Saturday, December 24, 2011



Now the holiday season is upon us. In my family's home in Brooklyn, it was sometime in the 50's and everyone was still alive. We lighted a candle for each of the eight nights of Chanukah. I was a young boy whose only dreams were of a Davy Crockett "coonskin" hat with a furry tail hanging from the back of it, a toy rifle, new sets of Topps baseball cards, the Brooklyn Dodgers winning the World Series. The real dreams, the ones that weren't about things, were still to come. 

One night it was gelt. Silver and gold wrapped chocolate that we devoured as our parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents looked on, proud of the job they had done making their children happy. 

Taught by their example, inherited from their genes, over the years and through the loss of them all, one by one, those of us that are left are still making our children happy, making ourselves proud.

My kids were taught to celebrate Chanukah by making sure a gift and new candle were part of each of the eight nights.  We gathered as a family, the five of us, each night and sang the Chanukah prayers together, taking turns in lighting the candles. The gifts would often be "wrapped" in a maze of huge empty boxes, with each box taking us to the next box, on a treasure hunt of multiple empty boxes, until they finally reached the box that contained the gift. 

I added the custom of dripping 5 individual drops of candle wax, every night, onto the page of my old Hebrew school prayer book from when I was a child, each of us being symbolized as a happy reflection in this ritual. It is the only religious custom that I still follow.

How things have changed. I am so far away from those times, those aunts and uncles and parents and cousins and grandparents. I am so far from my kids, in geography and time and regrets. 

The holiday now is filled not with celebration, or faith. We no longer have a single home. We have our own homes, with each one of us caught up in the holidays of others, relying instead on phone calls, e-mails, and text messages to feel each other.

Tragedy has taken our first born, Steven Nathaniel Wolkoff from us in a cruel, nightmare of reality, that has deeply, permanently scarred all of us who miss and love him as our child, brother, best friend.
The holidays have changed in other ways too. Now they are about colored days that refer to special sales of the things that people buy. The ads are draped over our lives, filled with cars in bows and expensive jewelry that generate guilt and insufficiency. How can you love someone if you don't buy them this and that, has become the false meaning of that which represents to many people, what the holidays now only mean to them.   

In spite of the horrific murder of my father when I was 10 years old, god was something, or someone I still used to believe in. Live your life in doing good things for others, and in return I would get blessed with happiness, health, and peace. I had paid "my dues" with the loss of so many family members murdered in the Holocaust, along with my father's murder, my future life surely would be fair, as long as I did good for others and my family. I really believed in that, lived that as my way of life as best that I knew how. Then Steven died so horribly, and I stopped believing in anything.

There is still much to be grateful for, most of all, my children who make me proud and give me hope for their future, their generations to come, and if I am lucky, some happiness for me. These are moments I write about; No finer gifts could ever touch my life.

But we now live in a crazy, sick world. god does not exist  to protect us and there is a toxic, hazy, irrational, out of control, cruelness, that has enveloped the planet. Life is cheap and to many it has no value. Accountability for ones actions and the consequences that it will bring to innocent others, is not even remotely part of the our new "me" society.

It is a world where the new norms are based on unlimited greed, evil, cruelty, lack of compassion, and a complete ignorance, utter disregard of the rights of innocent people to be left to live their lives in peace.

There are laws, rules, ethics, morality that many of us live by, while there are so many others who disregard it all, they just don't care. For them there are no rules, no laws to be followed, and they prey on the rest of us, as if we live in a jungle of animals. 

It is a world that revels in deflecting reality, excels at denial and has perfected it to the point of most living their selfish lives in this silent, fantasy of a protected bubble, that will somehow magically keep them safe, sound, and different than "the others" who life has not been so kind to.

Surprisingly as I get older, life moves faster than it has ever gone before. I thought it would be slower, rather than the flash of days, weeks, months, and years that melt into each other, just like the candle wax dripping on my prayer book.

Someone, a first cousin that I lost contact with many years ago, died last month. He was born in 1948, the same year as me. I read about it in an email from another relative sent to me on the Internet.

Like Steven, he never made it to this year's holidays, this year's gifts, this year's Chanukah, and the coming New Year, gone forever with the others. 

My cousin had become an ultra orthodox Jew at a young age, who spent most of his life reading the Talmud, studying god's words, raising his family of many children, and rigidly following the rules of his sect.

I remember, we used to play childhood regular kids games with each other in those early years of innocence as young children.

The visions of those years still remain in my brain as a relatively naive, but convincingly real image of freedom and inner peace for me as a kid.

A guy with a tambourine can't really play a song. It is a poem of words for me that speaks to the escape from my own mind. Being so tired, so beaten down by the "real world" that would make me its tools, its objects, and this song for me is that picture, my weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet, but cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it. 

It means that I can at times be able to forget the demons that haunt my day to day existence. I can abandon temporarily the memories that chain me to false ideas of who I "really am or not". I won't worry about notions of fate, about what I'm afraid may happen in the future, events of which I cannot really control anyway. It's possible there are hundreds of meanings and it's quite possible there's none.

"Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me.

I'm not sleepy and there is no place I'm going to.

Hey ! Mr Tambourine Man, play a song for me

Though I know that evenin's empire has returned into sand.

Vanished from my hand. Left me blindly here to stand. 

My weariness amazes me, I'm branded on my feet. 

And the ancient empty street's too dead for dreaming. 

Let me forget about today until tomorrow."

It seems that nothing ever stays the same. It changes for the better, it changes for the worse, it changes just for the sake of change. But one thing never changed in all of that. Every time there was the future, and what would come next?
There are some things that are felt but never said. Some questions that get asked, for which are no answers.