Return to Rhodes – again

June 30, 2017

I’ve just returned from a family trip to Rhodes, the now-Greek island where my mother and her family lived until they fled the Nazis in 1939. They lived in the Jewish Quarter of the Medieval Old Town of Rodos at the northern tip of the island. Although the island is 60-miles long, most of the attention is lavished on Rodos, where thousands of cruise ship tourists flock to enjoy a bevy of Greek restaurants, inexpensive souvenirs, nightclubs and plenty of marked (and unmarked) archeological ruins just past the main streets.

Now that I’m back, I’m trying to reflect on what I saw in Rhodes, how I felt, and to find some meaning in the juxtaposition of the island’s past with its current form.

Rhodes has a long and varied history. Many know it for the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but there’s much more to it than that. The largest of the Dodecanese Islands, lying between Greece and Turkey, it was first settled during the 15th Century B.C. E. Over the next six centuries, the 540-square-mile island fell into the hands of the Achaeans, the Dorians, the Romans, the Persians, the Seldjuks and the Byzantines. The Byzantines fortified the city with a thick brick wall in 1261 A.D., and in 1309 the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem settled in the city after returning from the Holy Land. The Turks captured Rhodes from the Nights of St. John in 1522, making it part of the Ottoman Empire. But they lost the island to the Italians during the Italo-Turkish war of 1912. At the time, the Italians annexed all the Dodecanese Islands to the Italian Empire. After World War II, in March 1947, the Dodecanese Islands were annexed to Greece.

The Jews of Rhodes grew from a community of 400 to 5,000 before World War II. They led a vibrant Jewish life that centered around several schools and five synagogues. That is, until the entire community was wiped out on July 23, 1944, when Hitler’s Nazis rounded up the remaining 1,673 Jews on the island and sent them to Auschwitz concentration camp. Only 151 survived.

My mother’s family fled Rhodes in 1939 – something that in retrospect was a huge blessing. Of course, they didn’t realize that at the time, as they became refugees and left behind family and friends. Because of this luck, the family survived and eventually earned visas to enter the United States in 1946 after spending seven years in Tangier, Morocco. I grew up with the story and have chronicled it in A Hug From Afar, which details the family’s immigration story through letters and documents my mother Claire Barkey wrote to her uncle Ralph and aunty Rachel Capeluto in Seattle. As a result of this book, I’ve been immersed in the family’s story for many years. It’s been a large part of my life.

So, what would it be like to return to Rhodes in 2017 – with my husband, two adult sons and several other family members? I went to Rhodes the first time in 1999, for an amazing reunion of 37 family members, including four Barkey siblings to guide us around their old stomping ground.

I was looking forward to this trip, where we would be joined by two cousins’ families and my mother’s youngest sister. I was excited to introduce my immediate family to this beautiful and historic island.

One of the highlights of a return to Rhodes is visiting the Kahal Shalom Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in Greece, established in 1557 during the Ottoman era. It still stands in the Jewish quarter of the Old Town and has been exquisitely preserved and renovated with the help of foreign donors. In 1997, the Jewish Museum of Rhodes, in the former women’s section of Kahal Shalom, was established to preserve the Jewish history and culture of the Jews of Rhodes.

Our group toured the synagogue and museum on our first full day in Rhodes, spending time reading the history and looking at the artifacts in the museum and joining together to read three psalms to commemorate the event at the synagogue. We noted the plaque outside the synagogue door naming all the families who perished in the Holocaust, including two of my mother’s aunts’ families and several other families with descendants in the Seattle Jewish community. We chatted with other visitors, playing “Jewish geography” until we found common friends and relatives. We checked out the small gift shop and spoke to caretaker Carmen Cohen, a Jewish woman from mainland Greece who works tirelessly to maintain the synagogue and museum.

After visiting the synagogue, we roamed the streets looking for other remnants of the family’s past. Unlike in 1999, they were harder to find because no one on this journey remembered where they were. We followed a map of Jewish sites and found the standing facade of the former Alliance Israelite Universelle school that my uncles attended and what we believe may be remnants of another synagogue.

The following day we visited the cemetery where several of our relatives are buried, along with thousands of other Jews from Rhodes. During my last night on Rhodes I wandered the back streets and alleys alone, thinking about how my ancestors had done the same thing nearly 80 years ago!

Among Rhodes descendants, it’s common for families to make pilgrimages to Rhodes. There is even a website where people can notify others that they are going to visit. I marveled at this fact and wondered why people are still connected to a place where the language is no longer the same that our ancestors spoke, where only a handful of Jews remain, and that serves as a sad reminder to a vibrant community lost at the hands of cruelty. What is the draw? Why do people still go there? Why do we still care? And how long will descendants continue to flock to this place that holds nothing new, only fading memories?

There’s no question that the island is magical. Fresh sea breezes from the multiple shades of vibrant blue Aegean Sea waft into the well-preserved walled Old City. It’s no wonder Rhodes is one of the most popular tourist sites in Europe. A trip to Rhodes can be a beach vacation, a historic endeavor, a shopping spree – or all of the above. I wonder if this is why so many Jews with ancestors from Rhodes come back. It’s easy, pleasant, and relatively simple to do. And after touring the synagogue, museum and cemetery, it’s natural to turn the visit into a shopping, eating and beach extravaganza. Would there be the same interest in a cold, abandoned Polish or Russian village?

But what will happen once future generations lose the connection to Rhodes? What can we expect when these generations forget the stories of their ancestors, lose the family recipes for food eaten in Rhodes, no longer feel the pain of those lost in the Holocaust? What will happen if they flee the Jewish religion?

I don’t have the answers. I do know that my generation is doing all in its power to keep the memories, culture and religion alive. We support the synagogue and museum in Rhodes with visits, donations and religious and historic education.

Many of the Jews of Rhodes – Sephardic Jews – trace their history to the expulsion from Spain during the Inquisition. But the first Jews in Rhodes can be traced back way further, to the 12th century, when Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, Spain, first referenced a Jewish community of about 400 Jews there. It’s unknown when they arrived.

Just like we don’t know exactly when the Jews arrived in Rhodes, we don’t know when they’ll stop coming. That is the question I’m left with after visiting this summer. Will my children ever return? Will their children? I may never know. But for now, I hope visitors keep going – and supporting the institutions that are there as reminders of a community that was. And, perhaps, at some point in the future, it will be transformed into a living Jewish community, instead of one that simply remembers the past.

So Close – the end of the story – Part 3

July 21, 2016

cow buttPart 3 (Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Within a day or so of my initial inquiry, Seattle ArtREsource responded that the painting was indeed still for sale – for $48,000(!), which the gallery said it determined with Pace Gallery’s guidance. It also was selling another Close “Cow.” Then, adding insult to injury and completely contradicting John’s theory, the Seattle ArtREsource director added that it would be included in the first Chuck Close online subscription digital catalogue raisonné, which is essentially the official catalogue of an artists’ work (although it’s not actually there).

And one more thing, he said, “If you are in the area it is worth a visit to view these in person as they are rich in detail that exhibits his strength from a young age.”

If he only knew how many times I’d viewed that dang painting.

Then I contacted the Pace Gallery, the New York gallery that represents Close. It didn’t take me long to get through to the gallery’s senior director. I told him my tale of woe. He said that even if the painting was a Chuck Close student work, that Chuck wouldn’t be too interested in it – and that it wouldn’t be worth “too much.”

Actually, this is exactly what he said: “Early paintings aren’t taken really seriously. It’s only taken serious because it has Chuck Close’s name on the back. Chuck would dismiss it – ‘Yeah, whatever, it’s a student work, who cares?’ I wouldn’t kick myself. We sell Chuck Close to Microsoft and Google guys. That’s who we sell to. Would they be interested in a Chuck Close (student work)? No. I don’t think it’s that big a deal personally. I don’t think my collectors would buy that. Only one who might have been interested, is a museum. Auctions say it wouldn’t do very well. A small mistake was made. I doubt anyone’s going to buy it. If someone does buy it, they’ll buy it for 1/2 that and give it to a museum. It if was a portrait you would have known that. Then you would be writing, `Oh my God we hit oil in the backyard with dad drilling.’ I wouldn’t fret it. You want to kick yourself but it has no significance you didn’t luck out. We have early ones in storage. He would never go back to sign a piece that’s already finished. He wouldn’t change history. All artists would do is nod their head and say `as far as I can tell it was done by my hand.'”

The gallery director predicted the painting would sell for half of the $48,000 asking price. To a gallery that sells multi-million-dollar paintings, that really isn’t “too much.”

But it’s a lot to me and my family.

I also called the thrift shop where I donated the painting. I was hoping that perhaps someone there had recognized it and benefitted greatly from it. If so, perhaps I could take a tax deduction for a big donation. I asked the manager if he had any record of selling a Chuck Close painting. He said no. “Unfortunately we probably looked at it and said `it’s an interesting piece,’ and passed it off.”

I asked ArtREsource’s director how he got the painting in the first place. He said a man (who didn’t appear to be a native of the area because he spoke in broken English) approached the gallery, saying he got the painting from someone who picked it up at the Mercer Island thrift shop. He was happy I verified that that’s where I had donated it, giving provenance to the painting. He also lit up when I mentioned it had been hung upside down – something that explained to him why it came in with the hanging wire on the wrong way. He said he went to the consignor’s house and it was devoid of other important artwork. “I think he needs the money, something he hopes to use for retirement.”

Still trying for something, anything really, I then called our family lawyer, who happens to really understand art, having grown up with art collector parents like me. I asked if there was anything I could do – even to get a tax deduction. She suggested I ask who consigned the painting and try to convince him to sell it back to me for a few thousand dollars.

But after hearing the ArtREsource director explain that the consigner really needed the money I didn’t even try. The lawyer tried to make me feel better. You are downsizing. It happens. I wouldn’t kick yourself over it. Think of the money you saved by not having to insure it.”

My only hope now was that the painting wouldn’t sell – as John predicted.

But my hopes were dashed a month or so later, when I checked the gallery website and saw a “sold” sign on the painting. I e-mailed the ArtREsource director to inquire about the selling price and received a terse e-mail stating: I’m sorry but the selling price is 100% confidential information that I will not divulge out of respect for both the consignor and buyer.”

End of story? Not quite.

Five months later I found Cow listed for sale by a gallery in Carmel, Calif. When I called, the gallery owner said his gallery sold Close’s Cow. He said the gallery never had possession of it, but sold it “in transition to a buyer he had lined up.” But the story of the painting’s provenance didn’t ring true. The gallery owner said it came from a Close cousin in Seattle, which is untrue since our family had possession of it until 2013. The gallery owner said the painting sold for around $75,000. Although I gasped at that number, I also question it since I don’t believe his version of where the painting came from.

Then, two months later I received a notice that Pacific Galleries in Seattle would auction off two of the Close student paintings that were at ArtResource at the same time the gallery had Cow. Estimated listing price for each was $15,000 to $30,000.

John predicted that neither would fetch minimum bids of “even $1,500.”

I watched the auction online. The one most similar to Cow (Close used the same paint on it) sold for $14,000 – just under the estimated low price.

Sigh.

So that is how this story ends, at least for now. Where does that leave me? What’s the moral? I’m still trying to figure it out. Other than feeling bad that I gave away the painting, it also makes me realize how fleeting the price of art really is. In a nutshell, it’s what someone is willing to pay for it. Nothing more; nothing less. Until I see a receipt or auction record for my Cow, I’ll never really know how much it sold for. Until then, I can only guess that it likely was worth around $14,000 – but may have sold for much more. Or not.

Perhaps the only saving grace is that it’s not mentioned in this story about hot thrift store finds. At least, not yet.

So Close (or how I literally had a cow) – Part 2

July 18, 2016

Cow painting rightside upPart 2 (Read Part 1 here)

Now what?

After getting over my shock – and explaining to my husband why I was literally having a cow on the couch – I started sleuthing. As a journalist, that’s what I do. First I e-mailed the art dealer.

“Hi John. Ever have one of those nightmares, when a really valuable piece of artwork slips through your hands because you didn’t realize what it was? Well, I fear that happened with one of the pieces in my father’s collection. Tonight I read a blurb in Seattle Magazine about Seattle ArtResource holding its “Lineage” show featuring artists who attended or taught at UW. I thought it sounded interesting so I looked up the gallery online. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw this painting of “Cow.”  It had hung above my parents’ bed (upside down, no less) for as long as I can remember. My father said it was “by some art student.” I guess that “art student” was the now very famous Chuck Close. And I’m kicking myself because I actually saw a tag on the back that said “Charles Close” but I never in my wildest dreams thought it was by THE Chuck Close because it didn’t look like any piece of his that I had ever seen before! This painting didn’t sell at our estate sale. None of the art enthusiasts who came through the house noticed it – not you, not (the estate sale guy), not the (auction house), none of my father’s art friends. In fact, when it didn’t sell, we even let the house stager use it when he staged the house. Check it out in seconds 27/28 in this video:

I’d like to believe it’s not a Chuck Close. But when I see it next to the other ones at that gallery I see a very strong resemblance.

Thoughts? Comments?

Thanks.”

I’m not sure what response I was looking for from John. Sympathy? An apology? A vow to “get to the bottom of this?” I wasn’t blaming John. He didn’t give the darn thing away. I did. Here’s what he said:

“I do not remember seeing “the cow”.

I have had two works by Chuck Close from his student work at the university of Washington. Neither one of them sold. I even called (name omitted) at the Pace gallery in NYC  and he expressed no interest in the student work of Chuck close. He has been Chuck’s long time close friend and art dealer.

He told me Chuck would like to see that work just destroyed. I will look through some auction records tomorrow but I do not think the paintings are hyper valuable.  I have no idea really until I do research. Do you remember who you sold this painting to?”

I also e-mailed the gallery to see if Cow had sold.

Meanwhile, John sent another e-mail:

I just looked through the auction records for the past 10 years on Chuck Close.

I saw two student works listed for sale one of them was a work that I had and it was quite small listed at 60 to 80,000 (that’s thousand dollars) and it did not sell and there was another fairly recently that was quite large that was listed at 60 to 100,000 (thousand dollars) and did not sell so just as I suspect there is little or no interest in Chuck close student work. The work that I had 10 years ago was for sale for $3000 and we could not find a buyer. “

Like they say on Pawn Stars – just because someone lists a price on eBay doesn’t mean it will sell for that amount. The real value is how much something sells for. So, according to John’s guess, I gave away a painting that won’t sell for $3,000, not a $100,000 painting.

He sent me screen shots from online auction catalogues showing the Chuck Close works he was referring to – listed in 2010 and 2014 at $40,000 to $100,000. He concluded, “It’s my opinion that there is no developed market for Mr. Close’s undergrad student work from his time at U of W.”

And then this e-mail. Clearly he was pondering this issue:

“Who did you sell this painting to Cynthia?.

Was it signed on the front?. I’m sure it’s a Close but it’s still student work. I’m sad because it’s for sale for a lot more money than your family received. I would never have wanted to sell that painting even if I’d known it was created by Close.

I went through that scenario and spent too much time & resources only to be told…. `Not interested, it’s student work.’ and it sat at my gallery for a long time.” 

Another e-mail:

“I really don’t think it will sell for more than a few thousand.

This work is so far outside of where Chuck has been for the last 35 years that doubt it will ever be considered relevant. There’s a story that chuck close tells students and people when he’s lecturing that when he met William deKooning that he shook his hand and said `finally I’ve met somebody who has painted more deKoonings  than I have.’ Enough said.” 

Meanwhile, I continued to sleuth. I started Googling and my heart sank further when I saw a 2010 episode of Antiques Roadshow that valued a 1960 Chuck Close student piece at $100,000 to $150,000!

To Be Continued…..

So Close (or, how I literally had a Cow)

July 16, 2016

Cow painting upside downFor me, this story doesn’t have a good ending. But it’s a really good story nonetheless. Please bear with me as I unfold this sad tale.

My father had a house full of stuff – lots of artwork, including valuable Northwest paintings, mixed with junk. When it was time to sell the house my brother and I spent two years going through the stuff to make sure we culled out the valuable pieces from the junk.

We thought we knew which paintings were valuable. My parents had done a good job teaching us about the artwork as we grew up. In fact, we spent many weekends going to art galleries. I could name the artists of all the major paintings and I knew the history behind many of the paintings – where they came from, when my parents purchased them, and the back stories that made the pieces interesting. To make sure we were being fair, my brother and I brought a well-known local art dealer to the house to give us values on all of the artwork so we could divide it among ourselves equally. He spent a couple of hours there looking at the works that we showed him and talking to my father, then age 92. We showed him all the artwork that we believed had value.

Then my brother and I went about our work dividing up the collection. He took one, I took one. We did this until we had divvied up all the paintings that we wanted. And we carefully noted the value so that we’d come out even in the end.

The paintings that neither of us wanted – about a third of the collection – were consigned to a local gallery that specialized in Northwest art. We trusted the dealer completely.

But there was plenty more to dispose of in the house where my father lived for 49 years. So we called in a well-known appraiser who also did estate sales. He and his team spent nearly a week in the house, going over everything and carefully pricing it. He advertised the sale and it held such promise that we had people camping in the driveway the night before so they could be the first in the house. The first people in line were brothers who owned an art auction house. They picked out a few key pieces that they knew they could auction.

Over the next three days, hundreds of people – collectors and looky-loos – traipsed through the house looking for treasures and bargains. We sold about 75 percent of what was there, including much of the artwork at what I considered to be good prices. We took what was left, boxed up some to send to an auction house (where you literally get pennies on the dollar) and eventually gave the rest away. Most went to the local thrift shop.

We did hold back a few things that were used by the stager who staged the house for sale. The house was a Mid-Century Modern, so he put in period furniture and artwork. He used two large paintings from my father’s collection – neither drew any interest from any of the people who had come through the house – to fill up significant wall space without making the house look cluttered.

One of those paintings had hung upside down over my father’s bed for about 40 years. It was a large unsigned bold abstract called “Cow,” which my father dismissed as a “student work,” something he had purchased in 1962 from a University of Washington art student (it’s pictured in the left hand corner of this post). He didn’t know who the student was. He liked the painting, but didn’t love it enough to hang it right-side up. He eventually replaced it with another student work that he purchased in Hawaii about five years ago. Cow was relegated to the basement painting stacks. At one point my sister-in-law considered taking it home, but turned it down when she learned it was a cow. I never cared for it – either the style or gaudy green and red color pallet.

After the house sold and the stager removed his furniture I took Cow to the local thrift shop. I hesitated for just a moment when I saw the index card taped to the back of the canvas. It said, “Cow” “1962” “Charles Close.”

I know of the famous painter Chuck Close and love his work (now being shown in an amazing exhibit at Everett’s Schack Art Center). But this painting looked nothing like the elaborate portraits Close is known for. His portraits are so accurate they look like photos. Others are comprised of hundreds of painted “mosaics” or fingerprints that turn into amazingly accurate portraits as one backs away from his paintings. Close, who was born in Monroe, Wash., and is now based in New York, is perhaps the most famous student to have graduated from the University of Washington. Not only is he an amazing painter, but he’s a quadriplegic, so he paints with a device attached to his paralyzed hand. His current works sell for millions of dollars.Close-Self-Portrait-1997

As I took the last of my father’s belongings to the thrift shop I felt a sense of relief. Two years of sorting through stuff had ended with the sale of his home to an appreciative family, one that would value the architecture and keep it from being torn down. What a happy end to this story. Right?

Unfortunately, not.

The house closed soon after it went on the market. Six months later I was sitting on my couch thumbing through a copy of one of the local high-gloss magazines when I saw a posting for a show at Seattle ArtREsource gallery of “reasonably priced” work featuring artists who attended or taught at the University of Washington. It included many of my favorites, including Jacob Lawrence and Chuck Close. I called up the gallery’s website on my smart phone and started scrolling through the artists. I clicked on Chuck Close and …. nearly had a heart attack! There, staring me in the face was Cow! It was right side up in all its burnt red and green glory.

To Be Continued…..

My family’s dramatic journey through three continents to escape the Holocaust

March 12, 2016

A_Hug_From_Afar-7x10_COVER_FRONT - 2-23-16 - finalGrowing up, I had heard the story about my mother and her family coming from the Island of Rhodes to Seattle. I heard how the family felt indebted to their Uncle Ralph and Aunty Rachel for helping them get here. I listened to my mother speak Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) to her mother and Aunt Esther on the phone each day. I understood some of the Spanish-like language, but didn’t really think anything of it.

I took the whole thing for granted.

But now, 70 years after my mother stepped foot into the United States for the first time, I no longer take this story for granted. I recognize how hard it was for the family to get here. I realize what a tough person my mother was to make it happen. I realize that immigration wasn’t easy or simple then – just like it’s not easy or simple today. And I realize what an incredible story this is, a story that I felt compelled to tell in my new book, “A Hug From Afar: One Family’s dramatic journey through three continents to escape the Holocaust.”

It’s now available on Amazon. I hope you’ll indulge me by reading more about it in this news release. If you like what you see, I hope you’ll get the book to learn this important piece of history. You can also “like” my A Hug From Afar Facebook page.

 

——————-

BELLEVUE, Wash. (March 1, 2016) – From the young age of 9 on the Aegean island of Rhodes, Clara Barkey started writing to her uncle Ralph and aunty Rachel Capeluto in the far-away place known as Seattle, Wash. This smart and determined young woman, who was always at or near the top of her class, used the dying language of Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, to report news of the relatives Ralph left behind on Rhodes and the happenings of her Sephardic Jewish community. But what started as friendly letters quickly turned to desperate pleas for help as life for the Jews of Rhodes deteriorated under the control of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who allied with Adolph Hitler.

Forgotten and never thought of again, Clara’s letters turned up more than 60 years after they were written and after she, Ralph and Rachel had passed away. Preserved and translated from Ladino into English, they paint a vivid and detailed 16-year story of how one family triumphed and survived after they became refugees and rode the roller coaster of successes and failures to legally win permission to immigrate to the United States.

This compelling story of perseverance, determination, love and grit is brought to life in A Hug From Afar, a historical narrative nonfiction memoir Seattle-area journalist and publicist Cynthia Flash Hemphill has edited and compiled based on the letters written by her mother Clara Barkey from 1930 to 1946.

“A Hug from Afar reads like a suspense novel–only it’s a true story. It feels as though it’s your family caught up in a tale of hope and fear, frustration and happiness. The family ties that reach across continents and over decades, and an American immigration bureaucracy working to make family reunification as difficult as possible, ” Paul Burstein, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Political Science, and Stroum Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at the University of Washington, wrote in his commentary on the book.

The book goes far beyond one family’s story. This compilation of rich primary source documents captures the history of the Sephardic Jews on the Island of Rhodes, descendants of Spanish Jews exiled during the Inquisition of 1492.

The book “gives voice to a now-lost Jewish community on the verge of annihilation, to a Jewish family seeking asylum, and to one young woman who initiated a thread of correspondence with relatives in the United States that would ultimately solidify her family’s escape from the Nazis,” writes Devin E. Naar, Isaac Alhadeff Professor in Sephardic Studies at the University of Washington, in a detailed and compelling foreword to the book.

“The story itself is not only captivating and powerful on its own, but is also of great historical and cultural significance,” Naar writes. “Too seldom do we have access to the perspectives of women in history, even fewer with regard to young women, and very few when it comes to the Sephardic Jewish world. While we know of Anne Frank and her diary, we have almost no sources composed by Sephardic Jewish girls or young women describing their experiences regarding the rise of fascism and the onset of the Second World War.”

The book uses 16 years worth of letters and official documents to take the reader through a detailed journey of exile, community annihilation, dashed hopes, and real-life drama seen through the eyes of a young woman forced to grow up too quickly as she desperately worked to save her family from Hitler’s efforts to destroy the Jews.

As she put this book together, Flash Hemphill came to understand that her mother’s story is far more than a family history. It offers a much broader lesson that needed to be preserved and made available to a wider audience.

“We are at a point in history now where we’re willing to hear the broader stories of the impact that the Holocaust had on so many people – not only those tragically killed in the death camps, but also the refugees and the lives and communities left behind. Most of these survivors are now gone. It’s important to really embrace the stories of the few who remain,” Flash Hemphill said.

“I hope readers of A Hug From Afar will not only learn about my family and the history of the Jews of Rhodes, but also will consider the many other themes this book offers. It centers on the topic of immigration of refugees, a hot subject as the world struggles over this important issue. It also shows the importance of why it’s important to preserve family histories, especially now that we have moved away from formal, hand-written letters to the instant and quickly discarded forms of today’s communication – e-mail, texts and tweets,” she said.

A Hug From Afar, by Claire Barkey Flash, edited and compiled by Cynthia Flash Hemphill, translated by Morris Barkey, is available to purchase in print and e-book form at Amazon.com and through Createspace. “Like” the book and learn more about it at https://www.facebook.com/ahugfromafar.

 

Buy Nothing. Really.

July 20, 2015

lightbulbsOver the past several weeks I’ve received – for free – a used cooler, new hair ties and gummy licorice candy. I’ve also given away to my neighbors all the extra stuff that’s been sitting around my kitchen for years, including a bread machine, light bulbs that I no longer need, a power drill, vases, and an opened bottle of root beer extract, in addition to a bunch of other stuff.

I did this without attending or holding any garage sales. In fact, I never even met the people I gave to or received from. Instead, I did it all through the Buy Nothing Project, a Facebook group that creates hyper-local communities for people to give away items and services. It was started in 2013 by two Bainbridge Island women – Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller.

My group is “Buy Nothing Bellevue (South)” and includes 448 members within roughly a four-mile radius. Anyone interested in joining must ask to be included in the closed group. Once in, members can offer items and services for free and post requests for items or services they’re hoping to find. Again, it’s all for free.

I’ve seen everything posted from a full office’s worth of furniture to a half-eaten pizza. Some of the more common items are children’s clothing and kitchen things. Some items receive a ton of interest, such as the Seattle Sounders women’s jersey. Others receive comments, but no takers – like my 1979 Harvest Gold range. I find Buy Nothing a fun and rewarding way to dispose of unwanted items. I know they’re going to someone who cares enough about them to respond to a Facebook post and to pick them up from outside my house.hair bands

Here is more information from the Buy Nothing website about the project.

Our Buy Nothing Project Mission:

We offer people a way to give and receive, share, lend, and express gratitude through a worldwide network of hyper-local gift economies in which the true wealth is the web of connections formed between people who are real-life neighbors.

             Principles:

  • We believe our hyper-local groups strengthen the social fabric of their communities, and ensure the health and vitality of each member.
  • We come from a place of abundance ~ not scarcity.
  • We believe in abundance, we give, we ask, we share, we lend and we express gratitude.
  • We are a gift economy, not a charity. We see no difference between want and need, waste and treasure.
  • We measure wealth by the personal connections made and trust between people.
  • We value people and their stories and narratives above the ‘stuff.’
  • We are inclusive and civil at our core.
  • We value transparency and honesty in all our interactions.
  • We view all gifts as equal; the human connection is the value.
  • We believe every community has the same wealth of generosity and abundance.

I really love Buy Nothing and highly recommend joining one in your neighborhood.

Midwives for the dying: How hospice can help

March 10, 2015

hospice photoLast week a lovely young woman quietly entered my father’s room at the nursing home and asked if he was ready for his massage. He smiled up at her from his bed and said, “sure.” Then added, “if it doesn’t cost too much.”

This massage – and any others that he’ll get each week – are free to him. A free massage? How does that work? In this case, the massage is paid for by Medicare as part of the hospice services my father now receives as he approaches the end of his life. It’s one of the many benefits offered by hospice, an amazing service that I believe everyone should take advantage of as they  prepare to leave this earth.

I’m a hospice believer. I have been ever since I started doing PR for Providence Hospice of Seattle more than a decade ago and I’ve seen the amazing benefits people at the end of their lives get from hospice. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization defines hospice this way: “Considered the model for quality compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness, hospice provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes. Support is provided to the patient’s loved ones as well. Hospice focuses on caring, not curing. In most cases, care is provided in the patient’s home but may also be provided in freestanding hospice centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities. Hospice services are available to patients with any terminal illness or of any age, religion, or race.”

In my work and as someone who has seen family members cared for by hospice, I have witnessed amazing compassion, caring and healing at a very difficult time in people’s lives. I’ve seen an estranged daughter reunited with her father. I’ve seen veterans honored in one last ceremony to mark their military service to this country. I’ve seen a young cancer patient comforted by a hospice therapy dog.

And I’ve seen the benefits of hospice in my own family. When my uncle was dying of congestive heart failure several years ago, he got to the point where the doctors recommended hospice care for him. Some family members objected, believing that this would mean he was “giving up” and wouldn’t get the care needed to continue to live. He was sent from the hospital to a hospice facility, where he was expected to die within a week. But, because of the amazing care he received there, he actually recovered! He got well enough to leave. While on hospice he received intensive nursing care, which allowed him to better manage his illness to a point where he was even able to travel to his winter home in Arizona. At that point he was literally kicked off of hospice care, as his condition improved so much that he no longer had a life expectancy of six months or less (needed to qualify for hospice care). We were told at the time that he’d likely be back. And sure enough, he was back eventually. He did die while on hospice care, back at the hospice facility – 18 months after he first received hospice services. I truly believe that the hospice care he received prolonged his life. And with that he got to spend more time with loved ones, travelled, and even saw a reconciliation between family members who before that didn’t get along.

My father started receiving hospice care two weeks ago. He doesn’t have any diseases. But at age 96 he’s what I call “terminally old.” He finally qualified for hospice care when he got pneumonia. I wondered how hospice could help since he’s already in a nursing home and has nurses buzzing around him 24/7. I was assured hospice would add additional services. And sure enough, he sees the hospice nurse at least once a week, the hospice social worker at least every two weeks, the hospice chaplain, a hospice volunteer, and the sweet massage therapist. Medicare pays for hospice care, so it doesn’t cost him (or anyone else who receives hospice care) a dime. The hospice team also is there for family members – to answer questions, offer advice, and to simply listen. They are as concerned with the family’s health as they are with the patient’s health, since we all know that dying isn’t easy for anyone.

But the hospice workers help us through it. After my uncle died, I asked one of the hospice nurses how she could do this very taxing job. She responded simply, that she felt like a midwife. Instead of helping usher a baby into this new world, she helps usher the dying into their new world – whatever that is. What a great statement. It will stick with me forever.

Marshawn Lynch’s exclusive cake recipe

January 28, 2015

lemon cake photoOnce the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC championship game against Green Bay I immediately sent an e-mail to my clients titled “All Seahawks All The Time.” I knew the media would go crazy with Seahawks stories between then and the Super Bowl. Non-Seahawks news would get buried while anything – anything – related to the Seahawks would rise to the top.

We immediately started brainstorming Seahawks-related stories, including this one, which ran on  KING-TV in Seattle.

In this blog post, I’ve decided to take my own advice and write my own “All Seahawks All The Time” story.

It’s about Marshawn Lynch’s favorite cake, lovingly made for him by his grandfather “Papa” Leron Lynch and featured in this report by USA Today reporter Josh Peter. Like everyone else, I’m fascinated by the people stories coming out in the days before the Super Bowl. And of course, Lynch – and his “difficulties” talking to the media – offers one of the most interesting people stories around. Hence, I was drawn to the USA Today headline declaring “‘Papa’ knows way to Marshawn Lynch’s stomach and head.”

What’s “Papa’s” secret? Lemon cake! As I watched the video of Papa making the cake, I immediately recognized it as the cake my mother used to make when we were kids. It was probably developed by the JELL-O kitchen, using a very popular ingredient of the day. Just like my mother, Papa mixed the lemon juice with the sugar, poked holes in the cake, and lovingly spooned on the glaze. Like Marshawn, I too love this cake. In fact, I loved it so much as a kid that I now often make it for my own family.

So, in honor of “All Seahawks All The Time,” I’m going to take this opportunity to share Marshawn Lynch’s favorite cake from Papa! I’m going to make it for the Super Bowl party that I’ll be attending. I’ll now call it “Marshawn’s cake.” Feel free to do the same. Enjoy!

Marshawn Lynch’s Lemon Cake (AKA Mommy’s Lemon Cake Dessert, from Claire Barkey Flash, cir. mid-1960s)

1 small pkg lemon JELL-O     1 C boiling water     Mix and set aside to cool

1 pkg yellow cake mix. Put in large mixer bowl and add 3/4 C veg. oil. Mix. Then add 4 eggs – one at a time and beat after each. Add 1 1/2 tsp lemon extract and the cooled JELL-O mixture. Pour into greased and floured 13 1/2 x 8 1/2 x 2 pan. Bake at 325 for glass pan; 350 for other pan for 30 to 35 minutes. While cake is baking, mix 1/2 C granulated and 1/2 C powdered sugars together with juice of 1 1/2 lemons (I use fresh; Papa used bottled. I suggest you use fresh). As soon as cake is done, take from oven and prick top with fork all over cake. Then spoon sugar and lemon mixture over top. When cool, serve with whipped cream (or not).

 

 

 

 

About friendship and Facebook

January 7, 2015

IMG_0586I had fun on a recent evening FB messaging my friend Neta in Israel. I was asked by another friend to translate Hebrew lettering from his teenage daughter’s new tattoo (does it really say what she thinks it says?). I know several people who read Hebrew. As a native Israeli, Neta was one, so I asked her. We ended up messaging back and forth for quite a while, even after she revealed that the tattoo didn’t translate well.

I first met Neta when we were both in high school. She stayed with me for a weekend when her school concert band came to the Northwest. We both played clarinet. For some reason we hit it off. At the time we became “pen pals.” Does anyone even use that term any more? We continued to write letters to each other through high school, my time in college and her time in the Israeli Army. It continued through her time in college, the start of my career, the death of her father, the death of my mother, through my marriage, and eventually through her marriage, then careers for both of us, and children. It’s been a life-long friendship. She visited the states twice – one time she and I traveled to the San Juan Islands together; the other time I saw her briefly when she was here with her husband and kids. I visited her once in Israel – after my senior year in high school.

I still remember some of the conversations we had when we met in person. She’s one of those people who I will remain friends with forever, even if we only see each other fewer than a dozen times during our lives. We no longer write letters. We “like,” “comment” and occasionally send sentences to each other in the form of FB messages or e-mails.IMG_0498

My recent messaging with Neta has me thinking about friendships in the age of Facebook. Like others, I wonder:  Are FB friends really friends? Do I really have more than 500 friends? Have I even met them all?IMG_0605

The short answer to that last question is no. I haven’t. I’m “friends” with one guy who a real friend recommended I become friends with because he’s quite entertaining. She’s right. I enjoy having him as my “friend” because his posts are interesting. I’m “friends” with some people in high school that I wasn’t friends with then and I’m really not friends with now. But that’s okay, if they want to friend me I’m happy to friend them back. I’m “friends” with people I knew for three weeks at summer camp one summer. I’m “friends” with many former work colleagues (journalists like to stay in touch and keep up with all the gossip). I’m “friends” with family members – some who I talk to nearly every day and others who I’ve never met, including a gal from New Zealand! I’m friends with some of my kids’ friends and their parents – even though my oldest son de-friended me when he got sick of the lurking.

I’m also friends with some people who I am very good friends with – those I talk to at least once a week; those I see several times a year, those I tell my most secret secrets to. How can they all be part of the same ecosystem? That’s an interesting question that I wrestle with every time I post something. Who is my intended audience? Am I sending the right message? Is my goal to inform or to entertain or both?IMG_0821

Ah, good questions that I think about as a publicist as well. We’re always striving to send the right message to the right audience to have the biggest impact.

What do you think about your new “friends?” I welcome your responses. And to my “friends” – thanks for being part of my universe – whether you are a childhood friend like Neta, a work colleague,  or someone I’ve never met. I look forward to our continued friendship!

Inside Don James’ team room – former player reveals `The Thursday Speeches’ in new book

December 10, 2014

the Thursday Speeches book coverAnyone with Seattle roots remembers the glory days of the UW Husky football team – the winning seasons of the late 1970s and 1980s that led to the 1991 national championship. That era was synonymous with the name “Don James.”

Since James left the Huskies following the 1992 season, the team really hasn’t been the same. While James coached for 18 years, the Huskies have cycled through six coaches since he left. This year the Huskies are headed to the Cactus Bowl on Jan. 2, after finishing 8-5 – their second-best finish over the past 14 years.

As we head toward college football bowl season I can think of no better time to introduce you to a new book about James by three-year UW letterman linebacker Peter Tormey, who played for James from 1976 to 1979. He earned a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University in 2007. For his doctoral dissertation, Tormey examined how James used language – particularly in his weekly pregame “Thursday Speeches” – to transform the UW football program from mediocrity to national champion.

I’ve known Peter since we worked together for United Press International in Boise. He eventually left journalism to create and direct the Gonzaga University News Service and to teach.Pete Tormey photo

As a football player, Peter experienced many of James’ compelling pregame speeches firsthand. James trusted Peter with his treasure trove of speeches, granting him nearly exclusive access to the documents. Soon after James died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 20, 2013, Peter made it his mission to share James’ wisdom with others by creating the book, “The Thursday Speeches: Lessons in Life, Leadership, and Football from Coach Don James.”

Peter published it Nov. 25 and it is rapidly receiving critical acclaim. It’s ranked atop the list of hot new football coaching books on Amazon.com. In a five-star review (on Amazon.com), legendary Seattle sportswriter Steve Rudman called “The Thursday Speeches” a “must read for anyone interested in the art of leadership, character building and the nature of success. Don James was a genius. Thanks to Mr. Tormey, here’s a chance to learn from a master.”

Peter described “The Thursday Speeches” as follows:

“This book puts readers in the room with the legendary 18-year Husky coach, revealing the exact words James used to inspire the Huskies to slay the football giants of his day. Packed with inspiring stories and invaluable life lessons, the book also contains new insights into James’ leadership.

“James wrote the speeches before practice each Wednesday, by longhand, on 11-by-14-inch yellow legal pads. After making final edits on Thursday, James recited them – typically with fierce intensity – to his teams before a light practice,” Tormey said.

James, who compiled a record of 153-57-2 at Washington, is the most successful football coach in the history of the University of Washington and the Pacific-12 Conference.

“As but one measure of his coaching excellence, Sports Illustrated once named the three best college football coaches in the country: No. 1, Don James; No. 2, Don James; No. 3, Don James,” Tormey said.

“This book is an appreciative tribute to a great man,” said Tormey, a member of James’ second UW recruiting class. “Coach James inspired so many of us with his toughness, his commitment to competitive greatness, his unmatched capacity for work, and his abiding belief in the importance of a positive attitude. I hope this book will allow many more people to benefit from his inspirational words and wisdom.”

The book is organized into four sections: 

Part I: Getting to the Rose Bowl – chronicles, through interviews and his Thursday speeches, James’ early struggles to change attitudes. This section reveals the details behind James’ decision to move into his office in his first UW season (for the remainder of the season) after a crushing loss to Alabama. This section also describes how James’ commitment helped the Huskies come within a hairsbreadth of going to the Rose Bowl in his first season, and set the stage for their Rose Bowl championship in his third season and Washington’s eventual national championship. This section also describes how James developed his “Pyramid of Objectives” goal construct after listening to a lecturer at a University of Washington engineering conference. A graphic depicting James’ “Pyramid of Objectives” was listed in the Huskies’ playbook and is included in this book as well. 

Part II: Themes of “The Thursday Speeches” – excerpts, listed chronologically, from James’ Thursday speeches about the subjects he addressed most frequently in these talks to his teams.

  • Attitude
  • Life Lessons
  • Competitive Greatness
  • Visualizing Victory

Part III: Glimmers – Short essays on a variety of topics derived from interviews with Coach James. These essays include “Learning from Legends,” the legendary coaches who influenced James the most; “The Leader as Role Model,” how James approached leadership differently when he became a head coach; “Coaches Are Teachers” in which James – who earned a master’s degree in education – understood the principles of effective teaching and worked to ensure his assistants were effective teachers; and “Leading from the Tower” in which James explains that he viewed Husky practices from atop a tower not because he was aloof but for purely practical reasons. Among other topics, this section also explores how James attributes his focus on the kicking game to success in his first seven years at Washington. 

Part IV: A Lasting Legacy – Comments about Coach James’ influence from Coach Gary Pinkel, University of Missouri; Coach Nick Saban, University of Alabama; Sam Wick, friend; Jeffrey James, grandson; James’ pastor, Rev. Jerry Mitchell; and Jill Woodruff, one of James’ three children.

James led his teams to 15 bowl games (10-5) including nine straight from 1979-87. He guided the Huskies to six Rose Bowls and is one of only four coaches to win four Rose Bowl games. His 1991 team finished the season 12-0, beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and was named National Champion by USA Today/CNN, UPI, the Football Writers, Sports Illustrated, and several computer rankings.

Exhibiting a voracious appetite for reading and an expansive intellect, James uses a wide range of stories to engage the Huskies, including topics such as his views on the disparate approaches to goal-setting by Freud and Frankl; how the Cheshire Cat in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” related to the Huskies’ goals; the benefits of suffering; the importance of attitude; the keys to problem-solving; the true meaning of fun, and many others. He fashions speeches around figures including George Washington Carver, Benjamin Franklin, Julius Caesar, Vince Lombardi, Helen Keller, Romano Banuelos, among others.

Communication scholar Klaus Krippendorff (1995) examined the ways that great leaders employ language to construct a new version of reality for their followers. The late French philosopher and scholar Michel Foucault (1979) suggested power is “exercised rather than possessed.” Krippendorff took this a step further to point out the indisputable relationship of language to power: “Power is exercised rather than possessed, by someone and in words.”

“James’ transformation of the UW program proves what Krippendorff theorized: Leaders who are skilled using language have the power to literally speak things into being,” said Tormey. “This book shows this is precisely what Coach James did.”

If you love the Huskies, are a coach, or are looking for inspiration, consider getting this book for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Peter is donating  a portion of the proceeds to the UW’s Don James Football Endowment Fund to provide scholarship assistance to student-athletes who participate in the Husky football program.

 


Bendichas Manos

a blog about living, cooking and caring in the Ladino tradition

Flash Media Services

Public Relations • Writing • Editing • Media Consulting