A synagogue in Texas

Now that the horrific hostage events at a Texas synagogue are over, I have some time to think about what happened and what it meant to the world community. As has been said in the media, there was absolutely no known connection between the person that the hostage-taker wanted freed from prison and the Jewish community. But because he took four people hostages at a synagogue, it does become something about that community.

Early in the event, the perpetrator was heard to make statements about hating Jews. That might explain why he did what he did at a synagogue. But knowing as he probably did that taking four innocent people (one of whom was a rabbi) as captives, what possible connection would that have with liberating the prisoner. Initially he said that she was his sister but it was soon discovered that he was not. And the comment from the FBI that there was no connection to the Jewish community. Did this take place at a synagogue or a laundromat?

As a bystander but extremely concerned citizen of the United States and member of the Jewish community, I am outraged at the episode and its implications for the ongoing evidence of anti-Semitism in this country. No-one can tell others to hate or not hate everyone and anyone they choose. But do it without endangering people who had nothing to do with the imprisonment of a terrorist.

Thanks to the intervention of numerous law enforcement officials and others, the situation was handled and there was no-one from the synagogue injured in any way. The details about the perpetrator are still anomalous but by Sunday morning (the day after the situation), it was disclosed that the hostage-taker was killed. While I am not happy about news that any life was ended, I am glad that this person can no longer endanger or harm another.

Will there ever be an end to hate? Will we be able to visit a synagogue in any city throughout the world without worrying if we will be made captives or injured? To me and for me, this will always be the land of the free but I cannot help but worry if my freedom will always put me at risk. Shalom.

Every minute matters

One of the movies we watched for this holiday season included a suspenseful one that rang many bells with me. The protagonist of this movie wrote his first book and achieved instant record-breaking fame. That’s not the part that resonated with me – I have no fantasies about any of my books ever becoming best sellers.

The aspect that did have meaning to me was this protagonist’s last moments with his father-in-law. This dying relative made no profound statements or pronouncements but simply asked the author never to leave his daughter, a promise that was easily made.

This is the part that made me think. In April of 1964, one of my closest relatives took me for a walk at the hospital in which my mom was a patient. He explained to me, carefully and gently, that my mom had a terminal illness and had only a few days to live. The immediate changes to my life are probably obvious, especially because I was a teenager in high school.

Fortunately for me, Mom lived until December 31st of that year, at which time she died in my care. But what’s remarkable and didn’t occur to me until I saw this movie was that she never spoke of her imminent death. She knew that her last days had come, as did all of us who were around her for those last nine months. Any observations, recollections, or regrets that she had in those months were kept to herself.

There is a huge lesson, for me and all those who may read this. Each of her remaining moments were precious and not to be tainted with words of death. Part of this certainly had to do with the fact that I was so young and probably not equipped for deep philosophical analysis. But she wasn’t that person.

She never asked for sympathy, sadness, or special consideration for the fact that she was in bone-jarring pain. And so, many years later, I reflect on her unwillingness to dwell on death and mortality. Instead, she was determined to maximize her experience of life, for herself and those of us who loved her. Few of us are able to visualize the ends of our lives as she did. But we all have the opportunity to learn from her selfless approach – any breath may be our last and we must commit to loving those around us and enjoying all of those moments.  Shalom. ﬧ ﬣﬥ

Realization

Something that I don’t quite understand but appreciate with all of my being is that now and then I run smack into an idea for this medium without any warning that it is going to happen. It may not be worthy of examination so I will choose to enjoy the experience rather than wonder why it happens.

In this case, I was sitting and thinking as I often do. What occurred to me was a simple expression that I will call, “a higher purpose.” Initially I thought of my own religion and the ways in which I conceive of my God. But this was not strictly about those definitions. More importantly, it occurred to me for the first time that I have a specific, unique purpose for my existence on this planet.

One of my closest friends and I have discussed similar subjects at great length but until this moment, I don’t know that I ever thought myself capable of or responsible for a “higher purpose.” This is not to suggest that I am doing the work of God – I would like to believe that if this were true, I would have a much clearer sense of motivation and clarity.

After saying what this is not, I can attempt to say what it is. Somehow, through the actions that I have completed or will complete, I believe with great certainty that I will create or represent something with a higher purpose. At this moment, I am not quite sure what that is or will be. Perhaps through giving birth and raising two children, I have made it possible for one or more great accomplishments to occur, either through them or their offspring.

It may be through my writing that I have established something with a higher purpose. It may be through my teaching that I have contributed to the growth and coming of age for one or more of my students. Or it may be an action or creation not yet completed or understood. Coming to these conclusions makes me feel that the hard times contributed as much as the joyous ones in enabling me to be part of this higher purpose. Because I have just encountered this concept, I hope to have ample time to understand and realize whatever it is. No matter the outcome, it is certain that my life and legacies will not end when I do. Shalom.

Kristallnacht

Eighty-three years ago today, the Nazis of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich perpetrated a crime on the Jewish residents throughout Germany, Austria, and the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia that would subsequently be referred to as “Kristallnacht.” Germany considered this an act of retaliation for the assassination of a German foreign official. Ernst vom Rath had been shot by Herschel Grynszpan, a 17-year-old Polish Jew who was upset over the deportation of his family from Germany.

Kristallnacht means Crystal Night or Night of the Broken Glass. On November 9 and 10, approximately 7500 Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues were bombed, plundered, and burned. Ninety-one Jews died in the process and over 3,000 were sent to concentration camps. To many historians, this two-day event was the beginning of systematic anti-Semitism and destruction of the Jewish people throughout Europe.

If you’re asking why I mention this date and the events that took place, much of my academic and authorial efforts of the last ten years have focused on World War II and the Holocaust. The historic details are less important than the fact that this was effectively the beginning of Nazi tyranny, making it worthy of reflection and respect.

As I have mentioned in my books and other writing, my dedication to this subject is my contribution toward preventing another Holocaust from ever happening again. It doesn’t need to be the Jews who are persecuted. Any time that we focus on a race, religion, or other category to torment, persecute, and kill, we are recreating the horrors of the World War II Holocaust.

While I cannot undo the events of the past, I can memorialize those who died and continue to remind those who read my work that these events cannot and must not be repeated. We make a mistake when we think of numbers such as six million or 3,000 or any other statistic. These were individual lives of people from the very young to the very old whose lives were ended but must not be forgotten. Shalom.

Wishes

I wish –

That every child born today, tomorrow, and the day after has all of the food, clothes, and education that he or she will ever need.

That our national and global issues would be resolved through good sense and reasoning, rather than politics and backstabbing.

That this horrible virus would run its course and stop taking the lives of all of us who are unable to achieve complete immunity.

That teachers stop telling their students to shut up or refer to them as monkeys.

That we have more examples of bravery and community service in the news than we have robberies and murders.

That those who influenced and supported me would know how much they have given to me.

That I could provide each of my students with all the tools that they need to learn and excel.

That I could have a minute with each person I have lost, to tell them what they meant to me.

That I could apologize to every person I have hurt or to whom I have said something that I shouldn’t have.

That I could enable some of my students to read and count when those simple processes are out of their grasps.

That my family believes in my boundless love for them.

And that my legacy will be one of honor and integrity.

Shalom.

What comes next

Having just finished and published my most recent book, The girl, the gift, the Warsaw Ghetto – Resistance through hope and courage, I now find myself in the curious position of needing to begin all over again. When I began to write about the Holocaust, I committed to a trilogy that is now two-thirds complete and waiting for the third component.

Both of this book’s predecessors required hundreds of hours each, spent in research, writing, and editing. But now that I’ve taken two days to celebrate and recover, it’s time to write the third. As I do that, I’m amazed that the experience is entirely different from the last one and the one before. Maybe it’s because the subject matter is different; maybe it’s simply starting with a blank page.

A number of people have suggested that I take a break and relax before I jump into a third book. It’s a well-intentioned idea except for the fact that the entire process of creating a book is so fulfilling that it never quite seems like work. The best way to explain that is by example.

If you were an artist creating a landscape or portrait and it wasn’t commissioned, would that constitute work? The same question can be asked about a sculpture, musical composition, or interior design. In other words, I believe that this is what I need to do, regardless of how much time and effort are involved.

It’s clear that I am also an educator, explaining why I don’t stop teaching although I have passed the traditional age for retirement. By no means is it the money. I suspect that substitute teachers are paid less than most professionals, particularly in the education world. By all means it is the kids who invigorate, enlighten, and enhance me. And so it goes with writing – filling the pages with words, ideas, history, and optimist is the finest occupation I can imagine.

While I don’t know when book three will be complete, I have every intention of making it happen. The process will be exhausting and exhilarating but that’s what I do. Shalom.

Milestones

Today is a milestone in my life, for two reasons. One is that it is the 82nd anniversary of the German invasion of Poland. The second is my method of observing and commemorating the events following that date, the publication of the second book in my Holocaust trilogy. This book is entitled, The girl, the gift, the Warsaw Ghetto – Resistance through hope and courage.

You can probably imagine (correctly) that this book is the product of intense research and creation, one that is consistent with my dedication to making certain that the horrors of the Holocaust are never forgotten. Toward that end, I will take a short break, then begin work on the third book in this trilogy. If the book is not immediately visible on Amazon, it will be within the next few days.

One of the things that I have learned through publishing this third book of my career is the fact that it is a false assumption to believe that everyone I know and love will both buy the book and read it. This is not to suggest that I don’t trust people or that I suspect their intentions in any way. But there are several realities to consider.

The first is that the subject of the Holocaust is not one that everyone wants to investigate or research. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t read or enjoy science fiction.  Many people I know enjoy thrillers or crime drama. So if it’s simply the taste fairy that prevents people from reading my book, that’s fine.

It’s also the fact that many of those around me simply don’t have the time to read. Whether it is due to occupation or life style circumstances, reading time is not a given. And I understand that as well.

But the most important lesson I’ve learned through publishing books is simply not to ask. In those cases where people have read and enjoyed my book, they will be quick to tell me. If there are some who have read and not appreciated the work, they are unlikely to tell me so. The critical part is that I won’t ask because I don’t want anyone to feel pressured to buy and read what I write.

The popularity of my books is vastly second to the message that I seek to communicate. And I never want to put anyone on the spot to explain why they haven’t read one of them. I do hope that you are a fan. Whether or not you are, you are still my friends and treasured family members. Shalom.

Changing the world

In the process of writing books about the Holocaust, it was inevitable that I repeatedly encountered the name of Hitler. While I suppose that some world residents during the period of 1939 to 1945 didn’t hear his name, the truth is that he changed the world.

It was a change for the worse, to be sure, although I believe that many felt that his beliefs were admirable. But isn’t it possible for one person to change the world for the better? Surely, most of us would be more receptive to that form of change.

Think real hard. How many people in history changed the world in a positive way? Mother Teresa, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Steve Jobs all made major impacts but I’m sure that many people, especially in third world countries, haven’t heard of any of them.

I’m always an educator and it occurs to me that we have the responsibility to tell our students that they can be that one person who has the potential to make powerful and lasting influence on the world. And why not?

My assumption is that most of us do want to modify our world for the better. But teaching the method through which it can be done must be as individual as those hearing the lesson. Do you want to build something? Do you want to destroy something evil such as crime, hunger, greed, violence, or poverty? Clearly, making one or more of these go away will enhance civilization.

This is not an occasion for skepticism or cynicism. We must tell others, children and adults, that they have the capacity to improve the world in which we live, if only they seize that opportunity. Furthermore, I believe that our survival as a civilization depends on it.

Here’s why: Most of our fellow occupants on earth are content with mediocrity and not making waves. If everyone traveled that path, what would happen to discovery, invention, and creativity?

If you’re wondering if I practice what I preach, I do. While I have no delusions that any of my books will change the world in any material way, I write with the sincerity that they can. If it’s not through my writing, I can change a child’s world by believing in that student and encouraging him or her to greatness. Any of my students, all of my students can improve our planet in as many areas as it can be improved.

Sometimes, all it takes is one more vote of encouragement. If you’ve received that vote, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, you will remember that as well. Shalom.

Greatness

Having just watched a special about Linda Ronstadt, I am inspired and saddened by her story. She spent a long career following her dreams, creating powerful music, and leaving a major impact on the music industry. Now she is retired, unable to sing because of a debilitating illness. Regardless of how you may feel about her politics, singing voice, or music, she created a huge library of musical masterpieces.

As I continue working on my next book, her story is close to my heart as one who wants to create something that is exceptional. If I think of the greatest books that have been written, there is a very long list to consider. It’s likely that none of the authors responsible for these books set out to write epic literature but that doesn’t change my intention.

Is it right to aspire to greatness? Does anyone aspire to mediocrity? My subject matter is of tremendous importance – it is the Holocaust, with its devastation and immense loss. But I continue to aspire to writing a work that is consistent with the significance of the subject. With that as a starting point, how does the desire for a great book impact its writing?

This is not a question easily answered. One answer is to write it as I ordinarily do, with the hope that it becomes a truly wonderful work. Another is to invest all of my heart and talent into its creation. Another, seriously dismal response is to do my best and hope that it flies, with the realization that the percentage of books that achieve the status of landmarks is extremely low.

Ultimately, it all amounts to writing what I do and publishing, with the conviction that I have done my best and have achieved my objective of honoring the subject matter. My hope is that my readers are informed and enhanced by the work that I have done. More importantly, my goal has always been to provide a history that is a learning tool, to delineate what was done with the reminder that we must never forget the tragedies of the Holocaust so as to make it possible for them to be repeated.

Beyond that, I suppose that I have lived up to my expectations by teaching and memorializing. The satisfaction of that goal must constitute greatness – that I have spent the time and heart in listening to my heart while telling a vitally crucial story. Shalom.

Say something

As many of my readers know, my most recent book, Two papas – a tale of impossible Holocaust survival, was published almost a year ago. That book was completed as the first segment of my Holocaust trilogy and I am half-finished with book two.

This would not be the first time I mention that writing books is both the most challenging and difficult undertaking of my life. But having books in print affords me the luxury of considerable contemplation.

After publication, I delivered or mailed at least thirty copies to my family members, friends, and associates who expressed a desire to read it. Having offered quite a few more, I was usually told that my contacts preferred the e-book version. I have no way to determine who did and who didn’t buy it because all I see is the total number of books sold.

What amuses or intrigues me is the shortage of reviews and feedback I’ve received from virtually everyone. Aside from three or four close friends and family members who gushed about how much they loved the book, the rest of the recipients have said nothing.

And so, I choose to reach a collection of conclusions because there are probably that many different reasons for this silence. Some either do not have or take time to read. Some intend to do so but haven’t yet. A few may find the subject matter difficult or of no interest whatsoever. And I suppose that there are some who simply didn’t like the book and don’t want to tell me so. Finally, there are going to be readers who either don’t know how to write a review or are reticent to do so.

I offer a suggestion to those who write and appreciate feedback of any type. As you publish, tell everyone you know and everyone you don’t know that receiving input is meaningful to you, for whatever reason it is.  Additionally, their enthusiasm will encourage those who will cherish your work enough to secure it. For me, commentary is useful and vital to the creation of more work.

The amount of feedback I receive will not affect my intention to continue writing. All of my work emanates from the heart and the importance I attach to its messages. But I admit that I do love hearing that someone values what I have done, in the hopes that it enhanced or enlightened the reader. Shalom.