“What time does the supermarket open and how long are the lines.” A pre-yom tov mussing with a history lesson

Pardon the long title, as an inspiration for something more concise didn’t come to mind.  This post is about two books I recently read and how it has affected my thinking in regards to recent events and observations.

I love reading, especially children’s literature in the historical fiction genre. Last month I read two books that had a similar theme. One was Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.  The other was The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. Historical events from these books had me pondering modern “problems”, which seem inconsequential to the challenges faced by the protagonists in the books.

In the first book, the main character Esperanza, flees Mexico to California. The setting is the 1920s. In the second story, the main character,  Esther, is exiled with her family from Poland to Siberia pre-WWII.

Both Esperanza and Esther are from wealthy, privileged backgrounds.  They are both only children in their respective families. After relocation to a new country, they both need to quickly adjust from a life of wealth and servants to one of extreme poverty, prejudice, and hunger.  Both stories are based on actual life experiences. Esperanza Rising is about the author’s grandmother and The Endless Steppe is the author’s own story.

From reading both books, one thing sticks out in my mind is how people can overcome adversity as well as suvive with minimal material possessions.

When I think how I would like a new pair of shoes because the Velcro on my trusty pair of Naots isn’t sticking properly, the book makes me realize my shoes still fit and are still functional. They are not caked in mud, I don’t have to tie them with a string to keep them together, they have a sole.   Thank G-d I have shoes.   At one point in the story, Esther had no shoes. Gives a new perspective on a shoe with faulty Velcro, doesn’t it?  I need a solution to the problem, not a new pair of shoes.

Finding joy in “the little things” also made an impression.  One hears this sage advice all the time, but do we pay heed to it?   Clean, fresh air to breathe (not a Dust Bowl dust storm), a warm coat, an indoor toilet.  In the stories, a cup of milk was a treat. An egg, a banquet. Items we think as commonplace aren’t always so easy to come by in certain situations.

On the topic of food and food shopping which is a mussing of this post, there was a lot to learn from these stories.  I realize the food is an important part of life, especially for a celebration or holiday. As the upcoming chagim will soon be upon us, the endless posts on WhatsApp and Facebook about long lines, store hours, and recipes are getting a bit nauseating. Photos of overloaded shopping carts would make you think one was stocking up for an entire winter or an impending natural disaster.

In The Endless Steppe, Esther talks about selling items from their already limited possessions on the black market. What will she buy with the newly acquired rubles? BREAD. A mere loaf, or few slices of bread.  Contrasting this experience with the grocery store, one can appreciate the blessing of the times we live in.

In Esperanza Rising, Esperanza goes from privileged ranch owner’s daughter to field worker picking crops. The conditions and pay were both terrible. I can only hope that the produce that made it’s way to my Shabbos and soon to be Yom Tov table was grown and harvested in more favorable conditions than poor Esperanza had to contend with.

A final thought that moved me was the change of owning many material possessions to making due with bare necessities. Both girls needed to pack ONE bag before they needed to abandon their homes.  This was not a vacation where they would be returning. What a heart wrenching decision.  What would you take if it were you?  To leave without cash or credit cards and have less than an hour to pack.  The girls had to do it. They survived their circumstances, and life went on.

I love when books can change you, not merely entertain. These books changed me. Maybe they will charge you, too. I highly recommend them.

Thanks for reading and chag sameach.

Karen the Klutter Koach

October 15, 2016

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