Monday, December 5, 2016

Zeidie Jack ob”m

Tonight, the 6th of Kislev, is the 38th Yahrtzeit of my grandfather ob”m, Jack Weiss (Yaakov Yoel). Finally, after all these many years, I am taking the time to write about my Zeidie.

First and foremost, all my memories of Zeidie are very much intertwined with my memories of Bobby, Shirley (Chana Sarah), his beloved wife of 47 years who passed away almost 20 years after he did. The reason for that is that for most of the 19 years that Zeidie knew me, they were always at each other’s side. If I had to encapsulate in one single word the impression that I had growing up of the relationship between my Bobby and Zeidie, that word would be dedication.  Dedication to each other with no end. And selfless dedication to the family.

My Zeidie immigrated to the United States from Hungary with his family as a teenager in 1920. His father had already arrived alone before WWI and was living on the Lower East Side in New York.  He became a painter (not the Artist type) or like he would say, a “shmearer”, just like his father.

My Zeidie would marry his first cousin, American born Shirley Weiss, when he was already 28 years old. My Zeidie might possibly be the first “American Baal Tshuva” I ever met, long, long before the term became familiar. You see, Isadore (Yitzchak Isaac), his father, was not observant. But Isadore’s brother, Yaakov Yoel (Shirley’s father) very much was. Very, very much.

Yaakov Yoel was serving in the Hungarian army as an interpreter when he overheard how all the Jewish soldiers were going to be sent to the Front. Taking that as his cue, and with the blessings of the Munkatcher Rav, he emigrated alone to the United States in 1904, sending funds later on to bring over his wife as well.

Back in the early 20th Century, when the United States was referred to as the “Goldeneh Medina” with its streets paved with gold, many Jews threw off the yoke of observance. “America is different” was often stated by these many Jewish immigrants arriving on American shores from the Old Country, Europe.
But not Yaakov Yoel. He was from the few that even decided, even in America, to keep his beard, something that was not especially in vogue back then (although I hear that it’s making a comeback in Brooklyn today! A man ahead of his times).

And it was to his Uncle Yaakov Yoel that my Zeidie was drawn to. Although Isadore and Yaakov Yoel maintained good relations, contact between the cousins was restricted. But still, my Zeidie was willing to make a lifelong commitment to Jewish Orthodox observance in order to gain the hand of his beloved Shirley.
And committed he was. Whatever it took, he would make sure that his children received a proper Jewish education even if it meant painting the school building to pay off the tuition. At a time when sending your child to Yeshiva was not in vogue.

Committed. Dedicated. To his family. To his Faith. And most of all, to the love of his life, his beloved wife Shirley. A simple Jew.

Zeidie painted everything; buildings, bridges, you name it. And it took a heavy toll on his health. The “famous” family story about him was how he was once hospitalized enclosed within an oxygen tent suffering from the paint fumes he inhaled regularly. The prognosis was not good. My father ob”m was a teenager at the time. Seeing his father in that state, my Father assured his father that if anything should happen he would step in to support the family.

My Zeidie would have nothing of the sort. “This won’t kill me” he told his son. “You leaving Yeshiva would.”
The personal relationship with my Zeidie was for the most part a long distance one. He lived in Far Rockaway, New York and I lived in Miami Beach, Florida. I also enjoyed the status of being his oldest grandson. His visits to Florida (via train! They avoided Air Travel) were special treats as were our summer road trips from Florida to visit both sets of grandparents living in New York.

Fortunately, I enjoyed four especially close years with them when I studied in Brooklyn, New York during my High School stint there. I would sometimes enjoy a cozy Shabbat in their modest Far Rockaway apartment, walking ever so slowly together with him, sometimes in the freezing winter, to daven in one of the local Shuls. He wouldn’t complain about the pain he suffered as he walked, again due to all his years working as a painter. In fact I never, ever heard him complain about anything.

And most of all, as he sat in his recliner after dinner, I enjoyed his retelling of stories of my father during his youth.

And even the times when I didn’t make it out to Far Rockaway for a Shabbat, he would make the long drive (of course together with Bobby!) to Brooklyn in order to visit me and to deliver to me my favorite, tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches!

And then (like all Zeidies and Bobbys) they moved down to Miami Beach. He even once loaned me his beloved automobile to take a road trip to New York with some friends. I never had the heart to tell him that we broke down one god forsaken night in North Carolina and replaced the water radiator.
As a teenager, having an elderly grandfather around made me nervous. What would I do if something happened to him while I was around? Would I know what to do?

That was the impetus to learn CPR. And sure enough, one year after receiving it, I had the opportunity to use it on an elderly gentleman who suffered a heart attack in front of my father’s bakery on Washington Avenue. I saved a life. But that’s another story.

So Zeidie moved down to Florida, and I moved to New York. Three months after I moved to New York my Zeidie died. I came back to Florida until the end of my father’s shiva and returned back to New York to continue my studies, eventually receiving Rabbinical ordination, just like my own father.

Eight years later, almost to the day, my 4th child would be born and be named after my Zeidie, Yaakov Yoel. 29 years later he would name his 4th child after my father Meshulom ob”m.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Summer that Isn't

Well, unless you have recently returned from some extra-terrestrial journey, you are probably well aware of the present goings on here in the Holy Land of Israel. Many of you have expressed your concerns which is deeply appreciated. I assure you that albeit a bit shaken, we are all alive and well and continuing on with our daily lives, as best as possible considering the situation. Because of your concern, I am writing to describe our own personal experience during this time.

First of all, I have no work this week, hence the time to sit down and write this message to you. Thank G-d I enjoy a good reputation in the world of tour guiding in Israel which keeps me busy most of the time. One aspect of our business here is to grab all work you can when it comes your way, because you never know when those opportunities will suddenly dry up.

It's actually a good sign of sorts that I received a few cancellations due to the present security situation. Fortunately it means that I am busy to begin with! Cancellations obviously don't have much of an impact on Tour guides who aren't working to begin with. So I have this full week to spend with the kids, change some light bulbs in the house and other stuff like that. I am scheduled to begin a 10 day Birthright group arriving from London next Sunday. And so far it remains a go. So a little breather beforehand is a good thing.

The Summer season got off to a really lousy start with the kidnappings and murder of three Israeli teens on their way home. Then was the rioting and now of course the sirens and rockets.

The kids are in summer camp, and all their camp trips have been cancelled. That's a bummer. And on Thursday, we saw a rocket fall just to the side of the road while on our way home. That was scary. One day we'll all be able to laugh about it. Not just yet. And the tourists I was guiding last week in Jerusalem did not in any way enjoy seeking shelter when sirens went off. But we still managed to enjoy a great time.

So here is the bottom line. This is already our 12th summer since making aliyah. When we arrived in 2003 suicide bombing was all the rampage here. Those were the days of Saddam Hussein, buses being blown up and gas masks. And who can forget Lebanon war number 2 in 2006.

And still, life goes on. Let me give you a for instance. At the end of the school year, a special end of the year program was organized by the school. It was an opportunity for the school to show off the accomplishments of the students, not the academic accomplishments but the result of the extra-curriculum stuff sponsored by the school, stuff like taekwondo and dance.

We had both a first and fifth grader performing, Menucha and Nechama. Honestly, Ellie was not looking forward to sitting through another stretched out school program (in Hebrew!) without my company (I was busy at work), but ...

What Ellie saw made such an impact on her. The kids were great. The dancing was spectacular. But two things made the greatest impression on her.

First, that the school should invest so heavily in programs that truly round out the educational experience for the children. Who can even begin to imagine what the cost for these type of programs would be back in the States. And here it is something offered as part of the school program. Very, very impressive.

But was even more impressive was that a child with Downs Syndrome, who back in the States would have been "Sinai'd, resource room'd, labeled, etc was totally accepted by her classmates (and the system!), participating in the dance just like any other of her classmates. Of course it meant extra effort on behalf of the school and on behalf of the teacher. But they made it happen. It was one of the most beautiful sights you could ever imagine seeing in your life.

And it happened here. Don't be fooled by all that stuff you are being fed on CNN or whoever. Despite the challenges we have here, and there are plenty, they still do not take away from the quality of life we and our children and grandchildren enjoy here.

And that is exactly the reason why me made Aliyah, and exactly the reason why we are here to stay.

All our love. Thank you for your blessings. Be safe.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Parent Teachers Meetings

Ugh! Last night I attended another Parent Teachers meeting. Don't get me wrong. All the reports I received were positive. Except from the Sports teacher! But we'll get back to that later. The thing is, I have children already in their 30's! So yes, I also have a first and fifth grader, but shouldn't I get a pass on these meetings! I mean, almost 30 years of Parents Teachers meetings! It's inhuman !!!! And it's not necessarily because of all the waiting involved. You arrive on time for your 6:00 appointment only to find out that 5:20 (if you're lucky!) just entered. And of course 5:50 grabs 20 minutes of meeting time instead of the allotted 10. And that's just one teacher you need to meet!!! No. That's not what's so torturous. The underlying reason for the great discomfort we experience at these meetings is our unconscious awareness that it is not our children that the teachers are reporting on. Nooooooooooo. If that was the case, then fine. The bitter truth is that we are sitting there in judgement! The teacher is judging US! What kind of parent are you that your child sometimes doesn't complete their homework assignment! As we squirm uncomfortably in those small seats and hear the teacher's report, all we can think to ourselves is "Where did I go wrong?". Maybe it's in my spouse's genes! Why can't my child be like goody two shoes Johnny from down the street, always on good behavior, studious and helpful around the house! Fortunately, the reports I received last night were good (except for that minor thing with my first grader cheating on a math test). Except from the Sports teacher. "Your child is lazy". The Sports teacher! Give me a break!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Trip to Israel - June 2010 Slideshow & Video

Trip to Israel - June 2010 Slideshow & Video: "TripAdvisor™ TripWow ★ Trip to Israel - June 2010 Slideshow ★ to Chicago, Safed and Tel Aviv. Stunning free travel slideshows on TripAdvisor"

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Like a Hamster on his exercise wheel

Did you ever have one of those days when you feel just like that hamster running so fast on his little exercise wheel without really getting anywhere? Well, that was the type of morning I had. I guess it shouldn't have come as any surprise. After all, I was visiting a government office.

Last week I had the pleasure of waiting an hour at the tax office for something I really didn't need, only to find out that I was at the wrong place and that I needed to be at a different office in Jerusalem to get the thing I really didn't need.

Today my meeting was at the Absorption Ministry, a place I hadn't visited in a quite awhile. Now I remember why. This is where new immigrants learn very, very quickly about Israeli bureaucracy.

Two weeks ago, totally out of the blue, they phoned me to tell me that I was eligible for a 1,200 sheqel grant (about $325 - a days work)to subsidize the "taxi" driving course I took last year (which I took so that I could legally drive tourists around). I was pleasantly surprised by the call. I had been told previously that I had already received my quota of grants. But hey, who was I to argue!

The only thing was that I needed to set up a meeting immediately in order to bring in all the necessary paperwork. Easy enough.

And so I arrive 15 minutes early to my 9AM appointment today. I knock on the door. No response. I wait. Fifteen minutes later the door opens and (we'll use an alias) Ms. A asks me who I am, I tell her and she tells me that this will take an hour (an hour!)and to please come into her office and wait for her. After a few moments she returns and asks me for the reason for my visit and after I respond she says she has no recall of having ever called me (she phoned me twice, once to try to change the time of the appointment), but she does remember exactly what she told me to bring. So far so good.

Then she starts going through my paperwork. Nothing is good. She doesn't like the school's letterhead where I took the course. It doesn't look professional enough. (As if the file where it will be kept for eternity really cares). She doesn't like the syllabus - not enough details. She doesn't like the copy of the school's license. In short, she doesn't like anything. When she tells me that she doesn't have all day for this, I kindly remind her that she has an hour. She needs to speak with her supervisor. I chuckle to myself and tell her that I will definitely be writing about this experience. She is not amused.

She leaves the room for a few minutes and upon her return she says says that we will try our best. I suspect that her computer's internet connection is a dial-up modem. Each individual letter she types takes about 22 seconds for the computer to register. She spends a lot of time trying to figure out the code numbers for the responses I give to her inquiries. And when she finds out that I'm a tour guide, I suddenly become her best friend and she has about 45 minutes of questions regarding different locations around the country she would like to visit.

By now a line of people has formed outside the door with people waiting to have their turn. Some poor lady comes in just to get a letter which states that she doesn't receive any assistance. My clerk explains to her that she is tied up with me.

After an hour and a half I am informed that I will need to return with my wife in order to update our checking account information. Wipeedoo! Another visit to the office! I can hardly wait.

I walk back to my car only to find out that my quick park meter has malfunctioned and so now I have a 100 sheqel parking ticket to contend with.

And five minutes later they call me from the Absorption Ministry to apologize. It seems that after all, I am not eligible for the grant and only because the regular person was out sick did I mistakenly receive the call to come in.

Well, at least now there is no need for me to return with my wife. At least for now.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday Shmulie

Tonight (the 4th of Adar) I celebrate my 51st birthday. And so in honor of this most auspicious event, I wish my youngest brother Shmulie a very happy birthday with whom I share this occasion with.

Now I know what you're thinking. Big deal. So you share a birthday with a sibling. I mean after all, there are fifteen of you! Inevitably two of you are going to share the same birth date. So what's the big deal? OK. So it took 22 years for it to happen. Still, there are only so many days in a year to begin with.

The truth is, the odds of the two of us sharing the exact same birth date is quite low. Here I quote Wikipedia: "Because of the roughly eleven-day difference between twelve lunar months and one solar year, the year lengths of the Hebrew calendar vary in a repeating 19-year Metonic cycle of 235 lunar months, with an intercalary lunar month added according to defined rules every two or three years, for a total of 7 times per 19 years."

Simply put, the Hebrew calendar enjoys 7 leap years during every 19 year cycle, by adding an extra month at the end of the winter. (Why couldn't they have given us an extra month of summer instead? Go figure.)And so 7 times every 19 years we have an Adar I followed by an Adar II. And both my brother and I were both born in leap years, on the exact same date, 22 years apart, on the 4th of Adar I. If there are any mathematicians out there in cyberworld reading this, I would love to know what the odds are of that happening.

But here's the clincher. I am blessed to be the oldest of 15 children. (Yes. One dad with one mom - till 120. No twins. The hard way. 4 daughters, 11 sons.) Shmulie is the youngest. We are the so-to-say the "book-ends" of our family. Pretty cool - huh? I think so.

Now I'll be perfectly honest. I barely know my brother Shmulie. When he was born in Miami Beach I was already living in New York, one year away from my wedding. Shmulie will be 29 and my oldest daughter Tova will very soon be 28. I guess my relationship with Shmulie is more of an uncle - nephew one than a brother - brother one. I live in Israel, Shmulie with his family in California. It's been quite a while since we've seen each other. I'm not making excuses (or maybe I am) but that's just the reality. Facebook can do just so much.

Nevertheless, I truly believe that in addition to our connection to each other as siblings, our shared birth dates reveal a deep connection between the two of us.

I was named after my mother's grandfather who thank G-d emigrated from Hungary before WW II - before the Nazi (modern day Amalek) invasion. My Great-grandmother probably gets the credit for that decision to leave. Her husband actually preferred Hungary to the United States, but they had the foresight to see the writing on the wall and left good 'ol Hungary while you still could.

But the forbear of my name would be Mordechai of Purim fame. The very joyous holiday of Purim is celebrated this month as well, on the 14th of Adar (15th in Jerusalem). Mordechai, although from the Tribe of Benjamin, is referred to as a "Yehudi" which typically meant coming from the tribe of Judah or the area of Judea. And so what we have here is a member of the Children of Israel being called a Jew in the Tanach (the Book of Esther) for the very first time. One one hand he is a Jew living in exile, in Persia, after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians back in 586 BCE, but living just prior to the end of that 70 year exile when (thanks to his help - and Esther's) the Persian empire ultimately encourages the return of the "Jews" back to their land to rebuild the Second Temple. Cool. Most don't heed the call - not cool. As someone who only recently made aliyah, I relate.

The final verse in the Megilah (Book of Esther) which we read (twice) on Purim says it best; "For Mordechai the Jew was viceroy to King Achashverush - he was a great man among the Jews, and found favor with the multitude of his brethren - he sought the good of his people and spoke for the welfare of all his seed".

Whew! If only after 120 years I could live up to that! (Well, thanks to my parents I certainly have a multitude of brethren!)

My brother Shmulie was named after Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (b. 1834 - d. 1882) (the Rebbe Maharash) who was the 4th "Lubavitcher Rebbe" of the Chabad Lubavitch chasidic movement, the 7th son of the 3rd Lubavitcher Rebbe. A most famous aphorism of his is "The world says, 'If you can't crawl under, climb over.' But I say, Lechatchilah Ariber--'At the outset, one should climb over.'" Another is "You cannot fool G-d; ultimately, you cannot fool others either. The only one you can fool is yourself. And to fool a fool is no great achievement." (Not to be confused with another famous quote of that same era "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." attributed to Abraham Lincoln 16th president of US
(b. 1809 - d. 1865).

The forbear of my brother's name is one of the greats of Jewish history; "Shmuel Ha'navi" - Samuel the Prophet. Shmuel Hanavi enjoys the distinction of having anointed both the very fist King of Israel - Saul and his "successor" King David over 3,000 years ago. (The tomb of Samuel the Prophet, located just outside of Jerusalem, is one of my very favorite spots to visit in Israel).

In Jewish thought, a very important theme is the deep connection which exists between the very beginnings of something with its very end. Man/woman is the last of all creation, but only because all of creation preceding is for their sake. We have all been placed in this world with our own particular mission to fulfill during our limited years here on this earth. That is the ultimate purpose of "The Beginning" - creation.

Shmuel Hanavi and Mordechai Ha'Yehudi share a number of common factors. Women (like our own mother) played an extremely important role in their lives. Shmuel Hanavi's mother, Chana, was extremely distressed over being childess (like our own mother). Prior to Shmuel's birth, Chana dedicated her first born child to a life long service of G-d. The first 10 verses of the book of Shmuel I ch. 2 records her song of praise to G-d for answering her petition. According to the Zohar "There were two women who uttered songs and praises to the Holy One, Blessed is He, such as no man in the world ever uttered. Who were they? Devorah and Chana."

The all important woman in Mordechai's life was none other than Esther. And in the Talmud it states: "Who were the seven prophetesses? Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Chana, A'veegayil, Huldah, and Esther."

That's common denominator number one.

Furthermore, both Mordechai and Shmuel lived in times just before the building of the Temple in Jerusalem; the first Temple "the House of David" would be built by King Solomon, David's son after the time of Shmuel and the Second Temple would be built soon after the story of Purim.

More connections can be made between the two. Both were beloved by their people; "All of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheva, knew that Shmuel was faithful as a prophet to Hashem". And the most obvious connection has to do with the Holiday of Purim itself. King Saul of the tribe of Benjamin will lose his Kingship for failing to destroy Amalek as G-d had commanded him to do so. It will be the prophet Shmuel who (albeit not in time) finishes the job meant for King Saul; beheading King Agag of Amalek. Hundreds of years later, when Amalek again rears its ugly head in the guise of Haman (progeny of Agag's final night's stand) who seeks to utterly annihilate the Jewish people, it will be our hero Mordechai (and Esther) - "Jews" from the tribe of Benjamin - who get it right this time and bring about the demise of Haman - Amalek and his family.

I guess I could continue on and discuss the significance of the nummber 22 - the amount of years which separate the birthdays of Shmulie and myself (We always recite psalm 22 just before beginning the first psalm for the 4th of the month - our birthdate) but I'll leave that for others to ponder.

And so happy birthday Shmulie. I love you. Our namesakes have given us a lot to live up to, but thank G-d we are part of a family that has provided us with the tools necessary to be successful in all of our endeavors.

On behalf of Shmulie and myself, thank you Mommy and Daddy. This is our birthdays gift to you.

We love you.

Mordechai "Ha'Yehudi" Ha'Yisra'eli