Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Pork Store Mystery

All these years, about 50 of them altogether, I have pondered a strange fact of our family's life.  Aunt Hennie's Pork Store.  This picture is not their store, but looks very similar.  I don't remember them having so many sausages hanging, but the counter is almost identical.  It was in a market space on Market Street in San Francisco.  I can't remember if it was in the old Crystal Palace complex or just near it, but it was similar to that arrangement of food merchants' spaces in a shared building. Every day, rain or shine, Aunt Hennie and Uncle Charlie went to work in their store.  They sold the best pork, catered to local restaurants and hotels, and as far as I know, did very well for themselves.  Hennie used to bring us beautiful center cut loin roasts, so perfect they could have been an illustration in a cookbook.  They knew their pork.  But it left me shaking my head.

The thing that puzzles me to this day is that Hennie also kept kosher and never ate a single bite of pork in her life.  What was an Orthodox Jewish couple doing running a pork store?

No one ever explained it, or even questioned it.  it simply was. 

Her kosher kitchen daunted me.  I could never pull it off.  It was like having two kitchens in one.  She was fastidious about it, and yet, off she went to her pork store every day.  This sounds like fiction, I know, but it is absolutely true.

During the war (that's WWII, guys), Hennie and Charlie took in two Jewish children whose lives were in danger from the Nazis in their native Europe.  They had no children, and these two were raised as their own.  The boy grew up to be a rabbi.

Hennie had a fragile heart, and one day, when she was still relatively young, she had a heart attack.  She did not recover from it.  Today, they probably could have saved her, but that was in the mid 1960s, and Hennie slipped away.  We were all heartbroken.  The world had lost someone very loving and generous and dear.  We attended her services at the funeral home and went to the graveyard with her.  We wore black ribbons, which the rabbi snipped to show we had rent our garments.  We were careful to wash our hands outdoors before re-entering our homes. 

A year later, we went back to the graveyard for her unveiling.  We were gathered around the cloth-draped gravestone waiting for their adopted son the rabbi to return with Uncle Charlie for the services.  When he returned, he was stricken and alone.  He had found Charlie in the basement of his home, hanged.  Charlie could not face life without his beloved Hennie.  Unveiling her gravestone put the final period on her life and he could not face it.

The next day we were back at the graveyard for Charlie, who was denied services because he was a suicide.  But his adopted son the rabbi came to his rescue and did what Charlie needed.  He said that Charlie had not committed suicide; he had really died of love. 

I have no idea what ever became of the pork store.  I hadn't thought of it for years, though I often think of Hennie and Charlie. May their memory be for a blessing. 

Yit-gadal v'yit-kadash sh'may raba b'alma dee-v'ra che-ru-tay, ve'yam-lich mal-chutay b'chai-yay-chon uv'yo-may-chon uv-cha-yay d'chol beit Yisrael, ba-agala u'vitze-man ka-riv, ve'imru amen.
Y'hay sh'may raba me'varach le-alam uleh-almay alma-ya.
Yit-barach v'yish-tabach, v'yit-pa-ar v'yit-romam v'yit-nasay, v'yit-hadar v'yit-aleh v'yit-halal sh'may d'koo-d'shah, b'rich hoo. layla (ool-ayla)* meen kol beer-chata v'she-rata, toosh-b'chata v'nay-ch'mata, da-a meran b'alma, ve'imru amen.
Y'hay sh'lama raba meen sh'maya v'cha-yim aleynu v'al kol Yisrael, ve'imru amen.
O'seh shalom beem-romav, hoo ya'ah-seh shalom aleynu v'al kol Yisrael, ve'imru amen.

Photo credit: Google photos  Pork Store in Brooklyn, NY

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I was listening to a White House spokesperson being interviewed about how they really feel about Karzai and the Afghan situation.   Do we really believe him to be an ally?  The spokesperson used a number of diplomatic weasel words, one of which I had never heard before.  He said the situation in Afghanistan was "contiguous." 

So I Googled it, and could only find it in context of statements about Quantum physics.  At first I had trouble making any sense of the definitions, but it gradually dawned on me they were talking about multiple realities.  He was telling the interviewer that there is more than one reality in Afghanistan, and that made a great deal of sense to me.  Contiguous was exactly the right word.  English is like that -- it has a precise word for nearly every situation.  (If not, we just rip off the nearest foreign one that fits.) 

I understand multiple realities.  I'm a Libra.  We tend to see all sides of everything at the same time.  There is virtually no situation that is not contiguous to a Libra.  This makes decision-making a nightmare, but I have no problem understanding that light can simultaneously be a particle and a wave.  I have no problem seeing that there are many realities in Afghanistan.  I do wish it were possible to just pick one and stick to it, but that's not how it works. 

I think the failure to understand that the situation in the U.S. is also contiguous may be at the heart of much of the nearly violent political upheaval we are experiencing.  We are a huge country with many points of view and many realities.  When we try to force our views as the only reality on others whose views may be very different from our own, we run into a mess.  We are not a melting pot, we are an multicultural tossed salad.  We have textures and colors and flavors from all over the map, and that's what makes us great.  It also livens up the dinner plate. 

Now if we could just accept and embrace the broad variety of realities that this country represents, maybe people would all get along and we would finally have shalom bayit in this big, unruly, contiguous family.  Please? 

photo credit: Google