After school, we took our leisurely time walking home. We frequently stopped at the neighborhood candy and gift store to see if we could slip a few pieces of our favorite candy into our coat pockets without being caught.
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I acted out scenes with my play kitchen and my painted cardboard grocery store set. My favorite board games were Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. I ate chocolate cupcakes and drank lots and lots of Coca Cola and chocolate milk. No one talked about the detrimental effects of sugar. I dreamed of being able to fly just like Wendy and her brothers.
From Shame to Wholeness, February 20, 2011
Every morning at school, we said the Pledge of Allegiance. Kids fought with their fists, not guns or knives. One time in elementary school, my girlfriend and I staged a fight in the schoolyard. When I went into junior high, the boys and girls had make-out parties and played spin-the-bottle with an empty Coca Cola bottle.
Our choice of compelling literature included Archie and Veronica comic books, The Nancy Drew Mysteries and popular teen magazines. American Bandstand was the craze, so every Saturday I turned on the television to learn the latest dances and to hear the newest performers. Later on in high school, I cruised around town with friends and hung out at Hot Shops, a drive-in hamburger joint. We ordered food from our cars, listened to the radio, and gawked at boys. If a high school girl got pregnant, she was usually sent away to have her baby.
I never heard the words abortion or condom while I was growing up. I was so insulated. The most daring act that I ever undertook was throwing a cupcake party with my friends during study hall. My paternal great grandmother, Esther, was an Orthodox Jew.
When she was 16 years old, she, along with many other Jews, ran away to escape the anti-Semitic Russian and Polish pogroms that were occurring at the time. She escaped from Russia by hiding in a hay wagon and later came to America alone, carrying only a small suitcase of clothes and her only other possessions, a pair of brass candlesticks.
When my great grandmother reached America, she met my great grandfather, Alexander. He had once studied in a Russian yeshiva —a school for Jewish men being trained and educated in rabbinical studies, Jewish scriptures, and Levitical law. When Alexander came to America, he had few work skills, so he became a cigar maker and opened a cigar shop. Esther kept a strict kosher home. Louie worked as a jobber, or a salesman, pushing his cart of goods to sell to businessmen and buyers all around the city. Another cousin was our family doctor. My paternal grandfather, Joseph, was a wholesale knit goods and hosiery merchant.
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His wife, Rose, was active in the affairs of the Hebrew Orphans Home. She was also the former Chairlady of the Ladies Home Circle. In addition to my father, Joseph and Rose had two other children, my aunt whom I adored and an uncle I never met. Both of these grandparents died by the time I was four years old. My maternal grandfather, Samuel, was a pharmacist and drugstore owner. Samuel was a very undemonstrative and unaffectionate man who worked from early morning until late evening at his store. Grandfather Samuel died when I was an infant. My grandmother Hattie remarried, so I had a step-grandfather.
Samuel and Hattie had three children, one of whom was my mother. My father enlisted and fought in the th Infantry in World War II, rose to the rank of captain, and was later assigned as a judge to assist in the investigation of war crimes. He spoke of only one incident that occurred during his military service—he was chased by a German tank and jumped over a bridge to escape, injuring his back in the process the back trouble lingered throughout his life.
After the war, my father was offered a job with a Supreme Court Justice of the United States, but he turned it down for reasons he never shared. Instead, he decided to go into private practice. My father was multitalented. He built a bicycle built-for-two. He could repair anything. I spent hours with him learning how to use different tools and helping him remodel our recreation room. He even showed me how to use his power saw. I loved helping him garden and do fix-it jobs, and he enjoyed teaching me.
I became quite adept at using a hammer and spent hours constructing different objects from scrap wood. I was fascinated by how things worked. With the zeal of an engineer, I spent many hours dismantling old cameras, radios, and toasters and then putting them all back together. My father taught me to play tennis and ping-pong.
I won the girls ping-pong championship in high school. Every winter, he took my two sisters and me tobogganing down some steep and challenging hills. I was very agile and enjoyed physical challenges. He often shared his cases with me and let me read his legal briefs. Discussions often ensued. At one point, I considered going to law school. My mother was a prolific reader and dabbled in painting. She loved music and had a beautiful singing voice. She deeply regretted never having fulfilled her dream to be a musician.
She introduced my sisters and me to Broadway and classical music. One of the productions we saw was Fiddler on the Roof. For my sweet-sixteen party, my mother invited a local singer to perform songs from the show Mame. She developed an eating disorder and became very overweight.source url
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After many failed attempts to lose weight, she gave up and started spending hours in bed, reading and watching golf and baseball on TV. She knew every facet of each sport: the players, their records, and all the different teams. I had two sisters, one two years older than me and one two years younger. We lived in an affluent Jewish suburb in a lovely old four-story stone home that originally belonged to my maternal grandparents. The house had a huge wrap-around porch. By the time I was born, the store had been sold to a new owner. My parents hired live-in housekeepers to help raise my sisters and me, assist my mother with housecleaning, and to help with cooking and serving for the large parties that my parents held.
Our housekeepers were typically older African-American women. From my youth, they were mother figures to me, providing the love and security that my own emotionally ill mother was not able to give my sisters and me. Summers were spent attending overnight camp or traveling by car across the country on lavish vacations in California and Florida.
My parents practiced Reformed Judaism, the more liberal movement of the Jewish faith. I learned a few poignant Bible stories and could recite many Hebrew prayers by ear. However, I did pick up a little Yiddish and learned about the Jewish holidays.
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My Hebrew name is Hadassah, which translated into English means Esther. I loved to dress up for Purim, my favorite Jewish holiday, as Esther. Our family celebrated the Jewish holidays with relatives and friends. On the surface, my life seemed to be normal, even idyllic. But if you were to step inside my home at that time, you would get a very different picture. All of these wonderful experiences were in stark contrast to what was really going on behind closed doors.
In some ways my life seemed rather surreal—all lovely and safe on the surface and all ugliness and terror within. While other young girls and teens had fairy tale dreams of meeting their prince charming, getting married or having a rewarding career, I dreamed about being rescued and finding new parents. I knew that I would be safer anywhere else than inside my own home. Even when I was not being physically or emotionally threatened, I could not escape the fear.
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