Old Friends: Braided Forever

My mother has often spoken about how sad she was when her family decided to move from Brooklyn to the Bronx when she was about twelve years old.  There were many reasons she was upset.  For one, she had to leave her dog Sparky behind.  That broke her heart, and she still can’t talk about it without getting emotional.

Sparky 1934

 

But also she had to leave her best friend Beatty behind. Beatty lived in the same four-family house at 1010 Rutland Road in Brooklyn; she lived right down the hall from my mother.  They had been close friends all through childhood, and although they tried to stay in touch after my mother moved, back in the 1940s that was not at all easy.  Phone calls were expensive, and the trip from Brooklyn to Parkchester in the Bronx was a long one, especially for two young girls.  So over time, they lost touch.

Beatty and my mother c. 1940

Beatty and my mother c. 1940

Not too long ago my mother asked me if I could find Beatty.  She knew her first and last name from when she’d last seen her over 70 years earlier, but she had no idea where she was living or whom she might have married.  I tried to find her, but with so little information I had no luck.  If Beatty had married, it was after the last year of the publicly available NYC marriage index (1937).  The only information I could find related to her siblings, who had passed away.

So you can imagine how excited I was to receive a message on the blog last week from Beatty herself.  She was looking for my mother after seeing her pictures and childhood name on the blog.  I contacted Beatty, and I called my mother.  And I gave them each other’s contact information, and now they are reconnected after over 70 years.  I get the chills (and a warm feeling) whenever I think about it.

One of the stories my mother shared with me was about Passover at Beatty’s house.  Her father led the seder in a very serious way, and as many of us know, a traditional seder can get quite long and quite boring, especially for young children.  To keep themselves from misbehaving and talking, my mother and Beatty would braid the fringes on the beautiful tablecloth that adorned the seder table.  When my mother shared this memory with Beatty, she said that she also had shared that story with her children.

The tablecloth still exists, and even more remarkable, the braids made by my mother and her best friend Beatty are still there as well.  Here is the photograph to prove it.

Beatty's tablecloth

Beatty’s tablecloth

tablecloth with braids 2

My mother was once my Girl Scout troop leader, and one of the songs we sang had the lyrics, “Make new friends, but keep the old.  One is silver, and the other gold.”  My mother and Beatty certainly know the truth of that message.

A Passover Post-Script

Passover - Shalom

Passover – Shalom (Photo credit: paurian)

 

Our first seder is over and done, the rented table has been returned, the food has been eaten or put away,  and the house is (somewhat) back in order and far too quiet now that the guests are gone.  We have the second seder tonight at my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house, so now I get to be the guest and sit back a bit.  But before I move on from last night, I wanted to share my thoughts as a follow-up to my original Passover post.

 

I wrote in that post, based on last year’s seder, that Nate was too young to understand the story of Passover.  What a difference a year makes! He not only understood the story of Passover—he taught it to all of us.  He told us about how the “pharaoh guy, the bad guy” made all the people work too hard and how they never had a break.  He told us that Moses asked pharaoh to let his people go, but pharaoh said “No, no, no,” and so God sent frogs and locusts to punish him.  “The sky was so thick that the people could not see.”  He described how the people were in a hurry and had to carry the dough on their backs and how “the ocean snapped open so they could get on the island, and then it snapped closed so the soldiers could not get to the island.” And he closed the story by telling us that the people opened their backpacks once they were safe on the island.

 

Horsemen of Pharaoh

Horsemen of Pharaoh (Photo credit: Nick in exsilio)

Sure, a few details are missing and a few geographical facts are slightly off, but he got it.  He got the idea that the people were unfairly treated and that they wanted to be free.  He understood how important freedom is and how we have to stand up to the bad guys when they deprive us of that freedom.  He knows that the journey may be dangerous, but that you can cross the ocean and reach a place where you are free to open your backpacks and live in peace.

 

Isn’t that exactly the right lesson to learn from the Passover story? To cherish freedom, to stand up to evil, and to take steps, even dangerous steps, to ensure that you and your loved ones can live in peace?  My ancestors must have been smiling down on my three year old grandson with such pride.  As was I.  As were we all.

 

 

 

 

 

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Passover wishes and thoughts

 

Passover Seder Plate

Passover Seder Plate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

As we approach the first night of Passover on Monday evening, I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, as I usually am this time of year.  There is the cleaning, shopping, cooking, and all the other details that go into preparing the house for Passover and for the seder.  I am also feeling torn because there are so many things I want to do in connection with my research and the blog.  I have lots of photos to scan and post, both from my Brotman relatives and my Rosenzweig relatives, stories that need to be written, documents to request, people to contact.  But I do not have time.  So while the kugel is baking and before I start turning over the dishes and pots and pans for the holiday, I thought I’d take a few minutes to ponder what Passover means to me this year.

 

Passover was once my favorite holiday of the year.  I loved the seder because as a child, it was my only formal exposure to Jewish history and Jewish rituals.  I grew up in a secular home.  We did not belong to a synagogue, I did not go to Hebrew school, and there were no bar or bat mitzvahs celebrated in our family when we were children.  It was just fine with me, but I was also very curious about what it meant to be Jewish.  Passover gave me a taste of what being Jewish meant and could mean.  My Uncle Phil, my Aunt Elaine’s husband, had grown up in a traditional Jewish home, and although he was not terribly religious either, he wanted to have a seder.

 

So every year we had a seder, first only at my aunt’s house, and then my mother started doing a second seder at our house.  My uncle, the only one who knew Hebrew, would chant all the blessings and sing all the songs, and the rest we would read in English from the Haggadah for the American Family (not Maxwell House).  I was enchanted—I loved the music, the stories and all the rituals. I looked forward to it every year.

 

 

As an adult, I began my own exploration of what it means to be Jewish.  I married a man from a traditional family, and he wanted to keep the traditions and rituals that were part of his childhood.  I also wanted to learn more and do more.  I took classes, I read, I got involved with the synagogue, and over time the Jewish holidays and rituals and prayers and services became second nature to me and provided me with meaning and comfort and joy.

Passover has become just one small part of my Jewish life and identity now, and over time, it has lost its magic.  It no longer is my favorite holiday of the year.  The matzoh gives me indigestion, the chore of changing the dishes and pots and pans has become tiresome, and the seder is so familiar that it no longer feels fresh and new and exciting.

 

If I look at it through my grandson’s eyes, I can feel some of that old excitement, but he is still too young to ask questions or to understand the stories.  He just likes the songs and looking for the afikomen and being with his family, which is more than enough for now.  This picture, one of my favorite pictures ever, captures some of that feeling.  From generation to generation, traditions are being preserved.

L'dor v'dor  Harvey and Nate

L’dor v’dor Harvey and Nate

 

But this Passover I will try to take the time to think about things a little differently.  I will think not just about Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea and going from slavery to freedom.  I will think about all my maternal ancestors who made their own Exodus by leaving poverty and oppression and prejudice and war in Romania and Galicia to come to the place where they hoped to find streets lined with gold.

 

I will think of my grandfather Isadore, the first Goldschlager to come, leading the way for his father, his mother, his sister and his brother.  I will think of how he traveled under his brother David’s name to escape from the army and come to America.

 

I will think of his aunt, Zusi Rosenzweig, who met him at the boat at Ellis Island.  I will think of his uncle Gustave Rosenzweig, who was the first Rosenzweig to come to the United States back in about 1888, with his wife Gussie and infant daughter Lillie, a man who stood up for his extended family on several occasions. And I will think of his aunt Tillie Rosenzweig Strolowitz, who came to the US with her husband and her children, who lost her husband shortly after they arrived in the US.  I will remember how she took in my grandfather and his sister Betty when their father, Moritz, died, and their own mother and brother David had not yet arrived.

 

And I will think about my great-grandfather Joseph Brotman, who came here alone in about 1888 from Galicia, whose sons Abraham and David from his first marriage came next, and whose son Max as just a ten year old boy may have traveled to America all alone.  I will think of Bessie, my great-grandmother for whom I am named, who brought two small children, Hyman and Tillie, on that same trip a few years later, and who had three more children with Joseph between 1891 when she arrived and 1901, when Joseph died.  The first of those three children was my grandmother Gussie Brotman, who married my grandfather Isadore Goldschlager after he spotted her on Pacific Street while visiting his Rosenzweig cousins who lived there as well.

 

All of these brave people, like the Israelites in Egypt before them, pulled up their stakes, left their homes behind, carrying only what they could carry, to seek a better life.  I don’t know how religious any of them were or whether they saw themselves as brave, as crossing a Red Sea of their own.  But when I sit and listen to the blessings and the traditional Passover songs this year, I will focus on my grandson and see in him all the courage and determination his ancestors had to have so that he could be here, free to live as he wants to live and able to ask us, “Ma Nish Ta Na Ha Leila Ha Zeh?” Why is this night different?

 

Why is this night different from all other nights? It isn’t because we are free; it’s because on Passover we remember what it was like not to be free and to be grateful for the gifts of those who enabled us to be free.

Happy Passover to all, and thank you to all my  Brotman, Goldschlager and Rosenzweig relatives for making this such an exciting journey for me.

 

 

 

 

 

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