Thursday, February 8, 2018

Challenge for the Polish Government... Don't rewrite history

This week Poland passed a controversial Holocaust bill into law. In essence, this new law makes saying some holocaust statements a crime and it makes it illegal to accuse the nation of complicity in crimes committed by Nazi Germany.  For instance, you no longer can say "Polish death camps" in relation to Aushwitz and other such camps located in Nazi-occupied Poland.

It is a true that making the statement "Polish death camps" is misleading.  Make no mistake about it, Nazi's are the ones that built those camps.  We need to educate people and work towards countering misleading speech.  However, it is also a fact that there were certain Polish groups and individuals that collaborated and worked with the Nazi occupiers.  To try to rewrite history is very dangerous and destructive.

As many of you know, my family was saved by good non Jewish Polish families.  Many Polish people were murdered, both Jewish and Non Jewish. However, it is also true that there were many that worked closely with the Germans and collaborated, whatever their reasons.  Some would say they were just trying to survive - to protect their families. And although, that may be true to an extent, the reality is that this period of history allowed many  anti-Semitic personal beliefs rise to the surface and gave them a mechanism to act on them.

Many times, when my dad and I speak, there are many people that can not believe that the area he was from was so accepting of Jews.  There really was not much, if any, anti-Semitism.  But this was not true throughout the country.  My mother, who lived in Poland for 5 years as a teenager after the war, remembers the derogatory comments her classmates made to her and how she was bullied for being Jewish.

The definition of the term "history" is "the study of past events, particularly in human affairs".  By Poland making it illegal to discuss events as they occurred, they are in essence trying to change history and rewrite it in a way that makes them feel good and comfortable.

I have a question and challenge for the Polish government.

Instead of running from the past and trying to rewrite it, how about trying to learn from it and figure out how to teach the new generation the lessons that can be learned.  Embracing and accepting the past can be liberating.  Saying - "Yes there were those that collaborated, but yet at the same time, we must remember that many Polish people perished, many were good and tried to do the right thing.  Let's remember those people and celebrate their lives and the lives lost."

And for those that turned down the dark path - let's remember that there is always darkness in war, there are always those that will use any excuse to allow their hatred, bigotry and intolerance to come to the surface and prevail - but look at how the world came together to fight against that.  Poland is a beautiful country, with strong wonderful and kind people.  Please don't continue going down a path that will lead the world to only remember Poland and it's people as an intolerant and anti-Semitic country that is not willing to accept and remember history as it occurred!


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

It's OK to have Dust in the Corner: A tribute to my Grandma Vera

For those that know me well, this quote is one that I have lived by for almost two decades.

Let me explain.  Many years ago I attended a Women's Jewelry Association Conference called Women in The Know.  I was a young working mom with a small toddler at home. There was a panel of speakers talking about all sorts of topics.  One topic was how to handle a busy work schedule and still be a mom.  One woman, Randi Shinske, made the comment, "It's Ok to have dust in the corner". When I heard this it was as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I had such an AHA moment.  You mean other women struggled to do it all? You mean other women sometimes felt inadequate? It was the most unbelievable feeling, to know that I was not alone, and there were other women who just couldn't make the bed everyday and live up to that perfect image of what I thought it meant to be a mom.

Yesterday, I left to go on a business trip to California.  When I landed I found out my Grandma Vera had passed away.  I hopped right back on the plane and came home.  Thinking about all the great memories I have of her, and all the wonderful times we had, the one thing that sticks out is that throughout it all, she always worked.  She was the one who saved every penny and invested it, allowing her and my grandfather to have a little kitty when they retired and enjoy life.  This was back in a time when most women did not work. There wasn't the support structure and acceptance of it back then as there is now.  I wish I talked to her more about it, how it made her feel and how she managed it all.  I can only look to her actions and use them as my examples.  Ironically, I never saw dust in her corners. She seemed to do it all. But now I wonder, how did she make it appear so easy? Who was her support structure?  

I realize being a mom is not about brining cupcakes to the class, or making sure the house is perfect. It is about so much more. It is about being there for your children. It is about being a role model for your sons and daughters. My grandmother was always there for us. She made it seem so easy. She was such an inspiration.  She always made me feel special and important.  She encouraged me to follow my dreams, and always told me that she knew I could do it.

As for being a working mom - sometimes it is just so hard to be present and in the moment, but that is what counts.  We always made it a point to have family dinners. No - I did not cook everyday, I tried to some days, but the reality is that it did not matter who made the food, just that we ate together.  No TV on in the house during dinner.  Phones were put away.  We talked. That was our time.  Yes, it get's harder the older they get, the more activities they have, but that just meant that some nights we ate later.  Did we eat together every single night? No. Between their schedules, and my busy travel schedule, that would have been impossible. But we really tried to as much and as often as we could.

I was listening to the news today, and heard a segment about Senator Tammy Duckworth.  She is the first sitting Senator that will be giving birth while in office.  And New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who is also pregnant.  She made a comment "I am not the first woman to multitask".  Women have been working and having families for many, many years.

Today I think we have come a long way.  Women supporting women is such a strong system, and allows us to thrive.  I remember feeling guilty about missing things when the kids were young, and feeling inadequate sometimes, and a friend told me "Guilt is a useless emotion.  A happy mommy makes happy kids, and if working makes you happy - go for it!"

So to all you working moms out there - know you are not alone - you are perfect in your own way.  My grandma always told me how wonderful I was - so I am telling you too - you are amazing! Remember - It's OK to have dust in the corner!


Thursday, January 18, 2018

2017: The most amazing thing I was reminded of...


As I look back on 2017, reflecting on the year, I am amazed at the people I have met and am excited to see what 2018 has in store. This past year, my father and I have had a chance to speak to people of all ages.



One of the most profound things I learned was the different perception children have in the world depending on where they are growing up. I always knew this theoretically of course, but being faced with it head on was a stark reminder of where we are in the world. This past year my father and I were speaking to 5th and 6th graders in Newark NJ. This was a group of hispanic and African American children. They had read the book as part of their class and were all so excited to meet my dad. When they first saw him their reaction was amazing - it was as if Beyoncé had walked in. The morning was wonderful, with so many great questions coming from the students. However, it was what I found out right before we entered the auditorium that really struck me. We were speaking to the teacher of the class and she told us about reactions the students had to reading the book. She told us that the biggest takeaway the students had reading the book was... that they did not realize that there was white on white violence. They just assumed if you were white you had it made. That hit me hard.



The thing is that to most people perception is reality. Having the opportunity to teach the young that we are all really the same could be life changing. We may all not be in the same place in our lives. Different social and economic standings of course influence attitude and opinion. But showing them that someone that is was once hunted, someone that experienced discrimination to the worst degree, that experienced a hatred like no other, can actually come though the other side and not only survive but thrive through hard work and perseverance is a lesson that needs to be taught.  We look forward to the year ahead and hopefully being able to make an impact on even more lives.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

We must be louder!

The events over the past week have not only troubled me, but the entire country. I have been wanting to sit down and write this all week, but the words would not come.

At the end of this past week I was involved in an incident that was quite unique to my life. I saw something wrong happening, and my instinct immediately was to call 911. It was not even registering at the time that I was probably inches away from loosing my own life. I was in the middle of gun fire and all I thought about were the young children I spoke to in Newark, NJ earlier in the year.  They had written letters to my father and I about how they were so excited to meet him since he was a "survivor". They felt as if they were surviving each day. They were fearful that if they went to the corner store for milk, they may not come back. "People are getting shot right outside our house" one student wrote to us. OMG- this was 20 minutes away from where I grew up! This could not happen HERE!  But there I was on Friday afternoon right in the middle of what these students live with each day, I could not stay silent.  And even after the detective called me at 1:45am to question what I saw (apparently they were involved in an active investigation and I could have had some information that they needed) I still knew I would not have changed a thing I did. Not one other person called that day 911, and I was not the only one that witnessed it for sure!

Some of my friends and family were afraid for me to get too involved. "Stay out of it" "Mind your own business" - I couldn't, I can't. We each need to take stand against violence, against hatred, against bigotry, against racism, against anti-Semitism. For me, I hope to never have to live through something like that again. I pray that the children I have met and those that live with violence each day can somehow find the rainbow of sunshine beyond that and find hope and peace.

I have watched, I have read, I have listened to so many over the last few days. And amongst all the ugliness and hate what I have seen are people coming together in love and peace, all over. I have never believed that violence is the answer. Whenever I speak to groups of people, whether they are children or adults, I always end my speech with this message:

"There will always be hate and intolerance. The only thing we can do is to continue to speak up and make sure our voices are louder than theirs."

BE LOUD.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Let's not only remember, let's learn.


Over the last month, and now in the coming week, my dad and I have had the privilege and honor to speak to students from all over, including Newark, NJ; Norwood, NJ; Old Tappan, NJ; and we will be speaking in Harrison, NY tomorrow.  In each case the students continue to amaze us. These students range in age from 5th graders all the way up to 11th graders. Each situation is unique. Some students have already read the book and are coming into the assembly with questions formulated and an understanding of what my dad went through. In other schools, these students had no idea what they were about to hear. They knew that they were going to hear about a Holocaust survivor, but the details were never shared.

It's amazing how different many of the questions are depending on where these kids are being raised. Yet their is a common theme to them all.  When we speak to a group of students that have many immigrants in the audience, they are very interested in how my father got here, what were his experiences. If the students are being raised in an atmosphere of violence, their questions tend to turn more inward - How do you live without hate? How do you get over it?  But regardless of where theses students reside, their is a common theme to their questioning - What can we do?

Think about that for a moment.  No matter where we go, our youth is yearning to know if they can make a difference. Can their voice be heard? For us to be able to speak to them and explain to them that yes - they are our future. It is about them, about what they take away from this story. The story is not pleasant. It brings up a subject matter that makes many uncomfortable. It is hard to try to imagine that this man standing in front of you today was once a child that suffered so much. And to see that he went on to live a full and complete life, and yes even a happy one, is truly amazing.  But it is not about just his story. That would not be enough. It is about teaching the lessons that we can learn. 

I know it may sound corny, but I have to believe that he survived for a reason.  Perhaps that reason is exactly what we are doing now. To take these experiences and teach the next generation about tolerance, respect, perseverance and hope.  Even if we can reach just a few, it is a few more than we had yesterday. I am hopeful for us as a society. I do truly believe that deep down most people are good. If we can get those voices to rise louder and stronger than the voices of hate we have a chance, and to do this we must start with the youth.

This weekend starts the week long commemorations for Yom Hashoah -Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this remembrance day let's not only remember, let's learn.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Can we fight Anti-Semitism?



Last week my dad and I were having an interesting conversation.  Just like many people, especially Jews, we were having a conversation about the recent reporting about the rise in anti-Semitism.  My father had an analogy I would like to share:

"When you go to the doctor because you don't feel well, what do you want him to say to you? You don't want him to just say, 'You are sick, see ya later", you want him to tell you why did this happen and what can I do to fix it so that it won't happen again.  Now think of anti-Semitism. If all we do is talk about what is happening today, we are not talking about the right things.  We need to talk about WHY this is happening, what is causing it, WHERE DID IT COME FROM? Then we talk about how to stop it."

There are so many theories about the root of anti-Semitism.  Some say it is the Christians that said that the Jews killed Christ, some may say it is because Jews are different, and yet others may say the Quran says so.  The reality is that the Roman's killed Jesus, we are all different and the coverage of Jews in the Quran actually insignificant. So what is going on?  The harsh reality is that this is something that has been going on for centuries.  When hatred and false impressions are passed down from generation to generation, the root of them and the truth behind them are irrelevant.  As long as we allow young children to continue to believe blindly what they are being told at home and what they are overhearing, anti-Semitism, and all hatred and intolerance will never go away.  We need our Priests, Ministers, Rabbi's, Imam's, and all religious leaders to come together and as one force stand up to call for a stop to the spread of hatred, in a very public way.  Will this happen, who knows, I would hope that it will one day.

In truth, ALL hatred and intolerance will never be 100% eradicated. So what now? Now we have to be diligent about getting to the younger generation.  Teaching them in schools about different people, and how no matter how different we all are, at the end of the day we breathe and need the same oxygen to live, we bleed the same color of red, and we ALL ultimately want the same thing - for our families and loved ones to be safe and happy.

Over the past few weeks my father and I have had the privilege to meet and speak to so many young people. Their thoughtful questions, their willingness to really listen is astounding.  The best part of it all is to watch how my father has really affected these students.  Here are some of their words:

“I have to treasure my family and spend quality of time with them”
“I have to live life to the fullest now that I have the chance.”

How special it is to know that my father has made this impact on these children. If we can touch and affect even just one child, I can only hope we have made a difference.  We are continuing to reach out to schools, to try to get our book, Together: A Journey for Survival, into their curriculum. We are hoping that through this story we can teach the younger generation about tolerance and about the consequences of hate. 

My hope for you all is to continue to teach the children around you the same lessons. Let's try to make this world just a little better, Together.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Last week we had the honor of speaking at Weequahic High School in Newark NJ.  This school is special to me personally. You see my mom graduated from there. The day started off so cool. I have never seen a high school that had such an active alumni association, and an office right on premise! They actually had old high school year books and we were able to find my mom's year and pictures of her! It was so crazy!

But then I have to say, the day just got better.  About 50 students attended our talk. They were respectful, engaged and really asked some great questions.  They asked if my dad still harbored feelings of hate. (his response is here in this video). They asked him if he suffered from PTSD, what would he do if the bad guys were standing right in front of him right now, and did he loose hope.  He answered all the questions as honestly as he could. He does not think hate is productive, kindness is better. He is lucky, he never had PTSD, and he never lost hope - he credited his mom for that. And if the person was right in front of him today, he would just talk to him, in a calm fashion, because anything else is just not worth it.

I spoke to their teacher after our talk.  Many of these students lives are difficult. She was so happy that they had the opportunity to witness, first hand, a person that had been persecuted, discriminated against and who lived through the Holocaust and who had survived. And to see that person go on to live a full and happy life gives them hope. 

The video above is some words of wisdom my dad told these kids at the end of our time together.  It always amazes me how much he enjoys life and how he always has a smile on his face. I think we can all learn a little something from him.