Monthly Archives: April 2020

Next Year in Jerusalem. Once we get out of the house


The piece hanging on my wall and made for me by my late mother

I have a confession to make. In 1985 I left Israel with the intention of spending a few years back the the U.S. before I would return to Israel and settle there for the rest of my life.  35 years later I am still living in America and having either been limited by time or budget have made only one trip back in January of 1994.  And while today I celebrate with love and appreciation the 72nd birthday of the modern State of Israel, I question the authenticity of my affection.

This would mean less if it wasn’t for the fact that I am not alone when it comes to being someone who left Israel “for just a few years”. I would imagine a rather large city, maybe even comparable to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv could be formed in Israel from people such as myself that had every intention of going back soon after they left to make Aliyah.  But the truth is, that with the opportunities to earn, the accessibility of so many products and so much entertainment, and for those it matters to, which is a large percentage of people who love Israel, a large Jewish community, leaving America wasn’t easy.  For many Jews, in the age of COVID-19, and a New York Metro area clobbered by the virus, coupled with a rise in anti-Semitism that has a frightening likelihood of only getting worse, moving to Israel might seem a whole lot easier than it once was.

While there would be nothing pioneering about jumping ship and moving to Israel in light of a changing landscape for the Jewish population outside of Israel, would it be any less acceptable or moral?  To answer that question one need only understand the initial purpose of the modern State of Israel.  It was, and is, first and foremost a safe haven for the Jewish people.  It says the following in Tehillim, Psalms,. Chapter 147, Verse 2:

בֹּנֵ֣ה יְרֽוּשָׁלִַ֣ם יְהֹוָ֑ה נִדְחֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵ֣ל יְכַנֵּֽס, The Lord is the builder of Jerusalem; He will gather the outcasts of Israel.

Israel was formed in the wake of the worst catastrophe the Jewish people ever faced.  In 1948, when the Jewish state was formed, the word was a mere 3 years removed from the end of a war that saw 6 million Jews murdered by Hitler’s Nazi party.  In the coming years Jews would continue to find themselves living in countries in which situations changed either significantly for those countries, for the status of Jews, or both.  Israel continued to be a safe haven then as it was after the Holocaust.  It remains one today.

So as we celebrate Israel’s 72nd birthday, many that once left intending to return, as well as those who never went, may have more to be grateful for than ever before.  Maybe once they get out of the house and reassess our lives as they are today, they may find that L’Shana haba’ah b’Yerushalayim, Next year in Jerusalem, may become more than just a catch phrase, it may actually become a reality.

Happy Birthday Israel!






Positive Stories to Brighten your day


Want some good news?  Sure you do.  Well there happens to be plenty of it out there if you actually want to find it badly enough.  Any time we speak about the positive and hopeful, it is appropriate to recognize the tragedy that has befallen too many people since COVID-19 took off all over the world.  We need to offer our compassion and support to those who need it whenever possible. But one of the ways to help them and everyone else it to keep a clear perspective of what is happening around us, and that means to take the time to acknowledge the happier stories and the people that make the world a better place. Here are a few stories that will hopefully brighten your day.

1-Surviving Seniors


Leonidas Romero, 92, with his daughter, Carolina Romero.

Sometimes the devil is in the details, but other times only the headlines matter.  While tragically the elderly population has suffered due to COVID-19, it’s important to note that unlike what many reports might lead you to believe, it is not a death sentence.  We need to continue to take all actions possible to keep our elderly safe as it is very dangerous for them to get COVID-19, but let’s also recognize some notable stories of seniors that fell victim to it and survived.

A 92 year old man in Massachusetts returned home after weeks in the hospital.

A 97-year-old woman in Brazil survived the virus.

A 104 year old man in Oregon survived COVID-19.

And a 106 year old woman in the UK survived after 3 weeks of hospitalization.

Four random cases of which there are definitely more, and while we need to do everything we can to risk the exposure of the elderly, enough to make us feel a whole lot better.

2- A Happy Milestone

20200424-190556-Bianca Jimenez 4

Bianca Jimenez, 600th patient released from Mount Sinai South Nassau in Oceanside, NY

A little closer to home, on April 25th, Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, NY celebrated as it released its 600th patient recovering from the Coronavirus. 19 year old Bianca Jimenez was released less than a week after being admitted with a fever of 104 and symptoms that included, cough, dizziness and shortness of breath.  We all thank our Drs. and nurses any chance we get, but if you talk with them you know nothing makes them feel better than sending people home who are recovering.  Let’s hope that number continues to grow exponentially faster.

3- Bringing joy and support through music


Broadway performer, Brian Stokes Mitchell, as a way to express his gratitude to front line workers has taken to singing from this Upper West Side window in Manhattan. Singing “The Impossible Dream”,  Mitchell says that what he is doing “is not a performance. It’s an act of gratitude.”  He also states that the song is not about doing something impossible, rather it is about trying.  To make what he is doing even more poignant, Mitchell himself has had the virus and was even sick enough to worry about whether it would have a permanent impact on his vocal chords.  I think it’s safe to say that there are many people very happy that it didn’t.

4- NFL’s Greatest Moment

Not only did the NFL Draft provide us with a fun distraction, it offered us some heartwarming stories that yes, get ready for it, had nothing to do with the Coronavirus. As serious and deadly as the illness is, it is refreshing to hear about something else, especially if it is something good.  No story struck me more than the story of Offensive Lineman Austin Jackson, picked 18th by the Miami Dolphins.  Austin’s little sister Autumn, was inflicted with Diamond Blackfan Anemia (DBA), a rare inherited disorder that prevents bone marrow from producing red blood cells.  Last year with her condition deteriorating, she required a bone marrow transplant just to help her survive, let alone improve.  Without  any hesitation, Austin, who matched as a donor did what was necessary to help his sister despite the risk to himself and his career.  Around 1 year after the successful transplant, Autumn is on her way to complete recovery and Austin is on his way to the NFL.  This is probably the first time a player has become one of my favorites in the NFL before even playing a snap. Thank you to them both for their inspiration.

And on a side note, kudos to NFL commissioner to Roger Goodell, for not only giving us a really well run and entertaining draft during challenging times, but for being able to laugh at himself enough to encourage virtual boos.  Something tells me those virtual boos might just turn into more cheers in the  future than he’s ever seen before.


So there you have it, some stories I hope will make you feel just a little uplifted in a time when despair sells. We can’t control a lot of what happens, but we can control what we put out there and what we allow in.  Let’s make an effort to acknowledge and be grateful for what is good out there, because not doing so will very possibly hurt us more than any virus ever could.










Words of Encouragement and Suggestions to take into the weekend


First of all, you’re welcome.  Because of the title of my post some of you just found out it’s Friday.  Let me make very clear that I am neither a medical nor mental health professional.  All I offer you is my opinion based on my personal experience, some of which has ended up in success, while the other in failure. Since I am a happy, and as far as I know, healthy person, and someone without the advantage of significant financial resources, beyond the fact that I have some luck, but even more importantly in my eyes some blessings from above, I feel compelled to project some good feelings onto those who need it most and to those who just like it as well.

Today one of my brothers asked me what do I think of things as they stand today.  I won’t recap the entire conversation but I will share the most positive elements of my current outlook that I shared in our talk.  But first I want to make a point that I feel to be very critical in how we address things moving forward. If the thoughts that I share help someone who has lost someone during this challenging time, I will be enormously pleased to know that. However, I don’t expect it either.  Because when people grieve, platitudes and positive approaches do not hurt, and sometimes help a little bit with the initial sting, but ultimately they do not fix the fact that you are mourning a loved one.  Your remaining loved ones, faith if you are so inclined, and most of all time are some of the only cures for the emotional pain of the loss that you feel. I recognize that and encourage those who are not going through that to do so as well, because in doing so and realizing the responsibility you have to support those who need you the most you not only help them, but you will very likely help yourself as well.

So while I don’t think self indulgence will help anyone, self introspection can be of great benefit.  When you turn on the TV and watch the news, regardless of where you stand politically, ask yourself if the means by which you are acquiring information is helping you or hurting you.  I am not going to give my opinion as to the quality or validity of the sources you choose, but I will share my opinion as to the amount of time I am spending on it and how that is impacting my self perceived mental health.

When I say self perceived mental health, the point I am making is, to be blunt, how I feel.  And while like anyone else living through this time I have my ups and downs, what I have been doing seems to be working for me.  So if I can help anyone out there by sharing some of my methods and attitudes, I am happy to do so.  When it comes to getting your information, ask yourself the following question, and be honest with yourself when answering? Is all the news you are watching helping you? Is it making practical issues easier?  Is it making you feel better?  Only you can really know the truth, but it is my belief that no matter how much you want to watch the news, at some point you need to make a point of turning it off. Find something more relaxing, or fulfilling, or just plain fun?  No one has any right to judge what you do with your time, but I urge you to make sure your time spent is doing something to either help your situation or make you feel better.  If it is not doing one or the other, unless you are someone whose daily job or purpose is helping others, you need to reassess how you spend your time.

Try not to judge.  These days everyone is an expert and everyone is right.  Naturally that was sarcasm, but it’s important to remember that so many people out there think that they are, that unless you moderate your exposure, it can make you crazy.  Limit your circle of influence and spend your energies wisely.  Everyone can find someone who angers them or frustrates them. It doesn’t matter if it is someone famous or someone personal to your life.  You do not have the luxury of spending too much of your energies on those negative emotions.  You help no one, least of all yourself.

And lastly, as it is Friday, I personally once again look forward to that wonderful day known as Shabbat. And as I have before, I push the idea of it more than the specifics.  Everyone should make their own choices as to what they do to relax, but I can tell you that having a 25 hour period each week in which I shut down so much of what goes on around me has been an integral part of what has made this significantly easier for me.  That and the fact that taking time to think allows you to focus on the things you have to be grateful for, which for me is good health, people that care about me, a roof over my head, and food to eat.   Whatever it is that brings you joy, focus on it, appreciate it, and let it fuel your days ahead.

Shabbat Shalom







What would your lost loved ones have said about our world today?


I am sure I am not alone in trying to imagine what a lost loved one would have said during this unprecedented time.  We all have loved ones we’ve lost and I have no doubt that I am not alone in imagining what opinions or advice my parents would have offered if they were alive today.  In an effort to start a conversation I am going to throw that question out there. What would your departed loves ones say today? What words of wisdom would they have offered. I will start by offering what I think my mother and father would have said, fully knowing that I have siblings and nephews and nieces that may not agree with me. They are more than welcome to offer their opinions, whether they agree with me or not.

I believe my Dad would have referred back to the 2 words he would often use as advice in trying times.  Patience and faith. Using the Hebrew words, Savlanut Oo’beetachone, he would speak to the need for patience, understanding from his experience and wisdom that part of getting through something is patiently waiting for the moment in which you are able to act. Faith was something my father often referred back to, having kept it through the worst of times he knew how it could help people on an individual and communal level.

I believe my mother’s focus would have been on how people treat each other and how people need to be smarter with their approach.  My mother put great value on love and decency, and as those who know her would attest to, backing up her words with her actions.  In  many ways she had an idealism about people being nicer to each other and never lost hope that would happen. She would however often lose patience with stupidity and called it out when she saw it, finding it more important to make people aware of what she saw than being worried about what people thought of that opinion. And she was correct often enough to make people listen carefully when she spoke.

So now that I’ve shared my parents’ opinion I hope I look forward to hearing from you what you think your lost loved ones would have said today.

May we Always Remember Them


candlesThese candles represent my 2 grandparents from my father’s side, Leendert and Maryan Groen, my mother’s father Marcel Rodrigues, my uncle Bram Rodrigues, and the 5th candle represents all of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.  May there memories be blessed and may we draw goodness and strength in remembering them always.


Anne Frank, our world today, and the responsibility we have on Holocaust Remembrance Day


Anne-Frank-row-REXSometimes as a writer you have to look for a topic to write about, while other times the topic is put in front of you on a silver platter.  As the son of Holocaust survivors, more specifically Holocaust survivors from Holland, with the existing quarantine we live in and the continuing conversations about Anne Frank that some seem to think is relevant to our current state of affairs, I have been presented with that aforementioned silver platter.

It’s been somewhat fascinating to me and even more alarming that there are people out there who feel being quarantined in the comfort of their own home, with food to eat, entertainment available, the freedom to leave their house without fear of being killed by a ruling force is comparable to what Anne Frank experienced.  Those among us who are most likely to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day are sufficiently educated to the point where we understand how wrong that thought process is.  For me, this whole discussion takes me back to last July when I spent 6 days in Amsterdam and had the ceremony where we retrieved the violin that belonged to my uncle who was murdered in Auschwitz.  BRAM’S VIOLIN

I have a confession to make.  In all my trips to Holland, including last summer, I have never visited the Anne Frank house.  This is not because I do not recognize its importance, nor is it not because I do not recognize the tragedy of her life, but more because, having been raised by a mother who was in essence, as she put it herself, the Anne Frank that lived, it was not as important for me to go there as it is for others.  However, while there last summer it was somewhat prevalent in my thoughts, because while taking in much of what Amsterdam has to offer, and looking at what people called the tourist attractions, Anne Frank’s house was often mentioned.  While I recognize the importance it has to society, there too lies the problem.  For so many all it really is is a tourist attraction.

It may be very powerful and accurate in its presentation. Having never been there it would be inappropriate for me to say otherwise. For me the issue is not in what Anne Frank’s house is designed to be, it is more about how people choose to look at it.  And it so clearly is relevant in the discussion that has recently emerged when using it as a frame of reference.  In fairness, if people use it as a comparison without mocking or purposely minimizing Anne Frank’s plight, they are guilty of only one thing. Ignorance.  And to be even more direct, if so many are ignorant, they are not the guilty ones, we are.  Decent people who understand things incorrectly are people willing to listen and learn.  People who are sad, depressed and scared over our current state of affairs should not be criticized or ridiculed for their feelings, but if they incorrectly compare themselves to a 13 year old girl who could never leave the house in fear of being killed by Nazi soldiers, was stuck in small quarters with her family with minimal amounts of food, and ultimately died of disease in a concentration camp designed to ultimately kill Jews, it is our sacred responsibility to educate them.

Much of our cry of “Never Again” has appropriately been directed at those who are evil and would be prone to once again partake in the mass murder of Jews and other groups different from them.  But if this quarantine we are in and the reaction of a segment of the population has taught us anything, “Never Again” also means we must educate and, to use some very relevant words in today’s world, “mitigate the disease” known as ignorance.

May the memories of the 6 million be blessed and let us never forget.








Heaven gets yet another righteous person


In 1976, when I was 14 years old, we moved to the town of Arnhem, in the eastern part of the Netherlands.  Although I spoke a somewhat decent Dutch, it was likely nowhere near good enough for me to attend school in Holland.  That, coupled with the fact that the much smaller Jewish environment than the one we left in Philadelphia, lead my parents to choose England as a place for me to continue my education.  When all was said and done, my parents chose Hasmonean Grammar School in North Hendon, London, as the place where I would continue my schooling.

My first year in London I lived in a house that left a lot to be desired.  At 14, and living away from my parents, I needed to be in a home where I felt secure and safe, while being given what I needed to live decently in my new environment. One year into living in London my parents were not satisfied with what they saw from me, so they came to London to find me a new home away from home.  To this day, it was very possibly the wisest and most loving thing they ever did for me.  They found me the Wilschanskis.

Rabbi & Mrs. Wilschanski spent the next 3 years providing me with a true home away from home.  They fed me, looked after me, and were there for me in a way I will never forget.  In a time of my life when I needed it most, they were like 2nd parents to me.  They were pious, kind, deeply religious people, respected and loved by many in their community.

A short while ago I heard the sad news that Rabbi Chaim Wilschanski passed away at the age of 99.  My understanding is that his death was of natural causes and not COVID-19 related.  A very emotional piece of news to hear on the 3rd Yahrtzeit of my mother, and one that for me is very hard to see as a coincidence.  Rabbi Wilschanski was one of the warmest, pleasant, funny, and kind men I’ve ever known.

Rabbi Wilshanski’s book, “From the Shabbat Table”, is the picture I posted in his honor and memory.

Baruch Dayan Emet.