Tag Archives: Holocaust

A Rosh Hashanah Message

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Being very flawed myself, I make every effort to avoid ever sitting in judgment of others for behaviors that can be considered nothing short of human.  Human behavior allows people to make choices not everyone else will agree with as well as permitting people to do that one thing we all do.  Make mistakes.  So since I try my best not to be a hypocrite or cross the line, I am not going to spend any of my time criticizing my fellow Jews that make the choice not to live in accordance with Jewish law.  Having come pretty close to making that choice at certain points of my life, I get it. I also believe these choices to be between man and God only.  The issue I want to address is pride in being Jewish. Or lack thereof.

I am not afraid to call someone out if I feel there is blatant self-hatred, but since this post is directed more to the many in that grey area I realize it is important to be careful about stepping over a line.  If I am to address a subject that goes after people for something as reprehensible as being ashamed of who you are, I need to speak in generalities.  After all, I may have an opinion, even one shared by many, but even so I do not know what is in someone’s heart.  Let’s just say that if what I am to say applies at all to you, or wakes you up to a different perspective, then maybe I’ve done something right.

It should not be a surprise that much of this discussion comes back to the Holocaust. Specifically in regard to the main issues I wish to address.  The first being support for the State of Israel.  Support does not mean blind agreement in all policies and actions of whatever government is in place. There are many people who have done more for Israel than I may ever have the opportunity to do that are much more opposed to the decisions made by the Israeli government than I am.  This is not about stifling opinions.  This is however about being balanced and fair as well as addressing the disingenuous motives of the BDS movement.

Fair and balanced means if you are to criticize Israel for its actions, you don’t fail to mention the years of dealing with a Palestinian Authority showing no indication of being a willing partner in peace.  It means if you are going to go after Benjamin Netanyahu for a hard line approach you also recognize that he is not only dealing with officials that reward terrorists financially for killing innocent Jewish residents of Israel but in many cases officials who once lead or performed acts of terrorism themselves.  And it means that when you criticize Israel for collateral damage that leads to the death of innocents that it happens when targeting enemies not looking for peace but preaching the destruction of the Jewish State of Israel.  So yes, criticize Israel if you feel it is appropriate, but realize that if you do so in a vacuum that ignores the actions of the other side that you are not only wrong for doing so, you are part of the problem.

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, aka BDS, had proven time and time again that it is not about helping Palestinians, it is about ridding the land of Israel of Jewish people.  It is a movement designed to cripple Israel economically regardless of who it hurts, Jews or Palestinians.  If an organization is to claim that its purpose is to advance the cause of a people, what does it tell you when it causes the closing down of factories employing the very people it claims to be helping.  But don’t take my word for it.  Just look at the name of the organization. It is all about hurting the Israeli government with no mention about helping the Palestinian people.  Partially because the people running the organization work hand in hand with the leadership that has for decades pocketed and misappropriated funding desired to help Palestinians and use hatred against Jews as a means of motivating the masses, much like Hitler and the Nazi Party did in Germany.  So if you are Jewish and support the BDS movement you need to know that the goal of the organization is to destroy a country created to keep you safe.  A country born from the ashes of 6 million murdered Jews.  Which leads me to my final and most important point.

You can find Jewish practice antiquated, pointless or even wrong, but make no mistake. You can’t hide from who you are.   You might try, but history shows us that our enemies don’t care how you feel about being Jewish, they care that you are and want you gone.  And with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year approaching I would be remiss if I didn’t ask this question. Why would you want to hide from it? The Jewish people have major global impacts on education, science, medicine and pop culture. And for those of is who believe in it from a religious perspective, it has given us the Torah, a moral compass of how to live a good and productive life, regardless of how precisely or traditionally one chooses to interpret it.

Finally I want to wish all my fellow Jews a happy and healthy year ahead. Whether or not you believe or not, and even whether or not you accept who you are or not, I wish you blessings in the coming year.  I may not like how you think and I will call you out, but that very thing you want no part of is the very thing that teaches me to wish good upon you.  And when all is said and done, only you know what is truly in your heart.

A Happy and Healthy Year to all.

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

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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.

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Why we need to stop the misuse of the word “Nazi”

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In recent years there has been a growing and concerning trend in regard to a word as familiar globally as any other word.  That word is Nazi. The trend I speak of is in the use of the word in a descriptive, subjective form, as opposed to the literally specific form necessary to keep an understanding of the evil it represents.

A number of people who knew that I intended to write this piece have actually thanked me for doing so.  Any attempt to try to change the thought pattern of an anti-Semite or other form of bigot that uses Holocaust denial as a means of forwarding a perverse agenda is a waste of time.  A more worthwhile venture is to make sure those who have open minds and pure hearts are afforded the opportunity to know the truth.  The truth is that improper use of the word Nazi dilutes the horrors of what took place under the Nazi-occupation in Europe.

This post is neither a political statement nor an apology for those that misuse power.  This is more of a perspective check. Calling someone a Nazi because they do something damaging to other individuals, or even worse calling them one because it is your perception they are doing so, detracts from some critical facts.

Adolf Hitler’s Nazi war machine sought out and killed in staggering numbers.  According to jewishvirtualibrary.org the numbers break down as follows.

Jews: up to 6 million

Soviet civilians: around 7 million (including 1.3 Soviet Jewish civilians, who are included in the 6 million figure for Jews)

Soviet prisoners of war: around 3 million (including about 50,000 Jewish soldiers)

Non-Jewish Polish civilians: around 1.8 million (including between 50,000 and 100,000 members of the Polish elites)

Serb civilians (on the territory of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina): 312,000

People with disabilities living in institutions: up to 250,000

Roma: 196,000–220,000

Jehovah‘s Witnesses: around 1,900

Repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials: at least 70,000

German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory: undetermined

Homosexuals: hundreds, possibly thousands (possibly also counted in part under the 70,000 repeat criminal offenders and so-called asocials noted above).

As a son of Dutch Jewish Holocaust survivors, the Jewish number hits very close to home, as it does or has done for many others I have known or still know over the course of my lifetime.  The Nazis destroyed entire worlds.  They wiped out an entire Jewish civilization in a large percentage of Europe.  They tortured, they raped, they conducted experiments, made people dig graves before shooting them in cold blood, and put together one of the most efficiently cruel means of mass murder by gassing to death multitudes of people.  Frankly, although these facts are accurate, this does not capture the true horror of what took place.  For that one needs to research the numerous pictures and accounts of the events that took place.

And yet many people today refer to anyone with ideologies opposed to their own as a Nazi.  This is not a left and right issue.  This is also not a justification nor a means of disregarding dangerous viewpoints or ideologies.  What this is instead is a specific statement as to what separated Nazi Germany from much of what people refer to today as Nazi behavior.  I’ve seen people on the right call Barack Obama a Nazi.  I’ve seen people on the left call Donald Trump a Nazi.  You can criticize, even despise the Iran deal or the situation on the border, but neither of these facts put either president even close to being in the same category as Adolf Hitler.  Furthermore, even if one would feel strong critique for Israel’s handling of the Palestinian situation or feel a disdain for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, invoking Nazi atrocities as a comparison to today’s Israel is nothing more than a disingenuous use of a term to promote a dangerous anti-Semitic political agenda.

None of this is to say that we should turn a blind eye to the dangers that exist both in our respective countries or abroad.  But it is important to note, that if one is to learn from history it starts by doing everything necessary to study it accurately.  What the Nazis did  between 1933 and 1945 is perpetrate an evil unlike anything the world had ever seen.  To improperly identify and remember what took place not only dishonors all those murdered, it puts us all in greater danger of seeing it take place once again.

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Open Letter to Larry David

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Dear Larry,

I am sad to say that you have the exceptional distinction of being the first Jewish individual I have written to regarding actions or remarks damaging to the Jewish people.  Before I start allow me to make a critical point so you know who you have offended.  I am a Liberal with a sense of humor.  I am very tolerant, very accepting and I like a good laugh.  Even at my own expense.  Sometimes especially at my own expense.  If you offend a Trump supporting angry Conservative it would be hard to make a case for that to mean anything, but to offend me? Well I guess you can say to do that you really had to have made an effort.

You see Larry, there is funny, and then there is disgusting.  Your remarks this past Saturday night on SNL were disgusting.  They reflect what can only be a personal disdain for who you are where you come from.  The comments were so bad that I do not need to do any additional research on you to attack you for them.  I don’t care how much charity you may or may not have given, or kindnesses you may or may not have shown till now, the comments you made both about Jewish sexual deviants and the Holocaust were so damaging, insulting and hurtful to the Jewish people as a whole, there is nothing you can say or do to justify them.  Not to mention the fact that there was absolutely nothing funny about them.

You chose your monologue on Saturday Night Live to declare how many of the perpetrators of sexual harassment are Jewish.  Did you do it to help the victims?  Did you do it because it upsets you? No.  You did it because you felt it would get a laugh.  You decided to appeal to the lowest of the low at the expense of your own people.  Are you proud of yourself today?  I’m not blind. I see how far too many of the guilty are Jews.  But did you do this on an interview where you expressed concern in order to possibly help change things as they are? Again no.  You did it on SNL because  somehow you felt it appropriate to joke about the sexual deviants within the Jewish community.  If you had taken a moment to think about this you might have realized the last thing the Jewish world needs today is a famous Jewish comedian singling out his own people.

Your follow up to these comments just went on to prove how much of your motivation may be in self-hatred.  For anyone to make light of the death of 6 million people of his own religion indicates a dangerously sick disconnect.  I want you to take a moment, close your eyes and imagine every one you care about, all your family and closest friends suddenly murdered.  Now take it one step further and imagine how some, if not all of them were raped or tortured before they were murdered.  Stop and realize how many people could close their eyes and open them up to the same devastation. When you finish doing this I would like you to please tell me what part of this you find funny?  What part of this belongs in a comedy routine?  If you think any of it is or does, I would say you are not merely a self-hating Jew, you are a sick man as well.

I used to like you Larry. I found much of what you said to be funny.  However, after what I heard come out of your mouth I not only find you to be anything but funny, I find you to be detrimental to the Jewish people and even a little dangerous.  I can turn off the TV and never have to listen to or watch you again.  But you have to live with your self-loathing.  If I was not so angry with you I’d feel sorry for you.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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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 

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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