What Charlottesville Could Learn from Valencia: The Peace and the Concordance

This is the way it is now, the Placa de Ayunatamiento, in Valencia, Spain.

Not the way I remembered it from the fearful days of the fascist dictator Francisco Franco who, supported by Adolf Hitler, had led the Spanish nation into years of Civil War, countless atrocities and the deaths of hundreds of thousands. People lived in fear long after the Civil War ended, until the death of the Generalissimo in November, 1975.

In fact, when I lived there, in 1975, it wasn’t even called the Plaça de l’Ajuntament. Plaza del Caudillo (Plaza of the Leader), we called it. Even the language was different: Castilian then, Valencian, the regional language, now.

What was most disorienting was the plaza in the background opposite the fountain. Absent was the large monument of Francisco Franco, riding high upon his horse.

“Donde esta la estatua de Franco?” I asked, again and again, to blank faces. On this sunny day in 2012, nobody knew what I was talking about, let alone where the statue was, until one day a man who had obviously suffered through those years offered up the answer.  “The statue,” he said, “had been torn down,” in 1983. He directed us to the Plaça de la Reina (Plaza of the Queen), where we saw this monument to the victims of terrorism, sculpted by in 1998 by José Puche, 23 years after Franco passed from this world.

#Charlottesville could stand a good lesson about remembering those who, 150 years earlier, caused, and led, death, division of country, tyranny and atrocities, and about moving on to a better day for all. The memory of Franco, who had brutally divided a nation, had to come down. The people chose to erect the Peace and the Concordance to represent them, and to guide them, in its stead.

The statue of Franco was moved away from the public, to a military base.

Statues of the “heroes” of the Confederate and rebellious south were erected after the confederacy lost,after 1865, after the Emancipation Proclamation, in order to maintain the de facto status quo of blacks as inferior, fearful of the white ruling class, and stateless. The people of Spain chose to remember the past in their art, in their books, in the pain of a lost generation. They chose to remember their past by choosing something better for all, after unity was restored to Spain and after fascist anti-Semitic Germany was brought to its knees.

Perhaps even the Madrid-based statue of the infamous and fictitious Don Quixote, who roamed the vast country on his steed Rocinante, along with his faithful squire, Sancho Panzo, to restore chivalry and to right wrongs, to (even if foolishly) see beauty even when it didn’t exist, also has a lesson to teach to the tattered remnants of the failed confederacy.

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Film Review: Menashe (2017)

CLICK HERE TO READ MY FULL REVIEW AND INTERVIEW NOTES WITH THE DIRECTOR, JOSHUA WEINSTEIN, AND THE LEAD ACTOR, MENASHE LUSTIG, and to SEE THE TRAILER

More to follow!

 

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What’s Your Morbid Hobby?

Life is full of “which is worse” scenarios. There’s the “death by fire” or “death by ice.” Here it is in the poem “Fire and Ice,” as could only have been written by the great American poet Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The political parties have us vying for which is the worse social problem and no, it is not Planned Parenthood. I’ll tell you straight out I’m going with opioid addiction. The biggest threat to our nation. The biggest threat to our people. That’s right, the fact that many people don’t want to acknowledge even exists. And this is why it’s so dangerous.

One of my more morbid hobbies is collecting headlines that deal with opioid addiction and drug overdoses. I’ve been doing it for years, the pile is getting higher, but recently it’s been a real jackpot.

It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I collected the rare articles of addicts who had fought through their addictions and made it. Addicts who had ultimately gone to college and gotten major degrees in major universities. One black American from an inner city who went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School. If I can dig the article out from my ever-growing pile, I’ll add the link here. There were articles about homeless who had gone into halfway houses and used that as a place from which to stabilize their lives, which included finding steady work and thus having a stable and proud income.

I clipped and sent these articles to send hope to a young relative of mine who was an addict and always feeling darkness. “See? You can do it too.” I’d like to think my hobby made a difference, helped this relative make good choices, but it seems like it did not. And now I cannot find the articles, even online.

Several years ago I would talk to a lot of my friends about this problem, and this pain of mine. On days when my relative was being arrested, or days when he was being released from prison, or days when he was beginning rehab and there was hope, I would sit in my seat during religious services and cry to myself. I’m not sure if anybody ever noticed my red eyes or my irregular breathing. If they did, they sure didn’t say anything. A few would tell me an aside about a relative who was an addict if I brought up the topic.

A few years back, my stepson died of an overdose of legally prescribed painkillers, shocking us all. He was a pleasure-seeker but he was not an addict. So my headline search and article clipping widened to include deaths by legally prescribed painkillers for things like, quite simply, pain. You know, those pain centers that are everywhere? Particularly in Florida?

Within the last few years, several parents in my community have lost a young adult child. Some of the parents have been brave and willing to confront this public epidemic. Others have not.

A few years later, after I was already personally grappling with this problem, the headlines expanded to include elderly adults who had been bankrupted by their addict children and grandchildren. I knew about this from personal experience, too.

The Untold Cost of the Opiate Epidemic: Elder Abuse

The headlines have continued to change over the years. In the last election, people started to care about the problem of “solving” the problem by throwing people in jail or prison. Were we creating solutions? Or new problems for even more people? A few times I sat in at a drug court. I saw young hopeless male adults. Five or so young adults would stand in front of the judge, who would ask them if they were on anything at that time. I saw them, in unison, lie. Five No‘s. I saw a pained grandmother as the judge would approve this one for drug court and that one – her grandson – to return to jail.

In the months and years after that, I started seeing headlines about large and small towns that were creating drug courts as a new approach.

This recent headline shows where we’re going, as a nation:

Life Expectancy in U.S. Declines Slightly, and Researchers Are Puzzled

Get this subheading!

African-American men gained 0.4 year of life expectancy in 2014, to 72.2 years.

My monthly AARP magazine is getting into the act, too, and not just about elder abuse by those seeking to get grandma’s retirement money in order to fund their heroin addiction. Once a place to find articles about cell phones and travel destinations for seniors, this 2011 headline was a first:

Boomers on Drugs

What you didn’t know about grandma!

Opioids and addiction are a national issue now because of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes attempts to eliminate – just when America is acknowledging this deeply entrenched and growing problem – American’s ability to get detox and rehab not just for the rich, who can afford private pay rehab stays, but for the poor and middle class who cannot. The people who care about this are elderly, farmers, veterans.

About six months ago I sat at a forum in my town for high schoolers, the goal of which was to open up a discussion about opioid dependency and provide referrals for those who needed them, and so on. A few audience members asked questions, and the oldest was about 90 years old and he had become an addict after radiation treatment for cancer. Whoever we are, we are at risk. There is no safe corner.

Yes, this is no longer a problem that white Americans or educated Americans, and so on, can ignore, thinking erroneously that this is “their” problem and not “our” problem. There is no way to hide from this situation.

Sadly, my morbid hobby continues and my pile continues to grow. Urban, rural, east coast, west coast, white, black, young, old, rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, we are one nation, drug addiction and opioid overdose does not discriminate, and neither should we.

More to follow.

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What You Didn’t Know about Grandma

Life is full of “which is worse” scenarios. There’s the “death by fire” or “death by ice.” Here it is in the poem “Fire and Ice,” as could only have been written by the great American poet Robert Frost:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

The political parties have us vying for which is the worse social problem and no, it is not Planned Parenthood. I’ll tell you straight out I’m going with opioid addiction. The biggest threat to our nation. The biggest threat to our people. That’s right, the fact that many people don’t want to acknowledge even exists. And this is why it’s so dangerous.

One of my more morbid hobbies is collecting headlines that deal with opioid addiction and drug overdoses. I’ve been doing it for years, the pile is getting higher, but recently it’s been a real jackpot.

It wasn’t always that way. In the beginning, I collected the rare articles of addicts who had fought through their addictions and made it. Addicts who had ultimately gone to college and gotten major degrees in major universities. One black American from an inner city who went on to graduate from Harvard Medical School. If I can dig the article out from my ever-growing pile, I’ll add the link here. There were articles about homeless who had gone into halfway houses and used that as a place from which to stabilize their lives, which included finding steady work and thus having a stable and proud income.

I clipped and sent these articles to send hope to a young relative of mine who was an addict and always feeling darkness. “See? You can do it too.” I’d like to think my hobby made a difference, helped this relative make good choices, but it seems like it did not. And now I cannot find the articles, even online.

Several years ago I would talk to a lot of my friends about this problem, and this pain of mine. On days when my relative was being arrested, or days when he was being released from prison, or days when he was beginning rehab and there was hope, I would sit in my seat during religious services and cry to myself. I’m not sure if anybody ever noticed my red eyes or my irregular breathing. If they did, they sure didn’t say anything. A few would tell me an aside about a relative who was an addict if I brought up the topic.

A few years back, my stepson died of an overdose of legally prescribed painkillers, shocking us all. He was a pleasure-seeker but he was not an addict. So my headline search and article clipping widened to include deaths by legally prescribed painkillers for things like, quite simply, pain. You know, those pain centers that are everywhere? Particularly in Florida?

Within the last few years, several parents in my community have lost a young adult child. Some of the parents have been brave and willing to confront this public epidemic. Others have not.

A few years later, after I was already personally grappling with this problem, the headlines expanded to include elderly adults who had been bankrupted by their addict children and grandchildren. I knew about this from personal experience, too.

The Untold Cost of the Opiate Epidemic: Elder Abuse

The headlines have continued to change over the years. In the last election, people started to care about the problem of “solving” the problem by throwing people in jail or prison. Were we creating solutions? Or new problems for even more people? A few times I sat in at a drug court. I saw young hopeless male adults. Five or so young adults would stand in front of the judge, who would ask them if they were on anything at that time.  I saw them, in unison, lie. Five No‘s. I saw a pained grandmother as the judge would approve this one for drug court and that one – her grandson – to return to jail.

In the months and years after that, I started seeing headlines about large and small towns that were creating drug courts as a new approach.

This recent headline shows where we’re going, as a nation:

Life Expectancy in U.S. Declines Slightly, and Researchers Are Puzzled

Get the subheading:

African-American men gained 0.4 year of life expectancy in 2014, to 72.2 years.

My monthly AARP magazine is getting into the act, too, and not just about elder abuse by those seeking to get grandma’s retirement money in order to fund their heroin addiction. Once a place to find articles about cell phones and travel destinations for seniors, this 2011 headline was a first:

Boomers on Drugs

It’s a national issue now because of the attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which includes attempts to eliminate – just when America is acknowledging this deeply entrenched and growing problem – American’s ability to get detox and rehab not just for the rich, who can afford private pay rehab stays, but for the poor and middle class who cannot. The people who care about this are elderly, farmers, veterans.

About six months ago I sat at a forum in my town for high schoolers, the goal of which was to open up a discussion about opioid dependency and provide referrals for those who needed them, and so on. A few audience members asked questions, and the oldest was about 90 years old and he had become an addict after radiation treatment for cancer. Whoever we are, we are at risk. There is no safe corner.

Yes, this is no longer a problem that white Americans or educated Americans, and so on, can ignore, thinking erroneously that this is “their” problem and not “our” problem. There is no way to hide from this situation.

Sadly, my morbid hobby continues and my pile continues to grow. Urban, rural, east coast, west coast, white, black, young, old, rich, poor, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, we are one nation, drug addiction and opioid overdose does not discriminate, and neither should we.

More to follow.

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Film Review: Hidden Figures

hiddenfigures_2

Please read my review of the film Hidden Figures as published in Boston’s print and online paper, The Jewish Journal.

The Jewish Journal begins….

The film “Hidden Figures,” directed by Theodore Melfi, brings us the true story of America’s zeal to put a man into space juxtaposed against the remarkable but unknown story of three black American women whose mathematical, scientific, computing and engineering genius made it possible – in an era of …  READ MORE

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Film Review – Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe

stefan_zweigWe rarely view a film with five principal languages – German, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. But the film Stefan Zweig: Farewell to Europe, written and directed by Maria Schrader, pays homage to the last seven years of the extraordinary life of the great Jewish Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (Josef Hader), whose popularity in the 1920s and 30s made him the most translated author in the world. It also telescopes us into his world where, after his writing was banned in Austria and his citizenship revoked on account of his Jewishness, Zweig fled – in exile – to live in London, New York City, and to settle, finally, in Brazil.

The film is divided into segments, each reflecting a different time and place where Zweig and his second wife Lotte (Aenne Schwarz) travelled – Brazil, Rio de Janeiro, New York City, to name a few. But wherever Zweig is, the realities of the ascendency of fascist Europe form, although off-screen, an inextricable part of the story. Nazi horrors and the decline of moral values are never far from Zweig’s inner and tormented world.

One of the earliest dynamics shows itself in Rio, 1936, where Zweig is being honored by the P.E.N (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) Club for their 14th International Conference. American-Jewish journalist Joseph Brainin (André Szymanski), also of Austrian heritage, confronts and challenges Zweig to use his international literary clout to publicly condemn Nazi aggression. Zweig, however, lives in two worlds and one of those worlds is the intellectual world, where there is no room for polemics.

Balancing against the intellectual world of his writing and his idealistic hope for the long-run future of Europe is his emotional world, in which he has lost the very bedrock of his life: his home, homeland, citizenship, and the world of German, the language in which he thinks and writes.

Wherever Zweig goes, requests to sponsor a fellow Jew in Europe for travel to Brazil pursue him. In a remote village in Brazil, he steals time, as the town’s mayor is honoring him, to make some arrangements before Brazil ceases to issue visas. “He who has no country has no future,” he states. In New York City, he and Lotte are guests of Zweig’s first wife Friderike (Barbara Sukowa), who, with her two daughters from her first marriage, crossed the Pyranees by foot in order to escape France and reach the United States. As the clouds of war, devastation and anti-Jewish legislation begin to mount in Europe, Friderike prevails upon him to sponsor another desperate Jewish acquaintance still in Austria for travel to the U.S. Zweig himself aches to have a sense of belonging and of peace, which he needs to write and make a living in this new world. He cannot sponsor everybody.

To demonstrate the increasing desperation of European Jews, director Shrader’s clever camera work shows not scenes of war, but a shot of piles of bundled mail on Frederike’s table with similar requests awaiting the revered writer.

In Petrópolis, Brazil, he and Lotte choose to settle down where they feel the warmth of acceptance, racial and ethnic diversity, and the beauty of an unspoiled land. In this paradise still his mind is restless. He and friend and fellow writer Ernst Feder (Matthias Brandt), who has also settled there, look upon the splendor from the balcony of his home. “We have no reason to complain.”

“No.” Each man stares into the tropical distance. The silence answers.

“Not us.” Both men attest to the impossibility of blocking out the suffering of their kinsmen and the moral depravity now marking Europe.

Most viewers will not know of Zweig or his international renown and will have to piece together a great deal of background information, the film’s most prominent shortcoming. We will wonder what he wrote, the specifics under which he left Austria, why he and Friderike divorced and how they yet maintained a trusting friendship, and more. The transitions between segments are somewhat bumpy.

But the reward of seeing this strong film overcomes this. Passionate acting dynamics, in particular of Josef Hader and Barbara Sukowa, and dialogue place us in the middle of ethical dilemmas. I’m hoping the film inspires viewers to read Zweig’s stories and novellas and his revealing and magnificent autobiography “The World of Yesterday: Memories of a European,” completed in 1939. Viewers may be surprised that his writing was the inspiration behind the critically-acclaimed film “The Grand Budapest Hotel” or that a Jewish writer in the 1920s and 30s could have the international stature that rock stars have today.

One of the film’s lighter moments takes place in a Brazilian village where Zweig is so revered that the mayor hires a marching band to serenade him and Lotte with “The Blue Danube” waltz.

Interestingly, the film’s original title is Stefan Zweig: Before the Dawn, and we might ask what dawn this refers to. Perhaps this is the author’s personal search; perhaps it is the viewer’s search, hoping that Zweig personally, and Europe overall, will reawaken from its Nazi horror and, one morning all will be well.

The final scene in the bountiful unspoiled Petrópolis connects eerily with the film’s opening scene, where he is being honored by the president of Brazil with a lavish and highly orchestrated meal. Flowers  are arranged by attendants with the delicacy of heart surgery. How better to then transition to the contradiction between that, and Zweig’s internal world and the external horrors of a suffering Europe and Jewish population.

Some may judge the way the revered Zweig and his wife’s lives ended, so gingerly depicted in this film, but Maria Schrader’s film boldly depicts the monumental challenges encountered by Zweig – a great writer, refugee, pacifist and idealist in search of pride, self-esteem and a life of meaning – when all of Europe and the world he knew was falling apart.

 

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Truth or Mom?

As a college writing teacher, my students were required to write essays that would answer the question: Is it ever okay to lie?

Paper after paper my students would write “Yes” and go on to support their answers. I knew many people who lied regularly. But it was unusual for me to listen to somebody defend their lying.

The situation was often this: The student would have an elderly parent or grandparent who lived far away. Very far away.  Say, for example, the student lived in New York and the elderly grandparent was living in China. The student’s father was ill and nobody would tell the elderly grandparent back in the homeland. Their reasoning was this: That it would upset the grandparent so it was better to say nothing. I always just focused on the students’ writing, their development of ideas, sentence structure and grammar, but inside I was kind of horrified. How could you not tell a grandparent that their son was sick? Or dying? Or dead?

Recently I’ve started lying to my mom. It just happens. She’s elderly and has dementia. So when my husband came home from a business trip with a broken leg, did I tell her? Absolutely – NOT.

Last month I detected a large lump on the back of my head. To the doctor and hospital I went. Did I tell my mom? Absolutely – NOT. The lump thankfully turned out to be just a fatty deposit.

Sometimes I have to get my mom up and walking. She’ll stay in bed all day until dinner unless somebody gets her up and walking. I’ll call her around noon or 1pm and tell her it’s time to take a walk down the hall. She’ll ask, “Can I go back to bed after this?” I answer, “Absolutely!” Then in an hour I’ll tell her that her aid is coming. I don’t mention that her aid will be getting her onto the exercise bicycle.

Last week her home health aid texted me that my mom didn’t want to do a certain activity. She texted me, “I hate to lie to her but sometimes I just have to, to get her there.” To the home health aid I wrote, “You’re not lying. You are honest when you say, “Yes, you can go back to sleep after this. You’re just not telling her that she cannot go back to sleep right after this.””

It’s disturbing to not tell the truth, or to withhold the truth. It’s a line to be very very careful about. I have to decide in each and every case. But it does feel right to not worry somebody who, as part of her medical condition, lacks initiative and needs a little ‘help’ to get moving. I know what the consequences would be of my mom laying in bed all morning and afternoon. They would not be good.

With my husband’s broken leg, what I don’t want to have happen is for my mom to feel that she’s burdening me with taking care of her, on top of taking care of my husband. That could really be bad.

Maybe there’s somebody around and my mom will ask, “Have I ever met her (or him) before?” There was a time when  – without hesitation – I would say “Yes.” But now I hedge. “I don’t think so,” and she’ll feel better. It’s hard enough for her – she knows, she really really knows, that her memory is failing. Badly. But I’m not going to rub it in and feel unnecessarily badly about her condition.

Okay, let’s not call it a lie. Maybe let’s call it less than truth.

The last time I drove home from visiting her, a 7-hour drive mostly in the dark, she wanted me to call her when I got home. It was getting really late. Really late. Like middle of the night late. There was no way I was going to phone her at 3am. I considered lying and telling her I had arrived home, safely. NO I couldn’t do that. What if something actually happened to me on the road after I phoned her? Next idea: I might make her angry, but the call went something like this: “Mom, it’s getting late and I’m not home yet but I’m only an hour away from home. I’m not going to call you again because it’s just getting too late.” And she said, “That’s fine, dear. Thank you and drive safely.”

My religious tradition says one may lie to preserve the cause of peace, not to hurt another person’s feelings, or to provide comfort. One may also lie in a situation where honesty might cause oneself or another person harm.

Honestly, it’s not always so easy to tell what that line is. And dealing with aging parents is difficult enough. Maybe some of my students had this right all along.