Disclaimer: I am not a politician or a diplomat and I am not yet involved in political activism. I am just trying to do what I can to offer some ‘context’ as an entertainer by profession and an activist for Jewish culture and Yiddish language. I grew up in, and love the concept and potential of the very young State of Israel.
According to Nobel Prize winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yiddish is:
“a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics.”
Reading this over and over made me wonder if perhaps there is a lesson to be learned from Yiddish history and ‘experience’ that might offer a clue to creating an environment for Peace, fulfilling the ‘Hope’ of the Jewish people for thousands of years, to be a free people in our own country. Free from hatred, free from violence and free to pursue Life, Liberty and Happiness in our own democratic home – with all the complications democracy brings – in peace and harmony with our neighbors and the world.
As my radio theater play, UNTOLD: Stories of a World War II Liberator, is in preparation for broadcast, I am reminded of the 1st time that I agreed to serve on the local Holocaust Remembrance Day Committee was painful, even after almost seventy years since the end of World War II. I agreed to assist in promoting the event beyond our Jewish community and I agreed to participate in the reading of the names of the victims. And I resigned myself to being an usher at the event, not my favorite thing. What I didn’t bargain for was a seat on the stage when I offhandedly shared that I was helping in memory of my father who was a U. S. military intelligence officer during World War II. Aaron Levine was an army translator of German and French. And by the way, he was a liberator of a labor camp.
Since the hostage-taking incident at the Colleyville, Texas, synagogue, my inbox has been full of articles, videos, and conferences on antisemitism. The outrage and worry isn’t surprising given that about 60% of religion-based crimes are against Jews. Hints of the future increase in those numbers are easily seen in the antisemitic fliers left on doorsteps in Florida, Texas, and Iowa.
And don’t discount individuals like the young woman who accosted a couple of Jewish kids outside a synagogue in New York. The children’s father reported that she said, “something along the lines of Hitler should have killed you all.” When his 8-year old son responded that he’d save his little sister, the woman spit on him and said, “we will kill you all, I know where you live, and we’ll make sure to get you all next time.” Continue reading Turn up the heat on hate – by Deborah Levine→
As I rode the elevator, I overheard a conversation between two African American adults.They were talking about one of their bosses and one said, “People who are not Black do not understand the prejudices and oppression we have gone through.”
As I left the elevator and walked into the doctor’s office, I was handed a clipboard with some required forms I needed to fill out.One section caught my attention: Race.It asked me to check a box.I immediately thought about the conversation I just heard, and looked over my choices, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, Pacific Islander.I then thought about prejudices and oppression for each choice.
When an anniversary falls on Yom Kippur, the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, thoughts of living and dying take on cosmic proportions. Fortunately, it’s rare for the two milestones to collide given the differences between the secular and Jewish calendars. Both are celebrations, but Yom Kippur which ends the New Year’s ten Days of Awe, is a sacred time when the celebration of life is combined with contemplation its finite nature. This year, I have a double dose of introspection and my mind sought the path separating living from dying and wandered from wonder and gratitude to mourning and humility.
When the Jewish New Year arrived, I got many questions about faith and calendars from Human Resource departments. They wanted to know why the holiday occurs on a different day each year according to our secular calendar. And they asked about food associated with the holiday. Offering the traditional apples and honey for a sweet New Year was the easy part. Explaining the timing was the real challenge.
What should I write about religion and religious calendars in these contentious times? I know that many organizations and companies would prefer that the issue of religious diversity would disappear. But every year, thousands of religion-based lawsuits claiming a “hostile or offensive work environment” are registered with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
(The Bermuda Jews History Series was originally published in The Bermudian Magazine)
In the 1990s, I made my first trip to Bermuda in fifteen years. My family, once the mainstay of Bermuda Jews, were long gone from the island. The first whiff of salty sea air hasn’t changed but the airport is a jumble of construction. A short jog across the tarmac should end in a hushed wait for the appearance of a customs agent, sitting patiently on the dark wood furniture of the terminal’s old-fashioned waiting room. Today, official greeters wave us through a temporary cordoned maze to a terminal with a second story, a food court, and customs agents encased in glass booths. An electronically-enhanced steel band strikes an earnest rendition of “Island in the Sun” where a portrait of a young Queen Elizabeth once hung.
Russian President Putin got my attention when he suggested that Jews with Russian citizenship might have interfered in the 2016 US presidential election. “Maybe they’re not even Russians,” said Putin. “Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship – even that needs to be checked.” Putin reminded me why my great grandparents made the harrowing journey from Russia and the Ukraine to the United States. My ancestors weren’t the only ones. Between 1881 and 1924, over 2.5 million East European Jews sought to escape the relentless persecution and ghettoization. The slice of history was captured in the movie Fiddler on the Roof, but while Hollywood entertained, it didn’t fully show the history of anti-Semitism in Russia and Eastern Europe, or its ongoing ripple effect.
Long before The New York Times had its first woman Executive Editor, Ruth Holmberg was the Editor of The Chattanooga Times. Holmberg is a member of the family that founded both newspapers and she has shared her compelling life story as friends and admirers gathered to hear her speak. Holmberg is a former director of The Associated Press and of The New York Times Company, a former president of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and of the Southern Newspaper Publisher Association and a member of the Board of Directors of the Public Education Network (PEN). The petite, soft-voiced woman is also a member of one of the nation’s most prominent publishing families.
Editor’s note: Publishing icon and Chattanooga civic leader Ruth Holmberg passed away at age 96. In her honor, here is the ADR interview with Ms. Holmberg several years ago.
Deborah: Sadly, I’m watching yet another evacuation of a Jewish center on TV. I know what it’s like to oversee an evacuation during a bomb threat. I was in charge of security at a Jewish agency in Chicago, was trained by the FBI in security after the Oklahoma City bombing, and oversaw the design for a secure Jewish Community Center in Chattanooga.