On the first day, there was light, and the light was good. When the light was from the darkness, there was morning, the first day.
The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it If only we’re brave enough to be it.
With those majestic words, Amanda Gorman, the youngest poet to perform for a new president being sworn in, closed her soaring poem “The Hill We Climb,” and inaugurated the hope of a new day. Ms. Gorman acknowledged her speech disability; saying these beautiful words took as much effort and perseverance as courage. This poem will appear in the highly anticipated volume of the same name. Furthermore, she said, “Maya Angelou was mute growing up as a child and she grew up to deliver the inaugural poem for President Bill Clinton.” The ring she wore was of a caged bird, given to her by Oprah Winfrey, a beloved mentor and role model for her.
Amanda Gorman will certainly become a role model for many children to come.
At age 19, Amanda Gorman was the nation’s first National Youth Poet Laureate. A New York Timesarticle two years ago showcased and animated two of her early poems, both of which elevated Black cultural consciousness: “Old Jim Crow Got to Go” and “Waiting for the Gourd Moon.”
Ms. Gorman has written also written a children’s book, Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. Loren Long is the illustrator, whos art graces Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters, by Barack Obama. (That book will be reviewed in this space soon.) President Obama has a well-deserved reputation for relating to children.
For now, at this precious moment, Ms. Gorman is their future, and our future.
Four hundred mournful light. On January 19, the chilly, onyx waters of the reflecting pool reflected 400 lights, each one standing for 1,000 lights of souls lost in the United States to COVID-19. Just one day earlier, we remembered the life of Martin Luther King Jr. “It’s impossible to consider that terrain without also thinking of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963,” said Micki McElya, a professor of history in an N.P.R. piece. The evening before they were inaugurated, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, along with their spouses, were sworn in, listened as Yolanda Adams sang “Hallelujah.” It was not even four months ago that the Mall was covered with American flags, 200,000 of them.
“My abiding hope. my abiding prayer, is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom, to cherish simple moments… and to open our hearts just a little bit more to one another,” said Harris at a memorial at the site, as Lori Marie Key, an emergency-room nurse sang “Amazing Grace.”
“To heal, we must remember,” said President-Elect Joe Biden. “It’s hard to remember, but that’s how we heal.”
Our collective mourning also serves as a reminder, a very painful one, that we must continue to be vigilant, practice hygiene, avoid close contact, and wear a mask. Though so bitterly divided, we must be united in taking these measures for the 400,000 souls we have lost – and for all our fellow Americans still blessed to be alive.
About last week’s riots at the U.S. Capitol. This seems like old news. And it seemed like recent news. It’s neither. Statements such as “This isn’t who we are” are part of the “lies we tell ourselves about race.” Trump’s racism was known for many years, made even more public with his birther lie about Obama. And among the mobs at the Capitol that day, hate was on full display, and it must continue to be called out.
Do not envy evil men; Do not desire to be with tem; For their hearts talk violence; And their lips speak mischief. Proverbs 24,1-2, translation by the Jewish Publication Society
The city is renewed upon its ancient ruins. The scavengers are scattered, the devourers have fled.” Lecha Dodi, sung during the Jewish Friday night service, as translated by Marcia Prager, Jewish Renewal
Or a more recent telling by David Brooks: “But there are dark specters running through our nation — beasts with shaggy manes and feral teeth. They have the stench of Know-Nothingism, the hot blood of the lynchers, and they ride the winds of nihilistic fury.”
Both the Times of Israel and the Forwardidentified Neo Nazi groups such as Baked Alaska, the Goyper Army (with their America First flag), Proud Boys, NSC-131, the Oath Keepers, along with “anti-circumcision” creeds. Crusader crosses, a holy religious symbol misappropriated by individuals glorifying an era of white, Christian wars against Muslims and Jews, are prominent. CNN identified the Three Percenters (an antigovernment militia group, Proud Boys “OK hand symbols,” the anti-Semitic Kekistan flag (home of Pepe the Frog), Oath Keepers with their black and gold hats, a man with a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt. The Conversation noted the Mussolini-era 6MWE symbol.” an acronym common among the far right code for “6 Million Wasn’t Enough.” Reporters from WBEZ, Chicago, noted the Neo-Nazi neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. “Find the traitors; get the rope,” said another White Supremacist on the social media board Parler, a haven for bigotry. Only after two days following the riots was the violent app banned from Google and Apple.
Even more conspicuous were the bearded man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz sweatshirt, noted by a Dr. Eva Umlauf, a 78-year-old survivor of that death camp. “I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Dr. Umlauf said. “It really broke a taboo. I never would have believed that was possible from Americans.” Shirts emblazoned with popular 14-word white supremacist slogan, visible on signs outside the Capitol on Wednesday, reads “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.” The White Genocide Manifesto.” Its 14 planks insist that Jews are not white and actually endanger white civilization. “All Western nations are ruled by a Zionist conspiracy to mix, overrun and exterminate the White race,” the manifesto’s seventh plank reads.
If none of this is enough, Confederate flags and nooses were plenty visible. (The stark contrast of the lack of action by police and security on January 6 and protests involving people of color would provide sufficient material for a whole other column.)
The Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, part of The Arc, in a statement noted “The response to the riot, which stood in stark contrast to recent responses to racial justice protests and symbols used by rioters – including the confederate flag and nooses on the Capitol lawn exemplify our nation’s racism and we urge that the rioters be held accountable for their actions to the full extent of the law.”
No, not all those in Washington were white supremacists, racists, bigots. They were following the crowds. They were, as Arnold Schwartznegger said, rapt in the the cynicism of so much public discourse, as our country sinking into an abyss. But hate spreads quickly among people. And that’s why me must never, ever stop calling out hate.
January 2is a bitter-sweet day for me. By coincidence, both my aunts, Jan and Jill, had their birthdays on this day. They are no longer with us, but I still feel they are with me. Underneath a shell that may have seemed tough, my Aunt Jill was an incredibly kind and tender person. I remember that day long ago, when as a college student, I needed to talk to someone. I phoned relatives. It was Aunt Jill (on my mother’s side) who “answered the call” that morning. She listened to what I had to say with empathy and wisdom. Likewise, my Aunt Jan(on my father’s side) was always there for me. This morning, I was thinking about how I could express my own creativity. That led me to recall book she wrote, The Best Invention of All. I loved this book as a child! Taking the volume off the shelf, I turned the cover to find she signed the volume for me, as a birthday gift. Here’s what the book is about.
Lucky is the child who receives a book that inspires him. For me, The Best Invention of All was just such a book. Jimbo is a creative soul, “who liked to think up new ways to do things.” With her characteristic humor, author Jan Slepian (accompanied by the sweet pen-and-ink drawings of Joseph Veno, along with co-author Ann Seidler) tells of our hero being the kind of boy to make a sandwich by placing a slice of bread between two pieces of cheese. Why, he even invented ways to brighten the drudgery of chores, like making his bed and cleaning his room. The problem was that by the time he was finished it was time for lunch. There must be a better way, he thought. One day, he slipped outside, looking for an idea that would inspire him. He spotted a sign pointing the way to “the inventors’ house.” As he soon discovered, this was no ordinary house! To enter, he had to climb a ladder to the roof and ride a slide down through the open living room window.
Inside, Father Inventor was standing on one end of a seesaw. He was trying to figure a way to have the contraption tilt, so he would be lifted to the window. Mother inventor rode a carousel horse, picking up the dirty dishes and trying to put them into the sink. Upstairs, their son trying to put on his pants by dropping from a ladder nailed to the ceiling. No one was succeeding. Jimbo taught each the regular way of doing these things. That led him to think of the best way of getting dressed and cleaning his room, so that he could be creative in his play outside. Within himself, Jimbo discovered the best invention of all.
Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler, The Best Invention of All. New York: Cowell-Collier Press, 1967.
We may wish for “auld acquaintance be forgot,” but not so fast, say the creators of For the Sake of Old Times. (This powerful film will air on NPR stations nationwide.) A group of Black singers got together in a church that once refused to seat African Americans, in Birmingham, Alabama, a city that in 2020 removed its Confederate monument. As the chorus sings about moving from the old year to the new, clippings of archival footage remind us of the tragic events that seared our conscious and the efforts of people everywhere, of all colors, coming together. They came and continue to come, to say the names of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, not only to remember and not forget, but also to work together. For 2021, let us all make peace. Let us keep making this “good trouble,” to make the world a better place for all of us.
We Can Put Politics Aside; 2021 Is a Chance to Create Light
The Founders Singis a highly creative group that engages in social commentary through song parodies. To ring in the new year, though, these musicians are taking a break from politics. “Hello 2021. Remember where we came from,” goes one refrain. “Now let’s turn our love lights on ‘Cause here comes a brand-new sun.”
“I have signed a pact with life: we will not get in each other’s way,” Janusz Korczak wrote in his Ghetto Diary. Even in the darkest days of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Old Doctor saw life – in the children he nurtured, the geraniums he cared for, and even a German soldier standing guard outside his window. A new year, 2021, gives us hope we will emerge from our own dark, narrow space.
Many of us hope that President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will fulfill their vision and pledge to “build back better,” for all Americans and all the nations among which we share a single planet. Life, however, is beyond politics. It is that life with which Korczak made an agreement: for each one of us to make the choice to wage peace.
Indeed, New Year’s Day this time around falls on a Friday. That means children around the world continue fighting for the future.
In the Darkness, Children Have a Vision
Even in the darkness of 2020, a group of children isolated from their friends and peers got together virtually to sing “Make the World Better.” Charlotte Bowder, a talented teen from Maine, wrote the song. They are grateful all the everyday heroes “who give their courage and kindness, so we don’t feel so alone all the time.” But until they can see each other again, they will still be working. And though September 2020 did not bring the hoped-for reunion, September 2021 should. “We’ll be out of it soon, if we stay in it together.”
Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas – is this really a thing? Well, as it turns out, it is and it has been for quite a while. In the 1930s, while Jewish people were not always wanted, they were welcomed by the Chinese. (This was almost at the same time, the Chinese of Shanghai welcomed hundreds of Jews fleeing Nazi Europe.) The Chinese remembered that they, too, “had been strangers in a strange land.”
In, A Kosher Christmas: ‘Tis the Season to Be Jewish, author Rabbi Joshua Eli Plaut brought attention to the tradition of Jews eating food so unlike their own. As he told Robert Siegel of NPR, “Actually, Jews eating and Chinese restaurants goes back to 1899, when the American Jewish Journal – a weekly publication – criticized Jews for eating at non-kosher restaurants and singling out, in particular, Jews who flocked to Chinese restaurants. So this marriage between Jews and Chinese food really goes back to when Jews and Chinese people were immigrants in the United States.” You heard it from the good Rabbi himself.
“The Chinese restaurant was a safe haven for American Jews who felt like outsiders on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day,” says Rabbi Plaut. “If you go to a Chinese restaurant, you become an insider.” This, the Forwardhas been documenting all along.
Furthermore, says another scholar, Hanna Miller, “Eating Chinese [food] has become a meaningful symbol of American Judaism… For in eating Chinese, the Jews found a modern means of expressing their traditional cultural values. The savoring of Chinese food is now a ritualized celebration of immigration, education, family, community, and continuity.”
“Try it; you’ll like it,” my Grandmother used to say. Okay, I tried gefilte fish. I didn’t like it. But I love Chinese (and Indian) food!
Jerry Nussbaum, President of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, announced to English-speaking admirers of the Old Doctor, an online archive of extraordinary importance. “It is my great pleasure to announce, on behalf of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, the recent opening of the Korczak Digital Archive, the first openly-accessible online repository honoring the legacy of the esteemed Dr. Janusz Korczak.” Adds Dr. Nussbaum, the Korczak Digital Repository “is fully functional and ready to serve as a global hub for scholars and followers of Dr. Korczak. The archive will allow access to Dr. Korczak’s work in an unprecedented way, thereby bringing his incredible legacy to bear on the problems and challenges of the 21st century. The archive is a unique online resource, making accessible for the first time in a single collection a wide range of Janusz Korczak’s personal writings and documents, as well as the writings of others on the subject of his life, activities and creative output, that had previously been scattered in archives and collections around the world.”
The idea of the Korczak Digital Repository goes back to 2017. The Janusz Korczak Association of Canada joined with other organizations to form the Janusz Korczak Repository Consortium. This is made up of the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada, Digital Competence Center of the University of Warsaw, Department of History of the University of Warsaw, Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, and the Korczak Foundation. They have a page on Facebook.
The aim, says Dr. Nussbaum, “was to execute the project over the past three years. The Archive was the result of invaluable contributions from the Consortium members, including the Department of History at the University of Warsaw (along with the KLIO Foundation), the Digital Competence Center at the University of Warsaw, the Korczak Foundation and the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia, without all of which the vision could never have become a reality.”
The founders created a video, describing its work:
Furthermore, says Dr. Nussbaum, “The consortium intends for the repository of knowledge about Dr. Korczak’s work and ideas to become the springboard to better integrate it into contemporary legal, social and pedagogical theories and to make it the basis for cooperation among academics, educators, child welfare workers, researchers, physicians, lawyers, children’s rights activists, parents and guardians.
“All this is merely the beginning. The maintenance and development of the Repository, including the expanding of its collections, demands the involvement of various institutions, associations and experts from all around the world. The project can be supported in a range of ways: by sharing knowledge and experience, offering privately owned collections or providing financial resources to cover the cost of maintaining our online resource.”
The Korczak Digital Repository includes a searchable archive of photographs, 89 publications, and 12 original documents. This landmark site will go a long way in furthering the life and legacy of Janusz Korczak.
After suffering anxiety and uncertainty, children everywhere are reassured that a beloved figure will be there for them. There won’t be lines at the store, no soft lap to sit on. But one thing won’t go away: that sense of love, the greatest gift of all. This in a year they have suffered so much loss. One company, StoryFile, allows children to “interview” their hero with its app and ask him any of 180 questions. The Intelligence may be Artificial, but the Santa’s love is real. Just go to AskSanta.com.
On November 20, the Good Doctor told USA Today, “…Santa, of all the good qualities, has a lot of innate immunity. So, Santa is not going to be spreading any infections to anybody.” Doctors across the U.S. agreed, adding that Santa is taking all precautions. Though children won’t be able to line up for him, they will be able to track his progress via NORAD, as they have done in years past.
Dr. Maria Van Kerkove of the World Health Organization, said that despite his older age, Santa is immune to this virus. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Santa has been cleared from his country’s air space. Santa is alive and well in Finland; he wants children to be safe and celebrate the most wonderful aspect of Christmas, spending time together with family. And virtually, the man who mastered going down chimneys has to learn to navigate something more challenging: Zoom.
It was a loss beyond numbers, a loss beyond words. 100,000 Americans had lost their lives to a virus that was barely publicly known five months earlier. The New York Times that day devoted the entire first page to the names of those who died all too early. And the list continued on pages 12, 13, and 14. At the end, dear reader, you learned that all these names made up less than one percent of the total. Yet, even with deaths topping 1,100 a day, we hoped things would in a month or two start getting better.
Then, it doubled. At that time, September 21, the newspaper spoke of “a nation’s anguish as deaths near 200,000.” Deaths from the pandemic worldwide topped 1,000,000. when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had yet to be buried, there was terrible political posturing. Compassion for one another seemed elusive; among too many people wearing a mask or going to a crowded party were civil rights, the lives of fellow Americans be damned.
On Monday, December 14, the number of deaths reached another milestone: 3,000,000. “This disease is real, it is serious, and it is deadly.” “In her memory, please wear a mask in public and take COVID-19 seriously. It is real; it hastened her death.” “In lieu of flowers or donations, we just ask to take the COVID-19 virus seriously and please spend time with your loved ones.” These were obituaries. Their grieving authors were trying to make sense of something that often defied making sense, in the hope that others would not have to endure their horrific tragedy.
December 7 will be the “day that will live in infamy.” And we must never forget September 11. Yet, the number of daily deaths this month from the COVID-19 pandemic exceeds the numbers we lost at Pearl Harbor and 9/11. The columnist Nicholas Kristof further said, “This is the test of our lifetimes.” Furthermore, “The virus death toll exceeds 292,000, compared with 291,557 American World War II battle deaths.” Added Kristoff, “This is the test of our lifetimes. Let’s stop failing it.”
And the next day, the New York Times spoke of “those we have lost.” The headline is hopeful. The arrival of new life-saving vaccines this quickly has never before been accomplished. Yet, taking simple precautions in America has been so difficult. It did not have to be.
For us, the news of the vaccines is cause, if not for celebration, for hope. For 300,000 Americans, however, it is of little comfort.