Tag Archives: Sipora Groen

One of my late Mom’s best Mother’s Days. One spent primarily in Brookyn, NY

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I refer to this as ONE of the best Mother’s Days my mother ever had because I am certain each of my siblings orchestrated equally special days honoring our late mom.  The Mother’s Day I speak of was the one in which New York City, specifically Brooklyn took front and center in giving her a day she spoke of till her dying day.

I honestly don’t know what year it was other than to know, by mere mathematics alone and the fact that it was after my married days, the fact that my father was still alive and where I lived at certain times in my life, that it was between 14 and 18 years ago.  My parents came to visit me and would spend this mother’s day with me in my apartment in Forest Hill, Queens.  I asked my mom if she would allow me to take control of the day’s itinerary, and since she was just happy to be spending the day with her favorite child (kidding guys), she happily agreed.  I decided to make the theme one in which I would show my parents, specifically on this Mother’s Day, my mom, proof that Hitler didn’t win.  In what better place to do that than Brooklyn?

I’ve avoided openly criticizing the Orthodox communities of New York for some unfortunate displays during the COVID-19 crisis.  While the public gatherings that took place, specifically for funerals was irresponsible and wrong on many levels, including Jewish law, I didn’t join the mob in excoriating them.  Other than mentioning it in this piece, something I do because of the relevance to the points I’ll be making, I’ve stayed away from public criticism for their actions.  The reason is a very simple one.  While it is unlikely I will ever choose to live like them and often think very differently than they do, in some ways I and every other Jew on this planet owe them a sense of gratitude and respect for their undying devotion. A devotion very much part of why the Jewish world has survived for centuries.  So on this Mother’s Day, in an effort to offer some evidence to the fact that Hitler was not successful in his quest to wipe us out,  I began the tour of what is really only parts of Jewish Brooklyn.

The first stop on our trip was Williamsburg.  Williamsburg is the center of Satmar Chasidism.  The Satmar’s are widely known as being an insulated Ultra Orthodox community and one known for being close minded to the ways of the modern world.  Travelling through the Jewish sections you primarily see Chasidic Jews, Jewish shops, schools and places of worship.  If you are a very modern Jew or person of any other faith, or someone who does not believe in any religion at all, you likely will not relate at all to how the people of this community live.  That’s fine. I neither was on that day nor am I today  trying to sell their way of life.  However, as a Jew, specifically one born to survivors of the Holocaust, I remember driving through there thinking, welcome to Hitler’s worst nightmare.

We then traveled to Flatbush.  Flatbush was interesting for me personally because at that time I worked for a company in Brooklyn where quite a few of the employees, including my boss at that time, lived in Flatbush.  I had willingly spent some time there over the years, more often than not thoroughly enjoying myself.  In Flatbush what you were able to witness was a very significant presence of Orthodox Jews, many of which clearly lived in nice homes.  You once again saw a thriving Jewish community, this one where the community primarily had a higher standard of living than what you saw in Williamsburg, while being one more very clear example of Jewish life and survival.

Our final stop was Borough Park.  While being more diverse than Williamsburg, it has more of a ghetto feeling to it than Flatbush.  Part of Borough Park’s diversity is within the Orhodox Jewish community, one that is rich with both the Chasidic contingents and the Haredi ones.  I am no expert on Borough Park, but for me there is one street that represents it above all others.  That street is 13th Avenue.  This is a street filled with shops, many of them highly affordable, large crowds of people walking up and down either browsing or shopping.  Somewhere in one of these shops I brought my mother a  Star of David necklace that she was to enjoy often in the coming years and always helped her remember that day. This was also somewhere rich with places to eat, of which a significant percentage are Kosher. By this time my brother Marcel had arrived from Philadelphia to join us in what was to be remembered as a delicious dinner in a Kosher Chinese restaurant somewhere along 13th Avenue.

This was a good day.  Mostly for the joy it brought my mother. Hearing her refer to it as one of the best Mother’s Days she ever had is something I will always remember happily.  As I think of her today, while I miss her, I am grateful that she doesn’t have to witness what’s happening today.  While I am not comparing what we are going through today to what she and so many others went through during Nazi-occupation, I am grateful she did not have to spend one more day of her life living in isolation and risk.

I want to wish a Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there, specifically to those I know and love. Enjoy your day, enjoy your kids and families, and stay healthy and safe.

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Remembering my mother, 3 years later

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“Try to enjoy life as best as you can. You never know when your last day is there.  Just look outside, look at the sun, look at the flowers, life is beautiful. You have one life to live, and the best things they come in everyone’s life, but just enjoy life and appreciate the good things, not only the material things.”

These were the words of my mother, Sipora Rodrigue-Lopes Groen, in an interview I recorded with her on April 24, 2012. 3 years ago today on the Jewish calendar, she passed away at the age of 95.  I’ve written a lot about my mother’s life and her experiences, but in this piece I will let you reference the beautiful piece recently recently written by my niece Jennifer about my mother’s life. A Grandmother’s Lesson.

In this piece, in light of current events, besides the message written above, I am going to share with you what I believe my mother would have wanted people to know as we go through such an unprecedented time.

Although my mother had some very strong political opinions, I am fairly certain she would have been more focused today on telling people to make an effort to be nice to each other, to show a mutual respect.  I think she would have encouraged us all to show more love to the people closest to us, and have understanding for people, especially our friends and family, when they do things that are less than perfect.  She put a premium on things like love and kindness, backing it up better than anyone ever could, and I am as certain as I can be that she would have been pushing that point to anyone who would listen during our current crisis.

Although compassionate, she was also one not to exaggerate, and therefore would have hoped people, after they took the illness and consequences seriously, would have behaved wisely, responsibly, and used their heads to form opinions, rather than letting those opinions be formed for them.  She had a strong will that would on occasion cross over to stubbornness, but it was that strength of character that saw her through the toughest times and I believe played a big role in her enjoying life to the end.

She would have shared the lessons of what she went through, not to minimize the suffering of those who are victims of, or close to people who have suffered today, but to make a point to the majority who sit at home, waiting for life to get back to normal, thinking it is the end of the world.  She would likely have said, that for a large percentage of us, what we have seen till now is really not that bad, and that we need to be strong in order for things to get better.

My mother was a woman of character, intelligence, kindness and love.  Even in her old age, rather than needing our help, if she were around today, she most likely would be looking for people to comfort with words of hope and encouragement. And all of us that knew her, will always miss her.

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An Open Letter to Earth’s Angels, the Nurses

thank_you_card_maker_app01Dear Nurses of the world,

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to have a friend of mine who is an emergency room nurse share a few minutes of  her time to chat with me on Facebook messenger.  The things I said to her, clearly made a difference, even if only a small one.  So with that in mind I write this following letter to the people I like to refer to as, Earth’s Angels, the nurses.

I have great appreciation for all medical professionals.  They are all indeed the front  line in this war against the Coronavirus and even in the best of times people on who we critically depend on .  Back when I was married in 1992, the woman I was married to spent 5 months in the hospital.  The first 2 1/2 months of that time she was in a private room in Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.  During that time in which I was able to sleep in her room, I learned something I believe to be true to this very day.  There are many wonderful doctors out there and the work they do is often awe inspiring, but it is you, the nurses that determine the greatness of a medical institution more than anything else.  You are indeed angels.

They say that you should write what you know.  As someone who sits here with immense appreciation for the sacrifices made by you, our nurses, having had the benefit of having a mother who worked as a nurse during the worst of times, I will share something with you I hope will provide you with some added strength during this very difficult time.

It is human nature to look to history to provide a perspective  that helps us understand and navigate not only the present, but the future as well.  However, with every offering of past perspective we must also be aware of the different challenges presented by each situation.  In 1943, my mother, then a 21 year old woman, was working and living in a hospital in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam.  Although she dealt with a different threat and fear than the one facing all of you, had she been alive today, knowing her as I did, I am sure she would have been more than willing to share her perspective and support.  This is not a competition.  So many of life’s challenges and difficulties are different.  I know from my conversations with my mother that she never tired physically from helping someone to who was ill.  The mental exhaustion was a much greater challenge.  During the time I am referring to in 1943, she cared for and comforted the sick, fully aware of the fact that on a regular basis Nazi thugs would raid the hospital and incrementally take patients away to be murdered.  On August 13, 1943, as the last of the patients were removed by the Nazis in their final raid on the hospital, my mother’s first instinct was to go with them. I sit here able to write this letter to you today because frankly, on the insistence of the man who would turn out to be my father, that is not how things turned out.   Had she gone with them, she too would likely have been murdered, and would never have been able to help anyone ever again.

As a child I remember at least 2 instances in which my mother cared for a terminally ill individual by going to their home and caring for them in their final days.  She later became a Director of  a Senior facility in the city of Arnhem in Holland.  When she referred to the war and discussed all that she lost and her sadness during that time, it was always clear to me the strength she not only acquired, but was able to access from the help she gave her patients.  Yes she saw terrible things,  but the lessons she learned from that time were of enormous value to her for the rest of her life.  But, as any mere mortal would, she needed those who would support her, love her, and give her purpose during the course of her life.  When she passed away at the age of 95 she was a happy and fulfilled woman. She faced tragedies and difficulties most of us could never fathom, but she faced them and lived a good life.

So this is my message to all of you angels out there.  No one knows what our worlds will look like when this crisis ends, but we all need to do our part.  You are all already doing more than seems humanly possible and yes, from what the stories seem to already tell us, making an enormous difference.  What I and people like me need to do is to offer you that support, encouragement, love, and mostly gratitude for being there when we all need you the most.  I want you to know that the main reason I shared part of my mother’s story with you today is to help you realize that God willing you all stay healthy, the exhaustion, frustration and sadness you feel today, that you sometimes replace with numbness, will not endure.  There will come a time when you will look back and know that what you did meant the world to us.  To those who got sick, and to those who stayed healthy.  And you once again will move on to live, love and enjoy your lives as you so deserve to do.

Lastly, I don’t think that the words of gratitude and encouragement I share with my friend yesterday make the difference in her abilities to move forward in her very difficult task, but I do know it helped a little. When I thanked my friend on a thread for all that he does as a nurse, I am not even sure he had the time to even read it, but I know if he does it can only help.  All of us can only try to understand the challenges and difficulties facing those who are working so hard under these terrible conditions.  Of course by now we should all know that we need to do our part in helping to not spread the virus.  But what I encourage everyone to do is to take the time to give words of gratitude, support and encouragement to all of those in hospitals on the front line of what many are referring to as a war.  Like anyone else going through trying times, the support they get will be critical in keeping them going. Take the time to offer that much needed help to those who are giving all of their time to help us.

So today I am thanking those who I refer to as Earth’s Angels, our nurses.  Thank you for all that you do and may you be blessed with all the strength and health you need to get us through this and to a time when life can return to normal, and when you can enjoy the time you cherish with those you love and all that makes you happy in life.

With thanks,

David Groen

 

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A special day in Williamsburg that once again highlighted the importance of Bram’s violin

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My Uncle Bram Rodrugues, killed at the age of 18 in Auschwitz in 1943

As we continue to combine the story of a horrific time with a story that inspires on the highest level, it becomes more and more of an honor to be an avenue from whence this story is told.

On Sunday February 16, 2020, the violin that belonged to my Uncle Bram, a victim of the Holocaust, was played for the second time.  This time in Williamsburg, Virginia.  As the story gets more traction and the violin is shown and played for more people, the importance of what we are doing becomes more and more evident.  By inspiring people with music played from the violin, and telling the story of how the violin made it back to me and my family, we are doing our part in restoring people’s faith in humanity.

Williamsburg is a wonderful town.  In the few days I was there I was exposed to wonderful people who extended their hospitality, generosity and kindness.  The genuine interest in this story made everything about the trip worthwhile, even before the concert showcasing the violin ever took place. Yes anti-Semitism is on the rise and yes Holocaust denial is a very real problem, but for a few days in a small yet significant town in Virginia, my belief that we are closer to a good world than many might usually believe significantly increased.

As I spoke to the crowd, a crowd likely reaching close to 200 people, moments before the violin was played in a solo by the brilliant Ken Sarch, I saw the expressions on the people’s faces.  The people in the crowd, of which only a small percentage were Jewish, were not only engaged and interested, they were moved, saddened and inspired.  At times many would nod their heads in agreement to the points I would make about the importance of not only this specific story, but the importance of telling the world what took place in Europe between 1933 and 1945.

After the event one man told me how his father was German and was 16 when the war ended, and how he was ashamed of his German background, almost in tears when telling me.  One man who purchased the  book asked me to not make out the inscription to any one individual but to make it out to all the  good people of the world. I saw people in tears when I told the story, knowing that in some way they were understanding the devastation that took place in a way they had never been able to do prior to this day.

For me the most powerful moment of the day came following my presentation of the story when Ken took out the violin and played the music from Schindler’s list.  At the time he was doing this I looked out into the crowd to see how the people were reacting.  Throughout the crowd I saw intense emotion, tears and expressions of awe and inspiration, and as I saw this I not only thought of my uncle, I thought of my mother.  I often say that when my mother talked of the  war she was always sad.  When she spoke of her brother she always cried.  His death represented the horrors of the time, and as her son who loved her as all of her children did and still do, I feel an enormous responsibility in getting this right.  What I saw in  Williamsburg is that by just telling the story with honesty and passion, and having Bram’s violin played, the good people out there assure that this is being done right, for they not only observe it, they feel it as well.

I thank the people of Williamsburg for making this more than just a concert.  In their genuine and powerful collective show of emotion they showed me one more example of the goodness in humanity, and they showed me why more and more people need to get the same opportunity to be witness to something so powerful and important.

 

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Holland’s Heroes

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In the 7 years since I started the website Holland’s Heroes this will be the first time I have chosen to use the name of the website as a title for a post.  Why now?  It’s because in light of recent events it has become clear to me that I am in a family that has had the benefit of the actions of some remarkable and righteous Dutch people. People who clearly are Holland’s Heroes.

Although time and the world’s natural order of things has caused the number of Holocaust survivors to steadily diminish, in many cases, even if the survivors are no longer here, there are still the families remaining of these survivors.  Many of these families only exist today because of the righteous and heroic actions of people that endangered themselves and the lives of their families in order to save those they descended from.  It’s been my experience that anyone who  knows of a hero or family that did something to help save the life, offer support or preserve the memory of someone in their family  feels tremendously blessed and grateful that these heroes were there for their ancestors in the worst of times.  So imagine how blessed I feel to be able to tell you of 3 families that had such an impact on my family.

Ranking the actions of great people is something that would potentially diminish how special their actions were, so I’ve determined that the most fair order in which to mention these people is in the order in which I learned of them in my lifetime.

Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte

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Since the time I began telling the story of my parents’ survival of the Holocaust I’ve also been telling the story of the te Kieftes.  That’s also because since the time I was old enough to know anything about my family I knew about the people we lovingly refer to as Oom Bertus and Tante Geesje.  In Nazi-occupied Holland, going from contact to contact established through the resistance, my father would ultimately help my mother find the place she would spend the last 16 months of the war.  Here she would be treated like a member of the family while more importantly she would be protected from the Nazis.  Oom Bertus, a builder, would build her a special secret room under his workplace where she would sleep, hidden from Nazi soldiers in the event of a surprise raid.  Other than one man, the entire town of Lemerlerveld would be on board with the te Kieftes in making sure this young, very Jewish looking woman would remain safe.  The one man in question would have it made very clear by Bertus and other active members of the resistance what would happen to him should something happen to their Jewish guest.  Post war the relationship between our families has been like family, and I can say without  pause that even without the actions of Bertus and Geeske this family is as special a group of people as any I have ever known.

Jan Van den Berg

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The best friend of my grandfather Marcel Rodrigues, Jan Van den Berg had more opportunities to prove this friendship than most would ever expect.  The depth of his friendship went beyond his relationship with my grandfather, as he would be there for his friend’s daughter, my mother Sipora, any time it was needed.  As my mother was preparing to escape Amsterdam with my father, an escape as dangerous as any one could ever imagine, their one and only welcomed stop was in the Van den Berg home.  This was because this was the last true safe place they could rest and get some nourishment before their trip.  As time would bare out, Oom Jan as we knew him, would not only never say no to his best friend’s daughter, he would go above and beyond in ways one should never forget.  When the war ended and Sipora would return to Amsterdam, had it not been for the emotional and practical assistance of the Van den Berg’s, she might not have survived the post-war travails.  Returning to Amsterdam pregnant where she would later give birth to her oldest son Marcel, Sipora would take ill only months into her young child’s life.  Suspected of contracting Tuberculosis, later to be confirmed as Pleurisy, Sipora would be put into quarantine.  Unable to care for her child, Oom Jan and Tante Toos would care for Marcel while Sipora was in quarantine.  He would be cared for as one of their own.  My brother Marcel and sister-in-law Bernice would name their oldest daughter Jennifer, the “J” being in honor of Oom Jan.  On July 21st of this year I had the great pleasure and honor of meeting their great grandson Jelmer and his family on my trip to Holland.

Johnny de Haan

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Besides being something incredibly special for my family, recent events are also a lesson for anyone whose family survived the Holocaust.  Not everyone and not everything has been revealed or discovered.  We tend to think that all the stories have been told and that there is very little new and important information we can share with the world.  Besides being factually inaccurate, in today’s global climate it has become even more important to continue to share these important stories.  Naturally I tell this story with personal bias, but I can also tell you that in sharing it with people of all ages and all walks of life, I have found that the one word most often used when responding to the story, is “Wow”.

With the Nazis occupying and controlling Amsterdam, in the summer of 1943 my grandfather Marcel Rodrigues and my uncle Bram Rodrigues chose to make an attempt to escape to Switzerland.  Before they left Bram went to his close friend and band mate Johnny de Haan to ask him to look after his violin till he returned home.  As was the case with 6 million European Jews, my Oom Bram never returned.  However, Johnny de Haan safeguarded the violin till his death 7 years ago. When he passed away his son Wim, understanding the importance the violin always had to his father,  continued what his father had started.  Until a recent examination of his father’s diary and subsequently finding more information online because of the book Jew Face, Wim, who till now thought Bram left no living relatives, would find me.  Upon making this discovery he contact me and we would set up the July 21st event in which he gave the violin to me and my siblings.  The rest as they say, is history.

But is’t not JUST history.  It’s present day as well.  Wim gave value to the violin, a desire to return it to the family of his father’s friend, and a warmth and friendship that has drawn a connection to the friendship taken away from 2 young men 76 years ago.  Wim’s mother, an unsung hero in this story, and someone I had the honor to meet, would dust off the violin on a regular basis.  All of this is why I say this is more than the actions of one good man.  It is a family that helped keep the memory alive and is directly responsible for creating the legacy for one of the 6 million murdered souls of the Holocaust.  That soul belongs to my uncle, Bram Rodrigues.

We live in a day and age where negativity sells, so if the positive nature of this post doesn’t appeal to you that is you personal choice.  But I urge you all to realize that in telling these stories we not only help keep the story alive, but maybe we bring more stories such as these to the surface.  We must not only never forget, but we must always continue to remind the rest of the world.

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And 79 years later…

Mom'sroom

I offer you the following excerpt from my book together with a picture that illustrates one more incredibly moving facet of this remarkable story.

It was 4:30 the morning of May 10, 1940, and being that it was springtime, the first signs of daylight had begun.  Sipora was suddenly awakened by the sound of airplanes flying overhead.  A young woman of only eighteen, she was clueless to what this really meant, and all she felt was curiosity and confusion.

Like so many Dutchmen who were aware of what was happening in other parts of Europe, Marcel Rodrigues had a good idea of the intentions of the Nazi war machine.

“They want to throw us all in the Zuider Zee (South Sea)”, he said, a statement that was not literally accurate, but was sadly prophetic in substance.

So that morning when the planes were flying overhead, on a night when Sipora heard sounds she had never heard before, she asked her father what was going on. He was to answer her in a very distinct, yet uncharacteristically cold way, and very accurately said to his daughter Sipora, “It’s war.”

After my brother Marcel established contact and subsequently a friendship with the current residents of my mother and Bram’s old home a number of years back,  he was able to put my mother in touch with the woman who currently lives there with her husband and beautiful children, and through the magic of FaceTime my mother was able to confirm which room was actually hers.  On Sunday July 21, 2019, thanks to the kindness and hospitality of Jantien and her family, I was able to stand in the very room where my mother had this exact conversation with her father on May 10, 1940.

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Nothing left to say but Thank You..to a whole lot of people

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My Uncle Bram Rodrugues, killed at the age of 18 in Auschwitz in 1943

How do I sum up an incredible trip in which my family and I were presented with the violin of our lost uncle ( https://www.timesofisrael.com/ )    better than saying thank you to everyone around me that helped make it the trip of a lifetime.  So here it goes.

Thank you…

Eli Baran, for not only giving me a place to stay in London but for being a great friend for over 40 years.

Thank you to David, Giel and all the crew of the production company filming the documentary for helping to make this feel like even a bigger deal and for making me feel like a celebrity from the moment I got off the plane in Amsterdam.

Thank you to my cousins Eli, Aanya and Bettie for making this part of your life for a few very special days, and an additional special thank you to Eli and Aanya for their hospitality.

Thank you to Bar, the young Jewish man who gave a special private tour and review of documents from the Spanish Portuguese Syanagogue to me and my sister and her kids.

Thank you to Els, the woman who, 5 minutes after I met her,  showed me around the last neighborhood my mother worked in before fleeing Amsterdam.

Thank you to Rabbi Amiel and Susan Novoseller for coming from Philadelphia just to be at the ceremony. You are true friends.

Thank you to the magic 12 representing the te Kieftes. A special thank you to Harm Kuiper for his help in the process.

Thank you to Nico de Haan, an unsung hero in the entire process.

Thank you to my nephew Jackson for being the artwork hero.

Thank you to Nina Staretz of the Israeli Embassy, David Simon of Friends of Yad Vashem in Holland and Peggy Frankston of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC for not only attending but for sharing their beautiful and meaningful thoughts.

Thank you to Huize Frankendael for hosting a tremendous event in a professional and friendly manner.

Thank you to various friends and family who came from far and wide to witness this special occasion.

Thank you to Jennifer, Ami, Matan, Becca, Jack and Josh for representing the grandchildren and great grandchildren of Mom and Dad, their Oma and Opa (and Uber Opa).

Jantien van de Berg and her family for opening up the home where my mother and Bram grew up to me and my family.

Thank you to all my siblings, blood or otherwise for being on the same page from day one.  I’m proud to be the brother of such good people.

Thank you Wim de Haan. Of all the things you did to make this happen and all you accomplished, I think the one thing that exceeded everything else and what you may be happiest about is that you would have made your father proud.  Your decency and character is not only a tribute to you but a tribute to where you come from.

Thank you Oom Bram.  To relate to this thank you may need to believe in souls and the power they have, potentially forever.  Thank you Oom Bram for being a presence that stayed in our lives even before something so tangible presented itself, and thank you for having such character that your short life ultimately presented an opportunity to see the best that life has to offer.

Thank you Mom…..Just thank you.

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5 Passages to Bram: Passage 5: Sipora Groen

20170318_211713 (1)Sipora Katarina Rodrigues-Lopes Groen is the last installment in 5 Passages to Bram and is about Bram’s older sister who in many ways has grown larger in stature since her passing.  Part of that is due to her children who have taken solace and joy in telling her story,  while part may be something far less easy to explain and significantly more spiritual.

Born on January 1, 1922, Sipora, my mother, had what might be looked at as a few different lives.  Part of that story can be told in looking at her name. Although never a large percentage of the Jewish population in Holland, the Sephardic community was a very strong and a significant part of Judaism in Holland since the influx of Spanish-Portuguese Jews. In fact to this day, when speaking about Dutch Jewry, many of the worlds Jews speak of the “Esnoga”, The beautiful Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam.

With all the names I mentioned to start this piece, the simplicity with which my mother felt comfortable living her life can almost be seen by the fact that in her early years she was Sipora Rodrigues, and her later years she was Sipora Groen.  But to clarify, simplicity is often a sign of depth that reflects the character of a person focused on things far more important than what people call you.  This was the case with my mother.

I make no apologies for the bias in this piece, partially because of the words I have heard spoken about my mother during and after her life on earth.  She was the oldest of 2 children, her brother Bram born when she was approaching 3 years of age.  She was very close to Bram, a closeness that only got stronger when they lost their mother when Sipora was 13 and Bram was 10.  Despite the pain of being without a mother at such an early age, this very powerful loss was a pivotal event in her life, shattering her innocence early and helping her to acquire a strength that saw her through the rest of her life, a life that saw loss and devastation most of us could not fathom.

Engaged to Hans de Jong before the war, she would survive the war losing her fiance, her father, her brother and countless friends and relatives to the murderous Nazi war machine.  She would however come out with what in many ways was a new and redefined family.  The te Kieftes who hid her for 16 months would be like family for the rest of their lives,  as would their descendants for the rest of hers, and the man who would take it on himself to see to her safety, Nardus Groen, my father, would become her husband for over 6 decades till his passing in 2012.

Besides being a loyal wife and nurturing mother, Sipora was also a person of deep character and kindness.  She would care for people living through their last days and give a caring ear for people who needed someone to listen to them and share a lifetime worth of experience.  She  would redefine herself after Nardus died in a way most people would never have been able to, finding new ways to enjoy life, sharing her story with audiences in schools, synagogues and even prisons.  But what may very well have made her more special than anything else was the pure joy she had in being alive, a joy she shared with others in an inspirational manner.

My brother Marcel who has met presidents and movie stars referred to our mother as a rock star. She truly was a wonderful person to be around and had a character as strong and kind as anyone you will ever meet.  Since her passing on April 19th, 2017 it has remained important for me to honor her memory and legacy.  She is number 5 in this series because, well, for those of you who don’t yet know, you will certainly know next week, when I tell you the story of how I have been blessed to honor her memory and the memory of her lost brother in a way I could have never imagined.

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5 Passages to Bram: Passage 2: Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte

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Jewish teachings say that the very existence of our world rests on the righteousness of 36 individuals. It is believed that these 36 are hidden, inasmuch as there is no public declaration by them or any public organization or group mentioning who these people may be.  All we know is that the belief is that without them the world loses its very foundation of decency and kindness.  Although these are teachings no one can ever prove, as I got older and acquired a greater understanding, I had all the proof I needed in the people I referred to as Oom Bertus & Tante Geisje.

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In the waning months of the year 1944, Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte were the parents of a 7 year old boy and expecting parents of what would turn out to be their first of 2 daughters.  They lived a quiet life in the Dutch countryside.  Although the war was hard on the entire country, had they chosen not to be involved in the consequences of the Nazi occupation, they could have lived a risk free life without concern of any retribution.  But the te Keiftes were not wired that way.  Bertus’s activities in the resistance lead to the fateful day when a short, pretty, dark-haired and dark complexioned woman showed up at their door soaking wet in the middle of the night.   Bertus took one look at this woman and his heart melted with compassion. Geeske immediately saw to her well-being, providing her with dry clothing and a warm meal   For the next 16 months the woman would live with them in Lemerlerved, sleeping every night in a room Bertus built under his workplace so that she would not be detected had the Nazis showed up unexpectedly to do a random search.  For the 16 months that the woman stayed with the te Keiftes she was fed, cared for and treated like a member of the family.  The one man in town known for being sympathetic to the Nazi cause was warned of the consequences should any harm come to the woman.

Those 16 months would be the foundation of a friendship so special it would go beyond the woman, Bertus and Geeske.  It would carry on for generations, making 2 entirely different families see each other as one family, no matter the distance, time or religious belief.  The woman they hid and whose life they saved was my mother Sipora Groen, born Sipora Rodrigues-Lopes.  The relationship was so strong that to this day descendants on both sides refer to each other as family.  I loved going to visit them as a kid, enjoying it so much that I miss them till today and truly believe that if not for Oom Bertus and Tante Geisje, I would not be here to share this story.

I remember Lubertus & Geeske te Kiefte with love and honor always.

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5 Passages to Bram: Passage 3: Nardus Groen

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This installment of 5 Passages to Bram is the brief story of my father, Rabbi Nardus Groen, of Blessed Memory.  The week picked to tell his story is not a random choice, as 2 days ago was his Yahrtzeit, the Jewish calendar day that commemorates his passing away 12 years ago at the age of 87.

Born December 18, 1919 in Rotterdam Holland, Nardus was one of 5 children. Of his 4  siblings, 2 brothers and 2 sisters, only his sister Elizabeth did not make it out of the war.When he was 6 years old his parents moved the family to Amsterdam where he thrived in the Jewish community.  Blessed with a photographic memory, Nardus would acquire immense Jewish knowledge at a very young age, learning much of the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book and the Chumash, the 5 books of Moses by heart before the age of 18. He loved being active in the Jewish community and gravitated to every opportunity to learn more and more at a young age.

But there was another side to my father. A side that was able to face reality no matter how harsh.  It was this character trait that allowed him to see the truth about the events unfolding in Europe long before most other people did.  This caused him to join the Dutch National Guard, something unheard of in his community, and caused him to join the resistance as soon as the Nazis occupied Holland.

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Although this would serve him well as a contributing factor in not only surviving the 5 years of occupation and brutality, but to save my mother Sipora, he would often say when speaking of his and other’s survival the Hebrew phrase, Hakohl Talooy B’Mazal, Everything depends on Fortune.

He would remarkably escape the Hollandse Schouwberg, the Dutch concert hall set up as a midway point for Jews and “troublemakers” scheduled for transportation to Auschwitz, and would find a way to sneak out of the Labor Camp known as Kamp Erika soon after digging what was earmarked as his own grave.  At the conclusion of the war in Europe he would join the Dutch Marines, as seen in the picture above.

Following the war he would receive Rabbinical ordination from what was left of the Dutch Rabbinate and would eventually be appointed Chief Rabbi in Surinam, Dutch Guiana.  After moving with the family to Cincinnati, Ohio in the mid 50’s he would study with the then head of Agudah for North America, Rabbi Eliezer Silver from whom he would receive his second Rabbinical ordination. He and his wife Sipora would go on to have 5 children, 12 grandchildren, and a still growing number of great grandchildren.

I was fortunate in life to have my 2 greatest heroes be the people I referred to as Mom and Dad.  My Dad would pass away on June 13, 2007 at the age of 87. May his memory be blessed.

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