Now: the last day of the year. What a good time to mention some items that didn’t make it in!
So, in no special order:
We lost Stephen Birmingham, the non-Jew who chronicled our varied culture in three best-selling books: Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York; The Grandees: America’s Sephardic Elite; and, lastly, The Rest of Us: The Rise of America’s Eastern European Jews. Old stuff, but still worth a read today.
Poland finally publicly honored 50 elderly Christians who saved Jews in their country during the Holocaust. Among them, 100-year-old Janusz Durko, rescuer of 20. A representative of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, which sends monthly support to these long-forgotten heroes, came to Warsaw from the U.S. to honor them.
And a week ago in New York, the Institute for World Jewish Studies similarly honored — posthumously — King Mohammed V of Morocco, for protecting its quarter-million Jews from Nazi persecution during the 1940s.
My favorite columnist, Paul Greenberg, hit age 78 and decided to step down from his position as editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette after 23 years. But the good news is that he’ll keep right on writing his Pulitzer Prize-winning opinions.
Meet a rabbi different from all others: Gershom Sizomu, the first black from sub-Saharan Africa to be ordained in the U.S., leads the Abayudaya congregation of 2,000 in Uganda. He plans to run for a seat in his government’s parliament next year.
Consider these identical twins, separated at birth in Trinidad, 1933: Jack Yufe, raised there as a Jew; brother Oscar Stohr, reared in Nazi Germany as a member of the Hitler Youth movement. The two didn’t meet until they were 21, and didn’t like each other much — because basically, they were so alike! Stohr died in 1997; Yofe passed away just last month.
Legos and outsize EverBlocks made great menorahs this year. Locally lifting Legos high were Chabad of Arlington and Congregation Ahavath Sholom of Fort Worth. The big bricks rose up at Washington, D.C.’s Ohev Sholom.
Here’s a new book on the market: The 613, the work of Brooklyn artist Archie Rand, a secular Jew who likes to paint big pictures on big themes. In 2008, after five years, he finished his series illustrating all the Torah’s commandments, without knowing when — or even if ever — this work would be displayed.
Now while the huge originals still crowd his studio, a much smaller bound version of the whole collection was published early in November by Rider Press. The New York Times calls the mitzvoth “rendered in the style of comics and pulp fiction book jackets, a dash of MAD Magazine, a spoonful of Tales of the Crypt, some grotesques, some superheroes, always action, emotion, drama.” Sounds like a $45 coffee table conversation piece bargain!
Another new book in a much more serious vein: The German War by Nicholas Stargardt. If there never was anything before to fully dispel the foul mouthings of Holocaust deniers and the fiction that Hitler’s citizenry knew nothing about what was going on in their country, here’s the evidence to do it: The author uses actual pictures from film that Nazi soldiers sent home for their families to develop.
And, finally, my favorite quote of 2015 — such a good one to end this year on, and to begin with in 2016. Who said it? Who knows for sure! But here’s a new path to follow, starting tomorrow:
There comes a time in your life when you walk away from all the drama and the people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat your right; pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. Falling down is part of life; getting back up is living.
Happy New Year to us all!