Candles & Blackbirds – Traveling

Posted on Updated on

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?

Between the Pantry and My Soul

Posted on Updated on

Published in the Jewish Weekly News, March 24 1994.

“What kind of name is Jane? –I’ll call you Judy!”

So, my future mother-in-law called me Judy. I was a dry sponge thirsty for yiddishkeit. Although she didn’t like my name, Lilly, appreciated my eagerness. She saw me as more European than American, and at the time she was right. From her, this was a compliment, of course. I learned all about keeping a Kosher home, tried out Lilly’s recipes for apple pie, for matzah brei, for Pessach, spongecake. She made the best gefilte fish and taught me how. I learned Russo-Yiddish idioms, insults, and endearments that my Russian grandmother never got a chance to teach me. I have Lilly to thank for so many intangibles that help me feel at home at last, as a Jew.

Of course, I didn’t trust her to know everything! I devoured books on Jewish customs, traditions, and arts. Nothing about me changed outwardly… but out of sight, my soul was being quenched. Several years went by. I felt confident enough seder. No more disinterested guests who came late and left early; no more deadly flanken and leftover vegetables. My seder would be “perfect”: the guests would make it interesting and fun; and the food would be dairy or parve, no meat. I had, by then, become a fish-eating vegetarian and my home was kosher.

What ensued was a major campaign. Plans were made, guests were invited. Passover dishes and utensils purchased, and a menu evolved. Cleaning the house and making it Pessachdik was a challenge beyond my expectations. The transition period when you are creating Kosher-for-Passover areas, yet still cooking and eating hametz (leaven goods) is very tricky.

As Passover nears, and the hametz area gets smaller and smaller until it disappears. And then, there is the legalism, that allows you to have non-Passover items in the house somewhere, but covered and packed away. They are there, but no longer mine. I have “given” them to the Rabbi, and he has sold them to a non-Jew for the period of Passover. It feels silly. Can I suspend my “disbelief” and make this sleight of hand work for me?

I cleaned and scrubbed and covered sections with towels, and surfaces with tin foil as I had seen my mother-in-law do. Periodically, I would call Carolyn, my friend and local orthodox expert, to check on a problem. She decided on all of the cases I brought before her. For a short while, for an important stage in my life, Carolyn was an unofficial Jewish mother to me.

Somewhere in the pantry, while I perched on a stepladder, clearing out a top shelf, a new sensation overwhelmed me. What was happening in my kitchen was also happening to me. I had reached a quiet place, where nothing I was doing seemed a chore. As in a waking dream, I watched myself in directed activity. What I was cleaning and sorting… was my soul. I was refreshed and re-energized.

Although, I wasn’t able to keep this aura throughout the eight days of Passover, I strive to reach it each year as I recommit myself to the task of Passover preparations.

It’s so easy to make a perfect seder and never experience Passover. The exercise that I call “spring cleaning of the soul” is available to all, Jew or Gentile. As Jews, we have the rituals of Passover preparation to help us attain that state of mind that is pure and ready for renewal. It is a special gift, a special privilege. This year I am honored to have been invited to two Seders. I will dutifully bring my wine or dessert contributions to my host, but it is back that the truly wondrous part of Passover will have happened – somewhere between the pantry and my soul.

Shlomo’s Gaze

Posted on Updated on

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

Posted on Updated on

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

Posted on Updated on

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.


Posted on Updated on

All my memories of Sarah are distinct and separate,
Each of a different child.
Life in a puzzle.
I barely remember myself;
And she cannot remember either of us.
Yet it was always her and always me.
And only fourteen years altogether.

All my memories of Sarah are distinct and separate.
Can’t piece it all together.
Puzzle of a life.
I cannot comprehend the scattered memories.
They span three continents — worlds apart.
We will travel again through those memories, Sarah and I.
I shall tell her all that I remember and she will remember.

She will puzzle over the puzzle and make it whole.
A whole person, distinct and separate.

Hanna Trigere, Kfar Giladi, June 30 1986

Fragments – A Tribute to Dan Pagis

Posted on Updated on

A poet died today;
A katyusha fell not far away.

They dug a grave for the poet,
And filled the crater left by the rocket.

Earth smoothed over.
No poet.
No rocket.

Waked from sleep last night I heard it
Whistle and land with reverberating boom.
Today, I see dark, little gashes left by shrapnel.
Metal tore at metal, and metal won.

Children will point:
See, that’s where it fell.

I met him at a cocktail party. His brow was
Wide and shiny. And his smile bitter-sweet and quiet.
Today, I read his words, dark little gashes on paper.
Words, heart, brain, memory, all essential.

Children will point:
See, Dan Pagis wrote this.

“I tie my tied shoelaces / Button my buttoned coat”
Dan Pagis died today; a katyusha fell not far away.

Hanna Trigère, Kfar Giladi, June 30 1986

Book Fair

Posted on Updated on

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.

For Yariv’s Family

Posted on Updated on

I never spoke to him; I never knew his name.
But from afar, I guessed whose brother he was
— and whose son.

It’s painful to think him gone.
It’s hard to understand.
The sacrifice of our sons, our brothers, our lovers.
The pain of the living is long-lasting;
the pain of death is quick…
– – and death so everlasting.

But the pain I feel and the tears I shed are real.

I cry for Yael, for Yeheskiel
for Gugu, Uri, and Hagar.
But most of all I cry for Yariv… whose chances are all gone.

Kfar Giladi, June 11 1982.

Patch of Green

Posted on Updated on

Written by Jane during her time at Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, circa 1982.

A distant patch of green flaunts its greenness. In the early, early morning hours the air is fresh, newborn and still. The sky a haze of waking light and that distant patch of green shines out from all the rest as if a square of sky had opened and projected “Ideal Green of Green” on that privileged piece of hill.

The cows, sensing my approach, slowly raise their bulks and lumber over to the gates. It is 5AM Shabbat, and its my once-a-month turn to milk the cows. Three of us woke before dawn – the night guards off duty – the only lights around come from the dairy building.

Two more times I’ll leave the steamy dairy carousel to reroute the cows; each group to its enclosure. Careful to open & close the correct gates in the correct sequence.

But the patch of green has dulled by then. By the third time out, the green is indistinguishable from other greens–the full light of undeniable morning reigns; that square of sky has shut and I’ll wait another month to see that secret marvel of nature again.

In the carousel, the busy noises of activity fill the room: rhythmic whooshes of suction; the clatter of metal parts moving, dropping, and banging; clumping hooves of cows adjusting themselves; swooshes of grain falling into the meal buckets; the whistle of an improperly-placed suction cup; shouts of “Hutza!” to a cow that is reluctant to leave the carousel.

All these noises – each with its own rhythm – indeed, a veritable symphony.

One turn around the carousel and the cows have delivered 8 to 30 liters of heavy milk, the kibbutz fills its tanks and coffers, and the milk cooperative, TNUVA, enriches the country with all its milk products.

Meanwhile the cows go round, I fit the suction cups on the endless variety of teats – parry the kicking legs, and avoid the waterfalls of urine and the huge splashes of shit. I think its call dung only when its dry. Oh, what a long way from Manhattan I am!

The job done, I make my way uphill to the dining hall. I’m not tired anymore. I’m on a high, even slightly hyper. I feel elated, cleansed, and strong. I’ve participated in a great experiment: The Kibbutz. At no other time do I feel so freely that sense of belonging and contribution.