West L.A. is home to three Jewish-themed museums. The Museum of Tolerance is the West Coast’s answer to D.C.’s Holocaust Museum, though less epic in scale. It’s also a bit broader in content: from the Holocaust, it branches out to displays on racism and genocide around the world. The Skirball’s main galleries are dedicated to Jewish culture, displaying objects used in the homes, businesses, and worship places of Jews all over the world from the medieval era up to current day. There’s even a room with catalogued snippets of home movies and audio interviews on different aspects of the American Jewish experience. While both of these museums are kid-friendly, only the last—the Zimmer—is designed specifically for children.

On a Sunday afternoon, I meet my old high school friend Lisa and her 6-year-old daughter, Sydney, at the Zimmer. It’s not technically billed as a “Jewish” museum, just a regular children’s museum, but its location on the first floor and basement of a high-rise called the Jewish Federation Building is the first indication that this play space might have a special message. When I arrive, Lisa and Sydney are already deep inside and I get stopped by the security guard for being childless and then let through once Lisa comes to vouch for me. Beyond the ticket booth, a few items remain stationary in a blur of activity: a full-scale ambulance with spinning red lights, a make-believe theatre stage with an exploding trunk of costumes, a replica of a jet with the bobbing heads of tiny pilots.

One display stands out. It’s in the center of everything and the floor has been cut away so that it continues on the level below. A giant wall of levers and gears and pegs sports a sign declaring this the “World’s Largest Tzedekah Pinball.” I’ve seen “tzedekah” translated as “charity” or “justice” and my sense is that it encompasses any generous or kind act. Pucks released at the top fall through the open spaces, ricocheting off obstacles here and there. I suppose it’s meant to symbolize the complicated course of life with each collision representing an opportunity to do a good deed. The pucks rain down on the roof of a little house below.

On bottom floor, I stroll down a tiny main street complete with shingled roofs and streetlights. Each lovingly rendered storefront invites playacting: wait tables at the Blue Bagel Café, organize inventory at Bubbie’s Bookstore, wrap yourself in a prayer shawl at the mini-synagogue.

Beyond the pretend synagogue, Lisa and I take a seat as Sydney joins a group of kids on a life-size boat in a sea of soft balls.

“So, how did it go?” Lisa asks. She’s curious about my dates with the other members of my old high school gang: Nina, Deb, and Becky. I had been so anxious about the prospect, I’d considered abandoning my goal of seeing each of them, but decided I had to do what was right, not what was easy. So I arranged to meet each friend separately. I hoped to provide my undivided attention and convey my sincerest apologies for having disappeared so thoroughly from their lives.

7 thoughts on “Tzedekah

  1. Corinna,
    Your desire to do what was right and apologize for thoroughly disappearing from your friends’ lives was initiated by your search for God. This is not disconnected from your search for God as knowing God comprises two things: Loving God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving your neighbor as yourself. God is leading you into this. Do you see it?
    Love, Ginger

    • Ginger, I think in hindsight I can see it more clearly. While I was living it, I was just simply trying to do the next best thing…and wanting to “be in the moment” as much as possible. I had hard moments and boring hours, etc., but looking back it feels like a purposeful journey guided by power greater than myself–that’s for sure.

  2. This reads like the “big one” is coming up….the big meeting(s) that is….I suppose it’s too late to pray that they went well, but I’m intrigued by the idea that, since God is eternal, could he answer a prayer now for something in the past? hmmmm….
    It’s kind of nice to read about what is being offered to kids today in such museums. That was not the case with my generation….I had to settle for imagining the hole in my backyard was a castle, a fort to play army in, the cave in which the Count of Monte Cristo found all his treasue, and a gazillion other flights of delighted imagination….
    I’m just wondering, who had the most fun there, Sydney or Corinna??

    • I am sitting here reading and re-reading about this “big meeting” coming up. I have come to the conclusion that Corinna’s iconic get-to-gethers have grown all at out proportion. I don’t mean to rain on the parade, but it seems to me that losing friends throughout one’s life is a normal event. Many of us have had special relationships which have become disconnected. I think that each of us through time have lost a friendship—-some were the natural attrition of age and interests—we grew apart. Sometimes we hardly noticed while it was happening, and other times the separation was cataclysmic. And, sometimes as with Corinna, we feel a tug at our heartstrings and the influence of that old friend guilt, and we go searching, trying to re-connect. Sometimes it is a fruitful search, and we are re-united with people whom we very much cared for at sometime in our lives. Other times, the other people are too busy or disinterested and we reach a dead end. But it is a natural part of forming relationships. So although I am interested in how these meeting go, I as not waiting with baited breath.

      I could tell you my own story of the women I became tight with in college. We were in a sophomore women’s service group together, and I thought at the time that I would never lose track of these girls. Couldn’t imagine any of them not being in my life. But by the time I was a senior, several of them were off my radar on a day to day basis. Others got married. had babies, and left school. I went on to other endeavors. And lo-and-behold! Fifty years later, very few of us are in contact. I still am close to one woman, and I talk with her regularly. Two other people I send holiday cards to… woman didn’t answer a letter I wrote asking how her life was going. The 10 or so others are basically in the wind, and I haven’t taken the time and energy to track them down. So be it. My life is rich as it is.

      It does not seem so important to me at this juncture. There were young women who helped shape the character of my young adult life. They mattered to me. Just as Corinna’s friends mattered to her. But maybe it is not the end of the world when when life just goes on, and we pull up our own resources and in the privacy of your own heart know and feel that we possess more than enough so that we can show up to any situation with something to give…we are able to offer empathy, support, forgiveness or joy, Our light shines because our vessel lis full and we have more than enough to share.” It becomes unnecessary to try to discover how other perceive our past actions. Seems to me that this is more than enough!!

      • Hi Merrill, Yes, I see your points. I think some friendships die of natural causes and it’s fine to move on with love and appreciation. But other times it might be wonderful to find each other again if only to say “hello, how are you?” I think it just depends on what feels right.

  3. It’s wonderful to imagine that the group of Hebrews who crossed the Red Sea and wandered through the desert and established Jerusalem and Israel as their homeland and wearied through centuries of judges and kings and prophets and end time periods with their beautiful temple has descendants who are still playing on the planet who in one way or another stay connected to their past. Although it seems incredible, the good outlive the bad and life goes forward. Thanks for sharing, Corinna.

    • Hi Frank, I definitely got a sense that “life after death” for many Jews exists in the actions and memories of the future generations. I didn’t hear so much talk of going to or living in heaven, but much more focus on what future generations will recall and do to keep the light burning.

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