Tag Archives: Sipora

Being Jewish on Christmas

jewishchThe most intriguing thing for me as I sit and write this is the question continuously going through my mind.  Although I write this for everyone, is this piece more important for those close to me who are Jewish, or those close to me who are not?  Maybe I’ll have my answer by the time I finish it, but for now let me first begin by wishing all those who celebrate the holiday a very Merry Christmas.

Now that I may have lost the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish and Atheists among the readers let me continue.

Let me begin by stating the obvious.  Jesus, as we all know, was Jewish.  So being Jewish on Christmas is a complicated concept to begin with.  This past week I had a mini debate with someone who insisted that Jesus converted to Christianity.  I insisted that was not true.  This person insisted they were told that in school, while I assured them they were never told any such thing.  Now of course I can’t be sure what the teachers actually said, but to the best of my understanding Jesus lived as a Jew and died as a Jew.  Christianity was the religion formed from those who followed him and believed him to be the Messiah as understood by Jewish teachings.  To the best of my understanding Jesus never turned away from Judaism, he just created a following of those who felt he was the Messiah, or Savior which subsequently caused him to be seen as a problem by many in the Jewish hierarchy, an issue that causes some to accuse the Jews of killing Jesus, even though in reality it was the Romans.

Now that I may have lost the ignorant and anti-Semitic among the readers let me continue further.

I was very fortunate to grow up in a household that was, in many ways open-minded.  Christmas decorations, movies, and music were all appreciated for their beauty and not seen as a threat to our religious makeup.  The result of this is me being an adult Jewish male capable of enjoying the atmosphere in households with Christmas trees, decorations and Christmas music and lights.  It’s all very nice and uncomplicated and allows me to enjoy whatever situation I am thrown into, or dare I say even pursue this time of year.  What all this does not do is answer the one question.  What does it mean to be Jewish on Christmas?

Well the first answer is very simply, it depends on the person.  I know that to some Jewish people it means nothing.  Although some do find it diametrically opposed to all they believe in, for many of those that fall into this category it is not something negative, merely something insignificant.  I understand this point of view because to those who focus entirely on the religious aspect, Christmas is something to be celebrated only by those who believe in Jesus being more than a man.  I remember a trip I took to London that included me being there on December 25th.  The majority of my friends, people who I went to an Orthodox Jewish day school with, were getting together with their families for “Christmas dinner”.  In fact I was told that in the days leading up to Christmas the Kosher butchers sold turkeys by the dozens and ended up selling out of them completely.  To these friends of mine this was clearly not a religious pursuit, rather it was an opportunity to get together with their family and have good food and some fun.  Not unlike Thanksgiving Day in the United States.

I dare say that to some Jews there may even exist a phenomenon that could be called Christmas envy.  It is why sometimes we say Merry Christmas first, just to get a “same to you” response.  After all, who wants to be excluded from “good will to all men”? I sure as hell know I don’t.

Now that I may have lost those who feel the use of the word “hell” is inappropriate and not Godly let me conclude.

I like Christmas.  It is a nice holiday, filled with good food, pretty sights and the best of intentions.  If you believe as I do, that the major difference between Jews and Catholics is really only whether or not the next coming is the first one or the second, you have no trouble with any of the religious significance.  When no religiously motivated hatred exists on either side, all that really matters is the fact that people are getting together with those they care about, or at the very least like enough to be at a party with.  For many Catholics who indeed celebrate Christmas, the religious significance is not what is even important to them about the holiday. Instead it’s the decorations, food, and family, making it not at all complicated for me to justify my enjoying it as well.

So to all of you who celebrate, or to those of you like me who have a good time any time I am invited to be part of the celebration, Merry Christmas.

And should there be any out there who I lost at this point because they felt that as a Jew I should not be so comfortable in speaking of the beauty that can surround Christmas, I urge you to read the following excerpt from the book “Jew Face”.  It is indeed one of my personal favorite excerpts and speaks of my parents and their experience on Christmas Eve 1944 in what was then Nazi-occupied Holland.

 

 

Excerpt from “Jew Face”:

Christmas Eve

It had been close to a year now since Sipora had arrived in Lemerlerveld, and although she hoped and prayed that she would not have to live out her days in the conditions in which she currently found herself, the te Kieftes had been extraordinary in their treatment of her and Nardus, and the people of the village had made her feel as much at home as they were able to under the circumstances.

There was no hatred toward the Jewish people in Lemerlerveld. However, being that the population of the town was mainly Protestant, Jewish practices, customs, and holidays were not part of the life here, and living there meant that Nardus and Sipora could not practice their faith. With the positive treatment they received, they were welcomed by Bertus and Geeske, as well as their family and friends, to celebrate their events and holidays.

So on December 24, 1944, as the German forces had fallen in the south, and the Allies moved closer to what they all hoped would be the end of the brutal occupation of Europe, Nardus and Sipora were invited to join the Christmas Eve dinner and celebration at the Oosterwegels household.

For one night, it felt like all the horror, sadness, and tragedy was frozen in time. The night was a special one. The atmosphere was wonderful. The home was filled with the warm glow of candles and the aroma of a special meal. The guest list was a mix of people from town, Bertus and Geeske with their two children, Bertus’s brother with his family, underground activists, Communists, and Nardus and Sipora. Maybe the specter of an impending Allied victory made the evening more special, but the warmth and joy present on this night was something neither Nardus nor Sipora would ever forget.

There are days, events, and situations when the world feels like one place, when people who come from different backgrounds and different beliefs come together under God’s watchful eye and show that even with all the force and determination of evil forces, good still survives and, on occasion, even thrives. When the manner in which you worship takes a back seat to the basic fact that you do worship. And all that has happened and will happen doesn’t matter for those moments that get frozen in time, bring joy to many, and give everyone the hope that there will be a reason to continue on with life’s efforts.

Christmas Eve 1944 in Lemerlerveld, in the Oosterwegel household, was one of those nights, and Sipora and Nardus were glad to be part of it.

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A Gift for Mom and an Inspirational Birth

With Mother’s Day approaching, in honor of mothers all over the world, I present you with a special excerpt from the book Jew Face.  It is the moment when the woman on the cover of the book, after living through 5 years of Nazi occupation, became a mother for the first time.  It is an excerpt that speaks of unconditional love and speaks to what sets our mothers apart from everyone else.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The circumstances were less than ideal, and their lives were filled with questions yet to be answered, but as Sipora lay there with Marcel in her arms, it    almost felt like God was making a statement, a statement that even with the forces of evil at their most powerful, good will survive, love will prevail, and life would go on.

When Thea had been born to David and Martha Groen, it was a symbol of life in the midst of horror and devastation; the symbol held a beauty and power that made it unique. When Marcel came into the world, he would be a symbol of even greater significance.

What was once the bright light of a great world of Dutch and European Jewry had been diminished to a mere glimmer, and a strong powerful fire of life had been reduced in so many places to mere ashes. And now despite all of that, there remained hope. The flickering light of what remained in Nardus Groen and Sipora Rodrigues’s life had now turned into this bright, new, and strong flame. The light that was their son Marcel.

This significance would carry a burden, but it would carry an even greater importance and virtue. It would take an almost extinguished light, an almost destroyed world, and turn it into a strong flame, building not one but many new worlds in the years to come.

On this day, as Sipora looked at her son, it did not matter that Nardus was not here. It would not have even mattered anymore if she had been here. What only mattered today was that this baby was here. And whether she was right or wrong for feeling this way, Sipora felt like this was the reason she had survived, and this would now be her reason for wanting to survive.

So if you haven’t yet bought your mother a gift for Mother’s Day, here’s a suggestion….How to Buy the Book.


Friday August the 13th, 1943

THE FOLLOWING IS A SMALL EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK JEW FACE. IT IS THE BOOK’S PROLOGUE

PROLOGUE
The date was Friday, August 13, 1943, and it felt like the worst moment
of Sipora’s young life. She knew that the Germans were in the building
and getting closer to finding her. She had already been through so much
and she knew that the situation was going to get a lot worse before it got
better. Her will to live was being taken over by despair. She was not the
type of woman who would ever do anything to speed up her own death,
but she also did not feel like running or fighting. So she decided that she
would just wait on the third floor and when the Nazi soldiers located her,
she would willingly leave with the rest of the patients and hospital staff . At
least then she felt as though she could do some good by making the sick
and elderly patients a little more comfortable.
Nardus, however, had no intention of allowing this to happen. As had
been the case since the beginning of the Nazi invasion of Amsterdam, he
instinctively knew that whatever Jews were not murdered instantly would
instead suffer greatly through torture, experimentation, rape, or brutal
slave labor. Since he found Sipora before the soldiers did, he knew he had
to get her out. And to a man like Nardus, it did not matter what Sipora
thought of this idea. It was going to happen his way. And that was that.
When Sipora saw Nardus, she had already sunk so deep into
hopelessness she wasn’t even able to feel any sense of relief. And she was
determined to let him know.
“I am just going to wait here and let them take me too,” she told
Nardus. “They will need a nurse for the trip. If nothing else, I can make
them feel more comfortable.”
Some moments define an individual, and other moments can define
a relationship between two individuals. In many ways, what was about to
take place would define much of Nardus and Sipora’s relationship. True to
his nature, Nardus was not suggesting or asking what would happen next.
What he was doing was telling Sipora what would happen next.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said in his straight-to-the-point manner, “since
you are going to your death anyway, and that is your plan, I will throw
you out the window right now myself. At least then you will die quickly.
Either way you will die.”
Sipora was crying now. “What’s the point?” she said. “There’s no hope.
My family is gone; your family is gone. They’re even taking sick and old
patients from here and transporting them out of the city.”
Knowing that he needed to remain calm and in control, Nardus made
it very clear to Sipora what was to happen next.
“Get up and let’s get out of here. We will find a way to survive this. All
you have to do is trust me and listen to what I tell you to do.”
Although what she was experiencing felt like hell, Sipora was at least
able to move now. What made the difference was that someone else,
someone she was growing to trust more and more by the day, was taking
control and leading her in what at least felt like a better direction.
Neither Nardus nor Sipora had any idea what was to come next, but it
did not matter. The only thing that mattered now was that Nardus would
never allow either one of them to just sit and wait to be killed.
At this moment, which signified all the drama, horror, and significance
of the times they were living through, these two people were thrust together
in a way that set the tone for all that was yet to come.