The final Obama/Romney showdown: A note to Jewish grandparents


I believe there is a unique bond between grandparents and grandchildren. We look out for each other. We have each other’s backs.

This year, the Romney-Ryan ticket and much of the Republican Party have been attempting to divide our generations, pitting one against the other.

We saw it in the first presidential debate. Mitt Romney looked into the camera and told voters, “Neither the president nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you’re 60 or around 60 or older, you don’t need to listen any further.”

Put aside for a second the veracity of the first part of this statement. The overall implication is disturbing: Older Americans don’t care about policies that affect their children and grandchildren. The Greatest Generation, Romney believes, is actually just out for itself.

[Related: A note to a stiff-necked people: Why you should vote Romney]

The truth is, many of Romney’s proposals would hurt seniors.

Romney has vowed to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). That would mean anyone enrolled in Medicare will pay an average of $4,200 more in health-care expenses over the next 10 years. Annual wellness visits would no longer be free. Those who fall into Medicare’s coverage gap for prescription drugs, sometimes called the “doughnut hole,” would lose their 50 percent discount on brand-name drugs and would no longer see the gap disappear completely by the end of this decade.

Obamacare ensured that Medicare is fully solvent at least until 2024 by getting rid of $716 billion in waste, fraud and needless spending — including $156 billion in unnecessary subsidies to insurance companies.

Romney, by repealing health-care reform and cutting more than $1 trillion from Medicaid, would deny coverage to approximately 50 million Americans who currently have it, including nursing-home patients, people with disabilities, low-income children and pregnant women.

Those are facts Romney doesn’t want you to know. But here are a few facts he thinks you don’t care about, because they may not affect you directly.

President Obama has nearly doubled funding for Pell Grants. He provided students and families with college tax credits worth up to $10,000 over four years. He invested $2 billion in community colleges. And he capped federal student loan repayment at 10 percent of monthly discretionary income.

Romney, by contrast, has vowed to roll back all of these vital programs intended to give the younger generation a shot at the American dream. Why? Because his priority is more special tax breaks for billionaires and hedge-fund managers.

President Obama has the vision to leave my generation with a better world by starting to address climate change and investing in cleaner, more sustainable forms of energy. Romney’s energy plan is to provide wealthy oil companies even more tax giveaways at our expense.

Obamacare will help many young people get health insurance. Without it we are less likely to seek preventive care or heed early warning signs, which can lead to more severe illness and higher medical bills. If we are younger than 26, we can now remain on our parents’ plan, giving them peace of mind and saving all of us money.

Our community has long been in the forefront of efforts to expand civil rights, passing laws and creating a culture that welcomes people who are unwelcome in other parts of the world. President Obama has fought for equal pay and women’s reproductive rights. He appointed two highly qualified women to the U.S. Supreme Court, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. He ended laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians.

But you don’t care about any of that, do you? Romney and Paul Ryan seem to believe that you are ready to sell out your kids and grandkids as long as your needs are taken care of.

I think Romney and Ryan are wrong. They and their fellow Republicans are underestimating the bond that exists across the generations, inside our families. Jewish tradition speaks to this obligation, to teach and care for future generations: l’dor v’dor. I experience it in my own family. 

And when we vote, let’s remember what’s at stake for everyone in our families.


Mik Moore is president of the Jewish Council for Education and Research (JCER), which launched “Obama on Israel,” a project aimed at presenting information about the president’s record on Israel.

Should frozen sperm be used to create posthumous grandchildren?


Last fall, 27-year-old Ohad Ben-Yaakov was injured in an accident at his part-time job, and he died after two weeks in a coma. Ben-Yaakov wasn’t married, nor was he in a relationship. No woman was pregnant with his child.

Nevertheless, his devastated parents believe it’s not too late for them to become the grandparents of his offspring. And because they live in Israel, the world capital of in-vitro fertilization and a country that regularly pushes the envelope on reproductive technologies, they might get their wish.

Mali and Dudi Ben-Yaakov, upon learning that their son was brain dead, had his sperm extracted. Now they are awaiting the decision of Israel’s attorney general on whether they will be permitted to find a woman to bear their grandchild.

“If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son, why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring offspring to the world?” they asked in Haaretz.

If their petition succeeds, it will be the latest legal and cultural innovation in a country that already has embraced the idea of posthumous parenthood and come closer than any other to acknowledging a right to grandparenthood.

It’s not surprising that Israel, a society that is at once rooted in ancient faith and deeply invested in cutting-edge technology, has pioneered futuristic forms of procreation. The biblical emphasis on fruitfulness, when compounded by the legacy of the Holocaust and the demographic issues shaping the Middle East, have made Israeli society and public policy exceptionally pro-natalist.

The country is aggressive in pushing the boundaries of reproductive technology. It has the world’s highest IVF rate: According to a 2006 paper prepared for the Knesset, 1,800 treatment cycles are performed each year per million people, compared to 240 in the United States. Its specialists are among the best on earth, and health insurance there covers unlimited IVF attempts up to the birth of two live children. Israel was the first country in the world to legalize surrogate-mother agreements.

Meanwhile, in a country where almost every family sees its children join the military, there’s a hunger for anything that might salve the anguish of losing a son or daughter. Posthumous reproduction can seem like one more weapon in the ancient Jewish struggle for ongoing existence.

Irit Rosenblum, the feminist lawyer representing the Ben-Yaakov family, says that “It’s an idea of continuation. It’s a dream. Magic.”

Some feminists and scholars, though, are troubled by Israel’s culture of boundary-pushing reproductive technology. Quite aside from the issue of postmortem fatherhood, the combination of state subsidies and intense pressure to have children can lead infertile Israeli women to endure many more IVF attempts than they might elsewhere.

Whereas women in the United States might undergo several cycles, says Wendy Chavkin, a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, “Israel is the only place I know of where people can have 17,” although no one knows the long-term effects of such treatment on a woman’s body.

Then there is the psychological toll.

“It used to be, God forbid you were infertile, it was sad and terrible and tragic, but you came to terms with it,” says Susan Martha Kahn, a Harvard anthropologist and author of “Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel.” “Now you can never come to terms with it. There’s no resolution. Some of these women go through round after round, 12, 15 rounds of IVF, and it doesn’t work. That is the eclipse of an entire young life spent trying to get pregnant.”

Creating children from the sperm of the dead adds further philosophical complexity to the tangle of issues around IVF. When must tragedy be accepted instead of combated with the full arsenal of our technology? Who gets to decide?

“Where we are with reproductive technologies is a result of the fact that we have refused to accept infertility as a fact,” says Vardit Ravitsky, an Israeli-born assistant professor in the bioethics programs at the University of Montreal faculty of medicine. “Today, the idea that I have a right to have a genetic child is much more accepted than in the past. To extend that one generation to genetic grandchildren maybe is not that farfetched.”

Ravitsky was a participant in the Israeli Ministry of Justice discussions that led to the country’s guidelines on posthumous reproduction issued in 2003. The guidelines were notable for allowing a dead man’s wife or partner to access his sperm as long as he didn’t leave explicit instructions to the contrary.

“This notion of presumed consent, that we can assume that a man would want to have genetic children after his death, that was really pushing the envelope at the time in comparison with other countries,” says Ravitsky. But the ministry refused to allow a man’s mother or father similar access, concluding that parents have no legal standing regarding their children’s fertility, “[n]ot in their lifetime, and certainly not when they are dead.”

For years Rosenblum, the Ben-Yaakovs’ lawyer, has been fighting to give bereaved parents in Israel the power that the guidelines denied them.

In 2001, she campaigned for the Israeli army to adopt what she called a biological will, offering soldiers the option of freezing their sperm or eggs in order to see their lineage continue in the event of their death. Though the army rejected the idea, it received media attention.

Then, one night the following year, Rosenblum got a phone call from a hysterical woman. Her son, 19-year-old Keivan Cohen, had just been killed by a sniper in Gaza. His mother wanted the hospital to save his sperm, which can survive for 72 hours after death. The woman had read about Rosenblum and begged for her help.

Rosenblum rushed to file an affidavit and succeeded in having the young man’s sperm extracted.

Through a newspaper ad, Cohen’s parents found a woman who was planning on becoming a single mother and who liked the ideas of using a known donor and also of ensuring that her baby would have supportive grandparents. But with no written instructions from Cohen, the hospital keeping his sperm refused to release it. Following a long legal battle, a Tel Aviv court in 2007 ruled in his family’s favor.

So far, the potential mother’s IVF treatments have not been successful, though attempts are ongoing. But Rosenblum retains an almost giddy faith in the ability of technology to triumph over cruelties of nature and fate.

Speaking of Cohen’s mother, she says, “No psychiatrist can help this kind of a woman to recover from the loss of her son. But this is giving a new hope. It’s unbelievable. It brings her back to life.”

Of course, there is something unsettling in this desire to create a child to compensate for the loss of another. Many of our earliest and our most enduring myths warn against the hubristic human desire to transcend the forces of life and death.

On a practical level, if posthumous reproduction and a right to grandparenthood become common, they could create intolerable pressure on surviving partners, who might feel obliged to bear a dead man’s children rather than start a new life with a new husband or boyfriend.

Ravitsky cites a case in which the partner and parents of a deceased man went together to access his sperm and “the medical team had the impression that the young woman was being pressured.” The woman eventually decided not to go through with it, but others might not be strong enough to say no, whatever their own doubts.

At the same time, new reproductive innovations have a sinister sci-fi air at first, until they are folded into everyday life. A 1974 Chicago Tribune article about what were then called test-tube babies asked, “Is 1984 already here?” and suggested that the technology could lead to the “creation of a slave race.”

These days, IVF and other assisted reproductive technologies are routine and unremarkable. Few find it shocking when single women seek sperm donors to parent alone. If the babies born to such women have two sets of grandparents to welcome them into the world, that would make their lives more traditional rather than less.

Ravitsky says she is troubled by the idea of a society in which “whenever a young man loses his life in his 20s, the expectation is that his parents will use his sperm to create genetic grandchildren.”

But she also sees cases where the interests of would-be single mothers and of heartsick parents align. During the discussion leading to the Ministry of Justice guidelines, those who had lost their children came forward to plead for the right to grandparenthood.

“I remember really being struck by an elderly father who lost his son in the army who spoke before the committee with tears in his eyes and talked about what it would mean to him to have grandchildren, and the grief he had about the fact that at the time his son died, the technique wasn’t there to extract sperm,” Ravitsky says. “I remember thinking we should think outside the box here. It’s too simple to just say no.”

Reprinted from Tabletmag.com, a new read on Jewish life.

Grandma Who?


Growing up, I called my grandmother Grandma.

We were Jewish, but also American. There was never any question but that my grandma would be Grandma. Even if she was born in the Old Country and, like all my friends and all their grandparents, spoke with a Yiddish accent. I used to think, in fact, that in order to be a grandparent you had to have been born in the Old Country and speak with a Yiddish accent.

When I became a mother, making my mother a grandmother, I wondered how she could even be a true grandmother, a real grandma, if she was born American and spoke English the way you are supposed to. Nevertheless, in due order she became Grandma to my daughter. And my grandmother moved up a notch. My daughter called her Bubbe.

Jewish as we may have been, that was the first time it entered my head that Grandma could be anything other than Grandma. Of course, my mother could just as easily have been Bubbe to my daughter, but somehow that never seemed an option.

This all seemed very simple compared to the thinking that went into the mental deliberations, considerations, contemplations, ponderings, trying on of this title and that, which arose when my daughter was pregnant. What did I want my grandchild to call me?

The baby’s paternal grandmother quickly claimed Nana. That was fine with me. I had no desire to be a nana. The paternal grandfather quickly became Grandpa, and my husband took Poppy. Leaving me in the undecided column.

Honestly, I wanted it to be something Jewish, warm, with ties to my past and my people. But Bubbe was still too far an old-fashioned stretch. I am way too much a modern American woman who spends time trying to stay young to want to be tagged with “Bubbe.”

An Israeli guy I know from the gym suggested Savtah, which, as I heard him tell it, is Hebrew for grandmother. I loved the thought of it. It worked on the Jewish side. But somehow having a little one tag after me calling me Savtah was not my idea of being a modern American woman.

Yet there was a trace of an idea there.

Recently, I came across Web sites offering gobs of newfangled names to keep a modern grandparent feeling modern, American and not the same-old-same-old, but something more interesting. I can see I am not the only one facing this question. In fact, if you Google “names for grandma” you’ll see this is far from a Jewish question.

Mothers on the DrSpock.com message board, responding to requests for other names for grandmothers, suggested some you might never have heard of, like “Memaw” or “Maw Maw.”

The site Name Nerds asks people to submit their most clever suggestions, and trumpets the fact that the most common names for grandparents, at least in the United States, are Bubbe, Nana, Grandma, Granny, Gran, Gram, Grammy, Papa, Grandpa, Granda, Granddad and Gramps. (Note that Bubbe is first!)

The whole point, as one blogger put it, is to get away from plain old Grandma.

Others in my extended family have their grandchildren call them “GiGi” or GayGay.” I found that a stretch.

Eventually, I settled on good old “Grandma.”

For me that seemed to fit, if only in the default mode, since I had always used it for my grandmother for all those years.

And then my grandson, once he learned to sort of talk, solved the problem all by himself.

We tell him I am “Grandma.” Only 2, he can say the “ma” part, but not the “grand.” So it comes out “E-ma.”

“E-ma.” Hebrew for mother.

“Hello, E-ma,” he says. “I love you, E-ma.”

I like it. A lot. Even after he learns to say “Grandma,” I may even keep it. Jewish. Loving. Something he came up with not knowing how far back in time, out of so many loving mouths, mothers have been called to their child’s side by that name.

And so a child has led me back to my beginnings. As children so often do.

Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for “ABC-TV’s Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down Heart,” co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml: My Heart Remembers,” and a columnist for The Digital Journalist. She can be reached at douglas-steinman.com.

Autism groups focus on needs of grandparents


When Louise Beckman mentioned Chanukah to her toddler granddaughter two years ago, the child’s repeated response was: “No presents.”

Beckman felt rejected.

Her granddaughter, who was diagnosed with autism, has improved her ability to communicate with others due to early intervention from professionals and her loving parents. But Beckman, 63, is still grappling with what it means to have a grandchild with autism.

A member of the Tustin-based Grandparent Autism Network (GAN), Beckman turned to the group for advice.

“I was told that she probably was bothered by the noise of opening gift wrapping, which is magnified by the acute hearing experienced by many on the autism spectrum,” she said. “My gifts were presented unwrapped and were received without a stressful reaction.”

Children diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder typically exhibit difficulty with social interaction and communication. Many autistic children have repetitive interests and activities, attachment to objects and an aversion to changes in routines. The disorder is usually diagnosed between the ages of 2 and 3 and can range from mild or high-functioning to severe in degrees of affliction.

In the 1970s, the rate for autism was 1 in 10,000. Today, one child in 150 will be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to federal studies.

Far more grandparents than ever before are trying to make sense of this disorder, and services for grandparents are only just starting to gain momentum. Groups like GAN in Tustin and HaMercaz in Los Angeles are providing support and education for grandparents worried about the lives of their children and grandchildren.

When Bonnie Gillman, 66, learned that her grandson was diagnosed with autism, she decided to do more than shed tears.

In April 2006, Gillman founded GAN to educate grandparents about autism resources, as well as the medical, educational, legal and social issues that impact their families.

“Grandparents have a different perspective: Our children are focused on the challenges of their child with autism, meeting the needs of their typical children and just getting through a day without total exhaustion,” she said. “Grandparents are concerned about their children, all of their grandchildren and every future generation that may be genetically predisposed to autism.”

Gillman’s faith helped guide and motivate her to forming GAN, which currently serves more than 600 members.

“It has been instilled in me by my Jewish great-grandparents, grandparents and parents to help people,” she said. “Helping to bring resources to people with unmet needs has always been my priority.

“When I felt devastated and helpless to understand my grandson’s condition, I knew I had to make things better for our family,” she continued. “When I couldn’t find any information for grandparents and I knew that my feelings were universal, I wanted to identify resources to share with other families, as well.”

Sally Weber, director of special-needs programs at Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles and co-founder of HaMercaz, is also helping grandparents learn more about children with special needs.

In September, the agency offered a workshop titled, “Grandparents of Grandchildren With Special Needs Have Special Needs, Too!” at The Jewish Federation Goldsmith Center. The workshop will be offered again in spring and fall 2009.

“As grandparents, we go through a range of feelings. Some of these are triggered by the child’s behavior and how the parents react to it. Grandparents are frightened and upset that their grandchild is experiencing these problems. They’re also upset that their children have to cope with these issues,” said Weber, who is a grandmother of three and a mother of a daughter with special needs.

Weber said there are a number of reasons why grandparents of special-needs children need support. In addition to providing an opportunity to normalize feelings and express hurt or angry feelings, she said it can be a safe place to use humor, a very healing emotion that in other social settings may seem less appropriate.

Weber added that some grandparents need support because they can find it difficult to talk to their friends about their grandchildren’s conditions.

“While their friends can be compassionate, they only listen so much. Eventually, their friends move on in the conversation, discussing their own grandchildren’s accomplishments. This creates a feeling of isolation for the grandparents. They find themselves in this unknown and unexpected place. They had expectations about their grandchildren and what their lives would be like. They also had expectations about how they were going to grandparent that have to be re-examined,” she said.

Siblings show they have write stuff


As they practiced their haftorah portions, perfected their speeches and sent out invitations, Daniel and Lauren Deitch felt something was missing from their b’nai mitzvah preparations: Grandma Julie.

The Deitches’ grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, had promised to attend their Dec. 9, 2006, simcha. But her death six months earlier left the siblings with a void that seemed nearly impossible to fill.

To include her in their special day, the two were inspired to write and illustrate “We Will Always Remember” (Mishpucha Press, 2006), a book detailing their grandparents’ experiences during the Holocaust to be distributed during the ceremony. But what began as a mitzvah project to honor family and remember the Holocaust soon became much more. The Deitches, who live in Hidden Hills, wrote about the experience and won first prize in Areyvut’s annual B’nai Mitzvah Essay Contest for a poignant piece detailing their unique and very personal project.

The inspiration for the book was sparked during the shiva, when the Deitches’ parents took out the videotaped interview Grandma Julie had provided to the Shoah Foundation. After watching her testimony, Daniel, 14, and Lauren, 12, started to ask questions about her life, especially about her survival during the Holocaust.

“My grandma used to tell us stories about when she was … in the Holocaust,” remembered Lauren. “But she didn’t go that far with it.”

For their mitzvah project, the Deitches had originally planned to collect books for BookEnds, a local nonprofit that gathers children’s books through student-run book drives and places them in schools and youth organizations that lack reading materials. They’d been involved with the group in the past, and it seemed easy for them to continue the effort.

But the interest the siblings took in their grandparents’ lives made them reconsider their mitzvah project plans. When their publisher father suggested that they write a book about their grandparents, the Deitches decided to take on both projects.

Daniel and Lauren filled the gaps in their grandmother’s tales by digging up old photos, talking to family members, reading Holocaust-related books and visiting the Museum of Tolerance.

In their research, they began to understand their grandmother’s desire to protect them from the horrors she’d seen. At the same time, they uncovered a fascinating story. Their grandmother was the only one in her family to survive the Holocaust. She escaped a concentration camp in Hungary with her infant child and played up her fair features in order to pass herself off as a Christian.

Daniel and Lauren were also inspired to learn more about their Holocaust-survivor grandfather, Walter. He escaped from Germany as a child via Kindertransport, a British program that enabled Jewish children to escape to England, while his parents fled to Shanghai to survive.

Daniel and Lauren unveiled the book to their friends and family during the b’nai mitzvah ceremony. The siblings remember watching their guests’ faces when the rabbi revealed the book.

“Everyone started crying,” Lauren said.

To continue to honor their grandmother’s memory, the Deitches have arranged for the profits from book sales to go to The Blue Card Fund, a national charity that provides financial assistance to needy Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and their children.

For Daniel and Lauren, becoming authors has also meant serving as peer educators.

“I told my friends that I wrote a book about the Holocaust, and at least three of them didn’t know what it was,” said Daniel. Lauren had a similar experience.

In addition to sharing their knowledge and their book with their friends, the children gave copies of it to their principal and teachers at A.E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas. Another copy resides in the school library.

It was the personal aspect of the Deitches’ essay about their book project that won over the judges. “[Their project] took an experience that hit home for them, in terms of their grandmother passing away and their grandparents in the Holocaust, and it really added to their celebration,” said Daniel Rothner, founder and director of Areyvut.

Areyvut of Bergenfield

, N.J., a nonprofit that sponsors the annual essay contest, is dedicated to promoting charity, justice and social justice. In addition to its popular “A Kindness a Day” page-a-day calendar, the organization offers resources for b’nai mitzvah projects for students, educators and families. The essay contest, now in its third year, allows students to share their outreach experiences, speak for their peers and elevate their celebrations by helping others.

While their prizes for the essay include a Giving Certificate to be redeemed through Tzedakah Inc. and an iPod, the students feel the experience itself is more valuable than the prizes.

“Daniel and Lauren have done something that will be with them for a long, long time as they get older,” Rothner said.

For now, the Deitches will continue to educate others. “If people ask, ‘What’s the Holocaust?'” Lauren said, “we’re going to tell them.”

For more information on Areyvut, visit www.areyvut.org. For more information on BookEnds, visit www.bookends.org.

What Bergen-Belsen Taught Us


 

On Sunday, April 17, hundreds of Holocaust survivors from around the world, along with their children and grandchildren, gathered on the site of the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen to observe the 60th anniversary of the camp’s liberation. I was privileged to participate in the commemoration beside the Jewish monument my father had inaugurated in the midst of mass graves in April 1946. Because my parents are no longer alive, I spoke in their stead, on their behalf, hearing their voices in my mind.

It is from Bergen-Belsen that the horrors of the Holocaust first permeated the consciousness of humankind. Long before Auschwitz became the defining term of the Shoah, the films and photographs taken by British soldiers and journalists in April 1945 of both the dead and the survivors of Bergen-Belsen — shown in newsreels throughout the world — awakened the international community to the genocide that had been committed against the Jews of Europe.

In her memoir, “Yesterday: My Story,” which she finished writing just before her death, my mother, Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, described April 15, 1945:

“It was Sunday, a very hot day. It was strange; there was nobody to be seen outside the barracks. The camp seemed to have been abandoned, almost like a cemetery…. Suddenly, we felt the earth tremble; something was moving. We were convinced that the Germans were about to blow up the camp…. We all believed that these were the last moments of our lives. It was 3 p.m. We heard a loud voice repeating the same words in English and in German. ‘Hello, hello. You are free. We are British soldiers and have come to liberate you.’…. We ran out of the barracks and saw a British army vehicle with a loudspeaker on top, driving slowly through the camp.”

But almost immediately, my mother recalled, a new reality set in: “There was joy, yes. We were free, the gates were open — but where were we to go? The liberation had come too late, not only for the dead, but for us, the living, as well. We had lost our families, our friends, our homes. We had no place to go, and nobody was waiting for us anywhere. We were alive, yes. We were liberated from death, from the fear of death, but the fear of life started.”

At Belsen, the British found themselves in Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones. More than 10,000 bodies lay scattered about the camp, and the 58,000 surviving inmates — the overwhelming majority of whom were Jews — suffered from a combination of typhus, tuberculosis, dysentery, extreme malnutrition and other virulent diseases. Confronted with the emaciated, tormented survivors moving, walking, speaking in the midst of corpses, the liberators must have asked themselves not “Can these bones live?” but “How can these bones live?’’

My father, Josef (Yossel) Rosensaft, was also liberated here. For more than five years following the liberation, he headed both the Jewish Committee of the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons camp and the Central Jewish Committee in the British Zone of Germany. I am one of more than 2,000 children who were born in Bergen-Belsen between 1946 and 1950.

We, the children and grandchildren of the survivors, were proud to be at Belsen on that Sunday alongside our parents and grandparents. We know that we were given life and placed on earth with a solemn obligation. Our parents and grandparents survived to bear witness. We, in turn, must ensure that their memories, which we have absorbed into ours, will remain as a permanent warning to humanity.

Sixty years after the liberation of Belsen, anti-Semitism remains a threat, not just to the Jewish people, but to civilization as a whole, and Holocaust deniers are still allowed to spread their poison.

In France, Great Britain and the United States, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has increased markedly during the past year. The same weekend that we were in Belsen, several American white supremacist groups were scheduled to celebrate Hitler’s birthday with concerts in Michigan and New Jersey. Earlier this year, right-wing members of the state parliament of Saxony in Germany disrupted a tribute to the victims of Nazism; and the mayor of London saw fit to compare a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard.

Sixty years after the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau stopped burning our families, innocent men, women and children are murdered in a horrific genocide in Darfur; and government-sponsored terrorists continue to seek the destruction of the State of Israel, which arose out of the ashes of the Shoah.

Thus, we do not have the right to focus only on the agony and suffering of the past. While the Germans were able to torture, to murder, to destroy, they did not succeed in dehumanizing their victims. The ultimate victory of European Jews over the Nazis and their multinational accomplices was firmly rooted in their human, ethical values.

The critical lesson we have learned from our parents’ and grandparents’ tragic experiences is that indifference to the suffering of others is in itself a crime. Our place must be at the forefront of the struggle against every form of racial, religious or ethnic hatred.

Together with others of the post-Holocaust generations, we must raise our collective voices on behalf of all, Jews and non-Jews alike, who are subjected to discrimination and persecution, or who are threatened by annihilation, anywhere in the world. We may not be passive, or allow others to be passive, in the face of oppression, for we know, only too well, that the ultimate consequence of apathy and silence was embodied forever in the flames of Auschwitz and the mass graves of Bergen-Belsen.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. This column is courtesy of JTA from a speech Rosensaft gave at Bergen-Belsen.

 

Family Time


 

I recently returned from Florida, where I spent the Kwanzaa break (I’ve coined a new name for the winter break that I hope will sweep the nation) with my parents. Actually, they used to be my parents. Now they’re my son’s grandparents. I was once my mother’s middle child, her youngest son, one of three apple-cheeked children around which her world revolved. Now I’m just the thing that brings the grandchild during the Kwanzaa break (I think the name is catching on). I’m pretty sure, if she could have, my mom would have skipped motherhood altogether and gone straight to being a grandmother. As a mother, she would never have given me an icing-laden cinnamon bun and a glass of chocolate milk for breakfast and then, just as the sugar rush kicked in, gone off to her aquatics class. As a grandmother, she does all that and throws in a chocolate muffin just for fun. But, to prove she has limits, she doesn’t buy the kind with the chocolate chips because that would be too much.

My son and I have developed a fun game that we play upon seeing my parents: Let’s count how long it takes before Zayde swears. I’m sorry to say that my father disappointed us all by taking well over three hours to curse. Last year he dropped an F-bomb in 53 seconds. We were both proud and impressed.

There are things about my parents that I had forgotten. For example, their refrigerator is a scientific anomaly. There is so much food shoved into that poor, overmatched appliance that, if you want to get anything to eat, you can’t just reach for it. You need a strategy; a plan of attack. You have to remove the orange juice, put the Costco-sized packet of margarine where the orange juice was, lower the mystery tub that is labeled “caramel corn” (so you know that it could be any food on earth except caramel corn — it turns out to have been either mock liver or spackle) on top of a different margarine container (this one has lasagna in it) and reach for the cottage cheese, which turns out to be soup. It’s like a giant slider puzzle. I didn’t really feel like soup, but after all that work, I needed to eat something. And Mom makes a good soup.

I’d also forgotten the volume at which my parents communicate. You know those noise-canceling headphones you see ground crews wearing at airports? I could’ve used a pair of those, if only so my parents’ voices would have come through at a normal volume. My mother, who has herself been a mother (if you ever need anyone to state the obvious, I’m your man), would stand over my sleeping child and say, “HE LOOKS SO CUTE WHEN HE SLEEPS!”

He also looks cute when he wakes with a start, clutching his chest, confused as to why his 11-year-old heart is pounding to the point of giving out.

My sister has, on occasion, pulled me aside and said with a look of dismay, “OUR PARENTS ARE SO LOUD! IT’S EMBARRASSING!”

This amuses me to no end. But then, I’m a big fan of irony.

My mother was kind enough to take my son and I to Walt Disney World. It’s the “Happiest Place on Earth,” you know, but not for me. I don’t enjoy paying $9 for a sucker, even if it is the size of a zeppelin. I’m not thrilled waiting in line 75 minutes for a ride that lasts 75 seconds. I did, however, really enjoy “The Land Pavilion,” a building that pays homage to the environment. It’s sponsored by Exxon-Mobil. (As I’ve stated, I’m a big fan of irony.)

As the end of my trip approached, my parents were beginning to get on my nerves. How did I live 20 years with these people? They’re loud. They’re giving my son diabetes. They have a fridge full of food but I can’t get at any of it. I’ve got to get out of here!

Lest you think I’m ungrateful (I am, by the way, but I’d prefer that you don’t think it), the feeling was mutual. Whereas I was once the focus of my parents’ lives, now I was the guy who needed the car on my father’s bowling day.

About 10 days into my trip, my parents took a sudden and repeated interest in the time and date that my flight was leaving. It wouldn’t have hurt their feelings if, to be safe, I got to the airport two or three days early. But a funny thing happened on the way to my departure. We realized that we were going to miss each other, and we do. It’s OK, though. We’ll see each other again next Kwanzaa break.

Howard Nemetz is just getting over a bad haircut. You can reach him at hnemetz@yahoo.com.

 

Keep Grandparents’ Legacy Alive


What is our role in the interfaith family unit? We are not just the grandparents; we are the Jewish grandparents. Their other grandparents are Christian, Muslim, Hindu or of another faith. Even when grandchildren are not raised within any particular faith, this is how we will be distinguished. Why? Because interfaith children are part of two-family cultures; therefore identifying us as such, is necessary.

We must begin to realize that one of the richest gifts we can give to our families is who we are. As their Jewish grandparents, we have the opportunity to impart our rich heritage to our grandchildren.

Why is it important to provide this legacy about your roots to your grandchildren? Because your roots are their roots. Their sense of identity will develop from a greater knowledge of their ancestors. Sharing your family information can help them understand their connection to their history, giving them something to draw on when making decisions for themselves as they mature. As the Jewish grandparents, we can also help our grandchildren learn and enjoy the feeling of Yiddishkayt, so much a part of our culture, by sharing traditions that have endured for more than 5,000 years. We do not know what spiritual choice they will make in the future, but we can enrich their lives by imparting our traditions while we are still here. Of course, do so only with the permission of their parents, to insure that you are not disrespectful of their own spiritual choices.

Here are some ideas to personalize your family history for your grandchildren:

1. Make a written family tree. Identify each person with his or her Hebrew name (if possible).

2. Put family photos into albums, with names and dates (if available). Enlist grandchildren to help out.

3. Write down your memories (childhood experiences of holidays, stories of raising your children, etc.) in a book for your grandchildren.

4. Send letters to grandchildren far away. Children love receiving mail. If they are nearby, work on holiday projects together.

5. Incorporate Yiddish words and expressions into conversations. Find Yiddish words that have crept into the English language and use them. Ask grandchildren for their meanings. They’ll love it!

6. Since food is such an important part of Jewish roots, invite family to holiday celebrations, or offer to come to their homes to help prepare for the holidays. Cooking specific holiday foods together will not only give them time with you, but they’ll be actively participating in a Jewish tradition as well, leaving an imprint on their memories that can never be erased!

7. Create a special recipe book of your own holiday foods. It’s one thing to say my mother made these great dishes, another to have recipes to recreate them for their own families.

8. Send treats for specific holidays, such as hamantaschen for Purim, to families far away. Include the recipes with a little history about their connection to the holiday.

9. Make a video history of family holidays. Conduct video interviews with older family members, asking questions that will stimulate their memories, such as about holidays, emigrating history, etc.

10. Read and tape holiday stories for younger grandchildren. Watch movies together with older grandchildren, such as “Crossing Delancey,” “Hester Street,” “Schindler’s List” and others. (Ask parents’ permission first, of course.) This will give you the opportunity to answer their questions.

Who knows, they may love these ideas so much that they, too, may want to continue these traditions with their own families for generations to come. It’s worth the effort!

On Shabbat, Stay Cool as a Cucumber


Miami is hot. In the summer, even sometimes in the winter, the air arches off the streets radiating heat circles that bend but do not break as you walk though them, slowly, slowly.

My grandparents, Oma and Opa, bought an apartment in Miami Beach that my family of eight piled into for visits. It was a small unit with one bedroom and a galley kitchen that emptied into a simply furnished dining and living area. But the center courtyard, where each of these tiny apartments faced, was opened to the sky and bathed in Florida sun. And the beach and the Atlantic Ocean were only two lazy blocks away.

So when we got our driver’s licenses, my brothers and sisters and I drove ourselves from our Atlanta home to Miami. Opa would find us a little room close by so we could run around all day and night and touch base for meals or chats in between. Oma, a fastidious and controlled woman, loved our visits. Her serious and beautiful face would break into a child’s laugh when my sister and I shared stories about the boys we met while strolling the beaches and dancing at nightclubs. And Opa, a sparkling and wise man, managed to find us once every day on the beach. From a distance, we would see him coming, wearing his summer suit and beige cap and carrying a brown paper bag holding our carefully prepared lunches of cold chicken, homemade challah, and light sugar cookies.

But for Saturday lunches, we came to them. Since they were Orthodox and didn’t use appliances on the Sabbath, Oma had an array of simple but wonderful dishes she prepared in advance to be eaten cold. In the Miami heat, her Cucumber Dill Salad was one of my favorites. It was always served in a rectangular glass container with gold flower foiling on the sides. The pale green slices were always perfectly thin and even. And when we sat together around the dim unlit dining table — me sunburned and tired from the day before — her cool salad felt like a mint mist, a slow fan. Outside their window, the palm leaves baked yellow in the sun, but inside, eating pale green cucumber circles with my Oma and Opa, I was filled by a moment where there was nothing I’d rather do.

Oma’s Cucumber Dill Salad

My grandmother marinated her cucumbers in distilled white vinegar, but I replaced it with rice vinegar for a less sharp taste. She also cooked with a very light hand when it came to spices, so play with the seasonings until it is perfect and refreshing for you.

2 large cucumbers (approximately four cups sliced)

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon water

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Pinch of white pepper

Fresh dill (approximately 1-2 tablespoons)

Peel skin off cucumbers and slice thinly. Arrange in long rectangular sealable container. In small bowl whisk vinegar, water, salt, sugar and pepper. (Season to your taste, but don’t add too much salt as it draws liquid from the cucumbers.) Pour vinegar mixture over cucumbers and mix well. Cut fresh dill and sprinkle over cucumbers. Close container, toss to mix and refrigerate overnight to marinate. Toss again before serving.

Serves five as a side dish.

A Blessing for the Father


A few months ago I flew from Long Beach to Brooklyn. It was a long, sad and lonely trip. A few days earlier, my mother had turned 82 years old and was looking forward to a special birthday, when tragedy struck. A fire broke out in her home. Quickly, her life was taken by fire and smoke. No goodbyes or time to prepare for closure, just a cruel death.

My father survived the fire but lives daily with his memories. He now spends his time living a day or a week with different children and grandchildren. He recently came to California to join our family for the holidays. Even though the children and grandchildren were here something big was missing. Yes, our dear mother, the grandmother, was missed.

One way Jewish people deal with the grieving process is to name children after their dead parents, grandparents and teachers. Somehow, having a child carrying the name of a departed loved one brings a closure and tranquility.

In large families the happiest times are the holidays. That’s the time for family reunions, when adults visit with their children and grandchildren, and the mood is festive and merry. It’s a time for cousins to meet for the first time. Children find out that they are special and connected to a big family. It’s like a large tree with so many branches and leaves, each growing in their own direction, forgetting that they all come from the same root.

My American grandfather Shea had six sons. When he died, each son gave their newborn baby boys the name of their father, Shea. So at their gatherings there were five or six children called Shea Hecht. When their holy Rebbe Yosef Yitzchok died, they named their next newborn son Yosef Yitzchok. Now there were six Yosef Yitzchok Hechts. You can imagine how the third generation of boys felt when asked who they were. They had to explain that they were the sons of the sons, causing lots of confusion.

During the holiday this year, my father was sad, but he would not speak of the tragic loss. Then suddenly the phone rang: a grandchild had given birth to a baby girl. Now mom had a name.

On the following Sunday, my son called and said, “Mazel tov — congratulations, my wife gave birth to a baby boy.”

My father jumped and said, “Today is mother’s 82nd birthday, what a gift.”

Now, once again I am on the same flight to Brooklyn, but this time to celebrate the circumcision of my grandson, who was to be named Mordechai after his grandfather. My son Boruch is named after my grandfather Boruch and now his son is named after his grandfather.

It may be that our parents and grandparents don’t die; they just pass on, adopting new bodies, continuing the blessings of having wonderful families that continue their family heritage and lifestyle. Sometimes it certainly seems to be so.

I asked my father if he was happy with his life.

He answered, “A father doesn’t ask himself if he is happy. Instead, he asks himself if he is doing the right thing. When the answer is yes, then he is happy.”

Unfortunately, for so many fathers the opposite is true. If they are happy, they reason that whatever they are doing must be the right thing, regardless of the cost to the family.

My job as a father has been made simple by being blessed with a father who expects you to live like him.

There is a “Father’s Prayer” created by the great Chasidic master, Rabbi Nachman of Breslow (1772-1810):

“Dear God, teach me to embody those ideals I would want my children to learn from me. Let me communicate with my children wisely — in ways that will draw their hearts to kindness, to decency and to true wisdom. Dear God, let me pass on to my children only the good; let them find in me the values and the behavior I hope to see in them.”

A happy Father’s Day to you all.


Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice-president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita.

Do Party Invites Right


Invitations? Eliminate the possible problems way ahead of time. Have you asked your parents and your in-laws to give you a list? When you do, give them a number. When you ask for a list of 30 from each side, it is so much better than receiving 50 from one set of parents and 100 from the other. Add to that total another 30 of your friends and maybe 30 from your child. So 30 from each side turns out to be 120 — or more depending on who’s doing the counting.

What other problems, you ask? Remember when someone mistakenly forgot to include Aunt Saydie? Remember how one side of the family did not speak to the other side for a long time? While that may sound like a good thing, it really isn’t.

After you make the master list of 30 from each side plus your 30, it is a very good idea to give each set of grandparents a master list to proofread for errors. The errors being, of course, that you are inviting or not inviting someone that may cause a big problem. Let’s have no surprises here. It is amazing how someone may remember, "Look, we forgot so-and-so."

While so-and-so might not have minded, there could also have been another world war in your family if you don’t invite him/her. Purposefully, we do not include the child’s list to the grandparent proofing. We do not need a grandma saying "I never liked that boy!" There is no discussion involving the child’s friends.

Although you will not mail invitations for six to eight weeks, it’s good to begin looking long before that time. At least six month in advance is good to begin your search. With all the choices available, it’s not easy to pick invitations. It’s good to have a notebook, journal or an index card box with everyone’s name and address on a separate card. When the invitations go out, each name is checked. When the response arrives, it is so noted. Also note when a gift arrives and when the thank-you note is sent.

The index-card box is one of the most important items in your home and is referred to each time an affair is coming up — as well as when you need a gift for that person’s party.

Must you have a very formal invite? Will it need the extra color in the envelope? Many forget the reason for your affair. First of all, it’s not your affair. What will be suitable for your almost 13-year-old? Will he or she have a say in this selection? And will it be his or her favorite color?

It was one thing when you chose that adorable little "It’s a Girl" announcement in azalea pink, and it’s quite another for your little girl — almost grown up — to choose her invitation in that hot orange/spring green combination. While the tablecloths and place cards will probably be white, the napkins and accessories will follow through in the orange and green.

You will need a flower arrangement for the table that houses the place cards and another [smaller] arrangement for the ladies room to place next to the basket containing tissues, some pretty guest soaps, perfume and hand lotion.

Imagine the trim on the cake icing matching those two beautiful colors. Imagine her joy at being able to make the decision. The good news is that you will not have to wear a matching dress in those colors. They are just her colors.

Remember you do not have to like it. It is just amazing that, together, you two found something she loves. And your daughter will remember this affair — forever. We can only hope and pray the orange-and-green flowers in the lady’s room do not clash with the chartreuse wall tile!

Kerry’s Jewish Roots


First it was then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Next it was Gen. Wesley Clark, the supreme allied commander of NATO during the
war in Kosovo. Now it’s Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry whose
Jewish roots are being reported.

Kerry? The Massachusetts senator, the quintessential WASP-y
looking politician with an Irish-sounding name?

Yup.

Two of Kerry’s grandparents were Jewish, it turns out.

Kerry, who is a practicing Catholic, said he has known for
15 years that his paternal grandmother was Jewish, but had unsuccessfully
searched for news of his paternal grandfather’s roots.

However, a genealogist hired by the Boston Globe found that
Kerry’s grandfather was born to a Jewish family in a small town in the Czech
Republic.

“This is incredible stuff,” Kerry told the Globe. “I think
it is more than interesting. It is a revelation.”

The records show that his grandfather, Frederick Kerry, was
born as Fritz Kohn. He changed his name to Kerry in 1902, immigrated to the
United States in 1905 — and committed suicide in a Boston hotel in 1921.

Frederick Kerry’s story highlights the Jewish experience of
earlier generations, said Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna.

“What we are realizing is how significant was the trend
toward conversion and abandonment of Judaism, for the sake of upward mobility,
in an earlier era of America,” said Sarna, the Braun professor of American
Jewish history at the school in Waltham, Mass. “Given the quite significant
anti-Semitism of the early 20th century and the evident obstacles that stood in
the path to success, people simply changed their names and sloughed off their
Judaism.”

But that path wasn’t always successful, Sarna said.

Kerry’s grandfather’s suicide apparently stemmed from
financial troubles. But one could wonder if, by changing his name and identity,
the man had cut himself off from any sense of community, Sarna said.

The Kerry story also might hold lessons for the present and
future makeup of American Jewry, Sarna added. According to current statistics,
millions of Americans like Kerry may have Jewish roots but don’t consider
themselves Jewish.

“The question is if that is going to be seen a century from
now as a harbinger of where American Judaism is going,” Sarna asked.

Of course, several people contact the American Jewish
Historical Society every year asking for help in their search for Jewish roots.

The e-mails usually run along the lines of, “My name is
Kelly Smith, but my grandmother’s name was Sara Goldstein,” said Michael
Feldberg, the executive director of the historical society, which is based in
New York.

Kerry said he had asked cousins and searched on the Internet,
but had found only bits of information on his family history.

The news does not appear to have major political
ramifications.

There was an initial hubbub when Albright, secretary of
state in the Clinton administration, learned in 1997 that three of her four
grandparents were Jewish. The next time she was in Prague, Albright visited the
Pinkas Synagogue, where the names of her paternal grandparents are inscribed on
a wall among thousands of Czech Jews who died in the Holocaust.

There was little political fallout from her discovery —
though when she dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian peace process many Arab
commentators called her a Zionist and said she had a pro-Israel bias.

Observers say the revelation about Kerry is unlikely to
affect the 2004 presidential race.

“There’s no question there’s a lot of pride in a Jewish
candidate and pride in family Jewish connections, but the American Jewish
community is fairly mature in its political behavior,” said Ira Forman, the
executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

As far as non-Jews go, “had it come out in 1953 instead of
2003, it would have been fatal to his presidential ambitions,” Feldberg said,
but not in today’s world.

Kerry’s revelation adds another Jewish flavor to the 2004
race for the Democratic presidential nomination. Sen. Joseph Lieberman
(D-Conn.), who declared last month that he will seek the nomination, is an
observant Jew.

Another contender, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, is
married to a Jewish woman and is raising his children as Jews.

And Clark, who told the Forward recently that he is
descended from “generations of rabbis,” is also weighing a 2004 Democratic
presidential bid.

“I wonder what this means for his Saturdays?” Jano Cabrera,
a spokesman for Lieberman’s campaign, joked about Kerry. “Regardless, at this
rate, we should have a minyan at the debates.”  


JTA correspondent Matthew E. Berger in Washington contributed to this report.

A Modern Grandfather


A Modern Grandfather

By Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

They don’t make grandparents like they usedto.

Time was when the doddering old dears couldn’t imagine a greaterthrill than having the grandkids over and spoiling them rotten.

Nowadays, a phone conversation is more likely to go like this:

Daughter: “Mom, Consuela quit on me. Bill has to go to the office,and I have an important staff conference tomorrow. Could you or Dadtake care of Benny and Becky for a couple of hours?”

Mom: “You know we’d love to, but I have my hang-gliding class andDad has a meeting of his rappelling club.”

Daughter: “OK, I’ll figure out something. Don’t forget, though,that Benny has his birthday party next week.”

Mom: “Oh, dear, we’ll have to miss that. We’re flying over toOxford for a three-day course on British history, from the Normaninvasion to Tony Blair, plus the complete works of WilliamShakespeare.”

Well, maybe I’m exaggerating a tiny bit, but it is curious how theold caricature of the “now that you’re 65, here’s your gold watch, gofishing or rock on your front porch” has changed.

Example: We have a regular tennis double, with four guys rangingfrom the early to the late 70s. The oldest is 79, and he is thesharpest of the lot. I’m not saying that we’re ready for Wimbledon,but we’ll give most intermediate players half our age a good match.

Another thing is money. With the last of our three children out ofgraduate school and finally, finally, on her own, and with themortgage paid off, we find that we actually have some loose change inour pockets.

I appreciate all the senior discounts on plane fares and at shows.But when I really needed them was in my 30s and 40s, when we had agrowing family, constant dental bills and a house to pay off.

Another fading stereotype is of the grandparents who are so dotingand mushy that the grandkids can twist them around their tinyfingers. Not so. We enjoy our grandchildren, but we demand certainstandards, and since we don’t have to wrestle with them 16 hours aday, day in and day out, we have sufficient energy and patience tomake our rulings stick.

We are abetted in our resolve by growing up in the dark ages –before we were all enlightened that telling a kid to stop talking orto turn off the radio (TV) would impose lifelong psychological scars.

One thing hasn’t changed from generation to generation. Just asour parents knew better how to raise our children than we did, so weknow better than our children how to raise their kids.

Don’t get me wrong — we really do love our four grandchildren –Talia, Yaniv, Maya and Benny. And after taking them to the park orhaving them overnight, and they get a wee bit cranky, we love toreturn them to their parents.