Copyright 2001-2008, James J. Belcher.  All rights reserved.

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Copyright 1999, 2000, 2001 James J. Belcher. All Rights Reserved.

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The Magic of Change

 

Chapter 1

 

I was the product of a very planned parenthood. Even my name, Jessica Goldstein. I grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood that had once been almost completely Jewish, but change was in the wind and my father was a visionary of sorts. My parents changed, from Orthodox to Conservative, a radical move in 1940, never knowing that the millennium would see six out of seven American Jews something other than Orthodox. I was born eight years later.

I would marry (Didnít all proper girls?), so I would acquire my husbandís last name and he might even not be Jewish. "Goldstein" would be reduced to an initial, so I would fit in. Strange sentiments from a man named Hyman, nickname Hymie, later a slur from a black Christian minister named Jesse Jackson.

Jessica Smith or Browning would have worked well, but he never considered Castiglione or Czernecki. Or Feinberg, Herbert Feinberg, the man I married in 1975. Jessica Feinberg. I considered changing it, but I respected my father, at least his well-placed intentions, so I never did. Change, they anticipated it, Hymie and Gladys Goldstein, they just never figured when. Herb was a Reformed Jew, but still a Jew. The neighborhood had long since become an ethnic mix with more Blacks than anything else.

I was an only child, and my wedding day was perhaps the happiest of my parentsí life, more so than the day of their own wedding. They took an instant liking to Herb, a graduate of CCNY, accounting degree, studying for his CPA exams. I was also at CCNY at the time, taking courses in education. We went from college, Point A, to natural Points B, never considering another course.

We worked hard, did all the right things, never dared to object, just insisting on our rights. Today, Herb and his partners have a good practice here on Long Island, and I am principal of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, just outside the City.

A generation ago, it would have been a trip to Israel, but for our 25th anniversary, we instead planned a week in Bermuda. Bermuda seems like one small island but itís a collection of connected islands. Itís known for pink sands, but thatís mostly myth. However, a few beaches have enough red coral chipped into red sand by parrotfish to mix with standard white beach sand and create the pink stuff of legend.

It does have the motor scooters, winding roads, clean air and pastel cottages with white roofs that collect water into the cisterns. Pricey quietude and luxury, Goyim luxury some would say, but an elegance we wanted very much to experience. It was summertime and Herb bought a white linen suit and a straw hat to cover his bald head from a very hot sun.

I bought some flowered dresses reminiscent of the 1940ís, very Hollywood, and read about Bermudaís customs. Twenty-five years to the day of our wedding, we would be sipping non-alcoholic cocktails on the veranda, in tall glasses, with thin colored straws with wedges of orange and pineapple. The summer of 2000, a new view in a world outside New York, an experiment for Herb and Jessica.

Life doesnít always work out like our plans. We didnít know it at the time, but the best day in our lives started with the morning in Bermuda when the four-star hotelís concierge hand delivered a notice informing us that an impending hurricane required our immediate evacuation.

At first, he balked when we insisted on breakfast before packing, but he relented. I thought there was a trace of a smile on his lips as Herb and I headed downstairs for our third morningís breakfast at the finest hotel we had ever known as overnight guests. I was more than a little hot under the collar and my inclination was to blame them as anti-Semitic. That was stupid and I was stunned into reality when I saw we were heading into a fully staffed dining room but its only patrons.

We sat at the same table where we had eaten our two previous morning meals, and our same waitress, Edith, again spoke the pleasantries, handing us menus with pastel landscapes individually hand-painted on their covers. There were no others who would know, and I had never been Orthodox. I seriously considered a Western omelet, complete with onions, green peppers and ham. Gladys would have shuddered and Herb raised an eyebrow when I told him of my idea.

I looked out to the same waves and clouds of the previous days and it dawned on me that a hurricane must give no warning. Or?

Edith returned with two champagne stems and a carafe of orange juice, leaned over and whispered in my ear. Those words, the next glimpse, and my life, Herbís life, they would never be the same. Not just ours, the lives of millions of others. Before that trip, I would have wagered my soul that real change never happens, not big changes, not quickly, not permanently and not meaningfully.

I was wrong.