Monday, 28 December 2020

A Silent Fountainhead of Art

 


Her name is Liora Golda Rotem.

She was born, as it first seemed, a perfectly healthy baby, alert, curious and interested in everything she saw. It was only when she reached the age of four- five months that her parents realized she was not uttering the same babbling sounds as other babies were.  

They took Liora to their family pediatrician and expressed a concern that she might be deaf. The doctor clapped his hands, and she turned her beautiful little head. “Do not worry,” the doctor reassured them, “her hearing is fine.”

He was wrong. He did not realize that it was not the sound that his clapping produced which caused baby Liora to turn her head but rather the moving air that they did. The bitter truth that she was born profoundly deaf escaped him.   

It was not until a few months later that the sad reality of her condition was staring at everyone. It happened during the holy day of Purim. Her brother playfully shot a cap gun near her. She did not respond.                                             .

Her gravely worried parents decided to take her to a major hospital where her hearing was tested and where she was finally diagnosed as deaf. Unfortunately for her, the prevailing and prescribed approach, at that time, was that parents of deaf children should not use sign language to communicate with them. It was only years later that the attitude changed. Until that time, it left Liora and her generation of deaf children, in dearth of a developed language system.

Without the help of sign language, Liora lived in a world of moving mouths swirling around her, a world where words had no meaning. It was a lonely and frustrating world which many of us cannot even begin to imagine. Her parents were helpless.

“I felt like Helen Keller,” Liora wrote to me. “I did not know basic words like ‘mommy or daddy.’”

Her wonderful mother, Gloria, fortunately, noticed that Liora loves colours and drawing. She bought her crayons and paints. She, also, tied little bells to her shoes so that Liora could be easily found around the house.

When, eventually, the use of sign language gained support and became more widely practiced, Liora’s world improved immensely.  Suddenly, everything had meaning. She started to visit museums, studying paintings, their colours and looking for meaning.

After she and her family had moved to Yisrael, Liora’s parents learned that the only college for the deaf in the world, which taught art and computer graphics, was in Rochester NY. She applied and was accepted. Liora’s sweet and kind personality coupled with her great talent, soon made her teachers fall in love with her.

Upon her return to Yisrael, Liora partook in photography and Judaica paper cutting courses. She was so successful at her work that some of her paper cuts were shown in "Living," the very well-known Martha Stewart design magazine.


Additionally, some of her Judaica paper cuts were bought by a card company and used for holiday greeting cards.


While in New York, Liora had a cochlear implant embedded. Though that device enables her to hear only environmental sound, she is content. It is enough for her. It also allows her to hear parts of music if it is loud, a move that has helped enrich her world and make it more exiting and interesting.

Despite modern advances in the field, Liora, occasionally, still finds herself in settings where there is no one to communicate with in sign language. It is then that she turns to her world of art, the world that comforts her, and soothes her soul. In those times she creates the most amazing artwork which captures the hearts of minds of many and lights up their lives with vividness and unending joy.

Liora also spends much time sharing her love for Yisrael with the world. She posts articles about the country, its People and culture which she crowns with her beautiful Judaica artwork. “I want everyone to know what a wonderful place Yisrael is. I am grateful to it for how well it takes care and caters to its disabled such as myself.”


Saturday, 19 December 2020

The Weakest Link

 




We are all part of a chain in one way or another. Some are a link in a family line, others are the connectors in the history of an ethnic group, a nation, a social, cultural or any other assembly.

That link is not always staring at us or is clearly visible. Sometimes, we need to search for it, join scattered dots, cross- check facts or dig deep to discover it. In some instances, we may be lucky enough and discover that tiny clue which will lead us to the component that we are in search of. In others, unfortunately, we may find that the weakest link is not only weak, but also nonexistent.

In 2002, I embarked on the quest for one.

It happened when my daughter and I attended a summer school programme in Yiddish studies at the University of Vilnius, Yiddish Institute.

Over one weekend, we went to visit both my parents’ hometowns.  My mother’s, Smorgon, was first on the list. Since I had visited the place two years earlier, I was rather familiar with its layout which, incidentally, unlike that of my father’s and others that I visited, changed considerably since the time my mother had lived there.  

My mother’s house was no longer there. The large and menacing grey Pravoslav Church that had once stood there and which my mother could see through her bedroom window, was demolished once the Soviets entered town. The only remnant of the days gone by was the habitual market day which took place on Wednesdays.

Just as I had in my first visit, two years earlier, I tried, again, to find some information about my family’s history, a shred of evidence, a weak link that could reconnect me to that place.

Our tour guide, Regina, a Yiddish speaker herself, was immensely helpful. She was able to find one man who was seventeen years old when WWII broke out. Surely, I thought to myself, he would have heard of the Kozlowsky family (fictitious name, for obvious reasons). My grandfather owned a big, successful wholesale business. He was the richest man in town and their big spacious home was located near the city square.

The old man we met (in the photo below) who was eighty years old at the time, was blind and could not remember much. I tried to help revive his memory and mentioned the name of my grandfather’s competitor, Bernstein (likewise, a fictitious name) but to no avail. Nothing!


I felt empty. I had brought my daughter all the way for nothing, no proof, whatsoever, of a world, part of her world, that once was. The missing link was nowhere to be found.


Our next stop was my father’s hometown. A poor place with a few scattered houses where time stood still. No slight chance of finding the long searched for missing link, there, it was obvious.

“Is there another place you wish to visit before we head back to Vilna?” Regina asked me, noticing my great disappointment.

“Oshmiany,” I responded automatically.

Both my daughter and Regina looked surprised. “Why?” probed Regina, “did you have any family there?”

“No,” I said, “But my parents used to mention that name more than once. I am curious to see it.”
“Interesting,” observed Regina, “I happen to know a Jewish family there, the only Jewish family left there.”

Like my father’s hometown, not much seemed to have changed in that small community since the war ended, according to Bluma De Leon.

Bluma, a woman in her eighties, lived with her daughter, her son in law and two granddaughters in a small house, surrounded by farms, in an area sprinkled with what seemed to have been semi built houses, and many ruined ones.

Somehow, she managed to survive the war and moved to Oshmiany after it ended.


“I was born in Kreve,” she started her story, in Yiddish, of course, “where my father owned a small retail store.”

“Kreve?” I asked, “it was not far from Smorgon, was it not?” I knew the name since my grandmother used to tell me stories, in Yiddish, about life in those little shtetles. I could see them in my mind’s eye. I could draw a map and place each and everyone of them on their approximate locations.

“Yes, I knew Smorgon. I used to go there with my father,” she answered without hesitation. A glimmer of hope was ignited in me. A sliver of light was shinning towards me from afar.

“You have been to Smorgon as a child?” I asked with my mouth wide open and sparkling eyes. “What did you go there for?” I persisted as if clinging to the edge of a lifeline.

“My father used to buy supplies such as flour and sugar from Bernstein.”

“Wrong name, wrong link,” a tiny voice whispered to me as I sank deeper into the armchair in which I was seated. And just when I was ready to give up, I suddenly heard Bluma’s voice as if in a dream, “herring, however, the best herring, he bought from Kozlowsky."

I jumped in my seat. “Did you say, ‘Kozlowsky?’” I heard myself saying.

“Yes, because he was famous for his herring. It was the best there was.” As the tears began gushing down my face, I stood up, walked to Bluma, hugged her and in a strained voice said, "I am his granddaughter. You are the evidence I have been looking for, the living proof, the confirmation that the chain has never been broken. Thank you,"

“But I am just a weak eighty years old woman,” she added, as she was wiping her tears.

“Even the weakest link can, sometimes, become the strongest one.” I whispered to her as we stood there holding each other for a long while.

Saturday, 12 December 2020

A Miracle called "The Jewish People"





 

“Every day, many a miracle happens to the sons of Israel. Were it not for G-d’s miracles, we should -Heaven forbid! – have perished long ago” – Yonatan Eibschutz


“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” – Albert Einstein


Our long and eventful Jewish history is without doubt a testimonial to the first quote. Channukah, but one example, is always reminiscent of G-d’s marvels, past and present. Our entire Jewish existence, I believe, is a unique phenomenon. Each Jew, irrelevant of whether they regard themselves as such or not, is a miracle.

Some Jews, unfortunately, fail to see their lives as such. They are the ones Einstein is referring to in the former part of his quote. Others, like myself, live our lives as Jews “as though everything is a miracle,” as though each and every one of us is a wonder on their own.

Before anyone jumps at me and accuses me of arrogance or practicing some form of  “Jewish elitism,” let me explain.

As many of my readers know, both my parents were Shoah survivors. To have come out of the abyss, from the netherworld, to have survived its infernal fires, to have been reborn, gather the shambles of one’s life and build a bigger better temple, raise a family and rebuild trust in a vile world is miraculous. That, coupled with resuming to live one’s life as though “everything is a miracle,” eventually turns one into a miracle.

The fabric of our Jewish history is woven with many such astounding stories. “Miracle” is our Jewish middle name.

Much to my dismay, though, some fellow Jews continue to regard our existence as the first part of Einstein’s words suggest. “We were always meant to be a small nation,” told me a Jewish acquaintance once when I bemoaned that we are losing too many Jews to assimilation. According to her, there is nothing miraculous about our two thousand years of enduring, persecution, pogroms, discrimination and forced conversion. These were, if I follow her logic, merely some milestones to ensure that we fulfilled our destiny to remain a small nation. What a slap in the face of our Jewish heritage such a view is. In her perspective, so it seems, we are just like everyone else, just a nation among the nations with no unusual history, no unique set of beliefs and no Torah. She is, of course, entitled to hold that belief.

I, however, refuse to prescribe to that kind of a notion. I believe in miracles.

I consider my parents’ survival and the survival of many of our Jewish brothers and sisters through hard and dangerous times, a miracle. Moreover, to have been born to a miracle, by default, makes one a miracle. I am a daughter of two miracles. Hence, my birth, my gift of Life is, itself, a miracle.

Furthermore, I hold the view that a miracle should never be wasted. To preserve one’s life as a miracle, one needs to recreate miracles, spend their time on this earth, strive relentlessly and act constantly in a way that would keep the miracle going.

In the words of our wise Talmud, “Hope for a miracle but don’t depend on one.” (Megillah 7b)

In other words, miracles do not just happen. One should never depend on them.

In my words, one should keep the faith, never give up and create a fertile ground for miracles to transpire. That, too, as our few millennia old Jewish history, has proven, is attainable .

May this Channukah season be full of miracles and every blessing to all




Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Songbird




 

His name is Chaim Zippel, and he is fifteen years old.

I met Chaim when he was about two years old. It happened in London. At that time, his mother Zina, was one of my clients when I worked as a personal trainer with Orthodox women in the Jewish community.

I remember Chaim sitting and watching us while Zina and I were engaged in our exercise routine. He was generally quite talkative and always, always smiling. Little did I know then that behind this smiling face was a well-hidden talent that this young child was harbouring inside.

It was only about ten years later, earlier this year that I received a message from Zina telling me to watch a T.V. programme entitled “School of Music,” a show I had vaguely known. “You will see Chaim on it,” she wrote.

On the scheduled day, I dropped everything I was doing. What a wonderful surprise awaited me. Chaim’s smiling face, the same beautiful face as I remembered it, was staring at me from the T.V. screen. The voice, however, that voice left me mesmerized. I felt my heart melting and my eyes welling. The song was “Let it be,” by the Beatles, written by Paul McCartney

“How long have you been singing?” I asked Chaim when I spoke to him several days ago, “since I remember myself,” came the quick answer.
“And why did you choose this particular song?” I guess he could hear the hint of surprise in my voice.
“I didn’t,” he responded. “It was selected for me.”

We both knew why this begging to be asked question came up. McCartney’s lyrics refer to his own mother Mary albeit is generally associated with the Christian Mother Mary. Chaim took the liberty to change it into “Mother Rachel.” “There is no way in the world,” Chaim retorted when I addressed it, “that I would sing about ‘mother Mary’ on an Yisraeli T.V. Show.”

With your permission, dear readers, let me rewind here and take you back to how and when it all started.

Chaim and his family made Aliyah from London about six years ago. Shortly, thereafter, his maternal grandfather once mentioned the Yisraeli T.V. show, of which, of course, Chaim knew nothing. His grandfather further suggested that Chaim should watch it.

One day, out of curiosity, Chaim and his mother decided to google the programme and it so happened that auditions for its fourth season were about to take place. Chaim decided to apply.

Needless to add, it was a long and tedious process, especially for an observant young man who was trying to shuffle between school requirement, voice lessons, his voluntary work , the ongoing tryouts as well as recording and filming sessions. These, as we can imagine, can make one’s life incredibly stressful.

"
Yes, “ said Chaim in response to my question as to whether he wishes to make singing a future career, “definitely!” Chaim hopes to include a variety of styles in his repertoire as well as songs in different languages. In addition to singing in Hebrew, Chaim has recorded songs in Yiddish, English and lately a duet in Italian with the IDF Chief Cantor, Lt. Col. Shai Abrmason.

Chaim wishes to express his gratitude to the many who have stood by him on the path of this journey and have helped him get thus far.

First, of course, to his parents, Zina and Phillipe. Special thanks go to Harel Skaat, his mentor in the “School of Music” with whom he is still closely in touch and who is always there to offer his support and good advice. Chaim also wishes to acknowledge the great support he received from Rivka Rappoport, Founder of the Rappoport School. Finally, Chaim wants to give thanks to Nahum Levi, his voice teacher with whom he has been working for the last five years.

We wish Chaim the best of luck with his singing career and look forward to hearing more of his songs in the future.





Saturday, 24 October 2020

My Take on the Latest Presidential Debate

 





Anyone who, like myself, had hoped that Trump would deal Biden a knockout and confuse him with the barrage of serious accusations of corruption, compromising national security, money laundering and child pornography, was perhaps disappointed. Trump, however, achieved something far more important.
Pre-debate polls showed that Trump had been leading among the male population but is trailing among women all over the continent.
Therefore, Trump’s first goal, at the debate, was to address suburban married women with children. They were the crowd he was addressing with two important missives. In the first, character related, he wanted to pass the message that he is not the relentless bully he had been portrayed as. He wanted to impress upon them that he acknowledges his opponents, responds to his challenges, resolute but not verbally abusive towards them or kicks them when they are on the ground. These are traits that women abhor.
Content wise, Trump wanted to plant hope that the vaccine is on the way, that the economy would not be crippled, people would not be fired, and children will not remain at home. One does not treat the pandemic lightly, but one does not take measures which will kill the sick in other ways.
Trump’s second goal was focused on exposing Biden’s lies. My friend, Niv Arot, summed up four such lies:
1. Biden said, “I have not received one dollar from any other country” – he did receive, through his son and from foreign companies. The amount is, at least, 10 million dollars. Now that the emails have surfaced out of the laptop, Trump repeatedly asked him about that, and Biden barely answered.
2. Biden said that no one had lost their health insurance because of ObamaCare. That is a blatant lie. Many lost their insurance and that will come back to bite him.
3. Biden lied about the Corona when he called Trump a “xenophobic” for banning Chinese from entering the U.S. The tweet, however, is still there.
4. Biden stated that he would never liquidate the oil shales. This is another brazen lie. In the coming days, the campaign will concentrate on refuting these lies.
Trump’s third goal was to repeat and strengthen the notion that he is a go-getter, unlike Biden, the politician. One of the strongest themes that he kept repeating was “Where was Biden 8 years when he was Obama’s Vice President? How come he never pushed any of the beautiful projects which he is taking about today?” In other words, “all talk, no action.”
There are ten long days to the elections. Indeed, many have already voted but the expectations are that, on Election Day, about one third to three quarters of the voters will exercise their voting rights. More exposures will be published, in line with Bannon’s strategy of delayed release, and Biden’s main message that he is a “man of honour and truth, may collapse.
It all depends whether the traditional media will continue to flex a muscle and hide the truth from the nation. It is an extremely unusual phenomenon which I have never encountered before, the erasure of any known journalistic standard. It is, though, a subject for a special article when the dust settles.
Back to the first and important point, women. It is essential to note that Meagan Kelly, an ex-presenter at Fox News who, following a dispute with Trump in 2016, left Fox for NBC, fired from her job after a year and a half and nowadays is starting a career as the presenter of her own podcast. She is a moderate conservative, very practical, not a blind supporter of Trump, one who does not hesitate to criticize him when needed and, of course, symbolizes the “suburban family woman.”
Following the debate, Kelly wrote: "Trump won this debate, handily. Biden wasn’t a force at all. Trump was substantive, on-point, well-tempered. Definitely helped himself, when it mattered most," I fully agree.

Saturday, 17 October 2020

"Germany, at Odds" - by Eldad Beck

 



The first time that I experienced anti-Semitism it came from a young German man.

It was in the seventies when I attended school in England.

One morning, a fellow student, Alfred, a pleasant young man from Frankfurt, came into class, sat next to me, and said, “I have a joke for you.”

“There was, once, a military base,” started Alfred in a thick German accent as a wide smile was spreading over his face. “English soldiers were prohibited to smoke in the bathroom, the French in the kitchen but Jews were allowed to smoke in the ammunition room.”

The truth? I did not know how to react. For a split second, I did not even comprehend the anti-Semitic nature of the joke. I liked Alfred and, as an optimist, I tried to console myself, after I sobered up, that he, himself, failed to understand the essence of his joke and, especially, the fact that he told it to a Jew and a daughter of Shoah survivors.

Deep inside of me, I was hoping that the German people of that era had not yet digested the crime which, part of their parents’ generation, were guilty of. I was expecting a different Germany, a better one, one that assumes responsibility of its past, internalizes its lessons, and contributes to creating a more sensible world.

Beck’s excellent book, “Germany – at Odds,” was an ear deafening wake up call.

It is for a reason that Beck elected to entitle his book by that name, a choice which, in my view, leaves no room for doubt. Beck does not present the essence of today’s Germany as a question which he is about to research. Beck has already conducted the research, and thoroughly. He cites and documents, in his book, the reality that exists in that country, a reality that is clear and obvious. Germany, as described in Beck’s book, is, indeed, different. It is different than what many wished it to be, especially those who carry the scars of its past and their offspring who carry them on their soul.

The series of shuddering descriptions and documentations, which Beck weaves artfully and skillfully into his book, exposes growing tendencies in certain segments of the German population to hide that which their country had experienced and sweep the Shoah under the carpet. Sadly, in many cases, it is done to please a reality which is dictated by demographic, political or ideological factors.

A captivating, very well documented and thought-provoking book. Highly recommended.


Saturday, 10 October 2020

"גרמניה, אחרת" מאת אלדד בק

 





 

בפעם הראשונה שחוויתי אנטישמיות, היא באה דווקא מבחור גרמני צעיר.

היה זה בשנות השבעים כאשר למדתי באנגליה.

 בוקר אחד נכנס לכיתה חברי לספסל הלימודים, אלפרד, צעיר חביב מפרנקפורט, התיישב לידי ואמר: "יש לי בדיחה לספר לך."

"פעם היה בסיס צבאי," התחיל אלפרד במבטא הגרמני העבה שלו כאשר על פניו מתפרש חיוך רחב. "לחיילים אנגלים אסור היה לעשן בשירותים, לצרפתים, במטבח אבל ליהודים היה מותר לעשן בחדר התחמושת." 

האמת? באותו רגע, לא ידעתי כיצד להגיב. לרגע אפילו לא קלטתי את אופייה האנטישמי של הבדיחה. חיבבתי את אלפרד וכאדם אופטימי, ניסיתי לנחם את עצמי, לאחת התפכחותי, שהוא עצמו אינו מבין את משמעות הבדיחה ובמיוחד את העובדה שסיפר אותה ליהודיה ועוד לבת לשני שורדי שואה.

עמוק בליבי קיוויתי שהעם הגרמני של אותה תקופה עדיין לא עכל את הפשע אשר לו היו שותפים חלק מבני דורם של הוריהם. קיוויתי לגרמניה אחרת, טובה יותר, נוטלת אחריות על עברה, מפנימה את הלקחים שלו ותורמת ליצירת עולם שפוי יותר.

סיפרו המעולה של אלדד בק , "גרמניה,אחרת," היה צלצול השכמה מחריש אוזניים.

לא בכדי בחר בק לקרוא לספר בשם זה, בחירה אשר, לדעתי, אינה משאירה מקום לספקות.  בק אינו מציג את מהותה של גרמניה של ימינו כשאלה למחקר אשר הוא עומד לערוך בנושא. בק ערך את המחקר וביסודיות. הוא מציג ומתעד בסיפרו את המציאות הקיימת במדינה זו, מציאות שאינה משתמעת לשתי פנים. גרמניה, כך עולה מדבריו של בק, אמנם אחרת. היא אחרת מאשר ציפו רבים שתהיה, במיוחד אלו הנושאים את צלקות עברה על גופם וצאציהם הנושאים אותן על נפשותיהם.

מסכת התיאורים והתיעודים המצמררים אשר בק שוזר בסיפרו באומנות ובמיומנות רבה, חושפת לנגד עינינו נטיות הולכות וגוברות בקרב מגזרי אוכלוסיה שונים בגרמניה להסתיר את עברה של ארצם ולנסות לטאטא את נושא השואה מתחת לשטיח. במקרים רבים, למרבה הצער,נעשה הדבר במטרה לרצות מציאות המוכתבת על ידי גורמים דמוגרפיים, פוליטיים או אידיאולוגיים.

ספר מרתק, מתועד בצורה מדוייקת, מעורר מחשבה ופוקח עיניים.