Greenhorn Tells of Jewish Yeshiva Life After the Holocaust

Greenhorn

 

According to the wall calendar, courtesy of Goldberg’s delicatessen, it was 1946. World War II had long ended, as far as the boys in a small, modest yeshiva in Williamsburg were concerned. Why, then, did Rabbi Ehrlich interrupt a perfectly good game of stick ball and call his pupils into their fifth-grade classroom for a meeting? Why is the rebbe dabbing his eyes and so choked with emotion that he is barely able to speak? Though one of the boys blames it on the boiled onions they had for lunch, it is clear that, for him, the pain of the war is still very much present, as it would be for the 20 boys from Poland he says will be joining the school. Not long afterwards, Reuben presented one of the boys, Daniel, to his roommates, Bernie and Aaron, the narrator of our story.

Aaron quickly introduced himself to the small, scared boy who was nervously clutching a small tin box. It is almost immediately apparent that Aaron is “different” from the rest. For one, Aaron was somewhat aware – more so than his peers – of the terrible sufferings of the Jews in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe. After all, his parents in Lakewood, NJ (a close-knit Orthodox Jewish community to this very day), told him so. Second, Daniel was often at the mercy of endless teasing by his classmates because of his stuttering. Those same boys were no more sympathetic toward Daniel, asking why the “greenhorn” is so skinny and does not understand English. It is, therefore, fitting that it is the more compassionate Aaron who opened up communication with Daniel, using the tongue that united Jews throughout the Diaspora, Yiddish.

Daniel’s tin box. What could be inside, and why was he guarding it so closely? Everyone wanted to know, most of the boys for the sake of gossip and Aaron out of concern for the boy he sought to befriend. Tantalizing clues appear throughout the rest of the story. For example, Daniel read the tract in the Gemara about Ezekiel’s prophecy that in “the end of days,” a valley of bones would be brought to life, translating it from the Aramaic to Yiddish. More cruel teasing ensued, that day and the next. One night, while everyone else was sleeping, Daniel’s box fell to the floor with a metallic thud. Aaron respectfully put the box back under Daniel’s arm. However, the following day, a group of boys wrestled Daniel to the ground, and the box popped open. The rebbe picked up what looked like a rock and, with tears in his eyes, explained that the object was and proclaimed that it required a ritual burial.

In the end, however, Aaron invited Daniel to his parents’ home in Lakewood. Daniel preferred his new friend recite the prayer while he would bury the box and its precious contents. Aaron had finally found his voice and Daniel finally had a family. And Ezekiel’s prophecy may be fulfilled after all, albeit metaphorically.

This story is based on actual events, both during the Holocaust and the efforts of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) to have New York area yeshivas sponsor refugee survivors. The characters are modeled on actual people, as Anna Olswanger explains in the afterword. “Greenhorn” is a story that needs to be told; Ms. Olswanger does so with the sensitivity it needs. It’s a story of sadness and loss, as well as redemption and renewal. “Greenhorn” brings to mind several other books, mainly “Lily’s Crossing,” by Patricia Reilly Giff, in which a Holocaust survivor has much to teach youngsters who were safe in the US during that terrible period, as well as “The Alfred Summer” and its sequel, “Lester’s Turn,” by Jan Slepian, both of which deal with children with disabilities in a profound manner. Both these themes are very meaningful to me. This is a book that brings tears of joy and sadness (but not in a bad way!) to the eyes of even an older reader like myself, someone who cares so deeply about both the children of the Holocaust and children with disabilities. It is evident that Anna Olswanger feels the same way. This is a book I will indeed treasure.

Jacob’s Life Matters

 

Black Lives Jacob Blake

Memorial artwork expressing Black Lives Matter takes shape in Palo Alto, Calif. Photo by Anna Eshoo, in the public domain

 

Enough, again

Yet another horrifying shooting of a Black man captured on cell phone video covers the cable news airwaves.

Only five months after the horrors of George Floyd’s death, we hear of another unarmed Black man being shot by a police officer. Jacob Blake.

And Ahmaud Abery. Breonna Taylor. Rayshard Brooks. Elijah McClain.

“How many times does this nation have to endure this?” asks Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey.

Of course, not all police are bad. In fact, most officers are good people, risking their lives to protect the public. No, the problem not just the one officer or police department. It is not just the police. The pathology lies much, much deeper. “We pray for a full reckoning of the systemic and inherent racism of our society, and for its elimination,” said Joe Biden. He’s right. This is what people across the United States and around the world have been protesting for.

This shooting occurred in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But it could have been anywhere.

Did looting and vandalism occur in the wake of the shooting? Unfortunately, yes. Whether those engaged in those violent actions acted out of rage or opportunism, they should be dealt with in a court of law. Violence and destruction of property have no place in civilized society. Let’s deal with that as a separate concern and focus on the fact that an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back seven times.

“He had a bag full of presents,” a Anthony Lauderdale, a Kenosha alderman, said in an article in the New York Times. “He’s a family man. He takes good care of his kids.”

We will get to know more of Jacob in the time to come.

Three of Jacob’s children had to witness this horrifying act. Their trauma may never heal, but let us pray that Jacob will recover fully.

And let us pray – and, more important, work for the healing of our nation.

Again, enough

On Behalf of a Ten-Year-Old Girl: “Is This Who We Are”?

Apple Picking 5

 

“Is this who we are?” The title of this op-ed piece is very apt. It follows on an article in Buzzfeed, which describes a 10-year-old undocumented girl with a severe developmental disability. The girl, born in Mexico but brought to this country when she was three months old, was detained after she just had emergency surgery. So, I ask the same question: “Is this who we are?”

 

There are ways in which we can take action. The American Civil Liberties Union is leading a campaign to contact elected officials; the effort has been gaining publicity on Twitter and other social media channels via the #FreeRosa hashtag. We cannot remain silent. It’s not who we are.

 

Special Schools in England Not Only Respect the Child, They Practice It

A School Where Nobody's Judging YouThere are at least two takeaways from this excellent article:
* The importance of being nonjudgmental
* Adults must look at the big picture: there are often events in that child’s life that led to the current situation.

Children are not disposable. As Korczak said, one must never, ever abandon a child in need.

This fine article appeared in the October 17, 2017, edition of The Guardian.

A Boy and His Dog, Both with Disabilities, Share Their Boundless Love

Back in 2015, my younger daughter told me about a book she was reading and with which she became entranced. It’s about two misfits, a little boy and a huge dog. Both have physical disabilities. And as each is endowed with a great heart and heaping dose of empathy, they understood each other perfectly. As I love both animals and children with disabilities, I had to buy a copy and read it. I am very glad I did.

 

Haatchi and Little B

Book reviewed: Wendy Holden, Haatchi & Little B (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2014). ISSN 1250063183

He remembered the deafening roar of the train as it rumbled over him. Left for dead, an abandoned dog whimpered in the chilly night air. Fortunately, a kind-hearted rail supervisor spotted him and alerted the local animal welfare authorities. A series of veterinarians, nurses, animal shelter personnel, and animal advocates did everything they could to restore normalcy in his life. Everyone who met this dog was taken in by his large amber eyes, which belied his gentle nature. They did all they could for this unusual dog, but they could not save one of his hind legs and tail, making walking and communicating a major challenge for him. Now the problem was who would adopt a three-legged dog, an Anatolian shepherd, a breed most people associate with aggressiveness; even as a puppy, he was a very large dog. Those who met him knew he was a gentle giant. At one of the sanctuaries, the staff realized how loyal this dog was. They thought of a much-loved canine folk hero in Japan, an Akita named Hatchiko, who waited for his owner at a train station, even many years after he passed. They decided on an Anglicized variant, Haatchi. Little did they then realize that the name would suit him perfectly.

Will Howkins has a son, Owen, a boy with a very rare genetic neuromuscular disorder. The one dog he had was sweet-natured, but it was not in his nature to cuddle. Will and Kim, Owen’s mother, had divorced; Will was the boy’s primary care taker. Several years, later, Will met Colleen on line; like Will, Colleen loved dogs. One day, while browsing the Internet, Colleen was smitten by the face of an Anatolian shepherd staring back at her with enormous almond eyes. When the couple visited the dog in person, their feelings of love were even stronger. But how would Owen, Colleen’s “Little Buddy,” or “Little B,” react to a dog so much larger than he. They would have to give it a try. Little B was very shy and withdrawn, but when he and Haatchi met, they were in love; Owen became much more lively and outgoing. Soon, the story of the little boy and large dog spread, millions of people having viewed their account on Facebook. This is the book behind the story.

Haatchi and Owen had adapted to their disabilities, overcoming a great deal of painful surgery. The two inspired each other with their determination and positive outlook. Throughout the book, each experienced many more setbacks and challenges. In fact, the “happily ever after” is the astonishing positivity of all members of the family. Nobody knows the long-term future of either Owen or Haatchi; for now, however, both are extraordinarily grateful for what they have. That is the story of the family with the boy and his dog, who inspire each other—and will inspire anyone who takes the time to absorb this very enjoyable and highly readable true story.

Malala Speaks Up (Again) for Syrian Children

 

In this powerful video, Malala has hope that the Syrian child refugees will survive and one day be able to return home.  That hope, however, is dampened by the grave concerns she has for what may be the irreparable damage that has been done to these young lives.  The statistics are as staggering as they are frightening.

Malala tells their story for the world to hear.

It doesn’t have to be that way!  Syrian children need money for an education.  Let’s help them come home and rebuild their country.

 

Our Feature Presentation: Kendall F. Person’s The Right to Life episode III Life & Death the finale

This is a powerful and artistically masterly piece about the death penalty, not from a cold statistical point of view, rather from the perspective of being right where this tragic scene slowly, painfully unfolds.  Janusz Korczak believed that life and death were to be faced with dignity.  I am sure he would have been appalled with what happened in this Texas penitentiary.

Our Feature Presentation: Kendall F. Person’s The Right to Life episode III Life & Death the finale.

 

Universal Pre-school Gains Ground, but There’s Just One Little Thing…

Universal Pre-shool Gains Ground, but There's Just One Little Thing...

On Tuesday, there was a renewed call for universal pre-K.   On the op-ed page of the New York Times for January 31, two columnists offered their perspectives:

Nicholas Kristof explains why this is a valuable investment, both socially and financially.  <http://nyti.ms/1ezzTUA

The issue of universal pre-K would be a movie star icon if it were an actor, says Gail Collins. It’s hot. It’s sexy. But only those willing to show how they will pay for it deserved the floodlights.  <http://nyti.ms/LseGFc

The PEW Charitable Trusts issued this report.   <http://bit.ly/Ml2aHD