Everything Was A Very Long Time Ago…

Recently, my two younger brothers and I, our children, our grandchildren and significant others, 20 people in total, gathered at the Reform Movement’s Camp Newman in the beautiful Santa Rosa mountains in Northern California for a moving and unusual family Dedication Ceremony. I’d like to share the back-story so the full impact of the event has context….

A very long time ago, on November 4, 1962, when I was 16, my parents and I were driving three AZA boys from our home to the Los Angeles Bus Depot, only 20 minutes away, after they spent the weekend in LA for a BBYO conference. The unexpected San Diego trio showed up at our front door on this Sunday afternoon and my Mom invited them to stay for dinner, being the nice Jewish-Mother she was! I had previously met one of the guys from my BBG Regional involvement. We hung out, had dinner and left for the Bus Depot at 9:00pm for them to catch their 10:00 trip back home.

The bus was leaving later than planned and my parents debated as to whether they should stay until the bus left or leave them, as they were 18ish and were capable of getting on the correct bus. After staying with them for 15 minutes, we left.

As we drove across the Los Angeles 6th Street Bridge (seen in many Hollywood movies and TV commercials), I had dozed off while sitting in the front seat between my parents.

That was a very long time ago and there were bench seats and no seat belts back then.

I was suddenly awoken by loud screams. I saw flashes of light and don’t remember anything else until I woke up on the sidewalk of the Bridge. I have no idea how much time passed before an ambulance and police were at my side.

My distinct memory was that neither one of my parents were screaming out if I was okay, so I had an instant sense to the severity of the situation.

My beloved Mother and Father were both killed by the impact of the crash when a drunk driver crossed the lanes head-on into our car.

That was a very long time ago, but always fresh in my memory.

We lived in a very close-knit Jewish community, even tighter because we lived across the street from the rabbi of our Temple and our families walked in and out of each other’s houses all the time.

That was a very long time ago and no one locked their doors in those days.

I spent 17 days in the hospital and three months out of school with non-threatening injuries. The rabbi’s face was the first I saw in the emergency room that night. I could not attend my parent’s funeral, where 700plus people attended. My brothers and I were fortunate for the aunts and uncles who supported our financial security while our Bubbe moved in to care for us.

That was a very long time ago and our Bubbe gave us her complete love and strength to move on with our lives in a way that we know our parents would have wanted.

Our rabbi wanted to create a living tribute to our parents who were deeply involved in the synagogue, especially in youth activities. He spear-headed a two year fundraising campaign to raise money to build The Greene Room, a youth lounge and meeting center. When the room was completed, a Dedication Ceremony was held with two separate plaques above the doors that read:

In Tribute to Marvin & Martha Greene

For the Sake of the Children, We Honor the Parents

To watch a video of the plaque dedication, click the arrow in the player below.

The plaques have been in that synagogue for 57 years until the building was sold last year. None of our family live in that city any longer but we knew they were well cared for over the years by old friends. Last year, my LA brother got possession of them and then presented them to me on my next birthday!

The Reform Movement’s camps have been an important part of my Northern California family; first Camp Swig in the Santa Cruz mountains where as a BBYO employee, I often chaperoned BBG and AZA weekends, while my youngest daughter attended summer camp there for many years. When that camp was sold and Camp Newman became the premier place for Jewish campers, one nephew was not only a camper but became head song leader and his parents were active on the board. One of my granddaughters’ has attended Camp Newman for 10 years and most recently as a CIT and then counselor.

Camp Newman burnt down in the 2017 Tubbs fire. We all cried for days. But after several years, it has risen from the ashes and is now up and running where Jewish youth come to learn, have fun, create everlasting friendships and enjoy the majestic scenery.

Click on an image below to enlarge.

Having the plaques in my home didn’t feel like the right place for them. So our family approached the Camp Newman board asking if we could create a permanent resting place for the plaques on the camp premises, as camp conveys all the same spirit of the original concept for The Greene Room, built a very long time ago, with the prominent purpose and message the same, all about Jewish youth. All agreed that the sight was a perfect location to honor our parents as an everlasting legacy while hoping when anyone would see the plaques implanted under a large tree in a serene setting and read the message, they might pause on how they can honor their parents.

On Sunday, July 17 we all gathered at Camp Newman. My nephew quietly played the guitar with a Jewish melody during the near hour long ceremony that was tearful, joyous and amazing as my brothers and I each gave a speech enlightening those as to who are parents were as a couple and as individuals. The grandchildren shared the story on how the plaques came to be and the great grandchildren recited a Jewish prayer, We Honor (Remember) Them. Even the significant/non-related others shared in a prayer. All 21 of us, three generations, had a moment to share in the Marvin & Martha Greene story, even though only three people there actually knew them, and that was a very long time ago.

After the ceremony, the family gathered for a delicious lunch at the only Jewish deli in Santa Rosa, as Jews always celebrate with food regardless of the event! We all hugged and cried at what we had just participated in, and with the fact that ALL of us were gathered together, at one time, in one place. Not always easy for families to do and I was so grateful.

We reluctantly had to end the day as some had planes to catch but my son and I took the long way back to the East Bay by driving over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco to take my visiting granddaughter to a friend’s home before she returned to Oregon. We drove through the streets, sights and neighborhoods of San Francisco and while being in such a nostalgic mood, I kept pointing out places that we had spent so many fun weekends exploring when my kids were younger, a very long time ago.  As I repeated, “Oh, remember that day in 1995?” or “Boy, remember how much fun we had there for your 21st birthday?” my son quietly said, “Everything was a very long time ago.”  I asked him to repeat that, as it struck a chord with me as to how everything WAS a very long time ago!

While my 19-year-old granddaughter and my son chatted away about the impact of social media, covid, the state of the union and other current events, I sat in the back seat and was transported to when everything was a very long time ago. I couldn’t help but go to the years when my parents were alive and all the fun weekends we had, the road trips, all the family gatherings, all the memories they gave me and my brothers that have always been so cherished. Their words, their actions, their deeds created a lifetime for their children, even though their lives were cut short at 38 years old.My kids are older than the age when my parents died, my grandkids are in varying years of college, and I’m, well, much older!

Everything was a very long time ago, the worst of times, the best of times.

It’s what we make out of those times that’s the proof of the pudding.

I know what incredible legacies and experiences my parents left me and my brothers. Ones that we still reminisce about, even though they were a very long time ago, as we hold them all very close to our hearts as if they were yesterday.

Now, as I get older, I hope and pray that when my kids reflect on everything was a very long time ago, the Plaque Dedication to my parents will be the foundation for examples for who and what their family is and will continue to be. Even though so much was a very long time ago, there is still glorious times ahead for new legacies and memories for the next generations.

And in the words of our wonderful Bubbe, “We mourn, we cry, we begin to eat again and then we start to laugh,” as my brothers and I believe we have done because of the legacy left to us and the amazing children and grandchildren that stood next to us on that very special day.

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