Happy Birthday Gloria–Ethan, go nuts!

Happy first birthday  to my nephew Ethan. I appreciate that he was born on August 28 because that is also my mother’s birthday. So from now on, every year on August 28, I get to be happy for his birthday while I am a little sad when I think about my mom and miss her a bit more than I do on other days. I appreciate the balance.

The house in which I grew up at 5081 Somerset Street in Buena Park, California was a fun one. We were encouraged to play (as long as we got good grades and read a lot of books). My mom, Gloria, went to great efforts to provide the opportunities. We had tons of stuff to do outside beyond the requisite bike and bat: a swing set, a ping pong table acquired with blue chip stamps applied to pages of books with wet sponges, hippity hops, kick balls, and even stilts.

Inside our home we had cupboards of board games, floor space to play marbles and jacks and the living room was not formal. Instead, it was set up so that we could hang out with our friends and play air hockey or pachinko, color large posters and do jigsaw puzzles. We even had a player piano.

By the time that we were teenagers and entertained gentlemen callers on the weekends, there was a multitude of ways for a young man to occupy his hands in that room without ever touching one of Gloria’s daughters. She was fun and smart!

We were also encouraged to have a “collection.” Each of us had one displayed on shelves in our room: Martha collected miniature pianos, Betsy (boo) collected deer figurines and I collected dolls from around the world. In the family room next to the TV was Gloria’s collection: nutcrackers.

There was a big poster on the wall that said, “Peanut butter is love. Spread some around today.” Not only did it appropriately decorate her collection below, it was also an inclusive nod to my father’s particularly strong affinity for peanut butter. Nowhere in this blog post will there be even a hint of suggestion that either of my parents might have been a bit nuts. That’s because they weren’t.

Underneath the poster were two bookshelves about 3 1/2 feet high that held an odd assortment of nutcrackers shaped like animals and machines. On top there was a bowl of nuts (still in the shell) and the opportunity to step up to the counter to crack one and eat it whenever one so desired.


Her collection included a great variety: a small wooden contraption that Martha actually made for her, gifts that relatives brought back from Israel over the years and my all time favorite which is a pair of woman’s legs that my Great Aunt Tee gave to her. I loved that particular nutcracker long before its suggestive nature dawned on me along with the impressive significance that it came from a woman who was probably born in the 1800’s!

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I don’t know how the collection started, but I do remember when it made a distinct transition. Well, I don’t remember exactly when, but one year my parents went on a trip to New York City. (I’m sure my sisters can provide more specific details.) It was a big deal because my parents didn’t travel much. They returned from New York City with Uncle Alf.

Uncle Alf was married to my Great Aunt Tee which makes him great too. They lived in Omaha. He did not go to New York with my parents. Nor did he return with them. From their great travels, my parents brought home a toy soldier nutcracker. It was like the one from the ballet that had a white goatee and moustache just like our Uncle Alf, so that’s why we named it after him.


I don’t have the original in my home as I believe one of my sisters has him in her care, but it looks like one of these.


It wasn’t until this very moment, writing this blog post that I noticed that both Aunt Tee and Uncle Alf had a connection in my mother’s collection. Hmmm…

With the addition of Uncle Alf to the general collection came a new focus: toy soldier nutcrackers. Once again, it was fun. Over the years my mom collected all kinds of variations on the theme. We purchased them for her as Chanukkah gifts, birthday gifts, “I saw this and I thought you might like it” gifts. She collected cheap versions and expensive ones. The collection grew—exponentially.

Fast forward several decades and 3 homes later to her lovely abode at 125th Street in Johnson County, Kansas where she and her adoring paramour Aaron lived together in her final years. Even there you could easily find her collection that followed from Buena Park. Even New York City’s Uncle Alf was present along with my old favorites: the legs, the squirrel and the gifts from Israel.

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For a long time the nutcrackers had their own room. Gloria had shelves built in the guest room where they lined the walls to stand guard over sleeping grandchildren and out of town visitors. The impressive collection had expanded to posters of nutcrackers and bookmarks and pretty much almost anything that sported their image.


Finally, about 5 years or so before she died, she was done. She did not get rid of them, nothing as drastic as that. When Aaron moved in and they redesigned the guest room as his office, the nutcrackers were respectfully relegated to the basement. Once again shelves were built and they were displayed, but not in such a prominent position.

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She politely asked us to stop buying them for her, she no longer had room or interest.

The only people who spent much time in the basement were her kids and grandkids when we came to visit and the cleaning lady. But the nutcrackers did not seem sad and neither did my mom. She was finding other ways to have fun.

After she died we tried to donate the collection as a whole, but did not find a willing recipient. Our affection for the collection was not to be found elsewhere. So we each took tokens to our respective homes for ourselves and our children, gave some to others with fond memories and the rest was finally packed away and dispersed to parts unknown.

Last month I went on a trip to Leavenworth, Washington with two of my childhood friends. While walking through this oddly themed Bavarian town we came across the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. Imagine that! While we did not enter the museum itself, we browsed through the gift shop. My friends were very accommodating, having spent a significant portion of their adolescence enjoying the fun nature of my childhood home and cracking a few nuts in their tenure there.


The gift shop was impressive and I saw many old friends in their collection, relishing the memories they prompted. It was bittersweet not being able to call my mom and tell her all about it, but a great photo opportunity.

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So, Happy 1st Birthday, Ethan. I hope your life is filled with fun and that you get good grades and read a lot of books. But most of all… today go nuts.

And mom, Happy Birthday. I miss you.

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Remembering my mother on Memorial Day Weekend

Today I am thinking of my mother, Gloria P. Gershun, who died suddenly two years ago today. I think about her every day, today is just a little bit more out loud. I miss her very much.

Two days before she died, she had lunch with her friends and went shopping for a purse at Nordstrom. She was only sick for two days and very alive and kicking every single one before that.

On Thursday, I went to the Searider Productions Awards Banquet at Wai’anae High School and presented a scholarship in both my parent’s memory to a wonderful young man, Mr. Michael Gooch.

On Friday, my family went to Kabbalat Shabbat services at Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu and said kaddish.

Tomorrow Rabbi Schaktman is participating in the Lantern Floating Ceremony on Sunday at Ala Moana Beach Park where he will be floating a lantern on behalf of our congregation which will carry a yahrzeit list. I have added both of my parents’ names. It is a beautiful ceremony and a deeply moving way to remember our loss.

Tonight we have invited a few friends and neighbors over for a barbecue that has nothing directly to do with my mom. We always have a party on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend and after thinking about it a bit, I decided that just because it is the anniversary of her death does not mean we have to be sad on purpose. She certainly would not want us to change our plans.

I lit the yahrzeit candle this morning when I got up. Somehow the twinkling flame brings the feel of her presence just a bit us closer to us on this day. I wouldn’t want her to miss the party.

May her memory be a blessing and inspiration to us all.

I would like to share the bio that my youngest sister, boo, wrote about my mom.

Gloria Polsky Gershun, b. August 28, 1929, d. May 27, 2010
Gloria Polsky grew up in the small town of Marfa, Texas with her parents Blanche and Walter Polsky and her younger sister, Barbara. She graduated from high school in Omaha, NE at the age of 16 and received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in 1952. She met Theodore Leonard Gershun at her best friend’s wedding in November of 1947 and Gloria and Ted were married on June 20, 1948.

Gloria and Ted moved to Southern California in 1961. They lived there for nearly 30 years, where Gloria kept their household, volunteered with many community and school activities, and raised three daughters — Martha, Elizabeth (Betsy) (boo), and Lorraine (Lorrie) — in a happy, suburban Jewish home filled with books, food, friends, laughter, an orange player piano, and a ceramic lion’s head which lived in a birdcage.  When the girls grew older, Gloria returned to school, pursuing her lifelong love of books by earning a Masters in Library Science from California State University at Fullerton in 1975.  She re-entered the work force, first as a school librarian and then as a public school administrator for nearly 15 years.

When Ted passed away in 1990, Gloria retired and moved to Kansas City, where she made many good friends and built a full and satisfying life as an active participant in the Jewish community, a committed volunteer, and an avid shopper. In 2004 Gloria met Aaron Rabinovitz, who became her second life partner until her death in 2010. She is remembered for her optimistic approach to life; her lifelong willingness to try new things; her generosity to her community, family, and friends; her deep commitment to sharing her love of books; and her unfailing ability to find the right outfit for every occasion and the right gift for every person.

Airing our dirty laundry

Being Jewish in Hawaii is not very fun right now. In fact, on some levels, it kind of stinks.

Our congregation is going through a terrible time. Meshugas. We are fighting about the Rabbi. Shame on us. Ahana kōkō lele –or should I say “Halala ukulele?” Much of the behavior has been quite childish.

Our Temple Board has voted 8:5 to recommend not renewing his contract. They have called upon the congregation to vote on the matter and they have not provided any reasonable or substantial information as to why we should follow their suggestion. They just want us to vote.

I hear this kind of situation is not unusual. Many congregations are afflicted with similar woes. That does not make it okay.

My family is upset. That’s kind of the reason I haven’t posted on this blog for a few weeks. I have been distracted.

We have a wonderful relationship with our Rabbi and are agitated that we even have to address this issue.

He married me and my husband almost five years ago, bringing us together as a family.

Our teenager studied for and became a Bat Mitzvah with him. She is devastated at the prospect of going to shul without him. During Erev Shabbat services last week she whispered the announcement in my ear that if he goes….she is not coming back to Temple.

Our younger girl is currently in the midst of the Bat Mitzvah process. She asked to study with him and enjoys their weekly sessions.

It’s not just about a contract, it is about relationships. I am being asked to consider severing a very important personal and family relationship because other people are mad about something and won’t even talk about it with me.

This is like a bad divorce where the adults are fighting and taking sides and don’t even consider how the potential loss affects the kids.

It wasn’t until I was reading the debut issue of Mana Magazine this morning that I wanted to write this blog post.

Mana is “published by a jointly owned subsidiary of The Kālaimoku Group and Pacific Basin Communications.” According to an article in Hawaii Reporter, co-publisher John Aeto said, “We hope to inspire serious exchange, sharing contrasting opinions and ideas on the hard-hitting topics such as governance, education, health, income and more.”

Let’s learn from the Hawaiians. We live in Hawaii. I enjoy the unique and wonderful choice of being Jewish in Hawaii and I won’t let it be spoiled.

“Mana” in the Hawaiian language means power or authority, sometimes spiritual or divine power. I think that our Temple’s mana needs some reorganization.

The magazine mentions kukakuka-talk story and discussion. Yes. We need that.

An article that covered the recent visit from the Dalai Lama deeply moved me. We should take a step back and learn from his message. “He spread his message of compassion, trust and human oneness, and absorbed the intricacies of the meaning of aloha.”

Exactly–the meaning of aloha. How about Shaloha?

He is quoted in the article, “Century of peace does not mean there are no longer any problems among humanity. Problems will be there, even increasing. So, the only way to deal with the problem? Not through violence, not through using force, but through logic, through reason, on the basis of mutual respect, dialogue. This should be the century of dialogue.”

How can I teach my children about peace when they can’t even find it at the Synagogue?

Hawaiian culture engages in the practice of Ho’oponopono – reconciliation and forgiveness. That’s what we need.

And we need a lot of practice.

Dating advice to my daughters…..

Be a lady, let him pay, don’t fart.

Happy Birthaversary Darling…

Not only is the day after Christmas my birthday, but it is also our wedding anniversary. This is not by chance.

I married my wonderful, handsome husband three years ago on my 45th birthday (go ahead, I’m sure anybody can do the math.) I always say that it was the best birthday party I ever had. Not to mention, the smartest choice I ever made.

He chose the date and I agreed. He always says that it is so he won’t forget, but I don’t believe him. I just think he knew it would be a good idea and he was right.

I love our celebration every year. He is careful to make it special for both reasons and I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate being alive than celebrate being married to a wonderful man.

Okay, enough kvelling about him.

So far, we have gone away each year to celebrate this special day. The first year the whole family went to the Big Island and stayed at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Last year we spent a few days at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

This year he made reservations for the night at Turtle Bay on the North Shore. We did not bring the rest of the family. It was just the two of us for 24 glorious hours of romantic relaxation.

He picked an ocean view room and we made excellent use of the comfortable lanai. We watched the surfers catch waves, this kids play in the pool and the sunset take over the colorful sky.

Happy Birthaversary Darling, and I’m looking forward to years and years and years of more wonderful celebrations.

Drive nicely, or GET OFF THE ROAD

I used to be a good driver. At least that’s what I thought.

Other than  a minor fender bender in the middle of rush hour traffic in West L.A. when I was in college a very long time ago that was never even determined to be my fault, I have suffered no major car accidents

The only speeding ticket I ever got was in the spring of 1991 when I was driving the almost 200 miles from Kansas City to Omaha for my Uncle Buddy’s birthday party.

I had never driven that far by myself, but my mother did not want me to miss the party and my work schedule was not conducive to me riding with her or my sister. So I chugged my little rented Geo Tracker (remember those) along the highway as fast I as I possibly could so that I would arrive in time.  That’s when I got pulled over.

I still made it to the party and my family’s side with moments to spare and my mother, in a gracious gesture of understanding, paid the fine. It was altogether a very long time ago.

I do not think that either of these incidents even remotely suggests that I am in any way a bad driver.

It was not until I married my second husband that I got the slightest inkling that I might not be up to standard, in the driving department. According to him, I might even be considered a traffic hazard. But certainly not for going too fast. Speedy Gonzales is not my MO.

He never commented on my skills. I don’t even think he realized this particular shortcoming. It was I who brought it to his attention.

When we got  hitched a few years ago, my husband was an Assistant Professor of Military Science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He commuted from Kapolei to UH each day which meant he was often stuck in traffic. Yes, Hawaii has traffic, in abundance.

This gave him plenty of time to reflect on the deficient skills of the drivers around him who created much of the congestion that was so understandably annoying.

The drive home was the worst. What should normally take about 30 minutes to drive the 23 miles between our house and the university could easily suck up 90 to 120 minutes of his afternoon. That’s how bad the traffic can get. It totally sucks. Thank goodness he doesn’t have to do it anymore. Now he works  in another direction and comes and goes in about 20 minutes. He is a much happier man.

I noticed that the frustration induced by the demanding commute translated into him becoming a slightly more aggressive driver.

One of the things that I liked about him when we were dating was that I felt safe in his car when we were on the road. He never seemed to be in too much of a hurry. He did not tailgate. He kept two hands on the wheel (most of the time) and his eyes on the road. I’d had a few scary incidents in my past and it was comforting to be in a man’s car with whom I felt safe.

I still feel safe in his car. I simply saw a shift in his driving habits when he worked at UH. Mostly he drove faster and was more likely to change lanes to get around somebody who was traveling too slowly.

Over dinner is when I heard his complaints. From his perspective, a majority of Oahu’s drivers  do not understand what is considered common rules of the road, especially when they are  on the freeway. Due to their lack of consideration for the flow of traffic, they create more congestion than necessary.

As he delineated the details of their violations, his description of how each lane should be traveling faster than the one to the right of it, allowing for lane changes as drivers accelerate or exit, his complaints about people who brake in the middle of traffic for no discernible reason or to look at something happening on the side of the road and the subsequent chain reaction this braking causes for miles behind, hit home.

“That’s me,” I thought–except the “Lookie Loo” part. I do not slow down to look at other people’s problems on the side of the road. I have always thought it was an invasion of their privacy at what is usually a very stressful time.

What I had perceived as protecting the safety of me and my children, my cautious, defensive driving was actually causing problems for others and creating minor hazards on the road. HELLO!

With my new-found  understanding of the rules of the road, I changed several of my habits with great success and little compromise.

Turns out I get places faster these days as I move with the flow of traffic. I still boast a clean driving record. I can also add to that list  that, even though I know he was not directing his criticism at me, I am completely confident that if my husband and I were to meet on the road, he would feel no nagging annoyance at my ignorant driving habits. Instead, I would garner his admiration and appreciation anywhere we go.