Tag Archives: Holocaust

A Rabbi and friend’s tribute to my mother

Please read this beautiful sermon, given by Rabbi Michael Simon, family friend and not only my mother’s Rabbi for the last 10 years of her life but also who she referred to as her “5th son”. This sermon gives a wonderful and moving tribute to my Mom.  Thank you Michael.

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Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Day 1 – Kaveh El Adonai
          Over a breakfast with other rabbis last month the subject of our High Holiday sermons came up.  Well in the course of that conversation, one of the rabbis, whose wife is going through a serious illness herself, asked the following question.
 
            What can you say to your congregants who have either gone through, or are going through, some pain or hardship in their lives this year?  What can you say that can help them deal with their troubles? 
 
            Although there are no easy answers to these questions, at least I had a thought.  Because it is the exact same subject I had already planned on speaking to you about this morning, on Rosh Hashanah.
 
            You see, in thinking about Judaism’s response to these questions and to life in general, I am reminded of the story of a young American who moved to Israel shortly after the State’s establishment.  He applied to have a telephone installed in his home.  Three weeks later, he still had not heard from the phone company, so he took a trip to its office. 
 
            “When did you apply for the phone?” an official asked. 
 
            The American gave the precise date. 
 
            “But that’s only a few weeks ago.”  The official picked up a stack of much older applications, which had still not been filled.
 
            “There are so many people ahead of you,” he said.
 
            “Does that mean I have no hope?” 
 
            The Israeli looked up sternly.  “It is forbidden for a Jew to ever say, ‘I have no hope.’  No chance, maybe. But no hope, Never!”
 
            Now you know why the national anthem of the State of Israel is Hatikvah – the Hope!!
 
            But hope, Tikvah, is only part of our response to life’s difficulties.  We know that man cannot live by hope alone. 
           
            That is why, beginning with the month of Elul, twice each day, in the morning and evening, we add Psalm 27 to our liturgy.  Why Psalm 27? 
 
            Because that is King David’s story of his own struggles against adversity and hardships.  Look at the words David chooses.  “Adonai Ori V’yishee,” “The Lord is my light and my help, Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life, Whom shall I dread?”
 
            And then he concludes with the words, “Lulei Heemanti L’rot b’tuv Adonai;” If I have faith to see God’s goodness.  “Kaveh el Adonai chazak v’yametz libecha v’kaveh el Adonai.”  “Look to the Lord; be strong and of good courage! And look to the Lord!”  
 
            Faith, Hope, Strength and Courage!  Aren’t these the very qualities we all need to get through life’s ups and downs?  Of course they are!
 
            Before FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” King David, as well as other figures from our literature, our history, and our liturgy, remind us that if we place our trust in God, if we have hope and faith, if we have strength and courage, we can face our greatest trials and obstacles, and we can overcome life’s challenges, without giving in to fear or despair. 
 
            Think about it.  Wasn’t it just last week, wasn’t it this very same message, that helped us get through the potential devastation of Hurricane Irma as it has also done for other disasters we have faced and will unfortunately continue to face?
 
            And you know what else?  If you were to take a moment and really think about it, aren’t some of the most inspiring people throughout history, not just King David, looked up to precisely because they exhibited these very same traits; often under the most trying of circumstances?
 
            Can you perhaps think of some of them as you sit here today?  People who you have admired over the years, not just for their status or their talents, but because of what they faced and overcame to achieve that status?  Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, Elie Wiesel, to name a few?  They all had hope and faith.  They all exhibited strength and courage to overcome obstacles and succeed.  
 
            Here’s one example.  In 1986, when the famous Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, now the head of the Jewish Agency, was finally set free by the Soviet Union, he explained that during his many years of imprisonment in the gulag he had turned to the Book of Psalms, specifically to that final verse of Psalm 27, to help him cope and give him the hope and courage to endure.
 
            Why did Sharansky rely on that line to help him get through?  Because it inspired him to not be meek, timid, or subservient.  “No matter our circumstances,” Sharansky said, “we are reminded that we can look to God for light and for the courage to face whatever comes our way and resolve to overcome those difficulties.”
 
            When Sharansky was finally freed and arrival in Israel, his friends and admirers carried him to the Kotel in Jerusalem to pray and to celebrate his freedom.  Even at that moment, onlookers observed that he was still holding tight to his beloved Book of Psalms.
 
            While we might never be able to eliminate life’s difficulties, while we never know when hardship or sorrow or illness comes upon us, we do have the ability to react to it in a more positive way; by relying on our faith in God, our hope for the future, and our own internal courage and strength. 
 
            And it is precisely this message, that needs to resonate and remain with us as we begin this New Year.  Because this message is a quintessentially Jewish one.  Certainly on an individual level, but yes, even on a societal level as well, we must always believe that things can get better and then do our part to make that so.
           
            And we act with that way because Judaism requires us, asks of us, even demands of us, that if we face life’s problems and overcome them, we then repay God by helping others, and by inspiring others through our own actions, to do so as well. 
 
            That is a Jewish life.  That is what Psalm 27 teaches us to do.
 
            You know what else?  You don’t only have to look for a famous person to draw this inspiration from.  That’s because I am sure that each of you sitting here can think of an example from your own lives, someone you know or have known, who inspired you, and who has helped you get through difficult times because of their own faith and hope and courage and strength.
 
            I’ll share one.  This past February, Rabbi Amnon Haramati, a High School teacher of mine, passed away.  Just so you know, the only difference between Rabbi Haramati and God was that God didn’t think that He was Rabbi Haramati.
 
            But if you looked at him during class, every so often you would see him wince.  His eyes would squint ever so slightly.  A sour crease would envelope his lips.  Sometimes he would rub the side of his head with his fingertips.  On the right side, if I remember correctly, was about a one inch square indentation, as if a chisel had been taken to his skull.  There were rumors his skull harbored a metal plate, a souvenir of Israel’s War of Independence.  But he never spoke about it.  We never knew what had happened.
 
            In his short but moving acceptance speech upon receiving the Covenant Award as an outstanding Jewish educator in 1994, he finally told his story. 
 
            One day, in the summer of 1948, as a member of the Israel Defense Forces, he was critically wounded near the walls of the Old City.  He was brought to the monastery which served as the temporary residence of Hadassah Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival and left in the corridor. 
 
            That night a nurse passed by and heard a groan from his bed.  She alerted the doctors who rushed him into the operating room.  They treated his injuries and successfully revived him.  Although he left the operating room breathing on his own he remained in a deep coma.  The diagnosis was that if he even emerged from the coma he would be blind the rest of his life. 
 
            The following night a nurse wanted to read.  So she took a flashlight and chose his bed to sit at because she was sure that she wouldn’t disturb the blind, comatose patient.  However, while she was reading, he uttered the Hebrew word “aish,” meaning fire.  The nurse thought that maybe this meant that there was some vision and so she called the chief of the eye department, who came, examined him, and determined that there was indeed hope for his eyes.  In time, he responded to treatment, came out of the coma, was able to see and eventually left the hospital.
 
            About a year later he was facing a medical board who told him that he was about to be discharged from the Israeli army as a disabled war veteran due to his head wounds.  He was asked by the board what were his plans.  He answered that he would like to continue his academic studies.  The medical team told him don’t even try, you will never succeed.
 
            However he remembered his Talmud teacher who told him a Jew may not despair.   Never say there is no hope.  And he remembered King David who said, hope, look to God.  However just having hope is not easy.  There are always difficulties on the way.  Therefore King David said, be strong, and be courageous.
 
            By having hope and faith and courage and strength himself, Rabbi Haramati continued his studies, became a revered teacher, and gave hope and inspired others.
 
            As I asked, do you know of people in your own lives, including yourselves maybe, that might have a similar story that has inspired you?  I know for certain that many of you do.  Rabbi Haramati is certainly one I knew.  But let me share with you another story of hope and faith and strength and courage. 
 
            It’s the story of a young girl who was born in Amsterdam, Holland.  And no, I’m not talking about Anne Frank.  Her mother died when she was thirteen, leaving her with her father and brother.  But she never despaired.  When the Nazis came to power her father, brother and then fiancé were all taken away; to eventually perish.  She still did not despair nor give up hope or faith. 
 
            She studied to become a nurse.  She stood up to the Nazis when they confronted her in the Jewish hospital.  And she survived the Holocaust thanks to her faith and the heroic efforts of her future husband and a Christian family who hid her. 
 
            When the war was over she found herself pregnant and alone, giving birth and developing a severe illness.  But again, she did not despair.  Through her faith, hope, strength and courage, Sipora Groen rebuilt her life which included five children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren before passing away this past April at the age of 95.
 
            I want to share with you something that Rabbi David Glanzberg-Kranin said at her funeral because it was the perfect description of what I already knew that I would be speaking about today.  How to live your life without despair, and with the faith, hope, strength and courage to live that life no matter the circumstances. 
 
            He said,
 
            “Here’s the important lesson for all of us.  There are external forces in our lives that are completely out of our control.  You’ve all heard the ancient Jewish teaching: “Stuff happens.” For all of us, stuff will happen that we were not responsible for; there will be circumstances that we did not create.  But in case you had any doubt, here is what Sipora’s life reminds us:
 
            We do have control over how we respond to the circumstances of our lives.  We can choose love instead of hatred; we can choose laughter instead of bitterness; we can choose strength and resilience rather than giving in to despair; we can choose to continue to learn—even in our 90’s—which is the decade that Sipora read Torah and Haftarah for the first time.
 
            We can choose to speak our minds like Sipora would always do telling Americans how prudish we are–and advocating that both marijuana and prostitution ought to be legalized in this country—as it is in Holland.  We can choose to love for every moment we are blessed to live as Sipora’s family will tell you how blessed they were to receive so much of that love.
 
            And we can learn that it is never too late to develop a crush!  Sipora really did have a crush on Bill Clinton and she thinks that secretly, he, too, may have had a crush on her.
 
            And we can learn from Sipora to put your actions into deeds.  Sipora frequently went around telling her story about surviving the War to both children and to adults—in her heavily Dutch-accented English—often for 45 minutes without a pause—and with nary a peep to be heard in the room as she spoke.
 
            And there is one thing that Sipora would do after every such talk: She would give each person present a hug.  In that hug, Sipora would convey something unbelievably profound to people who had often been very wounded by life.
 
            “So have I been wounded,” that hug would convey.  And yet life is worth living—and each of us is worthy of love.  Sipora Groen gave out literally thousands of these holy hugs over the course of her life.
 
            Talk about faith, hope, strength and courage. Sipora delivered it.”
 
            As if those words from Psalm 27, which we recite during these days of introspection and repentance, didn’t inspire us enough, then let Sipora and others like her, be our role models to always inspire us to remain hopeful, to remain strong, to remain faithful, and to remain courageous no matter what comes our way. 
 
            Let us always have faith in both God and our fellow man despite how difficult that faith might be at times.  And let us use Rosh Hashanah to rekindle the hope and faith in those in whom we might have lost faith with this past year.  And yes, that can include either God or our government and other institutions. 
 
            I’m not naïve enough to believe that if you just have hope and faith, all your problems will disappear like magic.  And I’m certainly not naïve enough to believe that if you just have hope and faith, you will suddenly be cured of whatever illness afflicts you.  We know that life doesn’t work that way.
 
            But I will tell you what I do know, what I do believe, and what I am sure about.  That without faith, without hope, without strength, and without courage, we can never, ever, overcome whatever difficulties life throws at us.   
 
            And I also know this, and I can say this, because unfortunately there are a number of you sitting in this room who have dealt with unbearable pain in your lives including the loss of children.  You are indeed here because you have had the faith, hope, strength and courage to see you through your pain and are an inspiration to all of us. 
 
            To ignore or deny the realities of life would be foolish.  But to give up and deny yourselves the tremendous goodness and beauty in this world, in our families, in our communities, and in our houses of worship, and the hope, faith, strength and courage we derive from them, would be equally, if not more, foolish.
 
            My answer to the question asked by those rabbis at breakfast a month ago?  Kaveh el Adonai Chazak V’yametz Libecha V’Kaveh El Adonai.  Even at your lowest moments, never lose faith, never lose hope.  Have the strength and courage to carry on.      
 
             I’ll conclude with perhaps a modern translation of Psalm 27, from the late, great Jerry Lewis,
 
            When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark
            Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
            Walk on, walk on
With hope in your hearts
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
 
            May we all be blessed with a year full of health, happiness, prosperity and peace.  May we all be written into the Book of Life. 
 
            And may we all live our lives with strength and courage, and with hope and faith in God.   Kaveh el Adonai chazak v’yametz libecha v’kaveh el adonai.
 
            Amen 
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Open Letter to President Donald J. Trump

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Dear Mr. President,

I hesitated in writing this letter, partially because I questioned whether or not it would make a difference and partially because I realized I may anger or offend some people in the process.  I chose to move forward regardless out of an obligation and responsibility I felt to the history and memory of all those lost in my family and other Jewish families in the Holocaust. Although I take issue with much of what I see coming from your office, I recognize and respect the office of the President of the United States and will address you appropriately, even if I often question whether or not you share that same respect.

I am one of those rare few who is willing to break from his position if he feels it is the right thing to do.  I did not vote for you, and do not support much of what you appear to stand for, but will speak positively about you when I feel the situation merits it.  For example, I supported your tough talk directed towards the leader of North Korea.  I believed it was an example of not trying to be reasonable with an unreasonable person and felt that a show of strength was necessary in this instance. I also have come to the conclusion, one shared by many of my fellow Jews, that you do indeed like the Jewish people.  I recognize that many people who lean to the left as I do felt differently, but that is not what forms my opinions. My opinions are formed by my personal history, my family’s history, and the values instilled in me both by my parents and my understanding of the world around me. Sadly I find you to be heading down a path that puts you progressively on the wrong side of history.

I find myself wondering if you have a clear understanding of what the Nazi Party was and what people who suffered under their rule, primarily Jews, went through during that time.  Unlike many others who are not fans of your presidency, I do not underestimate your intelligence.  So I must ask myself, are you detached from the reality of what this all means, do you not care, or does your very large ego lead you to believe you are smarter than everyone else?  No matter how bad some protesters on the left may behave, protesters that represent the Nazi philosophy have chosen to represent brutality unlike anything the world has ever seen. I know your supporters that see this letter will come back with all kinds of information about how bad certain liberal elements are, but no matter what they come up with it will not justify any defense or the establishment of a false equivalency with the Nazis that marched this past weekend in Charlottesville and the fanatic that killed an innocent woman. Your supporters may choose to sell their soul in the name of what they call Conservatism, but make no mistake, supporting you when you do not make the clear distinction between the KKK & Nazi marchers from the marchers on the left is indeed the selling of a soul.

You debated with reporters as though you represented the groups on the right. What about the Alt-Left was your retort?  You spoke of what you called “violence on all sides”. Would you have condemned “violence on all sides” after the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto rose up and fought against their Nazi oppressors?  I am a Jew and a Zionist that takes issue with what I see as a hijacking of the left by the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian block looking to push their occupation agenda. That being said, they are no more comparable to the Nazis than you are to Hitler.  I have disagreed and debated with many who have chosen to compare you to him since you exerted yourself into the presidential race and ultimately the presidency.  I find the comparison to be  unfair and unjust. I still do.  I even debated it with my late mother who passed away this past April. She would refer to you as “another Hitler”. My response very simply was, to be compared to Hitler you have to be a murdering fascist, something you are not and I believe never have any intention of becoming.  That being said Mr. Trump, because of your lack of desire to rid these modern day Nazis of oxygen, on the contrary your words have given them life, I actually found myself happy my mother was not alive to see this.

Maybe this is not entirely your fault.  After all, you are only human. You too feel empowered when you can say anything, no matter how unethical or immoral and get no push back from the holier than thou Mick Huckabees and Mike Pences of the world. These men who claim to be so devout and so committed to God and decency are notably silent when it comes to criticizing you at times when you deserve criticism.  But they too have sold their soul, finding whatever financial gain or acquisition of power available to them is worth forsaking their values for.

I’ve tried as hard as any person on the left to give you the benefit of the doubt.  That being said, there is no compromise or acceptance coming from me when Nazis are involved, and to any of my fellow Jews, that includes your daughter and son-in-law, that feel there is compromise, shame on you. Shame on you for allowing even the slightest bit of life or existence of a group who would kill you at their first opportunity. Frankly Mr. President, I suspect that by Hitler’s standards and rules you would also be killed.  After all, you are the father and grandfather of Jewish children.  Maybe you should remember that the next time you wand to say, “what about the Alt-Left?”

I met you once many years ago in the Plaza when you were married to Marla Maples. I too was married at the time, and my then wife who was normally very shy, asked if she could take a picture with you and Marla.  Before you left I asked you if it would be tacky if I gave you my business card.  Your response was, “yes, but do it quickly I am on my way out”. As funny as that was it told me something about you that possibly applies to what is happening here today.  It tells me that  just because something is tacky or even wrong, you still might be willing to do it.  That is all good and well when taking my business card, but that doesn’t fly with me or much of the country when it comes to dealing with Nazis.  You owe it to too many people, including your own family to do better, before it’s too late.

I realize that to you I am no one of significance.  Sadly I believe it possible that only your supporters are significant to you.  That being said, I am an American, I am a Jew, and as a voter I am not happy with what I am seeing.  You may find that many people who did not once feel as I do, may feel that way now. You should see that as significant.  In the meantime I urge you to put your ego and sensitivity aside and lead this country as it is meant to be lead, with decency and deference. After all, as President of the United States that is your sworn oath and responsibility. Whether you like it or not.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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Marcel Groen’s words on the Effects of Immigration on Real Lives

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The following was written by my brother, Marcel Groen.  Marcel is the Chairman of the Democratic Party in Pennsylvania.  He is a son, a husband, a brother, a father, a grandfather, and friend and colleague of many.  In this short but poignant piece however, he represents himself, the son of Holocaust survivors, more than anything else, as an American.  It is my honor and pleasure to share my brother’s words.

 

In the winter of 1942 Marcel Rodrigues went to the embassy in the Hague, the Netherlands, to apply for a visa for himself and his son, Bram.  He applied for the visa because he felt that America was the only country in the world that could provide him with hope, safety and freedom.

He was right. His visa was denied, He chose not to try to come here as an illegal immigrant. Oh do I wish he had. Marcel and his son  were murdered in Auschwitz on August 13, 1943, ten months later.

If only he had tried to get here as an illegal immigrant-he might not have succeeded, but if he had been successful he would’ve lived. There was no one else or place to go.

Marcel was my grandfather and Bram my uncle.

Americans should never forget why people come here, sometimes legally, sometimes not, but millions have come. They came because America represented opportunity, safety and goodness,  in a world that was neither good nor safe. We represent that wonderful experiment called democracy, where we make room for all and provide safety and opportunity for all who come here. Without those immigrants we would be nothing.

We are not perfect as a society. We have a long way to go, but we can and must continue to work towards those lofty goals we believe in.

When we crush those dreams; when we close our borders to those in need; when we forget where we came from and where we want to go;  then we will lose our place in the world, than our experiment will have failed. We cannot let that happen. As a people we are too good for that.

There are times when good people must stand up regardless of the consequences. JFK’s Profile in Courage comes to mind.

This is one of those times.  

Marcel Groen

 

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One Person of Integrity can make a Difference

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“One person of integrity can make a difference” is a quote from the late Elie Wiesel who departed this world yesterday at the age of 87.  This is a man who had every right to say these words, because in his strength, survival and life, it is nearly impossible to find anyone who made such an enormous difference with strength and integrity of enormous proportions.

We all know the story of the plight of the Jewish people during Hitler’s rule.  6 million Jews were killed in numerous concentration and death camps set up primarily to solve what the Nazis saw as the Jewish problem.  The most notorious of all the camps, the camp that symbolized the horrors committed during this time was Auschwitz.  One estimate is that 1.1 million of Jewish victims of the Holocaust were  murdered in Auschwitz.  Although most people who ended up there never left, there was a small percentage that did survive, and although for many the horror was too great to relive, there were those who would tell their story.  No one did so with greater skill, honor and integrity than Elie Wiesel.

Ever since his death I have thought a lot about what it was that made Elie Wiesel great. People are often thrust into difficult even horrific circumstances.  To survive as a functioning decent member of society is, in itself heroic, but to tell the story and make it a cause is taking that heroism to another level.  In 1944 at the age of 15, Wiesel was taken by the Nazis from his home in Romania with his family and deported to the camps in Poland. His mother and a sister were killed in Auschwitz and his father was murdered in Buchenwald a few weeks before its liberation.  To be there when that happened, to lose one’s parents and a younger sister in so short of a time would already be enough to destroy anyone’s spirit, not to mention the countless horrors he witnessed during his stay in both Auschwitz and Buchenwald.  Rather than let his spirit be crushed, Wiesel came out of this horror of all horrors with a resolve and strength of character unparalleled.

 “Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed….Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.”
Elie Wiesel, Night

It is my contention that not only do Jews everywhere owe a debt of gratitude to Elie Wiesel, but so do good and decent people of all faiths.  History books tell the story of the Holocaust, but nothing can ever do so with the power and purpose of someone who was there, experienced humanity in its darkest moments, and in their survival remained committed to letting the world know, all in the hope that somehow it could prevent humanity from ever doing anything like that again. Elie Wiesel did all of that, and he did so with a dignity unfathomable.   This man who was almost killed as a teenage boy, went on to live a life that will keep his spirit alive forever.

“For in the end, it is all about memory, its sources and its magnitude, and, of course, its consequences.”
Elie Wiesel, Night

I found an ironic symmetry yesterday as Elie Wiesel passed away at 87 just hours before sunset and the beginning of the day on the Jewish calendar commemorating the day in which my father, also a Holocaust survivor also passed away at the age of 87.  The education I received from both my parents, both survivors, always made me aware and knowledgeable of what took place during that time that everyone would hope to forget but are obligated to remember.  With that in mind I leave you with this one last quote from the great Elie Wiesel of Blessed Memory.

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

Rest in Peace Mr. Wiesel and thank you. I will try to never be indifferent.

 

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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.

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Open Letter to Marsha Levine; BDS supporter who snubbed an Israeli girl’s question about horses

marsha-levine

Dear Marsha,

It was recently suggested to me that when I write one of these letters I refrain from personal attacks.  While I acknowledged and have even tried to follow that advice, it is next to impossible to express my feelings towards you without doing so.  The reason being that your attack on my people is not only infuriating but very personal as well.  I could make this quick and easy, call you a stupid idiot and sign off, but I first wish to make some critical points. Once I am done I promise to make my personal feelings very clear.

As a Jew whose parents survived the terror of Nazi occupation while 6 million of their brethren were murdered all over Europe, I take serious offense to you saying that “Jews in Israel have become Nazis”. Consider this the educational portion of the letter “Dr.”  To properly address this I first need to thwart your contention that those persecuted and killed by Hitler’s Nazi Party are similar to the Palestinians in the territories.  The Nazis were never threatened by the Jews in Europe.   Jews in Germany, the land where the Nazi party was formed, and I state the obvious because you give no indication of having knowledge of the obvious, were law-abiding contributors to society.  Jews in Germany did not form terrorist organizations that murdered women and children.  They did not have elements within their midst with an ideology committed to the destruction of the German people.  They were not claiming land and using that claim as justification to murder innocent people.  The Jews never asked for half of Berlin.  Palestinian leadership has been offered significant portions of land and refused each offer, preferring to continue the cycle of violence instead.  So to compare the conditions of the Palestinians to the victims of the Nazis already shows your lack of wisdom and credibility.

Second of all, to compare the actions of Israel’s government to the actions of Nazis is not only factually incorrect, but an insult to the memory of all the Jews killed by the Nazi Party.  Does Israel have death camps created to solve the “Palestinian problem”?  Are there chimney stacks in Israel spewing ash that is the last remnant of exterminated Palestinian men, women and children?  Do Israeli doctors perform experiments and torture Palestinians?  Are Palestinian being shoved into cattle cars and shipped to hard labor and concentration camps where they are starved to death, worked to death, shot or gassed? Are Palestinians being publicly humiliated for the amusement of Israeli soldiers?

Do you have any understanding of how ridiculous your comments are? I am guessing you know fully well and are driven by your own personal emotional issues. I do not know you personally, and frankly I don’t care to, but I do know that anyone who has so much self-loathing that their response to a little girl asking about horses would be a political and verbal slap in the face is likely very scarred from events in their early life.  Frankly I don’t give a horse’s hind quarters what you went through in life, I just wish you would shut up and stop showing this juvenile enjoyment you seem to be getting from insulting my people.

I end with 2 things.  First of all I want to make it very clear that referring to the Jewish people as my people and not your people or our people is not an oversight.  As far as I am concerned there is nothing Jewish about you and we’re better off without you.  Second of all, as promised, I will end by saying that  you are indeed a stupid idiot who has traded decency and morality for your 15 minutes in the spotlight. Ironically that makes you more like a Nazi than the people you criticize.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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Exposing the Double Standard

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a smart man.  He knows history as well as the rest of us.  Unlike many others I’ve spoken to and likely reading this article, I personally refuse to jump on the anti-Bibi bandwagon.  It is my belief that the recent comments made by Netanyahu at a World Zionist Congress conference claiming that the Palestinian Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini convinced Adolph Hitler to kill the Jews, was part of a much larger overall strategy to bring the situation to the forefront and expose the blatant worldwide hypocrisy as it relates to the value of Jewish life.

I’ve listened to a lot of people express their anger or disappointment in Netanyahu’s statement regarding the Mufti’s influence on Hitler and how damaging his Holocaust revisionism is to the overall situation.  Let’s see now.  What negative impact will it have exactly?  Will it open the door for random terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians?  Will it cause the world to turn a blind eye to the murder of Israelis?  Will it cause Israel’s allies to open the door to a nuclear agreement with a terrorist government hell-bent on Israel’s destruction? Will it cause Palestinian leadership to tell lies about Israel? Oh wait. Those things are already happening.

Being the son of Holocaust survivors and having penned a book that covers their experiences during the Nazi occupation, I understand how sacred the discussion and memory of the Holocaust is to so many.  I understand the responsibility a Jewish leader has to guarding this sanctity.  That  being said, Israel’s leaders have one overwhelming responsibility, and that responsibility is to keep Jews safe, not only in Israel but all over the world.  Did Netanyahu’s comments make Jews less safe?  Were they safe before his speech? Will the world remain silent as Jews get murdered in towns that were once peaceful homes?  Was the world showing any real anger before his speech?

We all know the answer to these questions whether we care to admit it or not. Instead of expressing outrage for the murders of innocents in Israel, the UN was preparing to discuss the merits in declaring the Western Wall, the holiest site in the world for Jews, a Muslim site.

Let’s pretend that Netanyahu knowingly revised history here. Is it worse than Hamas consistently accusing Israel of targeting civilians?  It’s certainly being approached as though it is.  Is it wrong if Netanyahu is playing their game, telling a lie for impact? That’s debatable.  I understand the concept of taking the high road, of not sinking to their level.  But truth be told, Netanyahu’s comments brought the entire situation far more to the forefront.  In fact the frequency of attacks seems to have slowed down since his comments.  Maybe the Palestinian leadership that claims to have no direct influence on its citizens’ fury are actually reeling in the violent protagonists.  And maybe, just maybe, in making this claim today, Netanyahu is attempting to alert the world to the real intent of today’s Muslim extremists.  That intent is clearly another genocide committed against the Jewish people.  Exposing them is not incendiary, it’s enforcing the concept of Never Again.

Is what Netanyahu said accurate?  All evidence I know of shows it not to be.  Is what he said commendable?  On its own merit we would have to say no.  But if we dig deeper and see its true impact we have to be careful to jump on the anti-Bibi bandwagon.  Maybe, just maybe his comments do more to protect Jewish lives than hurt them.  Either way, as the world tends to remain quiet as Jews get randomly murdered, I personally believe attacking Netanyahu, even if based in some legitimacy, does nothing more than feed into the double standard, something far more damaging.

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