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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Why should this year be different from all other years?

Because Good Friday and the first night of Passover fall on the same date.

It has always been a complaint of mine that Good Friday is a state holiday in Hawaii.  It seems odd to me.

When I taught at Wai’anae High School as an employee of the Hawaii State Department of Education I did not complain.  I was always willing to take a day off, even if it isn’t my holiday.

When I enrolled my kids in a private school that promotes itself as non-sectarian and that administration continued to schedule Good Friday as a school holiday year after year, I began to get a bit ferkrimpt (that’s Yiddish for annoyed).

A few years ago somebody told me that the legislature has it off to prepare for Easter. Huh? Prepare? What do they have to do? Could they possibly be spending an entire day dying eggs in pretty colors? or putting together baskets of candy? or do they have to catch up on their sleep so they can make it to an Easter sunrise service a few days later?

Forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, but from my perspective there is not a lot of formal observance of Good Friday.  Easter Sunday is already a non work day and most of the people I know are pretty pagan about their rituals.

Which brings me to my next point. Good Friday and the first night of Passover are on the same date this year–today. Yet few in this wonderful state of aloha have the slightest notion that Jews in the islands, and around the world, are preparing for one of most important holidays in our heritage.

Why can’t it be a state holiday for us too? We actually have a lot of preparing to do.

Admittedly, some things have changed since I moved to Hawaii over 20 years ago. Local grocery stores such as Safeway and Times Market carry traditional Passover foods such as Matzah and gefiltah fish, even in Kapolei.

I no longer  have to order it months in advance at Temple Emanu-El to have it shipped in for us.

When I went to Kapolei Safeway the other day to purchase matzah I was pleasantly surprised. They have come a long way.

Of course the Easter merchandise bombards you as soon as you walk in the door and I did  have to walk around a bit before I could find the Jewish food section. But it was there. And it was decently stocked. Just as are we Jews on the island of Oahu.

They are set up for Jews all year round which is kind of nice since we are not just seasonal residents. I noticed that they sell Yahrzeit candles which means I don’t have to order them on eBay from now on.

I can’t quite figure out why they have included mince meat and Thomas the Tank Pez in this section. If anybody has any insight into this choice, please let me know. But I have decided not to complain, it seems fairly harmless.

I’ve been enjoying all of the Facebook posts from friends and family near and far about their Passover preparation. The brisket is cooking at my sister’s house. A local Jewish woman is looking for fresh horseradish and another woman in Honolulu posted that her house smells like Passover–yum.

It makes me feel like a part of a larger Jewish community.

What many people don’t realize, is that it takes days to prepare a Passover seder meal that tastes like Bubbe used to make. We should get a day off too.

Our Rabbi posted a fun article on the Temple Emanu-El Facebook page that was published in the New Yorker that I thought was hilarious. Here is the link.

And while I don’t always enjoy the You Tube videos people post, I really like this one that Lisa Block, my Temple Beth Ohr Hebrew School classmate who lives in California, shared.

And here is the Passover greeting from my friend Beverly who lives in South Africa.

While the State of Hawaii might not realize that our holiday is important too and that many of its local community are celebrating a holiday other than Easter, perhaps the enticing smell of the chicken soup simmering on my stove on this Good Friday and first night of Passover and all of the Facebook posts from Jews around the world might influence just a bit.

We always have room at our seder table for one more guest.

A zissin Pesach to all and Shabbat Shalom.

A walking tour of Nuuanu

I took a walk with my friend Linda today. We were waiting for our kids who were at Sunday school and decided to make good use of our time. She wanted to show me a few sites in the Nu’uanu area where Temple Emanu-El of Honolulu is located. I had no idea what a treat it would be.

We walked down  Pali Hwy from Jack Lane towards the city. I’ve never walked that way before. I always go up. We ended up on Nuuanu Avenue. I felt like a total tourist, enjoying looking at the Asian Temples and local graveyards that line the road. I had to take pictures and share them here.

I thought they were all beautiful, but found the Oahu Cemetery quite special as I looked at grave markers that hold names from ancient and recent Hawaii history. I also enjoyed a brief visit to the small Jewish section in the back.

Thanks, Linda.

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.

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.

A word about my father

Theodore Leonard Gershun

 

We went to Friday night services at Honolulu’s Temple Emanu-El  so that I could say Kaddish for my father. I finally used one of the yartzeit candles that I bought last September for the anniversary of his death on January 2nd.

My dad passed away 22 years ago.

I am standing with my mom and sisters after his funeral

Before he died he knew that I was moving to Israel to live there for a while. What he never knew is that it turned out to be a short while and I soon moved to Hawaii. He never knew my life here. He never knew my first husband or my second (who often reminds me of him!) He never met any of his grandchildren in person. But he lived a full life until it was cut short by cancer.

I wasn’t with him the day that he died, but I was with my mother the days before and after. I’d always call her on January 2 and she and I would talk each year about the New Year’s Eve dinner we had together in between trips to the hospital  and the meeting with the staff at the mortuary to make the final arrangements.

We’d laugh remembering  how the guy at Forest Lawn suggested we inter my father’s ashes next to a huge statue of Jesus as a perfect spot and renew our satisfaction of our choice, The Wall of Knowledge, overlooking the freeway, assuring ourselves that he would be happy to overlook the “Road to Vegas,” one of his favorite getaways.

I missed talking about it with her this year. With my mother’s death so recent and that particular loss so poignant, I don’t talk or write about my dad very much. But he was a very interesting man.

My younger sister recently wrote a short biography of him for a family genealogy and I would like to share it here. I guess you could call her our guest blogger of the day. Thanks boo.

Theodore Leonard Gershun, b. February 19, 1924, d. January 2, 1990

Ted Gershun was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the second child of Selma and Ben Gershun (although his sibling Shirley often introduced herself as his younger sister). Ted believed strongly in education, the stock market, up-and-coming technology, his ability to beat the house at the dice tables in Las Vegas, and supporting the underdog. He trained as a bombardier (he was too short to be a pilot) in WWII and was sent to Japan but the war ended before he saw combat. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from the State University of Iowa in 1948 and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Minnesota in 1955. Ted worked in the aerospace industry in Southern California for 20 years, most notably contributing to the development of the heat shield for the Apollo spacecraft. In the 1970s Ted returned to school and received a law degree from Western State University College of Law. After passing the California State Bar exam (first try!) in 1975, Ted bought a used pickup truck so he could haul around evidence if the need arose and he practiced small-town law for another 15 years.

Ted married Gloria Polsky in 1948, and in 1961 they relocated to Buena Park, CA  where they raised three daughters — Martha, Elizabeth (Betsy) (boo), and Lorraine (Lorrie) — in a house filled with the coolest toys (who else had a unicycle, a tandem bicycle, a pogo stick, AND stilts?), the complete volumes of the World Book Encyclopedia, and the biggest swing set in the neighborhood. Ted liked nothing better than to take his family to Shakey’s Ole Time Pizza Parlour for two large pizzas (one with sausage, one with portugese linguica) and to sing along (loudly) with the resident piano player. He always grilled a perfect steak and only liked iceberg lettuce and radishes in his salad (covered with bleu cheese dressing). Ted’s idea of a family vacation was to pack everyone into the car and drive five hours to Las Vegas, where he would gamble through the nights and use his winnings to support his wife’s and daughters’ daytime shopping excursions.

             

Ted loved gadgets and tools, manual or electronic. He owned an amazing set of slide rules and protractors, which he tried in vain to teach his young daughters how to use. But they were more interested in the first electronic calculator he brought home in the 1960s — it cost $99 and was the size of a box of Kleenex. (Oops! Make that a box of tissues; one of his pet peeves was using a brand name as a generic noun.) Ted had a quick (and slightly off-color) sense of humor which he shared with anyone who would laugh at his jokes. While he was not at all athletic, he was a strong swimmer and he was always willing to take a ride on the Matterhorn or the Mad Hatter’s Wild Teacups at Disneyland. Ted died in 1990 and his ashes are interred in a cemetery that overlooks the freeway that leads to Las Vegas.

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