I apologize to all the men and women who have sacrificed their lives during wartime for this great country fighting what is just and right. I apologize to the brave soldiers who were traumatized and bore witness to the worst of mankind during the liberation of the concentration camps—grown men who cried during interviews, even 50 years later. Those are images they could never erase from their minds and haunted them the rest of their lives. I apologize to all the Jews who lost their lives in concentration camps during the Holocaust as well as being gunned down and buried in mass graves by the Nazis. I apologize to all the innocent African Americans who have been lynched at the hands of the KKK in the name of “White Nationalism.” I apologize to all of us who have been the victims of racism and anti-Semitism in the name of White Nationalists, the KKK, and other Alt-right fringe groups. I apologize on behalf of this great country of the United States for the insensitive, hurtful, unprecedented, and frankly dangerous stance taken by the President by not calling out these hate groups for what they are—hate filled anti-Semites and racists. I apologize to the brave people in Charlottesville who came out to protest the blatant Nazi, White Supremacy agenda who have been lumped together along with the “good people” “peacefully protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee” when we can see Nazi flags, swastikas, and Confederate flags waving proudly. I apologize for statements such as, “Don’t let Jews take our jobs” and calling out the President for allowing his daughter to be “taken” by Jared Kushner, who is Jewish. I apologize to the young woman who was mowed down and killed by a Neo-Nazi follower, who probably believes that she was just collateral damage. I am saddened that this sort of language does not seem to bother the President whose own daughter is now Jewish, as well as his grandchildren. I am frightened by the vehemence of these insane beliefs held by these previously fringe groups, that are now proliferating throughout the United States because of the lack of condemnation and frankly defense of these White Nationalist groups and the KKK. I am shocked, but not surprised at the belief that these sick cowardly groups feel they have a friend in the President. I am horrified that the formerly grand wizard of the KKK, David Duke, praised and thanked the President. I am disgusted at the spineless lack of strong response and condemnation, and any real action from the Congress. Words are meaningless unless followed by action. The good citizens of this country need to unite against hate groups and not let them become part of the mainstream fabric of this Country. Join me in the condemnation of hate groups before our beautiful, free, country becomes a fascist state. Open your eyes and see history for what it is; see what took hold in Nazi Germany, and how it started out in small ways. See how during the 1930s anti-Semitism began to take a foothold, with many people burying their heads in the sand and refusing to believe what was happening, all the while people were quietly losing their businesses, being denied basic rights, condemned without cause, culminating in the death of millions. Open your eyes everyone, no matter what your religion or race, and take a stand for what is right and just in this world because this affects us all.
A while back, I was at my hairdresser’s and I was complaining about the way drivers in Augusta take 15 minutes to make a turn into a driveway. We were laughing and then I said, I was going to write an article entitled, “Fifty Things I Hate about the South.” That was an exaggeration, and I do not hate the South. But, as a transplanted Northerner, it has sometimes been challenging fitting in.
How did a nice Jewish girl from the NY/NJ area end up (not a good choice of words) in Augusta, GA you might ask? Well, through a series of fateful events I moved here. I had been working at the WTC, and a year after the 9/11 attacks, I was laid off along with hundreds of others. After wracking my brains about how I would survive, it came to me; I’ll move down South. So, I up and sold my Townhouse and bought one here.
I was familiar with the area since I had been visiting my friend’s family for 8 years on vacation. But visiting and actually living here was a totally different story. With all the uncertainty in my life, the initial reason I moved here was financial; let’s face it, it is cheaper to live in Augusta. Since moving here, I have taken risks and reinvented myself many times over but it has still been a rocky ride at times. In the beginning, I wondered if I made a mistake because I missed my family terribly and some of the differences were very stark to me. As a liberal Northerner, it is sometimes hard to swallow some of the political leanings of this area. I missed the day-trips to Camelback, PA to go skiing too. I cannot escape the question of “where do you come from” (as if I’m an alien from another planet) due to my New York accent. I also cannot fathom why, when asked my name at Starbucks, my coffee comes with the name “Maryland” on the cup. Even when I tell people my name, they still say, “Maryland?” I get junk mail addressed to “Maryland Botta.” Maybe I should change my name to Washington, DC. The names down here are different too. I discovered that Melvis is an actual name, which took me by surprise because that was a made up name my brother and I used for my cousin Melvin and his wife Phyllis. You also don’t find the variety of ethnic restaurants here that you find up North, and I miss that sometimes. The first time I was asked what Church I belonged to, I was taken aback; that would be considered rude up North, and nobody’s business. But in the South, it is commonplace and acceptable. Living in Augusta often means that everybody knows everybody (a la Peyton Place)—you always run into people you know, or people that know who you know; that’s life in a small town. But when all is said and done, despite all these differences, the South has grown on me, even when I wasn’t even aware of it. Here’s the thing—for years every time someone would ask me if I like it in Augusta, I would say, “Eh, it’s OK.” I could not make up my mind, but one day, while driving down the street on a really lovely spring day, it suddenly occurred to me that Augusta has become my home. I have made some friendships, and have established a life of sorts here. I have come to appreciate the South, even though it is not perfection (but no place is). So, the next time someone asks me if I like it down South, I will say, “Yes, I do and I think I’ll stay.”
Growing up in Stuyvesant Town—a large apartment complex on the Lower East Side of Manhattan—was more like Peyton Place than you would think. It seemed that everyone knew each other. The complex stretched from 14th Street to 21st Street and consisted of a multitude of 13 story buildings. Stuyvesant Town was built in 1948, and was geared for returning vets and their growing families. My parents and other young families moved in, creating a common bond—something you don’t find today. There was a sense of camaraderie and belonging among the new residents who were often either Jewish or Catholic that is absent today. My mom and a few of the Jewish ladies formed a ladies group that met once a week at each other’s apartment, to play Mahjong (a Chinese tile game) and they became known to us as The Mahjong Girls. When it was my mom’s turn to host, we were always in a frenzy—frantically vacuuming and dusting, putting out hors d’oeuvres, nuts, chocolate, drinks, etc. When the first doorbell rang, my older brother and I were exiled to the bedrooms. Since I did not have a room of my own, the evening was particularly magical because I got to watch TV in my parents’ bedroom and eat the goodies my mom would bring into me during a break. Mahjong seemed to be the exclusive domain of Jewish ladies and I don’t think the Christians played it. Now, each Mahjong girl had a distinct personality—and where we didn’t know much more about them, my brother and I invented personalities. There was Ethyl, Anita, my mom, Shirley and Sarah. Anita was chubby, and had a gravely voice, so my brother and I imagined her as someone obsessed with cookies and imitated her voice asking, “Do you have any cookies?” She had two sons, Jay and Steven, who my brother (Gordon) and I played with. Their son Steven was odd, and nobody could really put their finger on what was wrong with him. But, years later Gordon and I came to the conclusion that he was probably autistic. My brother and I could sometimes be pretty cruel, not directly, but looking back I see that our funny games were born of jealousy. On the surface, Anita seemed to have a charmed life, but one day, we found out that her husband, Sydney, was “visiting” somewhere for an extended period of time. Since Stuy Town was somewhat Peyton Place like, we found out through the grapevine that he was actually in jail for perjury. So, from then on, my bro and I referred to him as “the criminal” in our conversations (again, just between us). Unfortunately, their son Steven inexplicably was found dead one day—a real tragedy. Now Shirley, who also lived in our building, was a very stylish and refined beauty whose husband, Bill, was a commercial artist. Their apartment was impeccably decorated and she was the height of fashion. She had blond tresses that she wore in a tasteful upswept hairdo, which never looked out of place. However, Gordon and I had a theory that her hair was not real, and was, in fact a wig—that underneath her golden faux locks, she actually had “black, kinky, greasy hair.”
My family’s circle of friends went beyond our building too. And, just like Peyton Place, gossip abounded in Stuyvesant Town. Since we considered our family so imperfect (and it was, but probably not much more than some other families), we hated seeing seemingly perfect families. One such family was headed by the matriarch, Marion. She was a pillar of the community, always traveling on vacation, head of this or that committee, beautiful apartment, and seemed to live a “Father Knows Best” or “Leave it to Beaver” existence. But, one day, we heard through the gossip mill, that Marion and her husband were getting divorced. I remember sniggering with my brother about that, and being not so secretly thrilled that the perfect Marion was, indeed, human like the rest of us.
It’s so strange that although my memories of growing up in Stuy Town, with my very dysfunctional family, are not particularly great, I still have dreams every so often. I dream that I am somehow still living at 455 East 14th Street, in apartment MG, but I am my age now. Sometimes my parents are there too (the age they used to be) yet it seems perfectly natural. These dreams are never happy ones, but somehow I have them periodically—although less and less as I get older. My brother and friend Janet (who lived across from me) have these types of dreams too, which is so curious, since our childhoods were less than idealistic. But somehow, although there were many painful memories, there were actually some good ones too and, in spite of myself, I find reasons to laugh and reminisce about them. I guess these dreams somehow represent a time of innocence, although imperfect, innocence nevertheless.
I still feel like a fraud going to West Town Community Church, as a Jew. But, I am in transition and it is very difficult to determine if I want to be a Jew for Jesus or actually convert to Christianity. I’m leaning towards the former because I am still Jewish and will always embrace my heritage. I am very confused and envy the devout people who attend that Church who are so very sure of their faith. As usual, things are not so clear for me. One thing I know is that I am slowly but surely heading towards God. Believe it or not, I am actually taking the Pastor’s advice to just at least start reading the bible; something I’ve never done before. I grew up in a very non-religious household, never went to Hebrew school, or studied anything at all about religion. The only exposure I had was on the holidays—Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur—where I either got gifts, went to Synagogue, or fasted dutifully, but I never knew any of the background stories behind why I did these things. Consequently, I ended up marrying out of my faith. But, even the men I married were not religious and I again continued my ignorance about God, the Bible, and faith. My journey has been very slow and fledgling but I truly believe that I will eventually arrive at a place where I belong. Just like a road race, my “pace” is my own and I will arrive at my destination in my own time. This is my “race”—just like a PR in running where you strive for a “personal record”—I must not compare my “race time” with anyone else’s or feel that I am less than the other person because I am so slow. I must just keep walking forward, not looking back, and moving towards the light.
When I was a child, December was a magical time of the year. Although I am a Jew, I still felt the magic of the Christmas season, due to my two good friends being Catholic. I guess I just lived vicariously through them. Yes, we have Chanukah, with the Menorah and presents but as a child, it was just not the same as that Christmas tree. I remember helping Janet decorate the tree, and buying presents for my Christian friends. Also, growing up in Manhattan, where the stores are all lit up, and there is actual snow, you really get into the spirit. When I got older, I married two Christian men (one at a time) and had a Christmas tree for my children. I hosted Christmas parties, even inviting my parents, who long ago accepted my “closet” Christianness. Now that I live in Augusta, and although my friend’s family has adopted me for the holidays, I still find I have lost that “Christmas” spirit I had years ago. But, I have recently begun to attend a real down to earth Church, where I can dress in jeans and the music is rock. Somehow it gives me a sense of peace and comfort—something I almost never achieve—and lets me embrace my “inner Christian.” Although Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ, I believe that it is also a state of mind that transcends religious affiliations and is about Hope and Love. I think I am becoming re-infected with the Christmas bug—an infection that I hope I don’t ever get over.
Faith and coincidence can go hand in hand. Many people believe that there ARE no coincidences in God’s world. Sometimes when you look back at how your life has changed for the better, you see a pattern of “coincidences” often extending years back. I suppose that if you look back far enough, you can say everything that you did in your life has lead you to where you are now—even if where you are is not a good place. It’s kind of like a “preexisting condition” in the insurance world; everything is preexisting except for accidents. You don’t just suddenly wake up one day with high cholesterol, or heart disease—no, your body has been secretly sabotaging you for years based on your habits and heredity. It is the same thing in a way with where we are in life. I have recently been exploring religion. Although I am Jewish by birth and heritage, believe in God and pray, I have not really formally practiced anything for years. I had all but lost my faith in God during my nightmarish medical issues and problems with my boy. But, as is often said, “Don’t quit until the miracle happens”, so I did not give up and, continued to have faith and pray, although I had no idea if my prayers were even being heard. Joel Osteen always says that when you are ready, the right person (or circumstances) will appear in your life if you have faith. Yet faith is sometimes hard to have when your life seems like it is a slow slide into the abyss of hopelessness because it is a belief and trust in something intangible. I believe that there were so many events going back to 2002, when I worked in the WTC that has brought me to where I am now. In 2003 I moved to Augusta (where my friend Janet lived)—I do not believe that I would’ve reconnected to faith if I still lived up North. Then, 3 years ago, my son moved in with me, soon after suffering a psychotic break. This sorrow led me to NAMI, where I met Joyce and Bill, who invited me to their Church. Although I did not go back for a long time I just kept praying and praying to God that I would at least find a doctor who could figure out what was wrong with my body. My prayers were answered and to me, it was a miracle. I sometimes wonder if that horrific experience was God’s way of bringing me to faith, for I do not believe that this was a coincidence at all. Although I had no intention of going back to Church, I met Dwayne in Starbucks of all places, who I had seen playing the guitar at the church that one time I went. We struck up a friendship of sorts and he “invited” and challenged me to go back to the church, even bribing me, by offering to buy me a latte if I agreed to go—I could not turn that down. So I have been attending this Church every Sunday, which gives me a sense of peace and tranquility that I almost never feel, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems. While there I try to channel my boy, envisioning him sitting beside me, enjoying the music and sermon each week, which is a way for me to feel close to him even if it is not physically possible. I try to believe that God has him in his loving arms and, by having faith I can more easily gain acceptance. At the very least I have begun to enjoy Sundays—something I never did before. I am not saying that my life is perfect, or that I can always practice acceptance, and I am not planning on denying my Jewish heritage, but I feel that through a series of events beginning years ago I have been lead into a belief in God again. Will I take the next step, I do not know yet, but I believe that I am on a good path—that anything that helps me quiet the racing thoughts and worry that engulfs me each day—for ONE day—has to be good.