Remembering Wojciech Pszoniak

Wojciech Pszoniak (1942-2020) – Photo by Ralf Lotys, via Wikimedia Commons

With gratitude, I remember Wojciech Pszoniak, an extraordinary Polish actor. In a masterful performance, Pszoniak brought Janusz Korczak to life in the beautiful film biography of the same name. A review of Korczak appeared in this space in July. He and director Andrzej Wajda worked together to create magic. Wajda died in 2016. Information in English is difficult to come by; the Polish website Culture.pl has a section devoted to him. His talent surely deserves broader recognition.

The Bystander’s Choice: A Virtual Program You Won’t Want to Stand By

The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death.
—Elie Wiesel

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
—Edmund Burke

The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.
—Albert Einstein

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.
—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On Sunday, October 18, 4:00 to 5:00 p.m., the Sousa Mendes Foundation is holding an online forum to explore indifference in the face of evil. “If you are a bystander and witness a crime, should intervention to prevent that crime be a legal obligation? Or is moral responsibility enough?” Leading the discussion will be Amos Guiora, a law professor and the son of Holocaust survivors. According to the event description, “[he] argues provocatively and controversially that we must make the obligation to intervene the law, and thus non-intervention a crime.” Joining him will be two Holocaust historians: Dr. Victoria Barnett, formerly of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, formerly of Yad Vashem.

Just this week, a New York Times editorial opined that Rod Rosenstein, the former Deputy Attorney General, is just as guilty as the more obvious enablers of the Trump Administration, Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and William Barr. “So Rosenstein is not a caricature of a villain, necessarily. You might even say he’s a man of a rather banal morality,” argues Jennifer Senior, the author of the piece. “Courageous civil servants … [are] our best defense against tyranny, against autocracy, against government-perpetrated crimes.” Adds Ms. Senior: “Yet, when it was Rosenstein’s turn, he did nothing to stop government-orchestrated cruelty. Instead, he simply did his job.”

The event is free but registration is required. Donations to the Sousa Mendes Foundation are gladly accepted. The webinar will be recorded; I will provide the link in this space.

Impassioned Webinar Addressed Anti-Racism from a Black Jewish Perspective

3GNY and 3GDC are organizations that provide a platform for third-generation Holocaust survivors to keep the stories of their grandparents alive. By sharing the histories of anti-Semitism of the past, they confront all forms of bigotry present today. More about these important groups will appear in a later article in this space.

Over the summer, the groups led an anti-Racism workshop. By being aware of our own biases, we are better equipped to confront systemic racism. The organizations continue their anti-racism outreach with a new webinar. Yehuda Webster, a Black Jew originally from Guyana, on Thursday, October 15, gave an impassioned speech. According to the organizers, “As a Jew of color, Yehudah will work within a Jewish framework to lead us through an interactive, discovery-based workshop that calls upon self-care and human empathy to combat racism.” As is true among people with disabilities, those who directly experience life are best able to tell about it.

“As a Jew of Color, I Need More People in My Community to Speak Up,” says Yehudah. “Now more than ever, we need to be attentive to the dynamics of race and biases.” Yehudah used the excellent materials of Facing History and Ourselves, an advocacy organization that provides highly regarded educational materials. He opened his powerful October 15 workshop asking, “How do we lead an anti-racist life? It’s not a question of whether there is racism, but what we are going to do about it.” With that, he said, “Now more than ever, we need to be attentive to the dynamics of race and biases.” He rapped on his “mama’s mama.” He was referring to strong women who had an inter-generational impact. “They are the models of anti-racism,” he said.

Yehudah had the participants to discuss in groups of three and four examine a quotation:

I love my daughters more than my nieces,
my nieces more than my cousins,
my cousins more than my neighbors.
But that doesn’t mean that we detest our neighbors.

They pondered the following questions:

  • What is this person’s vision of community?
  • In what ways does this vision of community make sense?
  • Does this vision make you at all uncomfortable? Why or why not?  
  • Is collective liberation from all forms of oppressive suffering achievable with this model of community?

Yehudah revealed that the speaker was, in fact, Jean-Marie Le Pen, an avowed anti-Semite and racist. In the end, we must regard the person in the fourth circle in the Universe of Obligation, that “neighbor,” as an individual with feelings.

When we see a black person, it is an act of micro-aggression to cross to the other side of the street. We must do more, a lot more. We must be kind and civil. Greet the person, that “neighbor,” with a sincere smile. That, he said is the beginning of being an anti-racist.

Yehudah is a tutor with the B’nai Mitzvah Campaign. He also works with Jews for Economic and Racial Justice, a group “advancing systemic changes that result in concrete improvements in people’s everyday lives.” According to the group’s website, “We are inspired by Jewish tradition to fight for a sustainable world with an equitable distribution of economic and cultural resources and political power,” and continues with, “We believe that Jews have a vital role to play in this movement. The future we hope for depends on Jews forging deep and lasting ties with our partners in struggle.”

Registration is free, but donations of any amount are encouraged. For those unable to attend, the webinar will hopefully be recorded for later viewing. This promises to be a most worthwhile and extremely valuable event!

For Girls Everywhere Who Dream Big

A black-and-white photo shows Fearless Girl, a bronze statue of a little girl looking up with confidence. She is adorned with the white lace collar of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
State Street Global Advisors created this brilliant full-page ad to honor Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all she did for girls and women. Fearless Girl is a statue by sculptor Kristen Visbal and was commissioned by State Street.

October 11 is a big day for little girls across the globe. The theme for the International Day of the Girl this year is “My voice, our equal future.” UN Women states that the day “reimagines a better world inspired and led by adolescent girls, as part of the global Generation Equality movement.”

The Medium recently profiled eight girls around the world who are leaders, advocates in making the world better for all, especially the children of today. These are “Girls to know: The next generation is already leading the way.” They include the following:

  • Julieta Martinez, Chile. The founder of the Tremendas Collaborative Platform, Julieta is a climate and gender equity activist.
  • Latifatou Compaoré, Burkina Faso. She is working to demanding an end to Female Genital Mutilation.
  • Greta Thunberg, Sweden. She is the person behind the global school strike for climate action, a movement that has attracted teens all over the world.
  • Samira Mehta, United States. This extraordinary 11-year-old founded Coderbunnyz and Codermindz, board games that introduce children to programming and artificial intelligence.
  • Millie Bobby Brown, United Kingdom. A leading actor in the series Stranger Things, Millie is also a UNICEF Goodwill Amabassador.
  • Neha, Nepal. Growing up in a slum in her nation’s capital, Kathmandu, Neha is a girls’ rights and gender equality activist, with a show to end sexual exploitation of girls.
  • Jakomba Jabbie, The Gambia. She works to advance the education of girls in her country, also encouraging them to embark on careers in the sciences.
  • Sofia Scarlat, Romania. The founder of Girl Up, an organization for teenagers seeking to prevent domestic and sexual violence, as well as human trafficking. 

Two of My Heroes: Malala Yousafzai and Greta Thunberg

Malala spoke with Meghan, The Duchess of Sussex and Prince Harry, The Duke of Sussex. Meghan has devoted her live to the education of girls worldwide. Harry is focusing on climate change. And the two are interconnected. They discussed “the barriers preventing 130 million girls from going to school and why it’s essential that we champion every girl’s right to learn.” The Malala Fund “breaks down the barriers preventing more than 130 million girls around the world from going to school.”

Greta Thunberg earned Time Magazine’s coveted Person of the Year; which honored her in a beautiful article. “We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says. Though her actions have inspired teens across the globe to start school climate strikes in their countries, Greta says. She is dedicated and she is humble. “I am not the leader the face of the climate movement,” she says. “I am just one of many faces.”

 

Girls like Greta are advocating for the rights of girls everywhere, so that the girls of the future will be able to change the world. 

 

A Yizkor for a Child of the Holocaust

 

The traditional Jewish morning blessing includes gratitude to God, not only for all that we have for ourselves, but also what we must do for others. Likewise, the holy Yom Kippur service involves not only what we must atone for ourselves, but also our duty to remember those who have passed. In addition to beloved family members we have lost, we recall the blessed memory of the six million souls of the House of Israel who perished during the Holocaust. What set this tragedy apart from those before it was that the Nazi perpetrators specifically targeted children. One-fourth of those slaughtered, strangled, and burned in the Shoah were children.

Through the Adopt-a-Kaddish Project, I was able to “adopt” one of these children. Michel Neumann was born on September 15, 1931, Paris, France, the child of Samuel and Suzanne Neumann. Little else is known about him. Michel Deported with Transport 69 from Drancy Camp, France, to Auschwitz-Birkenau on March 7, 1944, where he perished.

In bearing witness to the Holocaust, one guards against anti-Semitism and—by extension—all forms of bigotry and intolerance.

May he rest in peace, and may his short life be a blessing.

 

 

Children Around the World Confront Climate Change

 

With the 31st anniversary of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child less than two months away, UNICEF produced an extraordinary video in which nine young climate activists spoke out on climate change.

“Can you tell me, in your own words, how you see the climate crisis affecting your country? What do you see is happening?” The following nine courageous children give their obseravations:

  • Greta Thunberg, Sweden
  • Alexandria Villasenor, USA
  • Catarina Lorenzo, Brazil
  • Carlos Manuel, Palau
  • Timoci Naulusala, Fiji
  • Iris Duquesn, France
  • Raina Ivanova, Germany
  • Raslene Jbali, Tunisia
  • Ridhima Pandey, India

The children speak of cyclones, forest fires, droughts and floods, hot summers and quickly melting snows. They speak of lost memories, stolen childhoods. Seeing these cataclysmic events, these teens were compelled to take action. Agile social media users, the children saw that it isn’t just their homes being destroyed. Severe climate events have been impacting communities around the world. “I just wanted to contribute and help out,” And who inspired them? Greta Thunberg. “She’s not afraid to speak up for what she believes.”

children climate change

“I couldn’t understand why everyone else was just continuing like before,” says Greta, “not doing anything, not caring about this.”

The nine children speak of adults not taking them seriously, much as they are not taking climate change seriously. Adults need to know the climate science.

Yet, they are in solidarity with young activists around the world. After all, they say, we all live on the same planet.

“The climate crisis is a child rights crisis.

According to the C.R.C., “…the family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.”

Specifically, Article 6 declares that the signatories (1) “recognize that every child has the inherent right to life” and (2) “shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.”

They are fighting to make the world a livable place not just for themselves, but for all people.

 

Another Loss Beyond Numbers

It wasn’t even four months ago, when the New York Times devoted its entire first page, and another four pages beyond that, to the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19.

On September 21, the newspaper spoke of “A Nation’s Anguish as Deaths Near 200,000.” Also on the front page, just beneath that headline, on the left-hand side, is the horrifying figure of almost 1 million deaths from the pandemic worldwide.

Yet, with the sad news of the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and all the political posturing in its wake, the doubling of May’s number seems almost banal. And the nation seems even more divided than just a few days ago, something few thought possible. Maybe, we need a figure like 250,000—a quarter million—will garner more attention? Are we seeing a nationwide lack of empathy? Meanwhile, the looming ecological crisis, as documented in the most recent National Climate Assessment and the extraordinary images of the wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the South, receive scant attention.

For now, 20,000 flags wave mournfully on the Mall in Washington, DC. The Covid Memorial Project is the group that spearheaded the effort. The hashtag #COVIDMemorialProject has been trending on Twitter. These deaths are not just in the “blue states.”

What we desperately need is an inspirational message, and we have one from the American Conference of Cantors, with their beautiful rendition of Stand Strong. “If you see me and I see you/For who we are/Then we’ll get through.” We need it… more than ever.

The American Conference of Cantors: Stand Strong from American Conference of Cantors on Vimeo.

 

Let the American Voters Speak: Defer Voting on SCOTUS Replacement

The white facade of the Supreme Court glows against a deep blue evening sky.
The United States Supreme Court at dusk. Photo by Joe Ravi, in the public domain

 

The best way to honor the legacy of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is to be an active participant in our great democracy. It is our duty to let our elected Senate representatives know of our wishes. In addition, we need to appeal to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to follow his own words and defer any confirmation to the Supreme Court until after Inauguration Day, January 20, 2021Please feel free to use my writing as a template; however, you should change some of the wording. This will ensure more effective communication by reducing the appearance of a form letter.

Dear Senator __________,

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” As we mourn the death and celebrate the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already stated he will introduce a nominee for confirmation to replace her. The President has expressed the same sentiments. Mr. McConnell set a precedent in 2016 when he refused to even consider a Senate vote on President Barack’s nominee for the Court, Judge Merrick Garland. He said, “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide.”

The American people have a right to have their democratic say in who should nominate the next Supreme Court Justice. In the words of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Justice Ginsburg’s legacy is one of principled defiance. In shows of great strength, she made immense strides toward equal protection for everyone and pushed the nation to protect voting rights and our freedom to make decisions about our own bodies.” The N.A.A.C.P. points out that Judge Bader Ginsburg was only the second civil  rights lawyer to serve on the Supreme Court. Two of the current president’s choices, Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Barbara Lagoa, though they are highly accomplished and intelligent individuals, do not share this commitment to civil rights. Americans will select the presidential candidate they feel best would work for all people of the country.

Therefore, I urge you to use your full powers of public office to have the Senate delay voting on any nominated replacement for Justice Bader Ginsburg until after January 2021.

Follow-Up: Senator Cory Booker Responds

Contact Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader

Dear Senator McConnell,

“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.” As we mourn the death and celebrate the life of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, you stated your intention to introduce a nominee for confirmation to replace her. The President has expressed the same sentiments. Yet, in 2016, after the passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, you set a precedent in declining a Senate chamber vote on President Barack’s nominee for the Court, Judge Merrick Garland. At that time, you said, “The American people are perfectly capable of having their say on this issue, so let’s give them a voice. Let’s let the American people decide.”

So, by your words, the American people have a right to have their democratic say in who should nominate the next Supreme Court Justice. In considering Judge Bader Ginsburg’s legacy, she was only the second civil  rights attorney to serve on the Supreme Court. Two of President Trump’s choices, Judge Amy Coney Barrett and Judge Barbara Lagoa, do not share this commitment to civil rights, even given that they are highly accomplished and intelligent individuals. Americans will select the presidential candidate they feel best would work for all people of the country.

Therefore, I urge you to use your full powers as Senate Majority Leader to defer voting on any nominated replacement for Justice Bader Ginsburg until after January 2021, when the American people have made their democratic choice for president known.

Only the Holiest Die on the High Holy Days

 

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg official portrait 2016
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

 

L’eyla l’yeyla, and so we rise. When we recite the Mourner’s Kaddish, we say the phrase once. But on the High Holy Days, we say it twice. We rise higher.

It is said that only the holiest of souls die on the High Holy Days. And Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a very holy soul.

Or, said Dana Milbank of the Washington Post: “You don’t have to be a Jew, or a believer, to see the symbolism—the loss of this great woman at the very moment that, in the Jewish tradition, God begins the renewal of the world—to know that there is powerful, spiritual meaning here that should call us all to reflection on the meaning of Ginsburg’s life.”

In the Jewish mystical tradition, it is said that at all times there are 36 extra righteous people in the world. Without these Tzadikim Nistarim, humanity would cease to exist. Janusz Korczak may have been one of these righteous souls. And almost surely was Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

No. No. No.

“No, not RBG,” said Ibram Kenhi, author of How to Be an Antiracist. “What a colossal loss. What a lioness. She taught us all how to fight, how to fight cancer, how to fight for justice, how to fight for our lives.”

Like John Lewis, Justice Ginsburg fought the good fight. She got into good trouble. “The increasingly full use of the talent of all of this Nation’s people holds large promise for the future, but we could not have come to this point—and I surely would not be in this room today—without the determined efforts of men and women who kept dreams of equal citizenship alive in days when few would listen.”

“Yet what greater defeat could we suffer than to come to resemble the forces we oppose in their disrespect for human dignity?”

She blessed us, our nation with her courage. Now, all good people of conscience, people of compassion stand on the shoulders of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We have a lot to do.

Thank You, Shanghai!

Shanghai Jewish refugees
This monument in Shanghai commemorates the Jewish community in that city.

America First! Those words rang loud during the interwar period (1918-1939). They clang yet again from the White House. Emphasizing isolationism and nationalism, the slogan calls out against immigration. Just before World War II and during the war, this policy took a tragic turn for Europe’s Jews in Nazi-occupied areas. At that time, the U.S. was not alone. Fortunately, one community took action. Shanghai opened its doors, when everyone else closed them. The other major place that took in Jewish refugees is the Dominican Republic.

Feng Shan Ho Holocaust Shanghai Refugees

Previously in this space, we discussed Dr. Feng Shan Ho, “The Angel of Vienna,” Consul General of China in Vienna (1938-1940). Started saving Jews May 9, 1938, when the Saint Louis was turned away. Nearly all the ship’s 937 passengers perished in Nazi death camps.

Harbor from the Holocaust Can Be Streamed on PBS

On Tuesday, September 8, PBS stations across the U.S. will air Harbor from the Holocaust, which pays tribute to both the city of Shanghai and Dr. Ho. For the New York City Metro Area, it can be viewed online through October 6, 2020.

  

Just in! Watch the Three-Part Documentary, Survival in Shanghai, Free

The 2018 Sino Media Group three-part documentary, Survival in Shanghai, is now available to view free on YouTube!

Survival in Shanghai, Episode 1: Escape to Shanghai

Survival in Shanghai, Episode 2: Surviving in Shanghai

Survival in Shanghai, Episode 3: Life and Death in the Ghetto

Three girls in the Shanghai Ghetto during the Japanese Occupation

The Miracle of Shanghai

The event is remembered today as “The Miracle of Shanghai.” A fair amount of the Hongkou District remains. There is the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum, located at the site of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue, one of only two Jewish houses of worship remaining in Shanghai. Furthermore, a memorial to the Jewish refugees was constructed in 2014, which includes a wall inscribed with the names of more than 13,000 of these persons.

On February 18, 1943, the Imperial Japanese Army forced the Jews to relocate in the so-called International Settlement, better known as the Shanghai Ghetto. The occupying Japanese modeled their effort after the Holocaust Ghettos in Polish and other European cities. As many as 30 residents lived in each of the small, squalid apartments. However, the local Shanghai residents treated the Jewish refugees with kindness. The Shanghai Ghetto was liberated on September 3, 1945, after Japan surrendered to the United States.

Jews who read the Torah, the five books of Moses, regularly are familiar with its many exhortations to treat the stranger with kindness. After all, they were once strangers in the land of Egypt. “We live in an age now, where there people that need to escape their countries because of the horrors that are going on.” says Doris Fogel in the film. “It breaks my heart to see people trying to come to our country, which is plentiful, being turned away. This never happened to us when we went to Shanghai. Shanghai opened her arms to us.”

Although all the surviving Jews in Shanghai left the city at the end of World War II, emigrating to Austria, the United States, Australia, and other countries, they and their grateful survivors—along with the Israeli government—will always remember Feng Shan Ho and the Chinese city that offered them refuge.

“Finally, you are also able to leave, even as long and far as you reach your homeland, which is unknown to most of you,” said Shanghai-born Sonja Mühlberger in Ark Shanghai—A History of Jewish Refugees in Shanghai. “However, you must never forget Shanghai.”

For further information

Eber, I. (2020). Voices from Shanghai: Jewish Exiles in Wartime China (Illustrated Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ember, Carol R.; Ember, Melvin; Skoggard, Ian A., eds. (2005). Encyclopedia of Diasporas: Immigrant and Refugee Cultures Around the World. Berlin: Springer Science & Business Media. 

Falbaum, B., ed. (2005). Shanghai Remembered: Stories of Jews who Escaped to Shanghai from Nazi Europe. New York: Momentum Books. 

Finnane, A. (1999). Far from Where? Jewish Journeys from Shanghai to Australia. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.

Heppner, E.G. (1993). Shanghai Refuge: A Memoir of the World War II Jewish Ghetto. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.

Hochstadt, S. (2012). Exodus to Shanghai: Stories of Escape from the Third Reich. New York: Palgreve.

__________. (2019). A Century of Jewish Life in Shanghai. Touro: University of Touro Press.

Kaplan, V. (2002). Ten Green Bottles. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Kaufman, J. (2020). The Last Kings of Shanghai. New York: Viking.

Kranzler, D. (1976). Japanese, Nazis & Jews: The Jewish Refugee Community of Shanghai, 1938-1945 New York: Yeshiva University Press.

Krazno, R. (1992). Strangers Always: A Jewish Family in Shanghai. Berkeley, CA: Pacific View Press.

Kurtz, S. & Singer, M. The Gentle Butcher of Hong Kew. s

Marcus, F. (2020). The Boy from Berlin and His Survival in Wartime Shanghai. Independently Published..

Peh-T’i Wei, Betty (1993). Old Shanghai. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ristaino, M.R. (2003).Port of Last Resort: The Diaspora Communities of Shanghai. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Strobin, D. & Wacs I. (2011). An Uncommon Journey: From Vienna to Shanghai to America—A Brother and Sister Escape to Freedom During World War II. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade Books. Willens, L. (2010). Stateless in Shanghai. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Tobias, S. (1999). Strange Haveh: A Jewish Childhood in Wartime Shanghai. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.