How Do I Look?

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A writing exercise, based on the story “How Do I Look?”, from The Women We Become by Ann Thomas

To see oneself as others see us
To imagine myself as I wish.

Which is delusion?

How often I find myself in the ludicrous position of needing advice about a color, a dress, something about looks and the only person around is an underpaid young sales person. How often I have heard one of my daughters asking this person her advice. I wince. What do we know about her skills, talents, tastes, eye? Nothing. All we know is that she got the job and that she is trying to make a sale.

We want to trust this salesperson. We want to forget that she is an unknown quantity for us. We want to imbue her with power and wisdom that probably isn’t hers. At Bergdorf’s the sales staff make a lot of money and get a commission on their sales. They know their customers well and I guess after awhile they really become knowledgeable. I know a woman who is a personal shopper. She is good at what she does. She is the confidante, the umpire, the reviewing stand all in one. And people pay her for this. We crave expertise; not necessarily for ourselves but in others.

My family are experts. They are the fashion world. Every time I went to visit my father and aunt at their business on Seventh Ave. I would become intensely anxious. I would change my outfit many times looking for ‘the look.’ What look? I just didn’t want to hear: “What are you wearing?” “That’s not the right color,” or simply that glance, as they raised their eyes from work, that said it all: I didn’t do it right. I don’t look right. I am not right.

They are the fashion industry, my family. They are the style setters. They must know. I can never be there because I …

We put ourselves in this situation often.

Of course, it might be about something other than looks. It might be how to we seem to our neighbors? To our colleagues on a committee, in our department? Do we seem smart? Do we seem sophisticated? Are we the epitome of reason? Graciousness? Cooperativeness? But it’s all the same. It is about who we are. How did we get there, here, to this ludicrous position?

But then again…am I dressed well enough? Am I going to impress them? Will I be memorable?

Will they see me?

That’s it, isn’t it?

Will I be noticed and appreciated? Am I deserving? Will I manage to carve myself a niche, a place… my own… am I here?

The Last Housewife

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This piece was created for and submitted to the “Hampshire Life” Short Fiction Contest in 2001.

Yet another piece of clothing is presented to her. “I caught the pocket on something and it ripped. Can you fix it?”

She gingerly lifts the offending garment, turns it to bring the wounded part to light. Ceremoniously, she examines the damage and then agrees to take on the task, but not without a mechanical “What will you do when I’m not around?”

It’s a throwaway sentence. No one takes it seriously. The usual response is a chortle over the shoulder. She doesn’t bother to look up. These requests always seem to come when she is otherwise occupied. Of course, there is no time when she is doing nothing, like standing at a counter waiting for the next customer? But, it always feels like an interruption.

For a moment she returns to her activity, as if to emphasize the rudeness of it all. But her thoughts are now focused on the affront she feels that is mixed with a certain pride. Only she can fix those broken zippers, though she makes sure to add a disclaimer: “Well, I’ll try, but these things can be very tricky…” And, when she succeeds, she is all the more triumphant and basks dismissively in the praise that follows.

Every missing button is a challenge. Will there be a match in the button collection? Years ago, when her grandmother died, she chose to take the famous sewing box and accompanying paraphernalia. No one else saw the value in this. There were pinking shears, and sock eggs, dozens of carefully rolled and folded ribbons and bias tapes, needles of every size and design, a lifetime’s supply of hook and eyes, quaint iron-on embroidery patterns, and an old cookie tin filled with buttons.

Searches for the perfect button were many and tedious, so she needed a better storage system. She salvaged a small cardboard six-drawer item that had stored her make-up at college. It had had several lives since then, but none as perfect as the new task she assigned it. Button Center had a drawer for each color or style of button: the plain whites, the dark blues and blacks, the metallic ones, the fancy odd ones, the clear and other color buttons and the oversized ones.

Order prevailed and pleased the children when they were young. They loved to help in the search for the perfect replacement button. And, they delighted in finding the actual real match—not an approximation.

Does anyone else know what a pinking shear is anymore? Or, a darning egg? Was she the last person in her world to know how to darn a sock, or use a seam ripper, or tighten a buttonhole, or, for heaven’s sake, simply sew on a button?

She looked again at the garment deposited in front of her. Why was she offended? Wasn’t she proud to be able to do all these things? Wasn’t she pleased that her family trusted her abilities? She had heard her daughter bragging to a friend that, of course, her mother knew how to fix this or make that. The offended feeling hovered like smoke. She could not shake it to enjoy the pride. All in one motion, she cocked her head, raised a shoulder and the corresponding hand turned and opened expressively. She was commiserating with herself.

Finally, she got up and went to her sewing box. She brought out a needle, a spool of nearly matching thread, and a silver thimble that she slipped onto the fourth finger of the right hand. She had had to force herself to use a thimble; no one taught her. The year she became an avid embroiderer took as casualty the tip of her fourth finger. It became rough, tough and pitted from pushing the needle. Then it dawned on her that that was the purpose of a thimble—to protect this poor finger. So she disciplined herself to wear it. It felt cumbersome at first, as if she were playing the piano with gardening gloves, but the thimble grew on her like a second skin.

Friends were amazed that she actually made napkins, repaired the upholstery or fixed the kid’s zippers. But in that amazement she discerned a slight revulsion or disdain that she should choose to spend her time in these lowly domestic tasks. “Why bother…buy a new one…you’re wasting your time.” These were the comments she heard between the lines. Or was she picking up their envy? Was it more like: “You can sew! How do you find the time?” Were they ashamed that they couldn’t do all these things? Some female friends saw themselves devalued by her natural skills and willingness to use them.

She sighed, exasperated by the complexity of social manners. Why couldn’t people be real and tell her what they were thinking or feeling. It isn’t her task to guess all this and hide her domesticity behind a politically correct facade.

Everyone is an expert these days, she argues with no one in particular. One takes a chair to the caner or the upholsterer; clothes to the seamstress or tailor; belts to the shoemaker; porcelain to the…where does one go to have porcelain repaired? And where do you find all these experts? In an age of experts, there is no appreciation for Janes-of-all-trades. It never occurred to her that other people didn’t do what she does. After all, some men do still tinker in the basement workshop.

Where had she learned her skills? If no one shows you how to tie extension cords together before plugging them into each other… how do you learn that? After a long while, as if she had lost her train of thought, she answers herself. By trial and error: every time you reach too far with the electric drill and it disconnects…that’s when you learn. But, how much sweeter to remember her stepfather as he explained this to her the summer she was nine.

Although, her mother forgot to teach her the names of flowers, she did teach her to plant and to be careful with jewelry when working in the garden. Her lost wedding ring never came up with the Lilies of the Valley as she had hoped. But mostly, she learned that one can attempt tasks without knowing exactly what the outcome will be or should be. She knew this because she had watched her mother and all the other women in her family. Strong women, capable women, they were all willing to try.

Six years ago, she found a cast off mangle iron at a tag sale. She cleaned it and cooed over it to her family’s astonishment. A prize! For years she watched her mother iron all the flat laundry with this wonderful perpetual turning machine. She was eleven then, but allowed to use the mangle after careful instructions, because it was a dangerous contraption. These lessons stayed with her all these years, awakened happily by the tag sale adoption. She knows no one who owns a mangle iron. Hardly anyone knows how to use a regular iron. Her children will leave items that need ironing in the laundry room forever…until in half-hearted surrender she irons them and hangs them on the doorknobs of their bedrooms.

Is it foolishness to take an old worn bath towel and turn it into ten face cloths on a rainy Sunday afternoon? Is it crazy to find a way to punch an extra hole in a belt? When you cannot find the right shaped desk…build it. Saving remnant fabrics guarantees success when a daughter needs a new look for her bedroom. These animated thoughts kept her busy as her fingers finished the sewing project.

No one is watching and she’s not wearing lipstick, so she reaches with her teeth to cut the thread. She tucks the needle into a wad of cloth and presses out the garment to survey the surgery. It is a clever camouflage; ripped pockets are the worst; no seams to re-sew, only an ugly tear to rejoin like a scar. She was tempted to use her love of embroidery to create a matching “scar” on the other side and decorate them both. But no one asked for that and she would have no one but herself to blame later when she felt resentful of time she had spent. And the owner might not appreciate her efforts. What she really wanted was for the kids to find interest in these skills and ask to be taught some of them. Not a likely possibility. Her eyebrows arched to punctuate the thought. Later maybe, when they have their own homes…and she let the thought drift.

She stood up to put the convalescent garment on its owner’s bed. This gesture was as old and familiar to her as married life. She put her needle and thread away and acknowledged the nearby basket filled with clothes to be mended.

Chevra Kadisha

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On an unpleasantly hot night, I lay very still on my side of the bed, arms by my side, readying myself for sleep. I am so quiet and so still, the night so heavy, I imagine my body waiting for the Chevra Kadisha. My leaden flesh weighs down on the cold slab of the porcelain table. I see the glaring fluorescent light hanging from the ceiling. And I hear the voices of the women coming toward the room to prepare my body for burial. They enter and become quiet. One of them discreetly peaks under the sheet and looks into my face to check that that they have the right body. It’s me, I think, and I am ready. Another checks a form for my Hebrew name…Hanna bat Shlomo it says. How glad I am that I have used my Hebrew name for years. It is not, to me, a nearly useless appendage that one drags out for special occasions and that one quickly forgets again. I am Hanna. I was Hanna.

The women scuffle about preparing the tools of their holy work. Buckets of water, sponges, sheets, towels, nail clippers and a comb. When all is ready, they address me and recite the burial prayer.

I am moved and try to muster my social graces to return the thanks I wish they could hear.

I know they intend to do their job respectfully and threat me with dignity. And I know there are awkward moments when it does not seem that way. I want to reach out to them and hug them, support them in their labor and express my gratitude. They are the last hands that will touch me. I wish they were Ken’s. What an act of courage that would be. Too much, too hard.

No idle chatter; they go about the tasks they divided among themselves.

Morning Ritual

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Watching Ken put on his tallis and tefillin.

The rhythm of the wrapping–the well known ritual of how. How does a man who claims to be spatially challenged manage to learn the intricacies of how to put the leather straps around his arm and hand. He holds the tallis in front of him, and sweeps it around over his shoulders. A wide and graceful arc. It lies splendidly across his back. And then he pulls it around his neck to expose his arms. He declined to learn the special tallis lift-and-fold–that Roman look–that can look terribly affected. I’m pleased our Rabbi chooses the shawl style. It’s a modest look.

Ken has a modified shawl style. He lifts the extra length and plops it on his shoulders in such a way that the decorative atarah disappears and the white linen lining is exposed. That’s alright, except that the “right” side of the tallis is a beautiful beige and black silk. I should re-line the tallis in the same silk! Actually, a good design would never allow these things to happen. Watching Ken, watch a man daub him, before anything he is a man in a man’s body.

He winds the tefillin straps firmly against his left arm, and knowingly wrapping his hand. He places the strange, little rosh box on his head, and then finishes off the special wrappings on his hands and fingers. And now, he turns into the prayer book and unconsciously sways and rocks as he reads his way through the morning prayers.

A Jewish man at prayer.

A Letter, Re: Kfar Giladi

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Dear Friends and shul-mates,

I was so excited to hear that you will be visiting and staying for three days in Kfar Giladi. This kibbutz was my home for 5 ½ years between 1981- 1987. I want so much to be showing you the kibbutz myself, in my way, as I used to do for English and French-speaking groups back then. I will have to trust someone else to do the job.

I have alerted by cousins that you are coming and I hope they will come forward to say hello or perhaps show you around. I say, I hope, because one of the traits of kibbutzniks is their reticence or shyness. That can be interpreted as aloofness or sometimes downright rudeness. It is this reticence that contributed to my learning to speak Hebrew fluently. Although they may understand and speak English, the adults tend not to try. Therefore I struggled and conquered Hebrew.

Kfar Giladi is one of the oldest kibbuzim. In its earliest period, it was called Kfar Giladi-Tel Hai. Tel Hai is directly below, on the way to the main road. Make sure your guide tells you about the heroism and massacre at Tel Hai. It is part of the early “mythology” of the country and its self image. Ask about Yosef Trumpeldor. Some of you may already know the story. Anyway, this history can be learned in the Museum of the Shomrim which is on the kibbutz overlooking the entire Hula Valley. The museum is worth seeing. Go all the way to the top and see the reconstituted room of Israel and Manya Shochat, early players.

After you pass the gates of the kibbutz (There are fences all around the kibbutz and the entrance is guarded at night. Ask to be shown this feature. And ask to be shown the early bunkers from the 1948 period that look out to the Golan!) …the first thing on your left is the cemetery. It has all the Shomrim buried there and is a must see. Check out the famous statue of the Guarding Lion. Additionally, if you enter from the right-hand gate, the first gravestone on your left belongs to my father’s first cousin and who shares my father name. Since my father Sioma Trigère, chose to be cremated in California and I was living on the kibbutz at the time, my cousin Shlomo Triger’s grave served as a stand in for me. I would be grateful if someone would stop and leave a pebble there for me.

I came to Kfar Giladi on Dec. 25, 1981. I was divorcing in Jerusalem and I had no means of support, had relatives in Kfar Giladi, and a keen interest in the kibbutz ideal. So I asked to be a visitor for 6 months with my 2 daughters. I didn’t know then that my situation was presented as a “mikre sociali” (a needs case!). I would have been embarrassed to know that then. At the time I wasn’t feeling pathetic or needy. I was thrilled to be on kibbutz. At the end of six months, I asked to be a candidate. This requires a vote which went my way overwhelmingly. That’s called a vote of confidence, I guess. A year later, the general assembly voted again overwhelmingly to make me a “haverat meshek,” which translated means “a member of the economic unit.” A kibbutz sees itself as an economic unit. Ask the Rabbi about the root meaning of kibbutz.

Now I want to tell you a bit about the less obvious aspects of kibbutz life. This stuff I would discuss with tourists who were particularly lively and interested. Not all were!

With all the emphasis on equality, how do people get status in a supposedly status-less society? Well, there are basically 2 ways:

One, is by marrying into large and older clans—the older the better. That is, if you are a descendant of founders you have status. Larger is important because even if members of one clan may disagree and quarrel with each other, they can form a voting block. The General Assembly met once a month in my time, and shares all the features of a town meeting.

Two, is by the job you have. And that depends on the decade we are speaking of. So in the early days, working the earth was the highest status; then working outside in the regional counsel might do it (One needed a different set of clothes for this job); later it might be “shu shu work” in Europe. This was secret forays into Europe during and after the war to get Jews out, and into Palestine. Still later, working in an income producing, rather than a support branch of the kibbutz was seen as status. More recently, while I was there, I perceived that status was arrived at by working at any income producing job that “required” the use of a car. All the cars are owned by the kibbutz and are assigned as needed to members—for work or, as available, for pleasure. If you had a car for your job, you could sort of park it near your apartment and it sort of looked like your own car. I’m smiling as I recount these thoughts and theories, but I am serious.

Now for women it’s different. When I arrived in Kfar Giladi there was only one other woman who had a driver’s license! And, she, and most future female drivers only used an automatic shift. What I figured out was that women achieved status when they had jobs that no one would consider having them leave to replace another female at the latter’s place of work (i.e. should they be ill or have to be elsewhere.) In my third or fourth year I had achieved that position; that’s how I figured it out.

When I complained about being stuck in my long over due six-month stint in the kitchen, I was told that one usually finds one’s place in the work world by five years. Work. Now that is a really important part of kibbutz life! How you work is critical to how you are perceived. Being seen as a hard worker is the best compliment. I guess, seeing the crazy American taking on the cleaning of the kitchen was a way of advertising what a valuable member of the kibbutz I would be. I was working in this highly visible job when I was a candidate. By the way, some of those huge titling pots came from an American Naval ship that was sold in Haifa many years back.

Let me tell you one of the things I learned on the kibbutz:

The world is run by how well connected you are. This Upper East Manhattanite needed to come to kibbutz to learn this. And basically, this principle is the main reason I finally left the kibbutz. Inequity, in a society built on equity, is galling, whereas in a capitalistic system, it’s just annoying. I’ll be glad to tell you anecdotes about this when you return.

Here’s a question I would ask the tourist audience, after I had told them all the wonderful aspects of kibbutz life: “So, don’t you want to know what’s wrong or difficult on kibbutz?” They all did, of course. Imagine, I would say, that you have a disagreement with your neighbor about their encroaching collection of plants on your shared stairwell. Consider very carefully, before you explode at their stubborn refusal to cooperate or compromise, because… his sister watches over your child in kindergarten, his father is your “boss” at work, his wife’s mother sorts and folds your laundry, his brother is the work manager for the teens of which you have two. You can see the ramifications!

So, lack of privacy is a big issue. In the old, old days, one of the ways they dealt with privacy was not to show emotions, affection, etc. in public. In public, couples did not hold hands, no hugging and such. The people my age on the kibbutz were second and sometimes third generation kibbutznikim. Their cultural style was cool, aloof, taciturn. I believe this comes from this privacy issue. When I arrived with my hugs, my family was distinctly uncomfortable. But, they hugged me willingly when I visited last year. Things have changed. But, watch it: Gossip Reigns!

Things I want you to see, visit or ask to be shown:

  • The first building, a wonderful two-story stone structure now, housing the archives.
  • the infirmary/nursing home. The very young and the elderly are very well cared for on kibbutz.
  • the senior activity center (next door) Notice the large stain glass window there. I had forgotten that I had donated it to them when I returned to the States. It’s a bit incongruous.
  • Children “houses.” In my time, the children lived at home but spent the day in these houses. When they were of school age they would start the day with breakfast in the “house” and go the school, return for lunch and then return to school. Each child has a metapelet (a caretaker) and a teacher. See the toddler houses (where groups of 6 & 12 children spend the entire day) and the baby house. Each mother has a beeper and is called for feedings. In my day, the women in the baby house took their floor washing very seriously. When I sat on the floor with the tiny babies—it was an innovation. And check out the older children’s set up too.
  • children’s bomb shelters (so you see where they are living when you read about it in the papers)
  • the laundry. A must! Go see the windows where members sort their wash according to color, fragility, etc. And then peek in at the laundry itself. Then walk further to the area where things are ironed. There are huge mangle irons for sheets, etc. ( A Dutch volunteer once had an accident and lost her arm in one of these. I was sent to accompany her to the hospital in Tel Aviv and stay with her until the Dutch Embassy took her home.) Check out the room where all the clothes are folded and put into individual cubbies for each memebr. The children’s laundry is done in big batches and sorted in their”houses” by the “metapelets.” This room is the best selling tool for kibbutz life!!
  • Nearby ask to see the little stone building that serves as a shul during the high holidays. Some of you may have heard my story about this building on my first Rosh Hashana on Kfar Giladi. When I arrived there they were, a few older atheistic kibbutznikim, davening in Ashkenaz and there was a mehitza! I was non-plussed. Time warp. This is where they left off in Poland in 1925.
  • the Shomrim Museum. My oldest daughter had her Bat Mitzvah in the lower hall overlooking the Hula Valley. How a girl became a traditional Bat Mitzvah in an orthodox service is a story I will gladly tell and retell.
  • the theater. (Gosh, those evenings watching movies there were great. We all had our usual seats, so I remember being the first to laugh, to get it, when the cowboys around the campfire in Blazing Saddles lifted their rumps off their seats to pass gas. Everyone knew it was me!
  • the Gym. Once the largest northern gym, so all the major basketball games and teams came to us.
  • the library, which includes a good English library. I volunteered to run it. Mostly the foreign volunteers used it, but there were some serious English readers. It now is handled by my first neighbor Pesach Basevitz. He helped me translate my letters and poems into Hebrew. He is a vegetarian who was asked (forced) to become the tavoin, the pest exterminator of the kibbutz. When he was told to do something about the growing cat population, he revolted and I relinquished the English librarian post so he could thrive. We have sent them many boxes of books. When I was there, the library was in an old stone building. There are several of these buildings left along the central field of the kibbutz facing the old and the new dining halls. They are elsewhere too. First they lived in tents, then the stone houses, and then each succeeding wave of concrete neighborhoods.
  • Where the teens live—a 3-building complex
  • The apartments for those who are or have done their army service.
  • the pools. I hope you brought a bathing suits. New to me was the gigantic indoor swimming pool in the hotel.
  • typical family apartments. For those who are curious, ask to see where I, Hanna Triger lived. In my last apartment I lived in a block with yekkes—Jews of German origin. They came in the thirties and are culturally very different from the Poles and Russians who founded the kibbutz. They were mostly more educated, too.
  • the large kitchen. It’s fascinating, I think. Make sure you try to get one evening meal there with the members. Or walk through during lunch. All eyes will be on you whether you notice it or not. Believe me. What you will not see is the sociology of the seating arrangements at lunch. This is truly interesting, and I will happily tell you more about it when you come home…if you wish.
  • Notice, as you walk around the older neighborhoods (near the children’s houses) how some residents display their sculpture and pottery in their gardens.
  • The metal shop, the mess of discarded old farming storage buildings reflecting different stages of development.
  • the cows! 300 or so cows are milked 3 times a day. Can you imagine. This was Shabbat work (everyone was required to give a half day once a month on Shabbat to support ongoing concerns. I chose the refet, the milking station. I would have to leave the carousel to change the gates for the cows. At 5 am I would look at the sun rise and say to myself: I’m a long way from Manhattan!”And you’ll say the equivalent.

I hope I have given you a sense of it all. Take pleasure and tell me your impressions when you come home.

My relatives are Temie Triger, her daughter Yudit Triger and her half sister Tamar Meron. Yudit has 2 children. My friend Katie Kroll may come find you. She once was an English volunteer, married a founder’s son and raised 5 daughters there.


Jane Trigère
aka Hanna Triger

Candles & Blackbirds – Traveling

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Blow them out, the nay-sayers, the mockers, belittlers.
No, you didn’t make it into my chorus. Try again next year.
No advice, no encouragement, no nothing. Go away!

No dear, these candles you don’t blow out. Why not? Well, they’re meant to burn at least for a day – a full day – until tomorrow night. They are a memorial. A way to remember her, him, them. Yiskor.

Who are you remembering? My mother, my father, and your other grandparents, too. I’m remembering some people also who have no one to remember them. I remember them.

But mostly, I remember her… and him. No encouragement. She could’ve taken pride in my inheritance, the skills she had, and could’ve nourished in me. She might as well have said: “Go Away”.

He taught me how to write, but took no pleasure in my creations. Perfection is expected. A job well done is as it should be.

Are you sure you want to send that? Well, yes… I was; maybe not… what’s wrong with it? No, it’s just a first draft, a first impression, a trivial thing, a joke, a lark…

She knew of red-winged blackbirds. That’s all she knew. Her mother noted them with glee when she sighted one. She followed her mother’s arm and finger… through the window pane, searching the branches for this newly-important thing. An American ritual.

Where they lived before, no one noticed birds nor pointed them out, nor took pleasure in naming them. That world was different. In Buenos Aires, she spoke Spanish and there were many noisy, smelly taxis idling. There were cocktail parties, women in saris, men in turbans, roasting cows on open spits, lots of ashtrays, undisturbed siestas, and a cook, a laundress, and maids. Her mother was elegant. Dinner parties, clinking glasses, loud conversations that made no sense, and outbursts of laughter. For her… dinner was in the kitchen, with Angelita, while the grown-ups entertained.

New Jersey was another world. Here, her mother wore Bermuda shorts, shopped for lawnmowers at Sears, planted gardens. Still, many ashtrays– always full… but the family wallpapered rooms, roasted chestnuts, read the Sunday papers… and pointed out red-winged blackbirds.

How did her mother become some altered? Was it the air, the hemisphere? Were we upside-down, or had it been a dream?

Shlomo’s Gaze

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This is an unfinished draft, written sometime in the 1990s.
Shared in honor of Shlomo Barnoon, former Torah-reader and Cantor for the High Holidays at Congregation B’nai Israel.

The Torah was raised, displayed, re-rolled, and covered.

Shlomo relinquished his place behind the reading stand as his daughter prepared herself to sing the Haftarah. She moves some things around on the table – things we could not see – but the action made her seem important, ready, comfortable. He sat in front of me, and slightly askew, so I could see his profile. Ayelet chanted, and father followed the text carefully, gently mouthing the words in support. His face was peaceful and pleased. She was doing well, and he could be proud.

A sweet distraction was created nearby. Two deliciously beautiful five-year-old girls in charming shabbat dresses were gossiping earnestly (or maybe discussing sacred texts, since they struggled to balance their prayerbooks). Their intense discussion was hushed by nearby adults. One of the girls skipped off to touch base with her parents several rows back–but returned dutifully to her friend in the front row.

Throughout, Shlomo followed Ayelet’s chanting with his finger, his eyes glued to the text. The restless five-year-old journeyed off again, passing in front of Shlomo. The proud and peaceful father was distracted just enough to raise his eyes and follow the lovely child for a brief moment. His eyes smiled, and his lips were parted with words from the text. And then just as gently, he looked down again and was back with Ayelet. But for a moment, he remembered her as a lovely five-year-old.

Time had vanished, years galloped.

A Minor Miracle

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At Bet Torah in Mt. Kisco, NY. Circa 1989.

Miracles don’t happen anymore, they say. Perhaps the splitting of seas has passed, but minor miracles do happen…

At the risk of being too personal, I’d like to share with you a striking and special moment, which occurred at the end of January… a minor miracle indeed.

It was a snowy Shabbat, and the service had just begun when Rachel and I had arrived, even though it was already 10 o’clock. Rachel was happily swallowed by the Daled Havura, leaving me alone amidst a small group of mostly familiar faces. I followed the prayers, here—in Hebrew, and there—in English. Dutifully, I turned the pages progressing at the pace of the group. Mostly, it was too fast for me for comprehension of any kind in Hebrew. In English, I found myself reading too fast and losing the place. This happens often, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

On this day, everything irritated me. My slow Hebrew, my disbelief – or discomfort – with much of the material, and my aloneness. I was immersed in overwhelming sadness. There were events and situations in my life that I was finding unbearable. Stress was making “coping” a gargantuan task, and I was full of despair.

Without discussing in-depth the uselessness of despair, the self-perpetuating nature of such an emotion… let me simply say that there was an ugly aura weighing in on me. Anger and sorrowful tears were threatened. I was getting ready to leave the sanctuary, regretting the negative vibes I was surely projecting, when a man I don’t ever recollect having seen before, suddenly stood before me and handed me a metal card “Revi’i”.

The fourth aliyah was being presented to me. I hesitated (one doesn’t refuse an aliyah—it isn’t done). The man assured me I could do it. As I mechanically, but swiftly, flipped the pages to find the blessings for the aliyot, my thoughts whirled about. What message did this aliyah (my personal Jewish fortune cookie) hold for me? How did the Gabbai know there was a troubled soul nearby? What do calls of help sound like, when they are soundless? And who decided that on this Shabbat, that I should be awarded my very first aliyah?

Despair and gloom turned to celebration and solidarity. The tears kept threatening, but the rallying of friends was heartening. On this inauspicious day, I had become a Bat Mitzvah.

The fourth aliyah held no special message for me, but the Sephardic Haftarah, which was substituted by Rabbi Fine on this particular Shabbat, was the Prophet Jeremiah’s message of faith in God.

The screenplay needs no improvement.

Shoemaker’s Shop

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Written by Jane during her time at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, circa 1986.

I got it – my prize!

The shoemaker’s shop is mine – I will make it mine. The keys are in my pocket. The place is a dusty mess; I still need a teacher… but the place is mine!

I will make it mine. I succeeded by gentle perseverance. The idea of being the kibbutz shoemaker came to me when it was clear that the Building Planning Department was not interested in me (even though my training made me more than a likely candidate for the job). It wouldn’t do to force myself in where I’m not wanted. Not in a kibbutz.

One of my reasons is simple enough to explain although hard to admit. In my experience of life, the kibbutz is the most sexist environment I’ve ever been in. Why, even my suggestion of becoming a shoemaker to the secretary and work manager brought laughter. The answer to my perplexed expression was: actually, why not, there is a woman doing it in Kibbutz This-or-That.

One day, I pressed my nose against the large window near the metalworking shop and discovered the kind of shop most people find quaint because of the variety of hand tools displayed, or the evident age of the electric machinery, or the dominant brown of old tables, shelves, stools, and wood paneling; or perhaps as well the intimate layout of a contained and clearly-defined work space.

That’s why people always loved bookbindery. There are few real places like these left. The gleam of beige Formica and the efficient storage of modern times have all but destroyed these picturesque and kindly nooks. But not my shoemaker’s shop. Not while it is mine.

Book Fair

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Written by Jane during her time at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, in May 1983

The way I got this book is just a good a beginning as any – by being open and friendly,and how that makes one human being different than another. It was at the book fair–the Jerusalem International Book Fair. I desperately needed to get there, for it was my last link to a world I left behind when I moved to my kibbutz in the north. People discussing fervently the format of a text, the quality of a paper, the style of a type – how different from the everyday trivialities of kibbutz life.

I’ve found that I’ve developed a new vocabulary–or is it a sentence structure?–No, a new way of perceiving things which is reflected in language, I was told… I was given… we received… I was assigned… it’s been decided… The passivity is overwhelming. Curiously, one adjusts to all sorts of changes – all sorts – even this required passivity–although not altogether. For all the appeal of not having to do, plan, decide, the independent spirit and initiative of the New Yorker still tugs away within me.

At the Book Fair, I felt like a returning princess. Up and down the passages I kept meeting friends – all commented on how good I looked, how slim I had become, does life on the kibbutz suit me? Clearly it does, for the time I have spent there I have bloomed. Physically, I am a new person, and my state of mind has also changed. I am free. But the personality is the same. I am the type that can easily strike up conversations with strangers, is not fearful of open and friendly banter. Alone, this aspect will dominate.

Introduce the fear of disapproval, censure, and friendly criticism… and the state of mind alters – one becomes a prisoner. One’s behavior will always be circumscribed by the presence of others – such as concern for one’s guests or one’s children – but these alternations are natural and normal, they are not negative and all-pervasive. This I have learnt after one of year of divorce.