Though sex and sexuality is part and parcel of human nature, it is often viewed as something dangerous and wrong.
For decades, Dr. Ruth Westheimer (aka Dr. Ruth), has been America’s sex therapist. The 2019 Hulu documentary movie, Ask Dr. Ruth, tells her story. Born in 1928 to an Orthodox Jewish family in Germany, everything was normal for the first ten years of her life. When it became clear that being a Jew in Germany was dangerous, Ruth (then known by her first name, Karola) was sent to Switzerland on the Kindertransport.
At the age of 17, she emigrated to what was then British controlled Palestine (pre-Independence Israel) and joined the Haganah. Years later, she again emigrated to the United States. Living in New York City, she married, raised her two children and became the woman we know her to be today.
The thing I love about her is that at nearly 100 years old, she has the energy of a woman half her age. She represents hope, life, change, and that a woman can never be limited to what she can do because she is “female”. Her presence first on the radio and then on television, helped to open the door to long overdue conversations about sex and sexuality.
For generations, Americans have believed that our democracy was set in stone. Our basic rights, the political and cultural cornerstone of our nation was untouchable. Then you know who was elected President four years ago and it looked the American democracy was on shaky ground.
The anniversary of Kristallnacht is tomorrow and Tuesday. It was the unofficial beginning of the Holocaust. It was also a sign that dignity, democracy and humanity no longer existed in Germany.
Thankfully, Americans have shown our democracy and our freedoms are worth fighting for. In electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we have perhaps avoided the path that led the to Kristallnacht and the Holocaust. But that does not mean that we can rest on our laurels. There is still much more work to be done before we can be the country that lives out the ideals in our founding documents.
Fans of Broadway musicals and students of Jewish history know the final scene of Fiddler on the Roof all too well. The Jewish residents of the fictional shtetl of Anatevka have been forced out of their homes by the local authorities. As they scatter to four winds, their fate is unknown. Presidential advisor Stephen Miller comes from this world. As do I and millions of Jews of Eastern European descent. But for any number of reasons, Miller has forgotten this history.
Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, written by journalist Jean Guerrero, was published in August. Miller grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in California. As a young man, his political beliefs began to swing to the extreme right, especially when it came to immigration. He was not shy about sharing his opinions, and like many with that perspective, couched his words in a way that would not immediately come off as racist.
After college, he went into politics, which ultimately led him to his current position working for you know who as a speechwriter and policymaker.
In my world, Miller would be described as a shanda (disgrace). As an American and a Jew, he has forgotten the traditions and the history that we carry with us. Without the United States, Miller’s family, like my family would have been part of the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.
There is nothing wrong with regulating who can come into this country. But as I see it, his policies are a bridge too far. There were moments while reading this book that I was both outraged and disgusted. While it was a good book, it was a smack in the face that hate, prejudice, and xenophobia is still alive and well in America in 2020.
Among the major cities in the world, Vienna ranks among the most beautiful. The city is elegant and timeless, attracting visitors from around the world.
But there is another side to this city that came to the forefront during World War II. Only 130,000 Jewish residents were able to leave Europe before the borders closed. Of the 650,000 people that remained, approximately 2,000 were alive at the end of the war.
80 years later, European Jews (and Viennese Jews to be more specific) still have a target on their backs. At 8PM local time, six gunmen spread across the city. Their first target was the Seitenstettengasse synagogue. As of the most recent news reports, fifteen people were injured and one person is deceased.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I am getting tired of seeing headlines like these. At the end of the day, we are all human beings. We all deserve the same respect, opportunities, and rights, regardless of who we are as individuals.
Humanity is better than this. We know that. We have seen what happens when we start to love one another. Unfortunately, there are still far too many who believe that their faith/culture is better than all others. I don’t know what it will take, but its time to stop this foolishness.
In 1943, Stefania is working for the Diamants, a Jewish family who owns a grocery store in Przemyśl, a small town in Poland. Over the previous four years, she has become like family to her employers. That relationship includes a secret engagement to one of their sons.
Then the Germans invade and everything changes. The Diamants are forced into the ghetto with thousands of other Jewish residents from the area. Now Stefania is on her own with the responsibility of taking care of her younger sister. A knock on the door reveals that Max, one of the Diamant’s sons is alive. He is the first of thirteen Jews that the the sisters will hide.
As the war progresses, the danger increases. Anyone found hiding Jews will be executed. The danger grows exponentially when Stefania is forced to house German soldiers. Up to this point, she has been forced to make decisions that are painful and difficult. The final decision will be the most painful and difficult to make.
I loved this book. It was well written, gripping, and a wonderful reminder that love can still exist when hate takes over. On a personal note, I was touched by the book because it hit close to home. Przemyśl is close to Dobromil, the shtetl that my mother’s maternal line called home for generations.
It has been said that desperate times call for desperate measures. During war, to say that desperate measures are taken is an understatement.
Alice Hoffman’s novel, The World That We Knew: A Novel, was published last fall. Set during World War II, Hanni Kohn makes a choice that no mother should ever have to make. Sensing that the danger has grown tenfold for Europe’s Jews, she asks Ettie, a Rabbi’s daughter for help. Ettie bring a golem to life, it’s job is to protect Hanni’s twelve year old daughter Lea.
As both Ettie and Lea try to survive in a world that wishes them dead, they have no idea that their lives will be forever entwined.
I wanted to like this book. I was so drawn in by Hanni’s last action as a mother that I thought it would carry me throughout the novel. It didn’t. I was not completely bored, but I was also not drawn in. When it comes to stories of this ilk, I want to be completely sucked in, waiting on baited breath to know the character’s fate.
Most people know something about the Holocaust. It is one of the most well known events in recent history.
On TikTok, some users have released videos pretending to be victims of the Holocaust. Known as “trauma porn”, the response is outrage and disgust. The young people who are producing these videos claim that they are using this form of social media to educate their followers about the Holocaust and the murder of six million Jews.
If nothing else, these kids get an A for effort. Teaching the Holocaust is not easy, regardless of the age of the student. With the rise of antisemitism and Holocaust denial, it has become more important than ever that the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten.
But I wish they had been a little more sensitive in their portrayal of the victims. The response would have certainly, I think, been more appreciative instead of critical.
To be the second or third generation family of Holocaust survivor(s) is to carry a sadly unique perspective on life. Your family may look “normal”, but the wartime experiences of those who lived forever changed their outlook on everything.
Esther Safran Foer is a second-generation Holocaust survivor. Both of her parents are the only members of their families to have survived the war. Her father came from Trochenbrod and her mother came from Kolki. They met and married after the war, had their daughter, and moved to America.
Though Esther grew up in the comfort and safety of the United States, there as a part of her that was curious about her parent’s experiences during the war. Her memoir, I Want You to Know We’re Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir, was published earlier this year. The story starts when her mother (who has since passed), casually mentions that her husband had a family before the war. This out of nowhere disclosure leads Esther on a journey to answer the burning questions that up that point, had never been answered.
I have to admit that my feelings are mixed about this book. The subject itself is an emotionally difficult one, but that goes without saying. Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve read and reviewed many books on this particular topic. The mixed feelings do not come from the subject, but from the book itself.
The problem is that by the time the reader gets to the middle of the book, the narrative slows down. I was almost at the point of putting it down and walking away, but I somehow finished it.
If there is one thing that has lasted throughout the history of humanity, it is the appalling way in which we treat our fellow humans.
After the Holocaust, the phrase “never again” echoed from the lips of the survivors.
Unfortunately, “never again” has become an empty statement over the decades.
In China, the Uighurs are a Muslim minority. According to reports, the Chinese government have been forced to leave their homes for “re-education camps”. A segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver released on Youtube on Monday revealed the harsh treatment that these people are experiencing.
Watching the segment immediately took me back to everything I know about the Holocaust. The details change, but the basic facts are the same: a minority or minorities are dehumanized and forced into a specific location/murdered/tortured because of who they are.
I had hoped that 75 years after the end of the Holocaust, we might have finally learned from the mistakes of past generations. But humans are still humans. We still hate and kill one another strictly based on a face value identity.
Maybe one day, we will finally treat each other with respect and dignity.
When we are hurt by someone, the question of whether we are able to forgive and forget often comes up once everything calms dawn.
In Hamburg, former Concentration Camp guard Bruno Dey was brought to trial as one of those responsible for the murders of innocents at the Stutthof concentration camp. His fate will be decided on Thursday.
Some might argue that he has age in his favor. At the age of 93, even if he is sent to jail, Mr. Dey’s proposed three prison sentence will be short. He was also a young man during World War II, perhaps unable to fully comprehend his assignment.
However, that does not give him a free pass to live out whatever years he has left on Earth. He is still, in his own small way responsible for the murders of the innocent people who died in front of him.
I have often spoken on this blog of my immigrant ancestors and their loved ones who were murdered just for being Jewish. As much as I would love to say that this case is black and white, it isn’t. There are too many factors involved to declare it to be easily won either way.
But there is one bright spot. If he can say “never again”, then perhaps the world has a chance of finally learning from the past.