Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Cadillac Man? No, My Father Favored Buicks

Assessing the precarious market position Cadillac finds itself in these days, The New York Times Tuesday described the General Motors car brand as once “the ultimate destination as car owners prospered and moved up from Chevrolet, Oldsmobile and Buick to demonstrate their success in life” (

My father was a loyal Buick customer. Every five years or so he would buy another Buick. Yet he, too, succumbed for a short while to the siren call of Cadillac (actually, it was more my mother who pined for a Caddy, but more on that later).

The first car of his I remember was a green Buick, probably a 1950 model. It had an elongated, almost torpedo-like sleek shape. I have few memories of driving in it. In 1955, when shortly before I turned six, Dad bought a blue Buick Special with a white top, a four door sedan with air vents along the front fenders, a Buick trademark. As the youngest of three, I was relegated to the middle rear seat, the one over the drive shaft hump. Many an argument over leg and fanny room broke out with my brother and sister. Dad often threatened to pull over to the side of the highway and spank us if we didn’t stop bickering.

It was in that car that our parents informed us that for the summer of 1956 we would be sent to sleepaway camp for the first time instead of vacationing at Takanassee, a Catskills resort in Fleischmanns, NY. Eight weeks away from our parents. We’d be shipped off to Camp Massad Aleph where our father’s friend’s son summered. My brother Bernie, 11, sister Lee, 9, and I, 7, howled our displeasure. To no avail, and eventual pleasure. 

That car provided Lee with an enduring memory of our father that she related in her eulogy of him. She recounted how one Sunday morning when she was in fourth grade she alone had gone to our Hebrew school’s classes as Bernie was sick and I not yet old enough to be required to attend. While she sat through classes, our father went to a Men’s Club meeting.

“At 12:00 we met and walked to the car, a big Buick. At the time that we had parked, there were no other cars on the street. However, when we returned, the car was now boxed in between two cars. My dad was recovering from a (shoulder) bursitis operation and the strength in his arm was still limited. He attempted to maneuver the non-power steering wheeled car out of the spot. For what seemed an excruciating long time he struggled, groaned, cursed and finally collapsed at the wheel. I was horrified and frightened and in my childish way thought that we would never get out. It was then that he turned to me, with a strange grin on his face, and asked me to help him turn the wheel. My first response was, no. What could I do to help him free us from this impasse? He calmly showed me what I needed to do and together we moved the resistant wheel. Our hands, reaching one over the other, worked for what seemed an eternity to move the wheels and reposition the car. When it finally happened we screamed with joy and laughed and laughed. The whole way back to our home we reviewed what had happened, how we had worked together and how funny it was.”

Dad made sure the next car he bought had power steering. It was a 1961 Buick LeSabre, desert fawn in color. In other words, light tan. Bernie learned to drive on that car. In 1965 it made way for a Buick Electra 225, green with an off-white vinyl top. The car was massive, forcing our father to work magic each night he slipped it inside our narrow garage. He would hug as close as he could to the left side of the garage, then he had to slide across the front bench seat to exit the car from the passenger door. 

I was behind the wheel of that huge Electra—18 feet, 8 inches in length—the first time I drove on the highway, along the New England Thruway as my parents and I made our way up to Orange, Mass., to visit the family of Lee’s roommate the first year she studied in Israel. I remember observing the signs prohibiting trucks and buses from using the left lane. It felt safer driving in the left lane, though my father kept telling me to drive faster. 

When it was time to get a new car, Mom prevailed upon then 58-year-old Dad to trade up to a Caddy, a car more fitting his success as an independent businessman. He settled on a 1970 blue Sedan de Ville, an inch longer than the Electra. Dad seemed self-conscious driving a Cadillac in our row house Brooklyn neighborhood. He divested himself of this dubious distinction in 1975 by returning to his roots with a blue Buick Regal, much like a LeSabre. 

Within a month he talked himself into believing the car, at exactly 18 feet, was too small. So he engineered a three way deal: He would give Gilda and me the Regal, we would hand over our 1969 Buick Skylark to Lucy, one of his loyal employees, and Dad would buy a new Electra. We hated the Regal, as well. Too big for us. We ditched it for a Datsun Sentra hatchback. 

Dad had a few more cars until he stopped driving when he was 82 in 1994, explaining that in his new home near Bernie in Rockville, MD, “the roads don’t know me here.” His last car was a blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. He gave it to our son Dan who had recently passed his driving test. Dan didn’t care that it was an old man’s car. It was wheels, freedom. We soon swapped it out for a more sporty Mazda 323. 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Jewish Loyalty Should Not Be Questioned

Amid the never-ending fusillade of Trumpifications, it is hard to keep up with the outrage of the moment that requires comment. Perhaps most upsetting to me is the tumulter-in-chief’s assertion that Jewish Americans who vote for Democrats—in other words, any Jew who doesn’t vote for him—are dumb and guilty of disloyalty to America, to Jewish people and to Israel.

For the better part of a year several high school chums and I have engaged in email debate on Trump, Israel, which party to support, and social values in general. It has gotten so intense, at times, that one of the group no longer wants to read my blog or my responses to what I consider some of his outlandish beliefs. 

Recently another fellow theorized that secularism has become the new religion of American Jews who vote Democratic. To which the first one piled on by stating, “Their parents raised their children to be just like any American child. They (many, not all), made sure to speak English at home so the children would not talk like “greenery”. They wanted their children to assimilate into the American culture. Just like the Israelis stoke (sic) the Yemenite children from their parents, the European-born Americans removed their Judaism from their children. Since the parents worshipped FDR, who actually sold out that generation and refused to help the Jews fleeing extermination, the next generation felt they had to uphold their parents’ decision. Many of us woke up and went right; many have remained with the same mindset.

“Trump was right in what he said; the problem was HOW he said it.”

No way I could remain silent after that broadside. I started to type a response: “Secularism seems to be the reason given for Jewish support of Democrats. I guess they identify with civil rights. With labor and union rights. With voting rights. With environmental rights. Not too many Republicans favor those initiatives these days. I guess it didn’t hurt that Truman, a Democrat, recognized Israel. Maybe they didn’t like the fact Eisenhower forced Israel to give back the Sinai in 1956.”

As for blaming FDR for slamming the door on Jewish refugees, it behooves us to look to the proponents of the 1924 immigration bill that restricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe. The sponsors were Congressman Albert Johnson and Senator David Reed. Both were Republicans! Who fought against it? Rep. Emanuel Celler, a Democrat! 

I was about to continue when another high school buddy asked for comments about an article in Tablet magazine on American Jews and whether the Democratic Party is becoming unsalvageable ( 

Here’s what I wrote: 

It is unacceptable what some—some—Democrats are saying and the failure of leadership to strongly admonish them, including removing them from committee assignments. 

That said, a few bad apples will not destroy the Democratic party. Just as McCarthy and Goldwater and Nixon and Agnew and Bush II didnt destroy the Republican party. 

The Israel of today is not the Israel Democrats embraced. As I think about it, it increasingly resembles Republican traits—discrimination against segments of Jewish society (Ethiopians), discrimination against Israeli Arabs, forced expulsion of foreign workers, repression of Palestinians (we can argue if that is justified at least part of the time), efforts by the government (of Bibi Natanyahu) to fear monger votes based on Arab-Israeli voting, actions by Bibi to try to curtail the rule of law by reducing the power of the Supreme Court, cozying up to autocrats and despots. The list could probably be expanded but that’s enough for starters. 

So without denying that Palestinian intransigence is the reason no peace has broken out between the two groups, let’s keep in mind that the Camp David accords were signed when Carter was president. The Oslo accords when Clinton was president. Clinton again for the Camp David summit which Arafat sabotaged. The point is, Democrats have labored hard to broker a deal. 

Trump and before him Bush II unchained Sharon and then Bibi to do as they please. 

Israel today has a public relations problem. It needs to transmit to the world, daily or at least weekly, the following statistics:

*How much food is sent into Gaza assuring no one is starving. 
*How much medical supplies are provided Gaza residents. 
*How many Palestinians are treated in Israeli hospitals and doctors’ offices. 
*How many Palestinian workers from Gaza and West Bank work in Israel. 
*How many Palestinians attend universities in Israel, Gaza and West Bank. 
*Examples of the anti Jewish curriculum taught in Palestinian elementary schools and beyond. 
*How many acts of terrorism are perpetrated throughout Israel daily/weekly/monthly. 
*How many times Palestinians rejected specific peace proposals. 
*How speeches in Arabic are different than what Palestinian leaders say in other languages. 
*How Palestinian newspapers and radio/TV/internet sites portray Israel and Israelis. 
*How the standard of living and employment and education in the West Bank and Gaza compare to those in Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. 

I am sure there are other statistics that would all but eliminate the impression that Israel has been a repressive ruler. To change perceptions this data must be constantly transmitted. Letting the world know about its high tech industry, its agricultural and ecological gains, its scientific and medical advances, etc., will not change the trajectory of opinion on Israel as long as it has the image of a cruel oppressor.  Congressional visits must be targeted at Palestinian actions to show that they live better than under Arab leaders and that it is not Israel that holds them back. 

The American people time and again have supported freedom fighters around the world. The challenge Israel faces is to flip the narrative that the Palestinians seek freedom and Israel doesn't.  

Congresswoman Tlaib and other Democrats are winning the pr war because Israel is losing it by failing to tell its side and because Bibi is doing all he can to stay in office including embracing actions that turn off non orthodox Jews around the world. He is drying up the reservoir of good will Israel has among tribe members. 

So, in short, Democrats don’t want to abandon Israel. They want Israel to live up to the ideals of its founders and the early pr success it had as a country of limitless possibilities for all. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Woodstock, Mona Lisa, Red Squirrels and a Jewish Lament

The closest I got to Woodstock was marrying a woman who had a ticket to the 1969 three day festival but chose not to attend. 

With three of her friends Gilda bought $18 tickets to the transcendental festival after seeing a poster in Greenwich Village near where she worked for Hartz Mountain during the summer between her sophomore and junior years at Brooklyn College. Delores, Karen and Gilda would travel upstate to Bethel, NY, in Barbara’s car as she was the only one with a driver’s license and a car. 

This was nearly a half year before I showed up on Gilda’s radar, or she on mine, so the fact that she was madly infatuated with another young man at the time was not a cause of concern to me. During the summer of 1969 I was enjoying another splendid eight weeks as a division head in a sleepaway camp, Kfar Masada, in Rensselaerville, NY. 

As fate would have it, Gilda’s longing for a date with her heartthrob came to fruition on the same weekend as the Woodstock concert. She chose amour over music, sold her ticket, and bid her friends happy times.

They never made it to Yasgur’s farm. Traffic, overwhelming traffic, kept them and tens of thousands others from reaching their destination. Her friends pulled off Route 17 and found a church to sleep in on the floor. They went home the second day of the concert. 

As you undoubtedly figured out, Gilda’s love interest failed to reciprocate. Our paths crossed, repeatedly, during the next school semester. We began dating in December 1969. Yes, 1969 was a very good year.

Mona Lisa, Mon Amour: August used to be a good time to see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. Parisians generally exit the city during August, leaving tourists to contend just with ... tourists. But these days there’s an abundance of tourists—the Louvre attracted a record 10.2 million gawkers last year, way more than any other museum, anywhere—meaning time spent staring at Mona Lisa’s eyes can be no more than the equivalent of a drive-by encounter, especially now that the Leonardo da Vinci portrait has been moved to temporary quarters 

I’ve gazed upon the Mona Lise several times, the first being in August 1966 when I was 17 and visiting Paris for the first time. Accompanied by my cousin’s then husband, a struggling painter who spoke no English while I, despite two years of high school instruction, knew barely enough French to ask which way to the library (“Ou est la bibliotheque”), made my way through hall after hall of the Louvre. No doubt I passed by many works by renowned masters. Sadly, I couldn’t take advantage of my companion’s expert commentary. But as I wandered around the Louvre, mostly oblivious to the treasures before me, he did manage to point out the Venus de Milo standing amidst other statues, and, after I had walked past it, he brought me back to view the Mona Lisa. Back then she was treated like any other painting, hanging nondescriptly on a wall with other works of art. 

Red Scare: I spent more than a few minutes today, I sheepishly admit, entranced by the efforts of a grey squirrel to negotiate around a large inverted plastic funnel designed to prevent the rodent and his brethren from gaining access to the bird food I assiduously hang from trees in my side yard. Most of the time the enterprising squirrel backs away or falls to the ground without clutching the suspended cage holding the desired food. If he is successful, I shoo him away, admonishing him that the food is intended for the feathered, not the bushy tailed. 
The attempted incursion is mild compared to what is going on across the pond. Seems North American grey squirrels have taken over the British landscape and are threatening the existence of native born red squirrels, a more genteel species popularized in children’s books. The reds are about half the size of their trans-Atlantic cousins who are more aggressive food gatherers and who carry a disease the reds cannot withstand. 

It’s gotten so bad that in parts of the United Kingdom bounty hunters have been hired to kill grey squirrels. It’s a scenario a nativist like Donald Trump would embrace to safeguard against an unwanted immigrant horde (https://

Oy, Vey Ist Mir: If you are of a certain age and Jewish, there’s an ethnic ritual your parents practiced on you. Whenever a person of distinction, be he or she an entertainment celebrity, a scientist, a professional athlete, a politician, or any position, even a hoodlum, that brought you into the public eye, your parents would point out if they were Jewish. Younger readers may recognize what I am referring to if they are familiar with Adam Sandler’s Hanukkah song that highlights members of the tribe. 

Of course, not every high profile Jew elicited pangs of pride. Mobster Meyer Lansky was no source of chest thumping, though he did make life difficult for the pro-Nazi German-American Bund before World War II. Neither was Bernie Madoff a short time ago. And Jeffrey Epstein has clouded Jewish skies of late. Oy, the shame of it all. 

I’ve seen too many episodes of Homeland to categorically discount conspiracy theories surrounding how he was able to allegedly commit suicide in a federal lockup. I’m not willing to name whom I think might be behind Epstein’s demise, but I would definitely grill all the security guards at the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. Someone(s) had to be paid off. The key, as it was in Watergate, “Follow the money.” Someone is going to start spending dollars way beyond their pay grade. It might take years before the urge to splurge surfaces, but it will. It always does. 

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Rantings on Boycotts, Reading Lists, Japan and Tourism

So Mika Brzezinski, co-anchor of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, is boycotting Equinox, SoulCycle and Hudson Yards because Stephen Ross, one of the investors in the projects, is a big-time Trump supporter and is hosting a fundraiser for his re-election in the Hamptons Friday night. 

Really!?! Have we sunk so low in our ability to think for ourselves that we need media celebrities to promote their actions to generate outrage among the masses? It is regrettable we have made newscasters, if indeed Mika fits that identification, into role models upon whose actions we cling (probably because the media is in cahoots with each other to promote their members’ importance). 

I doubt all the newscasts on all broadcast and cable stations have an aggregate audience anywhere near what Walter Cronkite or David Brinkley had 50 years ago. My point is we are imbuing in today’s news personalities status beyond their reach, influence they don’t deserve. 

If we choose to boycott companies whose leaders or silent partners are not to our liking because of their politics, employment practices or social/religious beliefs, many of us wouldn’t shop Walmart or any other store, let alone Amazon, we wouldn’t buy cars or gasoline, log onto Facebook or Twitter, or eat in Chick-fil-A (rated the favorite fast food restaurant by the American Customer Satisfaction Index for the fourth consecutive year). 

Grow up, America. Make up your own mind.

Reading Lists: Brooklyn College is my alma mater. I’m used to getting mail from it, usually fundraising solicitations. So I was bemused to open an email from the school’s Office of the Provost that began, “Dear Faculty,”.  Apparently I have not submitted my “textbook information to the Brooklyn College Online Bookstore” and Fall classes begin in less than three weeks.

Okay, the bottom of the email notes in really small type, “You are receiving this email because you are a member of the Brooklyn College alumni community.” So, I’m on a mailing list. 

Maybe that’s also the reason theteachersnetwork is now following me on Instagram. I’d like to think musings on my blog, Facebook and Twitter provide some educational insight, and my past does include after school Jewish instruction in a Far Rockaway children’s home when I was in college; in-car driver’s ed instruction after I retired from Chain Store Age; volunteer help at the English as Second Language study hall at White Plains High School; and one-to-one sessions with foreign students as part of the Conversation Partners program at Westchester Community College. 

But, no, I never had a formal teaching position, so why Brooklyn College wants my reading list for a course I am not giving is beyond me. 

Update from March 14, 2011: More than a quarter century ago I provided reflections on my family’s visit to Japan, including the following: 

“Japanese women craved more fulfillment and independence. They deferred marriage for careers and, frankly, because the men were immature. The men had four passions: sumo wrestling, playing pachinko (a vertical pinball game), reading comic books and drinking. Delaying marriage contributed to the country’s negative birth rate.

“Women’s status was so stunted that even if the highest executive at a meeting was female she was still expected to serve tea to all the men. Men did not defer to women, or children, when entering an elevator. They would push Gilda, Dan and Ellie aside to scramble in first.”

A recent article in The New York Times affirmed the choices women were making in deferring marriage, sometimes forever, and the impact their decisions are having on the economy ( 

Stay Away: In the wake of recent mass shootings in El Paso, Dayton and Gilroy, several foreign countries and Amnesty International are warning tourists about the dangers of visiting the United States. They’re advising travelers to stay away from crowded areas. 

Which leads me to ask, why bother coming to America is you’re going to limit your visit to desolate parts of North Dakota or Utah?