My speech on February 2, 2016

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Click here to listen to my speech to the New York Theological Seminary on Tuesday February 2, 2016.  After you click the link just download the file to listen to the speech. There is also a question and answer session.

In my speech I discuss my book, “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi occupied Holland”, as well as the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran Minister who gave his life battling Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

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Does it make a difference?

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In speaking with my mother, a Dutch survivor of the Holocaust, I have learned that Holocaust Remembrance Day is like any other day set aside for commemoration of an event.  In some ways it’s not really necessary.  Every day is, to some extent at least, a day in which the Holocaust is remembered.  For those who honor their parents as they should, who really needs Mother’s Day, right?

Maybe not.  Yes it is something that sticks with so many of us on a constant basis, but the question we really need to ask is what is the real purpose of a Holocaust Remembrance Day?  Especially one sanctioned by the United Nations of all things. An organization that has repeatedly shown disdain for, and prejudice against Israel and the Jewish people has a day in which they are saying everyone should remember the victims of the Holocaust during the reign of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party.  Is this day a day designed to strengthen world morality in order to see to it that no similar atrocity ever happens again?  Consequent actions and behaviors by the UN over the years certainly wouldn’t back that up.  Is it a satisfaction of guilt for a so-called world organization that does far less than it should to protect innocent people?  Or is it part of the farce that is the United Nations image that allows it to continue its worthless existence in which it does more to make corrupt people rich and powerful than it does to care for the weak and persecuted?

Whatever it actually is, if the results of this day set aside to remember does indeed increase awareness somewhere and with someone, who knows what type of positive ripple effect it could have.  I wrote a book about what my parents went through in the time of Nazi occupation.  Was this something I did as a totally selfless act?  The honest answer to that question is no.  Any success or achievement I have or will get out of the book certainly satisfies me on a personal level, but that does not negate the fact that nothing is more satisfying to me than inspiring or enlightening someone when it comes to the events that took place.  Now magnify this and imagine how many people may never have known that 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis if it were not for a Day of Remembrance.  If any of these people are inspired to the point that they actually do something to make a difference in the future, then no matter how disingenuous the formation of a memorial may be, it does some good, and in a world with so much bad, and in a world where hating Jews is becoming more and more in fashion, we need all the help we can get.  Even if it comes from a reluctant source.

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Explaining the fallacy of anti-Israel Liberalism

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I finally have come to some understanding as to how the Palestinian cause has become part of the Liberal narrative.  As someone who considers himself a Social Liberal and Zionist, I’ve tried hard to figure out how Liberals have apparently become so opposed to Israel’s conduct and seem to think aligning themselves with the Palestinians makes them more caring and benevolent individuals.

The fact is that the Palestinians are an oppressed people.  Their leadership has received countless billions of dollars over the years to improve the lives of the people and rather than doing so they’ve created an angry, hopeless population that believes Israel is responsible for everything wrong in their world.  They’ve kept the money from the people, and whatever money they haven’t kept for themselves has largely been used on funding terrorist activity against the Jewish state.  The anger they’ve helped cultivate has created countless soldiers of hate, more than willing to kill and even die for their cause.

One of the popular arguments, particularly among Jews, is that criticizing Israel does not make you anti-Zionist, and certainly as a Jew not anti-Semitic. That statement by itself is of course true, but that doesn’t mean that every anti-Israel statement is true, and it certainly doesn’t mean there is something meritorious in attacking Israel’s policies.  Truth and honesty must always be a prerequisite to any opinion, and to sit in judgment over Israel’s actions today without looking at how we got here is not only dangerous ignorance, it’s succumbing to anti-Zionist propaganda.

I’ll come right out and say it.  Israel’s government makes mistakes. It sometimes takes incorrect actions that hurt more people than anyone would like to see hurt, however, two critical points need to be recognized if we are to judge Israel for its actions.  First of all, we need to look at how we got here.  History didn’t just begin. Israel’s actions against Palestinians didn’t come out of nowhere.  The wall wasn’t put up because of an irrational prejudice or bigoted doctrine.  Israel’s government doesn’t promote destruction or mass killings in any of its statements.  What it does on occasion, is react.  I once worked for someone who taught me that it is always better to respond than it is to react since reacting connotes taking action without considering the consequences.  There are times we can make a valid argument that Israel reacts rather than responds, but if we are to be fair we need to take an honest look at what Israel is reacting to.  Terrorists activities targeting the innocent on a regular basis takes its toll on a population.  It’s designed to.  Terrorists count on that.  For anyone to criticize Israel’s actions without recognizing decades, not years, but decades of terror is a prejudice in itself.

The second thing that needs to be considered is the severity of the response or reaction.  Considering Israel’s strength,  bulldozing the homes of terrorists that kill Israeli citizens on its streets is relatively light.  Bombing locations where active terrorists are hiding is a justified action. I’m as unhappy as anyone that Israel finds itself put in the situations that is it, but consider this.  When Israel takes out a terrorist, its enemies target civilians.  When terrorists attack Israeli civilians, Israel targets terrorists.  It’s a tragic cycle, but there is no moral equivalency here, and to try to create one where one doesn’t exist is either complete ignorance or even worse, blatant anti-Semitism.

Do I wish the situation was different? Of course I do.  Do I think Israel is perfect?  I do not.  However, taking sides against the Jewish people because in Israel they’ve gone from being the oppressed to being the strong, doesn’t make someone Liberal, it either makes someone the product of indoctrination or a disingenuous bigot.  When a person hears a lie often enough it starts to sound true.  Although caring for the oppressed is a valiant mission, there is nothing Liberal about siding with the party that wants to wipe out a people and claims it is in the name of protecting the oppressed, when all it is really about is the acquisition of wealth and power.  Promoting peace is the most just cause there is, but there is nothing Liberal about siding with those who don’t really want it, even if they claim to represent the oppressed.

Is it OK to criticize Israel? Of course it is. But if someone is honest and gives equal time to all those committing any questionable acts they would find themselves speaking about Israel’s activities against the Palestinians a lot less than they do today. When you no longer look at Israel’s behavior in an anti-Zionist vacuum you realize that there is nothing liberal about disregarding the incredible restraint, and yes even tolerance that Israel has shown over the years.  And seeing how tolerance is supposed to be the true definition of liberalism, maybe then those who call themselves Liberals would be on the right side.  And remember this.  As Conservatives are on the right side of the political spectrum, and Liberals do not think as Conservatives do, they need to remain cognizant of the fact that the opposite of right in this case is left, not wrong, and to be anti-Israel for its actions is not left, it’s wrong.

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The Ten Commandments w/Explanation

This is a listing of the 10 commandments and an explanation of each commandment as put together by my friend Marty Novitsky.  It is thoughtful and inspiring. Enjoy.

 

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Open Letter to Bethany Koval, anti-Israel Jersey teen

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Dear Benny,

As a 54 year old man it is my responsibility to address you, a 16 year old girl in an appropriate, not combatant fashion.  Although I strongly disagree with your viewpoints on Israel, I start by recognizing a few very important and pertinent facts.  Firstly, to the best of my knowledge you are not a criminal. You are a young lady, apparently a Jewish-Israeli young lady, expressing your views in a democratic society that has rules in place to protect your right to do so.  Secondly, as much as I disagree with you, I do not believe that you are, in any way part of the problem.  On the contrary. Responding to you correctly can actually work towards helping the problem.  Calling you names or attacking you for speaking up is not only wrong, it digs us all into a deeper moral hole.  So with that said I would like to bring some points to your attention and hope that it opens your eyes to factors you may not have considered.

I recently saw a video on the wall separating the Palestinians in the territories from the rest of Israel.  Since it was an anti-Israel video it naturally portrayed the wall in a totally negative light. When I thought about it later I realized the tactic being used, not only in that video but in so much of the anti-Israel propaganda being put out today.  It is a tactic that almost automatically has to be one of the driving forces in you feeling as you do today.  The tactic is, portraying history as starting from a later date.

Let me explain.  If you go to Israel today and see a wall separating 2 people who technically live in the same country I can understand how it can be a difficult thing to wrap your head around.  By itself the whole concept of a wall for that purpose is not something anyone decent would want or approve of.  But that’s only if you look at it today out of the context of why it was put up in the first place.  If history starts from the construction of the wall, Israel seems wrong.  But it does not. If history starts from the current living conditions of the Palestinians, Israel seems wrong. But it does not. If history starts from the Israeli bombs dropping in Gaza, Israel seems wrong.  But it does not.  If history starts from Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Israel might be wrong.  But it does not. You see Bethany, rather than get mad at you for exercising your First Amendment right to Free Speech, it is my responsibility to explain to you that which you may be intentionally or unintentionally be ignoring when stating your opinion.

The United Nations, the very same United Nations that at every turn attacks Israel for its “occupation”, out of the ashes of the genocide of 6 million Jewish men, women and children, sanctioned and supported the creation of the Jewish State in 1948.  Almost immediately after doing so, every neighboring country in the region ganged up on Israel and attacked her.  Israel fought them off in 1948, again in 1956, in 1967, and in 1973 the Yom Kippur War in which Israel’s enemies waited till the holiest day of the Jewish year to attack.   The war in 1967, also known as the 6 day war was the war in which Israel, finally having enough of the threat it incurred from its neighbors, captured territories as a buffer from future attacks. The Sinai, Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank were all captured in this war.  The Sinai Desert, land controlled by Egypt prior to the 6 Day War, was returned to Egypt in the very successful peace accord of 1979.  The Golan still remains in Israel as there has never been a true partner in which to discuss peace over this land captured from Syria.  Syria’s leadership which murders its own people is certainly not a willing partner in peace for Israel to negotiate with.

Here is where the problem, and the true history really starts.  Starting from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas and later the more brazen and direct Hamas and Hezbollah, Israel has been surrounded at almost every border by terrorist organizations seeking its destruction.  Israel has made attempts to negotiate peace settlements, but even when it has offered territories, the controlling forces have found a way to crush the agreements.   These same controlling forces have received countless billions to improve the living conditions of the Palestinian people, but rather than doing so they’ve either pocketed the money or used it to fund terrorist activities in Israel.  They’ve kept the population down because let’s face it, a satisfied population is not an angry one, and they need angry people to do their bidding.  They’ve blown up entire families in one moment.  They’ve murdered little children, pregnant women and elderly citizens, not because of collateral damage but with intent.  Is it a tragedy when Palestinian children get killed in Israeli attacks?  Of course it is. But the Israeli government makes it very clear that its targets are terrorist bases of operation, not innocent civilians. When innocent people die Israel shows regret.  When innocent Jewish people get killed in terrorist attacks by members of Palestinian terror groups the attackers are glorified by far too many as heroes achieving a great success and certainly with no regret.

Yes the plight of the Palestinian people is a tragedy, just not one created by Israel.  I do not sit here saying Israel does nothing wrong Benny, all I am trying to make you understand is that the history of this conflict is a lot older than the years which you as a young lady have witnessed.  They are older than the years I have witnessed.  You are clearly intelligent and caring. If you were not you would never have bothered tweeting in the first place.  As opposed as I am to your views, in some ways I am equally opposed to you being attacked for them.  In fact, many of my open letters are scathing attacks against people expressing what I see as unfair and dishonest opinions against Israel and the Jewish people.  Seeing as you are Jewish, Israeli, and 16, I believe a harsh approach to you is not only inappropriate, it’s damaging to all those who want the same thing.  Peace. I just ask one very important thing of you. Use your intelligence and compassion to research the whole history, do so with an open and honest mind and I hope and believe you will come to a significantly different conclusion than you do today.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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The Story of an Old Friend and how I followed his Passing Away on Facebook

goodbyelinneav2This piece is about an old friend.  I use the term friend with some degree of guilt because I was a neglectful one for many years.  That being said, there are some people you always call a friend.  If you never had a falling out, got along great with them, had some really good times together, and had a mutual respect, even the loss of contact won’t stop you from calling them a friend. Even if the only way you found out their death was only hours away was on Facebook.

I moved to New York on July 23, 1985. After a few months here I moved to what I hope will be the smallest place I ever live, a studio apartment on the corner of Avenue S and West 9th Street in Brooklyn.  There are a few things I remember about the time I lived there.  My first battle with New York cockroaches, living in walking distance from great pizza, watching the New York Mets win the World Series, celebrating the win with my neighbors, and the 2 people I met who would become my best friends in the neighborhood.  One of these friends I lost contact with completely.  The other friend was Ira, a friend I lost contact with over the years but stayed close with for quite some time after I moved out of Brooklyn.  In fact as I write this, I remember Ira helping me move to the slightly bigger apartment I moved into on 1st Avenue and 1st Street in Manhattan.

We all have people in our lives we call friends because we refuse to take that title away from them.  There are many people who are much closer to these people than we are, many who have shared more with them, done more for them, supported them in tough times and experienced milestones.  There are many people who may read this, friends of Ira who likely never even heard my name, but that can’t and won’t stop me from proudly stating that Ira was my friend back then, and in my mind and heart died today as my friend.

Some time early this afternoon I saw a picture of Ira posted on Facebook.  Although the communication was not there, something I say with complete and open honesty was much more my fault than his, we were Facebook friends, something that allowed me to at least occasionally take a peak in on his life.  It looked like he left a very special one.  Still with the woman he met so many years ago, a woman who made him happy from the start, and surrounded by people who clearly appreciated what a kind and gentle soul he was.  So when I looked harder at the picture and read the comments this afternoon, the fears I had since I saw him thinning dramatically in previous pictures turned out to be legitimate.  Ira was not only very sick, his death was imminent. There was even an indication he would be leaving this world today.  At 5:49 PM I posted the following on his timeline.

Ira, I have not been the friend I should have been for you, and I am not sure exactly what is going on, but I am smart enough to deduce from the posts. Always always always thought you to be a great guy and my life, even if I didn’t show it, has been enriched by knowing you and having you as a friend. When people feel that way about you, you live forever.

For the next few hours I kept a close eye on the computer and sadly started getting indications that he was gone.  3 hours late I saw the post.  Ira passed away at 5:40 PM, 9 minutes before my post.

Ira was a school teacher when I met him and I’m fairly certain a damn good one.  As I sit here, offering my deepest sympathies to those he left behind and who loved him and were loved by him, I realize that my old friend the teacher’s last act as a friend, even if he never knows it, was to teach me a valuable lesson I hope I never forget.  Stay as close as you can to the people who enrich your life, be they friend or family, and do it now, because even 9 minutes on Facebook can make a difference.

Rest in Peace Ira.


How The Gun Debate Magnifies the biggest problem in American Politics

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A valid argument can be made that the present gun debate does wonders for the campaign of Republican front runner Donald Trump, or any outsider candidate for that matter.  This is one of those bizarre debates in American politics in which one side vilifies the other in order to gain an upper hand with the American electorate even if in reality most people want the same thing.

I say this because regardless of whether the person reading this is a Conservative or a Liberal, chances are they are a decent human being that wants to see a reduction in the amount of deaths caused by gun violence.  But that’s not how each side portrays the other.  Sadly, and to the benefit of the non-politician in the presidential race, too much of what we hear about all day is how the other side doesn’t care about the safety and well-being of the average citizen.  If we are to be honest, and not opportunistic campaigners for a political party or candidate, we’d start from the premise that most Americans want a safer country.  The big debate only needs to be about how to make that happen.

In fairness there are many whose discussion revolves around what is the correct way to achieve the desired goal.  Unfortunately however, there are far too many people on the right who like to portray anti-gun Liberals as people who hate America, and far too many people on the left who portray pro-gun Conservatives as barbaric and irresponsible. For the most part both of these narratives are unfair and untrue.  You want to argue about policy?   I totally get that.  But if you want to debate intent, all you are doing is disillusioning an American population already disgusted with the typical politician.  The result?  A candidate like Donald Trump.  It doesn’t even matter whether or not he makes the same claims about the left as other Republicans. What matters to people is that he doesn’t represent politics or politicians as usual and therefore becomes a breath of fresh air to the disillusioned.

At this critical juncture in history, all Americans need to make the same demands of their leaders. Demand that they worry more about getting the job done and less about winning elections. Worry more about putting together a plan that works towards making the country safer and less about putting together a strategy of how to discredit your political opponent. Otherwise we’ll all be left with a crumbling society more focused on the entertainment of a political debate than the safety of upcoming generations.  Or possibly the biggest gamble in American political history.  The presidency of one Donald Trump.

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