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The Madame.

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I am writing this story from the Kapiot Café in Haifa Israel. My status in life is that of an oleh chadash or new immigrant to the land of Canaan. I moved here six years ago at the age of fifty nine from Western Colorado. Retirement has many advantages in this splendid city. The balmy Mediterranean climate, the beautiful beach and tiyelet or boardwalk make Haifa a wonderful place for hiking, swimming, fishing, and leisurely walks. There are many historical sites, three major universities, and spiritual shrines including the Bahia Gardens and Elijah’s tomb.

I was blessed to live most of my adult life in the beautiful woods of Western Colorado. Hiking, camping, fishing, and viewing wildlife made life a wonderful experience. My career was servicing the employment needs of people with disabilities for various government agencies. Blessings indeed adorned my life.

That brings us to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Life in the steel city of my youth was gray in the truest sense of the word. I often left for Taylor Allderdice High School in a white shirt in the morning. Many times I returned home in a grey shirt which was victimized by the infamous pollution of the era. School was either an hour walk in the cold and rainy climate or a crowded bus ride. The Pittsburgh Steelers were then the goats of professional football, but the Pirates blessed us with their 1960 miracle World Series victory and sadly little more than that.

Dad was a grocery executive and rarely home. Mom suffered from serious medical problems and was very distant from me and my two sisters. Life (except for golf) was bleak and dull. Thank goodness for the Madam.

Mom’s faltering health necessitated the need for nearly full time domestic help. Lulu was an African American woman in her fifties when she first came to our service. She was thin and walked softly. One of many joys that we enjoyed with the Madame was ongoing quips about her age. She was born and raised in Tupelo Mississippi in the late nineteenth century and refused to tell us her true age. We found out when her time came that she was born in 1870. She died in 1971. She was blessed to live a long and healthy life. She was still active at the age of 97! The good do not always die young.

Lulu (the Madam) was raised in a sharecropper’s family of nine children. She married an alcoholic mill worker who abused her physically and mentally. Life for a blacked skinned woman anywhere in America in those days was a disgrace. She ran away from her husband after nine years and settled in Memphis Tennessee where she worked as a seamstress and housekeeper. Pittsburgh became her home in 1955 when her family moved there to work in the steel mills. She came to us through a friend Mrs. Feldman and was a part of our family until the end.

She took care of mom’s health, served as a surrogate mom to us, cleaned our home, cooked, and served as the secretary of her church. Many of us go through life with frowns on our faces; she always had a bright smile on hers. I learned to appreciate Chili Stew with egg noodles, lemon meringue pie, Chicken Fricassees, and most importantly spirituality from this humble yet brilliant and talented woman. She was a wonderful public speaker and outstanding singer. Her greatest talent of course was her ability to motivate and bring joy to the lives of others. Dad often mused about her potential in a world with more equality and justice.

I left Pittsburgh at the age of eighteen and never returned. There were the wonderful visits with family especially Lulu. We spent hundreds of hours discussing the value of faith in life. She was a fervent Christian yet urged me to explore, understand, and adore my Jewish faith. “The Golden Rule should be universal”. She admonished me to live by it. Hopefully, I have not let her down.

Lulu was so humble that she rarely talked about herself. We discovered after her death that she was a passionate civil rights activist and traveled in very famous circles. She refused to fly and traveled by bus to confront injustices in America. “I want to be as far away from my maker when my time comes”, she explained to us often. The only time that she broke her sacred rule was to attend my wedding.

She was born Lulu Robinson but spent her last thirty years known as The Madam. How did this occur? There were many times during my high school years that a man only known as the Bishop called our home to speak to her. “Is The Madam there he would quiz in a deep apparently southern voice”. She was the secretary of his church and her title was Madam Robinsom. I never understood it but loved the title and never ceased to tease my friend about her name.

I think often about my best friend as I pursue my greatest passions in life that of promoting interfaith dialogue and peace in this trouble region. Is there hope for these goals? Who knows” I was blessed to have a great mentor and hopefully can do my small share to bring these blessings to our region.

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Building Bridges for Peace in Haifa, Israel

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I immigrated to Israel five years ago from The United States at the age of fifty nine. I can think of no nation or place anywhere that has more spiritual significance than “The Land of Canaan” It is the birthplace of the three major faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It is the place where King David wrote the 23rd psalm, where Jesus of Nazareth promoted ideas and values that have changed humanity. In the Quran, the inspired scripture that Muhammad brought to the Arabs, venerates the great prophets of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It speaks of Solomon’s “great place of prayer” in Jerusalem, which the first Muslims called City of the Temple.

Haifa is the home of the Tomb of Elijah the Prophet considered one of the holiest and most venerated shrines to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and Druze alike.

Haifa is a city dotted with gardens. The most prominent is at the world center of the Baha’i religion, with the tombs of the Bab (Mirza Muhammad Ali) and Abbas Efendi, son and successor of the founder of the abor.faith, Bahá’u’lláh. The presence of the Baha’i, for so long persecuted in various Middle East countries, is evidence of the tolerant social fabric of this city. The greatest challenge facing this small and brave nation is to promote the values of peace in an area filled with strife and hatred. “The Golden Rule” is a common link in the three major faiths that can and will draw us together to promote Shalom and Salaam. It is happening in Haifa the city of peaceful coexistence.

I have been blessed to participate in many interfaith efforts in the past five years to promote peace through dialogue in Haifa.This holiday season I rejoiced to participate in several activities in Haifa to promote harmony. My favorite was an interfaith sports event hosted by the local Muslim Ahmadiyya school in the Kabbabir community in Haifa.

 On Wednesday, Dec 19th, 2012, between Hanukkah and Christmas, 50 teens: Israeli Jews and Muslim got together in Games for Peace organized by a new association called GESHARIM LETIKVAH: BRIDGES FOR PEACE- HEALING THE WORLD BY BRINGING HEARTS TOGETHER.
The new President of the association, Prof Jesse Lachter emphasized on what is the motto and core value of this new NGO: “Love Builds Bridges”.
 Reform Movement Rabbi Dr Edgar Nof started the games by reciting a Prayer for Peace. Then the teen girls played a basketball game for peace, while the teen boys play soccer. The Jewish children came from the Open School in Haifa with their teacher Ya’ir Shachar. The game referee was Manar principal of the Ahmadiyya Muslim School in the Kabbabir neighbor of Haifa. Previous to every game the teens shook hands, and everybody wins by promoting Peace in Israel and by bringing hearts together. Imam Muhammad Sharif declared that their slogan is “Love for all, Hatred for none”. The Ahmadiyya are a world wide movement of more than one hundred million followers dedicated to peace and universal brotherhood. Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav has gone so far as to call them “Reform Arabs.” Most of the two thousand Ahmadis in Israel live in Kabbabir, they are leaders in the business, cultural and most importantly spiritual areas of our community.
 “You don’t hear about us because we don’t throw rocks at buses,” stated on Ahmadi leader. “We believe that nothing can be achieved through hatred and hostility.”
 All the kids said at the end of the games that it was too short and that they want to meet again. We have planned more activities for the spring. Below a Rabbi and Imam build bridges for peace.

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