Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Last Seder?

mealDespite my own personal ideological struggles, I am a Jew who believes in the philosophies of Judaism before I believe in those of any other religion.  However, I do feel that now maybe more than any time in history the alliance between Christians and Jews has never been more important.  The rise of Islam, a rise that in many places preaches only Islam, has put the concept of freedom of religion in more danger than any time in modern history.  With that in mind I am making a short post to discuss, and hopefully create a discussion regarding the connection between Passover and Easter.

I often say, only partially tongue in cheek, that there are 2 major differences between Christianity and Judaism.  One is that while Christians are awaiting the 2nd coming, us Jews are still awaiting the 1st.  Either way we are still awaiting the supposed Messiah or Messianic era.  The second difference would be the disagreement over who is the best Jew of all time.  There would be some discussion on the matter, but as a Jew I would put in my vote for Moses, and I would be surprised if I didn’t end up backing the winner.  Christians however, even if they have a fondness for Moses, clearly would pick Jesus.

It is widely believed that “The last supper” was actually a Passover Seder.  Seeing the apparent time of year and the fact that a group got together around the table for discussion, there is much credence to this belief.  Ultimately, those who believe in the Messiah coming in a mystical, ultra spiritual way would see the events celebrated by Christians as a realistic method for the savior to be revealed.  Us Jews however do not believe that has actually taken place.  However, if either belief causes people to behave in ways of peace, love and tolerance, they help the world far more than hurt the world.

What are your thoughts?

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Freedom: Not a Religious Concept

mosesEvery year as Passover approaches I find myself intrigued by how many Jewish people, even those relatively uninvolved in religious observance, put importance on some form of celebration of the holiday.  Seeing as it is a holiday that begins with sitting around a table with friends and family, telling a story and eating, naturally it is partially due to how uncomplicated and potentially enjoyable this form of observance can actually be.  However, when thinking about it this year I came to an entirely different and much deeper explanation.  The attraction to Passover is that it has very little to do with religion.  Passover transcends religion, inasmuch as it about something not provided by religion.  That would be the basic theme of Passover, the importance of freedom.

We live in an increasingly complex society.  People consider freedom to manifest itself in issues once not even considered important to humankind.  In the United States, freedom now has become connected to lifestyle choices, possession of weapons, and how to treat your body.  In Muslim populations, as well as ultra-religious communities everywhere, levels of freedom are often gender based, men are often provided with freedoms women are not provided with, and when not are based on first accepting the basic rules of the community.    In more progressive, liberal environments, freedom is expressed by the decriminalization of things like drugs and prostitution.  And in some parts of the world, freedom is still about the basic right to survive and live as the person you were born to be, without restriction from governments or dictators.

Freedom has always been the ultimate weapon.  Take away someone’s freedom and the belief is that you have the ultimate control over what they do.  It is the primary and justified complaint against religious leadership.  The belief that impacting someone’s freedom because your belief system considers their personal choices to be wrong for society and the individual, sets up a scenario where people do exactly what is expected of them.  Ironically it takes away from the freedom given by God that is very possibly the most important freedom that exists. The freedom of choice.

The truth is that no one can take that freedom away from any man or woman ever.   The consequences may be dire, but the freedom remains.  My grandparents, when presented with the option to accept Baptismal papers in 1943 Amsterdam, refused to accept them.  Everyone, including them, knew their chances survival would be greater had they accepted them, but they made the ultimate sacrifice in choosing the freedom to live as Jews and subsequently die as Jews by refusing the papers.  They let no man take away their freedom to be Jews, even though it resulted in them being murdered in Auschwitz.

The lesson to be learned is that what makes Passover so attractive is that it is truly about freedom.  A freedom that no government, religious institution, or random individual can ever take from any of us.  That freedom is the freedom of choice.    And the reason no man can ever take it away from us is because it is a freedom given to us by God.  Where religions and governments have failed all over the world is in their unwillingness to take second place to man’s freedom to decide for how he wishes to live his life. A freedom no one can ever take away and a freedom and a concept far greater than religious observance, for it is a freedom given directly to man by God.  That is a freedom all men and women share equally, and the expression of that is part of what makes the celebration of Passover so attractive to so many.

Happy Passover to all who celebrate, and to those who do not, in the theme of the day I wish you a life filled with true freedom.


The Merging of Values

jkThe whole point of any of this, of remembering history, good and bad, of writing about events and milestones, attitudes and philosophies, is basically one thing over all others.  It is to create a continuation of our world and of our values.  This past weekend as two groups of family and friends celebrated the union of two special people, something even more special occurred; the merging of values.

I know my family well.  I know how they think and I know what is important to them.  I also know their personalities and idiosyncrasies, of which I myself have plenty.  So when my nephew Justin found his bride Kim, as a loving and opinionated Uncle I naturally took it upon myself to form an opinion of which I was and still am more than happy to share.

I am like most people who love both Justin and Kim for the wonderful caring people that they are.  That does not separate me in any way nor do I look for it to do so.  Just watching how much they love each other is enough to be thrilled over this union.  But what I was able to learn in getting to know Kim’s family and friends was something far more significant in the big picture than even the beauty the bride and groom shared.  What I learned was that the two families share the same core values.

Even when people are from the same country, in this case the majority in both families is American, and have the same religion, the majority being Jewish, it is still very feasible that lifestyles will be different.  My personal philosophy has always been that there is no right and wrong in lifestyle choice.   People have every right to live how they want to live and I don’t believe that it is the responsibility of man to make that judgment.  What I do believe is important however, are the comparable values people live by, values that often transcend nationality and religion.   Of all the things to bring me joy from this wedding, maybe the most significant was watching two families, families with the values of love and respect for friends and family, as well as a love and appreciation for all the good things given to them, became connected in what can only be termed, holy matrimony.

None of us may be able to save the world, but when so many people unite under the terms of such love and joy, a small world grows into something more special and important to all those who come in contact with it in all walks of life.  I for one am grateful to be fortunate to be part of something so special.  Continuation of our world.


Generations of Love and Family

generationsAs many of you reading this already know, the 
book Jew Face is the story of my parents 
journeys and survival during the Nazi 
occupation of Holland between 1940-1945.  
There are many reasons this story is 
important.  Some are general for a large 
group of people, while others are more 
pertinent to the individuals in the story.  
The most significant being the impact it has 
on all the family members involved and the 
generations that have followed.

My parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen, started a 
new world with the birth of their first son, 
and my oldest brother Marcel.  He would be 
followed by Leo, Ruben, my one sister Debby, 
and then me.  Between the children my parents 
would get 12 grandchildren, and as it stands now, 
8 great grandchildren.  It should be noted that the 8 great grandchildren 
come from only 3 of the grandchildren, the 3 oldest children of Marcel and 
his wife Bernice, so there is still plenty of opportunity for the remaining 
grandchildren to add to that number.  It is a story of survival in the 
greatest sense.  A world almost destroyed now stands at over 30 people and 
growing, and that is without counting extended family.

The reason for this post today is because some events and family 
members represent the glory and greatness that is the survival of a 
family.  This weekend my nephew Justin and his fiance Kim will be 
married.  Justin, who is the youngest of Marcel and Bernice's children 
is one of those people who is loved and respected by those who know him,
and has the great ability to show that love and respect in return on a 
regular basis.  Nothing symbolizes it more than the relationship he had 
with his "Opa" and still has with his "Oma".  Opa and Oma are the Dutch 
words for grandfather and grandmother and in this case represent my 
parents, Nardus and Sipora Groen.  I still remember when my father had 
his heart attack about 15 years ago on the 7th day of Passover, and 
walking up and finding Justin holding him in his arms in the back of a 
police car right outside Beth Shalom synagogue in Elkins Park, Pa. 
until the ambulance arrived.  Their relationship would always be 
close and even though my father passed away close to 6 years ago, 
Justin still wears the pin he gave him on the lapel of his suit in 
synagogue and intends to use his Opa's Talit (prayer shawl) at his 
upcoming wedding.   His relationship with his Oma may be even more 
special.  This is a relationship of mutual affection and respect rarely 
seen between 2 people separated by 58 years, be it relatives or not.  
They not only love and respect each other but they enjoy each other's
company in a very special way, and as a son and a uncle it always warms 
my heart to see.

As I write this piece, a few days prior to the wedding, the best news 
of all may be that Justin is marrying a woman with the same wonderful 
qualities he possesses and someone with the same values of goodness and 
love for family and friends we wish everyone possessed.

As Kim joins the family this weekend the family grows and the 
significance of what was saved so many years ago becomes even more 
significant and beautiful.  It is said that when you save one person 
you save an entire world.  As I write this I have joy in my heart for 
the world of my parents that was saved, and the world that it has 
become with the generations to follow.

There’s no Place Like Oz

oz

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