Tag Archives: Holland

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.

Open Letter to Desean Jackson in response to his anti-Semitic comments

DJDear Desean,

As a son of Holocaust survivors and a defender of the Jewish people I feel it is my obligation to address your recent comments. The initial quote, which you were happy to credit to Adolf Hitler, read as follows:

“(They) will extort America,” the quote read, “(and) their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.”

You went on to indicate that you have great admiration for the Reverend Louis Farrakhan. Louis Farrakhan, the man who has referred to Judaism as “a deceptive lie and theological error”. To be frank, those are some of the nicest things he has said about my people. In a response to be called out for his anti-Semitism he replied, “When they talk about Farrakhan, call me a hater, you know how they do – call me an anti-Semite. Stop it, I’m anti-termite!”  He also once said, “I don’t care what they put on me. The government is my enemy, the powerful Jews are my enemy.”  And while I can go on for many pages, I leave you with one more.“Do you know that in Europe in every nation where they were, they led an industry in commerce in trade in banking? And the gentiles were angry with them because everywhere they went, they ruled. So the gentiles rose up against the Jews and persecuted them in Europe.” 

This is the man you said you have great admiration for, right around the same time that you made your initial anti-Semitic statement.  It has been suggested to me that your statement is based on nothing more than stupidity. In order to determine whether or not I believed that to be the case I decided to read some of your additional Twitter comments.  What I found were highly intelligent, often self-promoting comments from someone who clearly is very aware of what he is saying. I believe your statements to neither be ambiguous nor reticent.  On the contrary, you know how you feel and you are very comfortable sharing it with others, as is your right in the United States of America,  However, I too have a right to tell you how I feel, and therefore I ask you.  If you were in my position would you be satisfied merely because you apologized?

I do not remember a time in my life when I did not know about what the Jewish people went through during the reign of Hitler.  More specifically, I always knew what happened to my family, and as I got older I learned what my parents dealt with when they were at the same age as you were when you were catching footballs and living a great lifestyle with the money paid to you by none other than yes, your Jewish employer.  For 5 years  the Nazis occupied my parents native Holland. My father worked with the resistance but had to flee his neighborhood to survive, always on the run and never certain if he would live to see another day. My mother had to move from hiding place to hiding place knowing that if she were ever to be caught by the Germans, death would be welcome after what they would likely do to her.  She would sleep underground in what she said felt like a coffin for 16 months.  When the war ended my father would learn that his mother, father, sister and brother-in law were murdered by the Nazis and my mother would learn of the same fate befalling her father and brother.  Not to mention the additional relatives and friends they would never see again.  6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.  There were countless accounts of torture, medical experimentation, rape and beatings. And Desean, this goes back a mere 75 years. So I ask you again, would you be OK with what you said if you were in my shoes? Would you be so quick to accept an apology?

Let me offer a quote to you, from none other than the great poet and civil rights icon Maya Angelou.

When someone show you who they are, believe them the first time.

I do not accept your apology, nor will I till I hear you denounce the anti-Semitic comments made by the man you admire so much, Louis Farrakhan. When you do that, I will be willing to accept that you are truly sorry for your comments. Until that time I will see your apology as just a way to make sure you continue getting a very nice paycheck, signed by none other than the Jewish owner of the team you play for.


David Groen








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.






During the Coronavirus crisis, the lives of Holocaust survivors can offer us some much needed perspective


Make no mistake.  The Coronavirus is a serious problem and one that the larger percentage of people recognize as being something that needs to be taken seriously.  Everyone reacts to things differently and everyone is frightened by different things.  Some more than others.  Fear or lack thereof in a situation such as this one is not what distinguishes cowards from heroes. It is the actions in light of those fears that speaks more to a person’s character.  Part of my reason for saying that is because despite my relative lack of concern for my own well-being, my behaviors are more out of a communal sense of responsibility and decency towards others, I say without any degree of false modesty that I am no hero.  But my lack of panic or fear has made me ask why I feel this way.  Although there are many others who share my approach for different reasons, I believe mine comes from an education I received at home from a young age from my parents.

There is a difference between scaring people and giving them perspective.  I attempt to do the latter.  To consciously try to sensationalize and scare people at a time like this is not only destructive, it is unethical.  So the lessons I learned I pass on in the hope that it helps people deal better with this situation moving forward.

As someone who has studied and written about what my parents experienced in Holland between 1940-1945, I’ve learned to look at things more as they are than how I think they could be or how I would like them to be.  Yes, it is great to dream.  The best line from the movie Flashdance, in my opinion, was the line, “if you lose your dreams, you die”.  That being said, looking at things as they truly are and understanding the reality, is critical at a time like this.  So first I look at the aspect of isolation and the true extent of the discomfort or inconvenience that it causes.  Once when I was about 16 years old, I found myself depressed over the silly nonsense that is likely to depress someone of that age.  And back then, as someone who was living in London away from my parents who were in Holland, much of my communication with my parents was through written letters.  In one letter my father wrote to me one of the most poignant and helpful things he would ever share with me.  He told me that even though I may see my problems as not that large compared to “real” problems, since they were my problems they were the most serious to me.  I share that because that comfort and understanding given to me by my father, someone who had survived the Holocaust, needs to be understood by those who might say to you, relax, it could be worse.  Whatever it is you are going through today, and I hope and pray it stops short of health issues for you or your loved ones, it is your most serious problem.  But that still doesn’t have to stop any of us from using the experiences of previous generations as a perspective check, one that might just make it easier for us to handle during these difficult time.

I live alone.  I am not saying that out of self-pity or in search of attention.  I say that because I consider myself fortunate.  I have electricity, heat, running water, enough food, contact with the outside world, and as long as my actions do not put others in jeopardy,  freedom of movement.  I also say that because the isolation people are asked to apply to their lives, is, assuming people respect it and with God’s help, a relatively temporary measure.  So I look to a 16 month period of my mother’s life for perspective.  The last 16 months in Holland, at the end of World War II. During this time my mother slept every night in a small room underground and probably in a space no bigger than many  people’s bathrooms.  She had a candle and a bucket, and when the weather turned bad, rising water that she had to walk through and a damp unpleasant room that she slept in.  Every night, Lubertus te Kiefte, the righteous man who together with his wonderful and equally righteous wife Geeske, gave my mother a relatively safe environment and food to survive, would take my mother to the back of his workplace where he had built her this room.  Once she was in the underground, he would put sandbags on top of the entrance to hide the room’s existence.  This was necessary because on any given day the possibility existed that the Nazis would raid people’s homes.

We all would love to go to work, go to gatherings, eat at restaurants, go to school or pray in our houses of worship. I get it. But perspective helps.  And considering what my mother dealt with for 16 months in cold, dark and unhealthy conditions, conditions that when relieved were replaced with the constant fear of being caught by the Nazis, maybe those us who need a perspective check and are miserable over having to stay home in conditions that offer us most of our basic needs over a time period that has not even hit 16 days, need to consider what my mother experienced during that time.  But maybe most importantly we all need to know that, even with the losses she suffered and the pain she experienced, she went on to live to be 95, build a family, and other than missing her husband, my father, died a happy woman.

The uncertainty we feel, the feeling we feel is so devastating, I put into perspective by understanding, to the best of my limited abilities, my father’s 5 years in Nazi-occupied Holland.  Before the war my father was on track to live a life as a Judaic scholar. His knowledge of Judaism and his involvement in the community were the core of his upbringing. Then came the war, and a 5 year period in which he was an active member of the Dutch resistance and someone constantly on the move, living through that time with a false identity, and, for lack of any other way of saying it, putting his Jewish life on complete hold.  For 5 years. Let’s use that as a perspective check before we panic about having to put our lives on hold for 5 weeks or even 5 months.  Why? Because when the war was over, my father married my mother, became a Rabbi and went on to live a rich and fulfilling life.

Everyone has their stories.  Some worse than others, some better.  This is not a competition.  This post is not designed to belittle anyone’s pain or fear.  What it is meant to do is offer some added perspective. Not just as to how much worse things can get in life, but more importantly as to how we can not only move on, but if we are fortunate enough and resilient enough, maybe even restart the lives that we have.

I have often said that the basis for my personal happiness is the teaching from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of our Fathers, about who is a happy person.  It is someone who is happy with their portion.  That lesson has never been a more important one than it is today.  When things are going the way you would like them to go it is easy to be happy with what you have.  But during times of struggle and hardship, that teaching becomes even more important.  Look to what you have in life and be grateful for it.  Let it make you happy.  If that doesn’t work, than hopefully some of these lessons on perspective will.  The reality is what the reality is.  Your way of looking at it is entirely up to you.






What it means to me to be the child of Holocaust Survivors


Not too long ago, a millennial of Asian descent asked me what it was like to be raised by Holocaust survivors.  The importance of indicating his background is to highlight the difference of his life from the life he was asking me about.  Although I think human beings are inherently the same when you break through all the superfluous crap, I recognize the impact environment and circumstance has on molding an individual.  So the question made me think about this topic more deeply than I had in quite some time, and in light of the events that have taken place in my life over the past 6 months I decided to share, in the hope that I help address issues of concern not just to people that fall into the same category that I do, but for people looking for answers about who they are and where they are going.

Since I am very aware that we live in a world where people often find sport in attacking the words that others share, let me make a few things very clear before you read on.  The information you are hopefully going to go on to read is not based on historically verified facts or scientific studies.  This is based entirely on my personal feelings and interpretations.  If your reaction is, “why should I care how he feels?”, that is fine with me.  Just like that same person can’t tell me I am right or wrong for how I feel, I can’t tell that same person what to care about.  But hopefully it is understood that at least part of my motivation is to help people that struggle with feelings they do not understand or even worse, understand but can’t deal with.

My initial response to the question was probably the most honest response I had ever given to any question regarding my parents and what it was like to be raised by people who lived through Nazi-occupation.  I called it 2 sides of the same coin.  On one side I recognized that there is an inevitable dysfunction to being raised by people who went through what my parents went through. On the other side of the coin, even before without addressing the special qualities my parents exhibited in their lifetime, being raised by Holocaust survivors almost forces you into seeing things that are more important than what is relatively superficial nonsense.

Coming out of the ashes of the war in 1945, it needs to be understood that not all Holocaust survivors had the same or even similar experience.  There seems to be a universal understanding among all decent people, whether they have a direct connection to Holocaust survivors or not, that degree of suffering is not a contest.  No one ever says to a Holocaust survivor that was not in a concentration camp that they were lucky in comparison to someone who survived the camps.  And while it is clear that had my father not helped my mother find places of refuge and do so much to keep her from being captured by the Nazis that she would have likely suffered horrors unimaginable likely followed by death, who is anyone to measure the devastation of seeing your world be decimated and the feelings associated with running for or fearing for your life for close to 5 years?  And who can understand seeing everything you know and believe in be wiped out as though it was a disease?  As soon as I was old enough to understand with some maturity what my parents went through, my value system was impacted by how I interpreted their life experiences.

I never felt guilt.  I was not made to feel that way.  Mostly because for as long as I can remember it was made very clear to me who the guilty parties were.  Nazi and Nazi collaborators were the mass murderers that murdered my ancestors, and living my life in a good and happy way would be more of a slap in the face to their efforts than it would be a disregard for what the Jewish people suffered through in my parents’ native Holland and the rest of Europe.  I have however always felt a responsibility.  It would probably take extensive therapy for me to understand to what extent I try to do good things and to what extents I follow Judaism based on the responsibility I feel, but I am honest enough to admit that it is certainly part of the equation.  I know that although in today’s very partisan political climate we can debate what is anti-Jewish sentiment or action, I do know that I have zero tolerance for those things I consider to fall into those categories.  This is about how I feel when I recognize that taking place in society or my environment.   I know that nothing feels more important to me than the survival of the Jewish people, but I also know I reconcile ethically by having the same intolerance for attacks on the survival of others, again, when I see it as taking place. This same factor explains why Israel is important to me.  Israel not only represents a safe haven for the Jewish people escaping persecution, but it also highlights the thoughts and ideas of those who have a disdain for the Jewish people.  That is not to say that any opposition to the positions of the Israeli government is anti-Jewish, but it does alert any honest individual to the fact that being anti-Israel is more often than not a code word for anti-Semitism.

So all of these viewpoints and philosophies are at least somewhat a result of being raised by Holocaust survivors.  But it would be hard to refute the idea that some of my flaws are not a result of that as well.  To know that for sure would be to know what degree of the imperfections of my parents were passed on to me are a result of their experience during the war was passed on to me.  I maintain that it may be close to impossible to identify that with any accuracy and I loved and respect my parents and their memory too much to pick apart whatever flaws they may have had, but I will offer up one fear I believe I inherited from my upbringing.  A fear, that to be brutally honest is very likely a contributing factor behind the time I have put into writing this piece and much of the other things I write.  It is the fear of not making a difference.  For my grandparents, my father’s parents who refused baptismal papers because they would only die the way they were born, as Jews, for my ancestors who were killed in the concentration camps, for the 6 million, and for my parents who felt the pain of that time until the day they died, I feel that I have a responsibility to do something that matters.  There is a fine line however between feeling a sense of responsibility and feeling a burden, and although I was not made to feel guilt, whenever that sense of responsibility has felt like a burden, a feeling of guilt sets in, because I know, that my “burden” is nothing compared to those that suffered during that time.  Nevertheless, it is a reality that sits with me and one I need to address from time to time.

I do leave you with two very important points.  First one being that one of the reasons I am writing this piece is to hopefully help any other children of Holocaust survivors with unresolved feelings they may have difficulty dealing with, and the second one is to accentuate the most important factor in this entire discussion.  The Holocaust was a reality.  The enormity of it was so significant that it not only resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews but it still impacts the world and generations in so many ways.  The specifics being a discussion for another time.  Reality, good or bad, does not disappear just because you want it to.  It does not disappear because of perverse and distorted ideologies.  It needs to be confronted, something I will continue to do that for as long as I am able.  Sometimes it is my burden, but I am thankful to God for the fact that usually it is my responsibility.  One I accept without issue.





On International Woman’s Day: A Tribute to the Famous Woman I admire most. My mother


Today is International Woman’s Day and one of my social media friends posted the question, “Which famous woman do you admire most?”  Although my initial reaction was to say Golda Meir, I chose to change my answer to Sipora Groen.  Sipora Groen is my mother, and although my book about my parents and how they survived the 4 years of Nazi occupation in Holland isn’t the bestseller I naturally hoped it would be, I think enough people know about my mother to classify her as famous.  If that’s not enough, let me tell you why how admirable she is makes up for where you may not consider her famous enough for this discussion.

Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes was born in Amsterdam on January 1, 1922.  Sipora lost her mother when she was a young girl of only 13 and  was left with a large share of the responsibility in raising her younger brother Bram.  Prior to the war Sipora fell in love and got engaged to a young man named Hans.  At the outbreak of the war in Holland she was studying to be a nurse, and when the Nazis occupied Amsterdam and began the process of rounding up the Jews and transporting them to the death camps, Sipora was living in the nurse’s quarters of the Jewish hospital.  Her personal life was turned upside down seemingly forever when not only her father and brother fled Amsterdam to ultimately be captured and murdered by the Nazis, but the love of her life and fiance Hans was taken away to Auschwitz.  Alone and feeling hopeless, all she had was the work she had taking care of the sick patients.  If not for Nardus Groen, my father of blessed memory,  the man she would later spend her life with, she likely would have been transported to her death along with the majority of the patients.  Instead she began a journey with Nardus through the Dutch countryside that took her from place to place, through homes of righteous Dutch people who put the value of life over religious belief or personal danger.  Ultimately she ended up in the home of Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte, the righteous and courageous couple that risked sacrificing everything in order to give her a safe home in the small town of Lemerlerveld for almost a year and a half until the war ended.

As the war ended in Europe, Nardus joined the Dutch Marines to help in the fight against the Japanese, not knowing till later that Sipora was pregnant with his child.  Part of the reason Nardus didn’t know was because originally Sipora didn’t know.  She took a job in a local hospital when upon feeling tired and worn down she was told by the Director of the hospital that she was indeed with child.  She moved back to Amsterdam only to find her home now occupied by the housekeeper who was with the family before the war.  The housekeeper pushed Sipora to leave the house despite her now advanced pregnancy, forcing her to take a very small apartment with very little heat in winter. If not for the help of her father’s childhood friend who gave money for her new home, Sipora might have found herself pregnant and homeless right right after spending 5 years running and hiding from the Nazis and losing so many of the people closest to her.  Just a few months after the birth of her son Marcel, Sipora would contract the lung disease known as pleurisy and would spend months in the hospital away from what felt like the one hope she had in life, her newborn son.

With his love for Sipora and a now a son, Nardus chose to leave the military and return to Holland where he would try to help rebuild the now decimated Jewish community.  He would be ordained as a Rabbi and start the process of building a family with Sipora who was now his wife.

Nardus and Sipora would have 5 children and would move often from place to place.  They ended up in America in the late 1950’s where they would live till 1976.  In 1976 they would move back to Holland where Nardus would take over a synagogue in the town of Arnhem while taking on responsibilities of the Jewish communities in 6 provinces throughout the country.  At the same time Sipora would become Director of the Jewish old age home in Arhem where she would be loved and respected by residents and employees alike.   After years of hard work between the 2 of the them, and setting themselves up for their senior years, Nardus and Sipora would retire, first to the Dutch seaside town of Zandvoort and later to Boynton Beach, Florida.

On June 13 of this year it will be 10 years since my father Nardus Groen passed away.  I’ve learned this about my mother during the time since his death.  This is in many ways my mother Sipora’s 5th life.  The first life, the most innocent and peaceful was the one she lived till the age of 13 when she lost her mother.  The second was the next 5 years, a time of peace in Europe but a time of both love and difficulty for Sipora.   The 3rd, and unquestionably the hardest was the 5 years of the war, a time we can try to comprehend but never fully understand.  The 4th were the relatively normal but still often very difficult years following the war, where she and Nardus worked hard and sacrificed to raise 5 children, experiencing all the trials and tribulations any family would during decades of normal life.  This was the longest of her lives to date as it would last till the death of Nardus over 60 years later.

The 5th life, and in some ways the most remarkable one is the one she is living now.  It is the life she has lived since my father’s death 10 years ago.  On January 1st Sipora Groen turned 95 years old.  This is a woman who reinvented herself upon becoming a widow while simultaneously honoring the memory of the man she still loves today.  She drives, she shops, she host Mahjong games, threw her own 95th birthday party on her own insistence, takes plane and train rides alone, is an active member of her synagogue and even has her own Facebook account. But what is most remarkable is the love of life she displays and the warmth she shows for family and friends, a warmth that can only be credited to a strength of will and character unimaginable to most of us.

In those moments when I would feel unreasonable self-pity I would sometimes ask myself, why can’t I be that guy?  The guy born into money with no worries, or the guy with incredible talent recognized by millions, or that person living the charmed life where very little ever goes wrong.  But not so long ago I realized I am that guy, because I am the son of a 95 year old mother who you just read about and who not only has gone through and achieved everything I wrote about, but has the incredible state of mind to enjoy it and share her joys with those around her.   You want to recognize someone admirable on International Woman’s Day, you need go no further than my mother, Sipora Groen.









Being the Child of Holocaust Survivors and the importance it holds in turbulent times

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Between 1933-1945, Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party ruled Germany.  Over the course of his time in power the Jewish people were persecuted, tortured and threatened, not only in Germany, but in every European country conquered by the Germans during the 2nd World War.  6 million Jews were killed in what is now known as “the Holocaust”.  But although a tragically small percentage of Jews from these countries either outlasted the war or were fortunate enough to make it out alive, their number was still significant enough to keep the Jewish world alive, primarily in Israel and America.  These people that made it out are generally known as “survivors”.  Survivors who were not already married would marry after the war, and as is the way of the world, the majority would have children.  This article not only addresses those children, the “Second Generation”, but it also addresses the differences between them and Jews who are not the children of Holocaust survivors.

It is often said that people should write what they know.  Being the son of Holocaust survivors from Holland, I know as well as anyone what it means to be the child of survivors.  What I also know, through friends and relatives, is where the differences lie between those who are second generation and those who are not.  It’s extremely important to begin with one very important premise.  There is not a better or worse type of person in this discussion.  Whatever values a second generation has as a result of their upbringing or whatever their actions and reactions are to what they see and hear in religious and political discussions, the magnitude of their background does not by any means make them better people or Jews.  First of all, values that speak to equal rights, tolerance, activism against injustice, are all values any individual is capable of. You don’t need to have had parents that suffered through horrific times to become that person.  Often what sets second generations apart from others is an overabundance of caution, and sometimes fear that comes from growing up in a household run by people who experienced persecution as opposed to seeing it from afar or merely understanding it in theory.

It’s important to note that some of these responses by second generations are not what would be deemed as healthy responses.  One does not have to be a psychologist to recognize neuroses.  It might be said that being a second generation increases suspicion of people, distances in relationships, and a pessimism about one’s future safety.  Now that being said, those behaviors can be accredited to anyone from any environment, but when you grow up hearing real stories about pain, suffering, constant fear and death, your predisposition to caution impacts your philosophies.  It can be seen even more clearly during this election cycle and the matter of the Donald Trump candidacy.  A fear of the rise of Muslim extremism is not limited to the second generation, but anything that can draw a connection in one’s mind to the rise of Hitler and the Nazis pushes a button that causes great passion.  That doesn’t mean all second generations feel the same.  Some will support Donald Trump because they believe he will deal with the terrorists in a way that will utterly destroy them, while those who don’t support him often see him as a bigger problem, comparing him to Adolph Hitler. Now of course the natural reaction to these statements is that millions of people share the same sentiments on both sides of the issue, but there is a difference. And this is where it gets more interesting.  The difference is more in self-perception than in actual philosophy.  We, meaning the second generations, often feel we have an inside track on understanding the evil the world is capable of.  That in turn impacts how we feel, how we speak, and how we act.

What about the millions of Jewish people who are not the children of Holocaust survivors.  Do they not share the same values and understandings?  It would be unfair and incorrect to say they don’t, but their values are not rooted in the same emotions. Emotions fade with generations.  To illustrate this I will use the example of my brother and his son.  I have a brother who left the United States and voluntarily joined the Israeli army.  He is no different than me or my other siblings when it comes to his zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism. I would say his philosophies on international affairs and his honoring the memories of those lost in the Holocaust are similar to mine.  One of his sons also joined the Israeli army.  He clearly felt a strong enough attachment to who he is and where he comes from to make a choice similar to the one his father made and go off to fight for Israel.  Where the difference is evident is in what appears to be what might actually be a healthy ability to detach from the emotions associated with these very meaningful values.  This detachment can be misinterpreted by not only second generations but by Holocaust survivors as well. Truth is, when actions speak volumes, behavior and interpretation of emotions are far less significant in general but very apparent to second generations because we tend to analyze everyone and occasionally judge as well.  Fortunately we make up for it by possibly being the most important people when it comes to keeping alive the memory of what the Jewish people endured.

Everyone acts and speaks how they do for a reason.  As a second generation myself, I am convinced that part of my motivation in getting words in front of others is to insure that nothing is missed and that anything I see that can make the innocents of the world safer I must convey to as many people as possible.  That, for lack of a better term, hero complex, is also a result of my upbringing.  I once read somewhere, and forgive any inaccuracies since it was long ago, that children of Holocaust survivors have a tendency to fantasize about being in an environment like a synagogue which comes under attack, and getting hold of a gun and fighting off the attackers.  Again, I am sure this same fantasy occasionally exists in the minds of people who are not second generations, but the study did show a tendency towards this from the children of survivors.  I’ll go as far as to say that anti-Semitic attacks I see are attacks I try to fight off with what is my gun, the written word.

The biggest responsibility a second generation has is to make sure fellow human beings, particularly fellow Jews who are not children of survivors, recognize the actual reality of what has and could always still happen.  Not just intellectually, but emotionally.  There are some brilliant minds, many more advanced than me, that understand the dangers and realities of being Jewish in this world, but their ability to detach emotionally, which is often a strength, can also be an advantage to those out to destroy other’s freedoms and liberties.  The balance lies between conveying these emotions while not letting them be an overwhelming force.  It is a battle second generations face on a regular basis, and although it is a burden, the one thing all of us recognize, is that it is a far easier burden than the one that faced and in many cases still faces our parents.










A Jewish Leader Tells the Whole World…NEVER AGAIN









I started this piece numerous times and when all was said and done I decided to just sit back and write it entirely from the heart.  After just listening to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress I am so overcome by emotion that I want to hold on to this moment, even if only for myself.

Part of what makes us who we are is our history.  Having just finished listening to the speech I can’t help but think of my family’s history.  It was 60 years ago when the reign of Hitler’s Nazi party ended.  60 million people died in WWII and 6 million Jewish souls were lost.  Among those murdered by the Nazis was an estimated 104,000 Dutch Jews, 75% of Holland’s Jewish population in 1940. Included in that number were 3 of my 4 grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and numerous other relatives I would never know.  My parents went through life with pain I can’t even imagine having lived through one of the darkest times in the world’s history.

As far back as I can remember I have heard the words “Never Again”.  Today I watched Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel who suffered in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, receive a standing ovation in the United States Congress.  Today the leader of the Jewish state of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, stood up in front of the nation and the entire world and basically said NEVER AGAIN with the words “The days in which the Jewish people stay passive in the face of genocidal enemies; those days are over”.

This is only about politics to those making it about politics.  What this is ultimately about is the survival of not only the Jewish people but the survival of our modern-day civilization.  Today a Jewish leader stood up in front of the world and told the world that the Jewish people will never again be led to slaughter.  For that reason, as the son of Holocaust survivors, as a Jew, and as an American, I found myself moved to tears and say thank you to the State of Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.





Remembering my Father












I write this brief post in loving memory of my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen.  Today, December 18th, 2014  would have been his 95th birthday. Although I will never be the man that he was, I continue to work hard on becoming the man he would have wanted me to be. Despite the fact that I was very aware of my father’s flaws, the more I look back, the more people I meet, the more I learn about life, the more I realize what a great man he truly was.  The strength and inspiration he provided me not only during his life but as I remember him to this day motivates me to do positive things and take action to make the world a little bit of a better place.  Often when I do what I do I ask myself this very simple question: “What would Dad have done?” Chances are my answer isn’t always the correct one, but my love and respect for him is a large part of what motivates me to try my best.  He will always be one half of that truly great blessing in my life, 2 wonderful parents, and even though he passed away 7 1/2 years ago at the age of 87, he still is with me to this day, as he will be, and I say this joyously, for the rest of my life.






In Defense of Nicki Minaj

"The Other Woman" - Los Angeles Premiere - ArrivalsAs everyone knows, I have no problem going after anti-Semites.  I am also not an apologist.  Bryan Adams sang my favorite song of all time and I went after him. George Clooney has been an actor whose work I’ve enjoyed and I’ve gone after him twice for showing no signs he disagrees with his anti-Zionist/Anti-Semitic wife.  I used to think Penelope Cruz was beautiful and now I can’t even look at her.  If I am convinced someone is against the Jewish people, I want no part of them and I am not shy about saying so.  That is why it may come of some surprise to those reading this that I am choosing to defend Nicki Minaj.

There are two reasons I’m defending her.  First of all, personally, I just didn’t see it when I watched the video, which I did from start to finish.  I am the son of Holocaust survivors.  I wrote a book about what my parents went through during the Nazi occupation of Holland.  I am proudly sensitive to anti-Jewish and anti-Israel sentiment.  I personally did not see the connection to Nazi symbolism in the video other than to the extent I was looking for it due to the reactions it garnered.  That doesn’t mean I think it’s a good video nor do I think the feelings of those it offended should be ignored, especially since many of those it offended are people just like me, proud Jews.  All it means is that in the name of honesty I can’t sit here and pretend to be offended by something that personally did not offend me. Incidentally, this is why I remained silent on the subject yesterday.  That and one other very important reason.  I wanted to see how Nicki Minaj would react to the criticism.  Which brings me to the second reason I am defending her.

Yesterday I wrote an Open Letter to Peter Gabriel.  In this letter I made the following point in regard to what motivates me to write these Open Letters.

“My philosophy, when it comes to writing one of these letters, and you can look it up and verify it if you wish, is that I write them primarily based on the words one utters.  In some instances I will address someone’s silence, but that is only when that silence indeed speaks volumes.  When someone expresses an opinion to me that someone is on what I consider to be the wrong side of the fence, I look for evidence to back it up.  Nothing provides better evidence than the words one speaks.”

Minaj made the following comments on Twitter regarding the controversy caused by the video.

“I didn’t come up w/the concept, but I’m very sorry & take full responsibility if it has offended anyone.  Both the producer, & person in charge of over seeing the lyric video (one of my best friends & videographer: A. Loucas), happen to be Jewish.  I’d never condone Nazism in my art.”

Although after watching the video I might disagree with Nicki Minaj on what is called art, she makes it very clear in her words that offending Jews and glorifying Nazism was not the desired effect of the video.  I for one believe her.

Many months ago in one of my posts I made the statement that there are enough outspoken and proud anti-Semites that we really don’t need to be spending our time going after someone who openly says they are not anti-Semitic.  In my opinion this is a prime example of what I was eluding to when I made that point.

One last thing.  I never have and never will be one of those people who believe it is a problem if you offend everyone else except for the Jewish people.  With that in mind, despite my defense of Minaj and the fact that I personally was not offended, if she does want to show that “full responsibility” she was referring to and achieve what I think should be seen as a slam dunk in the Jewish community, pull the video.  Show the respect evident in your words, acknowledge the sensibilities of the Jewish community and make a statement of great significance, for it offended enough people to be a problem.  Pull the video and leave little doubt as to your true intentions.





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