Uncertainty: Chapter Nine

Uncertainty: Prologue
Uncertainty: Chapter One
Uncertainty: Chapter Two
Uncertainty: Chapter Three
Uncertainty: Chapter Four
Uncertainty: Chapter Five
Uncertainty: Chapter Six
Uncertainty: Chapter Seven
Uncertainty: Chapter Eight


Uncertainty: Chapter Nine

Terboven’s visit to the farm left us shaken, and forced Abba and Eema to think more clearly about our safety, and whether it was still possible to hide from the Nazis without getting caught. While I had my own opinion about the matter and tried many times to express myself, no one seemed remotely interested in what I had to say.

“To them–even though I was twelve-and-a-half–I was considered little more than a child who should be seen and not heard, which was quite a departure from the way it used to be when everything was normal.”

“‘Bertie, your Mutti and I have some important business to discuss. Could you maybe give us a bissel time alone?'” was usually Abba’s way of telling me to get lost.

“So I took my complaint to Eva, and told her that Abba and Eema were plotting our future without us, and we should have a say in it. But she wanted no part of it. All Eva wanted to do was dress her doll for tea and draw pictures of a stick family standing beside a tree in front of a house on a hill with smoke coming out the chimney.”

Abba and Eema’s dismissal, and Eva’s indifference left me feeling lonely, and I longed for my friends at home.

“I wonder what became of Toni Ehrlich and the Greenberg girls. We used to be inseparable–probably because all of us came from similar family backgrounds, and each of my friends’ parents had a similar business on Abba’s side of the street. Everyday after school, Toni and Sully Greenberg and I would walk to the other Academy down the street and wait for Rosa Greenberg and Eva’s class to dismiss.”

“Once we were all together, the five of us would walk to the Jewish business district where we dropped our books at the shop, and depending on the day of the week, we would continue to Talmud Torah1 on Monday, or gymnastics on Tuesday, or piano lessons on Wednesday.”

“But Thursdays were different. That was my alone time with Abba, when he would accompany me to ballet class, and watch me dance. On the way home, we often stopped at the music store so Abba could select an opera or symphony record to bring home and play on the phonograph, with me trying to sound it out on the piano.”

“Friday afternoons were always spent at home with Eema. Once Eva and I arrived at the haberdashery, the three of us would climb the flight of stairs at the back of the shop to our kitchen to prepare for Shabbos. Eema and I cooked together, while Eva set the table with special plates from the antique hutch in the dining room. Then we waited for Abba to close the shop at sundown so we could light the Shabbos candles together.”

“Shabbos dinner always started with chicken soup–sometimes with lokshen2 or kreplach3–followed by a roasted chicken or beef brisket served with potato kugel4. After dinner, we sat around the table listening to the radio, while Eema served her homemade babka5 for dessert. I can still remember listening to a broadcast of Otto Klemperer conducting the Italian Symphony, and Abba feeling so proud that Maestro and Mendelssohn were both Jewish.”

“However, after Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933, and the Nazis took over, the music of Mendelssohn, Mahler and Meyerbeer was forbidden in Germany, and replaced by Wagner and lots of anti-Semitic propaganda. Abba became so furious that one day he ripped the plug from the radio out of the wall, and stored the radio in the closet for good. We never listened to radio again, even though the Nazis taxed us every month to cover the cost of their programs.”

“From then on, we would mostly talk at the dinner table about anything, but mostly about culture and Torah, since Abba was such a frum6 man who came from an Orthodox upbringing. In fact, Abba knew the prayers so well that many times the rabbi would call upon him to lead the service and read from the Torah during Shabbos. And even though Eema and Eva had to sit upstairs with the other women–apart from the men–I got to sit downstairs in the front row and watch Abba daven on the bimah7.”

“But now, everything is upside down and twisted all around. When we first arrived at the farm, everything felt like an adventure–like being on vacation. We would hike in the woods, and scout the area for oyster mushrooms, and play hide and seek. But after a month of hiding, it’s not as much fun anymore. We don’t go to shul anymore; We don’t visit the library anymore; we don’t listen to music anymore; I don’t have my friends anymore; and WE DON’T TALK TO EACH OTHER ANYMORE!”

I must have startled Shaina Maidel with my outburst. She reared her head as I was tying the last of her braids. Or maybe she was just agreeing with me.

I stroked her ears and she immediately calmed down. 

“I don’t mean you, girl. You’re my friend, and I can always talk to you. You’re the only one who seems to listen to me.”

The light was fading in the barn, and I could feel the temperature dropping. I placed the heavy red blanket with black trim over her back, and gave her a big hug before passing the van and closing the barn doors behind me.


1Hebrew school
2noodles

3small dumplings
4soufflé
5sweet Polish coffee cake
6pious
7raised area around the Ark, where the Torah is stored

L’Chaim

A second pass through historic Savannah on our way north left us with a day to cover a small part of the city left unseen from our last visit. Previously, Leah and I had budgeted two days in Savannah–between Thanksgiving and Christmas–as we ever-so-slowly slipped into our winter’s hibernation in Florida. Additionally, our obligation to celebrate Dad’s 93rd birthday in West Palm Beach (Happy Birthday, Dad!) on December 11th didn’t leave us much wriggle room for extra time.

Nevertheless, our first visit was rewarding, with memorable stops to: Bonaventure Cemetery, a fabled 18-century burial ground;

Bacon (2)

the revival of River Street, along the Savannah River;

Georgia Queen (3)

neighboring City Market, an 18th-century open-air marketplace;

unintended consequences (2)

Forsyth Park, with its famous oak-lined pathway…

Forsyth Park

leading to legendary Forsyth Park Fountain;

Forsyth Park Fountain

and finishing at the landmark Gothic-Revival Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, the centerpiece of the historic district.

St. John exterior

But Savannah’s geo-positioning (part of the I-95 corridor) made it an easy transition point for routing our return home, and a welcoming destination for a second helping of Southern hospitality…and of course, we were not disappointed.

“So, we have another day here,” announced Leah. “How would you like to spend it?”

“You’re probably gonna laugh,” I stated seriously, “but just like Charlotte, there’s lots of Jewish heritage in Savannah, and there’s a historic congregation in the historic district we could check out.”

“But it’s Saturday, so there’s no way we’re getting in during the Sabbath,” she forewarned, so the best you could expect is an outside picture of the building.”

“Unless we attend services.” I added. “C’mon, it’ll be spiritually enlightening, and you can pray we made the right choice by relocating to St. Augustine.”

We arrived at Congregation Mikve Israel, walked past a uniformed police officer, and through the anointed doors…

doors

where we were met by welcoming ushers who immediately apologized for the temple’s appearance, and offered us a program outlining Catherine’s Bat Mitzvah. We were twice surprised.

Ordinarily, we would have taken a seat at the back of the temple making it easy to leave at our earliest convenience, but it seems that God had other plans for us.

We crossed a chuppah of scaffolding shrouding one-half of the sanctuary’s neo-Gothic architecture, and placing the back rows of the pews off-limits.

scaffolding

Instead, we took a seat closer to the altar among other congregants, while feeling somewhat out of place.

Bimah and Ark

We opened our siddurim to the selected text announced by Rabbi Haas, and subsequently followed the service to its conclusion, as it was meticulously led from the bimah by Catherine.

Catherine at the ark

While chanting familiar prayers with familiar melodies, I reflected on the original forty-two Sephardim and Ashkenazim who disembarked from the William and Sarah in 1733–having sailed aboard a London vessel bound for Oglethorpe’s fledgling colony in Georgia with their precious Sefer Torah in tow–

1733 Torah (3)
1733 Torah

in search of religious freedom and a fresh start.

1737 Torah
1737 Torah

As we prepared to exit after the last refrain of Adon Olam had echoed through the hall, we were approached by an elder of the congregation who encouraged us to stay behind and enjoy lunch with the other members in celebration of Catherine’s mitzvah.

There was no way of turning down Jack’s invitation. He wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. We feasted on lemon chicken, orzo with roasted vegetables, artisan lettuce with dressing, mixed fruit salad, and challah. The company at our table was as delightful and fulfilling as the meal.

During dessert…

cake

we lamented over a missed opportunity to learn more about Mikve Israel’s storied history, given that tours only occur on weekdays. However, a temple docent–conveniently seated at our table–volunteered to escort us to the second floor for a personal inspection of museum exhibits…

 

Wall of Presidents

GW decree
“… May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivering the Hebrews from their Egyptian Oppressors planted them in the promised land – whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation – still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and to make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.”

Ford's visit

A Colonial Congregation (2)

Historic Preservation (2)

Building for a Congregation (2)

and museum artifacts…

artifacts1

artifacts2

artifacts3

As serendipitous as this adventure was, I knew as I descended the stairs…

window and stairs

that I was meant to tell the story of Mikve Israel’s descendants: about their unwavering regard for their American Revolutionary roots, their continuing crusade for community; and their unconditional code of acceptance and inclusion.

Leah and I were invited to return and sample real Southern Jewish hospitality the next time we pass through Savannah, and I think that’s an invitation that I can easily accept, regardless of the obstacles.

scaffolding1 (2)

Cross Beams

Life on the road can be unsettling to the soul, so from time to time–when passing through towns and cities–we’ll randomly take our time to wander through a variety of houses of worship for a healthy dose of salvation and inner peace.

As we’ve wound our way across America, several sanctuaries have stood out for their historical significance, stunning architecture, and their integration into the communities they serve.

The chapel of the Mission San Antonio de Valero, better known as the Alamo, was founded in the early 18th century as a Roman Catholic mission along the San Antonio River,

exterior choir

and distinguished itself as the Shrine of Texas Liberty, commemorating the Battle of the Alamo on March 6, 1836, when a 13-day siege ended in the Mexican army’s victory over 189 Texian soldiers.

lone star flag

Originally, the compound was intended as an education center for America’s Indians who converted to Christianity,

compound.jpg

but, ultimately the Alamo became a fortress of New Spain militiamen after the Franciscan missionaries abandoned it in 1793.

interior1

In 2015, the Alamo was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

profile


While exploring Big Sky country around Helena, Montana, Leah and I visited the Cathedral of St. Helena,

cathedral exterior

a Roman Catholic parish patterned after the Gothic form of Votive Church in Vienna, Austria,

buttress (2)

and distinctive for its 59 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments.

nave

Nearly destroyed by an earthquake in 1935, the cathedral was restored to its original design after three years of reconstruction.

rose window

The interior was gilded in time for the Cathedral’s Golden Jubilee in 1959,

lights

and included in National Register of Historic Places in 1980–giving the residents of Helena something to crow about.

rose window perch


Romanesque architecture defines the exterior of the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis, completed in 1914,

cathedral ext

and attributed to patron Saint Louis IX, King of France.

ceiling of the Narthex (2)

However, the interior reflects from a Byzantine style rooted in soaring domes and mosaic art.

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Installation of the Cathedral’s mosaics–which adorn almost every decorative surface of wall, ceiling and dome–began in 1912 and was completed in 1988.

depiction of Pentacost

Twenty different artists collectively inlaid 41.5 million tessarae tiles of 7,000 colors, covering 83,000 square feet, making it the largest mosaic collection in the world.

depiction of Easter

Pope John Paul II designated the Cathedral a basilica in 1997, where it acts as the mother church for the Archdiocese, and seat of its archbishop.

Historic Bay


In stark contrast, the Cadet Chapel–a multi-faith house of worship–soars heaven-bound at the Air Force Academy campus located in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

chapel exterior

With 17 upright wings on edge, and piercing the sky at 150 feet, the Cadet Chapel is a stirring example of modern American Architecture.

chapel 2xt (2)

Constructed mostly of aluminum, glass, and steel,

chapel alter (2)

the main sanctuary is home to an Air Force Academy demographic that is primarily Protestant.

chapel int (2)

However, the lower level of the structure houses chapels and prayer rooms for Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Orthodox Christians.

lower level chapels.jpg

The Cadet Chapel was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ Twenty-five Year Award in 1996, and was named a U.S. National Historic Landmark in 2004.

stained glass ceiling


Also reflective of modern American architecture, and an homage to nature in its purest form is Thorncrown Chapel, nestled in the Ozarks of Arkansas, on the edge of Eureka Springs.

Exterior

Constructed from the same Southern pine indigenous to the site, the chapel is so integrated into the landscape that it stealthily stands camouflaged by its surroundings,

camouflage

and represents an inside/outside sensibility, with Arts and Crafts flourishes.

pews and lights

Thorncrown Chapel was named a National Historic Place in 2000, and received the Twenty-five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects in 2006 for design of enduring significance.

crossbeams


The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah, Georgia is a Roman Catholic sanctuary built in the French Gothic style, and was dedicated in 1876.

St. John exterior

Twelve years later, fire gutted the interior, leaving behind only the walls and towers.

reference sign

Overcoming adversity, the church community quickly rebuilt much of what was destroyed, and resumed inside services in 1900,

alter

while interior decoration continued for an additional 13 years,

pews

to restore the stained glass and organ loft to its original splendor.

pipe organ

Embedded in Savannah’s Historic District, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was awarded landmark status by the National Park Service in 1966.

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Lastly, in our effort to somehow balance the preponderance of churches and chapels we’ve toured, we visited Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue in the Historic District of Charleston, South Carolina.

exterior

Kahal Kadosh is notable as the country’s second oldest synagogue, and the oldest in continuous use. Established in 1749, Kahal Kadosh grew into America’s largest and wealthiest Jewish community by the end of the 18th century.

historic landmark

A new vision of American Reform Judaism originated at this site in 1824 after parting ways from its conservative Sephardic origins.

1st temple (3)

After Charleston’s fire of 1838 ravaged the city and destroyed the synagogue, a new Greek revival style was adopted for the new structure, with rich interior ornamentation,

Greek Revival

reminiscent of Greek temples.

peeling ceiling

Jewish services, according to reformist rituals and practices, were now conducted in English, with a new emphasis on organ music, and women were encouraged to participate with men on the main floor, breaking with a long-standing tradition of separation and isolation in the sanctuary balconies.

pipe organ (2)


The rich history and diversity of religion and protected religious freedoms in America cannot be overlooked as increased debate centers around self-centered interpretations of our Constitution’s First Amendment.

Moral outrage and hubris abound as politicians and public figures drape themselves in stars and stripes, while preaching to their flock from behind protective glass with handfuls of stones at the ready.

A reckoning of biblical proportion awaits us if we cannot ascend beyond our intolerance, and let each other live as we would have others let us live–in peace and without judgement.

Amen.

Eureka!

A stopover in Eureka Springs, AR along the way to Branson, MO produced some Eureka! moments and other assorted revelations.

For one, there are seventeen registered churches in Eureka Springs, ministering to two thousand healing hearts and souls around town, plus a Tibetan Buddhist temple and an integrated monastery of celibate brothers and sisters.

Religious overtones are also pervasive throughout town. Our Airstream was parked along Passion Play Rd., above the hallowed hollow where The Great Passion Play’s dramatic reenactment of the last week of Jesus Christ is the #1 tourist attraction in the area, and The Christ of the Ozarks rises nearby, hovering above the dense woods of Magnetic Mountain.

Jesus of the Ozarks

Christ sign

Big Jesus side view

Also looking down from town, the Crescent Hotel–recently added to the National Register of Historic Places–delivers luxurious living and salon services, in what’s billed as America’s Most Haunted Hotel.

Historic Crescent Hotel

Crescent Hotel

A fourth-floor lookout…

P1100279

provides familiar views in the distance,

Jesus over sunset

and an overlook of St. Elizabeth Catholic Church of Hungary–listed in Ripley’s Believe It or Not as the only church in America with entry through the bell tower.

St. Elizabeth Church1 (2)

Stunning religious “art-chitecture” can also be found at the Thorncrown Chapel, a jewel of glass and wood tucked into the hillside atop a ledge of flagstone.

Thorncrown Chapel1 (2)

Inside Eureka Springs’ Victorian historical district, the Byzantine-styled First Baptist Church stands at the corner of three intersecting streets with entrances at each of its four levels, giving it four distinct addresses and cause for another Ripley’s entry.

First Baptist Church

The charm of downtown carries through its narrow winding streets, acute corners, and graded roads of 30% or greater, routinely decorated with accents of fine art…

down the street

Steps to Spring St.

…and frivolity.

Humpty Dumpty gnome

horn orchestra (2)

Eureka Springs came by its name naturally, manifesting no less than sixty-two springs that gushed from the mountainside with so-called healing properties. Its establishment as a resort community during the 1870’s prompted visitors from near and far to “take the waters” by drinking up and soaking in its therapeutic juices.

civil war healing

90% cure rate

Today, over a dozen springs have been restored to former glory.

Magnetic Spring plaque

Magnetic Spring

And while the water is no longer potable, the park habitats have given the springs a new lease on life,

Harding Spring

Basin Spring

and have renewed the town’s reputation as a popular healing destination,

Eureka Healing (2)

with an emphasis on preserved charm.

County Courthouse

top floor (2)

ball and house

facade

facades.png

Palace Hotel gazebo

Perhaps the biggest paradox of Eureka Springs would have to be the town’s united commitment to all things ghosts and Halloween, given its adherence and roots in Christiandom, while billing itself as “the place” for the best Halloween party in America…

Grand Central Hotel

Chile Lily

…breathing spiritual relevance into Euripides’ quote: Money is the wise man’s religion.