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Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cholent

It wasn't like Memorial Day wasn't memorable; it was. We had the dedication of my aunt's stone at the cemetery. And then there was Iron Man.

Iron Man! The kids surprised us, picked us up to go out with them. It's great entertainment, especially if you want to become an engineer. It's a movie that illustrates the symbiotic relationship between energy and creativity. And Gwyneth never takes off her heels.

But we pay for those short weeks, taking off for Monday holidays.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday killed me. I know I beat on this subject, but when people spend too much time with their dysfunctional families, they feel it and we therapy docs take the fall out. I'm not complaining, just restating the obvious, and Memorial Day, especially, is no joke.

And then there's the opposite, too, not having enough time with anyone on a holiday, having no family around. Your friends are with their families and you're stuck with time, too much alone.

So we're all happy when things get back to normal. Yesterday I went to shul in a pretty good mood and heard the rabbi talk about how people should recognize their flag, should go out and work their strengths, do it before it's too late. Contribute to the world. Be someone. Put your best stuff out there, whatever it is. (I think this is what he meant)

You bloggers and people who comment do that. The Rav does it differently, plays a different field.

Anyway, I sit in the balcony of my synagogue and gaze down at the sea of taleisim, men in prayer shawls. In the balcony the women aren't really very far removed from them, not by a long shot. It's been engineered so that we don't have to climb a million stairs to get to our section. In fact, the men are downstairs, and we're on the main floor. We have the better seats. It's really very nice.

We get to see the little kids playing in the aisles below. Orthodox synagogues aren't usually stuffy places. The decorum, some might say, leaves much to be desired. There's no organ, no choir, nobody even to tell you what page you should be on. You never know who's going to lead the prayers or what tunes they're going to use.

Yesterday the tunes were really good.

As much as the shakers and movers in Orthodox Jewish synagogues would like to keep the kids out of the sanctuaries (they can pay handsomely for youth group leaders and babysitters), we really don't mind them running around a little. We like them to see the Torah, we like them to touch it then kiss their hands. There's always a candy man or a candy woman passing out chocolates. We want them to experience what we experience, just a little awe.

And they learn the liturgy this way, too, just listening, hanging around and bouncing super balls, reading picture books, occasionally checking in with their dads.

So I'm upstairs, front row, looking down. Three of the cutest little guys, all between three and five, wearing blue shirts and over-sized yalmukas are strutting around during the cantor's repetition, poking at one another.

It made me miss my grandsons in the worst way. I really tanked.

Pretty soon the service ended and I asked my mother-in-law if she was coming over for lunch. She said no, but she wanted to stop by the house for a minute. She also wanted to stay in shul for the kiddish, the herring, the shnaps and cake, the cholent (cholent is a hot dish of potatoes, beans, meat and unidentifiable vegetables).

It's soul food.

I said, "I'll wait for you outside."

Feeling this bad is irrational, of course, because I'm going to be visiting the kids this week. In a few more days I'll get on an airplane and they'll run full speed into my arms and it'll all be good.

Outside I found a comfortable spot in the sun to wait and to warm up. It's always too hot or too cold in shul, and today it was too cold. So there I am, soaking up the sun, and who should almost pass me by?

Tante Fela.

She stopped to ask me something, some after-thought that you ask a stranger, and suddenly she realized it was me.

Tante Fela is as short as I am tall, meaning she's about two feet shorter than me. She's a Holocaust survivor in her eighties and we paired up on a Jewish holiday for services and have been best buds ever since. (You can read those stories at the links below*. But I never see her, hardly ever.

"How are you?" she cries out. "I never see you!"

I bend down and give her a kiss on the cheek. "I know, I know. I sit on the opposite side of the shul."

"You should sit by me!"

"I know, I know. But my mother-in-law is on that side, and you know how it is. She would be insulted."

A friend of mine sees me and comes over, interrupts. She wants to know why I'm wearing a jacket when it's so hot outside. I ask her, "What do you think, why do you think I'm wearing a jacket?"(Last time it was, Why the earmuffs?). Then immediately I am sorry for beating on her and apologize. She laughs.

Tante Fela is ready to move on. "Good Shabbas," she says to me sincerely, "See you soon, okay?"

"I sure hope so."


copyright 2008, therapydoc

Edits and Out-takes from Cholent:

My mother-in-law joins me with another friend and the three of us are walking towards my house. While those two talk, I trance out a little and wonder, What is it exactly, that so gets to me about Tante Fela? Most people get to me, but this is something else.

And I think, It's being in it, in the relationship that begs relativism, that's what I love about it.

Maybe it's the only way that relativism actually works, a person has to be in the comparison, feel the comparison. If there are six degrees of separation from troubles, who cares?

But it's different when you're looking into the eyes of someone like Tante Fela. They're not six degrees away at all. You can read them.

She has lost most of her family, seen terrific atrocities, woken from a nightmare that she can't forget. It's different when the person has became someone and something from nothing, the stuff Jerry Springer's mother talked about on that trip from Nazi Germany to the United States. Ayn tat alles.

Someone like Tante Fela loses her spouse after sixty-five years and she's alone, but you don't hear her talking about joining him. She only has one child, and he doesn't live all that close, but she's so grateful she has him.

She saw people tossed around with pitchforks like hay.

Yet she's still happy to see the light of sun reflect off the grass, to make new friends.

You say to yourself, to be like this! You should, no question, have cholent with a person like this before the entire generation is gone and forgotten and can't repeat it anymore, all that stuff about man's inhumanity to man. Even if you generally avoid cholent, can't stand cholent, perhaps you make an exception, just for the zchus (merit) of having had cholent with a survivor.

And barring that, take out Paper Clips or KinderTrain or Schindler's List at Blockbuster.

therapydoc

Tante Fela posts started in 2006 with Yom Kippur

Then One Year Later

Self-denial and fasting

and now this one.

10 comments:

Wendy said...

I need a Tante Fela - someone to guide the way in this horribly depressing world. How do the survivors find their way back to joy?

synoptic said...

Iron Man? You want Iron Man? My experience has been that you need to BE Iron Man in order to eat cholent. As my mother used to say when she kashered the meat, "By the time it's fit to eat, it's no longer fit to eat."

therapydoc said...

Ha! Bring on the cholent jokes!

Jack said...

Cholent and I have a love/hate relationship. I love it until about 35 minutes after I eat it and then I wonder why I was ever dumb enough to eat it again.

But it is mighty tasty.

The Adjunct Professor said...

I actually think about the behavior of the kids in shul and think about a conversation by Dad once had.

Dad was a reform Rabbi and was talking with an orthodox colleague, a friend. My father was teasing the orthodox Rabbi and made some kind of comment about the behavior of the kids in an orthodox shul.

My Father's friend responded by saying, "When you go to someone else's house, you are always on your best behavior. When you are with family, you can act like yourself".

My Dad loved the comment and knew his orthodox colleague had gotten the best of him. For years, he used to quote that line, even to his congregants.

therapydoc said...

Such a great response. Thanks, I'll quote your dad if it's okay by him.

The Adjunct Professor said...

Dad passed away a couple of years ago but loved to be quoted. You can even claim it as your own!

therapydoc said...

Oh no. The Orthodox are big on giving credit.

Arifin Hossain said...

Nice Blog.Thanks.
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porcini66 said...

Let me seek to understand, rather than be understood...

Tante Fela helps you do that, no? I am learning (now, after all of these years) that I was so busy trying to be understood that I didn't learn how to understand. I didn't learn HOW to "get it". I got bits and pieces, sure, but I didn't get IT. I am finally seeking to learn how...and I'm gaining on it, yes, I am! Thank you for helping me on my journey.

We all have atrocities (perceived or real) that we battle through. Some are more real than others, certainly - your Tante Fela knows. Thank her from ME, would you? Because she has helped me today as well.

Feel peace and keep writing! :)