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Chapter Thirteen


Through Dolly's Eyes


    Often, when I am unsure if I have made the right decision or not, Hashem sends me one of His helpers to give me another perspective. Looking at my situation through their eyes helps me to reveal if the decision I made was right or wrong. This is exactly what happened to me a couple of months before the Bar Mitzvah when my very good friend Dolly Bloom came to visit. For over 6 years Dolly brought out the very best in me. She helped me to revive the creative part of myself that I had put on hold in order to develop the religious part of myself. She also reminded me that there were many different ways to enjoy life. And no one enjoyed life more than Dolly.

     She was a constant explosion of emotions and personality. One minute she was a happy little kid enjoying an ice cream cone, and the next minute she was a loving grandmother serving you a heaping portion of food. Sometimes she was even the sister with whom you could share a good laugh and your innermost thoughts. Dolly could always make me laugh. We could giggle together for hours. She had a million little funny stories and I enjoyed laughing at every one of them. She loved life, and she showed everyone around her how to love life too. Even after Dolly became a widow, she continued to love life and to live it to the fullest. She had an endless supply of love inside of her, and anyone who connected with her learned what real love was all about. Dolly especially loved having an audience, and I willingly became her most adoring fan.

     For over 20 years, Dolly Bloom was the music director at the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Boston. One day when our son Nosson was in kindergarten there, I got an idea for a song. I wrote it down and gave it to his teacher, Esther Ciment. She said she would give it to Dolly for me. I was a little worried about Dolly being upset that someone else had written a song for the preschool. When I came in the next morning to bring Nosson to class, Dolly came running out yelling, "I love it, I love it!!"

     Well, that was the beginning of some of the best and most productive years of my life. Dolly was a musical genius. She knew every tune that was ever written. She had studied music for over 50 years. I was in awe of her. She could get an idea and write words to a tune in five minutes. She elevated hundreds of secular tunes by putting Jewish words to them, all about Torah and Mitzvahs and Jewish holidays. She was thrilled to have me around, because even though everyone enjoyed her songs, I sat there totally enthralled and delighted by her very presence. She encouraged me to continue writing songs, and she taught me a lot about how to write a song so that little children could remember it easily. She called all the kids cute and funny names like pussycat and snicklefritz. She taught children to work together, even kids who couldn't sing or dance. Every Purim, the children looked forward to seeing her dressed up as a clown and handing out peanuts.

     Dolly's talent also included working with adults. She used to put on a show once a year for the sisterhood at a shul in her neighborhood. It was always a funny and entertaining show. She convinced me to join the group, and I had a marvelous time. One day I mentioned to Dolly that I wanted to dress up like a great big chicken in the upcoming show and sing a funny song. She thought I was kidding, but the next day she came in with the funniest chicken song ever written. I went out and rented a big chicken costume and I sang the chicken song that Dolly wrote. And here it is. Just imagine a great big Jewish chicken singing this song (to the tune of "Turkey in the Straw"):


Oy I'm just a little chicken and I'm gonna tell the truth
I don't really wanna be in chicken soup
You can have your fish and liver and your matzah balls to boot
But you won't catch me in a chicken soup

Make bean and barley make green split pea
Use your imagination you'll see
that any kind of soup is fine
With one exception, the chicken kind

Have you ever stopped to think how a chicken feels
When you serve him in so many different meals
Chicken gumbo, chicken hash, chicken fricassee
And they're all made with chicken, oy vey is me

Friday night is comin' and you're gonna see
They'll be wantin' soup and they'll be houndin' me
I guess time's up, there's no excuse
Cause when you're a Shabbos chicken then you're in the soup!

Dun dun de dun dun, dun dun [chicken curtsies].


    Why am I writing about Dolly and what does she have to do with Crown Heights? Well, I'll tell you. Dolly came to visit us for a week in the summer of 1994, and she fell in love with Crown Heights. She thought it was just about the greatest place on earth. She had a ball walking on Kingston Avenue, she loved talking to the store owners and she especially loved soaking up the heimishe atmosphere.

     The day that Dolly had planned to come for her week-long visit ended up being exactly one week after the Rebbe passed away. I was depressed, and I tried to talk Dolly out of coming. I was worried about how I would be able to make her visit enjoyable. But being Dolly, she said she was going to come, if only to cheer me up, and never mind about her. Besides all the fun we had just shopping for food (she insisted on making us a big, and I mean big, meal every night) and laughing together (it's impossible to be around Dolly and not laugh), she wanted to go to 770 and say Tehillim, and she wanted to go to the Ohel.

     One evening I received a phone call from a neighbor telling me that Rabbi Groner was speaking later that evening. I wasn't sure Dolly would feel like going because we had already had a long and tiring day (silly me, I forgot that Dolly never got tired). Dolly said of course she would love the chance to hear Rabbi Groner speak in person. Dolly sat there visibly moved by Rabbi Groner's touching stories about the Rebbe as she took in every word. Just before she left to go home, I surprised her with a tape of Rabbi Groner speaking that night, and she was thrilled. Most of the time when someone speaks in Crown Heights, there is a tape of the speech available, usually the next day.

     During her visit, Dolly mentioned to me (half seriously) that she wished she could live here, but her family was back in Boston. Her mother, her son, her daughter and son-in-law and especially her grandchildren were the most important people in the world to her. Clearly her life was in Boston. Still, it was hard for Dolly to leave Crown Heights. Over many years she had developed a strong connection to Lubavitchers and especially to the Rebbe. Even though Dolly wasn't brought up in a religious household, she eventually became an enormously devoted Orthodox Jew. And for this achievement, Dolly felt she owed much of the credit to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

     Before Dolly came to visit, I had been worried for some time that maybe Crown Heights was much too intense, too fast-paced and too highly opinionated a place for our family to survive here. But seeing Crown Heights through Dolly's eyes reminded me that life was all in how you looked at it. So just because Crown Heights was a difficult place for us to live didn't mean that it wasn't the right place for us to be. Dolly understood more than anyone else why we came here and what we were looking for in our lives. She thought moving to Crown Heights was the best decision we ever made, and now I was beginning to think so too. And Dolly was also right about her visit. She really did cheer me up. As a matter of fact, Dolly pumped a lot of life back into Crown Heights the week she was here. It was a very difficult time for everyone right after the Rebbe passed away, and even though people here may not have realized it, having Dolly Bloom's love of life permeating the atmosphere was an enormously uplifting gift from G-D.

     She was also greatly encouraging concerning our situation with Dovid being out of work. Several months later I think she was even more relieved than we were when Dovid finally found work. He actually found two jobs, one that was short term and one that was part time, but the part time job was close to home and it seemed likely it would eventually turn into a full time job. Although neither job had anything to do with law and neither job paid very well, after having been out of work for so long we were thankful to G-D for Dovid finally getting any job at all. Dolly understood our situation well because years earlier her husband had been out of work and she knew how hard it could be. Dolly was a true friend who stuck by people no matter what and gave her love to everyone, even those who did not extend their love to her. Dolly knew better than anyone I had ever known that G-D wants us to love not only those who are easy to love, but also those who are difficult to love. And no one could love as sincerely or as completely as my friend Dolly Bloom.

     Sadly, Dolly passed away three days before the following Pesach. I miss her so much, but I know that because of our connection with Mount Sinai, we will see each other again very soon. Then arm in arm we will step out "on the Avenue" as Dolly would say, together again giggling all the way.