9/11

LI and NYC

They said it couldn’t be done (or shouldn’t) however we left WI around noon, drove through the UP, onto the Mackinac bridge over Lakes Michigan and Huron by sunset and continued on to reach NY by 1:00pm the next day. For the record, Lake Superior is very long. It went on forever and was a beautiful companion for that part of the drive.  The kids slept through the night which made the longest driving leg of the journey bearable. I felt like Joseph and I were in our early 20’s again traveling across the country from AZ and Colorado to the East Coast – were we actually that care free?  My gosh, that was almost 20 years ago. Thanks to Pandora – Greg Brown, John Prine and Bob Dylan we stayed awake…well Joseph stayed awake and I woke up every little bit to make sure.

I think I have driven maybe 4 hours on our trip to date (while en route). I mostly navigate, write, daydream, return business related emails, brainstorm, sing and make food for the family. This said, with the sun rising, I took the 6:00 am shift through rural Pennsylvania on the lookout for coffee and a good place for a sleepy family to have breakfast.

Awake, caffeinated and fed from the kid’s first experience at a classic greasy spoon diner we drove the last few hours through Pennsylvania, New Jersey and into one of the craziest spider web of Interstate mayhem, on planet earth.  Onward to Long Beach on the south shore of Long Island to visit my brother and his family in preparation for Zac, my 13 yr. old nephews Bar Mitzvah.

Jack’s house is 2 blocks from the newly restored Long Beach boardwalk which was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy. I can smell the ocean from his driveway and it beckoned. We parked the car, hugged my brother who was off on a thousand pre Bar Mitzvah errands and walked to the beach via the farmers market to buy fresh sour pickles. We officially entered my childhood stomping grounds and the reverie came flooding back. I had an itinerary for the family for the week including LI and NYC aching to show them where I grew up, places so different from the town and area that we have chosen to raise our family.

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As we walked onto the beach Ila immediately stripped down to her suit laying on the powder soft sand rolling and rolling down towards the water…the antidote to being strapped into the car seat for 24 hours. The boys (all 3) dove into the ocean. The Atlantic is so different from the wild cold Pacific, crashing waves and vast but somehow more tame. It is the smell and imprint of this ocean that led us to again live by the Ocean on the west coast. I can’t be far from the sea…

Over the next few days the family started rolling in from the East Coast, aunt’s, grandparents, cousins coupled with bagels and more bagels. Friday night dressed in “handsome clothes” as a young Jacob once dubbed them, we piled into the minivan and headed off to Temple Avodah as Zac grown up, self assured and handsome led the congregation through a Sukkot inspired service. The little girls (Ila and and her cousin) danced around the edge of the congregation in my high heels while the ancient prayers soaked into their cells. Saturday Zac was called to the Torah for his official Bar Mitzvah, such a proud moment for our family, feeling the presence of my dad and of our ancestors in the room as the Rabbi reminded Zac to make wise choices in his life even though those are the choices that take effort and may not be the easiest. Celebrations followed lasting through the weekend.

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The socializing and celebrating lasted for a couple of days.  While many of the relatives traveled back to their homes by Monday morning we rallied our little family onto the LIRR, (the Long Island Railroad) first stop Penn Station, NYC. What to do in NYC if you only have one day with a 11, 7 and 1 yr old? We planned a busy itinerary that quickly changed tracks.  Of all of the kids Elias was affected the most by the density of souls pouring out onto 7th Ave.  As we walked through Times Square heads craning to see advertisements, people, marquess more people, and Jacob trying to edit what the little ones glance at,  Elias, our country boy, clutching me tightly asked to go back to LI, saying somewhat distressed, “I was excited but this isn’t what I thought it would be…”.  Understanding that we needed to find the most natural place in NYC as a transition from suburban to urban, we popped down into the subway and minutes later popped up into Central Park. Ahhh, he started to breath calmly again.

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I found out 2 things on this part of the excursion (1) never would I have guessed that so many turtles live in the pond in Central Park and I am pretty sure we needed to stop and greet each one in our rented row boat and (2) Joseph is officially a land lover although he captained our boat with dignity, he is more comfortable on the Earth.

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The quintessential outing was lovely and gave the kids a unique experience of the City before we popped back into the subway and out into Chinatown for some Dim Sum. Chinatown is its own country in NYC. The entrance from the subway up onto the crowded city street was shocking in a subtle way teeming with people working in tiny basement shops dappled with shops hanging whole pigs, chickens exotic vegetables and fruit. The restaurant was exclusively for locals, 3 floors up in an unmarked building recommended by a friend. Nobody spoke English and although I think my distressed request for “no pork” made sense, I crossed my fingers and bit in to the delicious dim sum rolled to our table on carts overflowing with options.

As we wondered through the Chinatown heading to the financial district we stepped back in time in the little park a few blocks away. Surrounded by the ruins of what looked like an ancient Asian inspired temple old wrinkled Chinese woman played Mah Jong, old men played GO on the picnic tables with music from the traditional musicians all around. The scene felt centuries old. We could have stayed and watched for hours if it weren’t for the rats running amidst the people. I kid you not! In the middle of the day, rats were scurrying into holes all over the park and the park patrons paid no mind. This is what the boys still talk about of all of the things in NYC!

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Our visit wound down as we approached the area of 9-11 at rush-hour now with people scurrying all over.  The monument being constructed in memory of the deceased is still in process and the new tower beside the former Twin Towers is almost complete. The scene as well as the day providing for some rich conversation on the subway and train back to LI as 2 sleepy boys, one sleeping girl and their parents soaked up the sights of the urban jungle.

Categories: 9/11, Bar Mitzvah, Central Park, China Town, family, LIRR, Long Beach, Long Beach Boardwalk, Long Island, Mackinac Bridge, New York City, Penn Station, Temple Avodah, Times Square | 1 Comment

Mt Rushmore

On the morning of September 11th we drove to Mt Rushmore without expectations.  Mostly I think we were answering to a routine tourist call as Mt Rushmore is one of the most iconic tourist destinations in the United States.  What we found when we arrived surprised me.  The original sculpture was proposed in 1927 to promote tourism to the area.  Originally it was proposed to feature both native and non native western heroes but gained more nationwide support and interest upon the idea of featuring the four presidents.  The symbolism of these presidents have led to not only what has made this country strong and innovative but what has allowed the United States to be one of the most significant single influences in the world through the 19th and 20th centuries.

To begin with both Thomas Jefferson’s and George Washington’s time of influence straddled the precarious time of our country’s birth.  It could be argued that the US was lucky that it came into being during a time when these defining characters existed  although I think that the US came to be because of the strength of character and clarity of these individuals.

On July 4th 1776 Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence signed by congress featuring this most notable of all quotes:

 “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

This document and every word that was carefully crafted in it was so essential in galvanizing the faith and identity of the new nation that when General George Washington read the Declaration to his troops in New York City on July 9, with thousands of British troops on ships in the harbor, crowds began tearing down and destroying signs or statues representing royal authority. This strengthened sentiment spread quickly through the new nation leading to an equestrian statue of King George in New York City to be pulled down and the lead used to make musket balls.  By November of 1776 circulation of the document spread through Western Europe which inspired popular support in France leading to them becoming a key ally in defeating the British.

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After leading the country to officially defeating the British in 1783 by 1889 George Washington received 100% of the electoral vote as the first president.  Leading with clear sights toward the common good and impeccable example that transcended into our foundational principles, Washington knew more than anyone the importance of his every decision which included putting the Constitution of the United States into practice.  He would eventually step down after two terms in office in order to set the precedent as a leader of civil servitude, staunchly opposing dictatorship and tirelessly warning against partisanship in government.  Washington’s commitment to “the common good” lead him to free all of his slaves upon his death.

As a president of a new nation our third president Thomas Jefferson knew the importance of establishing our geographic boundaries.  Jefferson bought the Louisiana Territory for 15 million dollars from Napoleon which kept the US out of the raging European wars of the day, but kept us in favor with its biggest power and potential threat, Napoleon.  Jefferson knew that the current boarders were only a piece of what would later identify our borders. With this in mind he personally trained Meriwether Lewis in preparation to lead the Lewis and Clark expedition and explore what lay beyond the known Frontier.

Jefferson’s Legacy did not stop after his presidency though.  Thomas Jefferson became almost exclusively devoted to education, believing that all children of a great nation should have access to free quality education.  Jefferson helped spearhead the separation of religion and science in education by creating the University of Virginia at the base of his home Monticello.  This signaled the beginning of a state run University System founded on these principles.

Abraham Lincoln was the tipping point that allowed the country’s greatest moral crisis to explode.  The Civil War happened because the nation was sitting on “a volcano” of yet unchecked ethical dilemma and he was the uncompromising hand that was needed.  It was Lincoln that defined the birth of the country as July 4th 1776 based on the nation’s realization that we were conceived on the understanding that “all men are created equal”. 

For Lincoln both slavery and the fragmenting of the nation were unacceptable and that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.   In April of 1865 while campaigning for voting rights for African Americans Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, almost instantly turning him into a martyr of almost god like proportions.

Theodore Roosevelt devoted to the traditional definition of our national identity in stating,  “It is unwise to depart from the old American tradition and discriminate for or against any man who desires to come here and become a citizen, save on the ground of that man’s fitness for citizenship…” Roosevelt was celebrated for tackling a culture of corruption in the government stating that,  ““behind the ostensible government sits enthroned an invisible government, owing no allegiance and acknowledging no responsibility to the people. To dissolve the unholy alliance between corrupt business and corrupt politics is the first task of the statesmanship of the day.” 

He pushed forward and popularized the importance of countless issues including women’s rights and perhaps his most popular and renowned legacy was his leadership towards branding the United States as a place where wilderness and the environment was an essential part of the American heritage, stating that “We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources…..It is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people are awakening.” With that said Roosevelt wasted no time doubling the size of the National Park system and setting a precedent towards a popular movement of conservation which to this day is a key part of in American identity.

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As we drove east from Mt Rushmore and settled into the vast grassy landscape Jacob and Elias’s curiosity was spiked with countless questions on what it meant to be part of this country.  I think the young minds were mostly inspired by the magnitude of individuals chosen for this iconic monument.  It occurred to me that these individuals were not ahead of their time but instead they have helped define the time.  What they stood for and accomplished was and will always be relevant on a timeless scale.  Upon Mt Rushmore’s completion in 1941 the principles it represented would help guide not only America during the trial of worldwide virtue through World War II,  but it supported in putting us at center stage while the world looked to us for guidance in our quickly changing world into the 21st century.

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That night we settled down at a wonderful camp mid way through South Dakota on the Missouri River.  As we watched the sunset  and imagined Lewis and Clark pushing up river for the first time I looked across at the increase in deciduous trees and was excited about our next stage of our journey spending time with our friends in Wisconsin.

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Categories: 9/11, Abraham Lincoln, Adventure, Camping, Constitution of the United States, Declaration of Independence, family, Founding Fathers, George Washington, Lewis and Clark, Missouri River, Mt. Rushmore, September 11, South Dakota, Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson | Leave a comment

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