Who says you can’t go back in time?

I met my oldest sister in Los Angeles a few weeks ago for a good old fashioned trip down memory lane.

Even though we grew up in the northern Orange County area, we stayed in Santa Monica so we could be close to LAX and enjoy the trendy shopping and entertainment that the Los Angeles area has to offer.

Our hotel was conveniently located right near the I-10 Freeway, allowing us to easily address prominent items on our itinerary that were in Orange County: specific landmarks in our home town of Buena Park and neighboring towns of Fullerton and La Mirada.

We made two separate trips along the I-10 Freeway eastbound to the I-5 Freeway southbound in order to travel 35 miles and 35 years back in time to visit the neighborhood, Synagogue, schools and favorite foods of our childhood.

There is so much to share that I will separate it into several posts so as not to overwhelm anybody with TMI, including myself.

First stop on our journey: Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada, California

We were excited to attend Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada, the shul of our youth! We went to Religious school, became Bat Mitzvahs and were confirmed at this small Synagogue on the border of Southern California’s Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Both of us were active in the Temple youth group, BOTY, during our high school days and I’m pretty sure we each managed to aggravate a Hebrew school teacher or two on the small faculty there with our talkative tendencies.

Through the magic of Facebook, and the fact that I keep in touch with several of my former Hebrew school classmates, 5 members of the Confirmation Class of 1978 were also in attendance. We sat together during services, chanting the prayers and singing the songs to the familiar tunes of our kinderhood, uniting the past and present in mutual celebration.

Posing on confirmation day with my sisters

My official confirmation photo from 1978

At the Oneg we reminisced about Religious School teachers, youth group days and whipped out our cell phones to share photos of our own kids who are presently in college and high school and having their own B’nei Mitzvahs.

When I describe what it was like to grow up Jewish in Buena Park, California in the 1960’s and 1970’s I tell them that it is very similar to my own children’s experience in Kapolei, Hawaii. I was one of few Jewish kids in my school, along with Jon Sherman and Jason Oxman. There are only a few Jewish families on the west side of Oahu and significantly fewer in the state of Hawaii than in California then or now.

Temple Beth Ohr had a small congregation of about 200 families. Temple Emanu-El of Honolulu’s congregation is of similar size.

I would also tell you that the facilities are of similar dimension and that is where I would be wrong. You know how you remember things from your childhood as being much bigger and then when you go back to visit them you realize that your perspective has changed? That happened to me a few times on this trip. I was surprised at how in reality both the sanctuary and the social hall are much smaller than memory serves. They look the same, they are lovely, just smaller than I remember.

BOTY Shabbat service held before new sanctuary was built circa 1973

My youngest sister's official 1974 Confirmation photo in front of the stained glass window in the old sanctuary which is now the social hall

My oldest sister and I in front of the same stained glass window which is now in the new sanctuary.

Confirmation Class of 1978 Reunites: Lorraine Gershun, Jon Sherman, Suzanne Atlas Skorheim, Lisa Grossman Bloch, Stacey Ellig Campbell, Don Bloch

While we enjoyed the sumptuous Oneg sponsored by the Sisterhood, we got to talk to Ellie Ursis who was the youth group advisor when my sister was in high school, Rhonda Atlas who’s home I spent as much time in as my own hanging out with her daughter when I was a teenager, Harley Rockoff who was the Temple President when I was a kid and who’s son is still a friend of mine and Sandy Bloch who’s husband was also a Temple President of my childhood and son a classmate and Facebook friend.

Then benefits of small town Jewish life shined as 1978 classmates Lisa Grossman and Don Bloch come now as a unit, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch and the new Rabbi, Rabbi Goldfarb is cousins with one of our Temple Emanu-El congregants. Jewish Geography at its best.

It was truly a Shabbat Shalom and a great way to start a nice long weekend connecting with my sister and our past.

Who says you can’t go back in time?

I met my oldest sister in Los Angeles a few weeks ago for a good old fashioned trip down memory lane.

Even though we grew up in the northern Orange County area, we stayed in Santa Monica so we could be close to LAX and enjoy the trendy shopping and entertainment that the Los Angeles area has to offer.

Our hotel was conveniently located right near the I-10 Freeway, allowing us to easily address prominent items on our itinerary that were in Orange County: specific landmarks  in our home town of Buena Park and neighboring towns of Fullerton and La Mirada.

We made two separate trips along the I-10 Freeway eastbound to the I-5 Freeway southbound in order to travel 35 miles and 35 years back in time to visit the neighborhood, Synagogue, schools and favorite foods of our childhood.

There is so much to share that I will separate it into  several posts so as not to overwhelm anybody with TMI, including myself.

First stop on our journey: Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada, California

We were excited to attend Friday night Shabbat services at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada, the shul of our youth! We went to Religious school, became Bat Mitzvahs and were confirmed at this small Synagogue on the border of Southern California’s Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Both of us were active in the Temple youth group, BOTY, during our high school days and I’m pretty sure we each managed to aggravate a Hebrew school teacher or two on the small faculty there with our talkative tendencies.

Through the magic of Facebook, and the fact that I keep in touch with several of my former Hebrew school classmates, 5 members of the Confirmation Class of 1978 were also in attendance. We sat together during services, chanting the prayers and singing the songs to the familiar tunes of our kinderhood, uniting the past and present in mutual celebration.

Posing on confirmation day with my sisters

My official confirmation photo from 1978

At the Oneg we reminisced about Religious School teachers, youth group days and whipped out our cell phones to share photos of our own kids who are presently in college and high school and having their own B’nei Mitzvahs.

When I describe what it was like to grow up Jewish in Buena Park, California in the 1960’s and 1970’s I tell them that it is very similar to my own children’s experience in Kapolei, Hawaii. I was one of few Jewish kids in my school, along with Jon Sherman and Jason Oxman. There are only a few Jewish families on the west side of Oahu and significantly fewer in the state of Hawaii than in California then or now.

Temple Beth Ohr had a small congregation of about 200 families. Temple Emanu-El of Honolulu’s congregation is of similar size.

I would also tell you that the facilities are of similar dimension and that is where I would be wrong. You know how you remember things from your childhood as being much bigger and then when you go back to visit them you realize that your perspective has changed? That happened to me a few times on this trip. I was surprised at how in reality both the sanctuary and the social hall are much smaller than memory serves. They look the same, they are lovely, just smaller than I remember.

BOTY Shabbat service held before new sanctuary was built circa 1973

My youngest sister's official 1974 Confirmation photo in front of the stained glass window in the old sanctuary which is now the social hall

My oldest sister and I in front of the same stained glass window which is now in the new sanctuary.

Confirmation Class of 1978 Reunites: Lorraine Gershun, Jon Sherman, Suzanne Atlas Skorheim, Lisa Grossman Bloch, Stacey Ellig Campbell, Don Bloch

While we enjoyed the sumptuous Oneg sponsored by the Sisterhood, we got to talk to Ellie Ursis who was the youth group advisor when my sister was in high school, Rhonda Atlas who’s home I spent as much time in as my own hanging out with her daughter when I was a teenager, Harley Rockoff who was the Temple President when I was a kid and who’s son is still a friend of mine and Sandy Bloch who’s husband was also a Temple President of my childhood and son a classmate and Facebook friend.

Then benefits of small town Jewish life shined as 1978 classmates Lisa Grossman and Don Bloch come now as a unit, Mr. and Mrs. Bloch and the new Rabbi, Rabbi Goldfarb is cousins with one of our Temple Emanu-El congregants. Jewish Geography at its best.

It was truly a Shabbat Shalom and a great way to start a nice long weekend connecting with my sister and our past.

What else do Jews do on Christmas? This one waits for the next day.

Travel. Christmas day is the perfect day to fly somewhere. I went to the airport yesterday to pick up my Mother-In-Law who came to visit from Florida. It was empty. It was so easy.

Of course I managed to miss the parking lot entrance more than once and drove around HNL a few times too many. But this gave me a clear perspective of how not busy the airport was yesterday afternoon.

And we are very happy to have her here for a visit, just in time for the rain.

When I was a kid my family often drove to Vegas on Christmas to be there just in time for my birthday the next day. I spent many a birthday there, including #21. I clearly remember being in the bathroom with Kathy (Brown) Goetsch at midnight on December 25 and joyfully cutting up my fake I.D.. Please don’t tell my kids!

My parents took us to see Joan Rivers one year and Frank Sinatra another in honor of all the great people born around December 25. I’m pretty sure I share a birthday with Joan Rivers’ daughter.

That’s another reason it was so easy for me to get comfortable with the local culture once I moved to Hawaii. Locals love to go to Vegas and I grew up with a father who did too.

I have combined this  love of going to Las Vegas and my Jewish tradition of flying on Christmas on more than one occasion with excellent results.

For my 40th birthday we flew on December 25 to be there in time for my for the big day. Kathy met us there along with other childhood friends from California  and we had a blast.

We met my sister there a few years ago. This time I was treated to a Jerry Seinfeld show for my birthday!

So, if you are looking for a good day to travel, I highly recommend Christmas. And if you are looking for something else to celebrate when all is said and done, there is always my birthday on December 26. I am happy to share!

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.

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.

Being Jewish anywhere

If my blog is about being Jewish in Hawaii, why am I writing about our summer vacation in places other than Hawaii?

Good question.

I guess it’s about perspective. I am Jewish all of the time. I live in Hawaii. So I am writing from that perspective.

Even if I am writing about doing the laundry in Kapolei (which I find myself doing more than just about any other activity in my life,) I am writing about it from the perspective of a nice Jewish girl turned somewhat nice Jewish mother who washes the sheets on a way too regular basis.

If I am writing about our recent vacation (which I am about to do,) it is from the perspective of a family living in  a small Jewish community on  Oahu and our experiences in the greater Jewish communities we visit on the mainland–or just the fun things we do there.

I can’t believe we have been home from our trip for over two weeks. The kids are back in school, I am embracing a new job and our family rhythms resume as we approach the Jewish new year.

Our annual trip to camp boo was fantabulous. The weather was hot and conducive to lake activities,  dog walks and late night “Apples to Apples” board game marathons.

With my mother’s death last May, so much feels changed. The time I spent with my sisters in June was different than any time we have spent together ever before. With this great loss we have changed.

It felt good to end the summer on a familiar note, to be joyful and have fun with my youngest sister, family friends and all their dogs. The timing was good, along with the weather.

My oldest sister and I often remark on the practical nature of shiva, the Jewish mourning ritual, and how it has served us well. 30 days made a huge difference. Each additional month feels different again.

I learned from Kids hurt too that grief is a physical process. This rang completely true for me. Over the course of the summer, my grief churned through me, supercharging every aspect of my system.

I feel it clearly on the 27th of each month. Even before I know the date, my body reminds me that one more month has passed. I am finally beginning to settle down.

From camp boo, we flew to Florida to convene with my younger daughter,  my in-laws and a huge chunk of the retired Jewish community who are living in the West Palm Beach area.

Talk about a cultural experience! When people come to visit us, I take them to Tamura’s in Wai’anae to shop with the locals. If you want to hang with some true Jews, go to one of my mother-in-law’s cocktail parties.

Held in our honor, it was an absolute pleasure. I got to meet parents of my husbands’ childhood pals, childhood  friends of my in-laws and grandparents of my daughter’s pre-school classmates. I was immediately at home and felt like I had been a part of the family for a life time more than the almost three years I have been married to my husband.

Our final destination found us in San Diego where my husband met us for a true family vacation. I’ve never vacationed in the area and was quite pleased. We particularly like the Carlsbad area.

We visited Legoland, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, and the beach.

We ate delicious Italian and Mexican food, but were not remiss in making the requisite stop at In-N-Out.

Nothing Jewish about that cheeseburger! Or the way I felt a few hours after I ate my hamburger (no cheese) and an order of fries!

One morning found us in downtown San Diego in search of a breakfast other than the free one the hotel offered. We finally found a “Restaurant” and were treated to some seriously home style food.

We had dinner with my husband’s cousins and visited with two of my former yearbook students who babysat my daughter when she was  little and who have since relocated to San Diego.

As good as it is to get away, it is just as good to be home. A new year is ahead, change always on the horizon and the routine of our daily lives an anchor, offering comfort to embrace 5771 with open and ready hearts.

Summer camp

I started going to Jewish summer camp between 7th and 8th grade. Camp Komaroff. It changed my life—my Jewish life.

An advertisement for a weekend retreat at a small camp in Lake Arrowhead, California appeared in our Temple bulletin the  winter of 1974. I attended along with  a few of my Sunday school classmates  and I caught the Jewish camp bug.

I couldn’t wait to go back. The following summer  and every summer until I went to college, I returned to Camp Komaroff, staying as long as my parents would let me, until finally, after my Junior year of high school, I spent the entire three month vacation there.

The programs and prayer and friendships and song I enjoyed at camp were instrumental in  fostering the joyous connection I feel about being Jewish.

I wanted my daughter to experience the same thing, especially since our Jewish community in Hawaii is even smaller than the one in which my family raised me at Temple Beth Ohr in Southern California’s Northern Orange County of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Since my oldest daughter has been in the third grade, I pack her up every summer and send her to URJ Camp Newman in Santa Rosa, California.

Like her mother before her, she connects to being Jewish through song and prayer and activities surrounded by other Jewish kids her age and the beautiful natural landscape of Northern California.

And that is also why I get to visit with my high school friend Jennifer almost every summer.

My daughter flies unaccompanied minor to Caifornia where the camp staff pick her up. Some summers she also flies home on her own. Other years, like this one, I fly to California by myself and meet her after camp to fly on to the East Coast together for a visit with family before returning to Hawaii and school and our regular lives.

I arrived at San Francisco Airport on Monday evening.  I spent the  night at an inexpensive hotel near the airport and took the BART into the city the next morning. I disembarked at Montgomery Street, walked over to Jennifer’s office,  dumped my luggage and embraced the city.

I walked several blocks to The Embarcadero, hit the YMCA for a swim and entered the Ferry Building, recommended by Jennifer as the perfect place for a delicious lunch.

I joined the Honolulu YMCA because there is a branch near our Synagogue, Temple Emanu-El,  in Nuuanu and I can go for a quick swim after I drop off my kids for Hebrew school. It is also near the Kukui Center where  I  work part time. And I have also been going to a great yoga class in the morning at the Leeward Y near our home in Kapolei. Great deal for $40 a month.

I can also use the YMCA when I travel. It cost me three bucks to enter the Embarcadero branch of the San Francisco YMCA, the nice man at the desk gave me my guest pass and I had a great swim in their 25 meter pool. The locker looks out on  the Bay Bridge which was a definite bonus.

A few blocks down is the Ferry Building, a foodie paradise. It reminds me of Faneuil Hall in Boston, but on a more selective scale. I did not eat at the Tasty Salty Pig Parts for fairly obvious reasons.

I was drawn to several places, but decided to stick with Jennifer’s recommendation for Vietnamese food and had the one of the best lunches I have ever tasted. 5 spice chicken on vermicelli.

I picked up some bread at the Acme bread company for the dinner we would eat at Jennifer’s San Rafael home and went back to her office to pack up our stuff and ride across the Golden Gate Bridge to spend the night with her family and get ready to pick up my daughter the next day at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center.

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