Archives for posts with tag: Jews

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.

heart symbolpeace_symbol_u262E_icon_256x256

peace and love

Graduation 1979, the author with his parents and brother

Graduation 1979, Dr. Rotbart with his parents and brother. Photo courtesy of NYT.

Read a really powerful essay this morning in the New York Times and thought I’d share it with you.

Poised to attend his daughter’s graduation from NYU this month, a man named Harley Rotbart, M.D. was reminded of his medical school graduation in May 1979. His father, a survivor of Auschwitz who was orphaned in the war, was never able to get a proper education past middle school. When he came to the states he made his living as a fruit peddler:

He was the most brilliant fruit peddler in the history of fruit peddling, the smartest man I ever knew,” writes Dr. Rotbart.

Yet, he had a crushing inferiority complex and felt he stood out for all the wrong reasons, mainly his lack of education and thick Polish accent. He was intimidated by all the accomplishments of those around him. But at his son’s graduation a curious thing happened. Dr. Rotbart describes the emotional scene that occurred immediately after the ceremony:

After hugs from my brother and Mom, I moved on to Dad. What happened at that moment I will never forget. Crying loudly, Dad fell to his knees in what can only be described as a total emotional breakdown. He shook and shivered and sobbed. People all around turned to stare, but he didn’t notice or didn’t care. The usual self-consciousness was gone. As I dropped to my knees to face him, he held me like never before. Everyone backed away to give us space; a few applauded. Strangers took pictures. Dad and I stayed on our knees, crying and hugging for a long time, until we both had the strength to stand up. Then, holding onto each other and to my Mom and brother, we made our way out of the auditorium. We didn’t stop at the reception for cookies or punch. We just kept walking until we felt the rain on our faces.

Only later did I fully realize what had happened. On that day, and again in a similar scene at my brother’s journalism school ceremony the next year, Dad was liberated from Auschwitz. He was no longer “142178,” a Nazi victim. My father could now stand face to face with doctors, journalists and other accomplished Americans. Although uneducated himself, he had educated his kids, and that was plenty good enough. Better than good enough: it was great. No longer bound by the restraints life had forced on him, he reveled in what this new country had given him. He reveled in his family and in his fruit truck. He reveled in personally defeating Hitler. At his sons’ graduations, he graduated to freedom.

I am so touched by this man’s capacity for love and understanding for his father.  The bittersweet release that his father felt, which took more than 34 years to occur, was certainly a long-time coming. It’s sad but it’s also happy. Many, perhaps most, survivors never get (or got) a sense of closure and freedom in their lifetime. But his father did, and it happened twice. Must’ve been a beautiful scene to happen upon. And I love Dr. Rotbart’s ability to tell it in such a sweet and loving way.

Oh, Dr. Rotbart is a pediatrician and author of several books about parenting, one of which is called, No Regrets Parenting. Sounds like he learned a lot from his dad. If you click through to the essay in the Times, you’ll see several photos of his dad. Take a close look at his smile in the two fruit-related pictures. It’s genuine and gorgeous. The best kind of smile.

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


Credit: Brynn Evans

Finally, the kind of swastika graffiti I like: Anti-swastika graffiti! Found it during an image search for my last post, “8-year-old boy transforms hate in his own neighborhood“.

UPDATE (2/10/12): I heard back from the photographer and she said the photo was taken on a trip to Florence, Italy, in 2008. No story behind it. Feel free to make up your own and post it below. 🙂

I sent an email to Brynn Evans, the photographer, asking for the story behind it. If I hear anything and it’s worth sharing, I’ll be sure to amend this post and let you all know.

Related posts:
You Cannot Wear a Swastika Ironically
Good Jewish Boy, Also Loves Swastikas

A nice story on Huffington Post today about an eight-year-old boy who saw a purple swastika on an advertisement and decided to do something about it.


He went home and made a pink heart and wrote, “Choose Peace” on it. Then he posted it on the ad, covering up most of the swastika. Nice job, kid. And nice job, Mom.


Photo of Sara Ginaite, Jewish resistance fighter from Lithuania (1944)

When Dolly Rabinovich was a child in Czechoslovakia, someone painted swastikas with the word “Juden” on her family’s garage. That was 1938, the beginning of the Nazi occupation. In 2012 (73 years later!) someone painted swastikas with the words “Die Jew” on a garage near her home in Brooklyn. That’s not the kind of déjà vu anyone wants.

A survivor of Auschwitz and its infamous death march, Rabinowitz tells The New York Times, “When I see something like that, I get frightened. Because that was the beginning of something.”

“That it should happen again in 19 — no, 2012,” she says. “Those nightmares are still within us; the whole family perished.”

The Times article was written in response to recent anti-Semitic acts plaguing Brooklyn and Manhattan, including:

  • In November, four cars in Flatbush were burned, two of which were painted with swastikas and two with KKK
  • A month later, someone changed the sign on the subway from “Avenue J” to “Avenue Jew”
  • More swastikas appeared in a residential garage near Avenue L and on a staircase outside a religious school
  • Elderly residents in Manhattan and Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, have received threatening phone calls

But the article ends on a bold note with Shoshanah Katz, another elderly Holocaust survivor who lives in Brooklyn, who said,

“These people want attention. But we don’t take it in this country.”

Hell yeah, Shoshanah! That’s American machismo, in a good way. It’s also what I call Brooklyn pride.

Note: The photo above is neither Dolly Rabinowitz nor Shoshanah Katz. It’s Sara Ginaite, a Lithuanian Jew who escaped into the forests and joined the anti-Nazi partisans. She is 88 years old and lives in Toronto.

One pair left. Credit: Gothamist

An accessories store in Greenpoint, Brooklyn called Bejeweled is selling $5.99 Swastika earrings. There’s only one pair left. Gawker’s Brian Moylan has some choice words for the store and its clientele: “Greenpoint fauxhemians, you cannot wear a Swastika ironically.”

As pointed out in other articles and posts regarding this incident, the swastikas in the photo are backwards, which has some commenters insisting it’s not the same symbol.

That’s ridiculous.

Yes, the swastika was around way before Hitler appropriated it for his Let’s Kill All Jews agenda, but the key word here is ‘appropriated’. Post-1945, the swastika symbol will never be looked at the same way again. It’s forever tainted by Hitler and his SS-minions. Nobody looking at those earrings is thinking it’s a benign symbol with Hindu or Buddhist origins. The first thing that comes to mind is Hitler and the Holocaust. There’s just no way it doesn’t. Wearing a swastika in Western society and saying it’s not an offensive or aggressive act is ignorant at best. If you’re a Neo-Nazi and you’re not wearing it ironically, then sure, wear it. At least you’re being honest about your intent (yes, I’m being slightly ironic here myself). But if you think it’s OK to wear it, you’re mistaken.

P.S. In researching this post, I discovered a small town in Ontario named Swastika. The town was incorporated in 1908. During WWII the local government renamed the town Winston (after Winston Churchill) but the residents protested and erected a sign that said, “To hell with Hitler, we came up with our name first.”

Related: Good Jewish Boy, Also Loves Swastikas

Photo: Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences

In yesterday’s New York Times I learned about a series of apartment buildings in Flushing, Queens originally erected for elderly Holocaust survivors. The focus of the article is on the changing demographics of the Martin Lande Building, which is now predominantly Chinese and Korean.

The Martin Lande was “built by Selfhelp Community Services, a nonprofit group started in 1936 to help refugees from Nazi Germany resettle in the United States,” states the article. “When it built its first residence for elderly Holocaust survivors in 1965, Flushing was a logical location,” said Elihu Kover, vice president for Nazi victim services, because the neighborhood was largely Jewish and Italian.

“The residents came mainly from Germany and Austria at first, then later from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. Many had ties to Flushing. They knew the merchants and synagogues. At the organization’s first senior center, which opened in 1975, they played cards and celebrated birthdays and Jewish holidays along with other older adults from the neighborhood. It was their place.”

The history is certainly interesting to me but what really pulled me in was something Mr. Kover describes as a “hierarchy of suffering” among survivors to distinguish their hardships from others’.

He explains: “Even in a diminishing community, there is a tendency to divide into subgroups: Russians from Germans, adult survivors from child survivors, people who survived concentration camps from those who fled ahead of the soldiers.”

It’s hard for me not to find a bit of humor in this, as in, “My suffering is worse than yours.” Old Jews trying to outdo each other in pain and agony to the very end. There’s such a Woody Allen element to it that I couldn’t help but chuckle. LMAO-ETIKIS—Laughing My A** Off Even Though I Know I Shouldn’t.