Monthly Archives: October 2022

When Past, Present, Milk & Honey collide

Alexandra, Vince, and David

In the latter months of 2012, Alexandra Van Hasselt was searching for family members on the internet. In her efforts she would make contact with Ron Van Hasselt, a distant cousin on her father’s side. In his own research, Ron came across information regarding one of his relatives, David Van Hasselt. He found a book in which David Van Hasselt’s death in the Mauthausen concentration camp was documented. The book he found was the book I authored, Jew Face. David Van Hasselt was the first cousin of my mother Sipora and someone very special to her.

After having contact with Alexandra, Ron would forward her my contact information. Alexandra’s father, Vince, would subsequently contact me via email. Vince’s father was Eddie Van Hasselt, the brother of David and also my mother’s first cousin. As good fortune would have it, Vince, together with his wife Melanie and daughter Alexandra, were living in Florida, less than an hour from my mother, who at the time was 90 years old. They would meet, Vince and I would meet in New York, and little by little the whole family would get to know each other and a special connection would develop between many members of my family, and Vince, Melanie and Alexandra. But of all the relationships, perhaps the most special of the relationships was between my mother and Alexandra. Having grown up in a household with diverse culture, my mother played piano, sang, and had a tremendous love for the arts. Alexandra, a young girl of 15, was already a very talented dancer, with a beautiful singing voice and a growing love for acting. The bond that would develop between these 2 newly acquainted cousins, separated by 85 years, was as unique as any imaginable. They would sing together, have long talks with each other, and form the most unlikely of friendships. In Alexandra, my mother saw her younger self, a young lady filled with talent, joy and promise. In my mother, Alexandra saw a kindred spirit, whose age and experience and love, gave her extra encouragement to pursue her dreams and be someone who my mother could live through vicariously. For Alexandra, although saddened by mother’s passing in 2017, that special relationship would always stay with her.

All of this would be what would make today, October 30, 2022 so special. Today I got to see Alexandra perform in Jerry Herman’s play, Milk and Honey. Based in Israel in the early 1960s, this wonderful production was playing at the Wick Theater in Boca Raton, Florida. As I sat there, next to 2 of my brothers, my sister-in-law, and Vince and Melanie, watching Alexandra perform on stage with her powerful and talented presence, in a play about Israel, the magic of what took place 10 years ago and in subsequent years, came back to me in full force. I felt an almost mystical connection between past and present, made even more palpable by the young character in the play who was 9 months pregnant and due to give birth at any time. Her name, Sipora. After the play when I asked Alexandra how it felt when she learned that there was a character in the play of that name, the same name as my mother, she replied that it was very special and that on this day she had thought about my mother a lot.

I know I am far from alone in feeling that the importance of telling the story of what took place under Nazi-occupation can’t be overstated. But I’ve also felt that in telling the story and opening up this connection with the past, we have the opportunity to witness the continuation of life in its most poignant manner. In 1941, when word of David Van Hasselt’s death would reach Amsterdam, it would fall on my mother, a young woman of just 19, to inform David’s mother, Vince’s grandmother, of the death of her son. Today, more than 80 years later, David’s great niece Alexandra would perform on stage in front of 3 of Sipora’s children, and his nephew Vince, in a story about nothing other than Israel, the Jewish state. With all the trials and tribulations life has to offer, it is hard to find something more indicative of how life goes on, and even thrives, as this connection between past and present.

The play and the performance were beautiful, but perhaps nothing was more beautiful than the lesson learned from all the events surrounding it for me and my family. The lesson that what we do matters, and that who we come from stays with us forever.

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Open Letter to Kanye (Ye) West regarding his continuing attacks on the Jewish people

Dear Ye,

I am actually writing this letter more to those within the Black community who believe they should be listening to you in regard to your stance towards Jewish people than I am to you directly.  I am writing this because it is my hope that people will begin to understand that not only are your words hateful lies, but they also do a disservice to the community you claim to represent.  You see, not only should Jews not be seen as the enemy, to anyone truly looking to help people of color, they would recognize that Blacks and Jews are natural allies.

It’s ironic.  I am someone who usually is most disgusted in situations such as these because of the unwarranted attack on my people.  As a proud Jew and Zionist, I see the world as a melting pot of people of all races and colors.  Every person I meet, regardless of color, race, nationality, sexual identity, or social status, starts off exactly at the same place with me.  I once met a woman who when I told her that I do not see color, responded to me by saying that she felt my statement was the epitome of white privilege.  While I chose to remain silent, I generally tend to avoid wasting my breath on idiots, I did think to myself that a white woman deciding what is right and wrong for the Black community is actually the epitome of white privilege.  Remembering what I thought that day, and always making every attempt to not be a hypocrite, I will not sit here today and claim to know what choices black people should make.  I will however say that to portray another community as the enemy of your community solely for the purpose of garnishing attention, and with so little merit that it is of detriment to your ability to work positively with that community, is cynical and selfish.

I want black people to know that about 50 percent of civil rights lawyers in the south in the 1960s were Jewish.  I want them to know that about 50 percent of the whites that marched in Mississippi in 1964 against the Jim Crow laws were Jewish. I want them to know that Colin Powell, the first African American Secretary of State spoke Yiddish, having learned it from a shopkeeper that employed him at a young age.

Do these points I make mean that everything Jewish people do towards people of color has always been correct and even decent? Of course, it doesn’t.  But within every community there are the good and the bad people.  What is important to know is that over the years Jews and Blacks have suffered similar attacks of hate, often fought for the same causes, and often worked their way from the bottom to the top.  Barack Obama’s first Chief of Staff was the son of a man who fought for Israel’s independence as a member of the Irgun, an underground Jewish organization battling the resistance of Jew haters to the creation of the Jewish state.

So, to any of you in the Black community reading this who want to know the truth, you should know that there is not one group in the entire United States of America more of a natural ally than the Jewish people.  And if you choose to believe otherwise because an attention seeking, self-serving, money hungry man who happens to be the same color and was once somewhat talented tells you otherwise, you are not only hurting me, but you are also hurting yourself.

I urge you to not let anyone tell you how to think, least of all someone hiding behind similar skin color claiming to be your advocate.


David Groen

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