Saturday, December 31, 2022

Heros and Monsters of 2022

Happy New Year, 2023!

The past year has seen a number of heroes, anti-heroes, villains, and outright monsters in the news. While I have not been updating this blog to discuss these heroes, I’m still posting frequently at:

Michigan Local Hero

Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan.

Two retiring heroes, may we long remember them:

Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Fauci
From the Washington Post:

"Dr. Fauci turned into the country’s family doctor, capable of convincing any given president of the correct course of action and then selling the nation on the president’s decision: on AIDS, on bioterrorism, on Ebola and, finally, on covid-19."

From the NY Times:

"In her two decades leading House Democrats, Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California has been one of the most powerful and iconic women in Washington. When she was sworn in as speaker in 2007, surrounded by the children of members of Congress, she became the first woman to serve in that post. And over the years, Ms. Pelosi was often photographed as the lone woman in rooms full of men, even after the ranks of Congress became more diverse." 

Hero of the year: Volodymyr Zelensky: May he be victorious in 2023

Monsters and Villains

A quote from Robert Reich:

“Trump, Bankman-Fried and Musk are the monsters of American capitalism – as much products of this public-be-damned era as they are contributors to it. For them, and for everyone who still regards them as heroes, there is no morality in business or economics. The winnings go to the most ruthless. Principles are for sissies.

“But absent any moral code, greed is a public danger. Its poison cannot be contained by laws or accepted norms.” (source)

If only we would be allowed to forget our most terrible and persistent villain whose latest stunts include increased support of antisemites and continuing racism.

"Will Trump finally be held accountable?" By Ann Telnaes, Washington Post, December 19, 2022.

And one accidental martyr who behaved heroically:

Brittney Griner, held hostage for months by the evil Russians.

Blog post © 2022 mae sander.

Friday, October 7, 2022

This Year’s Hero

Volodymyr Zelenskiy (born January 25, 1978) is obviously the principal hero of the civilized world this year. As shown in this current photo, he has acted as a military leader, a diplomat, a political leader, and a hero of his own country in the face of months of invasion of Ukraine. The Guardian article: “Ukraine president urges world not to give in to Russia’s ‘nuclear blackmail’ during Australian address" from October 6 describes this recent event:

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has urged world leaders not to give in to Russia’s “nuclear blackmail” and has appealed to Australia for help in a critical UN vote next week.

Addressing the Sydney-based Lowy Institute by video link on Thursday evening, Zelenskiy revealed Australia was offering heavy arms to Ukraine in its next package of military support to defend against Russia’s invasion.

The UN general assembly will consider a resolution condemning Russia’s purported annexation of four partly occupied Ukrainian regions, but Russian officials are lobbying for a secret vote so countries don’t have to make their positions public.

Although I have generally stopped writing articles about Jewish heroes in our time, I felt that it was time to include this new one, whose actions have been more and more heroic in his country’s struggle for existence against a more and more outlaw enemy led by the deranged Putin. In view of the threats of nuclear war, we all need Zelenskiy to succeed! 

Friday, March 5, 2021

For More Posts, See My Other Blog

Four years ago, I declared this blog to be a place where I would write about resistance to an obviously treasonous presidency, and I did so for a while. The effort was overwhelming like the political situation for the four years. Now that the nightmare is over (at least for a while), I will post all my thoughts on

Friday, December 18, 2020

Beethoven's Birthday and Chanukah

Beethoven's Birthday and Chanukah: from

See, the conqu'ring hero comes!
Sound the trumpets! Beat the drums!
Sports prepare! The laurel bring!
Songs of triumph to him sing!

George Friedrich Handel's Oratorio Judas Maccabaeus was written to celebrate a British victory in 1746. However, as the Maccabees are also the heroes of Chanukah, it is also an appropriate piece of music for the holiday. The eight candles of Chanukah represent the miracle that took place after the Maccabee victory commemorated in the Oratorio: the oil for the rekindled lights of the temple lasted eight days when it seemed only enough for one day. The image above is a drawing of Judas Maccabee by Israeli artist Arthur Szyk.

Beethoven's birthday is traditionally celebrated on December 16, though what's really known is that he was Baptized on December 17, 1770. To celebrate his 250th birthday, Classical radio stations have been playing Beethoven's music all during this week, and I've enjoyed it. I'm a really big fan of Beethoven, so to celebrate both his birthday AND Chanukah this week, I'm sharing a recording of his variations on a theme by Handel from the oratorio Judas Maccabaeus

12 Variations for Cello and Piano on "See the conqu'ring hero comes"

Blog post © 2020 mae sander, images as credited.

Monday, August 10, 2020

"The Coffee Trader" by David Liss

The Coffee Trader, published 2003,
with coffee beans, which play a big role
in the novel, as they do in my daily life.
“It rippled thickly in the bowl, dark and hot and uninviting. Miguel Lienzo picked it up and pulled it so close he almost dipped his nose into the tarry liquid. Holding the vessel still for an instant, he breathed in, pulling the scent deep into his lungs. The sharp odor of earth and rank leaves surprised him; it was like something an apothecary might keep in a chipped porcelain jar. 
“‘What is this?’ Miguel asked.” 
So begins the novel The Coffee Trader by David Liss. In May, 1659, coffee was completely unknown in Amsterdam, where Miguel Lienzo was a speculator in commodities. His first smell and taste of a bowl of coffee was off-putting, but as the narrative proceeds he comes to love the beverage, which came by sea from far-off Asian plantations, and was served in a few taverns by Turkish immigrants. Moreover, Miguel decides to engage in a highly risky plot to manipulate the price of this new product in an effort to reverse recent setbacks in his business dealings and to make a fortune.

The Coffee Trader is a very entertaining historical novel, which I read some years ago, and which I just reread. I love learning about the Dutch Golden Age, with its remarkable painters, developing business climate, and its exceptional freedom for people of all faiths. I’ve been fascinated for a long time by the history of the Portuguese secret Jews who returned to Jewish practice in Amsterdam at that time. Miguel Lienzo and the people in his life belong to this very prosperous and closed-in community — his own father had been a victim of the Portuguese Inquisition, and Miguel and his brother had fled to Amsterdam. It’s a novel of intrigue and deception, and Miguel claims that having lived as a secret Jew made him outstanding in the practice of deception.

"In the Tavern" (1660) by Jan Steen could be an illustration for many of the chapters of The Coffee Trader.

Portrait of a young Jewish man, 1648,
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
The novel's detail of the Dutch drawing rooms and kitchens, of the food and drink, of the taverns and low-life dives, and of the streets of Amsterdam is vivid. Descriptions of rich men, poor men, scoundrels, thieves, con men, good women, scheming women, dictatorial Jewish leaders, financial geniuses, and many other characters are wonderful. Author David Liss portrays much of the society of that era -- with occasional indirect references to a painter who works in the poorer Jewish neighborhood (you know who he was).

The individual speculators on the Amsterdam exchange depicted in the novel are fictitious, but the facts of the invention of market speculation and the popularization of coffee as a beverage and of "coffee taverns" that served it are real. The author, in fact, is a historian who was writing a dissertation on economic history of that era when he reapplied his learning to writing fiction about his subject matter. I'm glad he did it.

Also, I'm glad for coffee, though Miguel Lienzo at one point regrets his role in introducing it to his society. His thoughts:
"May the Holy One, blessed be He, forgive me for unleashing coffee upon mankind... . This drink will turn the world upside down." (p. 266)

Blog post © 2020 mae sander. Paintings from WikiArt. From

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Albert Memmi (Dec. 15, 1920 - May 22, 2020)

The obituary of Albert Memmi, the French-Tunisian-Jewish writer, was published in today's New York Times (link):

"Mr. Memmi was consumed by alienation, his own especially. He supported Tunisia’s independence, but once that was achieved, he left the fledgling Muslim state and spent the next two-thirds of his life in France in self-imposed exile. Even so, he once said that his homeland was not the French nation, but the French language."

I have read at least one of his autobiographical novels, and I wonder why I never included him in this list as I created it on this blog.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Heroes 2020: from my food blog

We finally have a sign acknowledging the heroism of essential workers in our society.

Sign installed on our lawn.
Heroism is a concept that's very appropriate, in my mind, for many of the workers who are risking their own well-being for the sake of others in this terrible pandemic. The medical professionals who risk their own health in order to help sick people come to mind most readily, but many others are also working in dangerous conditions. Whether their prime motive is altruism or just making a living and providing for their families, I see an element of heroism in what they are doing.

Sadly, some of their sacrifice is needed as the result of poor leadership and greedy business practices that started long before the emergency. Our federal government could have decreased the high number of infected people by taking action earlier, making the work of governors like ours (Michigan) more effective. For years, American industrial practices, notably in meat packing plants, could have been regulated to be more humane to workers, but it's too late now. That doesn't diminish the heroic actions by workers!

Another of the many signs in our neighborhood
Heroism has fascinated writers throughout the ages, elevating self-sacrificing behavior through literary admiration. While wartime heroics are more often cited, many writers have seen a broader picture. Take for example this quote from Henry David Thoreau, upon seeing a "panorama" which would be a large painting shown in some sort of temporary exposition:
"I went to see a panorama of the Mississippi, and as I worked my way up the river in the light of to-day, and saw the steamboats wooding up, counted the rising cities, gazed on the fresh ruins of Nauvoo, beheld the Indians moving west across the stream, and, as before I had looked up the Moselle, now looked up the Ohio and the Missouri, and heard the legends of Dubuque and of Wenona's Cliff, - still thinking more of the future than of the past or present, - I saw that this was a Rhine stream of a different kind; that the foundations of castles were yet to be laid, and the famous bridges were yet to be thrown over the river; and I felt that this was the heroic age itself, though we know it not, for the hero is commonly the simplest and obscurest of men." -- Henry David Thoreau, "Walking," THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY. A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS. VOL. IX.-JUNE, 1862.-NO. LVI., p. 664-665. (
Or consider these often-quoted lines from Bertolt Brecht's play The Life of Galileo:
Andrea: Unhappy the land that has no heroes!…
Galileo: No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.
Finally, a quote that applies to the self-designated heroes (with or without guns) pressuring for reckless reopening of inessential businesses and recreations:
"The suicide bomber's imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people's lives." -- Salman Rushdie, quoted in Der Spiegel, Aug. 28, 2006
Or as Joe Biden says:
"President Trump's ... goal is as obvious as it is craven: He hopes to split the country into dueling camps, casting Democrats as doomsayers hoping to keep America grounded and Republicans as freedom fighters trying to liberate the economy." (Washington Post, May 11, 2020)

Blog post copyright  © 2020 mae sander for mae food dot blog spot dot com.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019


A Svengali is "a person who manipulates or exerts excessive control over another." Curious about the history of this intriguing and rather unusual word, I looked it up and learned that Svengali was a character  in the novel Trilby by George Du Maurier (published 1894). Subsequently the novel was made into several stage plays and movies. The dictionary explains:
I read the Oxford World's Classics edition, which
is unabridged and highly annotated.
"Svengali's maleficent powers of persuasion made such an impression on the reading public that by 1919 his name was being used generically as a term for any wickedly manipulative individual." (Merriam-Webster definition)
Curious about the origin of this intriguing word, I decided to read the novel. What I did not expect: Du Maurier's creation Svengali is a casually antisemitic portrayal of an Eastern European Jew, with a stereotyped appearance, problematic personality, strong accent in both English and French, and lack of humanity. These hateful features were typical of antisemitic writings of the late 19th century, and you may recognize them because they are being reactivated by modern violent white supremacists in our society right now.

I found it very painful to read this book. It was agonizingly familiar to see such descriptions as they were over a century ago and as they are returning to public discourse now. In fact, I regretted deciding to read it. However, because I have done so, I feel that I should look carefully at these stereotypes. First, there's the appearance of Svengali:
"He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red beret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lustreless black hair fell down behind his ears to his shoulders, in that musician-like way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman. He had bold, brilliant black eyes, with long heavy lids, a thin, sallow face, and a beard of burnt-up black, which grew almost from under his eyelids; and over it his moustache, a shade lighter, fell in two long spiral twists." (p. 11).
His face and his attitude both bore out these stereotypes: "He was so fond of making fun of others that he particularly resented being made fun of himself— couldn’t endure that any one should ever have the laugh of him." (p. 19). Not to mention his "long, thick, shapely Hebrew nose" (p. 240) and "bold, black, beady Jew’s eyes." (p. 44).

And his devious and disgusting ways: "And here let me say that these vicious imaginations of Svengali’s, which look so tame in English print, sounded much more ghastly in French, pronounced with a Hebrew-German accent, and uttered in his hoarse, rasping, nasal, throaty rook’s caw, his big yellow teeth baring themselves in a mongrel canine snarl, his heavy upper eyelids drooping over his insolent black eyes." (p. 92).

Poster for 1931 film with John
Barrymore. Svengali's features were
left intact, but he wasn't directly
identified as a Jew.
Many features of the character Svengali, especially his skill in manipulating the innocent Trilby, heroine of the novel, were already commonplace racial slurs in the 1890s and have never gone away. By association, Jews were under attack at the time: two notable contemporary events were the Dreyfus affair in France (1894-1906) and the rise of the antisemite Christian Democrats under leader Karl Lueger in Vienna during that decade. Pushback was also beginning, for example the novel Children of the Ghetto by Isidore Zangwill (1892-93) and The Jewish State by Theodore Hertzl (published 1895), but it didn't stop the haters. Antisemitism in word and deed inspired Hitler who was born in 1889 and very much partook of the hatred of Jews expressed in word and deed during the late 19th century.

This post is taken from my food blog, and at this point in my more general review, I discussed the chapters of the novel Trilby that deal with other characters than Svengali, which in fact were far more than half the book. Here, I'm repeating this excerpt, with the additional remark that several other characters in literature have also contributed antisemitic stereotypes, notably Fagin from Dickens' Oliver Twist and Shakespeare's Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. Dickens later regretted the antisemitism embodied in Fagin, and created a more sympathetic Jewish character (though less effective) that attempted to make amends. I don't thing that Du Maurier ever regretted his creation of Svengali. And no one knows any of Shakespeare's thoughts.

Trilby is a very weak novel compared to works of other authors who wrote about society and social issues in the 19th century; for example, Zola, George Eliot, and Dickens. It's quite understandable that Trilby has pretty much been forgotten, except for the character Svengali. The antisemitism in the novel is even more painful when you consider how Du Maurier didn't really take anything seriously, not the characters, not the hateful attitudes, and not the mistreatment of little Trilby.

NOTE: A few interesting articles about the impact of the character Svengali, especially from the point of view of antisemitism.
This blog post copyright © Mae Sander for maefood dot blogspot dot com
and for

Friday, August 9, 2019

What is Courage

"Je n'ai pas peur de la mort; j'aime mon pays et je meurs pour sa libèration, comme l'ont fait mes amis. [I am not afraid of death; I love my country and I die for its liberation, as my friends have done.]" So said France Bloch-Sérazin just before she was put to death by the Nazis on  February 12, 1943. For two years before her capture, France Bloch-Sérazin had used her training as a chemist to prepare materials for the Resistance against the Nazis in Paris. In makeshift laboratories she prepared explosives and weapons to be used to oppose the occupation. The constant risks she took were shared with her husband Fredo Sérazin. During this time, she gave birth to her son and cared for him while engaging in resistance activities. She continued despite her husband's arrest and imprisonment. She died a few weeks before her thirtieth birthday.

These early resistants were members of the French Communist Party, as well as being ardent patriots and anti-Nazis, according to Alain Quella-Villéger, author of the book France Bloch-Sérazin: Une femme en résistance (1913-1943), which was just published last May. Although I had heard about France Bloch-Sérazin before, I was fascinated by the detailed descriptions of how she worked in the resistance, communicated with fellow resistants by arranged meetings in cafes, in the Metro, and in other Paris locations; delivered documents and weapons and led a life that was unimaginably risky.

France Bloch-Sérazin was a Communist by conviction and by family ties: her father, Jean-Richard Bloch (1884-1947) was a famous author as well as a Party member, and several other family members were also highly political and involved in the resistance. In particular, her brother Michel Bloch (1911-2000) and his wife Colette Bloch (1919-2016) carried documents between the occupied and unoccupied French territories, until Michel was arrested and imprisoned for the remainder of the war. In 1989, we met Michel and Collette, who lived in the family home in Poitiers, France. This home also played a large role in Quella-Villéger's narrative of France Bloch-Sérazin's short life. We were moved by their description of their activities and their sister's role in the war, and impressed by the courage that all had possessed. This connection, and our continuing friendship with Laurent Bloch, son of Michel and Collette, led me to read this new book.

France Bloch-Sérazin's death sentence was carried out in secrecy under the Nazi program of punishment of opponents: Nacht und Nebel or Nuit et Brouillard or Night and Fog. Her family knew only of her arrest, and didn't know her fate, or even if she had somehow survived, until they had spent agonizing time searching after the end of the war. They also were searching for information about other family members who had died, particularly Jean-Richard Bloch's mother, who had been deported and gassed at Auschwitz along with hundreds of thousands of fellow Jews from France.

Quella-Villéger especially illuminates the horror of the aftermath of the war in France. As I read, I remembered other accounts of the desperate search for information about those who had disappeared, the emotional climate of a country that had been physically destroyed, the horrendous political divisions by which many French people had collaborated with the Nazi occupation, and for many surviving French people dealing with experience of the deportation of many neighbors and friends.

The memory of France Bloch-Sérazin and other women of courage and conviction who worked to oppose the Nazis in France was little recognized after the war, for a number of political reasons, which the author touches on briefly. He views this as a tragic story, as an incompletely recognized story, and above all as a story of great courage and determination.

Author of this blog post: Mae E. Sander, to be published at my two blogs, maefood dot blogspot dot com and https://hero-or-antihero, Hero-or-Antihero dot blogspot dot com. If you are reading this elsewhere, it's been stolen.

Copyright © 2019 Mae E. Sander

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Concentration Camps

My desperation is painful: How can I manage to see a way to stop  or even to protest the horrendous abuse of immigrants at our border, especially the maltreatment of children? The sterile argument over whether the camps where we are starving and torturing children are "concentration camps" is unproductive and useless. OK, these are not death camps -- at least not intentionally. But the parallels with Hitler's Willing Executioners (to borrow a title from a book) are unnerving.

Here are two quotations to ponder. The first is from the Jewish Virtual Library page for the Drancy Transit Camp:
"The camp of Drancy was a transit camp located not far from Paris. Like many other detention centres throughout France, Drancy was created by the Vichy government of Philippe Pétain in 1941 and was under the control of the French police until July 3, 1943when Nazi Germany took day-to-day control as part of the major stepping up at all facilities for the mass exterminations. The camp was opened after a roundup of in Paris Jews in August, 1941, in which over 4,000 Jews were arrested. The French police carried out additional roundups of Jews throughout the war. The conditions of life were extremely difficult, due to neglect of personal, ordinary human needs, adequate food, unsanitary conditions, and over-crowding. ... 
"More than 12,800 (3,031 men, 5,802 women and 4,051 children aged between 2 and 12) were transferred to the Velodrome d’Hiver. The children were kept there for 5 miserable days without any food or medical care and then they were transferred to Drancy, Beaune-la-Rolande or Pithiviers. The children were separated from their parents by the French police immediately after their arrival in Drancy. The parents were transported to Auschwitz and gassed. The children stayed in Drancy, sometimes for weeks, without any proper care or adequate food. Several babies and very young children died in Drancy due to the lack of care and the brutality of the French guards. Finally, they were all transported to Auschwitz and gassed upon their arrival. More than 6,000 Jewish children from all the regions of France were arrested and transported to their deaths between July 17 and September 30, 1942."
An equally disturbing quotation appeared in an article titled "The Life of an Auschwitz Guard." The guard, Oskar Groening, "watched as hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to their deaths." The author of the article, Laurence Rees, interviewed Groening at some length, trying to understand what enabled him to witness and participate in mass murder, and then to spend a long subsequent life without remorse.
"When pressed for the reason why children were murdered, Groening replies: 'The children are not the enemy at the moment. The enemy is the blood in them. The enemy is their growing up to become a Jew who could be dangerous.'” 
Today in Washington, a lawyer for the Immigration and Naturalization Service named Sarah Fabian, has become an example implying that Americans in our current government are becoming very much like this guard. People like this are so concerned with their commitment to their jobs that they show no moral sense of what is happening. I read about Fabian in a Washington Post article, titled: ‘I accept it’: DOJ lawyer defends herself over viral video about providing migrants with soap, toothbrushes 

According to the article: "Video footage of Fabian arguing in federal court last Tuesday that the federal government was not legally required to provide toothbrushes, soap or adequate sleep to detained migrant children went viral, eliciting outrage."

Her mealy-mouth excuse: “I do not believe that’s the position I was representing, and I get that defending myself by parsing out a technical legal position won’t change most people’s minds,” she wrote. “I wouldn’t be permitted to do so anyway, so I won’t try. I will say that I personally believe that we should do our very best to care for kids while they are in our custody, and I try to always represent that value in my work.”

I could continue searching for these horrific parallels but it's too unbearable. What is to become of us? Will we too need to have monuments to our execrable behavior in 75 years?

On one of our long stays in Paris, we lived very near the monument to the roundup of Jews in Paris in 1942.
Sadly, this sign is often defaced by neo-Nazis and other French thugs. (Image from TripAdviser).

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Two Yiddish Books -- From my other blog

Photo of the Yiddish Book Center ( in Amherst, Massachusetts. (2003).
The architecture echoes the look of Eastern European shtetls of a century or more in the past.

A few days ago, the Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Massachusetts, sent me two recently published books as a bonus for a recent contribution to their efforts. Publications of newly translated books are part of the center's mission to make available lost or ignored but worthy representatives of Yiddish literature. The smaller work, Radiant Jargon, contains a small selection of poems about Yiddish and translation: some of these poems are by classic Yiddish authors from the early 20th century, and others, and also translations, by modern poets, some of whom have been interns at the center.

The more substantial book, Seeds in the Desert by Mendel Mann (1916-1975), contains a selection of short stories and sketches about the early days of Israel, the lives of Jews in Eastern Europe during World War II, and other vignettes about Jewish life in the mid-20th century. The introduction also provides an interesting summary of the life of the author, whose name and work were entirely unfamiliar to me up until now.

Many of the stories offer just a very small episode from life in Israel or elsewhere; however most of them inform the reader of how these new Israelis had survived and escaped their past. Some stories are set far from Israel, for example, the story "Laughter from the Skies" (p. 96-103) takes place in the Australian outback about a Jew who takes revenge on a former Nazi who had murdered  his family. Another story, "Cain Laments at Night" (p. 114-119), set during World War II, is about a Jewish boy named Emmanuel. He was hiding in a shtetl from which he was to travel to the larger town of Rovno (also called Rivne), but he was unable to keep up his pretense of being a partner with some Ukrainian soldiers. The problem occurs when he encounters a market woman wrapping her goods in pages of the Talmud, which he takes away and pockets. With the soldiers, he consumes "pork, black bread, eggs, and bottles of vodka," but despite this un-Jewish act, they notice him respectfully holding the scrap of paper, and torment him. Emmanuel, too, takes his revenge.

A very typical story in this collection is titled "The Encounter in Ramat Gan" (p. 59-64) It begins with these words: "'Excuse me...' I said. 'I think I know you... we've met somewhere before...'" The narrator was speaking to a woman on the street, walking with a small child. He describes a hot day in Ramat Gan, where he was waiting for a bus. He tries to explain to her what he remembers: "I traveled across Ukraine with the Soviet army, and somewhere in a shtetl in Volhynia I met you. It was  a strange encounter. Don't you remember the Russian soldier who talked to you in Yiddish? Have you forgotten a night journey in a truck with two armed soldiers?" She denies this: "I don't want to know you!" she shouted.

The narrator thinks about her all night. In the morning he sees her again, while waiting for his bus, and follows her. Angrily she says "The woman you met is dead. She doesn't exist any more." She calls their former meeting a surreal dream. She accuses him of trying to make a legend of his past. Then she produces a long story of how they met during her ordeal during the war, her abuse by peasants, her encounters with Russian officers, and more war stories. The narrator, she recalled, had been a Jew in disguise as a Russian soldier -- obviously hoping himself to evade the murderous Ukrainian and Nazi troops. She describes how he helped her get to the Rovno where there were "thirty Jewish families," and he could leave her with an elderly Jewish women who would protect her. But after telling her detailed memories, the woman concluded: "Everything I have told you was invented, a lie, a mistake. My life has started now, here, with my husband and children. Forget, and let me forget."

A majority of the stories in the book have a certain similarity with this encounter and with the woman's wish to erase her past. The new country of Israel, where most of the stories take place, offers a new life for the former victims of European persecutions. The sun burns hot, it's difficult to earn a living, and many of the characters struggle to adapt and to earn their bread. But it's all new and full of promise. I've made it sound simplistic, which it isn't -- it's a very interesting book of stories about a few moments in the lives and memories of a variety of characters.

Now, about Rovno, which is mentioned in several of the stories, along with a few other nearby locations in a region of Ukraine. These references were especially interesting to me because my mother's parents and other relatives came from the Rovno shtetl in the early 20th century. I've never known much about it other than generalizations about shtetl life. I suspect that some distant relatives were still in Rovno during World War II, but I don't know anything about them, and I was fascinated (when I looked it up after reading Mendel Mann's stories) to learn that Rovno was important during the early days of the war. In looking for information, I was also astonished to learn that the mother of Israeli author Amos Oz was a native of Rovno (source).

I also learned of the end of the Jewish community of Rovno, which the author of the stories must also have known. I read this: "The majority of the Jews of western Ukraine town of Rovno, around 23,000 people, had been murdered shortly after the Germans invaded in June 1941. Between 5,000 and 7,000 Jews remained in the ghetto that was established there." In July of 1942, the remainder of the Jews were murdered in a cooperative act by the SS Nazi soldiers and the Ukrainian militia, which supported the invaders. (source)

A street in Rovno before the war. From the JewishGen Website. (link

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Resistance: Maybe not futile

From "The Resistance Strikes Back" by Michelle Goldberg in the New York Times:
"On Thursday we learned that ... Lucy McBath, an African-American gun control advocate, had flipped the [Georgia congressional] seat.

"McBath’s victory was emblematic of the Resistance triumphs in the midterms. There was no immediate catharsis on Tuesday, no definitive national rebuke of a president whose bottomless depravity continues to dumbfound more than half the country. But the steady work of citizens who’ve been trying, over the last two years, to fight the civic nightmare of Trumpism bore fruit. It was a slog, pockmarked with disappointments. At the end, though, there was hope."
Last week's election has many examples of Democrats winning because they inspired resistance to the terrible demagogs and rising fascism in our country.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Ice Cream and Social Justice?

BUT: here's another view of this new ice cream flavor. One of their choices has become toxic because of the antisemitism which is fundamental to the founders of the Women's March. At first these antisemites were given a pass -- but nevertheless they persisted in their bigoted views --
Ben & Jerry’s has publicly announced a new ice cream flavor “celebrating activists who are continuing to resist oppression, harmful environmental practices and injustice.” Financial grants were also provided to four organizations that Ben & Jerry’s felt represented social activism. I was horrified to learn that one of the organizations receiving the grant was the 2017 Women’s March, which was partially founded by Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory — both vocal and virulent antisemites.

From the Ben & Jerry's website here. They write:

Together, Pecan Resist!
Alongside all those nutty chunks, this pint packs a powerful message under its lid: together, we can build a more just and equitable tomorrow. We can peacefully resist the Trump administration’s regressive and discriminatory policies and build a future that values inclusivity, equality, and justice for people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, refugees, and immigrants. Pecan Resist supports four organizations that are working on the front lines of the peaceful resistance, building a world that supports their values. Get to know them, then find Pecan Resist here!

Get To Know The Partners
Color of Change
Color of Change designs campaigns powerful enough to end practices that unfairly hold Black people back, and champions solutions that move everyone forward.
Honor the Earth
Honor the Earth works on issues of climate change, renewable energy, and environmental justice with Indigenous communities.
Neta is one of the fastest-growing independent media platforms led by people of color along the Texas-Mexico border.
Women’s March
Women’s March is committed to harnessing the political power of diverse women and their communities to create transformative social change.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


Freedom is a word that everyone knows. But advocates of freedom, while often striving for equivalent human goals, have expressed their commitment in many ways. In the last few days, I've read about two famous freedom fighters: Mahatma Gandhi and Harriet Tubman. I feel that by familiarizing myself with these two famous people from such very different backgrounds, I might better understand the richness of the idea of freedom. In this context, I've also been thinking of the famous "Four Freedoms" defined by President Roosevelt in 1941.

This post is a duplicate of my post for today at

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman was the best-known "conductor" on the Underground Railroad in the decade before the Civil War. She rescued several hundred slaves and escorted them to freedom in sympathetic northern states and Canada. During war, she continued by working with the Union Army to rescue hundreds more slaves that were being held by Confederate troops. Born into slavery, she escaped but returned to the South many times to rescue others.

To learn about her, I read the book Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton (published 2004). Because Tubman's work by definition was highly secretive, and because little documentation of the birth and parentage of slaves was recorded, the book presents the scant details known about her life in the context of the fight against slavery in the 19th century. Some quotes from the book:
The states north of the Mason-Dixon Line that had passed emancipation statutes were revered as a kind of Canaan— a place where blacks could work and worship, marry and raise children, freely pursuing life and liberties. Once they crossed over, fugitives would be unfettered by bondage. Most southern bondspeople had little or no contact with this free northern black world, but idealized what might await them once they fled. (Kindle Locations 713-716).
Tubman’s growing realization that all people of color— slave, fugitive, or free, in both North and South— were imperiled by the very existence of racial bondage made 1850 a critical turning point in her life, as her own personal journey to freedom expanded to include the aspirations of all slaves. (Kindle Locations 1079-1081).
When she spoke out against slavery, she was not attacking it in the abstract but had personally known its evils. She risked the horror of reenslavement with every trip, repeatedly defying the slave power with her rescues and abductions. These risks elevated the significance of her contributions to the UGRR [Underground Railroad] movement. (Kindle Locations 1313-1315).

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi, from the New Yorker article.
Gandhi, of course, was the leader of the struggle to free India from British colonial rule. His method, non-violence, has been adopted by many subsequent freedom fighters. A current New Yorker article titled "Gandhi for the Post-Truth Age" by Pankaj Mishra explored the ways that Gandhi is relevant to our time. Two quotes:
People in the West, Gandhi argued, merely “imagine they have a voice in their own government”; instead, they were “being exploited by the ruling class or caste under the sacred name of democracy.” Moreover, a regime in which “the weakest go to the wall” and a “few capitalist owners” thrive “cannot be sustained except by violence, veiled if not open.” This is why, Gandhi predicted, even “the states that are today nominally democratic” are likely to “become frankly totalitarian.”
And this:
Satyagraha, literally translated as “holding fast to truth,” obliged protesters to “always keep an open mind and be ever ready to find that what we believed to be truth was, after all, untruth.” Gandhi recognized early on that societies with diverse populations inhabit a post-truth age. “We will never all think alike and we shall always see truth in fragments and from different angles of vision,” he wrote. And even Gandhi’s harshest detractors do not deny that he steadfastly defended, and eventually sacrificed his life for, many values under assault today—fellow-feeling for the weak, and solidarity and sympathy between people of different nations, religions, and races. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt 

In 1941, Roosevelt gave a speech in which he defined four freedoms relevant to the United States and the world, then threatened by German aggression.

Norman Rockwell's famous depiction of the Four Freedoms motivated the War Bond campaign in World War II. (Wikipedia)

Today, in 2018, these freedoms again are seriously threatened for at least some people who live in America, so I would like to leave you with the thought that one possible thing we can do to protect them is to vote next month!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

On the Anniversary of Charlottesville

"From the moment they arrived in DC, the alt-right attendees were greatly outnumbered by thousands of counterprotesters, who took to the streets in both Charlottesville and Washington, DC, this weekend to push back against emboldened white supremacy."-- from Vox, August 12, 2018.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Don't follow this star...

"Police on Wednesday booked Austin Mikel Clay on suspicion of felony vandalism in connection with [Donald Trump's Hollywood Walk of Fame's] star’s destruction. Clay, who was being held in lieu of $20,000 bail, allegedly strode up to the star and bashed through Trump’s brass nameplate around 3:30 a.m., according to police." (source)

"Passers-by view Donald Trump's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
after it was vandalized Wednesday morning. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)." 

Wednesday, July 11, 2018


Recently, fed-up civilians have been reacting to shameful behavior of officials of our not-very-legitimate government by some in-your-face shaming behavior. "Responsible" politicians have had varied reactions to these actions, which have ranged from outright confrontation to relatively civil requests that targeted officials or former officials leave a public space where they aren't wanted.

"Hi, I just wanted to urge you to resign because of what you’re doing to the environment
and our country," -- Scott Pruitt being told off by Kristin Mink (source).
Recipients of this public indignation or maybe rage, as is well documented, have included Scott Pruitt (just before he did sort-of resign from his Cabinet post), Sarah Huckabee Sanders (public liar for the President), Steve Bannon (now out of power but still going strong), Steve Miller (one of the biggest a-holes working in the White House),  Mitch McConnell (confronted in his home state), Kirstjen Nielsen (who should resign from the cabinet, but...) and one of the ugliest, Kellyanne Conway.

Prominent Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Shumer, and David Axelrod have called for "civility" from protesters. Quite a few responses to them point out that saying the protests aren't "civil" is a bit ironic, since separating small children from their parents, eliminating women's health care, and destroying many American businesses by ill-thought-out tariff polices are not themselves "civil."

An article in the Washington Post, "From Kellyanne Conway to Stephen Miller, Trump’s advisers face taunts from hecklers around D.C." included a number of examples stating:
"For any new presidential team, the challenges of adapting to Washington include navigating a capital with its own unceasing rhythms and high-pitched atmospherics, not to mention a maze of madness-inducing traffic circles. 
"Yet for employees of Donald Trump — the most combative president of the modern era, a man who exists in his own tweet-driven ecosystem — the challenges are magnified exponentially, particularly in a predominantly Democratic city where he won only 4 percent of the vote."
An article in the Guardian summarized the situation: "'Make them pariahs': how shaming Trump aides became a resistance tactic." Quotes from the article illustrating the two points of view about this behavior:
  • Maxine Waters, member of the House of Representatives from California, says: "Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. ... And if you see anybody from that cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd. And you push back on them. And you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere."
  • Chuck Schumer responded to Maxine Waters thus: "If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action, and vote them out of office, but no one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right – that’s not American."
  • Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, says: "Public shaming of Trump regime officials isn’t just useful, it’s a moral imperative in these difficult times. ... We have a Republican party that has surrendered to the Russians, encourages white supremacists and Nazis, separates families, and locks up children in cages, and we’re supposed to treat these people as respected members of society? We have no choice but to turn them all into pariahs, now and forever into the future. ... None of them should ever be allowed to have a peaceful meal in public, unless they want to spend all their time in rural flyover country they pretend to love so much. They are destroying lives every single day, literally killing people in many cases, so they don’t get to be treated like royalty. They need to be confronted with the reality of their choices."
  • Emma Gray, author of A Girl’s Guide to Joining the Resistance, says: "We’re way past hand-wringing over ‘civility in a democracy’ when basic human rights are at stake. There’s nothing ‘civil’ about stripping away women’s access to reproductive healthcare or ripping children away from their parents at the border with no plan to reunite them."
  • The ACLU on its website says: "Once one chooses to operate a business open to the public, one takes on at least a moral – and often a legal – obligation to adhere to the norms that underlie the very definition of ‘public’. When a business turns away a customer, whether it’s the Red Hen refusing service to Sanders, or Masterpiece Cakeshop refusing service to Charlie Craig and David Mullins, it says, ‘You aren’t a legitimate member of the public.’"
  • And from the Washington Post story: "'I would say it’s burning people out,' said Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former communications director. 'I just think there’s so much meanness, it’s causing some level of, "What do I need this for?" And I think it’s a recruiting speed bump for the administration. To be part of it, you’ve got to deal with the incoming of some of this viciousness.'"

Thursday, June 28, 2018

"A Rich Brew"

A Rich Brew: How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture by Shachar M. Pinsker describes café life in Odessa, Warsaw, Berlin, Vienna, New York, and Tel Aviv, from the 19th century to the era before World War II. The book is a magnificent treatment of the subject that has concerned me throughout writing this blog: that is, the subject of secular Jews and their culture. For a long time, I've been trying to understand how modern Jewish culture -- the secular variety -- was created. There are other answers, but this one is a good one.

Pinsker shows how an essential location where 19th and 20th century Jewish (and sometimes non-Jewish) writers and intellectuals gathered in these cities was their cafés. He describes how these cafés were often a "Jewish space" because of both the owners and the customers. He names many, many Yiddish, Hebrew, German, Russian, and other-language writers that I've heard of and in many cases that I've read, and describes the cafés they frequented. It's a very good read!

I wrote a sort of an appreciation of the book at my other blog, in this post "How Cafés Created Modern Jewish Culture."

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A small success

Headline in Washington Post: "Publix halts donations to self-described ‘NRA sellout’ amid boycott, ‘die-in’ protests by David Hogg." From the Post with caption:

David Hogg and other demonstrators lie on the floor at a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla., Friday, May 25, 2018. Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were among those who participated in the “die-in” protest. (Mike Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/Associated Press via Washington Post)