The Mezuzah at 14 Targowa Street

Yesterday we went to Framestyles, a delightful frame shop in South Minneapolis to drop off the bronze cast of a mezuzah that originally was affixed to the door at the courtyard in Czestochowa, Poland, home of David and Rochma Hoffer nee Szacher and their children, Batia, Israel and Sarah. Maybe David and Rochma’s parents too, we don’t know. Israel was Ruth’s father who survived Hasag and Buchenwald. We started to tell the tale of the mezuzah in earlier posts, but the story goes on as it usually does.

It all started with a surprise from Tomasz. Tomasz Jankowski that is – a Belarus-based tour guide, genealogist and friend who we hired to conduct some genealogical research on the Hoffer family tree in Czestochowa. After sifting through the archives, Tomasz noticed some tax records and located the home address of David Hoffer, Ruth’s grandfather.

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Tomasz, without us asking him to, went to the address and photographed the imprint of a mezuzah on the Hoffer doorpost.

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After we received this amazing photograph, we framed it, hung it on our wall and went on with our lives.

Then in the summer of 2013, we attended the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow, Poland and I was dragged kicking and screaming into a “Let’s make something Jewish” workshop. Yes, two young Poles brought in a ton of art supplies and our task was, once broken into groups, to make a challah cover, a kiddush cup, a menorah – you get the idea. Not exactly my cup of tea. But Ruthie was having fun so I graciously sat on the sidelines, grumbling occasionally, and watched the class of mostly non-Jews doing their Jewish overnight camp thing.

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At the close of the class Ruth and I approached the two instructors and engaged them in a brief conversation. “Where are you from? “Any Jewish blood flowing in your veins? What do you do when you aren’t teaching non-Jews how to make kiddish cups out of coffee stirrers?” “Oh, yes, my father was Jewish, says Helena, and I am converting.” “We also have a company called Mi Polin, she says.” “What does Mi Polin do,” we ask. “Oh, we make wooden art mezuzot and sometimes Jewish people who have identified a mezuzah at an ancestral home ask us to go there and make a bronze cast for them.” “Holy, jumping turtlewax,” I said. “We have one in Czestochowa, will you go there, how much will it cost, how soon can you do it,  and isn’t it a small world????……”

I surmise that you can feel how excited we were. It turned out to really not be a difficult process. We sent the photograph and the address to Alexander and Helena.

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Ruth wrote something for the Mi Polin Facebook page. We decided what should go on the sides of the mezuzah. And then Mi Polin did their thing.

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A few weeks later a rather heavy (for its size) package arrived from Poland. It was the mezuzah, perfectly executed, and impressively beautiful. All who have seen it, felt it, held it, have been touched. It is an honoring of family history to have this object that once marked the entrance to Ruth’s ancestral home. Now it will go into a beautiful Plexiglas frame, along with some dedicatory words, to be hung on a wall where soon the fifth (or perhaps 6th) subsequent generation can admire it.

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An unexpected turn on the Ner Tamid road

As we continue our search for a suitable site for our beautiful Ner Tamid, we decide to drive to Chicago, visit the Holocaust Museum in Skokie, the Spertus Museum, and say hi to Arthur and Laurel Feldman, friends from high school days (Dear High, Dear Central High). Arthur owns a Judaica store and has many connections that might help us in our search.

We break up the trip by stopping in Madison, eat at the Sardine restaurant, have a marvelous meal and drive the next day to Skokie. Greeted by charming Hilton staff with chocolate chip cookies, we proceed to check in early and get ready for our drive to the Holocaust Museum. The cookie doesn’t agree with Ruth (a premonition). Once in the Museum, Ruth feels terrible and wants to leave (unprecedented). So much so that we go to Urgent Care, get a preliminary diagnosis of an obstructed bowel, and are sent to an ER in Skokie. Once there (of course) we know the ER doctor, who turns out to be Peter Himmelman’s cousin, and a St. Louis Park native. Ruthie is in terrible pain only somewhat alleviated by intravenous narcotics. After a scan followed by an ultrasound we hear that there is a mass on the right ovary. We tell the doctors and nurses that Ruth had a complete hysterectomy in 2012. A “complete hysterectomy” meant removal of the ovaries – complete, right.  It is now 2:00 AM, Ruthie is flying on narcotics, the radiologist insists that he sees ovaries, and we feel we are in Brobdingnag. Of course in retrospect this all made sense since Ruth had a complete hysterectomy which of course in medical terminology, means incomplete. Only the uterus and cervix were gone and the ovaries and Fallopian tubes remained. A so-called “radical’ hysterectomy would have removed the uterus and the ovaries. But of course we didn’t know that, causing all kinds of 2:00 AM miscommunication. Against doctor’s orders, we leave the ER, believing we are in the hands of incompetency, and go back to our hotel. 

Once there, we still manage a visit to Arthur’s Judaica shop and the Feldman home. Upon entering the house, Ruth spies the Feldman couch, and she is out for the entire visit. We decide to spend the next day in the hotel to rest up for our drive back to Minneapolis. Ruth sleeps for 15 hours straight. The next morning we pack up, get Ruth comfortable in a reclining front seat position, and I drive the 8 hours back to Minneapolis with only one pee break.  Ruth sleeps the whole time even though I am blasting music on the radio to keep me awake, or at least alert. Using Bluetooth, we contact Ruth’s doctor’s office and arrange an appointment with her general medicine doc for early the next day. There we find out the difference between a total and a radical hysterectomy, feel suitably chastened, and in a very nice Minnesota way are told to get an appointment with an Oncology surgeon ASAP. I proceed to call Gynecologic surgeons for a urgent appointment. It is Thursday and we get an appointment for the following Tuesday. Guess what is in between Thursday and Tuesday? Two Seders! One was supposed to be ours but in a last minute shuffle, is moved to the abode of our dear friends, the Okens. To the utter befuddlement of those at the Seders, Ruth participates normally, or seemingly so. 

Monday we see Dr. Tina Ayeni, a Harvard, Duke and Mayo trained surgeon and by Tuesday at 7:30 AM, Ruth is in surgery. Dan and Naomi join me in the waiting room watching the clock. Liora and Sara join us later. Expecting a one hour arthroscopic procedure, we see one, two, then three hours elapse. Word from the OR is that all is fine. We have no clue as to what this means. We are prepared for the worst. Dr. Ayeni had warned us that if the procedure took a long time, it probably meant that pathology had reported a malignancy and an extra few hours of surgical work would be required. Dr. Ayeni finally appears, and utters the word “benign.”  

Ruth stays in Abbott for 2 more days. Dr. Ayeni visits and tells us that the tumor was benign. “You mean to tell me that what you told us right after surgery could change,” I ask hyper incredulously. “Yes, but it is very rare,” is the reply. What an interesting medical system we have. Communication does not seem to be its forte, but all’s well that ends well. 

What about the Ner Tamid you ask. It is still in Claude Riedel’s studio, waiting for its place of honor. I guess it won’t be in Chicago.