Category Archives: Jewish Interests

Catch Me If You Can

Can a book change a life?

Our tenth grade English class was deep into The Scarlet Letter, the classic by Nathanial Hawthorne. I was mesmerized not only by the writing and the story, but also by its symbolism. Hester Prynne carried her shame on her chest every day, the bright red letter A which identified her as an adulterer. Things weren’t bad enough in Puritan America without her having to not only hold her beloved Pearl in her arms but to have her shame emblazoned for all to see.

Our teacher, Mrs. Frances Clute, was a friend of my parents She and her husband John had spent time with my parents, and she knew me well.

One day, after class, Mrs. Clute asked me to stay a little longer. As the rest of my classmates dashed out the door for Mr. Kennedy’s World History class, she pulled out a small book from one of her desk drawers.

“This is Catcher in the Rye, Marilyn,” Mrs. Clute told me. “I know how much you love The Scarlet Letter. This is also a book that deals with symbolism. I am giving it to you with your promise not to share it with any of your classmates.”

I was grateful for her trust. Even if I knew nothing about J. D. Salinger’s 1951classic, I knew she trusted me and saw in me the enthusiasm and the intelligence to handle its content and meaning.

I probably read it all that night, the whole story of Holden Caulfield, his depression, his flight from his private school, his trip to New York. I read how he wanted to save his sister Phoebe from any dangers that she would experience. I “got” the meaning of the “catcher in the rye,” the person who wanted to always protect those whom he loved.

I also saw why Mrs. Clute had been furtive in her gift. The book had language that was certainly not in books  usually selected by Keeseville Central School. I now don’t remember if it contained the “F” word, but it had other language and actions that were certainly not broadcast in our small upstate New York town. What made it great was the symbolism, the depth of the story behind the words.

I had already decided that I would be a teacher. After reading Salinger’s classic,  however, I knew I wanted to be an English teacher. I would spend my college years reading other classics, and then I would go on to teach others to love literature as much as I did.  I followed that dream. 

Looking back,I realize from my older eyes how shallow my understanding and appreciation of great literature was in college.There are classics that I read and hated, Moby Dick probably the most memorable. (I had to read it in one week. It was about a whale.) 

In my first teaching job, I was assigned to share Brave New World, 1984, and Night with juniors and seniors in our school small town near Albany. I realized that not only did they not understand the books’ meanings. Most of them couldn’t even read. I had been a last minute replacement for a man who decided in June to pursue his doctorate, and all the students had signed up to be in “The Cool Class with the Cool Teacher.” I was not the cool teacher.

In the years that followed, I have tried and failed to read other classics, including Les Miserables, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, One Hundred Years of Solitude. I missed the depth in so many books.

It is January, and as I have every year, I have those four books on my “To Read” books. I probably will never get to them, preferring the New York Times best sellers and ones recommended by my bookish friends. But maybe, in honor of Mrs. Clute, I will take my copies of The Scarlet Letter and Catcher in the Rye down from my shelf. While sheltering in place during this pandemic, I will revisit my friendship with Hester Prynne and Holden Caulfield. And, even though I know I have still a great deal to learn about literature and symbolism and the classics, I will accept that Mrs. Clute recognized that I had that spark in me. And for that I will be forever grateful.

Picture Credit: By Mary Hallock Foote – The Scarlet Letter – edition: James R. Osgood & Co,, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11264794 

Fallow 2020 may help us reconnect with what we have

In her book, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times, British writer Katherine May recounts her own “sad” time where she was forced to hunker down after family illness. “Wintering brings about some of the most profound and insightful moments of hour human experience,” she writes, “and wisdom resides in those who have wintered.”

We are all “wintering” now through this pandemic. As we welcome good news with the rollout of the vaccines, we also grieve for those we have lost, those who remain ill, and all of us who have had our lives upended. But there WILL be a spring. I am not sure if I ever want to go back to the phrenetic pace of our previous life. 

My whole life has always been about filling up my calendar. I thought this would change once I retired to Florida, but the last five years have been even busier. My days—and in many cases Larry’s as well—were filled with concerts and theater subscriptions and annual Disney passes and movies and dinners out. I scheduled so many events that neither  Larry nor I could keep up, resulting in revelations of upcoming plans mere hours before they occurred. “You were going to tell me about this WHEN?” Larry asked, as he dressed quickly to get to an afternoon tribute band concert being held in our 55+ community. “Sorry, sweetheart,” I responded as I quickly threw on some makeup. “I thought our tickets were for the evening show!”

Our lives were also filled with trips to visit our children as well as to see places on our bucket list. When we weren’t away or running around to our innumerable commitments, we also enjoyed visits from friends and relatives. We refer to  it as “The Tourist Season,” where our sunny home in Florida looked much more enticing than their snow and ice covered homes February through April.

That life as we knew it drastically changed in March.

Our daughter Julie and her family had flown in from Colorado on March 7 for a week, just as COVID cases were beginning to spike. We stayed in a rented cottage on Indian Rocks Beach, celebrated the long distance birth of our grandson on March 8, and enjoyed the sunshine. We felt safe on the sparsely populated beach. Once we got back to  our home, however, we cancelled our plans to visit Disney World and prepared all our meals at home.

On Saturday, as Julie’s husband Sam packed up their rental car for the trip to the airport, Julie pleaded with us to shelter in place until this was over. “Stay home, Mom and Dad,” she begged. “This is really serious.”

Despite her entreaties, my husband Larry and I were still debating whether to attend our community theater group’s production of Deathtrap. “This will be our last foray for a while,” I reasoned. “We should support our friends who put so much time preparing.”

One hour before we were to leave, our son Adam called from California. “If you promise not to go to the play,” he told us, “we will spend the next hour Zooming with you so you can watch your six-day-old grandson.” We complied. Outside of trips to doctors, the supermarket, and small, socially distanced outdoor meetings , we have kept our promise for the past nine months.

But maybe, for those of us fortunate enough to have survived 2020 without major physical and financial catastrophes, this year has been a break from our normal “Rush, Rush, Rush” routine. Larry and I have found a new rhythm that has given us respite in unexpected ways.

Each morning, we exercise, sometimes together (bikes, walks) and sometimes on our own (Larry’s pickleball and my swims). After lunch, we spend a leisurely hour or two n the couch doing duplicated crossword puzzles, working silently until one or both of us say, “I need help!” I find time to write while Larry satisfies his passion for history and sports with the help of Google. After dinner, a shared affair, we watch a Netflix or Amazon movie and read. I say a prayer of gratitude every day that I am going through this difficult time with Larry, my soul mate and best friend.

We both have appreciated the power of online technology, allowing us to keep up with far flung family and friends. Adam, and his wife Sarah have kept up their part of the bargain, Face Timing with us several times a week with the camera trained on our ten-month-old grandson. Although we have yet to hold him, we have at least been part of his life, watching him sleep and poop as an infant to seeing him experience applesauce for the first time, pop his first tooth and crawl backwards. 

Thanks to his long, elaborate stories, our five-year-old granddaughter often checks in with Zayde. She asks him to retell the story of how Wicki Wolf was foiled again by the forest denizens, which include “good” wolves, moose, and even a visiting alligator who somehow survives the Colorado winters. Julie and her husband often share the screen. Frequent emailed pictures and videos of both grandchildren keep us further in touch.

True, there are times that I fear we have maxed out on Zoom. Synagogue services and board meetings. Book clubs and writing groups. Planned meet-ups with siblings and cousins and friends. But we still have much more down time that allows us to savor what we have rather than rush to taste something new. Although physically distanced, we have become more emotionally connected with the people for whom we care and even reconnected with those whom we lost touch in the frenzy of busier schedules.

As 2020 end, I know I join millions of others in being glad it is over. A popular meme summarizes those feelings: “2020. One Star. Very Bad. Would not recommend.” I look forward to a healthier, happier, and more huggable 2021. But I also hope that I will retain the lessons I have learned as I experienced my own wintering.

First published in (Capital Region, New York) Jewish World, January 7, 2021

A Hallmark Hanukkah: Why I Still Like Cheesy Christmas Movies So Much!

Even though the pandemic has altered our world, my husband Larry and I will still maintain many of our traditions this Hanukkah. Eating latkes with applesauce. Lighting candles each night. “Betting” on which candle lasts the longest. Watching Hallmark Christmas movies.

Wait! Hallmark Christmas movies? When did that become a tradition?

For as long as I can remember, I have watched Hallmark movies. For many years, the famous card company aired shows specific to the holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and of course Valentine’s Day. Each two-hour made-for-television episode touched my heart. Many were based on classic novels, such as The Secret Garden or Sarah Plain and Tall, while others were originals. And as much as I loved the shows themselves, I especially enjoyed the tear-jerking commercials. (Did you know you can Google them? Watch them with a box of Kleenex next to you!)

In 2001, after the major networks dropped the specials, the company launched The Hallmark Channel. Building on its many fans during the holidays, the channel has churned out 136 Christmas shows to date. That means a great deal of “Deck the Halls” and “Jingle Bells,” their favorite seasonal songs, as the movies are touted to be about the spirit of the season, not any one religion in particular.

The plots of their Christmas movies fall into two categories. If you have watched only one or two of the productions, you have pretty much seen them all. 

Plot one: A high-powered business dynamo needs to learn the real meaning of life, which can only be found in a small, idyllic town inhabited by incredibly cheerful people who, despite their low-paying occupations (favorite include cupcake bakers, store clerks, and staff at a huge inn with no guests in sight except the small cast), can still afford enough Christmas decorations to cover EPCOT. 

Plot two: A kind, hard-working woman finds out that the incredibly handsome mystery man she’s dating is actually the king of a tiny but wealthy country named after a countertop (Cambria) or china pattern (Winshire). Twenty minutes before the movie ends, a conflict erupts based on a misunderstanding – but no worries! It will be resolved with a kiss one minute before the snow starts and two minutes before the credits roll.

Up until this past year, Hallmark was all about white, heterosexual Christians. People of Color were seen only as the best friend or the minister who marries the happy couple; LGBTQ+ characters were never seen at all. This policy was upended last year, when the channel pulled an advertisement that featured two women kissing at the altar. Soon after, scriptwriters began churning out stories that highlighted more diverse romances, including LGBTQ+ couples and interracial relationships.

What’s still largely missing, though, are stories about Jewish couples. Loving Leah (2009) was the closest to a true Jewish romance, featuring a non-observant Jewish bachelor who feels compelled to marry his rabbi brother’s widow to honor him via the ancient Jewish law of yibbum (levirate marriage). 

For me, though, the channel’s attempts at celebrating Hanukkah have been major fails. 

Holiday Date told the story of Joel, a nice Jewish boy who agrees to pretend to be the boyfriend of Brittany, who is headed back to her small Pennsylvania hometown to celebrate Christmas with her family. Hilarity allegedly ensues when Joel (who grew up in New York City, certainly surrounded by at least one or two Christians) has no idea how to decorate a tree or make a gingerbread house or sing “Deck the Halls.” Moments after the ruse is uncovered, Brittany’s mother comes out of the kitchen holding a tray of potato latkes and wearing an “Oy vey” apron. Of course, the two end up together, promising to observe both Christmas and Hanukkah. 

The plots of the other two 2019 Hallmark Hanukkah movies, both involving interfaith romances, made Holiday Date look like Casablanca. This year, Hallmark tried again. Love, Lights, Hanukkah!, which first  aired on December 14. recounted  the story of Christina, who was raised Italian Catholic by her  adoptive mother, discovers through genetic testing that she is 50% Jewish. Over the next eight days, she finds her family and romance. While I loved the acting, (both Mia Kirshner and Ben Savage are Jewish!) and some very authentic Jewish moments, especially those that involved singing the prayer when lighting the menorah, I still wished in the end that somehow Christina would change her name to Channah and completely embrace her Yiddishkeit roots. Oh well! Maybe next year  Hallmark will make a movie about two Jews who fall in love over dreidels and potato latkes without a Christmas tree in sight! 

So why do I – along with many others who likely keep mum about their penchant for Hallmark movies – love these films? Simple. They’re mindless, sweet, non-political, non-violent, and always guaranteed to result in a happy ending. I still cry every time King Maximillian and Allie embrace at the end of A Crown for Christmas. (Take that, you wicked Countess!) 

These feelings hold even truer in 2020: I need a break from COVID-19 and the elections and the transition. So grab the dreidel-shaped sugar cookies and hot chocolate: I’ll yet again be indulging in the holiday season with Hallmark Christmas movies!

Published on ReformJudaism.orgwebsite December 24, 2020 and in the (Capital Region New York) Jewish World on December 10, 2020.

Bud Black, Interlocutor Extraordinaire

For the past five years,  people who came to services at Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee, Florida, were met with an unusual but wonderful treat. They were greeted by a pair of musicians—Bud Black on the guitar (and occasionally the banjo) and Bill Willner on the snare drums. They played mostly songs from the 20s, 30s, and 40’s. Bud and Bill usually packed up their instruments about fifteen minutes before services began, but on occasion they would accompany Rabbi Karen Allen on songs from the Friday night service. 

John “Bud” Black career as a musician began in the 1930s as an 8 year old in bars near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Bud’s grandfather Bert loved to drink even more than he loved the Pittsburgh Pirates. So he would tell his wife he was taking his daughter’s “little buddy”  to a game. Instead he took him to local taverns. Bud would play the ukulele that his grandfather had purchased for him.

While still in high school, Bud began playing the guitar professionally and performing on WKPA, Pittsburg’s hillbilly radio station. (Was this the station? It is now listed as a ministry station out of Lynchburg, VA) After graduating, Bud went into the US Air Force, where he worked on computers. After he completed his service, he took a job at RCA working on technology. Bud realized quickly that his first love was music and began working the nightclub circuit around Philadelphia and Atlantic City. 

By the age of ten, with a minimal training from one of his grandfather’s fellow barflies, Bud not only had added the guitar to his repertoire but also helped Bert make some money. Bud had an incredible ability to remember the name, lyrics, and artist of every song he played. As William Miller wrote in a 1997 article, Bert  took him from bar to bar, challenging anyone to name a tune his grandson couldn’t play. When they couldn’t “Stump the Musician”— which was often— Bert passed the hat.

Along the way, Bud married and had two sons, Scott and John. After his divorce, he had a relationship that resulted in the birth of  third son, Wes. .In 1986, the Delta Queen steamship company hired him as the ship’s “interlocutor,” where he would be able combine his talents as a musician, a comedian, and an entertainer. 

His fellow musicians regarded Bud as a walking music encyclopedia. His favorites were songs from the 1920s and 1930s,  but he also knew songs from “as far back as songs were recorded.”   And when he got bored singing the lyrics the “right way,” he would sing them backwards.  “Chattanooga Choo Choo” became “Agoonattahc, Oohc-Oohc;” “My Wild Irish Rose,” “Ym dliw hsiri esor.”

One of his friends remembered, “Bud was full of bull**, an entertainer and wonderful story teller. He took a 15 second story and turned it into an hour. But it was a stroll down memory lane.” 

“Bud had the largest record collection I’ve ever seen,” Howard Paul, a fellow musician on the Delta Queen, posted on Bud’s Facebook page. “He told an endless stream of jokes (clean and blue). For me, Bud was the missing link between vaudeville and nightclub lounge acts.”

Tim Aucoin, a fellow musician, stated on Facebook that he remembers afternoons playing together in the Texas Lounge on the Delta Queen. “Bud would say ‘Who wants to hear some country music? Great, how about a Lithuanian love ballad?’”

In 1989, Bud was performing on the second night of a three day cruise when Wendy Demby, a young woman on vacation from her job in New York City, approached him and expressed her admiration for his show. When she disembarked in New Orleans for the remainder of her week-long trip, Bud sought her out to share a few hours during a break in his job. Those few hours developed into a long distance relationship that resulted in Wendy moving down to The Big Easy. They were married in May 1990.

For the next ten years, Wendy maintained their home in New Orleans while Bud strummed his guitar and banjo up and down the Mississippi. Once a year, Wendy went along for the ride. In 1999, Bud retired from the riverboat but not from music. They moved to St. Cloud, Florida, when Bud took a job at Disney World, playing a various parks including in a roaming band in the Magic Kingdom.

Bud also entertained nursing home residents throughout the Orlando area. His music transported many to healthier, happier days. One time, after singing a song, a woman came up to him in tears. “My husband has dementia,” she said. “ But when you started singing that song, he started singing along. It is the first time he has spoken in years.” 

Wendy was Jewish and Bud was Christian, but they shared a mutual respect and appreciation for each other’s religion. They attended Sunday services at the Church of St. Luke and St. Peter in St. Cloud and Friday night services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem.  Initially, Bud played and sang with Norm Salinsky a former president, About five years ago, Bill Willner joined them. When Norm became ill, Bud and Bill began their routine before services. Bud had a collection of yarmulkes displaying  musical notes or Jewish holiday motifs—but his favorite was one embossed with his beloved Pittsburg Pirates’ logo. 

This past December,  Bud and Bill were planning to do some Irish songs for the March 15 service, which fell two days before St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, Bud became ill in January and passed away on March 9, 2019, at the age of 88. 

At the memorial service at the Church of St. Luke and St. Peter, Reverend Longbottom played and sang some of Bud’s favorite songs, including many Irish tunes. The clergyman was joined by David Royer, who played Bud’s guitar. David was one of Bud’s first friends in the Orlando area, a friendship sealed by b’shert—David’s parents had sailed the Delta Queen and had spoken highly of a banjo player named Bud Black. In honor of Bud’s close connections to Judaism  and Congregation Shalom Aleichem, Wendy’s brother,Craig Demby said the Kaddish, the Jewish mourner’s prayer.

Bud’s son John passed away in 2011 from complications of diabetes.  His oldest son Scott, a talented musician in his own right, lives in China and was unable to attend the memorial service. His youngest son Wes, sharing news that his girlfriend Daniela was pregnant with what will be Bud’s first grandchild, were there to say goodbye, along with many other friends and family members.

One of Bud’s favorite songs, “Dusty Old Dust, written by Woody Guthrie in 1940, is a fitting epithet for this talented musician. “So long, it’s been good to know ya/What a long time since I’ve been home/And I’ve gotta be driftin’ along.” Drift gently, Bud!

Sources:

Miller, William. “Buddy Black, The Delta Queen’s Colorful Interlocutor.” Vantage. March/April 1997. Pages 10-11.

Lind, Angus, “Life’s a song from way back for Bud Black.” (New Orleans)  Times Picayune. September 4, 1991. Pages E1,E5.

A Family of Stores

Before 23andme.com DNA kits, before genetic testing, before people poured through old census and courthouse records, our family had the best tool to connect with our ancestors—our parents, Fran and Bill Cohen.

Bill Cohen claimed he could sniff out family from ten feet or from 200 years away. According to Dad, we were related to Sir Moses Montefiore, a nineteenth century British financier and philanthropist; Stubby Kaye , American actor and comedian most famous for his role as Nicely-Nicely in Guys and Dolls; and Madeline Kunin, the former governor of Vermont. 

Dad didn’t regard fame as the only criteria to be considered mishpachah (Yiddish for a Jewish family or social unit including close and distant relatives ). If one had any Jewish connection, Dad would find some link no matter how obscure and embrace them as one of our own .

While my father connected, my mother, Frances Cohen, kept a more reliable account of our family tree. Even into her nineties, my mother could share the convoluted genealogical history of our huge family. To add to the complexity, my father’s grandfather married my mother’s great-aunt, first cousins married first cousins; and two sisters from Vermont married two brothers from Toronto.That is not only a great deal of mishpachah but a great deal of mishagas (confusion)! My brother Jay would listen for hours, jotting down rough drafts of the convoluted branches on yellow legal pads that he filed away for “later.”

Jay also spent a great deal of time talking to our parents about the chain of family run department stores that are intrinsically entwined into our family’s history.

Pearl’s Department Stores began in the early 1900s, when our maternal great-uncle Paul Osovitz, unable to continue in the New York City sweat shops because of respiratory problems, was given money by his older sister Lillian to start a business in Vermont. Initially living with his uncle Archic Perelman in Burlington, Paul peddled wares he carried on his back throughout the rural parts of Vermont and Upstate New York.He saved enough to purchase a horse and cart. As his business grew, he invited his brother Joe to join him. 

Paul and Joe opened up their first store in Alburg, Vermont. As people knew them as the “Perelman Boys,” they chose the name of “Pearl’s Department Store.” To make the moniker even more accurate, they and most of the family changed their surname to Pearl. They opened a second store in Swanton, Vermont. Joe eventually went back to New York City. Paul began building a small dynasty of over 20 stores, employing his relatives as managers and clerks. Our father, Bill Cohen, was one of those relatives, spending most of his life managing one of Uncle Paul’s stores in Keeseville, New York.

By the late 1980s, however, big box stores and highway systems like the Northway, rang the death knell for small-town family run businesses. Pearl’s closed its last store in 1988, only remembered through those that worked or shopped there and dusty records.

In 2015, my brother Jay, retired and always loving “minutia and trivia,” began researching the history of each of the stores and the families involved. He Googled the internet for news stories, advertisements, and pictures. He contacted historians in the stores’ towns. He reached out to the descendants of the relatives that managed or worked in Paul’s stores. He then expanded his research to include stores and businesses owned by mishpachah that were not connected to Pearls, including paternal relatives and my in-laws, who owned Shapiros of Schuylerville in Upstate New York.

Jay incorporated all his findings into a website he called afamilyofstores.com. “If you grew up in upstate New York (‘the North Country’) or in northern Vermont anywhere from the 1930s through the 1980s you probably remember a Pearl’s Department Store in your hometown,” Jay wrote on the site’s home page. “You went there with your mom or your friends. You bought your Wrangler jeans and your school clothes or a Christmas gift. A Pearl’s store was there before the Kmart’s, Ames, and Walmart’s and the Northway.”

The ongoing project, which Jay calls a “labor of love,” also drew on his interest in genealogy. His two sons began hounding him. “Learning about Pearl’s is fine,” they said. “But when are you going to pull out all those yellow legal pads you have stuffed in a drawer and create a family tree for posterity?” It took a pandemic to motivate Jay to dig them out.

Early in the COVID lockdown, my three siblings and I connected with our paternal first cousins through weekly Zoom sessions. As we continued to shelter in place, our group of seven expanded to include over 22 cousins, their spouses, and even their children. 

Each meeting was consumed by the question, “How are we all related?” Jay, who had screen shared his afamilyofstores.com website, offered to pull it all together. 

Using a template from ancestry.com, Mom’s notes, his website, and updated information he gathered from the Tuesday Zooms, Jay  meticulously created the framework of a family tree that will document both paternal and maternal sides of  our ever expanding family. When finished, it will include everyone from Moses Montifiore (Dad was right, as he was about Stubby Kaye and Madeline Kunin) to my nine-month old grandson, a span of over 200 years. Thanks to Jay’s efforts, we not only know our roots but also our far-flung branches.

Why don’t we all submit our DNA to one of the popular ancestry sites to learn more? Two reasons. First, our entire family history goes back to the shtetl in Eastern European. Those of us who have had tests done show us as 98% Ashkenazi (Jews with roots in Eastern Europe). No surprises there. The second reason is that—well— we have more relatives than we can handle! Jay said that he expects to connect the family tree to over 1000 people. 

And if we finally cave in, send a sample of our saliva to a testing site, and find even more? Bring them on! After all, we are Bill and Fran Cohen’s children. And we love our family…all of them. 

Published in (Capital Region, NY) Jewish World on January 7, 2020.

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

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?

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