Archive | In My Mind’s I

Final Hanukkah card stirs memories

Posted on 05 December 2018 by admin

It is the middle of Hanukkah, and in memory of a dear friend who passed away earlier this year (and if you didn’t know her, I feel sorry for you), I’m going to share some of her words. I saved the card she sent me last year at this time, because we both suspected this would be her last one…
Natalie Lewis started out by writing “I read your column ‘The Simplicity of Hanukkah’s Past.’ So — when did Hanukkah change from Boubby’s day of pennies?” She was already well into her 90s then, and began her own story of the holiday’s memories for me:
“What do I remember about my childhood Hanukkah? We did not have a menorah; we lit the candles — they were orange — on a tin lid from a coffee can. My mother made latkes. My grandmother gave me some coins — gelt — and I said ‘Oh! I can put these in the Blue Box.’ That was a big deal for me.” (Again: I hope you know what a Blue Box was — and still is. If you don’t, ask any member of Hadassah, which was Natalie’s most favorite organization.)
Then she continued: “I grew up, married, had a family and my mother-in-law gave us a menorah, which I still use. My young friends began talking about ‘a gift each night,’ and we fell for it. My mother and dad started sending gelt for the kids, my aunts sent gelt, so there was always more than enough for the eight nights. As the kids grew older, I started ‘Christmas Clubs’ at the bank. This was easy, and on Hanukkah, everyone received a big check. Then the banks discontinued the clubs, so I had a new challenge.
“Now I make sure I have Hanukkah cards and stamps — oh, this is a big deal. The adults get gift cards. I write checks for the grandchildren and call it gelt. Could I do it over again — why not a special story, or doing a mitzvah? But we cannot turn the clock back, can we? When the children were little, I dressed them in their red PJs and my husband set up the movie camera — that was such a big deal, with all the cords and bulbs — and then we sent the movies to my parents, and my mother said she cried when she saw them lighting the candles. So maybe we did something right after all…who knows?
“There have been many stories told about Hanukkah in the past,” Natalie continued. “Someone wrote about an uncle coming with a handful of quarters, and all the children would stand in line to get theirs, and as the family grew, he needed more quarters. And Margaret Smith (who also passed away last year — and if you didn’t know her either, I feel sorry for you again) told me she gave the children dollar bills for each candle — one for the first candle and two for the second, until they got eight dollars for the last candle.
“But the candle lighting is the best. Watch the small children’s eyes and faces as they catch the candles burning — and the old grandma who watches the candles and says ‘Look how beautiful they burn’ …
“I got a good box this year,” she said. And she ended with “So, let us see what next Hanukkah will bring.”
Well, of course we know. The holiday has come back, as it always does, every year, but it couldn’t bring Natalie back with it. However, I will never forget her and her menorah, which I helped her pack as she prepared to move from Dallas. I will have that memory always, and will save this card, her last words to me on Hanukkah, to read them over again as I light my own candles every year that I have left for me to do so. In that way, I will honor her while giving a special Hanukkah gift to myself.

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25 tidbits to live by this season

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

As we prepare to enter Hanukkah this year, let’s pack a bag to take with us, filled with two dozen bits of wisdom from the late beloved Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe.
These came from a number of different sources, and in no particular order, except you should be prepared for the last one. But don’t look ahead. (Do, however, pay special attention to No. 14; it’s perfect for all of us at this time of this year.)
1. You cannot add more minutes to the day, but you can utilize each one to the fullest.
2. Lead a supernatural life and God will provide the miracles.
3. Existence is the greatest of all miracles.
4. Wealth is not a mansion filled with silver and gold. Wealth is children and grandchildren growing up on the right path.
5. This is the key to time management: to see the value of every moment.
6. When the soul is starved for nourishment, it lets us know with feelings of emptiness, anxiety or yearning.
7. There is no need to accept the standards of the world at large.
8. When you waste a moment, you have killed it in a sense, squandering an irreplaceable opportunity. But when you use the moment properly, filling it with purpose and productivity, it lives on forever.
9. God gave each of us a soul, which is a candle that He gives us to illuminate our surroundings with His light.
10. Man can never be happy if he does not nourish his soul as he does his body.
11. We cannot rest until every child, boy and girl, receives a proper moral education.
12. A successful marriage is dependent on inviting God into the relationship.
13. Love is the transcendence of the soul over the body.
14. Your home should become a light that illuminates the entire street and community.
15. Charity transforms matter to spirit, and turns a coin into fire.
16. We must translate pain into action, and tears into growth.
17. If you see what needs to be repaired and how to repair it, then you have found a piece of the work that God has left for you to complete. But if you only see what is wrong, and how ugly it is, then it is you yourself that needs repair.
18. Miracles are all around us; we must open our eyes to see them.
19. Everyone must be a leader.
20. The world says that time is money; I say that time is life.
21. If you wait until you find the meaning of life, will there be enough life left to live meaningfully?
22. What matters is not so much where you stand, but with what force you are moving in which direction.
23. Our mission on earth is to recognize the voice — inside and outside of us — and to fill it.
24. All Jews share one and the same Torah, given by the one and same God. While there are more-observant Jews and less-observant ones, to tack on a label does not change the reality that we are all one.
25. This last is not from the Rebbe, but from Max Edelkopf of New York, who posted it on Facebook more than two years ago, but it is fresh and new and real, today more than ever:
At a conference for neurologists that took place in the United States, a professor got up to explain why it is that there are people who, upon arising in the morning, suddenly faint. It seems that this is a problem many people suffer from, and the speaker explained that it takes 12 seconds for the blood to leave the feet and get up to the brain, and if someone gets up very quickly, he or she could faint. She recommended that all people, upon arising in the morning, sit for at least 12 seconds before they actually get up. At this point, a Jewish professor got up and said, “I’d like to explain to you that the Jewish people have had a custom for thousands of years: to praise God upon arising. And the prayer that they say is exactly 12 words long — and if you say it properly, it takes 12 seconds.”
Enjoy. Have a Happy, Happy Hanukkah.
Harriet Gross can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net.

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How we can give thanks despite recent tragedies

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

An update: My dining room table is still the repository for newspapers, both secular and Jewish, sent to me by Pittsburgh family in the days following the Tree of Life massacre. Anyone who wants to see the remarkable outpouring of “Love Is Stronger Than Hate,” just let me know.

The Steelers even changed their three-icon stack logo for print, substituting a Star of David for the one on top. And things continue to come in; I don’t know how long this will go on.

But we must go on. All of us. Thanksgiving is upon us. How can anyone affected by such evil as we’ve recently witnessed (and I do not discount the 12 who died soon after the earlier tragedy, also by gunshot, in a California country music bar) — which should be just about everyone in our country — give thanks for anything after such horrors? (Maybe just the selfish thought of personal safety — at least up to this point.)

I found the best answer yet by happy accident when I picked up a random magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office. It was the newest issue of Family Circle, and the message from Cheryl Brown, its editor-in-chief, was right on point — even though it was written well before both these recent tragedies.

She begins by telling how she was running late for work one morning, carrying too many things — including a carton of yogurt and a cup of coffee — and when she saw an elevator door starting to close on its upward way toward her office, she just threw herself in. A man already inside who saw how upset she was helped her get organized, and then he said this: “Hey, things aren’t so bad — you’ve got breakfast and a job. Try to see the positive side.”

What Brown thought was, “He’s absolutely right.” And then she listed her blessings: A roof over her head, with heat. Food. Clean clothes. Health. Family and friends. This started her on some conversations, first with those friends and then with the magazine’s staff, about the necessity for gratitude, the real need for people to be thankful for whatever they have. If they manage to have the things she listed, which most of those who read Family Circle do have and yet likely take for granted: “That makes us rich by almost any standard,” she decided.

The elevator encounter turned out to set the theme for the entire issue of Family Circle that I was holding in my hands, with its focus on how all people can and should give back, in appreciation for what they already have. The suggestion is that doing things to help others — no matter how little those things are — becomes the building blocks of both family and community.

Brown ends her monthly editorial column with this timely — and humorous — personal touch: “Every year I’m thankful I have somewhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday meal,” she begins. “This year, I’m also thankful I’m not doing any cooking, only some bringing.” To finish, she gives an additional thank-you for the great bakeries in New York City, where she works and lives, and where she can pick up something good for the “bringing.”

I continue to wonder what the bereaved families in both Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks can manage to give thanks for this year. Is it possible that this year will be a strange Thanksgiving without thanks? The brutality of those sad days took away loved ones and replaced that take-away with nothing but sadness, longing and those haunting “what if?” questions: Why them? Why there? What if they hadn’t been wanting to pray, or to hear some favorite songs? These are the questions without answers.

But at our own tables this year, how about all of us saying a prayer and singing a song in their memory? Making memories of those we didn’t even know might be our own “giving back.”

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How we can give thanks despite recent tragedies

Posted on 26 November 2018 by admin

An update: My dining room table is still the repository for newspapers, both secular and Jewish, sent to me by Pittsburgh family in the days following the Tree of Life massacre. Anyone who wants to see the remarkable outpouring of “Love Is Stronger Than Hate,” just let me know.

The Steelers even changed their three-icon stack logo for print, substituting a Star of David for the one on top. And things continue to come in; I don’t know how long this will go on.

But we must go on. All of us. Thanksgiving is upon us. How can anyone affected by such evil as we’ve recently witnessed (and I do not discount the 12 who died soon after the earlier tragedy, also by gunshot, in a California country music bar) — which should be just about everyone in our country — give thanks for anything after such horrors? (Maybe just the selfish thought of personal safety — at least up to this point.)

I found the best answer yet by happy accident when I picked up a random magazine while waiting in a doctor’s office. It was the newest issue of Family Circle, and the message from Cheryl Brown, its editor-in-chief, was right on point — even though it was written well before both these recent tragedies.

She begins by telling how she was running late for work one morning, carrying too many things — including a carton of yogurt and a cup of coffee — and when she saw an elevator door starting to close on its upward way toward her office, she just threw herself in. A man already inside who saw how upset she was helped her get organized, and then he said this: “Hey, things aren’t so bad — you’ve got breakfast and a job. Try to see the positive side.”

What Brown thought was, “He’s absolutely right.” And then she listed her blessings: A roof over her head, with heat. Food. Clean clothes. Health. Family and friends. This started her on some conversations, first with those friends and then with the magazine’s staff, about the necessity for gratitude, the real need for people to be thankful for whatever they have. If they manage to have the things she listed, which most of those who read Family Circle do have and yet likely take for granted: “That makes us rich by almost any standard,” she decided.

The elevator encounter turned out to set the theme for the entire issue of Family Circle that I was holding in my hands, with its focus on how all people can and should give back, in appreciation for what they already have. The suggestion is that doing things to help others — no matter how little those things are — becomes the building blocks of both family and community.

Brown ends her monthly editorial column with this timely — and humorous — personal touch: “Every year I’m thankful I have somewhere to go for the Thanksgiving holiday meal,” she begins. “This year, I’m also thankful I’m not doing any cooking, only some bringing.” To finish, she gives an additional thank-you for the great bakeries in New York City, where she works and lives, and where she can pick up something good for the “bringing.”

I continue to wonder what the bereaved families in both Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks can manage to give thanks for this year. Is it possible that this year will be a strange Thanksgiving without thanks? The brutality of those sad days took away loved ones and replaced that take-away with nothing but sadness, longing and those haunting “what if?” questions: Why them? Why there? What if they hadn’t been wanting to pray, or to hear some favorite songs? These are the questions without answers.

But at our own tables this year, how about all of us saying a prayer and singing a song in their memory? Making memories of those we didn’t even know might be our own “giving back.”

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‘Suitcase Charlie’ a mystery with Jewish shadings

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

I’d like to tell you about a book that’s somewhat of an enigma: It actually borders on humor in the way it’s presented, but the story is dead (and I use that word because it truly fits the text) serious about matters that are important to us as Jews — especially since this is so soon after Kristallnacht.
Let’s see what I can tell you without giving away too much, because I really hope you’ll read it for yourself. It’s a very unusual addition to the mounds of previous writings that we call, collectively, “Jewish books.”
This is “Suitcase Charlie,” named for the way in which someone transported his murder victims — three of them — all young children. Not necessarily Jewish children, but there was a clue that defied meaning at first, yet couldn’t be ignored and was finally interpreted. On the soles of each small corpse’s feet were triangles — on one, pointing up; on the other, pointing down. A severed Jewish star.
The setting is Chicago, and if you ever lived in that city, you will identify throughout with the specifics as they’re woven by name into the story: the neighborhoods, the parks, the streets, the landmarks. But even if you don’t know the city, you’ll always be interested in, sometimes even amused by, the lead characters: a pair of policemen, partners assigned to do some legwork on this perplexing and frightening case. (No — not the suitcases — although that word also has a perplexing, frightening connotation here.)
Marvin Bondarowicz is Jewish; Hank Purcell is not. They are beat cops reporting to Lieutenant O’Herlihy, and we readers follow the first two as they follow — or don’t follow — the direction of the third. We learn how different they are at home from how they are on the street, which is pure old Chicago in every way. They break the rules, get called out, even threatened with being fired, but they persevere as the people they are, the only way they could ever be. So their search becomes as gritty as the city itself, and the two pull the reader along with their diverse, sometimes dangerous and sometimes diverting, actions and interactions.
“Suitcase Charlie” runs to 314 pages of the swiftest reading ever — the writer’s command of American/Chicago vernacular helps move you along at a quick clip through a lot of fast action. And that may be somewhat of a surprise coming from this author, because John Guzlowski was born in a displaced persons camp to Polish parents who met while slave-laboring under the Nazis.
Somehow, that little family wound up in Chicago, in a part of town that gave Guzlowski plenty of material to spark this story. As he grew up, he saw houses burned and people beaten and killed in the street. But he overcame in the biggest way. He graduated from the University of Illinois with a B.A. in English, then went on to get both M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Purdue, and finally became professor of English literature at Eastern Illinois University before retiring to Virginia, where he’s now a literary critic and poet of an award-winning collection, “Echoes of Tattered Tongues.” In much of his other writing — and there has been much — Guzlowski recalls those who didn’t survive the war. But in this one, he’s honoring those who didn’t survive Chicago.
The clue on the book’s back cover is not just an invitation; it’s a scene-setting puller-inner: “May 30, 1956: On a quiet corner of a working-class neighborhood, a suitcase is discovered…inside is the body of a young boy, hacked to pieces…Two hard-driving detectives are assigned to the case…Purcell still has flashbacks ten years after the Battle of the Bulge; Bondarowicz, a wisecracking Jewish cop who loves trouble as much as he loves booze…Their investigation takes them through the dark streets of Chicago in search of an even darker secret…”
This mystery will be solved on Dec. 4, with the book’s official publication.

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Kristallnacht’s anniversary is a good reminder

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

The calendar reminds us that it was exactly 80 years ago tomorrow evening when Hitler unleashed the event marking the beginning of the end of Europe’s Jewish communities.
Kristallnacht, on the Friday evening of Nov. 9 and continuing throughout Saturday, Nov. 10, was the Jewish introduction to unbridled, undiluted venom and hate. Whatever had been lurking about quietly up until that time was suddenly not quiet any longer, because not only existing anti-Semites, but all who were not Jewish, were encouraged to rise up and destroy something that belonged to their Jewish neighbors.
Hitler, as chancellor, had already begun taking anti-Jewish actions that he, himself, made legal in Germany. But who had ever seen, or experienced, anything as huge and organized as this? His new laws had severely regulated Jewish life, but suddenly everyone who was not Jewish was actually invited and encouraged to join in the physical destruction of anything of value — spiritually as well as monetarily — to his or her Jewish neighbors.
This is what happened on that single date: More than 1,000 synagogues were burned, more than 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses were destroyed and some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested on no charges at all and removed to the first concentration camps. Jews, like other ethnic groups in Germany and elsewhere, had often lived in identifiable neighborhoods. But the ghettos that followed Kristallnacht concentrated Jews and no others, squeezing the life out of them and amassing enough of them to make their transition to death camps an integral part of Hitler’s “Jewish solution.”
So, what did German Jews do during and after Kristallnacht? They were not foretellers of the future, and so they did what our people have always done when faced with any problem: They took care of it as best they could. They saved whatever they were able to carry to safety from their burning synagogues; they swept up the plate glass window shards covering the streets where their shops and offices had been. And then, for the most part, they went back to living as they had lived before.
Looking back, we must acknowledge how little else they could do and not speculate after-the-fact about what else they should have done. It’s too easy for us who were not there to ask why they didn’t leave immediately. But — where could they go? The Nazis wanted to get rid of Jews physically, not just encourage them to move out of Germany, so they were in fact making departures difficult or impossible. Forms of transportation and exit visas were scarce and expensive.
And of course, there was then — as there always is now — the usual reaction of hope: This madness had to be a one-time thing, didn’t it? Surely it wouldn’t happen again. And yet, it did happen, again and again, until millions of our people had been murdered.
This hope, this impossible dream, was the “new normal” for many Jews of that place and time, even as fury escalated against them, taking new, sinister forms that also took lives. So now: What do we learn from that past, after the recent horrendous Pittsburgh synagogue attack? My son there also uses the phrase “new normal” for Jews of his city. The only difference is this: Today, we acknowledge that vile things may happen again — and again — and we know we must try to prepare for them by securing ourselves, our homes and our institutions.
This may work for us because we do not live in a place where government policy is against us. Still, there are anti-Semites everywhere, some heavily armed, and we can’t anticipate their next moves. We can only take precautions that are possible. And hope.
Our broken America is certainly not Germany, but it no longer resembles those bucolic Norman Rockwell paintings of freedom for all. May God help us as we go forward to — we know not what. And may we learn from the past that we must help ourselves.

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Pittsburgh tells us to take a stand for all humanity

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

I wore the T-shirt to shul last Friday night. The message is so good, I thought; everyone should see it: “Take a Stand for Humanity,” it says. It’s the motto of the Illinois State Holocaust Museum, a reminder of my recent visit.
On Saturday morning, I traded it for my pink “survivor shirt” and went off early to take part in my 34th Komen Walk for the Cure. I’ve been “cured” twice, and it’s a pleasure to sit in the Survivor Tent, sip coffee and tell young, newly diagnosed women that, yes indeed, there is lots of good life after breast cancer.
Then I went home to learn that life had gone out for 11 people in Pittsburgh, folks in my hometown who had been worshipping while I was walking, who had been wearing tallitot while I was in pink, who paid the ultimate price — not because of cancer, but simply because of being Jewish.
I love the city of my birth, my education, my career start — which was at the Pittsburgh Jewish weekly of that time. I love its many bridges over its three rivers and the breathtaking view of “The Point,” where those rivers come together, often called “Pittsburgh’s Front Door.” I can still sing in my mind the old songs of the great steel city Pittsburgh once was, and about Joe Magarac, its imaginary but iconic steel worker.
I have lived in Dallas for almost 40 years and it is very much my home. But Pittsburgh will always be my heart’s home. And my heart broke with the news that Tree of Life, one of many synagogues within walking distance in a very close, very Jewish neighborhood, had been chosen by a demented anti-Semite as the place to release his pent-up rage with vile shouts and fatal gunshots.
Many people know I’m a Pittsburgher, so I at first received many phone calls and emails asking if my family (so much of it is still there) was OK. And then came more, saying how thankful they were that none of my family had been among the 11. I appreciated that because it was said with genuine good feeling. But in my heart, I was not thankful, because every one of those dead was a part of my Pittsburgh family. Theirs were old family names I have known all my life. If I didn’t know any of those particular people personally, I have known some of their families. There is no difference in my mourning.
I’ve learned that a high school classmate of a former Pittsburgher I know here in Dallas was among the Tree of Life dead. I have learned that Holocaust survivor Judah Samet was a few minutes late arriving at the synagogue and was in the parking lot when the shots were fired. He had evaded death years ago in Bergen-Belsen and might have confronted it head-on again had he been on time. I suspect from the family name of one who did not survive that she was a distant cousin of my Boubby the Philosopher. My Pittsburgh cousin who keeps adding leaves to our greatly extended family tree can let me know.
I’ve also learned that security was non-existent at Tree of Life, with police presence only for the High Holidays. And I suspect this has been true for all those other nearby synagogues and for the Jewish day schools as well. My own son works at the largest of these; his succinct comment was “I guess this will be our new normal.” I suspect the attitude in Pittsburgh — if there was ever any thought given to such horrors as this — was “It will never happen here.” But it did. I bless our own Federation for making all of us look squarely at what might never happen here, but prepare for it anyway.
I wore that same T-shirt again to the community memorial gathering Sunday evening. It is surely time for all of us to Take a Stand for Humanity.

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Fellow alumnus wins Nobel for chemistry

Posted on 25 October 2018 by admin

A graduate of my high school has just won a Nobel Prize.
I’m holding before me a front-page clipping from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and looking at the smile (is it triumph? or shock?) on the face of Frances Arnold, 62, now a California Institute of Technology professor of chemical engineering, bioengineering and biochemistry. She is one-third of a trio honored for “harnessing evolutionary principles to create new proteins.” The other two are men. She is only the fifth woman ever to score a chemistry Nobel; the most recent before her was almost 10 years ago.
So, what can I say except: What happened to all the rest of us who went to Taylor Allderdice? It was, and still is, a public school, a neighborhood school. It always did, and still does, have an excellent academic reputation — such that people with children often factor that into their home-buying choices. But — a Nobel?
In my own class — which exited those somewhat hallowed halls more than two decades before Dr. Arnold graduated — was a young man who received his doctorate in art history from Yale and retired after a long career as director of the Frick Museum in New York City. I thought that was tops — but not a Nobel. Arnold distinguished herself at Princeton and is now one of the few, according to the news release, who can claim simultaneous memberships in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Engineering.
What a surprising list of achievements. But what’s even more surprising is what the achiever says herself about her high school days: “I didn’t take chemistry then. I was too busy cutting classes.” Talk about late bloomers. And she wasn’t a child of wealth and privilege, either: While she was at Allderdice, she worked part-time at Walt Harper’s Attic, a Pittsburgh club owned by a mildly nationally known local jazz pianist. And after graduation, before college, she drove a Yellow Cab.
At some point, our high school established a Hall of Fame, and one of its first members was Iris Rainer Dart, who has written nine novels. Best known is “Beaches,” which later became a film starring Bette Midler and Mayim Bialik. (This should clue you that the subject matter would resonate with us because the author was Jewish — as were many students of Allderdice in that long-gone past.)
Iris also had a humble childhood; her father owned and operated a neighborhood hardware store, known citywide for the kind of appealing disarray that led to a sort of cult belief: Virtually anything could be found on its shelves if one only looked long enough. Which was probably true. So, her literary achievement is not to be looked down upon. Still — it’s no Nobel.
Dr. Arnold’s big prize comes from “harnessing the power of evolution,” according to Goran K. Hansen, who is secretary-general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Her work is being used to create sustainable biofuels, the Academy says, thereby “contributing to a greener world.” And now, for the winning statistics: The Nobel Prize in Chemistry has been awarded 110 times to 180 individuals since 1901 — a quite small but incredibly distinguished collection of scientists.
It’s now obvious that somewhere along the line, after a lackluster high school career, Allderdice’s winner somehow took to heart the motto that stands forever, carved in stone over our school’s main entrance even before its doors first opened in 1927: “Know Something. Do Something. Be Something.” Or maybe not. Maybe it just happened. Sometimes in life, things just happen.
I suspect this Nobelist’s next honor will be election to the Taylor Allderdice High School Hall of Fame. Given her record there, plus her Nobel, she may just laugh at this. But she may embrace it. I’ll never know. Still, I’ll always be wondering: What in the world happened to the rest of us?

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Shoah museum near Chicago has myriad options

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

I have just returned from a two-day visit to the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, located – not, as you might expect, in the heart of Chicago, but in a northern suburb named Skokie. The chosen site speaks volumes about Holocaust history and the collective power of its Survivors.
After World War II’s opening of the infamous concentration and death camps and the liberation of those still alive there, many Survivors who made it to the United States somehow wound up in Skokie, which became a town whose population was about three-quarters Jewish. And among those Jews clustered some 7,000 Survivors, which is why in the late 1970s, a group of Neo-Nazis banded together and picked Skokie to make another stand against them.
But this time, there was no cowering, running or hiding. Many Survivors had not yet spoken about their horrific experiences at Nazi hands, but they decided to make their own stand, and were joined by thousands more, Jewish and not. On the day originally scheduled for a Nazi march, it was the citizens of Skokie who marched and had their own victory. The museum opened on that same location in 2009, and it is now the third-largest Holocaust museum in the world, behind only Yad Vashem and the U.S. national museum in Washington, D.C.
Notice its official name: Holocaust Museum and Education Center. As has our own Dallas facility, which went from being a Holocaust Museum to its current Holocaust Museum Center for Education and Tolerance, and will soon become the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum, the thrust of both institutions has changed with the passage of time. As there are fewer and fewer Survivors to give personal-experience testimony, emphasis has shifted toward future prevention of such past horrors, with outreach to students and their teachers of primary importance. As does our own center, the one in Skokie is grooming future “Upstanders” to take personal action against even the smallest violation of human rights.
I won’t try to detail for you the many and varied programs that go on under the roof on the massive Illinois structure, the many opportunities for personal involvement, and the many exhibits that fill its rooms and line its hallways. My favorite – if there can be such a thing in such a setting – is called “Stories of Survival: Object – Image – Memory.” Susan Abrams, the museum’s CEO, calls the collection “an exploration of the meaning behind the everyday things that become so much more.”
So, the viewer can see actual items that Survivors clung to during their ordeals and brought with them afterward: a doll’s dress – a coin – a few keys on a ring – a bracelet – a photograph. But what is most exceptional here is how these items, actually in cases, are further illustrated with wall-mounted photos that include comments by those who saved and still treasure them.
And these objects go far beyond what the visitor would initially expect to find in a Holocaust museum: not all are from Holocaust Survivors, but from Survivors of other genocides, including Cambodia, Sudan, Rawanda… The message is frighteningly clear: human suffering on a mass scale has continued on after “our” Holocaust; we must bring up new generations to stop them from happening in the future.
I shake the hand of Fritzie Fritzshall, once a teenage girl among several hundred older women, each of whom would give her a crumb or two of their daily bread ration in turn for her word: “I made a promise to those women in Auschwitz,” she says now, “that if I survived, I would tell the world my story.” And she has, in one of the biggest ways possible: she is currently president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center.
There are many great things there, more than I could fully experience in just two days. But now, I’m looking ahead to great things here, when our new Dallas museum opens on Sept. 17, 2019.

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Garments of years past bring back memories

Posted on 04 October 2018 by admin

January will mark 35 years that I have lived in my three-bedroom Dallas condo. My husband and I made a major downsizing move then, when the last child went to college. But that involved big things, mainly furniture that we’d no longer need, which was easy. Now, I’m about the business of going through smaller things – the collections of years, stashed in drawers or closets and never touched. This is much harder.
There was a ritual for middle-class Jewish brides in the time (1955) and place (Pittsburgh) of my marriage – and other females of my age cohort say this was true in many other Jewish enclaves: Mother took daughter shopping for her “trousseau” – a French word meaning “to bundle,” which is what brides-to-be did on that outing.
Every city of any size had a street filled with Jewish merchants who dealt in bedding, table coverings and lingerie, and mother helped daughter choose her sheets, blankets, towels, tablecloths, lingerie and nightwear. Some girls had looked ahead and already stocked their “hope chests” with some things they’d sewed or crocheted or needle-pointed themselves. But there was still a bundle of stuff left for that premarital shopping spree.
I recalled mine clearly very recently, as I went through a large drawer in a bedroom chest, finding slips, nightgowns and peignoirs (if you don’t know that word, please look it up), unworn and untouched for several decades.
What startled me most, after first finding this trove of forgotten treasures, was their pristine condition. Yes, all had been worn and washed and worn again, a long, long time ago. But all of them could pass for new. And the reason, I think, is that they are all made of nylon – a kind of nylon I haven’t seen in ages. I would call it the fabric equivalent of iron.
As I gathered up many, many slips in many colors (how many girls or women wear slips today? How many even know what a slip is?) and nightgowns in bridal white with matching peignoirs, I couldn’t get over how beautiful they still are. I called a much younger cousin who I know has never worn a slip in her life and told her about my discovery. She said a vintage clothing place would salivate over everything. But I just bundled (“trousseau-ed,” perhaps?) the stuff up for the Goodwill. I hesitated for only a moment, thinking I might keep one slip with beautiful lace flowers enhancing the nylon, but quickly added it to the pile. The memory, without the item, will be enough.
All of which has me thinking about another “iron” garment – a white sweater that had belonged to my mother, who passed away in 1984 and which she had worn for years before that. I’ve had it ever since: a simple knit cardigan, soft and light. I can’t be sure of the fabric because the content label is long gone, but I would guess it’s acrylic, or Orlon, but most likely with some of that nylon mixed in – because I’ve been wearing and washing and wearing it again all these 35 years, the same as the number of years I’ve been in this condo.
And the sweater lives on and will continue to do so, because it’s my favorite: feather-weight but warm, it stays on the front seat of my car throughout the hot-weather season, to go with me into all those buildings where air conditioning keeps the atmosphere too cold for outdoor summer clothing. As our weather has finally been showing signs of fall, I’ll be giving it a last washing for this year, then fold it and stow it on a shelf, where it will be ready for action in 2019.
(A final note: Some brides of my era have saved their wedding gowns. I gave mine to a community theater for its costume collection. As far as I know, it’s still going strong – another iron garment of a bygone time.)
Harriet Gross can be reached at harrietgross@sbcglobal.net

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