Friday, November 29, 2013

Decidedly not black

Diamond Peak, from the window of the cabin where we're staying.

I wonder why they call it Black Friday? It sounds ominous. To me, the idea of lining up to charge, mob-like, into a Walmart is ominous. Maybe a shopper-phobic made up the term, I'm not sure.

Today I will be nowhere near a Walmart, or any kind of retail store. I'm with my sister and her family and grandkids in a cabin at Crescent Lake on the eastern slope of the Cascade mountains. Shopping is not a part of today's plan. We're going to take a walk by the lake in a little while, come back for a lunch of leftovers and probably a nice nap this afternoon.

Let's see - charging into Walmart vs. a walk by a beautiful mountain lake? It's hard to imagine anyone would have trouble deciding which activity is preferable.

One among my theories is that the urge to join the mob on Black Friday has more in common with the tradition of running with the bulls at Pamplona than about getting a deal on a new TV. It's about jumping into the fray, snorting and running with the herd.

Sounds like hell to me.

Thanksgiving was a total success, but it's over now. Onwards to solstice.


My grand nephews. That's Isaac looking at the camera. Eli is focused on the iPad.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Jet set

A fancy hubcap.

Tomorrow morning well before the crack of dawn I will walk out of the chateau, get on an airplane and fly to a place 3,000 miles away. I won't be back for a week. The weird part is: I'm looking forward to it.

It's weird because I dislike traveling for a number of reasons, especially by air. Earlier in life I had my fair share of hideous travel-at-the-holidays experiences. I might have vowed to never travel at the holidays again, I can't remember, though it's easy to remember how I was at that time in my life - obstreperous, prone to issuing proclamations, pointing and gesticulating. Good lord. I had so much energy then.

Here ye, here ye: the vow is broken. I'm assembling piles of stuff to take with me, thinking and rethinking what I'll need, smiling.

I'm leaving a day earlier than the worst of the holiday travel rush, returning a day after the chaos of the extended weekend - I hope. Last year when I went to Kansas City I timed my visit to fall between T-day and Christmas. My travel part of it was so uneventful, I can't even remember it. All my memories are of my wonderful visit with my sister. This is my hope and prayer for the trip to Oregon. May it be so.

Some people are at ease when they travel, some people love to travel. I am not among them, but I am among those who love to feast, relax, and celebrate in the company of nears and dears. I haven't seen my sister in years. One of my mottos since turning 60 is, What am I waiting for?

Indeed! I love my sister and her family, I love the mountains. Perhaps I won't love the plane ride but I will prevail. L'chaim, y'all. L'chaim.

I don't really have room inside for plants, but just before the Arctic cold front arrived in DC, my rose begonias bloomed. I couldn't leave them to their fate outdoors. They're lovely!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

dog gone

Night shade.

Jake has been visiting my dreams of late. Jake, the gold puppy for whom this blog was named. It's so good to see him in these dreams. He appears much more relaxed than he ever was in real life. Often in these dreams I'm trying to find the accoutrements needed to take him on a walk, the leash, poop bags and such. He's following me around, as he used to. When he was a puppy, he leapt into the air when I grabbed the leash. He was enthusiastic.

One reason he's on my mind is because I'm going to dog-sit for a few days over Christmas. Christmas is always such a weird day for me. I'm thinking that hanging out with a dog will make it a lot more fun. The dog's name is Presley. He's a very good dog, they tell me, so right from the get go he'll be easier than Jake ever was, a good thing.

I figure the dog-sit will provide hours of amusement on a holiday I have never connected to, remind me again of why I don't want a dog of my own, and make for some good stories, fun walks, and maybe even good photo opps.

Perhaps the experience will make me want a dog no matter how much of a hassle it would be, who knows? At the house on Tennessee Avenue, we three had dogs. We covered for each other. Dogs are pack animals; they need more than one person. Trying to fill every need for a dog would be too much for me. It wouldn't be fair.

Seeing Jake in my dreams has rendered me sentimental for the big lug. Here's a picture of him I took in 2008. He was so photogenic.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


See the window? I was pointing the camera straight up.

Once upon a time I hated Thanksgiving. As a single person who never had kids and whose family is far-flung, it was always a weird day for me. I was often invited to "orphan" dinners. I hate that idea. I am not an orphan!

When I worked for Whole Foods, my loathing increased exponentially. Oh the customers, the throngs. Oh the fuss and carry on of said customers. And the turkeys. Oh god the turkeys. The store hired a gigantic refrigerated truck to hold all the pre-ordered turkeys. They were fresh turkeys so we received them all at once, on the Sunday before T-day. After they were unloaded, we had to sort them by size and then try to find the right size when customers came in to claim them. The truck was freezing cold, but sometimes I took a shift back there. It was worth it, just to get away from the customers, some of whom completely melted down, especially the day before the holiday. Such a kerfuffle! We tried many different organizing techniques for the turkeys, but somehow it always got out of hand by Wednesday. At that point, out in the truck, we were slinging turkeys as fast as we could. It was freezing - and disgusting!

Inside the store the customers ranted, shouted, carried on - about the stupidest crap like about a turkey 1/2 lb. bigger than ordered. We tried to be patient when we explained that there was no way to exactly regulate the weight of the birds. A half pound too much just means another sandwich or two the following day. We tried to smile, but it was always a grimace. I mean, really.

I worked with an international staff at WF, hence learned how to say, in 7 languages: Kill them all. That way, at a moment of high stress (which was every moment of Thanksgiving week), I could turn to any fellow employee and say, in a deadpan, in that employee's native language: Kill. them. all.

I only remember the Wolof and French expressions, have forgotten the rest. It has been awhile.

After I left that job, I railed against Thanksgiving for several years. I always stayed home, made brown rice and vegetables, and watched movies on TV - alone. Those were rather harsh years for me, come to think of it. That was during menopause. God, what a time.

Slowly, over the years, I began to warm to the holiday. In recent years I've attended many different feasts, all of them kind of the same, kind of different, all of them great fun. One year I celebrated with a huge family of Puerto Ricans. I had no idea what they were saying, but whatever it was, it was fun. We laughed and drank, then cranked up the salsa music and danced after dinner. The women wore lots of make up and stiletto heels. I loved it that rice and beans were of course a part of the feast.

I even hosted T-day here at the chateau a couple of years ago. A control freak in my own kitchen, I insisted on cooking the entire feast. I worked non-stop for two days! I'll never take on the whole feast again - though I would love to host again here at the chateau.

Last year, through no fault of my own, the feast I planned to attend got cancelled due to a death in the family. Sadly, everyone I might have foisted myself upon was traveling last year. Hence I spent the day alone. It was a lonely day. I felt sorry for myself and resolved I would not spend it alone again.

This year, I'm going to spend the day with family! Holy cow. I'm going to get an on airplane, travel 3,000 miles! I am the designated apple pie and gravy maker. Wow.

There are those who say people don't change, can't change. OK, at my core it's still the same Reya, but as an old lady I have a far greater capacity to enjoy and connect than I ever did when I was younger, during the holidays and at other times, too. I love being an old lady! Cheers!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Spiritual Forestry

Someone very wise said to me that, before age 60, we must be like the tree that grows tall, puts down deep roots, branches out, produces flowers, fruit and seeds. We must welcome the nests of squirrels and birds, weather the storms, ride out the harsh winters, hot summers, droughts and floods. We must abide over time. But after 60, he said, it's our job to become the forest.

I think about that a lot, what it takes to become the forest. We must join the chain of the generations after 60. We need to hold the circle of life for those who are younger, who are still growing and striving and thriving. We surely must.

Last year in December I went to Kansas City to put a gravestone on my mother's grave. This year in December, my father's family's yizkor memory book will be translated from Yiddish to English. I've exchanged emails with people who have done a lot of this work, who are part of the Yizkor Project. I'm still trying to figure out how to choose one. Something is always lost in translation. How do I determine which one of these competent translators is right for the job? I want the soul of those stories to come through the translation. How do I explain this? Still mulling it over.

When the pages of Viszygordek memories are translated, they will become part of the project and will be available online through the New York Public Library site for anyone who might be interested.

This is definitely one of the ways one becomes the forest, right?

Meanwhile I've been reading some of the translated stories from the Kremenets yizkor book. It was the large town close to my family's village. They are quirky, something I of course adore. The one I was reading yesterday was not so much a memory as a rant. It was all about how Jews who only study Torah and don't learn a trade do a disservice to all Jews. He goes on and on about how the ancient Jews worked the land and all Jews should learn a trade to support the community. Wow. I think they're having similar conversations about this in Israel today! So interesting.

The other thing I've been reading about is Crescent Lake, on the eastern slope of the Cascades in Oregon. That's where I'll be spending Thanksgiving. I love mountains and I love mountain lakes. The land will be just right for me.

Where does my love of mountains come from? I feel at home in the mountains. That terrain always feels good under my feet. I love the land at Tahoe. I love the Appalachians, too, also the Rockies, of course. (I was born in Denver, lived there until age 5. I never really adjusted to living in the muggy, harsh weather and seasons of the midwest.)

Is this love of mountains nothing more than a personal character quirk or is it embedded in my DNA somewhere? The reason I wonder is because Vszygordek in situated in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains, in a valley of the Kremenets Range. Mountains are my favorite natural environment, which perhaps begs the question of why the hell I live in a swamp. Don't ask me!

I will likely never know why I so adore the mountains, but it sure is fun to think about.

What I do know is that life is good and I am grateful. I really am. Shalom.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Here they come

Yes, it is still beautiful in DC. But I'm over the Stendahl syndrome. Thank goodness!

It's windy and chilly this morning in Washington DC, though a glorious day out there, clear and sparkly. I'm sitting on my sofa drinking coffee, reading emails from possible Yizkor book translators. I am not a big fan of Brother Wind, especially when he's whipping around recklessly, hence I decided camping out this morning is the most prudent idea. I'll take a walk between clients later.

In a little while I'll have to get cleaned up because clients are coming, but for now I'm tousled, unkempt. While in Oregon I hope to spend many mornings just like this - except I'll be with my sister and a portion of her extended family. I look forward to the luxury of unstructured days.

Will it be weird not to work? It has been many years since I took this many days off work. I love my work - it's grounding and when I'm working I feel I am a force for healing in the world. I'm just one person but at least I'm doing my bit. On days when I don't work, unless I have projects lined up, I admit to feeling a bit out to sea.

This is why I will not retire, not ever, not that I could retire, even if I wanted to. But it's OK. I could see working less vigorously as I grow older, but to stop working altogether? That would not be a happy situation for me. I am a working animal, happiest while productive. When I sit around too long, I fall into a state of chronic rumination. My thoughts start spinning, pick up speed, and before you know it, I'm mired in the ruminants. Yikes!

However, even the hardest working animals (and I am not among that group for sure) need a break. Taking a week away from my natural habitat and habits and work will be great for me.

As you can see, I'm prepping myself for this big holiday trip. I'm gearing up for the holidays. Ah the holidays! Bring 'em on.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I think I may be recovering from Stendahl syndrome. I'm so relieved. I don't feel overwhelmed or unnecessarily tender. I slept hard last night and the night before, an indication that I'm more relaxed. Also, and this belongs in the category of you-can't-make-up-this-stuff, the leaves suddenly - overnight - became more dull. It was subtle, but I noticed. I wondered if it might just be me thinking they had turned the corner, but some friends and neighbors noticed the same thing. It was a sudden turn away from drop dead glorious to a bit muted.

That the leaves turned the same day I started feeling normal is righteous timing. The landscape here and me? We're like this (presses fingers together). I'm a part of the landscape.

Today dawned gloomy and rainy. They say we're in for a few days of gloom. That should help clear the last bits of the Stendahl left in my system. I am grateful.

I feel free, at last, to think about something other than beauty and love and the ancestors. It was great, but onwards and upwards.

Today I'm thinking about Thanksgiving in Oregon. I'm going to actually get on an airplane, during the holidays, in order to sit at table with my sister and some of her extended family. We're going up to the mountains to stay at a cabin so there will be snow! There will be good food, sitting around the fireplace, board games. There will be laughing, and maybe some drama (a part of the feast of abundance). We will drink red wine and toast all the things we're grateful for.

Last year, I spent Thanksgiving on my own. I walked around and took pictures in the very quiet city, had a nice meal. It was ok but this year I want to celebrate the feast as the ritual is meant to be - with a critical mass of family and all the abundance that attends such a gathering. I am so looking forward to every part of it except for the airport/airplane segments.

I was thinking about how the Melikiers got around, on foot, horseback, by car, too - after they were invented - but my guess is that there weren't a lot of cars in Vzysgordek, even in 1941 when the town was destroyed and everyone was killed. Can't imagine a rush hour in Vzsgordek, or a traffic jam. Can you?

Given how convenient it is to step on a plane, then, a few hours later step off the plane 3,000 miles away, why do I complain about the discomfort? It's the marketing, probably - the way you're supposed to think it's luxurious when really they're packing most of the passengers into a pathetically tight space. They should be honest. United Airlines: Unless you fly business class, your journey will be a bitch, but we'll get you there in one piece. That should be the tag line.

It's so worth the horrible airport/airplane experience to get out of town, to spend a good chunk of time with my sister and her family. I can't wait!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

An abundance of beauty, made more manageable with Chinese medicine

The Sufi acupuncturist thought about it for awhile this morning when I told him I was suffering from Stendahl syndrome. He listened to all my pulses a second and third time, his brows knitted, eyes closed. He really listens. When he opened his eyes he told me there is a clarity in my pulses he has never felt. Then he nodded. He agrees - I'm overwhelmed by beauty. It is kind of hilarious, really.

He reassured me. He told me awe is exactly what we're supposed to feel at this time of year. That it's making me slightly queasy is the funny part. A few needles and some time on his table relieved the symptoms. I'm feeling much more balanced.

I told him about holding the Yizkor book and my surprising, profound bout of grieving afterwards.

I told him how I romanticized the lives of my ancestors, imagining scenes from Fiddler on the Roof. He laughed when I told him about the borscht. I didn't set out to, but ended up with the ingredients to make borscht after a grocery buying bender last week. Moved by my ardor for the ancestors, I devoted an entire day to making the stock, then a serious chunk of the following afternoon making the soup. And? … Drum roll please ... It is so horrible! Even sour cream can't fix borscht. It was while I was pouring it down the garbage disposal that I realized borscht is something you make when that's all you have to eat.


The point being, I am trying to understand these ancestors. I'm trying to imagine their lives in that tiny hamlet, I'm trying to make contact. I want to honor and remember them - their lives, I mean. I have grieved their horrible deaths in the Holocaust for ten years. Now what I yearn to connect with is some sense of their lives. The process has been strenuous. My heart is open in a way I've rarely experienced.

I've been listening to a lot of Chopin recently. Usually I'm a Bach/Mozart kind of gal. I like the precision of that music. Everything about it is perfect, in its place. Chopin's music is passionate. It's exotic, usually too exotic for me, but not recently.

Listening to Chopin's music is one of the ways I'm trying to connect, because he was Polish. Vzshgorodek was once a part of Poland, also officially a part of Russia during the years when there was no Poland. Now it's farmland in modern Ukraine.

Poland is a really interesting place for so many reasons. For instance, Chopin's heart is encased in a pillar somewhere in Warsaw. We of western European/U.S. culture would never think to take the heart of someone we admired to enshrine it, but the Poles would. It's like the ancient Egyptians - so cool.

The Melikiers were not Mozart/Bach people. No. They were Chopin people. They were Eastern Europeans, part of that culture. Were there Klezmer musicians? Did townsfolk periodically burst into song as in Fiddler? I'm trying to imagine. One thing I can't imagine is a lot of enthusiasm for Baroque music. Who knows?

Last year I put a stone on my mother's grave. This year, I will have the few pages of yizkor memories translated into English. It will help me, yes indeed, but the translation will also be my contribution to a project that means a lot to many others as well.

I honor my ancestors, I surely do!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Dangerous beauty

Stendahl syndrome, also called Florence syndrome, is a physiological response to too much beauty. Here's a link to the wiki page about it. 

Because I'm sensitive - too sensitive, some might say - beauty gets to me, every bit as much as sadness and trauma. I don't suffer from the classical symptoms of the syndrome, but I can feel overwhelmed, even exhausted, around too much beauty. Is that sad? It just is.

Once upon a time, encountering great beauty literally knocked me down. I used to fall on my knees when confronted with a perfect sunset, a beautiful painting, or while listening to a beautiful piece of music. It was hard on the knees! I was younger then, though, so I dealt with it. In fact I decided then that the reason some people bow or kneel to pray is because the beauty of the divine light knocks them down in slow motion. I've always had my theories about everything, just everything!

At some point, the Voice in the Shower suggested that I allow beauty to strengthen and enliven me instead of knock me down. What an insight! Love that Voice in the Shower. I began practicing this art with things that were pretty but not quite beautiful, letting the energy come through me, root me to the earth, then flow upwards, expanding and extending my spine and limbs. What an incredible feeling.

I've gotten much better at this technique over the years. These days I think of great beauty as part of good nutrition. I seek it out, breathe it in, and grow taller - or so it seems.

A rare sight - one of her stars reflecting direct sunlight. From the street it looks like a headlight, turned up to its brightest setting. Incredible, knee knocking beauty.

However, lately as this wave of grief for my ancestors passes through me, my heart is more open than it has been in awhile, rendering me more vulnerable to everything, including beauty.

There has been so much beauty this fall. The abundant rains of summer and a holy combination of perfect temperatures brewed up a more colorful and brilliant autumn than we've seen in years. There have been many times this season, out there taking pictures, when I actually became queasy from the overload of color and beauty.

I am NOT complaining! May the world be as beautiful as possible. The fact that I sometimes have a hard time managing beauty is a wonderful problem, isn't it? I say it is.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

Sense and sensitivity

Yesterday I was better, but still felt tender. This morning, I feel whole again, wrapped in my bubble of energy, insulated again from what I find to be a bizarrely intimate connection with the Vzygorodek Melikiers.

I've been so tender I couldn't even handle the autumnal beauty for a few days. It was too much for me. I have often been overwhelmed by spring in this landscape, but never before have I felt too moved by the fall colors. This year it's different. Is that to do with the discovery of the Yizkor book or is it because fall this year is the most spectacular we've had in several years? It's always pretty, but we had plentiful rain over the summer, and apparently just the right temperatures. The trees are out of this world, even the great oaks, whose leaves usually just turn brown then drop by the zillions onto Eighth Street. This year they're red and gold and bright. It is rather overwhelming, but it shouldn't be, should it?

I continue to ask myself what purpose it serves to grieve intimately for people I never met, who lived in a place and at a moment in history I can not imagine. Does it serve or is it just weird? Who knows?

I will perhaps find out more on Monday when I go back to the Library of Congress. I'm going because Monday is one of the two days a year that they open the main reading room to regular people. The ordinary citizen is not allowed in the room except as part of a tour. I loathe tours, hence if I want to get inside that room, I have to wait for the open houses. And I do want to get inside that room. The main reading room of the Jefferson building is perhaps as beautiful as the rotunda at the Capitol - maybe even more beautiful. I will take pictures. After that, I may return to the African and Middle Eastern reading room to hold the book again. Or maybe not.

The main reading room at the Library of Congress

However you slice it, this ancestor work is strenuous. I need to take it little by little.

Elsewhere in life everything is splendid. Fall? Gorgeous. My practice? Busy. I'm healthy, sleeping pretty well, getting out for my walks, taking pictures, spending time with friends. I have great clients, friends, neighbors. I love my home and neighborhood. I'm even back in love with DC (during the government shutdown my ardor flagged a little bit - understandably).

In a little more than two weeks I'm going to get on an airplane, go to Oregon to spend Thanksgiving with my family, something I haven't done in decades. I love my family. Right now, in the midst of this exquisite fall, I love everybody.

OK, maybe I'm not as insulated as I hoped from the connection with my ancestors. Oh well. An open heart is a good thing, right? That's what they say.

The Buddhists are correct - that this life, a "brief, greedy sugar high," is a precious existence. It surely is. Even while grieving, I appreciate that truth, especially now that I'm sixty.

L'chaim, y'all.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

May we never hunger

Today is the first normal day I've experienced since Halloween. I am grateful. The Voice in the Shower said straightaway this morning, No ancestor work today. I was down with that idea, oh yeah. Grieving is heinous work! Does it serve a purpose? I keep asking myself. Do you have an opinion? How is grieving useful? Help me out.

While we're at it, why do I suffer so much personal grief for people I didn't know? Obviously, I have a lot of questions. However, today I put them aside and instead went grocery shopping. It's my favorite thing, buying food. I love wandering the aisles, noticing what seems enticing. I look for lively energy fields, bright colors, nice smells. Unless I'm specifically planning to cook for a dinner party or something, I shop by whim rather than from a list. I buy what's good, then figure out what to do with it once I get home.

Given my open-hearted fragility of late, I decided to go ahead and buy whatever I wanted today. If I need to invite people over to share dinner so the food doesn't go bad, then so be it. And anyway I love entertaining. Today I needed comfort. I decided to be generous with myself and just go for it.

OK, I did cringe at the cash register and I walked out of the store with twice as many bags of groceries as usual. My fridge is now cheerfully full of lively food. This is a good thing. I'm going to make an apple/pear spice cake to mostly give away. One dinner this week will be centered around oven sautéed chicken dredged in cornmeal, salt, pepper, and thyme. I will roast winter vegetables and squashes, then spritz them with lemon juice, sprinkle parmesan cheese over them. I have olives and grapes. I have stuff to make salad. I bought kosher pickles made in the Bronx. No matter the grief, I will be well fed.

Here's the funny thing. Inadvertently I bought everything I need to make beef borscht with sour cream, one of my father's favorite meals and probably one of the Melikiers' favorites, too. It's blustery and late fall-like outdoors, hence perfect for a hearty soupy stew. It wasn't until the groceries were out of the bags that I noticed I'd bought beets, leeks, tomatoes, cabbage and big piece of beef. I also bought sour cream, something I never buy. Hmm, I thought. That's borscht.

Me and the Melikiers of Vzsygorodek? Like peas in a pod I tell you. Like peas in a pod.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A mile in their moccasins

I'm not much of a weeper. I never have been, actually. I cried a lot as a child but it didn't get me anywhere so I gave it up. As a teenager I hardened my heart and decided to be a cynic. I worked that scenario for a number of years. It was ill-fitting, me as a cynic. I tried so hard, but it rang false and was exhausting.

I was well into year three of psychotherapy before I wept during a session. My therapist seemed quite relieved when I finally cried. Maybe I was, too. I can't remember.

Since menopause, I cry even less often, but oh man I've been weeping like a professional the last couple of days. Grieving is heinous work. The small part of my mind that's rational is wondering why the hell I'm so moved to think of my relatives from that time and place, people I never met, who lived in a world I honestly can not imagine. Is it healing? I hope so.

I read about Kremenets today. Oh my. There were 14,000 Jews in the town. Only 14 survived the Holocaust. It's inconceivable. Kremenets was close enough to my family's tiny hamlet of Vzysgorodek that the memories of both places are contained in one Yizkor book.

So, all that. And I wonder that I'm grieving? Good lord.

My ancestors were country people. Even though Vzysgorodek was within a few kilometers of Kremenets, in those days, 10 or 15 kilometers was a long ways away. You can't even really call Vzysgorodek a village, more like a hamlet. It was tiny.

At the Holocaust Museum library, I was shown a business directory from 1920. The Melikiers were bakers, dairy people and also skori, leather workers. They made clothing but also decorative boxes and other artsy stuff. The Melikiers got their hands dirty, they surely did. They were not sophisticated city people. Country people are earthy; there is no other choice. I've always imagined these ancestors as learned and erudite -- also judgmental. But I might be wrong about that.

Maybe my ancestors were more into the rhythm of Judaism than every last little rule and law. Maybe they didn't care so much. Maybe when they observed Shabbat, for instance, they just relaxed and had fun. I'm sure they said the prayers but maybe not with the orthodox fervor I imagine.

I met plenty of people at Temple Micah who knew all the prayers and songs in Hebrew, but had no clue what they were singing. I found and still find that so weird. They were praying but didn't care what they were saying? What?

I don't know every word of every prayer. They're beautiful texts, but that's not the part of Judaism I love. It's the rhythm of the faith that resonates. I really get, at a deep level, the point of starting a holiday at sunset - for instance. Pray for awhile, but then feast, drink red wine, enjoy, talk, argue, sing songs. Time enough to get serious and pray the following morning. I am way into the liturgy of feasting, drinking red wine and singing after sunset. Oh yeah. It weaves the energy of the people celebrating into a festive, happy web. A feast smoothes the way for spiritual observance.

The holidays, the rhythms, of my tribe are a part of my DNA. Even when I was far away from Judaism, I knew when the High Holy Days had arrived. I could feel it. I grok the strong arm and outstretched hand of God at Passover, I get the journey through the desert. The plagues and having to have the shit scared out of you to break free of the old enslavements? Oh yeah. The High Holy days - taking a week to reflect and complete the work of the year just passed - feels right in my blood, in my bones.

Perhaps we have common ground in the feasting, the joie de vivre, the intensity of the holidays. Maybe the rhythms of the seasons and the gatherings to observe the turning wheel of the year is something they felt in their bones and blood, too.

Am I imagining Fiddler on the Roof? I have no idea.

I'm trying to relate to these people who lived in a place and at a moment in history I cannot imagine. It boggles the mind, even my mind, with my famous imagination. But I have to try. Don't ask me why, but I must try. I'm trying!


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What is remembered, lives

I haven't got the right words yet to describe my experience yesterday. It was powerful, meaningful -though I am unable to articulate the meaning just yet. The experience is still brewing.

I marched down to the Library first thing, renewed my reader's card, arrived in the reading room a half hour before the person who could fetch the book came in to work. I was on a mission! It was wonderful to sit there in the beauty of the Library. You can feel the history, the reverence for books - so cool. I read a book about ancient Sumer while I waited - it was not time wasted, and too, it gave me time to get grounded before the encounter with That Book.

I held the Yizkor book in my hands, I stared at it, I leafed through it. Most of the book is about Kremenits which was a much bigger town close to my family's village. At the back of the book is a very short section of memories of Vzysgorodek. As it turned out, the book has not been translated from the Yiddish. The Hebraic specialist on duty doesn't know Yiddish at all, or she could have done some quick translating. I didn't get to read the stories, but I held the book. It was epic, I tell you.

The experience was so powerful, I didn't even take pictures, except for these - the cover of the book and the first page of "Memories of Vzysgorodek before 1927." When I go back, I'll remember to photograph the reading room. It is exquisitely beautiful.

I guess that's one of the Carpathian mountains in the background. The village is certainly Kremenits since almost the whole book is about it. It looks rustic, doesn't it? And that was the BIG town.

I ran into a couple of the brainiac househusbands of Capitol Hill this morning. One of them, the guy who asked about the tattoo and pointed me in the direction of the Library of Congress, has already put out the word that I'm looking for someone to translate the memories into English. He's hooked in to the Yiddish program at the U of M. He says a grad student could do a great job and would be interested in the work. What a great idea. But even before I get it translated I'll go back just to hold it, leaf through, look at the pictures and such. Oh that book.

On the way down to the Library, I took lots of pictures. Sundogs appeared and disappeared in a ring around Brother Sun. I saw some before, some more after I left the Library. The air was crisp, the trees were resplendent in all their colors. It was surreal. It was like a cartoon of autumn, everything exaggerated.

I didn't cry until I got back to the chateau. Once in the quiet of my home I wept profoundly. My heart was wide open. It will take awhile to integrate.

In a way, it's funny because these ancestors would not know what to make of me, my "life style," my mysticism, shamanism and my pre-Judaism Jewishness. I am not traditional, but they were. They would disapprove, I guarantee it. They might even be appalled to hear my life's stories - even I find them somewhat appalling, well some of them anyway. Ah but they're stuck with me, because I'm the member of my family who is strongly called to work with Holocaust era ancestors. My siblings are grateful I'm doing this but the work doesn't call them. No. It's up to me. Sorry, ancestors!

Actually I'm not at all sorry.


Sunday, November 3, 2013


Do I like daylight savings time or standard time better? Either one is fine; the switching back and forth is what bothers me. I have jet lag and I haven't even gone anywhere.

I do enjoy light in the morning. Rising when it's still pitch black can seem a little creepy, at least to me. This morning's light featured a partially eclipsed sun rising an hour earlier than it did yesterday. Quite dramatic. Of course the weather cooperated. It's blustery and partially cloudy. The clouds are gray, pink and gold. The trees, festooned in their beautiful mid-fall colors, are waving around, leaves are falling like gold or red snow from some of them. Others are still hanging on tight.

It feels eclipsish even though I didn't get to see it. I should know - I was born at a dark moon, four hours before a solar eclipse. I feel them especially, maybe because I entered life in the midst of this type of astronomy.

I followed the voices of the ancestors yesterday, went down to the Library of Congress to read the Yizkor memory book from my family's shtetl, but the Hebraic section is only open on weekdays. I'm going first thing tomorrow morning.

The only thing I know of these people, my father's ancestors, is exactly when and where and how they were killed. The incredible gift of the Yizkor book translation is that I'll be able to read memories of the living town before the Holocaust. I am so excited. L'chaim!

Now the overcast has blown out of the sky. I guess Brother Sun and the moon needed some privacy during their eclipse. Well, ok then. The sun is back at full illumination and the moon is brand new. It's a good feeling. Onwards into Sunday.


Friday, November 1, 2013

It wasn't bad.

Halloween turned out to be a really great day. At some point I realized I don't have to tune in to the lowest common denominator of the spirit world just because so many others are, and in fact, I am pretty good about avoiding most of it. I have to sip the energy a little bit since I'm swimming in it on East Capitol Street, but almost straightaway yesterday morning, I had clicked into a wave of great ancestral energy.

I knew I was on the right track first thing in the morning when I ran into the nerdy, braniac househusbands of Capitol Hill. I love those guys. They write books and conduct tours of haunted Georgetown, take school kids to the museums. Their wives are the careerists in the house, so they get their kids to school, then go for coffee. Their clatch is all about witty repartee and intellectual sparring. They don't sit there all day, though. They have to get home and do the laundry, or research their next book or lead a tour. They are adorable. Anyway, I saw them at the espresso bar, stopped to chat. One of them, someone I've never seen before, noticed my tattoo, asked about it. He directed me to the Library of Congress, Hebraic section, to the Holocaust Yizkor books.

When I did the research at the Holocaust Museum library a few years ago, they told me there was a Yizkor book for my family's shtetl, but it was in Yiddish. But the brainiac househusband said my ancestors' remembrances may be among the books that have recently been translated from Yiddish into English. I will definitely head down to the Library sometime next week to see what I can find.

I listen carefully at this time of year especially for the voices of my ancestors. How sweet to receive a tip on how to access the old stories - in English! Very cool that this happened on Halloween, from out of the blue, from someone I've never met. It was powerful. He would have never thought to steer me to the LOC except for the tattoo which, I believe, he found mildly offensive. It's interesting.

One of the brainiac househusbands took this picture of me in my urban shaman costume. I'm looking at my tattoo, sending love backwards in time to my ancestors.

After that, I went to see Damage Control at the Hirschhorn. It was provocative and disturbing - I'll be thinking about it for awhile. Last night I sought refuge, as always, at the house on Tennessee Avenue. We drank red wine, had a home cooked dinner and ignored the mayhem ongoing in front of the house. It began raining around 9:00 p.m., another blessing. The rain discourages trick or treaters.

The best thing is: Halloween is now 364 days in the future. Not my favorite day, no it is not. But I've learned in recent years how to dance to a different beat than the gross, gory, bloody, scary, greedy sugar high so many folks indulge in. This is great!

Onwards and upwards to T-day. Shalom.

Smithsonian Metro station yesterday. Nice and empty.