Archive | In My Mind’s I by Harriet Gross

Connecting the Passover and Easter dots

Posted on 18 April 2019 by admin

At my last Rotary Club meeting, I had the pleasure of presenting some interesting highlights and sidelights on the connections between Passover and Easter.
My club is a small one, about 20 members. We’re all Rotarians because we believe in the purpose of something that was started many years ago by a Chicago businessman — a Jewish man, at that — who believed that bringing businessmen together informally would be a good thing. Paul Harris recruited two friends — not Jewish — for lunch meetings. From this tiny seed grew a worldwide movement devoted to doing good things for others, based on telling the truth, being fair and helping those who need it.
There are only two Jews in my club. The rest are a mixed bag of Christians, all denominations, including one Baptist minister. And from time to time, I get the chance to share bits of my Judaism with them.
Yes, they all know, and agree, that Jesus’ last supper was indeed a Passover Seder. At our meeting, I went over the elements of the Seder, the meanings of our symbolic foods, the way our faiths come together at these springtime holidays with eggs — the universal symbol of life; greenery — the abiding sign of spring; lamb — the sacrificial animal: salvation through blood on doorposts for us, salvation through the blood of Jesus for them. Shouldn’t we, as Jews, all recognize that our Exodus was the reason Jesus has come to be called by Christians “the lamb of God”?
The goblet Christians say Jesus held aloft at his Last Supper as he proclaimed “This is my blood” was one of the four cups we drink at our Seder table. And, the bread he broke as he said “This is my body”? It was surely matzah. To this day, Christians of many faiths take “communion,” their coming together as closely as they can with Jesus, through wafers. Wafers are essentially unleavened bread.
I could go on like this for a long time — and, indeed, I did so at my Rotary Club meeting. But I finally ended with two facts of which many Jews and Christians are unaware. First, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey for that fateful Passover Seder, he was met by many who already revered him for defying the hard lines of the priests and adapting much to the level of the common folk. I count myself among those who consider Jesus the first Reform Jew. But those palm fronds grew in significance after his death, and this is what today’s Palm Sunday is all about! Palm branches are gathered to decorate churches, and some Christians — notably Catholics — burn them afterward. Then they gather the residue and save it for Ash Wednesday. Those ashes are used to mark the foreheads of worshippers as the Easter season begins, with hope for new and better life in the coming year.
And here is the second fact. In some synagogues, there is a special box, not much noticed or even talked about, sometimes attached to a high wall in the sanctuary. In it is a piece of matzo saved from the Seder of the previous year. Each year, after the Seder concludes, that box is opened and the old matzo is replaced with a new piece. This symbolizes continuity, with hope for new and better life in the coming year.
We have given so much to the religions that grew after ours, out of very Jewish roots. I have the great opportunity — small as it is — in Rotary, to help others know those roots, so that what may grow now is for more Christians to acknowledge and bless their own debt to our Judaism.
May your Seder tables be beautiful and bountiful, and herald a good year to come — for all of us.

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USP7: one of the new genetic diseases

Posted on 11 April 2019 by admin

Usually my Cousin Michael sends me interesting family highlights drawn from his superb memory and present extensive research. But this time, the needed research can’t be the kind he does for our always-spreading family tree’s branches: It’s about a rare genetic disease, and the one who has it is Michael’s great-nephew Jake, just two years old.
Michael only received the word last week from his cousin Orah in Florida, who reported that “after countless months of genetic testing and going from one specialist to another, we finally got an answer: Jakey has USP7. He’s only the 47th person in the world to be diagnosed with it. There is no known way to prevent it…”
Michael writes, “This is not a Jewish disease. I don’t even think it’s inherited in Jakey’s case — his two older sisters, 8 and 5, are unaffected. It seems to be a spontaneous mutation, and the signs are quite variable: Failure to thrive and grow — speech problems — seizures — vision problems — intellectual impairment, and more.”
Of course, I headed right for the internet, but all I could find were other USPs with other numbers, and mentions of proteins and sugars. To me, this is all very sad. A terrible sadness for 2-year-old Jakey’s family, with the inevitable fears for his future and theirs. But beyond sadness is the need for a better understanding of what yet another “mystery disease” is all about, and finding how to cure and prevent it.
Current work on unraveling this mystery is being done by researcher Ryan Potts at St. Jude’s Hospital, who hopes that gene mutation therapy will be a cure in the foreseeable future. Orah is fundraising for her cause, just as all of us here see so many others doing for a variety of their own. She organized a one-mile walk, which took place April 7, what has now been proclaimed USP7 Awareness Day. She wrote to Michael: “I am raising money to go toward the research that is now being done to find a cure for this disease. I want Jakey to have the best future he can possibly have, and for all children with this syndrome the ability to live normal, healthy lives.”
The bottom line: $50,000 is the amount needed to support current research. “Thanks to the extreme generosity of so many, we have raised almost $5,000,” she said in advance of the walk. I don’t have the results of that effort yet, but Orah’s hope was to push the total up to $10,000, and beyond. Of course, Cousin Michael is contributing to it, and asking others to do the same. And of course, as mine is a family of story-tellers, he has a story to go with his decision:
“I haven’t asked anyone for money since I went from door to door with my father in June of 1967,” he said, “collecting coins in a can for the State of Israel at the start of the Six-Day War. Now, my niece Orah and her son Jakey are fighting a war of their own. I’d like to think that those coins my dad and I collected back when I was eight years old played a small part in the return of Jerusalem. Now, it’s almost 52 years later, and Jakey was named after my dad. I know that my ‘coins’ of today will play a part in restoring Jakey to health.” Michael has started his own personal campaign for this family cause, and of course I’ll contribute: Pennsylvania and Texas joining the Florida effort.
Please understand, I haven’t written any of this as a monetary solicitation, only to let you know there’s something new on the genetic-disease front that is afflicting at least one of our own. The more we learn, the more we know how much more we need to learn. This seems to be the ultimate lesson, not just in medicine, but in all phases of life.

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A primer on Orthodox Judaism

Posted on 04 April 2019 by admin

When I taught high school-age teens a long time ago, I’d often tease at semester’s start with this question: What do Orthodox Jews, Catholic nuns and the Amish have in common? And of course, the answer is: distinguished modes of dress, by which they can easily be identified.
I’ve just read Eli Schlossberg’s “The World of Orthodox Judaism.” It’s not a new book; it was published in 1996. But it is spot-on with its description of how folks might recognize some of our own Orthodox by their dress: from high fur hats and visible tzitzit on some men, to long skirts and sleeves on some women. But, what about the others?
This book is a basic primer for people — which includes some Jews — who know little about today’s more mainstream Orthodoxy. Schlossberg’s background is what I think we in the United States can safely call “traditional” Judaism: not Chasidic or Modern Orthodox, not Conservative or Reform. In public, he appears as a quintessential American businessman, but his head is always covered. In just 100 pages — including a glossary of essential terms — he explains the essentials of his own life: synagogue, kashrut, Shabbos (his spelling), and so much more, in ways that can open the minds of honest questioners from many faiths — including some non-Orthodox Jews.
This book’s covers have none of the usual “blurbs” by famous people. On the front is Joseph Robert Goren’s portrait of how many folks — rightly or wrongly — might portray a Jew: a bearded elder, head covered with both kippah and tallit, cradling a Torah. On the back, however, is a straightforward statement of purpose: “‘The World of Orthodox Judaism’ is a concise resource for anyone interested in learning more about the customs and standards of Orthodox Jewish life.”
The author dedicates the book to his father, “a deeply religious Orthodox Jew who was the first to teach me about our beautiful religious heritage, and today continues to inspire me by example…he serves as a role model for me and for every Orthodox Jewish businessman.” In its pages, Schlossberg details how he himself carries on the family’s gourmet food business — and indeed, his entire life — in full observance of Jewish law.
When my daughter was born many years ago (she and the famed Barbie doll approached 60 together!), my hospital roommate was a young woman from an observant Orthodox community in Chicago. She explained to me how her husband had prepared for the arrival of their child, if it should have happened on Shabbat, when he would be unable to drive. Each Friday evening, before beginning his walk to shul, he drained his gas tank of all but the pre-figured amount of fuel it would take to reach the nearest hospital, where he would then leave the car running, to stop on its own. This, she told me, was the modern equivalent of summoning a midwife. And, this couple also handled elevators just as Schlossberg describes in his book: by waiting for someone else to arrive and push the buttons.
If these and other behaviors seem strange, unnecessary and even humorous to someone learning about them for the first time, the author’s explanations are without apology. Instead, he shows how they reflect the adaptability of Judaism’s ancient laws to the many challenging changes of modern times.
Schlossberg’s brief personal introduction makes the following promise: “If you work with an Orthodox Jew or live near an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, you have probably noticed that observant Jews seem to act in some unusual ways. If you have not had the opportunity — or have been too polite — to ask, this booklet is for you…” But what he calls a “booklet” is truly a very slim encyclopedia.
You can purchase this book on Amazon — used, for as little as $6; on Kindle for just under $18 — not quite chai, but close enough! I recommend it highly.

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Keeping the ‘community’ in Judaism

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Last Shabbat morning, I deserted my Conservative home synagogue to attend a special event at Kehillat Chaverim, a group/place I knew nothing about before I was lucky enough to be invited.
I consider that my background gives me the ability to participate with comfort in any Jewish setting. As a child, I went to Sunday school in a Conservative-bordering-on-Orthodox shul, attended holiday celebrations at a fully Orthodox one, and later taught at both. Later still, I taught in several Reform temples, but my home synagogue was one that served a small community where all its Jews were members, regardless of observance levels. However, this latest was my first experience with a group of worshippers who were not formally movement-affiliated.
I learned that this group — somewhere around 35 family units, which counts singles as well as couples with or without children — grew from people who used to worship together on Shabbat on the Levine Academy campus. But, one family offered its home as the group’s headquarters. The home has a large room, fully detached from the house’s main entrance, and it has become a true shul.
It contains an ark, which houses two Torahs, along with books and shelves for the knowledgeable lay leadership; a bimah table and lectern; chairs that can be moved and set in various ways; and tables that come out of a closet when the room is reconfigured for the community lunch that follows every service.
Interestingly, the minhag somehow manages to be both fully traditional and fully egalitarian at the same time. Women as well as men bless and read Torah, a basket of kippot sits on a shelf near the entryway, and meals are completely kosher. I was told that, if a family’s kitchen is not kosher, it can purchase the necessary food and prepare it in the kosher kitchen of another member.
I suspect many large congregations began this way, but with growth came the inability to continue without professionalization and all that means: rabbinic rather than lay leadership, dues and/or other fixed contributions, permanent rather than flexible physical accoutrements, etc. The feel of a large family can too easily be lost with largeness. But here, that feeling is exactly what exists.
But I want you to know why I was invited. Certain people thought I would enjoy a special program: the usual d’var Torah was shortened to allow time for a very creative presentation: A Latke-Hamantaschen debate.
The two presentations were clever, fun. But far more than that, in true Jewish tradition, the single representative for each side managed to bring to bear real wisdom from our Jewish past. Each woman had researched, discovered that scholars and sages offered many opinions on these subject matters, and put forth solid knowledge, as well as humor. And, of course, when tables came out of the closet and the room was reconfigured for lunch, both latkes and hamantaschen were on the menu. The first, with the usual choices of applesauce and sour cream, and the second in a multitude of variations, including chocolate dough and mint and lemon curd fillings, as well as what is more usually expected.
This is not a comparison, but a realization My son married into a very traditional family whose little shul had the same “feel,” even though it was Orthodox and non-egalitarian. So I returned to a long-ago memory, when I sat with all the women, our heads covered, to watch all the priestly descendants among the men rise and come forward to bless the congregation. Large tallitot covered their bodies and heads, hiding their faces, but we could see their hands extended, their fingers forming the biblical sign only they could give in conveyance of its true power. Their feet were bare, in the humility of worship.
I felt that same power and humility at Kehillat Chaverim.

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Positive ripple after shootings with ‘2 for Seder’

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

We are now between Purim and Passover, and a new massacre of the religious at worship has captured our sorrowful attention, putting New Zealand on the same horrific map as Pittsburgh.
The Tree of Life shootings are already five months in the past, and our Jewish communities will help the recent Muslim victims to meet their sad needs, as so many Muslims helped our own. We will remember them, too. But as we continue remembering our own, is there something, anything, more that we can do now?
Yes! Here’s a simple suggestion that’s come from Pittsburgh, out of the deaths of its 11 lost worshippers. It’s the brainchild of Marnie Fienberg, a family member of one of the murdered in that mini-Holocaust by bullets. Marnie is the now-deceased Joyce Fienberg’s daughter-in-law.
Marnie will never forget how “Joyce always invited friends, neighbors, co-workers and international students to our family’s holiday meals,” she says. So despite making this first Pesach without her, she’s picking up on the holiday hosting herself. And instead of letting her mother-in-law’s tradition lapse, she’s not only going to carry it on, she’s putting a new spin on it by creating something she’s named “2 for Seder.”
Tree of Life Synagogue has not only endorsed Marnie’s creation, but adopted it as its own, and recently announced it publicly as “A Grassroots Event to Fight Anti-Semitism,” with this subtitle: “Pushing Back on Anti-Semitism with Love and Matzah.”
According to the now-sponsoring shul, “The 2 for Seder event encourages Jewish families to welcome two non-Jews into Seder, to experience firsthand the most celebrated Jewish holiday of the year in America. Opening the Seder to newcomers can dispel myths that breed misunderstanding, and directly fight biased attitudes. By opening up our homes at Seder, Jewish families start a dialogue with non-Jewish friends and create a ripple-effect.”
Marnie herself continues, “Joyce’s generosity and openness meant new people were regularly a dynamic part of our family’s holiday meals. With 2 for Seder, we are following her example.”
And this is not just for Pittsburgh — it’s already heading across the U.S. and Canada, thanks to a partnership with virtually every Jewish institution in the sponsoring city, all under the management of Pittsburgh Idea Evolutions (PIE), a brand-new nonprofit focusing on creative ways to help North American Jews take part in the fight against anti-Semitism. This year’s goal? A thousand participating families, to give 2,000 new people the Pesach experience.
“Together we can fight hate,” say both Marnie and Tree of Life. “Participating allows everyone to stay in touch with Pittsburgh while taking positive action to push back against the misunderstandings and unfamiliarity with Jewish customs that can become the seeds of anti-Semitism.”
Would your family like to take part? Sign up at and receive a special kit to help you be comfortable about welcoming strangers into your home. This will be in the best traditions of Abraham, who welcomed all strangers into his tent. And that’s especially fitting for the day when we open our doors and invite all those who are hungry to come in. By hosting 2 for Seder in your own home, you can introduce two strangers to special foods and their meanings, and through this ritual meal, will be feeding your guests some participatory knowledge of Judaism!
If you make the decision to do this, please email me at harrietgross@ so I can publicly announce that you’ve earned some gold stars for your heavenly crown by letting Tree of Life know that 2 for Seder has also become the newest part of Pesach for some Dallas-area Jews.
An important personal P.S. from me: You all know by now how much I love Pittsburgh, my hometown. And now you should definitely know why: it’s truly a united City of Steel in overcoming adversity, with a Jewish community continuing to show itself “Stronger Than Hate” by bringing new hope from its own tragedy.
Maybe next year: 2 for Seder also in New Zealand?

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How Oscar winner helped me learn history of Jackson, Ohio

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Sometimes it’s funny, the way things connect. Here’s my most recent proof of that point…
As I read The Dallas Morning News, I cut out articles and bits of information that I think will be of particular interest to family and friends in other places. I call this “correspondence by clipping,” and find it an excellent — and often time-saving — way to promote connection and closeness across many miles.
I have a dear friend from many years ago, when we both labored in Chicago’s south suburbs in the fields of intergroup relations. Don was our town’s community relations director, and I was on its citizens’ committee, so we worked closely on many projects having to deal with successful integration and the maintenance thereof. Remember: That was back in the ’60s, when we made decisions that seemed right and good at the time, but eventually backfired on us — like school busing. Oh, well…
Now Don is retired and living in Philadelphia, where he’s become an avid letter writer to The Daily Inquirer. In my last note, I asked him if he had yet gotten to see Oscar-winning film “The Green Book” and if he was aware that Jews used to have a similar book, one that helped travelers avoid the places with “no dogs/no Jews”policies that didn’t advertise them on signs outside.
No, he hasn’t seen the movie yet; yes, he knows about the Jewish book; and he’s had an interesting personal experience w/the real “Green Book.” Here is his ever-clear memory of the days he lived and worked in Ohio, before coming to Illinois:
“In 1968, I stayed for several weeks at Mrs. Moorman’s Tourist Home in Jackson, Ohio. I had left the Toledo Board of Community Relations to become the Jackson Human Relations Commission’s executive director, and had to leave the family behind to see the Toledo house. So I needed a place to room in Jackson, and decide I could introduce myself to the town and learn about it by staying in ‘Green Book’ lodging. Mrs. Moorman’s place was not far from my new office. If I’d stayed only a day or two, I’d have learned nothing much, because Mrs. Moorman was initially a bit suspicious of me — she didn’t ordinarily have white guests, and this one was a municipal employee in a town with a long racist history.
“But,” Don continued, “I had time to work through her unease. She was knowledgeable and perceptive, and began to share stories. And soon after, she ran for and got elected to the city commission, the first black commissioner ever.”
And now, for the finish: “While lots of not-good stuff happened in Jackson during that time, I have fond memories of Mrs. Moorman, a woman in her 70s during those great days of the Green Book.”
I had never heard of Jackson, Ohio, until I got Don’s note the other day. At first, I thought he was talking about Jackson, Mississippi, which we all know was a “not-good stuff” place in those days.

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Boursin on sale; memories of Aunt Polly included

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Sometimes something small, something altogether ridiculous, evokes a memory that is neither of the above.
So it was with me when I looked into the cheese section of my favorite supermarket and saw a small box of French Boursin on sale for $2.98 — about half of its regular price. About the same price that was regular for it almost 50 years ago, when I first visited my long-gone Aunt Polly in North Carolina.
Boursin was her favorite cheese. It was expensive even then, but she always had some on hand when she had company. I had never bought it at all, but when I tasted it there for the first time, I was hooked. However, not enough to indulge myself by spending that kind of money on a small block of cheese when I got back home, where I was newly on my own and totally responsible for the upkeep of two children on my own salary.
Still, the desire lingered for a while. After some time, it slowly faded away, but I always remembered that Aunt Polly gave the best to her company, and I tried to emulate her in that (minus the costly Boursin). And I also learned from her about “the “gettin’ place,” a spot where she squirreled away potential gifts. There was always something waiting for anticipated birthdays and anniversaries, new babies, holidays, other special occasions and unexpected visitors.
When Aunt Polly was diagnosed with lung cancer, her doctor, her family, she herself and everyone who knew her knew it was her final illness. One day, when she was still able to be out and about on her own, a neighbor spotted Aunt Polly shopping in a jewelry store. Far from being the world’s most subtle person, that woman asked, “Why are you buying jewelry now?” And Aunt Polly, her usual cool self, answered, “It’s not for me. I’m buying it to give away!”
In her honor and memory, I set up my own “gettin’ place,” in the back of a walk-in closet. But over the years, the closet seems to have gotten much smaller as the accumulation has grown much bigger. I now keep bags — one for each branch of the family, one for holiday items, one for children (like Aunt Polly, I keep things on hand in case a child comes by — maybe with a visiting adult, or if I’ll be visiting a home with kids). And there are others: one filled with Judaica suited for weddings and bar and bat mitzvahs, one just for items I’ve liked enough to bring home with the idea that someday I’d find the right time to give it to the right person, whomever that might be. (Truthfully, that last bag is the one that always overflows.) I also keep a pile of books — for both adults and children — in a nearby corner.
Now, here’s the cheese connection: That lonely little box of Boursin in the supermarket took me back to my first taste on my first visit, and then to the one made for Aunt Polly’s funeral. She was only 60, yet it was the effort of will she’d made that kept her that long, until she was able to empty out her “gettin’ place.” (Lately, I’ve managed to curb my advance gift buying, fearing that many, if not most, of these items will outlive my identifying the right recipients for them.)
So I put the Boursin into my cart, finished shopping for the things on my list (and also the few others that called me to take them home as well), and gladly paid the reduced price, which I’m sure was the full price when Aunt Polly also gifted her visitors with local cigarettes that cost $2 a carton! And as soon as I arrived, I opened that little box, picked up a spoon, and ate every bit of it!

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Judy Borejdo’s legacy can be found in Tycher Library and its books

Posted on 28 February 2019 by admin

I arrived in Dallas in 1980. How many of you can go back there with me?
The Dallas Jewish Community Center was quite different from what it is now. My husband and I joined quickly, mainly because we could play ping-pong there. I don’t see any table any more.
However, I was intrigued by what was going on in that area of the first floor to the immediate left, as you enter. What is now a major meeting room was then a sort of “warren,” a string of places to pass through. At the far back was the first home of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society. It housed one desk, one file cabinet and some beautiful prints sent by the company that supplied tulip bulbs; selling them yearly was the organization’s only fundraiser. (I’ve often wondered who got those prints, and who has them today. If you know, or are that person, please confess.)
In the middle was a sort of reading room: Large tables, racks of newspapers, some tall shelving units holding reference books — most of them Jewish. In the front, you were in the library. Not much of a library, as libraries go; now we have the full-scale Tycher Library on the second floor. But then, that was it. Some shelved books, and a rack of old paperbacks that were routinely given away. This little haven for readers was presided over by Judy Borejdo. I walked in there one day wearing a T-shirt I’d gotten on a recent trip to Australia; Judy recognized it right away as the design of a friend of hers. That’s how I learned this ersatz “librarian” had a fascinating history. It vanished very recently, with Judy’s death.
After the JCC’s remodeling, after a real library was created on the second floor, Judy followed it upstairs. She was not a professional librarian, but nobody had more interest in books than she did. That’s why she had the task of running that mini-library on the first floor, likely as a volunteer. I’m sure nobody else wanted to do it.
Things were different in the new environment. There were computers, comfortable chairs and separate spaces for adults and children. And suddenly, there was so much activity. A committee was organized to help direct the new library’s policies and programming, there were memberships solicited at various levels and someone — not Judy — was named as director. But Judy stayed on, using her remarkable knowledge of books and what readers would like to see on the new shelves. Finally, a professional librarian was hired, and much that had been hands-on and informal before became more routine. Still, Judy remained.
Soon after the start of this year, I led a book discussion in the library. Judy was there. Judy had arranged it, as she had arranged a calendar of book discussions throughout the years, from the library’s move and growth until just a short while ago. Always frail, never completely healthy, Judy became very sick. Soon, she was terminal. She was no longer in the library. Finally, she left us permanently. There was so much rain on the day of her funeral, I had to believe that the skies were crying for her, reminding us of our loss.
The Tycher Library is an underused gem on the JCC’s second floor. There’s even an elevator to make access easier. But not so many people read books any more, as e-readers have replaced words on paper between covers for a good many. But if you knew Judy at all, or even if you didn’t, please do me a favor and make that trip upstairs in her honored memory. See what she — a true book-lover — helped bring about. Hold a book, a real book, in your hands and think of Judy Borejdo. She worked hard. She deserves to be remembered. She will be greatly missed by all of us who still read books.

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Reviewing Isaac Shapiro’s ‘Edokko’

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

If you think you’ve heard everything about what happened to our fellow Jews in those dark years of the 1930s and World War II, please think again. I learned a great deal from a 202-page paperback autobiography that tells the tale of an incredible life lived in Japan.
Isaac (“Ike”) Shapiro’s autobiography is called “Edokko,” a word denoting someone who has lived an entire lifetime in Japan, preferably representing at least the third generation of a family. But the book’s subtitle clarifies his status: “Growing up a Stateless Foreigner in Wartime Japan.” How could such a thing be?
The author’s forebears might well be the perfect examples of the proverbial “Wandering Jews.” The families of his parents, Constantine Shapiro of Moscow and Lydia Chernetsky of Odessa, fled the pogroms of Russia. The Chernetskys ended up in Harbin, China, in 1905, while the Shapiros settled in Japan after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Constantine and Lydia, both professional musicians, met and married in Berlin, then left Germany. They tried, unsuccessfully, to make a decent living by playing with orchestras and giving private lessons in both Palestine and China, before giving up and joining Constantine’s parents in Japan. That’s where Isaac was born in January 1931, the fourth of four boys — twins among them.
It was not a peaceful life, especially as the parents separated just six months after their youngest son’s birth. His mother returned to Harbin, China, to live with her now-widowed father.
According to the author, “As far as any of us knew, there never was ‘another woman’…all we knew was that in July 1931, at the age of 25, she decided to leave Papa; she found herself married to a man who had taken her to live in far-off places, and who appeared unable to earn enough money to provide for his family.”
Of course, the boys went with her. “Being only six months old at the time, I have no memory of our taking leave of Papa or Japan,” Shapiro wrote, “so that when we returned there in June 1936, when I was five, it was like a first encounter.” And, in 1939, Isaac became a big brother when his mother gave birth to a fifth son.
Shapiro had a classical education at the Yokohama International School, and was a quick study of required languages, including French and English. But it was his fluency in Japanese that determined the course of his life. He absorbed all the history being lived at that time: Hitler’s “non-aggression” pact with Russia, all the invasions and occupations of European countries that triggered World War II. However, he recalled that “The coming of the war with the United States and its allies was a slow but steady tidal wave…Japan was now allied with Hitler, and we feared that the Japanese would develop a more hostile attitude toward foreigners who were neither Italian or German, and — in particular — toward Jews.”
The Shapiro family learned from German-Jewish refugees arriving in Japan about the new racial laws of Nazi-occupied Germany, but not at that early time about the extermination camps.
What happened next proves Mark Twain’s wisdom: Truth is always stranger than fiction because fiction must look to what’s possible, but truth can turn the impossible into the possible.
The Shapiro family lived through all the Allied bombings and, with Japan’s occupation, young Isaac was taken under the wing of American Marines, who offered him work as an interpreter. This led to his move with to the United States at age 15 under a protective mentor, to graduation from Columbia University and its law school, to serving in the U.S. Army, and to becoming an American citizen. Today, Shapiro is recognized as a premier international attorney, with offices in the United States and Europe.
The only thing more remarkable than Shapiro’s life story is his incredible memory for detail. The “bite” I’ve given you here is just an appetizer to an amazingly satisfying full meal.
Issac Shapiro’s “Edokko: Growing Up a Foreigner in Wartime Japan” is available on Amazon.

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A Midwestern town and Tree-of-Life tragedy

Posted on 14 February 2019 by admin

My train of thought has pulled into the Tree of Life station. I can update you on the deadly anti-Semitic massacre that seems to me like yesterday, but was actually almost four months ago. I’m indebted to Sean Hamill of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for providing the facts and figures.
Of course, figures mean money, which always comes in quickly following a tragedy. What else can people do after the dead are buried and the wounded survivors are receiving care? Here, the figures are incredible. My old hometown received an astounding $10 million from many sources. And, donations keep coming in.
Adam Harrison of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh is tasked with the tracking. Money came from T-shirt sales, from entertainment venues taking donations at their entrances and from GoFundMe campaigns. In one such campaign, an Iranian refugee graduate student raised $700,000 in just two days, and continued until his total was $1.2 million. (The North Texas Jewish community heard from this remarkable student, Shay Khatiri, an AIPAC activist when he told his story at the annual AIPAC dessert reception at the Hyatt Regency Sunday night.) About the donors — large and small, organizational and individual — Harrison said this: “People just wanted to help. The giving has been an expression of their grief, and an expression of their desire to help and heal.”
But here is the story of the most unusual fundraiser of them all. This story is remarkable enough to be remembered forever in a city now overrun with good deeds, and should stand out as a shining example of what good exists, even in the smallest parts of America.
Gurnee is a small Illinois town, 40 miles north of Chicago. In that town, Warren Township High School’s drama club was preparing for the final performance of its fall show, when word was released about Tree of Life. As a coincidence (but I can’t help believing this was all the hand of God at work), their play was: “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering Anne Frank.” An unusually somber audience for any student production anywhere heard an announcement before the curtain went up: This last night’s show was dedicated to the victims of the Tree of Life shooting. And at the end, the performers lit candles in honor.
Yet, this wasn’t the final curtain call. The school’s social worker and teacher, who directed the play, immediately emailed administrators. “This was not enough,” she said. “Can we do something else?”
The following Monday, when the 35-member cast and crew members gathered to take down the play’s set, they were told to leave it alone, because they would be performing one more show — a Tree of Life fundraiser. The next Sunday, Nov. 4, was set for their Anne Frank “encore.”
Using the week between the first scheduled closing and the additional performance, these students “…responded by posting fliers all over town, organizing a Facebook fundraiser, and getting the word out through social media,” according to their teacher — who isn’t Jewish herself. The school auditorium’s 150 seats sold out, with $3,000 raised at the show itself. An additional $2,000 came in from the kids’ online efforts. All of it was sent immediately to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Quite rightly, the final words were these that came from a truly inspiring teacher: “To do this, to be able to bless and support the people you are trying to recognize with a fundraiser — this was special. It was an honor to help.”
And here are my final words: Now I can get my mental train back on track again. But I’ll never forget this briefest of stops at an otherwise obscure Midwestern high school, where the best of all that America should stand for came to life in combat against the worst that ever happened here to our people.

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