One Shoe Off

What’s special about these shoes is that they have tiny Darth Vaders and Storm Troopers checkered all over them. Even to a non-Star Wars fan, that’s pretty cool. Other than that, they’re unremarkable.

Comfortable. Versatile. Durable. Functional. Although only a few months old, they are scuffed and well-worn. Their white soles already marked from climbing trees and exploring parks, playgrounds and backyards. They are I’m-a-big-kid-now shoes, full of adventure, potential, growth, and a future of life and possibility. We know they won’t fit him forever, but for now, they’re perfect.

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The problem with these shoes is that one is lost. An active afternoon of earnest play and fun brought him home with one shoe on, and one shoe most definitely off. Gone. Tossed over the hedge. Hidden in the neighbor’s brush. Unable to be found and never to be seen again. Not even with a ladder.

The problem with shoes, all shoes, is that they’re absolutely useless when one is missing. There’s not much you can do with one shoe. Actually, there’s nothing you can do with one shoe. Shoes operate together. In a pair. Two shoes are a run on a hot beach or a walk on a snow-covered road. They’re a party, a movie or a game of tennis. They’re a small boy climbing in a tree with his friends because that’s what small boys do, or a quiet stroll with the one you love on a warm, gentle evening.

They watch us, our shoes. They bear witness to our journeys and adventures, our struggles and our joy, our fear, our pain, our elation and our weariness. They are quiet and present, completely inanimate. But if they could talk with their long, wagging tongues or the short ones that never seem to come out all the way, they would have much to share about our lives and experiences in this world.

Only if there are two.

Two shoes are how it works. One shoe is futile.

***

Last week I met someone new in my life: Dr. Andy. Dr. Andy is a wonderful doctor, kind and caring, attentive and empathic. With entertaining and honest personal stories that he loves to share. Partly, I imagine, to put his patients at ease, and also because he enjoys the opportunity to make them laugh, cry, gasp in horror or frown in concern. To hear them say, “Are you serious?” or “I’m so happy for you!” or “Oh no, I’m sorry.” He tells his stories because he wants the people he is with at that moment to share in his experiences. To offer them a way to relate to him, and probably a way for him to relate back. As is the human condition. We relate to each other. It’s how we work.

I hope I don’t have to see Dr. Andy too often, but I loved our few minutes together. He confirmed I did not have pneumonia, and told me he had been feeling similar: congested, feverish, with a nasty cough and difficulty breathing. But before he did that he told me about his father, a Holocaust survivor, whose 90-something-year-old mind and body are frail and almost incompetent.

In lucid moments the old father shares memories and stories with Dr. Andy and tells his son how proud he is of him. Andy showed me a photo of his father’s number from Auschwitz, tattooed forever into his arm. It is blurred with age and time, and the green ink screams in stark contrast to his wrinkled, harmless skin.

I don’t have a known relative who survived the Holocaust. But by the time Dr. Andy finished telling me about his beautiful father, we both had tears in our eyes. The horrific death of six million Jews and the widespread hatred, panic and desolation of the Holocaust is a close and personal experience for many. And it is also a collective experience. One we experience as Jews, as people, as humans all over the world. Never forget.

At the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. there is a permanent exhibition I have visited with my son: shoes. An enormous gray pile of 4,000 tattered shoes.

The Nazis confiscated the shoes of Holocaust victims in the killing centers of Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Chelmno, Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau. When Majdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau were liberated, the troops found hundreds of thousands of pairs of shoes. And very few living prisoners.

You have never seen anything like this sea of shoes.

source: ushmm.org

source: ushmm.org

Above the awful, heart-searing collection is an excerpt from the poem “I Saw a Mountain” by Holocaust survivor and Yiddish poet Moses Schulstein z”l:

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.

We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.

From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,

And because we are only made of fabric and leather

And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.

My boy’s lonely shoe will never more run down the street with his brothers nor look for snails with his friends. Not again will it witness the free, growing life of hope and possibility. It’s useless on its own.

But I’m going to hang onto it.

Never forget.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “When it comes to the end of the world…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, and co-hosted by me and by Jena (this week’s sentence thinker-upper) of JenaSchwartz.com. 

More Than A Smudge Of Flour

Cuisinart

Her robe was fuzzy and peach in color. It reached all the way down to her ankles, and the long sleeves sat just above her wrists. She would fasten the pearly buttons haphazardly, missing a few here and there, and it always sat slightly skew on her shoulders. With her curly, brown hair still unbrushed, her glasses slipping down her nose, and her feet wrapped in her favorite slippers she looked like a nutty professor who’d just this minute leapt out of bed.

It took a few presses of the doorbell before she answered.

“Hi Gran! Where were you?” Our voices were loud and happy with afterschool relief and love for our Gran, as our eyes took in the well-worn and familiar peach robe. There was a smudge of flour on her cheek.

“Sorry my darlings, I didn’t hear the bell above the noise of the mixer. I’m baking biscuits.”

Always. She was always baking something. Biscuits. Ginger cake. Her famous bulkes (Jewish cinnamon buns). Or trying a new challah recipe.

For the first 24 years of my life, we spent every Shabbat dinner with my Gran and extended family, in a weekly rotation between our house, my cousins’ and my grandmother’s. Those were wonderful family gatherings of gatherings and tradition, laughter, stories, jokes and arguments heated discussions. And yummy food.

My mother’s chopped liver. Gran’s fried fish balls. My aunt’s youngberry tart. Specific dishes of wistful deliciousness that taste of nostalgia every time I try to replicate them.

Sometimes my Gran made challah when she hosted Shabbat dinner. She didn’t have a signature recipe but no matter which one she used (and most of the time I think she did her own thing, she wasn’t one to follow measurements and instructions) her challah was always fabulous. Sweet but not too sweet. Yeasty and cake-like and braided to perfection. Always a treat to have homemade challah, made with love and what I now know to be a lot of effort, on Shabbat.

***

This morning I wake up extra early, hoping to get into the kitchen and prepare the challah dough for its first rise before the kids and their breakfast clutter the counter. But one son is already toasting his waffles and I can hear his siblings not far behind.

With my gray robe belted tight against the chilly morning fog, I set the tin of flour on the counter. Running out of time. Why am I doing this? The kosher bakery down the street sells great challah, perfectly braided and baked and all I’d have to negotiate is a parking space.

Instead I am navigating four hungry and bickering children, boxes of cereal, spilled milk, and countless reminders from me to “Hurry up” in between the multiple cups of flour I had long ago lost track of for my homemade challah. Why indeed?

“Are you making challah, Mom?” one surprisingly observant child asks. “Yep,” I mutter, trying to remember if I’ve mixed in four or five cups by now because six cups will definitely be too many but four cups is undoubtedly not enough.

The dough is too sticky and it clings to the mixing bowl, the counter top and my fingers as I try to move it into a bigger bowl with room to grow. What a mess.

I look up at him for a brief second, and catch his smile as I say yes. He loves warm, fragrant homemade challah. Suddenly I am happy to be making it. It’s messy and inconvenient and I always make it when I’m in a rush and too busy to give it the time and attention it deserves.

But as chaotic as these mornings are in the kitchen before he leaves for school, perhaps his future self will remember his mom making challah in her robe on foggy Friday mornings. Perhaps he’ll longingly taste these Shabbat memories when he blesses the challah in years to come. Or maybe he’ll ask me to email him my recipe so he can make it himself.

I will never be sure if it’s four or five cups of flour.

The dough is finally ready to rise and I leave it sitting in the bowl, covered with a damp dishtowel for protection.

I glance in the mirror on my way up the stairs.

And notice the smudge of flour on my cheek.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt, “The chore I hate doing the most is…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Michelle (this week’s sentence thinker upper) from Crumpets and Bollocks and Jill from Ripped Jeans and Bifocals. Baking challah is obviously not the chore I hate doing the most (actually it’s not a chore at all, it’s a pleasure)… but it is the messiest!

challah

What the Gruesome Images from the Jerusalem Terror Attack Taught Me About Hope

bottom image source: The Jerusalem Post

bottom image source: The Jerusalem Post

The images are gruesome. Heartwrenching. So much blood. I don’t want to see. And for a while I don’t. Not really. I scroll quickly from one post to the next. Four killed in terror attack. Har Nof. Rabbis. Synagogue. Even as my heart is rushing and the tears are falling, my fingers slow down. To read. And to see. To really see.

A blood-soaked tallit (prayer shawl) crouches in crumpled horror. The red-splattered bookshelves stand feebly by. They are a quiet, ueseless protection to the forever stained siddurim (prayer books) they hold. Kehillat Bnei Torah Synagogue is a bloodbath.

“No. No. Nonononono,” I whisper, now unable to stop the onslaught of image after horrific image.

It’s the one of the bloodied tefillin-wrapped arm that stops me cold. His lifeless hand is curled around the ends of his tefillin, and his tallit is blemished with the hatred of others. Whose arm is it?

Read more here.

This post first appearared on Kveller.com.

Everyone’s Included in Monkey in the Middle and What Kind of Bat Mitzvah Will She Have

A boisterous game of “Monkey in the Middle” overtook our family room after Shabbat dinner last week. Astonishingly, nothing was broken and nobody got hurt. Laughter, happy yelling, and lots of good-natured teasing kept the blue-and-white beach ball airborne and away from the “monkey,” who in this game, was my daughter.

My only little girl is a feisty 8-year-old. She holds her own with big green-gray eyes, a smattering of freckles, a knowing smile, and a steely grip amid the three brothers who love nothing more than to give her a hard time about, well, everything: that she mispronounces “bird,” that she’s something of a busybody, that she prefers to keep her room testosterone-free, and yells “out” as soon as a male body, canine or human, places a smelly toe over the threshold.

Read more here.

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This post first appeared on Kveller.

Teen Trouble, 2014 Style

I love a party. Really any party at any time of day, but especially a nighttime dance party.

Bar mitzvah parties are my favorite. Balloon bouquets, party dresses, disco lights and sparkly shoes. Colorful candy and bright eyes and giddy laughter and the promise of “Footloose” on the dance floor. The boys are appealingly cool in their awkwardness, and the girls are squeally and sweet, and all the parents think this is actually their party and we’ll show you kids that yes, it is all about that bass! Good times.

We celebrated my son’s bar mitzvah just like this a few weeks ago (the DJ forgot to play “Footloose”, but he brought his own trumpet to accompany Macklemore, so he’s forgiven). There were cake pops and jars of jelly bellies and glow sticks, and a screen to live-stream all those fun Instagram pics the kids (and adults) were posting. Yep fun, 2014-style!

And a guaranteed invitation for trouble, 2014-style.

Read more here.

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