Thursday, January 27, 2011

Over 1,000 WWII Letters and Tu B’Shevat

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We were very lucky to be able to hold our Tu B’Shevat seder on Friday night. On Thursday, after a wonderful class with Faith exploring the structure of the Mishneh Torah and other writings of Maimonides, a class that is now so well-attended that we are running out of room at a conference table that seats about 25, Saul and I went on a fruit and nut scavenger hunt to purchase everything we needed for our seder. The weather predictions for Friday were dire, but we decided to be optimistic, and, as it turned out, we were very glad we were. Friday evening’s Shabbat dinner was delightful, and was shared with good friends who were very appreciative.

To purchase everything, we shopped at Assi Market and Wegman’s. After Wegman’s we had a yummy dinner together at Bonefish Grill where we are running out of time to use up our complimentary certificates that we received when when purchased gift cards for the holidays. I had made the trek all the way to Wegman’s hoping to find some of the more exotic fruits, but was only able to bag an Israeli persimmon and a star fruit, or carambola there. It was a delicious, ripe one, though. Assi was again disappointing this year, with none of the exotics that I usually find there, but altogether, we had quite a variety. For dinner, we had our scripted seder first, sampling at least 20 different fruits and nuts of four categories, accompanied by white, mixed, blush and dark grape juice. We were able to dip our fruit in vanilla custard sauce that I made to use up a vanilla bean that had been stewed with quinces that I had cooked last week. Along with our fruits and nuts, we had homemade guacamole with whole-grain chips, and ComtĂ© cheese with homemade membrillo. We were joined by Larry, Faith, Terry, Gene, and Sister Lisa from Chestnut Hill College. It was a very congenial evening, and although the weather outside was frigid, below 10° fahrenheit, inside we were warm and comfortable. After the seder, we had chestnut-soup, vegetarian meatballs, barley pilaf, and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. For dessert, we had carob cake with pumpkin-flavored fresh-brewed coffee and tea. We broke apart the chocolate orange that I had purchased a while ago at Trader Joe’s and found the dark chocolate to be of very good quality. We continued to munch on all the fruits and nuts.

On Saturday morning, Saul and I attended services at MBIEE where Saul said kaddish for my Uncle Stef, whose name is memorialized there. Services were followed by a Tu B’Shevat seder that we helped to prepare. A few days before, Lori, one of the congregants, had requested a shopping list from us, and I had emailed her our script for the seder, which allowed her to figure out what she would need to purchase and how to group the fruit. The seder script prepared by Rabbi Addison was more elaborate than ours and contained many interesting points that I think I will try to incorporate into our seder for next year. When Saul and I returned home, we loaded the dishwasher with a second load of dishes from the previous night, and went off to take a nap. In view of the cold, nasty, weather, we decided to spend a quiet evening at home. We ate leftovers for dinner, watched t.v., and went back to sleep early.

Also on Saturday evening, we booked flights to Kauai, Hawaii, online. We will be joining Ken and Randi in their three-bedroom condo for 10 days. Although we had been hoping to bag the flights that go through Phoenix for around $750, we wound up paying almost $850. The flight from Phoenix to Lihue is filling up, and in view of our horrible weather here right now, we didn’t want to miss taking the trip because of $100.

Sunday morning, after watching a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about handwriting, its history, and the art of letter writing, I was inspired to begin scanning the letters that my parents had written to each other while they were separated during WWII. I spent a weekend last year, shortly after Mom died reading a folio of Dad’s letters to Mom. Since then, I have been eyeing the large plastic carton into which all the rest of the letters have been consolidated with the thought that eventually (especially once I had a convenient scanning set-up) I would get around to scanning them. The segment, and some free time during which Saul had school work to accomplish, gave me the incentive to get started. Little did I suspect what a treasure trove is contained in that box. Initially, I had not intended to read them, but during the scanning process, little tidbits of phrases jumped out at me and I could not resist the urge to read more. Needless to say, the scanning process has been slow, but fascinating. I have been scanning for the better part of three days now, and I have almost finished a folder that contains just letters from my mother to my father, and letters that others had written to the two of them during the months of March, April and May 1944. My mother organized them in this most unsatisfying manner so that I will not be able to relate letters and their answers to each other until I have scanned the whole lot. I have been organizing the scanned letters by date and by who has written to whom. In the meantime, I have learned a great deal about the personalities of their friends and relatives, some of whom died young, and I never got to meet them, or whom I only knew in later years as I grew up. I wasn’t born until 1950, six years after most of these letters were written. Apparently, they wrote to each other just about every single day, sometimes in v-mail form, but most often in long newsy letters that, in my mother’s case, run from 4 to 12 pages in single-spaced type (she was a legal secretary and typed very well). I have three folios of this type from my mother, 2 from my father, and four archival boxes of letters that I haven’t even begun to explore. My father also wrote letters in beautifully-scripted Yiddish (it is written with Hebrew characters and they all called it “Jewish” back then) to his mother, who was from Russia, and I will be calling on Saul to translate them for me. I doubt that there are many examples of these letters, as they would not have been in my mother’s possession. I also find myself wondering what became of the letters, to which they refer, which they wrote back to their friends and relatives. I am beginning to understand how Solomon Schechter must have felt when he began to research the remnants in the geniza of the Great Synagogue of Cairo.

A big snowstorm is underway at the moment which began this morning and is supposed to worsen this evening. Saul taught all day, but getting to school was a horrible mess. In Baltimore, the schools were closed and Jess emailed photos of the girls’ snow day and Yona’s first encounter with snow which was not too pleasant because she was very unhappy with the lack of flexibility in her snow boots. I canceled a dinner date with our friends, Susan and Paul, whom we haven’t seen in several months. Right now, I would rather be going out for dinner and a lively conversation about their recent international travels.

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