The US and the Holocaust Review

There is a famous quote about history. As cliche as it sounds, it is the truth

If we don’t learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat it.

The new PBS three-part documentary series, The US and the Holocaust premiered this past weekend. Co-created and co-directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, actor Peter Coyote narrates the story of the near destruction of European Jewry from 1939 to 1945.

Within the film, there are interviews with historians, survivors, and readings from respected actors such as Meryl Steep, Paul Giamatti, and Liam Neeson. It does more than share what the events in our history books have already told us. It takes the viewer back in time to show what led the Shoah and repeats what most of us (hopefully) know. Though it’s been nearly a century since World War II, it is clear to me that we have not learned from the experiences of that generation.

The thing that hit me immediately is that there are far too many parallels to what is happening now both in the United States and around the world. Xenophobia and hatred have once again become the norm. We have a former President who has authoritarian tendencies, refuses to accept the results of the previous Presidential election, and has convinced many that he is the victim.

What made me angry was the spoken and unspoken complicity of a majority of Americans at the time. Though this country is supposed to be the land of immigrants and freedom. Instead, it became a land of isolation and hypocrisy. That hypocrisy was clear in the first episode when the connection was made between the Nazi’s racial laws and Jim Crow.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. In fact, I would say that it is required viewing for every American.

The first two episodes are available for streaming on the PBS website. The third will air tomorrow night at 8PM.

P.S. After I watch or read anything about the Holocaust, I can’t help but think of what the victims or the descendants might have given to the world. The late performer Olivia Newton-John was Jewish on her mother’s side. Her maternal grandparents got out while it was still possible to do so. If they hadn’t, it is very likely that she would have never been born and therefore, not entertained multiple generations of audiences.

The Forgotten Exodus Podcast Review

Immigration from one land to another is part and parcel of human history. Unfortunately, so are violence, expulsion, and becoming a refugee.

The new podcast, The Forgotten Exodus, tells the story of Mizrahi Jews who were either forced out of predominately Arab lands or left of their own volition. Produced by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which also produces People of the Pod, this limited series started releasing episodes this week.

Each week, the listener is introduced to one person who tells the story of their family. This person speaks both of their familial past in the land of their ancestors and their experiences living outside of that country. After this narrative is told, a historian fills in the gaps with the documented events that led to the immigration or expulsion.

When we talk about Jews, the focus is often on Ashkenazi Jews. The problem is that in doing so, we forget that Jews come from many nations and have different skin tones. This podcast rounds out the Jewish narrative and brings new colors and flavors to a tale that the listener thinks they know.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of The Forgotten Exodus drop every Monday.

The Best Places to Eat in New York City

It has been said that New York City is foodie heaven. Whatever you are craving, there is always a restaurant to satiate the appetite. When you’re coming from out of town, the obvious places to eat are the national chains that everyone knows. There is nothing wrong with that, but when you are in the greatest city in the world, why not try something new?

L&B Spumoni Gardens

Located in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Bensonhurst and Dumbo, this old-school Italian restaurant is a local favorite. Every dish is delicious and the portions are huge. I have rarely left this place without a doggie bag and a full stomach. If you’re not going to stay for a traditional entree, at least try the pizza. I guarantee you’ll love it.

Max Brenner

If you’re a chocoholic, you’re going to love this place. Walking into the Union Square restaurant is akin to walking into chocolate heaven. Whether you are there for a meal, dessert, or just a sweet treat, it is the perfect break from a busy day. There are also two other locations: a retail store in Times Square and a sister restaurant in Philadelphia.

Coney’s Cones

Summer is nothing without ice cream. Located on the Coney Island Boardwalk, Coney’s Cones sells the most delicious, creamy, melt-in-your-mouth gelato. Selling half a dozen flavors, the choices are as simple as a scoop in a cone or a cup or as complicated as a full-on dessert. This is one of my personal go-to places on the boardwalk.

Buddha Bodai

NYC is if nothing else, a city of immigrants. This often leads to a melding of dishes that otherwise, would not exist. Located in Chinatown, Buddha Bodai’s dishes are based on traditional Chinese food that is also kosher and vegetarian. I have never been in there when it is not packed or at least partially full. The food is mouthwatering, filling, and has a wide appeal.

Junior’s Cheesecake

Every culture and every city has certain fare that it is known for. One of the dishes that New York City is known for is cheesecake. There is one restaurant that makes the best cheesecake in the city, Junior’s Cheesecake. It has both retail and restaurant locations. All but one is in the city. It is perfect for a meal, a post-theater snack, or just because.

Readers, what do you think? Do you have any other recommendations to add to this list?

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This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II Book Review

From afar, it may seem that America was the superhero who swooped in to save the day during World War II. The reality is that our country has its own sins to grapple with from the era, i.e. the internment of Japanese-Americans.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II, by Andrew Fukuda, was published last year. In 1935, two ten-year-olds become penpals. Alex Maki, from Bainbridge Island, is the son of Japanese immigrants. He believes that the person on the other end of the letter, Charlie Levy from Paris is a boy. When Charlie reveals that she is a girl, he does not initially react well. But she persists and they eventually become good friends.

Their lives are both upended by World War II. After Pearl Harbor, Alex, his family and hundreds of thousands of other Japanese-Americans are forced out of their homes and into interment camps. For the next few years, his home is the Manzanar War Relocation Center. Because she is Jewish, Charlie must grapple with tightning noose that is coming over close to her neck and every neck of of Jewish person in Europe.

This book is really good. What kept me reading was the relationship that changed as the protaganists grew up and faced challenges that would destroy many adults. The details make the narrative jump off the page and hook the reader until very end. It is a marvelous read that hilights a dark time in our history that is not even a century old.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

This Light Between Us: A Novel of World War II is avaliable wherever books are sold.

Ms. Marvel Review

*This review is solely based on the series as I have never read the original text.

For far too long, the majority of superheroes have been white and male. Thankfully, things have been changing to include women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ community.

Ms. Marvel premiered last Wednesday on DisneyPlus. Based on the comic book of the same name, Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is a Pakistani-American teenager who is going through the same growing pains that we all went through at that age. Her parents are overprotective, she is unpopular at school, and desperately wants to spread her wings. She is also also a Captain Marvel Superfan.

Living in Jersey City, New Jersey, Kamala is torn between her own needs and being true to the family /faith that she was raised in. When she unexpectedly gains superpowers, she must use them to save the world.

Like Peter Parker before her, it is her ordinary ness that makes her stand out. What I have watched so far, I like immensely. As the child of immigrants, she speaks to and represents the mindset of many children and grandchildren who chose to leave the land in which they were born and make a new life in the US. I love that she is a nerd and proud of it. I love her imagination and I love her spirit.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

New episodes of Ms. Marvel are released every Wednesday on DisneyPlus.

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Jewish American Heritage Month: Americans Jews Who Made an Impact

May is Jewish American Heritage Month. With antisemitism on the rise in frightening numbers, the easier thing would be to hide who we are. Instead, we should be loud and proud of who we are. In honor of this month, I would like to offer a small list of American Jews who have made an impact on this nation.

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P.S. Last week was both Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Happy Birthday Israel and may the memories of those who gave their lives for their country be a blessing.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt Book Review

Love can get us through the toughest of times. It gives us hope like few things can.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt, by Steve Hochstadt was published last month. The book tells the story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt, a married couple who survived the Holocaust.

They were born in Berlin and were among the last Jews deported out of the country. Married in Theresienstadt, Sonja and Kurt were in Auschwitz and among the lucky ones to walk out alive. Finding each other after the war, they emigrated to the United States and rebuilt their lives.

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What I liked about this book was the dual narrative. The historical facts are interspersed with interviews with the book’s subjects. What I find amazing is not just one of them survived, but they both were among the few to return to the land of the living. What I got from the story was that love can get us through the darkest of times, even when hope seems lost.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

Death and Love in the Holocaust: The Story of Sonja and Kurt Messerschmidt is available wherever books are sold.


Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality Book Review

No social movement that aims to create a better world is without its internal struggle. While the men are at the forefront, it is often the women who do the work. But few are given the spotlight and the respect they deserve.

The late Constance Baker Motley was one of these women. Her story is told in the new biography Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality. Written by Tomiko Brown-Nagin, it was published in January. Born to immigrants from the Caribbean in 1921, she came of age in an era in which both her gender and her skin color created barriers. Instead of just submitting to these barriers, she broke them. After graduating from law school, she was the only female on staff working for the legal team of the NAACP under the leadership of the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

Balancing work, marriage, and motherhood, Baker Motley smashed both Jim Crow to bits and created a large crack in the glass ceiling. Her career contained a lot of the firsts: the first African-American woman who was a state Senator in NY and the federal judiciary, and the first woman elected as Manhattan Borough President.

As a product of the American education system, I am utterly dismayed that she is not a household name. She was not just a groundbreaker, but a rule breaker. These days, it is perfectly normal for a woman to have the figurative balls of her job, her marriage, and her children in the air at the same time. But not back then. In fighting for the rights of both women and Black Americans, she paved the way for equality that has become the norm and unfortunately, still has to be fought for.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

Civil Rights Queen: Constance Baker Motley and the Struggle for Equality is available wherever books are sold.

Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American Book Review

America’s history is made up of immigrants. But as obvious as this truth is, there are still many who will deny this reality.

Wajahat Ali is a writer and the son of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan. His memoir, Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American, was published at the beginning of the year. Growing up as an average American kid, he lived in two worlds: the suburbia that was his childhood and the Pakistani culture that his parents knew. Coming of age during the 9/11 era, he inadvertently became the face and the voice of his faith. Eventually finding his way as a writer, a husband, and a father, Ali has a unique insight as to what it is to live in the United States with its promises and contradictions.

I loved this book. His writing is funny, sarcastic, heartbreaking, and real. What I related to was how universal his experience is. Though my own family has been in this country for more than a century, I’m sure that my forebears would relate to Ali’s story. The names may change, the places may change, and the language may change, but the sentiments remain the same.

Do I recommend it?

Absolutely.

Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American is available wherever books are sold.

Both/And: A Life in Many World Book Review

It’s easy to think that we know someone famous based on the headlines and the soundbites coming from the press. The reality is that we don’t know them at all.

Huma Abedin‘s memoir, Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds, was published last November. Born to Muslim Pakistani and Indian immigrants in Michigan, she spent her formative years in Saudi Arabia. Taking a job with the Clinton administration in the late 1990s, she has worked for Hillary Clinton for more than two decades. She is also known for her troubled marriage to Anthony Weiner, a politician whose fall from grace can only be described as brutal.

The reader is taken on a journey across the world and across the spectrum of local, national, and international politics over the last few decades. Abedin’s tale is that a woman who has broken boundaries, redefines what it is to be American, and that of a survivor who has thrived in spite of the dark times in her life.

This book is so good. Abedin leaves nothing off the table, telling her story in an emotionally honest and open manner. Her narrative is nothing short of inspirational.

The part of the book that was the most challenging for me as a reader was the scandal that broke up her marriage and opened the door to he who shall not be named. It is akin to a rollercoaster that had no off switch. Given what was being thrown at her, she could have easily taken to her bed and soothed her grief with food or alcohol. Instead, she took it one day at a time and got through it with her head held high and her courage intact.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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