Information

Imagine having a resource that had all of the answers to all of the questions that you can possibly imagine. You don’t need a network, a search engine, or the requirement to sift through thousands of options in order to find exactly the data that you are searching. If the information that you needed wasn’t immediately visible, it simply wasn’t important or didn’t exist.

Many years ago, our family had such a resource. It was called “The Black Book” and it resided in the closet of my parents’ bedroom. If I had this book now, it would probably be worth a healthy amount of money because it was so unique and now, so outdated.

The point here is that before we had internet and the real time information that we now have at our fingertips, we had to avail ourselves of other options. When I had to write a term paper, either in high school or in college, the black book was no longer in my possession and I had to make a trek to the public library. But the Black Book was a staple during my elementary education years and nothing else in our home was as valuable as it was.

As a student of World War II and the Holocaust and an author of the same subjects, I now rely both on my reading materials and the data that I can collect on the internet. My gratitude for the information that I can access within minutes is without boundaries and I am certain that I couldn’t do the writing I do without this access. And I absolutely and positively don’t want to lose the technology that we have.

But I can’t persuade myself that I am any happier about the world in general than I was when I had the Black Book. It was simple, compact, and the definite source of everything that I needed to know. This was also the time when we had four television stations, washed our cars in the driveway, played badminton in the back yard, and stayed outside in the summer until dark without fear of anything.

We can’t and don’t want to impede progress. At the same time, I remember with boundless sentimentality those days when I really believed that all of the information I needed or wanted was within the 856 pages of the Black Book. Life was much less complicated in that world. Shalom.

Good words

Something that always amuses and intrigues me is the need for constant approval and reinforcement displayed by kindergarteners and first graders. No matter what the subject, no matter what time of day, these are children who eagerly approach my desk with their work. Until such time as I nod, smile, or confirm that they have done well, they will continue to stand around me.

Most of the time, certain students will require multiple confirmations that they have done well. It’s not necessarily those with learning disadvantages. Very often, the brightest and most competent of students will also need approval. No matter how I scrutinize their work or lavish praise, the desire for affirmation is constant.

Thinking about this, I wonder if their usual teacher requires them to solicit regular teacher confirmation. That would make sense if this only happened occasionally. Another possible explanation is that many children don’t get the kind of attention they seek at home. Because I can’t see into their personal lives except when they tell me stories about life at home, I can’t tell which parents are involved in the education or their kids and which are not.

Of course, my compliments are frequent and lavish. There’s no such thing as too much praise or too much attention. But I can’t help but wonder how much of what we see in adult behavior is the result of too little in the way of positive reinforcement during childhood. That may translate to, “I need to do whatever it takes to get people to look at me.”

Maybe that need for identity translates into violent crime. Maybe it’s road rage. Maybe it’s spousal or child abuse. Yes, I realize that this is an over-simplification in terms of why people commit criminal acts. But I can’t help but wonder if acts of rage are often a need for recognition, positive or negative. For my part, I will do whatever I can to deliver congratulatory information to my kids, for the sake of encouraging self-esteem. Yelling, scolding, punishing, and constant correction won’t fix anything. And it’s a good chance that these behaviors can have lasting consequences. 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.

Winning and losing

If we were to have a conversation and I asked you to relate all of the bad decisions you’ve made in your life, I suspect that you wouldn’t have too much trouble identifying those decisions. Maybe you left home too soon. Maybe you married the wrong person. Or maybe you accepted a position that turned out to be a totally awful career move.

My guess is that you didn’t have any trouble thinking about the things that you did wrong. Now let’s change directions. Think of all the good choices that you made throughout your life. You supported someone who desperately needed your help. You gave away something that you cherished in order to improve the life of the recipient. Or you took a chance on a relationship that materialized into something extraordinary.

The reason for this line of thinking is that if you are at all like me, you often dwell on what you’ve done wrong rather than what you’ve done that was altogether right. Most likely, you don’t have any chance of undoing the unfortunate choices, making them only useful for learning purposes. Beyond that, what is the possible value of reliving the negative chapters of your life’s story?

As a best-case example, I often encounter students who are eager to tell me about all of the bad things that are going on in their homes. Most of them are fairly innocuous – my goldfish died, my dad yelled at me, etc. But whenever class discussions wander into the negative, I always channel them into more positive lines of thinking. This is exactly the same as remembering poor choices rather than celebrating the good ones.

To be sure, if we ignore our past mistakes, we are condemned to repeat them. But why not spend time on victories, celebrations, accomplishments, and meeting challenges? In spite of the fact that you can easily describe everything that you did wrong, make it a point to be conscious of everything that you did right. In addition to no-one wanting to hear about losing, everybody wants to hear about winning. You may be surprised to discover that it simply feels better. Shalom.

Living in the moment

As I prepared to go to teach the other morning, I silently groaned at the prospect of teaching four days this week. When I did that, I immediately reminded myself that I’m off in two days, work two and then it’s the weekend.

Replaying that exercise, I realized that I violated one of my cardinal rules – living for tomorrow – without paying sufficient attention to the present. This process is wrong for a host of reasons.

Most importantly, when you spend all of your time anticipating, planning, and wishing for the future, you waste today. All of the spectacular images, sounds, and experiences of today (or any days until the “future”) are lost. And if that isn’t bad enough, you’ve also lost opportunities to manufacture and carry out terrific new adventures in the moment. To be sure, this is the ultimate tragedy.

Tomorrow is guaranteed to no-one. Consequently, we must live today to the fullest. If I am very fortunate, I’ll be around and healthy enough to teach the rest of the week. (As it turned out, the last two days of this week were canceled.) If I am wise, I’ll pack as much wisdom, learning, and happiness into the days I have available.

And if the best outcomes occur, I will have multiple occasions to improve others along the way. That’s going to be true for tomorrow but I can’t lose sight of it today. Shalom.

Do it for you

As I have been doing research and preliminary writing for my next book, I remembered the last book that I was writing before my recent publication of Two Papas – a tale of Impossible Holocaust Survival. That earlier project was shelved for the Holocaust trilogy but I still consider it a viable work in progress.

Reading what I have already written, it struck me that my words are extremely personal rather than historical or fictional. Recently I observed in this medium that very few published books attain commercial success. If you have a name like Grisham or Brokaw or Gates, you are essentially guaranteed to sell many books. But very few of us have that status, making our work destined to be in the realm of the undiscovered.

If I had any doubt about the value of that status, I watched with interest an interview on a television show of a best-selling author. He was quite explicit that he wrote for himself, not for the audience that he expected to read his work. Do authors truly seek to attain fame and fortune? Quite honestly, I have never sought either. That reality takes us back to my opening point, that of the work that we create being altogether personal.

The book to which I referred is half-finished and as has been the case with other work, it begins to take on a life of its own. For now, I will continue working on it when I have either motivation or revelation. My heart remains with the Holocaust trilogy. But I suggest to my readers that whatever you do, do it for yourself.

Your medium may be the written word, oil painting, sculpture, dress design, or any other creative endeavor. With all my heart, I suggest that you continue doing that work, for your own satisfaction. It comes from you and reflects you. If the public seeks to possess it any way, so much the better. As for me, I will fill the pages with characters, thoughts, reflections, and hopes – all for my own creative muse. Anything beyond that is a gift. Shalom.

Someone is listening

My current reading material concerns one indescribably brave woman who survived the Warsaw Ghetto. Because the Ghetto is the subject of my next book, it is a priority for me to pay complete attention to detail and nuance.

One of these nuances describes the frequency with which Poles and Jews in hiding were discovered by seemingly casual slips of the tongue. Otherwise “innocent” remarks disclosed secret places of those who were hiding as well as the names of those who were protecting others. Once this information was received by the Nazis, both those in flight and the people hiding them were discovered, tortured, and killed. Extreme, to be sure, but there is a lesson for all of us about what we say.

It’s important to keep in mind that very often, various citizens would report whereabouts of fugitives so as to gain favor or rewards from the Nazis. But it was also carelessness in speech that caused the discovery of those in hiding.

More so than ever before, I am cognizant of the words I say and the people who are able to hear me say them. When we’re not paying sufficient attention, we can make statements or comments that can be hurtful to those around us. Sometimes it’s those who are closest to us; other times, it’s simply those in our vicinity who are negatively impacted.

In the olden days, we often heard the comment, “Loose lips sink ships.” That may not be in current usage, but the caveat still applies. We cannot be reckless in our speech and written communications. Either way, it makes sense to be thoughtful, intentional, and fully cognizant of the things we say. Shalom.

Attitudes

As is the case with any endeavors we undertake, the attitude with which we begin our day defines everything that follows. It makes perfect sense.

If I walk into a classroom thinking, “Oh, I wonder what kinds of little rambunctious animals I’ll be facing today,” they will inevitably live down to my expectations. If I approach my day with an open mind, I am fully equipped to handle what transpires, good or bad.

Traveling from school to school, I see a wide range of early morning teacher attitudes. Some are bright and cheery – Have a wonderful day!. Others are gloomy or simply negative – Another day of warfare. My best guess is that the first group of teachers generates much better responses from students than the second.

Students don’t deserve to be exposed to or suffer from our personal issues. When a teacher doesn’t love to teach, why be there? Your negativity translates to “I don’t want to teach; I don’t care if you learn something or not.” Kids don’t need that. If the teacher is resentful about being here, what reason do I have to be positive or behave properly?

Arguably, the perspective works just as well in the office, factory, clinic or any other working environment. How many jobs have I worked where I walk into a room with co-workers who are angry, tearful, or argumentative? The quality of job performance is commensurate with the attitudes we bring to the workplace.

When I worked in an insurance call center, I dedicated myself to prompt, efficient, compassionate service. It came as no surprise to many that I received copious client commendations. The way I saw it my clients deserved that level of care, regardless of my headache or frustrations with getting to work in a snowstorm.

For as long as I am able to teach, my students will continue to get smiles and positive greetings. If I’m not excited to see them, they are not motivated to display their best behavior. Promising to give my maximum makes it possible and desirable for them to reciprocate. And I can’t think of anything better than that. Shalom.

Memories to save

This past year can be defined as one of profound loss. We have lost our ability to move about without restriction and eat in whatever restaurant we choose. We have also lost over one-half million Americans to this relentless disease that we have finally become able to control through vaccination.

To those who have lost loved ones, I send my wishes for their memories to be blessings. But I also suggest that you take some time to record your memories, either on paper or audio recording. While most of who they were and what they represented to you will not fade through time, the preservation of history will always be a worthwhile investment of your time.

Most recently, I have been thinking about my sweet grandmother, she whom I called Bubbe. She died many years ago while I was away at college. But I have had cause to remember many things about her – her cooking, her love for this country, and her unique pronunciation.

The words “tick” and “tin” often occur to me. Bubbe could not grasp the “th” sound so thick was tick and thin was tin. Sometimes her dough was too tin; other times the snow was very tick.

When I saw her for the last few times, we didn’t have the remarkable technology that we do now and I was unable to record our conversations. These days, we have all of the advantages I was missing. Thankfully, time has not diminished my memories. Virtually every day, I think (tink, if you like) of things (tings) that are tick or tin. Remembering her as I do, she would not be offended that these recollections are the ones I captured, as well as her unforgettable cheesecake and noddle pudding (kugel).

Savor what you can while you are still able. As much as I would love to revisit my Bubbe to help her study for the citizenship exam, that time is long gone. But I think that she would be proud of the generations that she created and the perpetuation of the traditions that she treasured. Shalom.

Followers and leaders

One of the warnings that we began receiving when we were very young was to maintain control, no matter what the situation. We were told and have told our offspring to control instincts, desires, actions, and virtually everything else. Pondering this reality, I have begun to wonder exactly what advantages ensue from being in control.

My best guess is that I am thinking about this business of control because of some upcoming events. Beginning tomorrow, I am working in a teaching assignment where I function not as the teacher in charge of the class’s direction and teaching but as the co-worker who assists the class teacher. This is a teacher who is quite decisive and I have mixed feelings about being the second player in this situation.

Initially, this may seem to be a perfect environment for a substitute teacher. There are no lesson plans to follow, no need to supervise kids at recess or in the cafeteria. But I am feeling that this may be my challenge because of this anomalous imperative to be in control.

My reputation is not at stake, nor is my self-esteem. What I do see, however, is that there are times when the control that we have always sought is not really as important as it has always seemed. By accepting this assignment, I have tacitly subscribed to the protocols and situation that exists. My job is to make it right.

And so, I have an opportunity to learn something about assisting rather than directing, supporting rather than directing, and deferring to the one who is the designated leader. It sounds pretty simple; the only complication is the fact that it’s uncharted territory for me. We’ll just have to suck it up and let someone else be in charge. Doing that should be more than enough. Shalom.