On my Dad’s birthday

I miss my father now probably more than ever. He was a really wonderful man– not just to me and my family, but he was a man who everyone liked. His relatives, his friends, and even his customers all loved him. He had a ready smile, an optimistic outlook, and time to listen to everyone’s story.

In the worst times, he was strong and never lacked his optimism and resolve to live a good life. When my mother’s overspending finally bankrupted them, my father went on the road as a traveling salesman. He sold objects of art and was so successful that his suppliers couldn’t keep up with his sales. At the time, my husband and I and our baby son lived in Columbia, South Carolina. My father’s route was the eastern seaboard and so he showed up at our place a couple of times that year. He was always full of stories of the people he had met. He did a lot of smiling and it was a treat to have him to ourselves for a couple of days.

When he finally went back into his own business with my uncle Bill’s help, he put up a sign on the storefront that said, “Harry’s back!’ People would come into the store and greet him. People who hadn’t known him from before would say, “Harry’s back?” and he would turn around and show them his back!

Sometimes I picture him interacting with one or another of my grandchildren. It’s so very easy. I can see him smiling, talking with them, teaching them how to build things or draw things or how to appreciate the objects of nature. He’s always full of enthusiasm and fully invested in talking to and listening to the person he is with. I can see the sparkle in his eyes, and in my fantasy, he is here with me.

rachel&zayda

Overheard

The other day I was at Holmes Place, the health club that is located not far from my house where my husband and I go to swim three times a week. As I made my way from the pool to the dressing room, I saw a recent English-speaking immigrant looking at this poster on the wall.

Health club poster

She was staring at it and I stopped. She said out loud, “Look at this! What a wonderful country we live in! This lady in the picture was thin, underfed, and with some felafel and some latkes, look at her afterward- she is beautiful. She looks healthy and well nourished. None of that skinny, unhealthy look that Americans crave so much. In Israel they know that people have to eat and look at her! She’s lovely. She’s healthy and content. She doesn’t have that blank look that so many people who watch their diets do. What a country!

Someone looked over at her and said, “You realize of course that the sign is written in Hebrew. The picture on the right is the ‘before’ picture and the one on the left is the ‘after’.”

“Oh!” she said, blinking and looking a bit shaken. Then she continued, “Never mind.”*

*A fictional story, with homage to Emily Litella and Gilda Radner who created her and was taken from us much too soon.

He will disappoint you

Last night I went to a wedding. It was, of course, beautiful. The groom was handsome, joyful, the happiness radiating from him. The bride was lovely– beautiful, gracious, exuding joy. They were full of energy- dancing and twirling and smiling and laughing. It was beautiful.

I didn’t know them very well, and so I didn’t say much aside from “mazal tov!” but I thought about what I might want to tell them in order to help them have a happy life together.

The more I thought about it, the more convinced I was that what I might say is “S/He will disappoint you.”

Why such a negative message?

We enter marriage sure that it is the solution to all of our problems. Someone will be there to love us, to support us, to help us. This person will help us in just the way we want to be helped. S/he will hold us when we are sad and laugh with us when we are happy. This person will support us in things that are important to us and to them we will always be the smartest, cleverest, most beautiful/handsome person in the world.

But, of course, that is impossible.

Two people have two different points of view. They have different priorities. They may attack a project differently. One wants to research and plan and the other one wants to “just do it already.” One buys something for the house and the other thinks that the deal wasn’t good enough or the features weren’t sufficient or maybe that not all of them were needed.

In short, s/he will disappoint you. S/he will not always support everything you say or do. S/he will not do things the way you know they should be done. S/he will be critical sometimes.

It is inevitable. But it is not a tragedy or even a crisis.

People who want to live a happy life together gradually come to the realization that they are different from their partners. Disagreement is not disloyalty. People have moods. They have ups and downs. Sometimes s/he will seem to be irrational. Sometimes we are the irrational ones.

The important thing is the abiding love and respect and commitment that permeates the relationship. With all of the disappointment should come the underlying sense of love and commitment, of happiness in building a life together, of shared goals and a shared vision of what a warm and loving relationship can be. Relationships evolve. With attention, they can improve steadily over time and going through life with a person you love is a wonderful thing. Even if sometimes, s/he disappoints you…

Miracle

For years it’s been building, the idea of Israel being a pariah state. We’ve been accused of pretty much everything, almost all of it without any basis. The foreign media allege that it’s Israel that’s been endangering the Middle East, in fact, the whole world. The wikileaks documents seem to show something different, and although their collection and publication constitute crimes, what they reveal seems to shed light on the true content of international diplomacy.

It is seldom that I read the news and weep. But today is one of those days. You see, yesterday a horrible inferno was unleashed in the Haifa area. At least 40 people have been killed by the fire and a huge area of Israel is in flames. The fire is not yet under control.

And what did I read? The assistance from foreign sources is streaming in– from Greece, Cyprus, UK, US, Bulgaria, Egypt, Jordan, Spain, Russia, and even from Turkey! Also, as of Sunday morning, Switzerland, Croatia, Italy and Norway. We are not alone. When we needed help, the rest of the world was there to help us– even those who criticize us and boycott us and condemn us. They came running to help us. The first planes landed very early this morning from Greece. The Bulgarian firefighters were on the ground at around the same time, fighting side by side with the Israelis. Underneath, there is human decency. I am grateful. We are grateful.

This may be more miraculous than the long-lasting oil.

What I should have said

Here is what I should have said to some recent acquaintances (who I likely will not see again):

It’s not all about you. Just because you think that the world belongs to you doesn’t make it so.

The animals of the Galapagos have plans of their own and they do not include showing off for you.

It is not possible to convince all the other people at the theater not to take pictures because they may momentarily block your view.

The airline did not ask me which seat I reserved for you. Nasty people- they just decided arbitrarily.

The Chinese guides were not spying on us; I promise you- they did not mistake you for anyone of consequence.

Just because you have an outdated, inaccurate guidebook in your hands, it does not make you an expert on a place you have never visited.

Taking food with your fingers and coughing and sneezing on the serving dish might account for your having spread your cold to the others who were not aware that the serving dish had turned into a petri dish.

Berating family members in public does not enhance your reputation.

Gratuitous criticism does not make you seem erudite; just crotchety and unpleasant.

Common courtesy is apparently not so common. Ditto common sense.

If there were a contest between “rich” and “kind”- kind would always win. I don’t admire you. I pity you.

And remember this: Beauty, money, and material things are fleeting, but good character lives on. There is still time to develop it. Try. It is a gift for yourself and for all those around you.

“Honors” surprises

As I thought about people who should have been honored and haven’t been, I thought about a teacher, Elsie Chomsky, I had in Hebrew college. She taught education and her ideas were brilliant and eye-opening! She was a household name because she had also taught my mother!! She was married to a man who became very famous (at least in Philadelphia) but my perception was that she was overlooked.

In thinking about her, I decided to do a google search and see if there was anything at all written about her. What a surprise! There was a whole 38 page article.

But that is not the whole surprise.

You see, on page 11 was the following:

Here we come to a dramatic break in Elsie Simonofsky’s story. Sometime in
l926-27, she left her job, family, peer-group, and friends to move to Philadelphia.
An air of mystery surrounds this period in her life. Her file in the Office of the
Registrar at JTS contains a “To Whom it May Concern” letter dated December
10, l926–a strange time for Hebrew teacher to be job-hunting– affirming that she
has satisfactorily completed her teacher’s diploma and is “entitled to teach in
Jewish religious schools.”

Why might she have decided to relocate? One source attributes her departure to
an unrequited romantic attachment; she felt she simply had to leave New York.

In 1965, I was engaged to be married. Four weeks before the planned wedding, with guests already RSVP’d, the apartment already carpeted, and a final fitting of my wedding gown, my fiance decided that he didn’t want to marry me. I was an emotional wreck. I had such difficulty believing it that I didn’t call any of my friends to tell them, but on the following Sunday, when I showed up at Hebrew college, there was no way of avoiding it. I told my friends and I burst into tears. I couldn’t remain in class, and so I went and sat in the student lounge.

A couple of minutes later, Mrs. Chomsky appeared. She and I had never had a personal conversation. She was my teacher. She sat on the sofa next to me. I don’t remember the exact words she said , but it was something like this.

“I just heard what happened. I know how hard it is because I went through it too. Believe me, your future is going to turn out better than you ever dreamed.”

So yes, I know what happened to her in 1926.

But there’s more.

My parents sent me to Israel and Europe for the summer, just a few weeks later. When I came down to the hotel lobby at the President Hotel in Jerusalem my first morning, Mrs. Chomsky was there. Together we walked to the Wizo shop on Jaffa Road so that I could buy an embroidered blouse for my sister. Having her show up there so unexpectedly, I thought it was as if she were my guardian angel.

Oh, and about my future… she was right.

Honors

I was thinking today about the whole issue of being honored– not by one’s children, but by a community, publicly. I was thinking of how people were chosen to be honored. Usually it’s because they stayed at a job for a very long time, or they contributed their energy and effort to a community, or they contributed a serious amount of money, or they accomplished something amazing. When they are honored, people come together and most of the time, they eat. Then there are speeches about how terrific the person is and sometimes people make jokes and often there is a big picture of the honoree either displayed or on the program for the event.

Now picture your average person. In the new world of employment, people often change jobs several times during a career. They also may move from one city or country to another. They don’t ever become the old community fixture or the one everyone knows because they are transient. They may do volunteer in the community. They may help people who are needy. They may be charitable and kind, but they are not recognized by those around them except, perhaps, family and friends.

So here is what I propose. I am happy to feature on my blog a picture and tribute to any person or people you may know who deserve to be honored. They need to be real people (no Mickey Mouses or other people who registered to vote through ACORN.) Editorial control is only mine. Requests should be mailed to drsavta@gmail.com

And yes, the honors are available posthumously as well.

Impressions

My mother was right.

Ohmigosh! Did I say that my mother was right????

Well, it turns out that she was, but not in the way she meant it.

My mother used to tell me that people were judging me. They were looking to see if my clothing had stains or missing buttons or if my stockings had runs in them. I came to understand that actually, they weren’t. Most people had more important things to occupy themselves with than the minutiae of my appearance.

But people do indeed judge you.

Think about a time when you went to an office and the secretary/receptionist was too preoccupied to notice you and when he/she finally did, he/she was rude and unhelpful. You probably left the office thinking “What a rude and unpleasant person!” Think now about a time when the person at the desk greeted you with a smile and seemed happy to help you. You might have left thinking, “what a nice person!”

The things we say and do to others, whether they are people who are close to us or strangers, really do have an impact on them. People will remember the nice person and the rude person.

It is said that we only have one chance to make a first impression. What type of impression will it be?

And suppose you will never again see that other person. How would you like to be thought of?
Ayala

Your children deserve a happy childhood

Most of us, when we decide to have children, think about how cute and sweet and lovable babies are. We think of their smiles. We fantasize cuddling them and holding them and having them fall asleep on our shoulder. If we think ahead, perhaps we see them building things with blocks or taking their doll or action figure for a walk. We may picture ourselves reading them a story or pointing out interesting flowers or trees or birds.

We may not necessarily realize that aside from the physical care of children (not an easy proposition in itself), we all are responsible for their emotional safety and security.

In the early years of marriage (roughly the first 15 or so), couples typically spend a lot of energy both getting to know each other’s foibles and trying to rectify them. They often express their frustration with each other. Some of this is all right. If one spouse can help the other grow and develop him/herself in a positive way, then those types of encounters can lead to positive things for both the individuals and the relationship. So often, though, people think of the relationship as a zero-sum game. In order for one to be up, the other must be down. They vie for the top position and are never happy because no one can occupy the top position all of the time if two people are vying for it.

Some couples go through this process in quiet ways. They try to influence each other by words and deeds. Sometimes they resort to manipulative measures. But, in the end, if they are both working toward the same goal, a happy life together which includes both of them feeling good and happy, then the uncomfortable times at least can yield good results.

Other couples are in a constant struggle to prove to each other that he/she is smarter, better, more clever, better liked, etc. than the other. This constant struggle impacts badly on those around them.

I am acquainted with a couple that has been married around 50 years. I have not known them the whole time, but I have known them for a significant period of time. It has not happened that I have been with the couple and they were not in some sort of struggle with each other. He picks at her; she picks at him. They do it everywhere- in front of friends, relatives, and strangers. It has become a habit. It may never end.

That is what should not happen.

All couples go through the struggle for ascendancy. At some point, the sooner the better, they should come to the point where they realize that their happiness is entwined with their partner’s. If my husband is miserable, so am I. If my wife feels hurt and put down, I feel the pain.

At that point, the marriage can turn around and become a place where people are appreciated and nurtured.

And the children will feel it. They will see that their mother and father are working together. They will feel safe and secure.

They deserve it.

Still crazy (about him) after all these years!

Still crazy (about him) after all these years!

Count your blessings

Recently I had the most unpleasant experience of being with a mother and her adult daughter (no relation to me) over a period of time. The daughter is an intelligent woman with a family and career of her own. The mother, now over 80 years old, is healthy- and physically and mentally comparable to a person 20 years younger. From the first time I met them, the daughter was critical of pretty much everything her mother said. However, the criticism was not even subtle; it was loud and harsh. When the mother would speak, the daughter would tell her loudly, “No one wants to hear you!” or “You’ve said that a hundred times already!” or “Why are you talking about that now!” The others who were present found the mother witty and charming. We also found the daughter’s hostile outbursts embarrassing to listen to. We reassured the mother that we were indeed interested in what she had to say.

For me, it was particularly hurtful. Although my mother was far from perfect, I always felt that it was my responsibility to act with kindness and respect toward her. After all, she did give birth to me and raise me and despite the negative things she said and did, I loved her. She died much too young and I miss her.

I wanted to say to the daughter, “Count your blessings! Your mother is alive and healthy and independent and completely mentally and physically fit. She is witty and clever and engaging. She has a unique perspective and lots of stories and experiences to share. Someday she will no longer be here and you probably will regret the way you acted toward her. Then, it will be too late to apologize or to make up to her for the pain you have caused her.”

We live with the illusion that life, as we know it, will continue forever, but unfortunately, those we love will not always be here. We need to know that the time we spend with them is precious.