The Homestead Restaurant in Northampton: Another Small World Story

Once again the genealogy gods are playing with my mind and convincing me that I must somehow be related to everyone I know.

This past weekend I was texting my friend Marlene to make plans to get together for dinner. We were going back and forth, trying to find a restaurant that has outdoor seating and that will take a reservation. Then Marlene texted, “I have a cousin who owns a restaurant in Northampton. I’ve never been there though.”

I texted back, “That’s funny. I have a cousin who owns a restaurant in Northampton, but I’ve never been there or met him.” I couldn’t remember his name or the name of his restaurant at that moment, so I went to my Ancestry app, knowing that he was a nephew of my cousin Roger. Roger and his husband David have been tremendously helpful to me in my genealogy research, as readers of my blog know. Roger is my third cousin, once removed, on my Katzenstein-Goldschmidt line. We are both descended from Gerson Katzenstein and Eva Goldschmidt.

After checking my tree and finding the right name and the name of his restaurant, I texted Marlene, “My cousin is Jeremy Werther. He owns the Homestead restaurant.”

Much to my amazement, she responded, “He’s my cousin also!”

It seems Jeremy is Marlene’s second cousin, once removed, on his father’s side, and he is my third cousin, twice removed, on his mother’s side. We were just blown away. I’ve known Marlene and her husband Jim since 1982, and certainly as far as we knew, we had no relatives in common. How could it be that after almost forty years we had just discovered that she was the second cousin of the father of my third cousin, twice removed? We both just had to laugh and marvel at what a small world it is.

And, of course, that sealed the deal—we were going to Jeremy’s restaurant for dinner. We made a reservation at The Homestead, and I prepared various family tree charts to share with Marlene and with Jeremy.

It was a fabulous meal. Everything was so fresh and beautifully prepared and presented. We had two different salads, a roasted carrot dish, a bluefish dish, and two pasta dishes among the four of us. We shared most of the dishes as they are served as small plates to be shared, and it made for a very relaxed and enjoyable meal—each dish better than the last. And the service was stellar—friendly, efficient, and attentive without being intrusive.

Although I forgot to take photos of our meal, Jeremy gave me permission to include a few photos from their Facebook page. This is just a small sample of Jeremy’s artistry.

No photo description available.

But the best part was meeting Jeremy, who seemed amazed by the fact that two of his cousins had shown up at his restaurant without any warning—two women he’d never met before.  He sat with us as we explained all the connections and shared the charts with him.  He was as gracious as one could imagine—all of us sharing in the crazy joy that comes with discovering the magic of family history.

Restaurant —Homestead

My cousin Jeremy, chef and owner of the Homestead

Outside dining at the Homestead

If you live in the Pioneer Valley, or even if you don’t, be sure to visit The Homestead at 7 Strong Avenue in Northampton, Massachusetts. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Rosh Hashanah 5782: Make It A Better Year

I am an eternal optimist. But wow, it’s hard to be an optimist these days. Natural disasters abound, precipitated by and exacerbated by climate change—floods, hurricanes, drought, fires, tornadoes, and historical heat levels never before seen. COVID, which for a brief period of months appeared to be getting under control, continues to spread, hospitals are once again overwhelmed, and people continue to die. People would rather trust conspiracy theorists and take drugs meant for livestock than listen to science and medical experts and take a vaccine that has been proven to be effective.

Human beings continue to be treated as less than human—whether it’s because of their race, their gender, their religion, or their national origin. Immigrants are denied entry, women are denied the right to control their own bodies and treated as breeders, and people of color are abused and killed without any consequences for those who assaulted them. Gun violence hasn’t abated and in some places is worse. Our government is broken because hatred and greed and the lust for power rule instead of reason, kindness, and compromise. Our Supreme Court has become nothing but a rubber stamp for those who would oppress others. Add to all this the personal issues so many are facing, and it’s damn hard to be an optimist.

So how do I greet the new year? How do I wish people a shana tova, a good year, when things look so dire?

In these times it’s important to look backward instead of forward, I think. I find strength in knowing that my ancestors and others faced what must have seemed to them insurmountable obstacles and yet they survived—oppression, concentration camps, awful diseases, poverty, and hunger, things that most of us cannot imagine. They didn’t have our resources, our medical knowledge, our technology, our access to information. But they persevered. Of course, millions died from all those causes, but millions also survived. They went on with their lives—they fell in love, they pursued careers, they had children. They somehow found hope. We must also.

We must dig in deep and find the strength to make the glass at least half full. We must fight against climate change, COVID, evil politicians, and hatred and prejudice. Maybe we need to wallow for a bit and feel the despair. But then we must get back to making this a better world for our descendants so that someday they, too, can look back and be amazed by the resilience of their ancestors.

And so, shana tova. Make it a good year. It’s up to us.

By Gilabrand (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

*************

I will return to “regular programming” next Friday after the holiday.

July 2021: Scenes of the Outer Cape

I will be taking a break for the first two weeks in August, so I will leave you with some of the highlights of July in Wellfleet. See you soon!

Low tide at Indian Neck Beach:

A hike over Uncle Tim’s Bridge to Cannon Hill

My garden:

My cats:

After the storm:

Long Nook Beach in Truro, the ocean beach we frequented when I was a child:

That’s it for now. See you in August when I will return with stories about a whole new branch of the family tree!

One Thousand Posts

This is the 1000th post I’ve published on this blog. It all started almost eight years ago when my cousin Judy Ruzicka, a Brotman second cousin, suggested that instead of emailing my research discoveries to all the Brotman cousins, I create a blog where people could subscribe and see my research. I had at that time read and followed a few blogs, but had never thought about creating one. Judy did the initial setup on WordPress, and I started to publish. Haltingly at first. Posting one census record or death record and adding a few words.

This was my first post. No commentary or analysis, just an image.

Bessie was Joseph's second wife and mother of five children

Bessie Brod Brotman Moskowitz—the first image I posted back in September 2013

And then it grew. I started realizing that I could tell stories about the relatives I was researching. I could put together narratives, and when I started doing that, I could see where I had holes in my research or where I needed more sources. And suddenly I found that I had more than my Brotman cousins reading along. I had other bloggers reading as well. And I started reading their blogs, and that gave me ideas for my own research and my own writing.

From there I discovered I could share my blog on Facebook and connect with more researchers and learn even more about family history research. The blog became a bigger and bigger part of my life. I at one point was posting three or four times a week and writing posts that were sometimes 3000 words. But I then learned that sometimes too much is too much. People didn’t want to read that much in one day or that often. So I cut my publishing schedule to twice a week and my post lengths to about 1000 words.

Then the best part started to happen. Cousins started to find me through my blog. Someone would Google their grandfather’s name or their great-grandmother’s name and find them mentioned on my blog. They would contact me, and I would learn more about that part of my family—often leading to photographs, letters, documents, and memoirs and memories. The blog itself became a way of advancing my research. Today I have connected with well over 200 living cousins, many because they found my blog.

Joseph Brotman’s headstone, the avatar I use for WordPress and for my blog

So as I post Number 1000, I wanted to stop and recognize and thank all those who have supported this endeavor by reading, commenting, sharing, and finding my blog. From Judy Ruzicka, who started it all, to all the family members, friends, and fellow genealogy and other bloggers who read the blog—whether periodically or regularly—thank you for giving me this platform to share and expand my family history project.

Now—on to post 1001! I will be taking a break to spend some time with my kids, but I’ll be back in a couple of weeks.

 

Who Was Bessie Goldfarb Named For? A Study in Naming Patterns

Before I write about Bessie Goldfarb Malzberg and her family, I want to explore a question that bothered me since I first learned her name.

It struck me as odd that Sarah Brod Goldfarb named a daughter Bessie since that was her sister’s name—my great-grandmother Bessie Brod Brotman. Even their Yiddish names were the same. On the ship manifest for Sarah and her four children, Sarah’s second daughter is listed as Pesie, and my great-grandmother Bessie was listed as Pessel on her ship manifest. I assume Pesie was a nickname for Pessel. Incidentally, Pessel is also my Yiddish name—in honor of my great-grandmother Bessie.

The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Series Title: Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787-2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series: T840
Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists, 1800-1962

Year: 1891; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 29; List Number: 73, Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., Arriving Passenger and Crew Lists (including Castle Garden and Ellis Island), 1820-1957

Since Eastern European Ashkenazi Jews did not name children for living relatives, I assumed that Sarah’s Bessie was named for either the same person her sister Bessie had been named for or for a relative on Sam’s side of the family. But who was that person?

I decided to explore the naming patterns in the Goldfarb and Brod families a bit further to see if they provided any clues. Sam and Sarah’s first son was Julius (Joel was his Hebrew name), and it appears obvious that he was named for Sam’s father who was also named Julius Goldfarb.1 I will refer to Sam’s father as Julius I and Sam’s son as Julius II.

Sam and Sarah’s second son Morris (Moische), born in 1886, could have been named for a relative on Sarah’s side, and that’s possible here, but since four of Sam’s siblings—his brother Louis and his half-brothers Max, Meier, and Julius 2—all had sons named Morris Goldfarb,3 I think it’s more likely that Morris was also named for an ancestor on Sam’s side though I don’t know who that would be. Perhaps an uncle or a great-grandfather.

Then came Gussie (Gittel) Goldfarb, born in 1888. My grandmother Gussie Brotman was born in 1895, and she was a first cousin to Gussie Goldfarb. Sarah’s death certificate states that her mother was named Gittel, and her sister Bessie’s second marriage certificate says her mother was Gittel, so both Gussies—Gussie Goldfarb and my grandmother Gussie—were named for their maternal grandmother Gittel, my great-great-grandmother. (My daughter carries on the naming pattern as her Hebrew name is Rivka Gittel for my grandmother.)

New York, New York City Municipal Deaths, 1795-1949″, database, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WT7-T1D : 3 June 2020), Sarah Goldfarb, 1937.

Certificate Number: 22138, Ancestry.com. New York, New York, U.S., Extracted Marriage Index, 1866-1937

That brings me to Bessie. She was born in 1890, and I don’t know who she was named for. Sam’s mother was Dora Kleinman. Dora died not long after Sam’s brother Louis (Lazar) was born in 1859. Louis Goldfarb named his first daughter Dora in 1889 for his mother. It seems odd that Sam didn’t have a daughter named for his mother.4 It makes me think Sam and Sarah may have had another daughter named for Dora who died before they left Europe—unless Dora Kleinman had a double name and Bessie was named for her other name.

Julius I’s second wife was named Rebecca Kirschenbaum,5 so did Sam name Bessie for his stepmother Rebecca? Or was Bessie named for a Brod, possibly the same unknown ancestor for whom my great-grandmother Bessie was named? I don’t know.

After Bessie came Joseph. I don’t see any Josephs on the Goldfarb side, and Sarah Brod and Bessie Brod’s father was named Joseph Brod according to the two records depicted above. So I think it’s very likely that Joseph Goldfarb was named for his maternal grandfather, Joseph Brod.

Leo was the next son, born in 1899. I don’t have any clues as to his namesake. On the  1900 census, Leo  was listed as Lewis, and on the 1905 NYS census he was Louis. Only in 1910 did his name appear as Leo. Sam’s brother Louis was still living when Leo was born, but maybe Leo was named for the same ancestor for whom his uncle Louis was named.  Sam’s half-brother Max had a son named Lewis born in 1901, so perhaps he also was named for the same ancestor.6  I don’t see anyone else with an L name in the Brod family so I think Leo was named for a Goldfarb, not a Brod.

Sam and Sarah’s last child was Rose, and that’s a name that appears four times among Sam’s relatives.  Sam’s brother Louis named his second daughter Rose born in 1891. Sam’s half-brother Max named a daughter Rose in 1901, and Julius Jr. had a daughter named Rose born in 1919. I would assume that Max and Julius, Jr. named their daughters for their mother Rebecca, but who did Sam and Louis name their daughters Rose for? I don’t know. Perhaps their stepmother Rebecca, or perhaps a great-grandmother or other female relative.7

Just to add to the data set here, my great-grandmother Bessie had five children with my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman—Tillie, Chaim (Hyman), my grandmother Gussie, Frieda, and Sam. With his first wife Chaye, Joseph Brotman had four children: Abraham, David, Max, and Taube. Only the name Gussie is repeated among her sister Sarah’s children although Max Brotman, like Morris Goldfarb, was Moische in Europe.

To summarize my assumptions: Sam and Sarah’s son Julius was named for Sam’s father Julius. Their daughter Gussie and son Joseph were named for Sarah’s parents, Gittel and Joseph.  Morris and Rose are names that occur frequently in the Goldfarb family so those two children probably were named for a Goldfarb relative. Leo was originally Louis, a name that appears in the Goldfarb family, so I am inclined to think he was named for a Goldfarb.

But I am without a clue about the ancestor for whom Bessie was named. If my assumptions are correct, it would mean that four of Sarah and Sam’s children were named for a Goldfarb ancestor and only two were named for a Brod ancestor. That makes me think Bessie might have been named for a Brod, and maybe for the same relative for whom her aunt, my great-grandmother Bessie, was named. But I can’t be sure.

And sadly without records for those earlier generations, I probably never will know.


  1. KLG family history and various other sources and records. 
  2. Sam’s father Julius I had a son with his second wife Rebecca who was also named Julius; I will refer to him as Julius, Jr. That seems quite odd—unless Julius I died before Rebecca gave birth to Julius, Jr. Unfortunately I have no records to know for sure. What I do have is a family history compiled by Kay Goldfarb.  Kay’s book says that Julius died 1879-1880 and that Julius, his son, was born in 1880. So it seems probable that in fact Julius I did die before his son Julius Jr. was born. 
  3. KLG family history and various other sources and records. 
  4. Ibid. 
  5. Ibid. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Ibid. 

My Goldschmidt Family Project: Looking Back and Looking Forward

With this post, I come to the end of my Goldschmidt research—at least until I get new updates or make new discoveries. I’ve done my best to find whatever records, stories, and photographs exist for Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Reuben Seligmann, my four-times great-grandparents, and their descendants.1

I started blogging about my Goldschmidt relatives a little over three years ago on January 12, 2018, making it the longest of any of my family research projects.  And it’s been such a rich and rewarding journey. I’ve connected with Goldschmidt/Goldsmith cousins in France, England, and all over the United States. Some of those cousins have roots in the US that are as deep as mine—going back to the 1840s when Simon Goldschmidt/Goldsmith arrived or the 1850s when my great-great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt Katzenstein arrived; some are the children of those who were born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, and were forced to leave their comfortable and successful lives to escape from the Nazis as recently as the 1930s or 1940s.

One thread that runs through so much of the Goldschmidt family is an interest in the arts and literature—whether in writing, as with Milton Goldsmith and Anna Seghers, or an interest in antiquarian books, as with Alfred Goldsmith and Emil Offenbacher, or in music like Florence Goldsmith, or  in creating art like William Sigmund and Martha Loewenthal Wolff, or by working as an art historian and curator like Yvonne Hackenbroch, and, of course, then there are the many, many Goldschmidt family members involved in collecting and dealing in art—from the Goldschmidt brothers Jacob Meier and Selig to Julius Falk Goldschmidt to the Freres Tedesco family and so on.

Alfred Goldsmith self-portrait, Joseph J. Felcone, The Old Book Table. A Record of its First Seventy-Five Years, 1931–2005 (New York: The Old Book Table, 2006), p. 5.

Painting by Martha Loewenthal Wolff

Of course, there were also many merchants, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists in the Goldschmidt clan. But when I think of my father’s artistic ability and his passion for art, architecture, music, and literature, I attribute it to his Goldschmidt DNA. His mother was artistic, and she was the granddaughter of Eva Goldschmidt. My great-uncle Harold Schoenthal, also a grandchild of Eva Goldschmidt, was also an artist and an architect. My daughter is also very artistic, though she did not pursue it as a career. When I see my grandsons drawing, I think, “It must be their Goldschmidt DNA.” I may not be artistic, but I’d like to think that my love of reading and writing comes from that Goldschmidt DNA as well.

The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers

The Rabbi and The Priest by Milton Goldsmith

After three years of research, it’s hard to boil down in one post all that I have learned. That research has exposed me to so much of American Jewish history and German Jewish history—from the late eighteenth century right up to 2020. The Goldschmidts kept my brain busy during this pandemic time, and they provided me with some truly memorable Zoom calls with cousins.

It has been an amazing experience. I am indebted to so many of my Goldschmidt cousins that I fear if I make a list, I will leave someone out. But thank you to all of you who shared your family’s photographs, letters, memoirs, documents, and stories. I hope that I’ve served our extended family well by recording the stories of their lives for posterity. And please stay in touch! I want to meet as many of you as I can in person someday soon.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Madame Stumpf and Her Daughter, 1872. Courtesy of the National Gallery.
Once owned by the Freres Tedesco Gallery, Paris

A work from the Guelph Treasure
Reliquary of the arm of Saint Blaise (Herzog Anton Ulrich Museum, Dankwarderode Castle). User:Brunswyk, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons. Once owned by J&S Goldschmidt

It’s bittersweet to reach this point and know it’s time to move on to the next project. But I’ve gone as far as I can go in the Goldschmidt research—at least for now.  I need to decide what to do next. I’ve been dipping my toes in several ponds to see which one grabs my attention.

Before I reveal where I am going next, however, I need to take a break for a bit to catch my breath and to catch up on the research it will take to start that new project, whatever it may be. But first, I will introduce my new novel. So stay tuned!


  1. I would be remiss in my duties as a family historian if I didn’t mention that in addition to their four sons Meyer, Seligmann, Lehmann, and Simon, whom I’ve studied in depth, my four-times great-grandparents Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt and Eva Seligmann had a daughter Jette Goldschmidt. She married David Gruenwald of Poembsen, Germany, and they had two children. One died as an infant or was stillborn, but the other, Jacob Gruenwald, was born in 1820, lived to adulthood, married Sarah Nethe, and had fourteen children born between 1847 and 1872. All of this information, however, is based purely on a secondary source, a report in the Alex Bernstein Collection at the Leo Baeck Institute. I’ve tried to locate more information about Jette’s descendants, but so far have not succeeded. If the day comes when I can, I will add Jette’s family to the blog. 

Two Cousins Whose Lives Tell the Overall Story of the Goldschmidts

As I draw to the close of my Goldschmidt family history project, it seemed quite appropriate that I recently received photographs of two members of that family who  exemplify two very different stories of this family’s history, my cousins Herman Goldsmith and Hannah Goldsmith. Hannah was born in America in 1848 and lived until 1939, and Herman was born in Germany in 1912 and lived until 2016.

First I received this photograph of Herman Goldsmith and my cousin Susan and her husband Richard. Susan said it was taken in June 2013 when Herman was 100 years old. He would turn 101 on December 6, 2013, and live until October 27, 2016, just a little over a month before he would have turned 104.

Richard and Susan (Vogel) Neulist and Herman Goldsmith, June 2013. Courtesy of Susan Neulist

I wrote about Herman here. He was the son of Julius Falk Goldschmidt and Helene “Leni” Goldschmidt. Julius Falk Goldschmidt was the son of Falk Goldschmidt, and Leni Goldschmidt was the granddaughter of Jacob Meier Goldschmidt. Since Falk and Jacob Meier were brothers, Julius and Leni were first cousins, once removed, making Herman his own cousin.

After escaping from Nazi Germany to the US in the 1930s, Herman settled in New York City where so many Goldschmidt family members ended up. He remained in touch with his Goldschmidt relatives. Susan said he visited her grandmother, Grete Goldschmidt Heimerdinger, every week for many years.

Grete was also a double cousin as she was the daughter of Marcel (Maier) Goldschmidt, son of Jacob Meier Goldschmidt, and Hedwig Goldschmidt, daughter of Falk Goldschmidt. Hedwig and Marcel were first cousins, and so like Herman, Grete was her own cousin.

And since Hedwig Goldschmidt, Grete’s mother, and Julius Falk Goldschmidt, Herman’s father, were siblings, Grete and Herman were first cousins, both the grandchildren of Falk Goldschmidt.

But they were also both descended from Jacob Meier Goldschmidt, Herman’s great-grandfather and Grete’s grandfather, so they were also first cousins, once removed, through Herman’s mother Helene “Leni” Goldschmidt and Grete’s father Marcel Goldschmidt. Oy vey! No wonder they were so close! Susan described Herman as “quite the gentleman and full of wonderful stories.” I wish I knew more of his stories.

I also received a wonderful photograph from my cousin, Bruce, the great-great-great-grandson of Fradchen Schoenthal, sister of my great-great-grandfather Levi Schoenthal, and also the great-great-grandson of Simon Goldschmidt, brother of my three-times great-grandfather Seligmann Goldschmidt.

So Bruce is my double cousin. He’s my fourth cousin, once removed, through our Schoenthal side and my fifth cousin through our Goldschmidt side.

Isn’t Jewish genealogy fun?

Anyway, Bruce’s great-great-grandmother was Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, daughter of the above-mentioned Simon Goldschmidt. Hannah and her brother Henry were the first Goldschmidts born in the US, Henry in 1847 and Hannah in 1848. I’ve written much about Hannah and her family—here and here and here  and here and here and here and here. Hannah married Joseph Benedict in 1867, and they had five children, including Jacob Benedict, Bruce’s great-grandfather. Jacob had two daughters with his wife Clara Kaufman: Helen, born in 1907, and Marian, born in 1908. Helen was Bruce’s grandmother.

Bruce told me that this photograph was dated August 24, 1908, and shows Hannah Goldsmith Benedict with her husband Joseph and their two granddaughters Helen and Marian. At that time Jacob Benedict and his family were living in Paducah, Kentucky, and Hannah and Joseph were living in Pittsburgh. Jacob’s brother Herschel was living in Pittsburgh, and his brother Harry was living in Michigan by 1910.  But the photograph was apparently taken in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I wonder how that happened….

Joseph Benedict, Helen Benedict, Marian Benedict, and Hannah Goldsmith Benedict. August 24, 1908. Courtesy of Bruce Velzy

Another mystery to solve. But seeing one of my earliest American-born relatives with her granddaughters is very exciting.

It’s so fitting to close my Goldschmidt family blog posts with photographs of these two members of the family. Hannah Goldsmith and Herman Goldsmith were first cousins, twice removed, since Hannah’s father Simon Goldschmidt and Herman’s great-grandfather Meyer Goldschmidt were brothers.

Hannah was born in the United States when the country was still very young. She lived through the Civil War, World War I, the Roaring Twenties, and the Great Depression, dying in November 1939 while her German cousins were being persecuted and fleeing from Nazi Germany. She was 91 years old.

Just two months before Hannah died, her cousin Herman arrived in the US as one of those cousins escaping from Germany. Herman Goldsmith was born in 1912 in Frankfurt, Germany, and had grown up in the comfort of the large and well-to-do Goldschmidt family. Unlike Hannah, his life was radically changed by the events of the 1930s. But like Hannah, he saw so much in his lifetime, living until he was almost 104. He not only lived through World War I, the Weimar Republic years, the Depression, and World War II—he saw the radical changes that came after the war—the creation of the state of Israel, the Cold War, the assassination of JFK, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, the moon landing, the gay rights movement, the rise of the internet, 9/11, and the election of the first Black man to serve as president of the US.

Can you imagine the stories Herman and Hannah could tell each other as well as us?  They lived such different lives in such different places and times, overlapping in time between only 1912 and 1939, but on different continents. But together the lives of Hannah Goldsmith and Herman Goldsmith tell us so much not only about the richness of the Goldschmidt family’s story, but also about the history of Jews in America and in Germany.

Thank you to Susan and to Bruce for sharing these photographs. And thank you to each and everyone of my Goldschmidt cousins who have helped me understand and appreciate our shared history.

 

2020: The Year of the Pandemic

 

Image by iXimus from Pixabay

I’ve already written six posts about life during the COVID pandemic, and I am certainly hoping that this is, if not the last one, one of the last ones. The vaccinations have started, and some of my doctor and health care worker friends and family have already had their first inoculation. My mother, as a resident of a long-term care facility, should be getting her first shot in the next couple of weeks. I don’t expect that I will get mine until early March at best, but I already feel some lightness in the air that surrounds me. I can foresee the day when we can once again hug our children and other loved ones without fear of being infected or infecting them.

In the end, I’ve realized that that is what I want more than anything else. Sure, I miss restaurants and movies and theater and concerts. I miss eating in the homes of my friends and having them come to mine. I miss traveling to other parts of the country and the world. But I haven’t missed any of that nearly as much as I miss the feel of my daughters’ hugs or of my arms around my grandsons, kissing their sweet little heads. I want to do that without fear and with a full heart. I long for that more than anything else. And if I continue to be lucky and do all I can to be safe, maybe by the late spring that will be possible. Maybe.

So much is still unknown. But 2021 has to be better, doesn’t it?

Sadly, that’s what I wrote a year ago on this blog. 2019 was not an easy year. My father died in February, and by November we had to move my mother to a memory care facility. I was filled with hope for 2020, but we were not even three months into the year when everything crashed around us.

But we were among the lucky ones—so far. We didn’t get sick, my mother didn’t get sick, my kids didn’t get sick, and although some other family members had COVID, no one got seriously ill. My friends are also all fine. We truly have nothing to complain about and lots to be grateful for.

But my heart breaks for those who died or whose loved ones died. I will never forgive Trump for failing to be a leader. Instead of telling us early on that we need to wear masks and accept restrictions that could save lives, he made the decision to make wearing a mask a sign of weakness and the failure to wear a mask a litmus test for loyalty to him and his campaign for re-election. How many lives might have been spared if only we’d had a leader who believed in science and public health and moral values instead of money and greed and self-aggrandizement? We will never know.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

But one of the first changes in 2021 will be a change in the White House (despite Trump’s deluded and corrupt attempts to claim he won the election). I don’t expect miracles from Joe Biden. But I expect decency and empathy and a willingness to follow the advice of scientists to get us back on our feet in this country. For that reason alone, 2021 has to be better than 2020.

There will continue to be more deaths and illness from COVID for months and months. I know that. There will continue to be people who spread hate and ignorance and fear. I know that. We won’t make as much progress as we need to on fighting climate change or securing universal and affordable health care or adequate protection from gun violence or ending systemic racism. I know that. Our political system will not be cured when Trump departs, nor will all our other societal problems.

But I do have hope for 2021. I have to. We all have to. Without hope we have no dreams for a better future. Without hope we resign ourselves to the worst version of human nature. Without hope we keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.

So I am starting 2021 with hope. Hope for kindness and wisdom in our leaders and among all of us. Hope for a return to trust in science and facts and the electoral system. Hope for progress on fighting racism, climate change, poverty, and gun violence. Hope for the end of COVID-19. So much to hope for, all of which will take effort and energy and commitment not only among our political leaders but among each and every one of us who has dreams of a better year, a better country, a better future.

And I hope that a year from now I will feel that this hopefulness was justified.

Image by DarkmoonArt_de from Pixabay

Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

I’ve been in a bit of a funk the last week or so. It’s COVID, it’s politics, it’s the weather. November is  hard for me. I hate when the trees lose their leaves, the grass turns brown, the sky turns gray, the temperature drops.

So I am going to take the advice of an old friend and list the top ten things that fill me with gratitude—in no particular order. I find when I focus on the things for which I am grateful, it makes me feel better. So here goes.

  1. I am thankful for my husband and my children and my grandchildren. They are the rocks in my life, the ones who get me from spot to spot, no matter how roiling is the water beneath our feet.
  2. I am thankful for my parents. My father is gone, and my mother is struggling. But they were a constant source of love and support in my life, and I hold all the memories close to my heart.
  3. I am thankful for the rest of my family, including all the cousins I’ve found on this genealogy journey. They all remind me how connected we all are—all humans—regardless of where we grew up or when or how.
  4. I am thankful for my three cats, whose ability to live in the moment and to provide constant companionship, affection, and comfort has been so very important during the last nine months.
  5. I am thankful for my friends—my friends from high school, from college, from law school, and from the community where I have lived since 1983. So many times in the last nine months I have turned to my friends—by Zoom, text, telephone, email. They have made me laugh, they have given me perspective, they have given me strength. I hope I’ve done the same for them.
  6. I am thankful for the genealogy village—those who read my blog, those who help me with my research and with translations, those in the Facebook groups who comment and help answer my questions. Family history research has been one way I’ve escaped from the anxiety of the pandemic. It has given me focus and a distraction and continues to keep my brain working.
  7. I am thankful for the good fortune I have to live in a comfortable house in a wonderful community of neighbors. In the course of our daily walks we’ve gotten to know our neighbors and their dogs and feel so fortunate to live where we live.
  8. I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal will come from or whether I will be able to get adequate medical care or whether I will be harassed or injured because of my race. In a time when so much feels dangerous, I’ve learned more than ever to appreciate just how privileged I am.
  9. I am thankful for the beautiful world we live in. We’ve taken walks and hikes in places we never knew about before and in places that we’ve always loved—the beach and the woods, the mountains and the lakes. I learned early on that getting into a quiet place surrounded by nature was often the best thing to do to find solace and calm the noise in my head.
  10. I am thankful for science and for doctors and nurses and all the frontline workers in hospitals and grocery stores and elsewhere who are putting their lives on the line to do everything possible to keep us safe.

That’s my top ten. There are probably hundreds if not thousands more. What are yours?

Happy Thanksgiving!

Blogging in a Pandemic, Part IV: It’s Getting Too Real

I’ve written a series of posts over the last five or six weeks to record the experience of living through the pandemic, trying to find some good news among all the darkness. Writing them has been therapeutic for me, and from the responses I’ve gotten, I know that they’ve resonated for others. I am, however, finding it harder and harder to find the light in the darkness. But I am trying.

The last two weeks have made it harder because the virus has come to my community with a vengeance. Many people have died, including the mother of one of my dear friends and the sister of another friend. Our local nursing homes have been ravaged, including 21 deaths in the Jewish Nursing Home near us. Other friends have had loved ones become ill with the virus. I live in dread of hearing that my mother or someone in her memory care facility is infected. My anxiety level has increased to the point that most of the things I was finding helpful—long walks, yoga, Zoom sessions—are becoming less effective.

And the rush of some to resume “normal life” even though it means risking more lives, including their own, is infuriating, as are the actions of those who are putting political ambition and money above the health and well-being of people.

But I know we are among the very fortunate ones. We have a safe home, resources to pay for what we need, food in the house and delivery services bringing more as needed, and, so far, our health. We have the support network of our children, our relatives, our friends, and our community. We have each other. I am always mindful of that.

My three cats are a real source of comfort; they are oblivious to what’s going on outside, and they only care that we are here to feed them and to pet them. They cuddle up next to me day and night and give me some peace.

And little things make me smile. Our neighbors drawing hearts on all the driveways and leaving painted stones on all the doorsteps and paper flowers taped to our windows.

The discovery of more places to walk where we can avoid close contact with people and enjoy the quiet of nature continues to be soothing.

The weekly Shabbat Shalom zooms with family are a needed break from the constant talk of COVID19. Who cannot smile when a five-year-old wants to play Twenty Questions by Zoom?

This week my younger daughter was celebrated by her friends on what would have been Marathon Monday with cards and posters and a bottle of champagne. I can’t tell you how much that meant to her and to us.

There is so much love out there, and the best of human nature can outshine the darkness of illness, death, and the suffering of so many.

One small example from my genealogical activities. While all this has been going on, I’ve connected with a few more cousins who found me through my blog. I think people stuck at home are turning to family history for consolation and also are uncovering photographs and letters that were buried in boxes or trunks in their attics and basements.

One of these cousins sent me scans of some photographs of my Benedict cousins, including this terribly torn photograph of Hannah Goldsmith Benedict, the first cousin of my great-grandfather Isadore Schoenthal:

I was thrilled to receive this photograph—a definite moment of joy. But heartbroken that Hannah’s photo was so damaged. Could it be repaired, I wondered?

I posted it in the Free Photo Restoration group on Facebook, and when I woke up the next morning, three group members had posted repaired versions. Aren’t they amazing?

These people obviously spent a great deal of time fixing this photograph and asked for nothing in return. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. It made me smile, and it reminded me once again that most people are kind and good and generous and loving.

I need to keep all these reminders in front of me as things outside get scarier and scarier.