Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanks to a Follower

I subscribe to Google alerts for a number of reasons -- to see when my son has a song on the radio that he doesn't tell me about; to read articles that my other son has written, and to see who's talking about The Accidental Anarchist.

Yesterday I had a delightful surprise when Google alerted me the another blog included the book as a recommended Christmas present for people interested in genealogy. As if that weren't enough, I recognized the author of the blog as someone who has been a follower of this blog since close to the very beginning. I'm happy to share with you her blog: The Turning of Generations.

Reading Michelle's bio, I also learned that she's a serious genealogist, working on an advanced certificate in methodology at the National Institute of Genealogical Studies -- a serious means of finding the roots of one's family tree. Good luck, Michelle, and thanks for the recommendation!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Attended My Niece's Wedding

Last night, my niece got married in the Bronx, the first of my 19 (or have I lost count) nieces and nephews to do so. I loved seeing how bride and groom looking at each other with so much love and adoration in their eyes. And I discovered that I had known the parents of the groom (whose last name I didn't even know until yesterday) in high school -- though it took me quite a while to stretch my mind that far back, and part of my mind didn't want to go there. Saw many relatives, including some I really like.

But what was also interesting is that I started getting incredible compliments on the book, and not only from family members (who can do either way -- either you can do no wrong in their eyes, or they know you too well to be impressed by anything you do). My sister-in-law, who had offered to host a book signing event for me in the Miami area, told me that she started  reading it "out of obligation," (not even out of interest, or curiosity?) but that once she did she got hooked, and loved it. My grandfather's 'voice' and his adventures has that effect on a lot of people.

I also met the son of a good friend whom I haven't seen in many years, though we recently connected on Facebook. This friend's son, who was a friend of my niece's, came over to introduce himself, very quickly adding that, "My father read your book and loved it!"

I admit to being pleased by the compliments, though still somewhat surprised by the amount of passion that the book stirs up in people. But that wasn't where my focus was, which, as usual centered around how proud I am of my own kids, the younger one, already a rock star, who attended the wedding with us -- until 'business' obligations called the 19-year-old away, and the older one, who arrives tomorrow night for Thanksgiving, who just landed a terrific new job with a company that's smart enough to recognize his talents, motivation, creativity and incredible work ethic. Seeing their successes, and happiness, is still the most important source of joy in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. No lectures on what to be thankful for; just enjoy -- whether it's being with family, friends, or just having a long weekend.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Today is International Tolerance Day

Did you know that such a day existed? It was founded only in 1996 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

This makes it a convenient occasion to point you to an article ( written by a dear friend of mine, Zoe Ghahremani, who attended a lecture with me at the Jewish Book Fair in San Diego last week. Upon hearing Angella Nazarian talk about her family's flight from Iran, and the assistance provided by the many Jewish organizations that existed to help Jewish refugees, she thought back to the time before she left from Iran, and since then, and noted that the Jews seemed to be the only group that had organized itself to provide so many forms of support for Jews in the United States and in other countries. And my friend, who is not a Muslim, points out in this poignant article that Iranian Muslims, who have also suffered under the current and previous regimes, had no organizations to go to for assistance.

We Jews are fortunate that we have established a history of helping one another, But Zoe's point should be understood and heeded: The not all oppressed minorities have organizations established that are effective in providing assistance to their brethren. I know -- it's easier said than done.

How do you think such a change could be brought about?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I Spoke Today at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair

...and had a very nice turnout. A number of my friends showed up to support me, which was wonderful, but about 2/3 of the audience were people I didn't know, many of whom had relatives who came from areas near where my grandfather was born (Vishigrod), and whose parents or grandparents had escaped to the U.S. before they could be conscripted into the Russian army. The only option that was open to my grandfather was more extreme.

As I read today from the book: "Thus, every home rang with heated family conferences, all dedicated to the search for some means by which an innocent child could be preserved from the fatal clutches of Vanya’s* army.

For the rich, there was no problem: they bought their way out. For the poor, however, there was only one avenue of escape: self-mutilation. And since there were any number of equally frightful possibilities to choose
from, long evenings of consultation took place. My Aunt Tzivia strongly recommended a man who would draw out all my teeth. Feibush, the bath attendant, held that the surest remedy would be for me to blind myself in my right eye, without which one cannot aim a rifle. And my Uncle Yonah, never at a loss, knew a man skilled in the art of severing a tendon at the knee. Had I accepted even half the suggestions offered to me, I should not only have escaped military service, but would have ended up a cripple such as the world had never seen."

* A nickname for ‘Ivan’ used as a general term referring to all Russians

It was quite a lot of fun, and afterwards a number of women from Hadassah asked, if their book club read The Accidental Anarchist, would I come and speak to them. Of course. I love speaking about the book and my grandfather's crazy ways.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Two More Counties Heard From

A few days ago, I caught an article whose title, I thought, was "Justice Stevens Urges Tolerance." Today, as I looked for the article to post it here, every reprint of the article had the title "Justice Stevens Voices Support for NYC Mosque" ( It's the same article reprinted everywhere, but it seems as if the headline has changed to emphasize the controversial nature of the topic. But it's also possible that I remember the headline incorrectly.

But what got me thinking about this article again was attending the opening night presentation of the San Diego Jewish Book Fair (at which I will be speaking next week). The featured speaker was Mosad Hassan Yousef, speaking on what I had hoped would be a very enlightening subject: How he, the son of the man who founded Hamas, which has repeated done everything possible to derail any progress toward Middle East peace, had been raised to be a terrorist, but had a change of heart. He was with us to be interviewed about what led to his change of heart, and what his life has been like since then. (Sorry to report that it wasn't a very enlightening interview -- it didn't get to the meaty questions, but perhaps that was a matter of the speaker not being fully fluent in English or able to express himself as eloquently as I had hoped).

What surprised me, after his inspiring comments about tolerance, were two comments he made: 1) The we should oppose the Mosque near Ground Zero because it is a 'political' mosque, and 2) that the Koran is 'evil.' The latter is not an opinion I have ever heard expressed. I certainly have heard that the translations of the Koran vary, and that some encourage killing Jews, but this is the first time I have heard it referred to as 'evil.'

On the one hand, Mr, Yousef grew up with the Koran whereas I don't believe that anyone else speaking about its content has said so. On the other hand, I wonder whether it might be possible for someone to contend that the Hebrew Bible (aka The Old Testament) is 'evil,' too, because it also proscribes certain actions that, mercifully, we have learned not to obey to the letter -- things like stoning people. But I don't know enough about the Koran to know how accurate Mr. Yousef's statement is.

I'd love to hear from anyone who has some experience or information on this subject.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Yet Another Reminder

Upon reading today's NY Times' review of "The Scottsboro Boys," which opened last night but which I saw in previews, I was reminded, yet again, of how far we haven't come in race relations, in particular, and tolerance, in general. True, this musical was set in Alabama in 1931, that is -- "a long time ago in a [place] far, far away," but the musical depiction of the hasty incarceration of nine young black men over the false (and later recanted) accusation of raping two white women, shows the process by which such miscarriages of just could easily still occur today. To 'shock' the audience into awareness, as if the denial of due process wasn't enough, a song called "Electric Chair" is probably the toe-tappingest one of the Kander & Ebb (yes; classic) show. Not only worth seeing but also worth contemplating, especially considering the Epilogue-type of revelations that shares with the audience what happened to each of the men who had been falsely accused and imprisoned, "once upon a time."