Monthly Archives: December 2012

Remembering My Father

dadc193 years ago today in Rotterdam, Holland, my father Nardus Groen was born.  His life was one filled with substance, meaning, and love.  I remember him fondly and miss him often.  Despite what one might take from the book “Jew Face”, I was aware of my father’s faults.  Every human being is flawed and my father was no exception.  However, one of the things I witnessed from the time I was a child, was that he never spoke one bad word of his parents who were murdered in Auschwitz.

My father was a great man.  I say that with certainty and pride.  He was principled, strong, ethical, and loving.  I often wonder if he would have liked the book “Jew Face” and my portrayal of his life.  I have often said that the greatest joy for me in writing the book was that in writing it I felt as though I got to know my parents as young adults.  My father never was able to confirm if that feeling of mine was justified, but it is one that I keep with me and cherish.

To use more modern vernacular, when looking at my father in the most difficult of times, my father was a bad ass.  He claimed in later years that he often felt fear, but his actions during the worst of times showed a behavior that showed otherwise.  The hardest thing for me as his son has always been the feeling that I have never been close to being the man that he was.  But then again, many never will be.

He was proud of who he was, and as a Rabbi he tried to use his understanding and extensive knowledge of Judaism to help and teach others, Jew and non-Jew alike.  The debate on what makes one truly religious is an endless one, but in my eyes and the eyes of many others, my father was indeed very religious, even if somewhat unconventional in practice.

He loved my mother, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren very much. No one has ever perfected the art of showing that love, my father being no exception, but to this day his love is never questioned.  Together with my mother, who God willing turns 91 in 2 weeks, a new world sprung forth of decent and loving people who do them both proud.

So today, on what would have been my father’s 93rd birthday, I remember my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, with love and respect, and hope that some of what I have done this past year has helped part of the world know why.

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Guns and Tragedies: A Common Partnership

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This post is a variation of a comment I wrote for an earlier thread on Facebook. Although this is more controversial than I normally get on my blog, my feelings on this subject are so strong that I feel compelled to state them openly, without fear, and without reservation.  To protect the privacy of those I responded to I have removed their names and adjusted the content appropriately as well as adding additional content.

I realize that personally I have a radical view on guns. Objectively I don’t usually think any radical approach is good, even when it’s my own. I don’t think good people owning guns generally do things to intentionally put other human beings in danger. I also know that many, if not most of them would gladly give up their guns if it was as a result of legislation that stopped the killing of innocent people.  I know that in reality it doesn’t work that way. I know there is no connection between criminals owning guns and decent, law-abiding citizens owning guns.  I even admit things don’t clearly get better by taking the guns away from good people. I just feel that many of them have misplaced passion.

A few people have tried to use the comparison of what happened in China a few days ago when a man attacked 22 children with a knife as “proof” that taking away guns won’t stop madmen. They’re correct, it won’t. But the difference between what happened in China and in Connecticut is the difference between children getting injured and children getting killed. That is right there in the headlines.  Both are horrible, but clearly one is worse than the other.

I understand that the good people who own guns want to keep their guns, but I don’t understand how some of them want it so much they won’t even admit something needs to be done. That is because some, and I emphasize some are so full of themselves and their Rush Limbaugh style politics that they consider someone like me the enemy. I resent the insinuation that they are better people than I am because I lash out in anger when something like this happens. They are so concerned about their politics, claiming it to be so important to own a gun that they come after me, who has freedom of speech, maybe even a greater, certainly equal cornerstone of our society, for placing the blame where I feel it belongs.

Am I right in how I look at the gun issue? Maybe yes, maybe no. But don’t tell me how I am taking away your constitutional right to own a gun while calling me an uncaring person for exercising my right to free speech. This, ‘you liberals don’t even wait till the blood is dry to turn this into something political’ attitude is complete and utter nonsensical self-serving partisan garbage. Who are these people to tell me when I am allowed to react? Who are these people to self-promote themselves to such an extent that they try to tell the world it makes them a better person than I am? Not once do I ever even insinuate that gun owners are less hurt by what happened than I am. But with some of them, the second you state an opinion contrary to theirs, they forget what is wrong in our society and come after someone like me. They have the audacity to imply, sometimes even say outright, that people who feel as I do are part of the problem. Do I put that onus on them? God forbid. I never would. But they are the ones politicizing everything, and anyone, Democrat or Republican, who uses this tragedy as a way to prove that they are a better person than someone else, needs to look long and hard in the mirror.  What they will see is someone more concerned about their image than in right and wrong.

In a less imperfect world, average citizens who own guns would be able to use them at a crime scene to either stop an evil lunatic from committing a heinous crime or if nothing else minimize the damage.  However, in our world it just doesn’t happen that way.  Not one of these gun related mass murders has ended with a gun-owning citizen shooting the murderer.  Does that mean that a decent citizen should lose his gun? No.  But saying that stronger gun control laws take away the option for a citizen to stop the crime is an argument that has yet to be proven to have any real merit.  I rather you just be honest and say you like hunting or want to protect your home.  Both of which you have every right to do.

I know there will be some who will feel such anger by my words that they will verbally attack me.  There will be some who will read this on Facebook and possibly choose to longer be my friend.  You all have every right to your opinion, but I ask you this.  Do we not want the same thing?  Do we not all want a country, dare I say a world, where children can live without fear, where people can go to a movie theater or to a park without fear, and where the value of human life is so great that we not only protect the children but protect all people?  Of course we do.  So before you come at me with all your venom and hatred, take a moment and realize that I very likely want the same thing that you do, and if that is not enough for you to have an intelligent respectful dialogue about a problem that impacts all of us, your friendship will not be missed.  But my hope is that good people will wake up and actually work together to come up with a solution that allows civilized behavior to flourish and grow, not be the ultimate victim of the guns of madmen.

As I was concluding this piece, two things happened that caused me to add to it.  The first thing was a chat I was having online with an old friend. She is a mother of 3 and lives in the country.  She was telling me that she owns guns, but that they are locked in a large safe where the children can’t get to them.  She allows her children to learn how to shoot but only while being very strictly monitored.  My reaction to what she said was extremely positive.  We both agreed that people need to take the careful measures that she does and since many don’t, government needs to get involved.

The second thing that happened was that I saw an interview on CNN with the family of Vicki Soto.  Vicki Soto was a 27 year old first grade school teacher at Sandy Hook elementary.  She is one of the victims of this terrible tragedy.  She is also someone I am deeply honored to mention on my blog.  She died shielding her students and saving the lives of young children.  Her heroics give us hope, restore our faith in humanity, and show us that heroes still do exist and I can think of no better way to end this post than to honor her memory.  As we ask God why, let us also thank God for people like Vicki Soto, for without angels like her we are surely lost.  May she and all the victims of this horrible tragedy rest in peace.


Thankfully, We Feel

sandy-hook-shooting_10842950It’s often been said that good can be found even at the worst of times.  Although the events of yesterday are horrific beyond comprehension, I would like to use this post to speak of hope and offer a reason why we should be encouraged as a people and as a nation.  On what do I base this statement?  Simply put, we still care.

The shooting in Newtown, Ct. that took 26 lives, 20 of them children, caused public grief on a level I have not seen since September 11, 2001.  These are two very different tragedies and I am by no means attempting to compare them, but just as it felt that everyone shared a common sadness then, it feels as though we all share a common sadness now.  With incidents such as these seemingly increasing, you start to wonder whether or not as a society we will become desensitized.  Instead, what I saw was a nation devastated and grief-stricken.  Even though there are certain issues connected to the tragedy that clearly divide us, there was no difference of opinion on how sad what happened was for everyone.

It would be easy to say that of course everyone would feel grief-stricken today, but I maintain that is something not to be taken for granted.  If the time ever comes that we are desensitized, it is then that we will truly be in trouble.  I take solace tonight in the fact that we still care enough to be genuinely sad and feel deeply enough to be passionately angry.  With what feels sometimes truly like a world gone mad, our hope rests in the fact that we still are capable of feeling the emotions we feel, and even with our society sometimes struggling to stay healthy,  as long as we still care, we are not lost.

May God bless the victims of this tragedy and give strength to all those suffering


Arabs and Me-The Unedited Version

feature_IsraelPalestineConflictWhenever I write something about Israel, the Jewish people, and the Mideast situation, I stop, plan, and do some degree of research.  I never just write and share my basic fears and feelings.  So I thought I would try something new.  I’d speak, or write the thoughts that come to my mind, whether they are rational or not, and see where the article ends up.  We are all products of our environment and experiences, so as you read this know that this is not a planned or structured piece.   This is how I feel, directly and uncensored.

I don’t hate Arabs.  If anything I have found it somewhat exciting when I’ve befriended one over the years.  I worked with a bunch of Egyptians who were decent, hardworking people.  I worked in an office with a beautiful woman who was at least half Saudi.  She was classy, intelligent, and sweet.  Years ago I bought sandwiches in a Bodega from a Palestinian store owner.  The guy was friendly and the sandwiches were great.  All was good in the world.  But I never spoke about Israel with any of them, and only spoke of religion to the degree in which we needed to show respect for each other’s practices.  Honestly, I was afraid to broach any political discussion because in my heart I expected them to have nothing nice to say about Israel, and since I considered that unfair and knew it would at best tarnish how I felt about them, at worst cause a conflict, I kept quiet.

I live in New York.  In New York, whether Arab or Jew, you are removed from the real problems.  I am just another outspoken Jew who sits comfortable in safety and talks a big game.  Granted I know there are some who have served in either the U.S. or Israeli military and have put themselves in real situations, but myself and many others talk about “what needs to be done” and then go home to relative or complete safety.

Is Israel wrong? Is that even possible? Well I’ve heard the arguments and I guess I need to seriously consider it, but as a Jew I almost feel like I am betraying my people.  Even so, I’ll try, for the sake of argument to understand the Palestinian’s “plight” and consider Israel’s fault in the conflict.  Israel is, by far, the stronger of the parties involved.  Israel controls, or as they like to say, occupies the territories, so can it really be fair to call it the victim?  All the Palestinians want is to live peacefully without an outside force controlling their lives, right?  I want to be fair and try to accept that on some level, but it just doesn’t happen.  Do I feel bad when innocent people get killed? Of course I do.  But do I believe the Israeli government and its officials or population get any joy in killing an innocent Palestinian? For the most part, I believe the answer is no.  There will always be people seeking revenge or caught up in their own personal hatred, but an overwhelming percentage do not see hurting Palestinians as a priority or pleasure.

Do all Palestinians want all Jews dead?  Of course I don’t think that.  But I do believe perception becomes reality, and that an overwhelming amount of Arab leaders create power from creating a perception that Israel is a war-mongering, bloodthirsty occupier that wants to commit genocide against the Palestinians and possibly all Arabs and Muslims worldwide.   The Palestinian population, handcuffed by poverty and lack of options, is powerless to fight the information fed them, and buys into that perception.   What that basically means is that they don’t hate me because they want to hate me; they hate me because their leaders give them no choice.

So where does this leave us?  Honestly? With a nation, Israel, that has no choice.  With the attitude that many in the world have, which is “please be a good Jew and take what we do to you without resistance”, I’m happy Israel is hated by them.  In the Arab world it means they’re respected and feared, and unfortunately that is what it takes to be safe.

In some ways the whole thing breaks my heart because it would be great to live in a world with no hate, no hunger, and no violence.  But if it has to exist, you always prefer it to happen to someone else.  In that sense very few people are like a Gandhi or Mother Teresa.  To people like them, hardships to anyone is like hardships to everyone.  Most of us, even those of us not gaining pleasure from other’s pain, still take solace in knowing that their pain is what prevents a worse pain and suffering being put on us.  And as a Jew, and with our history, can you blame us?

 


Benjamin the Maccabee?

netanWhen I read about things like the E1 corridor, and hear the debate about UN resolutions and acceptance of Palestinian statehood, I step back and try to understand what is really going on.  I try to be objective and fair, fully knowing that my family history makes that close to impossible.  Naturally I am impacted by my own family’s plight during the Nazi occupation of Holland and, knowing Jewish history, I see the numerous examples of persecution against the Jewish people.

It is very easy to jump on the bandwagon of compromise and talk about how Israel needs to make concessions and show tolerance to the Palestinians.  Criticizing Benjamin Netanyahu is becoming more and more popular, not just amongst Israel’s enemies but amongst Israel’s friends and even Jews.  But is his approach so inappropriate?  If there is one major reason to elect an Israeli Prime Minister it is to protect the interests of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide.  We are on the verge of celebrating the holiday of Hanukkah, the holiday that celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, possibly the most military aggressive group in Jewish history prior to 1948, and I ask myself this; would today’s world criticize Judah the Maccabee?  Most likely yes.

The saying “hindsight is 20/20”, is poignant and applicable.  As a Jew who never knew his grandparents, I know that the world is still a place filled with people who want to see to it that future generations suffer the same fate.  Anti Jewish sentiment has never been based in logic or reason.  It is not something that can be eliminated by negotiation or compromise.  Nothing Israel has done in its history has ever shown evidence of a desire to pick war over peace.  Are all the moves Israel makes politically expedient? Probably not.  But does political expediency take precedent over survival? Definitely not.  If you choose to make the argument that the Palestinians just want the right to an independent state, I would answer; all the Jewish state wants is to be recognized as having a right to exist.  The Palestinians want land, Israel wants to live safely.  To pretend Israel is asking more is nothing short of clever anti-Semitism.    Benjamin Netanyahu has a reputation of being a difficult man.  This may be true.  But I ask you this.  Knowing that your enemies still won’t even admit you have the right to survival, do you really want someone easy representing your best interests?

The basis for peace does not start with concessions from a nation surrounded by people wishing to destroy it.  The basis for peace is the basic understanding by all parties that the other has a right to exist in peace.  Menachem Begin came further from the right than Benjamin Netanyahu, and seeing a true opportunity for peace gave the Sinai to Egypt.  The years of peace have proven it to be a solid move, even with the change going on in Egypt today.  If the Palestinians want peace, not just land and Israel’s destruction, I believe the world would see a much less “difficult” Benjamin Netanyahu.  But if Israel’s enemies continue to show its ultimate goal to be its destruction, expect a Maccabean type response.  One that Jewish people should be grateful for, not critical of.


The True United Nations Charter

infidelscartoonIn light of recent events,  I went back to my personal archives to find something I once put together regarding what I believe is the most corrupt organization in world history, the United Nations.  This is the original UN Charter with my personal additions in bold and in parentheses.   I wrote this in 2006  making it even more remarkable and sad that it still applies today.

 

 

The True UN Charter

We the Peoples of the United Nations Determined to save succeeding generations(if we like them) from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind(and Jews), and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights(if it’s big enough news), in the dignity and worth of the human person(if someone is watching), in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small(particularly wealthy influential rogue states), and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained(even if these treaties are illogical and hypocritical), and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom(at least for a month or two, as long as it takes for people to stop caring),

And for these Ends to practice tolerance(except towards Israel) and live together in peace with one another as good neighbors(especially nasty ones), and to unite our strength to maintain international peace and security(and New York City penthouse apartments), and
to ensure by the acceptance of principles and the institution of methods, that armed force shall not be used, save in the common interest, and to employ international machinery(Katyusha rockets) for the promotion of the economic and social advancement of all (Palestinian)peoples,
Have Resolved to Combine our Efforts to Accomplish these Aims.
Accordingly, our respective Governments(the ones willing to suck up to us), through representatives assembled in the city of San Francisco, who have exhibited their full powers found to be in good and due form, have agreed to the present Charter of the United Nations and do hereby establish an international organization to be known as the United Nations(ultimately to have the same fate as the League of Nations).


The President, My Brother, and The Book Jew Face

marcelObI sometimes think, if only my book would get into the hands of someone important, someone with some influence.  The benefit it would have to its exposure would potentially be tremendous.  How about……the President of the United State of America?

Thanks to my brother Marcel, President Barack Obama now owns a copy of Jew Face.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and a member of the Democratic National Committee.  With Pittsburgh  traditionally voting Republican, and Philadelphia traditionally voting Democrat, Montgomery County, the third largest county in the state usually determines which candidate carries the state.  Having once again been instrumental in carrying Montgomery County for the Democratic Party, Marcel has met the President a number of times and this past Friday had the privilege of a personal meeting.  During this meeting he gave a copy of the book Jew Face to the president.  What happens now?  I certainly don’t know, but I do feel honored that the president now owns a copy of something I have written and a tremendous gratitude to my oldest brother for respecting and appreciating my work to the extent that he was comfortable giving a copy to the leader of the free world.

This is not a political post.  I am hopeful that no one reading this chooses to turn it into one.  And if you want to own a copy of the book that is now owned by the President of the United States, please CLICK HERE.  And to show my gratitude I present you with an excerpt from the book that speaks of the birth of my brother, Marcel Lubertus Groen.

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Excerpt from Jew Face:

 After the birth of her son, the miracle that so often looked like it would never ever happen, Sipora gave the little baby two names: Marcel, after her father, the man to give her life, and Lubertus, after Bertus te Kiefte, who, other than Nardus, was the man most instrumental in helping her to keep that life.  Marcel Lubertus had been created by Sipora and the man who empowered her, saved her from death’s grasp, and loved her even through times when love was so overshadowed by death and evil.

 The circumstances were less than ideal, and their lives were filled with questions yet to be answered, but as Sipora lay there with Marcel in her arms, it almost felt like God was making a statement, a statement that even with the forces of evil at their most powerful, good will survive, love will prevail, and life would go on.

When Thea had been born to David and Martha Groen, it was a symbol of life in the midst of horror and devastation; the symbol held a beauty and power that made it unique. When Marcel came into the world, he would be a symbol of even greater significance.  What was once the bright light of a great world of Dutch and European Jewry had been diminished to a mere glimmer, and a strong powerful fire of life had been reduced in so many places to mere ashes. And now despite all of that, there remained hope. The flickering light of what remained in Nardus Groen and Sipora Rodrigues’s life had now turned into this bright, new, and strong flame. The light that was their son Marcel.

 This significance would carry a burden, but it would carry an even greater importance and virtue. It would take an almost extinguished light, an almost destroyed world, and turn it into a strong flame, building not one but many new worlds in the years to come.  On this day, as Sipora looked at her son, it did not matter that Nardus was not here. It would not have even mattered anymore if she had been here. What only mattered today was that this baby was here. And whether she was right or wrong for feeling this way, Sipora felt like this was the reason she had survived, and this would now be her reason for wanting to survive.