A Hotel Hanukkah in Knoxville

Our menorah powers off of a 9-volt battery.  Instead of lighting a candle, The Boffin threw a DIP switch. Dinner was what we could grab at CVS since every place else was closed or closing. That was OK because of our gluttony at Skyline Chili earlier.  No latkes.  Just Stouffer’s or snacks.  Our presents were loaded into reusable grocery bags and lugged in for the evening.

It wasn’t home.  We didn’t have our Furball beating us with her paw and proclaiming her complete and utter starvation by standing pathetically by her bowl.  But we still had the quiet.  The calm.  The three of us.  Still good, though not usual.  I guess it is what you make it.

Here’s to a happy Hanukkah to all those who celebrate.

Mazel Tov, Mr. Dylan!

I procured the latest edition of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago’s news magazine at our temple when I picked up The Sprog from Hebrew school. Of course, this tidbit of information is not the most timely, but I love how its caption was basically my reaction almost verbatim.

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I wonder if any of his relatives gave him a good quality pen for his endeavors.

L’Shana Tova

I just wished you a Happy New Year in just enough time before we go to temple.

Rosh Hashanah starts soon around my parts, and we are about to enter the Hebrew year 5776. But I plan to party like it is 5760.

One of the hopes of the new year is sweetness, so dipping apples in honey is a common practice in ceremonies at home. Since The Sprog, our Boston Baby, never took to honey, we adapted with maple syrup. So is eating baked goods. Now is a great excuse for The Boffin to make his first apple crumble of the year with the help of Bird’s Custard Powder. So we bring a little bit of Britain over here.

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Hey, if there enough interest, I will gladly post the recipe tomorrow. In the meantime, a good evening to you and yours.

Another Refugee Crisis

Let’s go back to March 1938. Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune made their archives available online, so we can see what the newspaper reported at that time.

Setting the scene, Germany has already annexed Austria and well on its way to its other deeds that we don’t have to rehash.  Meanwhile, President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull are appealing to the other nations for asylum for the Jews.

Refugees

Well, the editors at the Trib had something to say about that.

The Abuse of Asylum

Translation: We don’t want more of those Commie Jew Bastards here.  They are a complete threat to us and our clean American way of life!

Then, the Trib strikes the balance with its letters to the editor with pro and anti viewpoints.

Voice of the People

And President Roosevelt was getting flak from Congress over the idea of extending visas to Jews already in the country.

Roosevelt Plan

We know the outcome to this story.

I guess nothing changes.

Or can it?

Sir Nicholas Winton and a Different Look at Charity

“Nicholas Winton in Prague” by cs:User:Li-sung – Self-photographed. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

After 106 years with us, Sir Nicholas Winton passed away yesterday with his daughter, Barbara, and two of his grandchildren by his bedside.  What started off as a conventional stockbroker’s life turned into extraordinary with a plea for help in the form of a phone call from a friend in Prague.  Sir Nicholas cancelled his skiing holiday and organized a team to ultimately get 669 Jewish children out of Prague before the Nazis slammed the borders shut after their invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.  Unfortunately, there was a seventh train attempting to leave that day, and almost all those children died in the concentration camps.

What was just as amazing was that he kept his story to himself and carried on with his life being a pillar of his community in Maidenhead.  Though he didn’t keep his story a secret from anyone, it wasn’t until his wife found the scrapbook with the children’s pictures and information in the 1980s that his story came to light to the general public.  Many people marveling at this sort of humility and modesty and cannot understand how someone can be this way.  I can.  Please let me explain the possibility why.

Sir Nicholas Winton’s parents converted were Jewish but converted to Christianity.  However, I would not be surprised if the value of tzedakah was passed on to the Winton children.  Tzedakah means justice, righteousness, or fairness, and that is the Jewish approach to charity.  Charity is not considered an altruistic and magnanimous act.  Charity, whether through giving of money or through acts of service , is something you have to do.  It is not something that should be lauded.  It is not something that deserves accolades.  People need help, and you give it.  It is that simple.  If he were instilled with those sorts of values, his behavior would have made sense, but since I did not know the man, I can only speculate.

I can urge you to read more of his story in this New York Times obituary and appreciate what he contributed to humanity.  It tells his tale more eloquently than I can.

Rest well, Sir Nicholas.  You deserve every moment of peace.

Edited to correct the NY Times obituary.  Upon reading the obituaries in the British press, Sir Nicholas Winton did not hide his story from others, including his wife, but he did keep it understated.  She knew about the evacuations, and the family knew about the scrapbook’s existence before the scrapbook was discovered.  Winton’s late wife Grete gave the scrapbook to Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust researcher and the wife of newspaper mogul Robert Maxwell, and the publicity snowballed from there.

This British-American Life at the Movies: Sixty Six (2006)

There is one little tidbit I haven’t shared about us yet. We’re Jewish. Well, the Boffin is Jewish, and I’m along for the ride. We’re of the Reform variety, so that means that the Sprog is considered Jewish without the maternal bloodline. We belong to our temple. The Sprog goes to Sunday school and Hebrew school. She sings in Kavannah (the youth choir) and is planning her Bat Mitzvah even though she is only 10. And we platz like nobody’s business. Oy vey.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, it’s quite pertinent to the the movie review. Sixty Six is a comedy-drama that centers around the year 1966 and a soon-to-be 13-year-old boy, Bernie Rubens, as he approaches his Jewish coming of age. Bernie, being a lad who gets ignored a lot and is “not very good at breathing,” thinks his Bar Mitzvah is the moment that he will finally shine and take his place in the world. But fate plays against him because family hardships with the grocery business means the celebration has to be scaled back. Even worse, England is doing uncharacteristically well in the World Cup, and the final is scheduled on his big day! To put this in perspective for the Americans, 1966 World Cup final when England beat West Germany is one of the jewels in English sporting history. It was the last time they won the World Cup and is still discussed ad nauseum to this day. No one would have gone the Bat Mitzvah, if England made to the final, so Bernie spends a lot of time wishing for England’s demise.

The movie is a Working Title production. They are the same people that brought you Four Weddings and a Funeral and Love, Actually. Don’t let that detract you, if you are not a rom-com fan. The plot is based upon director, Paul Weiland’s own Bar Mitzvah being shadowed by the World Cup, so there is credibility to it. Although Sixty Six starts off slightly slowly, it picks up pace and proves to be engaging, quirky, funny, and well-acted. The stand-out performances go to Gregg Sulkin as Bernie who is really captures the angst of understanding that life is not about getting everything that you want, but at the same time wondering when it is going to be his turn. Eddie Marsan’s portrayal of Bernie’s meek, hypochondriac father was skillful in keeping him a character and creating not a caricature. You will also see solid performances from Helena Bonham-Carter, Catherine Tate, and Peter Serafinowicz.

The most interesting thing about the film is the grander theme. Look out for the tug-of-war between national identity vs. religious/personal identity. Bernie and his immediate family are trying to hold steady to their lives and plans while the nation around them is pushing forward with its own agenda in the form of the World Cup and the modern supermarket. There is much pressure to conform, even within the Jewish community. I don’t want to spoil the movie, but it’s interesting how it all plays out. I would imagine that an American movie would yield a different outcome.

So take the time to watch Sixty Six, if only to get a glimpse of a different part of England.