In This Time of Crisis, Three World Leaders Give Children a Voice

children have a voice Easter Bunny is essential

Children have a voice. And they need to express that voice and caring adults who listen.

In his orphanage, Janusz Korczak created a Children’s Court. There, the students upheld the school’s constitution by acting as judge and jury of their peers. Even if the court comprised only teachers and administrators, the message would have been the responsibility to the community. With the children themselves acting in these roles, it was they who led in maintaining their community.

Fred Rogers was another beloved figure who took children—what they said and how they felt – seriously. He related to their fears, concerns, and sadness in everyday situations. And he addressed frightened children publicly during times of profound crisis: in 1968, with the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy; in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on live TV; in 2001, with the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The heads of state of three countries, Norway, New Zealand, and Finland have followed these examples.

 

Norway

Prime Minister Erna Solberg in March 2020 held a press conference to address the worries of children in her country. “Many children think it is scary,” Ms Solberg said, “It is okay to be scared when so many things happen at the same time.” She reminded children that they are not at high risk of suffering major ill effects, but they can play an important part to protect older people and others who are vulnerable. She held a second telecast in April, after which she answered questions, such as when they would be able to visit their grandparents again. Norway has national day, May 17, as a celebration of children.

 

New Zealand

Declaring the Easter Bunny an essential worker, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Adern ensured that springtime would still hold magic for her country’s children. Even before then, in March, the Prime Minister convened a conference to address the fears of children. “Kids ask a lot of questions most of the time, and right now they understandably have plenty about COVID-19,” said the Prime Minister. Accompanying her was a child-development specialist, Dr. Michelle Dickinson. “The kids just had questions about the virus, how they are transmitted, how to keep their grandparents safe, how does soap work,” she said.

 

Finland

On Friday, April 24, the Government of Finland, comprising Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Minister of Education Li Andersson, and Minister of Science and Culture Hanna Kosonen, dedicated a time to answer from children ages 7 to 12. They have many concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. What does the pandemic mean? When can we go back to school? What about those of us graduating?

This is Finland’s National Child Strategy. Based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC), itself inspired by the teachings of Janusz Korczak, the initiative sets out to “formulate a vision for a child and family-friendly Finland that spans government terms and crosses administrative boundaries. The Child Strategy will be based on information and research evidence, and it will promote the implementation of the CRC.”

In this time of crisis, three world leaders gave children a voice. What did they have in common? They were all women. And back in March, for the sake of the children of America, our future, I hoped, I thought a woman would be next… to be our next leader.

 

Addendum: The New York Times on Friday, May 1, published an editorial recognizing three outstanding leaders. Prime Minister Jacinda Arden of New Zealand is one of them. The others are Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark. All three are women.

We Are Much Better with Immigrants than Without

Lady Liberty

 

“In light of the attack from the Invisible Enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our GREAT American Citizens. I will be signing an Executive Order to temporarily suspend immigration into the United States!”

That’s what Donald J. Trump said in a tweet yesterday. This is yet another attempt by the current administration to use immigrants as a scapegoat, under the pretense of acting in the interest of public health. Speaking out against all forms of bigotry is a moral imperative. The following letter to the president explains why barring persons seeking to immigrate is a false narrative. Please feel free to copy the letter. (You will need to leave out the cited sources, as there is not enough space in the form.) As anyone who has written on behalf of Amnesty International knows, when writing to a head of state or elected official, it is very important to maintain a respectful tone.

 

Donald J. Trump
The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

It was with grave concern I learned about your considering an Executive Order to close the United States to legal immigration. Most Americans are rightly worried about the novel coronavirus. However, if COVID-19 were the true reason for your action, a 14-day quarantine of persons entering the country would surely be the reasonable policy. This Executive order, therefore, strongly suggests that it is an anti-immigration policy, not public-health policy.

Reliable sources attest to the fact that immigrants are a net benefit to the country. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (2015), for each one immigrant, 1.2 jobs are created. An earlier NB.E.R. study (2010) finds that rather than costing American jobs, immigration “reduces the share of off-shored jobs.” Researchers at the Brookings Institute cite “…while immigrants represent about 15 percent of the general U.S. workforce, they account for around a quarter of entrepreneurs and a quarter of investors in the U.S.” Even the Cato Institute, a conservative organization, attests that “There are also enough differences between the skills of immigrants and natives, that most native-born workers’ wages end up going up. Almost all Americans workers are better off with immigration than without.”

I, therefore, urge you, Mr. President, to consider the net positive contributions immigrants bring to America and not pursue your Executive Order.

 

Sources:

Hoban, B. (2017). “Do Immigrants ‘Steal’ Jobs from American Workers?” Brookings Now.  Online at: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/brookings-now/2017/08/24/do-immigrants-steal-jobs-from-american-workers/

Hong, G. & McLaren, J. (2015). “Are Immigrants a Shot in the Arm for the Local Economy?”  NBER Working Paper, No. 21123. https://www.nber.org/papers/w21123.pdf

Lewis, E. (2017). “How Immigration Affects Workers: Two Wrong Models and One Right One.” Cato Journal, Vol. 37. No. 3, 461-472. https://www.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/serials/files/cato-journal/2017/9/cato-journal-v37n3-3.pdf

Moobarak, A.M. (2017). “Does Immigration Create Jobs?” Yale Insights. Online at: https://insights.som.yale.edu/insights/does-immigration-create-jobs

Ottaviano, G, Peri G. & Wright G. (2010). “Immigration, Offshoring and American Jobs.” NBER Working Paper, No. 16439. https://www.nber.org/papers/w16439

761 Days at Home in Hiding

Anne_Frank_House_Model_AlexisIsrael

This model shows the annex, where Anne Frank and seven others spent 761 days in hiding. The secret annex could be reached only behind a sliding bookshelf, on the second level, as shown in the center of the model. Photo by Alexisrael, via Wikimedia Commons (public domain)

 

“I wander from one room to the next, down the stairs and back up again and feel like a songbird that has had its wings torn off and flies against the bars of its cage in total darkness,” wrote Anne Frank in her diary. Her Sunday, October 29, 1943, continues: “Outside, fresh air and laughter, a voice inside me screams; I don’t even try to answer anymore, I lie down on a divan and sleep in order to shorten the time, the silence,  the terrible fear too, because there is no question of killing them.”

 

For Anne, boredom was not the only challenge she faced. From July 6, 1942, though August 3, 1944, the group faced the ever-present terror of being discovered by the Nazis and deported to the concentration and death camps. “Why do I always think and dream the most awful things and want to scream in terror,” wrote Anne on Dec 29, 1943. A typical day in the annex began at 6:45 a.m. and ended with sundown, when the windows had to be blacked out. Each morning, everyone had to keep quiet until 9:00 a.m., when the workers arrived. Even the slightest sound before then could give them away.

 

Now, in 2020, those of us in hour homes can take an interactive virtual tour of the Anne Frank House. The museum nowadays itself is largely empty of furnishings. The details were reconstructed on a set in 1999.

 

Back in the 1940s, there was no internet, no video calls. There were no movies or TV series to stream. Radio was the family’s connection to the world at large. And radio was very much a luxury then. Before the Franks went into hiding, they were forced to surrender their set. “It’s a pity we have to turn in our big Philips, but when you’re in hiding, you can’t afford to bring the authorities down on your heads,” Anne wrote on June 15, 1943. “Of course, we’ll put the ‘baby’ radio upstairs. What’s a clandestine radio when there are already clandestine Jews and clandestine money?”

 

As we know, Anne had another way to pass the time and create something in the process. “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings; otherwise, I’d absolutely suffocate,” she wrote on March 16, 1944.

 

On March 28, 1944, Anne found an additional purpose for her diary. While listening to the radio, the people in hiding heard Minister Gerrit Bolkestein’s appeal from London. He urged the Dutch to keep to important documents, so that it would be clear after the war what they all had experienced during the German occupation.

 

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

 

That entry was on July 15, 1944, barely two weeks before her last, on August 1944.

 

 

 

Suffering and Redemption – Abundance and Scarcity

Marc Chagall - White Crucifixion wood

An art book devoted to the work of Marc Chagall includes “White Crucifixion.” The original is at the Art Institute of Chicago. It can be seen on its website, at https://www.artic.edu/artworks/59426/white-crucifixion

 

Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion (1938) is an extraordinary work of art. It is the first of a series of pieces that show Christ as a Jewish martyr. In the background are vivid scenes of the destruction of the Jewish people. The painting beckons the attention of Jews and Christians alike. At this time of Good Friday, Easter, and Passover, suffering and redemption come to mind.

 

During a recent discussion, my fellow congregants and I were pondering abundance and scarcity, in a spiritual context, not in terms of material or monetary wealth, as these terms are commonly used.

 

Abundance does not imply a surfeit. Rather, abundance is gratitude for even what may seem small amounts. From that perspective, what is modest appears large. Abundance encompasses accepting within limits. Abundance involves faith, offering a sense of control through cooperation. It says, “I am safe.”

 

Scarcity, on the other hand, implies deprivation. There is no acceptance. Scarcity involves suffering, anger, fear, despair. Scarcity implies competition. It says, “I am not safe.”

 

We want neither an abundance of scarcity, nor a scarcity of abundance.

 

So, let’s get back to abundance. Abundance is an act of connecting, even in a time of “social distancing.” The Sunday, April 12, 2020, edition of the New York Times offers a whole section on helping ourselves through helping others, and vice versa. The first article, “The Science of Helping Out,” discusses how “having a strong sense of purpose protects us from stress in the short term and predicts long-term better health.” Another article in the supplement, “Don’t Need That $1,200 Stimulus Check?” offers a wide variety of ways in which one can put that money to excellent use to help society, which is what the check is meant to do. Donating blood and plasma to the American Red Cross is another option.

 

One of my favorite New York Times essayists, David Brooks, cited an article in Religion News Service, “Passover, Easter, Ramadan—and Interfaith America in Action.” As the piece points out, “Passover is about how a people who stay steadfast in hope can be liberated as a community from Mitzrayim, ‘a narrow place.’ Easter is the death of one paradigm and the rising of another. Ramadan commemorates jahiliyya, ‘the period of darkness,’ which is vanquished in the emerging light of the Quran.” A hospital caring for patients of Covid-19 is an act of cooperation among people of different faiths. There, people are “speaking freely of the sacred sources of our strength and solace and sharing these across lines of religious difference.” That speaks of abundance.

 

As in that remarkable painting by Chagall. Suffering and redemption transcend many faiths. It speaks to—and about—humanity.

May We Find Light in Darkness this Passover

israels_escape_from_egypt

Israel’s Escape from Egypt (illustration from a Bible card published 1907 by the Providence Lithograph Company)

 

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, former U.K. Chief Rabbi, remarked on how the book of Genesis ends on “almost a serene note.” Then, there was a new Pharaoh, who set into motion oppression against the people of Israel. “But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and the more they spread.” In other words, he said, “The worse things get, the stronger we become.”

So, Rabbi Sacks asks, “What makes this year different from all other years?”

“We have never been more alone because the social distancing and the isolation that we’ve been practicing mean that we are unable to celebrate Pesach the way it should be
celebrated,” he says. “But at the same time, we have never been less alone.”

Most of all, he continues,  “We don’t only recall our suffering. We recall the suffering others.”

HIAS, the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, asks us to imagine Passover by connecting with today’s refugees throughout the world. The organization created a Haggadah to “hold out hope for the day when every person in search of refuge in every corner of the earth can recall a story of freedom, reflect on a journey to security from violence and persecution, and no longer yearn for a safe place to call home,” the more than 70 million displaced people around the world today.

At the end of World War II, surviving Jews were among refugees. She’repith hapletah – the Saved Remnant, the “few who escaped,” they were known. The Final Solution during the Holocaust was supposed to eradicate the Jewish population of Europe, literally roots and all, and it nearly succeeded. In the spring after World War II, in 1946, a group of these displaced persons met in Munich, Germany, to celebrate one of the most poignant and meaningful Passover Seders in history. In normal times, the theme of the holiday is the escaped from servitude and darkness, and looking with hope and deliverance in better times. Of course, this year, those themes would take on added meaning. The Haggadah used at that Seder reflected that in both traditional and novel ways.

A Survivor's Haggadah Passover Pesach Haggadah Shoah Holocaust

A Survivor’s Haggadah. Front Cover, Dustjacket/.
Saul Touster, Ed. Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society, 2000

Our book actually begins almost exactly a half century later, in the spring of 1996, when a Brandeis University professor named Saul Touster was going through one of his father’s files, when a most unusual booklet fell out. Beneath a simple letter A enclosed in red and blue circles were the words “Passover Service,” with the year 1946.

   This has been reproduced in a beautiful hardcover volume. Within the covers Dr. Touster found pages with Hebrew type surrounded with borders that contained striking images contrasting the symbols of the Holocaust with others of the Promised Land by a Polish survivor named Yosef Dov Scheinson, interspersed with striking woodcuts depicting the toil of enslavement by a Hungarian artist, Miklos Adler, all supplementing the usual visual representation one would expect to find in a Haggadah.

   The high quality of the A Haggadah is fascinating in its own right, but Dr. Touster’s insightful commentary provides an invaluable context, making this excellent volume much more than a coffee table book that is pretty to look at. Much more, it preserves – through retelling – the precious memory of a history that must be told, when Passover was truly a t’shuvah, a redemption, coming home, a passing from darkness to light.

Hagaddah page enslavement Nazi Germany Hitler Egypt Pharaoh Passover Shoah Holocaust

This is one of the woodcuts by Milkos Adler, which the author of the Haggadah, Yosef Dov Sheinson, selected to supplement his own illustrations and writing.

  As we keep each other in mind and work for one another, may there be a glimmer of light in this time of darkness. “Next year, in Jerusalem,” at home with family.

Ten Israelis Share Their Memories of Janusz Korczak

Sculptor of Children's Souls

 

“My life’s mission is to tell about Janusz Korczak,” said Itzhak Belfer, a former pupil of Janusz Korczak, in an interview with Marcia Talmage Schneider. Ms. Talmadge Schneider’s mission was the same when she undertook the challenge to locate former students and staff of the Good Doctor and preserve their memories before they were lost forever. These form the basis of Janusz Korczak: Sculptor of Children’s Souls, first published in English in 2015. Just four years later, Itzhak Belfer, a prominent Israeli artist, would be the sole survivor.

 

Through painstaking research at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum in 2001, Ms. Talmadge Schneider obtained the names of 10 survivors, all of whom were living in Israel. Finding these men and women, advanced in age, took many years. She painstakingly transcribed and edited hours of tape recordings for Sculptor of Children’s Souls. In this very important book are preserved the zichronot of the following 10 people:

  • Itzhak Belfer
  • Mira Caspi, an orphan who became a bird enthusiast, inspired by the love Korczak had for the tiny sparrows he fed from the window of his attic office
  • Shevach Eden, a teacher who trained at Dom Sierot, who went on to serve as president of the Israel Korczak Society and write a book about the man who had such an impact on his life
  • Yehuda Kahane, who like Dr. Eden was an educator and active in the Israel Korczak Society and wrote a book about the Old Doctor
  • Sarah Kremer, a pupil with a son “just like Korczak”
  • Erna Friedman Lador, a teacher and counselor at the orphanage who became a children’s psychiatrist
  • Klara Maayan, another teacher
  • Schlomo Nadel, a pupil who Korczak to undertake photography, which became his profession and life’s passion
  • Dov Netzer, a pupil
  • Shmuel Nissenbaum, an artist who, like Mr. Belfer, devoted many of his sculptures and paintings to the memory of Dr. Korczak.

Each spoke with passion and clarity on what it was like to be an orphan or a teacher at Dom Sierot, adding a personal vision and perspective of what made Korczak so memorable—the newspaper, the court, mealtimes, stories, summer camp, and Stefa. They also shared how Korczak influenced how they would live and raise their children in Israel.

 

Though Betty Jean Lifton’s The King of Children is the gold standard for biographies of Korczak, Sculptor of Children’s Souls preserves the most valuable first-hand testimony of how Pan Doctor made for his pupils and staff a better world.

Finding Closeness in Social Distancing, for Us and Our Children

Shunting Engine for Children (Knoebbels)

All of us who admire Fred Rogers immediately think of his famous phrase, “Look for the helpers.” I have indeed been guilty of this mistake myself. However, as one writer in The Atlantic says, the sage advice was meant for children, not the adults who should be setting positive examples, which is what Mister Rogers called on adults to do.

“Don’t just look for the helpers. Be a helper,” the writer of a CNN Health blog piece says. “One of the easiest ways to teach your children to be helpers is by doing more helping yourself.” She cites research to back her claims. A study in Nature, “A neural link link between generosity and happiness.” According to another study, cooperation “positively reinforces reciprocal altruism, thereby motivating subjects to resist the temptation to selfishly accept but not reciprocate favors.” The same applies to children. A white paper talks about the “science of generosity.”

The New York Times essayist Frank Bruni speaks of social distancing as an “emotional oxymoron.” Even though we must do our part to follow these rules, we can still find connections six feet apart.

Recognizing the extreme harm a lack of human connection can have, health writer Jane Brody urges people to call others, either through the old-fashioned phone or one of more sophisticated video conferencing apps. “My most cherished hope is that we not forget the lessons we learned during this time about the value of creating and sustaining meaningful connections with other people,” she says.

So, here are some ways to help:

  • Reach out. Call a neighbor, friend, or fellow member of a congregation or other community group. Videoconferencing allows people to see each other’s faces. A phone call offers a voice. Those options are preferable to email.
  • Search for a volunteer opportunity on Volunteer Match. Virtual opportunities are listed regularly!
  • Connect with neighbors on an online bulletin board such as Nextdoor.com or a local Facebook page. I have used the site to find a senior citizen needing help with groceries and a guinea pig rescue group seeking old newspaper. However, some neighborhoods are better than others, so experiences and reviews are varied. And be careful of possible scams on that site.
  • Support local businesses. A good place to spend some of that $1,200 stimulus money would be to order take-out food at restaurants. Buy books at independent bookstores online via Bookshop.org.
  • Give blood. The Red Cross allows one to search for a blood drive location by ZIP Code.
  • Donate money. Charity Navigator lists and rates charities by category. Most local food pantries are also in great need.
  • Adopt or foster a pet. Petfinder is one source for finding that next furry companion—dog, cat, or small animal.

Generous individuals and institutions around the world have made their art collections, theater, concerts (both modern and classical), dance, and operas available online for free; CNN among others has a list. Another source of free material is Google Arts & Culture. The Los Angeles Times has an excellent list of free audio and print books. You can find exercise and yoga classes, how-to ideas, and more on YouTube. One popular art form are virtual choruses and symphonies. These are essentially compilations of shared videos of individuals singing or playing an instrument from their homes. One that stood out for me is a rendition of “Va Pensiero,” from Giuseppe Verdi’s Nabucco. This is a gift from coronavirus-ravaged Italy to the world, made and sent with love:

Open Culture and others, including many public libraries offer free e-books and audiobooks, fiction and nonfiction, in nearly every subject for all ages. Prefer to purchase a hardcopy you can physically hold? It is possible to do so and support independent bookstores through Bookshop.org.

As we care for others, our sons and daughters, and ourselves, we must think about the children of the world. A youth chorus called One Voice calls adults to serve the needs of all children through our actions in a beautiful interpretation of Pink’s “What About Us?”