What does Knott’s Berry Farm have to do with being Jewish?

Not much generally, but it played a surprisingly strategic role in my formative years. That’s why it was a poignant stop on our recent visit through time to important landmarks of our hanabada days, growing up in Orange County, California.

My parents sent us to Religious school on Saturday mornings at Temple Beth Ohr, about a five minute drive from our house in Buena Park. Before I was of school age, I’d go with my father to drop off my older sisters and while they were learning the Shema or how to make Hamantashen, we would enjoy a few hours at nearby Knott’s Berry Farm.

In those days, Knott’s was not a major amusement park, but a small town attraction. We did not have to pay an entrance fee and there were only a few simple rides near the famous Ghost Town and Independence Hall.

He would get some coffee and lift me up onto a colorful horse for a spin on the merry-go-round. Later I’d sit in a nearby electric car and he’d drop a coin in the slot. I would jiggle the steering wheel back and forth, pretending to drive while the car shook me back and forth enough to thrill my four-year-old sensibilities.

Every so often, we walked over to the other side to the semi life-sized cars that we could  really drive along a track (like the Autopia ride at Disneyland.) They aren’t there anymore. Soak City now occupies that spot. He pressed the gas pedal and let me steer as we zigged and zagged across the track. I’d squeal with delight. It always felt like an extra special morning when my dad and I would go for a ride in those cars.

A few hours later we would return to the Temple to pick up my sisters and head home, where I suspect that my mother was cherishing the last few precious moments of peace and quiet and a break from her three Jewish daughters that Religious school, my father and Knott’s Berry Farm offered on a weekly basis. Believe me, I can relate.

That’s why, when I was talking to the guy sitting next to me on the plane ride to LAX and he said that the first place he goes to eat when he gets to Southern California is Knott’s Berry Farms’ chicken dinner restaurant, I knew that we had to go there too. Besides the fact that I know my sister loves fried chicken, the park itself holds memories for all three of us Gershun girls.

We took the Beach Boulevard (Hwy 39) exit from the I 5 Freeway and headed south. My father’s law office used to be on Beach Blvd. and Orangethorpe Ave.. We had a fleeting  hope to catch a glimpse as we hurried towards our destination. But alas, it is now just an empty lot.

Luckily, some things never change. As we approached the intersection of Beach Blvd. and Knott Ave., and the berry farm itself, we laughed that the kitschy stretch of road doesn’t look much different.  I was surprised to learn later that the Movieland Wax Museum closed in 2005 and is now the Movieland Plaza. It was not apparent from our quick glance as we drove by.  I never went there or to the California Alligator Farm that closed in the 1980’s or Medieval Times that popped up after I left for college.

After dinner we walked over to Virginia’s Gift Shop, which evokes clear memories of our mom.

My mom LOVED to walk through Virginia’s Gift Shop for what felt like hours looking at every single item on display to her heart’s content. It did not matter that her tired, youngest daughter (that’s me) had not an iota of interest in the china and crystal and tchachkes that went on for display room after display room. She had spent the day letting us do what we wanted and now she would have a moment of her own pleasure.

I gotta say that, after all these years, I was still not very interested in the amazing array of gifts the shop has to offer, but it was a very nice memory.

On a side note: when I was in high school and our Temple youth group planned social activities, we did not go to Knott’s Berry Farm. We went to Disneyland and Magic Mountain, but not Knott’s. Walter Knott was a known member of the John Birch Society. In those days it was said that they were anti semitic. Thus, we did not patronize the establishment as a Jewish organization.

Another change surprised us and also gave us a new connection to Knott’s Berry Farm. They now have a Pink’s hot dog stand that replaces the same cafe where my father used to buy coffee on those Saturday mornings over 45 years ago.

Ironically, we are related to Pink’s on my mother’s side by marriage. My Great Aunt Shirley Freidman’s maiden name is Pink. She was married to my Great Uncle Eli  and  was the sister of Paul Pink who started the dogs in LA in 1939. They were both the greatest aunt and uncle you could imagine.

My Uncle Eli was my mother's great uncle, brother of her mother.

I am sitting with Aunt Shirley and my maternal grandmother Blanche Polsky, Uncle Eli's sister.

Aunt Shirley (right) and my Uncle Eli on his 80th birthday sitting with his sister, my Great Aunt Tee (Frank)

I remember driving in to L.A. to visit them and on several occasions, stopping at Pink’s for a dog. There were also many late night visits when I was in college, but that’s a different story.

That’s the end of my story about Knott’s. I have to thank my seatmate on Hawaiian Airlines flight 10 from HNL to LAX on January 11, 2012. If he had not mentioned his affinity for a chicken dinner at Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner Restaurant, I would not have thought to add it to our itinerary. We would have missed a plethora of wonderful memories and a chance to write this blog post.

I sure hope that Walter Knott wasn’t really an anti Semite and that he is not rolling over in his grave about the fact that Knott’s Berry Farm plays a supporting role in my memories of growing up Jewish in Buena Park, California.

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.

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.