Thursday, December 31, 2015

Good-bye 2015!

Growing up in New York, I always knew the year had ended when the ubiquitous ball dropped in Times Square. Even now, although I've lived in the Chicago area for over 40 years, that event still seems to make the new year official. This year I can't wait until then to wish everyone a happy, healthy, peaceful new year. All I can hope is that 2016 proves to be calmer, more peaceful, less violent, less desperate for everyone around this beautiful world of ours. This Earth is the only one we all call home and we have to do a better job of caring for it and sharing it with one another.

In that spirit, I want to say Good-bye 2015!

Good-bye to terrorist attacks.
Good-bye to indiscriminate use of violence by police against minorities in United States cities and towns especially Chicago which has been my home since 1974.
While we're at it, good-bye to gang violence and the death of innocent civilians by each other.
Good-bye to the need for people to flee war-torn countries in the Middle East and Africa.

On a personal level, my husband and I enjoy good health as do our children and grandchildren. Some of our friends and family do not and I hope the new year brings less stress and more calm.

One good thing that happened is that my book Breaking the Fall is now available on Amazon as a Kindle and a paperback. I'll be talking more about that in the year ahead.

To all of you, happy 2016. May we all enjoy a happy, healthy, and calm New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Learning About Never Again in Skokie, Illinois

Never Again! Not to Jews, not to people in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Africans or anyone else.  But can it be happening again? With the current rise in anti- Muslim hatred and Trump's extremist proposals, there’s a palpable fear in the air that it could.

With that in mind, we visited the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois ( Skokie, an adjacent suburb of Chicago, was once the home to the largest concentration of Holocaust survivors in the United States. Out of a population of 70,000, 7,000 were Holocaust survivors and their families. The survivors, knowing that they were blessed beyond measure to still be alive, felt that their mission was to educate future generations about what happened. The current museum opened in 2009. 

We’d been to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and to Terezin, the transit camp just outside of Prague. Both of these sites have extremely powerful messages. Somehow, however, the Skokie Holocaust Museum exhibit was much more personal. It was personal to see pictures and videos of interviews of people my husband had known growing up. Some of them had never spoken about their experiences to him. Many had never talked about the Holocaust at all. After Neo-Nazis marched in Skokie in 1978, the Survivor community realized that they had to share their experiences before they passed away so that people coming after them would know what happened.

As we entered the Museum, we had to pass through a metal detector and were told that photographs were forbidden. Thus, I have no pictures of the exhibit to share with you. The permanent exhibit does a great job of showing the rise of Nazism, the way Jews throughout Europe slowly lost everything, how they were herded into ghettoes, and then the Concentration Camp experience itself. They showed the Jewish uprisings in the ghettoes and what happened to the survivors after the War.

What particularly resonated with me was seeing that as Hitler rose to power, many people- Jews included -dismissed him as a comical man who couldn’t possibly be taken seriously. It felt very much the same as the reaction I’ve had to Donald Trump and his proposals about Moslems. It sent a chill down my spine. Many Jews didn’t realize until it was too late that they needed to leave Europe. By the time they realized it, many couldn’t get out.

There is a part of the exhibit toward the end showing how many people in each of the countries of Europe collaborated with the Nazis either actively or by failing to speak up against them. It was a moment that the world went mad. It could happen again.

At the end of the exhibit, there's a short film with some of the Survivors telling their stories. At the end, they leave us with this caveat:

Now I have told you my story. The rest is up to you.

That says it all. Now it’s up to you to go see this powerful exhibit.  

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Standing Together Against Islamaphobia

It was reassuring to see that hundreds of people of many faiths stood united in Evanston against Islamaphobia in Fountain Square the night of December 15th. There are many reasons for me to be concerned about the rising tide of hatred against Muslims. One of many reasons that I feel affected by this development has been my volunteer work with immigrants and refugees some of whom are Muslims. I've heard their stories and learned about the cultures from which they came. The experience of sharing has enriched my life. I feel that are lives are all made better by meeting and learning from each other.

Another reason is that for me as an American Jew, it feels wrong for this country of immigrants to be against immigration. It does not promote justice and is against everything our better selves stand for. Except for the Native Americans, all of us or someone in our families came from somewhere else at some point. There are only about 5.2 million Native Americans left in the United States. That leaves about 325 million of us whose families were originally immigrants.

My great-grandparents and grandparents left Russia and Hungary fleeing anti-Semitic pogroms. If immigration laws and quotas had been in existence at that time, I wouldn’t be here now. Thanks to the first Amendment of the United States Constitution, we have Separation Between Church and State and my ancestors were given safe shelter here for which they were always grateful. Now political leaders such as Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump are suggesting that we only let Christian Syrians enter the United States. Will they think about kicking me out next? The whole prospect is extremely frightening.

America has done better than it’s doing now as far as immigration is concerned. That’s why we have people from so many different countries living here enriching each other’s lives. We’ve had our moments of shame as well. The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II comes quickly to mind. The turning away of the S.S. St. Louis from Miami does as well. I remember my grandmother telling me stories about how her father, my great-grandfather, stood with other Jewish leaders in Miami pleading with the government to let these refugees in promising to take care of them so that they wouldn’t be a burden to society. These efforts were for naught and the refugees were returned to Europe to face the gas chambers. We need to stand up to the forces that want to descend to that level of darkness again.

This moment brings to mind the poem by Martin Niemoller. The son of a pastor, he was born in Lippstadt, Germany in 1892.

            And Then They Came for Me
                                By Martin Niemoller

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist; 
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a socialist; 
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist; 
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew; 
Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me.

As we confront the rising tide of hatred in our country, let us all keep this poem in mind. We as Americans need to and can do better. It's the best part of who we are.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Fighting the Cold On A Wintry Chicago Day

Chicago has great museums, a magnificent lakefront, fabulous architecture, and many other wonderful attractions. I usually recommend that people visit here between the middle of April to about the middle of November when the weather is pleasant or at least bearable so they can enjoy being outside to see all the great things that Chicago has to offer.

There is a way to enjoy Chicago in the winter, however. I don’t know why the city of Chicago doesn’t give it more publicity. That way is utilizing the Pedway. This system of underground walkways in downtown Chicago is quite extensive connecting many buildings and subway stations to each other. One can use it to navigate a good part of Chicago’s downtown to avoid going outside when it’s too cold or rainy.

The Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) at, which gives about 80 walking tours of various parts of Chicago, gives two walking tours of the Pedway-Pedway East and Pedway West. Since we’d already taken the Pedway East tour, we decided to take the Pedway West tour last week.

Our tour began on the lower level of Block 37 at the Guest Services Desk. This block has gone through many changes but is now being used to house stores, restaurants, an AMC movie theatre, and will soon have a Condo building. Prior to the tour, we ate lunch in the building at Latinicity, a

lower level of Block 37 
new Latino fusion restaurant. Only open a few weeks, it is already very busy. Word must have gotten out about how good it is.

After lunch, we met up with the CAF tour. Our docent Roy Slewinski did a great job of ushering us through the labyrinth known as the Pedway. He pointed out the Pedway’s logo that one can see on the walls and use as a guideline to follow throughout the network of walkways. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of these logos and it would be difficult to find your way relying solely on them. Thinking of everything, Roy provided us with maps of the Pedway. These would be helpful for anyone unfamiliar with it. I think it would be great if the Chicago tourist office handed these maps out to anyone visiting Chicago in the winter.


Pedway Logo
Walking through the Pedway, we went up to the Richard J. Daley Center, the County Building, the 120 N. LaSalle Building, the Leo Burnett Building, and the James R. Thompson State of Illinois Building and several others. Along the way, we learned something about the architecture and the history of these buildings and about the Pedway itself. It was a cold, rainy day, but who cared? We didn’t have to go outside for any of it.

at the Daley Center looking across at the Burnham Center

lobby of the State of Illinois Building looking up

lobby of the Marriott Renaissance Hotel

The CAF offers the Pedway Tours from October through February. You can check the CAF website for details of their schedule. I highly recommend this tour.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Pen Pal for Hi-Tech Times

Throughout my junior high, high school, and college years, I had an English pen pal named Irene. She lived in Northern England and we’d write to each other every week. It wasn’t unusual to send each other four and five page letters complete with photos and drawings. Nowadays I can’t even remember the last time I sent someone a letter via snail mail. In fact, it’s unusual to sit down and write anything by hand at all. That’s probably a factor in the decision of many school systems to eliminate cursive writing from their curricula.

While I understand that few people these days –myself included- have the patience to sit down and write, I sometimes miss the passing of those long letters sent through the mail. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a pen pal again in a foreign country. After all, most of us can’t travel all the time and many don’t have the opportunity to travel at all. Our world is getting smaller and it’s fun to connect with people from around the world.

Fortunately, one organization has come up with a modern day equivalent. It’s called If you sign in, you can find a partner to e-mail with or talk to directly on Skype. They have some group discussions as well. The purpose of this website is to provide an opportunity to practice speaking each other’s language. The website includes people speaking any language looking for a partner speaking any other language.

I have found someone to Skype with who speaks French and lives in Quebec Province. She wants to practice English so that she can talk to people when she goes to Florida in the winter. I want to speak French because I love the language.

Since I’ll probably have more opportunities to speak French to the Quebequois when I visit south Florida than when or if I ever have the opportunity to visit France again, it seemed like a good match. I’m still getting used to her accent and some different word usages. Just as Europeans learn British English, most Americans who study French in school learn Parisian French. Sometimes the change is difficult for me, but I enjoy the challenge. She’s sent me an easy recipe for Crème Caramel. I fully intend to try it. I’ll let you know how it comes out.