Gently into the
Jewish life, or
My summer with Uncle Max
By Sandi Isaacson with Susan Rogers
This could also be called
"how I became an Orthodox Jew." The story actually goes back to my grandfather,
Sam, who was very active in his synagogue. I treasure the prayer book his
presented to him in 1946 for making its 60th anniversary celebration such a success.
Because I was named for him, I felt a bond between us. He died before I
was born, but through Judaism, I have always felt a connection to him.
The summer before my fifth grade year, our family took a cross-country trip, and in Denver, I met my grandfather's middle brother. Uncle Max was very warm to me because I was such an inquisitive 10-year-old, and also because he had no girls. His son, Harris, was then in high school.
After that vacation, the adults arranged things, and before going into the seventh grade, I spent the whole summer with my substitute grandfather and his wife, Aunt Malvine. I had been told that Uncle Max was very observant, and that I should "just put up with it." But it turned out to be a magical time.
Sabbaths were magical
Max encouraged my interest in Judaism in a way that was so beautiful. Malvine would start talking to me on Tuesday about what we should have this week [for the Sabbath] and how should she make the chicken. They made the Sabbath the highlight of the week in a magical way I'd never seen anybody else do. For example, I was not allowed soda during the week, but they would buy a six-pack of my favorite kind just for the Sabbath.
Peers lined up
Before I arrived in Denver, Max obtained from the Jewish Community Center the names of kids my age. He even spoke with their parents, and he learned what kinds of activities they were involved in. Soon after my arrival, he took me to the JCC and got me a guest pass. It wasn't long before I began to meet all these peers with common interests.
Soda and chips
Max did set rules. It would get very, very hot in the afternoons, and I didn't recognize the heat without the humidity that accompanied it back home. Max instituted the rule of requiring I have a quiet rest hour with one or two friends. On the Sabbath, I could have four friends in
That would be my special time with Max, and that was when he started teaching me to play chess. I was amazed at their gift for getting me to do what they wanted. For example: I was not to go out because that was our chess time.
Cousin Harris may well remember me as a pain. He is almost six years older than me, but there was one occasion when he was nice enough to show me what he was doing with his model building.
Shul with Max
On Friday, I would go with Max to shul. I was little, so he could take me, and that was OK up to a certain age. He taught me the structure of the davening, but I never learned enough to keep up with him.
On the way back from shul, we would have a nice
leisurely walk and pass by other synagogues, which he would point out to me and tell
me all about.
1964 Worlds Fair brought Denver's Fabermans to NYC. Around the table at the Isaacsons in their Long Island home. : from right to left: Larry Isaacson, Malvine Faberman, Sue Faberman, Betty Friedman Faberman, Esther Faberman Dick, Max Faberman, Rhoda Faberman Isaacson, Harris Faberman, and Sandi Isaacson at the age of 6.
On Shabbos morning, Max and I would go to shul. After shul, he encouraged me to socialize, and he would let me invite a kid for lunch. That's how I met my first boy-friend. He was a newspaper carrier, and he had won a full tuition scholarship to Exeter for the coming year. We had a chess match going, and we wrote letters to each other for a while.
Back in New York
The die was cast, and when Sandi returned to New York after that summer in Denver, she looked up organizations for Jewish young people.
Found a rabbi
"Uncle Max had hooked me up with a Young Judea group in Denver. When I came home, the nearest Young Judea group met in an Orthodox synagogue." Its Rabbi got Sandi involved as a participant in Yeshiva University's community outreach program. After a couple of years, she began working with handicapped Jewish youth.
Becoming a player
Sandi's earlier volunteer work at Cerebral Palsey had taught her how to lift disabled people, and such essential skills as how to pull apart a wheelchair. She even learned to do minor repairs, such as tightening wheels. Sandi began integrating into Yeshiva University's outreach program disabled young people 14 and 15 years old.
1969 vacation group, counterclockwise from left: Betty Friedman Faberman, Malvine Faberman, Rhoda Faberman Isaacson, Max Faberman, Sandi Isaacson, and Douglas Isaacson.
In high school, Sandi regularly attended shabbaton. This is a Friday night to Sunday morning event spent learning, praying, celebrating and socializing in a Jewish environment, and it was often held at Yeshiva University. A shabbaton usually involved about 150 high school kids with about 25 supervising college kids.
Those likeable kids
When friends who drove came into the picture, it wasn't
unusual for one of them and Sandi to take a disabled kid out for the day. "I
liked these kids," she volunteered.
Next: Sandi's party for the disabled kids.
Click here for the rest of that story -- Sandi's party for the disabled kids.
'Let me see
what this is all about'
Back at the party, Sandi's guests were persuading Douglas to start attending the Shabbatonim.
Kid brother: 'Me too'
Douglas, who is 2.5 years younger than his sister, began tagging along when his sister went to a Shabbaton. All the next year, he went to Shabbatonim, and by the following summer, his mind was made up. Douglas had just graduated from junior high school, and that summer he saved all his earnings so he could attend a Hebrew Day School in the fall.
Through the kitchen
There he met up with a rabbi, who spent summers
teaching at "a large, fairly prestigious summer camp," Douglas said. The
rabbi knew that Douglas had long hankered for a career in the culinary arts, and so the
rabbi got him a job working in the camp's kitchen.
At this camp, he was introduced to the Vein Hasidism, and he liked their brand
Campers await their turn to drive one of the camp's two 'go' carts along a short trail.
of tradition. Shlomo, the oldest of his four sons, attended the same camp during the summer of 1999 and took the photos of the sunset and the campers in the woods. While Douglas and his family follow Vein Hasidism, Sandi has stayed with a more generic Orthodoxy.
Blessed with moments
"For me," said Sandi, "it began with the way Uncle Max made Judaism come alive, and the way he led me, gently into the Jewish life. I remember reading that there are moments when we catch our breath and glimpse God's presence. I am blessed that from time to time, I have such moments."
Sunset photographed during
the summer of 1999 by Shlomo Isaacson.
An afterward: 'the career'
Sandi went on to
earn a doctorate in psychology, and she is now a forensic psychologist in private practice
in Overland Park, Kansas. This suburb of Kansas City, Missouri, is where most of the
Jewish population -- about 20,000 -- resides. Sandi chose to settle there because
of its "active Orthodox community." She also likes its Jewish Community
Center, which reminds her of the East Coast's YMHA's.
There are plenty of synagogues in Overland Park. Sandi estimates "about ten" with one in the basement of
|a single-family house.
There are lots of businesses serving the Jewish community, including a kosher
grocery and butcher, a major supermarket with a kosher baked goods section, and a Chinese
restaurant. Every other week it serves strictly kosher meals for the Jewish
community. "A rabbi seals the kitchen after it has been made kosher,
and this rabbi is present for all cooking during that week," said Sandi. A
joke then came to mind on the subject.
What do you need to start a Jewish community?
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