Your opinion

Opinions based upon theory, superstition, and ignorance are not very precious. Mark Twain

One of the realities of this Covid-19 pandemic is that there is a huge amount of information to which we do not have direct access. We have heard numerous theories about the virus’s origins, transmittal, and dangers. At the same time, we know that there are variants but who know how many of them there are? Will we need boosters after six months or a year or ten years?

If you are at all like me, you have little or no patience for those who refuse to take the vaccine because it is in conflict with their Constitutional (or other?) rights. To my knowledge, there is nothing in the Constitution or it’s amendments about the right to refuse something that will most likely save your life. But this is not my forum for political bluster rather than a suggestion for using common sense.

My reality is that there is absolutely nothing certain about this vaccine or any other medical phenomenon and we must accept this as our current and probably future status. Our scientists and researchers are not magicians. They can’t see into the future or make predictions based on incomplete scientific facts. This is not a bad thing – it just is.

And so, my recommendation is the same as it is for most subjects about which we simply do not have enough information. Trust your gut. If you believe that the vaccine is dangerous and you’re better off without it, help yourself. But please keep in mind that if you have the virus and infect someone else, you are using your right to decline the vaccine to infect that person. That just doesn’t seem right.

The posture for those who want to be part of the world’s community, is think of your fellow man (woman, child) at the same time that you are thinking of yourself. You are entitled to whatever opinion you have, even those based on superstition and ignorance. But you do not have the right to damage innocent people in the process. 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.

Happy Birthday, USA!

Today is my country’s 245th birthday. As we celebrate with parades, parties, and fireworks, I continue to believe that many have forgotten both the struggles we have had to face as a country to be in this place and the many reasons we have to celebrate our birthday.

This year has been similar to the last in terms of struggling with the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the numerous political battles that we see around us. The politics make me sad. Some of the polls that we see indicate that the country is divided and that many are uncertain about the future, both for themselves and the country in which we live.

My response is that more than ever before, we must work together instead of fighting with each other. Our priorities must be to educate our children, feed our hungry, reduce the violence that is rampant in our cities and towns, and put aside our political parties for the sake of the greater good.

But it is not my job to lecture or warn my fellow citizens. I feel more strongly than ever before that it is time for unity, celebration, and patriotism. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. We are all Americans who must continue to fight for the liberty that drove our revolution and Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Happy Birthday, USA! We are grateful for the privilege of living here and I am one who will fight in any way I can to preserve all that is good about this wonderful country. Freedom isn’t free and in honor of the many thousands who have died to protect that freedom, I thank you and the rest of my fellow Americans who do everything possible to continue making this the most wonderful, rich, and prosperous country on earth. Shalom.

SEO

Anyone who makes a practice of writing for the public knows that in these days, the key to having your work seen by the greatest number of people is SEO or search engine optimization. It’s a given that if you include such words as Trump, Pelosi, Jihad, terrorist, bomber, or pandemic, your viewing population will increase exponentially.

It makes sense. People want to see work that is current or provocative. They want to share it with family members or co-workers. Or they want to appear current in the latest and occasionally best news.

While I admit to having included some SEO in my blogs. Out of over 600 of them, it’s inevitable that I have alluded to politics and those situations that have recently made the biggest news splashes. But beneath all of that, while I admit to checking to see how many people read my blogs, it’s really not about that. If I needed to summarize why I write what I do, it’s simply about following my heart.

Here’s the proof. Today I had reason to make some cole slaw, a dish for which my wonderful mom had established a reputation as her “signature side dish.” She taught me how to make it and while I can’t possibly claim to make a cole slaw as wonderful as hers, the key is her secret ingredient. Obviously, I included that secret addition to the salad today and as is the case each time I make it, I can’t help but think about her and the sadness I feel each time I think about having lost her.

And so, if I were seeking fame, fortune, national publication, or some form of global recognition, I would be talking about subjects like Republicans, Democrats, and legalization of marijuana. But that’s not why I write. I would rather share the part of me that treasures a secret ingredient in cole slaw. Or I would rather write about a special student whom I was blessed to encounter in my classroom. Sometimes, it’s about a restaurant that served breakfast coffee in a beer stein.

There are many places to find SEO and if that is what you seek, I fully understand. If you would rather share some time with my memories and sentiments, you are in the right place. Shalom.

Resistance

Thankfully, most of us have never experienced situations where we were in imminent danger. During my life in Chicago, I had several violent encounters but I am grateful to have sustained only minor injuries.

Much of my most recent reading includes much more serious types of suppression and attacks. Whether it was in Nazi Germany, Poland, or anywhere  where terrorism took place in World War II, millions of people found themselves fearing every minute for their safety and the certainty of their next days on earth. Surprisingly, my studies have shown far less literature on the act of resistance than the horrors that took place.

It occurs to me that acts of resistance, whether during World War II or present day, constitute the most serious form of courage. A group of brave, determined Polish Jews refused to surrender to the end of life in Treblinka or Majdanek. Instead, they staged a carefully orchestrated and thoroughly organized resistance. Most of the resisters were killed but their actions will always inspire me, particularly as I continue to write about their uprising.

In the twenty-first century, we are not without the need to resist those actions that are dangerous or politically unacceptable. We all have opportunities to make our statements, that we will not tolerate discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, sexual preference, or gender. Failure to do so, it appears to me, is the same as assisting the Nazis in Europe in their “Final Solution,” the destruction of Jews and others during the war.

No form of resistance is small or insignificant. While most acts of resistance will never be publicized or lauded, each of us will eventually have the opportunity and necessity to resist something that is inherently wrong. Failure to do so is as bad as the injustice being committed.

In no way am I suggesting putting ourselves in situations where we can be hurt. The situations to which I refer are those that consist of taking actions rather than fighting or demonstrating. If we see elders who are being compromised, we must intercede. If we see child abuse in our schools, we must take immediate action. These are instances of resistance – the sizes of which are much less important than the changes that they necessitate. Shalom.

Day of remembrance

January 27 was International Holocaust Day, a day to remember the victims of Nazi terrorism and the liberation of Auschwitz, a death camp that murdered over 1 million Jews. Hitler’s plan was referred to as the Final Solution and in total, over 6 million Jews, Romanos, Russians, Polish, and others were murdered by the Nazis.

This year marks my ninth year of in-depth studies of World War II and the Holocaust, the subject of my most recent and next two books. What I have just discovered is the following information published by The Forward, a Jewish newspaper that has been published since 1897. This is the quotation from The Forward:

On Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Forward is publishing the first-ever database of monuments to Nazi collaborators and Holocaust perpetrators. It lists 320 monuments and street names in 16 countries on three continents which represent men and organizations who’ve enabled — and often quite literally implemented — the Final Solution.

We live in a country that has been quite verbal and demonstrative about removing statues of slavers and colonizers whose deeds were considered reprehensible by subsequent generations. Somehow, while freedom speech is a right guaranteed to Americans, monuments that are erected and maintained are not protected by that right. My observation here is that protesters could be lawfully protected when they removed offensive statues while those that are much more offensive (at least to some of us) are maintained.

Holocaust perpetrators lived in many countries around the globe. They arrested and deported Jews to concentration camps or killed them in locations within Eastern Europe. It has been estimated that one-third of all Holocaust victims were killed in this manner.

We have chosen to honor many of these Nazis with memorials in our own country, many of which were erected within the past twenty years. Here are two examples, also from The Forward.

Andrey Vlasov, the Soviet general who went over to the Nazis and raised an army of over 100,000 men for the Third Reich, has a memorial just outside New York.

Chicago also has a memorial to Adolfas Ramanauskas-Vanagas, who commanded a unit of the Lithuanian Activist Front, a Nazi-allied organization whose members slaughtered Jews across Lithuania in the summer of 1941.

With all of the hate-mongering and outrage about past slave-owners, we see fit to honor Nazi allies in a city like Chicago that boasts a huge Jewish population. With sixteen countries throughout the world containing these memorials, is it any wonder that we are also seeing Holocaust denial organizations and neo-Nazis at the attack on our Capitol building? While all of this makes me very sad and worried, I am more determined than ever to make certain that the world never forgets. Shalom.

Hollow men

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

T.S. Eliot  – The Hollow Men

For some reason, I fell asleep the other night with these lines in my head. It’s been quite a while since I studied this poem, a famous and highly reviewed one. Although Eliot wrote it during the late 20s, I find myself thinking how appropriate it is today.

Those of us who are Americans and fully understand the meaning of being an American citizen continue to be shocked and distressed at the events that took place last Wednesday in our nation’s capital. While the violence was finally put to an end, the dialogue and threats continue and most of us are looking apprehensively at the upcoming inauguration. Will we see more violence, in spite of the massive preparation and presence of thousands of troops and law officers who will attend?

As much as possible, I can separate myself from the politics of last Wednesday and focus only on the damage done to the building that is representative of our democracy and freedom. Except during wartime and in the preservation of freedom that is indigenous to war, I cannot condone violence of any type. Hundreds of millions of us revere the American flag and the buildings that populate our capitol. Seeing damage done to either hurts the core of us. Knowing that it was initiated and encouraged by one of our “leaders” exacerbates the pain and allows me to question the loyalties of those who chose to participate.

After all of the bravado, bullets, and breaking of treasured symbols, what was left? Was there a point of any significance that was transmitted? Surely not, other than that there was a contingent of bullies who didn’t care whom they hurt or what consequences ensued.

My most sincere hope is that we will not see any more violence, damage, or human suffering as this upcoming inauguration takes place. We all have the ability to encourage our lawmakers to do what they can to discourage rioters and encourage peace. I only hope that we will see the best of actions, eliminating both bangs and whimpers. Shalom.

Grateful

While I seldom use this medium for extremely personal thoughts and events, I had a dream last night that was so believable and memorable, I decided that it was worthy of sharing. As far as I can remember, these events did not take place in reality but they definitely could have.

My young son and I were sitting in a restaurant with a young woman who was in the business of supporting cancer patients who were in treatment or in the healing process. She explained how the organization worked, that they were given names of those who needed their help most and arranged to deliver whatever was need. As far as I can tell, my son was about nine or ten for this dream.

In the middle of her explanation, my son got out of his chair and climbed over the table to deliver a kiss on the cheek to this social servant. He didn’t say a word but his message was clear. She looked at him in amazement, then thanked him profusely for his spontaneous gesture. As I remember all of this, it comes as no surprise because both my son and daughter have enormous hearts and are fully capable of this type of action.

What’s important is that we as Americans don’t spend enough time and energy in supporting those causes that are worthy of our appreciation. Wednesday’s tragic events at our Capitol Building suggest that we haven’t realized how very fortunate we were to have the type of support from the National Guard, Capitol police, Virginia, and Maryland that we did. Politics aside, I am certain that I am not alone in having felt grateful when the crowds were dispersed and the city of Washington DC was once again settled.

Now is the time that we must unite for the purposes of supporting those causes and movements that are worthy of our support. We don’t need to add more money to the political party coffers – we need to support the American Cancer Society, Parkinson’s Association, Boys and Girls Clubs, Feeding America,  and every other cause in which you believe. Time to stop wasting energy on those issues that have already been resolved. Shalom.

Blame

An English word that I find particularly intriguing is the word blame. We’ve all heard and used it, from the time that we were very young. In every case that I can imagine, blame is something we don’t want, something that is to be avoided. If you don’t wear the right jacket and it gets cold, don’t blame me. If you spend your money on foolishness, you’re the one to blame.

What’s most interesting to me is the fact that I am somehow enhanced when I can transfer the blame to someone or something else. If I am late for an appointment, I am not to blame – it’s because of the traffic, the weather – anything other than the fact that I was irresponsible in terms of being somewhere at the right time. If we are working together and you fail to complete your part of the project, the blame can be transferred to you and I am no longer at fault (to blame).

If this doesn’t strike you as amusing or enlightening, check out the data we are receiving from those who populate the media. Who’s to blame for Covid-19? Saying that it’s the Chinese is ridiculous to me. They have suffered as much as we have and why would they perpetuate and distribute something so toxic? Are the people not wearing masks to blame? That’s pretty simplistic to me. We can probably agree that if you don’t wear a mask, you are likely to increase the chances of others contracting the virus if you in fact have it. But does it help to make you to blame?

Likewise, those who are responsible for fighting the disease and protecting each other may be inclined to blame others for one condition or another. When we see millions of Americans who are desperately in need of the vaccination, does it help to blame the federal government, the pharmaceutical companies, the transportation entities, or the local hospitals and clinics?

My reaction is generally to suggest that we stop assigning blame and begin assuming responsibility. It works well in the classroom. Instead of worrying about who dropped the pencils or pen or paste, let’s just clean it up. Knowing who did it doesn’t solve anything. And so it goes in the rest of the world. Instead of getting stretched out with establishing blame, just fix it. Get the vaccination to the people whose lives can be saved. Wear masks if only to protect yourself and your loved ones, without assigning blame. From here, the blame factor should remain with empty-headed politicians who would rather point fingers than take constructive actions. Shalom.

A hero

Throughout my eight-plus years of studying World War II and the Holocaust, I have identified many people whom I would describe as heroes. There were the well known such as Oskar Schindler who rescued 1,000 Jews. And there were the countless heroes with less recognition – those who sheltered Jews in their basements, attics, or barns and those who offered food or means to escape.

But the name Moritz Hochschild did not become known to me until recently and I am amazed by the size of his efforts coupled with the fact that these works have gone substantially unnoticed. The information can be summarized as follows:

Hochschild was a German Jew who was born in 1881 in Western Germany. In 1921, he moved to Bolivia and began to develop what would become a mining empire. In 1939, he began to see what the Jews were experiencing in Europe and persuaded the president of Bolivia to allow Jewish immigration. He raised funds to transport Jews and began to relocate as many as he could.

He then began employing Jews in his mines and offices, developed housing and schools for the immigrants and created a home that was safe from tyranny and destruction. By 1940, Hochschild had rescued 9,000 Jews from Europe. But when he died in 1965, virtually no-one knew his name and those records that referenced him characterized him as an unpleasant and tyrannical employer.

Thankfully, we have finally learned all there was to learn about what Hochschild did and the enormous scope of his achievements. There is a lesson to those of us who may think of ourselves as incapable of heroism or greatness. We all have the opportunity to complete acts of kindness, large and small, in unusual or everyday situations. If we are socially conscious, firmly committed to humanitarian efforts, and willing to do what is available to us, we are all capable of being heroes.

It is impossible to count how many thousands of Jews owe their lives to Mr. Hochschild’s efforts. But it seems to me that when we emulate his acts of the heart, we can tip our hats to him and his character. Shalom.