Archives for posts with tag: Israel

subway seat graffiti

I take my children to school each day via the subway. One morning a week or so ago my six-year-old daughter excitedly told me I had just sat upon a square and to stand up so she could show me. And this is what I saw: a swastika in black permanent marker. But at second glance, I saw something else. Some other subway rider had whipped out her ballpoint pen and filled in the corners of the swastika to make it look like a square. And then she added peace symbols and hearts in the quadrants.

“What’s wrong Mommy? You don’t like the picture?”

Here’s what my first-grade daughter knows and understands so far:

  • She is Jewish
  • Her father is Israeli
  • Her mother (me) is writing a book about her Savta’s extraordinary life (savta is Hebrew for grandmother)

“This is a swastika,” I said. “It’s a symbol of the nazi party.”

(I just now decided that I will not capitalize the “n” in nazi because it somehow legitimizes them; it’ll be capped in my book though, I’ll make sure my editor makes sure of it…).

“The nazi’s wanted to kill all the Jews and they succeeded in killing a lot of us, including some of your relatives. That’s why I’m writing a book about your Savta.”

“How come you never work on the book anymore?” she asked.

How could she have known? (Kids always know). I had spent the last few days contemplating whether or not to leave my job as an editor at BBC to work fulltime on my book. I had taken the position in December 2013 and have barely touched the book since. I miss it. I crave it. I really, really, really need to get back to my book.

“Well, I work fulltime and my life is really busy. I’d like to get back to writing my book,” I said. “What do you think? Should I leave BBC to work fulltime on my book?”

She looked away and then down at the ground.  I could see that she was really thinking about how to respond. And then, “I think it’s a decision you have to make, Mommy.”

Well knock me over with a feather! Holy sh*t! I laughed and hugged her and said, “Thank you my oh-so-wise daughter.”

A week or so later I resigned from the BBC. I’m exhilarated about this decision and as of May 8 I will have a new fulltime job: to complete the manuscript for “What Happened to That Baby.”

For those of you who have been on this intermittent journey with me, please continue to check back. I will try to post somewhat regularly. For those of you who are just joining, welcome! I hope you’ll come visit once in a while too. I encourage discussion on these pages, but I do moderate all comments before posting. Please be respectful and no ad hominem attacks. These are very charged topics but there are ways to engage without resorting to intolerance and hatred.

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peace and love

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Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda. Credit: DKC Public Relations/AP

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.
Credit: DKC Public Relations/AP

I just read about an amazing woman, but only after her death. Her name was Anne Heyman and she had a vision to save Rwandan orphans by creating youth villages akin to the ones in Israel that took in all the Jewish children orphaned by the Holocaust.

When the village for orphans opened in 2008, a long line of teenagers, alone and shattered, stood in the blazing sun holding paper bags containing all their possessions. Entire families of some had been wiped out, and they had no photographs. Some did not know their birthdays, or even what their real names were.

She built the village of 32 houses high up on a hill “because children need to see far to go far,” said Heyman.

What impresses me about her work is that she embraced more than just the children, and spread the love and philanthropy in a pay-it-forward way. The youth that first arrived were those orphaned by the genocide  in 1994, but later children of parents who had died of AIDS began to  arrive. Soon, other vulnerable children were also taken in.

Ethiopian Jews who had grown up at a youth camp in Israel were the first counselors. Housemothers were hired locally to make the houses into homes, often the first the youths had known. Many of the women had lost their husbands and children to genocide.

In a nod to her inspiration, she named the camp, Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. “Agahozo” is a Kinyarwanda word meaning “a place where tears are dried” and Shalom is Hebrew for peace.

Although she died a premature death (age 52), her work will outlive her. And that’s a beautiful thing.

My husband, Thomas Dov Berger, was born in Israel and lived there until he was nine years old. I spoke with him earlier today (he’s away on a business trip) and asked him to put down his thoughts about Yom Hashoah. It’s a much different memorial in Israel than it is here in the States. Here, let him tell you…

Israeli traffic stops for 2 minutes for Yom Hashoah

At 10am today, did you hear sirens?

At 10am did cars stop on the freeways? Did trains stop in their tracks? Did planes stop on taxiways?

At 10am, did everyone stop what they were doing, stand at attention, and for two minutes, while the sirens wailed, remember the six million dead?

Imagine, if you can, growing up in a country, as I did, where you set aside a day to remember your ancestors who were murdered in a systematic and industrial manner. There are no barbeques on this day, there are no white sales on this day. This is a day for reflection and quiet. This day forces you to come to terms with everything about your beliefs and your heritage and that you, as a people, were almost wiped completely from the face of the earth.

This day, Yom HaShoah, marks the beginning of a week of remembrance that culminates with Yom Hazikaron, Israeli memorial day, our day for remembering our war dead, and ends with Yom Ha’atzmaut, Independence Day.

Yom HaShoah is the day to remember the grandfather I never knew, my mom’s father, the father she never knew [killed by Nazis a couple months before she was born in a concentration camp]. I also remember the countless relatives whose names I will never know, who are simply gone, without a trace, without a marker.

Most of all, however, this day reminds me that I should never forget, and I should never forgive. And I hold that feeling to this day, in this country, where I am sitting in my hotel room, 2500 miles away from my family, preparing for my work day, where as I proceed through my business meetings and presentations to clients, everyone around me will have no idea what this day means to me. I hold it inside. I keep it to myself. And I remember: לא נשכח ולא נסלח

Tom