Tag Archives: Jews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Party may be cancelled but Purim lives on

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I’ve always loved Purim.  The whole concept behind it is a beautiful one.  It saddens me, as it does so many others, that the terror attacks and subsequent atmosphere in Brussels has caused the cancellation of Purim celebrations.  But make no mistake. With or without festivities, there is no cancellation of Purim and what it represents, especially in these times.

Purim is a holiday based on events that took place in ancient Persia, now known as Iran, during a time when Persian leadership sought to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the planet.  Sound familiar? It should.  Besides being something that tends to happen far too often, a nation looking to rid the world of Jews, modern day Iran is testing missiles decorated with the words “Israel must be wiped out”.   Hard to believe that a nation like Iran could not have evolved further from its hatred of over 2,000 years ago, yet here we are again.

Of course what makes matters worse is that the cancellation of festivities is not directly connected to Iran.  After the most recent brutal attack by ISIS and the attacks in Paris, it is a wise bit of caution to consider European Jews to be in some significant danger. That too should sound familiar, as I am sure it does.  Europeans need to wise up to the dangers facing them, because last time they took a “levelheaded” and patient approach to rising fascism and violence, the continent was left in shambles.

The most beautiful thing about the story of Purim for me was always the fact that it is a story in which the Jewish people did not have to suffer greatly before their redemption. It’s impossible to know how today’s travails will end up, but if history is to repeat itself, my prayer for this Purim, is that the establishment of liberty and freedom for all people in the world, not just Jews, can happen with limited additional suffering.  In the meantime to my fellow Jews I urge you to remember this.  Even when the celebration is cancelled, Purim never is.

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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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Does anyone represent all the people?

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Till now I have liked Ted Cruz. I admit it.  That being said, I haven’t said I am voting for him nor am I openly supporting him at this time.  Having gone over this in my mind many times, I finally came to the realization of what it is about Senator Cruz that holds me back.  The issue for me is as follow.  Would he be a president for all of the people or just his people?  Who do I have to thank for opening my eyes to what is bothering me about the Republican Senator from Texas?  Of all people, the Pope.

As I read that the Pope issued a statement alluding to his approval of contraception to prevent the Zika virus, a stance I would applaud, I immediately asked myself what I would expect to be the most obvious question to everyone.  Why have I not heard the same implication from the Pope that contraception is OK in the prevention of AIDS? When asked about it in November the Pope said the following:

“seems too small, partial, when there are bigger issues confronting humanity. I don’t like getting into questions or reflections that are so technical when people die because they don’t have water or food or housing”.

Delving deeper into this I found that the Pope has previously shown a predisposition to the use of contraception to prevent diseases in general, and the Pope’s comments about people not having water, food or housing were made after a trip to Africa, so any thought I would have that the Pope does not care about one group of people as much as he does about another would be unfair.  Nevertheless it did make me think.  In attacking Trump for his proposal to build a wall I could not help but at least consider that this Argentinian Pope was somewhat more connected to the plight of some over others.  Again, to be fair, I am stopping very short of accusing the Pope of putting importance on one group over another, but as I said earlier, what this did do was make me realize why I am not prepared to put my support behind Ted Cruz.  Simply put, I have serious questions as to whether or not he would be a president for all Americans.

For at least a year I have said that my next vote for president would be for the candidate I felt would be best for Israel and strongest on foreign affairs.  Ted Cruz was a staunch supporter of Israel long before he declared his candidacy and has been a friend of the Jewish state loudly and without apology.  He is aggressively against the deal with Iran and is very vocal about the need for identifying and going after Islamic terrorists.  For all these reasons I do like Ted Cruz. However, the more I hear him speak, the more I believe his religious conviction is so strong that people with socially liberal ideas like me, people with what he in a disparaging tone referred to as people with “New York values” would not be in line with how he would run the country.

I am all for people having religious devotion.  I have tremendous respect for other’s beliefs and have many friends who are devout Christians; some of whom will no doubt read this but also know that I have nothing but respect for how they choose to worship. No matter how strong someone’s faith is, regardless of what religion, if it is without prejudice and violence I respect and admire it.  That being said, as  a Jewish man I know I won’t be comfortable if an address from the Oval Office includes references to the importance of Christian values and a shout out to the Lord and savior. I may call Bernie Sanders out for what I perceive as a lack of pride in being Jewish, but that does not mean, should he become president, that I would want him to tell the people of the country that they should atone for their sins if he speaks to the nation between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

My issue is not about religious liberty. Senator Cruz is correct about religious liberty being a vital part of our free society and I guess I feel somewhat more included when he speaks of Judeo-Christian values.  However, that does not mean we should do away with the principal of separation of church and state, a concept at the very foundation of what makes America great.  The day we have a president of any faith that feels his way of living is the only correct way is the day this country loses its status as the greatest country in existence.  The very greatness of the United States of America is in the name itself.  It is a united group of people from all over the world with different ideas, beliefs and ways of life.  As long as freedom continues to be a prerequisite, America should continue to be defined by different people with different ideas and different backgrounds living together to create a great society.

For the record, this viewpoint of mine is nothing revolutionary. There’s a term for thinking this way. It’s called New York values.

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Does it make a difference?

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In speaking with my mother, a Dutch survivor of the Holocaust, I have learned that Holocaust Remembrance Day is like any other day set aside for commemoration of an event.  In some ways it’s not really necessary.  Every day is, to some extent at least, a day in which the Holocaust is remembered.  For those who honor their parents as they should, who really needs Mother’s Day, right?

Maybe not.  Yes it is something that sticks with so many of us on a constant basis, but the question we really need to ask is what is the real purpose of a Holocaust Remembrance Day?  Especially one sanctioned by the United Nations of all things. An organization that has repeatedly shown disdain for, and prejudice against Israel and the Jewish people has a day in which they are saying everyone should remember the victims of the Holocaust during the reign of Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Party.  Is this day a day designed to strengthen world morality in order to see to it that no similar atrocity ever happens again?  Consequent actions and behaviors by the UN over the years certainly wouldn’t back that up.  Is it a satisfaction of guilt for a so-called world organization that does far less than it should to protect innocent people?  Or is it part of the farce that is the United Nations image that allows it to continue its worthless existence in which it does more to make corrupt people rich and powerful than it does to care for the weak and persecuted?

Whatever it actually is, if the results of this day set aside to remember does indeed increase awareness somewhere and with someone, who knows what type of positive ripple effect it could have.  I wrote a book about what my parents went through in the time of Nazi occupation.  Was this something I did as a totally selfless act?  The honest answer to that question is no.  Any success or achievement I have or will get out of the book certainly satisfies me on a personal level, but that does not negate the fact that nothing is more satisfying to me than inspiring or enlightening someone when it comes to the events that took place.  Now magnify this and imagine how many people may never have known that 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis if it were not for a Day of Remembrance.  If any of these people are inspired to the point that they actually do something to make a difference in the future, then no matter how disingenuous the formation of a memorial may be, it does some good, and in a world with so much bad, and in a world where hating Jews is becoming more and more in fashion, we need all the help we can get.  Even if it comes from a reluctant source.

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

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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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Stop F*ing with Our Wall

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In what is one of the most disturbing developments in quite some time, 6 Arab nations are leading the charge in a proposal to the United Nations declaring the Western Wall part of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, subsequently labeling it a Muslim site.  Personally I could care less whether they think it is Muslim or not, what concerns me are the potential dangers this proposal creates, and what angers me is the immense disrespect this shows towards Jews all over the world.

Although it’s been far too many years since my last visit, I am fortunate to have been at the Western Wall, the “Kotel”, more times than I can count.  For these antagonists using the Western Wall as a political weapon, the Wall is nothing more than a place representing Jewish existence, something appalling to them.  For Jews the Kotel is more than just a wall.  It is home.  It’s the only place I’ve ever been where it felt to me as though everyone felt the same intensity and deep meaning.  It’s just a wall to some, but to a Jew who believes in God, it’s a portal to the heavens.

The Kotel can never be taken from the Jewish people, of that we must be certain. My more immediate concern is the violence this political maneuver will incite.  If this causes nearby Palestinians to feel empowered to possess the wall, serious violence will threaten the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people.  But who do they think they are kidding? Violence is their goal.  Incitement their intention. To Israel’s opponents this feels like checkmate.  Well it’s not. It is most certainly check, but for those who play chess, one of the most certain ways to lose is through over confidence.  It is my hope that this wakes up the Jewish people worldwide and that the Israeli government makes very clear that the Western Wall is not open for discussion.  Otherwise we may not be far from checkmate.

With all the land and all the so-called holy places the Muslim people have, for any one of their leaders to suddenly at this time make a move for Israel’s holiest site is not about devotion to God or religious practice. What this is about is blatant disrespect for the Jewish people, and anyone in power who remains quiet, certainly anyone who supports it, is an accomplice to this unconscionable slap in the face to all Jews worldwide, and for anyone to tolerate it would be to open the door to a greater tragedy.

Let it be known, when you F**k with our wall, you F**k with us.

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