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miriamhendeles@gmail.com
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Any time - drop me an email
miriamhendeles@gmail.com
1-323-243-7116

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A Tribute to My Father on his YahrTzeit

What do you say when someone asks you for information that is readily available on the Internet?

Google it! That’s code for “Look it up. Figure it out. You can do it….”

My siblings and I reminisce that my father would encourage our independence in learning new things, by telling us to  “look it up.”

In honor of  the yahrtzeit or anniversary of my father’s passing two years ago, I write this blog post. This one’s for you, Daddy.

Shalom Stern, or Shalom ben Shlomo (the son of Solomon) Halevi (a descendant of the Levites) passed away after a diagnosis 14 years earlier of Parkinson’s Disease. My father passed on September 28, 2014 but the Hebrew date falls on today’s Hebrew date which is the day after Rosh Hashana (Jewish New Year). Today we lit a candle that lasts for 24 hours and my brothers recited kaddish in my father’s memory.

My father was a paradigm of punctuality. Descending from German ancestors, his motto was “a place for everything…everything in its place.” This time of year which precedes the holiday of Sukkos has a theme from the book of Ecclesiastes which reads, “A time to mourn, a time to rejoice…..a time for everything.” Similarly, my father believed that there is a time for everything and he stuck to a sensible daily schedule in his life.

My father was born in Antwerp, Belgium May 27, 1926. He attended Cheder (traditional Jewish elementary school) there along with his sister. He had a relatively uneventful childhood with his parents, many cousins and friends in the little town where they lived. In the early 1940’s,  the political situation changed and they left their home and moved from country to country, town to town, living over the next few years in France, Portugal, Cuba, followed by the U.S.

IMGThis is my paternal grandmother

According to stories we heard from my father and my aunt, “everything was an adventure” during these unstable times. Yes, they were afraid but it didn’t cripple them. They trusted their parents, prayed and continued on with their  daily activities and schooling in each place that they lived. Time to be afraid and time to move on. My aunt recalls saying the prayer “Shema Yisrael” in her bed as the war planes were flying in earshot. My father spoke about his countless stories of escape and survival into a recording and one of my nephews created a CD for all the family which I cherish.

When my dad came to the U.S. at age 16 (1942), he attended high school in Brooklyn and learned the English language rapidly. After high school he continued in with his Jewish studies in a local yeshiva while attending Brooklyn College to earn a degree in Economics. In 1949, my father met my mother and they married that year in June. He went into business while my mother stayed home with the children and together they raised a family of six children. They were the matriarch and patriarch of  many grandchildren and great grandchildren.

dadyoung

My father had a very disciplined and hard working nature. I was proud to have such a “perfect” father who was so smart, wise, kind, learned and accomplished. On the other hand, there was this pressure to keep up, to do things correctly. My husband spoke at a small memorial meal that we sponsored in my father’s memory last Shabbos (Saturday). One of my husband’s key comments was that he felt that our father was someone to look up to, to emulate and to aspire to be like.

He had a meticulous schedule in which he rose early, prayed, studied Talmud, ate breakfast, went to work and then came home at the same time each night. Looking back, it seems kind of idyllic in some ways. The predictability, the security and all that. At the same time as I said there was this pressure to do good work. It was sort of an unspoken expectation of “You can do it. You will do it.” Each one of us siblings has differing interests. But, we each try to do our best in whatever we do.

daddyThis is my father speaking at a family event in the final year of his life.

My father learned and studied Torah deeply and often could be found in his study poring over books either alone or with one or several grandchildren. Even in the last days when his PD had progressed to its worst symptoms of not being able to talk above a whisper, my father enjoyed listening to stories about Torah. This energized him. I believe this means my father was a very spiritual person.

Additionally, in his life, my father was active in founding a girls’ high school in our community and he gave charity to many institutions around. My father had a witty sense of humor, enjoyed being around people and socializing in the free time that he had. He liked traveling, people and words.

momdadMy Mom and Dad

Just this morning, I asked my brother a question and my brother’s return text to me was “as Daddy would say, ‘look it up!'”

I recall my father’s study with his unabridged dictionary and huge atlas along with many encyclopedias and books surrounding him, we always had to resources to “look it up.”

As we come out of the two intense days of the New Year and move forward into the 10 days bridge until Yom Kippur, I make that my new mantra. Whenever I struggle with something, I will think of my father and how he used all his abilities to look things up, to figure things out and to grow. I will remember his motto of a time for everything, a place for everything.

Whether I’m studying, reading, learning, blogging, working or socializing, I will be mindful of doing things carefully and properly to the best of my ability at the appropriate time.

My father was a tough act to follow – but definitely someone to aspire to. All in the right time.

May his memory be blessed.

daddymatzeivah

 

 


Light-filled Days

I love Chanukah for many reasons. None of them have to do with the parties and presents and festivities. Nor do the reasons I enjoy Chanukah have anything to do with vacation from work and/or school. Actually, I enjoy Chanukah because of the contrast between the dark nights in the winter and the light-filled windows. Continue reading


Holiday Happiness Habits

Holidays are an exciting time. Many look forward to getting together with family and friends and celebrating the winter holidays, whether they are Chanukah or Christmas. People want to be happy all the time, but during the holidays, they expect to be happy. During the holidays, many of us feel entitled to be happy. After all, “everyone” is happy, right? (remember we said that to our parents: “Everyone has that toy, everyone has those shoes….” Remember the answer our parents gave us?)

Lots of scholars have written about what constitutes happiness. In fact, Dennis Prager, renowned radio personality devotes an entire show to that elusive feeling called “happiness.” He calls it “Happiness Hour.”  Some people are forever chasing happiness, and others find it right within their self. They are satisfied with their lot. No expectations. Continue reading


Gearing up for Gatherings

Hello everyone!

As I compose my post today, my family is outside preparing to have a barbecue. Well, that is for those who have arrived. You see, as is customary with our gang when we get together, everyone comes when they can…when they come..when they …well you get the idea. We are preparing lots of food, and I am feeling the angst of the Sandwich Generation.

Presently, one of my sons is putting the food up on the barbecue. Grandma – the matriarch of our clan — has gone shopping for all the food, and brought it over together with one of the cousins, who drove her around. Grandma is gearing up to direct the action.

The rest of my sons are out on errands and will be here shortly. Some of the other cousins will come as well, with the salad and some other food that they offered to make. My daughter-in-law is preparing some of the side dishes

My little grandsons  are scooting around on their scooters, taking turns with the bikes (most of the time) and having a great time.

Why am I writing all these seemingly irrelevant details? Well, one reason is that I am warming up as I have not written in awhile, and I am scrambling for material. No…kidding. Actually, I find that barbecue entertaining is in its own category. They can be challenging, and expensive, and chaotic, as well as fun, and exciting and fattening, and sometimes even stressful. And in writing these details, I take a look from afar at the action and events, and achieve some clarity and inner control over the seemingly challenging – albeit fun – gathering.

Never mind that my son does all the work. Never mind that it’s all outdoors on paper dishes and so there is no hassle with washing dishes and clean-up. Still – I find that barbecues can be stressful. When families gather together for summer get-togethers, after a long day of outings, it can breed very interesting family dynamics. Several generations under one patio roof  – or in our case – under one palm branch roof of our Sukkah, can yield some interesting interactions.

It can be a challenge to have fun when matriarchs manage, grandkids beckon, adult kids comment and stress surmounts. But it is definitely doable, and with some deep breaths, and some bracing, gearing and preparing, it will happen.

Ohhhh – I think I hear the rest of the company (or some) coming! Gotta run…

 


It Takes a Village

As I contemplated what topic to write about today, one word kept coming into the forefront of my mind. Gratitude.

Gratitude, and appreciation:

To Hashem (G-d), to my family, my dear husband, my parents, my friends, acquaintances, community members and so many people. To my publisher (Israel Bookshop), editor, and their wonderful, pleasant and capable staff.

A famous person once (ahem – was it Hilary Clinton?) said “It takes a village,” and that expression rings true today for me.

It’s only Day 2 of my book being on the market, but already I have learned so much from the experience. I know that I will learn more, and I am ready to take that ride. But for now, I’d like to share my appreciation and warmth for all the people (too many to list) who have traveled this journey with me (whether they realize it or not!) to where I am today.

I never intended to write a book.  When I began to write down my thoughts and ideas over the years, I was simply making sense out of what I was seeing and taking stock of what I was learning. I guess that is what we writers do. We figure things out, and write them down. That has been my process. Then we start seeing themes and topics that keep playing over and over. And that is when we suddenly think something along the lines of:  “hmmm, maybe there is something here…let’s see how it goes.”

And so – if we are wise, then we tighten up our themes, learn more, write more, try, try, fail, fall down, get up, ask for help, listen to that help (well…most of the time!), and see what works. And also see what does not work.

For each person the process is different. As human beings, and particularly as parents and grandparents, we acknowledge that every one of our children and grandchildren has his or her own process, and journey to travel. What works for one may or may not work for the other.

I guess what I’m saying here is that I am so grateful to Hashem for helping me find my niche. For helping me find my path, and continue to find that path. Included in that “path” are all the people, events, ideas, mistakes, corrections, trials, errors  in my life the past years.
At this time of year, its seems auspicious to be grateful, take stock of the past, and to move forward in the future. I have so much work ahead of me. In all my roles, thank G-d as a woman and in our relationships with others.

And now…. I’m going to get to the point now, and conclude with several big THANK YOU’s.

THANK YOU…..

To my husband for supporting me through all this (forgive me if this sounds like the Academy Awards – Oscars — oh well..)

To all the people who phoned and/or wrote me warm and wonderful Mazel Tov and Congratulations emails and texts the past few weeks, especially yesterday – I thank you.

To Hashem for making this all a reality.

Because in essence, “Mazel Tov! It’s a Bubby!” is a book about our relationship to G-d, to ourselves and to our fellow human being.

Thanks! And Shabbat Shalom, Good Shabbos and all the best!


In the Blink of an Eye

Hashem (G-d) has the eternal ability to help people who are suffering, in the blink of an eye. From one second to the next. That is the thought I had this morning when a dear friend from abroad wrote me an email describing briefly the crisis her family is going through. My heart went out to her, and since she has asked me to share her family member’s full name, I will do that,  so  people can have this woman in mind when davening (praying) to Hashem, especially through saying tehillim (psalms).

Please have in mind in your prayers  for a speedy recovery and help with troubles:

Tehila Sara bas Chaya Batyah

That is my request to all of you today.

May we always share simchos and good news.

May this woman’s recovery happen in the blink of an eye. Immediately – very soon.


Simchas and Stress

This morning I woke up feeling charley horse, achy, and with a sore throat. As I reached for the Advil, I wondered why I was feeling this way. True, I had attended an out-of-town  family wedding the night before, and yes, I had traveled quite a bit the past few days both by plane and by car. But I didn’t do much exercise to warrant all the achy feelings; aside from a little bit of circling around the bride in a joyful dance, I didn’t exert myself too much. I didn’t drink any wine, so no excuse for a feeling of a hangover, and I didn’t even stay up too late.

So why was I feeling this way? Well, to quote my friend, a Bubby: “traveling and simchas are always exhausting.” (a Bubby quotable quote!)  There is just no way out of it.  If every day, we have the usual stress of work and the phenomenon called life, then when we travel on vacation, and/or when we participate in family occasions, we have a unique form of stress: SIMCHA STRESS.

Simcha Stress:

This unique form of stress- (for those planning it, and for others who are close to those who are planning the event), manifests itself in  heartache or physical aches. Simchas, which are supposed to be happy occasions, are peppered with little annoyances and bumps in the road. Simchas, which are joyous weddings, engagements, bar mitzvah’s, and graduations are often accompanied by deadlines, pressure, lists, shopping, expenses, and endless details that cause lots of tension.

Simcha – which means “happy” in Hebrew, produces anything but simcha, for many. But at the end of the day, no one is changing the word, “simcha” to “lachatz” which means pressure in Hebrew. Nope. No one is saying, “hey, can you come to my lachatz next week to be held at the Hilton Hotel?

 Time to Smile:

No Jewish person on the East or West Coasts is inviting their friends to their wonderful Pressure Party. Not any time soon.

You see, even though I have experienced my share of stress amidst simchas in the past (including the achy shoulder that I have right now!), I still feel that no Jewish family should be without a steady stream of simchas – happy occasions — in their life.

Stress and all. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Time to Count our Blessings:

I believe that simchas are what keeps us going. Simchas are the water that G-d sprinkles on our souls to fertilize our spirits to grow and soar. Simchas give us that message that G-d loves us, that life is good, that we are blessed, and that it is okay to feel happy and celebrate.

Simchas are times to socialize and accept mazel tov wishes.

And most of all, simchas teach us priorities, and help us realize what is really important. Even when little things go wrong and glitches arise, we keep our simcha as our goal — our families’ and friends’ happiness and joie de vivre.

Because when it all comes down to it, we can deal with a little bit of burnt chicken, canceled guests, and rain on the outdoor ceremony. After all is said and done, we can rise above the little inconveniences and feel gratitude to G-d for providing us with loving families, children, and grandchildren with whom to plan and celebrate simchas (and pressure too!)


Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh

As the summer is under way,  my mind turns to letter writing. Letters that we send – to friends, family and acquaintances. Thank you cards, post-cards, congratulations messages, sympathy notes, and newsy letters to loved ones expressing caring and what is going on. The summer is that time – when we tend to write more letters. Kids are in camp, families go on vacation and the desire to keep up in writing is prevalent.

Letters these days are written (actually typed) and sent off as a computer email. Letters in the “old days” (read: my days) were written by hand with care, using a pen or pencil. They were  placed in an envelope, sealed and sent off with  a stamp. The receiver of the letter had the opportunity to read and re-read the letter, thus relishing the connection and the relationship between reader and writer.

Both of my grandmothers were avid letter writers. And during the summer they tended to write – or type (on their IBM Selectric typewriters!) more letters than usual.

One of my aunts has gathered all of my maternal grandmother’s letters – skillfully handwritten or typed with her typewriter — into a large binder for all the grandchildren. Many of those letters were written specifically during the summer period of the “Nine Days” (which is happening now) before the fast day of “Tisha B’av.” Continue reading


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