Archive | July, 2016

We Always Have Our Minds, We Must Use Them

21 Jul

“They can never take your education or your mind,” my Grandfather told me. He escaped from Europe in 1918 in an effort to avoid service in the military. For a Jew in 1918, a military career was not a good option.

Although Grandpa’s formal education ended, he was a strong believer in education for his children and grandchildren. He came to a country, that although it had quotas for college at the time, there was still an opportunity to get an advanced education for everyone. In New York City, many children of immigrants went to CCNY, City College of New York, where education was basically free!

He would be proud to know that five of his great grandchildren have or are working on secondary degrees: four master’s degrees already completed, one in progress and a PhD on its way. No one can take this education away.

We are the people of the book, the Torah. We are a people who stress learning and education. My family is one that continues this tradition. In this country we have had the opportunity to learn at any college or university. We have had the freedom to study Torah as free and independent people.

My Grandfather never learned to read English well. We grew up reading street signs for him as he drove. In fact, I learned to read by listening to my Grandmother read to him.   My Grandmother also came from Europe and was fortunate enough to go to night school to learn English.

But do not think my Grandfather was uneducated. He was not. He was literate in Yiddish, Hebrew and Polish, as was my Grandmother. English was their fourth language.

My Grandfather was a Cohen, from the priestly group of Judaism.   He had a beautiful voice. When I was a small child, I loved to sit under his tallit with him as he chanted the prayers.

I also stress education.   I have taught high school. I work at a school now. And I made it clear to my children, from infancy, that education was the most important job they had.

No matter what you do in life. No matter where you live. Nothing can ever take your education away from you.

In Israel they know this. Recently Shimon Peres, the 93-year-old, past president, said: “In Israel, a land lacking natural resources, we learned to appreciate our greatest resource, our minds.”

This is a truth for everyone.   Education and your mind are always yours. No one can take these away.

The United States has been a country of immigrants; a country where people can get an education. Where people can read the books they want to read, study the topics they want to study; use their minds to be whatever they want to be. The USA is a country of free speech and freedom of religion.

I hope it continues. We always have our education and our minds. I hope people use their minds this November.  I hope they remember that we all came from elsewhere.  Use their minds and their education to do what is best to keep our country free, to keep the haven for immigrants alive, to avoid the pitfalls we see in Europe.  The world is a scary place right now.  But we need to use our minds to keep out fear and to reject those who would use fear and hatred to change American.

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Donating My Holocaust Books to the Right Place

12 Jul

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My husband and I are members of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education (MCHE) in Kansas. There is an important reason for our support. I was named for my great grandmother who was hidden during the Shoah and then murdered by the people who stole her property. In her memory I feel it is important to keep contact with Holocaust organizations.

Since MCHE started, I have attended a few events and made financial donations. This year, we were among those honored for our 20 years of support. But two years ago, I became a bit more involved. I started serving as a preliminary judge for its White Rose Essay Contest. Open to students in eighth through twelfth grade, it is held each year in the Kansas City area. Preliminary judges help to weed the multitude of admissions down to ten in each category 8th and 9th grade/ 10th – 12th grade.

I enjoy reading the essays. It is amazing what some of these students do under the guidance of their teachers. The students have to research a specific topic, which changes each year, using both internet sources and books, many of which are held in the MCHE library.

I look forward to the essay contest each year and being a part of this process. I learn the stories of survivors as I read these essays, which has helped to encourage me on my path to discovering more about my family.

I have a collection of Holocaust books, both non-fiction and fiction. I have way too many books to be honest. Even with a Kindle, I still cannot let go of books very easily. But this weekend I had an urge to purge my bookshelf of books I no longer read.   And a thought occurred.   I had read all these Holocaust books, some several times. Perhaps the MCHE could use them for the White Rose contest, as well as for other researchers.

With that goal in mind, after two days of sorting through my books, I found 17 I was willing to part with and which I thought could be used for research. These 17 non-fiction books pertaining to the Shoah only touch the surface of my collection. But for me it is a positive start.

I contacted MCHE and offered my books.   There were six the historian definitely wanted for the library. The books were already in the car waiting to go. As soon as I got the email, I sorted the books into two groups and took all of the books over.

When I entered the Center, the director said, “Were you waiting in your car for my email?”

I smiled. “The books were in the car,” I admitted.

I did arrive within an hour of getting her email. To be honest, I really wanted a good home for these books where they would be used and appreciated. I think I found that home.

But on the other hand, I was worried that I would go through the books again and change my mind. It is difficult for me to relinquish a book. I even emailed my daughter with a list of the books and asked her opinion.

“I am planning to donate the following. If you have a feeling for any of these books speak now,” I wrote her.

She responded with one word: Donate.

The books they did not want for their library they will offer for sale to their members. That would be fine with me, as the income would still go to MCHE.

However, as I spoke to the Director I suggested they review my books. All were in excellent shape. Perhaps they should replace the books on their shelves with my almost pristine copies? She agreed this was a great idea. It made me feel even better. Perhaps even more of my books would remain on the shelves of the library.

Whatever MCHE and its historian do with my books, I am glad. I am letting go. When I get my letter acknowledging the donation, I will think about those who will continue to read and use my books and know that I donated my books to the right place.

 

 

http://mchekc.org/white-rose-student-essay-contest/

 

What I Think About on The 2016 Fourth of July

4 Jul

I am a fortunate person. My paternal great grandparents immigrated to the United States in the 1880s, and my maternal grandparents arrived in the early 1920s, before the Immigration Act of 1924 severely limited immigration and imposed a strict quota system. It was a bigoted act designed to limit immigration of Africans as well as Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans.   It actually banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians.   It was due to this horrible act that so many Jewish people trying to escape Nazi Germany were banned from entering the United States and were murdered.

Finally, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 was passed and enacted on June 30, 1968, just in time for a Fourth of July celebration. It ended the strict limits of the quota systems and allowed preference visa categories that took into account an immigrant who had family members who were citizens, as well as an immigrant’s special skills.

Think of what this act might have meant for tens of thousands of Jews stuck in Europe. In my own family, the 1924 act caused the death of my grandfather’s family. He was able to get Visa’s for his parents, but not for his siblings. His parents refused to leave. And so everyone perished in the Holocaust.   My grandmother was able to get a visa for her father and younger sister, but not her brothers. Fortunately they survived.

The Immigration Act of 1990 increased the total immigration allowed and the number of visas from the 1965 law. But also in the 1990s other laws were passed to make it more difficult for legal and illegal immigrants adding reasons for deportations, according to a Wikipedia article on “The Laws Concerning Immigration.”

But the world changed on September 11, 2001, and along with it views on immigration. People got scared. We began to allow fear to rule the country. And if we do that, we let the terrorist win through fear. That is what they want.

We seemed to have gone back to the ways of the 1920s, when the white men in power seemed so afraid of those that were different. Many restrictive laws were enacted before women had the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was only ratified on August 18, 1920. At first many women did not vote. It took time for women to stand up and have their voices heard.

I cannot prove that having women’s votes changed the direction of the United States, but I believe that women voters have influenced many aspects of life in the USA.

The fact that we now have three women on the Supreme Court has made a difference. The fact that we have women in office on all levels of government: local, state, national, has made a difference. The fact that we have had women running for the two highest offices in the USA: vice president and president, has made a difference.

I am so proud and glad to be a citizen of the United States of America. I am so glad that my ancestors made the journey to the USA in times that were so difficult and were allowed to settle here and become citizens.

I hope that we all remember what is written in the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

We must not let fear of the other make us forget that the United States was founded by the ‘other.’ Everyone who signed the original Declaration of Independence was the descendant of an immigrant. We were not perfect. The treatment of the Native Americans and slave ownership was not right. But the founders did their best with the information they had. The Constitution helped them make changes to reflect the society. Slavery ended, women got the right to vote.

With the death of Elie Wiesel, we must remember his words as he reminded us of the Shoah and our responsibility to keep another one from happening: “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And we must side with the victim. We are a country founded by people searching for religious freedom, searching for a place to live with freedoms and the rights to be as equal as anyone else.

This Fourth of July, we must not give in to fear and hatred. We must protect those fleeing from war. We must not become a bigoted, hateful country. We must remain the defender of the victim. That is the heritage I want to rejoice on this July Fourth.