Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Sophie Worth was 100 years old when she died in 1977, and I knew nothing about her except that she was one of the cheek-pinchers. I recently heard stories about her that make her a viable candidate for "black sheep" of our family.
She was married to a Louis Wortikovich, who changed his name to Worth, but I have no idea when or where or how long he lived.
She is rumored to have been a call girl and to have had an abortion.
At the time I knew her, she certainly seemed to adore little children, and I assumed it was because she had none of her own. After hearing these stories, though, I wondered if she had become unable to conceive as a result of the abortion.
She was as lively a character as any old lady can be in the memory of a child who only saw her a few times, and then only briefly, so I guess she was somewhat of a "hottie"!
Other "black sheep" candidates tomorrow.
Until next time...
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Later I heard it said that there was a relatively high suicide rate in Israel, and took it as a truism until I sat down to write this post and decided to verify that. It turns out that Israel's suicide rate is actually among the lowest in the world and half that of the U.S.
The Israel Zinstein I mentioned previously (the one with 7 wives) had a son named Max Siegel who came to American in 1900. He became estranged from his wife and daughters and eventually committed suicide.
I had never heard that, but when I mentioned it to my mother, she remembered that she had heard about it from my father.
The Zinshtein descendents in Israel who died by their own hands included one of my own generation. There were at least two--with two additional family members whose accidental deaths appear to have been suicides as well.
Fortunately, I know of nobody else in my extended family who took their own life, nor do I know of any friend or acquaintance who did.
I never knew any of those Israeli cousins well enough to know what possibly motivated them nor has that information ever been shared with me.
My next quest is to identify who is the real "black sheep" in our family, and you can be sure when I do it will appear here (though, perhaps, with the name changed to protect the innocent!).
Until next time...
My grandfather's uncle Israel, born in 1837, is reputed to have had 7 wives. Not sure if they were concurrent; unlikely they all were, since so many women died during childbirth in the old days. But, it is said that he took young wives even when he was quite old. An explanation: the Zinshtein family are "kohens," that is, of the priestly class. We have the privilege of being first to be called to the reading of the Torah and the obligation of conveying the priestly blessing during prayer services ("May the Lord bless you and keep you, etc."). Kohanim (the actual plural) are forbidden from contact with the dead, from entering cemeteries even, and are only permitted to wed virgins. Israel had at least 5 children from 4 of the wives, but little else is known of him.
One of Israel's grandchildren, Boris, was an assistant to Leon Trotsky. He was killed by bandits in his home region of Podolsk.
Another grandchild of Israel's, named Esther, married Alexander Zazulinsky, who was posthumously awarded the Order of Lenin for crashing his plane into a squadron of German tanks during the Battle of Stalingrad in 1942.
The husband of a first cousin of my grandfather was accused by Soviet authorities as being a "kulak," a sort of uppity, bourgeois, farmer who overlorded peasants. Velvel Testzer and his sons were sent to a notorious "gulag" near Archangel, called Solovki. At some point they were returned to a prison camp that was apparently in their home region of Podolsk. Eventually, they were able to return to Staro Zakrevsky Meidan, their village--just in time for more bad luck: they were shot to death by the Nazis & Ukrainians in 1942 along with all the other Jews in their village.
My next segment will be about another dark aspect of my Zinshtein heritage.
Until next time...
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Because the family name is Zinshtein (also spelled Zinshteyn and Zinstein), a rather unusual name meaning in Yiddish "sun-stone," it's been easy to Google-up references, and I've discovered several who must somehow be related but I don't yet know how. One, in fact, is a somewhat famous artist in Russia today.
Here are a few tidbits about my family:
The Ur-Zinshtein, our earliest-known relative, our "primogenitor," so to speak, was born in Felshtin in a Tsarist-controlled province called Podolsk (aka Podolia) which is now Gvardeyskoye in present-day Ukraine. His name was Ber and he is believed to have been born in 1770, and died in 1844. Like most Jews there at that time, he did not have a surname, but was probably known as Ber ben ??, or Ber, the son of ??.
His son Mordechai, born in 1787, was the first to carry the name Zinshtein. He and his wife Blima (born in 1788) had three sons, Aaron, Moshe and Srul (probably short for Israel). In 1846, the three men moved about 75 miles away to Staro Zakrevsky Meidan, a Jewish agricultural colony on land that was purchased from local owners/authorities with the approval of the Tsar, and had been established two years earlier. It was the first, largest and, reputedly, most prosperous of such colonies.
Aaron's youngest son, Abraham, was my grandfather Joseph's father. Joseph came to the U.S. in 1918 after his older brother Charles had come here. And grandpa returned in 1920 to Staro Zakrevsky Meidan (literally "Old Zakrevsky's Farm") where he married my grandmother. By the time of their voyage to America in 1921, she was pregnant with my father, Bernie, who was born in New York that year.
Those Zinshteins who emigrated to the U.S. (and there were several) or to Palestine (primarily one branch) were lucky--most of the remaining family and other Jews in that community were rounded up by the Nazis and Ukrainians and shot to death in 1942.
More details on my discoveries in a future post--some juicy stories to come.
Until next time...
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Don't know if you've been keeping abreast of the evolving story about the site Israel is not saying whether or not it attacked in Syria a month ago that the U.S. is not saying whether or not it knows anything about and that the Syrian government is not saying it hasn't dismantled since the non-attack in order to escape further scrutiny over possible international law violations.
Today's NYTimes carried the blue-ish photo from 2003 showing it under construction, stating:
The long genesis is likely to raise questions about whether the Bush administration overlooked a nascent atomic threat in Syria while planning and executing a war in Iraq, which was later found to have no active nuclear program....The new image may give ammunition to those in the administration, including Ms. Rice, who call for diplomacy. If North Korea started its Syrian aid long ago, the officials could argue that the assistance was historical, not current, and that diplomacy should move ahead....Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nuclear proliferation at the New America Foundation in Washington, said it was surprising from the photos how little progress had been made at the site between 2003 and 2007. But Mr. Lewis said it was ironic that Syria might have been trying to build a nuclear program just as the United States was invading Iraq in the fear that Iraq was developing nuclear arms.
The other photos are from August of this year (with building) and September of this year (after the Israeli attack & Syria's deconstruction). All of these satellite photos are from independent sources verified with other independent satellite companies and published this week for the first time.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Thursday, October 25, 2007
My cousin Eve lives very close to some of the fires, near Magic Mountain, and I e-mailed her to find out how they are doing. This was her reply:
Yes it's been pretty scarey around here. My mother in law and sister in law had to evacuate the other night with their pets. The fire went up to their side yard. Our house is fine, just smokey ashes everywhere. People at work were evacuating so Monday was pretty empty at the office. Our favorite pumpkin patch burned down. Ive gone there since Andrew was a baby.
Andrew has just completed his freshman year at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, by the way.
When I read in the Orange County Register that the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego had canceled performances, I added a comment about the 1993 Laguna Beach fire that came very close to destroying my theatre, which you can read here.
Until next time...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
This week, the TripAdvisor management is again discussing the issue and we'll see if there is any relaxation of its removal of posts or in its policy of what are acceptable topics. I'll keep you posted.
Meanwhile, the OC Register recently changed its posting policies, too, in order to eliminate anonymous hate posts to its blogs and in reaction to its articles.
I read Haaretz, the Israeli daily paper, and you should read some of the anonymous responses posted there--from virulent anti-Semitic, anti-Israel diatribes to knee-jerk, Israel is perfect, Judaism is the only way responses, and everything in between.
Is that no-holds-barred kind of forum of greater value? Not in my opinion. There's got to be a middle-ground between overly strict censorship of such forums and offensive commentary.
Until next time...
Friday, October 19, 2007
Some of us are still just getting used to the computer age.
I was reminded, too, that I obtained my first computer back in about 1984. Though I already had one at work for about a year, my brother had connected to a guy who helped people assemble their own PCs at considerably less cost than purchasing retail. He guided us through this at a community college classroom one evening. It was easy and de-mystified the "guts" of the hardware.
Of course, software was a whole other matter in those days, and one actually had to learn at least a little DOS to make one's PC function. And, ah, those monochrome screens, weren't they delightful? (I opted for the "new" amber color over the hideous, ubitquitous green.)
OK, so that was over 20 years ago--eons in technological time. But how about the internet?
Most businesses posted sites beginning about 10 years ago, and they were often crudely built, with little interactivity. The fact that today we do everything from investing and banking online to networking with strangers is amazing.
Much of this is self-evident, of course--in other words, we now take it all for granted.
In preparing for my upcoming trip to Israel, though, there are definitely some tools on the internet that weren't around even a couple of years ago. Trip Advisor has become the site to visit for anyone preparing a trip anywhere--the Zagat's guide to travel, so to speak, driven by user reviews and forums. It even allows you to map the places you've visited and place that into your profile, which I have done. (Search for me as rictheater to find it there.)
That led me to a site I had visited about a year ago, but forgotten about: Google Earth. It's more sophisticated now, having added views of space (!), but its basic attraction is still there: the ability to zoom down from satellite views of any place on the planet to fairly detailed aerial views of most of them. They now have a wiki-community that posts photos and links identified by little dots on their relief maps. Some sites are quite detailed, like Washington, D.C., while the city my brother lives in, Winchester, Virginia, is a total blur. I can't imagine it will be for very long, as Google conquers the world (and it will).
I've begun mapping significant places in my life -- placing pushpin icons on them and saving them as My Places in Google Earth. Alison was teasing me about spending time doing this, but I told her I thought it was no different than doing crossword puzzles, which we both do, and she agreed.
So, for now, I'm crafting a map of my life. Mine has locations around the world, but even if someone has lived his entire life in one town, it's possible to pushpin every building one has entered on Google Map, and that says a lot (what it says is another matter, however.)
Until next time...
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
We've been looking in on her, taking her the mail, checking on her house, etc. We brought her some photos of Bob, our cat, too, which really cheered her up. When we first adopted Bob (from other neighbors who were moving to Hawaii and didn't want to put him through the quarantine), this neighbor also knew Bob, but wasn't very fond of him. He is an outdoor cat during the day (nighttime, too, if he can get away with it--but coyotes live in the 'hood, so we do our best to prevent that) and he used to wander into her yard, which she didn't like. Actually, he used to have a pretty big territory, but now that he's almost 12 years old, he's content to stick closer to home. Still, he continues to believe that both neighbors' yards are his territory--one is where he originally lived, the other he has laid claim to on his own.
We asked our neighbor to feed him when we went away a few years ago, and despite her feelings about him she agreed. After that, she was "hooked" on Bob, and always looks forward to caring for him when we travel.
We sometimes refer to him as "Bob the cat" to distinguish him from "Bob the brother." We didn't name the cat (or the brother) but opted not to change it after we adopted him. Of course, we have many sickeningly cute terms of endearment for him which I'm too embarrassed to share with you!
Until next time...
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Titling it "The Western Wall Experience - Be Prepared," I started off by saying that this happens at many religious sites in the holy land, but that my experience visiting the "Wailing" Wall, Judaism's holiest site in 2005 was pretty much ruined by being approached insistently by religious men wanting to take me up to the Wall to pray and expecting me to pay them for this. I would be happy to pay an entrance fee or make an obligatory donation that helps preserve the site, but this felt smarmy.
The first responder in the Forum questioned why Trip Advisor had allowed my posting, as he saw it as malicious, and several others posted rebuttals. But one brave soul, a Trip Advisor "Local Expert on Israel" defended me, verified that he had similar experiences at the Wall, and that the Forum should be a place for all to learn the good & bad of the travel adventure that is Israel.
Anyway, 18 postings later, I feel good about raising the topic. I think that anyone visiting the Wall who knows this in advance will be better prepared to enjoy their visit.
Causing an "international incident" runs in the family--but I'll leave that story for another day.
Until next time...
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Whenever we had guest artists at the Laguna Playhouse, I was called upon to engage in an onstage conversation with them for an audience of donors. (On a lark, I taped my notes onto blue index cards a la From the Actors Studio.)
With some artists, it was a true conversation. Like David Rambo (author of The Ice Breaker) or Bernard Farrell (perennial Playhouse favorite from Ireland).
With others, I often joked, it was like "press the button" and they became the Energizer bunny, with nary a chance to fit a word in edgewise. Richard Dresser (whom I introduced to the Playhouse when I directed Gun-Shy) was like a stand-up comic who, once he had the floor, never relinquished it.
When I had Israeli playwright Shmuel Hasfari here last March, we had an especially large and engaged audience. Self-conscious about his facility with English (as a native Hebrew speaker), he paused far more frequently to find just the right word--and then came out with something especially erudite. Oh, yes, I had plenty of opportunity to ask questions and make comments, but they rather paled in comparison to Hasfari's insightful remarks.
Well, the Stein and Hasari show will reprise in Tel Aviv in November.
I was first invited by the Israeli Drama Institute to attend their IsraDrama conference when I visited Israel last December. By late spring, they had settled upon dates, and in the summer, a tentative schedule arrived. It then occurred to me that Hasfari and I ought to speak at the conference about the experience of bringing an Israeli play to a U.S. theatre and audience.
No good deed goes unpunished (one of my favorite phrases), and we've been asked to have another on stage conversation for dozens of theatre producers and directors from throughout the English-speaking world.
I'm looking forward to it, and though it will be in English, I'm brushing up my Hebrew so I can at least ask "where is the men's room?"
And I'm bringing blue index cards.
Until next time...
Monday, October 8, 2007
That came to mind as I witnessed live and in person the taking apart and sweeping up of the Angels by the Red Sox yesterday.
All the excuses in the world (top players out of play due to injuries, the failure of the coach to place more importance on gaining home field advantage by winning the concluding games of the regular season, the lack of any long ball hitters on the team and a strategy that justifies that instead of admitting we could use at least one) cannot deny one thing: the Red Sox are a better team than the Angels, and have proven it fairly consistently in the past few seasons.
All of this brought to mind how different a picture it was in October 2002, when a friend who had once held a key position in Major League Baseball, was able to get me tickets for the home games of the playoffs and World Series in which the Angels surprisingly found themselves.
I was a johnny-come-lately Angels fan--I only started following them upon my residence in Orange County in 1987. I had been a lifelong Dodgers fan (much to the consternation of my Brooklyn-bred father who, like all true Brooklynites, referred to the team as "dem bums" for having abandoned home for sunny LA).
I would have been excited enough just to attend a World Series game, but I was surrounded by people who had been loyal Angels fans for 40 years without so much as making it into the series. The longing from such a drought is not to be underestimated, and it created an atmosphere in the stadium unlike any other I've experienced.
All the more so when the Angels forced a seventh game, bringing the San Francisco Giants back to Anaheim, and delivered the victory. Pandemonium is too subtle a word to describe what took place, and combined with being indescribable, its fleeting nature made it one of those moments in time that underscore the thrill of participating in a live audience event.
Until next time...
Sunday, October 7, 2007
I had the pleasure of knowing August. We first met in 1984 when I was running a theatre company/performing ars center at the University of Hartford.
Earlier that year, Lloyd Richards, artistic director of Yale Repertory Theatre and dean of the Yale School of Drama, asked if I thought Hartford and New Haven were too close for me to consider bringing up one of their productions for my audience. I thought not, depending upon the play.
A play we had planned became unavailable, and so, on short notice, I called Lloyd, who sent me a script called "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom." He told me he wasn't sure it was something I'd consider suitable, but it could move up to my theatre immediately following its Yale Rep run.
I read it, and was overwhelmed by its powerful story and poetic style, and told Lloyd we'd be honored to have it there.
During its week-long run at my theatre, August came up and had dinner with me. He was a gentle, soft-spoken man, clearly unaccustomed to any light being shined upon him. No need...he was the one shining the light.
We were invited to the Broadway opening night, which was a great occasion. In fact, it might not have made it to Broadway had the play not come to Hartford. Important backers were unable to get to New Haven to see it before it closed, and so we accommodated them at my theatre.
I saw August only sporadically after he was "discovered." That summer, at the O'Neill Center's Playwrights Conference, where I also ran into Charles S. Dutton, who starred in "Ma Rainey" and became a famous actor as a result. We saw August during the readings of "The Piano Lesson" at the O'Neill, and I also had lunch with him in St. Paul, Minnesota, (then his home) during a visit to the Guthrie.
The last time I saw him was at a TCG Conference at Princeton. I was surprised he even recognized me because of how far he had come. In the room were so many others who had so much more to do with his career success than I.
It was at that Conference that Wilson gave his landmark speech about his opinions on the lack of black theatre in America and laid down some sharp criticisms of the American theatre establishment. Mild-mannered he might have seemed, but underneath it all was a fiery spirit.
Regretfully, we never produced one of his plays at Laguna Playhouse--but how could we have hoped to produce one as well as the Center Theatre Group in collaboration with Seattle, The Goodman and other major U.S. theatres who banded together to debut his work?
In the early 1990s, I was offered the position of Executive Director of the O'Neill Center, which I agonized over whether or not to accept. It would have been an opportunity to spend more time with August, and the O'Neill was such an important institution within the American theatre establishment.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Father Patrick Desbois is speaking with local eyewitnesses and gathering their accounts--gaining access to information that Jewish visitors and researchers have often been unable to obtain. His work is being exhibited now in France, and his organization, Yahad in Unum, has a website.
Several years ago, a cousin of mine (Ben Weinstock) and a friend of his (David Chapin) wrote a 2-volume account of the Jews in the Letichev region of Ukraine. Entitled The Road from Letichev: The History and Culture of a Forgotten Jewish Community in Eastern Europe.
It contains photos of my grandparents, who emigrated to the U.S., and my grandfather's parents, who stayed behind and were eventually shot by the Nazis. There are maps of their village, showing where their home was located, lists of residents, and other detailed information. The book is mostly an assemblage of of original source material, with little edited out--accounting for its length. While that makes for dry reading, it's a great book to flip through.
I can't see a visit to the Ukraine in my future, but it's nice to know that a family member made the effort to document some of our history, and that Fr. Desbois is contributing to the effort to keep the memory alive of those who lived there.
Until next time...
Friday, October 5, 2007
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
"What's all of this I hear about Blackwater?"
Besides making me smile, it made me remember a great song of the 70s by the Doobie Brothers by that title. It was from the album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits, and was #1 on the charts for awhile in 1975 (their first top single). Here's a sampling of the lyrics:
Well, I built me a raft and she's ready for floatin'
Ol Mississippi, she's callin my name
Catfish are jumpin'
That paddle wheel thumpin'
Black water keeps rollin' on past just the same
Old black water, keep on rollin'
Mississippi moon, won't you keep on shinin' on me
Wikipedia points out an interesting facet of this song, by the way:
The song is characterized by the melodious a cappella section, with lyrics that are perhaps the most well-known in the entire song: "I'd like to hear some funky Dixieland/Pretty mama, come and take me by the hand."
The Wik-meister also says the song introduced a bluegrass sound to traditional rock, but I'm not sure I'd go that far.
So when you hear all the yadda yadda yadda in the news about that private security firm in Iraq, singing (or humming) this song is an appropriate diversion.
Until next time...