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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 or following on Instagram @rabbiraps







Reopening society may require us to follow Israel’s example


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.

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.






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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Birthday Israel!






Positive Stories to Brighten your day


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

1-Surviving Seniors


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2- A Happy Milestone

20200424-190556-Bianca Jimenez 4

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

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

3- Bringing joy and support through music


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

4- NFL’s Greatest Moment

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

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


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










Words of Encouragement and Suggestions to take into the weekend


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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom







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


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

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

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

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

May we Always Remember Them


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