Straight Out of Monty Python

I was looking at the website of the Xerces Society recently and came upon the following sentences, which I swear I am not making up. I was so enchanted by this info that I immediately sent them a donation. I mean, you’ve got to love an organization that’s devoted to things without backbones (excluding the New York State Legislature), and that can produce prose like this:

“There have been few sitings of the Oregon giant earthworm in recent years. It can reach up to 60 centimeters long and it reportedly has spit that smells of lilies.”

No WONDER It Was $30 an Ounce!

Here’s a quote from a story that was published in the Record yesterday (Tuesday, July 27) about a youth-run farmers’ market that just opened on Chambers Street in Newburgh:

“It features organically grown tomatoes, eggplant, basil and mescaline mix.”

Does the New Yorker still reproduce such boo-boos? If so, i’ll have to send a tear-sheet to them.

Who’s Buried in Snake Hill?

Who’s Buried in Snake Hill?

Here is my re-typed version of a typewritten letter from Carol Bates, of New Windsor, which was received at TBJ on or about April 29, 2009. It includes the title: “Inscriptions on stones in a Hebrew Cemetery located on west side of Snake Hill, near Crystal Lake in the city of Newburgh, N.Y.”

 Adelberg, Sophie, b. 1870, d. Sept. 16, 1895 (NOTE: In the first version of this document, I typed that Ms. Adelberg died in “1918.” This was the year printed on the typewritten letter I have from Mrs. Bates. But today my husband and I visited the cemetery and saw that on her headstone it clearly gives Ms. Adelberg’s date of death as Sept. 16, 1895. This revision is important, because it means that as far as we know at this moment, no one was ever buried in Snake Hill Cemetery after it was bought by Temple Beth Jacob in 1916. In fact, only 3 people had been buried there in the previous 10 years — one in 1907, one in 1908 and one in 1909. There was also a person, Lena Friedman, buried there in March 1906.)

Applebaum, Morris, d. Nov. 1, 1892, age 3

Blechman, Minnie, d. April 27, 1900, age 56 years

Friedman, Lena, wife of Hyman Hoffman, d. March 19, 1906, age 52 years

Hoffman, Heyman, son of Herman Hoffman, b. 1899, d. 1900

Hoffman, Rebecca, daughter of Herman Hoffman, b. Aug. 2, 1876, d. May 15, 1897

Koplan, Abraham, son of Simon Koplan, b. Sept. 9, 1896, d. Oct. 19, 1899

Levey, Abraham, b. Feb. 21, 1897, d. Dec. 4, 1901

Levey, Ruth, b. Oct. 11, 1898, d. Dec. 14, 1901

Pinckes, Blanche, b. March 29, 1897, d. Dec. 19, 1903

Pinckes, Nathan, b. Oct. 6, 1871, d. Jan. 10, 1904 (NOTE: This name was not among those on Ms. Bates’ list, but Tim and I added it when we saw this headstone during our tour of the cemetery today.)

Rehr, Sam, d. Jan. 10, 1909, age 41 years

Rider, Abraham, b. Dec. 7, 1900, d. April 9, 1907

Singer, Ignatz, b. 1865, d. 1908

Zimmerman, Rosie, d. Jan. 6, 1900, age 47

In addition to the above, the 8th and 9th-graders of TBJ, during a cleanup of the cemetery on April 26, 2009, also saw the “double headstone” of two “kohens,” a father and son whose inscription indicated they might have “fallen” together in some kind of disaster that might have involved a physical attack on them. Rabbi Freedman believed the stone indicates that they were “martyrs” in some way. Last week, however, Simon Rottenberg of Kiryas Joel visited the cemetery with me (see recent post about it) and said he believes this father and son were merely in an “accident” together.

The kids also saw the relatively well-kept stone of Thelma Dorothy Levinson, mother of Newburgh’s famous “Broadway” Sam Levinson, owner of a popular dry-goods store on B’way and president in the 1950s of the Broadway Businessmen’s Association. But dammit, i sit here at the moment unable to find any record in my files of her date of death. i’ll have to remember to look that up on my next trip out there.

If anybody “Out There” has any info on any of these people or their descendants, feel free to forward it to me, hey?

Statler Brothers Trump Shakespeare

Growing more comfortable in my nerdiness, I have been spending my recent old age studying Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets. This odd hobby is an outgrowth of my decision not to read anything new until I’ve finished reading and/or re-reading all the things I was supposed to read as a high-school student and/or college English major but somehow never did, or did but didn’t understand or appreciate them, or managed to forget what they were all about.

It started a few years ago with my husband’s talking me into reading “Moby Dick,” a book whose title was carved into many a desk as part of students’ universal jack-knife advice on what not to read. But when I finally did read it, at my own leisurely pace and with no tests to face, I loved it. And so I have plunged ahead into the works of everyone from William Blake to Carson McCullers, Dostoyevsky to Vonnegut. Now I am reading, for the first time, the Sonnets.

And you know what? Something’s weird! How come so many sonnets express in so many different ways the poet’s passion for a man? And so many others directly nag, like a classic Jewish mother, his (expressly male) subject to hurry up and get married, already? And how come so many of them seem to be “doublets,” where one has the exact same subject, style, attitude and voice, and uses the same metaphors, as the one just before it? I am fantasizing that old Will had a contest with a pal: Who can write the better sonnet about how “thinking on you” can rescue the poet from the depths of misery? Who can write the better one about Cupid getting his arrow (“brand,” he called it) stolen by a virgin while he slept? And so on. I’m certainly enjoying delving into this.

But here’s the first thing that jumped right out at me: For sheer, low-rent sarcasm expressing how the writer is so enamored of his gal that he’s like her “slave,” just waiting around to do her bidding while she, apparently, doesn’t know or care if he exists, Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 57” falls a distant second to the Statler Brothers’ “Flowers on the Wall,” the great country song written in 1962 or so by Lew DeWitt of Staunton, Va.

Hear me out. Here’s Shakespeare: “Being your slave, what should I do but tend/ Upon the hours and times of your desire?/ I have no precious time at all to spend,/ Nor services to do, till you require.” Here’s DeWitt: “Countin’ flowers on the wall/ That don’t bother me at all/ Playin’ solitaire till dawn/ With a deck of 51/ Smokin’ cigarettes and watchin’ Captain Kangaroo,/ Now don’t tell me/ I’ve nothin’ to do…”

Shakespeare: “Nor dare I chide the world-without-end hour/ Whilst I, my sovereign, watch the clock for you…” DeWitt: “So please don’t give a thought to me/ I’m really doin’ fine,/ You can always find me here/ I’m havin’ quite a time…”

Well, I could go on, but for my money, DeWitt wins that matchup, hands down.

Running score: Statler Brothers 1, Shakespeare 0. I’ll keep you updated.

Tisha B’Av in the Graveyard

i know what you’re saying: You’re saying, “Abrams, what did you do for Tisha B’Av?” i’ll tell you.

i spent a lovely hour with a Simon … i believe his last name was … Rottenberg? Honest.

A Kiryas Joel resident, he had read my blog — the very favorite blog of the good people of Kiryas Joel, apparently  (hello, Hasidim! Hello!) — and called me to say he’d like to visit the Snake Hill Cemetery. Since i have the key now, i said sure, i’d be glad to let him in. He showed up at my house as promised, in the standard-issue KJ van with his 3 adorable sons (one tall one, one middle-sized one and one little one), and off we went in two cars, as i had to come back home afterwards to change for work, and they were going straight back to KJ.

This turns out to be one knowledgeable guy. He not only KNEW that Joshua ben Mordecai Falk was Temple Beth Jacob‘s (and therefore Newburgh’s) first rabbi, and that Falk had written the first Hebrew book (other than the Bible or prayerbooks) published in the U.S., but he had actually READ it. All i ever knew about it was that it was a commentary on the Talmud’s “Ethics of the Fathers,” and that he’d come to the U.S. to get it published. Simon asked me why Falk needed to come here from Poland to publish his book,  and I had to tell him I had no idea why. By 1854, wasn’t there  a large Jewish population in Poland, and wouldn’t it have been much easier to publish a book in Hebrew there? That’s a good question for me to look into. He also told me that Falk also had written that he had a disagreement with the TBJ congregation over their interpretation of Judaism — i guess he had never heard of Reform in the Old Country and disapproved of it. After all, in that year, there was still no organization to ordain Reform rabbis. And yet he agreed to serve, albeit very briefly, as rabbi of our Reform congregation. Why, Simon asked? My small knowledge of the history of Judaism in the U.S. comes almost exclusively from Nathan Glazer’s classic “American Judaism,” but i was proud to impart to my new pal one fact i am sure of: In the mid-1800s, the great majority of German-Jewish immigrants to this country were rationalistic, intellectual Reform Jews by nature and philosophy, though there was no “certified Reform” process yet, and the Orthodox came only later, in the great wave of immigration from Eastern Europe of the 1880s and beyond.

Anyhoo, once past the absolutely perfect sign i’d recently purchased from my friend Sue Young at Design by Sue on Liberty Street (“This historic Jewish cemetery, consecrated in the late 1800s, has been the property of Temple Beth Jacob in the City of Newburgh since 1916”) and inside the cemetery gate, now secured by the lovely red padlock i’d bought from Liberty Locksmith, Simon and his sons got to work, lifting up the overturned headstones, digging lichen out of some of the letters, and quickly and surely reading the names and — most impressively — the dates of birth and death of the folks buried there. LIKE A COMPLETE DOPE, i had brought along neither my camera nor, more outrageously, even a pad and pen. And he gave me so much info! i never asked his occupation but he seemed to know everything about cemeteries: He instantly recognized the remnants of a small chain hooked to one, barely-protruding obelisk-type stone as being part of the boundary of a marked-off section that was meant for one family. i hardly thought that THAT was conclusive evidence, so he lifted up a few of the nearby, tumbled-down headstones and, sure enough, they were all from the same family. And he said that the cemetery had been cared for by SOMEONE through about 1900, because he noticed a stone with that date had been once broken, but then repaired with caulk. We now could, if we wanted to at great expense, send off a piece of the caulk (he said, peeling off a piece of it) for analysis and find out in exactly what year it was manufactured.

Simon also, noting the large percentage of infants and young kids buried there (in one family, a sister had died on Dec. 4 of one year, and her brother 10 days later), came up with a novel theory: That perhaps Big Rock Cemetery Association, which conveyed the property to Bikur Cholim Benevolent Society on Feb. 1, 1890, did so because there was some kind of rampant illness (flu-like?) killing so many children that they wanted to create a special area to bury their remains and a special group to handle them. It was already known, i guess, that you can get sick from handling dead bodies of people who died of illness, and maybe most folks didn’t want their loved ones buried near these “Plague People,” either??

An intriguing theory, but it doesn’t explain why the father and son who died in some kind of “disaster” (Simon translated it, “accident”) together, are buried there, too. i’d originally thought maybe it was a cemetery for the very poorest Jews, who couldn’t afford a plot, but i think Rabbi Freedman told me the father and son were “Cohanim” so that idea might not work, either.

So i’m sticking with my fantasy that it was simply a case of, back in the late 1800s, old Moishe decided he hated his former partner Murray, who’d been the firm’s accountant but turned out to be a crook, so he went around the congregation saying, “Hey! You don’t want to lie forever next to that crook Murray in Big Rock Cemetery, do ya? Let’s buy some land in the nice, peaceful woods on the southwest part of the city, and make a cemetery for ourselves out of that!” And he succeeded in getting a few families to go along with that.

What? You got a better idea? Let’s hear it!

The time seemed to fly by, during which Simon advised me, among other things,  that almost ANY foam-type cleanser (“like mousse,” he said, but he couldn’t have meant hair mousse, could he?), sprayed onto headstones, will take the dirt off of them. So now, i’m off to Target to buy some foaming hand soap, and see what happens!

i know you’re not supposed to be happy on Tisha B’Av, but for me, a cooler Tisha B’Av had never happened.

Extreme Golf!

In the newsroom, the TV is always on in the Sports Department and, from our vantage point in News, we can’t help seeing what’s going on over there. Now, after suffering through coverage of umpteen holes of the US Open and the seemingly endless British Open (Motto: “Last Man Standing Wins”), which have been very much like a 1930s dance marathon, only on grass, I’ve come up with a new sport, which should replace regular golf immediately: Extreme Golf.

It’s for people without plaid pants. I think college students, especially, would take to it, the way they love Extreme Frisbie. Here’s how you play:

Use regular golf courses. (G-d knows, the Concord’s “Monster” isn’t doing anything right now.) You and your opponent(s), at the starting whistle (OK, you can use a bell, or just yell, “Go!”) must try to be the first one(s) to get a golf ball in the cup by hitting it with the ONE club each player is allowed to use – it can be a putter, a driver, an iron, a wood, a formica, whatever – and/or by throwing it. You cannot run WITH the ball; instead, you run TO it. You can play 9 holes, 18 holes, or any number you like.

There are 2 versions: (A) Whoever wins the most holes –that is, has the fastest time on the most holes — wins the match. (B) A timed version, in which whoever finishes the full 9 or 18 holes (or however many you play) in the fastest time wins. But here’s the thing: There’s defense in it, because you’re allowed at any time you want, to leave off from running after your own ball and instead run to your opponent’s ball, and hit it ONCE with your club, away from the cup. So you could find yourself at some point(s) guarding the cup like a goalie.

You can play one-on-one, but the team version would be most fun: You throw (or hit) the ball to team members who, at the starting whistle, all take off running like hell down the fairway, strategically placing themselves in spots where they’d be most likely to pick up or catch (feel free to use baseball gloves!) the ball that the one guy left behind at the tee, hits or throws. I’m thinking, finishing the whole 18 holes would take less than an hour.

If this sounds to you like a cross between a footrace and demented field-hockey, then you’re understanding it perfectly.

But oh, wouldn’t it be oodles more fun than watching fat white guys walking for hours with a servant, while people whisper near the rough?

And, best of all, in Extreme Golf: NO PLAID PANTS ALLOWED!

Snapple Fact #131: Israel, Take Note!

From the inside of a Snapple cap comes a message that should be conveyed ASAP to the Technion Institute in Israel:

“Penguins have an organ above their eyes that converts sea water to fresh water.”

Here’s what to do, guys: Round up some penguin volunteers (maybe by promising them some warm weather, for a change?), and extract a few ounces of that “converter” stuff from their “organs.” See what it’s made of; try to synthesize it in the lab. And when you do indeed duplicate the penguins’ trick of converting sea water to fresh water, be sure to thank me.

There you have it. No charge. You’re welcome.