Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bittersweet Birthday

Today’s my birthday.  When I was a kid that meant my mother made my bed, I didn’t have to unload the dishwasher, and dinner was a meal of my choice (which for many years of my childhood was roast beef and oven brown potatoes) served on the big red “You are special today” plate.

Today, my birthday was marked by endless Facebook and email messages (thanks, everyone!), lots of phone calls, and dinner with a few friends at my sister’s apartment.  Although my meal (delicious and lovingly prepared, as always) still was served on the big red plate, so much else has changed…

I can’t help but recall last year’s celebration, one of the last times we Hermans were all together in the configuration in which we’d always known our family.  Thank goodness for the gift of these memories…especially as I came to realize that this day--that more than any other bonds mother and child--will never be the same for me.

My birthday also means remembering others who died at this season in years past. 

On January 28, 1986, it was the members of the Challenger crew:
Greg Jarvis    
Christa McAuliffe    
Ron McNair
El Onizuka    
Judy Resnik
Dick Scobee
Mike Smith
On the morning of January 29, 2004, it was 11 victims of a suicide bomber who blew up the #19 rush hour bus in Jerusalem’s Rehavia district.  (I happen to have been a few blocks away at the time and never, ever will I forget walking past the scene later that night, the silent, swirling blue light of a lone police car the sole reminder of the morning's events.)
Avraham (Albert) Balhasan, 28, of Jerusalem
Rose Boneh, 39, of Jerusalem
Hava Hannah (Anya) Bonder, 38, of Jerusalem
Anat Darom, 23, of Netanya
Viorel Octavian Florescu, 42, of Jerusalem
Natalia Gamril, 53, of Jerusalem
Yechezkel Isser Goldberg, 41, of Betar Illit
Baruch (Roman) Hondiashvili, 38, of Jerusalem
Dana Itach, 24, of Jerusalem
Mehbere Kifile, 35, of Ethiopia
Eli Zfira, 48, of Jerusalem
This year, my birthday also means trying to wrap my head around yet another death, this one from just yesterday and, saddest of all, from within our own circle of longtime family friends. Even as I type these words, it remains surreal to me:  Mr. G. (I still cannot call any adult I met before 1985 anything but Mr. or Mrs. So-and-So) died in a terrible automobile accident yesterday morning.  For nearly 40 years, right from the start in 1972, he and Mrs. G. have been inextricably linked to our family’s involvement at Temple Emanu-El.  From Hebrew school carpools, b’nei mitzvah, and confirmations, to social gatherings, temple seders, oneg Shabbats, and, more recently, shiva minyamin, they have just always been there.  And now, one of them—a loving husband, father, grandfather and all-around good guy—is suddenly, tragically, and absolutely gone.

Baruch dayan HaEmet.  Blessed is the Eternal Judge.  May the Eternal Judge grant comfort and peace to all of us who mourn.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

How Much Does Ten Pounds Weigh?

Among other things, the hospital’s discharge instructions (issued on December 30th) say:  “No lifting more than 10 pounds for 6 weeks.”

So, how much does 10 pounds weigh? Without a scale it’s hard to know…

I know Ari weighs more than 10 pounds.  His mother told me so, and she wouldn't let me pick him up, only putting him in my lap after I sat on the couch.

But, how many sheets, towels and clothes are too many to carry to the laundry room? Does a dining room chair weigh 10 pounds? What about a folding chair? A bag of groceries? Two bags of groceries? A laptop computer in a carrying case?

Hmmmm…Maybe I should just go back to the couch, open a book or flip on the TV and not worry about how much 10 pounds really weighs.

Sounds like a plan to me…what do you think?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Glass, China and Reputation

Dear Baruch College,

Again and again and again, you’ve proven yourself to be the school I love to hate, and yesterday was no exception.  On my way home from an appointment across town, I stopped in at the computer lab in the library building to print the syllabus and first reading assignment of the new semester, which begins for me on Thursday, February 3rd.  I figured that now would be an especially good time to get a jump on the reading.

The computer lab was nearly empty, and before too long I’d logged in, located the articles I needed, and sent each one to the printer.  The trouble began, though, when I attempted to log in at the printer station to retrieve them.  After entering my username and password (the very same ones I'd used to access the articles in the first place), I received a message that said something along these lines:
The system cannot locate you in the database.
If this problem persists, contact the Administrator.
Ever the optimist, I tried several times, even moving to a different printer and attempting yet again, all to no avail.  In a last ditch effort to get a hard copy of the reading assignment, I stopped in at the HelpDesk office where the following conversation ensued:
HelpDesk Techie:  Help you?

Me:  Yes, the system won’t let me print.

Techie:  Are you enrolled in the winter session?

Me:  No…..

Techie:  Spring semester officially begins next Friday.  You’ll be able to print then.

Me:  Even though the professor’s already posted the syllabus and reading assignments for the first class?...

Technie:  Next Friday…

Me, dripping with disdain and sarcasm:  Great…thanks.
And so I trekked home where, ironically enough, I found this blast email from the registrar’s office:
Dear Student:

Welcome back to the Spring semester!

Please note these very important details before the start of the term:

1)      Classes begin on Friday, January 28. If you wish to withdraw at 100% refund, you need to do so by the end of the day on Thursday, January 27.

2)      If you want to drop/add classes starting Friday, you need to use the REPLACE button to avoid incurring charges.

3)      Check your classroom assignments again, some have changed.

4)      Make sure your tuition bill has been paid!
Baruch, I believe your registrar forgot one other very important detail:
5)  Even if your professor has posted reading assignments on Blackboard, you will not be able to print them until Friday, January 28th, the first day of the spring semester.
Thanks, Baruch, for yet again upholding the reputation you have, from my perspective, so justly earned.  As Ben Franklin so rightly quipped:  “Glass, china, and reputation are easily cracked, and never mended well.”

See you soon,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some Yom Kippur Minhag in January

Braving yesterday’s bitter cold and the holiday train schedule, my father trekked into the city to visit for the afternoon as I continue my recuperation.  With ample time on our hands, we naturally gravitated to the Borders Books and Music around the corner from my apartment for some of our Yom Kippur minhag in January.  (You can read about our earlier Yom Kippur minhag adventures here and here.)  Once in the warm and inviting store, we perused the catch-‘em-at the-door selections before weaving amongst the fiction and history shelves to compare notes on treasured favorites and to discuss new possibilities. 

My father quickly pointed out Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, which I’m currently reading, now that my focus and concentration are slowly starting to return.  Others that we thumbed through include The Killer Angels, a Pulitzer Prize winner by Michael Shaara, a 1951 alumnus of Rutgers College, and, in that same section, the nearly-1500-page novel A Suitable Boy.  We chuckled as we remembered that this particular tome was my sister’s book of choice during a solo business dinner during which a guy at the other end of the bar bought her a beer, telling the bartender, “That is the biggest book I’ve ever seen!”  Also in the category of “big books” are Ayn Rand’s classics Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, both of which we browsed and talked about reading.  Topping the big book category is Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, the unabridged version of which we also perused and, ironically enough, about which a friend asked this morning on Facebook:  “Is it REALLY worth READING?”  I don’t know.  I haven’t read it...yet.

As is our custom (perhaps to balance out the many books we haven’t read?), we also pointed out and reminded each other of the many books we have read as we passed them on the shelves.  This list includes several each by Philip Roth, Emil Zola, Wallace Stegner, David McCullough, W. Somerset Maugham and Barbara Ehrenreich.  My own list of “previously read” includes The Scarlet Letter and a few volumes by Faulkner, among others, while my father’s more extensive “previously read” list includes Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, as well as works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Graham Greene.  (For more information about my reading lists and to share yours, visit

With plenty of our own unread books at home and having had our fill of browsing, we wrapped up our afternoon with weather-appropriate bowls of steaming noodle soup from the neighborhood place across the street…a move that’s definitely not part of our Yom Kippur minhag!

Monday, January 10, 2011


Back in October, Frume Sarah blogged about the death of her uncle, adding these tags to the post:  death, dying, family, grief, uncle.  And now, I am doing the same about my Uncle Jash, who died peacefully last night after several months in hospice care at home.

In my mind, Aunt-Claire-and-Uncle-Jash was always just one word.  In my life, though, Aunt Claire and Uncle Jash were two omnipresent people in whose home I celebrated my first seder, on whose block I first went trick-or-treating, and whose back patio and yard served for the gazillionth time as the setting for a family cookout back in August. 

I am especially sad for my Aunt Claire, who has lost her companion of nearly 62 years--and this just little more than seven months after the death of her sister, my mother. 

Borrowing once again from Frume Sarah, I will close this post as she closed hers:  Baruch dayan HaEmet — Blessed is the Eternal Judge.

Friday, January 7, 2011


A few days ago, Carolyn and Jim McCullar of Ephrata, Washington won $190,000,000 in the Mega Millions lottery.  Yup, that’s a lot of zeros…and, yes, they’re rich all right.

I, too, am rich, but I’m blessed with priceless things that all that money can’t begin to buy--an outpouring of love, care and concern from friends and family following my recent surgery.  With Facebook posts, emails, IMs, cards, and phone calls, and with visits, homemade meals, sweets, books, music, comfy jammies, and prayers for healing, my companions have come forth from near and far.  I am overwhelmed by the depth of their generosity and spirit, and I am truly grateful.

Although the McCullars may have hit the jackpot, ‘tis I who truly has the riches.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Small Jewish World?

Last week, three hours into a four-hour wait in pre-op, I posted this status update on Facebook:
Still waiting... hungry...tired...grumpy. :(
Then, the chaplain, Sister Elaine, came by. :)
The first comment on my update came from a rabbi and cyclist friend in Toronto:
Hey - I actually knew a wonderful Chaplain named Sister Elaine at MSK when I did an internship in Hospital Chaplaincy many years ago...she had white curly hair. I wonder if that is the same Sister Elaine?! She was AWESOME!!!!!! (This was in 1988-89).
No doubt, it was the same Sister Elaine:
@Sharon -- it is totally the same Sister Elaine. She was great!
To which Sharon responded:   
That is awesome! If you see her again, tell her I said "Hello!" I was there for a year my last year of rabbinical school! xo
Although I did not see her again during my stay, I certainly will remember her kindness for a long time to come.

Thanks, Sister Elaine.
*   *   *

So, is this a small Jewish world story?  Discuss.