This picture is for you, Mom. I wish you were still alive to see it.

You died in 2007, before the historic elections of 2008, 2012, and now (I hope) 2016. You had no way of knowing what was going to come next.

I remember how you told me once what it was like for you as a little girl, growing up thinking Roosevelt was king, and what a shock it was for you and your friends when he died and you suddenly had to adjust to a new president for this country.

Your granddaughters were born in the first year of the first black president. All their lives, that is the president they have known. If all goes as I expect and hope it to, for the next eight years they will know a woman president. For almost their whole childhood they will not have known a white man as president. Given the 43 presidents this country had beforehand, I think that is a remarkable achievement.

Things are still not perfect or equal for women. But...

Your granddaughters are growing up in a world where they will be able to envision themselves realistically in so many more roles than you were allowed to. I remember your stories about fighting to go to Columbia Law School and about graduating in 1964 to find that law firms did not want to hire a woman.

Today, much of this country is posed to hire a woman as president.

And perhaps, one day, that might even include one of your granddaughters.

It's hard for me to believe, but 60 years ago today my maternal grandfather Louis Cohen died of multiple myeloma far too young.. (On the Hebrew calendar, Louis died on 19 Shevat 5716, so his yahrzeit was a few days ago.)

Sadly, I never knew him. I'd like to share his story.

Louis Cohen was born in Ukraine. I've seen his birth certificate; it's in Russian.

Louis emigrated to the United States when he was around the age of six or seven years old, with his parents, Jacob Cohen & Yetta Sokolovsky, and his younger sister, Molly Cohen. The family settled in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was attracting a lot of Jewish immigrants and was considered a nicer place to live than the Lower East Side. Jacob got a job delivering canisters for soda water, and eventually he bought the business. My mom remembered that he made his deliveries driving a green truck.

Although Louis did not know English when he emigrated, he picked it up very quickly. Apparently, as a child he started school in a special class in which the students mostly did arts and crafts. But with his ability to learn English quickly he soon moved into a regular class. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, went on to Pace Institute for two or three years, and became an accountant. He began keeping the books for his father Jacob.

In 1929, his parents bought a house in Flatbush for the whole family, located at 817 East 45th Street between Avenue D and Foster Avenue. On June 1, 1930, Louis married my grandmother Clara Baker in Boston. They were fourth cousins; either their grandfathers or great grandfathers were brothers. After they got married, they moved in with his parents. Furthermore, my Mom's aunt Molly married Irving Bell, a dentist who went to Tufts Dental School, and they also lived in the Jacob Cohen house. Apparently it was not uncommon for a large extended family to stay under one roof for such a long time.

Louis and Clara had two children. My Mom was born in 1936 and my uncle Robert was born a few years after.

Sometime in the 1940s Louis joined the Masons. As he was in his thirties, he was a little too old to be drafted into World War II. In fact, he kept missing the window to be drafted, for which he was very grateful.

Around 1945 Louis joined the law firm of Morrit & Eisenstein and did their accounting and the accounting for their clients. Later on, lawyer Fred Johnson also joined the firm, and the four of them worked very closely together. Mom tells me that Fred Morrit was a State Senator and a songwriter, but I haven't been able to find much information about him, or about Morris Eisenstein.

One thing that makes me proud of my grandfather has to do with his support for my mom. In the 1950s, there was no major emphasis on women's education, but Louis supported Mom's education wholeheartedly. He was very proud of her, and even though he didn't want her to leave home he did support her decision to attend Mount Holyoke college. Mom only spent a year there, though, because soon after she started college Louis died. When that happened, Mom came home and transferred to Barnard so she could live with her family.

Louis died of multiple myeloma at age of 50, knowing that he had helped raise and support two wonderful children. Sadly, both of Louis's parents were still alive when he died. They passed on themselves in the early 1960s, while my mother was in law school.

I remember him.

Nine years ago today was when my mom, Eleanor Mae Cohen Burstein, died. At the time, I posted the following on LiveJournal and received many, many replies:

Eleanor Mae Cohen Burstein (1936-2007)

She was 70 years old when she died, and I had just had a message from her the day before in which she sounded fine.


I don't really have much to say about her passing today. I've thought about discussing her life a little bit; as many of my friends know, Mom attended Mount Holyoke, Barnard, and Columbia Law School, and in her later years worked as an Administrative Law Judge. She died before she got to meet my children, but she did get to enjoy some of her other grandchildren before she passed on. Although today is the anniversary of her passing on the Gregorian calendar, her yahrzeit was a few weeks ago.


At the time she died, Nomi and I had just joined Kadimah-Toras Moshe, and I remember how everyone came together for us, although many in the community barely knew who we were.


Anyway. I just felt compelled to note her passing, and that I miss her still.
Tonight and tomorrow is the yahrzeit (Hebrew anniversary of the death) of my maternal grandfather Louis Cohen, who passed away from multiple myeloma far too young.

Sadly, I never knew him. I'd like to share his story.

Louis Cohen was born in Ukraine. I've seen his birth certificate; it's in Russian.

Louis emigrated to the United States when he was around the age of six or seven years old, with his parents, Jacob Cohen & Yetta Sokolovsky, and his younger sister, Molly Cohen. The family settled in Brownsville, a neighborhood in Brooklyn that was attracting a lot of Jewish immigrants and was considered a nicer place to live than the Lower East Side. Jacob got a job delivering canisters for soda water, and eventually he bought the business. My mom remembered that he made his deliveries driving a green truck.

Although Louis did not know English when he emigrated, he picked it up very quickly. Apparently, as a child he started school in a special class in which the students mostly did arts and crafts. But with his ability to learn English quickly he soon moved into a regular class. He graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School, went on to Pace Institute for two or three years, and became an accountant. He began keeping the books for his father Jacob.

In 1929, his parents bought a house in Flatbush for the whole family, located at 817 East 45th Street between Avenue D and Foster Avenue. On June 1, 1930, Louis married my grandmother Clara Baker in Boston. They were fourth cousins; either their grandfathers or great grandfathers were brothers. After they got married, they moved in with his parents. Furthermore, my Mom's aunt Molly married Irving Bell, a dentist who went to Tufts Dental School, and they also lived in the Jacob Cohen house. Apparently it was not uncommon for a large extended family to stay under one roof for such a long time.

Louis and Clara had two children. My Mom was born in 1936 and my uncle Robert was born a few years after.

Sometime in the 1940s Louis joined the Masons. As he was in his thirties, he was a little too old to be drafted into World War II. In fact, he kept missing the window to be drafted, for which he was very grateful.

Around 1945 Louis joined the law firm of Morrit & Eisenstein and did their accounting and the accounting for their clients. Later on, lawyer Fred Johnson also joined the firm, and the four of them worked very closely together. Mom tells me that Fred Morrit was a State Senator and a songwriter, but I haven't been able to find much information about him, or about Morris Eisenstein.

One thing that makes me proud of my grandfather has to do with his support for my mom. In the 1950s, there was no major emphasis on women's education, but Louis supported Mom's education wholeheartedly. He was very proud of her, and even though he didn't want her to leave home he did support her decision to attend Mount Holyoke college. Mom only spent a year there, though, because soon after she started college Louis died. When that happened, Mom came home and transferred to Barnard so she could live with her family.

Louis died of multiple myeloma at age of 50, knowing that he had helped raise and support two wonderful children. Sadly, both of Louis's parents were still alive when he died. They passed on themselves in the early 1960s, while my mother was in law school.

On the Hebrew calendar, Louis died on 19 Shevat 5716. Tonight and tomorrow are 19 Shevat 5774.

I remember him.
Tonight begins the yahrzeit for my mom, who died six years ago. The yahrzeit is the Hebrew calendar anniversary of someone's passing.

Anyway. I just felt compelled to note that I miss her still and that I'll be reciting Kaddish this evening for her.
Two days before my birthday, a close friend of mine and her community suffered a loss of a man, a writer, who was only 50 years old and died of what appeared to be a sudden heart attack. The very next day, an acquaintance of mine, a teacher, who had been two years ahead of me in high school and was only in his 40s, also died of a sudden heart attack.

And then last night, we heard that another good friend had lost his wife just hours before. She was also in her 40s and suffered an apparent sudden heart attack.

Needless to say, this combination of deaths has affected me.

As many of you know, I lost my father when I was in college, and my mother passed away a little over five years ago. Just last fall, I lost my aunt, meaning another member of that generation was now gone. I've had a lot of experience dealing with the fact that death is out there, that it exists, and that it can't be fought off in the end. Like all of us, I try not to let it overwhelm me, but it never strays too far from my thoughts. For example, just yesterday, as I was video recording my daughters singing and reading aloud, it occurred to me that one day they would value these videos not for their own appearances in them but for the sound of my voice behind the camera. (I hate how morbid those thoughts are, but I cannot deny their existence.)

When I see all this tragedy around me, I want to offer words of comfort, and I tend to feel that my own experiences should be able to help. I should be able to ease the minds of those friends of mine who just started losing their first parent in the past few years; after all, I was a pioneer, exploring the territory well ahead of many of them. But my own experience has taught me the truth behind one truism: there are no words.

I remember that when my father died, my mother tried to explain to me that she had lost a husband, and it was hard for me to understand what that meant. All I knew was that I had lost a father. But now, having spent so much of my life with one person, I have a better grasp of what it was my mom had, even as I still have no idea what it means to lose it. I hear that a friend has lost his wife, and I want to say something, but I have no idea what I can possibly say. My own losses are in no way congruent to his.

What I can say is this: the first hours, days, and weeks after the death of a loved one are surreal. It's like stepping off a curb into a street that you didn't realize was there. For that time, the universe just doesn't seem to make sense. Then, slowly, you start to pick up the pieces of the world around you, and you manage to fit it together like a jigsaw puzzle that was scattered to the four winds.

At my mother's funeral, Rabbi Shmuel Feld talked about eventually adjusting to the "new normal." To all of my friends who are suffering these recent losses, I can't tell you that it gets better, because, well, it doesn't. But it does get "normal," if that makes any sense.

May we all be comforted.
Five years ago today, I posted this entry.

Five years ago this morning, my mother, Eleanor Mae Cohen Burstein, died. She was 70 years old when she died, and I had just had a message from her the day before in which she sounded fine.

I don't really have much to say about her passing today. I've thought about discussing her life a little bit; as many of my friends know, Mom attended Mount Holyoke, Barnard, and Columbia Law School, and in her later years worked as an Administrative Law Judge. She died before she got to meet my children, but she did get to enjoy some of her other grandchildren before she passed on. Although today is the anniversary of her passing on the Gregorian calendar, her yahrzeit is next Sunday night and Monday, so that's when I'll be saying kaddish for her.

At the time she died, Nomi and I had just joined Kadimah-Toras Moshe, and I remember how everyone came together for us, although many in the community barely knew who we were.

Anyway. I just felt compelled to note her passing, and that I miss her still.
It's been a few weeks since I've managed to blog here; as I hope people can imagine, the kids still take up a lot of time in our lives. Nomi and I continue to enjoy being parents, and I find myself torn between wanting to post every update about the kids and not wanting to deluge the readers of this blog with all those details. I would post about other things going on in my life, but as I noted recently on Twitter and Facebook, there's not much else going on.

Well, that's not entirely true. We're working, of course, and I'm always trying to make progress on some writing project or other. We're continuing to clean the apartment; in particular, every day we make a little more progress in the kids' room so it will one day be entirely theirs. And we socialize a little bit, although that's mostly close to home. We did make it to a wedding last month, and we're going to another one this month, but any trips out of the house involve so many logistical details that they have to be considered carefully before implementing. (I sound like a military general.)

Amidst all the current chaos that is our lives, however, I didn't want to let two anniversaries pass today without mention.

A year ago today, on Sunday, November 2, 2008, was the official publication day of my collection I Remember the Future. It's hard for me to believe that the book has been out for a whole year. I blogged about publication day last year in my post The Publication Party, and I noted how wonderful it was to have so many people turn out for the celebration.

In honor of the first anniversary of the book's publication, the Open Book Society website is featuring an exclusive interview with me. I discuss a variety of topics, including my thoughts on the current state of the publishing industry and how having twins has affected my writing. Feel free to check it out.

(Also, although I'm probably preaching to the choir here, keep in mind that the book is still in print, and would make a great gift for Chanukah or Christmas. And check out all the other books Apex has for sale.)

Ahem.

So that's one year ago. Nineteen years ago... well, nineteen years ago my father died. And oddly enough, that's true this year on both the Gregorian and Hebrew calendar. Dad died on the evening of November 2, 1990, after sundown, which means that he died on the 15th of Cheshvan in the year 5751. As it so happens, the 15 of Cheshvan began last night and lasts all day today until sundown – and today is November 2.

I've discussed my father here before and how much he influenced me – in fact, I did so again just last year in the post Joel David Burstein for anyone who wants to be reminded about him. Yesterday evening, when I went to shul to recite the Mourner's Kaddish, I contemplated how far I've come from that night in college when Dad was taken from me.

For many years, I defined myself as an adult who had lost his father. Then, in 2007, I had to learn to redefine myself as an adult who had lost both his parents, and that was at an age when most people still have their parents around. But this past summer, I began to redefine myself again, as a father to twins. Last night, as I held my two daughters and thought about how they've both been named in a way that honors my parents, I thought about how joyously Dad would have held the two of them were he alive today.

I wish they could have met my parents, their grandparents, and I hope I'll be able to impress upon them the kind of people they were.

One year ago, and nineteen years ago.
My younger brother Josh called from Seattle, where he's away for meetings, to remind me that today was Mom's birthday. If she were still alive, she'd be 73 years old.

I am sad to say that I had forgotten. But I'm sure Mom would have forgiven me. :-)

For those interested, the kids slept very well on Monday and Tuesday night, probably because we did our best to help them get used to the idea of going to sleep. Yesterday we went out to a meeting of the New England chapter of the MWA to hear a police officer talk about her experiences in law enforcement. It was a fascinating talk, but that meant that the kids went from nanny to babysitter, so they were a little fussier last night after we got home.

More when I have a moment...
This shabbat will be the day of Mom's yahrzeit. She died on January 25, 2007, which fell on 6 Shvat on the Hebrew calendar, and 6 Shvat this year falls on January 31.

In honor of my mom's yahrzeit, Nomi and I are sponsoring kiddush at our shul, Kadimah-Toras Moshe, on shabbas morning. That afternoon, I'm the speaker at shalosh seudos (the third meal), and for my topic I've decided to speak on "Superman and Moses." Mincha begins at 4:30 pm for anyone in the area who wants to hear my talk. However, for those who can't be there, I'll be basing much (but not all) of what I have to say on the book Up, Up, and Oy Vey!: How Jewish History, Culture, and Values Shaped the Comic Book Superhero by Rabbi Simcha Weinstein (and yes, I'll be giving him credit for it).

And yes, I know people still want me to write up my comments on "Spider-Man and Repentance." I will when I can.
Weekly Reader has announced the results of their presidential election poll. For those of you unfamiliar with this, its a poll they do every four years of the nation's schoolchildren to involve them in the process and get them interested in voting. It's actually predicted the results of 12 of the last 13 presidential elections.

Reading about their poll reminded me that I too participated in the Weekly Reader poll when I was a kid. My first experience with democracy that I can recall was "voting" in the Ford-Carter election of 1976. My class ended up going for Carter by a vote of 13-7, and when Carter won the presidency, I assumed that my class had elected him.

Four years later, I remember being very surprised when Reagan won. Many of my fellow students and I wandered the halls and stairwells of the school on the day after Election Day, asking if anyone at all knew someone who had voted for Reagan. I was still too young to consider the fact that just because I knew of no one who voted for Reagan didn't mean that no one had. (Growing up in New York City does tend to give one a skewed view of how the country is voting as a whole.)

What I remember most about the Reagan-Mondale match-up was the electoral map showing Mondale with only Minnesota and Washington, D.C. colored in for him. If I recall correctly, the channel I was watching had colored in Reagan's states blue and Mondale's red, the reverse of what the networks tend to do now.

The first election I was able to vote in for real was the Dukakis-Bush election. I will always feel proud of how I voted in that election.

A final thought, somewhat personal.

I remember how, when I was little, Mom let my brothers and me into the voting booth with her. The booth had small levers that put an X next to the names of the candidates, and a big red lever that you pulled when you were finished which went KA-CHUNK, cleared the X's, and opened the curtain for the next voter. Mom told me to keep her vote secret; years later, she told me that as a little boy, my uncle had gone into the booth with my grandmother during the Eisenhower election and returned home to inform my grandfather that "Mommy likes Ike!" As my grandfather was a Democratic ward organizer, and my uncle blurted this out in front of some of his fellow Democrats, it was an embarrassing situation for all involved.

In 2004, Mom voted in a presidential election for what turned out to be the last time. And by an odd quirk of fate, I was there with her, and she let me accompany her into the voting booth so I could help her with the levers.

Next week: no levers, no booths. A bubble sheet and scanning machine.
When I last posted about my personal life, [livejournal.com profile] gnomi and I were contemplating the drive to Connecticut to pay our respects to the Greenberger family.

In the end, [livejournal.com profile] gnomi and I decided that we ought to proceed with our previous Sunday plans after all, so we didn't go to Connecticut. As much as we wanted to, there was one item that simply had to take precedence. (More on that at the end.)

There were a few things we had planned to do on Sunday, and we managed to do most of them. We had lunch with [livejournal.com profile] cellio, who was passing through Boston on her way to Pittsburgh, and so if we didn't see her yesterday we have no idea when we would have a chance to see her next. (As [livejournal.com profile] cellio has posted, there was a nice small group at lunch.)

We drove out to Burlington and did three things. We visited Nomi's parents, we went to the Bose store, and we took a new author photo of me.

But the most important thing we did, and the main reason we stuck to the original plan, was that we took care of some final issues with Mom's estate. As previously planned, Nomi and I went over to my older brother's place to deal with the final paperwork. My brothers and I now each have one more form to fill out and mail to the estate lawyer, and once we do, Mom's estate will be closed.

I'm not sure if I'm feeling a sense of closure or not. The whole process of dealing with a parent's death from the moment you hear about it is a series of steps. I've gone through a variety of "closing steps," I suppose, both religious and secular ones, and I still find myself occasionally obsessing over the loss. As I told people years after my father died, you never fully "get over it," nor would you want to. You just eventually adjust to a new version of normality, one in which the person's absence has become a normal part of your everyday life.

And so, I guess that's where I am right now.

Meanwhile, I've got to finish off my final assignments for my publishing classes, and see the final steps that need to be taken before I Remember the Future is officially published.

Milestones

Jul. 10th, 2008 02:07 pm
Three years ago, I mentioned that my younger brother and his family had moved to Richmond, Virginia so that my brother could take a new job as the Associate Dean for Career Services at the University of Richmond School of Law. (See Meet My Younger Brother, but note that the first link no longer works.)

It was a big move for Josh and a milestone for all of us. For the few years before, Josh and his wife and family had been living in New York City, so I always knew that when we went to visit Mom we'd be able to see Josh as well. After he and his family moved to Richmond, it seemed unlikely that I'd get to see him as frequently as I had before.

Indeed, that turned out to be true. Nomi and I made it down to Richmond only once in the past few years, and that was primarily to attend RavenCon in 2006. (My RavenCon 2006 reports can be found here, here, and here.) As I reported, Josh picked us up from the hotel after the convention ended and took us to spend Sunday night in the house. It was the one and only time I visited him in Richmond.

And now he's moving on.

Today, Joshua, Rachel, and their three kids are beginning a ten-day drive across the country. What with Mom having died last year and other life issues, they've decided they want to be closer to Rachel's mother, who is their children's last surviving grandparent. So, in a few weeks, they'll arrive in Eugene, Oregon, where Josh will take on the role of Assistant Dean and Director of Career Services Office at the University of Oregon School of Law.

Josh, knowing me as I do, keeps pointing out that Eugene is a center for science fiction and fantasy writing. Maybe with him there, that'll finally give me the impetus to check out the Pacific Northwest.

I just hope that with the time difference we'll still be able to keep up our habit of talking on the phone a few times each week.
As baseball season starts up in earnest, I can't help but think about my own history as a fan of the sport.

When I was growing up, my younger brother Josh was the real instigator when it came to baseball. I suppose that left to my own devices, I could have just ignored baseball for the most part; I was more into comic books and Star Trek.

But Josh fell in love with baseball at an early age, and due to his urgings, my family began following our beloved team: the Yankees.

You read that right. In the beginning, despite living in Queens, the Burstein clan were Yankees fans as well as Mets fans.

There were legitimate reasons for this. We grew up in the 1970s, and in 1977 the Yankees had one of the major success stories of their career. That was the year of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson, and the year of the World Series. I vividly remember the whole family shlepping to the Bronx to see a game or two; I remember how much we cheered for Thurmon Munson and how tragic it was when he died; and I remember how we idolized Reggie, and his eponymous candy bar.

However, by the time the 1980s rolled around, we had started to mostly follow the major league team in Flushing. I think it was the return of Tom Seaver to the Mets for the 1983 season that caught our imagination, although I do recall that Josh was also a big fan of Danny Heep. Josh started following the Mets regularly, and the rest of us followed suit.

Josh was eager to attend games at Shea Stadium, and so my parents took a step that still boggles my mind today. They bought season tickets to Mets games. Now, we didn't buy tickets for the whole family, nor did we buy tickets for every single home game in the season. Rather, we bought a package of tickets for all Saturday games, and we only bought two seats for those games. The theory was that Josh would get to go to each game, and someone else in the family would take him. Most of the time either Mom or Dad would take Josh to Shea, but occasionally Jon or I would do so.

And to my mind, Shea was the most beautiful stadium in the world. It was big, and blue, and always (believe it or not) very clean. The fans felt united in our love of the team, something I felt whenever the announcer spoke or when they played "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during the seventh-inning stretch. Our seats were a bit far up, so the field looked somewhat far away, but the view from our seats (along the first base line) was unobstructed. When I sat with Josh at a game, I would take in the expansive, deep blue sky, breathe in fresh parkland air, and root, root, root for our home team. And if they didn't win, it was a shame.

Now, baseball fans are aware that we all have our own little superstitions and idiosincrasies. And it did not escape my notice that every time I attended a Mets game at Shea, the Mets would lose. Rationally, I knew that my presence in the stadium had no effect whatsoever, but in the back of my mind, I felt like a jinx.

So when 1986 rolled around, and the Mets ended up in the World Series, and my family acquired tickets to games one and seven, I was torn about whether or not I should accompany Josh to the games.

For about one second. World Series? I'm there, baby!

Josh was amused when I "offered" to take him to the World Series games, but the fact was that both Dad and Mom didn't care that much about attending in person, and neither did Jon. (Mom's only concern was that we would be safe among the crowds, and I promised her that I would look after Josh.) Josh and I attended game one on Saturday, October 18, and I recall how raucous and boisterous the other fans were. There was something magical in the air – at least, until the Mets lost to the Red Sox 1-0.

We watched the rest of the games on television with trepidation. On the one hand, we wanted the Mets to win the World Series, and as quickly as possible. On the other hand, we had tickets to game seven, and if the Mets won too soon, we wouldn't be able to attend game seven as it would not be played. So we watched, as the Mets lost game two, then won game three and four, then lost game five...

I won't reiterate the details of game six here, except to note how quickly we went from depression to elation. Game seven was delayed by rain and held on the evening of Monday, October 27, and Josh and I went. I remember how disappointed we felt when the Sox took an early lead in the second inning; how delighted we felt when the Mets scored three runs each in the sixth and seventh innings; how nervous we felt when the Sox scored two more runs in the eighth; how pleased we felt when the Mets scored two more in the bottom of that same inning; and how the stadium erupted in joyful cheers when the game ended with a Mets win. The Mets were champions again, for the first time within our lifetime, and we dearly hope to see them win a World Series again at some point soon. (Please.)

The last time I was in Shea was to see the Mets in one of the 1988 playoff games. I don't remember which game it was I saw, or even who I was with. All I remember is that they lost that game, and went on to lose the pennant.

And now, I'll probably never return to Shea again. For this season is the last one that will be played at Shea, as in 2009 the Mets will take up residence in Citi Field, just next door. And of all the news sites to praise Shea Stadium and William A. Shea, oddly enough, it's the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana with the best tribute. Check out the article "Mets shouldn't forget Shea when new stadium opens" by Bob Estelle, and learn about how Bill Shea worked to replace the Dodgers and Giants. If it weren't for Bill Shea, I wouldn't have the fond memories of the Mets – and of Shea Stadium – that I have today.

Thanks, Bill.
[The following is a personal anecdote about our past weekend trip to New York City. Just so you know what you're getting into before you start reading. The short version includes seeing friends, spending shabbat in Queens, and celebrating the recent wedding of my brother Danny and his wife Barbara. But the long version includes some pictures, so click on the link and enjoy.]

Read more... )

I'd like to end this post with a philosophical note. This is the first time we've been back to New York City since my brothers and I sold Mom's house, and it felt odd. Nomi and I want to continue taking vacations to New York City to see friends, but we're going to have to start relying on some of those friends to host us on those vacations. I feel blessed by knowing that whenever I've mentioned this concern, we've been flooded with offers. Thank you all.

[For [livejournal.com profile] gnomi's take on the weekend, click here.]
Here in Bursteinville, [livejournal.com profile] gnomi and I are anticipating a busy weekend, starting tomorrow.

Folks may recall that last month, my half-brother Danny got married to Barbara Heller in Michigan. This Sunday is when they're having a second celebration, and so Nomi and I are heading down to New York City for the weekend. We decided to get to the city in time for lunch tomorrow so we could meet up with one of my high school friends, a gentleman we don't see as often as we'd like.

I know there's a lot going on in the area this weekend, and I know there's always a lot of people to see, so if we miss you this time, maybe we'll catch you next time. For this trip, we're taking advantage of the gracious hospitality of [livejournal.com profile] sdelmonte and [livejournal.com profile] batyatoon for shabbat, so we're pretty much spending the weekend with them in Queens. Shabbat afternoon, we'll also be getting together with [livejournal.com profile] chaos_wrangler and G.

Early Sunday afternoon, Nomi and I will take a cab to the Heller-Burstein celebration, which is at a deli in the northernmost parts of Riverdale. Here's where things get personal in a way I had not expected.

I had decided to call for a cab from Boulevard Taxi, a company that Mom used to use for her daily commute to work. All the folks at Boulevard, the drivers and dispatchers alike, got to know my mom as that nice lady judge in Forest Hills.

Since we needed to know how much the cab would cost, Nomi suggested I call Boulevard last night to find out the price of a ride from the middle of Queens to Riverdale in the Bronx. So when I called last night, and explained I was calling from Boston and why, I made sure to mention my mom. I told the dispatcher that my mom was the judge who they used to pick up in Forest Hills.

"You mean Judge Burstein?" the dispatcher asked.

I was flabbergasted. "Yes."

It turns out they still remember her very fondly, and the dispatcher was delighted to hear me tell him how much Mom had always praised their company's service. On Sunday, he said he's going to take personal charge of making sure I get the cab I need.
Recently, I've been listening over and over to Kimya Dawson's song "Tire Swing," which can be found on the Juno soundtrack. I've been enjoying all aspects of the song – the rhythm, the melody, the vocals, the texture – while I try to puzzle out the lyrics. The lyrics in the song are not as difficult to decipher as those in some of her other songs, but I suspect that one can find many shades of meaning hidden within.

For me, in particular, I find the following verse to resonate with something I am sure Dawson never intended:


Now I'm home for less than twenty-four hours
That's hardly time to take a shower
Hug my family and take your picture off the wall
Check my email write a song and make a few phone calls


Now, maybe my mind is only drifting in a certain direction because of the time of year. It was a year ago this past weekend that we held Mom's funeral, and I keep going over my memories from that period. But the lyrics of this verse remind me of a day a few months later, when I managed to squeeze out a tiny amount of time to visit the house where I grew up a final time. My younger brother Josh and I were doing another check of the house to clear out the possessions that we wanted to rescue before we sold the place. I'm very grateful to Josh that he found the time to return to the house a few more times and supervise the final pickup of our stuff, but that particular day was my own last day in the house I grew up in. And the lyrics of "Tire Swing" seem to echo that day for me.

Why? Because I remember being on the train to New York City, and realizing that I would literally have less than twenty-four hours to take care of everything. Because I find myself missing the shower in the bathroom. Because we rescued (I hope) all the family photos, and we took off the wall a picture that Mom had painted as a little girl, a picture that now hangs in my apartment. Because while at the house, I'm sure I made a few phone calls, even if I didn't have my computer with me to check email.

(Okay, so I didn't write a song. But you wouldn't have expected me to, now would you?)

So, for all those reasons, "Tire Swing" resonates. And I'm sure Dawson would find my resonance with her song orthogonal to her own.
A year go this morning, at 6:39 am, as Nomi and I were getting ready to go to work, we received a phone call from my brother Jonathan. Mom had died, and suddenly much of our lives were put on hold as we dealt with the aftermath.

I felt the need to mark today with some sort of mention, but the truth is that the anniversary isn't hitting me emotionally as much as it could. For one thing, I already marked Mom's yahrzeit on the Hebrew calendar a few weeks ago, bringing my religious mourning period to a close.

For another thing, it's been a very busy week. We started the week at Arisia, and on Tuesday and Thursday evenings I had my first two classes in the Boston University Certificate in Publishing program. Furthermore, I've had a lot to do at work and I had a medical follow-up appointment yesterday afternoon. And finally, as I mentioned earlier, the son of a good friend of mine was diagnosed with leukemia, leading me to think about his plight a lot more than mine.

In short, the week has been filled with enough of its own distractions that the anniversary of Mom's death ends up being just one of many things, and not a looming single presence of its own.

And you know what? I know she would have preferred it that way.
On the Hebrew calendar, Saturday night and Sunday corresponded to 6 Shvat 5768. The significance of this date is that Mom died on 6 Shvat 5767.

In other words, from a religious perspective, my year of mourning is over.

The anniversary of Mom's death on the Gregorian calendar isn't until January 25, 2008, but as far as religious observance goes, I'm done. Starting tonight, I'm free to join in celebrations, and to attend live musical events and theater.

As it is, I spent the yahrzeit (Hebrew anniversary of Mom's death) engaged in nice, low-key activity. Last night, my younger brother called, and we talked for almost two hours about a lot of stuff.

Today, Nomi and I went out shopping in the early afternoon to get groceries for the Arisia science fiction convention next weekend. The supermarket was crowded, no doubt due to the predictions of a major snowstorm starting tonight, requiring all of New England to stock up on eggs, bread, and milk.

(Aside: this evening, as we were watching the news, Nomi and I played a game. Every time the newscaster said the word "snow," we shouted "SNOW!" It was fun.)

And this afternoon, Nomi and I went to a siyum and azkara at our synagogue, Congregation Kadimah-Toras Moshe. To explain those terms, a siyum is a completion of study, and an azkara is a remembrance. Both of these are often done in honor of someone recently deceased, and today happened to be thirty days since an honored member of our synagogue had passed away. Thirty days after a parent's death is the end of the shloshim period of mourning, so today was a significant day for the siyum.

Marvin Benjamin Levenson was an 85-year-old man whom Nomi and I first met in late 2006. At the time, we had no idea who he was; just a funny older gentleman who joked with Nomi when he discovered that she had started to help set out the food and drink for kiddush following morning services. Marvin became responsible for a new tradition at the shul, as it used to be that the only drink set out for the kiddush was wine. But Nomi and I don't drink alcohol, so she would always make sure that we each had a cup of grape juice instead. When Marvin found out, he asked us to provide him with grape juice as well, so Nomi poured three cups instead of two. Well, it soon became easier for Nomi to set up a plate of cups of grape juice, and to label it with a card, so as to differentiate it from the cups of wine. It proved so popular that we now have two plates of grape juice that Nomi sets up at the end of one table, and it's all because of Marvin.

Who, it turns out, had been instrumental in the creation of Kadimah-Toras Moshe as a combined synagogue in the 1960s. Marvin had also served as one of the most popular presidents of the synagogue.

After we learned of Marvin's death last month, we were saddened, and even more so when we discovered that his family lived in New Jersey and Israel, and so we would have no real chance to pay our respects. But the family grew up with Kadimah, and so they arranged for today's remembrance. Nomi and I went, and the shul was packed with more people than I had ever seen in there before. Marvin's four children and three of his grandchildren spoke, and they brought him to life for us. Marvin was a man who loved his family, giving charity, and Judaism. It was reassuring in some way to hear how the picture of their father and grandfather was consistent with the gentle, funny man that Nomi and I had gotten to know, all too briefly.

It was a very appropriate way to spend Mom's yahrzeit.
Today is the last day for me to recite Mourner's Kaddish for my mom.

Because it's a Friday, Nomi and I asked friends of ours who live near the shul if we could come over for dinner, and we're looking forward to enjoying their hospitality tonight. This afternoon, I'm going to go to the Mincha service, during which I will recite Mourner's Kaddish. Immediately following it will be the Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv service, and I suspect that some folks may have a momentary minor jolt when they realize that my voice is no longer among the chorus reciting the Mourner's Kaddish.

There will be no fanfare to mark the moment, just a quiet acknowledgment that my year of mourning has only one Hebrew month left to go.

I find myself with mixed feelings. On the one hand, and I know this isn't the best way to phrase it, but I'm sick and tired of mourning. I want it to be over with, so I can get back to a closer semblance of normality in my life.

On the other hand...

On the other hand, after you lose a parent, you never want the world to stop acknowledging that loss. Obviously, in the week and month immediately following the death, you need a lot more special consideration. But for the rest of my life, I will be an "orphaned adult," and I would want people to know that and to understand that in their dealings with me. Reciting the Mourner's Kaddish is a very public way of reminding people of your current fragility; that reminder will now get lost in the seas of time.

Of course, we still do other things to remind the world. The Cheshvan before my Mom died, Nomi and I sponsored a kiddush at our shul in honor of my father's yahrzeit. In a way, it helped stave off questions people might have asked; when my mom died, folks already were aware that my father was out of the equation. After my year of mourning is complete, Nomi and I will most likely sponsor a kiddush again, to commemorate my mom and to remind the community that my year is complete. (Amusingly enough, we won't be able to sponsor a kiddush right after the year ends, as that would be Arisia weekend and we'll be at the convention.)

But even though I will continue to remember my mom, and my dad, today's final recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish means that the third phase of mourning is complete. I enter the fourth phase tonight, and, a month from now, the fifth and final phase...which will last for the rest of my life.

December 2016

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