Author Archives: davidgroen1

Today the Jewish people celebrate the first set of guidelines

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In the midst of a pandemic we are making decisions of how we live our lives and move forward with the help of a set of guidelines.  Our leaders are telling us what we need to do to not only live a longer healthier life, but how we need to interact around people, what might help us avoid problems in the future, and what we need to do to take into consideration the needs of others.  We are strongly urged to follow these guidelines.  Some institutions are making them mandatory. Some people are getting mad at others who don’t follow them, while others are attempting to shame people into interpreting them in a like-minded fashion.  In the end people make their choices, sometimes standing alone in their choice, often standing with others.  Sound familiar? It should. It’s the tale as old as time. And starting at sundown tonight, the Jewish people commemorate when it all began.

Shavuot is the holiday in which the Jews celebrate the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. As Jews we call this the Torah, but in the eyes of many outside of Orthodox Judaism this is when God gave Moses the 10 commandments.  The more expanded understanding in traditional Orthodox Judaism is that all law was given by God at the mountain and that subsequently Rabbinical authorities have interpreted it as to how it applies in day to day life.  Regardless of what you believe was given by God to Moses on this day, what we do know is that from this original set of guidelines entire religious groups were formed, whether it was different branches of Judaism or Christianity, which as we all know began with a group of Jewish people with their own specific account and interpretation of events.

Those who started from the premise that something really did happen on Mt. Sinai have chosen to either base their life, or in some ways structure their lives around some element of these guidelines.  Many feel that following as many decrees put forth by their religious leaders as possible gets them closer to the precise account of the day, while others feel the basic 10 commandments, and even more precisely the 10 commandments speaking to human behavior towards their fellow human being is closest to the original intent.

When all is said and done, each person makes their own choice.  Granted some are born into it and surrounded by it with such intensity that changing direction is anywhere between hard and unlikely, but they have that choice nonetheless. And guess what? There is nothing wrong with that, since if their is one axiom we generally agree on, at least as Jews, is that everyone has free will.

So as some struggle with the concept of guidelines and actions that impact their daily lives, look back and realize that to many, that is what man has always been encouraged, some might say even obligated to do, regardless of whether they like it or not.  But subsequently we need to also remember that it is not our place to judge their choice.  It never was and never will be.

Wishing all my Jewish friends a wonderful, healthy, and meaningful Shavuot and to all of you, happiness and peace.

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Memorial Day: A gift to the American people

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I am someone who always thanks a veteran or current member of the military.  Over the years, when using the very unoriginal line “thank you for your service”, I have often been struck by the gratitude given back to me, merely for saying these 5 words.  A quick tangent away from the point I am about to make.  I sat down intending to write an entirely different piece, but when I remembered how often someone thanked me for taking 5 seconds out of my day to say thank you to them, I realized there was a far more important message to send on this Memorial Day.

There have been people who have suffered terrible losses in the past few months.  There are those who are struggling economically, physically or mentally. There is no way of measuring whose suffering is worse nor is there a way of determining whose perspective is good and whose is bad.  But there is no question that there are those among us that would be well served by not only realizing how good they have it, but maybe more importantly showing empathy towards those whose suffering is far greater.  How does one do that? Well I speak from personal experience when I say, one very important way is to focus on others more than yourself.

True sacrifice has a ripple effect.  While we remember soldiers lost in defense of our nation, we need to acknowledge the families that will always feel their loss, and in many cases suffer real hardships as a result.  We need to look past the big story of the day and remember that long after our lives return as much as possible to normal, there will still be children, spouses, parents, relatives and friends who have mourned the loss of a soldier before we were stuck at home, and will continue to do so long after.

There may be far greater repercussions from the crisis we currently face, but if Memorial Day teaches us anything, it’s that you don’t count casualties before the next battle ensues.  When FDR said his famous words at his inaugural in 1933, “nothing to fear but fear itself”, the words rang true with many then, as they still do today.

The first 2 sentences of President Roosevelt’s address reads as follows:

So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and of vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory.

Nothing about this piece is intended to be political, so much so that if someone makes it so, they will be missing the entire point. That point being the responsibility of each and every one of us as individuals to step forward in whatever way that we can.

Memorial Day is a gift to the American people.  To acknowledge those that made the ultimate sacrifice so that we could live in safety and peace, besides being an honor to their lost souls, and we pray a comfort to their loved ones, is also a potential for all of us to gain strength and character.  To have the opportunity to look beyond ourselves and focus on another’s pain and hardship has the potential to separate many from the self-indulgence that helps neither themselves nor anyone else.   To recognize what someone else gave up for our freedom will hopefully lead us to the understanding of how fortunate most of us are to have the freedom and ability to make our lives better. The gift of Memorial Day is the reminder of how to think about others before we think about ourselves, and to do so may be the greatest honor we can bestow on those who have fallen so that we can live in safety and freedom.

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Holland’s Heroes presents: It’s Friday. You’re Welcome! This week, it’s Batman!

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I have never been one to overly sell the merits of the Jewish way of life.  I choose to leave that up to those far more qualified.  However, as someone who observes Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, I and my fellow Jews occasionally have an advantage during this time that others might not. Since Shabbat starts on Friday at sundown, unlike many who during this unprecedented time find one day after another blending into each other, we always need to know when it’s Friday.  With that in mind Holland’s Heroes will do its best to provide you with a weekly post with the intention of inspiring you, encouraging you, and bringing some joy to the many faces looking for reasons to smile.

Today I share with you the story of a real life superhero. Our very own Batman.

A few weeks ago I had a very minor and truly unimportant debate with one of my brothers. The question posed was, who is the best Batman?  While he believes it to be Christian Bale, I personally have always been partial to Michael Keaton.  Since that conversation however, there is a new Batman in the mix, and his name is Josh Aryeh.

Josh, whose brother is a friend of mine from the neighborhood, is a living example of what is good in this world.  Those of you who read my posts know that since the start of the pandemic most of what I have written is positive, supportive and encouraging. We live in tough times, and I have said on numerous occasions that what we need now more than ever is to find ways in which we can help people around us. If we help just one person we are still accomplishing more than getting into a silly verbal spat on social media in which we think we are proving our intelligence and worth.  I’ve been encouraged to see how many ordinary people have done good during this time, many of them I look up to in awe of their strength and kindness.  But to this day I had not yet come across an actual superhero, until I heard about Josh Aryeh.

It started a number of years ago, when, as an owner of a Lamborghini, Josh was asked if he could give a ride to an 8 year old cancer patient. The young girl, who had been suffering with the disease since the age of 4, had a dream of driving in a  Lamborghini.  Josh was able to make this young girl’s dream come true, bringing joy to a child who had known little to none in her life.  The feeling Josh felt at that time had such a profound impact on him that he knew he wanted to continue to find ways to do good in the years that would follow.  He continued his charitable efforts, going above and beyond what most ever do, but it wasn’t till he took it to the next level that he reached superhero status.

After investing into altering his car into a real life Batmobile, Josh put together a group of people with cars of a similar exotic nature, and together with the NYPD and Nassau County Police Department began something truly wonderful.  Josh created the charitable organization known as Smiles through Cars.  Together with his crew of fellow exotic car and motorcycle enthusiasts, Josh leads the vehicles in a procession past the homes of children whose lives have been impacted through illness or other circumstances that are of no fault of their own. Josh’s actions, together with the special people he’s recruited are bringing immense happiness to these children, cheated out of so much of the joy so many of us take for granted. During a time when we have been kept apart by a highly contagious virus, the need for this has been even greater, and rather than being slowed down by quarantines and guidelines, Josh, excuse me, Batman and his crew have stepped up their efforts to help any way that they can.

I urge you to learn more about this incredible act of kindness by reading the following article, BATMAN SAVES THE DAY VIA THE SMILES THROUGH CARS CHARITY!

There are many decent and good people out there.  I’ve seen and personally experienced some of this goodness since the pandemic began.  Much of it has truly been inspiring and heartwarming.  Josh’s story however, is the stuff legends are made of, and next time someone asks me who I think the best Batman is, I’ll very likely say Josh Aryeh.

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Open Letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio

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Dear Mayor de Blasio,

As someone who has focused on expressing myself during this crisis almost exclusively through positive words of hope and encouragement, I have refrained from publicly expressing my thoughts regarding your job performance.  I’ve been one to take the approach that negativity does nothing for anyone, that my personal responsibility is to look for ways to help, and when I don’t find those opportunities I should only speak to those things positive.  However, your incompetence, partially based on what appears to be a biased focus, often against New York’s Jewish community has finally compelled me to speak up.

This is not a letter motivated by anything political. In fact, I find the most agreed upon non-partisan opinion in New York is the subject of your job performance.   As a New Yorker I felt gratitude for the daily updates we were receiving from both the President as well  New York’s governor in the earlier days of the pandemic. While each political side will attack the other and find fault in the actions of both of those men, I choose to take the position that they have both worked hard to protect those for whom they are responsible.  Furthermore I believe that when applying our judgments as to where they may have made mistakes,  we need to take into account that no one in the world had any experience in dealing with this type of situation.  However, as Mayor of New York, your inept performance during this pandemic has been so glaring, it has contributed greatly to the devastation the city has faced.

Although I am someone who agrees with making the use of marijuana one’s personal choice, when various sources over the years have indicated that you spend many, if not most of your mornings getting stoned, I doubt that is helpful in your abilities to handle a crisis of this magnitude.  Where were your actions in managing transportation at the onset of the spread? I know that essential workers need to travel to get to their places of employment, but did you make any attempt to structure a safer way to ride the subway?  Did you provide any alternative methods of transport?  I lived in the borough of Queens for around 25 years of my life, and knowing how subway travel is done through the borough, without a mayor taking some action, thousands upon thousands of people had to have traveled daily in what was clearly a petri dish. And on March 15th, 3 days after travel from Europe was shut down, you encouraged New Yorkers to go for one last drink. Well done Mr. Mayor, I am fairly confident that for some of those people it surely was one last drink.

I’ve seen you look panicky in news conferences, regularly assign blame to others, and contradict directives coming from Governor Cuomo’s office.  But when all else fails, I’ve seen you go back to the well for that one thing that really gets you going.  That favored activity of yours, the blaming and attacking of Orthodox Jews.  When the governor was asked about the gatherings in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, his response was that he found any large gathering to be unfortunate and dangerous and that he had spoken to the leaders of the various communities.  What did you do? You singled out the Jewish community.  You even made sure to run over personally to one of the gatherings. And apparently you are now opposing the governor once again on allowing places of worship, primarily Jewish places of worship to open up with guidelines.  Neither I, nor anyone I know outside of those specific communities have supported the large gatherings, however as Mayor of all of New York City, for you to target one group over any other shows a clear disdain for that specific group.  And what may very well be the most important point I make in this letter, is that had your criticism of those Jewish communities been consistent with a tough, hard-working non biased approach, I would have no legitimate criticism.  Instead it was more in line with a lazy approach and thought process based on hindsight, bias and the blaming of others.

Regardless of whether or not one loves or hates him today, Rudy Giuliani guided New York through post 9/11 in Churchillian fashion. I would say you have guided New York through the Coronavirus crisis more like Bozo the Clown, but that would be unfair to Bozo.  If the New York City we have known and loved falls as a result of what has taken place, that above all else will be what shapes your legacy.  Not only have you been a disgrace, but you continue to find ways to compound your errors on a regular basis.  The next best thing that will happen to New York City is when it gets a new mayor. I just hope that by the time that happens it won’t be too late.

Sincerely,

David Groen

 


Michael Moore’s contribution to the current crisis: Bash Israel

Michael Moore’s characteristically predictable hateful and ignorant comment about Israel and my response on Twitter

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Holland’s Heroes presents: It’s Friday. You’re Welcome!

This week I dedicate this post to the memory of Belle Brodsky, Baila bas Raisa. Belle Brodsky,  who recently passed away, is the mother of my friend Ken. Below you will find the beautiful tribute written by Ken’s niece and Belle’s granddaughter Samantha.
But first I offer you this wonderful video made by Israeli comic, Yonatan Gruber.  Appropriate because while it will make you laugh and warm your heart, at the core of it is a son’s love for his mother and very appropriate to this post.
 

 

Ma’s Biography

Belle Brodsky, or Ma as she was known to most all of us, was a force of nature. There was something about her spirit that seemed indestructible. We all like to think it was due in part to Baba, Zeyde and Pa looking over her from the world beyond. Most of all, Hashem, looked favorably upon her – in many ways.

Ma was born in November 1925 in Philadelphia, in the historically Jewish neighborhood of Strawberry Mansion. In all honesty, the exact date of her birth sometimes came into question. Ma couldn’t be bothered with minor details like that. We liked to celebrate on Thanksgiving Day so Ma could have the best kind of birthday one could ask for – to be surrounded by family.

Her parents, Samuel and Rose, were known to us as Baba and Zeyde. Baba was born in Kiev, Ukraine and if you asked Zeyde where he was from he would reply “Camden, New Jersey” in a thick Polish accent. They had three children, Irvie, Paulie and our beloved Belle. They grew up of modest means. Zeyde was a butcher and Baba was busy raising their family in a Yiddishe home. Her brother Irvie owned a dry cleaner’s in Ardmore and Paulie was a veteran in the army. Unfortunately, she lost both of her brothers relatively early – in their forties and fifties. Later in their years, Ma took great, loving care of her parents. She brought groceries to them on a daily basis. A symbol of fierce FEIRCE, limitless devotion. This served as a model to her children. When she wasn’t tending to her own parents, Ma was dedicating the rest of her energy to her children, driving twice daily to Annie’s school to bring her whatever she needed. It was important to her to raise a family to its highest potential. Together with her husband, they sent their three children (Andrea, Lisa and Kenneth) through school, religious school, through college and professional degrees. Her children brought her great nachas growing up to serve others as a teacher, dentist and lawyer. These are oversimplified descriptors of their accomplishments.

Her companion in life, was Leo (BDE), and known to us as Pa. He was born in Leipzig, Germany in 1917. He was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. To say he was dealt a difficult set of cards would be an understatement. When Pa saw Ma they were four on a blind double date. Pa ditched his own date because he knew Ma was the person he wanted to be with. Ma’s personality stole the show. It always did.

Her grandchildren Michelle, Paula, Samantha and Jonathan spent many hours on Ma’s couch, our family’s gold standard of comfort and home. Ma had the blessing of being able to meet two greatgrandchildren – Noah and Sophia. At one point in time, all four generations were together in one room.

To sum up Ma’s personality in words would be a disservice to her vibrant neshama. Words are only 2-dimensional and hers were larger than life. Ma was wise. She was intelligent and had profound perspective on what was truly important in life. She showed us what it meant to be generous. Handing out tips to unsuspecting recipients was natural for her. Yiddish phrases would pepper her sentences sometimes ending in a burst of laughter. She could had been a damn comedian and managed to keep herself laughing for 94 years. Her memory was bulletproof. She had essentially had a cult following. If you were to go down the shore with Ma, you would see all kinds of people come up to her and kiss her and hug her. People would look at us and say “I love your mother” with a deep sincerity. She had a magic propensity to make friends, and people instantly became infatuated with her. We all recognized that Ma was remarkable. She was full of life, full of light, positivity and a wittiness that would catch you off guard and crack you up. She was the kind of mother, or grandmother, you would brag about. I sure did. She lived on her own in a condominium. She was 94 years old and did whatever she wanted to do. If you were to speak with her on the phone, the strength in her voice belied her age. My grandmother was a badass, and thus was born one of her nicknames. “Badass.”

In her lifetime, she managed to travel the globe. We have beautiful pictures and hilarious videos of her from Stonehenge, to the black forest in Germany, from lunch in the Effiel tower and the silk road in Turkey. She was an avid cruiser and a gifted loser-of-sunglasses. Who cares!

She had a social calendar many would be envious of with her girls. She liked game nights playing Rummikub and loved the real thing even more – at the Borgata. She radiated comfort and love and care as the matriarch of our family. Her food was the best. Nothing rivaled her brisket and bow ties, her cucumber salad, her spaghetti and meatballs, her stuffed cabbage, or her Italian chicken. The first time she made me a corned beef sandwich with potato salad stuffed inside my world was rocked. That was and still stands as the best sandwich I’ve ever had. Wrapped in tinfoil as a to-go meal, it was prepared with love that was palpable.

We all love Ma to the ends of the earth. She was a daily staple in our lives. We tried to show her the same respect she showed her parents. We would do anything for her and we know she would do anything for us.

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One of my late Mom’s best Mother’s Days. One spent primarily in Brookyn, NY

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I refer to this as ONE of the best Mother’s Days my mother ever had because I am certain each of my siblings orchestrated equally special days honoring our late mom.  The Mother’s Day I speak of was the one in which New York City, specifically Brooklyn took front and center in giving her a day she spoke of till her dying day.

I honestly don’t know what year it was other than to know, by mere mathematics alone and the fact that it was after my married days, the fact that my father was still alive and where I lived at certain times in my life, that it was between 14 and 18 years ago.  My parents came to visit me and would spend this mother’s day with me in my apartment in Forest Hill, Queens.  I asked my mom if she would allow me to take control of the day’s itinerary, and since she was just happy to be spending the day with her favorite child (kidding guys), she happily agreed.  I decided to make the theme one in which I would show my parents, specifically on this Mother’s Day, my mom, proof that Hitler didn’t win.  In what better place to do that than Brooklyn?

I’ve avoided openly criticizing the Orthodox communities of New York for some unfortunate displays during the COVID-19 crisis.  While the public gatherings that took place, specifically for funerals was irresponsible and wrong on many levels, including Jewish law, I didn’t join the mob in excoriating them.  Other than mentioning it in this piece, something I do because of the relevance to the points I’ll be making, I’ve stayed away from public criticism for their actions.  The reason is a very simple one.  While it is unlikely I will ever choose to live like them and often think very differently than they do, in some ways I and every other Jew on this planet owe them a sense of gratitude and respect for their undying devotion. A devotion very much part of why the Jewish world has survived for centuries.  So on this Mother’s Day, in an effort to offer some evidence to the fact that Hitler was not successful in his quest to wipe us out,  I began the tour of what is really only parts of Jewish Brooklyn.

The first stop on our trip was Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is the center of Satmar Chasidism.  The Satmar’s are widely known as being an insulated Ultra Orthodox community and one known for being close minded to the ways of the modern world.  Travelling through the Jewish sections you primarily see Chasidic Jews, Jewish shops, schools and places of worship.  If you are a very modern Jew or person of any other faith, or someone who does not believe in any religion at all, you likely will not relate at all to how the people of this community live.  That’s fine. I neither was on that day nor am I today  trying to sell their way of life.  However, as a Jew, specifically one born to survivors of the Holocaust, I remember driving through there thinking, welcome to Hitler’s worst nightmare.

We then traveled to Flatbush.  Flatbush was interesting for me personally because at that time I worked for a company in Brooklyn where quite a few of the employees, including my boss at that time, lived in Flatbush.  I had willingly spent some time there over the years, more often than not thoroughly enjoying myself.  In Flatbush what you were able to witness was a very significant presence of Orthodox Jews, many of which clearly lived in nice homes.  You once again saw a thriving Jewish community, this one where the community primarily had a higher standard of living than what you saw in Williamsburg, while being one more very clear example of Jewish life and survival.

Our final stop was Borough Park.  While being more diverse than Williamsburg, it has more of a ghetto feeling to it than Flatbush.  Part of Borough Park’s diversity is within the Orhodox Jewish community, one that is rich with both the Chasidic contingents and the Haredi ones.  I am no expert on Borough Park, but for me there is one street that represents it above all others.  That street is 13th Avenue.  This is a street filled with shops, many of them highly affordable, large crowds of people walking up and down either browsing or shopping.  Somewhere in one of these shops I brought my mother a  Star of David necklace that she was to enjoy often in the coming years and always helped her remember that day. This was also somewhere rich with places to eat, of which a significant percentage are Kosher. By this time my brother Marcel had arrived from Philadelphia to join us in what was to be remembered as a delicious dinner in a Kosher Chinese restaurant somewhere along 13th Avenue.

This was a good day.  Mostly for the joy it brought my mother. Hearing her refer to it as one of the best Mother’s Days she ever had is something I will always remember happily.  As I think of her today, while I miss her, I am grateful that she doesn’t have to witness what’s happening today.  While I am not comparing what we are going through today to what she and so many others went through during Nazi-occupation, I am grateful she did not have to spend one more day of her life living in isolation and risk.

I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, specifically to those I know and love. Enjoy your day, enjoy your kids and families, and stay healthy and safe.

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Holland’s Heroes presents: It’s Friday. You’re Welcome!

I have never been one to overly sell the merits of the Jewish way of life.  I choose to leave that up to those far more qualified.  However, as someone who observes Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, I and my fellow Jews occasionally have an advantage during this time that others might not. Since Shabbat starts on Friday at sundown, unlike many who during this unprecedented time find one day after another blending into each other, we always need to know when it’s Friday.  With that in mind Holland’s Heroes will do its best to provide you with a weekly post with the intention of inspiring you, encouraging you, and bringing some joy to the many faces looking for reasons to smile.

These weeks installment is from my friend Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport, a  Chabad Rabbi in South Jersey and his heartwarming interaction with some Ugandan Jewish young men.  Enjoy!!

You can watch more of rabbi Raps’s videos by subscribing at www.youtube.com/rabbiraps or following on Instagram @rabbiraps

 

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Reopening society may require us to follow Israel’s example

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It’s important that I start this piece by making it very clear that I am an American who loves his country.  The opinion I am about to share should be seen more as a call to arms and encouragement than a criticism or indictment.  Who knows? If properly heeded it might just save some lives.

The other day a friend of mine from my grammar school days in London posted statistics showing how, to date, of all developed countries none had done better in keeping down the Coronavirus death toll than Israel.  The friend I speak of, Alison Fisch-Katz, is a brilliant writer, not swayed by political bias, and honest in her assessments. In her post Alison said the following:

Corona deaths per 100,000 in developed countries from highest: Belgium (7,924 deaths), Spain (25,428 deaths), Italy (29,079 deaths), UK (28,734 deaths), France (25,201 deaths), Holland (5,102 deaths), Sweden (2,321 deaths), US (69,121 deaths – NY 18,000)…. Israel is No. 24 out of 30 on the graph with 230 fatalities out of a population of 9 million (similar populations to New York and Sweden). Israel’s stringent measures have saved thousands of lives.
The economy is now being re-opened with caution. If the curve doesn’t spike, the expectation is that by month’s end we will be allowed to congregate freely with no restrictions. Red lights that will return the country to isolation are: 1. If the rate of infection rises again to 100 cases per day. 2. If rate multiplies by 30 every 10 days. 3. If hard cases rise to 250.
KEEP WEARING YOUR MASK!!😷

The numbers she presented are quite real. When I read her post, coupled with a previous article I had read in Times of Israel by founding editor and part of that same group of friends,  David Horovitz,  it seemed to consolidate some feelings I had felt for some time.  The ultimate management of the current situation ultimately lies more in the hands of the people than their respective governments.

The Times of Israel article entitled “It’s not over, and uncertainty abounds, but Israel’s COVID-19 stats are stunning”  is striking because in its description of everything Israel has done, from mitigation strategies to the timeline, it doesn’t differ much from actions taken here in America.  The population of Israel is approximately 8.6 million.  The population of New York City is approximately 8.4 million.  While at the time that I write this the death toll in Israel is less than 300, by startling contrast the death toll in New York City is over 18,000. I have maintained from the start that public transportation, particularly the New York City subway system has played a significant role in the spread.  I also have witnessed a New York City mayor performing less than adequately.  Yet as easy and popular as it is to point the finger at our elected leaders and politicians, sometimes accurately, often partisan based, I believe that the greatest responsibility of slowing the spread and minimizing the loss of life lies in the hands of us, the people.

For 3 1/2 years between 1980 and 1985 I lived in Jerusalem, Israel.  When I read Alison’s post I shared a thought with her and followed it with a question. My thought was as follows. During my time in Israel, when riding the bus I was often confronted by rude people who had no qualms in pushing and shoving me or anyone else out of their way.  Israeli’s riding a bus back then were not the most patient or polite of people. In fairness, packed buses have never been known to bring out the best in anyone.  But when I looked at the people pushing me I also realized that more than likely, every single one of them would have given their life to protect mine and would have done so without a moment’s hesitation.  In western culture, today’s definition of civilized is far too often based on packaging and presentation, while lacking in action and sacrifice. Of course the healthcare workers are a huge exception as their actions and sacrifices are unmatched and a blessing to us all.  I continued by telling Alison that it was that mentality of caring for another person’s life as though it was their very own that has always been my fondest memory of Israel. I went on to ask her if I would be correct to think the mentality I remember so well has impacted the slow spread of COVID-19 cases and most importantly the significantly lower death toll in the country?  She answered me as follows.

Unlike other countries that have pursued herd immunization (example, Sweden & UK – at the beginning) followed a policy of survival of the fittest and essentially sacrificed the older generation. Israel, on the other hand, cares about its parents and everyone complied with love.

While Alison’s response might be perceived by some as indictment on these nation’s citizens and their love for their elderly friends and relatives, it actually speaks more to Israel’s inherent value system.  While everyone’s intentions were the same, have as few deaths as possible, why are the results so different? As a nation threatened by neighboring enemies since it declared independence some 72 years ago, the mentality has always been one critical to its survival.  That mentality, a value for human life that takes precedent over everything else and a sense of responsibility for the safety and well-being of others, is a basic instinct of the populous, one that makes up the very core of what has helped the country survive. To put it simply, since Israel is far more used to having the lives of its citizens threatened than other developed countries, the people were more prepared.  While the majority of Israel’s adults either still are in, or have spent time in the military training to defend their country, the majority of adults in New York City have never dealt with that level of collective responsibility.  So although the leadership in Israel needed to initially enforce the policy as other nations and localities did, once the people understood the critical nature of that responsibility, the people, as Alison put it, complied with love.

While that same love exists in the places suffering significantly higher death tolls, we need to consider the possibility that the preparation and sense of responsibility does not exist on an equal level. While our essential workers keep our lives moving and our healthcare professionals give their hearts and souls to saving lives, the rest of us need to step up to the plate and meet our responsibilities.  The current schism developing within American society of staying at home or reopening, one like so many others becoming a political one, does actually have a middle of the road.  Like so many things it’s a simple concept with a more difficult practical implementation.  Reopen while simultaneously going out of your way to keep those at high risk as safe as possible.  The hard part is to make people understand their individual responsibility.  As much as some people prefer to bloviate on social media rather than saying or doing something constructive, government can’t really make this work by itself. The people need to do their part for it to be even partially successful.

In essence this means finding those people who are high risk, the elderly or those with preexisting medical conditions and doing what we can to help them. Run errands that make it possible for them to stay at home.  Call them to see how they’re doing? Show them that they are not alone.  Sometimes all they need is a friend.  Let them know that if they need anything you will take extra time and get it for them. And most importantly,  do everything in your personal power to not put them at risk.  Keep a safe distance and wear a mask whenever you are in their vicinity. By looking after their best interests as though they were your own, which is indeed the reality, we can make a big difference.  Want your life to get back as much as possible to what you remember as being normal?  It comes with a cost, and that cost is caring about someone other than yourself.  It worked in Israel, theoretically there is no reason it can work everywhere else.  Ultimately the cost of not doing it is a far greater one.

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

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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!

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