Thursday, March 31, 2011

Holocaust Poetry

In addition to my other blog posts, to honor both Holocaust Remembrance Month and National (US) Poetry Month I will be posting a poem a day throughout the month of April (and into May to properly honor Yom HaShoah). The poems that I will be posting are my own recreations of the lives of three victims of the Holocaust: Hertha Feiner, Janusz Korczak, and Filip Müller. The poems are fictionalized historical account of what might have happened in the world immediately surrounding these people.

The general thought behind them is that every memoir has something missing. Sometimes it’s a forgotten foreshadowing phrase said in passing or simply what is happening outside when their focus is on the room in which they are sitting. These are the aspects painted in this collection. It is my hope that you will find these poems not only stirring but accurate as well.

Each poem will be posted with a quote from the book before the text of the poem and a brief biography of the person’s whose life we are remembering below the poem which will also include the citation of the original text referenced in the poems. I encourage you to read their accounts as one should not rely solely on these poems for information.

Many people have asked me why I started writing Holocaust poetry. I really don’t have an answer to that question but I can tell you how it happened…

During the winter of 2004, I began writing about the Holocaust because I needed an outlet for my own pain and fear. It was not a conscious decision to write about Janusz Korczak, it just happened. I began relating to Korczak and his children on the most basic level: I was depressed, I couldn’t eat, and I was in pain. It was a time in my life when writing was work.

I was struck not only with what Korczak recorded in his diary but also by the thoughts of what was not written in those pages. This feeling was intensified further when I would come across passages that were of longing, passages that recalled of a different time in Korczak’s life, a time without worry. I understood the feeling of wanting to escape but my thoughts were firmly planted in the Warsaw orphanage in which Korczak was writing amongst sleeping children.

It was the contrariness between thought and reality that forced me to scribe ink on the page. When Korczak wrote, “I used to write at stops, in a meadow under a pine tree, sitting on a stump. Everything seemed important and if I did not note it down I would forget. An irretrievable loss to humanity,” I couldn’t stop thinking about what the children were experiencing at that time, at that exact moment. Were they awake or asleep, were they hungry, were they scared, were they healthy or sick? What was happening outside the window, what sounds did they hear, what smells slipped through the cracks?

That is how these poems started and resulted in some of them being published in Midstream Magazine, The Endicott Review, The Hypertexts, Charles Fishman’s anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust, and my own chapbook (the Janusz Korczak section), Kaddish Diary (Pudding House Publications, 2005). The need to know more can be a powerful motivation.

I continued writing Holocaust poetry for the next few years after that completing three small series. However, the resulting nightmares and emotional exhaustion increasingly gotten worse resulting in my taking a break from writing about the subject.

Maybe the posting of these poems will give me that final push to continue writing about the Holocaust. Maybe. Maybe not. I guess we will find out.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Inspiration and Community

We got a response from the Jewish Agency earlier this week about our Aliyah application. It wasn’t bad news but I wouldn’t call it good news either. We have to supply more documents.  Well, actually, one new document and a couple of letters reprinted on official stationary. So, now we wait some more.

The problem I have when I have to wait is that I start thinking too much. This is the time when the unknowns fester and the doubts test my determination. I guess it’s a good thing. These times of reflection have served as spiritual reinforcement and have clarified my reasons for going home.

Israel is my home. There is an intense emptiness that has eaten away at me since leaving that I have longed to fill. I want to be whole again. A fellow blogger, Eli, posted a list along these same lines about the hole that is left. She is much more precise in her writing so I will simply second her sentiments and post a link to her blog here!

YouTube has been a wonderful source of encouragement during this waiting period as well. Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency have posted many Aliyah videos that have been both a source of tears and a source of encouragement. My wife and I watch this video all the time and, each time, it intensifies our longing and encourages us to NEVER give up.

In addition to the wonderful Nefesh B’Nefesh and Jewish Agency videos that have been posted there are hundreds of other movies that have been spiritually nourishing including one that I have watched over and over from Ronen Levi Yitzchak Segal z”l, who talks about his own longing to return and the spiritual reasons behind his beliefs.

His videos are a wonderful source of knowledge and caring that I wholeheartedly encourage you to watch. He will be missed by many (take a look at this beautifully written piece by Gruven Reuven) and, fortunately for those of us who never knew him, we still have a chance to learn from him through his posts.   

Of course, I have been able to talk to many past, current, and future olim who have been there to listen, support, and encourage me and my wife whenever we have needed someone to lean on. It just goes to show that Aliyah the process is a collective experience. It is not simply about embracing your faith, your home, and your community; you must allow yourself to be embraced by your faith, your home, and your community.

I pray that one day we will all be able to go home but, for now, I will continue waiting.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Finding Hashem

Some time ago I wrote a children’s book which has been sitting in a file on my computer. With everything that has happened in these past few weeks, I thought it was time pull it out and share with everyone. It is a very simple story but I think it speaks to a question that many people are asking right now: where is Hashem in all of this tragedy?

Simply put, Hashem is everywhere. Hashem is the light in this world. A light that is sometimes hard to see, sometimes nearly impossible to find, but He is always there. We may not always understand what happens in this world and why, but we must hold onto Hashem and trust Him. There is a greater picture, a fully realized canvas that we cannot understand or comprehend.

We must hold tight to Hashem during the good times and, more importantly, during the difficult times. We must stand with our homeland and embrace the people in Eretz Yisrael with whom we have a bond more powerful than blood. We are one people with one home and one G-d and we must always remember that Hashem is everywhere.

We have all tried to describe Hashem to ourselves but how do we describe Hashem to children? How do we explain Hashem’s presence in a simple, kid friendly way? This is my attempt to do just that:

Hashem is Everywhere

As Daniel walked home from synagogue with his father he asked, “Daddy, where’s Hashem?”

Daniel’s father answered, “Hashem is everywhere.”

“Is Hashem under that rock?”


Daniel ran over to the rock and turned it upside down. “I don’t see Him! I just missed Him!”

Daniel’s father laughed.

Daniel continued walking with his father.

As they reached their house Daniel asked, “Daddy, is Hashem inside our house?”

Daniel’s father replied as he opened the door, “Yes.”

“I don’t see Him. Where is He?”

“Daniel, why don’t you look in the family room while I make us some lunch.” Before his father could finish his suggestion, Daniel began searching the room.

Daniel turned over all the cushions, crawled behind the couch, and peered behind the book cases. “I can’t find Him. I keep missing Him.”

Daniel stopped his search as he heard his father yell, “Come in and eat lunch. You can look later.”

Daniel bounced into the kitchen and sat down at the table.

After eating half of his sandwich Daniel asked, “Daddy, is Hashem in my sandwich?”

Daniel’s father laughed as he said, “Yes, Hashem is everywhere.”

Daniel paused and said with a smile, “He tastes good.”

Daniel and his father laughed as they finished their lunch.

“Can I start looking for Hashem again?”

“I think you should take a nap now. You can look again after that.”

Daniel yawned, “Looking for Hashem makes me sleepy.”

“You’re right. It takes a lot of time and energy. It can make you very sleepy.” Daniel slowly climbed the stairs with his father following him.

As Daniel got into bed he asked his father, “Daddy, can you check the closet for monsters?”

“There are no monsters in the closet, only Hashem.”

“Can I see?”

“You can’t see Hashem. He is everywhere at the same time.”

“Why can’t I see him?”

“Hashem is… invisible. He is always watching you and always protecting you.”

Daniel closed his eyes as he said, “Just like Mommy is always with me. Right?”

“Right. Just like Mommy.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

And Now We Wait….

I would rather be waiting here!

After a long and frantic day yesterday and the resulting feeling of this being the beginning of a waiting period between horrific events rather than an isolated tragedy, I had a completely opposite feeling today. While colored with a few tainted hues of recent reality, it was a tremendously exciting day when we would take the next step in our journey home.  

My wife and I met with our Shlicha this morning at The Jewish Agency office in New York. Well, we met after a taking the train from central New Jersey to Penn Station, walking across town, and filtering through the multiple stages of security. We brought all of our documents, even the Nefesh B’Nefesh ones we didn’t “need”, and I am glad we did. I will just say this: there is no such thing as too many recommendations.

After answering some questions about our background and our decision to make Aliyah, we sorting through the pile of papers that we thought were organized when we left the house this morning.

Birth Certificates? Check! Thanks Mom!

Marriage Certificate (with Apostille)? Check! We have an extra one without an Apostille if you want it… thanks Philadelphia.

Conversion Documents? Check (and check and check and check)! I have a lot of supporting documents. It’s a long, and some would say painful, story.

Letters from sponsoring Rabbi? Check and… check! That was a close one!

Health Declarations and Entry / Exit Forms? Check and Check!

Passports and additional passport photos? Check and Check! And that is when we said bye-bye to our passports. Good things we aren’t planning on leaving the country (well, at least not until the summer)!

With everything checked off the list (woo hoo) it was time for… more paperwork (d’oh). Okay, I’m exaggerating, it’s not that bad, just one more form. We borrowed our passports and filled out or immigration visa applications. And, as has been my theme during this entire process, every other line I would ask “what’s this?” or “what do I put here?”

Eventually, we got them filled out and signed and we returned them to our Shlicha along with our borrowed passports. Bye-bye passports (part deux).

And now, we wait. We wait and we prepare. Emotionally, financially, spiritually we prepare. Anxiously, excitedly, nervously we wait.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Terrorism Will NOT Deter Our Aliyah!

It has been a horrifying day. I have been frantically emailing and tweeting to check in with friends to see if they are okay after this morning’s cowardly and unspeakable act of terrorism. 31 people got up today expecting it to be like any other and it was until the bomb exploded. Dozens have been injured, one person was killed, and countless live have been effected (including my own).

My wife and I have been absorbed in the aliyah process for almost a year and, like clockwork, whenever something happens in Israel (and the Middle East in general) we are asked whether we are still planning on moving. Every time, including right now, our answer is a resounding YES! When someone attacks your home you don’t run away.

We understood at the onset of our journey that acts such as those over the past couple of weeks could happen. Do we pray for peace? Of course we do but we cannot stand on the sidelines and wait, we can’t expect others to stand in our place, we can’t say we support our home and our people with all our heart and soul if we are not there. This is our home and we are not going to run away!

I know I am not the only one who feels this way – I am not the first and I am not the last. I know that many people will not understand or agree with these views but they should think about the power that conviction in the face of terrorism can possess. We saw this in the US after 9/11 but these “smaller” events can have a similar impact. Take a couple of minutes to watch the following video and think about how many lives have been changed. Think about how many people have been able to go home thanks to Rabbi Yehoshua Fass and Nefesh B’Nefesh.  

The objectives of these acts of terror are to kill some and frighten, to get rid of, and prevent the rest of us from returning home. Have these events scared me? I would be lying if I said they didn’t. Will they prevent me from making aliyah? NO! Will they get rid of me? NO! I am going home!

 We are one people with one home. No one can take away our faith. No one can take away our home. Acts of terror should bring us together. These events should motivate us to change our lives and appreciate all that Hashem has given us. While these recent events have made me stop and think, they will never deter me from going home! 

I will continue to pray for peace, for the victims and their families, and that everyone will be able to find their way home!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Never Settle for Less!

International reactions to the heinous murder of a holy family in Itamar have been, for the most part, respectful but, if one reads the comments and reactions to the various articles, you can almost feel the hate transcend the screen and grab you by the throat. And the words that leave me gasping for air the longest are the disgraceful ramblings from other Jews.

Additional news out of Israel from Monday (new settlement construction in the west bank) and Tuesday (the interception of an arms shipment from Iran and Syria intended to arm Hamas in Gaza), has further demonstrated the disgusting lack of unity for our state, our home, and the legal and justified actions of our leaders. The accusations being bandied about such as “illegitimate” settlements and that they “should arm themeslves in case of any Israeli aggression” are not solely those of radical goyim. It makes me sick to have to write this but I have encountered numerous Jews who have supported those statements and some who even use them to launch into anti-Israel tirades (Thomas Friedman recently used the crisis in Egypt in the same manner). 

Why? Why do Jews insist on fighting against their own people? Why is there no connection to the land of Israel, to our home? Why is it always seen as Israel’s fault? Why are the people who give their lives in defense of our land disrespected? Why are victims of murder seen as the aggressors?

I can’t say that I have the answers to these questions but I can surmise a possible theory behind this thinking. I believe that there are three main factors feeding into the Jewish psyche that lead to such distorted and dysfunctional views and beliefs.   

·         Lack of Jewish knowledge and upbringing is the primary culprit. Without the foundation of heritage, tradition, and faith it is impossible to connect with something, someplace that you know little about. This also prevents the spark of desire to see our home and breathe the holy air that can feed ones passion to protect our place in this world and our homeland.

·         Selfishness is quickly breaking down the fibers that knit our community together. Everyone is focused on what is best for them, not everyone. They view others in this world, especially other Jews as hostile because they don’t subscribe to the same views, beliefs, and practices. They will question anything you say that they don’t agree with but will not allow you to reciprocate the query.

·         And where do they get these views? The media. This wouldn’t be so bad if it was unbiased but, to the dismay of all of us that try to find the facts and explore topics from multiple angles before forming an opinion, modern media is slightly west of the far left. Ironically, during an age when one can rapidly research any topic on line and find views from all sides, people take the media at face value more often than not (take a look at the comments section on most articles about Israel).

Yes, I realize that this is a very simplistic summary but I think it touches on the major points of contention which are feeding into the toxic views of Israel spreading within the Jewish community. These views continue to eat away at the public opinion slowly sinking the public stance beyond the point of return. Right now, the hope remains that things will change, that we, those who stand with Israel, will be able to reverse the insanity. However, the questions remain: How do we accomplish this? How can we change the Jewish world?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Don’t Wait for Purim to Make Some Noise!

My ears are ringing and my knees and feet ache in anticipation of Purim. I can hear the grogger’s bass staccato and I can feel the vibrations in my legs as I stamp my feet as we work as a community, as a people, to blot out the name of Haman.

Purim, the most joyous holiday on the Jewish calendar, is the story of Mordechai and his cousin, Queen Esther who thwarted an attempt by the Prime Minister of Ancient Persia, Haman, to exterminate the Jewish people. When the story of Purim is read every year at this time it is underlined by the blotting out of Haman’s name through the use of groggers, foot stomping, and booing.

The joyous, and sometimes raucous, celebration is a community act. No one acts alone. Everyone works together and supports each other, to turn the voices of many into one to make one collective noise.

However, beyond these community gatherings of support and joy, the voice of the Jewish people is shattered. I am not talking about the differences between the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, etc. communities but of a more fundamental and deeper chasm… supporting Israel.

Purim is a time when we should recognize what we can do as a people. We can’t just sit around and stuff ourselves with Hamentashen, we must rally to support our homeland, we must speak with one voice, we must stomp our feel and blot out the accusations being made against our home. Whether it is by writing, by praying, by making Aliyah, make your voice heard!

We all need to regularly show our admiration for those who live in the land that G-d has granted to us, support for those in the IDF who protect us and defend our right to exist as a people and our right to a homeland, and respect for the holy men who pray for us all and carry on the traditions that many take for granted.

We live many different kinds of lives but we are one people with one home. We all want peace and we will all fight for peace because no one should live in a home being torn apart by conflict or partitions. We must ensure that we will not be cast out into the Diaspora again to be gripped with the longing to return and the inability to do so. We need to ensure that we and all our future generations have a place to call home! We need to make some noise!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Employment, Communities, and Other Aliyah Unknowns

We continued to make progress this past week in our Aliyah journey. On Thursday, we were able to submit the remaining documents needed for our application to Nefesh B’Nefesh. On Sunday, we schlepped into the city and had a wonderful meeting at Nefesh B’Nefesh with an Aliyah advisor. And today, we scheduled our next interview with our Shlichat at the Jewish Agency (two weeks from this Thursday).

The more things that we are checking off the list, the more anxious I am getting. There are just so many unknowns. No matter how much we learn now, I know that the knowledge pales in comparison to the experience.

Time seems to be flying by and the unknowns still linger. We are now focusing on finding a place to live (at least temporarily) when we finally make it home and finding employment.

We are still hoping that we will be able to participate in the First Home in the Homeland program (living on a kibbutz) or live in an absorption center but we are not taking those options for granted so we are exploring other options. There are a few communities suggested to us yesterday during our meeting which are around Jerusalem. It was also suggested that we look into the Go North program. We are taking all of these options into consideration and researching towns, apartments, costs, etc.

Employment is a completely different situation. Maybe I will be able to keep my current job (and salary) but I am not counting on that. I am anticipating having to find a new job and I have been networking for months to increase my chances of finding a job quickly. However, the Teaching English in Israel program has been brought back to life recently which is good news for my wife. She will be able to receive ulpan, training, and a stipend.    

We still have a lot of questions but we are slowly getting some answers. Hopefully we will get some more answers when we meet with our Shlichat. G-d willing, everything will go smoothly during our appointment and we will officially be accepted by the Jewish Agency.

With that said, any employment, community, real estate, or general Aliyah advice you would like to share would be greatly appreciated.