Lessons gleaned from new faces

Two men I had never heard of before captured my attention this past week.
Greg Roman has left the position of community relations professional with a mid-size city’s Jewish Federation, for a new post: He’s moved back to his hometown, Philadelphia, to direct the Middle East Forum. That organization, he says, “sees the region — with its profusion of dictatorships, radical ideologies, existential conflicts, border disagreements, corruption, political violence and weapons of mass destruction — as a major source of problems for the United States.”
So why would anyone want to make a career commitment to tangling with all of that? The answer is a story … one from a quarter-century ago, in his grandmother’s kitchen.
The year was 1990. Roman was a schoolboy at the time, during Operation Desert Storm. His grandma cut out an article from Newsweek to show him all the equipment an American soldier, wearing a special uniform as protection from chemical weapons, would carry during his deployment in Saudi Arabia: some food, a knapsack, a rifle, a shovel, a Bible…
Wait a minute! Roman remembers asking his grandmother, “Why would a soldier carry a book? He’s there to fight, not read, right?” That wise woman’s response was what set him on the path leading first to Jewish communal work and finally to his new career. “One of the reasons our soldiers are over there is because of that book,” she said.
Now married to a woman who was living in Israel at that time, Roman says his wife has described for him what it was like for her: While he was talking to Grandma, she was running to a bomb shelter virtually every day to avoid the SCUD missiles coming toward her Herzliya home from the Iraqi desert. His memory is so different — sitting at Grandma’s table, learning from her about the Bible. “It’s probably the most important book you’ll ever read from over there,” she said, “to help resolve these wars so they don’t come here.”
Let’s all wish Roman success in his forthcoming Middle East Forum efforts to do just that.
Another interesting person I’ve just learned about: Robert Messing of Woodstock, New York. He made his first trip to Israel in 1959 — the year he graduated from Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts — and began digging for ancient coins. Eventually he helped found the American Israel Numismatic Association. But over time, he turned his attention to old money of a quite different kind, and now has gifted his alma mater with a rare collection.
“During the Holocaust, money issued in concentration camps and ghettos was part of a complex economic system that served to strip the Jewish community of its resources and further the Nazi regime’s genocidal aims,” the university’s news release says of its acquisition.
Today, the Messing Collection is at home in Clark’s Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies; it includes rare coins and paper notes from Buchenwald, Lodz, Terezin and many other sites, plus information on how this money was created and used.
According to Messing, “My donation to the Center will ensure that when there are no more Holocaust survivors left to tell their story, these bills and coins will serve as a visceral reminder to academics, scholars and all who see and touch them of a terrible history that must never be repeated.”
Marisa Natale, a Clark undergraduate majoring in history with concentrations in Holocaust and genocide studies, spent this past summer cataloging the collection.
“These artifacts are significant not only because of their age and historical context,” she says, “but because money is an element of common experience that connects the lives of everyday people throughout history, including those who were victimized by the Holocaust.” Because of Robert Messing, “economic violence” is yet another aspect of the Holocaust now identified and ripe for public scrutiny.
Two different men, with two very different, but equally praiseworthy, missions.

Leave a Reply