Category Archives: Jewish Interests

Holocaust survivor Albert Kitmacher and his five miracles

Looking steadily into the camera, Al Kitmacher recounted his personal story of the Holocaust for the Bay Area [California] Holocaust Oral History Project. He told of his early life in Poland, his year with his family in the Warsaw Ghetto, and his subsequent sometimes miraculous survival in work camps, in salt mines, and on a death march.

“You have great composure,” commented Rick Levine, the interviewer.

“I could never open up and tell my story before,” said Kitmacher. “But I am in the twilight of my life, and I have to tell the story to somebody.”

Kitmacher had had the last physical scar from his horrors—a tattoo with the initials KL (Koncentration Lager, German for concentration camp), removed in the 1970s. But Kitmacher could never remove the emotional scars. The memories, the survival guilt, the nightmares were only kept at bay with a lifetime reliance on medication. It was only at the urging of his son Ira that the 74-year-old Kitmacher finally shared the horrors he and his family had endured. 

Albert Leon Kitmacher was born in Lublin, Poland in 1920, one of the four children of Miriam Naiman, a seamstress, and Gershon Kitmacher, a tailor. Gershon could not find work locally, he spent much of his time in Berlin. 

Soon after Hitler was named German Chancellor in 1933, Gershon was forced to leave Berlin because he was Jewish. The Kitmachers left their predominately Jewish neighborhood and moved to Warsaw to find employment. Al Kitmacher’s formal education ended, and he joined his father to work as a tailor.

By 1938, as things were getting more precarious for Jews, many were fleeing Poland. Gershon, however, refused to leave. “All Germans were not bad people,” he assured his family. With great reluctance, Kitmacher decided to remain with his parents; his two older sisters, Sara and Freida; and his younger brother Yitzhak. 

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and Europe was at war. Kitmacher’s worst fears were realized when his immediate and extended family were forced to pack up whatever they could carry on pushcarts and move into the Warsaw ghetto.

Conditions in the ghetto were horrible. The family subsisted on one meager loaf of bread a day, shared a toilet with three other families, and sponge bathed only using a pot of heated water. Nights were especially frightening: they heard the sounds of German motorcycles and gunfire as people trying to escape were shot. 

Kitmacher worked for the Germans outside the ghetto where he was fed minimal amounts of food. He searched each night to make sure he brought no extras home upon penalty of death.

After a year of increasingly untenable conditions, Al and Freida made the decision to risk everything to save their family. They executed a daring early morning escape from the ghetto. Once outside the gates, they rolled down their sleeves to hide their yellow stars and boarded a train-without tickets. In what Kitmacher would later remember as his first miracle, they managed through trickery and bribes to reach Chelm, Germany, where members of their extended family were living. A second cousin, who was also a tailor, arranged for papers to be sent to Warsaw stating the need for the rest of the family to join them to sew German uniforms. Kitmacher’s parents and Yitzhak were allowed to leave, but Sara was taken away. Even the official papers could not save her.

The remaining family rented a room on a farm owned by Jews until forced into another ghetto in Jenishoff. Here, Kitmacher worked ten hours a day digging an irrigation ditch until a combination of sunburn and illness resulted in Yitzhak, taking his place. When Yitzhak was caught smuggling food back to his family, he was beaten so badly that he also could not work. He was taken away and, like Sara, never seen again.

Soon after, Jenishoff was liquidated. Kitmacher’s parents and Freida were packed into a cattle car. His last memory of seeing them alive was watching as Gershon was struck down by a guard when he tried to follow his son.

Kitmacher, now alone, was sent to Buzzyn, a concentration work camp near Treblinka, where he and fellow prisoners spent 10 to 12 exhausting hours a day digging ditches subsisting on just enough food to survive. The Ukrainian guards were brutal, and people were killed daily for the slightest infraction. 

It was at Buzzyn that Kitmacher experienced his second miracle. After a terrifying nightmare in which he struggled to overpower a large bird by pushing him out of what appeared to be his father’s Warsaw tailor shop. Kitmacher woke up bathed in sweat, feverish, and weak Despite these symptoms of typhus, he connected his dream to his survival and asked a fellow prisoner to help him get to that day’s work assignment—digging potatoes. While in the field, he shared his dream with a religious man. “That is a good sign,” Kitmacher was told. “You fought the devil and won.” That night, he returned to the barracks and learned that the over 100 men who had stayed behind had been shot and killed.

When Buzzyn was closed, Kitmacher was assigned to an underground armaments factory set up by Germans in the Wieliczka Salt Mine near Krakow, Poland.Over 1,700 prisoners worked in dark, dank conditions 1,072 feet below ground. Feeling as if he were buried alive, Kitmacher told his Polish captors that he was a sheet metal worker with hopes that a future assignment would be at least outdoors. 

Based on this new “skill,” Kitmacher was assigned to the Flossenberg camp where he and fellow prisoners a mix of Jews, political prisoners or “undesirables,” produced Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter planes and other armaments for Germany’s war effort. When a guard threatened to kill him if he did not give him his breakfast, Kitmacher escaped death again when the known bully and murderer was discovered making moonshine with another guard and taken away. It was Kitmacher’s third miracle. 

By mid-1944, the prisoners learned through the guards that Russian troops were advancing. The prisoners were herded into a train, where Kitmacher found a spot in the lower bunk. Several miles into their journey, the train was blasted by the English Royal Air Force. People in the upper bunks were killed, but Kitmacher had again escaped. This was his fourth miracle.

The train was damaged beyond use, so the Germans gave the prisoners each a blanket and a daily ration of one small turnip and forced them to march in the rain and cold for what Kitmacher remembered as several weeks. The dead or near dead were left by the side of the road. Once, when Kitmacher could not gather the strength to move another inch, he heard a voice behind him yell,“Kitmacher, don’t stop now!” Motivated by that anonymous angel, he kept walking.

Out of the hundreds that had started the march, only fifty emaciated prisoners straggled into what was to be their final destination, Stamsried, Germany, near the Czech boarder.The mayor of the town gathered them in the village market place with plans to kill them. It was then that Kitmacher had one final miracle. At that moment, American troops rolled into town. The officials disappeared. Kitmacher, an 82-pound living skeleton, had survived the Warsaw Ghetto and four German concentration camps. 

Kitmacher spent several weeks in a hospital. Over the next several months, while working on a farm, Kitmacher recovered physically but suffered emotional scars that never heal. He was put on anti-depressants, a prescription that he continued throughout his life. 

Kitmacher searched fruitlessly for his immediate family, who tragically had all perished. His only remaining relative was a cousin, Rose, who had lost her husband and baby. 

Kitmacher moved to a former Jewish ghetto in Munich, where he did tailoring work for Jewish people who were moving to Israel. He planned to move to Israel until another surviving cousin dissuaded him as Palestinians and Jews were in the midst of fighting for control from the British.

In 1949, Kitmacher obtained U.S. immigration papers through Jewish sponsors in Erie, Pennsylvania. In 1951 he met and married Pearl Harris, who had served as a WAVE in the U.S. Naval Reserve. They settled in Pearl’s home town of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where they raised four children, Miriam, Lois, Gary, and Ira. Although he owned his own tailor shop for a short time, Al spent most of his career working at Besse-Clarke Men’s Store.

Although Kitmacher said that his wife and children “saved my life,” he continued to suffer from nightmares and insomnia. “I am fine all day,” he stated in his 1994 interview. “But every night when I lay down it comes back to me.” He also experienced survivor’s guilt. “Why am I the only one who survived?” he stated, “My family, my parents were nice people. Why did it happen to them? It is was not fair!” 

Did Kitmacher hold anger? “After the liberation, if given a gun, I would have killed the bastards,” he said in the 1994 interview. “Today, I am too old and too tired to do anything.” He quickly aded, “I was not brought up to hate, but I will never forgive them.” 

His daughter Lois Karhinen, a resident of Queensbury, NY, recalled that growing up in the home of a Holocaust survivor was not easy. She called him a sensitive, sometimes bitter man who could not communicate well emotionally. “My mother attended to my father and sacrificed her sense of self for him,” Lois said. “We children were an afterthought.”

Like all her siblings, Lois knew little about her father’s background until he shared his story on video, which is now part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum collection in Washington, DC. “I am glad that I was able to hear his story while he was still alive,” said Lois, “as it makes me understand so much about the way he was when I was growing up.”It has also given her a chance to forgive.

So much has been written about the Holocaust. Novels. Memoirs. Plays. And each echos the theme of “Never Again!” But have we really learned from the past? Millions of words later, we are facing a terrifying upswing in anti-Semitism. What can we do? We can keep writing, keep recording, keep remembering. And we can make sure that the voices of the those like Albert Kitmacher who survived and his family who perished are preserved. 

Sources:

Published in The Jewish World on November 5, 2020 and Heritage Florida Jewish News November 6, 2020

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Let’s Hear It for the Girls!

I conducted a very scientific research study by posting the following question to my women friends on FaceBook: “Have you liberated your girls since you’ve been sheltering in place/working from home?”

Let’s Hear It for the Girls!

Victoria has a secret during the pandemic.

She is NOT wearing an underwire. And so are many other women. Yes, we have expunged our Exquisite Forms, ousted our Olgas and wiped out our Warners. nsItead, we have traded our confining, pokey attire for the comfort of sports bras, bralettes , or maybe even nothing! Not since the Sixties,when we were burning our Balis have women felt so liberated! 

I conducted a very scientific research study by posting the following question to my women friends on FaceBook: “Have you liberated your girls since you’ve been sheltering in place/working from home?”

One friend wrote, “NEVER!” Others wished they could, but were afraid of their “flapping in the wind.” Many, however are ditching their underwires for more comfortable alternatives. Those who went full commando were positively gleeful. “I haven’t worn one since quarantine time started, in or out of house, replied Becky. “Quite enjoying this and might have a hard time going back!” Bev wrote, “Best part of quarantine!”

I am retired, so maybe my casual life style isn’t a stretch.  But you have had to live under a mushroom not to know that very few people are dressing for success these days..It’s not only our underwear that has changed. We have ditched constrictive clothing for yoga outfits, caftans, or pajamas.

We may put on more public clothes for our trips to the supermarket, and we may don nice clothes (at least from the waist up) for our Zoom sessions. Personally, I have said “So long!” to restrictive clothes and said “Hello!” to sarongs. I purchased my first green wrap (also know as a pareo in Tahitian or a shmatah in Yiddish) in Jamaica to wrap around my bathing suit when heading to the resort beach. I now own about ten in different colors and fabrics. They are light, versatile and perfect for Florida’s heat and humidity. Larry has even purchased a men’s mini version. Dinners on our lanai (Florida for covered porch) wouldn’t be the same without our strategically knotted wraps with Radio Margaritaville playing in the background 

So here is the first mystery of this pandemic. Larry and I are obviously not putting much or effort into our attire. So why are we doing so much laundry? We need to wash our exercise clothing after one use (you cannot swim, bike, or play pickleball in a sarong.) And we do dump all clothes we have worn on one of our exciting outings to the supermarket and library directly into the washing machine.. But we still seem to be working our Whirlpool quite a bit. I have decided that pandemic as brought out the “Happy Homemaker” in me. I am cooking and baking more. Coupled with our obsessiveness for hand washing, surface wiping, and sanitizing, I end up with piles of towels and cleaning rags.

And here is the second mystery of this pandemic.Somehow, when I do venture into my closet for something with a waistband, it appears that my clothes have shrunk. Again, using my very scientific method of asking the question on FaceBook, it seems that this phenomenon is widespread (especially in the hips and waist). It has to be the something that is causing this issue has taken residence in my closet. It certainly isn’t related to all our homemade meals. Or the glass of wine we have been imbibing in every day since lockdown. Or binge watching Schitt$ Creek or Outlander or repeats of The Big Bang Theory. Or even worse, what is now known as the Covid Curve or Quarantine 15 (which thankfully has not happened to me!). I have left several messages with my pest control expert r to see if he can exorcize this demon along with the occasional ghost ant infestation, but he hasn’t responded. 

Until then, I will rely on my sarong to keep me happy and stress free. Hopefully, when this pandemic is over, we may see a permanent change in our wardrobes. Those in cold climates can have their yoga outfits and sweatshirts. I will be stocking up on sarongs!

SOURCE: https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/quarantine-15-weight-gain-pandemic/

First published in The Jewish World (Capital Region NY) in October 23, 2020 issue.

Measure for Measure: What Goes Around Comes Around?

President Trump greets supporters during a drive by outside of Walter Reed Hospital October 4, 2020.

Hindus and Buddhists call it Karma. Germans call it Schadenfreude. But do Jews have an expression to express fate or to express pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune? The closest corresponding phrase is “midah k’neged midah,” —“measure for measure.” One’s actions and they way they affect the world will eventually come to that person in ways one might not necessarily expect.

In a 2017 dracha, Rabbi David Wolfe described two Biblical passages from Bereishit (Genesis) that demonstrate this concept. In the first passage, Jacob takes advantage of his father’s age and blindness to fool Issac into believing hat he is his older twin Esau. As a result, he receives his older brother’s birthright/blessing.

Years later, Jacob falls deeply in love with Rachel. Agreeing to work for seven years for her father Laban, Jacob finally joins his bride under the chuppa. When he wakes up from the wedding night, however, Jacob realizes that under that heavy veil was Leah, the older and less desirable of the sisters. Rabbi Wolfe then calls on a midrash to explain the aftermath. Understandably, Jacob is very upset and demands to know why Leah tricked him. Leah ’s response: “You fooled your father into thinking you were your brother; I fooled you into thinking I was my sister.” In other words, what goes around comes around. 

Just past midnight, on Friday, October 2, President Donald Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady had tested positive for COVID-19.The president’s diagnosis came after he spent months playing down the severity of the outbreak that has killed more than 215,000 in the United States and hours after insisting that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.” He has downplayed the virus again and again. More egregiously, this cavalier attitude has been passed on to his supporters. Republican leaders have incorporated this non-scientific approach into their politics, resulting in dismissing the need for masks and social distancing; opening up cities and states way before it was deemed safe by experts to do so; and touting the “success” of such operations that in truth do not exist.

After initially experiencing some of my own Schadenfreude, my Yom Kippur prayers of repentance kicked in. I sought out the high ground, which I saw in the Book of Proverbs: “If your enemy falls, do not exult; if he trips, let your heart not rejoice” So summoning up my best self, I hope that the president has a “Refuah Shleimah,” a complete recovery. I hope even more that this experience changes how he views COVID-19 and its impact on those not able to take a one mile plane ride to the country’s top hospital after experiencing “mild symptoms.”

My husband Larry and I have seen our lives upended, as have our extended family and our friends. Aborted trips. In person visits replaced with FaceTime calls. Cancelled bar mitzvahs, graduation parties, weddings, Zoom funerals. Limited visits with relatives in nursing homes.

But what we have experienced is nothing compared to the physical, emotional, and financial impact it has on others. On March 31, 2020, my friend Kathy, who had returned from a cruise “under the weather,” sent out a FaceBook post that she was being admitted to the hospital for what she believed was bronchitis. Within two days, she was hooked up to a ventilator. Her brother Bryan kept us informed daily on social media, describing Kathy’s ordeal in ICU in which she almost died several times. When she was finally breathing on her own, she spent several more weeks in rehab. She returned home two weeks ago, only to be rushed back to the hospital for more surgery related to complications of COVID.. As I said, I hope for the president’s recovery, but I wish he could experience just a fraction of what Kathy has been through.

Kathy has survived, but at least seven people in our community have succumbed. In the Orlando, Florida, area, thousands have lost jobs as Disney and other theme parks, Central Florida’s main employer, have seen low attendance. The ripple effect has closed many of our area’s restaurants and other businesses. 

So, I know I join many Americans who hope that the Rose Garden Debacle, which lead to innumerable cases of this fast-spreading disease, will result in policy changes from President Trump and his supporters. Will the federal government finally organize a national response? Will masks and social distancing be mandatory everywhere, even when the president and like-minded Republicans are in attendance? Will first responders be finally given all needed supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE) and enough tests? And will all leaders take a harder look at returning to Phase 1 protocols?

Or maybe I am just dreaming. On Sunday, October 4, I watched in disbelief as news stations covered the president’s commandeering a motorcade to greet his supporters outside of Walter Reed Hospital. Let us put this ten minute joy ride into perspective. Because of COVID, millions of us cannot see people we love. Because of COVID, thousands have had to lie in hospital beds with no contact with relatives. Because of COVID, many have DIED alone. But the president thought nothing of spending thousands of our tax payer dollars to get the adulation he cravenly requires. And he thought nothing of the danger he put his secret service staff (who were subsequently  put in quarantine) and others to pull off this publicity stunt.To use the words of a popular meme on the Internet: I don’t wish this virus on anyone. I hope the president has a speedy recovery.And I hope he gets demolished at the ballot box. That will be for me “midah k’neged midah,” the most satisfying measure for measure.

First published in The Jewish World, October 8, 2020.

Source

https://www.sinaitemple.org/worship/sermons/toldot-training-hands-esau-voice-jacob/s

Praying with my feet and typing with my fingers

I realized I never published this article, which I wrote in January 2020.. Hope you enjoy it!!

I do believe we woke up the Children. You think the Flower Children of the 1960s were revolutionary? Just wait!  Facebook Meme

Full confession. Outside of wearing bell bottom pants and trying marijuana once, I was NOT a flower child. My first vote for a president was in 1972, and I voted for Nixon. When fellow friends and professors marched against the Vietnam War after Kent State, I joined in. But during that entire day, I was more scared than passionate. Looking back, I wish I had done more. Been more. But it was not who I was at the time.

I wasn’t much of an activist in the following years. Despite my friends’s urging, I didn’t support the Equal Rights Amendment. I laughed it off with a popular excuse at the time: I LIKE men holding doors open for me. And I decided that Nixon was guilty later than most of my friends, not believing that the president of our country could be involved in such a cover-up. 

I still am not an organizer or a marcher. I attended Women’s March in Orlando, armed with great signs and more passion. When one of the speakers began lambasting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, however, I vowed never to go to another event held by that group. I have passed up other opportunities for public protests, including those organized to support immigrants and decry gun violence. 

That is why I am so in awe of the recent rise of our youth, specifically the March For Our Lives organizers and Time Magazine’s Person of the Year Greta Thunberg. 

Parkland, Florida, the sight of the Margaret Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School shootings, is less than 200 miles from us. Like the rest of the country, I followed the news with fear and anger. Would this be another instance where victims and survivors were offered “thoughts and prayers” but no change in the lax gun laws that precipitated this event? Would anyone stand up to the National Rifle Association and the many politicians who not only accepted their money but also bowed to their demands?

The answer was a resounding YES. The leaders of the grassroots movement were not adults, but MSD students who survived the shooting that killed 18 people, including the friends of the organizers. Their reaction was immediate. David Hogg, a senior and the news director for  the school’s news station, channeled his fury while in lockdown by taking notes and interviewing fellow students huddled around him. Less than ten hours later, he handed his footage to Laura Ingram on her prime-time Fox news show. Bristling at Ingram’s platitudinous,( “Our emotions are with you,”)  anger spilled out. “I don’t want this to be another mass shooting….something that people forget.” And in the what would be the first call to action, Hogg stated the need” to go your congressmen.”

On March 24, 2018, less than seven weeks after the shooting, March for Our Lives (MFOL), a student-led demonstration  in support of legislation to prevent gun violence in the United States took place in Washington, DC,  with over 880 sibling events throughout the United States and the world. Turn out was estimated to be between 1.2 and .2 million, making it one of the largest protests in American history.

While MFOL were organizing against gun violence in the United States, a fifteen-year-girl in Sweden was watching and wondering if she could possibly do the same to save the planet. Thunberg was eleven years old when her primary-school teacher showed a video on the effects of a warming world. That event, initially causing her an “endless sadness,” inspired her to start a one-girl campaign to pressure the Swedish government to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. 

On August 20, 2018, Thunberg settled in a spot across the street of the Swedish parliament building. She was armed with a sign that read “Student Strike for the climate” and a flyer that explained her purpose. It included the admonition: “Since you adults don’t give a damn about my future, I won’t either”

She sat alone on Day One. But a person joined her on Day Two, and a few others on Day Three and so on. By September she had enough support to limit her strike, which she named Friday’s for Future, to one day a week. By the end of the year, she had been joined by tens of thousands of students across Europe. By fall 2019, Thunberg had been joined by millions across the world.

In her speech in front of the UN General Assembly in September 2019, Thunberg, like David Hoggs before her, expressed her anger and disgust. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,”she stated. “How dare you!” Her wish to follow in the footsteps of the activists from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School had been realized. 

In this past year, what Time  called “the power of youth” protests spread to include  in Hong Kong, Iraq, and Lebanon. And November elections in Virginia, in which Democrats took control of both houses, was propelled by  a “younger, more diverse and more liberal” Democrat base that supported gun control, women’s rights and clean energy.

“Adults didn’t take care of these problems, said Jaclyn Cronin, the chief organizer of Washington DC event,“so we have to take care of them.” 

As an adult who feels strongly in the need for Tikkun Olam, leaving the world a better place, I believe that the battles for which the youth are fighting should also be taken up by all of us. Maybe it is time for those who were flower children—or flower children fails—need to get on board. Abraham Joshua Heschel, reflecting on his participation in the twentieth century civil rights movement, stated, “When I marched in Selma my feet were praying.” 

I am no longer he young girl who stood on the sidelines. Like many of today’s youth, I am passionate about issues that impact all of us: Gun violence. Climate Change. Immigration policies. Women’s rights. As we head to the November 3, 2020, elections, I will be calling my legislators, writing my columns and letters to the editors, and joining people of all ages toto effect change. And who knows? Maybe, like Greta and Dave and Jaclyn and Rabbi Heschel, I will start praying with my feet. 

The youth have taken the lead. It is our responsibility to them to follow.

Sources:

Alter, Charlotte et. al. “The Conscience.” Time Magazine. December 23/30, 2019.

Cullen, Dave. Parkland: The Birth of a Movement. Harper, 2019. 

Palmer, Joanne. “Praying with Their Feet.” https://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/praying-with-their-feet/. September 3, 2015. 

Scheider, Gregory and Laura Vozzella. Democrats flip Virginia Senate and House, taking control of state government for the first time in a generation.https://www.washingtonpost.com/polls-open-in-virginia-balance-of-power-in-state-government-is-at-stake/2019/11/05/bdb57972-ff5b-11e9-8501-2a7123a38c58_story.html

Wikipedia

Why I am not voting for Donald Trump

Marilyn Cohen Shapiro reciting Kiddish at Congregation Shalom Aleichem, Kissimmee, Florida

This article is in response to “Donald Trump: Social Justice President” (Rabbi Sanford Olshansky, Heritage Florida Jewish News, Aug. 28, 2020). 

The High Holy Days will be very different this year for all of us.

Rather than meeting fellow congregants in our synagogues, we will be Zooming. As the first day falls on Shabbos, Reform Jews will have to wait until the closing moments of Yom Kippur to hear the sound of the shofar over the Internet. Holiday meals will be lonely affairs as most families are practicing social distancing. Fasting on the holiest day of the year will be made even more difficult when people are not sharing the experience with others.

It did not have to be this bad. Other countries are opening up. Because of this administration’s failure to address the COVID-19 pandemic and — worst yet — its attempt to call it a “hoax,” the United States has over 6 million confirmed cases and over 189,000 deaths as of Sept. 4, with an upsurge expected this fall. Employment is at 8.4 percent overall (compared to 4.7 percent under Obama) but much higher among Blacks (13.0 percent), and Hispanics (10.5 percent). Both small businesses and large corporations are facing closures or uncertain futures. 

The president and his followers have made a health issue a political issue. The country has been torn apart on the issue of wearing a piece of cloth. “The dispute over masks embodies the political dynamics of the campaign,” writes Tara McKelvey in a BBC news article. “It also reflects a classic American struggle between those who defend public safety and those who believe just as deeply in personal liberty.” Meanwhile, all respectable medical personnel view masks as our first defense against the virus.

For those fortunate enough not to have suffered devastating health or economic effects, the impact of the pandemic still has been emotionally difficult. Parents of children fear sending their children to school. Nursing home residents cannot see their families. Grandparents cannot see their grandchildren. Six months into the pandemic, people are feeling lonely, isolated, depressed. 

Meanwhile, since George Floyd’s murder, the United States has come face to face with its long history of systematic racism, and the president has only fueled the flames. His comments and policies have impacted Latinos, Muslims, Blacks, Dreamers, Africans (“shit-hole countries”), Asians (“kung fu” flu), and Jews. Even the disabled — including those who suffered physical or emotional injuries as a result of their military service (“losers” and “suckers”) — have been the target of the president’s disrespect and scorn. 

Jews and non-Jews alike have questioned why I don’t support Trump as he is “good for the Jews.” His history of anti-Semitic comments prove clearly to me that he is not. In 2017, the president stated soon after the white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia that there was “good on both sides.” His inability to denounce neo-Nazis demonstrates to me that the lessons of World War II and the Holocaust mean nothing to him. Later that year, after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, Trump’s initial reaction was to criticize the synagogue. “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple … maybe it could have been a very much different situation.” In August 2019, he accused American Jews of being “disloyal” to Israel by voting for Democrats. In December 2019, speaking at the Israeli American Council referred the dual loyalty cliché, and then went on to call Jews involved in real estate “ brutal killers, not nice people at all.” As recently as last week, Mary Ann Mendoza, a Trump supporter was pulled from the RNC line up after protests of her promotion of anti-Semitic and QAnon conspiracy theories on her Twitter Feed. 

The president is the antithesis to every moral tenet of Judaism. He is a bully, a liar, a cheat, a womanizer, and a self-absorbed, unempathetic narcissist who has no respect for anyone who does not fawn over him — unless they are despots. 

His June 1, 2020, photo in front of what is considered the “Church of Presidents” is one the most egregious example. In the middle of peaceful protests, law enforcement officers used tear gas and other riot control tactics to forcefully clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square and surrounding streets, creating a path for the president and senior administration officials to walk from the White House to St. John’s Episcopal Church. Reverend Gini Gerbasi, the rector, had helped organize more than twenty priests and lay volunteers to provide water, food, and hand sanitizer as a “peaceful presence in support of protesters.” As they were packing up before the 7 p.m. curfew, armed riot police carrying riot shields entered the churchyard, forcing everyone to evacuate. Minutes later, the president and his entourage entered the square. Brandishing an upside-down, back-facing Bible, Trump posed for photographers for what he perceived was his “law and order” demeanor.

The publicity-stunt-gone wrong met with overwhelming condemnation. Rev. Gerbasi’s comments reported in the Washington Post were especially hard hitting. “People were protesting the fact that their government had been enslaving, incarcerating, overlooking and brutalizing them for generations — and the government brutalized them again,” she stated in a Washington Post article. “Religious people, who were literally wiping away the protesters’ tears, were driven off the church property with brute force and fear. All so that Trump could use the church as a backdrop and wave the Bible like a prop. It was beyond offensive. It was sacrilege.”

“We need our President, and all who hold office, to be moral leaders who help us to be a people and nation living these values,” stated Bishop Michael B. Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. “For the sake of George Floyd, for all who have wrongly suffered, and for the sake of us all, we need leaders to help us to be ‘one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.’” Donald J. Trump is not that president. The only path for our country and democracy is for the overwhelming numbers of Americans to recognize this failure and vote for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. Then, and only then, can all of us sound the Shofar in the future with peace, joy and hope.

Marilyn Shapiro lives in Kissimmee, Fla. This article was first published in the (Orlando) Heritage Florida Jewish News on September 18, 2020

Honor the Memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. VOTE!!!

I will never forget where I was when I heard of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing.

My husband Larry and I were in front of our computer, chatting with our fellow Congregation Shalom Aleichem members before our Rosh Hashanah Zoom service was to begin. “Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away,” interjected a member who had just gotten the breaking news on his phone.

All chatter stopped. Then there were murmurs of “Oh No!” “Oh my God!”

I was devastated. My heart turned cold as I thought about what will happen to our Supreme Court if the current administration pushed through another Conservative, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights individual. Larry saw my face and knew what I was thinking.

Impact
“It is Rosh Hashanah. For the next 24 hours, we take time to celebrate her life,” he told me. “We will worry about its impact later.”

Within hours of the announcement of her death Friday night, an outpouring of affection for the first Jewish woman appointed to the country’s highest court had already begun. People spontaneously gathered on the front steps of the Supreme Court building, where she had served as a judge for 27 years, bearing candles and singing Amazing Grace. In other places in the country, crowds gathered to say Kaddish, and to remember her. At Central Synagogue in New York City on Rosh Hashanah morning, Rabbi Angela W. Buchdahl spoke at the virtual service from New York City’s Central Synagogue. She honored Justice Ginsburg in an eloquent spoken and musical tribute to “a real tzaddik, a woman of justice.” As pictures of the late justice’s life were displayed on the screen, the rabbi sang a beautiful rendition of Psalm 150 (Halleluhu / Praise God in His sanctuary) to the melody of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. I cry every time I watch it.

In the days that followed, I read many Jewish interpretations of the timing of Justice Ginsburg’s death. One midrash stated that Jews who dies between Rosh Hashanah is fast-tracked to heaven as they are true “tzaddikim,” people of great righteousness. With the fact that Rosh Hashanah fell on Sabbath this year, the significance is deemed to be even greater.

Replacement?
As  many Jews and non-Jews celebrated her life, however, Republicans were already planning her replacement. This incredible woman was not even cold when Trump announced that he would name his pick. His sycophants quickly fell into line. Forget that in 2016, President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland was blocked by many of the same Republicans. “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice,” stated Mitch McConnell in March 2016. “Therefore, [Justice Anthony Scalia’s] vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” This did obviously did not hold true for the current administration.

What was even more disturbing to me was the president’s attempt to besmirch her legacy. Clara Spera, Justice Ginsburg’s granddaughter, had asked her ‘Bubbe’ in her last days if there was anything wanted to say to the public that hadn’t been said. Ginsburg stated, “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” President Trump publicly suggested that the Democrats had fabricated Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish. “It sounds so beautiful,” said the president in an interview on Fox and Friends,” but that sounds like a Schumer deal, or maybe Pelosi or Shifty Schiff” (There is no limit to the depths of indecency this man can go.).

This afternoon, while I was writing this article, Senator Mitt Romney signaled that he is on board with the Senate’s taking up a new Supreme Court nominee during the current election year, an announcement that almost ensures the president’s pick will be confirmed. The news has hit me as hard as when Nov. 9, 2015, I learned that Donald J. Trump was to be our new president.

What Shall We Do?
“I am so, so sad,” I shared on my Facebook page. “Women’s rights will be gone. The Affordable Care Act will be on the chopping block. The election may come down to the Conservative, Trump-leaning Supreme Court. Goodness knows what is next.”

My daughter Julie Shapiro wrote a letter to her to her Colorado Senator Cory Gardner. By supporting another Trump-appointed justice, she told him that he and his cohorts are stealing the rights and protections of Americans, particularly those of women, immigrants, minorities, elderly and other vulnerable populations. Accusing him of being on “the wrong side of history,” Julie voiced her concern for her five-year-old daughter.“ It may take a generation or more but I hope someday my daughter’s daughter will live in a country that defends rather than undermines its democratic principles. A country that looks back ruefully but with relief for having overcome this chapter in which people like yourself snatched power from the deserving and flattered yourselves in your delusion that you were helping those that you continuously hurt.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a legal pioneer for gender equality and the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, has died. The possibility of a Supreme Court with a Conservative majority is becoming more of a certainty. Where do we go from here?

November 3 is coming quickly. Honor Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Keep hounding your representatives, even if many don’t appear to care for anything beyond their own self-interests. Work to get out the vote. Write postcards and letters. Participate in phone banks and texting sessions. And on November 3, vote as if your life and the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on it. And then on January 20, you can share my joy as we welcome a new, better day in America.

The Jewish World, September 22, 2020

Being Born: The World, The Jewish World, and me!

Happy Birthday to me! Happy Birthday to The Jewish World! And Happy Birthday to the World!

It was Labor Day—how fitting!  On Sept. 3, 1950, as my mother’s doctor had a noon golf date, Frances Cohen accommodated his schedule by delivering me a little after 9 a.m.

The Jewish World came along 15 years later. Inspired by Jewish community leaders with the idea that a newspaper would strengthen the community, Sam Clevenson published its first issue for Rosh Hashanah 5716 on Sept. 23, 1965. He believed it would help unify the Jewish communities of Albany, Schenectady, Troy, and the surrounding area. After his passing in 2008, his children, Laurie and Jim, took the helm, packing the paper with more local news, adding a dynamic web site and weekly e-newsletter to expand the readership.

What’s in the ‘World’
The bi-weekly covers local religious events and a wide range of local, national, and international news that impacts and strengthens our Jewish community. It is also a valuable source for happenings in the world of art and culture. Over the years, I have clipped recipes, jotted down the names of books and movies, and have learned much about the world through a Jewish lens.

The recent rise of Jew-hating has made our local newspaper even more important. “For 54 years The Jewish Worldhas monitored perils to your existence,” Jim Clevenson recently said. “We finger the foes of freedom, the nemeses of peace, while celebrating the successes of our crusaders for justice, black and white, Jewish and Gentile.”

‘There goes my heart’
While my husband, Larry, and I had been longtime subscribers and readers, my personal connection to The Jewish World began in 2013. While covering the Capital District Hadassah’s special events banquet, I visited the office in Schenectady to speak to Jim Clevenson. In my pre-retirement life, I had worked in public relations as both a volunteer and as part of my job at the Capital District Educational Opportunity Center, a division of Hudson Valley Community College. Jim asked if I would be interested in writing news articles for the paper. I countered with an offer to write personal columns based on my many years as an upstate resident. My first article, “There Goes My Heart,” was published Aug. 15, 2013. Laurie and Jim (and readers) must have liked it. Over the past seven years, I have published 148 articles in Sam Clevenson’s brainchild.

Since Larry and I moved to Florida in 2015, I have expanded my horizons by becoming a regular contributor to the Heritage Florida Jewish News. My articles have been posted on numerous websites, the Jewish War Museum, Growing Bolder cancer survivors website, the US Pickleball Association, and most recently the Australian-based Jewish Women of Words (I have gone international!) I have compilations in two books, There Goes My Heart (2016) and Tikkun Olam: Stories of Repairing an Unkind World (2018). Two books are in the queue: Keep Calm and Bake Challah, a third collection of essaysand Fredyl’s Stories, family stories that I co-wrote with my mother, Frances Cohen (Of Blessed Memory). My blog, theregoesmyheart.me, presents my stories as well as articles about my writing adventures.

My articles, books, and blog would not have been possible without the help and support of Laurie and Jim Clevenson. They have provided the space in the paper plus advice and guidance.

The lonely ‘Zoom’
This month, The Jewish World and I also share our birthdays with the world. Rosh Hashanah 5781 begins on Friday, Sept. 18. Of course, the High Holy Days will be very different this year for most of us. Rather than meeting fellow congregants in our synagogues, we will be “Zooming.” As the first day falls on Shabbos, Reform Jews will have to wait until the closing moments of Yom Kippur to hear the sound of the shofar over the Internet. Holiday meals will be lonely as most families are practicing social distancing. Fasting on the holiest day of the year will be made even more difficult when we are not sharing the experience.

But I will still celebrate. I will bake round challahs, roll matzoh balls and drop them in simmering chicken soup, and cook up my traditional chicken, roasted potatoes, and candied carrots. Larry and I will do a brachah over the wine asking for a sweet, better year ahead. After we have finished our Zoom service, I will pull out the most recent Jewish World and catch up on what is happening from the only local paper that focuses on Jewish news—what you need to know.

It’s not just the virus
Before Corona-19 we were already a polarized nation crazed with resentment of blacks, Jews, and foreigners. Now we’ve heard echoes of ‘The Jews have poisoned the wells’! The Jewish World promotes Jewish life and culture, and stands for Jewish traditions of rationality and love. We believe good people must stand together to encourage and facilitate light. This is our mission and duty as Jews.

What you can do
To celebrate The Jewish World’s 55th birthday, I ask you to support the paper you are holding in your hands or reading on-line. Renew your subscription. The Clevensons shared with me that a new office staffer is managing the database, and non-payers may find their mailboxes a little emptier on every other Friday.

Give subscription gift certificates to your kids and friends! To carry on the Clevenson legacy call Cynthia Traynahan in the office, (518) 344-7018. She knows all the special discounts.

With Corona-19 disrupting most businesses, The Jewish World needs extra help: visit GoFundMe at gf.me/u/xunxx5.

I also request that you keep in touch with me! I love to hear from readers. E-mail me at shapcomp18@gmail.com , via my Facebook page at Marilyn Cohen Shapiro, Writer, or on Twitter at @shapiro_marilyn. Thank you!

The Jewish World, September 15, 2020

Too many questions! What I miss most during the pandemic is certainty.

This article was written in May but never got onto my blog. I am catching up with my posts now. When reading, think of where we all were before Summer 2020 started. Marilyn 9/8/2020.

Yes, I know the old adage that says life changes on a dime, and that you never know what will happen tomorrow. But now my life is filled with too many questions regarding the future. Will Larry, my husband, or I contract COVID-19? If we do, will we die? How about my children and grandchildren? What are their chances of getting the disease?

The Drill
We know the guidelines. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands. Avoid touching your face. Wear a mask. But will that be enough? We have gone to stores three times since March 6. The first time was to Publix, during a “senior’s only” hour. Huge mistake. The store was mobbed, most people were not wearing masks, and the wait at the checkout was a minimum of 30 minutes. We switched to Instacart. Just recently, however, we ventured out to Publix and Lowes, donned in masks and gloves, for some targeted shopping. I would estimate 80% of the people and almost all the employees (except one young woman sorting produce) were wearing masks. Were we safe? Every time we are in a public place, we reset the clock to see if symptoms occur in the next 14 days. The biggest uncertainty is “When will this end?”

End Agenda
The first thing on our end agenda will be to see our children and grandchildren.This week, we cancelled our summer plans. As we had done annually for the past five years, we had booked our plane flights and rentals in Colorado for eight weeks. Going there gave us a chance to escape the summer heat and enjoy  the beauty of the Rockies. The best part of the summer was being close to my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Along with meeting with them for dinners or concerts, we often were recruited to bring our granddaughter to pre-school or pick her up. We often watched her so that Julie and Sam could get some private time.

We have worked with our rental person so that we can use the condo at a future date. But when will that be? August? September? Next summer?

The pandemic has also put our meeting our new grandson on hold. Prior to his birth in March, we had made plans to fly out and stay at a bed and breakfast blocks from their home.

Longing For Connection
My children have been wonderful about keeping in touch through video conferencing. Adam and Sarah often arrange the screen so that our new grandson fills the picture. We have seen him poop, burp, yawn, sleep, and squirm. We have hear him cry and sigh and make what Adam calls his “pterodactyl” sounds. But we haven’t held him. When will that day arrive? Our granddaughter, with the help of her parents, also checks in often. We talk, read or tell stories to each other, and bake chocolate chip cookies together “virtually.” But—again the but—when will we be able to actually hug her and kiss her beautiful “punim” with those big blue eyes and wonderful smile?

Of course, we are not alone in this pandemic. Everyone faces an uncertain future, whether it be as trivial as getting a haircut (and a long-overdue hair color!) or as critically important as having necessary surgery. For parents working from their kitchen tables, they daily juggle their workload and their childcare and even home schooling. Will daycare resume this summer? This fall? Next January? Is it safe even to send the children?

For those working outside the home—especially those on the front lines—they wonder if they will bring the virus home with them. For those who have been furloughed or—worse—lost their jobs, they wonder when they will able to return to work. When they are, are the benefits of a paycheck worth the risk of also exposing themselves and/or their families to COVID-19? Now that Florida has eased up restrictions, a beautician told her client that her husband is battling cancer. “If I go back to work, I may bring the virus home. Do I stay safe or have money for food, rent, and other necessities?”

As most of my friends are also grandparents, they speak to me of so many missed opportunities including a Mother’s Day visit, or a high school or college graduation. Even those who live close to their families must watch their grandchildren play from10 feet away or on the other side of the fence.

What is one of the saddest parts of the virus are those whose loved ones are in assisted living or nursing homes. One friend shared with me the loss of a parent who passed away “from a broken heart” when he realized that he could not see his family in the foreseeable future. Another friend is limited to FaceTime with his wife who, even though physically two miles away, could be on the other side of the moon. My friend Allison, a member of my writing group, has her 99-year-old mother in a medical crisis in Trinidad, and she can only call her siblings to get updates. There is one certainty: many people who do not survive will die without being surrounded by their family. Many will also grieve alone.

Certainty And Control?
Before COVID-19 (BC) life had been more certain. Or was it? “The pandemic has handed out a stark reminder that the idea of us humans ever having had a locus of control is a complete myth,” Allison shared in a note to the other members of our writing group. “Now that’s a different type of loss— thinking we’ve lost something that we never really had.”

This morning’s headlines carried a glimmer of hope. The manufacturer Moderna said that the first coronavirus vaccine to be tested in people appears to “be safe and able to stimulate an immune response.” Reading further dimmed my excitement. The vaccine was tested on eight healthy volunteers ages 18 to 55. Will this be the answer? Or will several other possibilities in the queue turn out to be the answer? Meanwhile we wait and hope and deal as best we can with these very uncertain times.

First published in The Jewish World, May 28, 2020.

Hairy tales from the pandemic become a focus

With all that has been happening in the world since February, the discussion of hair grooming, seems to take up a great deal of time and space.

Six weeks after our life went into lockdown, my husband Larry was looking more and more like Bernie Sanders. Trips to the barber were not an option, and he had purchased through the internet electric hair clippers. Larry could easily get the front and sides, but I was responsible for the “back forty.” As I held the buzzing clippers in my shaking hands, visions of a Big Bang Theory episode in which Penny accidentally shaved a chunk out of Sheldon’s hair flashed in front of my eyes. Fortunately, the clippers were fairly idiot proof. Five minutes later, and the job was done. Larry looked more like himself.

Larry, along with many of his friends, have resorted to do-it-yourself grooming. Others have used this time to grow beards and ponytails. In our retirement community, grayer and balder versions of their long haired, bearded Sixties self are a badge of honor. 

For my women friends, it is not so much a matter of length as a matter of color. More and more crowns betrayed the grey that years of Clairol had covered. The big question was not, “When will this pandemic end?” No, it was replaced by the more looming question: “Should I go natural? “When restrictions lifted in June, most women ran back to their hairdressers, begging them to do their magic. A few, however, used this opportunity to allow nature to take its course. One of my friends  consulted “a Silver Foxy” Facebook page 

Along with a number of less desirable traits, I did inherit my mother’s genes when it came to hair color. Frances Cohen maintained her dark hair into her seventies. One of her favorite stories was a bout a conversation her hairdresser had with another client. “I want the same color that Fran uses,” said the fifty-something from her perch in front of the mirror. “What Fran has doesn’t come in a bottle,” the hairdresser. Just before the pandemic, I decided to stop highlighting my hair and was surprised to see that my natural brown color had little to no gray. While I questioned my sanity for ‘blonde-that sometimes-looked grey’ treatments I had done for years, my friends just kept saying how lucky I was that I had not spent all the time and money many had expended for years to change my hair color.

In the meantime, another hair-raising adventure was happening in San Francisco. My grandson Sid was born in March with a head of fine brown hair. One month later, he lost all the hair on top, which matched his father’s own male pattern baldness. Unlike Adam, however, my grandson soon recouped the hair on top but lost it on the sides. At five months, he now sports a beautiful brown mohawk. This entire tonsilatory adventure is now captured in a series of pictures chronically the ups and downs of Sid’s hair length.

My grandson may not care about the way his hair looks, but that is not the case for my five-year-old granddaughter. Two weeks ago, Sylvie, who had not gotten more than a trim since March, asked her mother to cut her hair “short like Abigail,” a character from Spirit, her favorite animated show. Julie was hesitant as the last attempt at a shorter style resulted in meltdown. But apparently it made all the difference when it was Sylvie’s choice. Julie texted her relief soon after she lay down the scissors. “I cut it once and she made me cut it again even shorter. She’s very happy!”

Following the text was a picture of my granddaughter sitting in a laundry basket with a huge smile. It was a perfect haircut.

Less than twelve hours later, we heard the familiar ding of Julie’s text message sound. “Well crap. She loved her haircut so much and was so excited… she snuck in her room and cut more off. It was so short on one side I had to shape it into short bob/pixie cut. No pictures available as she is in tears right now.”

The tears continued the next morning through breakfast and through a sad walk to pre-school. After a twenty-minute discussion on the buildings steps, my granddaughter finally was ready to show her face and bob. Unbeknownst to Julie at the time, my son-in-law Sam promised a trip to the toy store after he picked her up that night. Sylvie returned home clutching a “wish list” unicorn that thankfully ended further tears. 

A day later, we FaceTimed with my Colorado family and made sure to tell Sylvie how much we loved her short hair. When she commented that it was “too short,” we reassured her that her hair, unlike her Zayde’s and her Uncle Adam’s, DOES grow back.

Yes, between buzz cuts and bald spots and unplanned bobs, I will always remember all the hair raising adventures from this pandemic. 

First published in The Jewish World, August 20, 2020.