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Tupper Lake (1998)

Segal had slipped on a wet rock near the top of Sawyer Mountain on Day 3 of the Great Escape. Sawyer Mountain barely merited the name; only an 847-foot climb, there was no challenge here for Rafi or Jezebel, but none of the little family had been up a mountain since Rafi had hiked up the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.  Rafi did not need any prompting from Segal to pack a first aid kit; in fact, it was he that double-checked that it was in his backpack, under the water bottles. The best he could do was field-dress the gash, and even though Jezebel ran down the hill to get help, Rafi knew that Segal could do this with his help. He grabbed a gnarled beech branch,  snapped off the small part to fit Segal’s build, and handed it to her.
K’chi – ani e’ezor otach. Take – I’ll help you.”
Rafi interpreted the scowl on Segal’s face as a good sign. She had almost thrown him down the hill when he was trying to debride the wound, and now she expressed way too much embarrassment, cloaked as hostility, to be in shock. The two of them and the beech staff made it down about halfway when they were joined by Jezebel, with a dad named Charles and his two boys, about ten and eight years old, in tow. Charles took the arm that had been holding the staff. Segal shot a quick glance at the older boy. 
“Is it OK if your son takes the walking stick?” she asked Charles.
“Barry?” Charles looked down at his older son, who had Jezebel’s leash, limply, in his hand.
“Thanks, Dad! Thanks, Ms. …”
“Ms. Siegal. It’s such a nice stick. Dad, I think it’s just your size!”
“It’s broken a little rough, sorry,” Rafi apologized.
The Adirondack field medical station was staffed by a male nurse with the body of a distance runner, which of course, he was. Fortunately for Segal, he was able to administer injectable anesthetic above the wound site before he started debriding. Still, Rafi and Jezebel both jumped at the yelp emanating from the procedure room. In all, the nurse put eleven stitches in Segal’s knee, and sent her home with a note that specified that her outdoors activities be limited to canoeing and horseback riding, and then only with waterproof bandages if she were to be around water.
When they returned to the Indian Lake Motel, Segal threw on the TV, which divided time between CNN and Animal Planet. It was on CNN. The next thing thrown was Segal’s pack – on the full-sized “parent” bed, as a foot rest. Before she even got her damaged leg up on the pack, Rafi turned around with a start.
“At approximately 10:35 this morning, the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were pulverized in devastating, apparently coordinated attacks. A shadowy terrorist group calling itself Al-Qa-Ida claimed responsibility.” 
“Shit. Od pa’am, here we go again.”
“What!?” Segal, still stung by her embarrassment over the accident at Sawyer Mountain, misinterpreted Rafi’s comment.
“Just last time I was on a vacation with Margaret and the Soviet Union fell apart. We got married, and the half of Rwanda slaughtered the other half. Now what?”
“Let them kill themselves for all I care.”
“Segal, think. This is…”
“Right. I wasn’t thinking. The damn Percocet hasn’t kicked in yet. I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.”
“It’s OK. We can still have a good time here – we can go back up to Blue Mountain Lake, you can canoe, we can go to the museum – and then Jez and I can go up the mountain and you can take a day trip. Where would you like to go where they don’t want dogs?”
“This is the ‘Dacks. Where don’t they want dogs?” 
“I don’t know. Maybe if you go to Old Forge, you’ll see Anne LaBastille. Maybe, you’ll just have a good time – you’re the one who likes Thoreau, after all.”
“And you’re the one who is keeping his head on his shoulders.”
“Where else should my head be?”
“It’s an expression.”
“I know. I always wanted to ask someone that.”
“I love you, too. Now let me make an icepack for you. Do you want a snack before you pass out?”
“I don’t know – whether I’m gonna pass out or not. But I would like a snack. Do we have any tuna salad left from yesterday?”
Rafi was happy that he let Segal take them grocery shopping before lunch yesterday. He was happier that, whether it was tuna salad or a ten course dinner, he always doubled the recipe. Kibbutz cooking was for twenty, never two.
* * *
Itinerary for the rest of Week 1: 
Rafi: Blue Mountain, Castle Rock, and Chimney Mountain (with Jezebel), one golf course, a half-day at the Adirondack Museum, eight hours vocal practice (motel manager likes Mozart, but guests have a problem with high notes plus hangovers).
Segal: One car tour of the Western Adirondacks, a picnic lunch at Singing Waters Camp Grounds (with Jezebel), one paddleboat cruise on Raquette Lake (with Jezebel), one dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant (with an autographed copy of LaBastille’s Woodswoman), two half-days at the Adirondack Museum, and a half-day at the Adirondack Center for the Arts. 
All Participants: A boat trip through the Blue Mountain Lake and connected bodies of water.
Jezebel: Three mountains, a campsite picnic, a paddleboat cruise, and lots of good charcoal-grilled meat in the evenings at the Indian Lake Motel.
On the way up to the much more touristy Saranac Inn in Saranac Lake, at the intersection of Rts. 28 and 30, sat the old crossroads town of Tupper Lake. Rafi and Segal wanted to visit the historic synagogue there. The village was founded in 1844 as a lumber center, but its Jewish history began in 1905, when Mose Ginsburg, a small dry-goods trader, suffered the death of his horse there. After burying the animal, he set up shop at the train depot, creating Ginsburg’s, the largest department store for a time in upstate New York. Wherever Jews establish themselves, they create a cemetery and a religious school, so says the tradition. The latter became Beth Joseph Synagogue, which maintained a museum of Jewish life that was open year round. Mose Ginsburg’s daughter was visiting the synagogue when Rafi and Segal came in. Jezebel waited outside, providing a friendly welcoming committee. 
An octogenarian named Mr. Joseph served as docent that day. He seemed pleased to have visitors, particularly Jewish ones. When Rafi let on that he was studying to be a cantor, the old man grabbed his tie-dye and, looking up at Rafi with hopeful, almost pleading eyes, he urged, 
“You are staying close by?”
“Yes, we are staying in Saranac Lake.”
“Then you must davenwith us Friday. Our services start at seven. The whole Jewish camps are here as our guests. We would be proud to have you as hazzan.” 
Rafi and Segal looked at each other, puzzled.
“Let me show you our prayer book. You take it; you bring it back Friday.”
The nonagenarian daughter of the synagogue’s founder entered the museum wing at that moment. Almost as tall as Rafi and Segal, she could have given Joseph a rub on his bald pate. At ninety one years of age, the woman stood straight, and walked without a cane. She seemed ready to launch into the canned speech she gave tourists whenever she graced the museum wing, but Mr. Joseph turned quickly and grabbed her dated polyester blended jacket with mint and yellow checks on a beige background.
“Muriel, do you know who we have here?”
“Who is it, Jacob?”
“It’s Hazzan Ben-B’rak, from Temple Beth Sholom in Philadelphia.”
“Hazzan Ben-B’rak, what a pleasure! Welcome to Beth Joseph!” The doyenne of New York retail west of the Hudson remembered the passage from the Haggadah, the telling of the story of Passover well, in which a dozen revolutionary rabbis plotted the Bar Kochba Rebellion against Rome over a Passover Seder in the town of B’nei-B’rak. 
“May I introduce my wife Segal Gottesdienst?”
“Mrs. Ben-B’rak, a pleasure.”
Rafi stepped up. “Ms. Gottesdienst. I was stubborn, and I kept my name under the huppah.” That was Hebrew, or Yiddish, for “altar.” Sort of.
Quickly, the information was exchanged, and it turned out that the Grand Lady of Retail had taken a call from a rabbi from the Reform Movement who was also vacationing in the Adirondacks and looking for a place to pray that weekend. Of course, Mrs. Ginsberg had extended the offer to the rabbi that Mr. Joseph had given Rafi. 
“How long has it been since there were two clergy on the bimah at the same time here?” Segal asked. 
“I was only a very young girl when my father started the shul, but I don’t ever remember it happening.”
“Not even on the High Holy Days?” Rafi asked.
“No, not even then.”
“Well, with your permission, Segal, we accept! Let’s make history.”

About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at

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