Saturday, June 3, 2017

Love & Hisses

The only thing I really like about New Jersey besides the rest stops on the turnpike, is the Liberty Science Center.

When my son Zachary was 10, I took him there for a bug show.

There was a long line.

I remember the line because that was the year we moved him into Solomon Schechter Westchester from an orthodox day school. A person joined the line right behind us, a young person, and Zachary, who had not spoken one word of the holy tongue in 5 years and 110,000  dollars in tuition, turned to me, and in flawless Hebrew, said, ”Ima, mah aht choshevet? Zeh yeled o yalda?”

My jaw hit the floor. He was asking if I thought the person was a boy or a girl. In Hebrew. Two weeks at Schechter and he was even pronouncing the ‘o’ the Israeli way.

But back to the bugs.

I’m not sure how it happened, but it happened that we were front and center when we finally got to  the mini auditorium which was arrayed like a sunken living room, but with bugs.

There were insects from every continent. Zachary was ecstatic as the entomologist lifted each beetle, millipede, and winged insect into the light and into my coming nightmare.

The people behind us pushed forward.

Look how the mandible forms a piercing stylet! Did you know there are over 42,000 types of plant-sucking bugs? Can you believe that some bugs have been pestering the nebukhdike creatures around them since the Permian Period, 300 million years ago? I believe! I believe!

And then the entomologist looked around and held up his hands. “So,” he said to the hush. “I have some lovely cockroaches here from Madagascar. Who would like to hold one?”

And before he got to the “Adults only please,” Zachary already had my hand up. Meaning that he had looked at me with his sweet dark chocolate eyes full of such deep love and entitled expectation that my hand rose in complicity.

I was cuter back then, too. “What’s YOUR Mom’s name,” the entomologist asked Zachary, unctuously.

There’s a smile you make when you’re in pain. It looks like a smile, because your teeth are bared, but unlike a real smile which usually allows for a space between your top and bottom row of teeth, this smile connects those rows in a gritting down-bite, and the corners of your temples rise up and away in attempted flight.

The entomologist reached into a cloudy tank, crawling with horrifying little things.

He extracted one of the roaches. It was close to 2 inches long, and the color of what comes out of you in prep for a colonoscopy.

He asked me to hold out my arm, which, by the way, had no sleeve, and 1-2-3-4--here’s where I black out—he placed the hissing creatures—yes, they hiss, too—upon it, whereupon they scuttled upwards. Upwards.

I did say hiss, ladies and gentlemen. Apparently, the males ram their antennae into each other during mating season, causing them to exhale air through these unique breathing holes. The louder the hiss the more dominant the male.

I swear I heard, “Ssssssssssso? Whatcha doin’ tonight, Lissssssssssssssssssssa?”

Zachary was dancing next to me in complete delight. “Look at my mom! Look at my mom!”

People crowded around. The cockroaches showed off, hissing and scuttling around on those disgusting little black legs.

I got sympathetic looks from some of the moms and dads, but the entomologist was ebullient.

He poked my arm as he tickled the tushies of the little critters, sending them into turbo mode. “Sssssseeee those little holes? That’s what I’m talking about!” I could smell his pheromones.

Zachary still remembers this afternoon, many years later, and I truly believe it is the basis for his continued respect and indulgence for me and my opinions.

Fast forward to last weekend.

I have another little boy, a little blonder, with ice-blue eyes. He loves me just as hard. I am a very lucky Mommy.

This time we are in Providence, Rhode Island, at the School of Design.

The sketching room has floor to ceiling curio cabinets ungeshtupped with taxidermy, bugs on sticks, seashells, skulls and unborn matter, pickling in jars.

The only live thing is a snake in a corner tank. Of course it’s the only thing Johnny wants.

“Sure, go ahead,” says the curio intern, totally un-unctuously. “It’s a corn snake.”

It’s one thing to take a snake from someone else who is holding it. It’s another thing to DISTURB A PERFECTLY HAPPY SLEEPING SNAKE.

Cue that gritting smile again. My husband smiled back.

“Go on,” he said, standing 4 feet away.

I opened the glass door. The snake, Neetop, was coiled underneath one of those natural bark covers. He wasn’t moving. I thought that was actually scarier.

I leaned my head back and extended my arm and lifted off the bark. I think the leaning back was to protect my—face? Brain? Neck—from constriction?

Johnny was hopping from one foot to the other, ice-blues focused on the snake.

I took a breath. And then, because I am the very best Mommy in the entire world and I want my boys to think that always, I looked to see where the head was and I put my right hand a few inches behind it and my left hand on another scaly part of the body, gripped Neetop’s happily sleeping self and lifted him out of the cage.

Whap. The snake coiled itself around my wrist.

I let out a moan. Not a scream.

Even that tiny point at the tail end is pure muscle. If I weren’t so grossed out, I would have been impressed.

A few years pre-twins, Sruli and I were in Wilmington, NC, which still has the extra wide antebellum doorways to accommodate a southern belle’s dress. It’s a romantic place, and besides having the best glass of wine I ever had, the thing I still talk about most is the Serpentarium.

Apparently, it’s a world famous place. This mishigene herpetologist, Dean Ripa, PERSONALLY CAPTURED the most venomous snakes from all over the world, brought them home and put them in glass cages.

Each cage is carefully marked with a death code: the more skulls drawn on the glass (in black marker) the faster the snake’s venom will kill you.

Rattler? 3 skulls. Eastern Brown Snake which coagulates your blood as it destroys your brain function? 4 skulls. 

And one I had never heard of—the Black Mamba—which doesn’t just lie around Africa, either. It’s fast, aggressive and vicious, and can strike 12 times in a row. You will die for sure in half an hour. A five skuller.

Next to the Mamba was a story, handwritten on the wall. On one of Ripa’s early snake-khopping expeditions, a snake bit him.

Instead of letting his partner administer the antivenin right away, he lay there and dictated what was happening to him for the partner to write it down. “Ok, now my fingers are swelling up like sausages.” “Ok, now I can’t feel my feet.” “Ok, now my throat is closing.”

I, of course, know why he was so crazily brave. 

His little son was probably standing right next to him.

Meantime, my little son is standing next to me, waiting for me to unwrap the snake and hand it to him.

The snake resists this. I can't get him off my wrist.

“Mah at choshevet?” the voice hisses in my ear. “Yessssssss, you are a good mommy. A brave mommy. You can do anything. You will do anything for them. Let them look at you in wonder for just a little while longer. Just a little while longer.”

“You know. Before reality bites.”


Friday, January 20, 2017

Bubby Goes to Washington

Exactly thirty-nine years ago,  my Bubby, Rebbetzin Sarah Weintraub did me a huge favor.

It was January 19th, in the middle of the night.

My mother had gotten tickets for the whole family to Jimmy Carter’s inauguration, and we had flight out of LaGuardia the next morning at 6:30 AM.

And then my father, presciently, came down with a—malaise.

This rarely happened, and when my mother looked at me with worried eyes, I knew it meant we couldn’t go.
 thought of the boast I’d made to Rabbi Brander, the principal at Yeshiva Central Queens. The grand announcement to my entire seventh grade class. In those days, no one in my life did anything remotely political.

Not to go would have been humiliating.

And then, as the clock ticked, I thought of the one person who had slept outside in a war-torn field, as the wolves howled, so she could see her hidden children. A woman who had secretly crossed a raging river into Switzerland with a baby on her shoulders, and a little daughter held fast by the hand, right under the nose of the night watchmen and watchdogs.

A woman who knew the Torah by heart, had written her own meforash, commentary, and who the Rabbis turned to during their sermons, to check their facts. I thought of the Emunah Chapter president, who made her gefilte fish with pepper, the proper Litvishe way.

A woman who now, despite arthritis, bursitis, colitis and phlebitis, was always up  for a movie and Shimon’s pizza on Main Street and would frankly be annoyed if she found out you went without her.

It was midnight. I called, and she answered on the second ring.


“Bubby, it’s me, Lisa. Daddy isn’t feeling well and we have tickets to go to the inauguration tomorrow—will you take Dina and me? We need an adult.”

“Ver are vee going?”

“To Washington D.C.”

There was a slight pause.


“To see the new President, Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.”

Another slight pause.

“Valter Mandel,” she repeated.

Suddenly, a Jewish Vice President.  I didn’t dare dissuade her.

My mother drove us to the airport and somehow, my thirteen-year-old self got my nine-year-old sister and Bubby onto the right plane, into a cab and directly to the Capitol Lawn.

The Lawn was cordoned off with red ribbons. Waiting on the periphery were more people than I had ever seen in my life and I grew up in New York City.

I held Dina in one hand and Bubby in the other. Suddenly there was a sound like a horn and the ribbons were cut and there was a stampede. I don’t remember anyone checking our tickets, specially ordered from Congressman Benjamin Rosenthal’s office.

We were pushed along by the crowd—closer and closer to the East Portico. It was 28 degrees, but there were so many people that we jingoistically huddled together for warmth, like penguins in Antarctica.

The energy was exciting too—remember Jimmy Carter smiling that huge smile and promising a “New Spirit?”

There he was, about two hundred feet in front of us, up on the balcony in a blue suit. Roslyn wore turquoise and it was hard to see little Amy.

“Oy, I have to sit down,” said Bubby.

I startled. Sit down? Where?

I spied an ABC-TV cameraman. He had set up a small stage about two feet high and was standing on it with his tripod.

I pushed our way over and looked up at the cameraman. Bubby sat.

This is the best part of the story: Just at that second, just at that VERY SECOND, my mother and father were watching from their bedroom. My mother had just that VERY SECOND said—“Gee—I wonder if they”—and THERE WE WERE ON ABC-TV, BUBBY, DINA and ME, as the cameraman panned around.

My mother told me she plotzed.

I don’t remember Linda Ronstadt singing “Crazy.”  I don’t remember Aretha Franklin’s hat as she sang God Bless America. I don’t remember the United States Marine Band.

I do remember having been told that when Bubby was a young woman, but already a respected Rebbetzin, she went to visit her cousin to France and the cousin bought tickets to the Folies Bergere.

The cousin told me the story. “We sat down and there was a column partially blocking the view. The dancers came out wearing nothing but black lace and feathers and kicking their legs up in their high heels. I remember turning around for some reason, and when I turned back, your Bubby Sarah had disappeared. The first thing I thought was—oh no. She is such a religious woman! She must have been offended and left! Then I heard a yoo hoo. She was waving to me frantically.

“She had found us better seats.”

I looked at Bubby, happy to be among “pipple,” as she called people.  She was sitting and looking around, and she didn’t look “kalt,” in her winter coat and Roslyn- turquoise legwarmers, even thought she confessed she always wanted a “minik” coat, but the pipple might talk.

Later, our wonderful and generous cousins from Silver Spring picked us up, took us to a nice kosher restaurant and drove us back to the airport. Now that I think about it, they are staunch Republicans, and otherwise wouldn’t have been in town.

But I was relieved to have been relieved of being a grown up.

I wonder what Bubby would make of today's inauguration.

She might recognize the authoritarian figure who seems to be consolidating power all around him. 

She might be familiar with the rising anti-semitism, and ugly talk. She would understand what can happen. What can really, really, happen.

I am a Rebbetzin now, too, Bubby. Thank you for putting my baby daddy on your shoulders all those nights ago. Thank you for holding on to little Aunt Jenny in that river even when she told you to go on ahead without her because the water was up to her neck. 

Thank you for the gefilte fish and for teaching me those Yiddish songs and for laughing at me when I was grossed out by your religious sheitl, your wig, when you used to take it off right before Shabbos lunch and stick it on top of the side table lamp. I don’t wear a sheitl.

Thank you for being a testament to the fact that gam zu ya’avor. This too shall pass, and, mercifully we shall all cross the raging river to freedom and sanity.

And thank you for taking me to that inauguration, thirty-nine years ago. Thank God you don’t have to see this one.

Monday, August 15, 2016


Peaches, Tree, Native Peach, Orchard

I am eight years old and I am standing on the front lawn of my house in Queens with my little sister who is four.

We are standing under our favorite tree—a peach tree, a glorious, bursting peach tree, laden and heavy with ripe fuzzy fruit.

Lots of times, my sister and I would play together in the middle V of the two main branches of the tree—the shiny green leaves hiding us from all the neighbors.

But today we are both standing under the tree.

And we are both--crying.

Just a few minutes before, an enormous blue car has driven up to our house.

Out of the car came our Cousin Estee Veissman, who was older even than our mother.

We could never figure out exactly how such an old woman could be a cousin, and not an aunt.

She was at LEAST 40.

She has enormous hair. Enormous teeth.  And ENORMOUS—BAZOOMS.

We have never seen anything like those bazooms.

They stand out a few feet in front of her-- each pointing to a different time zone.

They are their own wonders of the world—cantilevered miracles.

Hello Cousin Estee Veissman and Cousin Estee Veissman.

She does not smile at us. She does not say hello to us.

She just stands on the sidewalk, barely out of the car, and stares at the peach tree.

OUR peach tree.

And then Cousin Estee Veissman does something I will never, ever forget.

he reaches into her pocketbook and pulls out something that looks like a little baggie.

She grips that little baggie in both hands, shakes it violently, and—FA-FOOOOOOOM!

That little baggie turns into the most gigantic, yes, enormous, bag we have ever seen.

And then Cousin Estee Veissman does the other something I will never, ever forget.

She starts to pick peaches off our tree. One, two, three, a hundred.

And my little sister and I are standing, watching it all, watching those peaches disappear into that bag.


Finally we can stand it no longer.

We turn and run into the house—Mommy! MOOOOOMMMMMY!!

We gulp out our story. Cousin Estee Veissman. Here. Bazooms. Fafoom. No more peaches.

My mother puts her arms around us.

Is there a hint of a smile there? A smile, definitely.

“It’s okay,” she says.  “Let her take them and enjoy them.”


“She lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, and it’s exciting for her to pick peaches off a real tree.”

Yeah, ALL of them.

“Next year we’ll have lots of peaches, again.”

Yeah, and next year we’ll have a visitor from Brooklyn, again.

My sister and I don’t learn our lesson in generosity that day.

We sit and glare at Cousin Estee Veissman as she eats the dinner of fried chicken, cole slaw and potato salad that my mother bought from Mauzone on Main Street, and that we had every single Sunday evening, like every single other orthodox family in our neighborhood.

Cousin Estee Veissman’s voice is clipped, her eyes sad. Her bazooms remain, defiantly--upbeat.

Later on, I find out that Cousin Estee has schizophrenia. What we now call severe bipolar disorder.  Depression.  That she’s been in an out of hospitals. That nothing works, nothing brings her out of it. It’s been going on for years and years.

Her three children and her husband, who was actually a pretty jolly guy, don’t talk about it. They are very frum, very religious, so these kinds of things back in those days are a shonda, a bit of a disgrace—and not to be mentioned. “Mama is sick,” they would say. And that was that.

The years went by, with many more Mauzone Sunday night dinners, and although the rest of her family often came, she did not.

The last time I saw her was at her son Abner’s wedding.  Abner was FINALLY getting married—at 45--and to an old High School friend of mine!

It was the first time I ever saw her smile. Just a slight lift of the corners of her upper lip—but a smile, definitely.

Abner was finally getting married and Cousin Estee Veissman was finally getting a little naches from him.

She died about a year after the wedding.

Cousin Estee Veissman—I want you to know that I still think about you and about the all the things I didn’t understand when I was 8 years old and childish with selfishness.

I want you to know that I try really hard to be generous now.

I want you to know that the very first week I moved to Maine, our wonderful congregation gave me a gift certificate to a garden center, and I bought a peach tree and I planted it right in front of my new house.

I want you to know that the crows ate every single one of my peaches last year.

They must’ve flown up from Brooklyn.

But most of all, I want you to know that you have a little more naches. Your son Abner and my High School friend finally had a baby boy.

I wish you could see him. 

He has big blue eyes. He smiles a lot.

And you’d especially love his hair. 

It looks exactly like-- peach fuzz.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Water Torture

Image result for indoor water park

If you want to be a good Mommy and Daddy, I mean a really good Mommy and Daddy, who put their children ahead of their serenity, their germophobia, their acrophobia, and their own sense of financial prudence—have I got a place for you.

Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Water Park.

This is what I heard during the entire two-and-a-half hour ride in the car: Hurry up! Drive faster! Ok, as soon as we get there we go right to the waterpark and change into our bathing suits, no stopping at anything and Mommy, you go park the car and shlep the stuff up to our room so we don’t miss one SECOND of our first night there. Hurry up! Drive faster!

This, from my husband, who likes to maximize our vacation time.

Finally, we are there yet. I drop off Daddy and twins at the front door with their beach bag containing a shark bathing suit (boy twin), sparkly leopard ‘boo-kini’ (girl twin) and a wetsuit (husband gets cold).

I slowly load up the suitcases on the smart carts, leave the stuff with the front desk and slowly, slowly go outside to park the car.
Sticking out of the lodge is a giant growth lit up in the night  like an intergalactic rainbow and shaped like a toilet bowl. It houses a four-story slide that they call—wait for it—the toilet bowl. I sigh.

It is 7PM and there are 2 hours left of water play. There will be 12 hours of water play tomorrow, after breakfast. I sigh.

At least the room is nice. I slowly put everyone’s suitcases in the appropriate corners and slowly get into my bathing suit. I get into the elevator and press down. I sigh again.

The second the doors open, the noise hits. There are other people’s children everywhere. They are wearing fluffy wolf ears and dancing the Macarena. There is a giant stuffed wolf dancing too. His name is Wiley and he is some sort of mascot. He teaches everyone the Great Wolf dance: clap clap, stamp stamp, howl. Catchy.

On the way to the actual water park area, I walk through the hallway of hell.

On one side of the hallway of hell, a gift shop is selling Great Wolf Lodge t-shirts for 25 dollars and wolf paw print mugs for 15. There are light up necklaces and sparkly bathing suits and lots of paw-shaped candy. It is packed with other people’s whiny children.

On the other side of the hallway of hell is something that looks like an ice cream parlor. Everything looks like an ice cream cone, from the mirrors to the cute pink chairs. It is in fact, a kid spa called “Scoops,” where your princess can have an ice-cream themed manicure. For 45 dollars. I don’t even look to see how much the pink fluffy robes or the jewel eyed stuffies, or the glittering tiaras would cost the royal purse-bearer.

Onward. Two more shops that suck(er) you in; one to play the Magic Quest game (sword, 20 dollars) that your little prince can shove into one of the colorfully flashing stations around the lodge for an “epic” adventure, and another faux-natural shop that sells 65 dollar walking sticks, though I’m not sure why because the entire lodge is carpeted.

And then there was the Arcade. Noiseland. It was packed with other people’s shrieking children, wacking moles, cursing the Claw, throwing skee-balls, shooting aliens and riding virtual motorbikes through virtual wolfish terrain. And, over the din, the panicked pleading of change-challenged parents. “Ok, just one more game, Justin, I don’t HAVE any more money!”

And then—the hallway of hell ends at double glass doors. I open them and I am awash in the fumes of a chlorinated paradise. There are giant fountains, sprinklers, and slides. Water is gushing everywhere—from the walls, from the floor.

It is cavernous and it is deafening.

There a zillion things to climb on and on top of each one of these zillion things is a giant red bucket that is being filled up by an insidious hose. When the bucket reaches some mysterious level of fullness it tips over—dousing all the other peoples children with a lake’s worth of water whereupon the children scream with glee and shock, even though they have, of course, positioned themselves precisely in place for that very dousing.

One of the other people’s children, a little boy about 3, is hurrying along in front of me, shivering. Suddenly, he stops, spreads his little legs, and pees right on the edge of the kiddie water area. A gentle wave comes and laps it up.

I sigh.

My kids are in the wave pool, waving at me in desperation. “What TOOK you so long? WE want to go on the Sheer Drop Canyon Slide—NOW!”

My husband looks at me guiltily, then with a smidge of self-righteousness. “I told them you would take them. You know I can’t go on those things.”

“Me first!” Charlie decides. Her beautiful new leopard boo-kini is partially obscured by the mandatory (provided) kiddie life-jacket.
I wrestle a huge yellow floatie from the pile and Charlie runs ahead, her little legs hopping up the four-and-a-half flights of freezing stairs. I lumber up behind her, shlepping and resigned.

The lifeguards around the place are, I swear, twelve. They are local Fitchburg, Massachusetts, high school kids and they work tirelessly, trained in the apparently award-winning Great Wolf safety protocol. They pace back and forth along the edge of the water, and as they pace, their heads move in a jerky choreographed motion: head up, head down, to the right, to the left and up again. The head moves independently from the pacing—you can get dizzy just watching. 

Four times a day, a dummy baby, yclept “Timmy” is thrown into one of the pools and these lifeguards have to rescue him within three seconds. You think YOUR job is pressured.

It is our turn. We plop down on the yellow floatie atop the slide awaiting the signal. Charlie is on my lap. “She shouldn’t sit on your lap,” says the twelve year old. I move her off and she climbs back up. I can only see a few feet into the tunnel. I hold Charlie tighter and tell her to grab the grips. “She shouldn’t sit on your lap,” says the twelve year old again. But POOF! We are pushed.

Within a few terrifying seconds, I realize that Charlie should not have sat on my lap.

That is because we have both fallen off the floatie. We are hurtling down, down, twisiting and turning through the pitch-black tunnel at a crazy speed.

I am flat on my back and Charlie is riding flat on her back on top of my belly. Both my arms hold tight around her as we ricochet from one slimy side of the tunnel to another, the water rushing in my ears.

Desperate to slow down, I stick out my right big toe. I am afraid to let go of Charlie in any way—not one scratch is gonna get on that child—and I feel my toe catch each divot between slide sections. 

We are not slowing down in the least, so I focus on saying stupid things to her like “isn’t this fun?” and “wow, isn’t this fun?” and “whee, this is so much fun!” She does not answer. I can only imagine her beautiful, terrified face.

The water is relentless and the turns are getting sharper, faster, and more twisted. Just when I think my arms or most probably my toe will give out, we are PLOP in the water. We come up disoriented and coughing.

WACK! Something hits me in the head—it’s the yellow floatie.

I grab Charlie who is now bobbing right in front of me, and carry her to the steps. We both try to catch our breaths. “Wasn’t that fun?” asks the twelve year old as she heaves the floatie onto the pile.

Of course I have to do the whole thing again, (sigh) this time with Johnny. We don’t fall out until the very end, and Johnny thinks it’s the greatest thing ever.

The hours pass slowly. My one dream—that at least one twin will sit on my lap as we gently float down the lazy river together, sharing secrets, giggling and cuddling—is dashed. “Boring, Mommy,” they say.

My toe has turned every shade of purple.

What else do we do? Everything More slide. More wave pool. More slide. More buckets. We get them Dippin’ Dots and pizza. More slide. More hot tub. We do not get a manicure or a #$&!! expensive sword.

We stay ‘til the very last moment, of course, then shower, change and make it to the lobby for a fluffy-wolf-eared bedtime story and a clap clap stamp stamp howl.

The twins decide to leave their park-pass bracelets on, even though they are suddenly not comfortable, “to show everybody at school tomorrow.”

I volunteer to go and get the car, load it up and meet everyone by the front door.  Sruli buckles the kids and gets into the passenger seat. “Wasn’t that fun?” he asks me.

I turn around. The kids are already asleep. I am exhausted, still moist, still deaf, and my big purple toe is throbbing. We have a two-and-a-half hour drive home.

I put the car in gear and sigh.

Guess where my sister is taking her daughter and all her friends for an all-day splash party in honor of her Bat Mitzvah?

In a mere two months?

We’re invited of course.

Won’t that be fun?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Child's Play

Image result for vera violet vinn

I was eight years old. I wore a red and white polka dot dress, with a matching bow in my hair.

My violin was a three-quarter size. I played a simple version of the Barcarolle from the Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach.

I can still sing it on command, lo these many years later.

My parents gave me a big bouquet of roses afterwards, and gave one to my sister Dina, too, who had just turned five and didn’t play anything yet, but no one wanted her to be jealous.

My teacher, Mr. Ezrachi, had no use of his left pinky—a crazy thing for a violinist. He was facile enough, and in those days I had such a heightened frightened respect for teachers in general, a state-of-being very much encouraged in my family of teachers, that I never thought him compromised in any way. I would sneak lots of peeks at his pinky, though.

This, my first recital, took place in Tel Aviv in a hall that seemed huge to me, but might actually have been my teacher’s living room.

My father, a Math Professor, was on Sabbatical for a semester, the only Sabbatical he ever took. We moved to Israel for four months. He taught at Bar-Ilan University, I went to Netzach Yisroel School for Girls, across the street from Netzach Yisroel School for Boys who threw rocks at us; Dina went to Kindergarden which they just call ‘garden’ in Hebrew, where she was the only kid with long hair-- every Israeli mother chopped her kids’ hair off because of the lice-- and my American mother, who was all of 30 at the time, tried to make it work in a new apartment in a new land where she barely spoke the language. Without a dryer.

I had been playing violin less than a year, scratching and squeaking away, but in my family there are a few prodigies, so I was given the benefit of the doubt.

Procuring a teacher for me in Israel was a priority for my father.
Every week we went together to Mr. Ezrachi’s apartment: my lesson was first and my father’s was second. My father’s violin was a very dark wood—almost black. Apparently it was a pretty good instrument, but I never dared try it.

I don’t remember what else I played besides the Barcarolle, because the violin lesson itself was beside the point.

The point was that the minute my lesson was finished, and his was about to start, my father gave me a shekel to go to the tiny corner market, called a Makolet in Israel--and buy myself a candy bar.

I can still remember the smell of that Makolet, lo these many years later.

The freedom of those few minutes, the burning shekel in my hand, the choices—so so many colorful choices!--something chocolate or something different, oh who am I kidding, of course chocolate—the act of paying for it myself--was the closest thing I had to grown-up-hood.

For those few minutes, no one knew exactly where I was. No one told me what to buy. And no one knew exactly where I actually ate the candy bar, which was in the lobby of an apartment building next to the Makolet.

I thought to myself—this is worth playing the violin for.

A few weeks after the recital was my actual one-year violin anniversary.

My parents took me to the Mann Auditorium, in Tel Aviv, to hear the great Isaac Stern.

He picked up his bow and I sat back in my chair in a state of stone solid shock.

How could anyone do that? How could anyone play like that?

I KNEW how hard it was to play the violin. I mean, I PLAYED the violin.

It was my first taste of the divine. The first time I saw God in a person.

I was little, I was young, but I knew.

After that, I practiced harder.

Over the years, my violin was kind of a frenemy. I had to spend lots of time on it, time my friends had for other things like TV.

I had to shlep it to every summer sleepaway camp I ever went to, and my father would pointedly ask me on Visiting Day, if I had ever taken it out to practice.  Of course I had, so I wouldn’t have to lie. Once. The day before Visiting Day.

It shadowed me everywhere, like a little hoyke, a little hunchback, slung over my shoulder in its little black case. Wither Thou goest, I goest.

And while I was pretty good at it, and I guess I am pretty good at it, God never made me one of His soloists.

I am ok with that and my father is actually ok with that too, and kvells and marvels that I play professionally. “Oy, did you hate to practice! Oy did you fight me over every note!”

He cries with pride at my concerts. It makes me cry too. Once he even offered to lend me that dark wood violin. Of course I said no. No thank you.

“One Day,” he used to say when I was 8,  “One Day,” he used to say when I was 9 and 10 and would groan and make eyes and squirm, “One Day,” he used to say when I was 11 and12 and 13 and 14 and my attitude could make even Mozart sound unpleasant, “One Day you will have children of your own and you are going to have to force them to practice, too!”

It is the only thing he was wrong about.

Zachary and Aaron (ok Aaron maybe he was a little right about) practiced when they wanted to, and they wanted to a lot.

It was never fraught, never a fight, never anything but—happy.
Maybe it was because neither of my boys played the same instrument as I did? Maybe it's because (poopoopoo) they really DO play divinely? 

But in all the years of saxophone and piano lessons, I cannot remember ever having to resort to even one bribe, even one chocolate bar.

Which brings me to the Twins.

This past summer, they started violin. Their violins are cute and tiny, just like them, but they get bigger and more difficult. The violins, too.

Their teacher goes by his first name.

He smiles a lot and tells them funny stories.

Every time we practice at home, and yes, they take their violins out almost every day, we do something fun—we make up silly songs, have wacky contests, or Sruli and I jam with them.

I also taught them how to pluck which they think is the coolest thing.

Last week was their first recital. They each played a rhythm while their teacher played Twinkle Twinkle.

Charlie was resplendent in a peacock blue dress. Johnny had a fancy blue button down shirt.

Sruli and I video-ed the entire minute-and-a-half of it on our phones. We both cried when they took their bows

We had to run to our Temple’s Chanukah party right after their performances, but the next day I took them to Walmart.

“Each of you gets to pick out a candy bar—whatever you want.”

Times are different, and Walmart is no Makolet, and I would never in a zillion years let them go anywhere by themselves, but joy is joy and chocolate is chocolate.

While they stood in front of all those choices, so so many colorful choices!--I thought:

Was it all worth it, just to play the violin?  All these years?  And after all these years, am I finally feeling the joy of being able to play?


I can’t decide. I know that I seem to bring joy to other people when I play the violin, and I guess that is enough for me.

It is different for Zachary and Aaron. And I really want it to be different for the Twins.

Neither of them picks chocolate. She gets sour gummies and he gets pink and purple Nerds.

“How come you always let us get candy after a violin lesson, Mommy?”

I come up with an answer.

“Because playing the violin is-- delicious.”