The Holocaust: A Cry Against the Destruction, the Annihilation – An Album of Paintings and Drawings by Itzchak Belfer

Itzchak Belfer - Holocaust 04

 

Itzchak Belfer - Holocaust 01“I was born into a tragic and stormy period, between the first and second world wars. Those were days of hope followed by nights of disillusionment. I struggled and groped to survive and to keep afloat in the world,” said Itzchak Belfer. Then came his lucky break. Unable to care for the young boy, Itzchak’s mother took him to a “white house in a gray city,” the orphanage of Janusz Korczak. His teachers saw the young boy’s tremendous gift for art and provided him with supplies. His passion for expressing himself through paintings and drawings continue to this very day. Most important, it is through his art that Itzchak observes the mitzvah, sacred commandment, to remember and guard the past.

 

“I have visions of the Holocaust, of the Warsaw Ghetto, before and after the war,” said Itzchak. “Never again will my eyes behold the images of my loved ones. I can still hear the horrific accounts of the Holocaust sounding in my ears to this day, just as I did when I first heard them. I do not forget anything. My thoughts often take me back to that time.”

 

In The Holocaust, Itzchak “has brought forth in his paintings the deepest expression of the torment in which the Jews of Europe found themselves.”

 

This remarkable collection is divided by themes:

  • Remember
  • The Extermination Camps
  • The Rebellion
  • The Ghetto

 

The works are powerful, dark and brooding. The expressions of pain, anguish, and fear are unmistakable. The images are indelible. “We found in [this album] one of the strongest artistic expressions that might assist in our hands…. In the album, there is a cry of man against destruction! Annihilation!” These are the words of Yoseph Arnon, an intimate friend of Janusz Korczak and a witness to the terrible period this book so poignantly portrays.

 

Fighting Terror and Being Labeled a Terrorist: A Review of a How Black Lives Matter Memoir

when they call you a terrorist

This searing, critically important book has just been released as a paperback.

 

The news came on July 13, 2013. A young woman named Patrisse was outraged. The man who killed an unarmed 17-year-old African American boy in Miami Gardens, Florida, was exonerated in the name of self-defense. “In what f*** world does this make sense?” she cried out. And having grown up with and known other young black men, she cried. “We learn that the man believed he had to do what he did. A right to stand ground that wasn’t being challenged by a boy carrying iced tea and Skittles. He believed that his assumed rights superseded this child’s right to walk home to his own house to bring his little brother a treat.” And the jury agreed. Yet, what happened did not even make the news. Patrisse’s friend Alicia wrote these words in a Facebook post: “btw stop saying that we are not surprised, that’s a damn shame in itself. I continue to be surprised how little Black lives matter. And I will continue that … stop giving up on black life, black people. I will NEVER give up on us. NEVER. Patrice responded with a hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

 

It did not take long for this movement to demand accountability from authorities who accept the systemic racism of police action against people of color, and the institutions of society that built and maintain that system. “Most middle-class whites have no idea what it feels like to be subjected to police who are routinely suspicious, rude, belligerent, and brutal,” said Dr. Benjamin Spock, who Patrisse quotes. And it is critical to continue re-reading Dr. Martin Luther King’s criticism of white moderates in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. But things were to get much worse. Public discourse took a decidedly ugly turn when Bill O’Reilly of Fox News famously labeled Black Lives Matter a terrorist group. (Since then, that a charge that has since been echoed by others in the news.) Patrisse’s book addresses that spurious and racially charged label head on. She provides vivid examples from both her life growing up in a racially segregated neighborhood in California and articles in the news, especially the shootings of Michael Brown and other young black men. Especially searing is the life and fate of Monte, an elder sibling with a mental illness in a bleak jail, before Michelle Alexander publicized mass imprisonment in The New Jim Crow, and Bryan Stevenson in Just Mercy

 

The work of Black Lives Matter continues. In the wake of the increased terrorism of White Supremacy, it must. Patrisse’s voice is one that must continue to be heard, and heeded.

 

Haben

Haben Girma Deafblind Memoir

With humor and a very positive outlook, Haben Girma tells how she became a disability advocate and self-advocate. Her fight for disability rights and accessibility benefits not just those who are disabled, but everyone.

 

Haben Girma has been in the news a great deal. And with good reason. A notable piece recently appeared in The Guardian. She was also featured in a BBC interview. Last year, she published a remarkable memoir, Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. With her thoughtful memoir, Haben invites anyone who will “listen” into her life. Throughout her memoir, Haben’s positive outlook shines. “At some point in my childhood, I discovered the goodwill of bringing laughter into people’s lives,” says Haben. “Humor draws people in, paving the way for meaningful connections.”

“Communities designed with just one kind of person in mind isolate those of us, defying their narrow definition of personhood.”

“Hindsight may be 20/20, but 20/20 is not how I experience this ever surprising world.”

As a middle school student, Haben Girma learned she was failing her history class. She faithfully completed each of her assignments – or so she thought. What happened was that her teacher often wrote the day’s homework on the board and announced them from the back of the rook. As a Deafblind person, neither message reached her. Haben learned early in life how important it is to be a self-advocate. Then, again, as she describes early in her memoir, Haben’s East African parents were an excellent example for her. “My parents found a way through injustice, and I will, too.”

One aspect of self-advocacy is convincing the world at large of what she is able to do. That included convincing her well-meaning and supportive but protective parents that she take on the challenge of traveling to Mali with her high school peers to help build a school, as she describes in the cleverly titled chapter “Dishing Up Trouble.” Then, once in the West African country, she was determined to show she could be a full participant in the effort. Haben does note that her parents otherwise wanted Haben to do anything non-disabled children can do.)

As an undergraduate at Lewis & Clark College, Haben again had to advocate for herself. She found that one of her greatest challenges was not acing that final exam, but simply being able to order a meal at the cafeteria, as the menu was inaccessible to her. Haben’s solution was simple: the manager of the cafeteria needed only to send her the menu as an email text attachment; her screen reader, an assistive tech device that converts text to digital braille, would do the rest. The greatest obstacle was convincing the manager to overcome his own laziness and accept her disability. Says Haben, “Blindness is nothing more than a lack of sight.”

More than being able to observe her vegetarian diet, Haben learned that by advocating for her own rights, she was helping everyone. (Curb cuts benefit people beyond those who use a wheelchair.) She set herself on a course of becoming a disability rights attorney.

Through her hard work and determination, Haben was accepted at Harvard Law School. At that time, Haben’s hearing was deteriorating. In addition to becoming acclimated to an extremely heavy course load, Haben had to work with interpreters and new forms of assistive technology to be able to simply gain access to the material. One system Haben helped develop was a wireless interface, where a sighted person types a message on a standard QWERTY keyboard; the message then appears on Haben’s device, an adapted computer called a BrailleNote, which features a tactile screen “screen” whose braille letters change with the message.  “The familiarity of the keyboard provides an opening that allows me to help people feel comfortable despite our differences.”

As an attorney, Haben worked for a firm representing the National Federation of the Blind. The case involved whether a place of accommodation applies to a website, such as Scribd, an online library of more than 40 million books and documents. That the word “place” did apply to websites and apps was a notable vindication of the essence of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). As a result, most online businesses, via websites or apps, know the tremendous opportunity being able to reach millions of disabled users presents, aside from it being the right thing to do. Shortly afterward, Haben was invited to the White House to meet President Barack Obama and other disability activists, including Tom Harkin, the former Iowa senator who championed the passage of ADA. This meeting, captured in several famous photos, is one of the highlights of the book.

As many blind people have done, Haben developed an astute spatial and tactile awareness. With that, Haben loved dancing. While working at a gym, a sighted customer reported that she could not get her treadmill to work. After checking the front panel, Haben felt her way down the machine and found a small switch at the base. “I didn’t even see that switch,” the customer said. “I didn’t see it either,” responded Haben. “Sometimes tactile techniques beat visual techniques,” she observed.

Beyond school and career, Haben rarely passed the opportunity to embrace life’s adventures. The outdoors adventures Haben she describes range from climbing and iceberg in Alaska to surfing in Hawaii. Says Haben, “My life belongs to me. I can’t surrender to feeling trapped.”

Ever positive, Haben seeks acceptance. After all, she accepts who she is. “I like my Deafblind world. It’s comfortable, familiar. It doesn’t feel small or limited. It’s all I’ve known; it’s my normal.” Haben invites the reader to enter her world and experience it as she does. “In a sighted, hearing society… I’m disabled. They place the burden on me to step out of my world and reach into theirs.” With her thoughtful memoir, Haben invites anyone who will “listen” into hers. And, throughout, Haben’s positive outlook shines. “At some point in my childhood, I discovered the goodwill of bringing laughter into people’s lives,” says Haben. “Humor draws people in, paving the way for meaningful connections.”

Girma, Haben. Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. New York: Twelve, 2019.
277 pages
ISBN: 978-1-5387-2872-7 (hardcover), 978-1-5387-2871-0 (ebook)

Join the Interfaith Unity Vigil, Morris Area, New Jersey

Vigil

 

On Sunday, January 12, 2020, there will be an interfaith vigil at Temple Adath Shalom,
841 Mountain Way, Morris Plains, NJ 07950. The event was organized by the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, an organization creating a bond between members of the Muslim and Jewish faiths. They seek “to build bridges and fight hate, negative stereotyping and prejudice.”

 

Members of both faiths, and others, will gather to affirm one other in a show of strength and courage.

 

“Join us as we reflect on our traditions and teachings and create a welcoming space for all. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Unity Vigil is an opportunity to affirm the harmony that we experience when we celebrate the dignity and diversity we see in one another. This vigil will be a call for prayer and readings to offer courage and hope to one another.”

 

For more information, please contact Rabbi Debra Smith of Or Ha Lev, Jewish Renewal Congregation, at 908-303-8374