Trick or Treat

I like Halloween.  I don’t know why.  Certainly, there are no happy childhood associations, though one year my mother did get a pumpkin.

Of course, we only got to watch while she did all the carving.  She wasn’t into collaboration.

If we had been of a Jesus-related faith, I’m certain we wouldn’t have got a Christmas tree.  It’s not like there would have been any presents to put under it.

In the unlikely event we did get a tree, well, I’m sure she would’ve decorated it all by herself while we were at Hebrew School or something.

Anyway, we only got a pumpkin that one time because it got smashed.  Maybe that’s just the fate that awaits all but a few lucky pumpkins come All Hallow’s Eve.  Or maybe we would have had better luck if she wasn’t always yelling at the neighborhood kids.

But still, costumes and chocolates, what is there not to like?

So, when the time came that I was both grown up and coupled up, we moved to California, to a beautiful neighborhood in Old Palo Alto, and set up a holiday-friendly home.

That first year, I was really looking forward to the Trick or Treaters.  I had done my research and knew which candy was the most prized.  I bought five times as many pieces as we could possibly need.  And none of that cheap miniature or corn syrup crap.

When evening arrived, we waited and waited, but our doorbell did not ring.  It seemed odd.  Our lights were on.  Our decorations were up.  Maybe they start later out here, I thought, we just need to give it time.

The time did pass, but our house remained unhaunted.  We tested the doorbell and resumed our watch.  We heard children running and laughing in the street.  Were these the sounds of mere spirits and not flesh and blood boys and girls?

We went outside to investigate.  No, these princesses and pirates were real live kids.  But they were skipping past our address and flocking to the surrounding abodes.

See, ours was a very posh precinct, the neighbors included Steve Jobs and Steve Young as well as other Steves less note-worthy but equally net-worthy.  Though darling, our place stood out, in a Section 8 kind of way.  In truth, many of the nearby garages dwarfed our modest home.

This was prejudice in its purest form.  The treats from our cozy cottage were just as good as the sweets from the stately mansions.  Even better!

Books!  Covers!  What are they teaching in the schools?  People, please!

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.


Lingkt In

So, by Linked In, they have a button with the hands shaking.  Not the way my hands shake with the dishes dropping on the floor.  The way hands shake when people make the meet and greet.

Now, I’m more of a hugger than a shaker, but when I do the handshake, say, with a business acquaintance, the other person invariably remarks “cold hands”, to which I always respond, “warm heart”.

Another thing about the handshaking.  In graduate school, one of the professors shook each of the girls’ hands.  He said nothing makes a weak impression like a weak handshake.  All the other girls, he told to tighten the grip.  Me, he warned not to break anybody’s metacarpals.

In my experience, however, it is men who are far more likely to give the wimpy shake.  Especially doctors.  They have no problem to prod and to poke all over your private parts, but your hand they touch like it’s a cesspool of germs.  Oh wait.  It is.

Anyway, with the Linked In, you would click the “hands” button if you should want to see “People You May Know”.  I wanted to see people I may know.  So I clicked.

Here is a sampling of the names…

Levy.  Levin.  Levine.  Levinger.
Katz.  Katzen.  Katzman.  Katzenberg.
Goldman.  Goldfarb.  Goldberg.  Goldstein.

Notice there seems to be a trend…

Edelman.  Ackerman.  Friedman.  Fleischman.
Goodman.  Adleman.  Perelman.  Kaufman.
Shulman.  Keleman.  Feldman.  Silverman.

Please, I am not making this up…

Bernstein.  Weinstein.  Rubinstein.  Finkelstein.
Rosenbaum.  Rosenstein.  Rosenblum.  Rosenfeld.
Aronowitz.  Berkowitz.  Horowitz.  Rabinowitz.
Steinberg.  Fineberg.  Ginsburg.  Koenigsberg.

Still, the list is going on and on…

Cohen!  Wexelblat!  Shimelfarb!  Teitelbaum!
Siegel!  Perlmutter!  Klein!  Hirsch!
Frankel!  Kaplan!  Shapiro!  Schwartz!

OK, it’s a small community, but really, we don’t all know each other!

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.


Mrs. Scherz is from my childhood.  She is now re-married to Mr. Schwartz.  They are in their 70s and have the New York Jewish thing going in a big way.

This takes place at my mother’s funeral.  At the cemetery.  It is silent.  Mrs. Scherz is shoveling the dirt and quite vigorously when Mr. Schwartz calls out:

“Irma!  You don’t have to do the whole thing by yourself.”

The words, the accent, the delivery; it was a perfect moment in the midst of a most dreadful day.

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Tenement Life

The Tenement Museum in New York is dedicated to preserving immigrant life on the Lower East Side during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  The highlight is to tour the restored apartments and businesses of past residents and merchants.

Normally, I would be very excited to visit such a landmark.  It is my favorite historical period and location.  My grandparents, Jewish immigrants who came to America from Europe with very little money and even less English, worked in the New York sweatshops.  This is the story of my people.

Now, you may know how quickly I get bored to look at great artworks or ancient artifacts.  But, to explore a house museum is a completely different thing.  I really enjoy to see how the people lived and worked.  Especially the Jewish people in turn-of-the-century New York.

But, I do not need to visit a museum to experience tenement life.  I do not need to leave the “comfort” of my own home.

All through the summer and fall, I had a termite infestation inside my apartment.  Now that it is winter, I have not had hot water in over a month.  And when it rains outside, also it rains in my living room.

Who needs a museum?  Already I am living the tenement life.

© 2015 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

All for Leyna

Growing up, we had only one stereo.  It lived in the narrow hallway outside the bathroom.  My mother did not believe in comfort or convenience.  Or privacy.

Me and my sister would play Springsteen — vinyl, of course — and sing and dance around the family members as they entered and exited the facilities.

One day, my Gremma starts to “yi di di” and asks me to put on “Lenya”.  I was astounded.  I did not know her musical repertoire extended beyond “Uyfen Pripekeh” and “Goodnight, Irene”.

Billy Joel is très passé but every now and then I like to spin “Glass Houses”.  It makes me feel warm all over.

You go, Gremma…

© 2014 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.

The Hauptbahnhof

For me, the Jewish identity is very strong.  All of the time, it is a big part of me.  But never do I feel so Jewish like when I am within the German borders.  Not when I am among the Israelis.  Not even when I am by the Lower East Side.

Maybe five, six times I was to Germany.  Always business, never pleasure.  Like many Jewish people, Germany makes me uncomfortable.  To walk on the ground.  Where it happened, the epicenter.

You can never forget, not for a minute.  Everywhere you go, there are plaques to tell you right here is where they killed this many Jews, over there is where they burned that synagogue.

And the older people, maybe it’s a prejudice, but you can’t help wonder what they did or did not do.  Did this one join the Nazis?  Did that one hide the Jews?  Did the other one look the other way?

For the first trip to Germany, I was in Frankfurt.  I was by myself over the weekend, intent to keep busy and active.  I got a tourist map that displayed artwork for several attractions and I set about a walking tour of the town.

A picture of an ornate looking structure was labeled “Kaiserdom”.  I followed the map expecting to find some king’s palace.  Instead, it was an ancient cathedral.  OK, some history.

An illustration of a few gabled buildings named “Römer” led me to a lively plaza in the oldest part of town filled with beer gardens, sausage stands, and costumed oom pah pah bands.  OK, a little tradition.

A drawing of some trees marked “Palmengarten” brought me to the botanical park to enjoy the greenhouses, flowerbeds, and a lake.  OK, a bit of nature.

It was going so well that I decided to use the remaining sketches as my compass, confident that each image would guide me to a pleasant spot.

In this way, I came to see the chorale rehearsing at the Alte Oper, the animals frolicking at the Zoologischer, the socialists demonstrating on the Zeil; the various sights and sounds of Frankfurt.

Finally, I had visited all of the destinations on the map except for one.  A grand, imposing building called Hauptbahnhof.  It was a very long walk and this made me hesitate, but I was having such good luck and it was a truly glorious day.

So I walked and I walked and I walked.  As I got nearer, it seemed that a large number of pedestrians, mostly locals, were going my same way.  I thought to myself that this must be some special place to entice so many people.

When I had walked for more than an hour and the journey’s end was at last in close view, it was clear that I had reached Frankfurt’s grand central.  The railway station.

Although I was exhausted — did I mention that my foot was encased in fiberglass? — I turned around and commenced the long walk back to the hotel.  What else could I do?  Get on a train?  A Jew?  In Germany?  Are you kidding?

© 2013 Jaclyn Schrier. All rights reserved.