Home of the free and the brave

When I was transporting my teenager to the beach on July 4 to drop her off at a party, I heard the DJ on the radio say “Independence Day” and it struck a chord. I thought about how important it is to celebrate our independence, especially for a teenager who is in the process of developing hers.

Of course her budding independence is kind of an oxymoron at this point as it is often dependent on  to my willingness to drive her to all of the places where she has arranged to experience it, thus making me somewhat of a slave to this process! Oh the irony.

I am not complaining. Mostly I am happy to facilitate and enjoy every opportunity to bond in the car that I can get–when she isn’t taking a quick nap or sending a text message to a friend that we are on our way. We definitely do good car. And I am thrilled at her independence. She wears it well and with honor.

The 4th of July turned out to be one of those days where her transportation sort of dictated our schedule. But my husband and I managed to enjoy the day anyway.

It’s hard to think of celebrating this important American holiday without being outside: at the beach, at a park or in somebody’s backyard. The 4th of July commands an outdoor celebration.

We left her at the beach with her friends and decided to go out to lunch. Our criteria were that it needed to be somewhere that had outdoor seating, a good view and did not require driving too far from our home in Kapolei.

There’s always Ko Olina–but we thought it would be pretty crowded there on a holiday. After much thought and deliberation we remembered that there are four golf courses right in the vicinity that all have club houses that serve lunch. A veritable buffet of choices. (I have to mention that since the 4th I have looked on the internet and it turns out that there are eight!)

I remembered that my friend Catherine said that she likes to go to the Barbers Point Golf Course to eat, so we decided to go there. I happen to know that Catherine has a knack for finding good food and hidden gems.

She was not wrong. We had a wonderful lunch. Located in Kalaeloa, right near the former gate of Barbers Point Naval Air Station that closed in 1999, this golf course feels like a getaway to the past. It is quaint and cozy and quiet and beautiful. We are not golfers, so I can’t tell you anything about the course. I can only tell you that it was busy, is easy to access and Nana’s Cafe serves some delicious club sandwiches and awesome beer battered onion rings.

We even ordered a few beers and sat out on the lanai to enjoy our serendipitous celebration.

And now we have a plethora of choices when we want to go out for a bite. There are seven more golf courses in the Kapolei/Ewa area to explore, leaving lots of time for driving teenagers and celebrating all of our independence together!

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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Book of the week: Almost Paradise by Laurie Hanan

I would like to introduce a new feature to this blog: Book of the Week. Every week I will share a book with you that I have enjoyed……or not!

Once an English teacher, always an English teacher.

For my debut post in this category I am choosing Almost Paradise written by my friend and neighbor and local member of the Jewish community (and Kapolei SJS Carpool driver), Laurie Hanan.

It you didn’t get an autographed copy from me for Chanukkah or Christmas or because I had lunch with you recently, then you should order a copy from Amazon and read it right away. If you want an autograph, let me know…I have a few connections.

While the book does not have a lot of Jewish content, it has a few Israeli characters and some references to Hebrew. But that’s not why I like the book. Besides the good story, I like the book because of the local setting. The author (my friend Laurie) captures what it feels like to live in Hawaii without overdoing it. The local flavor is delicious! I guess you could say that the book is not about Hawaii, it is set in Hawaii.

My two favorite parts are the beginning and the end. I liked getting to know the characters. It was hard at first to separate the heroine: Louise Golden from Laurie Hanan. I kept wanting them to be the same person. She uses details from her life to color her characters, but they are not her or her family, just minor reflections of each. Once I was able to separate myself from that, I settled into the story. You probably won’t have that problem unless you know Laurie.

I usually hate the end of books and movies and TV shows.  Mostly I am  disappointed that the story is over and I have to put the characters away. It’s hard to just end, life doesn’t work that way. That did not happen with this book. It was the opposite. The ending was beautiful. I felt like I was there, not reading about it.

Laurie wove  a wonderful portrayal of local lifestyle into a good old-fashioned murder mystery. I keep thinking I might run into Louise Golden one of these days.

I hear Laurie has a new book coming out soon, another Louise Golden mystery. Perfect, now I know what to give people for Chanukkah next year.

You can read more about her characters and her books all on her blog: West of the Equator.

Follow the red brick wall

I have often written in praise of the “Hebrew School Carpool.” Around here we call it the Kapolei Carpool and it has become an established method of transportation for the small group of West Oahu Jewish families who are driving  the 21 miles back and forth, some times several times a week, to Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu for our kids to attend the Jewish School of Studies.

On Sunday mornings it’s pretty easy. We zip in and out of Honolulu in less than 30 minutes, with little interference. Traveling west on H-1 into Town on a weekday afternoon poses a challenge. Traffic congestion is random and can start as early as 3:00 pm. Often the pace makes a slow crawl until well after 6:00 pm.

But that’s not what this blog post is about. It has to do with the carpool, but in a much different way.

While forming the Kapolei Carpool was generally effortless, it took me much longer to find a carpool with neighborhood families whose children go to the same secular school that mine attend. I’ve been looking for a kindred group of drivers since my Teenager was in second grade and was not successful until recently.

Several of  Middle Schooler’s classmates live nearby and together we have established a nice carpool system.

We’ve told her to be at the ready to jump in the designated driver’s car as soon as it pulls up to the house. I don’t like to wait for other kids when I drive, so I don’t want other parents to wait for mine.

I told her about my Hebrew School days carpooling with the Rosmans, Shermans and Oxmans. My parents made us go outside to wait for them. We would sit on the red brick wall that divided our yard from that of our neighbors, the Armstrongs.

That’s what this blog post is about, the red brick wall in the front yard of the house where I lived for the first 18 years of my life at 5081 Somerset Street in Buena Park, California.

My sister on the red brick wall when she was a teenager.

I pose on the wall when I was a teenager.

One of the main attractions of our trip to Buena Park was a visit to that house.

The Gershun girls pose with our paternal grandmother in front of our house on Somerset Street.

We entered the neighborhood from Beach Boulevard and turned right on Los Coyotes Drive. It was called Bellehurst when we were kids, but now the entrance simply boasts the way to Los Coyotes Country Club.

Turning right on Country Club Drive, we wound our way to Somerset Street. We pointed out the few houses whose former occupants we remember. We got to the Morish’s house, 5 doors from ours and entered “The Zone”: the Morish’s, The Jensen’s, The Sheatz’s, please remind me if you remember the name of this family, the Armstrong’s and ours.

And there we were, facing the home of our childhood and the wonderful memories it holds. The front yard was the gathering place for croquet games, hide ‘n seek marathons and relay races of any kind.

The red brick wall was not only a bus stop for the local carpool. It was home base for kickball games and the launching point for piggy back rides and the wooden stilts that a family friend made for us.

We hesitated about parking in front of the house to get a good look. It felt kind of stalkerish. But I insisted. Why hide?

They have added plants in front of the wall where we used to play so we had to take pictures sitting on the wall from the Armstrong’s side.

My sister poses on the red brick wall in 2012.

I pose on the red brick wall in 2012.

By the time I was taking pictures of the tree, a lady came out the front door to ask us what we were doing! We explained who we are and she was very nice. She told us that mail addressed to the Gershun family was delivered to them a few times. We talked about the yard, the area and the schools. And then we were on our way.

While not as prominent as the red brick wall, our front yard tree was ever-present in our childhood games. It was known to grow leaves and shed them at odd times of the year. It was my job to rake the leaves.

I visited the area in 2009 and took photos of the house and wall. It has changed, even since then.

The red brick wall in 2009.

The house and tree in 2009.

On that trip I reconnected with childhood friends.

On this trip I reconnected with my sister, our childhood and myself. Each stop on our itinerary prompted us to relate personal perspectives of experiences we shared, rejuvenating the wonderful memories of growing  up in our childhood home at 5081 Somerset and the surrounding Bellehurst neighborhood.

Chag Sameach from the North Shore

We tell our kids all the time, “Chanukkah is not a major holiday in the Jewish tradition. It’s only a festival.” It is a wonderful celebration of bravery and miracles and light, but it has nothing to do with presents. Americans added on that part because of Christmas.

Then we spend 8 nights lighting candles, playing dreidle, eating more than our share of fried food and giving them too many presents. I can’t help it. I love picking out presents for them.

This year we ended up sort of practicing what we preach. We were not together as a family for the first few nights. We have celebrated from different shores. We haven’t given them any presents…. yet.

Not only is this the holiday season, but it is also our wedding anniversary and my birthday. Yes, we got married on my birthday, December 26.

When Chanukkah falls during the later part of December, all of these celebrations converge. My husband and I like to celebrate what we call our “Birthaversary” each year by getting away alone together for a few days. Since we were expecting his mother to arrive next week, we celebrated early, thus missing the first few nights of Chanukkah with our daughters.

The younger girl has spent 5 glorious days at Camp Erdman in Mokuleia. We packed her and some dreidles and some chocolate coins and dropped her off last Sunday. Our teenager stayed with her  grandmother on the West Side enjoying family and going back and forth to wrestling practice in Kapalama.

Husband and I packed our own bags, plus an extra one filled with snacks and drinks and hit the road for the North Shore of Oahu to our favorite getaway destination, Turtle Bay Resort.

It has become a tradition for us to celebrate together in this beautiful vacation spot. Before we were married, he was deployed in Iraq from 2004-2006. He came to Hawaii to spend a week of his R & R leave with me at this very place. We have come back every year since that romantic week in 2005.

It was just as romantic this year. What I love about the Turtle Bay Resort is that it really feels like being away on an outer island without the hassle or expense of getting on a plane or renting a car.

We only spent a few days on the North Shore, but it was enough to relax, disconnect from the demands of daily life and reconnect with each other. I consider that a great way to celebrate a holiday and a minor miracle in and of itself.

We enjoyed the secluded beaches to the North of the resort, walking for a few miles along the coastline, dipping our feet in the water, picking up sea glass and coral and embracing the sun and salt air.

Wednesday morning greeted us with a double rainbow right outside our hotel room window. Talk about a blessing.

Add to that some time for my husband to surf in the challenging waves that side of the island has to offer, while I embraced a relaxing moment in the jaccuzzi, then topping it all off with a dazzling and romantic sunset moment, I have to say that it made for a wonderful holiday celebration.

We returned to Kapolei relaxed and refreshed and began to gather our children back at home for a family Chanukkah weekend (and a few presents.)

Tonight we will join some of the local Jewish community at Pearl Harbor’s Aloha  Jewish Chapel for Erev Shabbat and Chanukkah services, latkes and song. Others will celebrate at Honolulu’s Temple Emanu-El, but we can’t be at two places at once tonight.

Chag Sameach to you and your family and may it’s light and miracles brighten each of our lives on this 4th night of Chanukkah.

Wrapping up Passover

I guess the key words at this point are “Passed” and “Over,” because Passover pretty much is. I keep thinking of the phrase “Just passing through” as well.

I thought I was going to be more  emotional when we had our seder at home this year. I anticipated that the things that usually made me feel connected to my mom who lived far away in Kansas City would make her absence from this present life too far away to bear. Making her chopped liver and taking out my parents’ seder plate from my childhood seemed like it would be empty and sad.

I was wrong (you won’t hear me saying that very often!)

It was as joyful as ever. I spent days preparing each dish with love and care:  chicken soup, matzah balls, chopped liver, charoset and the rest. I pulled out my Great Aunt Tee’s china and  the other sparkling serving dishes that we only use once a year for this very special occasion. And I was happy.

While we didn’t use them, I took out the Hagaddahs that my family read when I was a kid.  I found them when we cleaned out my mother’s basement last spring. They are labeled in my  her handwriting, “Martha, Betsy, Lorrie and Ted.” I wonder why there isn’t one that says “Gloria.”

My father’s copy is carefully marked in red pen so he could lead our seder (in his deep resonating voice) to dinner as efficiently as possible. He even wrote the word “Skip” in many places. Thank goodness. The Gershun family has always been short on seder and long on food! We definitely follow that tradition in this Gershun’s home to this day.

It wasn’t until I was putting away the seder plate and the china, a few days later, that I did feel sad. For a moment, my parents and  relatives were passing through to be with us on this special holiday, singing Dayeinu and Had Gad Ya joyfully together (a bit off-key.)

And now I was putting them back in the cupboard, along with a part of me, to wait for the next time. Ba shanah haba’ah, in the year to come we will all return together–if not in Jerusalem–at least in Kapolei.

And then came Sunday school and the parents said, “Ki Tov, it is good.”

My husband actually suggested that I post this entry. We were relaxing in the family room on  Sunday. He was watching football, I was reading and the kids were at Sunday school. We were savoring our last few, precious, quiet moments before the carpool  returned them to our door, filling our house with energy and the demands of parenthood.

Of course we send them to Religious school for a Jewish education and the chance to be with other Jewish kids since there aren’t a whole lot of those in our neighborhood or at their school  on this somewhat remote side of the island.

It is truly with their best interests  in mind that we write that tuition check, organize the carpool, hand them money for the tzedakah box, pack them a snack and religiously deliver them to the shul every Sunday at 9:00 am where they stay until  noon for their formal Jewish education.

But I would be lying if I didn’t also mention that I look forward to and completely enjoy those THREE fabulous child free, morning hours that I get to spend relaxing at home with my husband on the days that we do not drive from Kapolei to Nuuanu with a carload full of kids, special delivery to the School of Jewish Studies at Temple Emanu-El.

I will spare you the intimate details of how we choose to spend that time together. I will simply say that it is good for our marriage. We are not opposed to hiring a babysitter so we can catch a Saturday night movie or attend the National Guard Annual Birthday Ball. We get a reasonable share of alone time considering our busy schedules.

But there is nothing like a Sunday morning with nowhere to go, lounging around the house, eating pancakes for breakfast, having a second cup of coffee, reading the paper and doing it all together with no one else in the house but me and my handsome, charming husband.

We did not live together before we got married. We each brought a child with us into this marriage. There was no us before kids, no romantic weekends spent in bed or lazy Sundays reading the New York Times and doing the crossword puzzle together. From day one we hit the ground running.

And we have hit a pretty good stride. So I guess you can’t blame us for counting our blessings where we find them, taking a break when we can.  Sunday school has definitely done its job, for us and our kids.