Last week, as I walked up Broadway on the Upper West Side, I came to a restaurant that put up many open-sided tents, festooned with fairy lights, as soon as it was allowed to, and has done great business ever since.
The restaurant’s been getting live singers and accompianists. They stand outside and their music’s amplified so anyone anywhere at all nearby can hear it.
It’s really nice.
Last week, a singer was belting out “Volare,” the old Dean Martin song; he looked a bit like Dino, and he sounded like him too; he swung and slurred. It took me way way back, to childhood and somehow beyond.
And everyone sitting at the restaurant’s tents, people of all ages, bellowed out “Volare” along with him. Many of them seemed to know all the lyrics and if they didn’t they made them up. Volare, they sang. Oh oh. Cantare oh oh oh.
It was heaven.
You could feel the joy.
Volare means “let’s fly,” and we all were flying. Even me, just walking by with my dogs. I think that my dogs’ feet left the ground. Cantare means “let’s sing,” and everyone was.
It was summer, everyone was outside, people were eating and drinking and talking with friends, we didn’t need masks, and there was hope in the air.
The Fourth of July is coming. It’s a great republic, as Benjamin Franklin told us. If we can keep it. Just then, on Broadway, it felt as if we could. If felt as if we could do anything.
And speaking of doing anything, we at the Jewish Standard and the New Jersey Jewish News — as we hope that most of our readers know by now, we publish both papers now — are thrilled to report that between all of us we won nine awards at the recent American Jewish Press Association’s celebration of this last very hard year.
Six of those 2020 Rockower awards went to the Standard and three to the Jewish News; some of the Standard’s, the ones from later in the year, were published in both papers.
Our stories covered a lot of issues. Larry Yudelson, our associate editor (and my good friend), won for stories about the BRCA gene and Black/Jewish (and Black Jewish) relations. Mine looked at collections of Jewish books in Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the passion play in Oberammergau, Germany, as well as an extraordinary story of a Holocaust-era escape from Europe (and to be clear, every single such escape was extraordinary.) The New Jersey Jewish News’s Lori Silberman Brauner won an award for photography in Morocco and Jed Weisberger got one for coverage of the way holograms can tell Holocaust stories.
And then there’s the pandemic. Johanna Ginsberg of the Jewish News won a first-place Rockower for writing about the heroic, heart-wrenching work entrusted to hospital chaplains who had to stand in for everyone who was missing as patients died of covid.
And there’s my story, awarded a Rockower in the personal essay category, called “My mother’s funeral,” about her lonely covid death, early in the pandemic, in a hellhole of a nursing home.
One of the good things about being a writer is that you have a way of describing your feelings; if you’re really lucky, as I am, you know that you are not writing in a vacuum. Instead, you send your story out into the world, and someone will read it.
I don’t miss my mother any less because I was able to write about her death, but I am grateful to have had the chance to write about it. It’s not that writing about it actually helps me find meaning — there seems to be no meaning in being a statistic in a pandemic — but it does help to be able to share experiences. To talk to someone else who can say, “Yes, I know what you mean.”
Now, the pandemic is just about over, summer is about to begin, and we will celebrate our independence with fireworks this summer.
And you know what? Volare! Cantare! We will fly. We will sing. We will live.