Powerful Pandemic Perspective

Cecile, left, the matriarch of our family.
Grandma with her youngest granddaughter.

I was intensely moved by Toby Levy’s January 3, 2021 Op Ed article in The New York Times. Apparently, so were 621 people who commented on her piece. Coincidentally, me and my niece Talia left also comments. Ms. Levy’s article reminded us of our own family’s matriarch, Cecile. My husband’s mom survived the Holocaust, as did his dad, by being shipped to Siberia with their families. Hunted every step of their journeys across Europe, their childhoods were harrowing and horrific. According to Cecile, dealing with the pandemic is isolating, lonely, worrisome, and inconvenient. But terrifying? No. Cecile is in better spirits than a lot of my contemporaries. I listen to her for perspective and wisdom, just like Ms. Levy.

A Holocaust survivor reflects on what it means to survive the pandemic.

By Toby Levy, a retired accountant and a volunteer docent for the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Jan. 3, 2021

These days, I’m a little bored.

The boardwalk is my lifesaver. I’m two blocks from the boardwalk. I can walk to Coney Island if I want to. I go alone. I have some friends here. We used to play canasta once a week. But when Covid arrived, my daughter insisted, “You can’t sit in one room!” So I talk on the phone. I read. The grandkids call in by Zoom. I also do a little bit of Zoom lecturing for the Museum of Jewish Heritage.

I keep very busy, and it helps me a lot. I am trying not to give up. But what is getting me down is that I am losing a year. And this bothers me terribly. I’m 87 years old, and I lost almost a full year.

I’m doing everything I can to stay connected, to make an impact. So even now, amid Covid, I tell my story to schools and to audiences the museum organizes for me, by Zoom.

Here’s what I say: I was born in 1933 in a small town called Chodorow, now Khodoriv, about 30 minutes by car from Lvov, now Lviv, in what was then Poland and is now Ukraine. We lived in the center of town in my grandfather’s house. The Russians occupied the town from 1939 to 1941, then the Germans from 1941 to 1944. My father was well liked in town by Jews and non-Jews. One day in early 1942, one of the guys came to him and said, “Moshe, it’s going to be a big killing. Better find a hiding place.” So my father built a place to hide in the cellar. My grandfather didn’t want to go. He was shot in the kitchen; we heard it.

Not long after that, the Germans said they were going to relocate the remaining Jews to the ghetto in Lvov, so my father and my aunt searched for someone to hide them more permanently. They found Stephanie, who had a house on the main street with a garden and a barn. She had known my parents their whole life. My father built a wall inside the barn and a hiding place for nine people, where we slept like herrings. It was just four feet by five feet. Pigs and chickens were on one side, and we were on the other: my parents, my aunt and uncle, my maternal grandmother and four children, ages 4, 6, 8 and 12.

Eventually, with the help of Stephanie’s 16-year-old son, they expanded the space a bit and added a way for the kids to look out. That is where I spent the next two years. I always think of the son when I get down, because when Stephanie was scared to keep hiding us, he insisted we stay.

We had lice. We had rats. But every day in the barn was a miracle. I’m not a regular person. I’m a miracle child. Most of the Jews of Chodorow never returned.

So when the coronavirus came, I thought, “I’m a miracle. I will make it. I have to make it.”

During the war, we didn’t know if we would make a day. I didn’t have any freedom. I couldn’t speak loudly, I couldn’t laugh, I couldn’t cry.

But now, I can feel freedom. I stay by the window and look out. The first thing I do in the morning is look out and see the world. I am alive. I have food, I go out, I go for walks, I do some shopping. And I remember: No one wants to kill me. So, still, I read. I cook a little bit. I shop a little bit. I learned the computer. I do puzzles.

I still sometimes feel that I am missing out. A full year is gone. I lost my childhood, I never had my teenage years. And now, in my old age, this is shortening my life by a year. I don’t have that many years left. The way we have lived this year means I have lost many opportunities to lecture, to tell more people my story, to let them see me and know the Holocaust happened to a real person, who stands in front of them today. It’s important.

I am scared that I am not going to be in the shape I was a year ago. When this started in March, one of my grandchildren, who lives in New Jersey, went to Maine with his wife; they never came back. They have a baby boy now, and I have only seen him on Zoom. This child will never know me. That’s a loss.

Some of what I’m missing is so simple. I have a male friend I know from synagogue. We would take a trip, if we could, by car. To anyplace! I would go to Florida. Maybe even go to Israel for a couple of weeks. But not now. So, again, this has shortened my life. That is my biggest complaint.

I understand the fear people have, and I understand you have to take care.

But there is no comparison of anxiety, of the coronavirus, to the terror I felt when I was a child. That was a fear with no boundary. This is going to end, and I am already thinking, planning where I am going first, what I will do first, when this ends.

Toby Levy for The New York Times

Down the Shore!

Heart in the sky!

The “Week of Positives” may be over but I have more pics to share. This summer, more than ever, “finding the extraordinary in the ordinary” wasn’t just a tagline to my blog.

Growing up in Baltimore, everyone I knew loved Ocean City, MD. It may be have been three hours away, but that didn’t stop my friends and I from making day trips to Chesapeake Bay and beyond. (We’d leave at the crack of dawn and get back at midnight!) Family vacations to OC always included days on the beach, hours in the ocean, French fries with vinegar, popcorn, ice cream, and salt water taffy. Who can forget the smell of salt air mixed with heat-press transfers at tee-shirt shops on the boardwalk? Who can forget collecting seashells? Who can forget the enormous sandcastles spotlighted at night? Who can forget the feeling of summer?

Living in New Jersey, we go “down the shore” whenever we can. Guess what, hon? My mom loved the beach too, and since she grew up in Morristown, NJ, went “down the shore” with her family to Bradley Beach. Yesterday would have been her 79th birthday, so this post is dedicated to her, one extremely Brave Girl.

Surfer at Avon-by-the-Sea.

Barnegat Lighthouse.

Spring Video, How Does Life Live?

In celebration of Spring, I’m adding a new post every day this week and came across something extraordinary to share. It’s a 12-minute video called How Does Life Live? by Kelly O’BrienIt’s just beautiful!

Kelly filmed her daughters playing while her 3 year-old Willow asks questions about life. O’Brien says, “Kids are endlessly curious and ask about how life works, the ineffable mystery of it, all the time. Their questions reflect that time between innocence and experience as they try to figure out who they are in relation to the world around them.” My favorite question Willow asks is, “Do blue butterflies eat part of the sky?”

It is spring again. The earth is like a child that knows poems by heart.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

If you watch How Does Life Live?, I’d love to know what your favorite question was.

Happy new beginnings, hon.

Stories and Ceramics

Handbuilt Raku Lantern Boxes
Handbuilt Raku Lantern Boxes

I still play in the mud!

Technically, I play in clay, but I mush and squush, pat and pound, and get lots of dirt under my fingernails in ceramics class. What was great about a rain like the 40 day flood? Shampooing your hair outside. A muddy stream meant tadpoles to inspect. Wet sand on the beach? I still like the feeling of the gritty sand surrounding my sinking feet. Do I sound like a big kid?  Hmmm, maybe that’s why no matter what else I’m doing, I’m thinking about children’s books.

Each of my latest ceramics pieces has elements that can relate to children’s books. “How can you relate pottery to books?” you might ask. Hon, if you talk to me for a few minutes, you’ll find out that I often connect seemingly random things. Is that kid-like, too?

I’ve mentioned this before (My Writing Process (Bunny Hop) Blog Hop)–I find children’s books magical. There’s something lovely about words on a page that bring you to another world, make you laugh, let you to believe the unbelievable, teach you something, allow silliness to surface, relate to your own life, can be read dozens (hundreds) of times and always feel fresh. I strive to create magic in my children’s books.

I made the lantern boxes above with Hubby in mind, inscribing them with our wedding date.  I love the Little Bear books. In the scene below, “The skunks decided to get married. They had a lovely wedding.” What’s timeless about them? The characters are sweet yet wise, proper yet loving. Friendships and family, the underlying themes, are set in a world seemingly simple, but filled with depth of emotion. Little Bear stories expand my heart.

Little Bear books by Else Holmelund, illustrated by
Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

The Wedding
The Wedding.

 

 

 

 

Wheel Thrown Bowl
Wheel Thrown Bowl

I make lots of ceramic bowls! I’m not at the point where I can tell the clay what I want it to be. The clay tells me what it wants to be. Boy, is that clay bossy! And a bossy character is part of what makes the Max and Ruby books funny. My kids and I never got tired of reading Bunny Cakes.  The scene below sums up the whole book.  “Max wanted to help. ‘Dont’ touch anything, Max,’ said Ruby.” You know I have triplets, right? My kids could relate to the sibling rivalry. Guess what theme I explore in some of my books? 

Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells
Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells

Baking the cake.
Baking the cake.

 

 

 

 

 

Handbuilt Raku plate
Handbuilt Raku Plate

Forests are infinitely fascinating to me. I made the plate above with a forest theme:  wood grain, foliage and a brick path. I even pressed a piece of wood along the edges.  Owl Moon teaches readers about owling, or looking for owls in a forest at night.  Not only does the text make you feel the hush of winter snow, the anticipation of calling the owl and the wonder when you see it, the illustrations beg to be studied and explored (look for other night creatures hiding in the branches).

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by
Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr

 

winter forest
Winter Forest.

 

 

 

 

 

Handbuilt Raku plate
Handbuilt Raku Plate

Water is the theme of this handbuilt plate. I glazed the pebble impressions, wavy, watery and slim, rope patterns green and blue. I was thinking of the beach when I made this plate. The Pig in the Pond isn’t set at the beach–its set on a farm–but a hot day, farm animals, Neligan the farmer and a pond are all key elements in this funny picture book. My kids and I laughed every time we read it, especially since Neligan gets naked!

The Pig in the Pond by Martin Wadell
The Pig in the Pond by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Jill Barton

"Sploooooosh!"
“Sploooooosh!”

 

 

 

 

 

Handbuilt Raku plate
Handbuilt Raku plate

Picking out the red in this plate and accenting it with green and blue took concentration. Loving Mouse Paint did not. Just because this is a board book and it’s about white mice doesn’t mean it isn’t huge in excellence.  The mice jump in jars of paint, hop around and mix colors to make other colors, wash themselves off in the cat’s bowl, then paint paper instead. But they leave some paper white “because of the cat.”  Genius!

Mouse Paint by
Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Mice as artists.
Mice as artists.

 

 

 

 

Wheel Thrown mugs
Wheel Thrown Mugs.

I also make lots of mugs. What’s better in mugs than tea (or coffee or hot chocolate)? A constant source of my childhood imagination was tea parties, whether it was with my stuffed animals, friends, or underwater at the town pool. Mommy Badger carries a tea set in the scene below. The Frances books were written when picture book word counts were longer. They’re perfect for children ages 4-8 who want to sit and explore a story. Frances sings silly songs, likes to rhyme, is a picky eater, gets jealous of her baby sister and has to learn how to share (she reminds me of me!). Her parents get annoyed and frustrated with her, but Frances learns about the world around her with their guidance and, of course, love.

Frances books by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban
Frances books by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

Mommy Badger
Mommy Badger holding a tea set.

 

 

 

 

 

 Hon, do you relate things in your life to books, children’s or  otherwise?  I’d love to compare notes!

Sources:

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak

Max and Ruby by Rosemary Wells

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr

The Pig in the Pond by Martin Waddell and Jill Barton

Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh

Frances books by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban

Amish Country, A Step Back in Time

Lancaster, Pennsylvania
Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Hon, Bmore Energy might be a lifestyle Blog, but sometimes I feel compelled to break format. The news of the kidnapping of two Amish sisters reminded me of a childhood incident, so I’m combining memory with photographs. Both took me back in time.

When I was in elementary school, and walking home from a friend’s house, a creepy man driving a sketchy car veered to the wrong side of the street and cruised downhill alongside me. I can’t remember if I was 10 or 11 years-old, but I’ll never forget what that man looked like. I could pick him out of a lineup. I felt exposed by his laughing eyes and curling lips.  He sneered, inviting me to join him. I ran, afraid to look back, terrified that he was chasing me. I bolted behind houses until I reached my back door. I banged and screamed until my mother heard me. I was safe. I was fine.

Not really the first loss of innocence for me, but definitely the scariest up until then.

So, two “smart, strong, resilient,” Pennsylvania Dutch speaking Amish sisters are back home. Safe. But, their ordeal isn’t really over. G-d speed their inner and outer healing, and the vanquishing of demons cruising streets with evil eyes and sneering mouths.

Hopefully, open sky, fertile fields and green land will bring peace of mind.  Can you smell the scent of overturned earth in these photos?

Lancaster, PA
Lancaster, PA

DSC_2861

Farming tobacco.
Farming tobacco.

DSC_2859

DSC_2825DSC_2847