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On This Fourth of July – A Moment to Reflect

Libertas was the Roman goddess of liberty. She was often portrayed with a pileus on her head, a felt cap worn by freed slaves in Rome. The goddess Libertas served as the inspiration for 18thand 19thcentury representations as an allegorical symbol for freedom in an ideal system of governance. She is on the Great Seal of France, created in 1848. She was on the “heads” side of American coins well into the 20thcentury.

And she served as the inspiration for Frederic-Auguste Bartholde as he designed his statue, Liberty Enlightening the World– our Statue of Liberty. In her left hand, Bartholde placed a tabula ansata (an allegory for the rule of law) with an inscription of the date of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in roman numerals. It associates the date of our Declaration of Independence with the concept of liberty. In her right hand is a torch, held above her head, representing progress. A broken shackle and chain lay at her feet as she walks forward, in commemoration of the abolition of slavery. Instead of the pileus, Bartholde placed a crown on her head – its seven rays evoking the sun, the seven seas and the seven continents. The crown, along with the torch, were the means by which Liberty enlightened the world.

The Statue was a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States – a memorial to the nation’s independence as well as to the abolition of slavery. Placed on what was at the time called Bedloe’s Island, since renamed Liberty Island, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. All ships arriving in New York had to sail past this personification of the best values inherent in our nation. Meanwhile, nearby on Eliis Island, an immigration processing station was established on January 1, 1892   Twelve million immigrants passed through its halls while it was open – from 1892 to 1954 – my parents being among those seeking new life, new hope, on these shores. In 1903, a bronze tablet bearing the text of Emma Lazarus’s poem, “The New Colossus”, written in 1883, was mounted inside the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The poem had originally been written to raise money for the construction of the Statue’s pedestal.

Emma Lazarus’s poem contains these famous, poignant words: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” These words were inscribed on our Lady of Enlightenment, a Lady perpetually gazing out on ships filled with immigrants on their way to Ellis Island, her outstretched arm promising protection, an icon of compassion for these newcomers.

My parents sailed into N.Y. harbor on the USS Eisenhower in 1950, turning their backs on the horror and conflagration that was World War II and the Nazi scourge, eyes forward, focussed on a future they hoped would be filled with new beginnings, new life. In due course, they became citizens, voted, worked hard, paid taxes, contributed to social security – became a productive component in the fabric of this society.

Recently, we have heard reports and seen photos of the squalid conditions at migrant centers along the southern border of this country. Reports describe standing-room only cells, detainees without showers and hot meals, and children caged like animals. What kind of society allows this? What has become of our moral compass? While I, as the daughter of concentration camp survivors, do not use the term concentration camp lightly, these conditions certainly rise to the level of what I would call detention camps. This is not now human beings should be treated – this is not what our country is about – this is not who we, as compassionate beings, are. Is it?

The Statute of Liberty is a symbol of enlightenment. Have we not evolved beyond the brutes we once were? Is there not a torch within each of us, an inner light of empathy that echoes the compassion our Lady Liberty evokes? How can we stand by silently and allow fundamental rights, for which the founders of this country fought, be denied fellow beings?

As a child of survivors, these images of people herded into cages in sub-human conditions – in our country, in this time – are incomprehensible, unfathomable. We must find a voice for those who are voiceless and powerless. We must never allow the light within us, within these individuals, the light held by Liberty, to be extinguished.

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For your family-style  July 4thbarbecue, a recipe for Ranger cookies, a large, hearty cookie containing rolled oats and coconut.

Ranger Cookies

Cream:

2 cups butter

2 cups sugar

2 cups brown sugar

Add, keep creaming:

6 eggs

Add, keep creaming:

2 teaspoons vanilla

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups oats

4 cups corn flakes

1 pound 8 ounces chopped milk chocolate

2 cups sweetened coconut

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

On This Father’s Day

He sits in a chair on the balcony of his Miami Beach condo, watching the sun set over the bay. The evening’s shadows nestle within the folds of his worn face, a face that has borne witness to the passage of time, cataclysmic events, loss and, yes, some joy. He is silent as he sits back, closes his eyes and remembers.

The town in Poland, where he was born, in 1908. His father owned a leather shop, a family affair. He was the next-to-oldest in a family of four sons and one daughter. After finishing the sixth grade, he had to leave school and join his father in the business. His first regret, as he keenly felt the lack of further education. To compensate, he became a master craftsman, taking great pride in his work, producing the best in handbags, wallets, saddles and belts.

As the days progressed, so did he. Success came, and with it, a business reputation and a shop of his own. He married and had a daughter.

With Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, everything changed. The first Jewish ghetto in Poland was created in his town. Thousands of Jew were crammed into a small sector of the town, with the specter of daily “selections” and deportations a constant fear. The Germans had need of his leather goods, so his shop and his family were spared. He was able to use his good fortune to save countless individuals by telling the Germans he needed more staff and by hiding people in his back rooms. 

Until the fall of 1943, with the liquidation of the ghetto and a final deportation of all its remaining inhabitants. All herded into railroad cars headed to a concentration camp, Blizyn. 

He survived, driven by the hope that his wife and daughter might be alive, that he might still be reunited with them. To avoid getting ill, he would scrub snow over his frail body in an attempt to stay clean. Sent from camp to camp, he somehow managed to stay alive, to be liberated by the Americans in 1945. By that time, though, he had contracted tuberculosis. Weary and sick, he was sent to a displaced persons camp to recover. While there, he counted the dead in his family – among them, his wife and child.

That was where he met my mother, a nurse in the DP camp. They had grown up in the same town, and so had known each other in the general way that Jews knew each other in the town. She and her two small sons had hidden in his shop in the ghetto until the final deportation. She had survived the camps, but her boys and her husband were gone. These two were dead souls who found a small measure of comfort with each other. And so, they married, a daughter was born, and they were granted entry to the U.S. as refugees.

They arrived in 1950 and struggled to make a life together. They started a cafeteria and catering business, a grueling livelihood. A second daughter was born. The mother woke up early each day to do the cooking at work, so, as the girls grew older, the father was the one who woke the girls up for school, braided their hair, prepared their lunches. This was in the 1950s – before it was fashionable for men to do so.

And as his two daughters grew, his goal was for them to have the education he was denied. And more – that they have a career, a profession, be respected, be self-sufficient, and, so, never suffer as he had. The daughters grew up believing they could do anything, strive for everything, and, hopefully, in doing so, save the world from itself.

He had a strict moral code. He was painfully honest in his business dealings, often to his own detriment. He witnessed so many cultural and societal changes during his lifetime – and tried to understand them. His daughters would make mistakes, as children do, and this confounded him. Until he eventually learned to accept and not judge.

So he sits in his chair and dreams of the future his daughters and their children will have. 

***

A man is the sum of his actions. My father endured man’s depravity but never became depraved. A quiet man, his conduct spoke volumes. My father was a hero. On this Father’s Day, I remember and salute him. And wish for my children to emulate him.

Most of all – how can I forget his mile-high sandwiches he prepared for my school lunch? God forbid I should ever go hungry.

Mendel’s Pastrami Sandwich

Two thick slices of rye bread

Mustard

Half-pound of the best pastrami

Sour pickle on the side.

.

On This Mother’s Day

As a young child, I search your face for clues as to the state of your happiness that day. It is instinctive – my sense of calm, peace and joy is entwined with yours. So I am keenly attuned to each flicker of your eyes, every shadow that crosses over your features, your nuanced smile. If you are sad, so am I. If you are content, I relax. If you are sad, I try to rescue you. If you experience joy, I am ecstatic – even more so if I am the cause of that joy.

As an adolescent, I chafe under your constant worry, irrationally angered by your concern over my welfare. We slide apart as I no longer confide to you. Although you seem to know everything without my saying a word.

As a foolish young woman, I disregard your advice because I, of course, think I know better. I will not make any mistakes in my life path. So, of course, I plunge headlong into many.

As an adult, I am astonished at the perspicacity and wisdom you tried to share with me. Too late to tell you how wonderful you are. Your innate good sense, multiplied by the breadth of your experiences, provided a fountainhead of integrity in its approach to life. I should have listened more.

As a mother myself, I am amazed at your perseverance and courage in the love you provided your children. Your limitless capacity to love again and to keep loving, no matter the tragedies you had to endure. 

Now that I am no longer anyone’s child, I treasure your love. Our time together was all too fleeting. I miss our calls, I miss your badgering me, and I miss your arms holding me tight. Your sneaking cookies into my bunk at summer camp. Your leaving me your lipstick when you left for a long visit to family, so I had something of you to hold onto. Your preparing a late-night snack for me as I pored over my textbooks, preparing for an exam the next day. Your holding my children, drinking in their presence, promising them to be their shield, their armor, their sanctuary.

A mother’s love – all-encompassing, forgiving, non-judgmental. A respite, a refuge. A gift.

We all need to be loved. 

So, on this Mother’s Day, I share with you an easy, quick recipe that will get the serotonins flowing, reminding you of happiness, well-being and the love of moms.

Coconut haystacks

Toasted shredded coconut. 

8 oz to 1 pound chocolate

Preheat oven to 325 to toast coconut. Microwave the chocolate until melted, stirring.  Mix the coconut into the melted chocolate, to taste. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a small teaspoon, drop small spoonfuls of the mixture onto the sheet. Refrigerate until chocolate is set, about 30 minutes.

Of Ties That Bind

Spring brings with it the celebration of Easter and Passover. Interesting to note that the observance of both holidays involve the egg in some fashion: whether it is rolling or decorating it (Easter) or placing it on the Seder plate and then ingesting it (hard-boiled, dipped in salt water – Passover). The egg was originally associated with pagan festivals honoring the advent of spring, symbolizing fertility and new life. For those who celebrate Easter, the egg represents resurrection. In Jewish tradition, its rounded shape symbolizes the cycle of life – birth, death and rebirth. In each, the overarching concept is one of hope and renewal – an affirmation of life in all its potential, a prayer for the future.

I watched with sadness this week as Notre Dame’s spire, engulfed in flames, imploded and toppled. Notre-Dame de Paris (Our Lady of Paris), a medieval Catholic church, is a majestic icon, representing the history of a nation and the faith of its people, a structure that had managed to survive centuries of conflict and war. Considered one of the finest examples of French gothic architecture, its construction spanned almost two hundred years, a testament to mankind’s fortitude. Its flying buttresses and intricate sculptural decorations explode with the imagination and exuberant spirit that lie within us. Human creativity, love and devotion unshackled.

Which brings me to one of the many stories my mother told me through the years, of her experiences during World War II.

It was 1943. Five women were chosen to cook and clean for German soldiers stationed in the Blizyn concentration camp. Some of the women had come from the death camp Maidanik, others were part of the final deportations from the ghettos. They shared a room in the building that housed the German soldiers. They had been chosen because they were young and still healthy. Having survived an initial selection, they did not know whether their husbands, children, fiancées, siblings or parents had survived. When they could, they would take scraps of food from the kitchen to share amongst themselves, to stave off starvation. They would comfort each other through their sadness and fear, talking through the night. A year passed this way. In 1944, as the Russians approached Poland, the Germans closed Blizyn and the women were sent to Auschwitz. There, they stood in line as Mengele made his selection. The oldest of the five was sent to one side as the other four were directed to another line. The four were sent to Hindenberg and worked in a factory that manufactured bombs. These were 10-hour days, carrying 100-pouind objects, living on a ration of thin soup and a morsel of bread. Mengele would come every two weeks to inspect the group. One day, they found two potatoes. Carefully, stealthily, at night, they cooked the potatoes in a small fire. The German woman in charge of their barracks discovered them and two of the group were sent to Mengele and punished with 25 lashes with a leather whip. My mother, one of the two, became sick and was sent to a tent for the sick. One night, the other three women came to get her. They had heard the camp was closing, as the Russians were approaching. She was to be ready to leave with them in the morning.

It was called the “march of death”. In the middle of winter, 300 inmates of Hindenberg walked 10 kilometers a day, without water, without food, without stopping, clad in wooden clogs and the thin rags they had worn for years. If someone paused for breath, they were shot. My mother described walking along a path littered with the dead. At night, they rested in barns. After five days, my mother told the other three she could no longer go on. She would stay in this barn and was ready to die. The others refused to leave her behind. Rose took a piece of string and bound her wrist to my mother’s. The next day, and the days after that, Rose dragged my mother beside her, the string binding them together, sharing her rations with my mother, until they reached Nordhausen. There, they were put on a train to Bergen-Belsen. The train had no roof. They stood for days, herded into the cars like cattle. No food, no water – only the flakes of snow they caught in their mouths. They knew Bergen-Belsen, a death camp, whose inmates starved to death, would be their last stop. My mother contracted typhus there. But Rose kept bringing her soup. Miraculously, they were able to survive until April 15, when the camp was liberated by the English army. Without a doubt – my mother survived due to the care and devotion shown by her “concentration camp sisters”, because of Rose and her string.

As we approach this weekend where we observe the rituals of hope and renewal, let us think of the diaphanous threads of love, friendship and community that bind us together. This fragile net envelops the individual to create a supportive societal network. Together, we build flying buttresses and spires that scrape the sky. As we sit down to the table surrounded by our family and friends, let us remember that there is an innate humanity that resides in each of us. Let us put aside old quarrels and create anew from the ashes of fear and hate. Let’s celebrate our ingenuity and creativity. Let us renew.

A staple of the Passover Seder is “charoset”, a mixture of diced apple, nuts, honey and red wine. It symbolizes the mortar that bound the bricks used in building ancient Eqypt’s structures. While it is meant to remind us of the suffering imposed on the slaves forced to labor, let us transform its significance for the future – as a symbol of our drive to construct, create, begin anew. As we roll our eggs or eat our eggs, let us celebrate life.

In my mother’s fashion, I have included the ingredients for charoset. It is yours to make, to taste.

Charoset

Diced apples

Toasted chopped walnuts

Sweet red wine

Honey

Cinnamon

Lemon juice

Toss together and eat, preferably on matzoh.

Thanksgiving, Leningrad and the Northern Lights

Have you ever had a transcendent moment – a momentary pause in the rush of day, a hush imposed on the noise of living, a stillness that pervaded your surroundings so that you could hear the beating of your heart?

I had such a moment, nearly forty years ago.

If you live long enough, you’ll find that the world’s geography changes before your eyes. The boundaries of nation-states morph, disappear, and then are resurrected onto the same parcel of land with a new name. Alternatively, lands are sliced and diced according to some random plan by those temporarily in power. Cities are renamed according to the caprice of time or the ruling regime or passions of its inhabitants. You can never be sure what town you will wake up in, even when you are sleeping in your own bed.

So it was that in the fall of 1979 I found myself in a country called the U.S.S.R., living in a city called Leningrad. After graduating law school I accepted a two-year fellowship, studying what was euphemistically called “Soviet” law. It necessitated spending ten months in Leningrad and Moscow. My mother, having fled Poland after World War II, considered herself fortunate in having escaped a Communist regime. She was perplexed as to why I would willingly subject myself to living in one. Being wise, she knew what life would be like over there. Being naïve, I could only see adventure and mystery awaiting me as I lifted the drapery and slipped behind the Iron Curtain. What awaited me was something totally different. 

I and a small group of American exchange students arrived in Leningrad in late August of 1979. It was a beautiful time of year to descend upon a city with historic buildings, some with golden domes that would glow when kissed by sunlight. There were bridges crossing the canals dissecting the city, reminding one of Venice. We settled into our dormitory rooms that we shared with Soviet roommates. For the first few weeks, we were overwhelmed with the classic beauty of the city’s museums and broad avenues, with its workers’ cafeterias and kvass (home-brewed beer) vendors on the corners. It took us awhile to see behind the façade and understand the reality of this society, the scarcity of food and essential goods and services, as well as the lack of privacy and freedom of thought that its populace labored under. Big brother watched every move its citizens made and each word uttered or written.

Realizing we were being spied on, we learned the tricks of evasion so that our conversations would not be listened to and our activity would not be tracked. A mellow September turned into an October colder than I was accustomed to. Produce available in Soviet stores consisted of bread, potatoes, condensed milk and canned fish. Fresh fruit and vegetables became a dream of the past, as did any kind of meat.  Being ever vigilant against surveillance or eavesdropping took its toll. Shadows lengthened as daylight hours shortened. Lines haphazardly grew at random storefronts as rumors spread of Czech shoes here or Polish sausage there. My initial enthusiasm wore off as I witnessed the constant strain and struggle endemic in living in this country.

It was November. Icicles hung from bare tree branches. The weather was relentlessly gray and cold. I was homesick. My mother sent care packages filled with toilet paper and laundry detergent, kind enough not to say “I told you so” in her letters. With the prospect of seven more months to go in this mirthless place, I acknowledged, ruefully, that my mother was, once again, right.

Thanksgiving was approaching. We were trying to figure out how to make potatoes taste like turkey, when, unexpectedly, the staff at the American consulate invited us to join them for a real Thanksgiving dinner to be held at a dacha two hours north of the city.

The dacha was a former summer palace of a long-dead Russian noble, so it was resplendent in an old-Europe, slightly decaying opulent sort-of-way. The furniture in the spacious rooms and the art decorating the walls were a cornucopia of color welcome to the eye after months of bleak grey. The dinner table was laden with real turkey, edible vegetables (more color!), sweet potatoes (but this kind of potato was alright) and pumpkin pies. Sitting down to the table, in a grand salon, we gorged ourselves on healthy food and good wine, able to engage in spirited discussion freely without fear of being watched. We were served coffee and brandy – so very sophisticated.

And then we were invited out to the terrace to “see something special”. We piled out onto this grand stone precipice, overlooking the inky waters of the Gulf of Finland. No lights, no sound other than the raspy intake of our own breath. “Look up”, they said, and we did.

And there, strewn across the sky, was a shimmering curtain of green, purple and red jeweled lights. The aurora borealis. I was transported at the sheer grandeur of this spectacle, a mere glimpse of the mysteries yet to be unveiled by this universe we inhabit. It was awe-inspiring, terrifying, hinting at forces greater than those of earth-bound mortals, whispering of beauty and peace, a majesty attainable if only we stood still and listened to the harmonies of the heavens.

And for a moment, I was bestowed the gift of grace.

And now for a divinely indulgent dessert:

Cranberry-Chocolate Tart

Pastry

1 C flour

1 T sugar

1 t baking powder

¼ t salt

4 oz unsalted butter

2 T water

350 degrees. In food processor combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. V\Cut in butter until mixture resembles small peas. Stir in water and combine into ball. Chill 30 minutes then roll out to fill an 8 inch pie plate. Chill.

Filling

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate

¼ C butter

1 C corn syrup

¼ C sugar

3 eggs

2 T orange liquer

Grated zest of 1 orange

Pinch cinnamon

4 oz. cranberries

Melt chocolate and butter over low heat. In separate pot combine corn syrup and sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Set aside. Beat eggs, liquer, orange zest and cinnamon in a large bowl. Stir in chocolate mixture and corn syrup. Pour into crust. Sprinkle cranberries in a single layer over chocolate mixture.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until pastry is cooked and pie is set. The cranberries will split.

The Golem

I think about my parents and the fear they endured in 1939 to 1945, the years they lived within the walls of the ghetto established in what had once been their home, their town, and the ensuing time spent in several concentration camps, struggling to stay alive, not knowing if their family members were alive, each breath dependent upon the demonic caprice of their captors. After they were liberated from the camps, at the end of World War II, they learned that their respective spouses and children had not survived. The same for parents, siblings, cousins – all gone; the list went on and was interminable. 

IN 1945, they found themselves in a displaced persons camp in Germany with nowhere to go. There was no town, no home, no property left. Twenty-six thousand Jews from their town had died. Very few decided to return. They were unwelcome, their apartments occupied by strangers who had moved in when the Jews were deported. They were unwanted by those back “home” – where could they go? Where were they “wanted”?

My parents were fortunate enough to be admitted into the U.S. as refugees. I won the lottery by being born here and, so, able to experience the freedom and opportunities available to this country’s citizens – a gift I never take for granted.

But what about those who sought entrance to this and other countries in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, who understood the danger that was sweeping across Europe, who desperately sought life elsewhere? Doors swung shut as nations turned their backs on these innocents, actions stemming from fear as well. Fear that arose from the discomfort of living with “others”, from the anticipation that they would have to share with “others” s=and so have less for themselves. After all, they whispered to themselves in a kind of self-justified stupor, perhaps these asylum seekers, these refugees were exaggerating the perils approaching?

A story comes to mind – that of the “Golem”, a creature that was created in the Middle Ages to protect the Jews against a hostile community.

Actually, “golem” is a term used in the Bible as well as Talmudic literature. It refers to an embryonic, incomplete substance, i.e. Adam until God breathed life into him. In the Middle Ages, it was believed that by participating in an act of creating a golem, one became close to God. So it was written that one could create a creature from a substance such as clay and bring it to life by affixing a combination of letters in the form of a sacred word onto its forehead or on a piece of paper that was then placed in its mouth. For example, by writing the name of God, or, alternatively, the Hebrew letters aleph, mem and tav on its forehead – the word meaning “emet” or “truth” – the creature would come to life. By erasing the aleph, you were left with mem and tav – the word for “death”. The creature would then collapse. 

The creature would serve its creator by doing tasks assigned to it. The most well-known story involving this creature (other than Mary Shelley’s take on it with her tale of Frankenstein) is the Golem of Prague, circa 1580. Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel made a golem out of clay in order to protect his community and help out by performing physical labor. Eventually, the golem flew into a rage and ran amok, threatening innocent lives. The Rabbi erased the name of God on its forehead, rendering the golem lifeless. 

The pervasive theme running throughout the golem stories is that, while created with good intentions, the golem inevitably takes on a life of its own, becomes uncontrollable and, in the end, must be destroyed.

The golem mirrors the fears and anxieties of a populace. It is a means of protection against a perceived threat that eventually morphs into a threat of its own.

And so we come to the infamous “wall” to be built across the southern border of our country. Isn’t this wall a form of a golem, a barrier of clay built to protect against a perceived threat of “others” (immigrants) who will diminish our supply of goodies? 

Doesn’t this barrier fly in the face of the tenets upon which this country was built? Is this not a nation founded by immigrants looking for a better, safer life? Do we not need a refuge in a world of humans who too readily inflict pain on one another? I understand Americans ask whether we should be our brother’s keeper. But, if not us, then who?

Think about the imagery of the hedge of thorns described in the fairy tales we read growing up. This barricade sprouts up due to a spell cast by an evil spirit and surrounds a palace whose inhabitants are either asleep or held captive. With every year, the hedge grows higher until it engulfs the palace so there is nothing left to be seen. It takes an individual of courage to hack through the brambles and free or awaken the occupants within.

This wall, this golem, will take on a life of its own. It will become a barrier to compassion and informed judgment. It will consume our air and sunlight. It will eventually become this country’s coffin. This was not the intent of those who built this nation. We are no longer living in the middle ages – we should no longer need to create a golem against imagined menaces. What we need is enlightened discourse.

And, of course, in these troubled times, we need comfort food – and what can be better than my mother’s recipe for noodle kugel.

Noodle Kugel

½ cup cooked noodles

4 eggs 

1 stick margarine

1 can crushed pineapples

2 apples (diced)

½ cup sugar

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp vanilla

Raisins (to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a deep baking dish. Cook noodles per directions. Drain the noodles. Place margarine in a bowl and add the hot noodles, allowing the margarine to melt. In another bowl, whisk eggs, sugar and vanilla.  Pour mixture on top of noodles and mix. Add raisins, pineapple, apples and salt and mix again. Pour noodle mixture into greased dish and bake for 40-50 minutes or until just golden on top.

Touché

Invariably, in drama or comedy series I have recently watched, there have been episodes in which one character, at some point, said to another “touché”.

Who talks like that? In daily conversation? Even if trying to be clever and impress the person with whom we are conversing, who thinks of that particular word? Touché? I can honestly say I have never used it once, in all my years of indulging in communication with another human being. Is this a writer’s idea of being urbane? I vote for it being a lazy author’s way of trying to appear worldly. Only, when every other writer is using the same expression, it is no longer a mark of distinction or sophistication.

The definition for this word: acknowledgment, during a discussion, of a good or clever point made at one’s expense by another person. In connection with fencing, it is an acknowledgment of a hit by an opponent. It comes from French; its literal meaning is “touched’.

So, it is a witty response to being outwitted. And it is being overused by those trying to be witty. But it got me to thinking…

My parents were immigrants who arrived in this country in 1950 without two cents in their pockets. With a small child in hand and no knowledge of English, they rented a small place in the Bronx and immediately looked for work. As with most working-class families in New York at the time, both my father and mother had to find jobs. Families such as ours did not possess the luxury of having a stay-at-home parent. My father worked days at a factory and my mother worked night-time shifts as a nurse. By the time I was born, they had started a restaurant and catering business, which meant they worked 24/7. My sister and I grew up in that restaurant. My earliest memories are of helping out, whether at the sink washing dishes or creating a make-shift coat check for the catered parties. 

The role model I grew up with was that of a working mother, a woman who could lift a fifty-pound bag of potatoes and carry it down a flight of stairs, who could roast 200 chicken quarters in a massive oven without blinking an eye, yet who would pick up a book every chance she could to learn English, and was ravishing when dressed to go out in one of the rare occasions when she was an invited guest at a function. Because she never questioned her strength or determination to support her family, I never did. It was a given.

While my mother left early in the morning to pop those chickens into the oven, my father stayed behind to get my sister and I up and off to school. I remember his braiding my unruly hair and preparing these incredibly thick sandwiches for lunch (no child of his would ever go hungry). I never questioned the roles my parents played. It seemed natural, inevitable. The model I saw in families around me. This was the norm.

This notion was further reinforced in the turmoil and exhilaration of the 1960’s and 1970’s, as women strove to break through cultural prejudices, attempting to penetrate male bastions in the workplace, at colleges and graduate schools and in politics. Women were smart and strong enough to want it all – economic equality, societal respect, family and children. It was all possible.

I believed and I achieved. Graduated law school and started a career. Got married and had children. Worked full-time: by the way, there was no maternity leave back then – accrued vacation was all you got, so I was back at work six weeks after giving birth.  And because we baby boomer women had not yet raised our sons (who were taught to be sensitive to the needs of their partners and aware of the obligations inherent in being a fully supportive husband and father), our spouses were perhaps not as attuned at helping us. So, I took the kids to sports events on the weekends, to doctors’ appointments when needed, to school every morning. I cleaned the house and bought the groceries. And, I admit, ordered take-out for dinner, but really, isn’t pizza the perfect food? 

I enjoyed every minute of it. Except at work. I noticed that I was always a slight step behind my male peers, with comparable skill sets and experience, when it came to salary, bonuses and career advancement opportunities. I was not a golfer, couldn’t go to the bars at night to hang, didn’t have the fraternity network to tap. The guys had this self-contained world of hearty-slap-on-the-back, blink at ethical impropriety, crude humor innuendo.  A dark web of easy male comradery that became stilted when a woman was thrown into the mix. So she never was.

I was naïve enough to be surprised that men weren’t going to give up their dominance without a fierce fight. That they wouldn’t batten down the hatches in the face of our struggle. There was some lip service to the need for change and perhaps slight cosmetic tweaks made here and there.

But really, it all boiled down to:”plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. The more things appeared to change, the more they stayed the same.

Forty years later and the same problems still exist. Women are still seeking parity at the work-place, our heads are still butting up against a glass ceiling. I am disheartened at what appears to be the fundamental immutability of human nature and its institutions. Yet, for the sake of future generations, we cannot give up. More than that – women must understand that playing by the rules, being nice to those in the sandbox, won’t advance our cause. In fact, we must transform the molecular substance of the sand itself. Create our own rules of engagement.

WE are, though, still early on in the game. So, at this point of the skirmish, I have to say – guys – you got me. Touché.

In keeping with the French tenor of this piece, I included a recipe for a typical French pastry (not my mother’s recipe):

Hazelnut Macarons

Sift and mix:

             1 lb. 4 oz. Hazelnuts (finely ground)

 2 lb. 2 oz. confectioners’ sugar

Whip to moderate peaks:

            14 oz. egg whites

Fold egg whites into the hazelnut/confectioners’ sugar mixture. Let rest 20 minutes. Fill a pastry bag and pipe onto parchment-lined baking sheets. In a 425 degree oven, bake for 7-8 minutes.

Buttercream filling:

1/2 cup sugar

3 tablespoons water

5 large egg yolks

4 teaspoons espresso powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup butter, room temp and cubed

In a saucepan, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil and cook until sugar is dissolved. Put egg yolks in a mixer with a whisk attachment and beat until thick and foamy. Cook water and sugar syrup until it reaches 240 degrees F. Immediately remove from heat. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle hot syrup into bowl with yolks. Continue mixing until the bowl is cool to the touch and the yolk mixture has cooled to room temperature. Add in butter, one cube at a time. Add vanilla extract and espresso powder. Keep mixing until buttercream is smooth and creamy.

Spread buttercream onto the bottom half of a macaron and cover with a top half.