The Silent Passing of a Great Generation of GI’s

Since I did not grow up in Hawaii, my family and childhood friends live very away. Same for my husband. I am enamored of the idea of a lot of extended family living nearby: cousins to play with our kids, Aunties to pick them up from soccer practice, critical mass at the Seder table.

It would be wonderful if we lived near high school classmates and all our kids were in and out of each others’ backyards playing football and tag.

But it’s not like that. We only visit a few times a year and then we return to Kapolei. We have made Hawaii our home.

We’ve done okay when it comes to forging relationships that feel like family, making friends at work and at the kids’ schools, joining the local Jewish and Kapolei communities. We have an arsenal of reliable babysitters to watch, drive and even tutor our kids. We do alright having lived so far away from our original home towns for several decades.

What’s most uncomfortable living on an island in the middle of the Pacific is when a family member on the mainland is seriously ill or dies. When somebody gets sick I feel helpless that I cannot offer a hand or perform the mitzvah of bikur cholim, visiting the sick. The best I can do is say a blessing for good health, misheberach, and keep that person in my thoughts and prayers.

If somebody dies it is even harder. Not only is it difficult to travel at the last minute for a funeral, the fact that Jewish tradition demands the funeral be held so quickly makes it almost impossible. How can I get that far so fast? In contrast I’ve noticed that the Samoan culture holds the ceremony much later. They wait so family can arrive from far away. I’m not sure which I prefer.

When my Uncle Buddy passed away on January 6, I did not travel from Honolulu to Omaha for the memorial service and burial. I felt very sad when I learned that he was so sick and felt distraught when he died.

When I was discussing with my sister why I felt so particularly sad, she mentioned that it is partly becauses it is the passing of a generation. My friend Toby and David said, “We are the older ones now.”

I also think that these men like my uncle and my father were a humble generation of people who made great contributions. They were the children of immigrants who came to the U.S. to make a better life. They did. They were the first generation in our families to go to college. They had successful careers and raised wonderful families. They lived the American Dream in a meaningful way. I’m not sure if they are called the Great Generation, The Silent Generation or the GI Generation, but I kind of think they were all three.

I am sharing these links so that you can read recent articles about my Uncle Buddy, Leonard Goldstein, and his great contributions to the Omaha community, the Russian Jewish community and our family.

The mother of them all

In a recent dinner conversation, a friend of mine said that she identifies herself as a runner.  It led to further conversation as to how we each identify ourselves.

My husband said all the right things, “Soldier, husband, father, etc.” I did too. I gave several responses: mother, wife, community volunteer, writer, etc…. I even heard myself saying, “Retired Teacher!”

What I found disconcerting, however, is that in all my complexity, I craved some sort of clear-cut, all-encompassing, simple  label that I could use to brand my entire identity.

It wasn’t until days later when I was thinking back on that particular conversation that I came up with the perfect answer: “Jewish Mother.” I am a Jewish Mother, an identity of which I am exceedingly proud.

I remember the first time somebody referred to me as such. I did not feel so grand. I envisioned the stereotypical Jewish mother who interferes in the lives of her children, feeds the world, is demanding and controlling. Think of Fran Drescher’s mom in the TV show The Nanny.

How could I be seen in relation to that?

When I was a teenager in Southern California’s Orange County in the late 1970’s, we joked about another stereotype: The Jewish American Princess, or JAP for short. That’s how my friends and I referred to some of the  girls  who went to the same Jewish weekend camps as we did.

We saw them through the perspective of another stereotype: spoiled, materialistic, whiny and demanding. Semi-privileged that we were, we only viewed ourselves as borderline.

Borderline seemed okay with me, a bit glamorous, a tad alluring, while still human and reasonable (as reasonable as a teenager could be.)

I took that image  with me to college, Borderline JAP, and wore it pretty well. I taught Hebrew School and continued with the camps. I associated with new Jewish friends and learned more about my faith. I enjoyed a reasonable amount of comfort, but  came nowhere near the ostentatious style of others that I met.

This borderline status was still hanging in the back of my closet almost 20 years later when my friend Mark from L.A. was visiting us in Hawaii. He was the first to call me that name, “Jewish mother.”

Like I said before, my reaction was not so positive. While he did not mean it as an insult in any way, I felt a bit rattled.

I had not worn my college clothes in a very long time.  But  they were still hanging around in the back of my mind as a connection to my past. While I had no illusions that  I would fit into them again some day, I had not thrown them out either.

After the initial shock I realized how much I had changed. It has been a VERY long time since I could even be remotely mistaken for some sort of princess, Jewish American or not.

I had been a mother for longer than I had been in college. I wouldn’t let my daughter near a princess dress or tiara or anything. If I were to be described in any royal terms, “Queen Bee” would be a better choice.

I had to rethink my identity.

I quickly cleaned out my closet and left my memories to yearbooks and photo albums. But I was not quite ready to fit into my new skin. I had not made the full transition to Jewish Mother, even one without the negative stereotype.

That term was reserved for the ladies at the Temple who help with the Oneg Shabbat after services on Friday nights, the Sisterhood President, my own mother. But not me, not yet.

That was several years ago. I am happy to announce that I did grow into my own skin. I have a lovely wardrobe and I wear many hats.

After driving the Hebrew school carpool for years, making latkes for the Temple Chanukkah party, feeding my family plus many of Waianae High School’s journalism students and volunteering to donate matzah for the Sunday school’s model seder, I am pretty sure I have earned the proud status of Jewish Mother.

Yes, I might be a bit overprotective of my two precious daughters and I might care very deeply about the welfare of the ones I love. However, I am not meddlesome or overbearing, more like loving and caring.

A Borderline Jewish Mother is a perfect description.

Happy May Day and lei day and celebrations across Hawai’i Nei

I am ashamed to admit that  when I drove up to the Island Pacific Academy parking lot to pick up my older daughter, who was helping set up for the May Day festivities to be held the next day and I saw how hard they were all working to make a stage and a seating area and decorate with palm leaves and plumeria flowers, I wondered to myself, “Is it worth it?”

I knew right away that I was just feeling guilty that I wasn’t out there sweating with the best of them and that  the next day would turn all of their labor into a blessing for my family and the entire IPA community at the 4th Annual May Day Celebration, Na Mo’olelo Hawai’i, The Legends of Hawaii.

Of course it was a blessing. Legendary. And a beautiful story they told.

My Jewish Hawaiian Princess joined the court, representing the island of Hawaii. Both of my girls danced. Our princess wore a hand-made lehua lei that her grandmother ordered from her brother in Hilo.

And the school came together under the clear, sunny sky, in our growing city of Kapolei, to revel in this May Day tradition of hula and song.

Even more remarkable is that the students danced to live music provided by June and Makana Kuahiwinui, Les Harris, Charlie Fukuba, and Madi Davis. IPA music teacher Ruthe Babas sang as well.

Their music was so perfect and their voices  so beautiful that I had to look several times to make sure it was not a recording. IPA Teacher Veronique Braithewaite was missed due to her  maternity leave, but they honored her with a big photo at the microphone.

I felt a bit emotional thinking that this will be my older daughter’s last May Day with IPA. She  will enter ninth grade at Kamehameha Schools next year. I tearfully remembered all of the care from Miss Momi and Mrs. Babas and then felt a little silly. We are not leaving IPA. Our younger girl will be there next year. Our blessings will grow with two programs to attend.

It  still tugged on my heart-strings, this rite of passage.

Kol Hakavod and Mahalo Nui Loa to Miss Momi and Mrs. Babas and all of the dedicated students and parents who came together to make this wonderful celebration a part of IPA’s history. Na Mo’olelo IPA.

Doing the Bat Mitzvah shuttle

We just came home from a Bat Mitzvah.

I had three kids in the car. They make up the 8th grade class at Honolulu Temple Emanu-El’s SJS, besides the Bat Mitzvah girl. She had her own transportation.

I will take them to her party this evening.

There are only 4 kids in the class. My older daughter is one of them. Her Bat Mitzvah last January was the first for that class. A Bar Mitzvah followed last summer. The Bat Mitzvah today and a Bar Mitzvah scheduled later this month over  Thanksgiving weekend will find the whole class completed in this major rite of passage. Two boys and two girls.

While a small group like this does not offer the busy social life of many Jewish 13-year-olds, filled with ceremonies and catered affairs on a weekly basis, it does offer the opportunity to forge close relationships between these adolescents who have been in Sunday school class together every week from 9 am to noon since they were in kindergarten.

Add in Wednesday afternoons for two hours of Hebrew school since fourth grade and these kids have spent a significant amount of time together learning about and being Jewish.

As I drove, my daughter talked and joked and laughed with these two boys, who are like brothers to her. I started to muse about her prospects of dating a Jewish boy or marrying one some day. I wondered which of the two boys sitting in the backseat of my car would make a good boyfriend or husband. I like them both very much.

They are very nice boys. I am friends with their mothers. And that’s when I stopped. I don’t want to be in-laws with my friends. She can meet a Jewish boy from another state when she is in college. Or maybe one will move here that she doesn’t know so well.

It did remind me of my youth and the Jewish boys I knew so well: Jon Sherman and Jason Oxman. We lived in the same neighborhood. We rode together and were in the same class at Sunday school, Hebrew school, weekend camp programs for our entire Jewish educations. Jon and I were in the same class in elementary school every year as well. We all went to the same high school. They were like my brothers. We fought like siblings and have remained in contact to this day.

I never would have dated either of them and I am pretty sure they would say the same about me.

So that’s where it stops.

I will let my daughter play football with these nice Jewish boys we know so well. They can go to parties and dance and lead services together with the Temple youth group. And I will let her choose her own dates as well. I’m pretty sure these boys will have her back and take good care of her like any brother would.

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