Monthly Archives: June 2012

A story of Good against Evil

There is an absolute good and there is an absolute evil.  Everything in between is open for interpretation.  And sometimes it is not even relevant.

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The Color Blue & White

The other day I was having a conversation with a relative about the concept of anti-Zionism and how it relates to anti-Semitism.    I hold the position that they are one in the same, while my relative felt that although anti-Zionism often is modern-day institutionalized anti-Semitism, it is not always the case.  This whole conversation began when I mentioned how I had just heard of Pink Floyd boycotting Israel and how it had impacted my life knowing that a band I had once considered one of my favorites had no gone to the increasing pile of celebrities I had no use for based on them being anti-Semitic.  The argument was presented, by others on the table as well, that there are plenty of Israelis who are opposed to the government, and they of course are not anti-Semites.    So I spent some time thinking about this, considered their argument, and came to this conclusion.  They’re wrong.

First of all, opposition to the current government or any government in Israel is not anti-Zionism.  Although I don’t always appreciate the way people oppose a sitting President or government policies in the United States, I don’t accuse someone of being anti-American or unpatriotic when doing so.  The foundation of all modern civilized countries is freedom.  Freedom does not mean always liking what your leaders do and it does not mean you need to be quiet about how you feel.  So opposition to government policy is not anti-Zionism.  Anti-Zionism is at best a misrepresentation of Israeli policy in order to smear Israel’s image, and at worst a refusal to recognize the rights of the Jewish people to have their own state.  The latter is the key to my argument.  Israel was formed, and still is a Jewish state.  It is a state that allows other religions to live freely, despite the claims of the likes of Roger Waters and most recently Alice Walker, and it is a country that does not sponsor, support, or fund terrorist organizations.  Israel is a democracy.  Not the kind where the military will limit the results of power provided by the people in an election, and not the kind that elects fundamentally racist, bigoted and violent governments.  It is the kind of democracy where people can live freely and with basic human rights.

The Palestinians in the West Bank were not even wanted by King Hussein’s Jordan in 1967, so when Israel captured the territory where they resided after the 6 Day War, the conditions of the people living there actually improved.  Yasser Arafat plundered the funds of the Palestinians and took much of what was earmarked for their betterment and built his own little financial empire which consisted of among other things hotels in places like the Swiss Alps.  An argument can be made that he did more to harm the Palestinians than any Israeli government ever could.

So when people proudly stand up and declare themselves anti-Israel or anti-Zionist, I hear the words Final Solution all over again.  You want to criticize the government or its leadership, go ahead.  But if you are going to oppose its very core I am going to call you what you are, a hater of Jews, also known as an anti-Semite.

For all those who need hope…

To all those in Israel, Holland, England, Australia, Germany, France, India, Pakistan, Singapore,  Sweden, Philipines,  Spain, Poland, and of course the United States of America who are viewing my blog, THANK YOU!

Now tell all your friends and tell them to tell all of theirs.  Let them know about the book Jew Face.  I look around and see many people today who have lost hope because of everyday difficulties and struggles and hope that knowing this story will help in some way.  Everyone needs inspiration and those who have read the book so far have at the very least seen how people can come from the worst situation, the brink of personal devastation, and built a life of joy, fulfillment, and love.

So tell your friends.  Let them have the opportunity to decide if they want to reap the benefits of this story.

Who was this man and what made him great?

Completing the week of special remembrance for my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, tonight and tomorrow is the Yahrzeit, Jewish calendar anniversary of his passing.  To honor his memory I am posting a slightly edited version of the eulogy I gave at his funeral.

Who was this man and what made him great?
He was a son
A brother
A student
A friend
A realist
A freedom fighter
A Hero
A Companion
A father
A soldier
A scholar
A father
A Rabbi
A father
A chief rabbi
A traveler
A Rabbi
A father
A salesman
A provider
A partner
A fighter

A son

Although I never had the good fortune of knowing any of my grandparents, I grew up my entire life hearing nothing but good words about my father’s mother and father. In the 65 years of his life that he lived without them, he gave them nothing but honor. He showed the example of how to honor your parents and passed it down.
A brother
He spoke with affection of his sister who was a victim of the holocaust along with his parents. He raised us knowing our uncles and aunts and he especially had a close relationship with his brother David who was taken from his life at a much too early time.
A student
As a child he was such a tremendous student that he practically knew the entire Siddur by heart at the time of his Bar mitzvah as well as having a similar mastery of the torah by the age of 18. His photographic memory coupled with his love of Jewish studies made this a labor of love throughout his life.
A friend
He made special friends. Friends that lasted a lifetime. Once you became my father’s friend you were a friend to the end and treated with unparelled warmth, respect and loyalty. From his early years till his passing, one of the hardest things for my father was watching all his friends pass on before him. The reunion taking place at this time must be one of glorious majesty.
A realist
He knew that when his neighborhood was being cleared out by the Germans that it was a sign of something horrible taking place. He left everything he knew behind and understood that to survive he needed to take on a new identity. He knew the benefit of approaching things as they were, not as he hoped they would be.
A freedom fighter
Most of us here today will never know what it was like to live through the horrible times of Nazi occupation. So many people were taken and those who survived did so only by the grace of God. One of my father’s favorites sayings was, Hakol Talooy B’Mazal, Everything depends on luck or fortune. Although to survive that horrible time one did need the fortune of God’s mercy, my father took on himself to battle, to fight. Not just for his survival, but for the survival of anyone else he could help.
A hero
He saved countless lives during those years. His pragmatic nature allowed him to see past what he wanted to see and understand what was truly happening. He escaped 4 times from makeshift Nazi prisons and even once from a concentration camp. But his most heroic feat may have been saving his future bride, my mother from certain death. Not once, but many times over.
A companion
In doing this so began a companionship of 2 people unlike anything anyone you will ever find. Little did they know at the time, but the relationship that began at that time with my parents, began with the birth of their firstborn son, and now stands at 23 offspring alone. Although one portion of his life was at its end, and riddled with tragedy, a new portion of his life was beginning, and his strength, his courage, and love of life was the driving force to what would turn into a familial kingdom.
A father
When you are the youngest child you tend to see it all from a different perspective. And I saw the love and pride my father had for my 3 brothers and my sister. You will hear this over and over, but nothing was more important to him than his wife and children. He had tremendous passions and many interests, but the greatest joy he could have would be to sit around a table with his family, and a bowl of my mother’s heavenly chicken soup and just talk. With the birth of his first son a glorious saga began, and throughout my life I saw the joy and pride his oldest son gave him, and I saw him develop into a man willing to allow this son to show the honor he felt for his father by letting him do for him in the way he knew how..
A soldier
He was a Dutch marine, attached to the US Marine Corp only because once Nazi occupation ended my father wanted to continue to fight for what was right. He had tremendous pride in his time in the military and it was only his family values, the values that drove him most, that stopped him from a life as a career soldier.
A father
Once again becoming a father with the birth of his second son, I saw something very special in the relationship he had with someone with such similar personality traits. The same fighting spirit and love of family caused these 2 to have a relationship that was very special and needless to say, never dull.
A Rabbi
After the war he became a Rabbi and had various pulpits in different parts of the world. To my father though, being a Rabbi was not something that depended on having a congregation. It was something you lived. And whether he was the chief Rabbi in Surinam or at a point in his life where he chose not to practice, he was always a Rabbi.
After starting a family with 2 sons, behold they saw a 3rd son. It took 3 tries, but he then had a son who physically looked liked him. He admired this son’s mind and pragmatism and guided and taught him in the ways of the world as he had begun to with his first 2 sons
He was a great scholar.
He learned regularly with a Rabbi who was known worldwide as one of, if not the greatest scholar of that era. My father’s knowledge of Jewish law was as great as anyone I ever knew and if there was a question to be asked, he knew the answer. Most impressively however, he loved the opportunity to give it.
A father again when he and my mother finally made a daughter, and gave her the combined name of both her mother and his, my sister was always his little girl. The protective man he always was had him looking out for her at every opportunity. Their relationship was by her own words private, but clear to everyone, it was special.
He was a provider for his family.
We always had a warm home and a full refrigerator and as children never knew the difference between the good financial times and the ones not as good. He was proud when it came to these matters and would never allow it to even be a discussion, and since I never felt like I ever missed any essentials it was just fine by me.

He was a grandfather.
His love for his grandchildren manifested itself in many ways similar to his love of his children. He advised them, he talked with them, he taught them, and bragged about them. I never knew how painful it could be to a lose a grandparent till I saw it this weekend in the eyes of so many of my nephews and nieces. The loss for them was as profound as the blessing of having him was in their lives.

He was a partner with my mother, always making the decisions that needed to be made, even if it meant that sometimes those decisions were difficult or unpopular.
He was not known for romantic words or sentimental actions, but his love for her was as strong as a love could be. As his son I saw this most clearly at times when she became ill. For this was the only time when I saw a chink in an otherwise impenetrable armor.
He had charm, wit, strength, passion, and love.
He was a man, who sometimes said after the fact that he my have been wrong about something, but whenever he made a decision, he always made it because he felt it was right. For if he did not feel that something was right, he was unable to do it.
And another one of his favorite sayings was Savlanoot oo’ beetechone, which in Hebrew means, Patience and Faith. For he know that with those 2 qualities man could overcome almost any obstacle.
And of all the things spoken of my father and of all the great qualities he had, the one spoken of less often may be the one that was the strongest. What made him strongest was his heart. It was what made him generous, loving, caring, and a fighter till the very end. Literally till the very last breath.

I have told you all many of the things that made this man great, but there was one I have not yet mentioned. And I personally saved it for last.
Hakohl kohl Yakov, Vehayadayim Yeday Esav-(the voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau). This passage from the Torah talks about how Jacobs voice was deceptive to Isaac and not the true voice it was trying to be. One time in my life when there were things going on in my life that were not as I wanted them to be, my father wrote this to me in a letter to make me aware that he knew I was in distress, and although I do not even remember what the problem was, I remember that my father’s awareness of it, was what made it ultimately go away.

There are so many different things that made this man who he was and made him great. But what made him great to me was that he was my teacher, my guide, my friend, but most of all my father. I can smile and be happy for the wonderful relationship I had with my father. As I spoke with he and my father almost every day, even if it was only for one minute, to utter the Dutch words, Velte Rusten (Rest Well) and Gezond Veerop( Arise in health). As I say goodbye to you, the father I am so tremendously grateful for having for 45 years of my life, it is with all my love that I say Velte Rusten, and this time I say in Dutch, slaap met de goede engletjes (sleep with the good angels).

What is Yahrzeit?

When remembering our loved ones who have passed on, we tend to be somber and sad.  Having lost my father 5 years ago it is something I understand very well.  However, in Judaism, the Yahrzeit (pronounced Yart-site) the Jewish calendar anniversary of someone’s death, in some ways is a special time and one to be celebrated.  Yahrzeit means “a year’s time” and represents the ascent of the Neshama (soul) to a higher level each year.  It is believed that by our good deeds and prayers we help that Neshama reach that higher level and that we look positively and happily at that event as we remember the ones we lost. As with all Jewish calendar days, the Yahrzeit begins at sundown.  This Saturday night and Sunday we celebrate the 5th Yahrzeit of my father Rabbi Nardus Groen.  His story, together with that of my mother Sipora Groen, can be found in the book Jew Face.  It is my hope that in the way I portrayed him in the book and let people know of his greatness, that I have done something to help his soul reach higher levels.  My hope and prayer is that we give love and respect to all those most important to us in our lives and do not wait till they have passed on to do so.

The life that was not lived

The following is the Foreword of the book Jew Face.  It is written by my father Rabbi Nardus Groen.


by Rabbi Nardus Groen, of blessed memory

The life that was not lived:

This is the story of two people whose experiences cannot be seen as separated from one another. At the same time, it includes a multitude of people whose story will never be told. We therefore consider it a privilege as well as a duty to share with you some of the 4,380 days of our being on this earth.

Existence is more or less a state of exposure. Life, on the other hand, is a matter of faith. If there was such a thing, my choice would be for something in between. Some attributes may be applied to it, and others may not fit the shoe.

We may in the course of it meet people who, for whatever it’s worth, may be portrayed as heroes, while others are cowards, pacifists, or activists. They are all the products of mankind. For them, there will always be a place under the sun (with the exception of the traitor). But being as we are a homogenous society, no one can ever be left out. And as it is by the very inclination of the human race, the dark shadow of the wicked will play an overpowering role in leaving behind the marks in the way of scars brought upon them by society.

If the worst could ever be turned into good, the only lesson to be learned of that is, never ever forget. For in the past lay the present, and in the present the future. Without that, we will be repeating our mistakes and shortcomings, and as a result the world will not be the place it was created to be.

In order to live, you still have to be able to somehow believe in the goodness of mankind. In that light, we will start with our first words to describe that which has been and never should have been.

Sports, destiny, and remembering a father

With today being 5 years since the passing of my father, Nardus Groen, in a blog that speaks of the book Jew Face and Nazi Germany’s occupation of Holland between 1940-45, you might ask yourself why this post talks about a Football (Soccer) game. Here’s why.  I remember calling my parents in Holland during times when I was living either in America or Israel.  My parents always warmly welcomed my call and had time to speak with me.  With one exception.  When there was a football match on my father was busy and would instruct me to call back at a later time.  It didn’t  have to be an international match between the Netherlands and a rival nation.  If Ajax of Amsterdam was playing, or one of Europe’s elite teams were on the television, there was very little that would pry him away from the television.  It was a passion of my father’s as it still is today for my mother.  So with that in mind, on June 13, 2012, exactly 5 years after my father’s passing, it is impossible to ignore the fact that today, Holland must defeat Germany in order to have a reasonable shot at surviving the first round of Euro 2012 Football Championships.  It’s exactly what my father would have wanted on a day like today.  That and of course a Dutch victory over Germany. And maybe that will be what actually happens with the help of one special fan who is remembered with love and respect watching and cheering on from a very special place. Go Holland!