My husband’s childhood comes to life at Ko Olina Resort and Marina

Last night we met Ruth and Steve Levine at Longboard’s in the Ko Olina Resort and Marina. “So what,” you say, thinking that every detail of our social life is not really interesting enough to share on Facebook, let alone in a blog post. And I would usually agree with you. But not this time. This time I will share.

Ruth and Steve Levine lived next door to my husband in Monsey, New York where he grew up in the 1970’s. He ate at their dinner table, played ball in their backyard and road in the back seat of Ruth’s big black Cadillac to Hebrew School when she drove the carpool.

And that’s where this story gets interesting.

I often write about our Kapolei Hebrew School Carpool. It has been the saving grace to transporting our children several times a week to and from Temple Emanu-El’s School of Jewish Studies. This is especially true on weekdays when Honolulu’s dense traffic can trap us on H1 for almost an hour in each direction, turning what should be a simple 20 mile commute into a demanding and grueling journey for both driver and passengers alike.

My friend, Laurie Hanan, and I started carpooling over 5 years ago when our older daughters were in grade school. We have continued with our younger kids, adding in other West Side Jewish families including the Gottlieb’s and the Stiglitz’s, as schedule and convenience have allowed.

For me, driving the Hebrew School Carpool has turned out to be more than just convenience. It has become a rite of passage as I have embraced the tradition of Jewish Mothers before me, my mother and mother-in-law included.

Thus, meeting Ruth Levine and her husband last night was more than just being nice to dear old friends of my husband’s mom. It was like meeting an icon. I was in the presence of a super star, the Real Deal:  The Carpool Driving, Jewish Mother from New York who had survived driving my husband in their Hebrew School Carpool of the 1970’s. I was not going to let this moment pass.

We have heard the stories from my mother-in-law of how he used to hide in the back seat when other mothers dropped off the kids at the shul in the afternoon to try to get out of attending classes. We have laughed together at anecdotes filled with his antics that caused so much tsorres for these moms, knowing that the stories have happy outcomes. He became a Bar Mitzvah, he went to college. He grew up, married a nice Jewish woman (eventually) and is an officer in the army and doing quite well, thank you very much.

Meeting Ruth was the opportunity to hear these stories again–her voice adding color and depth to bring alive these beloved tales of my husband’s childhood.

With a serious face she told us hilarious stories of a neighborhood of boys, leaving their bikes on her front porch, playing ball in her backyard, breaking her windows, grabbing corn and cucumbers from her garden to take home to their mothers. She called my husband by his childhood nickname, “Henry Pippenpo,” which was bestowed upon him by Ruth herself. And  she shared with us the story that we came to hear: the day that he hid in the back seat and tried to ditch Hebrew school. Of course she caught him.

She counted the boys as they exited the black Cadillac and noticed that all 6 did not disembark. (How she fit 6 kids in the back of her  Cadillac was not revealed, but I assume it was in the days before seat belt laws such as “Click it or ticket.”)

Aware of his hidden presence on the floor of the back seat, she exited the parking lot. Instead of turning left to go home, she turned right. She returned to the Synagogue, leaned into the back seat and grabbed him by the neck. Nothing got past the keen radar of this sharp and experienced Jewish Mother.

Caught in the act, he had no choice but to do what she said, get out of the car and go learn some Hebrew, “Like a good Jewish son should do.” While he did learn Hebrew, I’m not so sure that he learned his lesson right away as I hear he tried it in another mother’s car along with a plethora of other antics. But eventually he must have.

Ruth Levine was clearly happy to see him. She warmly told me that he has mellowed over the years and I had to agree, praising my wonderful husband to the highest degree.

This is why it meant more than just aloha and hospitality that we went to meet Ruth and Steve last night at sunset. It’s one of those moments that brings us full circle– or at least in the vicinity.

Hearing her tell the tales in the setting of this gorgeous leeward resort, accompanied by the  breeze of our local trade winds, both transported me back to our childhood carpool days and joined us together in the present. It somehow magically connected our west side carpool with their East Coast original as tradition has the power to do.

And it further installed me among the legions of Jewish Mothers from recent generations who have carpooled through the antics of their kids and the frustrations of traffic to provide every opportunity possible for their children, driving them on the journey to success.

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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.

Hawaii Calls–to me, every day

I spent the morning at Island Pacific Academy’s annual May Day celebration watching the entire student body and staff  of this small West Oahu private school’s junior kindergarten through twelfth grades come together in celebration of the Hawaiian culture through song and dance.

It makes sense. We live in Hawaii. We should celebrate the culture of the place in which we live. Island Pacific Academy does.

It is my favorite event every year. The fresh air, the hot sun, the colors, the music, the flowers, the children, the spirit.

I can’t help but mention the women who make this happen: Momi Kuahiwinui, Ruthe Babas, Veronique Braithwaite and Laura Gabriel (and some of their husbands who are a big help too). They are a silver lining in an already bright sky.

This year’s theme “Hawaii Calls” with the hapa haole songs of the first half of the 20th century was particularly refreshing. The opening song “Hawaiian Lullaby” gave me chicken skin as the children and staff surrounding me sang of the exact reasons that Hawaii calls to me every day. What a pleasure to feel that call today from these children.

Did I mention that a live band including Miss Momi’s husband played the music and all of the singing was performed by Mrs. Babas, Ms. Braithwaite and Miss Momi’s daughter Makana? Amazing.

Mahalo Nui Loa to the staff, students and families of Island Pacific Academy for a glorious morning in celebration.

As much as I would like to post photos of all the beautiful children, I will respect their privacy on the World Wide Web and only post photos of the staff.

Second night and we are ready to rock

My husband and I set the table this afternoon for our second night Seder. When we finished I realized that we were both wearing our bathing suits. He was still in his board shorts from his morning surf session and I had just returned from the neighborhood pool after swimming some laps. “Now that is being Jewish in Hawaii I thought.”

Chag Sameach to all with aloha from our Seder table to yours.

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Kung Hee Fat Choy

I can’t resist a new year’s celebration. Today is the celebration of Chinese New Year, the year of the Yang Water Dragon. I don’t know a whole lot about it and the explanations that I read online are way too complicated to relate here. I encourage you to check it out.

I do know that I am a tiger.  I also know that everybody is eating Gau today so I am too. I think that is a good start. I’m pretty sure that’s how my kids’ classmates feel when I show up to their classes and bring apples and honey for the Jewish New Year! It takes a while to understand.

Kung Hee Fat Choy

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.

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/omaha/obituary.aspx?page=lifestory&pid=155362875

http://www.jewishomaha.org/page.aspx?id=148828

http://www.omaha.com/article/20120108/NEWS01/701089935#.Twn8aUKalts.facebook

Happy Birthaversariakkah to me

When my husband suggested that we get married on my birthday I wasn’t sure why he thought it was a good idea. He joked that it was so he wouldn’t forget our anniversary, but even at that time I knew him well enough to know that it was not the case. I told him that as long as he did not forget my birthday, I was willing to go for it.

I still don’t know why he chose that date, but I’m not sorry. It was a great idea. I married him on my 45th birthday  and it is the best present I ever got. 2011 marked our fourth wedding anniversary, among other things.

I was born on December 26. This year, not only did we celebrate what we have come to call our Birthaversary, but we added in the 7th night of Chanukkah, making it a Birthaversariakkah.

There are two very special days on the calendar when I get to choose the family activity without absolutely no input from, or consideration of, anybody else: Mother’s Day and my Birthday.  Considering my usual Jewish Mother’s consideration of each family member in almost everything I do, I embrace these opportunities with abandon and glee and almost always choose a day at the beach or a hike. Luckily my family likes these activities too.

For this Birthaversariakkah I chose a hike. We went to Aiea Loop Trail where my husband proposed  5 years ago. This time we did the entire loop. Now I know why we usually turn around.

It took almost four hours to plod up and down the ridge, across the gulch and slosh through the 5 miles of muddy trail. But it  offers beautiful views of Pearl Harbor and the Tetsuo Harano tunnel on H3, the usual benefits of the great outdoors and nice memories of the day he stopped us at the side of the path and, with a rainbow in the background, asked me to marry him. We took a picture at the spot.

Once again, it was the perfect hike and the perfect day. The kids behaved particularly well, often running ahead and leaving us to enjoy each others’ company, appreciate some peace and quiet and sneak in an affectionate smooch here and there. We took some great photos. And between husband and teenager, I made it through  the extra slippery parts without falling.

We ended the day eating saimin at Forty Niner’s, another family favorite, and lit the candles at home that night.

Thank you for a very Happy Birthaversariakkah handsome Husband and loving family. It was a wonderful celebration.

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