Saturday, October 9, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Blessings

     There is something decidedly Jewish about Caren Jeskey. I mean that as a compliment. I shouldn't be surprised that she gets that a lot. Her Saturday report:

    Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam. Funny earworm for an atheistic goy. Although I have almost no idea what those words mean, they have rolled off of my tongue since I was young. Growing up in West Rogers Park meant more menorahs in the picture windows of our Georgian homes in late November and early December, than Christmas trees later in the season. There was also the ranch style home on Birchwood near Sacramento with two picture windows, eight candles in one and a bedecked Fraser fir in the other.
     When my Grandma Marie came to visit us in Rogers Park, I’d drive her to St. Margaret Mary church on Jarvis near Western. If she was lucky, and I was being a good granddaughter, I’d attend a Saturday early evening service with her. More likely than not, though, I’d drop her off at the side door and leave her to kneel and genuflect, and I’d head back to whatever party was happening at my folks’ house down the street.
     There I’d stuff myself with delicious Polish sausages and other delicacies my foodie folks had laid out, and basked in the mutual admiration of family and friends. No piety for us. When it was time to get Grandma from church I was never late. I’d pull up along the side of the church, and she’d come out the side door like clockwork. Dependable, sturdy Marie. What I wouldn’t give to sit next to her at church again, inhaling her Emaurade perfume and hearing her sing the hymns loudly to demonstrate her fervor for the Lord.
     Rogers Park friends enveloped me into their culture growing up. I was the Hebrew school guest when a bestie and I could not pry our middle-school hips off of each other. I was a regular at seders, and hung on every word of the Haggadah even when my Jewish friends rolled their eyes and prayed for it to end. I even liked Gefilte fish, and I’d devour horseradish with wild abandon. These were my people.
     I have been called an “honorary Jew” more times than I can count. I realize that might offend some, so please read the sidebar of the blog. It happened. I’m simply reporting. Jewish families tried to “adopt” me, and told me that they were sure I had “Jewish blood” in me. Therefore, I was to propagate with a good Jewish man. They even had the Jewish husband picked out for me, and were sure we’d have many children. This never offended me. I was flattered.
     I remember once when I was working at the 2nd Street Bar & Grill in Santa Monica California— an Israeli couple at the bar became (albeit drunkenly) obsessed. They were SURE I was one of them (meaning Israeli, and Jewish), and they wanted to get me to Israel so I could see that I belonged there.
     My mother’s father Karol Krasnopolski was born in Budapest Hungary. With a name like that I’m pretty sure he was Polish. So why was he in Hungary? Did his family have to flee Poland for some reason? Were they Jewish? I don’t know, but it feels like a possibility. Just because my paternal grandfather may have been Jewish doesn’t mean I am, according to Jewish lineage rules; however, it might mean that the attraction I have to the Jewish world comes from an intuitive sense of belonging.
     Tonight, on this Friday, I am heading to a Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house. Or at least I thought I was. They invited me for “Shabbat dinner” but then today my friend sent a follow up email. Along with their address and the time I should arrive, they sent: “The only other thing is, I might have oversold the Sabbath. We don't actually do that.” I laughed. Perfect. Good thing.
     I am more than happy to gather around a loaf of challah, light candles, and listen to the incantations of my friends. Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam. I’ve done it so much I’ve committed it to memory. I love the ritual of it all. It feels so safe, simple, comforting, pure.
     But for tonight I’ll bring my Jewish friends a loaf of challah and some matzo ball soup that they can eat this weekend, and the three of us will break bread and have a grand old time. No one will be more or less holy than the person next to them.


  1. Reminds me of Daniel Deronda, which was written I believe at a time when anti-semitism was taken for granted in England.


    1. Just looked it up- looks interesting. Thanks.

    2. It has never been as popular as George Eliot's other novels. But a good read nevertheless.


  2. I'm One Of The Tribe (OOTT). I was born in Chicago and grew up in the northern suburbs. My grandfathers were Polish and Lithuanian. Both my grandmothers came from Russia. But on Long Island, Italians from Brooklyn thought I was one of their tribe. It's also happened to me in other places, like Chicago and Cleveland. I guess I look, sound, and act very Italian. I never get insulted. Just the opposite. In fact, I consider those occurrences to be among the highest lifetime honors I've ever received.

    I dated very few Jewish women. My high school was mostly Jewish, with a lot of Italians, so I lusted after the Italian greaser chicks, with their beehive hair, tight skirts, and crosses of gold. Their perfume was mostly stale tobacco smoke. Dated a couple of Italians in college, but my live-in girlfriend was Swedish and my two spouses have been Norwegian and German. Go figure, huh? Only in America.

    "Baruch atah adonai eloheinu melech haolam" is the opening line of Hebrew for Jewish prayers and blessings. It translates to "Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe." It is used at Hanukkah, Passover seders, Friday and Saturday shabat (sabbath) services, and at mealtimes. It is said when Jews give thanks to God for bread, for wine, for rain, for good harvests, and for many other things.

    But, hey, I'm hardly a Jewish scholar. I dropped out of Hebrew school at eleven, so I could stay home and drool over my favorite Italian princess (Annette Funicello) every afternoon. My parents later hired an ancient bearded Orthodox guy as a tutor. I can still read Hebrew, but can no longer speak it or write it. But I did learn enough to finally have a Bar Mitzvah, right on schedule.

    1. You and I seem to be the same age. Every young guy fawned over Annette. I think I think I can still read Hebrew, but I have set foot in a temple in years. Both of my parents funerals were held at the funeral home. I can't even remember if we had a rabbi there I am sure we did.

    2. Yeah, I was young, in fifth grade, but old enough to be aware of certain things, like boobs. Both my parents had graveside funerals, a decade apart, in a cemetery that is literally across the street from where the Everglades begin. Florida in June. Hot, humid, and bugs in your eyes and mouth.

      My mom's service was small. Maybe a dozen people. On the other hoof, my father drew quite a crowd, but there wasn't a wet eye in the house. Everyone knew what a bastard he was. During my eulogy, a gust of wind blew my yarmulke off, and it sailed right into the open grave. Where it was buried, along with my old man. The funeral director didn't miss a beat...and neither did I. He just stepped forward and plopped another one right onto my bare keppe.

      My cousin later said that the kepah wasn't gone with the wind. He insisted it was Daddy giving me a last final bitch-slap. Mainly because he knew that my words of high praise were mostly malarkey.

    3. You can't very well call your father a bastard at his funeral, even if it's true. I've thought about that. It only makes you look bad. One of the little dilemmas our parents put us in. The solution, as I see it, is to be better than they were.

    4. I knew that, and was also cautioned about it, too. It's about the deceased, not about the speaker. So I took pains to portray him as being the victor in all his endeavors, and a mensch, even though everybody in attendance (including my mom and my sister) knew otherwise.

      Afterward, my sibling said that I'd earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination...for the eulogy scene in "The Son"--and, truth be told, it felt that way. Like an onstage performance. Because it was. As for being better? The older I've become, the more I look and sound like Old Yeller (the father, not the dog). Right down to the same bark.


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