Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Humans Broken by War

In memoir class today, Barbara Abercrombie read this quote.  Then she asked us to write:
1) about a time when you needed power
    ~  or ~
2) about a time you were bitten.

She also read two poems by Wislawa Szymborska:

"Photograph from September 11"

"The End and the Beginning."

This is my gift to you--a quotation and two poems.

Use them well.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Remembering Those Who Died in Peace

Memorial to Heather Heyer 
Photo by  AgnosticPreachersKid,
Heather Heyer memorial 9CC BY-SA 4.0

I'm remembering people who died in peace today.  Enough people are remembering those who went to war.

I'm remembering Heather Heyer, who died while demonstrating against neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia, two years ago this August 12.  

She gave her life to oppose racism.  She had never attended a demonstration before and was a little scared to go, but she went. 

I'm wearing a t-shirt in honor of her today.

I'm also remembering all the returned soldiers who have suffered from the sights and sounds and acts of killing--suffered so much, without enough help, that they have taken their own lives.

Here's a report by Billy Cox in today's Herald Tribune in Sarasota, Florida:

According to Brown University’s “Costs of War Project” released late last year, 6,951 troops have been killed in America’s wars since 2001. But that toll pales in comparison to what survivors of those conflicts are doing to themselves. Using the Department of Veterans Affairs formula of 20.6 suicides a day, some 7,519 uniformed and retired military personnel took their lives in 2018 alone.

And it's sad that less than 1 percent of federal funds earmarked for suicide prevention in 2018 had been spent — or $57,000 of a $6.2 million allotment.

May we all remember someone today, whether he or she died in war or in peace.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Amazing Aretha, Amazing Grace

Aretha Franklin recording "Amazing Grace" album

I walked into a theater and found myself suddenly at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, California, on January 14 and 15, 1972.  

How I remember that year!  Aretha Franklin was about to turn 30, and I was 23.  The following summer I married and turned 24. 

Aretha was singing her heart out and accompanying herself on a Steinway piano, working so hard that beads of sweat appeared on her face and neck. 

The video recorded back then has been found and resurrected, finally connecting the video and the audio.  For decades only the CD was available, and it became the best-selling gospel album of all time.

Seeing her sing these powerful hymns is like looking into her soul.

"Through many dangers, toils, and snares," she sings "I have already come."  Her voice toils and strains and suffers as she looks at her difficult earlier years--the death of her mother when she was six years old, the birth of her first child when she was 14, and her work toward a career. 

With her I felt the dangers, toils, and snares of my younger years--my many mistakes as a mother--and I was in tears.

But then she sang "'Twas grace that kept me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home."

What a powerful message!  She went home in 2018 at age 76.  I turn 71 this summer, so I'm nearing that final journey home.

She sang a moving blend of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" and James Brown's "You've Got a Friend." 
When you're down and troubled
And you need a helping hand,
And nothing, oh nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and meditate on him, 
And soon he will be there, 
To brighten up even your darkest hours...

Winter, spring, summer or fall
All you've got to do is call
And Jesus will be there, yeah, yeah, yeah.
You've got a friend.

Precious Lord, take my hand.
Lead me on, let me stand.
I get tired, I get weak, I get worn.
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light.

Yeah, you've got a friend in Jesus...

The playful mix of pop and gospel continued when MC and gospel singer James Cleveland invited the worshipers to come back the next evening for part two of the recording session. "O my Lord, I really want to see you..." (echoing George Harrison "My Sweet Lord").

On the second night she wore a green and white swirling gown--the queen of soul and of nature, elegant and unpretentious.  

Her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin, is introduced in the second performance along with the singer Clara Ward, a presence in the Franklin home and mentor to Aretha.  

He told an anecdote that reveals much about himself and his daughter.  A friend saw Aretha perform on television.  C.L. asked, "How did she do?"

"She was okay," the friend said, "But I'll be glad when she comes back to the church."

"She hasn't ever left the church," C.L. retorted.

Her performance of "Climbing Higher Mountains" was also deeply moving as her face shone with sweat and the green and white dress swirled around her.

I'm climbing higher mountains, trying to get home.
My road has been a little rocky on my way home.
I'm climbing higher mountains, Lord, climbing, climbing...
I'm going up the rocky side of the mountain on my way home.
I'm going higher to meet Jesus, higher, higher...

Some of the songs were new to me and wonderful, like "How I Got Over."  Others were classics I love, like "What a Friend Have in Jesus."

What a privilege it is to carry everything to God in prayer.
Oh, what peace we often forfeit! Oh, what needless pain we bear, Lord--yes, we do,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Her interpretation of "Mary, Don't You Weep" evoked the Jesus who comforted Mary, her sister Martha, and African-Americans slaves enduring centuries of servitude.
Mary, don't you weep, and tell your sister not to mourn.
Aretha recites the story of Jesus raising their brother Lazarus to life (John 11:1-44).

Her constant message in this album is that Jesus sees and hears our pain, and that there really is a "somewhere--where the world will cease from troubling."

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Earning $2 per hour in the USA

Filipina caregivers are earning less than $2 for serving the elderly in privately owned care homes in Contra Costa County and elsewhere in the US.

Normita and Sonia were two of the caregivers featured in Reveal's report tonight on NPR.  As recent immigrants, they were easy to exploit, fearing they would lose their jobs if they complained.

Their employer, Ramel Publico, faces many lawsuits.  Anyone with the money enough to buy and remodel a home can offer care to 5-6 elderly people and make half a million per year.

Thank you to Jennifer Gollan for this heart-breaking report from the Center for Investigative Reporting.

She interviewed one inspector and investigator of these homes, who said, "I could do this for the rest of my life and never even scratch the surface of the wage fraud and other abuses that are going on in this industry."

My mother received loving care from several Filipinas during her last five years of life.

I am still in touch with two of these wonderful women.  I've heard of back injuries and difficult working conditions at the large assisted living place where my mother lived.

We all will grow old and need care that our families can't provide.  

"We need to pay attention to how we as a country take care of our elders and how we treat our caregivers," says Jennifer.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Abortion Ban--Another Nightmare

Governor Kay Ivey speaks after signing bill, New York Times, May 16, page A14

How is it possible that the Alabama legislature has just passed a bill banning abortion--even in cases of rape--and the female governor signed it?

Surely this is just a nightmare, like dt winning the presidency.  Surely we will wake up in the 21st century again.

What galls me most is that people are using religion to legislate government control of women's bodies.  

You'll never find Jesus suggesting that Israel just needs a few more laws, better enforced, to solve the nation's problems.

Some naive Christians truly feel that the Bible opposes abortion.  Of course, they have never found a single verse of the Holy Book that even mentions the subject, but that's not a problem.  

The Bible mentions miscarriage twice:
Exodus 21:22 says that if a man injures a woman and she miscarries, he must pay a penalty to her husband.  If she dies, he pays with his life.  
Numbers 5 describes how an extremely jealous husband can go to a priest and they can both make her drink a poison; if she is unharmed, she is innocent.  If "her thigh rots and her belly swells," she becomes "a curse among her people" and probably dies. 

There's also a lovely case in Genesis 38 where a widow, Tamar, deliberately conceives a child out of wedlock to carry on her late husband's line.  Her society's solution to a pregnant "harlot" is to kill both her and the baby--until she reveals that the baby's father is her father-in-law.

These horrendous tales have nothing to do with a woman and her doctor making a decision to end a pregnancy.  They're all about protecting men and their rights. Then as now, the life of the woman is expendable.

Conclusion: the Bible does not oppose legal abortion as we understand it today. 

Thus I'm calling on all Bible-believing opponents of abortion to stop pretending that their plan of a government-enforced ban on abortion is holier than my Bible-believing support of women's decisions.

New York Times, May 16, page A15
On the other hand, some people supporting Alabama's ban don’t care what the Bible says and may have never opened the holy book.  They’re just using religion to retain power and keep the conservative base interested in voting in the next election--and they know it. 

On the dark side, let's face it: there are also some men who truly want to control women and their reproduction.  Women are a dangerous unknown if left to their own devices. 

“I never know what you’re going to do next,” my father sometimes complained to my mother.

Racism is one of the keys to understanding men's need to control women's bodies.  Just read Pem Davidson Buck on "Constructing Race, Creating White Privilege."

It's no coincidence that only two former slave-holding states, Alabama and Georgia, have banned or heavily restricted legal access to abortion.  The men in these states know all about preserving white male privilege--and some of the women have been trained to go along with it.  

For more information:

Chipping away at Roe v. Wade

Opposition to abortion in Alabama

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Banning Mother's Day

Never forget--never forgive.

I hereby ban all observance of Mother's Day until we have a woman in the White House. 

Julia Ward Howe and Anna Jarvis began Mothers' PEACE Day to call for an end to war and militarism. Too many mothers had borne and nurtured children only to see them killed during the Civil War.

Woodrow Wilson diluted it to "Gee, thanks, Mom!" Day. 

Thank you to Elle Michel for giving me two feminist t-shirts for Mothers' PEACE Day.
Long live Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the four Supremes!

Thank you to Code Pink for sponsoring the first Mothers' Peace Day events back in the 1980s.  I remember attending one in Orange, California.

See these links:

The Original Mother's Day Proclamation by Julia Ward Howe

23rd Annual Mother's Day Peace Walk Supporting Families of Murder Victims

Code Pink: Give us Peace, Not Brunch

Demonstration in Lafayette Park, DC

Peace Proclamation by Rivera Sun

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Who will sit together at the heavenly feast?

The heavenly banquet - from the Catacomb of Priscilla in Rome

Rachel Held Evans is like Jesus in many ways, not least that her impact continues to grow after leaving this earth.

Many have written their tributes to her, but others have seized on the occasion of her death one week ago to write vicious criticism cloaked as tribute.

One supporter of Rachel wrote that she and her conservative evangelical opponents will sit at opposite ends of one long table in the kingdom of heaven.

But blogger Anne Kennedy replied:

And so we are not sitting at opposite sides of one long table.  We are not eating of the one bread and drinking out of the one cup...
We are talking about two different faiths, two different kinds of love, two different lords... 
Christians must speak the truth about who that God is, and who we are as his [sic] creatures.

Two different faiths!  And all because of Rachel's decision to support gay and lesbian Christians as fully equal to straight Christians, blessed by God if they marry or become pastors.  

Since when does the Nicene Creed include specific beliefs about heterosexuality vs. homosexuality?

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father...

by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made [hu]man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures...
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life...
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
There just isn't a clause in those early creeds saying that committed same-sex relationships are wrong and that if you disagree, please step aside and don't call yourself a follower of Jesus.  You are in a "different faith" with a "different lord."

There is a clear expectation that God is male, but there isn't even a statement that the Bible has to be interpreted literally and without its social context.  

Rachel gave up the belief in creationism that she was taught in Dayton, Tennessee, and the belief that women could not be pastors, and the belief that the three brief references to homosexuality in the New Testament could be applied to faithful same-sex relationships in the 21st century.

Because Rachel's understanding changed regarding these subjects, Anne Kennedy claims Rachel is outside the bounds of proper Christianity, serving a different lord.  These opponents of Rachel doubt whether she will make it inside those pearly gates.  

Rod Dreher agrees with Kennedy in his recent blog post on The American Conservative site:

What so many of the people on that side cannot seem to grasp is that for the things they believe about LGBT to be true, they have to do such radical revision to fundamental Christianity that they render it into essentially a different religion.  

He and Kennedy agree:
And so an unapologetic embrace of the LGBTQ agenda is not biblically Christian.  Those who teach and preach it can be said, without any confusion at all, to be outside the visible boundaries of biblical faith.

Early statements of faith don't matter to them, and careful contextual examination of each word of the Bible doesn't matter either.  They have a new creed, established since 1980, that defines Christians by their stances on gay rights and legalized abortion, not on their love for and commitment to a risen Savior.  

For an analysis of this change in the rules of orthodoxy, see Franky Schaeffer's Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of it Back.

See also Randall Balmer's The Making of Evangelicalism: From Revivalism to Politics and Beyond.  

John Stonestreet is another one of these right-wing evangelicals who sparred with Rachel on Twitter and then wrote a less-than-friendly tribute to her that Christianity Today posted on its website two days after her death.  He got so much blowback that the article was quickly removed and CT editor-in-chief Mark Galli had to post an apology on the website.

The good news in all this hubbub over Rachel's death is that more people everywhere are learning that there are progressive evangelicals in this country.  Not all born-again Christians support Trump and guns while opposing gays and abortion.  

Right-wing churches may draw lines that shut progressives out, but the circles of Jesus followers continue to expand.  Believers like Rachel Held Evans and Pete Buttigieg are changing the public perception of Christianity.  

Let's listen to Jesus when it comes to deciding who is right and who is outside the bounds of faith: "Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.... By their fruits shall ye know them."   (Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7: 16-20)

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Throw Out the US Constitution--Don't Amend It

So the House had a hearing on the ERA for the first time in 36 years.

So what.

So Patricia Arquette testified.

So what.

I've had it with the US Constitution.  I've had it with the Electoral College.  

I've had it with dt polluting the White House with his presence.

I worked for the ERA when I was in my twenties.  I'm sure as hell not going to waste my seventies working for the ERA again.

You can take your damned Constitution and tear it to shreds.

On Broadway I saw the play What the Constitution Means To Me written and performed by Heidi Schreck, and at the end she asks the audience to vote on whether to continue trying to amend the Constitution or throw it out and start over writing a new one.

I vote for throwing it out and starting over.  

Don't even talk to me about sweetly testifying to a House committee about pretty please, maybe, could you possibly add an amendment making women equal.

And by the way, replace that stupid mean old spread-eagled eagle holding weapons in one claw and an olive branch in the other.  He's a two-faced eagle that mostly has stood for US imperialism toward other nations, including the first nations who were here when the Pilgrims arrived. 

Rachel rests in peace

Rachel Held Evans 1981-2019

Rachel Held Evans was taken off life support in Tennessee this morning, just 37 years old.

She leaves a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old as well as her husband Dan.  Her crisis began in April with the flu and a reaction to antibiotics.


She used one of her 37 years to "live biblically"--following all the admonitions for women both in the Hebrew scriptures and in the New Testament.

I never read her book about that year--the whole thing was so ridiculous.  But I admire her for demonstrating that such rules for women just don't apply today.

She stood up for LGBTQ people and challenged the evangelical world before moving on to the Episcopal Church.  She opposed dt, among other progressive stances.

May she rest in peace.

Give glory to YHWH your God
before darkness falls,
before your feet stumble 
on the darkening hillside. --Jeremiah 13:16

Thank you to Sarah Pulliam Bailey for the Washington Post's comprehensive picture of Rachel's contributions.

On every religion story in the news lately--the Poway CA shooter, the Pittsburgh synagogue murders, Rachel's passing--the Washington Post has done the best coverage.

Friday, May 3, 2019

No One Should Read These Books

published by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem
No one should read these books. 

These words should not have been written.

The events described in these books should not have happened.

But they did.  

And because these atrocities did happen, and some people had the courage to write them down, they have become part of the record of human life on this earth.  

Some people, like me, will decide to read these books in order to understand the worst about who we are as humans.  We will also find courage and heroism and kindness here and there amidst the horror.

Others will decide not to read them.  It's hard enough to get up in the morning and carry on, without having the cruelties described in these books at the back of our minds.  

When I visited Yad VaShem, the museum of Holocaust remembrance, I bought several books written by Holocaust survivors.  I spent  the last ten days of January, as well as February and March, reading them, absorbing one after another of the bitter but engrossing stories.

Here's a list of personal accounts of the Holocaust with a few notes on each one to guide others who may want to glimpse the enormity of human loss in the 1940s in Europe.

Eva Rosenfeld Brown
If You Save One Life: A Survivor's Memoir by Eva Brown written with Tom Fields-Meyer (Los Angeles: Upper Story Press, 2007). 150 pages.
I came across this book when I took a writing course with Tom.  Eva grew up as a rabbi's daughter in a small town in Hungary, 150 miles east of Budapest.  When she was 16, in March 1944, the Germans took over Hungary.  On June 9 her family was deported by train to Auschwitz, Poland, the death camp ruled by Josef Mengele.  She survived, barely.  "One more day and I would likely be dead," she writes."I was barely clinging to life.  I was 17 years old and weighed no more than 65 pounds."

Rutka Laskier
Rutka's Notebook: January - April 1943 edited by Daniella Zaidman-Mauer (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2007). 71 pages.  
When her notebook begins, Rutka is a happy but worried child of 14 living in Bedzin, Poland,  after the German invasion of Poland in 1939. She reports about a ghetto being set up in Bedzin to include her neighborhood. She visits friends and discusses two boys on whom she has a crush.  But in August of 1943, her family was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.  Her father survived, remarried, and had a daughter who first learned about Rutka when she herself was 14 years old.  Rutka is sometimes called "the Polish Anne Frank."

Ilse Hahn Kaufmann
The Journey of Ilse Kaufmann: Vienna--Prague--Buenos Aires by Ilse Kaufmann and Helena Pardo, trans. from Spanish by Susana Urra (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2014). 196 pages.
Ilse Hahn began life as a privileged child of a wealthy family in Vienna.  Her grandmother, Mathilde Goldschmidt, was treated by Sigmund Freud in the years when he was just beginning psychoanalysis.  Her family fled Austria to Prague, and then her parents were able to get visas on the last train with Jews leaving for Spain in 1941. Wealth played a part in their escape as well as in Ilse's survival and escape.  She talked a friend and hotel manager into marrying her, and he later got a job with the Argentine Embassy, which along with financial payments facilitated their escape with their young son to Argentina in February, 1943.

Georgina Glasgall Gomori
Georgina: Holocaust Memoirs by Gabriella Kovac with Oliver R. Shead (Middletown, Delaware: Gabriella Kovac, 2017). 127 pages.
Georgina's daughter Gabriella wrote this story of her mother's life, beginning with Georgina's father Vilmos Glasgall, the son of a Scottish adventurer and a Hungarian beauty.  Vilmos always told his daughter that nothing could harm her because she was the descendant of two great races.  She grew up in a well-to-do family in Hungary and was sent to finishing school in Switzerland, returning in 1935 when she was 18.  She and her brother went to Budapest in 1938, and she started a business there.  Her father had lost all his money by investing in the American stock marker. She married a small businessman in 1943 and managed to hide underground 'and evade deportation from Budapest while her husband was gone repairing motorbikes for the German army.  Both she and he were able to pose as non-Jews because of their light hair and features.  But after the war, Soviet occupation of Hungary posed new dangers.  Finally in 1957 she, her husband, and their two children managed to escape from Hungary to Austria and then to Ausstralia.

Klara Iutkovits Wizel
Auschwitz Escape: The Klara Wizel Story by Danny Naten and R. J. Gifford (San Bernardino, CA: Beverly Naten, 2018). 199 pages.
These books are all hair-raising, but Klara's story includes perhaps the narrowest escape from the gas chambers of Auschwitz.  Danny Naten researched, wrote, and directed a documentary about Klara's life, and then R. J. Gifford produced the book version.  Born in 1927, Klara grew up in northern Romania near the Ukrainian and Hungarian borders.  In her small town, Sighet, the family of Elie Wiesel lived two houses away on her block.  In 1940, Germany gave her part of Romania to Hungary.  In March 1944, Germans themselves took over the area.  She and her family were deported to Auschwitz in May.  She learned that her parents had been gassed and cremated.  By November she stopped eating.  In December Mengele selected her for execution in the gas chamber, but she managed to break an adobe brick out of the wall under a window and slip out.  She joined a truck of women being taken to a slave labor camp, where a woman doctor brought her back to life and she worked until the end of the war. Afterward she returned to Sighet, found her sisters, and married the second cousin of Elie Wiesel.  I found this book for sale at a lecture I attended at the American Jewish University earlier this year. 

Eddie Weinstein
17 Days in Treblinka: Daring to Resist, and Refusing to Die by Eddie Weinstein, ed. Noah Lasman (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2008).  174 pages.
Unlike the other survivors, Eddie Weinstein wrote his story in 1947, very soon after it occurred.  His mother was murdered in the Treblinka death camp, and his brother Srulik (Israel) and his cousin Chaim were also killed there.  Eddie grew up in Losice, a town in eastern Poland not far from Warsaw.  When the Germans invaded Poland in September, 1939, the great synagogue in his town was destroyed and his family fled but later returned.  Jews lost their businesses and were forced to do slave labor. A ghetto was formed in Losice in December, 1949.  Eddie and his brother and cousin worked in labor camps until August, 1942, when they were forced into train cars and deported to Treblinka death camp.  There he managed to survive with the help of his brother and cousin.  After 17 days, when he and two others were loading victims' belongings onto empty trains to be shipped away and sold, they slipped into a car and hid under the pile of clothes. At a stop they escaped into the forest, returned to a previous labor camp, and blended in with others.  Later they escaped and hid in underground dugouts for about two years with the help of local persons, whom they paid.  Finally Russian troops reached their area.  

Isabelle Choko, Frances Irwin, Lotti Kahana-Aufleger, Margit Raab Kalina, and Jane Lipski
Stolen Youth: Five Women's Survival in the Holocaust by Isabelle Choko, Frances Irwin, Lotti Kahana-Aufleger, Margit Raab Kalina, and Jane Lipski (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem and the Holocaust Survivors' Memoir Project, 2005).  
This book is actually the personal story of five women with some photos, a total of 335 pages.  

Isabelle Choko-Sztrauch-Galewska -- My First Life trans. from French by Irene Rothenberg. 71 pages.
Isabelle writes that if she did not have pains and scars and a friend who also suffered "even I would have trouble believing in the reality of my own nightmarish experience."  She grew up in Lodz, Poland.  On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland and by February of 1940, about 200,000 people were forced to move into a ghetto in Lodz.  She was 12 years old.  When she was 15, she contracted typhoid and her father died.  Then she and her mother were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.  In February 1945, she and her mother were transported to the Bergen-Belsen camp.  Her mother died, and she was so sick and weak she could barely stand up to go get a bowl of soup.  On April 15 the British liberated the camp, but she was close to death.  She was taken to Sweden and nursed back to life.

Frances Irwin-- "Remember To Be a Good Human Being": A  Memoir of Life and the Holocaust.  37 pages.
Frances lived in Konskie in central Poland before the war.  She first heard about Hitler in 1936 when she was 14.  The Germans arrived in September, 1939, and her family was forced into a ghetto, where they lived almost a year before a deportation to Treblinka started.  Her father told her to run out of the ghetto and hide.  She reluctantly obeyed him and hid in a sewer with other Jews.  She made it to her brother-in-law's house in the ghetto of nearby Radom, but she was captured there.  She was taken to Auschwitz, where she survived for two years.  In January 1945 the entire camp was forced to march out of the camp as the Russians approached; those who could not walk were shot.  She ended up in the death camp of Mauthausen, Austria, and then in another camp for women.  As the liberators approached, the Nazis tried to get all the women to drink poison soup, but a French kitchen worker warned them in broken German not to eat it.  Then their captors disappeared and the next morning American soldiers arrived.  After a period of recuperation, she married another survivor and they emigrated to the USA.

Lottie Kahana Aufleger--Eleven Years of Suffering.  75 pages.
Lottie lived in Czernowitz, Romania, with her husband and three-year-old daughter until September 18, 1939, when German bombs dropped in her community.  She was 27 years old and her family owned a business paving roads.  In October 1941, they learned that they would be deported to a concentration camp the next day. They managed to escape that deportation but in June 1942, they were deported to a camp on the Bug River in eastern Poland near the border with Ukraine.  They survived by buying food from local farmers selling illegally to the prisoners.  Finally the Red Army freed them early in 1944.  In 1946 they were allowed to emigrate to Romania and then to Israel, and she reunited with her daughter and her husband, who had survived through various subterfuges.

Margit Raab Kalina--Surviving a Thousand Deaths--Memoir: 1939-1945.  42 pages.
Margit tells her story in present tense and with short, terse sentences.  It is the most well-written memoir in the book.  It begins when she is 16 and her family is fleeing from a small town in Czech Silesia to live with a relative in eastern Poland.  Then they flee war and arrive in a Polish-Ukrainian-Jewish town.  In bombings there, her father dies.  They flee to another town, Tarnow, where her mother is shot and killed.  Margit works in a factory.  Her brother is deported on a train to Auschwitz and gassed at age 22.  In 1943 she is deported to Plaszow, a forced labor camp near Krakow.  In  spring 1944 she is taken to Auschwitz.  In December 1944 she is deported to Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany.  She gets typhoid spread by lice.  On April 15, 1945 the British army liberates Bergen-Belsen.  She remains unconscious for three weeks but eventually recovers.  She joins relatives in Bratislava and later emigrates to the USA.  

Jane Lipski (Jadzia Szpigelman)--My Escape into Prison and other Memories of a Stolen Youth, 1939-1948.  67 pages.
Jane grew up in Bedzin, southwest Poland, in an Orthodox Jewish family, the sixth child though two had died.  In the summer of 1939 she was 14 years old and spent a month at a Zionist youth camp, where she decided she wanted to emigrate to Israel.  Her life changed when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939.  She describes increasing restrictions on Jews and then the formation of a ghetto in Bedzin, from which mass deportations began in August 1942.  Jane's youth group evolved into a resistance organization.  As a partisan (resistance worker), she began traveling to deliver letters and steal weapons.  Meanwhile, her parents, her two sisters and their families were transported to Auschwitz in August, 1943.  Her two sisters survived.  She married another partisan and became pregnant.  When Russians took over eastern Poland, he was sent to Russia and she chose to go with him.  They both became trapped in a Soviet prison, where she gave birth to her son.  Her husband died and she did not manage to get out of prison and out of Russia until January, 1948.  She learned that her two sisters had survived Auschwitz, and her brother was alive too.  She emigrated to Israel, where her brother lived, in 1950.  She married and in 1958 moved to the USA.  

Elie Wiesel
Night by Elie Wiesel (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1958), trans. to English by Stella Rodway (New York: Hill and Wang, 1960).  110 pages.  
Elie won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.  He was born in Sighet, in northern Romania near the Ukrainian and Hungarian borders, an area also called Transylvania.  As a teenager, he was deported with his family to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp and then later he and his father were marched and transported by train to Buchenwald.  His father died there.  On April 10, 1945, the resistance within the camp overthrew the SS guards, and by evening American soldiers arrived.  Elie became ill with food poisoning but somehow survived.  He lived to age 96 and died in 2005.  I read this book years ago, in the 1990s maybe, but skimmed it again this year.  

Thursday, May 2, 2019

People who made your cell phone

Tech workers in China typically work a day that begins at 9 am, ends at 9 pm, and they do this six days per week.

The 9.9.6 schedule, businesses call it.  Oppression is what I call it.

Some workers are now challenging these long hours.


These long working hours go into the making of your cell phone and mine.

Thank you to Lin Qiqing and Raymond Zhong for their report on this topic in the New York Times today.  

How can we help these workers get better working hours?

Putting a Holocaust teen's story on Insta

What if a teenager taken to Auschwitz in 1944 had had a smart phone and an Instagram account?  How would she have communicated about her life in that year?

An Israeli tech executive and his daughter Maya selected the diary of 13-year-old Eva Heyman from among 30 diaries written by teenagers during the Holocaust.  They hired an actress and started taking photos to go along with excerpts from Eva's diary.

The result was a 70-part Instagram story that begins on her birthday in February, 1944, in Hungary and ends when she is on a train being deported to Auschwitz.  

You can look at the first 15 episodes by searching @evastories on Instagram. 

Thank you to Isabel Kershner of the New York Times for writing an article on this Instagram version of Holocaust history. 

Murders of Jewish Women, Men, and Children--Then and Now

Nazis hurried to murder more Jews as armies arrived to liberate camps.

Today is Yom HaShoah, Israel's Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day.

Most southern Californians will not give a thought today to the slaughter of six million Jews during World War II in Nazi Germany.

Yet the Holocaust lives on among us.

One skirmish in the ongoing war against Jews occurred last Saturday when a 60-year-old woman in Poway CA was killed for being in a synagogue on the last day of Passover.  Poway is a community along Interstate 15 just north of San Diego and south of Escondido.

Another drama unfolded in a Los Angeles federal courtroom when Judge John F. Walter ruled that the painting of Paris owned by Lilly Cassirer in Berlin in the 1940s now rightfully belongs to a museum in Spain.  The Nazi government of Germany took the painting from Lilly "in exchange for an exit visa out of Berlin," explains an editorial in the Los Angeles Times today

That exchange saved Lilly from deportation and murder in a gas chamber.  She survived, and her granddaughter lives in La Mesa, a little closer to San Diego than Poway.  The Cassirer family has been fighting for twenty years to reclaim the painting worth $30 or more. 

Sunset at Yad VaShem, January 15, 2019
Thank you to the editorial board of the LA Times for demanding justice for the family of a Holocaust survivor and publishing this stand on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Judge Walter wrote that the museum should return the painting but that he could not require it to "comply with its moral commitments."  If not Judge Walter, who?

"The museum could offer to pay the family in order to keep the painting," the editorial concludes.  "But refusing to recognize any obligation to Cassirer’s heirs is shameful."
Israel's Holocaust Museum

Thus the atrocities of the Nazis continue in southern California today, along with surfing and traffic jams and millions of people just living their lives. 

The right to life is stolen from Jews, and a painting once stolen is not returned. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Sonya's story

Entrance to Auschwitz death camp

Sonyah Mitelman, was 14 years old and living in Vojany, a small town in Slovakia near the borders of Hungary and Ukraine, during the 1930s.

Born in 1930, she is 89 years old now and lives in Israel.  She speaks widely and even has a Facebook page.

Sonyah, her mother Miryam, father Yosef, brother, and two sisters were taken from their home by Nazis when Sonyah was fourteen.  

They were yanked out of their home in Vojany and all their belongings were thrown into the street, where looters took what they wanted.

Then they were marched to a ghetto, Uzhorod (Podkarpatska Rus in Czechoslovakia). 

Her brother was shot and killed because he could not keep up with the march.

Finally they were put on a train and deported to a concentration camp, Kratzau in Bohemia, Czechoslovakia.  

From there they were sent by train to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland, not far from Krakow.  You can see its location on Google maps, but you will see the Polish spelling of the nearby town's name, Oswiecim.

Sonyah remembers standing in front of the terrible Josef Mengele every morning for inspection.

"He showed up every morning, very drunk, and would pick those to go to be gassed," Aliza told us. "He would point the the left or to the right.  Those sent to the left were taken to the gas chamber."  

One day toward the end of the war when Russians were coming to liberate the camp, the Nazis were hurriedly trying to kill the remaining prisoners.  

They took Sonya, her sisters, and their mother with others to a huge fire pit and made them undress before being thrown in.  

Sonyah's mother was thrown in alive as Sonyah and her sisters watched.  Vicious dogs were used to control the prisoners.  

In the confusion, her two sisters ran into the forest naked.  

Sonya too was thrown into the pit, but suddenly she realized that she was still alive.  While workers were shoveling dirt in, she climbed out and ran into the forest, where she found her two sisters.  

Some local Polish people took care of Sonya and her sisters until the Russians came and took over Poland.  However, the Russian soldiers were often drunk and the survivors suffered greatly, even being raped.  

Men and women had been separated in the camp, but they learned the sisters learned that their father had survived for a couple of years there before being thrown into a fire pit and murdered.

Once they were free, they ran on foot all the way back to Vojany, about 360 kilometers (224 miles).  When they got to the town, all the survivors found that Christians were living in their homes.

"Why did you come back?" the new residents asked angrily.

After resting and trying to figure out what to do, the sisters received help from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), commonly known as the Joint.  The JDC arranged for them to take a train to Carlsbad, a beautiful resort west of Prague, now in the Czech Republic.  Carlsbad, now called Karlovy Vary, is a spa town with hot springs, a resort since the 19th C. in west Bohemia (an area also called Sudeten).  There they regained their health and normal weight after years of near-starvation.

They wanted to get to Palestine, controlled by the British, but the British refused them entry.  They traveled by ship to Cypress, where there was a refugee camp, and eventually after the founding of Israel in 1948, they made it to Haifa.  

Sonyah was 19 by that time, and before the war, she had been involved in a youth organization called HaYeled.  She met with other members in Israel and soon joined the Israeli army.  

She also met and married Josef Perl, and they had three daughters.  One of them, Aliza Perl Klainman, teaches the Hebrew class I take at American Jewish University.

Though he was Czech, Josef had been living in Budapest, Hungary, after Czechoslovakia was captured by the Third Reich.  When Hungary fell to the Nazis, he was taken to a slave labor camp.  He was put in a unit that accompanied the German army and built a railway as the Germans advanced toward Russia.  He was always near the front lines during the war.

Josef Perl was from a very Orthodox family and was the seventh of 14 children.  Because he was young and strong, he was sent to a slave labor camp, but his mother was deported with her five youngest children to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  As soon as she got off the train, she was sent straight to the gas chamber with her five children and two more, seven in all.

Aliza remembers from her earliest years her mother speaking about the horrors of Auschwitz, but her father never talked about what he went through.

You can find out more Sonyah Mitelman Perl tell her story by going to the website for the Shoah Foundation.  

  • First sign in and create an account.  
  • Then search Sonyah Perl or use the link here in her name.  You will see photos.  Just one look at her face with its searching look speaks volumes.
  • To actually watch her speak (in Hebrew), you will need to go to an access site near you, such as the Museum of Tolerance or the American Jewish University if you are in LA.
  • Some of the survivor stories are available online.  For example, you can listen to Pauline Spulber online.

See also my blog post about Sonyah on April 16, 2015. 

The People of Israel Live On in Story and Song

Hana Szenes, poet turned paratrooper,
captured and killed by Nazis, 1944

When I went to my Hebrew class tonight, the instructor spoke about tomorrow being Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  

It's on the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, the day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.  This year Nisan 27 falls on May 2.

On January 27 I had observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set up by the UN to mark the deaths of 6 million Jews and 11 million others.  I learned that European nations remember the Holocaust on various days, often related to the liberation of specific concentration camps.  

But somehow this year's Israeli day to remember martyrs and military heroes had escaped my attention until I arrived for class, and then I felt slammed in the face with memories.  

I had visited Israel for the first time this past January.  Twice I walked through Yad VaShem, Israel's holocaust museum, an emotionally taxing experience.  In the bookstore there I bought five books of survivor stories.  

Afterward I spent two months reading those survivor stories and one book centered on the diary of a girl who didn't survive, Rutka Laskier, "the Polish Anne Frank."  I had already read the survivor stories of Eva Brown and Eli Wiezel, as well as the diary of Anne Frank, of course.  

Thus I have been immersed in the poignant accounts of entire families uprooted and moved first to ghettoes, then to concentration camps, and finally to extermination camps.  (The National Socialist Party in Germany had this bizarre plan to eradicate an entire race of people.)

While parents, grandparents, and siblings were sent to the gas chamber, anyone young enough and strong enough to work in slave labor camps had a chance to save his or her life.  Others managed to evade the round-ups for transportation to camps, and still others actually escaped from camps, even from Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Our normal class routine was set aside as we discussed people killed by the Nazis and ways that Israelis and others remember them now, some seventy years later. All of Israel observes a few moments of silence at 10 am, followed by the laying of a wreath at Yad VaShem.  In Poland at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, a March of the Living is held each year on this day.

Aliza Klainman, my Hebrew teacher, briefly told her own parents' stories.  Both are survivors.  Her father was in a labor camp while her mother was in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  

Then we watched Israeli Holocaust survivors, their children, and their grandchildren singing Am Yisrael Chai "The people of Israel live--Yes, I'm still alive" last year for Holocaust Remembrance Day.  A group called Koolulam brought these 600 people together for this recording.  After reading so much about the Holocaust, it's very moving to see these faces, old and young, of Jewish people who have survived.

Alive, alive, alive
Yes, I'm still alive!
This is the song which grandfather
Sang yesterday to father
And today I [sing].
I'm still alive, alive, alive
The people of Israel live
This is the song which grandfather
Sang yesterday to father
And today I [sing]!

Chai, chai, chai
Ken, ani od chai!
Ze hashir shesaba
Shar etmol l'aba -
V'hayom ani.
Ani od chai, chai, chai
Am Yisrael chai
Ze hashir shesaba
Shar etmol l'aba
V'hayom ani.

We also watched Ofra Haza, a well-known Israeli singer, perform "Eli, Eli." via YouTube.

This recording is from the Shecunat Hatikva Workshop Album "Atik Noshan" released in 1977. It is one of Ofra's best renditions of this classic song. It really talks to your neshama [soul]. The Hungarian poet and paratrooper Hana Senesh wrote this song in Hebrew in her secret diary on 1942 right before she went on a military mission to attack Germany. She was captured and executed in 1944. In Hebrew :
Eli, Eli Shelo yigamer le'olam: Hachol vehayam Rishrush shel hamayim Berak hashamayim Tefilat ha'adam. In English :
My God, My God May these things never end: The sand and the sea The rustle of the water The lightning in the sky Human prayer.

Anti-Semitism in Poway

Ruger AR-15 for sale -- semi-automatic rifle

I am disgusted to know that a young man went out to hunt and kill Jews with a semi-automatic rifle on Shabbat, the last day of Passover, in Poway, CA.  

I am embarrassed that he was part of a tiny right-wing splinter group of a Christian church.  These nuts split off from the Presbyterian Church-USA in the 1930s, and the PCUSA is a mainline denomination of which I'm a member. 

I grieve for the death of Lori Gilbert Kaye.

I am heartened to read the words of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein in the New York Times on Monday.  He must have been writing on the day after the shooting.  Where did he get the strength and presence of mind to do that?  


What a great move by the NYT to invite Rabbi Goldstein to write a commentary for the opinion and editorial pages.  My husband, John Arthur, pointed out to me the quick-thinking of some editor to offer this platform to the wounded rabbi.  John used to work as front-page editor for the Los Angeles Times.

To kill anyone--Christian, Muslim, Jewish--in a house of worship is horrific.  It breaks every human value, every minimum level of behavior we teach our kids.  
  • Share your toys--your space--your city and country.
  • Show respect for those who disagree with you.
  • Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

To be shot for being Jewish or Christian or Muslim or black or white should have stopped years ago.

Thank you to the wise editors of the NYT, and thank you to Rabbi Goldstein for these words:

 "I pray that my missing finger serves as a constant reminder to me. A reminder that every single human being is created in the image of God; a reminder that I am part of a people that has survived the worst destruction and will always endure..."

Thank you to the Creator that the attacker's gun jammed leaving fifty bullets unused, and thank you to the two men who rushed toward the shooter to stop him.

One blood-curdling aspect of the shooting is that the 19-year-old shooter was raised in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church-- a small evangelical denomination founded to counter liberalism in mainline Presbyterianism,  as the Washington Post describes it in a report by Julie Zauzmer that appeared today, May 1.  My friends in a Hebrew class I take at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles alerted me to reports of this connection of the shooter to a Presbyterian church.

Let me tell you some other things about the Orthodox Presbyterian Church:

  • The OPC does not ordain women as pastors, elders, or even deacons--though the PCUSA has had women pastors for over sixty years.
  • They are anti-gay--whereas the mainline PCUSA ordains gay pastors.
  • They are anti-abortion--they don't want women to have legal access to ending a pregnancy.
  • They have only 270 churches in the US and some 30,000 members--whereas the PCUSA has over 10,000 congregations and 1.7 million members.  

An anti-Semitic shooter like this would have to come from one of these screwball splinter groups of right-wing Christians if he was going to be associated with any church at all.

However, the roots of anti-Semitism are evident in the New Testament.  In the first and second centuries, groups of Jews who followed Jesus and those who didn't were bitter rivals.  The Jesus-following Jews started converting Gentiles, and the new converts started blaming all Jews for the death of Jesus.  As time passed, many Christians tried to overlook the central fact that Jesus himself was a Jew.  These are the roots of anti-Semitism, pogroms, and the Holocaust.

And in fact, tomorrow, May 2, is Yom HaShoah--Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day in Israel for the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis.  (The UN observes Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, and European countries observe various days, often related to the liberation of a concentration camp.)

For a sketch of the rise of anti-Semitism currently in the US and elsewhere, see this article in Vox by Zack Beauchamp.  

It's going to take a long time to overcome all these hatreds, but there's one thing we can do now, as New Zealand has done: Ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles in the US. 

If we keep selling these machine guns, we will keep burying their victims.