Out of the Box

All beginnings are tough, but many of those difficulties become endearing moments in time. Moving to a new city is an example. The list of the personal adjustments you go through is endless and may last months, even years. The basic adjustments are common to all moves. Get to know the new neighborhood, locate the good supermarket. Find work. Learn traffic patterns to and from work. Make friends, and master the local customs. Now imagine doing all that as an immigrant. A new country and a new language. EVERYTHING is new.

Immigrants landing in a new country take these efforts and more to make their new home feel like one.  It may take them years to bridge language and cultural barriers and begin inhabiting local conventions. The first few weeks and months are the most volatile for the immigrant. Every aspect of life is foreign and odd, and the learning curve is at its steepness. Such was my experience when I arrived in the United States soon after graduating college.

The time was the late eighties. Flying overseas still carried a unique aroma. The information age was in its infancy, and physical distance played a significant factor in isolating people and cultures. Global trade meant something entirely different than the diverse bounty we enjoy on every store shelf today, not to mention the advent of online shopping and its far universal reach. Most of the products you were able to purchase at the supermarket, the pharmacy, and the furniture store back then were items produced locally or regionally. For those reasons, anyone who made an international trip was expected to bring back fruits of the foreign land they visited. Exotic chocolate, cheese and alcohol from Europe, stylish T-shirts and shiny sneakers from America, and hand-made crafts from Africa. So in that spirit, I left for the United States packing a request list, a short one at that. In fact, it had only one line – a bottle of Excedrin caplets, requested by my mother-in-law. “Mail it when you can,” she said, “no rush.” I promised I will do that as soon as I could.

And so I did. I have been in the country for a couple of weeks, and gradually became acquainted with basic Americana. I began to understand the differences between the dozens of choices of bread lining the supermarket bread aisle, or really just learned to identify the one we liked. I became tolerant to the constant aroma of burnt oil coming from the McDonald’s restaurant across the street. I enjoyed the freedom of turning right on a red light and the challenge of left-turn on green. Everything was new. After years of watching American life in the movies, I was finally living it all. So following a trip to the supermarket, I walked into a nearby drugstore looking for a bottle of Excedrin. And just like the bread aisle, I found it offered in many choices. Different forms of pills or gel tabs. For a headache, tension or a migraine. Different bottle size and different strength, for daytime and nighttime. Impressed and confused, I deliberated for a while. Finally, I settled on a value pack bottle of regular strength in a red box. Back at the apartment I wrapped it in brown paper and scribed the address on its side. Next stop, another first. U.S. Mail.

The suburban post office was neat and organized. Morning light filled the space through blue horizontal blinds. Dark rope directed the moderate line of customers toward three awaiting clerks. People stood quietly with ample space behind each other. Soon it was my turn. The large man with the shiny bald head standing in the far right station looked at me with a blank expression as I stepped over. I placed my box on the counter. “Package to Israel,” I said. The clerk lifted a custom-declaration form from his side and readied a pen in his left hand. “What’s in the box?” he asked with a black stare.

The question and the clerk’s menacing presence stumped me. I suddenly forgot the brand name of the pills and was not sure what to call my parcel. I tried to think of how to translate the Hebrew term for “medication” to English but was uncertain which word to use, as there is more than one. Think fast!

And then it occurred to me. I bought it at the drug store. Of course! “Drugs,” I said.

Everything froze. The clerk standing in front of me, the people in line, the other clerks waiting on customers, the dust particles glistening in the slowly moving air. The entire post office stood silent.

I looked at my clerk. I knew I said something wrong, but could not think of what exactly. I rushed back in my mind over what I said, but everything computed back to the same result. I was right but something was wrong. Badly wrong. I did not dare to move. My clerk did not move either. He only scanned the room with his eyes, then took a deep breath. He had a situation on his hand, and everyone waited for his next move.

With his shoulders still locked in a tense pose, he lifted the package by his left hand and looked at me. “What do you have in the box?” he asked again.

I knew better than to repeat the same line. I had to think fast and give the right answer this time, to save myself from further embarrassment. Simplify! Where did I buy it? No, never mind. What did I buy? Yes, that’s it! “Medication for headache” I managed to say.

Everyone in the post office exhaled together in collective relief. Motion returned to the room. The dust particles resumed their slow movement. My clerk relaxed his shoulders and wrote something on the custom-declaration form. I paid and turned to the door. There was a lot I had to learn out there in the new country.


February 17, 2018


A voice,
Born young and weak,
Squealing with fragility,
In time gains form and shape,
Strength and purpose,
Tone and pace.

The voice grows,
Discovers words of love and hope,
Verses of faith and confidence,
The meaning of truth and honor,
Cost of falsehood and dishonesty,
The elements of life.

The voice may sing,
Or curse at times,
It may promise tall mountains,
Or set duplicitous traps,
It is the horn of its master,
Through life on end.

Out in public,
And inside a home,
On giant stages,
And tiny rooms,
In front of masses,
Or behind a poll curtain,
At every place,
It is always heard.

Add one to others,
And form the voice of many,
To sound say of a nation,
Its future and fate,
Leave one voice out,
The masses are muted.

Sans soapbox or bullhorn,
The voices still echo,
In hallways and boardrooms,
At home over sinks,
Displayed on screen color,
On paper and print.

The future is silent,
Its path yet to set,
Your voice is the rudder,
The wings and the jet,
Have say in the journey,
Take charge of the wheel,
No place for the back seat,
It is now time to lead.


January 27, 2018

Three Kisses

Three kisses occurred over time,
Each one came to mean different kind,
Lips touched, opened and closed,
Three kisses told a story of love.

First kiss met with care,
Came to know and discover,
An eye meets an eye,
A key to the soul.

Lips met, tender touch,
Warmth of breath,
Gentle bodies,
Slow encounter that met with a timid response.

Second kiss came with lust,
For a taste of the lips,
That exudes love desire,
With a secret kept bliss.

Flavor known and forgotten,
Concealed with lost thoughts,
Saved as treasured belongings,
Life that was, and is not.

Third kiss came for love,
That was there and still is,
Feelings strong and eternal,
Love that nourishes and feeds,

Love heart deep, love that muses,
Love eternally shines,
Love so true, love that’s honest,
Love forever divine.

Three kisses have waited a long time to happen,
Through winter of distance, of silence, of hope,
Three kisses woke trust and true mutual compassion,
And love that continues to guide and support.


September 22, 2010


From a frozen ground it sprouted,
Sepals green with petals red,
Tiny, seeking rays of sunshine,
Put its leaves all out to spread.

Heavy hands came down and dirty,
Pounding teeny flower down,
Muddy boots and filthy fingers,
Grabbing at the pistil firm.

Rain a scarce and love fallacious,
Growth a challenge each long day,
No defense but quiet moonlight,
Broken stems lay many, slay.

Seasons pass and fresh springs follow,
Flower now stands strong and tall,
Tiny buds rise from the wet ground,
Carpet meadow bountiful.

Bees and bugs come springtime, often,
Spreading pollen with their feet,
Colors change from red to yellow,
Days and rays of sunshine fleet.

Blooms to soil and bones to ashes,
Life grows cycles year to end,
Strength dispersed in muted portions,
Human, nature, clutch, preserve.


February 9, 2018


From height of level three seven zero,
Rivers seem like veins,
Highways traffic capillaries,
Trees are pinhead greens.

High above all flying creatures,
White of clouds on end,
Humanity to the horizon,
Jet rumble constant jeer.

Motion down is hardly noticed,
Less so aspirations, dreams,
Mankind from the heavens – minuscule,
Far too small to discern.

Tone of skin or language parlance,
Dogmatic camps or conflict lines,
Cries of war or calls for peace,
Unknown from heavens heights.

Blues of oceans, white tall mountains,
Lights of cities, green of trees,
Birds and mammals, fish in ocean,
Life in endless harmonies.

Days with moments overwhelming,
Times of hate and deep despair,
Fly your mind into the heavens,
Spirit sound and mind a clear.


*Flight Level – aviation term for flying altitude.

May 14, 2014

Into the Valley

High over lavender clouds,
A white albatross soars,
Stirring its way,
Toward a distant nest,
Beyond the seas.

Strong thermals lift its wings,
Tailwinds thrust it onward,
Distant stars guide its way,
Gentle flaps of feathers,
Tracking seventy-one degrees.

Sudden pain,
Burning in its belly,
The large bird breaks course,
Seeking port and recluse,
Before the agony becomes,
Too overwhelming.

Head down,
Penetrating the thick darkness,
White albatross seeks safe harbor,
Among the white crests,
Powdering the dark horizon below.

Ancient voices sedate its fears,
Soothing direction into the mayhem,
A land patch appears, distant,
But within reach,
For safe landing,
And repose.

Flocks of birds fly high overhead,
Migrating between far corners of the earth,
White albatross rests alone,
On the cold ground.
In a day it will soar again,
Resurrect its body back into the heavens,
And fly,
Routing home.


January 19, 2018

The Ukrainian

Igor and Anna in 2005

I have known Igor for many years. But to be precise, I did not know him at all. I knew Igor the same way you know many people at your synagogue. You know their name and who they are. A face in a familiar crowd. Enough to say hello when you meet them on Shabbat, during holidays services, and other synagogue activities. Igor was quite a bit older than me, and was perhaps better known at our synagogue as Anna’s husband. And everyone knew Anna. She played piano at many of the synagogue services and activities. Still, Igor remained just another face in the crowd we call our congregation.

All that changed one day a few years ago. Igor and I happened to sit next to each other at a Shabbat lunch, and naturally, we struck a conversation. As is often the case when two Jews meet for the first time, we played a game known affectionately in certain circles as Jewish Geography. Who are you? Where are you from? Where is your family from? How did you end up here? Jewish people are numbered by a few millions around the world, and this game offers its players an opportunity to discover common connections and relations through their Jewish ancestry. I was born and raised in Israel. Igor and Anna were members of a Russian Jewish group of people who came to Omaha following the fall of the Iron Curtain. Except that they were not from Russia, they were from Ukraine.

Igor asked about my life growing up in Israel, and about my family history. When I mentioned to Igor that my father was born and raised in Chernovitz, Romania, his eyes lit up. Chernovitz, Romania? That turned out to be a defining moment in our relationship. The moment we became real friends. Igor, as it turned out, knew Chernovitz quite well.

My father was born in the winter of 1929 as a single child to a sheet metal fabrication plant supervisor father and a homemaker mother. The Second World War found his small family as an oppressed minority caught between the Axis forces and the Red Army. Following the reincorporation of Chernovitz into the Ukrainian SSR, the remaining Jews who lived in the area left. I know my father’s family spent four years as refugees in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, before finally setting sail to Israel. And that was all. I knew little else about my father’s life and childhood. The most I dared to ask him about that time period was for a Holocaust Remembrance day paper I worked on in fourth grade. My father brushed off my inquiry, and I learned to not ask again. This was not unusual. Many Holocaust survivors chose to leave their past behind, and concentrate on their new life in in the young State of Israel. My father was an educated man who spoke seven different languages. But with us, he only spoke Hebrew, a language he learned for the first time as a twenty-one-year-old when he made Aliya in 1950. Dad spoke perfect Hebrew, without any trace of a foreign accent, the same way he spoke the other European languages he was fluent in. Chernovitz, Romania, and the life he had before he immigrated to Israel were left buried in a heap of a forgotten past.

Igor was younger than my father by a few years, but their makeup was similar. Both men grew up in the same region, and as young men suffered through oppression for being Jewish. They each were fluent in a number of languages. They worked and succeeded as engineers to build the world and better secure it. They both had multiple areas of interest, and possessed a vast knowledge in a number of intellectual fields. Above all, they were both loving and devoted fathers.

By the time Igor and I sat for that conversation, my dad had already passed. But here next to me sat a man in my father’s likeness. In his heavy Russian accent, Igor told me of the birthplace of my father, and of the life of a Jewish community gone for a long time.

Igor knew Chernovitz well from his many business trips to the region, while he lived in Kiev. Igor’s stories were informative and funny, and our many conversations interesting and enlightening. Igor’s homeland tales opened for me a new window of knowledge and understanding about a place I knew little about. They added form and details to my own family history, and gave me a new way of appreciating my father’s early life. Our conversations continued to soar beyond that town from a different world and time. Igor and I talked about politics, Jewish life and customs, world history, and many other topics Igor knew a lot about and was happy to engage on. Our conversations were akin to those I enjoyed with my dad at earlier times. Meeting and talking with Igor was always enjoyable.

There was another thing. Following that first conversation, Igor had a nickname for me. “Ukrainian.” A term of endearment. Each time we met, he would greet me with a big “Hello Ukrainian!” and a big smile. It sounded great in his Russian accent. He often introduced me to others in that way. Not everyone got the joke, but we had a lot of fun bantering in this way.

All this ended unexpectedly in January 2017. Igor passed away suddenly following a short illness. His untimely death left a hole in the hearts of many, first and foremost his wife Anna and his loving children and grandchildren. After his funeral, I sat down and wrote a note of condolences to Anna. I included part of this story in the note, and handed it to her during his Shiv’a, the seven days of the mourning period in the Jewish tradition. I am now happy to share this story here with Anna’s blessings and encouragement, as a testimony and honor in Igor’s memory. May his or her memory be for a blessing.


January 18, 2018

Rusting Acres

This town had seen better days,Jenner’s Park, Loup City, Nebraska, 1900-1942
In years before farming life declined,
Before big cities drew its next generations,
Before people had careers and life to self-fulfill.

Long balconies wrap around old Victorian houses,
That had not been a home for anyone,
For quite a long time,
Large trees cast shadows over quiet streets,
Leading to a spacious town center,
Dark stone city hall looms large in the middle,
Like a giant spider resting in its web.

Time paces by here by the season,
Minutes, hours, days, melt together into the whisper of the wind in the trees,
City Park greens open at the edge of town,
Idle playground fades slowly into rust.

Empty cages carve the rocky hillside,
Remanence of a small zoo for kids delight,
Here a roaring lion once laid jaded,
Hallucinating the small grass before him for a lost savannah.

Stand still in the wild grass,
With eyes closed, listen,
For the metallic squeal of swings and merry-go-round,
The occasional roar of the tiger,
The call of a parent,
And the laughter of children,
Who left their childhood in this town,
That will forever rest among the yellowing cornfields,
On the rough and unforgiving earth.


September 27, 2017


Photo by F.T.

“?מָה לַךְ כִּי נָפְלוּ פָּנַיִךְ”
,רָכְנָה הֵשִׁיטָה אֶל הָאַיָּלָה
,רַכָּה בַּשָּׁנִים
,מִסְתּוֹפֶפֶת בְּצִלָּה
.וְעֵינֶיהָ לַחוֹת

,גָּדוֹל הוּא הַשָּׂדֶה”
,וְיָרֹק אַף הָאָחוּ
,אַךְ אֵין לִי פִּנָּה בָּם
“.לַזוֹר מַכְאוֹבַי

“רָבוּ לֵךְ דְּמָעוֹת”
.שָׂחָה הָאֶבֶן לְמָרְגֶלוֹתֶיה
?הַפְּגוּעָה אֶת? פְּצוּעָהּ”
“?הָרוֹדֵף אוֹתָךְ רַע

,אֵין טוֹרֵף אַחֲרֵי”
,לֹא הֻכֵּיתִי בַּדֶּרֶךְ
,אַךְ הוֹלֵם הוּא לִבִּי
“.וְדוֹאֵב עַד מְאֹד

“?מָה קָרָה יָקִּירָה”
.קוֹנְנוּ צִפּוֹרִים
אֵיךְ קַבְּלִי יוֹם בָּהִיר”
“?בְּפָנִים נְפוּלוֹת

,נָס עָנָן, הַס הָרוּחַ
,וּפָנְתָה לָהּ הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ
,הִנְהֲנָה הָאַיָּלָה
.וְקָרְנֶיה רַכּוֹת

,רָב כֹּחִי בְּמֹתְּנַי”
,לֹא פָּגַע בִּי כָּל רַע
,אַךְ נַפְשִׁי מִשְׁתּוֹקֶקֶת
“.לִמְחוֹזוֹת רְחוֹקִים

,בְּתּוּלִית הִיא דַּרְכִּי”
,פְּסִיעוֹתַי בָּהּ סְפוּרוֹת
,לֹא אֵדַע אֵי אֶצְעַד
“.בַּמַּסָּע הָאָרֹךְ

,הָאֶפְנֶה אֶל הָהָר”
,אוֹ שֶׁמָּא אֶל הָעֵמֶק
“?וְאוּלַי אֶעֱקֹב צִפּוֹרִים בִּמְעוּפָן

,לֹא צְבִיָּה לֹא אַרְיֵה”
,יָפְרִיעוּנִי בָּהֶלֶך
,אֶת הָשָעָל יָאִירוּ
“.הַחַמָּה, כּוֹכָבִים

,לֹא בָּרוּר הַכִּוּוּן”
,אַךְ נַהִיר הוּא הַיַּעַד
,אֳצַיְירוֹ בַּמִּכְחוֹל
“.וְאֶדְרֹשׁ לוֹ בְּשִּׁיר

,שְׂאוּ בְּרָכָה צִפּוֹרִים”
,אַבְנֵי שֶׁעַל, עֲצֵי הוֹד
,תֶלַווּנִי הֵיְי הָלְאָה
“.בְּיָּמִים כָּבִּירִים

,כֹּה דָּרְשָׁה אַיָּלָה
,וְנָשְׂאָה אֶת עֵינֶיהָ
,טוֹףְ רַגְלֶיהָ בָּקַרְקַע
.וְנָפְשָׁה בַּמְּרוֹמִים


September 6, 2017

עלי עד

,הַסֵּפֶר פּוֹרֵש עָלָיו
,וּמִלִּים מְלֵאוֹת תֹּאַר וְרֹךְ
,פּוֹרְחוֹת מִבֵין הַדַּפִּים
,כְּמוֹ חַרְצִיּוֹת מְיֻבָּשׁוֹת
,שֶׁהֻדְּקוּ שָׁם
,לְמִשְמוֹרֶת עוֹלָם
.לִפְנֵי דּוֹר

,עָלֵי כּוֹתֶרֶת חִוְּרִים
,פּוֹנִים זֶה אֶל רֵעֵהוּ בְּמַבָּט וָתִיק
,זוֹכְרִים יָמִים שֶׁל שֶׁמֶשׁ וְאָבִיב
,לֵילוֹת מָטַר קָרִים
,וְתַאֲוַת נְעוּרִים בּוֹעֶרֶת
,שֶׁהָפְכָה אָבָק צָהֹב
.וּפָרְחָה לָהּ


Eternal Leaves

The book spreads its leaves,
And words full of adjective and tenderness,
Bloom from the pages,
Like dried chrysanthemums,
That were pressed there,
For eternal custody,
A generation ago.

Pale petals,
Turn to each other with a veteran gaze,
Remembering days of sun and spring,
Cold rainy nights,
And burning youthful passion,
That turned into yellow dust,
And disappeared.

June 14, 2017