Love in All Its Forms Will Turn Darkness into Light

Love in All Its Forms Will Turn Darkness into Light

Love Is Love is a beautifully done 144-page anthology expressing a wide variety of emotions and thoughts in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Love Is Love is a beautifully done 144-page anthology expressing a wide variety of emotions and thoughts in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

One year ago, the world woke up to news of unimaginable horror: a lone gunman entered a Pulse, a dance hall in Orlando, Florida. Inside, many people were enjoying themselves in a place they felt safe to express their love, who they are. Their affirmation was shattered in the predawn darkness of June 12, 2016.

Feeling helpless in the aftermath of this tragedy, a prominent writer of comics and other books, Mark Andreyko, felt he had to do something—something. Like many of us, he took to Facebook. He reached out to his own community, suggesting people involved in writing, drawing, and inking comics somehow contribute. By late afternoon, offers contributions poured by the dozens. All were united by the vision that “Love creates. Love heals. Love gives us hope. Love is love.”

As Patty Jenkins writes in her introduction, the many artists succeeded in “turning darkness into light through art.” What we have are 144 pages expressing hurt and hope, acceptance and rejection, bravery and fear, and love. “Diversity makes us stronger. Embracing it makes us more human.” Each page tells such a story; yet, the artwork and writing is as diverse as was the community at the Pulse nightclub that night. “Love? What is it? Most natural painkiller what there is. Love.” Here, artist Joseph Michael Linsner was quoting Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs, adding his artistic interpretation. On the facing page is a poetic excerpt from another writer named William, namely Shakespeare. Artists Jim Lee and Mark Chiarello pay tribute to another beloved author, J.K. Rowling, in quoting Aldus Dumbledore: “Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hears are open.” Elsewhere, figures of Love, Peace, and Unity hold up planet Earth while diabolical, angry representations of Hate, Intolerance, and Fear threaten beneath in a heroic struggle of good versus evil in a piece by Mark Buckingham. Readers will find other favorites among the pages of this gem of a book. And by purchasing a copy, one will also do something – spread the ever-important message of Love Is Love; in addition, the writers and IDW Publishing will donate the proceeds of all sales to help the families (in every sense of the work) of those lost and other survivors. Love will survive.

A thoughtful review in the Huffington Post and another in the New York Times include other examples from this anthology.

Finally, there is the classic music video by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Same Love feat, by Mary Lambert.

Please watch this space for my forthcoming review of another excellent book, though one of a very different nature, Rethinking Sexism, Gender, and Sexuality.

Rethinking Sexism Gender

Remembering and Appreciating Natalie Babbitt

Readers of Natalie Babbitt’s classic learn that immortality is not all it’s made out to be.  However, this gifted author’s classic, Tuck Everlasting, will live on in the memories of readers young and old who are lucky enough to have read this classic.  Natalie Babbitt is also one of a select group of great children’s authors who won the Janusz Korczak Medal for children’s literature.  These books embody the empathy for the child for which Janusz Korczak will be remembered for generations to come.  The New York Times published this heartfelt obituary.

tuck-everlasting-anniversary-edition

This is the cover of the special 40th Anniversary Edition of Natalie Babbitt’s classic.

 

An Unfished Chapter in a Life: A Review of The Book of Aron, by Jim Shepard

An Unfished Chapter in a Life

Occupied Warsaw, 1940-1942.  The Ghetto.

This is the cover of the May 2015 Quercus edition from England

This is the cover of the May 2015 Quercus edition from England

At ten years of age, only the first chapters of Aron’s life had been written.  His life was a work in progress.  Yet, at his tender age, Aron had literally experienced a lifetime.  The book of Aron was still being written.  Even so, like the Book of Jeremiah, the book of Aron was filled with foreboding, for the present as well as the future.  Would there be redemption?  Could there be redemption?  One could even draw a comparison with another prophet – Job.  Like him, Aron found himself questioning, asking whether there could be justice, as he confronted one tragic obstacle after another.

He was only 10.  Yet, Aron had to help care for his family.  When his ailing mother succumbed to typhus, Aron was forced to live by his wits.  Anyone who has read about life in the Warsaw Ghetto (or seen photos) will recognize the truth of the tremendous bravery and ingenuity of children like Aron in facing extreme danger to smuggle the most basic of goods from the world beyond, the world beyond the barbed wire-topped walls of the Ghetto.   When Aron was near death, our hero was saved by another hero, Dr. Janusz Korczak.

Janusz Korczak was a real person, the pseudonym of Henryk Goldszmit, born in 1879 in Warsaw.  Korczak studied in his native Poland and abroad to become a pediatrician.  However, Korczak would gain fame by founding an orphanage for Jewish children in Warsaw and developing an educational system very far ahead of his time, when discipline consisted of corporal punishment.  It is no coincidence that Korczak’s most enduring nonfiction works bear these titles: How to Love a Child and The Child’s Right to Respect.  Korczak did not just write these beautiful words, he lived by them.  His orphanage was a model of respect for the dignity of the child, a place where young souls were nurtured, where everyone – Korczak included – had a role in the community, washing the floors and, at the same time, participated in his innovative Children’s Court.  It was a place where penalties for breaking the rules involved restitution to the community rather than punishment, expectations of self-improvement and learning from one’s mistakes rather than threats.  After Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939 and created the Warsaw Ghetto the following year, Korczak was forced to abandon his beautiful building on Krochmalna Street and find new quarters.  Though the patchwork of ruined buildings on Sienna Street bore no physical resemblance to the original edifice, Korczak, his assistant Madame Stefa, and the dedicated staff worked tirelessly to maintain some sense of normalcy for the children.

So, in a sense, one hero rescued another, though in this story, the definition of heroism in the context of the purgatory of the Ghetto are in flux, in conflict to the very end.  And what lives on  in both Aron and Korczak is the latter’s most enduring legacy, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.  This was probably the easily overlooked redemption of the Prophets.

Gripping, first-hand accounts of the Warsaw Ghetto have come down to us, themselves miracles.  How does one write a fiction work of this terrible place and period?  Jim Shepard, through the genius of his writing, has succeeded admirably.  Shepard’s bibliography of original sources – diaries, memoirs, and Emmanuel Ringelblum’s historical archive, Shabbat Oneg (for which he ultimately paid for with his life) – and the best historic accounts is indeed impressive, enabling him to – in his ords “approach inner reality … through careful examination of what the documents themselves afford.”  Details abound: a sadistic SS guiard known as Frankenstein, the patched holes in the Ghetto, Korczak’s love of sparrows and geraniums, a theatrical production of Tagore’s The Post Office….  Indeed, those fine details all come together to cfreate the masterpiece that is The Book of Aron.

Reviewer’s note:  The copy I read was the British paperback edition, which appeared earlier than its US counterpart.  I am grateful to have been able to secure this edition.  However, this otherwise appealing paperback suffers from an editorial flaw:  the description on the back cover, aside from being somewhat obtuse, incorrectly states that the Warsaw Ghetto was established in 1939.  Warsaw was invaded in September 1939; the Ghetto was established a year later.  Aron’s age would have been 10 or 11, not 9, as stated.

A Sculptor of Children’s Souls

book review Sculptor Children's Souls biography

This wonderful book by former teacher and scholar Marcia Talmage Schneider, offers details of Janusz Korczak and his orphanage from the perspectives of several orphans and former teachers.

To the children he took in, Janusz Korczak was more than a teacher, doctor, or orphanage director.  He was, in the words of one of the young lives he touched, a “sculptor of children’s souls.”  The teachers who worked for him thought likewise.  Although all of Korczak’s children and staff during the World War II years perished with him at Treblinka, several earlier students and teachers managed to flee Poland and have survived.  Marcia Talmage Schneider undertook the arduous task to locate these survivors, most of whom were living in Israel, to obtain first-hand accounts of Pan Doctor.  By doing so, Ms. Schneider offers a valuable supplement to Betty Jean Lifton’s superb biography, The King of Children.

Although Ms. Lifton’s book is highly worthwhile, interested readers gain a good background knowledge of Janusz Korczak – who he was and what he believed – through Ms. Schneider’s fine preface and introduction.  Numerous historic photographs grace the book, enhancing the reader’s “picture” of Dr. Korczak, the orphans, and Dom Sierot, the orphanage at Krochmalna 92, Warsaw.  Locating the survivors in Israel was a labor of love, involving a great deal of research, especially the archives of Lohamei HaGetaot (The Ghetto Fighter’s House) and Kibbutz Ein Harod, shamor v’zachor, to observe and remember, to which Ms. Schneider adds ten eyewitnesses, as follows:

  • Yitzhak Belfer, one of Korczak’s orphans who went on to become a famous and highly respected artist whose drawings and bronzes highlight the life of Janusz Korczak and his love for children
  • Mira Caspi, an orphan who became a bird enthusiast, a remembrance of the great 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 (in Hebrew) 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, another orphan with a son “just like Korczak”
  • Erna Friedman Lador, a teacher and counselor at the orphanage who became a respected children’s psychiatrist
  • Klara Maayan, a teacher at Dom Sierot who remembered the flowers Korczak gave, forget-me-nots
  • Schlomo Nadel, an orphan who was inspired by Korczak to undertake photography, his profession and life’s passion whose most prized possession was a walnut that Korczak and Stefa gave him
  • Dov Netzer, a retiree whose children and grandchildren would have made Korczak proud
  • Scnuel Nissenbaum, an artist who, like 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 to all that made Korczak so memorable – the newspaper, the court, Stefa, mealtimes, stories, and summer camp.  The common theme, however, is how Korczak influenced and inspired each member of this diverse group, not only in their professional lives, but also in the way they chose to live and raise their children, their very moral and ethical codes.  It was there, this book makes clear, that Janusz Korczak had the greatest effect.  With Janusz Korczak: Sculptor of Children’s Souls, Korczak is more than a legend; he is a very real person.

From Darkness to Light

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 (meaning “retelling”) 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

A Survivor's Haggadah

The “A” Haggadah, published for the Passover service of 1946, Munich, Germany.

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.

   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.

Hagaddah page enslavement Nazi Germany Hitler Egypt Pharaoh Passover Shoah Holocaust

The enslavement under Pharaoh in the book of Exodus provides a metaphor for the more recent ordeal in Germany   One of the most dramatic pages is dominated by a large Hebrew letter Beth, symbolic of the phrase “Bechol dor” (In the beginning…), the very first words of Genesis, the first book of the Torah.  Here it also stands for “Brause Bad” (shower bath), as well as “brichal” (fleeing west), two themes that recur throughout this Haggadah.  Other border designs incorporate images of the Promised Land and the Holocaust – on the same page!  “We were slaves to Hitler in Germany,” our Haggadah opens, before going into the Seder, the order of the Passover observance.  Ancestors were forced to make bricks for Pharaoh under bondage in Egypt, but the same trowels shown would (it was hoped) be used to create the foundations for new homes in the Holy Land.

   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.

The Book of Aron, a New Novel by Jim Shepard, Features Korczak in Cameo Role

Author Jim Shepard’s new novel, The Book of Aron, has just been published. It is an acclaimed National Book Award finalist.  Most notable is that Janusz Korczak is a featured character in this otherwise fictitious work.  The New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR gave the book highly positive reviews, and the Huffington Post profiled its author.  I look forward to reading the book and reviewing it in this space.

Book of Aron with Jim Shepard

They Called Him “Mister Doctor”

A review of:  Mister Doctor: Janusz Korczak & the Orphans of the Warsaw Ghetto. Story by: Irène Cohen-Janea; Illustrations by: Marizio A.C. Quarello.  Toronto: Annick Press, 2015

Mister Doctor 2015

Janusz Korczak was a pediatrician who gave up a potentially lucrative practice to found an orphanage for the children he loved.  And the children loved him; the nickname they gave their mentor was “Mister Doctor.”  In this book by the same title, his story is told from the perspective of one of the orphans—who could be any of the orphans or all the orphans.

The book opens with the last days in final period of the famous orphanage on Krochmalna Street; the Nazis invaded Warsaw on September 1, 1939, and shortly thereafter ordered the city’s Jewish population into the Warsaw Ghetto.  The journey is one fraught with darkness and fear, as shown by the somber illustrations showing barbed wire.  They walk past the house of horrors they know as the Black Palace.  (I believe the author was referring to the infamous Pawiak Prison; I doubt the children actually passed that landmark, as it was on the opposite side of the Ghetto.  However, the episode adds literary value to the narrative.)  The horrors of the trek are in marked contrast to the soft, warm hands of Doctor Korczak and illustration of his favorite fairy tale character, Puss in Boots, bounding over a barbed blockade.

Their new home was the best Korczak could find, but “the house of tears” at 33 Chlodna Street is clearly nothing like their beautiful old home; in one illustration, even the houseflies on the window sill are dead.  Though flashbacks, the narrator recalls all the Old Doctor’s innovations: the children’s court, their newspaper, the bulletin board, postcards….  In the Ghetto, everyone clings to hope by celebrating their Jewish heritage and identity.  Some children learn Hebrew.  A professor teaches the children a poem, “Brothers,” by the great local poet, I.L Peretz, which they make into a song: “Light and dark, and in between/ All the colors come together./ We are all sisters and brothers/ From one father and one mother,/ And God created all of us./  The whole world is our nation. / We are all sisters and brothers.”

The most poignant part of the life of Janusz Korczak is the final march, which has been remembered in diaries, poems, movies, and statues.  In Mister Doctor, the last walk is portrayed in a beautiful fold-out.  But the story does not end there; the Rights of the Child would be taken up by the U.N. and given global stature.  Perhaps little Henryk’s canary wasn’t buried after all.  Perhaps he flew up into the heavens.

About the Physical Book:
Mister Doctor is a picture book, but with the amount of text on each page, it is more suitable for older children to read on their own.  The illustrations are beautifully executed and complement the narrative perfectly.  The book is a little pricey, but the quality of materials is exceptional; it is issued in a library binding.  Clearly, this is a book to be kept and treasured.  It is curious that Mister Doctor is also available as an e-book.  I fear an electronic medium would not do justice to the work of art this book is.  The title is noteworthy, as it is the same as the first Polish biography, the one written by Hanna Olczak, who knew Korczak and Madame Stefa personally.  A two page biography of Janusz Korczak puts the narrative in perspective; that, along with a short bibliography, will help students doing a book report—or a report on Mister Doctor himself, to pass his legend on.