Camp Savta and Grandpa

Let me tell you about my editor. A lovely, kind person with a great sense of humor (i.e., it’s similar to mine), a superb metaphoric blue pencil making the perfect change that adds clarity and punch, and the ability to churn out three articles of elegant prose in the time it takes me to barely finish three paragraphs of a first draft.

And oh, did I mention the ogre part? That’s the part that appears after I think, draft, write, rewrite, and finally send back a finished copy, when she sends a seemingly lovely email thanking me for it, adding some overly generous words, and then hitting me with “When’s the next one coming?”

And so the angst begins.

In case I didn’t get the point, in the next few days there are follow-up emails, short and sweet: “Nu??” So this last time, as my anxiety skyrocketed, I responded: “You want a review of the NY Historical Society, Rockland Boulders baseball game, Intrepid Museum, Sesame Place, and the Bronx Zoo? Because that’s all I’ve got this week, while being co-director of Camp Savta and Grandpa in Teaneck before driving my sweet, wonderful, time consuming (very time consuming!) grandkids back to Toronto.”

I was simply being a smart aleck. But then I thought, why not? Why should elementary school kids be the only people to get a chance to write about their summer vacations? Why not a retired 72-year-old attorney as well? So here are seven take-aways from our last two weeks in August, including time spent in the Berkshires and Cooperstown area (Glimmerglass Opera House, not the Hall of Fame, attending two operas and “Show Boat”), Teaneck with the grandkids and then back to Toronto for Shabbat, and some R&R (just the two of us) in Niagara-on-the-Lake and Buffalo (the magnificently restored Martin House by Frank Lloyd Wright), the waterfalls at Letchworth State Park, and a cruise on the Erie Canal where I finally experienced being raised and lowered in a lock.

1. Do you know you can get free museum passes from the Teaneck Public Library? Doesn’t usually work at the last minute for procrastinators, but for people who plan in advance (like my wife and at least one of my daughters), it’s a godsend. Saved close to $250 in admission tickets to the New York Historical Society and the Intrepid Museum (both wonderful for all ages), which made the ticket cost at Sesame Place (even discounted) a bit more palatable. And don’t forget that basic admission to the Bronx Zoo is free on Wednesdays.

2. Is there anything more Americana for people of all ages than minor league baseball? A beautiful Sunday evening with a 5 p.m. first pitch (great for grandkids’ bedtimes), seats for under $15 each (!!) that are so close to the third baseman that you can almost hear his conversations with the umpire, and kosher hot dogs and hamburgers to boot (at least in Rockland County). During the game, there’s a train ride around the back of the bleachers, which the younger ones loved doing with their aunts, all of whom were critically helpful all week. And after the game, the kids (from 4 to 29) ran the bases and got autographs. My British friends don’t get it, but what do they know. They like cricket!

3. I’m told that Friday evening concerts at Tanglewood are replete with Shabbat meals (kiddush, two challot, etc.) on the lawn. I don’t have firsthand knowledge because our dear friend Phyllis’s lovely Berkshires house, where we spend one weekend every summer (this year, together with other close friends), is in Stockbridge; too far to walk to Tanglewood. But there’s a 6 p.m. Friday Prelude Concert in Ozawa Hall (a treat in itself, even without music) that’s free to everyone with Friday evening lawn tickets. So we buy lawn tickets, enjoy a first-rate concert at Ozawa, try to give away our tickets (no takers this year), and make it back in time for candle lighting. What a perfect way to greet the Shabbat Queen. Prelude Concert? Nah. We call it the Erev Shabbat Concert.

4. Art exhibitions come in all shapes and forms. And this summer we saw two very different shows that had one thing in common — they both took our breath away. The first, “Renoir: The Body, The Senses” at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown exhibited many of the nudes Renoir created throughout his career. As the New York Times review noted, “Nearly everywhere you look in this show, the male gaze is looking back, imbuing the female person with degrees of objectification and passivity.” And — what the review omits — ethereal beauty.

And what can be more different from Renoir nudes than “Tapestry of Spirit: The Torah Stitch By Stitch Project” which we saw, at the suggestion of our cousin and friend Ittai, at Toronto’s Textile Museum (also with free Toronto Library admission tickets). As the brochure notes, it “presents the ambitious and inclusive social project to create a cross-stitched representation of the Torah.” Texts from Genesis, Exodus, and Deuteronomy were featured at the exhibit. Words, however, don’t come close to doing justice to the beauty of the resulting cross-stitched Torah, with striking illuminating illustrated panels. If you’re in Toronto before November 18, see it there. If (hopefully when) it comes to New York, see it here. But see it!

5. There are few who are more rationally mitnaged than I am, but I must admit the ayin rah (evil eye) is real. There we were, my wife and I with our three grandkids, ages 4, 7 1/2 (she insists on the half), and 11, nine hours into a nine-and-a-half-hour car ride from Teaneck to Toronto, when I whispered to Sharon: “Wow, they’re terrific, listening quietly to an entire Judy Blume audiobook, playing nicely, behaving at the rest areas, and less than five minutes of annoying each other.” Three guesses what the next half hour was like. You got it! Next time I’ll keep my big mouth shut.

6. Sesame Place was a hit with all. The carousel and roller coasters, water rides and an expanded splash pad, parades and shows, and mincha in front of Mr. Hooper’s store. Much too much selling of everything — food, activities, drinks, games, pictures with Muppets, a reserved parade viewing area — but that’s also Americana I guess. What struck most of us as wrong, though, were the unlimited magic queue tickets that allowed cutting the line (a/k/a priority boarding) at most attractions.

Rich people have more. I understand that. But they shouldn’t when it impinges on others with less money. Priority boarding is different than paying for a face painting or buying a tchotchke or, indeed, a Porsche rather than a Ford. I can’t afford a Porsche and I don’t begrudge one to those who can. But why should my grandkids have to wait on line 20 minutes longer because someone who has more money can blithely cut the line? Of all places, you would think that at Sesame Place, with Sesame Street’s ethos of equality, money wouldn’t buy entry to the detriment of others, detriment being the key word. (We have no problem, of course, with free priority entry to special needs children.)

7. On Sunday, February 3, 1963, Joseph Kaplan, a lover of musical theater since he saw “My Fair Lady” in the fifth grade, went to a revival of “Brigadoon” at City Center, sitting in the $2.50 nosebleed seats. Sharon Susan Penkower also saw “Brigadoon” that day, but in an orchestra seat, attending the Sweet Sixteen party of her friend Julie, who, coincidently, was Joseph’s distant cousin and friend. Joseph and Julie saw each other and chatted briefly, but Sharon and Joseph’s paths didn’t cross.

Fifty-six years, six months, and 29 days later, at the Shaw Festival Theater in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Joseph and Sharon Penkower Kaplan saw yet another revival of “Brigadoon,” this time sitting together, and once again were enchanted by the lush Lerner and Loewe score and lyrics. Although this production lacked the virtuoso dancing of Edward Villella that graced the one in 1963, it was, indeed, to put a slightly different spin on the Cahn/Van Heusen song, lovelier the second time around.

About the Author
Joseph C. Kaplan, a regular columnist for the Jewish Standard, is the author of “A Passionate Writing Life: From ‘In my Opinion’ to ‘I’ve Been Thinking’” (available at Teaneck's Judaica House and its website). A retired lawyer and long-time resident of Teaneck with his wife Sharon, they’ve been blessed with four wonderful daughters and five delicious grandchildren.
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