Category Archives: History

Hanukah: Lights in the Darkness

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Hanukah begins in a week and this time of year I am always asked the same questions. “Do you also celebrate Christmas?” “Hanukah is the Jewish Christmas, right?” “So what is Hanukah about anyway?” “Do you also have a Christmas tree?” The list goes on. For the most part I’m always happy to share my traditions and practices and to educate folks about my tradition. So for the record, we do not celebrate Christmas, we don’t have a tree and Hanukah is not “Jewish” Christmas. In fact, Hanukah is a relatively minor festival that has little theological, religious significance. Hanukah celebrates both a military and a political victory.

The story takes place during the first century after the second Temple in Jerusalem was seized by the Greeks and desecrated, following which Judaism was outlawed. A small but mighty band of Jews, led by Judah HaMacabee (Judah the Hammer), liberated the Temple and cleansed it for rededication. In order to light the holy Menorah (candelabra) in the Temple, pure olive oil was required. The story goes that there was only enough oil found to last for one day, but it burned for eight while a new supply of fresh oil was prepared. And today, we commemorate what is considered a miracle by lighting our own menorahs one candle at a time for eight nights, each night adding a candle until the final, glorious night when the menorah is fully illuminated.

Because Hanukah is not a biblical holiday, the traditions and observances around it are varied. In Israel, the menorah is lit each night, foods fried in oil are eaten (think potato latkes and jelly donutes) and the traditional gift of money, or gelt in Yiddush, is exchanged. In America, families often add the giving of more secular gifts as the timing coincides of that higher profile, flashier holiday that happens to fall around the same time. You get what I’m talking about. And when my kids were young, we followed that practice. After all, we wanted them to enjoy being Jewish, to fit in with the greater culture and frankly, it was fun. As they grew older, we focused our Hanukah observance on socializing with friends, singing songs, and the gift giving has taken a back seat. To be honest, many American Jewish parents struggle with the annual “Hanukah dilemma.” How to help our kids appreciate and embrace their Jewish identity and not feel left out of the juggernaut that is Christmas. It isn’t easy.

For me the symbolism and imagery around Hanukah is rich and meaningful. I picture Judah and his warrior Macabees finding the Temple in ruins, remnants of their faith strewn about, in tatters. I can imagine the feeling of triumph and elation of victory as they reclaim what is theirs. I see them in the dimming light of the menorah frantically praying the oil lasts long enough for them to complete their work of cleansing and rededicating the Temple. And finally, the miracle occurs as the oil keeps on burning and the Macabees rejoice.

But there’s more. Hanukah usually occurs in December, the darkest of months. And yet, it is also called “The Festival of Lights.” We Jews have faced some very dark times in our history; destructions of our holy ancient Temples, the Spanish Inquisition, pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. These days increasing anti-Semitism both here in the U.S. and around the world have a lot of us feeling uneasy, wondering if another Holocaust could, in fact, happen. And of course, our people aren’t the only ones targeted by hate and bigotry. But during this darkest, coldest time of year we have only to remember the victory of the Macabees, and their small band of freedom fighters who kept the oil burning, for examples of bravery, perseverance and the will to survive. And there is nothing like the anticipation of watching the lights of the menorah grow, one night at a time, until that eighth beautiful night when all are lit. I think the most moving of all Hanukah traditions is the one that encourages us to display our menorahs in our front windows. It is as if the lights themselves burn defiantly and victoriously against all the generations of oppression and destruction to show the world that, even after the darkest of times, we are still here.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Thanksgiving in America

In two days, Americans will gather for the annual Thanksgiving feast.  Thanksgiving is a very American holiday because it is associated with the best and worst of our society.

The first Thanksgiving was held before the U.S. actually existed as a country.  In 1621, the Pilgrims celebrated with the Wampanoag Indians. The Pilgrims were English settlers who fled Europe in search of religious freedom.  They were saved from starving by the local Wampanoag tribe who helped them adapt to their new neighborhood.

What happened next? The Pilgrims discriminated against anyone who was not a Protestant in the Puritan image. That meant English Quakers had a rough time in New England. The Pilgrims also rid their new neighborhood of the “heathen” Indians using methods that today would be designated as ethnic cleansing.

Thanksgiving was designated a national holiday in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. Why did he decide to create a national holiday? By 1863, the American Civil War had dragged on for three years. The south was losing the war but the north wasn’t clearly winning.

Lincoln needed a win and Thanksgiving was a symbolic victory. It also allowed him to reiterate his message of binding the country together by using the day to “heal the wounds of a nation.”  His aspiration was never fully realized as we see with today’s political divisions on issues of race, gender equality, religion and immigration.

In 1939, Thanksgiving was moved to the fourth Thursday in November by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Why the fourth Thursday of the month?  The Great Depression was grinding on and FDR hoped to increase retail sales by creating more shopping days before Christmas. Today, early sales begin on Thursday and end with the Internet-crashing sales on cyber-Monday. American capitalism is obscuring the purpose of the holiday.

But in spite of the rampant commercialism and the ugly elements engaged in race-baiting, gender bashing, and anti-immigrant claptrap, Thanksgiving shines through.  In two days, people will gather to eat turkey, ham, stuffing, potatoes, cranberries, fish tacos, burritos, turnip greens, cornbread, fry bread, sushi, ramen noodles, curries, or hotdogs and hamburgers. Whether kosher or halal or nothing in particular, we’ll all enjoy the feast.

Our annual feast has evolved as our society has evolved. That’s the best tradition for an American holiday.   Happy Thanksgiving!

 

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

 

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No Nukes!!!

 

On May 6, 1979, 125,000 people marched on Washington, D.C. to protest the proliferation of nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.  I was there.

In the mid-seventies, my partner and I were totally ignorant of the eminent dangers of nuclear power and the unthinkable threat of the devastation of nuclear war.  Living near Gainesville, FL at the time, we were enlightened by a friend of ours when we told him of our plans to buy a farm outside Jamestown, TN.  He asked us why we wanted to live just over the hill from the largest nuclear weapons plant in the world.  We were dumbfounded.  Then he showed us a map depicting all of the nuclear power plants, weapons facilities and dump sites in our country at that time.  We immediately began educating ourselves.  And then we got busy.

We joined The Catfish Alliance, an anti-nuclear activist group in Gainesville.  We rallied supporters.  We spoke on the U of F campus.  We gathered signatures on petitions.  We worked to secure information via the Freedom of Information Act.  Then, on March 28, 1979, there was an accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

 

 

 

“They came from Harrisburg, thirty-three buses full. From Vermont and Alabama.  From Illinois and Florida. From Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York. From New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, and Connecticut. From Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In all, they came from more than thirty states, and they filled Pennsylvania Avenue May 6 to demand an end to nuclear power.

“The unexpectedly large turnout, making it by far the biggest antinuclear protest ever in this country and one of the largest in the world, sharply indicated the spread of opposition to nuclear power since the Three Mile Island disaster.

“Among the last to arrive were 160 people from Gainesville, Florida, who had ridden in buses for nineteen hours.”

That was us.  Our flagship bus was a converted school bus emblazoned with Catfish Alliance and anti-nuclear symbols and we were piled in, filled with the hope and enthusiasm that we were going to make a difference.

My partner and I didn’t move to Tennessee then, but West Virginia instead. There were no reactors and people there had voted down attempts to locate a nuclear waste dump site in their state. We figured that was a good sign.   Active again, we rallied in Charleston, wrote articles for local newspapers and spoke to folks everywhere.

Subsequent reports indicate that things did slow down, but here we are; the year 2017 and we are witnessing/experiencing the devastating effects of nuclear disaster in Japan (Most people are hardly aware of the Chernobyl meltdown, described as “one of the most significant man-made disasters in history,” or other “accidents” here in the U.S.) and looking down the barrel of a real threat of nuclear war. One from which there will be no winners.

Well, I guess I got complacent, or just lazy, doing life.  I haven’t marched in a long, long time.  But I certainly haven’t stopped “speaking.”  I am comfortable on my soap box, ever hopeful that it’s not too late and that I can make that difference.

About Jan Schim

Jan is a singer, a songwriter, a licensed body worker specializing in CranioSacral Therapy, and a teacher. She is an advocate for the ethical treatment of ALL animals and a volunteer with several animal advocacy organizations. She is also a staunch believer in the need to promote environmental responsibility.

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Who are the “Losers”?

These days our country is floundering as our political leaders show they are moral pygmies pandering to ethnic, racial, and religious fears rather than working together to fix the social and political ills facing the country.  Thanks to gerrymandered districts, this rot isn’t confined to either mainstream political party.

It’s so depressing.  Worse, it’s repetitive.  In 1925, about 25,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC.  It was the largest open demonstration of “white power” in that city.  What caused this open display of bigotry and hate?

By 1925, the U.S. had transitioned from a rural population to an urbanized population. The east coast cities were full of European immigrants who were overwhelmingly Catholic while western cities had seen an influx of Chinese workers. The Jewish population grew as they fled pogroms in Russia.  African-Americans were struggling to end Jim Crow inequality.  By 1925, Native Americans had become U.S. citizens and women could vote.

In 1925, the Klan represented the fears of the people who felt they were losers in all this change. The “losers” included Protestants who were afraid that Catholics would change the “Christian” values of America. Poorly educated, unskilled white men feared a loss of income as factory jobs were filled with new immigrants or black Americans. Politicians and business leaders weren’t interested in funding programs that could have helped these workers adjust to the changing economy.

Now take a look at today’s poisonous brew of “losers”. Protestants and Catholics are afraid that Muslim immigrants will change the “Christian” values of the U.S.  The Black Lives Matter movement shows that racial equality is still unresolved.   Men of all races and ethnicities fear a loss of power and prestige as women continue striving for equality at home and at work.

The biggest “losers” are again white men who lack an education. They are afraid of losing their few remaining job opportunities to recent immigrants from Central America and beyond. Their job skills don’t match what is needed for the global economy and they seem unwilling to learn new skills. Besides, no politician or business leader wants to plunk down the money needed for apprenticeships or retraining programs that could alleviate this problem.

Hello 1925 redux.

My fear is not of the bigots and haters.  My fear is that decent people will be so filled with disgust and despair of the current mess that they will stop voting and give up on supporting the civil society institutions we need to fight the bigots and haters.  If that happens, our democracy will die and we will all be losers.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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I Wanna Live Forever!

Gilgamesh and his best friend Enkidu had many adventures together. Then Enkidu died. Gilgamesh was inconsolable with grief and loneliness. But he was also afraid of his own death. So he wandered endlessly in search of the secret to never dying.

Gilgamesh’s story is told in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written between 2150 – 1400 BCE.  It was the first major piece of literature in the western world, predating even Homer’s stories about the destruction of Troy.  Gilgamesh was a mythical king of Uruk, a Sumerian city-state in what is now Iraq.

His story may have been written over 4000 years ago but Gilgamesh was not so different from us today.  We are still looking for the magical elixir of life.  Gilgamesh hoped the gods would tell him the secret to immortality but they never did.

Today, our “gods” are the allegedly scientific studies on the benefits of exercise and food.  I say alleged because the studies usually provide conflicting advice and are often sponsored by industries that have a stake in the outcome.  Consider how the definition of “healthy” food changes constantly.

Years ago a study told us not to eat eggs because they have cholesterol which is bad for us. Then a study told us that eggs are loaded with protein; so they are good for us. The poultry industry celebrated.  Another study told us sugar is bad for us. Then a study arrived claiming that lab rats died from consuming saccharine and other sugar substitutes.  Suddenly sugar is good for us again. Sugar beet farmers and sugarcane refineries rejoice.

Along with diet, we’re told to exercise regularly. What does “regularly” mean? One study tells us to exercise until our hearts are thumping and we’re soaked in sweat. The next study tells us that we can achieve excellent health and long life from as little as fifteen minutes of daily exercise.   Recently, a BBC news story cited a new study which claims that prolonged sitting will kill us no matter how much we exercise.

What no one ever admits is that if we live forever, we’ll outlive all our friends. Then we’ll be as lonely as Gilgamesh was after Enkidu died.  Instead of agonizing over living forever, I’ll support a scientific study that says we should enjoy life with our friends, our favorite foods and exercise when we feel like it.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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Happy Women’s Labor Day!

We Can Do It

Labor Day, 2017 is now past history, but just barely. So I thought I’d take a moment and reflect on how, or whether, things have changed for working women between the years my mom hung up her chalk as a young, pregnant schoolteacher, and this summer when my adult daughter, newly minted Master’s Degree in hand, began her professional life.

Most obvious to me is that my daughter is 30, several years past the age my mother was when she put her teaching career on the shelf. And while she has many friends who are already starting families, many more are right with her when it comes to delaying motherhood in favor of career. In an article published this past spring by CNBC, a US Census Bureau report found that in 1970, 80 percent of adults were married by age 30 while today that same number will marry by age 45. Indeed, my mother married in 1955 at 23 and I was married in 1979 at the tender age of 21. And although I am trying to be patient while awaiting the arrival, someday, of grandchildren, I wholeheartedly support my daughter’s focus on her education and career.

One of the most obvious changes, at least to me, lies in my daughter’s choice of career. She is passionately dedicated to the business of sports. In fact, she’s been a sports junkie all her life, participating in a wide variety of team and individual sports and being an avid fan. But rather than sit on the sidelines, she pursued both an undergraduate and a graduate degree that positioned her to pursue sports as a career. And she’s not alone in finding opportunities. Her current boss, also a woman, has moved through the ranks of leadership in college athletics and is still climbing. Admittedly, women continue to face significant challenges in the sports world, but the fact is, the door is open and women like my daughter are marching confidently through. Weigh this against the advice my grandfather gave my mother when she expressed a desire to attend law school, “Nice Jewish girls don’t become lawyers, you should be a teacher.” I was horrified when I learned this, especially since my grandfather had been a lawyer! In fact, a New York Times article from last year reported that for the first time, women make up the majority of law students!

It’s no secret that women’s pay continues to lag behind that of men. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women still earn 20 percent less than men. That’s despite the fact that women are half the American work force, are the sole or co-breadwinner for families with children and have higher education. So while we’ve “come a long way baby,” there is still work to be done.

I think the most significant change I’ve experienced is that women are finding their voice. Women of my mother’s generation were so often belittled, minimized and ignored. I still, occasionally, am ignored when I’m with my husband despite the fact that I am every bit as educated and intelligent and do most of the talking! But my daughter and her friends are forces to be reckoned with. Young women today have no qualms when it comes to speaking up for themselves, taking charge and expecting to have opportunities. We, their mothers, have prepared them for a world that includes them and in fact, needs them. Life is about change; some comes slowly and with great difficulty, some comes fast and furious. I believe today’s young women stand on some very broad (no pun intended) shoulders. Their burden is to continue the struggle, continue to raise their voices and to do what women do best, build bridges of opportunity for yet a new generation.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

 

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Havana: A City Caught in The Past But Looking Toward the Future

We recently spent two days in Havana, Cuba as part of a Caribbean cruise. As children who grew up in the 1960s and 70s, my husband and I know nothing of a world in which the tiny island was a hub of glamour, music, beauty, and of course, The Mob. So we were intrigued, and yet a little uneasy, to visit what is today a Communist country that is a mere shadow of it’s former self.

We began our visit with a lengthy wait on the ship to disembark. The line of cruise passengers snaked through the ship, down the gangplank and into the terminal. After making our way through immigration, passport control and security, we stepped out into the blazing sun, unsure of where to head first. We had scheduled our guided tour for the next day and planned to spend this first day exploring on our own.  IMG_3852

We crossed to the square across from the terminal, narrow streets falling away in different directions. We headed off down one of them, following the crowd. As we wandered some people checked us out, some ignored us, several people approached as we walked asking if we needed directions or wanted to book a tour or hire a taxi. Skeptical American tourists that we are, we tried to put them off and keep walking. After awhile it became clear that for these folks, cut off for decades from the U.S., seeing Americans on their streets is a curiosity. They want to engage in conversation, to learn about the world beyond their island.

During this first day, the sights, sounds, smells, were overwhelming. We’ve traveled to many countries, but nothing prepared us for this. Havana’s decay is stunning. Once beautiful colonial buildings barely hang onto life as makeshift homes and shops. The cobblestone streets can rise up at any time, so it’s important to have a steady foot and sturdy shoes.  IMG_3855

The most famous attraction of Havana is, of course, the cars. Those relics from the 1950s are everywhere! Some have been beautifully restored and serve as government run taxicabs and cars for hire. Some are simply held together by screw drivers and duct tape and are privately owned cars that also serve as makeshift taxis.  IMG_3871

As we explored, the sky turned dark, the air thick with humidity and of course, it began to rain. We saw cabbies run to cover their cars, scrambling to put the tops up on the convertibles. We ran for a local hotel and headed for the bar. This particular hotel is part of a European chain, part of the burgeoning partnerships between the government and the private sector. After enjoying a Cuban beer and listening to some music, the rain finally let up and we headed back to the ship to get ready for our evening.

After freshening up and relaxing a bit, we made our way off the ship, again through immigrations, passport control and security; though this time it didn’t take but a few minutes. We found a cab, a more modern car, which took us speeding along the coast to the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, where we had reservations to see the Cabaret Parisien show. During the drive, we were surprised to see hoards of people hanging out along the sea wall, relaxing, talking, drinking.

The hotel sits atop a hill overlooking the ocean. It is one of the few buildings we saw that first day that has been restored and maintained. After we were dropped off, we entered the lobby and walked through the doors to the outside grounds. The patio was alive with people having a drink at the outside bar, wandering the gardens and listening to a strolling mariachi-style band. Overlooking the cliffs, off in the distance, a rainbow began appearing, creating a beautiful photo op.  IMG_3896

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That evening’s cabaret show was a feast of sights and sounds as performers wove a story of Cuba’s cultural history. Our small table was right next to the stage so we didn’t miss a thing. It is worth noting that the food, although adequate, was pretty much what we had heard about government-run restaurants: bland and uninteresting. This is due to a lack of spices, herbs and fresh vegetables, which are expensive and in short supply. But the Mojitos were great!  IMG_3911

Day two, we were up and out early and made our way to the hotel where we were to meet our tour. Our guide was a young woman named Sady. She explained the day’s events, which would include a walking tour of Old Havana while she educated us on the city’s history and architecture. Of course no tour of Havana is complete without stopping at La Floridita, the bar frequented by Ernest Hemingway where he would enjoy the traditional Daiquiri.

Midday, we stopped for lunch at the home of one of Sady’s friends. This is a privately owned Palidore. These establishments are popping up throughout Havana as families try to supplement their meager government incomes. Some families, as was the case here, also rent rooms in their homes. We made our way up four rickety flights of stairs to the rooftop. There, under a gazebo and surrounded by mint bushes, was a table set for our group. We happily gathered around the table to relax, drink some ice-cold water and relax. We watched as our hosts snipped sprigs of fresh mint to make mojitos, while enjoying a 360 degree view of Havana.  IMG_3974

Lunch that day was a delicious feast of chicken, fish, fresh vegetables, fruit, potatoes and flan for dessert. Although government run restaurants offer up bland, colorless food, this family-run establishment featured the best of traditional Cuban cooking. The herbs are all grown in their garden and there was no lacking for spice and flavor. The meal was prepared and served by the family.  IMG_3973

Following lunch, we headed out for a ride in the cars! We chose the 1956 Chevy Bel Air convertible, newly restored, red with white leather interior. Off we went, with our driver winding us down the coast away from Old Havana, toward memorials to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro, through the neighborhoods where stately old homes abandoned by their owners during the revolution now stand as embassies, and through the Havana Forest.   IMG_3985

Our driving tour ended back at the Hotel Nacional where we gathered in the Mob Bar to relax and enjoy more Mojitos!  IMG_3998

During the course of our tour, I had the opportunity to talk to our guide about her life, her political views and her plans for the future. She lives with her mother and her boyfriend, has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and is currently studying for her MA in Sexology and Emotional IQ. When I asked what she plans to do once she finishes her degree she told me she wasn’t sure, but since the education is free, she wanted to study what was interesting to her. She also explained that the banks do not extend credit so people generally don’t have bank accounts and cannot own a home or a car since everything must be purchased in cash. I asked if she is able to travel beyond Cuba. She explained that while Cubans are technically allowed to travel, they must pay hefty fees to apply for a visa with no assurance they will be granted one. Most people don’t even bother since those fees are nonrefundable. We discussed the current American political scene and she said people in Cuba are worried about the new administration’s plans to roll back the advances made by the Obama administration to encourage tourism.

As we approached the memorial to Che Guevara and Fidel Castro I asked her what people in her generation think about the future. She said most are not members of the Communist party and believe things will change. “Communism is an interesting philosophy,” she said, “but it doesn’t work in the real world.” It has been reported that Raul Castro will retire in two years and, with no immediate successor from his family, it’s unclear who or what is on the horizon for the Cuban people.  IMG_3982

My visit to Havana has stayed with me and I hope someday to return and see more of the countryside. I am still processing the trip, though it’s been several weeks since our return. With an uncertain future, both inside the country and between our two governments, one thing is sure: the basic curiosity to know about those different from ourselves, and the desire to find common ground. Even those living under a regime, effectively captive on their island, have dreams, thirst for knowledge, the desire to improve the world around them, hope and love for their families.  IMG_3843

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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What Makes a Hero?

What makes a hero? I cogitate on this question every year as July 20th approaches.  On July 20, 1944, a group of German Army officers came darned close to killing Adolf Hitler with a bomb.  Today those officers are considered heroes of the anti-Nazi resistance. It wasn’t always that way, though.

 

In 1944, the officers were considered traitors by their fellow Germans and by the people on the Allied side of the war.  In 1944, only anarchists, traitors and Communists were so morally challenged as to commit political murder.  No one wanted to believe that respectable, educated, upper-class men would commit pre-meditated murder.

 

So who were the German officers who tried to kill Hitler? They were primarily Junkers or German aristocrats and most of them were related to each other. They tended to be devout Christians, whether Catholic or Protestant. They thought, incorrectly, that if they killed Hitler, the western Allies (U.S., Britain, and France) would sign a ceasefire and agree to join them in fighting the Russian Communists.

 

Alas, their bomb failed to kill Hitler and the Nazis took revenge.  Henning von Tresckow, the mastermind, died on the eastern front hours before Gestapo agents stepped off a plane to arrest him. Graf von Stauffenberg, who planted the bomb, was shot by firing squad on the evening of July 20th. They were the lucky ones.  Most of the other plotters, and quite a few innocents, were taken to Gestapo headquarters in Berlin where they were tortured before being tried in kangaroo courts and hanged.

 

Their wives and children ended the war in prison or in concentration camps. The youngest children were sent to orphanages. Stauffenberg’s widow gave birth to her daughter in prison and spent about 10 years searching orphanages trying to find her sons.  The widows were ostracized after the war until the 1960’s when their dead husbands were proclaimed as heroes.

 

The plotters became heroes because West Germany needed heroes. In 1945, Germany was split in two. East Germany was occupied by the Russians. West Germany was created from the American, French and British occupation zones. By the 1960’s, West Germany needed heroes to give the country a sense of continuity with the past but without the taint of the Nazis.  The German officers who plotted to kill Hitler fit the requirements and became heroes.

 

So what makes a person a hero?  In the case of the July 20th conspirators, it was political necessity. But I like to think that the July 20th conspirators would have been recognized as heroes even without political necessity. They were truly brave men who knew they were risking the lives of their families in their quest to build a better future for all.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Contact me at norma.shirk@complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Independence Day!

july-4-1

Independent:   a (1) :  not subject to control by others :  self-governing (2) :  not affiliated with a larger controlling unit an independent bookstore b (1) :  not requiring or relying on something else :  not contingent an independent conclusion (2) :  not looking to others for one’s opinions or for guidance in conduct (3) :  not bound by or committed to a political party. Merriam-webster.com

Hmmm…so, based on that, are we ever really completely independent? I suppose when it comes to the notion of being self-governing, then I would say as a nation, we are independent. And while some may argue that, given recent election events, we have been the victims of outside influences, we are theoretically still an independent democracy.

But what about the concept of not looking for outside opinions or guidance? I’m not sure I agree that independence means not being open to ideas or opinions different from my own. In fact, I would argue that true independence requires research, information gathering and an exchange of ideas. In the absence of such, aren’t we just living in a vacuum? In order to make informed decisions, to exercise my independence, I must understand the context of the world around me. And, I must filter the information in light of my own values and experiences. Indeed, my natural curiosity drives me to seek input from a variety of sources.

When it comes to my business, I am constantly seeking advice, gathering input from experts, researching new concepts and ideas, conferring with my partner. Am I independent? Well, in the Merriam-Webster sense I guess I am. I’m not subject to the control of other, larger entities. And yet, decisions are made based on all of the above. And the demands and responsibilities of business ownership often leave me feeling less independent than I’d like. But in the end, this form of servitude and endless engagement are of my choosing. I can stay and fight the good fight, or I can walk away.

So I suppose that is my true independence. The opportunity to chose my path, using the knowledge gained through hard work and research, integrated with my personal values and instincts and viewed through the lens of my life experiences. And while I may agree with certain elements of the dictionary’s definition, I believe independence comes from within.   Our nation’s history is filled with those with the drive to discover and innovate, and with the confidence to raise their voice against all odds to speak truth to power. Today, on this Independence Day, let us all remember those Americans, and pledge to do our part to exercise our own independence to further both our individual goals and the to fulfill the promise of our country. Happy Fourth, everyone!

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company,a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Living with Fear

Fear is a universal emotion.  Every person alive is afraid of something. It’s what we do next that matters most.

Fear can be a motivator. It drives us to meet our goals. But too much fear can overwhelm us, paralyzing our emotional and physical responses.  As a person who has experienced both these effects of fear, I wanted to know how other people managed their responses to fear.

I’m a history buff so I looked for historical examples. An excellent study in fear is provided by the men and women who were in the French Resistance in World War II.  Every Nazi-occupied country had resistance movements, of course. But the French are notable for their tradition of writing books about their political activities. As a result, the survivors of the French Resistance were more likely to write about their experiences than resisters in other European countries.

What a life they lived! Living in occupied France meant living with fear. The Gestapo could stop any person at any time and demand to see their identity papers. Resistance workers knew if they were detained in one of these street sweeps, their forged identity papers would probably not withstand scrutiny. Or their forged identity might already have been revealed by a tortured colleague or a collaborator. In either case, it meant their worst fear would come true; they would be arrested.

Another quick path to arrest was violating the nightly curfew.  Resistance workers constantly broke curfew to travel to rendezvous sites to retrieve supplies flown in on moonless nights. They also conducted most radio communications with their leaders in London at night. Resistance workers caught at rendezvous sites or with a radio could be shot “resisting arrest” or arrested and taken in for interrogation.

Interrogation meant torture and probable death. Resistance workers were tortured in an effort to make them name names since the Gestapo was attempting to wipe out all resistance efforts.  The standard rule for Resistance workers was that they should hold out for at least 48 hours under torture to allow other Resistance workers to move to new, unknown locations.

Many Resistance members died due to the torture. If they didn’t die while being tortured, they were sent to prison in France to await deportation to a concentration camp.  Resistance workers were not covered by The Hague or Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners of war. They were not legally soldiers. They were legally defined as spies, criminals, or “enemy combatants”.  That meant they could be tortured, starved, murdered, or used as slave laborers.

Resistance activities could be deadly for a worker’s family. If the Gestapo knew or suspected the true identity of a Resistance worker, they would arrest family members of the Resistance worker.  Family members could be tortured, imprisoned, murdered, or deported to a death camp in retaliation for the Resistance worker’s activities.  Resistance workers knew they were jeopardizing the lives of their loved ones and this knowledge caused their greatest fear.

French Resistance workers lived with overwhelming fear that left psychological scars for the rest of their lives.  So why would anyone choose to join the Resistance when they could have kept their heads down and sat out the war?  Sitting out the war could have meant staying neutral, not collaborating, and waiting for it all to end.

French Resistance workers spanned the political spectrum from communist to fascist; but they had one thing in common. They were all French patriots. They wanted to end the occupation and free France.  That goal kept them going through deprivation, torture and fear.

Fear is often synonymous with weakness which is synonymous with cowardice in books and movies. That is wrong. Only an idiot or a liar claims to be constantly brave, never knowing fear. The bravest people are those who acknowledge their fear and still do their job.

That is the lesson about living with fear that I learned from the French Resistance. We are all afraid of something. But if we don’t allow fear to stop us, we can do anything that we want and reach any goal.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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