Tag Archives: Miriam Pell Schmerler

My younger child Amelia, English teacher living in Spain (and amateur roller derby star) is engaged to be married

January 17, 2017 is an appropriate date to announce the engagement of Amelia Altalena Solkoff to Javier Blanco.

The date marks the 1925 birthday of Amelia’s late paternal grandmother Miriam Pell Schmerler zt”l who was close to Amelia and her sister Joanna.

Amelia teaches English in Pontevedra, Spain (on the Portuguese border) where she is also an enthusiastic member of the local roller derby and rugby teams. With the exception of brief visits to the United States, Amelia has lived in Spain for three years, previously residing in Pamplona as well as spending a summer working on farms in the Basque region and the Canary Islands.

Amelia Solkoff displays her engagement ring which Javier Blanco puts on her finger following (according to male chauvinist tradition) Javier request that I give him my daughter's hand in marriage. (Readers are requested to explain why it is her "hand " Javier requested rather than her left elbow or her right big toe.)
Amelia Solkoff displays her engagement ring which Javier Blanco puts on her finger following (according to male chauvinist tradition) Javier’s request that I give him my daughter’s hand in marriage. (Readers are requested to explain why it is her “hand ” Javier requested rather than her left elbow or her right big toe.)

Javier Blanco is a sergeant in the Spanish army. The couple met in Javier’s hometown of Pontevedra where his mother and brother reside. Javier and Amelia currently live in Toledo.

The couple plan to marry in Pontevedra or nearby during the summer of 2016. The closest airport is Vigo, the fastest growing town in Spain. [Editorial note: Plans schmans. The couple married in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on August 6th. They honeymooned in Jamaica.]

Extensive additions, revisions, and amplification of Amelia and Javier’s engagement and marriage will appear on this site. Suffice it to say Amelia’s mother Diana Bass, sister Joanna, Joanna’s husband Jade and I are delighted.

I was present at the birth of both my daughters. I watched them grow up, receive an education, become employed and generally suck up a large portion of my energy (a process which continues to this day). Watching my daughters marry (when images of their birth continually flash through my mind) is a startling reality.

Especially mystifying to me are my daughters’ attraction to military men, each of whom I approve.

My primary hero is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose practice of non-violent resistance I have held up as an example to my daughters. I received conscientious objector status from my draft board during the Vietnam War which was an evil war. Perhaps, I have a recessive military gene. Go figure.

Javier plans to obtain a library card before getting married.

–30–

 

 

 

 

 

“In my little village, everybody looked like you.”

The Village of Stories

by Richard Kopley, Edgar Allan Poe scholar at Penn State

Many years ago, on a bus in New York City, a little old lady in a babushka stared at me. I looked away, and then back, and she was still staring. I rose to get off, and she stared as I approached. And she said, matter-of-factly, catching my eye as I passed, “In my little village, everybody looked like you.” I stepped off the bus, mystified, wondering where that village was and whether I would ever find it.

Well, I never found that village, but I’ve always known another one—a village of stories. Dr. Seuss and Robert McCloskey lived nearby, and Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe only a few blocks away. I eventually explored more distant streets and found Fyodor Dostoevsky and Franz Kakfa and then returned to my own neighborhood and stopped by Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Herman Melville. None of them looked like me, it’s true, but they all thought in terms of stories. At first my connection was through their characters and plots and themes, but over time I became interested in language and allusion and form. Yet whatever my connection, it was the same village. And whatever I was doing, that village was there for me to visit.

I grew up in Watertown, Massachusetts; Bayside, Queens; and New Rochelle, New York. And I went to New Rochelle High School; Brandeis University; Teachers College, Columbia University; and SUNY Buffalo. I taught English at Walden School in New York City; Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois; and finally Penn State DuBois, where I’ve been for twenty-six years. And wherever I’ve lived and worked, I’ve lived also in that village of stories.

My wife Amy lives in a village of pictures—her mother was an artist; she is an art historian at Lycoming College. We visit on occasion—I look at her pictures; she reads my books. But mostly we meet in the middle and tell each other about our villages. My trip to DuBois and hers to Williamsport are not our only commutes.

We have two fabulous children who are finding their own villages. Emily, 24, a graduate student in English at Stanford, seems to have taken a cottage down the street from mine. And Gabe, 22, an undergraduate at Pitt, stayed in my village for a while (he has a BA in English), then moved, preparing to set up shop in my father’s old town and Amy’s father’s as well—a place of digital derring-do.

I visit with my mother in her apartment in New York City and we talk about our lives. She’s been a traveler, having been an accountant, a teacher, a guidance counselor, a business magazine editor, a computer exhibit organizer, and a financial advisor. Now, in retirement, she is visiting my village more frequently. She’s reading, writing, taking courses at Hunter College. I sent her one of my course syllabi recently, and she—who first read to me, “Tom! No answer. ‘Tom!’ No answer. ‘What’s wrong with that boy, I wonder? You TOM!'” –now reads what I teach—and what I write.

I still think about that little old lady in the babushka. I wonder if I’ll ever find her village. I suppose I might—I’ll be speaking on Poe in St. Petersburg, Russia, next fall. But even if I were lucky enough to find that place where everybody looks like me, I would have to leave eventually. The village of stories I will never leave.

–30–פה–פה–פה–פה–

Copyright © 2012 by Richard Kopley, All Rights Reserved

++++

Note: September 7, 2012, Congregation Brit Shalom, 620 East Hamilton Avenue, State College, former congregation President Cliff Cohen presented Richard Kopley with the Helping Hands Award, for among other things, bringing Rabbi  Ostrich to State College

Note 2: Following the award, the congregation celebrated the 2011 marriage of Emily Kopley and Raphaël Godefroy. The couple reside in Montreal. Emily is completing her dissertation on Virginia Woolf and is currently researching whether Virginia or her husband Leonard won the lottery which made their literary press possible.

Note 3: Richard Kopley and I are working to honor the memory of Philip Young, the scholar who made Penn State the center of Hemingway scholarship in the world. We have chosen February 26 (the date Young’s landmark book Ernest Hemingway, A Reconsideration was published) 2013 as a Borough of State College  Official Day of Hemingway Celebration, an effort our enthusiastic Mayor Elizabeth Goreham supports.

Note 4. David Ostrich is a wonderful rabbi who president over the memorial service for my mother Miriam P. Schmerler at Addison Court’s bingo parlor where Lady Gaga has a standing invitation to appear.

Note 5. I came across Dr. Kopley’s “The Village of Stories” article while cleaning up my apartment. The article originally appeared as Richard’s profile in an old yellowing copy of the synagogue publication The Scroll where the article appears here not updated or edited. The intention was to tell readers something about members of the synagogue Board of Directors. This article is the account Richard gave of himself. Most articles in this genre discuss what the new director will do for the congregation, the importance of a Hebrew education, and the support for the Jewish community including the State of Israel. I will let you judge for yourself how well Dr. Kopley adapted his subject matter to the task at hand. At the regular Friday morning meeting of the “Bagel Boys”  group founded by Bruce Pincus, Dr. Kopley gave his permission to publish this article on my site, where it certainly belongs.

Travel barriers for individuals with disabilities

The following was published in June of 2010 shortly before my mother died. It appeared in my monthly column From Where I Sit,  produced on a monthly basis for Voices of Central Pennsylvania, my spiritual home here in State College, PA.

The column appeared regularly for over a year, written sometimes between hospitalizations but submitted on time and limited, believe it or not, to 750 words.

Sometimes, I used the Voices Web Site to expand on material contained in the monthly printed column. My appreciation to the brilliant Suzan Erem, then Managing Editor of Voices, and to Bill Eichman, the gifted Webmaster and current President of Voices, is considerable.

The issue of travel barriers for people like me who cannot walk and require battery-powered scooters and power chairs is considerable. It is worthy of note that the State College airport refuses to allow disabled individuals to board who are confined to power chairs.

Travel barriers limit lives of those with disabilities

 “Are you really my son?” my 84-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia, asks. Six weeks ago my mother, Dr. Miriam Pell Schmerler, stopped answering the telephone by herself. Our weekly calls were models of  the bizarre, with my combining Hebrew and English into the conversation, knowing that hearing my name in Hebrew sparked recognition not otherwise available.
The once a week calls followed a pattern. I would tell her that I was her son. “Really?” she said, “how nice.” Then we would talk about some aspect of her life: her career including a doctorate in Hebrew letters (received in her late 50s) from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
In our calls I repeatedly identified everyone, Mother’s daughter, grandchildren, and husbands. “You know you were married three times.” “Three times,” she said “that’s a lot, isn’t it?” I then described each of her husbands, including my father who was 27 years older than she. “Isn’t that a big difference in age?” she asked.

The ongoing saga of her life amused her. It filled me with a tenderness for my mother I do not recall ever having felt.

I remember Gerald Sakamoto, my Buddhist minister from the San Jose CA Buddhist Betsuin, saying he had “issues” with his mother.

The word “issues” seems so refined and polite I adopted the word instantly. During our conversations, the issues disappeared. My cousin Michael once commented about how witty and charming my mother is. I said I had never observed it. Michael said, “Of course not. She is your mother. She cannot allow herself to be witty and charming in front of you.”

Now that she did not recognize me, other than as a friendly caller telling stories about her life, my mother became a real person for me. My children, Joanna and Amelia, found distress in Mother’s inability to recognize her grandchildren. While I tried to explain my perspective, I could not alleviate their distress.

Nor could I alleviate my own distress in mid-March when I called Mother and she did not answer the phone. I began a new routine, calling the staff at the excellent Blumenthal Jewish Home for the Aged in Greensboro, NC and asking Jackie, Brooke, Marina, Mary Anne or Kim to go to mother’s room and hand the ringing phone to Miriam. My mother’s voice conveyed a sense of confusion and distress. The conversation was largely gibberish. It became clear that I had to see her. But how?

The answer is circuitous. My 1993 Buick was broken. I entrusted it to Gary D. Green’s College Heights Exxon, a wonderfully reliable institution. My mechanic Jeff told me he needed more time to figure out what was wrong. Nevertheless, I needed to go to Altoona, headquarters of the Blair/Clearfield Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for which I work.

I researched bus service to Altoona which would take me downtown (and my power chair has enough battery power to take me to and from the office), but I could not get to a safe accessible motel where I planned to stay the week. There is no train.

I had heard about a disability van service called Wheelchair Getaways. After talking to Shannon Markley, I decided to pay for the incredibly expensive rental, knowing my creditors would and would not understand. When Shannon mentioned a slight discount for a week or more, I decided to spend the weekend seeing my mother—something I could not do otherwise. For a lengthy drive, neither my Buick nor my stamina could be relied upon to hold up while going from the wheelchair lift at the rear of the car to the driver’s door, brushing my body against the car in the process.

The van has a button on the ignition key, which when pressed twice, opens the passenger-side panel door and a wheel chair ramp unfolds. I drive my power chair (the airlines at the State College airport refuse to accept power chairs on their flights) up the ramp. After closing the door with two key presses, I use the controls for the driver’s seat to move the seat back, sideways and up, so I can transition from power chair to driver’s seat without difficulty.

Without the van, I would not have been able to go to work, see my mother and have lunch with my two children. This month’s column raises an ongoing theme: the critical nature of travel for those of us with disabilities. Employment opportunities require going to where the work is located. Families separated by miles need to be together even if only on occasion. The worst thing for the economic survival and the individual feeling of self-worth is being confined to one’s room without the opportunity to earn an income and see loved ones. Travel must be made easier for those of us with disabilities.

Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food.

My mother Dr. Miriam P. Schmerler

My mother when she was 20.
My mother when she was 20.

 

Eulogy for my mother Dr. Miriam P. Schmerler

Monday, September 6, 2010, State College, PA

“People do not wish to learn about how to deal with death until they are confronted by death, and when they are confronted with death they are not inclined to study how religion approaches it,” writes Maurice Lamm in The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning.

My mother, Miriam Pell Schmerler, died this morning September 6, 2010 at about 3 AM. She died after a lengthy stay at the Blumenthal Jewish Nursing Home and Rehab Center where the chart says she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

For all Mother’s professional life, which began at the age of 16, she was a Hebrew school teacher, principal, and administrator in the Jewish bureaucracy—known jocosely as “the Jewish civil service.”

In 1992, at the age of 67, Mother received her doctorate in Hebrew letters from the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her thesis Graced Moments in Time: Undoing of Anti-Semitism as a Theologoumenon Within Post Vatican II Catholicism

Her thesis focused on Pope John XXIII’s efforts to rid the Roman Catholic Church of its poisonous teaching that the Jews killed Jesus, and the thesis describes how the Pope enlisted the help of Rabbi Abraham Heschel, a theologian who at the time had taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the center of the Conservative Jewish movement, with the title Professor of Theology and Mysticism. (He also smoked cigars.) Heschel is best known for his friendship with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and for his opposition to the War in Vietnam.

Mother’s academic writing on ecumenicism began with her master’s degree from Barry University in Florida where her thesis concerned the daily life of Jesus and the ways in which he followed Jewish teachings.

At Greensboro North Carolina, Mother served as an ambassador to Temple Beth David’s Rabbi Eliezer Havivi speaking at churches on protestant ecumenical statements revising doctrine on who killed Jesus, showing church leaders and congregants how Jesus celebrated Jewish holidays, and becoming a lifelong member of Greensboro’s interfaith council. Mother’s love for the Hebrew language and her knowledge of it was employed on a regular basis as she attended Beth David’s services and corrected the Hebrew of celebrants, leading, indeed, to the current culture of her synagogue where the quality of Hebrew is excellent. Mother spent a summer at State College PA working on the Jewish Publication Society’s landmark translation of the Bible into English.

Mother is also survived by my sister Sarah Schmerler, who is an artist in her own right, a widely published art critic, and an instructor to artists on how to use language to describe their work, especially in grant proposals, Sarah is the mother of one of Miriam Schmerler’s three grandchildren, Asher Simonson, age 8 who is crazy about Legos products with a Star Wars theme.

The other two are my children Joanna Marie Solkoff, 25, an EMT who is about to begin nursing school at Chapel Hill after receiving an honor’s BA in English, where she wrote about obscure novels by the guy who wrote Robinson Crusoe. Amelia Altalena Solkoff, 20, is currently spending her junior year abroad in Spain and we recited the Jewish mourner’s prayer over a Skype connection earlier today. Both Mother’s granddaughters smoke cigars.

I plan to sit shiva, a Jewish custom of mourning during which I will say prayers in Hebrew and Aramaic and receive visits from my friends. The Jewish community at Congregation Brit Shalom, under the direction of Rabbi David Ostrich, a wonderful rabbi, will take good care of me. I will continue to cry as I think about my mother and mourn her death.

–Joel Solkoff

 

My mother in 1925
My mother in 1925

 The following was published in June of 2010 shortly before my mother died. It appeared in my monthly column From Where I Sit,  produced on a monthly basis for Voices of Central Pennsylvania, my spiritual home here in State College, PA.

The column appeared regularly for over a year, written sometimes between hospitalizations but submitted on time and limited, believe it or not, to 750 words.

Sometimes, I used the Voices Web Site to expand on material contained in the monthly printed column. My appreciation to the brilliant Suzan Erem, then Managing Editor of Voices, and to Bill Eichman, the gifted Webmaster and current President of Voices, is considerable.

The issue of travel barriers for people like me who cannot walk and require battery-powered scooters and power chairs is considerable. It is worthy of note that the State College airport refuses to allow disabled individuals to board who are confined to power chairs.

Travel barriers limit lives of those with disabilities

 “Are you really my son?” my 84-year-old mother, who suffers from dementia, asks. Six weeks ago my mother, Dr. Miriam Pell Schmerler, stopped answering the telephone by herself. Our weekly calls were models of  the bizarre, with my combining Hebrew and English into the conversation, knowing that hearing my name in Hebrew sparked recognition not otherwise available.
The once a week calls followed a pattern. I would tell her that I was her son. “Really?” she said, “how nice.” Then we would talk about some aspect of her life: her career including a doctorate in Hebrew letters (received in her late 50s) from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
In our calls I repeatedly identified everyone, Mother’s daughter, grandchildren, and husbands. “You know you were married three times.” “Three times,” she said “that’s a lot, isn’t it?” I then described each of her husbands, including my father who was 27 years older than she. “Isn’t that a big difference in age?” she asked.

The ongoing saga of her life amused her. It filled me with a tenderness for my mother I do not recall ever having felt.

I remember Gerald Sakamoto, my Buddhist minister from the San Jose CA Buddhist Betsuin, saying he had “issues” with his mother.

The word “issues” seems so refined and polite I adopted the word instantly. During our conversations, the issues disappeared. My cousin Michael once commented about how witty and charming my mother is. I said I had never observed it. Michael said, “Of course not. She is your mother. She cannot allow herself to be witty and charming in front of you.”

Now that she did not recognize me, other than as a friendly caller telling stories about her life, my mother became a real person for me. My children, Joanna and Amelia, found distress in Mother’s inability to recognize her grandchildren. While I tried to explain my perspective, I could not alleviate their distress.

Nor could I alleviate my own distress in mid-March when I called Mother and she did not answer the phone. I began a new routine, calling the staff at the excellent Blumenthal Jewish Home for the Aged in Greensboro, NC and asking Jackie, Brooke, Marina, Mary Anne or Kim to go to mother’s room and hand the ringing phone to Miriam. My mother’s voice conveyed a sense of confusion and distress. The conversation was largely gibberish. It became clear that I had to see her. But how?

The answer is circuitous. My 1993 Buick was broken. I entrusted it to Gary D. Green’s College Heights Exxon, a wonderfully reliable institution. My mechanic Jeff told me he needed more time to figure out what was wrong. Nevertheless, I needed to go to Altoona, headquarters of the Blair/Clearfield Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for which I work.

I researched bus service to Altoona which would take me downtown (and my power chair has enough battery power to take me to and from the office), but I could not get to a safe accessible motel where I planned to stay the week. There is no train.

I had heard about a disability van service called Wheelchair Getaways. After talking to Shannon Markley, I decided to pay for the incredibly expensive rental, knowing my creditors would and would not understand. When Shannon mentioned a slight discount for a week or more, I decided to spend the weekend seeing my mother—something I could not do otherwise. For a lengthy drive, neither my Buick nor my stamina could be relied upon to hold up while going from the wheelchair lift at the rear of the car to the driver’s door, brushing my body against the car in the process.

The van has a button on the ignition key, which when pressed twice, opens the passenger-side panel door and a wheel chair ramp unfolds. I drive my power chair (the airlines at the State College airport refuse to accept power chairs on their flights) up the ramp. After closing the door with two key presses, I use the controls for the driver’s seat to move the seat back, sideways and up, so I can transition from power chair to driver’s seat without difficulty.

Without the van, I would not have been able to go to work, see my mother and have lunch with my two children. This month’s column raises an ongoing theme: the critical nature of travel for those of us with disabilities. Employment opportunities require going to where the work is located. Families separated by miles need to be together even if only on occasion. The worst thing for the economic survival and the individual feeling of self-worth is being confined to one’s room without the opportunity to earn an income and see loved ones. Travel must be made easier for those of us with disabilities.

Joel Solkoff, author of The Politics of Food.

Mother and me, 1959

 

 

My father and mother on their wedding day 1945
Standing, left to right: My mother, daughter Joanna, sister Sarah, me holding daughter Amelia, grandmother Celia, 1990

 

 

Waiting for the energy to crawl along the car into the driver’s seat


 

[Note: I was planning to show the last photograph I took of my mother, but it pains me so and she would not want you to see it.]

 

 

Portrait of my grandfather and namesake an intensely emotional journey from 1916 when the photograph was taken

My grandfather played the saxophone and clarinet in the orchestra pits of movie theaters (many of them great palaces) to entertain audiences when the silent movies were playing. His name was Salvatore Pellecia.
My mother, a Hebrew school teacher, named me after him—translating “Salvatore” into “God helps” and then debating between “Joshua” and “Joel Ezra” names which in the Hebrew she decided meant the same thing.
Some photographs take on special meaning.  In my life, this portrait (in the same frame) stood on my mother’s nightstand and chest of drawers for the entire time I knew her—a time which ended a year ago next week according to the Hebrew lunar calendar (which marks periods of mourning and remembering the dead) as my synagogue Brit Shalom, here in State College, reminded me in a note: Time to say Kaddish for your mother.
When Mother, Miriam Pell Schmerler, died last year, her possessions were put in boxes which my younger daughter Amelia unpacked tonight as I watched her over a Skype connection between State College and the University of North Carolina at Ashville where she is completing her senior year.
This portrait was the one thing I wanted most and Amelia scanned it and sent it to me—the only photograph I have ever seen of him.
The rear of the photograph, which before I was born had never left the frame, revealed the information that it was taken at the State Fair in the summer of 1916 in Kewanee, Illinois.
There is a story here. A story I will not tell this morning as I remember my mother and the legacy she left behind of Salvatore who died before I was born. http://voicesweb.org/eulogy-blog-funeral-day
Joel Solkoff, September 25, 2011