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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

[The following post appeared June 1, 2011, on The Mantle.]

BRATISLAVA – From the slumber of their winter hibernation, I’ve pulled our bicycles from the depths of our cartoonishly overstuffed hall closet.

Dad’s self-appointed task: wipe down the dust and cobwebs, pump some life into those tires. Sure, I’ve suffered minor injuries, like a bruised shin, but I get no sympathy from this crowd.

There’s another cost, too. When you go so many months between riding a bicycle, as we did from fall to spring, certain muscles grow dormant. Guess what? They begin to atrophy. At least at my age, they do.

In the wake of that initial sojourn, then, I know I’ll feel a little achiness in the buttocks, knees and calves. So much so, I’ve begun blurting out a new slogan to anyone who’ll listen: I ain’t gettin’ any younger.

Yet, the muscle memory is there, retained. That maiden voyage flips the switch and re-activates the muscles. Soon enough, your confidence soars until even biking with little kids feels oh so natural.

Well, writing is just the same. Neglect certain skills, watch them wither.

I was thinking about this as I sat down to write another article for Harvard’s Nieman Reports. Sorting through hand-written notes, jotted in a notepad, becomes something of a chore. I find myself procrastinating. But of course I must go through these damn notes.

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[The following piece appeared Nov. 16 on The Mantle.]

Homelessness and street-begging have become a daily sight in Bratislava. (Photo: mjj)

BRATISLAVA – I’ve been meaning to write. Really, I have.

Maybe my sluggishness is because it’s so tough to re-acclimate to colder, wetter weather. Or perhaps the re-immersion in parenting. Three times a week, I ferry my boys to football training – or what we Yanks call soccer practice. Not only do I don the chauffer’s cap, but haul their gear and scramble for snacks. When they demand a masseuse, that’s where I draw the line.

Suddenly today, exactly two weeks after my return from Hong Kong to Bratislava, I feel inspired to paint a portrait of the city that has been my home-base for the past four years. What greater compliment than to show you, not tell you, what an interesting place it is to live.

As I did once before, I’ll do this with a snapshot of daily life. In this case, what’s transpired over the past half-hour: the good, the bad, the ugly.

First, I park near the downtown, in the reserve spot for which we delightedly pay a king’s ransom. I can imagine that it’s difficult for some Slovaks, as mere sentient beings, to recognize that a corner-to-corner X would indicate that spot is off-limits. (If the public has learned one thing from the Wild West capitalism of the post-Communist era, it’s that the rules don’t apply to everyone.)

Hey, even I’ve made that mistake once or twice. But since I’m always rushing somewhere, it sure does piss me off when I routinely get X-ed out of my own spot. No mercy: it’s time to call the tow-truck.

Just Tuesday, I let loose on a woman who evidently felt her visit to the butcher was so urgent, she had to snatch my space. Rather than take a few extra minutes to circle the block and hunt for a public space. Far worse than choose the illicit way, she flaunted her arrogance by parking at a 45-degree angle.

She emerged from the shop, toting her purchase: spicy sausages, probably. I lurched forward, practically tearing a hamstring. (more…)

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English girls in Slovakia: Madeleine, 6; Charlotte, 4.

No, I’m not father to these two. But with such young subjects, this is a portrait that would please any hobbyist. The fact it was shot by my 8-year-old son, makes me even prouder. As does the poem he crafted earlier this week:

Trees were like matchsticks in the stormy night

Tumbling in the morning light

The moon cried sounding like the rain

Rain pitter pattering down the drain

Lightning cracking the sky

The wind is a whip swooping by

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Seeing cute kids out here -- like this one eating cantaloupe-on-a-stick -- remind me of my own. (Photo: mjj)

HONG KONG – It’s one thing for my parents to chide me about deserting three young children for a six-week stretch in Hong Kong.

But my Chinese students, too? I mentioned it to them today, to explain why I’m not teaching an entire semester here, like last fall. Now that was too long away from the kids. Didn’t matter to my students.

“Unimaginable,” said one, flashing impressive vocabulary. “They’ll grow so much, you won’t recognize them,” lamented a second. “Different values,” sighed a third.

Ouch. That one stung.

It already gnaws at me that my sons describe watching their 20-month-old sister wander our Bratislava apartment calling out for me. Maybe the reality has hit her: He’s not here.

As for my boys, how will they cope with Saturday morning football practices, when all the other fathers are watching, but not theirs? Will toys and treats from Hong Kong be enough to assuage them? Will this be one of their future grievances against me, while reclining on a therapist’s couch?

Pre-emptively, then, I create a paper-trail of apology: Forgive me, please.

Of course, I keep justifying that this time away isn’t a simple act of selfishness, that career doesn’t come ahead of family. Instead, that it’ll all prove worthwhile in the end. And that, as my supportive wife says, “The time will pass quickly.”

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BRATISLAVA – I was too young to appreciate his human-rights work at the time, but my uncle’s sudden death encouraged me to revisit the remarkable efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry. His obituary, from The Miami Herald:

Dr. Robert Wolf | `Driven’ dentist gave care to needy

Dr. Robert “Bob” Wolf, a man who always asked “What can I do for you?” died of cardiac arrest at his North Miami-Dade home Saturday, his family said. He was 77.

As chief director of Community Smiles, a nonprofit organization that provides dental care for the needy in Miami-Dade County, Wolf made people smile with his work in dentistry and his wry sense of humor.

“He was very driven,” said his daughter, Caryn Wolf, 51, who lives in Oakland, Calif. “Other guys were golfing, and he was running around trying to get kids dental care.”

Wolf’s volunteer work began in the 1970s, when he and his wife, Myriam, became involved with the South Florida Conference on Soviet Jewry. He was chairman of the organization for eight years in the 1970s, lobbying Congress to allow Jews in the former Soviet Union to enter the Unites States and Israel.

Wolf’s work continued when he and his wife helped establish a chapter of the Association for the Advancement of the Mentally Handicapped in Miami-Dade County to benefit their son, Eric, who is developmentally disabled.

“It helped me get a job. It helped me get out on my own,” said Eric, 50, who lives on his own in North Miami Beach. “He helped out a lot of people.”

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My wife glides with our stroller-bound daughter across the ice-covered Neusiedler Sea in Austria, near both the Hungarian and Slovak borders. (Photo: mjj)

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The author says it was "gratifying" to see his sons Kende, far left, and Miksa, second from left, "find their Jewishness a comfortable fit" at a Jewish camp in Hungary. (Photo: mjj)

The author says it was "gratifying" to see his sons Kende, far left, and Miksa, second from left, "find their Jewishness a comfortable fit" at a Jewish camp in Hungary. (Photo: mjj)

By Michael J. Jordan · June 23, 2008

 

 

SZARVAS, HUNGARY (JTA) – A friend told me recently about an article he had read proposing that one way to encourage children to eat salad is to drizzle a dab of dressing on top. This way, they would associate healthy eating with something positive rather than the parental harangue, “Because it’s good for you.”

 

I was reminded of this advice earlier this month when we immersed our two sons, ages 6 and 4, in their first meaningful Jewish experience: five days at the renowned international Camp Szarvas in southeastern Hungary.

 

On this occasion, though, instead of the hundreds of Jewish youth from across Central-Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union who gather here each summer at this Jewish oasis, it was Family Week for Hungarian Jewish families with young children.

 

It was particularly important for my boys to have a positive experience, as my Hungarian wife and I have agreed to raise them with dual identities: Hungarian and Jewish – with a dash of American. And while Agi has held up her end of the deal, I – a tribal agnostic – need to offer up some Jewish substance. Or, as we say in journalism, “show, don’t tell” what being a Jew means to me. (more…)

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