Author Archives: davidgroen1

A special day in Williamsburg that once again highlighted the importance of Bram’s violin

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My Uncle Bram Rodrugues, killed at the age of 18 in Auschwitz in 1943

As we continue to combine the story of a horrific time with a story that inspires on the highest level, it becomes more and more of an honor to be an avenue from whence this story is told.

On Sunday February 16, 2020, the violin that belonged to my Uncle Bram, a victim of the Holocaust, was played for the second time.  This time in Williamsburg, Virginia.  As the story gets more traction and the violin is shown and played for more people, the importance of what we are doing becomes more and more evident.  By inspiring people with music played from the violin, and telling the story of how the violin made it back to me and my family, we are doing our part in restoring people’s faith in humanity.

Williamsburg is a wonderful town.  In the few days I was there I was exposed to wonderful people who extended their hospitality, generosity and kindness.  The genuine interest in this story made everything about the trip worthwhile, even before the concert showcasing the violin ever took place. Yes anti-Semitism is on the rise and yes Holocaust denial is a very real problem, but for a few days in a small yet significant town in Virginia, my belief that we are closer to a good world than many might usually believe significantly increased.

As I spoke to the crowd, a crowd likely reaching close to 200 people, moments before the violin was played in a solo by the brilliant Ken Sarch, I saw the expressions on the people’s faces.  The people in the crowd, of which only a small percentage were Jewish, were not only engaged and interested, they were moved, saddened and inspired.  At times many would nod their heads in agreement to the points I would make about the importance of not only this specific story, but the importance of telling the world what took place in Europe between 1933 and 1945.

After the event one man told me how his father was German and was 16 when the war ended, and how he was ashamed of his German background, almost in tears when telling me.  One man who purchased the  book asked me to not make out the inscription to any one individual but to make it out to all the  good people of the world. I saw people in tears when I told the story, knowing that in some way they were understanding the devastation that took place in a way they had never been able to do prior to this day.

For me the most powerful moment of the day came following my presentation of the story when Ken took out the violin and played the music from Schindler’s list.  At the time he was doing this I looked out into the crowd to see how the people were reacting.  Throughout the crowd I saw intense emotion, tears and expressions of awe and inspiration, and as I saw this I not only thought of my uncle, I thought of my mother.  I often say that when my mother talked of the  war she was always sad.  When she spoke of her brother she always cried.  His death represented the horrors of the time, and as her son who loved her as all of her children did and still do, I feel an enormous responsibility in getting this right.  What I saw in  Williamsburg is that by just telling the story with honesty and passion, and having Bram’s violin played, the good people out there assure that this is being done right, for they not only observe it, they feel it as well.

I thank the people of Williamsburg for making this more than just a concert.  In their genuine and powerful collective show of emotion they showed me one more example of the goodness in humanity, and they showed me why more and more people need to get the same opportunity to be witness to something so powerful and important.

 

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How the lesson of Kobe Bryant’s life can be connected to a Jewish teaching

Celebrities At The Los Angeles Lakers Game

After a few days of reflecting over the tragic death of Kobe Bryant, his daughter and 7 others this past weekend, I felt compelled to share my thoughts as to why Kobe’s death had such a huge global impact on society. I came to the conclusion that in many ways it had to do with an old Jewish lesson of how to live a successful and happy life.

Although Kobe Bryant grew up in a very Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia and even once was quoted as saying “I wouldn’t mind being Jewish. I wouldn’t mind. Really.”, I tend to think that the philosophy he had that made his presence so powerful and his life so appealing was likely more a product of a good upbringing and life’s experiences.  Ultimately I believe that what drew people to Kobe more than anything was the fact that he appeared to be a truly happy man.

The blemish, for lack of a better word, in the Kobe story deals with the Colorado rape accusation.  I generally have little tolerance and no respect for celebrities involved in situations where they hurt others, particularly when they chalk it up to a “mistake”.  They get on the airways or social media and often even go as far as portraying themselves as a victim, in many instances displaying behavior showing that rather than being a mistake, what they did was indicative of their character.   In the case of Kobe Bryant, it truly appears as though at worst he did make a terrible mistake and did a terrible thing, at best there are aspects of this story we may never know and tell at least a somewhat different and significantly less incriminating story.   I do not say this to challenge the woman in Colorado’s claims. I say this because in every thing he has appeared to do since that time, Kobe Bryant was not only a model citizen, but everywhere you turn you see a man who not only treated women well, he advanced their causes.  Whether it was reporters, friends, athletes or celebrities, every single woman who has spoken of him since his death has done so in loving admiration, respect and gratitude. So Kobe was either never that bad, or his growth from a true mistake was significant and profound.

The most powerful images of Kobe were with his family.  This was clearly a man who was surrounded by a wife and daughters whose lives were wonderful, to no small part because of what he gave them.  And in every single photograph you see with his family, you see a truly happy man.  This was a man who adored his family, valued them in a way you would hope everyone would, and always seemed to want for nothing more, while always working to accomplish more.

It is my belief in seeing these images and learning more about this man that the old Jewish teaching Kobe lived by was the teaching that is the foundation of a happy life.  It comes from Ethics of our Fathers and states,  “Who is Rich? Those who are happy with their portion”.  In Kobe Bryant you clearly saw a man who was grateful for everything he had, from the time he had less to the time he had more.  This man appeared to always be happy with his portion in a manner that so many fail to reach.

Those close to him are devastated because they lost him and his beautiful 13 year old daughter from their lives.  Basketball fans are saddened by the loss of an all time great and wonderful global ambassador of the game.  And everyone with any degree of compassion knows how tragic the helicopter accident was that took the lives of Kobe, his daughter and 7 other people.  But what I believe is the reason this has had such an impact on the world is that because of the aura of happiness that appeared to be all around Kobe Bryant, people who struggle to be happy felt a sense of hope.  He was a tremendously gifted and talented man, but the center of his happiness seemed to revolve around those he loved, and the commitment to excellence that was manifested in hard work and determination.  Things that are more attainable to the every day person than the ability to play basketball.   And his death, as tragic as it was, happened in the pursuit of something pure, something that reflected positive values.  In seeing the pictures of him with his daughter Gianna, I can’t help but think that the 2 of them died in the company of their best friend, each other.

I would offer this lesson to be learned from this tragedy.   Rather than asking why, make your pursuits the reason why.  Look at a man who improved himself constantly, strengthened his character and values, and was truly happy with his portion. Try to emulate those positive attributes. Become a better person, a happier person.  Become someone who, if you are not already, is happy with their portion.  Do this and hope does not ever have to die with the loss of someone you idolize or even when in your life it is the loss of someone you love.

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Holocaust Denial: Deceptive hatred

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I originally posted this on March 31, 2012.  The fact that years later it is an even bigger is a testament to how important it is to continue to remember, tell the story and honor and remember the lost.

 

I found the following paragraph on the Anti-Defamation League website regarding the topic of Holocaust denial:

“Holocaust denial, which its propagandists misrepresent as “historical revisionism,” has become one of the most important vehicles for contemporary anti-Semitism. It is the invention of a collection of long-time anti-Semites and apologists for Hitler…”  http://www.adl.org/holocaust/introduction.asp

This is a significant problem facing the worldwide Jewish community.  The logic is simple.  You can’t fight the battle to make sure it never happens again if you have to fight the battle of whether or not it happened in the first place.  Hitler’s Germany persecuted the Jews of Europe in systematic fashion.  In my upcoming book, “Jew Face: A story of love and heroism in Nazi occupied Holland”, I show how the Nazis destroyed most of the Dutch Jewish community in incremental fashion, ultimately murdering 104,000 of what was a community of close to 150,000 people.  The concept of Holocaust denial can only be seen as ultimately having  the same goal.  The evidence is clear.  The photographs are there, the names are there, the personal accounts have been given.  To anyone other than the avid anti-Semite, there is no doubt that these atrocities took place.  It is my hope that by getting the attention of as many people as possible, I am helping increase awareness of what took place.  For if we allow acts of barbarism to be forgotten, we increase the chances of them happening again and again.  Not only to the Jewish people, but to innocents all over the world.

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How I honor the past through my personal happiness

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Good. I got your attention.  As anyone who has followed me even a little already knows, I spend much of my time telling my family’s history as to how it pertains to the Holocaust.  My parents, of blessed memory, were survivors.  They lost a large percentage of their family and friends to the hands of the Nazis and they lived in hiding or on the run for close to 5 years during the occupation of Holland.  And of course there is the story of the my uncle’s violin that was recently returned to us due to the righteous acts of a non-Jewish Dutchman and his son. At best these stories are inspirational.  But how can our speaking of this and understanding this lead to happiness? It’s about perspective.

I would like to think that my message is an obvious one, but since I don’t see more of it I feel the need to share it with anyone willing to listen.  Although Jewish teaching is rich with lessons of how to look at life in a manner that will lead to happiness, this message is not just a Jewish one and it certainly is not meant only for Jews.  It starts with a very important question.  What makes you happy?  It seems like a simple question.  One that can be easily answered and highly achievable. Yet many people are not happy.  Do they not achieve their goals?  Do they have misfortunes that prevent them from reaching a state of happiness.  Often yes.  But I believe that more often than not it is because they have not learned the proper way to achieve happiness, and that is very simply by deciding to be happy.

The decision to be happy starts with understanding the life that you lead and the gifts given to you, whether by God, if that fits your belief structure, or by circumstance.  Since this discussion is about our choices, it is not critical to discuss the origins of these gifts, merely to recognize them.   Having been raised by Holocaust survivors, my knowledge of the evils humans are capable of started at basic at a young age and developed into at least an above average understanding as I got older.  I learned about the fear people lived in for years of their lives.  I learned how they were hungry and cold and had no way of knowing when and if they would satisfy that hunger or ever feel warm again.  I learned about how even the bravest people lived in fear and had the courage to do things they needed to do even if it would bring more fear.  And I learned about how when it was all over it never really ever ended completely, because either what they had been through was now part of them or the people they cared for had been taken from them in a way that would haunt them forever.  And as a result I learned that not only did I have nothing to complain about, I should feel ashamed of myself if I did.

Psychologists might call this ‘children of Holocaust survivors guilt’, and they might be right.  But what is important about this is not whether or not that is the root cause of the conclusion, what is important is where it lead me.  It goes without saying that we don’t celebrate anything that happened under Nazi occupation, but at the same time we can say that the best way to honor and remember the suffering of those lost as well as those who survived is to celebrate life.  Many of us have known people who came out of the war having lost loved ones and suffered difficulties or atrocities and still managed to celebrate the life they had in their years following this horrific time.  They did so because they now looked at what they had, they appreciated their gifts, and they were determined to at least try to be happy.   They showed us the way.  It is up to us to choose to follow it.

Happiness is not something that can be measured.  It is an opinion.  Even our own happiness is based on what we think it is and our belief that we’ve achieved that state.  All we can do is make the decision that we want to be happy, learn the lessons from those who have been, and honor those who were less fortunate by appreciating what we have in our lives.  This is my way of honoring not only those who were killed by the Nazis, but those who survived as my parents did.  By studying the past, telling the story, and having a better, more clear perspective.

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The Luxuries American Jews do not have

benchdg

As Jews there are 3 things we do not have the luxury of doing.  We can not shy away from identifying the perpetrators.  If these were isolated incidents maybe, but since they are happening with alarming frequency we can not. The next thing we can not do is allow politics to distract us from the problem.  Depending on your personal spin you could waste your time blaming either side of the aisle.  And lastly, but most importantly, we can not remain silent. The order of the first 2 are interchangeable, while number 1 is unquestionably the most important of the 3.  Silence is not an option.

Although an argument can be made that there is no evidence that the increasing attacks by black individuals against Orthodox  Jews is an organized effort, it is a growing and disturbing trend, and if in the name of liberal tolerance we do not address it for what it is, we will be complicit in its ongoing development.  Furthermore, it is my belief that we would not be helping the black community in the process.  The fact that the severity and frequency of the attacks is a newer phenomenon indicates that this is not something that is encouraged or condoned in those communities.  I am sure there have been tensions in some areas for a long time, but the majority of Americans are not criminals who randomly attack other Americans.  Why is this important?  Because for this to end we need to solicit the help of black communities.  We can’t do that if we’re afraid to admit so much is coming from there in the first place.

The political issue is a big one, because like it is doing in so many other areas of American society, the position people take towards party and leadership has become so important they find ways to justify their position, rather than look at things clearly and honestly.  Since the increase in attacks I have consistently heard from people on the left how Donald Trump is to blame for the climate he has created in the country, while hearing from people on the right how Barack Obama and left wing liberals are to blame for what is taking place.  I have fellow Jews I care about on both sides of the political aisle, and I encourage them to continue the debate, but when we are under siege I urge them even more to recognize that we do not have the option of not working towards one common purpose.  Our personal safety.

And of course silence is not an option.  I am writing this today solely for that reason.  I am not so arrogant as to think I am going to say something that will make it all better, but I will try to lead by example.  Public officials in New York have reacted well, but the truth is that we can not allow them to get comfortable.  We have to make our voices heard.  We have to write them, we have to call them, and we have to organize rallies with large numbers to keep their attention.  We have to demand that they fulfill their number one responsibility, and that is to keep us safe.  We have to show that when we say NEVER AGAIN that we truly mean it.

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Making sure of NEVER AGAIN starts with our choices

bernie-sanders-jeremy-corbyn

Over the past year or two I have progressively shied away from being political in my posts.  It’s not because I do not have opinions. That couldn’t be further from the truth.  I probably could write an opinion about every meal I eat.  I don’t have to look for an opinion to share. If anything I have to control myself from sharing every opinion I have, something I am happy to say I have learned to do.  But today I will share a political opinion.  Because today the Jewish people, I dare say all of humanity finds itself at an increasingly dangerous crossroads, and being the child of Holocaust survivors and a person who is committed to doing his part in helping to make sure it truly never does happen again, I can no longer remain quiet.

I am not about to endorse or attack one particular political party.  I know many who think like me when it comes to  the safety of Israel and the Jewish people tend to trash the Democrats because of how the far left of the party has in many ways gone off the rails, but when push comes to shove there is a very good chance that a more centrist, moderate, pro-Israel friend of the Jewish people, maybe even a  pro-Israel Jew, will get the nomination.  Hopefully then the choice will be between 2 individuals that at least don’t want to see harm come to us and the choice can be about other factors. This is more about a litmus test.

If, in light of  increasing attacks, attacks that have gone beyond disgraceful vandalism and have reached the point of violent attacks and murder, anyone as a Jew is prepared to support a candidate that is openly in favor of movements calling for Israel’s collapse or supportive of Jew-haters, you are making a critical mistake.  Although I have been open about the fact that I am not Donald Trump’s biggest fan, I have said numerous times that I would work for his campaign before I would vote for Bernie Sanders.  Hurray for the Brits and their statement against the vicious anti-Semite Jeremy Corbyn in the recent election.  He wasn’t only defeated, he was basically crushed into what will hopefully wind up as retirement and political oblivion (even worse than that wouldn’t devastate me either).  But what we are learning now should tell you, if you weren’t ready to admit it or informed enough to know it already, something very important about people like Bernie Sanders.  In the following Washington Post article you can read about how the day after the British election Bernie Sanders called Jeremy Corbyn to congratulate him on a good campaign and when asked where he got his campaign ideas Corbyn replied, “well, you actually”. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/wp/2017/07/13/britains-corbyn-i-got-my-ideas-from-bernie-sanders/

Besides hoping that Bernie Sanders’s career takes the same turn Corbyn’s has, what does it tell you about him that he buddies up with the likes of Corbyn, Omar and Tlaib while wanting nothing to do with Benjamin Netanyahu.  I don’t think liking Netanyahu and his government is a litmus test for who to support, but who you pick as your friends certainly should be, especially in light of criticism that is more like an onslaught against Israel than it is an expression of concern.

I have often said that I can not hate anyone that clearly likes Jewish people as much as Donald Trump does.  That being said, I have also stated that you can love people and have nothing but their well-being in mind and still not be good for them.  In other words, just because I believe President Trump is far more friend than foe of the Jewish people, the jury is still out whether or not he is good for us.

While I wait to see who the Democrats will choose as their nominee in the current election and reserve the right to keep who I vote for to myself, at least for now, I will declare that their are lines that as a Jew I will not cross.  Any candidate that comes even close to supporting the BDS Movement will not get my vote.  The Boycott, Divestment, Sanction Movement is a movement that in its very name reveals that it is not about the well-being of the Palestinians, it is about bringing Israel to its knees.  Anyone who supports that is, in my estimation declaring themselves to not only be anti-Semitic, they are wittingly or unwittingly complicit in the recent and increasingly frequent attacks.  I will make a very strong effort to distinguish between those who oppose the policies of Israel’s current government, something many Israelis and fellow Jews I like and respect do, but those who support crippling Israel as a tactic are not only wrong, they are dangerous.  Whether they are Jewish or not.

During the Nazi occupation of Europe there were Jews who were as dangerous for the Jewish people as any complicit non-Jew.  Although it will never be something someone will brag about, fear might be an excuse for doing nothing.  It is however not an excuse for being a traitor to your people.  We also live in an age with cable news and social media when ignorance is no longer an excuse. Subsequently I will say emphatically that NEVER AGAIN starts right here.  NEVER AGAIN means not accepting someone who openly declares a policy that hurts Israel and the Jewish people.  It means not supporting someone who puts his support for Jew haters above his support for Jews and it means understanding that although it is acceptable to oppose the policies of an Israeli government, being anti-Israel is today’s anti-Semitism.  And NEVER AGAIN means that when you have the opportunity to speak, be it literally or through your vote, you start by not tolerating someone who shows no concern for your survival.  All of our lives may very well depend on it.

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Bram’s Violin: New Page on Holland’s Heroes

BRAM’S VIOLIN

 

Ancestry_00004A

My Uncle Bram Rodrugues, killed at the age of 18 in Auschwitz in 1943