Who are you?



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Allison Ballot

Alissa Ballot

Alissa first joined Central in 1981 but left when she moved to Westchester County later that decade. She happily returned (virtually from Chicago) in the midst of the pandemic in mid-2020, and plans to move home to NYC soon.

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Rolling up a leg of her pantyhose in anticipation of coaxing it on to her left foot, she groaned as an errant fingernail snagged the delicate material. Cursing softly, she stood up, tossed the ruined pair in the garbage and pulled another out of the top drawer. She was showered, her makeup applied - to the extent she was willing to wear it - and it was time to decide what to wear. Freshly graduated from law school and newly settled into a small but adequate Manhattan studio apartment at 56th and Lex, tonight she would attend a Selichot service at Central Synagogue for the first time, and she remembered what her mother had said about the importance of first impressions. There would be a reception in the lobby of the Community House before the service, and there she hoped to start making some new friends.

The purple suit, or the navy one? Black was her usual safe go-to choice, but it wasn’t really appropriate for Selichot. Was anything other than white really appropriate for Selichot? She sighed. Where was her mother when she needed her? She could call, but no, it was past time for her to make these decisions herself, and she definitely didn’t want to face a mom interrogation tomorrow. Better not to open that can of worms. Glancing in the closet at the two suits hanging limply side by side, she chose the purple. May as well show some Williams pride, she thought. Perhaps hearkening back to college days would ease her butterflies. She finished dressing quickly, slipped on her comfy black pumps and confirmed via a quick glance in the bathroom mirror that her hair was not more unruly than usual. Stuffing her keys, medical insurance card and driver’s license in her jacket pockets, she walked out to begin her Central journey.

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Gerry Cornez

Gerry Cornez

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Rabbi Buchdahl

For several years, I have been fascinated by Rabbi Buchdahl — a woman rabbi heading one of the most prominent Reform congregations in the country, a rabbi who is part-Korean and preaches on the same pitch as she sings — superbly.

I began courting the Rabbi via Skype at Kol Nidrei and Yizkor services. The look of calm, of peace on her face; the confidence as she overcame the young cantor with whom she sang; also talented, but overmatched by Rabbi Buchdahl's soaring voice of a dozen colors.

Like Central Synagogue, itself, Rabbi Buchdahl stood apart from others, the architecture, exquisite arches and bold windows were mirrored in her eloquent style and in the ingenuity of her voice. I was smitten. I wanted to know her; I wanted to be her friend. If The Times Book Review asked me to select five dinner guests, I'd begin and end with Rabbi Buchdahl.

Our age-difference would be overcome but what of her husband and Gabriel, Eli and Rose? Would she be able to hold onto the Temple itself? I could stalk services and events but, at some point, I'd have to join, which, I fear is beyond my charitable capability. So, year-after-year, I remained her face to screen Skype mate.

Through sad occasion, the Pandemic brought us closer together. My longtime friend Jill Edelson died. Covid confined her to Lenox Hill Hospital for several weeks, followed by the same at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale. I spoke to her throughout and then at home, where she seemed weaker than during rehab. A week later, she died of Pancreatic Cancer.

The Zoom Memorial Service was led by Rabbi Buchdahl. I spoke of Jill and the Rabbi said she was touched by our friendship. David and Cindy provided my long-awaited introduction and we had our moment. Then, at the beginning of High Holiday services, Skype broadcast an empty sanctuary, empty of all but Rabbi Buchdahl who spoke exquisitely of the times. She spoke to all of us directly, she spoke to me.

A Table in Main/A Career Unfulfilled

The house appeared as described, a rambling early-20th Century gray clapboard, white trimmed windows, flowerboxes filled with cascading petunias and trailing morning glories of velvety purples, deep blues and soft pinks.  The house sat almost precariously perched on the easternmost rocks of Bailey Island, Maine.  “Next stop, Ireland,” the locals liked to say for all that you could see ahead was the Atlantic, massive and unforgiving.

Entering through the back door, my eyes fell on a farmhouse table, rough hewn and partially sunlit by a side window.  In the middle, sat an old pewter bowl unevenly draped with a blue and white checkered napkin.  Three ripe mangoes filled the inside, fragrantly beckoning forward.  To take one would destroy the symmetry of the arrangement and, somehow the table and dining area, in which it sat.

For the next 10 days, that table is where we’d eat 2-3 meals a day, learn about each other, do our writing exercises and, hopefully, begin a project that would eventually produce a memoir.  I was one of eight promising writers picked from an Intro to Memoir class at The New School in Greenwich Village.  I knew two others in the group, our ages and writing experience varying greatly but all of us with an equal place and role at that table.  And hope of promise fulfilled.  That promise, now twenty years old, discarded as a demanding new job and a new relationship encroached on my limited free hours and remaining energy.  Looking back, I realize how much I’ve missed that table.

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Elizabeth Kadin

My name is Liz Kadin and my husband, Richard, and I have been members of Central for the past 6 years. My sister, Peggy Tanner, also a member of Central, introduced me to Rabbi Angela Buchdahl and her beautiful voice many years ago when she, Angela, was a cantor leading Sharing Shabbat services for young families at a temple in Westchester.

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Sharing Shabbat

“Please come and join me at Sharing Shabbat” said my sister. “It feels like being at camp and singing around a campfire”. Since our earliest days, my sister and I have had a special bond built on love, friendship and trust. Even during times when we were developing our own interests, we continued to value each other’s judgment. So, when the invitation was extended, I agreed to attend even though I was not a member of her Westchester temple nor was I planning to bring my family to what was a family oriented event.

I remember entering the room. Light was streaming in from each of the many windows surrounding this beautiful space. The walls were engraved with Hebrew sayings and you could hear a din of chatter coming from the many people gathered as they greeted each other. My eyes scanned the room, as I worked to conceal some nervousness, until I found my sister and her family. They had saved a seat for me.

A few minutes later, a woman strumming a guitar began to sing. It was the sound of an angel. Perfectly pitched, upbeat, singing catchy tunes. Within moments, I was absorbed, moved, happy in the moment and feeling the joy. Unlike the experience at my then current temple, where the cantor sang beautifully, but to a relatively passive audience, these congregants knew all of the words and were singing along with gusto. Before I knew it, I, too, was humming along and swaying to the music. If I had known the lyrics, my voice would have soared to the rafters.

That singer was Cantor Angela Buchdahl, years before she came to Central Synagogue and before she was ordained as a Rabbi. Cantor Buchdahl did not know it on that day, nor did I, but that gathering changed my life. It was the day that a service came to life and made me feel something. I do not know if that feeling was spiritual, but it was without question, inclusive, warm and uplifting, and I knew I wanted more.

I had come to a gathering years ago as an outsider, hesitant to be noticed. I am now a member of Central and happy to be noticed. Someday, when we once again have in-person services, I hope that you will come and take a seat next to me. We can sing together.

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Fredi Norris

Fredi and her husband Ron have been members of Central for a year and a half. Before retiring, Fredi was an elementary school teacher for over 30 years. She loves the inspirational words and heartfelt music offered by the clergy and the variety of wonderful and thought-provoking programs. She feels blessed to be part of this community.

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Finding Home

The sanctuary is majestic – large, Moorish, blazing with blues and rusts forming a myriad of geometric tile patterns which fill my eyes.  So different from the Central Synagogue in the Long Island suburbs with its sanctuary of cerulean blue calm where I prayed and learned, rejoiced and cried for so many years.  How do you carve out your niche in a new place after 33 years?  Where do you begin to find a space to nurture your spirit after all those years of prayers and baby-namings, b’nai mitzvah and confirmations, joy and sadness?  It is the sadness that settles over me now.  My sweet boy gone too soon.  It was his home more than mine and even as this 27th yahrzeit settles in, my missing him is not diminished.  I sit and listen to my breath as the silent prayer envelopes the congregation.  It is quiet in the space but my head is a cacophony of memories.  The people I have met here are warm – the clergy wise and compassionate.  The music has stirred my soul, yet in that moment I feel so alone. No one knows my story or the story of this sweet , kind, prayerful young man.  Suddenly  an image of Alex’s smile floats into my mind and I feel replenished.  I open my eyes and immediately focus on the Rabbi and the Cantor - both patiently waiting for me.  A tender nod of her head and a slight smile on his lips, let me know they understand what is in my heart.  The sweet sounds of Shalom Rav begin to fill the sanctuary.  It is the Camp Eisner version – the one Alex sang and played and loved so very much. And now it is filling this sanctuary with notes of joy and love.  The magic of that tune and time are coursing through my heart - Alex’s spirit gracefully woven into a new tapestry.   And in that moment I hear whispers of welcome , join with this community.  I too have found a new home- a new Central Synagogue.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.

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Eleanor and Art Siegel

Eleanor (Elli) Siegel

I have been a member of Central for 24 years, having joined with my husband Art, after meeting Rabbi Peter Rubenstein at a wedding for friends, at which Peter officiated.  Art enjoyed knowing the Rabbis Peter, Angela and Moe; we went with Peter and Kerry to Israel during the second Intifada in 2002, when everyone except us and one other couple backed out of the trip. Art often shared email exchanges with Angela and Moe, notably about Israel. I wrote this essay as a thank you to Peter, Angela, Moe, and to the Central community.

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Love and Central Synagogue

I am in the middle of my new life. Not that I disliked my old life. I loved it; it was a wonderful love story that ended tragically as beautiful love stories do. But let me start before the end. Let me tell you how Central was there for me when I needed a new life.

On August 10, 2020 I found my husband, Art, unconscious, lying peacefully on the bedroom carpet, as if he were asleep. Taken by ambulance, he was admitted to NY Presbyterian hospital, and put on a ventilator to give him a chance for recovery, the doctors said. No such luck for us. Art had been clear with me and our children about what he wanted; he left written instructions and told us verbally that he “never wanted to live” so disabled that he could no longer have “the ability to spot and react to unintentional or intended misstatements in the NYTimes or on any other issue of importance to me.” He spotted those unintentional or intended misstatements daily, it seemed, and he would instantly write to the Times and its executive editor.  

In the hospital, I leaned over the still unconscious Art, and told him we – our three children, grandchildren, my sister and brother-in-law - would give him the gift of love, to let him go. The doctors clearly told us that life as Art had known it would be impossible. I reached out to Rabbi Moe Salth, who knew Art; he cried on that phone call. Moe sent me a prayer to be read over a dying person, which I read over Art twice. Although that prayer spoke about wrongdoing and I could not think of one act of wrongdoing that Art ever performed. I told Moe that Art wanted his funeral at Central; twenty-four hours later Central agreed we could hold the funeral in the Sanctuary.  COVID was at an ebb. Our family was at Central, while relatives and friends could attend by Zoom. Moe warmly and lovingly officiated; Angela attended by video, lending her spiritual presence and her beautiful voice. Both Angela and Moe had personally known Art. They made our profound loss bearable.

After my treasured husband’s funeral, I began my incredibly special journey with Central. Though Central was certainly meaningful before (I had joined a book club through Central) after Art died, I signed up for a wonderful Talmud class. Rosh Hashanah services, barely one month after Art died, were a surprise because I had expected to be miserably sad, not enriched.  

Now, nine months later, I know how much more Central means to me and how important this community is to my new life.

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Sylvia Smoller

Sylvia Smoller

Sylvia has been a member of Central Synagogue since 2002, when she and her late husband Walter Austerer, moved to New York, and grateful ever since for being part of the wonderful Central family. She was born in Poland and came here as a very small child during World War II. She is Professor Emerita of Epidemiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and continues working on her research and mentoring students and junior faculty.

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I Am Jewish

Professor Edmund Zawacki was Chairman of Slavic Languages at the University of Wisconsin and my father’s friend from Poland. At my father’s request, he met me and Stella, my friend, who was also Polish, at the Madison train station to help us find lodgings for the summer session we had come  to attend after our graduation from Hunter High School. We drove through the town out to the University campus. It was in the mid 1950s in late June. Everything was blooming and the fields we passed were rich with growing vegetables, early corn plants, flowering apple trees.

Professor Zawacki, a Roman Catholic in his late forties, was fairly tall, well-built and quite handsome, with a broad forehead, intelligent face, and dark, somewhat curly hair. He was genial and warm and welcoming and full of information about university life. How different this was from New York, how green and beautiful and peaceful, how vast the lake seemed. At last, he pulled up in front of a large house with several steps leading up to Ionic columns in front of a big front porch, and behind that, an elaborate door.

“This is the sorority where we will get you rooms.  Most of the dorms are closed for the summer. I know the housemother. Let’s go in. We’ll get you registered and unload your suitcases afterwards.”

He leaped up the steps and we followed meekly behind.  Inside the circular foyer there was a vase of fresh flowers on a round table in the center, and behind that, a reception desk. The housemother came out to greet us, a tall, thin woman, perhaps 50 years old, with brown-grey hair in a bun and a flowered dress and sensible heels. She had a warm smile and gave us forms to fill out.

“You will like it here” she said, “We have very nice girls from good families.”

We filled out the long forms and on the line that said Religion, we put down Jewish. We handed the forms to the housemother.  Her face registered surprise, as she looked at Stella who had long blond hair with a curl in it and blue eyes, and then looked at me, with my dark brown, almost black hair and brown eyes – two attractive, young women, like any of the college students she supervised as housemother. Her face became a blank mask. The smile had disappeared.

“I am sorry” she said to Professor Zawacki. “We don’t have any rooms after all.”

He flushed.

“I see,” he said to the housemother. “I made a mistake. We will find another place. Come girls, I know of a beautiful house.”

We followed him out and down the steps almost running back to the car.

“I am so sorry,” he said. “I am taking you to Alpha Epsilon Phi – it is the Jewish sorority.  A beautiful house and you will be much happier there.”

We did not speak until we got to the other house, where we registered quickly, were assigned our rooms, met some of the girls who had come out to greet us, and finally said good-bye to Professor Zawacki. We thanked him but he was flustered and embarrassed.

I never told anyone about the incident. It would not be polite to talk about it. Also, I was ashamed. It seemed like I had done something wrong, something shameful.  This was not so long after the war. It was a time when people did not talk about what had driven them to be refugees. And yet I still vividly remember that sense of humiliation.

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Howard Altarescu

Howard Altarescu and his wife Carol have been members of Central Synagogue for about eight years. After their first exposure to high holiday services in Central's Community House annex, they and their children have enjoyed Central's high Holliday, and Shabbat services both at Lincoln Center and in the main sanctuary, and they all have enjoyed Rabbi Buchdahl’s weekly meditation sessions. Howard has also enjoyed Rabbi Berman‘s weekly Bible and Bagels program and a recent memoir writing workshop presented by Rabbi Berman and Lauren Dickel.

The Warmth and Meaning of Judaism

Our first high holiday service at Central Synagogue was in 2011. Carol and I had moved to the City after our kids were grown, and we looked for a synagogue that, as Carol put it, “would be meaningful for us and also a place the kids will want to go to.” As for me, I yearned to recreate the warm and meaningful synagogue experience my father had created for me fifty years prior.

We applied for membership at Central and, as Central’s sterling reputation was well known to us, we were undaunted by the expected two year waitlist. While on the waitlist, we attended high holiday services at the synagogue’s Community House annex. Carol and I arrived early for our first Central Rosh Hashanah service. Walking in, I said “let’s sit in the front row”. I wanted to diminish the chance of distractions, for any of us.

Our three kids had no love for their Hebrew School or synagogue experiences growing up in the New York City suburbs. One described their Hebrew School as “rote and cold”. None of them had any use for the constant stream of baseball metaphors from the bimah. Though skeptical about yet another synagogue experience to suffer through, and despite the demands of their work schedules, which continued without regard for the Jewish high holidays, we are a very close family and so our kids joined us at the service that morning.

Although the sanctuary in the annex was missing the majesty of Central’s main sanctuary, we were in a warm and inviting setting, and we were greeted by joyous music that enveloped us all and created the perfect tempo for the morning. As they assembled, the congregants emitted a perfect mix of familiarity with each other and anticipation for the service. Warm greetings, pats on the back and the laughter of children filled the room.

When the service began, Carol and I and our kids were immediately overwhelmed. The tone was one of joy, warmth and inclusion. The singing was beautiful. And we were all especially moved and impressed by Rabbi Lisa Rubin, a young woman the same age as my daughter, who delivered an uplifting, thoughtful, and progressive sermon. RabbiRubin spoke of “fairness and morality”, “the liberal Jewish commitment to tikkun olam”,and the need ”to expose ourselves to the classic works of the world—the literature, music, and art of the great thinkers, pioneers, radicals, and visionaries that shaped civilization.” My daughter leaned over and whispered to me, “She is great!” After the service, my daughter and each of the boys hugged me, and one said, “Thanks for encouraging us to be here.”

My Dad and I had attended services together in various synagogues when I myself was a kid. While we were an infrequently observing Jewish family, I felt that there was great meaning to my Dad and me being in the sanctuary with each other. I felt this even more so when as an adult we attended services together. I’ve recently reflected on my grandfather who came to America in 1905 from Romania, likely orthodox and Yiddish speaking. I have thought of what it must have meant for him to have my Dad attending shul with him as a new arrival to this country.

I savor to this day the time I spent in the synagogue years ago with my Dad. That morning in 2011 at Central Synagogue gave me the opportunity to expose my kids to the warmth and meaning of Judaism - embodied in the service that morning - as my Dad had done for me so many years ago.

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Alissa Ballot

Alissa first joined Central in 1981 but left when she moved to Westchester County later that decade. She happily returned (virtually from Chicago) in the midst of the pandemic in mid-2020, and plans to move home to NYC soon.

Addresses, Et Al

(Inspired by Kenneth Koch and Lisel Mueller)

Wandering, meandering,
procrastinating, ruminating
on a brisk, clear Sunday afternoon,

hoping the cold will clear the cobwebs.

4500 Parsons Boulevard, Queens, NY:
Flushing Hospital, Dr. Lansman
2:18 pm the day after Thanksgiving 1955.
10 days early, Dad technically AWOL.
I don’t remember a thing;

that’s probably a blessing.

XXX-XX 7Xth Road, Kew Gardens Hills, NY:
So says my birth certificate (the old one - new ones are devoid of details).
There’s a picture on Google Maps;
it looks just like the old black and whites
in my parents’ album.

For a moment, time stands still.

XX Axx Street, Valley Stream, NY:
My big girl bed and my brother’s crib,
Oreos after Sandy Becker, or was it Romper Room?
Wonderama with Sonny Fox on Sunday.
Italian and Irish playmates:
I asked for rosary beads for my birthday.

We moved.

XX Sxxxxxxxxx Lane, Valley Stream, NY:
My own room! First purple, later red with white shag carpeting.
Mom keeps bringing home clothes for me to try on.
I’d rather play baseball and tennis and Spud.
When she’s mad, she says I’ll have a daughter who likes dolls and pink.

But I won’t.

Elementary school, junior high, high school.
Good grades; social awkwardness that grows as I do.
Skiing brings me to Camp Lenape, Tafton, PA,
I am part of the camp family;
The price for that - my innocence.

Some monsters hide in plain sight.

Morgan Hall, Susie Hopkins, Mission Park, Williamstown, MA:
Gathering before dinner to watch original Star Trek,
dawdling over every meal.
Saturday afternoons at swim meets or ball games.
Painted the Mission stairwells as part of my suitemate’s art project,
and put our names on the wall for posterity.

Gone now.

East Finchley, London N2:
One semester.
Living with a Jewish family.
Studying bundled in my coat.
Don’t turn on the heat if you’re the only one home.
Art, architecture, history surround me.

How can it be that I’ve never been back?

XX Wxxxxxx Street, Cambridge, MA:
A studio apartment too close to the Lesley College tennis court.
Tiny kitchen. Half a fridge.
Bored, so very bored, in law school.
Julia Child on PBS.

Would you like some homemade banana bread?

XXX E 5Xth Street, NY, NY:
Interminable, stressful work;
dinners from Shun Lee Palace or City Luck or Shanghai Manor.
My Central Havurah brings joy.

Whose idea was it for me to be a lawyer?

XXX E Hxxxxxxxx Avenue, Apartment XXX, Hartsdale, NY:
My job moved, so I did, too.
Eight years, few memories.

The less said, the better.

XX Mxxxxxxx Pxxxxx Drive, Palm Beach Gardens, FL:
Parents retired to Florida, grandmother there, employer merged;
the universe conspired to move me south.
Four jobs in 17 years, golf, a few friends, bouncing around among temples.
Never found my community.

Won’t retire here - don’t want to be brain dead.

XXX N Lxxxxxxxx Drive, Apartment XX, Chicago, IL:
Retired and still trying to find where I fit.
Architecture, art, tutoring,
a senior program with classes and volunteering.
New friends, and a start on
finding myself, but

Pandemic. Too much time alone.

XX Sxxxxx Place South, NY, NY:
Now. Home. Central!

Stay tuned.

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Carol M. Olmstead

I wrote this poem while I was taking Jessica Greenbaum’s poetry class at Central Synagogue, “The Psalms: Still Singing.” It was after my aunt died, and she was the last relative of my parents’ generation. Going to the cemetery, I was struck by how everything comes full circle. I am a Central member and regular learner, now enrolled in Central’s adult b’nei mitzvah program. 

A Psalm of Mount Moriah

They drive through the gates of Mount Moriah and take the high road.
Her father parks in his usual spot on the road above the family plot.
They walk down to the grandfather’s grave.
It’s cold, always cold, on the hill where her family will rest.

Her uncle and cousins will be late. They usually are.

She begins the search for the perfect-shaped stones to lay on the headstone.
When her uncle and cousins arrive, her father begins his own search,
for the ancient cemetery rabbi who will say the Kaddish.
She likes to sit on the stone bench and finger the family initial L carved into the stone.
It marks this plot as family property. They own no other land.
She touches her grandfather’s name carved in the headstone,
and the names of the old-country family who didn’t make it out.
She never knew any of them.

William. Abraham. Sarah. Mordecai.

After the praying, and the paying of the rabbi,
it’s bagels and cream cheese and lox at the diner
that’s half-way between the two brothers’ homes.
They visit like this one Sunday every month,
showing respect for a man gone too soon at 59,
now at rest on the steep hill.

The cousins grow up, move away, start families. Their visits to the hill are few.

Christmas Eve.
Her father knows something is wrong
when his brother doesn’t meet him at the garage in the garment district.
He runs back toward his office.
He hears sirens.
He sees a crowd.
Too short to see over, he looks under, and sees only the legs of the body,
and the custom-made boots he knows all too well.

She gets the call from her mother: Massive heart attack. Dead on the street. Dad had to ID him at the morgue.

The hearse drives through the cemetery gates and must take the low road below the family plot.
Her father parks in a new spot and they climb up the hill to the freshly dug grave.
For the first time, her uncle was early.
She wishes that once again, he would have been late.
For to die at 59 is much too soon.


After the praying and the paying of the rabbi,
it’s bagels and cream cheese and lox,
this time with a crowd of other people at the uncle’s house.
She can’t eat the lox.
It’s years until she can again see it as celebration
rather than as sadness.

Now, it’s hard to visit Mount Moriah. Now, the purpose of the place has become too real.

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba.

and again.
Again, and yet again.

Anna, Ruth, Samuel, Lillian

She drives through the cemetery gates and takes the high road.
She parks in her father’s spot on the road above the family plot.
She has come from far.
She brings her own stones.
She’s ready to make them all as much a part of her present, as they were of her past.
She runs her fingers over the names on the headstone.
She sits near the L on the bench.

They are all gone from her now, but reunited here.

At rest, on the hill at Mount Moriah.

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Miranda Rose Mower

Noy My Age

Silver Mary Jane clogs and a blue silk scarf wrapped loosely around my neck.
Swinging linen dress, tortoise shell glasses, and a rosy lip.

While mid-life crisis mommies dress up in their daughters mini skirts,
I don the fashion of septuagenarians.

I feel seventy years old most of the time.
Or at least I act like it.

23 is much scarier than 70.

No wrinkles, but the future is a foggy abyss on the edge of a well worn cliff.

And at 23, it's time to jump.

I clutch my pearls, "I'm much too old for that sort of thing!"

Playing 70 lets me pretend I've already lived my dream - a doctor's note excusing me from the sharp turns and steep falls and dirtiness that comes along life's path.

No I prefer the retired kind of life, I say:

Poetry classes, listening to bird song in the morning, late afternoon gardening, a joy ride along a country road, watercolors, nature walks collecting stones.

I used to tell my mother when I was a little girl, "Teenagers are gross and annoying. I'm skipping straight to an adult!"

Much to my chagrin, my pencil skirt and Barbra Streisand impersonation did not spare me from the awkwardness of my first kiss,

Or the excruciating ache of being told my way of loving was a sin.

My adult costume was just that, a few layers of thin fabric, pieced together to mask the truth, the messiness of youth

The sweaty hair and quivering heart
The tugging and fixing and judging and lying and trying
to be seen as good and beautiful and smart

But the mask has stayed on too long,
I played pretend so well
I forgot to have fun.

The kicker is - that 70 year old woman inside me

Who watches yellow butterflies drift by, fulfilled and free

Was once the young girl, only 23

Who looked inside herself and said, what a gift I am here now, I must jump and fly,
before my life passes me by

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Willamarie Moore

Where I Am From (You Are What You Eat)

I am from Grandma’s mac’n’cheese and egg salad sandwiches
pressed together by Angeli and Savatri’s mother’s dark fingers
I am from lemon bars made by moi
(over and over again for years, they were so gooey-good)
Yellow foods

I’m from white foods like homemade meringues in the 70s and frozen Waldorf Salad
and my brother refusing to eat mayonnaise ever again after a car trip through the Rockies
a certain definitive summer

From indescribably delicious Mrs. Gardner’s barbecue ribs
and can’t-eat-enough of Ng Mas’ lumpia
From what-color-would-you-call-it? Coca-Cola jello salad that was such a favorite holiday dish
I recreated it in Tokyo for an American Thanksgiving party
Multiracial multicultural multi colored foods

In Japan presentation earns half the taste
and the more colors are on the table the healthier the meal is said to be
Edible art

I am from a cornucopia of veggies coming so fast every week from the CSA farm we belonged to
you had to wonder how many colors are in the rainbow?
(And BTW how does one tell the difference between a turnip and a rutabaga?)
I’m from lots and lots of soups
From the sweetest, crunchiest ever
“Beets? No!” he cries and leaves the room

Vegetarianism – gluten-free – juice fasting – KALE
Today’s navel orange

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Sylvia Smoller

Sylvia Smoller

I am Sylvia Smoller, and I have been a member of Central since we moved to New York from the suburbs in 2002. Having been a refugee, I treasure the community that Central provides for me, in good times and in difficult times of personal loss. The title of my poem,
Warsaw 1939, evokes all that is to follow.

Warsaw, 1939

Her magic enfolded me.
The scent of sleep and perfume,
the  gentle wind billowing white curtains
into the room through shafts of sunlight.
She said, come, come, come
and I leapt into her bed
and curled into her warm, soft body.
My mother was magic then,
and I was safe then, for the brief time
before the deluge.

Warsaw burning, bombs exploding,
my father prepares to leave, alone,
before the imminent occupation, just for a few weeks,
just until great England and France will vanquish the foe,
for men will be hunted, but in a civilized war,
women and children are safe.

The cars are lined up in front of the police station.
The chauffers chatting in the hallway, await assignment.
Select a chauffer, my father says to my mother,
after the police chief has put a car at his disposal.
My mother picked the one with polished boots and wide smile.

But the chauffer said, your wife, you wife, you must take your wife
away from the bombs, yes, yes my father saw the light
and at a moment’s notice, we left with him,
and what if she had picked another chauffer?

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Carol Winer

Member of Central Synagogue

Family Foundation (Mother of Pearl)

You wore your stockings rolled below your knees,
Grandma Maryum. I remember.
At fifteen you came alone to Ellis Island,
Then back to Poland, married grandpa, the town scribe.
You dasn’t trust men. They don’t respect women, you warned.
But Grandpa? He’s different.  
Scrubbed floors for boarders,
eventually became the landlady.
Your mind sharp, your bosom large.
You never read English
Oh, Grand Dame of Flatbush.
Grandpa died abruptly.
Independent once more.
And Warren died young, but
three daughters survived.
Cutting, and pasting, and pedaling,
you remodeled grandpa’s suits.
Trousers became skirts,
jackets double-breasted,
vests preserved.
Why should anything go to waste?
On the top floor you lived alone,
Aunt Dorothy’s gang below.
Then death took her too soon.
Beyond your small back garden
a mountain of gravel held the BMT tracks
a few stops from Coney Island.
I smell fried onions on your gnarled hands,
kishka, cabbage, and borscht.
Elaborate meals cooked in three dented pans.
Add water to the soup for company.  
And in your kitchen, over a little coffee, lots of milk and sugar
grownup talk percolated, kids listened.
When trains thundered by,
the house shook, conversation stopped.
I remember.

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