Friday, August 21
It was supposed to be only a 2-hour drive today to reach Chanie Goldner's bungalow in the Catskill Mountains (more about who Chanie is in a minute), but the rain which I'd managed to avoid on all but one day (5 weeks ago) of the trip so far finally caught up with me. I didn't have any problems per se driving in the rain (thanks again Robert for the Rain-X on the windows!), but traffic was very slow. Sometimes when the rain was pelting the Roadtrek so hard, I had trouble hearing my GPS!
Chanie Goldner and I met "on line" as we were both researching the Silber Family Tree. My mother's father, Ben Silber, was next to the youngest of 11 siblings (10 boys, 1 girl). Leopold Silber was the oldest. Chanie is Leopold's great-granddaughter. This makes Chanie and me second cousins once removed. Leopold's decendents, including Chanie, are almost all Orthodox Jews. Although Ben himself was Orthodox, his decendents are predominantly Conservative or Reform Jews. (My family is Conservative). I was very anxious to meet Chanie and her family and learn about how Orthodox Judaism is practiced today. And Chanie, I think, wanted to meet her crazy California cousin who would drive all the way across the United States by herself!
Chanie and her family really live in Brooklyn but, like many others there, have a "bungalow" in the Catskills which they use during the summer months and occasional long week-ends during the year. Now, my image of a "bungalow" was a small one or two room cabin which is what my Uncle Sam and Aunt Selma's bungalow colony was like 50 years ago when I spent a summer with them. Chanie's "bungalow" is a beautiful 2-story, 6-bedroom house, decorated with beautiful paintings and works of art (including the hand-made, hook-rug (I think) wall hanging I have a picture of later. Chanie is married to Hertzy Goldner and they have 5 sons ranging in age from 11 to 20-something. The oldest, Meilech, is now married and they have a beautiful 1.5-year-old son, Mordechai, who reminded me very much of my grandson, Philip. Three of Chanie's sons were away at camp, but everyone else was out at the bungalow this day, plus Hertzy's mother (a Holocaust survivor). They were all so very nice and welcoming and I had a wonderful time talking with them ---not to mention the delicious lunch Chanie served -- bagels with egg salad, tuna salad, and baba ganoosh to spread on it, plus salad and rugalach for dessert. All very yummy.
Let me mention a few of the customs and "rules" observed by Orthodox Jews which I'm sure most of my non-Jewish followers may never have heard of: the boys wear payas, or long lengths of hair, usually in front of their ears (although I think Chanie said her 17-year-old likes to pull his behind his ears). They always wear a kipa (also called a yarmulka or skull-cap) on their heads, and when they go out, wear a specific style of hat and you can tell from the style of hat, what country their ancestors were from (I didn't know that until Hertzy showed me pictures of several different styles). Married women always keep their own hair covered by either a wig or a scarf. (All the women in the picture of the family are wearing wigs). They also wear long skirts and long-sleeve blouses almost all of the time. A married man does not touch a woman other than his wife (I knew not to offer to shake hands with Hertzy or Meilech.) When it stopped raining and we went for a walk, Chanie showed me the "men's" swimming pool and the "women's" swimming pool, which makes sense but I'd never thought about. In the synagogue, the men pray on one side, separated by a partition or wall from the women, who, if they come to schul, have to sit on the other side of the partition. (I have posted 2 pictures of the schul which I saw later on our walk, one of the men's side and one of the women's --the men's side has long tables at which they sit. I presume the tables are to lay out the books from which they are reading and studying). On Shabbat (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday), Orthodox Jews do not drive cars, turn on any appliances, or do any manner of work. I thought they didn't use any electricity at all on Shabbat, but Chanie explained that by using timers to turn lights or other things on and off at certain times, they CAN use electric lights, etc., during Shabbat --- they just can't physically turn them on or off. I found there to be a lot of similarities between the Amish and the Orthodox Jews---not in religious beliefs, obviously, but in their conservative and modest style of dress, their strict adherence to the principles of their faith, and their desire to shield their children from the negative influences of television or internet use. (Chanie has no TV in her house, but she and the other adults do use computers).
Okay, enough Orthodox Jewish education for now.
When it stopped raining so hard, we went out for a walk. I stopped by the Roadtrek and took the dogs out. Everyone was most anxious to see the dogs and I found it almost comical. Apparently, very few of the 120 families in this bungalow colony (all Orthodox or Chasidic Jews) have dogs (or cats) as pets. There's no rule against it, they just don't seem to have pets. So my dogs suddenly became a big attraction for all the neighborhood kids and as word spread that there were DOGS visiting, people started coming out from everywhere (or so it seemed to me), bringing their babies and little kids to see the DOGS. Soon we were surrounded. I found it quite funny and gave Chanie my camera to take some pictures of all this commotion (I've posted a few here). They were quite amazed that little Mordechai wasn't afraid of the dogs and he even petted them (which they were taking their own pictures and video of). Maggie was petrified of all the attention, and the rain didn't help either, and was shaking so violently I finally decided to stop torturing her and let her go back in the camper. Juliet was happy to go on the walk around the community with us, and Mordechai held her leash all the way (more video pictures by the Goldners of this amusing event).
Back at their bungalow after our walk, I put Juliet into the Roadtrek and she and Maggie (when she wasn't under the table) looked out the windows and continued to amuse the neighborhood kids. I had to leave by 6:00 pm since it was Friday night. I could have stayed for Shabbat dinner which I really would have liked to do, but Chanie said that if I stayed past sundown Friday, I wouldn't be able to drive my vehicle until 9:00 pm Saturday night, when Shabbat was over. It would be too complicated, I felt (I would have to plug my Roadtrek in and I don't know what I would have done about lights at night because I don't have timers, etc.) and I had told Aunt Selma and Uncle Sam that I would be arriving that night. So I decided not to stay for dinner, and with gifts of a mini-challah Chanie had baked that morning and some potato kugel, I said good-bye to my second cousin once removed and her family. We may try to get together again once they are back in Brooklyn at the end of the month. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit with them. Thank you, Chanie!
It was an hour drive from Fallsburg (where Chanie's bungalow colony was) to Monroe, where my Aunt Selma and Uncle Sam Barash live along the shores of Walton Lake. It had started raining again but I made it okay. It was so great to see them again! (Last saw them 4 years ago when they came to San Diego for my boys' weddings). Aunt Selma is my mother's sister. (Everyone calls her "Kit" but she's always been "Aunt Selma" to me). There will be lots more about them in coming posts; I'll be staying here a couple weeks, unless they throw me out before then. Aunt Selma made us turkey burgers for dinner, we introduced Maggie and Juliet to their cat, Millie, and called it an early night. They like to go to bed around 9:30. But they let me sleep until noon so I think this will work out nicely.