Round Pegs in a Square Building

Hi all you lovely loyal literati! Happy Festival of Lights! I think it’s high time for an actual post, don’t you? (Also, side note, what is it with the changing of the layout again?)

SO…..

The other day I received an email from my high school alumni association, but it wasn’t your standard money request email. Or the unfortunate-yet-not-really-unexpected Death Notice. (What, your former place of education doesn’t tell you when grandparents of former/current students die? Must be a Jewish thing…)

Instead it was a Dedication Invitation, that started with “Come Say Goodbye to our Old Building!” The rest of the email was boring so I didn’t read it, but I didn’t really want to.

For the last few years, my old stomping grounds were slowly giving in to the inevitable demise of its 50+ years,  as new stomping grounds were being broken, dug up, filled, and built up a couple miles down that-a-way *points in random direction, possibly in a northwestwardly fashion*

Yeah, the building was old and quite possibly the textbook definition of the opposite of “state-of-the-art”. In fact, if you opened a dictionary to look up the phrase “crotchety old building” – you’d see a picture of my high school.

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If only such a phrase actually existed…

The outside was brown brick, with bronzed letters spelling out the name of the school, and the various organizations that were also housed in it.

There were three stories, with the bottom story depressed into a hole in the ground that was affectionately dubbed “The Moat” and which, many many times, students tried to flood. I think the best attempt was that one time when students put blue tarp on the ground and called it a day.

The walls were yellow, the lockers were an uglier shade of yellow, the classroom doors were pale-green, and there were benches around the perimeter of the second floor with extremely-worn forest-green fabric. Even the trim around the windows in the rooms were green. The donation plaques in each room were a very dark shade of green, although some people refer to that color as “black” (but we all knew better)…

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Yup, that’s my school: “50 Shades of Chartreuse”

The only bit of character that the school had was a mural on one of the walls that had the words “Knowledge” and its Hebrew counterpart “Da’at” in bright reds, blues, and oranges.

But it wasn’t much to look at.

There was history in the building, to be sure. Thousands, if not tens of thousands, of Jewish teenagers wandered the hallways, and maybe even learned something too. Personally, at least 30 members of my own family received the equivalent of a GED certificate there.

But, being the bastion of co-ed Jewish/General education for pretty much the entire Chicago-area Jewish population (and some out-of-towners, too) – well, that’s a lot of pressure. There needed to be guidelines, structure, a format to the well-roundedness that would be applied to anyone who walked up the metal stairs and through the two sets of glass double-doors, even if only for a semester.

And yeah – that happened. Kids were kicked out all the time. For reasons varying from getting caught* drinking and doing drugs, to wearing vaguely inappropriate clothing. Like, a shirt that hit 3 inches above the elbow. Or pants under a skirt.

Because everyone was expected to leave school with not only a deep-rooted association with sunsets and science labs, but as a replica, a copy, of those thousands of students who came before. We were continuing the well-honed tradition, the belief, that we could retain our Jewish identity and still interact with the world out there.

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The only problem with this was that we didn’t all have the same background coming in. The other only problem was that we were expected to question and question and question authority, until our questions were exhausted and we felt satisfied with whatever answers we had been given. Which is not the problem. The problem was that many times the answers weren’t all that satisfying.

Of course, there were the others who were more easily molded into the type of person we were expected to become. Who accepted the expectations without questions or doubts or second-guessing, and currently live the life that was predetermined for them.

And then there were those who questioned some of the information we were taught – out loud or quietly. There were those who rebelled secretly; others did so out in the open, by wearing clothes that were not deemed “acceptable”. And there were others who epitomized “fake it til you make it” before it was a thing on t-shirts being sold for $15.

Some of us just wanted to march to the beat of our own drums, regardless of whether we accepted the answers or not. I preferred skipping down the hallway, but that’s me.

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Sometimes I even sang the song. And by sometimes I mean “always”.

The problem with marching to a different beat is that you no longer fit into the mold, and you are therefore singled out. For detention, for expulsion, for long talks with administrators about “what would your grandmother think?” Or, you were just given looks of disapproval.

There was one time in particular when I realized what was happening. I had expressed my desire to not go to Israel for a gap year, and received laser-eye daggers from the dean.

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And it wasn’t just the administration who made us feel unwelcome. Because the school was small, and everybody knew everybody. In my day there were maybe 350 kids in the entire school – large by other Jewish school standards, but tiny when compared to the public schools in the area. If you had been singled out, everyone knew, and there were some students who made it their business to remind you of it. Constantly.

So why would I return? Why would anyone who had similar (or worse) experiences feel the need to come back to say goodbye?

We already said our goodbyes – the day we graduated. There is no lingering sentiment, or memories that need to be revisited. If anything, we would go just to help with the destruction of the building.

And I know that if I had gone to public school I wouldn’t be where I am today, and blah blah blah. But why would I go back to something that holds more not-so-great memories than great memories?

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But there is also a third option – to run from it AND learn from it. And that’s what I’m going to do.

I went to that square building and came out a misshapen quadrilateral. I understand and I appreciate the education that I received. But I still question the methods and motives of certain administrators, and I don’t need to say goodbye.

Besides,  I don’t have anything appropriate to wear anyway.

Currently Grooving On: music by fellow alum David Draiman

 

*To get caught you had to be A) really stupid, B) really desperate, C) both.

Forever & A Day

Hello lovely people! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? And I know I gave you all fair warning, I really thought that my first post-new-job post would finally be the one about Nyiradony. Don’t worry, that one is still chugging along.

As the excerpt may have hinted, I recently got back from a short trip to Chicago. The jet lag has worn off and I’ve returned to something resembling normalcy (for me, anyway).

To recap: I started a new job three weeks ago. While I knew that it would take time to adjust to the new schedule, I figured that after a couple weeks I would be able to get back into blogging – not to mention cooking, cleaning, and laundry.
Well…
Two weeks ago, I got a phone call about 30 minutes before it was quitting time. It was my mom, telling me that my grandmother had died.
Now, Nana was 93 and had not been doing that great. But, still. Death always comes as a surprise.
Let’s just reiterate here: it was my second official week on the job; my direct supervisor was on vacation; I had enough work in front of me to keep me busy with limited checking-up-on by other employees; and, I was too new to be myself.

Let’s adjust, shall we?

I told HR that I needed to leave slightly earlier than planned that day and immediately called Dodax and LAK. We had something resembling a conference call, where we were trying to decide if we should fly in and for how long and how insane that would be, especially because we wouldn’t actually make it for the funeral. Dodax and I were in agreement that we should all go or all not go, like a Three Musketeers kind of deal.
It was about this time, that we realized LAK wasn’t really talking that much. It turns out, she was on her way to the airport. Yes, while we were talking about how we wouldn’t actually make it for the funeral and all we could do was get there for part of the shiva, and we should all decide together what we should do, she was heading for her very last-minute, all-of-a-sudden, flight to Chicago.

Yup.

Yup.

With our decision made for us, we planned our own trips and proceeded to drive everyone and anyone in our immediate vicinity crazy inform everyone of said impending trips.

The rest of the week passed in a blur. The news slowly made the rounds at work; everyone was very sympathetic and kind of gave me a wide berth, which was nice but really not necessary. I informed Nooshkin that I would be going away, and she legit didn’t care. And the next thing I knew, it was Thursday night/Friday morning and I was on my way to the airport to spend a few days of shiva with my family.

Brief Pause for Explanations:

The way it works in Judaism is there are three stages of mourning: the first week, called shiva (Hebrew for 7); the first month, called shloshim (Hebrew for 30); and the first year, called nothing because that’s why. The names refer to the number of days that each stage lasts from the date of the funeral; so shiva is for a week, and shloshim is for a month.
Each stage is also different as far as the type of mourning that occurs. During shiva the mourners devote themselves completely to mourning the deceased. During this week they are not allowed to be in public; they sit in a designated location for the entire week and accept visitors (hence the term “sit shiva“). They do not bathe, or exercise, or check email. They are completely immersed in the act of bereavement, and visitors help them through it by telling stories, or simply just being there.
Once shiva ends, the mourners return to their day-to-day lives, but with limited social engagements, for the rest of the shloshim period. Once that period ends, the mourning restrictions lessen even more, and they can interact more with society, until the first year is over.

HOWEVER, as with many aspects of Judaism, there are loopholes with shiva. One of them is that mourners do not sit shiva on Shabbat. So I and all my siblings were together as a family for Shabbat in Chicago for the first time since Other Brother got married.
Except one of the In-Laws was there, so she ruined it. But the other In-Laws spent quality time together in Israel, which caused my mom to dub it the Outlaw Shabbat, thus forcing me to edit the Cast of Characters to reflect her momentary moment of creative inspiration.

Thank you, thank you...

Thank you, thank you…

The weekend itself was a blur, and although I spent the entire time in a state of zombified caffeinated blarg, a few moments do stand out:

  • Because this was so last-minute we did not have a chance to tell our many Chicago friends that we were coming. Which led to several excited reunions, one of which almost resulted in me getting steamrolled by our neighbor as he ran to give Dodax a bear hug.
  • Additionally, because we didn’t tell people we were coming, people who knew us did not actually believe that we were who we said we were. Many hilarious double-takes ensued.
  • I got to have mint-chocolate-chip ice cream. And delicious Chicago deli. But not at the same time, because kosher.
  • I managed to squeeze in a 30-minute trip to Target, whereby I did my best impression of a Whirling Dervish.
  • We found my grandfather’s drivers license, which expired in 1989. And Other Brother’s child proceeded to use it as a teething toy.
  • On the flight to Chicago I was bumped to Business Class, and on the flight back to Israel I had an entire row to myself.
  • I also heard about the last few days Nana was with us, because I spent basically all my time with family.
    Several times during moments of lucidity she would look around and comment “Wow. I’m still here. You just can’t get rid of me.”
    And apparently, at one point she held out her hand to my grandfather, who has been dead for 20 years.

    Left: Taken at their wedding, about 70 years ago. Right: Taken 2 years after the picture on the left.

    Left: Taken at their wedding, about 70 years ago.
    Right: Taken 2 years after the picture on the left.

    There was also a moment involving my 6-year-old cousin, who asked why everyone was so happy. She was confused, because she thought that a shiva house was supposed to be sad. After all, someone had just died – wouldn’t the family be upset?
    And there is some logic to that, because we are sad that she died. But, I think we were more sad about the fact that she couldn’t be there to remember her life with us.

    Mostly because nearly every time someone came in, my aunt or my dad would get really excited and say “Oh, let me get Nana and tell her you’re here.”

    Oops.

    Oops.


    True story.

    She had been around for so long, we hadn’t gotten used to the idea that she just wasn’t there anymore. I half expected her to come out from her room and start yelling at us; “Why didn’t you tell me there were so many people here? I would have made you all pancakes!”

    So many people commented about fun, and funny, and happy, and lively she was. She had numerous friends, and even more admirers. Most people expressed genuine wishes to go like she did – at the end of a very long, fruitful, successful life.

    She was the daughter of a Rabbi, and witnessed the significance of Judaism first-hand. Her family moved to the US from Russia while she was a teenager. She lost her father at the age of 20. She took care of her widowed mother and young son during WWII while her husband served in the Navy. She pioneered Judaism in Chicago before it was a “thing”, by supporting numerous schools, camps, and organizations (that we all ended up attending, because connections).

    She could spend actual hours on the phone talking to people. She was genuinely interested in what you were up to. She never ceased to dispense advice.
    She had four children, 16 grandchildren, and almost 40 great-grandchildren. She loved her family “forever and a day”, and we were the center of her universe.
    She was feisty. She was lively. She was sarcastic. She was a social butterfly. She loved to surround herself with friends and family, she loved being the center of attention, and she loved being in charge.

    There is quite a bit of Nana in me. And I wouldn’t want it any other way.