Archive for the ‘Personal History’ Category

Local Outrage– We’ll Pay the Price for SF Oil Spill for Years

What used to be a normal day at Crissy Field–

Jibing

Now ruined by a toxic oil spill on the water–

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One of the great pleasures of living in San Francisco is the ability to enjoy the natural beauty and unique features of the San Francisco Bay.  When I first moved to San Francisco in 1990 I would windsurf regularly under the Golden Gate Bridge, launching from Crissy Field.  In 1993, I joined the South End Rowing Club (one of two local Polar Bear swimming clubs) and would actually swim in the Bay three to five times a week, immersing myself in the exhilarating waters of Aquatic Park for as long as thirty three minutes… 

More recently, I’ve been riding my bike down to the Golden Gate Bridge through the Presidio and taking advantage of the new cycling paths next to the superb wetlands restoration project at Crissy Field.  I often cross the Golden Gate on my bicycle and ride up into the Marin Headlands. But cyclists are depressed, windurfers are grounded, and nobody is swimming in the Bay after the collision of the Cosco Busan cargo ship into the Bay Bridge on Wednesday November 8th at 8:30 AM released 58,000 gallons of oil into the Bay. Click here for Sacramento Bee story.

Crissy Field is desolate and adorned only by oil spill cleanup booms; virtually all of our San Francisco Bay beaches are closed due to the disastrous oil spill that has befouled our Bay– and the spill now stretches out to sea 10 miles, threatening sensitive bird breeding grounds in the Farallon Islands.20071109_084901_oilspillbeaches1109

click on image to enlarge

We, the cyclists, swimmers, sailors, beach-loving families, and, most of all, the defenseless wildlife that are our national treasure, are going to be paying the price for this negligence for years.  It appears that emergency crews did not act in a timely manner to stem the damage– and the sad fact is that in 30 minutes, the bulk of the damage was done. 

The earth is already in trouble from climate change, and avoidable tragedies such as this one should only punctuate the need to plan ahead for the low probability, high loss events that can impact our lives and destroy the natural habitat that makes the Bay Area special.  It is a sad day for all of us. 

Young Adult American Jews Can Reverse a Trend of Indifference and Alienation by Visiting Israel

An increasingly large proportion of American Jews under the age of 35 is becoming increasingly indifferent to and alienated from Israel.  Why?  Primarily because these people have not visited Israel. 

According to a new white paper- Beyond Distancing: Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel, by Steven M. Cohen and Ari Y. Kelman, “the erosion on Israel engagement has taken place over the entire age spectrum, from elderly, to upper-middle-aged, to lower-middle-aged, to young adult. … We see a pattern of shifting (declining) attachment to Israel stretching over 50 years, from those who are now 65 and older down to those in their 20s.”

Funded by the Jewish Identity Project of Reboot and the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, this paper’s conclusions are based on a survey of 1,828 Jewish respondents between December 2006 and January 2007 and focuses on non-Orthodox respondents.
    
What does Jewish American alienation from Israel mean?  It means that the majority of American Jews under the age of 35 do not believe that the destruction of Israel would be a personal tragedy and do not talk about Israel to non-Jewish friends.  Over 40% of American Jews under the age of 35 and almost 40% of American Jews under the age of 50 describe their level of Israel attachment as Low.  60% of the respondents have never been to Israel, and only 15% have been more than once.  48% of respondents believe that there is either a moderate amount of anti-Semitism in the U.S. today; 38% believe that there is a great deal of anti-Semitism in the U.S. today (62% believe there is a great deal of anti-Semitism in Europe today).  More importantly, 47% believe that anti-Semitism will increase in the U.S. over the next several years (62% believe so in Europe).       

Among the paper’s most important observations, intermarriage has an important influence on the distancing of American Jews from Israel.  However “contrary to widely held beliefs, left-liberal political identity is not primarily responsible for driving down the Israel attachment scores among the non-Orthodox.  If left-liberal politics were influential, we should see significant differences between liberal-Democrats and conservative-Republicans.  The absence of such a pattern, and their inconsistent variations within age groups, run contrary to the assertion that political views are the prime source of disaffection from Israel.”

I am the son of a Holocaust survivor with a strong Jewish religious education, but I was largely indifferent to Israel for much of my life because I didn’t have the perspective that you gain from actually going there.

I first visited Israel in early 2002 and have now been there 11 times.  Going there has completely changed my perspective about the importance of the State of Israel.  Today I am actively involved in direct philanthropic initiatives in Israel that promote religious pluralism.  I care deeply for Israel while being highly sensitive to the country’s many faults and contradictions.  I care about preserving the Jewish State of Israel in the face of great challenges, and I respect the deeply passionate people who make the commitment to live in Israel, even though I may not share their social or political views.

If you are a Jew who is indifferent to or alienated from Israel, you should visit the country and see for yourself why it is the center of so much global controversy.  Don’t be a bystander in this developing story.  The Business Leadership Council of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation is leading a business professionals Mission to Israel next April 30—in my view, this is a great opportunity to gain a new perspective on Israel and on your Jewish identity.       

Nicolas Sarkozy’s Jewish Heritage

The new President of France has strong Jewish ethnic origins and understands the roots of Zionism and the case for the existence of Israel.  Below, I have excerpted parts of an article written by Raanan Eliaz in the European Jewish Press that outlines the Sarkozy family’s origins and experience during the Holocaust.  There is plenty of debate over whether Sarkozy’s Jewish ethnicity will materially influence French policies in the Middle East.

Puting this question aside, but drawing on my own family history and my father’s negative experiences with French anti-Semitism, in my view it’s a big deal that someone of Nicolas Sarkozy’s background, who is also a vocal supporter of improved relations with the United States, is the new leader of France. Bonne Chance, Monsieur President!

From the article:

"In an interview Nicolas Sarkozy gave in 2004, he expressed an
extraordinary understanding of the plight of the Jewish people
for a home: "Should I remind you the visceral attachment of
every Jew to Israel, as a second mother homeland? There is
nothing outrageous about it. Every Jew carries within him a fear
passed down through generations, and he knows that if one day he
will not feel safe in his country, there will always be a place
that would welcome him. And this is Israel." (From the book "La
République, les religions, l’espérance", interviews with Thibaud
Collin and Philippe Verdin.)

Sarkozy’s sympathy and understanding is most probably a product
of his upbringing; it is well known that Sarkozy’s mother was
born to the Mallah family, one of the oldest Jewish families of
Salonika, Greece. Additionally, many may be surprised to learn
that his yet-to-be-revealed family history involves a true and
fascinating story of leadership, heroism and survival. It
remains to be seen whether his personal history will affect his
foreign policy and France’s role in the Middle East conflict.

In the 15th century, the Mallah family (in Hebrew: messenger or
angel) escaped the Spanish Inquisition to Provence, France and
moved about one hundred years later to Salonika. In Greece,
several family members became prominent Zionist leaders, active
in the local and national political, economic, social and
cultural life. To this day many Mallahs are still active
Zionists around the world.

Sarkozy’s grandfather, Aron Mallah, nicknamed Benkio, was born
in 1890. Beniko’s uncle Moshe was a well-known Rabbi and a
devoted Zionist who, in 1898 published and edited "El Avenir",
the leading paper of the Zionist national movement in Greece at
the time. His cousin, Asher, was a Senator in the Greek Senate
and in 1912 he helped guarantee the establishment of the
Technion – the elite technological university in Haifa, Israel.
In 1919 he was elected as the first President of the Zionist
Federation of Greece and he headed the Zionist Council for
several years. In the 1930’s he helped Jews flee to Israel, to
which he himself immigrated in 1934. Another of Beniko’s
cousins, Peppo Mallah, was a philanthropist for Jewish causes
who served in the Greek Parliament, and in 1920 he was offered,
but declined, the position of Greece’s Minister of Finance.
After the establishment of the State of Israel he became the
country’s first diplomatic envoy to Greece.

In 1917 a great fire destroyed parts of Salonika and damaged the
family estate. Many Jewish-owned properties, including the
Mallah’s, were expropriated by the Greek government. Jewish
population emigrated from Greece and much of the Mallah family
left Salonika to France, America and Israel. Sarkozy’s
grandfather, Beniko, immigrated to France with his mother. When
in France Beniko converted to Catholicism and changed his name
to Benedict in order to marry a French Christian girl named
Adèle Bouvier.

Adèle and Benedict had two daughters, Susanne and Andrée.
Although Benedict integrated fully into French society, he
remained close to his Jewish family, origin and culture. Knowing
he was still considered Jewish by blood, during World War II he
and his family hid in Marcillac la Croisille in the Corrèze
region, western France.

During the Holocaust, many of the Mallahs who stayed in Salonika
or moved to France were deported to concentration and
extermination camps. In total, fifty-seven family members were
murdered by the Nazis. Testimonies reveal that several revolted
against the Nazis and one, Buena Mallah, was the subject of
Nazis medical experiments in the Birkenau concentration camp.

In 1950 Benedict’s daughter, Andrée Mallah, married Pal Nagy
Bosca y Sarkozy, a descendent of a Hungarian aristocratic
family. The couple had three sons – Guillaume, Nicolas and
François. The marriage failed and they divorced in 1960, so
Andrée raised her three boys close to their grandfather,
Benedict. Nicolas was especially close to Benedict, who was like
a father to him. In his biography Sarkozy tells he admired his
grandfather, and through hours spent of listening to his stories
of the Nazi occupation, the "Maquis" (French resistance), De
Gaulle and the D-day, Benedict bequeathed to Nicolas his
political convictions.

Sarkozy’s family lived in Paris until Benedict’s death in 1972,
at which point they moved to Neuilly-sur-Seine to be closer to
the boys’ father, Pal (who changed his name to Paul) Sarkozy.
Various memoirs accounted Paul as a father who did not spend
much time with the kids or help the family monetarily. Nicolas
had to sell flowers and ice cream in order to pay for his
studies. However, his fascination with politics led him to
become the city’s youngest mayor and to rise to the top of
French and world politics. The rest is history. "

Raanan Eliaz is a former Director at the Israeli National
Security Council and the Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is
currently a Ph.D. candidate at the Catholic University of
Leuven, Belgium, and a consultant on European-Israeli Affairs.

Original article: ejpress.org/article/16491

A Very Special Shabbat

Today is a very special Shabbat because we are celebrating my son’s Bar Mitzvah– the first in our family in 30 years– and the last such milestone after our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah of two years ago.  As the son of a Holocaust survivor I feel very proud to have now successfully passed the torch of the Torah, the moral and legal framework of Judaism, on to the next generation.

Considering this observance of Jewish faith and ritual in a larger context, particularly the secular vs. religious debate that occupies so much of the media, I feel that many critics of religion and of religious observance are missing a very big point.

In a column on religion in the New York Times on March 3rd, Peter Steinfels takes to task Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, which so many people continue to read.  Steinfels notes that the new wave of books on atheism, including, of course, Sam Harris’ "Letter to a Christian Nation", is being criticized primarily by avowed atheists, philosophers, and scientists writing in publications like The New Republic and The New York Review of Books.

Critics, such as Marxist Terry Eagleton, make a very simple point that I find amply evident–

Referring to Dawkin’s book, Eagleton observes:

"In a book of almost 400 pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. … The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service  of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history– and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry."

Today, as my wife and I embrace our son and celebrate with our family, friends, and our Jewish community the coming of age of another generation of Jewish men, we are also celebrating the passing of the mantle of knowledge that inspires people to do the right thing in the name of humanity.  I thank God for that.

   

Do You Know How to Pray?

Jerusalem
December 11, 2006

We stood on the side of the road in silence, looking across the valley at the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque from Mount Scopus. Only the gathering evening wind and the steady idle of the Mercedes taxi’s engine accompanied us while we looked out into the encroaching darkness.  It was almost 6 PM, and my Israeli driver, who has shepherded me through ten trips to Israel since 2002, had brought me to this historic site before my dinner meeting to enjoy a few quiet moments and admire the lights of Jerusalem.

We had just left the Kotel, where I observed the 32nd anniversary of my father’s passing by reciting the Jewish mourner’s prayer, the Mourner’s Kaddish, at the Western Wall.

As we contemplated the Old City, we heard a new sound.  A melodic and melancholy chant now blended with the swirling wind and rose through the valley from the Al-Aqsa Mosque to reach us on Mount Scopus.  It was the muezzin’s evening call to prayer , multiplying through a succession of loudspeakers from the minarets of the numerous mosques that dotted the darkening landscape in front of us.

“Do you know how to pray?” my driver asked, piercing the silence.

With my own recent prayers still in my head, I quickly replied, “Yes, of course I do.”

His query surprised me, since my own experience is that spirituality and prayer come from within and need no formal instruction.  But my first reaction misinterpreted what he was really saying.

“I don’t know how to pray”, he asserted. “I am a Jew, and I live in Israel, and that’s it. . . . I think that the Jews who live outside of Israel know much more about prayer than many Jews here in Israel.  To be a Jew outside of Israel, you have to want to be a Jew and want to learn how to pray.”

I felt saddened as I considered his heartfelt statement, but I didn’t know how to respond.  I closed my eyes and asked myself how differently he, an Israeli Jew, would feel about his own Jewish identity if the State of Israel actually embraced religious pluralism.

And for a moment, as I strained to hear the now fading melody of the muezzin, I imagined what that Israel would be like.

Photographs (click on image to enlarge)

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The Western Wall in the foreground with the golden dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque above it, in a picture I took in June 2006.

The view of Al-Aqsa Mosque from Mount Scopus, December 11, 2006, at approximately 6 PM .

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More Jewish Geography– Israel vs. the San Francisco Bay Area

When people talk about Jews and Israel, many appear to view the Jews as a monolithic group. This would be a mistake. My previous post shows that, as a percentage of the world’s population, the Jews are barely a rounding error at approximately 13.3 million out of a global population of 6.6 billion, or 0.20%. Further, there are more Jews in the United States than in Israel, and the Jews in the United States account for approximately 1.9% of the 295 million Americans.

So how are the Jews divided between themselves? First, most people who identify themselves as Jews do not observe their own religion—either in Israel or in the United States. Second, in Israel, a monopoly on Jewish ritual observance has been granted by the government to the ultra-orthodox or haredim, who account for only about 6% of the Jewish population, in return for their support of the majority governing coalition in the Knesset (Jewish Parliament). Wikipedia provides us with some important statistics about Israel’s divided Jewish population:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Israel

According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, at the end of 2004, 76.2% of Israelis were Jews by religion. Muslims made up 16.1% of Israelis, 2.1% were Christian, 1.6% were Druze and the remaining 3.9% (including Russian immigrants and some Jews) were not classified by religion.[2]

Official figures do not exist as to the number of atheists or otherwise non-affiliated individuals, who may comprise up to a quarter of the population referred to as Jewish.

According to one study, 6% of Israeli Jews define themselves as haredim (or Ultra-Orthodox); an additional 9% are "religious" (predominantly orthodox, also known in Israel as: Zionist-religious, national-religious and Kepot Srogot); 34% consider themselves "traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish Halakha); and 51% are "secular". Among the seculars, 53% say they believe in God(s).

I have also reviewed the 2004 Jewish Community Study published by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin, and Sonoma Counties, which reveals very interesting demographic information about the Bay Area Jewish community. Since 1984, the Bay Area Jewish population has increased by a whopping 91% to approximately 228,000 people. Recognizing that the Bay Area may is more liberal than the rest of the United States and that Northern California Jews may be among the most liberal people in the world, a side by side comparison of the religious identification between Bay Area Jews and Israel’s Jews is very interesting:

2004 Data

Denomination

Israel

SF Bay Area

Ultra-Orthodox

6%

-

Orthodox

9%

3%

Conservative

-

17%

Reform

-

38%

Traditionalist

34%

-

Secular

51%

33%

Reconstructionist

-

2%

Other

-

6%

Jewish Renewal

-

1%

100%

100%

At most, 15% of Israeli Jews are Orthodox, compared to 3% in the Bay Area. By any standard, this represents a very small minority.

Why are there no Conservative or Reform Jews in Israel? Because, according to the State of Israel, Reform and Conservative Judaism do not officially exist. (There are Reform and Conservative synagogues in Israel, with active congregations, but they receive no State funding, whereas the Orthodox synagogues are richly supported by the State.)

Meanwhile, 55% of Bay Area Jews are either Reform or Conservative (I grew up as a Conservative Jew in Puerto Rico and now belong to one of the largest Reform congregations in the United States, San Francisco’s Temple Emanu El). Approximately 1.5 million, or 26%, of American Jews are Reform out of 5.7 million Jews in the U.S.

34% of Israeli Jews are “traditionalist”. I don’t know what that means, but I am guessing that it means they would be either Reform or Conservative if that option existed in Israel. (Reform and Conservative Judaism have emerged over different intepretations of Halakha.)

And a whopping 51% of Israeli Jews are “secular”, meaning non-observant. This means that 85% of Israeli Jews operate OUTSIDE of the only recognized Jewish religious practice—orthodoxy.And this is a Jewish state that is a democracy?

According to the Federation Survey, between 53% and 80% of Bay Area Jews, divided by age group and family unit, belong to “NOTHING”. This means that, while they may describe themselves as Reform or Conservative or Reconstructionist or Orthodox, they are, for all intents and purposes, unaffiliated with an organized Jewish religious organization.

So there are many similarities between the San Francisco Bay Area’s Jews and the Jews of the State of Israel—most of them are unaffiliated, very few are orthodox, and the majority in both countries are not recognized by the Jewish State as being eligible for official recognition and support.

To be clear, I am an active supporter of Israel in both business and in my philanthropy, and I feel great solidarity with the people of Israel during these times of extreme angst and turmoil. But one might think that, with all of the tragedy we have endured as a people for thousands of years, with our dwindling numbers, and with the increasing trend of anti-Semitism in this world, we Jews could find more reasons to come together than to remain fragmented in the Diaspora.

Puerto Ricans Meet at Masada

We had been walking around the forbidding Masada Plateau for about half an hour in the 105 degree heat.  I felt a little dazed, but would really be dazed in a moment,

Looking at a group of spanish speakers about 20 yards away,  I said to my wife, "Isn’t that a Puerto Rican flag they are carrying over there?"

"Are you crazy, of course not." she asserted.

But there it was, and there they were– 26 Puerto Ricans on a college trip led by Universidad del Sagrado Corazon Professor of Theology Jose Lazaro– my kinsmen from the home island, and I had to travel to Masada, deep in the heart of a mineralized baking oven known as the Dead Sea, to meet them.

We talked about old times– (donde viven ustedes en la isla?), and new times (como van las cosas, tan mal como dicen en los periodicos?)–

I haven’t been back to Puerto Rico since 1989. Professor Lazaro didn’t know about blogs before our conversation– now he does and hopefully he will look mine up and see all of us together.

What a delightful surprise– something tells me we were all meant to be at Masada together today.

PS

He said the economic problems of the island are not as bad as they have been reported to be. "On an island, when people talk, small pebbles become boulders and an insect bite becomes a pain in the …"

What Happened to Puerto Rico?

When I grew up on the island of Puerto Rico in the 1960′s, little did I know that I was living through the brief "heyday" of Puerto Rico’s over 100 year history as part of the United States. 

Both The New York Times and The Economist have devoted some recent ink to the sorry tale of "la isla del encanto". The bottom line is resoundingly bad, and the most interesting thing about the recent press coverage is that Puerto Rico’s current plight is the result of decades of poorly conceived investment subsidies and welfare transfer payments.

As a child, I knew that being born in Puerto Rico made me an American citizen, but our family could not vote for the President of the United States.  We also did not pay federal income taxes.  U.S. companies such as the one that employed my father– the Harwood Corporation based in New York City– a then-publicly-held textile manufacturing concern, took advantage of tax breaks– the most advantageous and best known being Section 936, which was only finally phased out in 2005.

Another thing I knew about Puerto Rico in the 60′s and early 70′s was that a lot of people were on welfare and found it more attractive to hang out, receive monthly checks from Uncle Sam, and maybe earn a little money working off-the-books in the "grey" economy, while avoiding the "stress" of serious work–  and guess what?  Having the option to do nothing and get paid seems to be at the root of the crisis in unemployment and the underutilization of a well-educated workforce that cripples Puerto Rico today.

So how bad are things in Puerto Rico?

Acccording to The Economist

*Puerto Rico’s annual income per person in 2004 was around $12,000, less than half that of Mississippi, which is the poorest state in the U.S.

*Over 48% of the people on the island live below the federally defined poverty line– this is 4x the national average and 2x the misery in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

* Best estimates of unemployemnt on the island range from 45% to 55%.

* Federal transfer payments (welfare) to the island still make up over 20% of the island’s personal income.

*Despite Puerto Rico’s beautiful beaches (and great sailing and surfing and diving) jobs in tourism engage a lower share of the workforce in Puerto Rico than in any of the 50 states.

*Around 30% of the island’s jobs are in the public sector, so Puerto Rico can boast of a bloated bureaucracy.

The Economist concludes the following:

"… Most important, however, is that the United States government assumed too big a role in the Puerto Rican economiy, and its largess enabled the commonwealth’s government to do the same.  Through hubris, clumsiness, and sheer size, these governments knocked Puerto Rico off the promising path that it was following, and the island’s economy is now lost in a thicket of bad incentives.  Two federal intrusions stand out: an oversized welfare state, and misguided rules on business investment…. Manuel Reyes, of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association, also sees little hope that the government’s role will shrink. ‘There is no light at the end of the tunnel,’, he says, ‘because we are still in denial’."

My father was the President of the Puerto Rico Manufacturers Association before his death in 1974.  Because he was an optimist, I know he would not have accepted "being in denial" as an answer.  I also know he would be saddened to see where the road has led for this beautiful place that, ironically, remains left behind as a commonwealth that is part of the United States.

Que lastima!

 

A Death in the Family

My cousin, Melanie Levensohn, died.  She died at Auschwitz concentration camp in December 1943 at age 19.

I didn’t even know I had a cousin named Melanie until four weeks ago.

My father escaped from a concentration camp in Romania over 60 years ago and died of lung cancer in 1974 when I was fourteen years old.  In my family, we didn’t discuss what happened to him as a child—occasionally he would offer a story of the brutality he endured as a slave laborer forced to work naked, digging trenches with his bare hands– but I never got the whole story.  It was not OK to bring up the topic, and even today I know too little about my family.

I was shocked to learn about Melanie from her two half-sisters, my cousins Dina and Jackie, over lunch the day before my daughter’s Bat Mizvah last month.  Dina and Jackie are my father’s two first cousins; as toddlers they and their father, Lazar, escaped from Romania via Austria and eventually made it to New Zealand.  My father helped bring their family to join him in Canada in the early ‘50’s.  Melanie was their older sister from my uncle Lazar’s first marriage, and she was not as lucky as the rest of them.

Jackie spent over six years researching Melanie’s whereabouts to honor her father’s dying wish—that Melanie’s fate be known so that our family could recite the mourner’s Kaddish in her memory.  In her research, Jackie contacted the Holocaust and War Victims Tracing and Information Center division of the American Red Cross, local government officials in Paris and Nice, the United States Holocaust Museum, and the Klarsfeld Foundation in Paris.

Today, I know the following:

Melanie was born in Galatz, Romania on October 19, 1924.  Her mother, Ernestine, was divorced from my uncle Lazar in the early 1930’s and moved to France, where she re-married a gentleman named Goldenberg.  Due to fears for Melanie’s safety from the Nazis, sometime in 1942 or 1943 she moved from Paris to Nice to attend university and lived there with her uncle, whose last name was Grumberg.

Melanie was deported from Nice to the Drancy staging camp in France in November 1943 and arrived in Drancy on December 1.
Melanie was assigned to Convoy 63 on December 17, destination Auschwitz.  501 males, 345 females (and 4 more people of unspecified gender) boarded this cursed transport.  Ninety nine of them were under eighteen years of age, and Melanie had just celebrated her 19th birthday a few weeks prior.  Oddly, the record notes that Convoy 63 followed Convoy 64.  The train left Paris/Bobigny at 12:10 PM on the 17th.

“When they arrived in Auschwitz, 233 men were selected and received numbers 169735 through 169967.  112 women received numbers 72323 through 72434.  The other 505 were gassed.  In 1945 there were 31 survivors.  Six were women.”


Source: “Les Transferts de Juifs de la Region de Nice Vers Le Camp de Drancy en Vue de Leur Deportation, 31 Aout 1942 – 30 Juillet 1944”, edited and published by “Les Fils et Filles des Deportes Juifs de France” and the Beate Klarsfeld Foundation.

Camille Touboul, another victim of the Nazis who documented her experience in a manuscript, described the trip to Auschwitz:

“I still think, today, when I would like to free myself from this horror, to escape this nightmare, of all those who were part of this convoy, of the children, the innocent among the innocent, suffering from thirst, hunger, and who during the trip never stopped complaining, crying, shouting…  We were at our wits end, we were dying of thirst, very soon of hunger, the lack of air and sleep made us mad, we yelled out, we screamed, we cried, as if we could expect or hope for some assistance…  Oh, for some air, some air, to get out of this freightcar!  Panic took over…”

Tonight, I will be attending the annual Yom Hashoah gathering in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of liberation, in memory of those who perished during the Holocaust, and in honor of our local survivors, at Temple Emanu El in San Francisco.  Tonight I will be able to pray for you, too, Melanie, and I will honor your memory. 

"Oseh shalom beem’roh’mahv, hoo ya’aseh shalom, aleynu v’al kohl yisrael v’eemru: Amen"
"He who makes peace in His heights, may He make peace upon us and upon all Israel.   Amen"


Melanie_levensohn_1

Melanie Levensohn circa 1943

Why Get Involved in Interfaith Initiatives Promoting Jewish, Muslim, and Christian Reconciliation?

If we can give our children the tools to manage conflict and show them the path to reconciliation and peaceful coexistence, they may succeed where we have failed.

Before 9/11, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about interfaith conflict.  I largely ignored the religious rifts that define so much of Israel and the broader social and cultural problems that plague the Middle East. I viewed getting engaged as a waste of time because I didn’t believe there was a way I could make a difference in the region. The cultural and religious conflicts seemed so intractable to me, and plenty of other passionate people were already spending time trying to solve them, so I didn’t think it would be worth investing the time to really learn about the issues and develop more than a surface understanding of the conflict.

9/11 changed my basic perspective, as I recalibrated long-held beliefs about America and the rest of the world. As many other people have, I also concluded that the resolution of the Middle East conflict would now have a very direct impact on me and my family. I felt compelled to learn more and to find a way to get involved and make a difference.

Whether in business or otherwise, I am either fully engaged in something or not engaged at all, and when I am engaged, I do my best to leave my fingerprints on that project. I insist on understanding the details of an undertaking before committing to it. Philanthropy is no different. Simply writing checks to established charitable organizations just isn’t enough to make me feel that I’ve done my part.

I have spent the last two years learning about Islam in seminars at the Aspen Institute, meeting Muslim Arabs in the Arab Middle East and in Israel, meeting Muslims of different ethnicities in the U.S., and developing personal and business relationships with Israelis in Israel and in the U.S. I have also begun to reach out to representatives of Christian groups in the U.S. who advocate religious pluralism in education. Not only do I feel I can make a difference, I am making a difference. The best part is that I am just getting started.