As one of the many transplanted New Yorkers living in South Florida, and a resurgent baseball fan, my experience this past Wednesday March 8th , where I had the privilege of witnessing the national team of Israel play the Miami Marlins at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, was a highly notable one.
I had the good fortune a few weeks back of meeting a high ranking executive for the Marlins. When I shared with him my strong connection to Israel and my observance of Judaism, he proceeded to inform me of the upcoming matchup. Although I consider myself a pretty big Mets fan, the executive made me realize how far I had fallen as a baseball fan when I asked him who Jazz was. Jazz Chisholm, a Marlins star player who is on the cover of the video game, MLB The Show 23, is an exciting and talented young player. I just didn’t know it yet. The exec was kind enough to contact me the next day and ask me if I was interested in going to the Marlins vs. Israel game. The following day I had 2 tickets waiting for me in my Inbox.
I decided to take my brother Leo to the game. Having once been a member of the Israel Defense Forces and someone who had lived in Israel for a number of years, I knew he would enjoy the game and the experience as much as I would. The fun started as soon as we arrived in town. Shoutout to the city of Jupiter. It may well be the only highly affluent city I’ve even been in where you can actually find something for free. Within a matter of minutes we managed to find 2 things for free. First, the parking was free. Then, as we were on the way out, a golf cart approached us and offered us a free ride to the ballpark, paid for by the stadium itself. After briefly walking through the neighboring streets, we decided to go into the stadium where the Kosher food truck allowed us the opportunity to eat a meal meeting our dietary requirements.
Our seats were perfect. Sitting slightly on the 3rd base side of home plate, I have never been more qualified to call whether a lefty hitter went around on a swing or not. After a group of adorable kids sang both Israel’s and America’s national anthems, the game was on.
The atmosphere was relaxed and fun. Knowing that neither team was playing a game that counted, our expectations were not high. Nevertheless, it was evident that these were players on, or close to the highest level the game had to offer. Particularly on the Marlins side. I got to see Jazz bat and get on base with a bunt his first time up, displaying fundamental skills and speed.
While Leo and I went there cheering on Team Israel, within a few innings we had 2 specific players for whom we had developed a vested interest. One was a player on the Marlins roster who is vying for a spot on the big team roster. His wife was sitting on our row with their 2 young children. And the other was a player on Team Israel, whose girlfriend came along an inning or 2 later. Throughout the game we would learn more about what it was like to be minor league journeyman and the family sharing the journey. We would also learn facts about playing for Team Israel that just made the evening more enjoyable.
What surprised me more than anything was how I felt the following day. I am a Met fan, and likely will be one for my remaining time on this earth, but thanks to the kindness of the executive I met a few weeks ago, I now feel like I have a relationship with a new team. It has always been my thought, one that I took from people older and smarter than me, that more than in any other sport, when it comes to baseball, you support the home team. So from this moment on, as I am now a resident of South Florida, with the exception of when they play against the New York Mets, I will be pulling for the Miami Marlins. While I think I got the tickets purely as a kind gesture, kind gestures add up, and so does a fan base. Lets Go Marlins (except against the Mets).
Two years ago today, on a cold Saturday night in Long Island, after coming back from dinner, my date and I went to visit friends in the neighborhood. What we, nor anyone else in the house at the time knew, was that outside an ice storm had started, one that was not forecast to take place. As we said goodbye, my date stepped out, slipped, and grabbed the railing, avoiding injury. I stepped out, my feet slipped forward and I fell straight back, the back of my head hitting the concrete. Bleeding like I had never bled before, my friends called an ambulance and I was transported to the local hospital.
When all was said and done, I ended up with 5 staples and a nasty concussion. As I often say to people who never had a concussion, you know what a concussion is, but you don’t understand a concussion till you’ve had a concussion. Besides causing symptoms like blurred vision and headaches-I actually had a constant headache for the first 3 weeks-it wreaks havoc on your mental and emotional status.
Fast forward, by May 1st feeling much better, I declared myself mostly recovered. The one thing I was not able to do however was write. Every time I tried, my mind darted all over the place. While I feared I might have lost the ability to do what I enjoy most, I rationalized it by saying to myself, if this is the worst to come from this, I’m a lucky guy. As fortune would have it, by July I was writing again and could then say that I had completely recovered.
Many people go through incidents much worse than this one, but nevertheless I find it important to share. And here is why. When I was in the hospital the Emergency Room Dr. looked at my head and said “Good Job!” When I replied, “Why? Is it not that bad?”, she replied, “No. Good job that you’re here. Many people here don’t need to be. You do need to be here.” Later when the CT Scan returned showing no major damage the same Dr. told me that she was relieved to see the results of the scan because she was not sure I would be OK until that point. What that told me, combined with the slight recollection I have of the impact of the fall, is that had I fallen just a little bit harder or maybe at a different angle, I would either have had long term or permanent damage or even worse, it would have taken my life. So as I sit here 2 years later, now living in South Florida where the only ice I see is in the bottom of my Scotch glass, and feeling healthier than I have for many years, the gratitude I have to God for allowing me to be where I am today needs to be shared with as many people as possible.
This is why I am sharing this today. Because I can now look back at 2 years ago and recognize how fortunate I am.
As Super Bowl LVII approaches, I find it worth mentioning that when the game begins I will be watching for and cheering on the one and only team that has not let me down over the past 26 plus years. That team is the Philadelphia Eagles.
I lived in New York from July 1985 till January 2022. On October 27, 1986 the New York Mets won the World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Now that you know where my baseball loyalties lie, you may or may not know that the Mets have not won the World Series since that day. So we can check the Mets off as a team that has come through for me.
Next, we have the Philadelphia Flyers. Having lived in Philly between the 1969 and 1976, I can confidently say that if you were a fan of Ice Hockey during the 2 straight years the Flyers won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975 you are a Flyers fan for life. But with no Stanley Cup victory since, it might as well be called a life sentence.
I am a New York Knicks fan. No need to elaborate there.
I lived in London from 1976- 1980 at which time I picked Tottenham Hotspur as my team. I didn’t pick Chelsea, a team that has won the Premier League 5 times in the 21st century. I also didn’t pick Arsenal, a team that has won the league 3 times since the late 90s and is on track to win it again this year. No. The London team I chose to support is Tottenham Hotspur, arguably the most consistently mediocre team in the Premier League, and certainly less successful than the other 2 London teams I just referenced. In fact, the last time they won the championship was 1961, when I wasn’t born yet and the Premier League was yet to be formed. Thanks a lot Spurs.
And finally, as a fan of international Soccer, and the son of Dutch parents, I have had the pleasure of cheering on The Netherlands men soccer team, widely referred as the best team to never win the World Cup. While their victories to get to those finals brough me some joy, ultimately, they too let me down in the game that mattered most.
So that brings me to the Philadelphia Eagles. When the Eagles beat the New England Patriots and Tom Brady 5 years ago, they became the first team since 1986 to give me a championship to celebrate. Since then, while all the other teams I root for have been back to their old tricks, the Eagles have rebuilt to the point of being considered the better of the 2 teams to play in Super Bowl LVII. Although I am perfectly aware that the Kansas City Chief and Patrick Mahomes, coached by former Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid are no joke, just getting to this point is something that brings me and many other fans of the team great joy. I expect victory tomorrow, and will not be happy if we lose, but regardless of the result, they’ve done more for me than any other team I’ve invested time in supporting.
So I finish this self-indulgent, somewhat narcissistic piece with just 3 words.
It is International Holocaust Remembrance Day and there are still those who will murder us just for being Jews. The shooting today in Jerusalem is evidence of this sad fact. At last count 7 people were killed, likely on their way home to Friday night dinner after Shabbat prayers.
We can never completely rest. I wish it were otherwise, but this is a fight that never ends. I will continue to do my part in telling the story of my family to bring to life the reality of the murder of 6 million Jews. As the son of Holocaust survivors from Holland, when I read how one quarter of Dutch youth believe the Holocaust was a myth, I realize why we are so far from the peace we so dearly cherish. https://m.jpost.com/diaspora/antisemitism/article-729462 Not knowing what happened opens the possibility of it happening again, and we can never accept that possibility. When Jews get murdered outside of a synagogue just for being Jews, whether it is in Jerusalem or Pittsburgh, we need to realize that whatever we can do to combat this evil we must take upon ourselves to do.
I will honor those lost by continuing to fight in the way that I know how, which is to educate people about what really happened, and to make the point that ignorance is rarely replaced by good, far more often with evil.
Occasionally I will post a sports story on Holland’s Heroes. I generally do this because of a specific interest I have in the event or a team playing. The one common denominator in any of my sports related posts is the fact that the sports story is a fun distraction or diversion from the seriousness of reality. Sadly, due to the tragic events that unfolded last night surrounding Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, today is the exception that proves the rule.
After making a tackle in last nights NFL Matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills, 24 year old Hamlin went into cardiac arrest. They were able to restore a heartbeat on the field, but as he is still in critical condition, no one knows as of the time I am writing this piece to what extent he will recover, if at all. I always say that I love sports because while I put so much emotion into cheering on the players and teams that I love, when my team loses it takes very little time to move on, and sometimes even laugh about it. As important as it feels the moment your team wins or loses, in the scheme of life there are so many things that matter more. No matter how much good sports can be part of and how much joy it can bring, sports is still ultimately just the playing of games. So when Damar Hamlin collapsed on the football field after going into cardiac arrest and still for all intents and purposes is fighting for his life, what had the potential of being the best game of the year, turned into a terrifying reality for a young man, his family, teammates, closest friends and that very special fanbase known as Bills Mafia.
For fans like me, a big fan of the NFL yet someone who didn’t even know his name till last night, it became a story that left the fantasy world of sports and moved to a harsh and frightening reality. This was no longer a distraction or a diversion. This is now a tragic story, one we can only hope and pray gets better.
In February 1941, between 300-500 Jewish men of sound mind and body were rounded up in Amsterdam by the Nazi occupying forces. Every single one of them was deported out of the city, most of them to the Mauthausen concentration camp. The majority of those were either shot, pushed of a rock quarry at the top of the “stairs of death”, or literally worked to death. This event symbolized the beginning of the Holocaust in the Netherlands. While one of these men was my mother’s favorite cousin, David van Hasselt, even if there wasn’t this personal element attached to the story, I would still be enormously offended by your comments.
If there was any accuracy to your comments, which there is not, finding it necessary to insist that the Holocaust wasn’t motivated by race is like saying that slavery was really only about getting cheap help. It whitewashes the murder of 6 million Jews, diminishes the pain and suffering of those that experienced it and the burden of responsibility and vicarious anguish felt by future generations.
In September of 1919, 14 years before Adolf Hitler came into power, he categorized the Jews as a race, not as a religious community. He described the Jewish presence as a “race-tuberculosis of the peoples “, and said that “the ultimate goal must be the removal of the Jews altogether “.
In 1923, 10 years before seizing power, Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord”.
While Hitler did have a disdain for the mentally and physically deficient, he also hated Homosexuals, Gypsies, Poles, and any race not seen as Aryan. This is why Jesse Owens’ victories in the 1933 Munich Olympics made him such a hero, something I would have commended you for taking time to recognize, as he showed his superiority in his athletic prowess right in front of Hitler’s face.
What this all comes back to is that your comments are not only incredibly and continuously insensitive, their inaccuracies are dangerous. The reason why myself and so many others find the need to make telling this story our life’s work, is because as soon as it’s forgotten, or distorted as you are doing, the danger of history repeating or even somewhat duplicating itself becomes significantly greater.
And finally Whoopi, despite the fact that your comments put your mental stability in question, because of the last name you go by, Goldberg, the Nazis would have come for you before seeing the color of your skin. A fact you would be wise to acknowledge.
In the latter months of 2012, Alexandra Van Hasselt was searching for family members on the internet. In her efforts she would make contact with Ron Van Hasselt, a distant cousin on her father’s side. In his own research, Ron came across information regarding one of his relatives, David Van Hasselt. He found a book in which David Van Hasselt’s death in the Mauthausen concentration camp was documented. The book he found was the book I authored, Jew Face. David Van Hasselt was the first cousin of my mother Sipora and someone very special to her.
After having contact with Alexandra, Ron would forward her my contact information. Alexandra’s father, Vince, would subsequently contact me via email. Vince’s father was Eddie Van Hasselt, the brother of David and also my mother’s first cousin. As good fortune would have it, Vince, together with his wife Melanie and daughter Alexandra, were living in Florida, less than an hour from my mother, who at the time was 90 years old. They would meet, Vince and I would meet in New York, and little by little the whole family would get to know each other and a special connection would develop between many members of my family, and Vince, Melanie and Alexandra. But of all the relationships, perhaps the most special of the relationships was between my mother and Alexandra. Having grown up in a household with diverse culture, my mother played piano, sang, and had a tremendous love for the arts. Alexandra, a young girl of 15, was already a very talented dancer, with a beautiful singing voice and a growing love for acting. The bond that would develop between these 2 newly acquainted cousins, separated by 85 years, was as unique as any imaginable. They would sing together, have long talks with each other, and form the most unlikely of friendships. In Alexandra, my mother saw her younger self, a young lady filled with talent, joy and promise. In my mother, Alexandra saw a kindred spirit, whose age and experience and love, gave her extra encouragement to pursue her dreams and be someone who my mother could live through vicariously. For Alexandra, although saddened by mother’s passing in 2017, that special relationship would always stay with her.
All of this would be what would make today, October 30, 2022 so special. Today I got to see Alexandra perform in Jerry Herman’s play, Milk and Honey. Based in Israel in the early 1960s, this wonderful production was playing at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton, Florida. As I sat there, next to 2 of my brothers, my sister-in-law, and Vince and Melanie, watching Alexandra perform on stage with her powerful and talented presence, in a play about Israel, the magic of what took place 10 years ago and in subsequent years, came back to me in full force. I felt an almost mystical connection between past and present, made even more palpable by the young character in the play who was 9 months pregnant and due to give birth at any time. Her name, Sipora. After the play when I asked Alexandra how it felt when she learned that there was a character in the play of that name, the same name as my mother, she replied that it was very special and that on this day she had thought about my mother a lot.
I know I am far from alone in feeling that the importance of telling the story of what took place under Nazi-occupation can’t be overstated. But I’ve also felt that in telling the story and opening up this connection with the past, we have the opportunity to witness the continuation of life in its most poignant manner. In 1941, when word of David Van Hasselt’s death would reach Amsterdam, it would fall on my mother, a young woman of just 19, to inform David’s mother, Vince’s grandmother, of the death of her son. Today, more than 80 years later, David’s great niece Alexandra would perform on stage in front of 3 of Sipora’s children, and his nephew Vince, in a story about nothing other than Israel, the Jewish state. With all the trials and tribulations life has to offer, it is hard to find something more indicative of how life goes on, and even thrives, as this connection between past and present.
The play and the performance were beautiful, but perhaps nothing was more beautiful than the lesson learned from all the events surrounding it for me and my family. The lesson that what we do matters, and that who we come from stays with us forever.
The day after my mother passed I wrote a piece entitled, “An Angels departs”. Today as a special milestone approaches I offer you this piece, entitled, Remembering an Angel.
Sixty years ago this Saturday, January 1st, my mother and father were celebrating my mother’s 40th birthday together with friends in Cincinnati, Ohio. During a game of Canasta, my then very pregnant mother started laughing so hard she went into labor 2 weeks early and I was born the very next day. While I embrace my upcoming birthday with gratitude, it is somewhat bittersweet, because I know I will not be alone in remembering and missing my mother on what would have been her 100th birthday.
When I saw the upcoming date, 1/1/22, I couldn’t help feel like it looked familiar to me. It was then that I remembered how much my mother embraced the uniqueness of the numbers representing the day of her birth, and how these numbers signified this very special day approaching. There are so many things to say about my mother, Sipora Groen, born Sipora Catharina Rodrigues-Lopes. The thing I say to people most often, partially because it sums her up so well, but also because I know she would have liked it, is if you didn’t like my mother, you didn’t like anyone. She was warm, loving, jovial, and as social as anyone you will ever meet. But what very possibly made her so special, was that she was so very much more than that. Some of her greatest attributes were so understated that they could easily be missed by the casual observer. This was very simply because she was never who she was for show, she just was who she was, and was blessed with qualities most never acquire.
Some of the strongest and most intelligent people we meet or know of, show off these qualities on full display for all to witness and acknowledge. I do not say this disparagingly, since these qualities are meaningful and positive, I merely state this to emphasize one of the most remarkable things about my mother. When it came to her strength and intelligence, she was one of the most non self-promoting people you could ever meet. Highly intelligent, she had no trouble sitting in a room of people and allow them to take center stage. Whether it was wisdom or natural inclination, she understood that her intelligence was just another tool she could use to improve her life and the life of those she cared about, not something to show off to others.
Her strength was not something she ever used to achieve a dominance over others, rather a means of helping other and dealing with experiences that might have crushed the spirit of people with lesser means of coping.
My mother was just 13 years old when her mother passed away of natural causes. Left with a brother almost 3 years younger and a father struggling emotionally from the loss of his young wife, my mother had to deal with hardships most 13 year olds do not have to face. When the Nazis invaded Holland 5 years later she would have to face a different level of hardship, one almost impossible for most people to even comprehend. She went into the war with a fiancé who would subsequently be one of the 75% of Dutch Jewry murdered by the Nazis. Her father and brother would be taken to Auschwitz and murdered as well. Many friends and family perished in this time, and had in not been for my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, my mother would have very likely met the same fate. She came out of the war with her newborn son Marcel as the one thing she had to live for, and had to spend many of those early months quarantined away from him due to illness. Eventually my father would return from military service and begin to build a family together with her.
My parents would be together till the death of my father on June 13, 2007. I always say that there was only one thing my father feared, and that was being without my mother. While in many ways my father was the strongest man I’ve ever known, I am not so sure he would have been able to live 10 years without my mother with as much fulfillment as my mother did without him for her last 10 years. My mother loved and respected my father dearly, and I truly believe the one thing she missed in her last ten years on earth was her husband of over 60 years. Even so, her incredible wisdom and inner strength drove her to rebuild those last years and recreate her life in a truly remarkable way. About a year after my father’s passing, give or take, one day she turned to Marcel and said, “he’s not coming back.” From this point on she rebuilt her last years into one final chapter of an extraordinary life, spreading joy, love and strength to whoever was open to receiving it from her. She was “Oma” (Dutch for grandmother) to so many, and made the term one of endearment to so many who had never even heard it before.
As I sit here, nearing what would have been her 100th birthday, there is still something I find thoroughly amazing. My mother was a short, gentle, physically unassuming woman. She sometimes looked at life with a simplicity that made her appear to be a young soul, for those of us who believe in such a thing. Yet more than 4 ½ year after her body left this earth, her presence, her very soul still guides me and supports me in a way I could have never dreamed possible, and I know from others who knew her that I have not been alone in feeling this way.
So while I am not alone in wishing my mother was here on earth celebrating her 100th birthday with those she loved and who loved her, I know that her birthday was, and still is a cause for tremendous celebration, something I will do with the joy I know she would have wanted from all of us.
Over the years, those who have followed me know that I write my best when what I write comes from the heart. As I am on the brink of an important personal milestone, what I write today is as much from the heart as anything I have ever written. What I want to share with you today are some of the most important life lessons I’ve learned in my 60 years on earth.
So if you ask yourself what is it about me that makes the lessons worth listening to, it’s simple. I am a very happy man. While I may not be the most successful of people by the standards of some, should a wealthy individual with many acquisitions be seen as a success if said individual is not happy? Well one of the important lessons I’ve learned, and one I will share right away, is that my personal happiness or success is not determined by how others judge their own. So I will leave that question unanswered, because it has little to no bearing on me.
One of the big questions we face is whether or not life should be looked at through the big picture lens or as a series of events. The truth is, as balance is one of the most important aspects of life, being able to identify events and the big picture as 2 major elements in a good life is very important. Friendships, and relationships as a whole are a perfect example of the application of this balance. There are people with who we share great moments and people with who we have long lasting meaningful relationships. Our most treasured relationships are with those that encompass both. However, part of that for which we need to be grateful are those who are in our life in whatever capacity it turns out to be. The concept of accepting someone for who they are is not only poignant, it is critical to maintaining relationships that will last and most likely enhance our lives.
All these theoretical concepts are nice, but when push comes to shove how many of us are able to put aside our egos and preconceived notions in order to maintain these relationships? It’s a good question and one that no one person is qualified to answer. I will say though, that up towards the top of principals I live by is the notion of not losing sight of the objective. To put too much emphasis on being respected or making a point, knowing full well that respect can’t be forced and ideals can be imposed, is taking a potentially pleasant or meaningful gathering and turning it into a conflict. Whether you justify it or not, you’ve lost sight of your objective. Or if you go on a vacation and one bad experience, be it with a place or person, occupies more space in your head than the thrill of your trip, you have lost sight of your objective.
Now of course I know that some things are out of our control and no matter what we do we can’t change them or make them better, but this leads me to an even more important lesson I’ve learned, one that we’ve heard often and one I work to apply every day of my life.
The lesson I am referring to is one of the core principals in living a happy and fulfilling life. It is understanding that we should only focus on controlling that which we can control, and knowing how to accept, or at the very least come to terms with that which we cannot control. The age of COVID-19 is a more important time in which to apply this principal than any other time I can remember. At least from a communal perspective. It is hard to believe that we live in an era in which dealing with how people treat each other during a pandemic is an added problem to contend with, but as we all know, it most certainly is one. I am not knowledgeable enough to speak in absolutes when it comes to COVID, and whether or not I feel anyone else is or not. All I can do in every aspect of my life is to treat others in a way I feel is fair and decent and take any actions or precautions I deem appropriate for me or anyone else for who I am responsible. Disease, illness and death are not good things I can change with a positive attitude, but my attitude can have an impact on how I and sometimes others can deal with or come to terms with these issues.
Don’t get weighed down by the need to avoid living a life with some or many clichés. Each moment is precious. There! I said it, fully aware of what a cliché it is. Does that make it any less true? Absolutely not. Appreciation for what we have now is as important as appreciation for what we have had till now. Being in the moment allows us to get joy from a brief encounter with a stranger, a delicious food, a refreshing drink, or a beautiful sunset or vista. While an individual moment rarely is special enough to alter an entire perspective, the cumulative appreciation makes the love of these moments more than just brief experiences, they make you the person you should desire to become and helps give you the added strength to deal with life’s more challenging moments.
Before I share with you what I have come to believe is the most important thing I have learned about life, I am going to briefly, and as safely as possible address what are arguably the 3 most highly debated subjects to discuss. Money, religion and God.
I am of the belief, another belief I know I share with others, that when it comes to all 3, each individual needs to decide for themselves how much importance they each get, if any. Most people who say they don’t care about money have either so much that is no longer a concern, or feel that what they have in life is enough to make them happy. Whether you care about money or not, the one piece of advice I would offer, is do not let money control you or define you.
Religion may forever be debated as coming from God or man, a matter I will not debate in this piece, but no one can ever convince me that using religion to harm another human being is anything other than a perversion of what one claims to be an ethical pursuit. If you believe in any religion, use it for good.
While some may have put God and religion in the same category, I firmly believe these are 2 very separate discussions. Religion is about dogma and personal and communal behaviors. God is rooted more in belief of a higher power, and in my opinion, there may be nothing more personal, nothing more unique than each individual’s perception of the existence or lack of existence of God. The impact of the subject of God may very well be compared to a snowflake. No 2 people look at it entirely the same way. While much of what brings me peace, guidance and happiness is my trust in God and the plan in place, I make it a point to accept this as a perspective very personal to me, regardless of whether or not it is agreed upon or totally dismissed by another.
So where do other people fit into all of this discussion of a happy and fulfilling life? While I see this subject as I see so many others, very personal and individual, for me it is simple. We are put on this planet to live with others. I know that we are born alone and we die alone, but the time in between is a different matter entirely. We live in a world with other people. While I recognize that many may be less comfortable with strangers than I am, and some may be skeptical or suspicious of other’s intentions, one of my most important credos is as follows. Meeting someone I did not know when I woke up in the morning is one of the things that makes life worth living. It always has been the case for me and I intend to do my utmost to make it a sentiment I hold with me for the remainder of my days. To the people I have met, loved, helped and wronged, I thank you all for helping to make me who I am today, and know that I am truly sorry for when I wronged you. It was never about causing you pain, it was only a result of being what we all are, flawed creatures.
All of these lessons enrich my life and make challenges easier to deal with, but when all is said and done, the one principal that truly dictates how I live my life is one taught in Jewish teachings. It is the lesson in Pirkei Avot, The lessons of our fathers. It is the simple and most powerful sentence teaching how to live a happy and fulfilling life. While I know of many people who know this sentence, for those who are not familiar with it, is goes as follows.
Who is the rich one? The one who is happy with their portion.
There is no more sound formula for a happy and fulfilling life than the true understanding of this sentence. It is easy to wake up with so many of your goals achieved and with excessive good fortune, but what happens when it does not all go the way that you planned? At one point or another everyone has to face sadness or disappointment. I can tell you with clarity, understanding and complete honesty that my life has gone very differently than I hoped or expected it would when I was a much younger man. However, I can also say that as I sit here today, just days shy of my 60th birthday, that I am a very happy man. Because my happiness is not dependent on what I will get or even how much time I will get in the future, but on what I have been blessed with today. Life itself is a gift, and I am truly happy with my portion in this life. I wish the same happiness for all of you.
Each time I thought about what to write on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks I came up with something different. I wanted to recount what I saw and how I felt that day. I wanted to talk about an answer I got from a relative who was born after it happened when I asked her how she perceived it when hearing about it as an event in history. Finally I thought about writing about how I wonder and question what we actually have learned from that day. My head was spinning so much I decided not to write anything. It was then that I realized what I needed to write, and that it would be short and poignant. So here it is.
There are some things we are obligated to remember whether we want to or not. When it comes to moments, days or periods of time of horror, it’s not a competition. So while I know the numbers of deaths pertaining to some events may be significantly higher, it does not diminish the importance of remembering 9/11. I remember how almost everyone I met post 9/11 either knew people who perished, people who were there and survived, or were one degree away at most from knowing someone who was there. I fall into the category of knowing or having known people who were there or in close proximity. That being said, the reason I am obligated to remember this day is because of what I saw, what I heard and even what I smelled.
I saw the first tower burning from my apartment in Queens. I saw people crying on the streets. Most notably an older couple who looked as though they may have had a child in one of the buildings. I saw people covered in grey ash as I crossed the 59th street bridge. And I saw trails of smoke from where the towers once stood.
I heard the sirens all over the city. I heard the sounds of throngs of people walking uptown, without hearing many voices as so many were stunned into silence. I heard people crying around every turn. And I heard radios blasting everywhere with only one thing broadcasting, the news of what was perceived to have taken place.
I smelled a smell that I almost do not want to describe, as it may very well have been that of structures burning and people dying. I smelled it on 9/11 and I smelled it for days to come.
It is an awful truth that mankind is capable of terrible evil, but it is also true that ignoring it, acting like it never happened not only does not make it go away, it adds fuel to the fire. We need to remember 9/11 because if good remains silent it leaves a vacuum far too often occupied by evil. So not only do I urge everyone to remember, I urge everyone to do something good in honor of those killed on that day. Even if it is just hugging someone you love. Remember the day and do it honor by filling the void with goodness.
The world we live in is filled with uncertainty. Even before COVID-19 sent us into uncharted territory, economic challenges, regional conflicts and bad actors on both the local and global stage had us concerned not only for the well-being of future generations, but for our immediate future as well. There are so many questions to which we seek the answer. Fortunately, if we are able to identify it, the answer to the most important one is within our grasp. That question is, how do we deal with everything life is throwing at us? If we understand an important lesson of the upcoming High Holidays, we open our minds and hearts to understanding how best to move forward in difficult times.While much of the secular New Year is fundamentally different from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there are some critical and meaningful similarities that may be of greater importance today than they have been in many of our lifetimes. The true observance of Rosh Hashanah is not structured around counting down the end of one year and starting another, nor is the celebration meant to be in party form with music and champagne. The Jewish New Year, while not a sad holiday by any means, if properly understood is a deep holiday of critical religious and spiritual importance to the year ahead. While that is something not normally associated with the secular New Year, it does begin to represent the place where the days have some significant similarities. Maybe most importantly, when it comes to self- introspection and improvement.The idea of a New Year’s resolution is a positive and life affirming concept. What we resolve to do is a reflection of what we deem important and the type of person we are, and the idea of making ourselves better in its basic form is a positive endeavor. In simplistic terms it is what is most similar between the secular and Jewish New Years. But if we look deeper we actually find that what differentiates the 2 holidays is most represented by the concept we deem most similar.A New Year’s resolution is for the most part, a promise to ourselves. We want to do something important in our lives or we want to develop or improve a character trait or ability. We often make New Year’s resolutions with a calm smile and relaxed demeanor. After all, as much as we would like to do that which we set out to do, at the end of the day, should we fail, we are not accountable to anyone other than ourselves. The greater accountability that provides us, the stronger character we have and the greater chance we have of accomplishing our goals. But the reality is that even the very strong, while demanding of themselves, feel somewhat less pressured, knowing that they made that rule for themselves.Gale Sayers, the great Chicago Bears Running Back, was widely known for his friendship with his teammate Brian Piccolo who died of cancer in June of 1970. He told the story of the friendship in his book “I am Third”, in which he stated, “The Lord is first, my friends are second, I am third”. In thinking about the critical aspect of Rosh Hashanah, this quote came to mind. The idea of putting God first, loved ones second, and ourselves third, speaks directly to the idea of true accountability. In many ways it is the same as the idea of Bayn Adam L’Makom and Bayn Adam L’Chaveyroo, which translates into Between man and God, and Between man and his friend. Jewish commandments are divided into those 2 categories. Commandments relating to the relationship and actions for God, and commandments relating to the actions towards our fellow human being. Ultimately these 2 categories create a breeding ground for true accountability.To some, accountability implies difficulty and hardship. The extra effort and emotional investment connected to accountability is seen by some as a negative. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Accountability is not the gateway to pressure and exhaustion, it’s the gateway to true happiness. It makes us focus on that one thing in life which we have the best chance of controlling, our thoughts and our actions. It allows us to create a breeding ground for personal growth, improved relationships, and a more promising future. It’s everything that so much of today’s society is not. It is not about finger pointing, assigning blame, or criticizing on social media. It is about looking at ourselves, being honest about who we are and making ourselves better. It is what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about.While the secular New Year stands alone as a day by itself, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a 10-day period culminating in Yom Kippur. It is a time when we look into our hearts, see what we’ve done wrong, what we can do better, and how best to move forward. Our accountability to God and our fellow human being is meant to guide us in the year ahead. If we do this, while it is unrealistic to expect everything will be perfect in our lives, I can promise you the following. Your life will improve and you will be happier. You will be closer to controlling the one thing, and maybe the most important thing that you can control. Your thoughts and actions.May God give all of you the strength to look to yourselves, accomplish your goals and have a wonderful year head.Shana Tova.
Let me tell you about the life of a World Cup fan. 30 hours from the time I finish writing this I will either be happy, ecstatic, or miserable. The World Cup has captured the attention of people everywhere. While countries with teams in the tournament have the most at stake when following the results, there are those among us with split loyalties. It so happens that I am one of those people, as my loyalties coming in were not only split, they were split 3 ways.
In a tournament that is played every day, situations with various teams are always changing. If I had written this 7 days ago, all my favorite countries would still be playing. 30 hours from now, all three may have been eliminated. Be that as it may, I am going to share which teams I support, and why, as well as tell you what would be not only my dream final-if it is even possible in the brackets-and why I rank my teams as I do.
I was born in the United States to Dutch parents. My first soccer memory, while faint, is of Holland losing in the final of the World Cup to Germany in 1974 by a score of 2-1. When I was 14 I started 4 years of High School in London. I was once married to an Argentinian, and Argentina was the second team to beat Holland in a World Cup final in 1978, in a game I felt Argentina manipulated unfairly. While some people think my desire to beat the Argentinians is connected to having an ex wife from there, that is not the case. It doesn’t help their cause, but it is more about 1978. If you want to know more about that game I suggest that you go on You Tube.
While I was berated by some, lovingly of course, for wanting the Netherlands to defeat the U.S. last week, Holland is my number one team. It’s not about loyalty or patriotism, it’s about emotional investment. However, I do admit that if the U.S. had won, while I would not have been as happy as I am, I would still have been happy. And last weeks victory for Holland set up what will be a very intense, potentially remarkable next 30 hours. In one hour Holland will play Argentina in the quarterfinal, 24 hours before England will play France. What makes this next day or so potentially even more speoial, is that should Holland and England win, and then go one to win one more game each, they would face each other in the World Cup final, an event that would be my personal ultimate in sports joy.
There is one final twist to all of this wonderful drama. My father, who passed away 15 1/2 years ago at the age of 87, was an enormous fan. Back in the day when it was not easy to call overseas, if you would call my father in the middle of a game he would immediately say, “Call me back. I am watching football”. Naturally, as a man born and raised in Holland, his favorite team was the Dutch national team. Because of the fact that this World Cup is being played in Qatar, for the first time ever the final is not taking place in the summer. If Holland is to win their first ever World Cup, it will happen on December 18th. A day that also happens to have been my father’s birthday.
The stars are all aligned for the perfect ending. Of course 3 1/2 hours from now that dream might be over, but whatever happens, the great thing about sports is that it is wonderful to dream.
Hup Holland! (You understand that if you are Dutch or a fan).
While the comments you made yesterday addressing the controversy regarding your promotion of the movie “Hebrews to Negroes: Wake up Black America”,were certainly an improvement from comments previously made or conspicuously not made, “accepting responsibility” as you cleverly stated, is not enough. As a proud Jew and son of Holocaust survivors, I demand to hear the following words out of your mouth. “I apologize”, or “I am sorry for the words that I said and the pain that I caused.”
You see, anyone who has followed you over the years knows that you think you are smarter than everyone else. As it happens though Kyrie, the world is not flat, and Jews are not the devil. So, you are clearly not as smart as you think you are. I would guess that no one is as smart as you think that you are. That being said, because of your arrogance, it is striking to me that in your statement, you never mention anti-Semitism, and you never apologize to the Jewish people. Saying you take responsibility, in Kyrie speak, is a clever way of addressing it, without saying you did anything wrong.
Just in case you do believe you did nothing wrong, let me make it clear to you. As Rich Eisen beautifully stated after you accused Nick Friedell of dehumanizing you for of all things holding you accountable for your actions, your behavior dehumanizes us as Jews. And frankly I can’t help but think that somewhere in your thought process you felt that not apologizing to Jewish people and not mentioning anti-Semitism specifically, kept you in good stead with the likes of Kanye West and Louis Farrakhan.
Tell me I am wrong Kyrie. Let me hear you say you are sorry. Then, and only then will your words mean anything to me. In the meantime, if you don’t care for Jews, you might consider getting the hell out of Brooklyn.
I am actually writing this letter more to those within the Black community who believe they should be listening to you in regard to your stance towards Jewish people than I am to you directly. I am writing this because it is my hope that people will begin to understand that not only are your words hateful lies, but they also do a disservice to the community you claim to represent. You see, not only should Jews not be seen as the enemy, to anyone truly looking to help people of color, they would recognize that Blacks and Jews are natural allies.
It’s ironic. I am someone who usually is most disgusted in situations such as these because of the unwarranted attack on my people. As a proud Jew and Zionist, I see the world as a melting pot of people of all races and colors. Every person I meet, regardless of color, race, nationality, sexual identity, or social status, starts off exactly at the same place with me. I once met a woman who when I told her that I do not see color, responded to me by saying that she felt my statement was the epitome of white privilege. While I chose to remain silent, I generally tend to avoid wasting my breath on idiots, I did think to myself that a white woman deciding what is right and wrong for the Black community is actually the epitome of white privilege. Remembering what I thought that day, and always making every attempt to not be a hypocrite, I will not sit here today and claim to know what choices black people should make. I will however say that to portray another community as the enemy of your community solely for the purpose of garnishing attention, and with so little merit that it is of detriment to your ability to work positively with that community, is cynical and selfish.
I want black people to know that about 50 percent of civil rights lawyers in the south in the 1960s were Jewish. I want them to know that about 50 percent of the whites that marched in Mississippi in 1964 against the Jim Crow laws were Jewish. I want them to know that Colin Powell, the first African American Secretary of State spoke Yiddish, having learned it from a shopkeeper that employed him at a young age.
Do these points I make mean that everything Jewish people do towards people of color has always been correct and even decent? Of course, it doesn’t. But within every community there are the good and the bad people. What is important to know is that over the years Jews and Blacks have suffered similar attacks of hate, often fought for the same causes, and often worked their way from the bottom to the top. Barack Obama’s first Chief of Staff was the son of a man who fought for Israel’s independence as a member of the Irgun, an underground Jewish organization battling the resistance of Jew haters to the creation of the Jewish state.
So, to any of you in the Black community reading this who want to know the truth, you should know that there is not one group in the entire United States of America more of a natural ally than the Jewish people. And if you choose to believe otherwise because an attention seeking, self-serving, money hungry man who happens to be the same color and was once somewhat talented tells you otherwise, you are not only hurting me, but you are also hurting yourself.
I urge you to not let anyone tell you how to think, least of all someone hiding behind similar skin color claiming to be your advocate.