Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Plum Tree

The following is a poem that was written by me several years ago, and published in a Passover literary supplement of our national Jewish community newspaper. I'd originally started writing an essay about the 50th anniversary of my father's arrival in Canada in 1949, but as all writers know, literary intentions often take a road less traveled. Such was the tangent my writing took that day.

I am very proud of this poem, which was in print, and which I've also presented at two local poetry readings, one of them for a Holocaust-related arts presentation produced by the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Canadian division.

One day I hope/plan to convert this poem into a children's book for young or middle readers.



Young boy – a son and brother –
You are a mentor and protector
to so many.
Uprooted at an early age –
father deceased, mother struggling to raise
a young family.


The streets of your village
are awash with scholars
who study with the great rebbe –
Talmud, Mishnah, Chumash, Halacha.
You peer through the dusty cheder windows,
longing to join them.
You are too young yet.
And yet, you are too old…
The branch that your mother
and siblings cling to for support.
You must bear fruit for the others,
and labor to do so.


Nature can be merciless at times,
giving and then taking away,
wiping out traces of life and beauty.
In time, a dreadful storm comes,
wiping out that cheder, that village…
your dear ones.


But you, thank God,
have been able to root temporarily
in other places.
And slowly, slowly, you awaken
after that harsh, stormy winter.
Weakened, you are warmed by the sun;
your fragility begins to heal.
And you are replanted yet again.


A husband. A father.
A mentor and protector once more.
You move silently into your verdant garden and kneel,
shovel and soil beside you.
You recall Leviticus 19:23.
“And when you arrive in the land,
plant all manner of fruit trees…”


You are giving back to the earth,
Enriching it with new life. A plum tree.
Roots clinging to the cool earth, the tree grows,
flourishes…its branches strong.
Over time it bears fruit, and more fruit.
You harvest from its sweet gifts –
again and again,
repeating the cycle each year.

And you remember your roots…


“And he shall be like a tree planted by
the rivers of water,
that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
his leaf also shall not wither;
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”

Psalms 1:3

Things That Make You Go "Hmmmm...."

In having a conversation today with my soon-to-be five-year-old, I was explaining family relationships, and that made me think back to my childhood.

Just like I have two boys and a girl, I am part of a similar equation. At some point in my early school years, it hit me: How come I can only say "I have two brothers" but my brothers could each say "I have one brother and one sister"? I thought something was wrong there -- I felt somewhat cheated; they had one of each! It's something that made me say, "Hmmmm...."

Another thing that I've always said "Hmmmm...." about has to do with the travel ad campaign for the Bahamas. IT'S BETTER IN THE BAHAMAS. Okay, I wondered. Better than what? Better than Mexico, better than ice cream, better than winning a lottery? Give me some clues here? But the Bahamas Tourist Office never did.

And when I was very young, I took things very literally. For example, I thought "horseback riding" meant riding backwards on a horse. Worse than that, I thought that an orchestra conductor raised his baton, and based on how he moved it around, is how the orchestra played. I never realized they had the music in front of them on stands. I also remember being young, staring up at the clouds in the sky and looking for Hashem's throne. I pictured him, perhaps like a mall Santa Claus, sitting way up high and looking down on the world. And to that end, when I was in the schoolyard, I'd look up and think: "How can Hashem be looking down on me here, while looking down on my parents at my house?"

I still often look at things, my head askew, with the natural curiosity of a young child -- but this child is forty-three these days! -- and say "Hmmmm....."

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I Am a Lifetime Member of the Rat Pack -- oops, I Mean Brat Pack -- oops, I Mean Pack Rats!

Yes, 'tis true -- I am a lifetime member of a special club: The Pack Rat Club. Whatever my status -- single or married, young or old, daughter, wife or mother -- I have been a member in good standing for well over three decades.

Lookin' for a Fiddler on the Roof Broadway show ticket from August 25, 1990? Yes, I have it. Seeking that university essay on "Biblical Imagery in THE STONE ANGEL"? Yup, I've got that, too. I even have a list of favorite boys' names and girls' names that I compiled many many years ago, names that I thought that I might one day name any children that I might have. I think at least one of those names got picked when I gave birth.

I have all, and I mean ALL, the letters that were received from an American penpal while I was in my early to mid-teens. Maybe I have to thank G-d that the friendship (which averaged two letters per month) fell by the wayside after a few years. Who knows? I might've had to add an exclusive "letter room" to my house.

Is being a pack rat a sickness, an obsession, a form of entertainment or just a conversation piece? I don't know -- I've always just thought myself to be nostalgic, or called myself a sentimental fool.

Over the past few years, along with my husband's help and some heavy-handedness on my part, I've learned to comb through my "treasures," salvage what is REALLY important, and discard the rest.

I'm actually one of those moms who has kept EVERY little piece of art that my children brought home, not displaying every piece on the fridge door, mind you, but stashing the creativity in a bag. But those bags accumulated -- what with having three children -- so with hubby's help I saved "the best" and tossed the rest. SO who cares if I have 3 mock seder plates, or 3 Megillat Esthers, or 3 "Bruchim HaBaim" signs for my sukkah. Only problem? These days I have to find which bag I stored them in!

Yes, I'm still a member of this not-so-exclusive club, but I'm not keeping up so much with the other lifetime members; I don't go to so many of their meetings anymore, either. If I did, I'd just have to save the programs...and who's got room for those!?

Just a little poll:
If anyone out there has been reading this, do you think I have some start-up material here for a personal essay to be submitted to a daily newspaper? I'd up the humor, up the examples, etc. Would you find such a piece entertaining to read in a local or national newspaper?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Grab a Snack at the Blogeteria

I try to be simple but eloquent in what I say in my blog; I cannot spout politics or Halacha or too much about psychology or current events, so I try to keep things simple. Perhaps it sounds as if I'm pussyfooting around and being very cautious in what I tend to say, thus keeping private matters private, and maintaining a reasonally low profile in the blogging world. But I am content enough with my pearlies of wisdom.

But, man, have I been reading some "let it all out" entries that people feel the need to relay. Not everyone uses discretion, "shmirat lashon" or fine-tuning with their words. They let it all hang out! Of course, I don't have to choose to read these blogs, but some of them seem to draw readers in with their "shmutzy" tones, or revelation of family secrets, or their promiscuity. You can go from reading blogs that sound staid and idyllic to blogs that go deep behind the scenes...scenes I don't think anyone really needs to read about.

And I've learned about the underworld of bloggers -- the black (mad) hatters, the velvet kippot keepers, the wanna-lose-their-sheitel types -- in essence the ultra-Orthodox who have had it up "to there" with being fed Halachic truths, and maintaining lifestyles that are "yashar, yashar". These folks have discovered an outlet for their frustrations, their confusion, their anger and disgust with all they've been taught.

It is sad to read about these people who, in some shape or another are leading double lives as frummies to those around them, but are beginning to feel more secular in their hearts. In a way I'm pleased that they've found the blogging outlet a wonderful tool to use to rant about their disillusionment with Yiddishkeit, but I also feel sad that many people reach that point in their lives...and those closest to them do not even realize it. Instead, these people have to use mass media as a tool, and anonymous readers as an audience to help strengthen their belief of disbelief.

I will not name these bloggers, I will not point a finger, but I wish them all much strength to either come back to the path of the righteous, or continue on their path to....?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

In Search of ... What?

So my deadlines for freelance writing and copy editing have passed. I met the deadlines and could then breathe a heavy sigh of relief, generally pleased with my output, my ability to correct the work of others as well as my own.

But now there are no immediate turnaround dates looming over my head -- no reference books to confer with, no style sheets to keep, no red pencils to sharpen or Post-its to write on. There are no word counts to try and adhere to, no reworking of sentences "just one more time," no accompanying letters to write to the editor.

Zip, nada, "kloom"!

And you know what, folks? I feel at somewhat of a loss. I don't quite know what to do with myself with this "free time." Of course, I have a family to look after, and I do, but after they've gone to bed, for once I, too, can go to bed. I don't have to lay out manuscript pages on the dining room table in just the right order, I don't have to lug out Webster's and Chicago Manual of Style from their places on an upstairs shelf, I don't have to put on my thinking cap, which I already discarded when I walked in the door after work!

I do have a story that I've been asked to write -- and I promised that I could only TRY to do so. Not because I don't have the time, but because I haven't written a short story since my teens probably. And believe me, that's quite a number of years ago! So I have the brilliant idea that's been given the green light; it's now just a matter of executing it, playing with the idea, shaping it and reshaping it till it feels just right.

So why am I addressing my blog instead of confronting head-on the short story, "The Face in the Mirror"?

Friday, January 14, 2005

Isn't It Funny?

I work in book publishing. I enjoy reading. I also write -- and sometimes publish -- poetry primarily.

Isn't it funny then -- not as in "ha-ha," but as in a great coincidence -- that the first poem I ever shared with the public eye was a submission for a literary contest put out by our public library. That poem, so simplistic as it was written by an eight-year-old, won 1st prize in my age category and was posted for all the library patrons to see. My prize? A lovely book.

I guess I've definitely met my calling: books, writing and publishing poetry...and considering myself a winner every day -- in every way!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

What Would the Poskim Say?

This happened to me many years ago when I was much younger and not as enlightened. I will relay the situation, and I'd appreciate reading any follow-up Halachic insights or firm answers.

In my middle teen years, I once went to use an ATM that was in a supermarket. (Perhaps I should say that the supermarket is located in a neighborhood, surrounded by many apartment buildings in which senior citizens live.) I put in my card, requested $20 and when the money was spit out, I received my $20 PLUS another $60. The withdrawal slip only showed that $20 had been removed from my account.

I was somewhat stunned but looked around the machine on the floor to see if there were any dropped withdrawal slips, thinking that perhaps someone had dropped it and forgotten to take their money. The money had been spit out with mine; it was not in the slot when I started my transaction.

I didn't know what to do -- I'm an honest person by nature, but sometimes suspicious, and thought that if I go to the store manager and explain the situation, he might just pocket the money for himself and not contact the bank whose machine it is in his store. But then again, might one of the pensioner seniors have somehow left it behind? Or was the ATM just malfunctioning and it was my lucky day...and perhaps I should go back for some more good luck later in the day, and treat the ATM like a winning slot machine?

I took my $20 and that $60 and went home. I put away the "found" money and didn't use it for a long time. I can't remember if I used it all for personal reasons or perhaps gave some tzedaka with it.

I did get a response from a learned cousin of mine years later when I posed the question. If I recall correctly, I was told that it was sort of "open territory" money -- didn't really belong to the bank, so I was able to claim it for myself. Which I had done.

But as you can tell, I've never forgotten that experience, and still wonder about the rights and wrongs of it. If anyone can advise, thank you.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Five-Year Plan...Not!

Life is funny -- you make schedules, you make plans, you book appointments, you chart routes both literally and figuratively. And you try to maintain those schedules, follow through with those plans, keep those appointments and try not to get lost when you take those decided-upon routes.

I know people who prepare budgets, discuss future schools for their t00-young children, simchas for their too-young children, vacations for themselves, home-improvement ideas for the exterior and interior of their home -- these are people with a five-year plan.

Is there something wrong with me if I don't have that kind of plan? If I can't make that kind of plan? I can't even plan for next week, or next month or later in the year -- how can I plan for the next five years?

Our shul requires families to book with deposit a bar mitzvah three years in advance because of competitive popularity of this particular shul -- how can I know three years prior, when my son is ten years old, what kind of/quality of simcha we'll be having, therefore which of the shul's several social halls I will want to use, whether or not my son will read the whole parsha or just haftorah, or even if we'll still be living in the area and attending that shul?

A lottery. The bar mitzvah dilemmas in the shul are settled by a lottery. Remember that infamous short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson...? Not sure I want to partake in this bar mitzvah lottery. Why, what am I -- a rebel with a CLAUSE!?

I'm always being told by people around me, "Pearl, gotta remember... zrizut." [expedience, speediness] In other words, adhere to the motto "The early bird catches the worm." I don't like worms and I'm not in the mood to catch any. So does that make me a bad person?

I've learned from personal experience that even the best-made plans encounter glitches -- life gets in the way. Whether it be due to illness or something far worse, whether it be due to acts of nature, whether it just be due to cold feet on your or someone else's part, "things don't always go according to plan."

So there you have it. In that cliche. Proof that I shouldn't make a five-year plan -- so why is everyone else not listening?

Sunday, January 09, 2005

A Note from a Friend

This is an English language web site that describes a very sad, yet moving chapter inTaiwan's history -- about a Hsinchu husband and father during the White Terror period who had to hide from the government police -- for 18 years, hiding in a small space between two walls in his brother's home. Read it and weep! History is worth remembering....

Deadlines, Deadlines

HELP! I'm trapped in deadline land. For over four weeks I've known about deadlines that I have -- to do freelance editing and freelance writing. Yes, I worked on my assignments, a little at a time; my spare time is limited, after all! I could have done more earlier; I should have done more earlier.

As a writer/editor, I wait for that creative muse to find me and hit me over the head. Sometimes she's busy with other folks, and can't get to me so fast. Other times, she's got the address, but just can't find me for the flurry of paperwork atop my desk, or the piles of "stuff" that block her way -- that might be a laundry basket, some unwashed dishes, coats that need to be hung up... But when we do meet up, often it's with that too-soon-for-comfort turnaround date looming over my head.

In this case, that date happens to be tomorrow! Will I get to sleep tonight, or will I have to take work off tomorrow to meet that deadline? Have I done as fine a job as I can possibly do with these two assignments? Time will tell. If I'm able to link you to my article in a future blog, I'll know that everything worked out okay...even if it was somewhat stressful to get there. And if my freelance editing piece passes muster, then all is good "in my book."

Walkin' the Dog

We moved into a new neighborhood not all that long ago; it wasn't because we were "movin' on up" -- we'd already had a lovely large home, not a starter home by any means. But we moved for our children to be closer to their school, to their friends, to a good shul that offered appropriate programs for them. Isn't it only normal for all parents to do things for their children's betterment?!

Lucky us, we managed to buy and move into a beautiful neighborhood that has some VERY EXPENSIVE, UPSCALE homes -- our home is one of the older -- and cheaper -- ones, but land around us is still being developed, and the nearby golf course is not being parceled off for that, thank goodness.

Anyhow, when we moved, His Royal Pug Highness, Tyson Pugsley, of course moved with us. Not only were we in a new neighborhood, so was this king of the canines! There were new trees, new mailboxes, new fire hydrants to sniff out. New routes to plan out. New parks to check out. He wasn't complaining one bit -- there were lots of new doggie pals for him to power walk with. But let me tell you, power walking with a dog is not the same thing as power walking with a person. You attempt to walk, and he uses everything in his power to stop you short in your tracks, with him at the other end of the leash, doing his thing.

But one of the nicest things for me is to be able to go out into this residential neighborhood in the early morning or in the latest of night, and walk, and feel safe, and not have to look twice over my shoulder or around the corner. Sometimes I meet another female midnight dog walker, and I think that she, too, is fearless. We're not pushing our luck here by doing the late-night solo stroll, we're just lucky to be able to do it SAFELY in our neighborhood!

It's 12:30 in the morning now, and I think I'll go take Tyson out for a breath of fresh air. Anyone care to join us...?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Do Check Out This Site

If you have time on your hands, and you're tired of just reading blogs, do check out this Web site: it's stimulating, entertaining and offers tidbits of information that might not normally reach you via other media sources.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Just Because...

And just because it was kindly suggested to me in the comments section to share some of my poetry in my blog, I'll provide you with a poem that was published in a Canadian Jewish literary review a few years ago. It was written in memory of an aunt of mine who lived in Eastern Europe and died in 1942, age 15 -- at the hands of the Nazis. My daughter is named for this cherished little sister of my father.

As a child of a survivor, the Holocaust has played a great role in my life, in my way of thinking, of living, of being. And it often translates into poetry, some of which has been published, other poems just waiting patiently to be shared.

I am glad this one was published, and I am pleased to share it with you.

The Doll

Her body,
tattered and torn,
discolored dress
unraveling at the seams,
face smudged with dirt.

But her eyes,
lifelike in their ocean blue,
stare unceasingly at the world –
as if taking in all the fine details,
as if memorizing them
for some future time.

The little girl
clutches her prized possession.

Her dress, too, is tattered and torn,
its yellow star fading, but not fast enough.
Her face, too, is smudged with dirt.
Her ocean-blue eyes,
so like the doll’s
as they stare unceasingly at the world –
as if documenting the fine details,
as if memorizing them
for some future time.

The child looks
at the man
who offers her pieces of chocolate.
“Czekolada, czekolada.”
He holds out the treat to her.

She shakes her head no.

“Matka, Matka.”
Mother, Mother,
she replies.

Dead, he says matter-of-factly.

And as the little girl holds her doll
to her chest, she points to it.
“Lalka.” Doll.
And then she points to herself.

Rabbi Twerski's Words of Wisdom for Today

Tevet 23

Where were you when I established the earth? (Job 38:4).

One who reads the book of Job cannot but have compassion for just and pious Job, who appears to be unfairly subjected to suffering. All the rational arguments that his friends offer to account for his innocent suffering appear hollow, and the only acceptable answer is God's remark to Job, "Where were you when I established the earth?"

In other words, a human being can see only a tiny fragment of the universe, an infinitesimally small bit of time and space. Our vantage point is much like a single piece of a huge jigsaw puzzle, a tiny fragment of the whole picture, which makes no sense on its own. Only when the entire puzzle is assembled do we realize how this odd-shaped piece fits properly. Since no human being can have a view of the totality of the universe in both time and space, we cannot possibly grasp the meaning of one tiny fragment of it.

This explanation does not tell us why the innocent may suffer, but only why there cannot be a satisfactory explanation. Acceptance of suffering therefore requires faith in a Creator who designed the universe with a master plan in which everything that happens has a valid reason. This belief may not comfort a sufferer nor prevent the sufferer from becoming angry at the Designer of the universe. The Torah does not in fact condemn the anger of the sufferer (Bava Basra 16b), but does require that he accept adversity with trust that God is just (Deuteronomy 32:4).

Acceptance does not mean approval, but it does allow us to avoid the paralyzing rage of righteous rage, and to go on with the business of living.

Today I shall ...... try to realize that nothing ever happens that is purposeless, and that I must go on living even when I disapprove of the way the world operates.

Publishing Houses Take Over Your Streets

If you can, do check out this link. It was a cute article sent to me today from a friend in Taiwan.

Being that I work in the publishing world, I couldn't help but enjoy what I was reading, and want to share it with you.

And as I told my friend, I wouldn't mind living on Penguin Place or Doubleday Drive. How about you...?

Sunday, January 02, 2005

The Makings of a Poet

So, New Year, new beginnings... Nu?

Remember that resolution list I mentioned, with one of the items being that I should continue to write...and submit my stuff? Well, last night after Shabbos, I opened up my e-mail to find a message from an American Jewish literary journal, telling me that a poem I'd submitted to them a couple of weeks ago was accepted for publication in an upcoming issue.

It is not a new poem; I wrote it last year and submitted it to a Canadian literary journal, alas to no acceptance. But this is even better for me -- it will bring me exposure in the States. Maybe I'll become a household name -- in some homes. "Look at that Pearl's writing. She's good...!" I am thrilled, and the acceptance of this particular poem, "And One More for Good Luck," touches a personal heartstring as the poem is about two people I love very much.

Now, do you think this might be a good sign for a possible acceptance from L.A.'s Jewish Journal -- I also recently submitted some of my "pearls" to them, in this case personal essays. The essays are also not new material, but pieces I wrote five-plus years ago.

Perhaps everything old becomes new again...

Might this 43-year-old follow suit...?