Tuesday, December 17, 2013
remembering those who might otherwise be forgotten

So here I am posting out of the blue, as I have been tapped to help spread the word about a remarkable woman named Irena Sendler. I must admit I had not heard of Irene but upon reading this and doing a little more research myself I felt incredibly moved (and admittedly, teary-eyed) by her courageous efforts to selflessly help Jews, even at risk to her own life.

Please take a moment to read her story and reflect on what it is to stand up for someone, or in this case, many people.

The Bravery of Irena Sendler
April 2013 marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, renewing  attention  on one of the most terrible episodes of the Second World War. Over the past few years documents have come to light from hidden archives that shed new light on the ghetto uprising as well as information about the leaders and other ghetto residents.

Much of the research about the ghetto is conducted by professionals who work out of Yad Vashem, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial and other well-known centers of Holocaust scholarship. One remarkable episode was documented by a group of schoolgirls from the Lowell Milken Center of Uniontown Kansas who heard a rumor about a Polish non-Jewish woman, Irena Sendler, who saved over 2500 Jewish children from the ghetto. In their investigation the girls expanded on the few known details which resulted in a wide-ranging project that forms the basis for the Life in a Jar book, website and performance.

Irena Sendler was a young Polish social worker when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. She worked for the Warsaw Department of Social Services and was assigned to try to help Jews who had been displaced and impoverished by the Nazi invasion. Simultaneously Sendler joined the Zagota underground and became active in helping to forge papers for Jews and find hiding places or go underground.

When the Nazis completed construction of the Warsaw ghetto in 1941 they interned close to a half a million Jews in the three square mile enclave. Hunger and disease were rampant. Irena Sendler obtained papers that identified her as a nurse who specialized in infectious diseases. These papers allowed her to enter the ghetto at will and she began to bring in food and medicines to the starving people.

Within a short period of time Sendler realized that she could do more good if she concentrated on what she could take out of the ghetto -- children. She learned different ways to smuggle the children out of the ghetto....sedated and hidden under her feet on the tram, stuffed into toolboxes and luggage, on garbage carts under piles of garbage and through the sewers and underground tunnels that connected the ghetto with other parts of Warsaw.

Sendler began to evacuate orphans who were living on the street but she soon started to contact families, asking them to allow her to take out their children. This was traumatic, both for the parents, who had to decide whether their children had a better chance of survival inside or outside of the ghetto. It was traumatic for Sendler as well. "I talked the mothers out of their children" Sendler said in an interview conducted over 60 years after the end of WWII. "Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn't give me the child. Their first question was, 'What guarantee is there that the child will live?' I said, 'None. I don't even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today."

It's estimated that Sendler managed to smuggle over 2500 children out of the Warsaw ghetto before it was destroyed in 1943. In addition to the smuggling operation Sendler and her Zagota comrades were responsible for finding hiding places for the children -- in convents, orphanages or with sympathetic Polish families. Sendler recorded all of the names of the children on tissue paper along with their hiding places, and placed the tissue paper in jars which she buried in her garden, hoping to reunite them with their families after the war.

In October 1943 Sendler was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned in the feared Piawiak prison. The Gestapo tortured her but she didn't reveal any information about the children's whereabouts or about her Zagota comrades. The Germans sentenced Sendler to be executed but Zagota was able to bribe a German guard and secure her release. Sendler lived out the remainder of the war in hiding.

Sendler was awarded Yad Vashem's Righteous Gentile honor in 1965 but the Life in a Jar project, begun in 1999, spread the story of her bravery much further. Today people throughout the world can learn about Sendler's courage thanks to a group of Kansas schoolgirls and their social studies assignment.

Monday, February 28, 2011
love sick
I don't know how long this "honeymoon" phase of love lasts, but it's going on for quite a while now. No doubt it's quite disgusting to observe, so we do our best to leave our coos, hugs and over-the-top adoration for behind closed doors. And I'm sure some life-cynic will happily squash my joy and say that my marriage will inevitably fade to comfort and routine, but for now, I'm lovin' it. I just got back from a 5 day business trip and it really caused us to be grateful towards each other and re-ignited the fire. We realized what it is to be apart and "lose" the one you love, so we are reconnecting all over again.

And for those nay-sayers.... of course my marriage has ups and downs and we have our squabbles and tiffs too.... but that's all part of the equation and helps maintain the balance. So bully you! I'm in love and I don't care what you haters say! ;-P

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011
the fine line between contemplation and dwelling...
I find that I dwell on things that are irrational or pointless to dwell upon because it cannot be changed. In a recent conversation with a friend, we have found we do the same. We dwell in fear of "what would happen if" we were to lose our spouses. It's funny how the human brain tends to gravitate towards misery, even when it's happy.

I'm happy right now... the happiest I've ever been. I just got married on New Year's Eve and I have never been so content. Except that I am now waiting for the proverbial "other shoe to drop". It's like... I'm expecting something bad to happen because I have finally, after 36 years, found happiness. I know I deserve it, it's nothing like that.... I don't know how to describe it, other than a fear of losing what I have now that I finally have it.

I experienced a hard loss in the family recently and I had such deep empathy for the wife. I imagined it being me and wondered what would happen if *I* lost my spouse. You think your life is set... you've found "the one" you are going to grow old with and spend the rest of your life loving.. but then fate steps in and robs you of that happiness. And you have no control over it.

So how do we learn to push that fear down? How do we acknowledge that it's always a possibility but don't let it paralyze us from living our lives to it's fullest? It's all well and good to say that we shouldn't dwell on the inevitable, but how do you stop it? How does one learn to live fully in the moment?

Perhaps it's time I get meditation and reflection back into my life.... but not too much reflection!

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Tuesday, February 08, 2011
pondering rebirth
As I have been contemplating kick starting this blog again... and/or possibly starting another..... I thought about a cousin of mine that used to enjoy reading my blog. I didn't ever give this blog address out to any friends or family, rather, I enjoyed the anonymity of blogging without having to worry about self-editing of my thoughts.

I had created a separate blog for friends and family 5 years ago when I went on a 3 month trip to Israel, and kept this one on the go at the same time. But when I returned from my trip my "friends and family blog" fell by the wayside as I focused on this blog once again. So my cousin (my mother's cousin, I guess.. he's her age) poked around the internet a bit until he found this one and he secretly read it. I started to catch on when my site tracker on both blogs reflected his location, and he did eventually confess to me that he couldn't help it, he just loved to read my blog. He promised he wouldn't ever reveal to anyone what I wrote on here, understanding that I confessed things on here that I didn't to my family. I was flattered that he enjoyed my writing so much and trusted that he would keep mum about what he read, which he did.

So a few days ago I wondered if he was still checking in here once in a while or if I'd have to let him know I dusted it off. And no sooner did I think about him, wondered how he was, and if he'd be happy to read this again, then I got the news that he had passed away. My mother called me on Monday and sobbed that his wife had gone to the bedroom to say good night to him after he went to bed early, and she found that he was gone....

I've been so sad since. He would have liked me carrying this on..... would have enjoyed reading my silly thoughts on world issues and my tales of life and love. I'll miss him and maybe I'll hope he's still reading, somehow.... somewhere....

I'll miss you, cousin Jimmy.

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Friday, February 04, 2011
what to do, what to do..
I'm torn. On one hand, I feel like starting a new blog with a new persona and a completely different focus. On the other hand, the events in Egypt recently make me want to dive back into this blog... which is basically a blog of my personal rambles, peppered with social commentary (often focused on the Middle East).

Can't decide, but feeling the need for blogging again. Got stuff in my head I need to work through and have always found blogging to be good for that......

Thursday, February 03, 2011
I believe I've said this before...
I know I keep saying it, but I'm thinking of dipping my foot back into the blogging pool again. I've always said I started blogging for a reason, and a need at the time, and now my blogging has dwindled as the need dissipated....
But now I feel a new need... but this might require a new blog. I'll to think about it. Maybe I can mesh the concept of this blog and my new direction, but I'm not sure...

Thursday, December 10, 2009
the day a Jew was a Muslim
Ok, so I disappeared for a bit. I have good reason! I have been busy rescuing a pregnant cat just in time for her to have a litter of babies in my home. You can read all about it here. She had them November 25th and that has kept me quite busy, thank you very much.

But let's go back to my last post for a moment, because it was interesting..... my volunteering experience! In a mosque! Yes indeed, I took an old friend up on an offer (see more about the friend in the prior post) and I joined him at his mosque to help feed the masses, by working in a soup kitchen for the day. I even wore a hijab out of respect, and by doing so I gained some insight into the thinking of the Muslim women I worked along side...

First and foremost, it was a wonderful experience. I was very warmly received by everyone and would certainly volunteer there again. I enjoyed myself immensely and welcomed the opportunity to help tear down any misconceptions I may have about Muslims (especially as a Jew). That being said, I was also assumed to be Muslim because of the hijab, and so I saw a candid side to my new Muslim sisters.

At one point in the conversation (while we worked away making sandwiches) one woman was telling another about her job; seems the company she had been working for had recently been taken over by another company, and at that point all the employees were asked if they wished to stay or wanted to be packaged/bought out. So far so good, right? Then she said to her friend that naturally she took the package because she didn't want to work for a Jewish company.

I'm pretty sure my spine stiffened up as I felt the remark tweak me in a weird way. I wouldn't say I was angry.... so much as curious. What would happen if she did work for a "Jewish company"? Did she think she would get 'ripped off' by the Jews, somehow? Did she not like what values said company might have? Did she really dislike Jews THAT much?? I was confused by this statement but decided to simply be an observer to what was going on; I didn't feel like it was my place to start a debate, nor did I particularly care to engage in one. I just found it interesting. She said it so matter-of-fact-ly.... not even with a tone of hate or venom. It just sounded like.... naturally she wouldn't want to work for Jews! Duh!

Then came the time for us all to gather as the homeless and hungry began filing into the hall for their free meal; it was sort of a pep talk and small prayer to Allah all rolled into one. It was interesting to note that the majority of people coming into the mosque to eat were not, in fact, Muslim at all. Causasian... Chinese... all races came through the doors, though mostly Chinese. And one of the young girls (about 13 yrs old) turned to me as these people went by and the dialogue went a little like this:

girl: "Why are the Chinese people here?"
me: "Because they're hungry."
girl: "We'll feed them even though they're not Muslim??"
me: "Yes. I believe the point here today is for you to learn love and tolerance for all races/religions."

And that was the part that struck me as odd about the whole experience; here were these wonderfully giving people.... here to do right by their God and serve humanity..... but they often seemed to be missing the point. It completely baffled me! Work for Jews and feed the Chinese?? Unthinkable!

Like I said, it was a learning experience and I will more than likely do it again. It has enriched my life and outlook and I'm sure there's work to be done still on my own perceptions. At least we were all there for the same reason, and on that day, people didn't have to go hungry.

Before I go, let me share one other interesting thing....
A few days after volunteering at the mosque I was driving around when I accidentally picked up someone else's iPod broadcast on my radio (it can happen when you have it tuned to a certain "blank" station and don't have your own iPod playing.... you hear what someone else is playing if they are driving near you). And what I heard was this song.... and I thought it was really quite catchy and I enjoyed it... and it reminded me of my volunteering time.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009
paying it forward

A very odd thing is happening to me.... not only am I becoming the happiest I can ever really recall being (thanks to a lifetime of depression) but I seem to have a compulsion recently to.... volunteer. It's just weird.

Ok, volunteering in of itself is not weird. I believe it's a very noble cause and I have always admired those who did. But for me it's weird. I think the only real volunteering I did was in Israel in 2005, where we did some painting, worked a soup kitchen, and I helped at an animal shelter (where I cried and cried because strays are treated with such terrible disregard in Israel). I am admittedly lazy and selfish when it comes to volunteering coz I want my free time to myself to laze about.

But last week I volunteered to take in an abandoned pregnant cat, named Blossom. It defies all logic as I have neither the space nor finances to do so, but I couldn't turn away from the fact that this cat was facing the prospect of raising her babies in a Home Depot. So I took her in and now I'm awaiting the birth of her babies, after which I shall endeavour to find homes for her kittens (won't be difficult) and for her (much more difficult).

And then in my ridiculously happy mood I decided to finally follow up on a promise I made over a year ago to volunteer in a soup kitchen. Not weird right? Now what if I said it was in a mosque? This all came about when I befriended an associate in a Home Depot who was very happy to meet me, especially upon finding out that he knew my brother from when he was a rep like me, travelling and visiting Depots. Whenever I visited this store my new Muslim friend and I would get into fascinating political and spiritual conversations, as only a Jew and a Muslim can. It was a wonderfully open dialogue and a real effort to bridge the gap created by world politics and fanatics making a mess out of things. We asked genuine questions of each and sought real understanding. I *loved* visiting that store if for no other reason than to see my friend.

He has since moved up in the Depot world and no longer works in a store, but in the head office. So I no longer get to speak with him like I used to, but we have made an effort to email each other once in a while. I decided this week that I am finally in a place where I am ready to give back. I have had one of the very worst years of my life and am happy to say that I am coming out the other side of it. And I am better for it.

I'm ready to lend a hand and help others who are still in that dark tunnel. And if working in a soup kitchen this Saturday in a mosque does that, then great. If I happen to learn and gain something from the experience, all the better. I just know that I am looking to practice gratitude for what I have and stop looking at what I don't have or have lost.
The glass, as they say, is half full.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009
people search for the damnedest things... and find ME!
I'd just like to give a shout to the individual who searched for "manurses wild gets eaten" and somehow, by the magic of Google, found me. And to think there were only two hits for that search, and I was the FIRST! What luck!

A second shout out goes to @fatlos4dummies for givin' me props/a mention on her Twitter page! Not sure how you found me, but thanks and welcome!