Monday, 13 October 2008

My Jewish Holiday Trip to the East Coast

It has been an eventful Jewish Holiday season. Just as I was settling in to Berkeley so well, with my exercise classes, regular swimming in the Spieker Pool (see opening photo) on the Cal campus, and my Spanish conversation classes, the Jewish High Holy Day season came around. I really like to spend this time with family, and as I have relatives I love in various spots around the US, I wrenched myself away from the delights of Berkeley life to spend Jewish New Year in Cleveland with Aunt Flo and Uncle Henry (he is the youngest of my father’s many siblings. You can see me with them in a photo below). The next one up is my Aunt Lillian, also shown below, who lives in Cleveland too, and then comes Uncle Moish, who lives in Melbourne.

My paternal grandmother is buried in Cleveland, having passed away there in 1949 while visiting Henry, Lil and Aunt Sid, who had been there since the late 1920’s, not very long after we migrated to Australia. Several of Dad’s father’s siblings had been living in Cleveland for more than 10 years, though his branch of the family did not move on from England when they moved from Poland/ Russia. Aunt Sid married her cousin Sam in Cleveland early in the 1930's, bringing the two branches of the family closer again. I always spent the Jewish holidays in Cleveland when I lived in New York in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and whenever I am in the Northern Hemisphere I feel a strong pull to be with this very dear-to-me side of the family.

So I flew to Cleveland on my birthday, a couple of days before the holidays, to be met at the airport and taken straight out to dinner at their favourite Japanese restaurant by Pam (my first cousin) and Stan, then back to Henry and Flo’s later in the evening, where I blew the candle out on a magnificently decorated cupcake to celebrate. The flight I took (South Western Airlines, via their hub at Chicago’s Midway airport) was cheap enough, and flew from Oakland airport rather than SFO, that I forgave the stopover. And on the last leg, I was treated to a performance of Happy Birthday from the whole plane! There is open seating on South Western, and on the first leg I had wandered all the way down the plane and ended up with a middle seat of three anyway, so on this leg I saw the middle seat in the front row was available so plonked myself down. The young, very animated and casually attired cabin crew were chatting with the woman sitting next to me, joking about her blowing out the cabin lights when they dimmed them, and I remarked that if anyone got to blow out lights it should be me, as it was my birthday. They waited till the end of the fight then asked the whole plane to turn on their call lights, sing Happy Birthday to me, and then asked me to blow hard and turned them all off except mine! When I was waiting at the carousel later for my bag, several people came up to me and wished me Happy Birthday again – it was very nice indeed. And my other seat mate was a disabled Vet, who is a wheelchair athlete and downhill skier, with custody of his autistic son and college-bound older daughter, with whom I had a very interesting conversation all the way to Cleveland, so it wasn't such a bad way to spend my birthday after all.

If you look at last year’s blog entries from this time of year in Mexico and again in Cleveland and NYC, you will see my honey cake recipe. In Berkeley the week before I left I made 2 small practice cakes, but think I overcooked them a bit due to using small loaf tins which were in the house rather than the full sized tin I use at home. In Cleveland Aunt Flo and I made a cake which, thanks to her perfect oven and the correct-sized tin (using high school maths I was able to calculate that a 9” round pan of the correct depth would work just as well as my usual 8”by 8” square pan , as a radius of 4.5” gives almost the same surface area as 8 by 8). We had some at Pam’s after dinner on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, and as ever I am a great fan of my own coking. Pam’s dinner was delicious and the cake lived up to the standard of her cooking. And we took some home for the odd nosh over the next few days, contributing to a sweet New Year.

The Synagogue-going is always enjoyable at their Temple, as they seem to have more than the average quotient of musical members who sing beautifully. Uncle Henry leads parts of the service and is also in the choir, who sing beautiful arrangements very well and with appropriate feeling, and work very well with the Cantor, who has a lovely voice . The choir serves as an adjunct to the congregation's participation, not a substitute. I always feel free to join in rather than leave it up to them.

For once, I didn't go to the Rock’n’Roll Museum and Hall of Fame: I was just too busy, catching up with cousins for meals and lots of walks in the Shaker East Park, which has been set up in what had been a reserve for a rapid transit service which was never built. On one side of the main Road Henry and Florence live on, the Park has a wetland in the middle and on the other there landscaping is different. There was deer there one evening when I was walking. Of course I didn't have my camera with me that time, though on subsequent walks I decided to take some photos of the fall vegetation. My cousins Michelle and Jeffrey (Lil's son, who is a font of wisdom on the history and politics of the development of Cleveland) joined me on successive beautiful autumn mornings - Michelle gathered a large bouquet of wildflowers, we collected some windfall pears from a large old tree I found set back little from the road, and Jeffrey and I took a couple of photos of each other.

Naomi, Henry and Flo’s younger daughter who lives in Tampa, Florida, was scheduled for very major surgery on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, which thankfully went very well. Of course all of the family had been very concerned, and as the call came in with good news, a huge cloud lifted. I felt very privileged to have been around to help my aunt and uncle cope over this difficult time – even if I was only a diversion to keep their minds off the worry for some of the time, and an ear whenever possible – that is what family and friends are for, really, and I am glad I had chosen to spend the whole week there. On the last day we made another honey cake for Henry and Flo to take to Naomi when they visit her after Yom Kippur – it freezes pretty well so should be nice and most when it thaws out in Tampa.

I also spent time with another cousin, Fran, and her husband Jerry. We did a bit of shopping and had lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, which is a chain which serves a huge variety of food (I had Vietnamese rice paper rolls) quite apart from the cheesecake desserts which none of us had. Unlike almost everyone else I know in the US, Fran is a McCain supporter , so for the sake of balance I will show you the (deserted) storefront in the suburbs where they are trying to recruit volunteers and the poster Fran collected from there to put in her garden.

My brother Yaacov lives in Baltimore, with his second wife Miriam and now a larger extended family. As well as his daughter Esther, her husband Dovid and their 7 children, his wife Miriam also has 3 children and 11 grandchildren. Seeing the photos taken just after Yaacov and Miriam’s wedding with the three generations (including the Lakewood NJ branch -Moshe, my nephew, Leiba, his wife and their three children) was quite some sight! I guess photographers of the Orthodox Jewish community in Baltimore must get good at taking these large family groups – the photos were lovely!

I flew to Baltimore from Cleveland, and only managed to spend 24 hours there, but managed to see my niece Esther, Dovid and the 5 kids who are home, as well as (once again) making a couple of honey cakes with Miriam and going with her for a swim at the JCC, before heading for New York by train. I have included photos of Esther and three of her daughters, and also of the wonderful individual fruit and vegetable salads Miriam fed us as part of the evening meal while I was there - I really wouldn't have needed to eat anything else. Perhaps this will offset the impression that honey cake is all I eat! I did have a taster before I left (strictly for quality control) but headed off to New York without over-indulging.

It is a lot shorter drive to the station in Baltimore than to BWI airport, and the Amtrak train ride from there brings you right into Penn station in mid-town Manhattan, a short taxi-ride from where Ben and Lissy live. In fact it is not a long walk, but I had a suitcase to contend with. Over the next few days I walked to Penn station twice and Grand Central once, perfectly feasible carrying a light overnight bag (and once, also – you guessed it – a honey cake. On my first day in NYC I acquired a hand-held mixer, some foil cake pans, some bi-carb and a few extra spices in addition to the supplies they had got in for me and made a couple more honey cakes, one to take to Lissy’s parents for the meal before Kol Nidrei and one for Ben and Lissy, which is disappearing quite fast, but not as fast as it used to at home when Ben had friends over to help!) I must say the apartment smelt lovely: a spicy honey cake is really the smell of Rosh Hashanah to me.

Lissy invited me to join her and her mother to the first fitting for her wedding dress. I met her at Penn Station after work, took the train to a station near Barbara’s work, and she drove us though the wilds of New Jersey suburbia to the fitting, with a delightful and highly skilled seamstress who certainly knows her onions. My lips are sealed on the details, but I can reveal that it will be absolutely gorgeous. Barbara dropped us at another station where we picked up the train back to NYC. It is so nice to have a soon to be daughter-in-law to do this girly stuff with, especially as I don’t have a daughter of my own. How lucky am I to be included , and that the timing worked out so well!

On the afternoon before Kol Nidrei, I again met Lissy at Penn station and we went to Newark, this time to be collected by Bernard and ferried back to his and Barbara’s home in Summit. We were in time to help a little getting the pre-fast meal onto the table, and were joined by Drew (Lissy’s brother), Ben, Barbara’s brother Isaac, his wife Melanie, daughter Andrea, son-in-law Brad, and baby grandson Yaacov. Most of the festive meals I have shared with Lissy’s family have been at Isaac and Melanie’s as they are more observant and don’t drive on Jewish Holidays, but it was nice to be part of the large gathering at my future machatonim's house (I have often bemoaned the fact that there isn't an English word to describe the relationship between Barry and me and Lissy’s parents. They will be Ben’s in-laws but not exactly mine, so I am afraid I must use the Yiddish term, and apologise for the lack of a glossary! And once again, the honey cake went down well.

Their synagogue service is not quite as musical as the ones at Uncle Henry’s shule, but still has quite a few familiar tunes. Since I have joined the Conservative congregation Kehilat Nitzan in Melbourne, I have mostly been overseas during the High Holy days, so I can’t really comment on how it compares, though we do use the same version of the Machzor, the prayer book for these days. I occasionally join a group of singers from Kehilat Nitzan singing at old age homes around Melbourne on Sunday afternoons, so can testify that there are lots of people who really enjoy singing. This includes the Rabbi, who leads the singing with his guitar, so I am looking forward to participating in more musical services there when I get home.

We all spent the night in Summit, and returned to Synagogue for the Yom Kippur services the next day, with a break in the afternoon where we mostly took a nap or read quietly. At the end of the service, which finishes with a blast on the shofar, and at this synagogue with a parade of all the children holding small lights, the synagogue provided orange juice and cake to break the fast (after the appropriate blessings). We all returned to Isaac and Melanie’s, the same crowd as the night before, to break the fast. Many cups of tea and several varieties of herring and cheese later, Ben, Lissy and I took a limo back to their apartment. Lissy had thought she needed to travel to Washington very early the next morning to attend a meeting with The Library of Congress, a History channel collaboration she is currently working on, but very late it was decided she would not attend, to show proper concern for cost control in this era of economic gloom. It was not an unwelcome outcome for her - after all the activities over the last few days, getting up before 5 AM to make the train was not the most desirable outcome. I was astounded to see her at home around 8.30 the next morning – I remember seeing her around 4 in the morning and assuming she was off as planned, but apparently she had told me then that she didn't have to go – clearly I was a lot less conscious than I thought!

In my various walks around NYC I stumbled onto different neighbourhoods I’d love to explore more. There was an area in the high 20’s/low 30s around 6th and 7th Avenues where there are wholesalers of haberdashery, handbags, beads and all kinds of jewellery, now mostly run by Asians, it seems, that seemed quite fascinating. So much stuff! Quite apart from the many Koreans on the street selling “silk pashminas” for $5 on street corner stands (of course I bought one).

On Friday I went to Grand Central to get the train in the other direction, up the Hudson to Westchester, to visit Emily and Bob. Emily has wanted a screened porch for many years and it is finally under construction, along with some changes to the decking to accommodate it, and felt she needed to be around for the tradespeople doing the construction. It is always wonderful to be with Emily on her home turf: there is always locally grown produce, heaps of home cooking, friends dropping by, research to be done on ecologically sustainable options, and currently she is also going to Pennsylvania on weekends, door knocking to campaign for Obama. As one of Bob’s presents for her recent birthday, he had this poster made, and Emily and I mounted a couple of them on display boards she had salvaged using Velcro (what a wonderful invention!) You can see the porch under construction in the background. Apart from trimming the baking parchment to line honey cake pans, I haven’t done much craft lately (or ever, to be truthful) but I enjoyed helping on this, and we laughed heaps when the lines for cutting seemed to miss each other despite our earnest efforts (lucky we drew lines rather than cutting right away!) or when the somewhat aged Velcro wouldn’t come off its backing paper, or when the phone rang when neither of us had a spare hand. Judy Boehr, who is Rachel’s mother and visited us in Melbourne earlier this year, joined us for lunch (Emily made polenta with fresh corn and a spicy tomato sauce) and we had a good catch up. Rachel (our former house-sitter who had been working for Oxfam in melbourne) has returned to the US to campaign for Obama also. She is in Ohio, but we were both too busy to manage to catch up between Cleveland, where I was, and Youngstown, where she was based while I was there.

Emily and I managed to get time for a walk around the farm part of the Rockefeller estate near where they live. The weather was absolutely perfect for a walk – low 20’s and balmy sunshine. We looked at the fancy restaurant which serves a lot of local produce, and resolved to get there for a splendid meal with our husbands some time in the future. The building is called the stone bars, you can see why from the pictures, and the garden was beautifully planted, including this plant with its blue berries or seeds, which I have never seen before, and is so pretty it brought to mind some very unusual artificial arrangements I have seen, in which I would have thought that shade of blue and the prolific growth was totally synthetic!

We caught a movie (Rachel Getting Married) at their local art house Cinema, the Burns, after a salmon dinner. I used whatever ingredients I could find from the bountiful cupboards and fridge to make a teriyaki marinade, and cooked it with mushrooms, and Emily had a local purple cauliflower –( talk about improbable shades of blue) and what we would call a sweet potato but are called jewel yams here. It’s another vegetable which is improbably smooth and unblemished compared to the Australian version, which I also noted at Aunt Flo’s. I don’t know how they get them like that! They look as if they have been stroked and pampered in some way, though they don’t taste very different to our Australian/NZ sweet potato/kumara. We liked the movie, with some excellent performances and great music, but found the cinematography a bit jerky, maybe a reference to home movies of weddings – but especially as we were a bit late and I ended up very close to the front, it was difficult to watch. It gave Bob a headache and he had to retreat to the back of the theatre part way through.
Emily was off to do her door-knocking around 7 AM the next morning, and dropped me at 79th Street and Broadway a little before 8.

It was another gorgeous day so I was very happy to amble all the way down and across town, through Central Park (see shot I took of the Bethesda fountain while passing) and down Fifth avenue, for a couple of hours including a stop at the Rockefeller Center to see the ice skaters (see video at end: I recommend you first turn down the volume!) and get a coffee, retuning to Ben and Lissy’s before 10.30. I finished packing, we went out to brunch then came home and the airport shuttle collected me about 1.30, way too early for my flight. It was the fastest trip to JFK I have taken. We took the 59th Street Bridge ( I couldn’t resist humming Simon and Garfunkel’s song as we drove over it) and later seemed to take some weird little streets to get to whatever major highway we needed – I was trying to finish off a novel so I could put it in my suitcase at the airport, so wasn’t paying much attention. And once again, I have used the excellent power point provided on Virgin America to spend a lot of the flight typing the text for this entry into Word before editing it into my blog and adding the pictures. How’s that – I have good things to say about 2 airlines, and no complaints about my Continental flight from Cleveland to Baltimore, which was very cheap also. Mind you, this flight is a bit bumpy: the seat belt sign keeps coming on somewhat foiling my plans to get to the bathroom! We are over Kansas – let’s hope we don’t encounter any wicked witches or monkeys and end up in the Land of Oz!

I think I will publish this post out of sequence: there are a couple of things we have done in Berkeley and San Francisco that I wanted to write up first, but I may never get around to it at the rate I am going.

No comments: