Taking A Stand

Taking A Stand

Since the War between Hamas and Israel erupted in early July, 2014, anti-Semitism has flared up in many European countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, and England. At pro- Palestinian rallies in Berlin, Paris and London over the summer, protestors chanted, “Death to the Jews” and “Gas the Jews”. Israel was their enemy, but the slogans were aimed at all Jews. In France with 500,000 Jewish citizens, eight synagogues were attacked in July; the one in Sarcelles, a suburb of Paris was fire-bombed by a mob of 400 chanting, “Death to Jews!”

On Sunday, September 14, 2014, The Central Council of Jews in Germany organized a rally against anti-Semitism at Berlin’s historic Brandenburg Gate. Five thousand Germans, many wrapped in Israeli flags, came from all over the country to hear Chancellor Angela Merkel , President Joachim Gauck and leaders of both of Germany’s main Christian churches pledge to fight a resurgence of anti-Semitism that was a terrible part of their Nazi past . Chancellor Merkel told the crowd, “That far more than 100,000 Jews are now living in Germany is something of a miracle. It’s a gift and it fills me with a deepest gratitude. That people in Germany are threatened and abused because of their Jewish appearance or their support for Israel is an outrageous scandal that we won’t accept. It’s our national and civic duty to fight anti-Semitism.”

Angela Merkel spoke with the power and weight of Germany’s long history when she declared, “Jewish life is part of our identity and culture. Let us be unequivocally clear: Whoever discriminates and ostracizes has me, all of us, and the majority of the people in Germany against them.” Merkel took a stand against those Germans who were rekindling the hatred of Jews that had led to the Nazi extermination of six million Jewish men, women and children during the Holocaust.

Her clarion call brought to my mind the ringing words of Deborah E. Lipstadt, Professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University, when she took a stand against the writings of David Irving, a British Holocaust denier. Lipstadt had described Irving in one of her books as “a Holocaust denier” , and he then sued her and her publisher, Penguin Books, in the British courts for libel. Lipstadt invested five years of her life in the complex legal struggle, saying, “I could not run from evil.” Her determined and hard fought battle resulted in total victory on April 11, 2000. The charges of libel brought against her by Irving were completely thrown out by the British high court . The court not only rejected his entire argument, but also went on to call him a “racist” and “an anti-Semite.” Irving’s reputation as a historian lay in shreds.

The story was front page news in papers around the world. I felt a great surge of joy at the time when I read the details of the court decision. Lipstadt did share that her first reaction to Holocaust deniers had been incredulity and laughter at such a ridiculous assertion. Then she found the deadliness of their purpose and its effects demanded that she take a stand against them. Which she did with enormous resolve and brilliance in a five year struggle. To deny the Holocaust is a crime in Germany and certain other countries. It is not a crime in the United States where one sees Holocaust deniers listed as speakers on well known college campuses. Lipstadt has refused to debate the subject in these arenas or on news or talk shows. She firmly believes that “appearing with a denier gives the notion that there are two sides to this issue.”

The Lipstadt victory and her powerful words, “I could not run from evil” stirred memories of other times and other acts of taking a stand. Acts of courage and words of truth to power. In Amsterdam, in a quiet small park, there stands a colossal statue of a Dutch dock worker. His legs are planted astride and his great muscular arms are bent upwards as he clenches his fists in strength and defiance. The statue was erected after World War II by the small community of Jews who survived. They remembered the valiant dock workers who called a strike when the Nazis decreed that all Jews were to be rounded up and handed over. They stood in a phalanx across a nearby bridge to block the German advance. And the German tanks ran right over them. Their refusal to comply with the Nazi order is not forgotten. It is etched forever in the Dockworker, in his stance and in his face. They did not run from evil.

And I remember Pastor Martin Niemoller, a German Protestant minister, whose words are as true today as they were when he spoke them during the Nazi era. “First, they came for the Jews and I did not speak up because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics and I did not speak up because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for the Communists and the trade unionists and I was not a member. So I did not speak up. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up.” Niemoller became a vociferous resistor of the Nazi regime and was imprisoned and sent to Dachau. He learned in the harshest possible way of the danger of remaining silent when evil was all around him.

When I was teaching at Atlantic Community College, Pastor Neimoller’s statement hung on my office door. Often, students asked me to tell them more about him and the times he lived in. In the late 60’s and throughout the 70’s, I would use his statement to heighten their awareness of the times they were living in. The Civil Rights Movement. The Women’s Movement. The War in Viet Nam. I would ask them, “How do you feel about prejudice and discrimination?” “Does it affect you?” “Are you involved in doing something about the issues you care about?” “Are you waiting until they “come for you” to make your voices heard?”

The words of Edmund Burke, the 18th century British statesman, limn the difference between those who speak out and those who do not. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Chancellor Merkel’s challenge to the German people, and Deborah Lipstadt’s victory over Holocaust denial serve as high points in the ongoing struggle against the evil of lies and distortions of history.

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Malala Yousafzai, l7, Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Yousafzai, l7, Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Of all the prizes awarded each year throughout the world, the one that carries the greatest prestige is the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala, a Pakistani teenager, is the youngest recipient ever since it was created in 1901. She will share the $1.1 million prize with Kailash Satyarthi, 60, an Indian child rights campaigner. Pakistan and India are long time and current rivals, making the joint prize particularly significant. When the announcement came in Oslo on October 10, Chairman Thorbjorn Jagland said it was important for “a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”

Malala’s incredible story began when she wrote an anonymous blog in 2009 about the Taliban fighters armed with Kalashnikovs who shut girls schools and terrorized the residents of the Swat Valley where she lived. She was guided by her father and began speaking eloquently on national news media about the need for education and peace. By the summer of 2012, the Taliban drew up a plan to kill her which they executed in October. Three gunman leapt into a crowded bus in northwestern Pakistan, shouting “Who is Malala?” One then fired a bullet into her head . She was flown to Britain for treatment of the life-threatening wounds and still carries a titanium plate in her head. She made a rapid recovery and resumed speaking out against Islamist violence and as an advocate for children’s education.

Malala became an international figure, visiting with President Obama and the Queen of England, and addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Her clear measured words, delivered with poise and passion, to the members were remarkable for a teenager. Ban Ki-moon , the U.N, secretary general, said, “With her courage and determination, Malala has shown what terrorists fear most: a girl with a book.” She was in her high school chemistry class in Birmingham, England, the city she now calls home, when a teacher called her out of the room.
At a news conference later, Malala said, “I was totally surprised when she told me, “Congratulations, you have won the Nobel Peace Prize, and you are sharing it with a great person who is also working for children’s rights.” Malala, guided by her father and a public relations team, has co-written a memoir that became a best-seller.

It is ironic that Malala is not welcome in Pakistan. There have been negative reactions from conservatives who have called her a pawn of the Americans whose drone attacks continue to kill Pakistani civilians. In the news media, a bizarre conspiracy theory emerged that Malala was a C.I.A. agent, or a traitor. Other critics focused on how she was being applauded and feted in the West at the same time that American drones were attacking targets in the tribal areas searching for Taliban leaders and killing civilians in their homes. Yet, after she received the Nobel Peace Prize, some in the Pakistani press reflected their pride in her. “A bright moment in dark times,” said Nadeem Paracha , a news media commentator on Twitter. The overall reactions from Pakistani and Indian people were enthusiastic and positive. They saw the shared win as a welcome sign of the unified interest in education and improving the lives of millions of abused children.

Malala Yousafzai` remained humble in the face of receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. Her simple words reflected her inner spirit as she dedicated the prize to the “voiceless”. Her message was, “This award is for all those children who are voiceless, whose voices need to be heard. I speak for them, and I stand up with them.”

His & Hers Shopping Lists

His & Hers Shopping Lists

When I was at home with the children over 50 years ago, and my husband was working in the food distribution business, I did the weekly supermarket shopping. Then, in l970, we switched roles. By then, he was working as a writer and management consultant from an office in our home as I went off to teach full time at Atlantic Community College. I proposed a pact about the weekly shopping chore.

“I’ve done it for the first seventeen years. How about doing it for the next seventeen years?” He replied, “Fine with me.” He’s really a most agreeable fellow.

Once he took over the task, he put his management skills to work and created an inventory system with sheets of paper on a clip board. I had used the time-honored system of scribbling items on a yellow lined pad as I thought of them during the week. There would be staples, of course, as well as particular requests from the three kids. Eggs and milk, peanut butter and jelly, tuna fish — they ate lunch at home — juices and the precise brand of cereal each of the three children wanted.

“There are no Sugar Pops! I hate Special K and Product 19. Ugh!” So much for trying to brainwash them into eating healthy cereals. Anyway, when my husband took over the task, his inventory list not only grouped items in categories, it was arranged in the order of encountering them in the store. Starting with the fruits and vegetables, his list just marched up and down the aisles at Shop Rite. Wow! I was impressed. I would still submit my helter skelter jottings to him to be incorporated into the multiple pages of neat columns and boxes.

Once a week, he would stand with his clip board and survey the pantry and the refrigerator as he “ took inventory”. At first, I was bemused. Then, I quickly discovered that we rarely ran out of anything. There was lettuce when needed for salads. Extra apple sauce and tuna fish always at hand. Elbow macaroni and a variety of cheeses. Chicken breasts, steaks and hot dogs in the freezer. As for cereals, he had his granola and the kids had their Sugar Pops. Life was serene.

Until 1987 when the seventeen year pact ran out. We tried to alternate for a while, but that didn’t last long. I had pulled my right shoulder raking leaves from the nineteen oak trees in front of our new house and was out of commission for heavy lifting. I quickly discovered that there’s a limit to how many small bags the supermarket checker was willing to assemble.

“Oh, please don’t put the apples and potatoes in the same bag. It’s too heavy for me. I have a frozen shoulder.” This request would be met with a skeptical glance at best. The implicit signal was, “Give me a break, lady!”

Finally, my husband took pity on me as my shoulder slowly improved with therapy sessions. He took over the supermarket trips for good. When he walks around on his weekly foray, he often meets friends who see his clipboard and invariably make the wrong assumption.
“Hi, Bob. Oh, are you writing an article?”
“No. I’m doing the food shopping.”
“Oh. See, you.”
Next time, he may encounter the same person, and the question arises again, with a slightly different twist.
“Hi, Bob. How’s the article coming?”
He finds it easier to answer, “Just fine.” It’s faster than going back to Go, collecting his $200 and explaining once more that he’s doing the food shopping.

If he’s in a chauvinistic mood, and someone questions him as to why he does the food shopping, he has been known to say, “I wouldn’t let my wife spend all this money.” That comment filtered back to me a few times. But it is a small price to pay, I have decided, when he treks in with a zillion bags each week. I am reminded each time I lift a juice bottle how heavy those bags can become.

Once in a while, I will venture forth with an emergency list on my trusty scribble sheet. Perhaps I am inspired to make stuffed eggplant and need the ingredients at hand that morning. When I arrive at the store and walk down the aisles, I am overwhelmed by the dizzying selection of tomato sauces, teas, crackers and cookies. Not to mention ice cream and other such forbidden delights. It is indeed a jungle of choices and temptations out there. I avoid the experience as much as possible. He likes to say, “We ate home one night in a row last week.”

Here’s the arithmetic on our shopping lists: I did it for the first l7 years. Then he took over. And we have been married for 61 years. That means his l7 year turn has morphed into 44 years if I have the math right.

But, who’s counting anymore? My hero goes forth each week to forage for provisions. With a fail-proof inventory system like his, I wouldn’t change a thing. What a guy!

“We The People”

“We The People….”

Have you ever visited the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia? If you have not, you are in for a magnificent and fascinating experience. When you drive to Independence Mall, you will see the gleaming white building with the stirring words of The Preamble inscribed across the top of the façade: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

If there was ever a more idealistic statement of purpose stated in more beautiful prose — I don’t know what it is. The Preamble needs to be read aloud to truly appreciate the meaning, cadence and power. During the long hot summer of l787, the men who had come from different states with different agendas argued passionately over every article. There were major conflicts that had to be resolved and they fought over each with vigor and brilliance. Finally, they hammered out compromises that resulted in our system of government with three branches: Legislative, Executive and Judicial — Articles I, II and III of the Constitution. One of the most important compromises was the bicameral legislature: the Senate with two members from all states large and small ; the House of Representatives with the number based on population.

The National Constitution Center opened on July 4, 2003. One enters the building into a soaring space of the Grand Hall, with brightly colored flags of the fifty states hanging from the curved ceiling. It’s a smashing introduction into the past and the present. A colossal United States flag completes the setting. Light streams through the glass walls. It is a scene of stunning simplicity and beauty. First stop is the Kimmel Theater where a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation of “Freedom Rising” envelops the visitors. An actor stands center stage in this theater in the round and tells the dramatic story of how the country began. The words, the music, the pictures — all add up to an exciting introduction. The shows, lasting about l7 minutes, start at 9:40 a.m. and run continuously through the day.

Next, one goes to the Center’s Exhibit Hall that presents unique and interactive ways to learn how the Constitution is as important today as it was 200 years ago. The ‘Faces’ pillar has a continuous stream of faces from our history that moves across screens. One touch to a face and the story of the person appears. Voila! Another touch brings another story. It is hard to let go of touching these memorable faces and move to the next exhibit.

There’s the Supreme Court area, high backed black leather chairs, where one can sit and pull up famous cases on a computer screen. One can follow what happened as the High Court listened to conflicting arguments. Then, the viewer is asked how he or she would have decided the case. I chose” Nixon versus the United States”. Of course, I knew their decision and I also knew how I would have decided it.

There are one hundred interactive and multimedia exhibits in the Hall. One can sit at a Senator’s desk, or enter a voting booth and vote for a favorite president or actually take the Presidential Oath of Office. Each visitor or family can wander or proceed at an individual pace. There is also a museum store and a special kid’s store as well as the Delegates Restaurant, and Stars and Stripes Lunchroom.

The last place one visits is the Signers Hall where life size bronze statues of all the original signers of the Constitution stand on the wooden floor as if a discussion is taking place. A few, like Benjamin Franklin, are seated at desks. George Washington towers behind the desk where the visitor can sign the Constitution itself. The three dissenters who did not sign are at a separate small table in the back of the room. They would not sign without a bill of rights, which did not happen until 1791.

The feeling of walking among these lifelike famous figures, as they gesture and appear to be animatedly involved in their arguments, transcends time. The Signers Hall conveys a sense of living history. It is the summer of l787 once more and you are a United States citizen— privileged to be among them.
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General Information: The National Constitution Center is open 363 days a year from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. Located at 525 Arch Street. Tel. 215-409-6600 Admission: Adults $14.50. Children $8.