From Slonim to America: A Dream Fulfilled

In 1996, the full story was released of the decoding activities by the British at Bletchley Park during World War II. Among the transcripts was one concerning the town of Slonim in Belarus, dated July 18, 1941. It described the rounding up and shooting of “1,153 Jewish looters by the police regiment.” In short, the massacre of the entire Jewish population of Slonim.

None of the transcripts were used at the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II. The documents were considered “classified”. After 55 years, the facts of the killings at Slonim finally emerged. It happened less than one month after the German invasion. Swift and terrible. The transcript was signed by General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewsky, the German commander in Belarus. At Nuremberg, ironically, he testified as a prosecution witness and escaped punishment, although his role was well known. He was later tried and convicted by a West German court.

As I read all of this in a brief news story in The New York Times, I felt profound shock, sorrow and empathy for the people of Slonim. And I was overwhelmed by a piercing sense of personal history and wonder. My father, Samuel Louis Sloan, had left Slonim to come to America in l907. I sat for a very long time, just absorbing what I had read. I thought immediately of C. Wright Mills, the eminent sociologist, and his concept of two lines intersecting: history and biography. The point where the lines cross, the nexus, he called the “sociological imagination”. It is a vivid image, when one can see one’s life in the greater perspective of the sweep and power of history. Certainly, for me, that day was such a moment.

The story of Samuel Louis Sloan is one of the 12 million immigrants from Europe who entered the portals of Ellis Island during the peak years of 1892 -1924. Of all Americans alive today, over 100 million (40%) have one or more relatives who came to Ellis Island. When they stood on the deck of their boat and saw the red brick buildings and the Statue of Liberty in the distance, they knew they had finally arrived. But they knew nothing of what lay ahead. They had made the hard journey with a few treasured possessions and with their dreams.

Samuel was the youngest of three sons and came with his mother, Freda. His father, Sholem and his two older brothers, Benjamin and Michael had come earlier. This pattern of emigration was fairly common, since most families could not afford the passage for everyone at one time. One or two had to go first to make a living and send money for the additional fares.

As a young teenager in l907, Samuel had the benefit of being the only one of the three brothers to be sent on to college. He worked as a trolley conductor to earn the money for tuition and books. Benjamin, the oldest brother, became a plumber in New York City, later an owner of real estate, known in the family as the one who made the most money. Michael with an easy going nature became a taxi driver in the city. Their father remained a scholar as he had been in Slonim. Their mother was the homemaker. All became United States citizens.

Samuel graduated from college and went on to study at Long Island College Hospital for a medical degree. During World War I, he served in the United States Army, working at a hospital set aside for soldiers who were considered mentally unfit for service. He described them later; some as truly unbalanced. Others malingering in order to avoid being put on active duty.

After the war, Samuel Louis Sloan became one of the first two interns at the Barnert Memorial Hospital in Paterson, New Jersey. He married Miriam Marcus , a New York girl who had graduated from Hunter College and Columbia University to become a teacher in the city. They set up their home in Paterson and became the parents of two daughters, Shirley and Joyce.

Samuel L. Sloan spent his entire medical career at the Barnert Hospital, becoming a surgeon after a year of advanced study in Europe. During his lifetime, he practiced general medicine and surgery with great skill and humanity. In the World War II years, he became Chief-of-staff at the hospital. He achieved the distinction of becoming a Fellow in the American College of Surgeons, an honor that was very important to him.

I remember him best as a loving father with a firm but gentle touch. Always there to care for my sister and me in deed and word. He was truly a healer of his fellow men and women. He died — too young at 61 —after two severe coronary attacks. The funeral procession drove past the hospital, where the double doors were open and the entire staff was standing outside as Doctor Samuel Louis Sloan passed by for the last time.

As an immigrant boy, he had come from Slonim in Belarus. A world far away in miles and opportunity. He achieved the fulfillment of his dreams here in American with the continued encouragement and help of his wife, Miriam Marcus Sloan. His name is one of the 500,000 names inscribed on the American Immigrant Wall of Honor on Ellis Island.

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Part II

The Iran Nuclear Deal; Part II


Iran’s leaders broke with the past and allowed Obama’s remarks to be broadcast to the people in the streets who reacted with wild enthusiasm and honking horns. The election of President Rouhani had signaled a loosening of hard-liner rule and more contact with the outside world. The deal that would lead to lifting economic sanctions was welcome news to the millions of unemployed men and women. By April 8, a small group of conservative protestors who assembled before the parliament building were dispersed and told their demonstration was illegal. Senior government officials, clerks and Republican Guard commanders praised Foreign Minister Zarif and President Rouhani for negotiating the nuclear deal.

In Washington, President Obama faced criticism from Republicans in Congress who insist that they have the right to review and debate the deal before it can move forward. Senator Bob Corker, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has drafted a bill and is seeking bi-partisan support. He was one of seven Republicans who did not sign the letter to the Ayatollah, and Obama hopes that they can work together to insure that the framework deal is approved by Congress. Public opinion polls in the U.S. show that a majority of the American people welcome a deal that prevents Iran from creating nuclear weapons through diplomacy rather than war. They are weary of wars in the Middle East that now stretch into fourteen years with troops in Afghanistan.

Israel’s response to the Iran deal was predictably negative. For years, the former Iranian president, Ahmadinejad, spoke at the United Nations, denied the Holocaust and called for “The Little Satan” to be “eliminated from the face of the earth.” Although Rouhani is now president, the existential threat of Iran is very real to Israel’s leaders. However, the list of changes to the Iran framework deal that they are presenting is unlikely to be adopted by the six countries who will meet again with the Iranian negotiators in the months to come. President Obama has proven by his actions that the United States is firmly committed to Israel’s safety and security. He believes that diplomacy is far better than war to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons. He said on April 4, “We’re not naïve … If we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies.”

On April 9 in Tehran, Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayaltollah Khamenei spoke publicly for the first time about the framework deal announced earlier that week. He addressed a large religious audience who chanted “Death to America” throughout his speech. He challenged major parts of the agreement, declaring that all economic sanctions would have to be lifted on the day any final agreement is signed, and military sites would be off limits to foreign inspectors. He said he saw no need to make an overall appraisal of the deal since no signed agreement had been reached. His words and tone were very strong throughout as he focused on the lifting of sanctions as key to any final deal. He stressed his position that, “they should be lifted all together on the day of the agreement, not six months or one year later.”

On the same day, President Rouhani was speaking to a different group in Tehran, but his words revealed a crucial difference. “We will not sign any agreement unless all economic sanctions are totally lifted on the first day of the implementation of the deal.” His interpretation could extend far beyond the Ayatollah’s fixed date. It is also important to understand that Obama can suspend some of the U.S. sanctions with his pen, but others would require congressional approval. In addition, there are sanctions based on United Nations Security Council resolutions and some deal with human rights rather than nuclear development. To say the sanctions issue is complex is a vast understatement.

Although the Ayatollah said , “I have agreed to this particular instance of negotiations and I support the negotiators”, he also said, “I’m really worried as the other side is into lying and breaching promises. An example was the White House fact sheet. This came out a few hours after the negotiations and most of it was against the agreement and was wrong. They are always trying to deceive and break promises.” In contrast, he suggested that the June 30 deadline could be extended, “They might say that we have only three months left. Well, if three months becomes four months the sky won’t come falling down. Just as the other side pushed the negotiations back by seven months.”

Throughout his remarks, his deep-seated distrust of the United States was evident: “I was never optimistic about negotiating with America. But, if the other side refrains from its bad actions, this will become an experience that we can continue on other issues. If we see that once again they repeat their bad actions, it will only strengthen our experience of not trusting America.” He is motivated by the severe effects sanctions have had on Iran’s economy and stability, but his overall view of the West as the enemy has changed little since the l979 revolution.

For John Kerry and the other five foreign ministers, the months ahead appear daunting. They have to extract specific concessions from Iran’s negotiators for access and inspections by the international agency of all nuclear facilities, as well as agreement to inspection of military sites. The goal for negotiations is based on verification rather than trust. For President Obama, the challenge at home is to blunt efforts to impose strict sanctions before the June 30 deadline is reached. Senator Mark Kirk, Republican of Ilinois, who has led that effort, reacted immediately to the Ayatollah’s speech in Tehran as proof that a nuclear deal could never to reached. He said, “As each new day reveals a new disagreement, it’s increasingly clear that Iran in fact, failed to reach agreement with the United States and its partners on a political framework that addresses all the parameters of a comprehensive agreement.”

We will all learn in the months ahead whether Secretary John Kerry and President Barack Obama are successful in keeping the negotiations on track for a nuclear deal, and holding the U. S. Senate back from passing more severe sanctions on Iran. This point in history reminds one of the U.S. Senate destroying President Woodrow Wilson’s dream of The League of Nations after World War I.

The Iran Nuclear Deal: Part I


Since l979, when the Shah of Iran was overthrown by a revolution and the United States Embassy in Tehran was attacked, a cold/hot war has existed between Iran and the U.S. American hostages from the Embassy were held for over a year until Ronald Reagan was elected President in November, l980. For 36 years, there has been almost no contact or communication between the two countries. We are known in Iran as the “Great Satan”. There has been suspicion and distrust on both sides, especially since the United States began the wars with Afghanistan and Iraq, sending millions of troops into the Middle East.

Iran is a nation of over 80 million Shiite Muslims with an elected President ,Hassan Rouhani ,and a parliament. However, the actual head of their power structure is the Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khameini, their religious leader. When Barack Obama was elected President of the United States in 2008, he began a correspondence with the Ayatollah to open a line of communication. They have exchanged letters at different times during his two terms in office.

The United States and Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China began talks with Iran early in 2015 in Geneva , focused on limiting Iran’s nuclear program. Iran considers itself a sovereign modern nation with a need for nuclear research and development as other countries have, including Pakistan, Israel, India, Russia, China and North Korea. The six countries meeting in Switzerland were deeply concerned about the enrichment of nuclear material leading to nuclear bombs, since Iran already has active nuclear programs at Natanz, Arak and Fordo. Secretary of State, John Kerry has been the driving force in the negotiations with Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, Federica Mogherini of the European Union and foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.

Economic sanctions against Iran by the United States and other countries to force restriction of their nuclear program have been very harmful to their economy. Iran’s goal in the negotiations is lifting the sanctions as quickly as possible. For the six on the opposite side of the table, the main issues are: limiting the centers where centrifuges would be allowed to enrich uranium, reducing the number of centrifuges in existence, transferring existing nuclear material out of Iran to another country, and increasing the inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. March 31 was set as a target for the initial framework to be reached : June 30 for the final agreement.

On March 3, 2014, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel came to the United States at the invitation of John Boehner, Speaker of the House of Representatives, to speak to a joint-session of Congress. The invitation, extended to Netanyahu without White House consultation, was a sharp break with the long-time tradition of meetings between heads of state. Netanyahu came just days before the close Israeli presidential election and his speech was seen as an attempt to build support at home for his candidacy. Fifty Democratic Senators including the Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, did not attend his speech which was a frontal attack on the Iran negotiations talking place in Switzerland. Although no details were known, he said the outcome would be “a very bad deal” with disastrous consequences for Israel, the United States and the world. He won his election —but alienated President Obama who has been a staunch supporter of Israel in the Security Council and with millions for Iron Dome defense .

Negotiations Result in a Nuclear Deal with Iran

Throughout March, complex negotiations continued in Switzerland with little information being leaked to the press. Secretary Kerry was joined by Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz , a nuclear physicist, who dealt directly with Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Salehi was a student at M.I.T. when Moniz was a young professor there. They worked on the scientific factors, such as whether new or more efficient centrifuges would be used for enrichment, how much nuclear fuel Iran would be allowed to stockpile, how centers at Arak and Fordo would be changed or dismantled. Every issue was debated and argued at length. It was not clear what form a March 31 agreement would take.

In the United States, Republican senators who had been stirred by Netanyahu’s dire warnings of a “bad deal” were becoming restless. On March 9, Senator Tom Cotton, 37, a newly elected freshman from Arkansas with no foreign policy experience, wrote an open letter to Ayatollah Khomeini . He made the specious claim that any deal Obama would gain from Iran would be invalid when he was no longer president in two years. This letter was then signed by 46 other Republican senators. Although the letter was described as “outrageous interference” by many political observers world wide, the Ayatollah brushed it off as “propaganda” . He also cautioned hard-line Tehran conservatives against being outspoken. He was biding his time until the negotiations were completed. As the March 31 deadline neared, certain issues became sticking points: IAEA inspection schedule, time limit of restrictions on enrichment.. 25 years?… a generation? Obama decided to extend the deadline and the negotiators worked into the early morning hours of April 2 until they agreed on the deal.

The framework was released as a brief document by Iran’s Minister Zarif and the European Union Policy Chief Mogherini. It listed a dozen “ parameters” that would guide the next three months of talks, including the commitment that Natanz would be the only site where uranium would be enriched. The United States and Iran also made public more detailed accounts of the agreement. Although their accounts did overlap, there were also some differences that indicated both sides were preparing to present and sell the results to their respective government officials and citizens back home.

In the deal, Iran agreed to reduce its nuclear program significantly for 10 to 15 years and accept international inspection of all sites. In exchange, the United States and other countries would lift economic sanctions gradually on Iran. The 19,000 installed centrifuges would be cut back by about two-thirds. The deep underground facility at Fordo would be converted to a research center, and the Arak heavy-water reactor would be modified and incapable of producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb. The exact time table for lifting sanctions and the schedule for inspections would be determined in the final round of talks before June 30. President Obama presented the deal to the American people as “ a once in a lifetime opportunity” to curb the spread of nuclear weapons in a dangerous region. He said, “This is our best bet by far to make sure Iran doesn’t get a nuclear weapon.” He contrasted Iran’s defense budget of $30 billion to the United States defense budget of close to $600 billion to make clear that “we preserve all our capabilities.”
Part II , Monday, April 20

From The Yellow Lined Pad to Microsoft Works… and Beyond!

“In the beginning…” to borrow from the most quoted book in the English language, someone created the yellow lined pad. There was also a white lined version, but it never seemed to catch on. With two red lines ruling the left border, the YLP comes in three sizes: the most familiar 8 ½ by 11, the small 5×8 and the legal size, 81/2 by 14. I guess lawyers always have more to say than the rest of us.

Generations of high school and college students scribbled their tortured drafts of English compositions and history papers on yellow lined pads. There was a certain pleasure in starting a clean thick YLP. It felt solid beneath the pen or pencil. But as the pages diminished to a thin tablet, ideas seemed to come more slowly. Better start a fresh YLP. That would do it.

Of course the YLP was a giant step up from the composition books of the elementary years. Some of you will remember those notebooks with the black and white marbleized hard covers. Those were the real proving grounds of our ability, or lack of same, to put words together that made some sense. Learning to think on paper happens earlier these days, in the first and second grades. Some children are starting to print in pre-school and kindergarten.

In addition to students and lawyers who use the YLP to define and sharpen their arguments and beliefs, there are the list makers of all occupations, shapes and sizes. The smaller YLP usually appears at the super market for food shopping. A page can also turn up on a desk or refrigerator as the daily To Do list, taped in a prominent position to keep the owner on target. Commuters on vehicles of all sorts — buses, trains, subways and airplanes — can be seen writing furiously on their YLP. One often has the urge to peek and see what’s so important. It almost becomes a badge of honor or mystery to whip one out and intensely wield one’s pen.

But change occurred many decades ago when the successor to the YLP appeared on the scene — the typewriter. First, the manual (James Michener never gave his up.) and then the electric. The regular variety and the portable. High school and college students typed their final versions of papers or inveighed upon friends who knew how to type. The last resort was to pay to have it typed. Everyone knew the teachers read the typed papers first, then the hand -written jobs. When typewriters hit, some of us had severe separation anxiety from our beloved yellow lined pads. We would first write in long hand and then type it up. We would make all our corrections in writing rather than do rewrites on the machine. There was such comfort and habit to putting pencil or pen to paper. It was a smooth tactile pleasure.

When it was suggested that we could put our ideas immediately onto the typed page, we recoiled. Never! It just wouldn’t work, we insisted. We couldn’t think that way. Until, one day, we tried and the scales fell from our eyes. We discovered that transmitting ideas moved at a much faster pace. It was exciting! It meant, of course, that one had to know or learn touch typing. Hunt and peck was out of the question. And then the self-corrective typewriter arrived. Granted one had to change the messy corrector tape and the basic tape manually, but it did correct errors. Another leap forward.

Finally, the technological revolution erupted and the personal computer (PC) changed our lives. As writers, were we ready for the brave new world? Using a word processor sounded unfriendly. Daunting. Why not cling to the familiar? The Chinese have a symbol for change that can be read as ‘opportunity’ or ‘danger’. Which would it be? Working with a PC, one had the screen (monitor) and a ‘mouse’. The words appeared right before one’s eyes. And changing the words, sentences and paragraphs was truly a new form of magic. There was no throwing of the carriage manually. This was really something! What more could one ask for?

The answer: The Internet and E-mail. That’s what. It’s not enough to carry one’s lap top PC onto the airplane and do your personal or business writing. That’s old hat. Get with it. If you’re not on the Internet, you’ve missed the 21st century. And then there came texting , a shortened form of communication using only one’s thumbs. OMG is nothing sacred?

E-mail has supplanted snail mail for many people. Instant and easy, it makes daily communication with family and friends an important part of one’s life. Whether one is buying tickets for the theater or visiting museums and gardens all over the world, the Internet provides the avenues. Google and Yahoo are resources for research and information on every imaginable subject. You Tube and Face Book have become social networks for millions around the world. The Arab Spring went viral on social media. Candidates announce entry into the Presidential race on Twitter!

Looking back to the days of the YLP, the odyssey of change has been most difficult for those who preferred to stay with what was known and comfortable. Learning new technical skills is a challenge. Some were more adept at this than others. Finally, the ultimate hurdle was accepting that unless we joined the wave of the future, we would be as archaic as the dinosaurs. Our grandchildren would be more in tune with the world than we. That realization spurred us forward. The beloved yellow lined pad became a relic of the past as we conquered our trepidations and mastered the new screens, icons and systems. This odyssey of change over the years has been traumatic for some and a joy ride for others. And there are those who still refuse to buy a ticket. If you still are considering the leap with a mixture of anticipation and dread, do come aboard. You don’t want to miss this world class experience.