A Statesman Departs

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At a time in American politics when everything is so contentious, we look towards the State of Israel and remember one of its great statesmen.  Former Prime Minister and lifetime public servant for the Jewish state Shimon Peres passed away yesterday at the age of 93.  For so many years I never knew the difference between a left-wing politician and a right-wing politician when it came to Israel’s heads of state.  Yes I knew that Menachem Begin was more to the right then most and Shimon Peres was more to the left, but when it came to defending Israel against its enemies when under attack, it has always been difficult to see a clear difference.  Why?  Because Israel’s leaders have lived lives as protectors of the Jewish people.  This is not about politics, it is about gratitude.  Today we should take a moment and remember a man who devoted his entire adult life to the service of the State of Israel.

Rest in Peace Shimon Peres and thank you.

 

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Open Letter to the Committee pursuing Disciplinary Action against the German Judge helping Holocaust survivors

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To whom it may concern,

I am writing this letter in regard to Judge Jan-Robert von Renesse.  I understand that a hearing is being conducted this week regarding whether or not his actions as a judge were appropriate in regard to his efforts to make sure Holocaust survivors continued to receive financial restitution from the German government as a result of what they lost during the Nazi Party’s control of Germany.  I am here to make it very clear to anyone who will listen with a pure and open mind that if this hearing is to take place, not only should his actions be deemed appropriate, they should be praised rather than punished.

71 years after the end of the darkest days in Germany’s history, despite the fact that this is one situation in one location, it is still a significant test as to where the country has evolved.  Germany since the fall of Adolph Hitler has been a very different place, assuming responsibility, becoming an important and positive force in the world, and working towards human rights in a way diametrically opposed to the evil philosophy of the Third Reich.  What has very much been a symbol of the new Germany is it’s willingness to accept accountability and feel guilt for it’s persecution and murder of millions of innocents; specifically the 6 million Jewish Holocaust victims.  Judge Jan-Robert von Renesse is a symbol of that Germany.  A man who is fighting to help those who suffered, while being fully aware that nothing can ever give back to any Jew from European descent all that was lost during that time.  Judge von Renesse shows in his actions that he realizes that whatever financial benefit he is working towards providing will never be enough to make up for what happened, but it will help individuals who suffered as a result of the horrors and it is at least the most serious effort possible to, as the old cliche goes, put your money where your mouth is.  If the question is whether or not his actions are deemed appropriate because of his status as a judge, the answer is a simple one.  A judge’s job is to enforce justice.  Enforcing total justice will never be possible, but Jan-Robert von Renesse is coming as close as humanly possible in as difficult of circumstances as any judge will ever see to doing so.

I am the son of Holocaust survivors from Germany’s neighbor to the west, the Netherlands.  75% of Dutch Jewry was wiped out by Hitler and his Nazi Party.  For many Jews it has never been easy to look at Germany in a positive light.  Nevertheless with decades of behavior showing a newer, more human mentality, Germany is seen by many as an entirely different country than it was during the evil regime in power between 1933- 1945.  This is an important moment.  It is a moment not to step backwards towards the darkness but to continue moving forward to the light.  The light that Judge Jan-Robert von Renesse  represents.  We are all watching.  Do what is right.  Do what is just.  Honor Jan-Robert von Renesse and support his efforts rather than punish them.

Sincerely,
David Groen

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15 years after 9/11: An evolution from Horror to Pride

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Everyone has their own 9/11 story.  Regardless of whether one lived in New York that day or not,  it is hard to find someone who does not remember where they were when they first heard of the attacks and how that day unfolded for them.  The closer one was to what happened, be it geographically or by emotional connection to someone there, the more horrific it was.  There were initially no positive feelings to speak of on that day.  All we saw and felt that day was fire, smoke, fear, horror, sadness and death.  But as is always the case with humanity, the world moves on.  It does not forget, often not forgiving, but it does move on, and often evolve.  Today, 15 years later on September 11, 2016, that evolution is more evident to me than ever before.

A valid argument can be made that the world is not a better place than it was 15 years ago today.  That being said, in between today’s moments of sadness and tears, a few things struck me.  The beautiful rebuilding of what became known that day as Ground Zero is a credit to the strength and resolve of not just New York City, but the entire United States. The Freedom Tower, now 1 World Trade Center overlooks Manhattan with dignity and character.  It sends the message to the entire world, specifically those who want to take our freedom, that on 9/11 as down as we were, we were not out and never will be.  The respect shown to our Police, Firemen, first responders, and Armed Forces all over the world on this day is a reflection of a love and belief in all that is good.  Even as America has its problems and conflicts, both internally and abroad, there is no denying the fact that evil is not what motivates its people.  If anything it is hope, and even more so, pride.

I do not remember the last time I heard the national anthem performed more often than I did today.  Nor do I remember the last time I heard more cheers for those who try their best, often thankfully with great success to protect the people. Today America felt to me more like a family than it has in quite some time. In the midst of a contentious political cycle, differences were set aside and the good people of the United States of America stood as one in remembering those who died as a result of an attack on our freedom.

Knowing what the perpetrators of evil are capable of, it’s not a stretch to say that the world is a more scary place than it was on September 10, 2001, one day before the attacks. But whether that is true or not, the one thing I know as I sit and write this is that defeating all that is good in this world is not nearly as easy as those who commit acts of evil would like it to be.  Today, on September 11, 2016 Americans once again made that clear to the world by remembering that day as a day of of horror while standing tall with pride in all that is good and that which was not lost, our freedom.

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Remembering September 11, 2001

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The following are 2 articles I wrote after the 9/11 attacks.  The first article shares my feelings on living in New York on that devastating day.  The second article speaks of my experience attending the funeral of a heroic fireman.  Both are days I will remember for the rest of my life.  Later I will reflect, without any political spin, on where we are 15 years later.

*Living in NY on 9/11/01

On Tuesday morning Sept.11, 2001, we witnessed an event that will change the world forever. This act committed by the forces of evil against the civilized world is one that changes the shape of our future. As a resident of New York, I have seen a city traumatized, saddened, and angered. We were all abruptly forced to change the way we look at everything that we do and to alter our perspective on a daily basis. The average New Yorker will take serious umbrage to anyone touching something that belongs to them, especially when it belongs to them collectively.
At around 10AM on Tuesday morning I found myself around the corner from the original symbol of New York City, the Empire State Building. I am not ashamed to say that I was afraid to be there, yet like so many others there, felt a comfort in being with my fellow New Yorkers. After managing to get one call out, a call that created a chain to let my family know that I was OK, I started to walk uptown and to the East, and like many of the people who live in Queens, I walked over the 59th Street Bridge. When I looked to my right, where I used to see the symbol of the New York skyline, now all I saw was a trail of black smoke. I got home safely after a day of much walking and fear yet never lost sight of the fact that I was one of the lucky ones.
As someone who considers himself to be a New Yorker I have been deeply moved and grateful for the attitude and support of our fellow Americans. Today when I bought my first American flag, I did it for 2 reasons. Out of a tremendous pride for living in the greatest city in the world, and out of a gratitude and pride for living in the greatest country in the world. This week while we are all Americans, to us in New York it felt like the entire country was a country of New Yorkers.
The war that was declared on us a few days ago was an act of evil against our basic good. But true good will always conquer evil, and the victims of the attack on Tuesday will not die for nothing if the proper actions are taken to make this the beginning of a series of events that will insure the safety and freedom for us and our future generations.

*The friend I never knew

I recently had the moving experience of attending a memorial service for one of the fallen firemen from September 11th. Mayor Giuliani made a request for New Yorkers to go out and attend these services to insure that a proper number of people would be showing their respects to each individual victim. It wasn’t till after the service that I began to wonder whether his suggestion was meant to be for the victims and their families, or for the many common citizens who were able to show up.On this day I learned many things that I did not know about the New York City Fire Department. I hear the stories of how their performance on September 11th played and enormous part in saving tens of thousands of lives. I heard how they were running up the stairs trying to save people while the people were running down the stairs trying to escape. I saw the respect and love they all have for each other and the matter of fact way in which they approach their job. They love what they do and feel little to no fear for dangers that would certainly frighten most people.On this day I just missed being able to greet the Mayor but I did have the honor of shaking Fire Commissioner, Thomas Von Essen’s hand. I had a few conversations with a few people here and there, but most of all, I made a new friend. Fireman David Weiss.David Weiss was originally from Pennsylvania and always knew that he wanted to be a fireman. He became a member of the elite branch of the department, Rescue 1, a few years ago, following an extraordinary situation. When traveling on the FDR Drive in Manhattan one day while off duty, he spotted a car sinking in the East River. He pulled his car over and jumped into the river, pulling the man out of the car, and brought him safely to shore. News of David’s heroics reached he department’s brass and David was promoted to Rescue 1. It was a dream come true for him to be in the top unit of what he knew was the greatest fire department in the world and to be able to do on the highest level that which he loved most. One time while Rescue 1 was working on a very dangerous situation David approached a fireman who was new to the unit. He told the fireman that he must be finding this rough as one of the new guys and that he would have no trouble taking over one of his shifts in order to help him out. The fireman agreed and David ended up working a double shift. Later on the fireman found out that David too was one of the new guys. This was typical of his personality. Loved by his family, friends, and coworkers, a person of David’s quality is very hard to find. Even with all this, the friendship I feel for him is different from any other that I know. Since I never met David Weiss.On September 11th, David’s unit was one of the first to arrive at the scene of the attack. He and his fellow firemen helped evacuate the buildings and guide many people to safety. Sadly, David was one of the more than 300 firemen that died that day heroically doing their job. The memorial service I attended this past Sunday was for David Weiss. The words spoken by those closest to him paint a very vivid picture of a man who although sadly died at a much too early age, died in the exact way he would have wanted. Not only saving lives, but saving thousands of lives. The words of these people made me feel as if I had gotten to know this man, and at the end of the day I felt as if I had lost a friend. Maybe the Mayor knew this would happen for some when he encouraged people to turn out. This was a display of unity and respect and even beauty in the midst of greatest sorrow. On a day when I was one of many to pay last respects to a dear friend. A friend I never knew.

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Marcel Groen’s words on the Effects of Immigration on Real Lives

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The following was written by my brother, Marcel Groen.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania.  He is a son, a husband, a brother, a father, a grandfather, and friend and colleague of many.  In this short but poignant piece however, he represents himself, the son of Holocaust survivors, more than anything else, as an American.  It is my honor and pleasure to share my brother’s words.

 

In the winter of 1942 Marcel Rodrigues went to the embassy in the Hague, the Netherlands, to apply for a visa for himself and his son, Bram.  He applied for the visa because he felt that America was the only country in the world that could provide him with hope, safety and freedom.

He was right. His visa was denied, He chose not to try to come here as an illegal immigrant. Oh do I wish he had. Marcel and his son  were murdered in Auschwitz on August 13, 1943, ten months later.

If only he had tried to get here as an illegal immigrant-he might not have succeeded, but if he had been successful he would’ve lived. There was no one else or place to go.

Marcel was my grandfather and Bram my uncle.

Americans should never forget why people come here, sometimes legally, sometimes not, but millions have come. They came because America represented opportunity, safety and goodness,  in a world that was neither good nor safe. We represent that wonderful experiment called democracy, where we make room for all and provide safety and opportunity for all who come here. Without those immigrants we would be nothing.

We are not perfect as a society. We have a long way to go, but we can and must continue to work towards those lofty goals we believe in.

When we crush those dreams; when we close our borders to those in need; when we forget where we came from and where we want to go;  then we will lose our place in the world, than our experiment will have failed. We cannot let that happen. As a people we are too good for that.

There are times when good people must stand up regardless of the consequences. JFK’s Profile in Courage comes to mind.

This is one of those times.  

Marcel Groen

 

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Open Letter to Colin Kaepernick

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Dear Colin,

Before I get into exactly what I think of you, I want to make something very clear not only to you, but to those reading this who do not know me.  I care about all Americans.  I care about justice and inequality for people of color.  I care about the staggering rate of murders within the black community, and although I am someone unapologetically supportive of the police as a whole, I also will acknowledge the existence of bad cops who need to face justice.  No clearheaded black man or woman I have ever known has ever accused me of being a racist of any kind.  So before you continue reading this you should know that I won’t get in cars with racists, won’t have drinks with them, and if I am unfortunate enough to be forced to encounter them, I avoid them as much as possible.  Now that you know this about me I will continue by saying that your recent behavior not only doesn’t help solve any problems, it indicates how you as a well-known individual is an integral part of many of those problems.

People generally speak up about issues for one of two reasons.  Either they care so much they can’t keep quiet, case in point my motivation for writing this letter, or a desperate need for attention, as appears to be the case with you.  I guess when you sign a $116 million contract and do nothing for it, you want to find some way to become relevant.  This is a free country.  Everyone has a right to protest.  I don’t think you should be fired or face legal action for refusing to stand during the national anthem.  As an American, in this free American society you seem to be so thoroughly disgusted with, you have every right to stand or sit as you wish, and I as an American, and incidentally a football fan, have every right to criticize you for it.  Kind of ironic that you used the words “paid leave” to describe those you find responsible when you are in the midst of a massive contract and can’t even perform on a level good enough to start for your team.  I am by no means equating a football player’s responsibility to that of a government official or law enforcement professional, but I do believe your criticism of someone not being on the job as you think they should be a degree of projection on your part, and possibly a way for you to appease your conscience of the fact that you now get paid millions of dollars for doing nothing.

As someone who loves this country I find your actions to be deplorable, illogical, and worst of all, unhelpful.  Is this the example you wish to set for those fans who still see  you as a sports hero to some degree?  So many great heroes have died defending this country and everything the national anthem stands for.  I’m the first to admit this country is not only not perfect, it’s in trouble.  But you see Colin, maybe the difference between you and I is that since I love this country I won’t stab it in the back when it’s down.  If anything I will support it more.  I am not a soldier or law enforcement officer, so all I can do is show appreciation for all that they do to protect us.  If you don’t see how disrespecting the national anthem is doing just the opposite, then you are as ignorant as you are disrespectful.

I do not question you or anyone else’s rights to speak their mind, protest, or criticize anything they see taking place in this country.  I may not always agree, but if done so peacefully and with some modicum of integrity, I will likely read or listen to it and leave it alone.  When Jesse Williams gave a very passionate speech in protest I did not say a word, because what he did was speak loudly about what he thought was right, and in doing so made comments much harsher than the one’s that you made.  What he did not do was attack the core of the very essence of the greatness of this country.

I know your intention is to continue to sit during the national anthem.  It is my belief that you do nothing to further the cause of any person in color by doing so.  All you do is show yourself to be someone with seriously poor judgment and character, and someone who has made a choice to do something insulting during the song that honors the country that has given you so much.  I don’t know you and I certainly don’t know the details of your life, but I know you live a life of privilege, regardless of what you may or may not have done to earn it. Now you have chosen to express thanks not by standing in honor, but by sitting in disgrace.  I guess it’s fitting for a player who  collects a big paycheck and has now sunk to a level only good enough to do the same thing for his team that he chooses to do during his countries national anthem.  Sit on the bench.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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And my Vote goes to…

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MY CHOICE FOR PRESIDENT IS…

As the Democratic National Convention gets underway, we know one thing for sure. November will be historic.  The citizens of America will either elect a businessman from New York, a man with no formal experience in politics or, for the first time in the nation’s history, a woman as President of the United States.  There have been times in the past when the candidates of one of the parties was somewhat more obscure, or at the very least less high-profile, but this year without question, name recognition is not an issue. Everyone knows who Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are?  Or do they?

I don’t want to use this forum as a means of showing my support for one candidate by trashing the other, but in this election the majority of voters are at least somewhat impacted by that which they do not like about the other.  It’s very much about spin.  Take the most extreme supporter on either side and there is nothing the opposing candidate can do that will be seen as OK.  However, there is one glaring difference in my estimation. We can at least claim to know the worst there is to know about Hillary.  But what about Trump?  Somehow people have come to believe that a millionaire businessman, the owner of hotels, private jets and helicopters, is somehow a regular guy, a man of the people. They look at me with a straight face and say they won’t vote for Hillary because she is a liar or corrupt.They actually allow themselves to believe that Donald Trump has gotten to where he is out of sheer brilliance and hard work.  I won’t sit here and prosecute the case against him, but really?  If you believe that I have a great university you should attend. It will make you rich.

I know the criticisms against Hillary and I will openly admit that I don’t like everything about her, but do I have a far greater amount of confidence in her ability to lead this country in the right direction than Donald Trump?  Without question I do.  Was Benghazi a tragedy?  Of course it was.  Could things have been handled better? Maybe, probably, I don’t know. But I do know that under George W. Bush 13 embassies were attacked and 60 people were killed.  We’re America. We are hated by those who want to take what we have or change who we are.  We are targets and will remain targets as long as there is evil in the world.

I don’t like the Iran deal.  Never have, likely never will.  But even if I am to see it as a total attack on Israel, which I don’t necessarily do, I see it as President Obama’s deal not Hillary Clinton’s.  To say a Secretary of State is wrong for working towards the goals of her boss doesn’t make him or her complicit in the outcome of the goal, good or bad.  It makes them a loyal servant to the Commander in Chief.  I am also comfortable to go on record and say that in areas I disagree with the president, I believe him to be more someone trying to save the world, sometimes naively, rather than someone trying to bring anyone, including Israel, destruction.

Emails? Sorry. I am not even going to make a case as to why this is not enough reason for me to vote for Donald Trump over Hillary.

People say that Donald Trump is preying on the fears of the people.  That is partially true. Sadly I believe he is also exposing the stupidity of many.  I would never say that all people voting for Trump are stupid, many are highly intelligent, but I do believe he is counting on the vote of those that are stupid. If Hollywood made a movie, and the day after the Democratic National Convention started the Republican nominee’s best response to what he saw was calling the Democratic nominee Hillary “ROTTEN” Clinton, people would have assumed we were watching a Mel Brooks satire.  But no, this really happened, and it happened from someone people still take seriously.  Someone who made fun of Carly Fiorina’s face, likened Ben Carson to a child molester, called his opponents names like Little Marco and Lyin Ted, mocked a handicapped person, called Mexicans rapists, called for a ban of an entire religion, said John Mccain wasn’t a war  hero because he got caught, and yes, even spoke about the size of his penis. This man is somehow considered to be more qualified than Hillary Clinton?  Really?

As a Jewish man and a Zionist I say this.  Many reading this see history and see Roosevelt and Churchill as great men.  I won’t sit here and necessarily challenge that.  Had they not led the world to victory against Adolph Hitler it is possible that western civilization as we know it would not exist and all we know as Jews would be gone.  But before we judge people on a standard of perfection, or even good or bad, ask yourself how many Jews might have been saved had they destroyed the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz and other concentration camps.  If FOX News were around then, FDR might have been held accountable to the point of prosecution, Thomas Dewey might have been elected, and Harry Truman would never have become president.  Who knows how World War II would have ended?  I am not saying FDR and Churchill were perfect or the biggest fans of the Jewish people, but their jobs were to be leaders of the US and Great Britain, and that they were, in exceptional manners.  We have every right to demand our leaders don’t hurt our cause, but we also must realize we are electing a President of the United States, not a president of the Jewish people, and we must therefore expect that president to do what they deem best for the country.  Furthermore, before Jewish supporters get all excited about a Trump presidency merely because his daughter converted and he speaks harshly about Muslims, keep these 2 things in mind.  When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized Trump for his anti-Muslim rhetoric Trump punished him by cancelling his trip to Israel.  Also keep in mind how Trump plans to reconsider aide to our allies, including Israel.

The point is, no matter who you are or where you come from, whatever good you believe you are hearing about Donald Trump, he’s only telling you to get your vote.  Yes, you can say that about all politicians, but don’t tell me how different Donald Trump is from the establishment.  He funded the establishment, including the Clintons, for decades.

I don’t buy into the fact that a Hillary Clinton presidency will be 4 more years of an Obama presidency.  If anything I believe it is more likely to be closer to being 4 more years of a Bill Clinton presidency, and that would be just fine by me.  I honestly don’t know how good of a president Hillary would be, but I feel that her demeanor, her experience and her intellect is enough to make me very comfortable in giving her my vote.  I think her choice of Tim Kaine already shows she is making choices based on her agenda as opposed to the demands of others.  I think she is ready to be president today, as opposed to her candidate who will never be ready to be president.  Besides the fact that I’ve always been offended by the implication that America isn’t great, merely for the benefit of a slogan, I also know that Donald Trump couldn’t even make Atlantic City great again.

I know that many reading this find it hard to believe that I, someone who has always been so outspoken about the security of Israel could support Clinton over Trump, but guess what?  I find it hard to believe that you don’t.  You might be able to legitimately raise questions about her, but to me that doesn’t mean voting for Trump, someone who repeatedly shows signs of being a global menace.  I’ve seen and heard enough bad from Trump to not vote for him while seeing enough good to vote for Hillary, and that is what I intend to do.  What good you ask?  In this political climate don’t count on answer, because most people asking won’t accept my answer anyway.  You vote your conscience and I’ll vote mine and I’ll accept you for your choice whether you return the favor or not.  After all, that’s the American way.

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