Purim 2017 as it might have been reported on FOX or MSNBC

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So there was King Achasveirosh, definitely not known as a righteous man but entirely evil per se, being influenced by his evil adviser Haman, a man who wanted to eliminate the Jewish people.  If not for Esther, a woman who had tremendous influence over the king, and Mordechai, the Jew in the highest of positions and the man closest to Esther, Ahashverush would have listened to Haman and awful things would have happened.

So does that mean as long as Donald Trump doesn’t listen to Steve Bannon because he is infuenced otherwise by his daughter Ivanka and her Jewish husband Jared Kushner everything will be alright?  I guess it depends on whether you read out of a Red Megillah (FOX) or a Blue one(MSNBC).

SPOILER ALERT: Bannon isn’t calling for the anihilation of the Jews or any other group, Ivanka is the daughter not the wife, Jared is the husband not the  Uncle, and Donald Trump is no King.

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On International Woman’s Day: A Tribute to the Famous Woman I admire most. My mother

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Today is International Woman’s Day and one of my social media friends posted the question, “Which famous woman do you admire most?”  Although my initial reaction was to say Golda Meir, I chose to change my answer to Sipora Groen.  Sipora Groen is my mother, and although my book about my parents and how they survived the 4 years of Nazi occupation in Holland isn’t the bestseller I naturally hoped it would be, I think enough people know about my mother to classify her as famous.  If that’s not enough, let me tell you why how admirable she is makes up for where you may not consider her famous enough for this discussion.

Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was born in Amsterdam on January 1, 1922.  Sipora lost her mother when she was a young girl of only 13 and  was left with a large share of the responsibility in raising her younger brother Bram.  Prior to the war Sipora fell in love and got engaged to a young man named Hans.  At the outbreak of the war in Holland she was studying to be a nurse, and when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and began the process of rounding up the Jews and transporting them to the death camps, Sipora was living in the nurse’s quarters of the Jewish hospital.  Her personal life was turned upside down seemingly forever when not only her father and brother fled Amsterdam to ultimately be captured and murdered by the Nazis, but the love of her life and fiance Hans was taken away to Auschwitz.  Alone and feeling hopeless, all she had was the work she had taking care of the sick patients.  If not for Nardus Groen, my father of blessed memory,  the man she would later spend her life with, she likely would have been transported to her death along with the majority of the patients.  Instead she began a journey with Nardus through the Dutch countryside that took her from place to place, through homes of righteous Dutch people who put the value of life over religious belief or personal danger.  Ultimately she ended up in the home of Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte, the righteous and courageous couple that risked sacrificing everything in order to give her a safe home in the small town of Lemerlerveld for almost a year and a half until the war ended.

As the war ended in Europe, Nardus joined the Dutch Marines to help in the fight against the Japanese, not knowing till later that Sipora was pregnant with his child.  Part of the reason Nardus didn’t know was because originally Sipora didn’t know.  She took a job in a local hospital when upon feeling tired and worn down she was told by the Director of the hospital that she was indeed with child.  She moved back to Amsterdam only to find her home now occupied by the housekeeper who was with the family before the war.  The housekeeper pushed Sipora to leave the house despite her now advanced pregnancy, forcing her to take a very small apartment with very little heat in winter. If not for the help of her father’s childhood friend who gave money for her new home, Sipora might have found herself pregnant and homeless right right after spending 5 years running and hiding from the Nazis and losing so many of the people closest to her.  Just a few months after the birth of her son Marcel, Sipora would contract the lung disease known as pleurisy and would spend months in the hospital away from what felt like the one hope she had in life, her newborn son.

With his love for Sipora and a now a son, Nardus chose to leave the military and return to Holland where he would try to help rebuild the now decimated Jewish community.  He would be ordained as a Rabbi and start the process of building a family with Sipora who was now his wife.

Nardus and Sipora would have 5 children and would move often from place to place.  They ended up in America in the late 1950’s where they would live till 1976.  In 1976 they would move back to Holland where Nardus would take over a synagogue in the town of Arnhem while taking on responsibilities of the Jewish communities in 6 provinces throughout the country.  At the same time Sipora would become Director of the Jewish old age home in Arhem where she would be loved and respected by residents and employees alike.   After years of hard work between the 2 of the them, and setting themselves up for their senior years, Nardus and Sipora would retire, first to the Dutch seaside town of Zandvoort and later to Boynton Beach, Florida.

On June 13 of this year it will be 10 years since my father Nardus Groen passed away.  I’ve learned this about my mother during the time since his death.  This is in many ways my mother Sipora’s 5th life.  The first life, the most innocent and peaceful was the one she lived till the age of 13 when she lost her mother.  The second was the next 5 years, a time of peace in Europe but a time of both love and difficulty for Sipora.   The 3rd, and unquestionably the hardest was the 5 years of the war, a time we can try to comprehend but never fully understand.  The 4th were the relatively normal but still often very difficult years following the war, where she and Nardus worked hard and sacrificed to raise 5 children, experiencing all the trials and tribulations any family would during decades of normal life.  This was the longest of her lives to date as it would last till the death of Nardus over 60 years later.

The 5th life, and in some ways the most remarkable one is the one she is living now.  It is the life she has lived since my father’s death 10 years ago.  On January 1st Sipora Groen turned 95 years old.  This is a woman who reinvented herself upon becoming a widow while simultaneously honoring the memory of the man she still loves today.  She drives, she shops, she host Mahjong games, threw her own 95th birthday party on her own insistence, takes plane and train rides alone, is an active member of her synagogue and even has her own Facebook account. But what is most remarkable is the love of life she displays and the warmth she shows for family and friends, a warmth that can only be credited to a strength of will and character unimaginable to most of us.

In those moments when I would feel unreasonable self-pity I would sometimes ask myself, why can’t I be that guy?  The guy born into money with no worries, or the guy with incredible talent recognized by millions, or that person living the charmed life where very little ever goes wrong.  But not so long ago I realized I am that guy, because I am the son of a 95 year old mother who you just read about and who not only has gone through and achieved everything I wrote about, but has the incredible state of mind to enjoy it and share her joys with those around her.   You want to recognize someone admirable on International Woman’s Day, you need go no further than my mother, Sipora Groen.

 

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Open Letter to the Jewish community: It’s time to unite

 

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

We have an important choice to make.  Do we continue to battle each other over differences in political ideology or do we move forward and work towards our mutual safety and survival?  I have no doubt that most people reading this letter will choose to work towards our collective well-being, the question is whether or not we are willing and able to put our differences aside.  I am hopeful the answer is yes.  I realize that many believe it is impossible to make that distinction,  but the threats we face today are far more serious than political philosophies.  They are a matter of life and death.

With graves being desecrated in St. Louis and Philadelphia, and bomb threats against JCCs throughout the country becoming far too frequent, the threat to American Jewry appears to be coordinated and organized.  That would make it significantly more dangerous.  From the time of the first round of bomb scares I was concerned that it was a test run to see how the Jewish community and law enforcement would respond.  The gamble that these will only remain threats is a gamble no one can or should be willing to take, for it is a gamble with lives.

Whether we support or oppose our new administration, it is now time to make a concerted effort to make sure we help our government protect us. Regardless of whether we are staunch Liberals or Conservatives, blaming the other side for the threats and atrocities of today is neither the answer nor is it fair to either side.  Jewish Democrats and Republicans need to stop attacking each other over differences in political ideology.  That doesn’t mean we need to agree, and it doesn’t mean we need to cease our opposition of the other side’s political platform, but it does mean we need to stop the opposition towards each other. We need to cease with the personal attacks and unite against the enemy.We need to realize and accept that most of us want the same thing, a peaceful existence for our people and community.  That means it’s time for both sides to stop seeing the other side as culpable for the dangers facing us, no matter how much we oppose the other’s politics.  If we fight among ourselves we are aiding and abetting the the true enemy.  An enemy who at best wants to terrorize us, at worst wants to kill us.  I guarantee each and every one of you, no matter how far you may lean to the left or the right of the political aisle, the vast majority of Jewish people do not want to see their fellows Jews terrorized or physically harmed.  In most cases the intensity and in some cases extremism is actually motivated by a powerful desire to see our people live safe and happy lives.

It is OK that we disagree on certain policies, even if those policies impact the lives of the Jewish community in Israel and abroad, but that disagreement must stop taking the place of unity, because if it does the enemy has won a very key element of the war, and I know that most of us do not want that.

All discussions can easily descend into criticism of Liberals and Conservatives, but we need to step back and ask ourselves if by doing so we are allowing ourselves to be dangerously distracted.  If we need to mobilize and organize in defense of each other we need to put politics aside.  We need to spend our energies being vigilant in identifying and exposing dangers to the community and we need to provide each other with critical support when needed.

Our next steps need to work with law enforcement and each other in finding out who is doing this and stopping it from not only continuing, but developing into something worse. Our next step is not to bash the other for his or her political choices but to openly discuss and study what’s happening in the hope we find important answers that will help keep our communities safe.

I extend this challenge to all of you, but no less than I extend it to myself.  Let’s work together.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 

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Heads up:A Jewish Resident of Philadelphia gives a First Hand Account

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Today we cancelled a lock down drill.

Today we cancelled a lock down drill at school that was scheduled for a little before noon. Earlier this morning, we got a call from our sister school, the elementary Jewish Day School which lovingly prepares the majority of our incoming middle schoolers. There was a bomb threat and they were evacuating. Everyone was safe. The police were there. The teachers and children, ages 5-10, were cooperating.

Heads up.

We were already on alert. Earlier this month we had learned of the threats to JCCs and other Jewish institutions. Just the day before, I went with my mother and my daughter to the Mt. Carmel cemetery in Philadelphia minutes after I learned that it had been vandalized, terrorized, dehumanized. Scores of tombstones were thrown from their bases. Sheets of carved rock with Hebrew names and dates of past souls were broken. A man there tried to comfort me “it was probably some drunk kids having fun”.

Sigh.

I was not comforted. I was shaken by the images, by the souls, by the disregard for human decency. This could not have been a couple of drunk kids. These memorials were heavy stones, intentionally rocked from their core. This took effort. A couple of drunk kids would’ve given up after 8 or nine. They would have had their dose of adrenaline, worked up a sweat and leaned back on a still intact tombstone, grateful for it’s upright support.

No. These acts took stamina and determination.

Today we cancelled a lock down drill at school because 17 Jewish organizations were responding to actual bomb threats on this very day.

Babies were pulled from their cribs and evacuated from day cares. Elderly men and women hurriedly climbed out of JCC aqua aerobics classes, rushing to cover their wet bodies. Parents at work and in the market and at the doctor answered the call they dread.

We live in a world where lock down drills are cancelled because so many Jewish institutions are actually reacting to genuine threats of terror.

Today, February 27, 2017, at least 20 Jewish community facilities in 12 states received bomb threats. In the two months since Jan. 1, 2017 there have been over 70 bomb threats in

26 states and one Canadian province. No this is not a couple of drunk kids.

Who, then? Who is dialing, terrorizing, pushing over tombstones? Who is halting us in our tracks? Come out, come out, wherever you are.

Because we are 5000 years strong. We are in every state, in every city and we will not be scared away. We will stand with the good people of the world and our love and light will finally reach you in your hidden, dark, secret, pitiful, shameful corners of hate.

Never again” is a promise we made. It will take all of us, everywhere, every day, until forever.

Heads up.

 

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There is a time to be critical. Yesterday was not that time

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The complaint I heard yesterday from some was that Donald Trump waited too long to speak out against anti-Semitism. Although I have found issue with much of what I’ve seen and heard from the new President of the United States, emphasis in this case on the word NEW, I believe yesterday’s criticism, a perfect example being the criticism from the Steven Goldstein of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect,  to be out of line, poorly thought out, and damaging to any left wing agenda.

READ MY OPEN LETTER TO STEVEN GOLDSTEIN OF THE ANNE FRANK CENTER FOR MUTUAL RESPECT

It is now 1 month since Donald Trump took office. It therefore needs to be asked of anyone that wanted it to be done quicker, how much quicker would you have liked?  I believe the President deserves much of the scrutiny and even criticism he is getting, I have dished plenty of it out myself, but if you are to criticize him for everything, even that which he does correctly, you lose your credibility.  Case in point.  Not only does the General Flynn issue with Russia look like it might very well be a problem, it’s an issue that merits intense investigation, that if done correctly could reveal potentially serious issues and consequences for this administration. Does that negate the fact that picking H.R. McMaster as the new National Security Adviser was an excellent choice? Absolutely not.  If we are to battle this administration on those matters we deem critical, we do a lot better if we do so in a fair and balanced manner.

Furthermore, as a Jew I understand the delicate nature of the position President Trump finds himself in when fighting against anti-Semitism.  As I have said before, anyone who questions his favorable attitude towards the Jewish people needs only to look at his very close relationship with his Jewish son-in-law and daughter Ivanka who converted to Judaism.  However, and this has always been one of, if not my biggest fears and issues when it comes to Donald Trump, he energizes and gets support from the worst type of racists and bigots.  I don’t believe he is pandering to them when carefully choosing his words regarding anti-Semitism, I believe he is attempting to guard against backlash, and I admit that as a Jew who has opposed him vehemently, I greatly appreciate what I perceive as a concern for the Jewish community’s well-being, regardless of whether the motivation is philosophical or personal.

Those of us with views that are left of center are making a big mistake if we fall into the trap of behaving like so many on the right and far left where we automatically criticize anything coming from the other side of the aisle.  It destroys credibility, eats at the fabric of society, and obstructs anything resembling progress.  Attack what needs to be attacked, but when you see your President sticking up for you, finding something wrong with it does nothing to help your cause.  Save it for what he does wrong.  I have a feeling you’ll get your chance.  In the meantime be happy when he does something important the right way.

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Open Letter to Steven Goldstein of the Anne Frank Center regarding his statement to the President

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Dear Mr. Goldstein,

In some ways this is the most ironic letter I’ve written to date.  Here I am, the son of Dutch Holocaust survivors and a critic of Donald Trump, writing a letter of opposition to the Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in response to his criticism of President Trump.  It must be clear from my background and personal introduction that despite my disagreement with you on the subject I am about to discuss, you and I are unquestionably on the same side.

My issue is with the following statement you made regarding the President’s comments made earlier today on the increase in anti-Semitic activity, threats and rhetoric.

“The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of Antisemitism that has infected his own Administration. His statement today is a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting Antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record. Make no mistake: The Antisemitism coming out of this Administration is the worst we have ever seen from any Administration. The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, President’s Day, that Jewish Community Centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the President said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to Antisemitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this President has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

Although both you and I agree that more needs to  be done, I also believe there is a time and place for everything.  I agree the president’s words mean nothing without action, but that does not negate the positive step taken today.  Your statement focuses more on what hasn’t been done before today rather than what actually was done today.  If we are to demand our leaders take action, it is my belief that the time to criticize them is not immediately after their acknowledgment of the problem.  As we have seen time and time again, the words of the President of the United States are more than just words, they are instruments of action.  Furthermore, if you look back at what I have written you will see that I not only am not an apologist for Donald Trump, I am a vocal critic.  But I also try to be fair and reasonable.  It is my contention that as I sit here today, the President of the United States did today what he needed to do today.  That does not mean he will do the right thing tomorrow or the day after.  If he doesn’t do what is needed in the coming days, that will be the time to criticize him for lack of action.  Today I find it far more reasonable to be pleased he is acknowledging the problem.

As the son of Holocaust survivors I have never backed away from attacking those I feel to be enemies of the Jewish people.  I heard the stories from my parents, read the history and know of the death and suffering of my relatives and the relatives of so many others.  I subsequently feel it is crucial to go after those who declare their hate towards us before we go after those who at least say words of support for our well-being and safety. Although I wholeheartedly agree that we must hold the President of the United States accountable for his actions and what happens moving forward, today he at least verbally declared he is on our side, and for that I am far more likely to thank him than criticize him.

As I have said in previous writings, I am not yet convinced this President will be anything close to what I want him to be, but regarding the issue of anti-Semitism, as a Jewish American, today he was what I needed him to be.  I believe we have more to gain by acknowledging that than criticizing it.  It would appear that is where you and I disagree.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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Open Letter to Jewish Trump Supporter

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CLICK TO READ OPEN LETTER TO TRUMP SUPPORTERS

 

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