Author Archives: davidgroen1

Remembering my concussion. One year later

In recent conversations with close family it was brought to my attention that I tend to remember the dates of some of the most uncommon events. I know that I quit smoking on August 4, 2004. I know that I had previously quit smoking on Jan 28, 1986, and that on that day the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in space. And I remember that one year ago I slipped on the ice, hit my head on concrete and that by the grace of God what could have been much worse is now just a scary and impactful memory.

It was Saturday night February 13, 2021, one year ago today and a Saturday night. I was dating someone at the time and we decided it would be a good idea to go out on this Saturday night for Valentines Day rather than get caught in the throngs of people all celebrating the following day. After our dinner we went to visit some friends in the neighborhood where I live. The forecast was for snow starting in the early part of Sunday, but till even though the forecast was for very cold weather, no precipitation was due to arrive till morning. Well as we all know, the weather people do a decent job, and certainly help us plan our days, but they are far from always being right. This was one of those nights they got it very wrong, and all havoc broke out over Long Island. Ice storms caused slick roads and slippery sidewalks. Accidents were happening all over the Island and hospital emergency rooms were starting to get busy.

When my date and I left the house we were visiting, we saw the weather wasn’t great, but due to the nature of the ice storm we didn’t see what was actually taking place. She stepped out, slipped and grabbed onto the railing of the stairs. As I saw her do this I was stepping out onto the concrete in front of the door. My feet flew out in front of me, my body flipped up, and I landed on the concrete squarely on the back of my head. I do not remember the exact moment of impact, but I do remember feeling almost as though I bounced up a little. I got onto my knees and put my hand on the back of my head. My date had the presence of mind to ask me a very relevant and critical question, “can you move?” I was able to get to my feet and carefully got back into the house.

Holding my head and feeling confused and scared I heard at least 3 people asking if they should call an ambulance. When I took my hand away I heard the same people all say almost immediately, yes, call an ambulance. The next few minutes remain a blur to me, but I do remember seeing more of my own blood than I had ever seen. I remember my friend that took control and comforted me till the ambulance arrived. Due to the conditions the 2 EMS workers told me that it would be too dangerous to put me on something as it would likely lead to them slipping and falling with me, so instead I was taken down the stairs carefully with someone on each side. I was then taken to the hospital 1 mile away.

Here are the main points I remember. My blood pressure was something like 185/125. Even with a bandage around my head the blood was still trickling down my neck. I remember that I had an awful headache, but I don’t remember the pain. When the ER Dr. looked at my head she said, “Good job”. My reply was to ask, “does that mean it is not so bad?'”, to which she replied, “No. It means it is good that you’re here. Some people don’t need to be here. You do need to be here.” They took a CT Scan of my head. I remember the fear of not knowing what was happening. How bad it might have been. Feeling dizzy, wobbly on my feet and unable to focus. But I also remember how nice the staff was. When I needed to use the restroom they asked me to wait till a nurse who looked at least 7 months pregnant could accompany me to the door, instructed me not to lock the door as she waited outside for me. And I remember a degree of relief when the Dr. came back and said my CT Scan was negative. But she also said something I will never forget. She said, “I was relieved to see your scan. I was not sure you were going to be OK until I did.” She then proceeded to give me 5 staples to close the wound- I was given the choice between staples and stitches-and soon I was able to return home.

While I was fortunate to not find myself in danger of serious long lasting effects or worse from the fall, I was not prepared for what came next. As I have said often since, and anyone who has had a concussion concurs with me, you may know what a concussion is, but unless you’ve had a concussion, you don’t understand a concussion. The headaches and blurred vision were symptoms that kept me off the road for 3 weeks and symptoms I had heard of often before so I was not surprised by them. I hated the feeling, and was thankful when they dissipated, but I was not shocked to experience them. What I was not ready for was the emotional impact I felt for weeks more. I remember feeling a sense of panic at a red light. Sitting and just starting to cry for no reason, and having dreams that frightened me and confused me. I remember time lapses that felt almost like what a time jump might feel like if time travel were possible. From February 13 till about May 1st I felt some or all of these symptoms, and now I realize exactly how bad a concussion can be, and of course I remember how grateful I was heading into the warmer weather feeling like myself again. Except for one thing.

There’s a reason I didn’t write this piece in May. I couldn’t. Every time I tried to write my mind darted all over the place. I couldn’t focus. From the time I started a sentence till the time I finished it my train of thought would jump somewhere else or disappear. But there was something I was doing that had already helped me that I continued to do. I forced myself to get to bed on time in order to get at least 7 hours sleep. By the end of the summer I found myself slowly but surely getting back to where I once was and ready to write again.

There are many emotions and feelings I have when I look back at what happened a year ago today, but none greater than a feeling of gratitude. I am thankful to the friends that helped me, I am thankful to the hospital for the great job they did, but most of all I thank God. In the scheme of things what happened to me a year ago is not such a big deal, but it was not that far from being a very big deal, and as I look back I realize how lucky I am. This is the reason I share this story. If you ever have had or ever do have an incident like the one I had, I hope this helps you, as telling it to you as helped me.

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My New Years wish for everyone

As we approach the end of 2021, it is my hope for each and every one of you that the year ahead brings you peace and happiness. We never know for sure what is coming, who we will meet, who we will lose and experiences we will never forget. So much of it is out of our control. It is my wish for all of you that in controlling that which we truly can control, our attitudes and approaches towards life, that we make the most out of every single day. Look inside our hearts and minds and work every day towards being the very best version of ourselves, and making the most of the blessing of every single day we have on this earth.

Wishing everyone a Happy and Healthy 2022

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Remembering an Angel at 100

The day after my mother passed I wrote a piece entitled, “An Angels departs”. Today as a special milestone approaches I offer you this piece, entitled, Remembering an Angel.

Sixty years ago this Saturday, January 1st, my mother and father were celebrating my mother’s 40th birthday together with friends in Cincinnati, Ohio. During a game of Canasta, my then very pregnant mother started laughing so hard she went into labor 2 weeks early and I was born the very next day.  While I embrace my upcoming birthday with gratitude, it is somewhat bittersweet, because I know I will not be alone in remembering and missing my mother on what would have been her 100th birthday.

When I saw the upcoming date, 1/1/22, I couldn’t help feel like it looked familiar to me.  It was then that I remembered how much my mother embraced the uniqueness of the numbers representing the day of her birth, and how these numbers signified this very special day approaching.  There are so many things to say about my mother, Sipora Groen, born Sipora Catharina Rodrigues-Lopes.  The thing I say to people most often, partially because it sums her up so well, but also because I know she would have liked it, is if you didn’t like my mother, you didn’t like anyone. She was warm, loving, jovial, and as social as anyone you will ever meet.  But what very possibly made her so special, was that she was so very much more than that.  Some of her greatest attributes were so understated that they could easily be missed by the casual observer. This was very simply because she was never who she was for show, she just was who she was, and was blessed with qualities most never acquire.

Some of the strongest and most intelligent people we meet or know of, show off these qualities on full display for all to witness and acknowledge.  I do not say this disparagingly, since these qualities are meaningful and positive, I merely state this to emphasize one of the most remarkable things about my mother.  When it came to her strength and intelligence, she was one of the most non self-promoting people you could ever meet.  Highly intelligent, she had no trouble sitting in a room of people and allow them to take center stage.  Whether it was wisdom or natural inclination, she understood that her intelligence was just another tool she could use to improve her life and the life of those she cared about, not something to show off to others. 

Her strength was not something she ever used to achieve a dominance over others, rather a means of helping other and dealing with experiences that might have crushed the spirit of people with lesser means of coping. 

My mother was just 13 years old when her mother passed away of natural causes.  Left with a brother almost 3 years younger and a father struggling emotionally from the loss of his young wife, my mother had to deal with hardships most 13 year olds do not have to face.  When the Nazis invaded Holland 5 years later she would have to face a different level of hardship, one almost impossible for most people to even comprehend.  She went into the war with a fiancé who would subsequently be one of the 75% of Dutch Jewry murdered by the Nazis. Her father and brother would be taken to Auschwitz and murdered as well.  Many friends and family perished in this time, and had in not been for my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, my mother would have very likely met the same fate.  She came out of the war with her newborn son Marcel as the one thing she had to live for, and had to spend many of those early months quarantined away from him due to illness.  Eventually my father would return from military service and begin to build a family together with her.

My parents would be together till the death of my father on June 13, 2007.  I always say that there was only one thing my father feared, and that was being without my mother.  While in many ways my father was the strongest man I’ve ever known, I am not so sure he would have been able to live 10 years without my mother with as much fulfillment as my mother did without him for her last 10 years.  My mother loved and respected my father dearly, and I truly believe the one thing she missed in her last ten years on earth was her husband of over 60 years.  Even so, her incredible wisdom and inner strength drove her to rebuild those last years and recreate her life in a truly remarkable way.  About a year after my father’s passing, give or take, one day she turned to Marcel and said, “he’s not coming back.”  From this point on she rebuilt her last years into one final chapter of an extraordinary life, spreading joy, love and strength to whoever was open to receiving it from her.  She was “Oma” (Dutch for grandmother) to so many, and made the term one of endearment to so many who had never even heard it before.

As I sit here, nearing what would have been her 100th birthday, there is still something I find thoroughly amazing.  My mother was a short, gentle, physically unassuming woman.  She sometimes looked at life with a simplicity that made her appear to be a young soul, for those of us who believe in such a thing.  Yet more than 4 ½ year after her body left this earth, her presence, her very soul still guides me and supports me in a way I could have never dreamed possible, and I know from others who knew her that I have not been alone in feeling this way. 

So while I am not alone in wishing my mother was here on earth celebrating her 100th birthday with those she loved and who loved her, I know that her birthday was, and still is a cause for tremendous celebration, something I will do with the joy I know she would have wanted from all of us.

Happy Birthday Mom.


The Lessons I’ve Learned and Wish to Share

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Over the years, those who have followed me know that I write my best when what I write comes from the heart.  As I am on the brink of an important personal milestone, what I write today is as much from the heart as anything I have ever written.  What I want to share with you today are some of the most important life lessons I’ve learned in my 60 years on earth.

So if you ask yourself what is it about me that makes the lessons worth listening to, it’s simple. I am a very happy man.  While I may not be the most successful of people by the standards of some, should a wealthy individual with many acquisitions be seen as a success if said individual is not happy?  Well one of the important lessons I’ve learned, and one I will share right away, is that my personal happiness or success is not determined by how others judge their own.  So I will leave that question unanswered, because it has little to no bearing on me.

One of the big questions we face is whether or not life should be looked at through the big picture lens or as a series of events.  The truth is, as balance is one of the most important aspects of life, being able to identify events and the big picture as 2 major elements in a good life is very important.  Friendships, and relationships as a whole are a perfect example of the application of this balance.  There are people with who we share great moments and people with who we have long lasting meaningful relationships.  Our most treasured relationships are with those that encompass both.  However, part of that for which we need to be grateful are those who are in our life in whatever capacity it turns out to be.  The concept of accepting someone for who they are is not only poignant, it is critical to maintaining relationships that will last and most likely enhance our lives.

All these theoretical concepts are nice, but when push comes to shove how many of us are able to put aside our egos and preconceived notions in order to maintain these relationships? It’s a good question and one that no one person is qualified to answer. I will say though, that up towards the top of principals I live by is the notion of not losing sight of the objective.  To put too much emphasis on being respected or making a point, knowing full well that respect can’t be forced and ideals can be imposed, is taking a potentially pleasant or meaningful gathering and turning it into a conflict.  Whether you justify it or not, you’ve lost sight of your objective. Or if you go on a vacation and one bad experience, be it with a place or person, occupies more space in your head than the thrill of your trip, you have lost sight of your objective.

Now of course I know that some things are out of our control and no matter what we do we can’t change them or make them better, but this leads me to an even more important lesson I’ve learned, one that we’ve heard often and one I work to apply every day of my life. 

The lesson I am referring to is one of the core principals in living a happy and fulfilling life.  It is understanding that we should only focus on controlling that which we can control, and knowing how to accept, or at the very least come to terms with that which we cannot control.  The age of COVID-19 is a more important time in which to apply this principal than any other time I can remember.  At least from a communal perspective.  It is hard to believe that we live in an era in which dealing with how people treat each other during a pandemic is an added problem to contend with, but as we all know, it most certainly is one.  I am not knowledgeable enough to speak in absolutes when it comes to COVID, and whether or not I feel anyone else is or not.  All I can do in every aspect of my life is to treat others in a way I feel is fair and decent and take any actions or precautions I deem appropriate for me or anyone else for who I am responsible.  Disease, illness and death are not good things I can change with a positive attitude, but my attitude can have an impact on how I and sometimes others can deal with or come to terms with these issues.

Don’t get weighed down by the need to avoid living a life with some or many clichés.   Each moment is precious. There! I said it, fully aware of what a cliché it is. Does that make it any less true?  Absolutely not.  Appreciation for what we have now is as important as appreciation for what we have had till now. Being in the moment allows us to get joy from a brief encounter with a stranger, a delicious food, a refreshing drink, or a beautiful sunset or vista.  While an individual moment rarely is special enough to alter an entire perspective, the cumulative appreciation makes the love of these moments more than just brief experiences, they make you the person you should desire to become and helps give you the added strength to deal with life’s more challenging moments.

Before I share with you what I have come to believe is the most important thing I have learned about life, I am going to briefly, and as safely as possible address what are arguably the 3 most highly debated subjects to discuss.  Money, religion and God.

I am of the belief, another belief I know I share with others, that when it comes to all 3, each individual needs to decide for themselves how much importance they each get, if any.  Most people who say they don’t care about money have either so much that is no longer a concern, or feel that what they have in life is enough to make them happy. Whether you care about money or not, the one piece of advice I would offer, is do not let money control you or define you.

Religion may forever be debated as coming from God or man, a matter I will not debate in this piece, but no one can ever convince me that using religion to harm another human being is anything other than a perversion of what one claims to be an ethical pursuit. If you believe in any religion, use it for good.

While some may have put God and religion in the same category, I firmly believe these are 2 very separate discussions.  Religion is about dogma and personal and communal behaviors.  God is rooted more in belief of a higher power, and in my opinion, there may be nothing more personal, nothing more unique than each individual’s perception of the existence or lack of existence of God.  The impact of the subject of God may very well be compared to a snowflake.  No 2 people look at it entirely the same way.  While much of what brings me peace, guidance and happiness is my trust in God and the plan in place, I make it a point to accept this as a perspective very personal to me, regardless of whether or not it is agreed upon or totally dismissed by another.

So where do other people fit into all of this discussion of a happy and fulfilling life?  While I see this subject as I see so many others, very personal and individual, for me it is simple.  We are put on this planet to live with others. I know that we are born alone and we die alone, but the time in between is a different matter entirely.  We live in a world with other people.  While I recognize that many may be less comfortable with strangers than I am, and some may be skeptical or suspicious of other’s intentions, one of my most important credos is as follows.  Meeting someone I did not know when I woke up in the morning is one of the things that makes life worth living.  It always has been the case for me and I intend to do my utmost to make it a sentiment I hold with me for the remainder of my days.  To the people I have met, loved, helped and wronged, I thank you all for helping to make me who I am today, and know that I am truly sorry for when I wronged you. It was never about causing you pain, it was only a result of being what we all are, flawed creatures.

All of these lessons enrich my life and make challenges easier to deal with, but when all is said and done, the one principal that truly dictates how I live my life is one taught in Jewish teachings.  It is the lesson in Pirkei Avot, The lessons of our fathers.  It is the simple and most powerful sentence teaching how to live a happy and fulfilling life.  While I know of many people who know this sentence, for those who are not familiar with it, is goes as follows.

Who is the rich one? The one who is happy with their portion.

There is no more sound formula for a happy and fulfilling life than the true understanding of this sentence.  It is easy to wake up with so many of your goals achieved and with excessive good fortune, but what happens when it does not all go the way that you planned?  At one point or another everyone has to face sadness or disappointment.  I can tell you with clarity, understanding and complete honesty that my life has gone very differently than I hoped or expected it would when I was a much younger man.  However, I can also say that as I sit here today, just days shy of my 60th birthday, that I am a very happy man. Because my happiness is not dependent on what I will get or even how much time I will get in the future, but on what I have been blessed with today.   Life itself is a gift, and I am truly happy with my portion in this life. I wish the same happiness for all of you.

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What constitutes a miracle

In the upcoming days the Jewish people will celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah.  Known to many as the Festival of Lights, the first word that comes to mind when thinking about this holiday would have to be the word miracle. But with the question being which of the 2 miracles related to the holiday is most significant in the celebration, the question needs to be asked.  What constitutes a miracle?

Most people identify a miracle as an occurrence that defies all human and natural powers. Most notably in Biblical history is the parting of the Red Sea.  However, since the belief in a miracle more often than not goes hand in hand with the belief that God is somehow involved, there are many that search for explanations to these events, rather than acknowledging the existence of a miracle. The problem with a miracle, particularly in today’s world, is that it is, by definition, not something that can be proven. The individual event taking place often can be verified, but proving it was a miracle and not explainable by logic or science is another story.

To help get into this a little deeper we need to address the 2 miracles associated with Hanukkah. A large segment of the Jewish world that celebrates the holiday identifies primarily with the miracle surrounding the reason that it is an 8 day holiday.  When the Jewish people returned to the Holy Temple after their victory against the Greeks and prepared to kindle the lights, they appeared to have only enough oil for one day.  When the Menorah burned for 8 days instead of 1, this was seen as a miracle.  Subsequently we celebrate Hanukkah for 8 days, lighting 1 candle the first day and progressing to 8 candles on the final day.  While this part of the holiday may be seen by many as the miracle of Hanukkah, the true miracle is actually how we made it to the Temple to light the Menorah in the first place.  This is the miracle of the Jewish people, with their leader Judah the Maccabee defeating the mighty Greek army.  The irony of this is that winning a war is far easier to validate as a natural occurrence, albeit an amazing one, than is one day of oil lasting for eight.  But even the prayer said during Hanukkah every day in the Amidah, the prayer of Al Hanisim, translated into English as About the miracles, the focus is put on the battle won by the Jewish army.
The prayer says the following:
In the days of Mattathias son of Yohanan the high priest, the Hasmonean, and his sons, when the evil kingdom of Greece stood against your people Israel in order to make them forget your Torah and violate your laws. 
You, in your enormous mercy, stood up for them in their time of great need, upheld their cause, judged their case, and avenged their oppressors. You delivered the mighty into the hands of the week, the many into the hands of the few, the impure into the hands of the pure, the wicked into the hands of the righteous, and the degenerates into the hands of those who cling to your Torah.
And you made for yourself a great and holy name in your world, and performed a great salvation and miracle for your people Israel, as you do today.
 

This speaks entirely to the battle won and only later does it speak to how the Jewish people went to the Temple and lit a candelabra in dedication.  Even then it doesn’t speak to it being a miracle as much as an action of gratitude.
And afterward, your children came to the Holy of Holies in your House, and they cleansed your Palace and purified your Temple and they kindled lights in the courtyard of your Sanctuary and they established these eight days of Hanukkah to give thanks and to praise your great name.

So what does this teach us?  Is a miracle a reality or is it a perception?  Last February I slipped on the ice, hit the back of my head on concrete, was taken to the hospital by ambulance, was given 5 staples and suffered a concussion. When the Dr. in the ER saw the results of my CT Scan she said she was relieved to see that I was OK because based on her initial examination of my injury she wasn’t sure that I would be.  It was clear that if I had hit my head a little harder I may very well have died or at the very least suffered a far worse injury.  As it happened, by May 1st all the symptoms of the concussion had gone away.  What very easily could have been a life changing event turned into nothing more than a bad memory. To me, this was a miracle.  While certainly explainable by medical science, if for no other reason than the fact that God chose to make this no more than something I learn from, to me this was indeed a miracle.

I will never forget a few years back when someone asked Rabbi Moshe Novoseller, the esteemed uncle of my friend Rabbi Amiel Novoseller how he was doing, he replied, “an amazing thing happened to me this morning. I woke up”.

What constitutes a miracle?  The truth is that only we can determine that for ourselves.  If our level of faith is one that says that we believe every day we are alive is a miracle, then for us it truly is a miracle.  If our level of faith is one where we need absolute scientific or medical evidence of why an event took place, and none other than an exceptional happenstance, then maybe that is what we call a miracle.  Maybe the whole purpose of Hanukkah is to look at everything that takes place around us and make an honest analysis of why it happens.  And maybe then we will see miracles where we never did before. 

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Why I am obligated to remember 9/11

Each time I thought about what to write on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks I came up with something different. I wanted to recount what I saw and how I felt that day. I wanted to talk about an answer I got from a relative who was born after it happened when I asked her how she perceived it when hearing about it as an event in history. Finally I thought about writing about how I wonder and question what we actually have learned from that day. My head was spinning so much I decided not to write anything. It was then that I realized what I needed to write, and that it would be short and poignant. So here it is.

There are some things we are obligated to remember whether we want to or not. When it comes to moments, days or periods of time of horror, it’s not a competition. So while I know the numbers of deaths pertaining to some events may be significantly higher, it does not diminish the importance of remembering 9/11. I remember how almost everyone I met post 9/11 either knew people who perished, people who were there and survived, or were one degree away at most from knowing someone who was there. I fall into the category of knowing or having known people who were there or in close proximity. That being said, the reason I am obligated to remember this day is because of what I saw, what I heard and even what I smelled.

I saw the first tower burning from my apartment in Queens. I saw people crying on the streets. Most notably an older couple who looked as though they may have had a child in one of the buildings. I saw people covered in grey ash as I crossed the 59th street bridge. And I saw trails of smoke from where the towers once stood.

I heard the sirens all over the city. I heard the sounds of throngs of people walking uptown, without hearing many voices as so many were stunned into silence. I heard people crying around every turn. And I heard radios blasting everywhere with only one thing broadcasting, the news of what was perceived to have taken place.

I smelled a smell that I almost do not want to describe, as it may very well have been that of structures burning and people dying. I smelled it on 9/11 and I smelled it for days to come.

It is an awful truth that mankind is capable of terrible evil, but it is also true that ignoring it, acting like it never happened not only does not make it go away, it adds fuel to the fire. We need to remember 9/11 because if good remains silent it leaves a vacuum far too often occupied by evil. So not only do I urge everyone to remember, I urge everyone to do something good in honor of those killed on that day. Even if it is just hugging someone you love. Remember the day and do it honor by filling the void with goodness.

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Why understanding accountability during the High Holiday is a gateway to happiness


The world we live in is filled with uncertainty.  Even before COVID-19 sent us into uncharted territory, economic challenges, regional conflicts and bad actors on both the local and global stage had us concerned not only for the well-being of future generations, but for our immediate future as well.  There are so many questions to which we seek the answer. Fortunately, if we are able to identify it, the answer to the most important one is within our grasp. That question is, how do we deal with everything life is throwing at us?  If we understand an important lesson of the upcoming High Holidays, we open our minds and hearts to understanding how best to move forward in difficult times.While much of the secular New Year is fundamentally different from Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there are some critical and meaningful similarities that may be of greater importance today than they have been in many of our lifetimes.  The true observance of Rosh Hashanah is not structured around counting down the end of one year and starting another, nor is the celebration meant to be in party form with music and champagne.  The Jewish New Year, while not a sad holiday by any means, if properly understood is a deep holiday of critical religious and spiritual importance to the year ahead.  While that is something not normally associated with the secular New Year, it does begin to represent the place where the days have some significant similarities.  Maybe most importantly, when it comes to self- introspection and improvement.The idea of a New Year’s resolution is a positive and life affirming concept.  What we resolve to do is a reflection of what we deem important and the type of person we are, and the idea of making ourselves better in its basic form is a positive endeavor.  In simplistic terms it is what is most similar between the secular and Jewish New Years.  But if we look deeper we actually find that what differentiates the 2 holidays is most represented by the concept we deem most similar.A New Year’s resolution is for the most part, a promise to ourselves.  We want to do something important in our lives or we want to develop or improve a character trait or ability.  We often make New Year’s resolutions with a calm smile and relaxed demeanor.  After all, as much as we would like to do that which we set out to do, at the end of the day, should we fail, we are not accountable to anyone other than ourselves.  The greater accountability that provides us, the stronger character we have and the greater chance we have of accomplishing our goals.  But the reality is that even the very strong, while demanding of themselves, feel somewhat less pressured, knowing that they made that rule for themselves.Gale Sayers, the great Chicago Bears Running Back, was widely known for his friendship with his teammate Brian Piccolo who died of cancer in June of 1970.  He told the story of the friendship in his book “I am Third”, in which he stated, “The Lord is first, my friends are second, I am third”.  In thinking about the critical aspect of Rosh Hashanah, this quote came to mind.   The idea of putting God first, loved ones second, and ourselves third, speaks directly to the idea of true accountability.  In many ways it is the same as the idea of Bayn Adam L’Makom and Bayn Adam L’Chaveyroo, which translates into Between man and God, and Between man and his friend. Jewish commandments are divided into those 2 categories. Commandments relating to the relationship and actions for God, and commandments relating to the actions towards our fellow human being.  Ultimately these 2 categories create a breeding ground for true accountability.To some, accountability implies difficulty and hardship.  The extra effort and emotional investment connected to accountability is seen by some as a negative.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Accountability is not the gateway to pressure and exhaustion, it’s the gateway to true happiness.  It makes us focus on that one thing in life which we have the best chance of controlling, our thoughts and our actions.  It allows us to create a breeding ground for personal growth, improved relationships, and a more promising future.  It’s everything that so much of today’s society is not.  It is not about finger pointing, assigning blame, or criticizing on social media. It is about looking at ourselves, being honest about who we are and making ourselves better.  It is what Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all about.While the secular New Year stands alone as a day by itself, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of a 10-day period culminating in Yom Kippur. It is a time when we look into our hearts, see what we’ve done wrong, what we can do better, and how best to move forward.  Our accountability to God and our fellow human being is meant to guide us in the year ahead.  If we do this, while it is unrealistic to expect everything will be perfect in our lives, I can promise you the following.  Your life will improve and you will be happier.  You will be closer to controlling the one thing, and maybe the most important thing that you can control. Your thoughts and actions.May God give all of you the strength to look to yourselves, accomplish your goals and have a wonderful year head.Shana Tova.  


Remembering my time with Jackie Mason

It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon around 6 years ago and I decided to go into the city and enjoy some time walking in and around Central Park.  Towards the later part in the afternoon I sat down in an area near 58th street to do some people watching.  Looking around I suddenly noticed the man himself, Jackie Mason.  This was the second time I had seen him relatively up close, the previous time being a few years back in an all-night deli on 7th Avenue when I walked up and said hello the way a fan does when they encounter a celebrity.  So this time, seeing him nearby and on his cell phone, I made eye contact with him and nodded my head in respect.  He proceeded to walk in my direction, stood about 6 feet from me and finished his phone call.  After putting his phone in his pocket, he walked towards me and the following dialogue ensued.

Jackie Mason: “ Do I know you?”

Me: “No, but I met you once about a year and a half ago in a deli around the corner.”

Jackie Mason: “You think I should remember you?”

Me: “No, but I’m a big fan.”

Jackie Mason: “Did you ever see me on Broadway?”

Me: “No, sorry. I never did.”

Jackie Mason: “So now I know 2 things about you.  Number 1, you’re an egomaniac.  You think I should remember you from a year and a half ago.  Number 2, you’re a f..ing liar. You say you’re such a big fan but you couldn’t spend $20 to see me on Broadway.”

After he grinned and I laughed, the conversation went on and got a little more serious. I told him who I was, a little about my history and of course, about my book Jew Face. I asked him if there was anything he might be able to do to help me get my book out there.  He in turn took my phone number, said he might know some people and said he would be in touch.

And so began my friendship with Jackie Mason.

I am not sure if it was the next day or 2 days later when I received a call from him inviting me to sit and meet with him and a few others in a café in Manhattan.  While it turned out that neither the people I met with that night nor any other night when joining him in the future would be able to do much to help my writing career, it soon did not matter to me.  I was hanging out with Jackie Mason and it was fun.

While I can only speak to the part of his lifestyle to which I was exposed, it was very specific and very consistent.  He would go out to dinner with one group of people, and the later in the evening go out for desert and a drink, be it coffee or soda in a café or diner with a second group of people.  While I was part of a group he himself selected, it nevertheless was a group, and it appeared that he would decide who it was he wanted to hang with on any given evening and they would be called and asked to join him.  In the beginning I was invited to the after dinner get-togethers, and while I don’t remember all the places I was invited to, I specifically remember the Applejack Diner, located on 55th street and 7th Avenue, Juniors, famous for its cheesecake, and the iconic Sardis, located in the heart of Broadway.  To sit at a table in Sardis with someone who had his cartoon picture hanging up in Sardis, was beyond cool for me.  And naturally, when walking the streets of Manhattan with a celebrity of Jackie Mason’s caliber, many people would stop and greet him, and very often ask for a picture with him.  And if the person rubbed him the right way, they would get one.

Eventually I would be invited to some of the dinners with him as well.  One time being in a French restaurant on the Upper East Side when one of the people joining us was his friend and high profile lawyer Raoul Felder.  While I am by no means shy and I have the confidence to feel comfortable in the company of just about anyone, I also knew these people lived in a very different world than I did, so I was almost never the biggest talker at the table.  I often spoke about my book and my parents’ story when being introduced by Jackie to someone new which more than likely was why he had a nickname for me.  To Jackie Mason I would be known as the “Holocaust guy”.

The man loved politics. I always wondered if part of it was so that he would have enough material to make fun of at least some of it, but when he sat down and discussed his views he did so with a passion.  While his interest in politics was strong, he never struck me as being partisan.  Without getting into specifics, I still remember him equally hating different high profile politicians on 2 opposite sides of the aisle.  His love for politics was so strong that if there was a major political event taking place, he was more interested in following the programming than he was the people he might have been with at the time.

He told a story of how Rodney Dangerfield once walked into a restaurant and started yelling at him, claiming that he had stolen his part in Caddyshack 2.  It didn’t seem to bother him much and he seemed to actually see it as a funny story, especially since according to him Dangerfield had actually turned down the part.

There were 2 moments I remember clearly from my time with Jackie Mason.  The first was crossing the street with him one late night, seeing him take his good old time not crossing at an intersection, and practically bear hugging him to pull him out of the way of an oncoming car.  While he was fine with me doing what I did, very possibly saving his life, it wasn’t such a big deal to him because he wasn’t concerned. It helped me realize that part of what made Jackie Mason special was his lack of fear.  Lack of fear of what anyone thought of what he had to say, and lack of fear of an oncoming car.  Frankly, as someone who cared, I am relieved and happy he ended up passing away of natural causes.

The second moment was being invited up to his apartment.  It was just once and just to meet him before we went to meet people at a café, but it still felt like an honor to be given that degree of trust and access to someone of his stature.

I remember him liking his favorite tables where he went, not eating anything with a face, and starting so many conversations with, Hello Hello.

One evening we were sitting outdoors at Applejack Diner and a man came over and engaged him in conversation.  Apparently the man had seen Jackie at the Catskills in the past and knew some of the same people.  When the man asked him if still ever performed in the Catskills, in that classic Jackie Mason form he replied, “No. I passed away.”

And now he has indeed passed away.  While my time being part of his circle ended over 4 years ago, I remember the man fondly.  That being said, I know that to many he a controversial figure.  His humor wasn’t for everyone, he never held back his opinions, and he chose to live his life the way he wanted, regardless of whether or not fan, friend or family approved.  I can honestly say that if I had to judge the man I would be lost.  Since that was not my role nor place in his life I never tried and never will.  I do know that there were 2 things about him that I loved.  He was proud to be a Jew and he was funny.  So very proud and so very funny.

 May he rest in peace.

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Jew Hatred will grow even worse if Jewish people find it acceptable

When Michael Che of Saturday Night Live made his joke about Israel only vaccinating the Jewish half of the country, it struck me as ironic that he was sitting next to a man who is married to a Jewish woman. Chances are some time soon after he made his joke he proceeded to head to what is likely a fairly nice home paid for by the salary he earns from the jokes he tells on a program created and run by a Jewish man.

Yesterday we learned of Myers Leonard, a fairly useless basketball player, playing for a team owned by a Jewish man, in an organization run by a Jewish man, comfortably and exuberantly using the term “kike” on a video game live stream.

Che’s joke, was presented in SNL’s satirical newscast this past February. The joke went as follows:

Israel is reporting it has vaccinated half of its population, and I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.

The joke, which clearly expresses the opinion that Israel is a country that only cares about its Jewish population, is in its nature an ant-Semitic one. While I think cancel culture is running amok, I am not ashamed to say that in one joke most of the appreciation I had for Che’s talents evaporated into nothingness. But what struck me even more was the grin on the face of his partner in the segment, Colin Jost. Jost is married to Scarlett Johansson who herself is Jewish, and somehow seemed to find a joke likely to strengthen the resolve of Jew haters not only acceptable, but funny. Understanding that sometimes people react instinctively to something and regret it later, I googled during the week that followed and saw that Jost did indeed have a concern regarding his partner Che. His concern was that he didn’t know what to buy Che for his upcoming wedding. Meanwhile as the week went on and people expressed their disapproval for the joke, not a word from SNL’s Producer and Creator Lorne Michaels. However I realized that too might have been OK. Maybe his way of handling it was by having Che make an apology during the following week’s segment. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, not a word from Che, and from Michaels, crickets.

In the case of the Myers Leonard incident, unlike some, I do not demand immediate action. Personally I will be satisfied to wait a few days as long as the action is appropriate. So while I take issue with the internal reaction to Michael Che, as I write this it is too early to speak to the actions of Miami Heat owner Micky Arison, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, both Jewish men. The Heat have said that Leonard will be away from the team and the NBA has said it is investigating, so let’s see how this is handled moving forward.

But as Jews we need to ask ourselves if we are willing to tolerate other Jews in power turning a blind eye to Jew hatred, particularly when we are speaking of Jews who seem to have zero tolerance for hatred towards other segments of society. It is appropriate to express anger and disapproval towards the Ches and Leonards of the world, but if we sit back and accept cynical apathy from our fellow Jews, we ultimately will find ourselves in very big trouble. People like Che and Leonard will certainly not care what we think, if the Jews that employ them tolerate their behavior. Part of our responsibility is to make our voices heard by our fellow Jews who speak of and work for social justice except when it comes to their fellow Jews. In doing so we are not just holding them accountable, we are holding ourselves accountable as well.

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In defense of Gina Carano and the fight against the misappropriation of Jewish suffering.

I am the son of Holocaust survivors.  I am an unapologetic Jewish man who has consistently spoken up against anti-Semitism.  I have often made a point of highlighting the dangers of over using Hitler and Nazi Germany as a comparison to the events of the day. So while you might find it surprising that I am using my platform to defend Gina Carano, I find it important that I do.

Carano, who until being fired a few days ago for comments described by representatives of her former employers Lucas Films as “abhorrent”, was let go after she posted the following tweet:

Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…even by children.

Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?

In response, Lucasfilm fired her and said that it was based on “her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities”

To address this matter as it needs to be addressed, I go back to my initial statements regarding the dangers of comparing Hitler and or Nazis to events and people of today.  As a Jew and son of Holocaust survivors, it has not only been important to me to defend the Jewish people in whatever means available to me, but to understand history as well. The misrepresentation of history in order to make a political argument today, creates the risk of minimizing the events that took place in Europe between 1933 and 1945. It also muddies the waters in a way that brings people far closer to Holocaust denial than we may realize.  It creates a spiral of thought that moves society’s away from an understanding of the horrors that really took place.  Pedro Pascal, the Mandalorian himself, compared Trump supporters losing the election to the Nazis losing their power in 1945. While I do not have any reason to believe it was his intention, Pascal’s statements can be seen as not far removed from Holocaust denial. To compare the events of the last 4 years to the events that took place during the time of Nazi Germany does 2 things. It elevates evil behaviors of the previous American administration to inaccurate levels, while simultaneously lowering the understanding of the evil behaviors of Nazi Germany. This is not only wrong, but extremely harmful as well.

So then why am I defending the statement of Gina Carano? The truth is, I am not. I am defending her, not the tweet.  Personally I find her post to have some important truth to it and far removed from “denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities”.  I understand the point trying to be made and think it is a valid and moral one.  I still think throwing around the Nazi comparisons have to stop and take some issue with her statement on that level alone. However, how is her tweet worse than that of Pedro Pascal’s and why should she lose her job for exercising what is an increasingly rapid death of her right to Freedom of Speech?

The truth is that she should not have lost her job any more than Pedro Pascal should have lost his.  Which makes you wonder what truly took place here.  Gina Carano has made no secret of her support for Donald Trump, while Pedro Pascal in his tweet makes it clear not only what he thinks of Donald Trump, but of his supporters as well. What is most fascinating to me is that when you read Carano’s tweet, there is no side taken in the argument. “Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”, doesn’t reveal any current political viewpoint, other than an opposition to fermenting Jew hatred. To which I say to Gina Carano, thank you.  So with this in mind you have to wonder, was Carano fired because the powers that be truly found the statement to be “abhorrent”, or was it that they found her support of Donald Trump to be abhorrent?

If you are someone who is arguing in support of the firing of Gina Carano because you find her views to be anti-Semitic, I challenge you to make that argument.  If you are someone who is misappropriating her tweet in order to further your agenda, then I insist you find another group’s history of persecution to manipulate to your benefit, and if you are doing this in the name of defending me and my fellow Jews I say the following.  No thank you. I do not wish to have the memories of my family and 6 million Jews distorted in the name of your, at best misguided, at worst heinous and cynical approach towards Jewish history.

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