very tasty.

So here I am in unchartered waters and suddenly I run into an old friend, soon to be my partner again in transforming dirty dishes into clean ones.  I have to admit that seeing that Hobart was a comfort.  I was, like, excited to, like, see it (I use the word “like” a bit to remind me of the language patterns of my Machonikim in the past.  I once forbade anyone from using the word as it was interjected so frequently in their speech…several were not able to express themselves without, like, using it.   But I digress).

Now here is my plan.  On Monday, my first day “on the job,” I am going to play dumb (not much acting needed for that role) and let the kitchen manager teach me how to run that Hobart.  That’s the lesson I learned from Michael and his kibbutz experience.  I’m aspiring to be the dishwasher.  I’ll leave the crew chief-ing to someone who really knows the territory.

Thanks for the heads up, Michael.


Tuesday, July 5, 2011

In Europe with NFTY

Dear Friends and Family:

Last month Juca and I met seventy-three NFTYites at JFK and took off for an exciting and emotional journey to Prague and Poland. We were a bit worried at first, being responsible for all of those high school students, but they were an amazing and wonderful group of kids. We gathered at our stop-off, Frankfurt, for a two hour layover and regrouped for the Prague flight without a hitch. What followed was phenomenal. 

First of all, landing in Prague and meeting our NFTY staff was a treat. What a talented and dedicated group of young professionals. Under their gentle yet firm tutelage the group immediately began to form and bond. In all, 100 NFTYites constituted the three groups traveling together through Europe. In our first two days we visited Prague’s Jewish quarter and its ancient synagogues, the Old Town Square, the castle and cathedral. Most remarkable to me was the great forethought and planning that went into making this such a meaningful experience for the participants. Before we entered the Pinkus Synagogue, where names of Holocaust victims are written on and completely cover all the walls, the kids were given pen and paper to find one name particular to each of them (perhaps a family name, or a name of a family they recognize) and to write that name down. The reason was to carry that family name with them to Jerusalem as an honor and memorial. The impact of such a simple act was great and I listened intently as they talked about it later. 

The next day we bussed to Krakow where we walked through the old Jewish quarter and its synagogues. On the bus we watched the movie “Schindler’s List.” Then we actually walked through the Ghetto depicted in the movie, visited Schindler’s factory and lastly visited the memorial at the Ploshow Concentration Camp. Our group leader/teacher was magnificent as he took the NFTYites step by step through understanding the Nazification of Europe and the dehumanizing of our people. The group took everything seriously and appropriately. At the end of the day we all joined hands and prayed the Kaddish for those who had perished there, at that concentration camp. To say that the kids “got it,” would be an understatement. 

That evening, in preparation for the next day’s visit to Auschwitz, our group sat in a circle and discussed expectations for what we all knew would be an emotional experience. Our leader, Chanan, once again masterfully facilitated the discussion. The NFTYites’ remarks were impressive.  This was a group of sensitive, thinking, and bright teenagers. We were all impressed with the amount of respect the group had shown for where they were and what they were seeing. They were attentive and insightful. They were certainly ready for what would be a difficult day to come.  

Here’s what I wrote at the conclusion of the Auschwitz experience: 

"It was overcast this morning in Auschwitz, and windy. The wind caused a few tears in the eyes of our group of 100 high school students and twenty staff...or maybe it was stopping at the cattle car dedicated to the memory of the 400,000 Rumanian Jews murdered in this place. Maybe it was our visit to the gas chambers and crematorium, or the room filled with lost Jewish families’ shoes, or the eyeglasses, or the valises. The rain came down when we entered the unbearable barracks that housed our relatives for the short time they spent at slave labor before meeting their deaths. It certainly was a grey and cloudy day today at Auschwitz. 

I was privileged to lead a short T’fillah toward the end of our Auschwitz experience with six NFTYites.  In the large open space where we prayed there were two other visiting groups, one Israeli and one, another group of Jews.  The Israelis carried Israeli flags and the other group played recorded Hebrew music.  They were off to our right and left.  Before we said our second Kaddish of the trip, this one as a memorial, as testimony, and to honor those murdered there, I noted that we stood among our People, Israeli flags to the left of us, Hebrew music to the right. 

Afterward, we gathered at what was the synagogue in the town of Oswiecem (the Germans called it Auschwitz). We were quiet with thoughts of all that we had seen that day. But in a few minutes someone started singing “Am Yisrael Chai” the Jewish People Lives. A few joined in, then more, then all of us. More than our voices rang out with song. We sang with our hearts; and as I left the synagogue I was not surprised to see the sun peeking out from behind the clouds."

The next day we walked through the Warsaw ghetto and then boarded a plane for Israel.  Juca and I spent the day with the group in Tel Aviv and left the group after their first Israel experience, sitting in a park in Jaffa overlooking the beaches and skyline of Tel Aviv.  I told the group that we had made our own Aliyah; from the depths of the destruction to the living beauty of our JEWISH homeland.  I thanked them for allowing us to be a part of the experience, asked them to stand and bow their heads for the priestly benediction as they were about to trek off into the Negev for three days of camping. 

What an experience for those kids…what an experience for Juca and myself!  

Shabbat Shalom from Bloomington,