Category Archives: hate crimes

Preventing Genocides Step 2 of 6: Take an empathy pill!

Step 2 of 6… How Only you can prevent Bullying

How many pairs of shoes lurk in your closet and under the bed?

shoes lurking in DSW aisles - heaven for the shoe obsessed
shoes lurking in DSW aisles – heaven for the shoe obsessed

I know shoe obsession goes beyond Imelda Marcos and Carrie Bradshaw.  Not me.  I am foot challenged.

So while I don’t ‘get it’, I think I understand the foot ware obsession:

It’s hard walking a mile in our own shoes:  much less imagining what it’s like to walk in someone else’s.

Unable to walk that proverbial mile in another’s shoes, allows judgment to step in.  Suddenly, it’s harder to understand those blisters, bunions, corns, callous’s that fancy heel-wearer is sporting.

If only it were as easy to try on someone else's perspective!
If only it were as easy to try on someone else’s perspective!

Empathy, like a shoe-horn, slides you into someone else’s shoes.   But I wonder: do we want that kind of pain?  Even if  it’s the pain we can relate to? It’s easier to look at ‘them’: unemployed, lonely, fired, depressed, awkward, broke, purposely different, fat, alone –  with disdain and distance.  It’s easier to acknowledge:  “That would never happen to ME!”

Like preventing the flu, keeping (emotional) distance is a preventative measure.

If you have to get close, perhaps you think ‘they’ deserve what they got.  Certainly they didn’t work or try hard enough. It’s like those who said the Holocaust was the Jews fault:  they were too successful, wealthy, powerful.  OR the Tutsi’s had too much power and land.  OR the Armenians were Christians, not to mention well-educated compared to the Turks.  REALLY???? To be fair, genocide doesn’t start with a massacre.  It starts with one painful soul taking his/her frustration out on someone ‘safe’.  It starts with bullying.  ‘Someone’ others also resent.  ‘A different someone’ who thinks:  rather you than me.  Someone who doesn’t want to imagine how it feels to be the recipient of bullying.

Telling someone:  “well you need to:  (man up, lose weight, stop talking about ‘xxx’, get out there more, don’t be so aggressive, be more like you, be less like you)….”


“get over it”   is not what that person needs.  It’s what YOU need to keep YOU safe.

Preventing genocide and bullying is understanding and protecting another’s need for safety day-to-day.

That’s why I have always believed the pharmaceutical industry has missed the mark by not creating a magical pill:  an empathy pill.  A pill to offer the judgemental and  naive, the distant and disdainful of those who don’t like and don’t fit into other’s shoes. When fear and the need to put someone else down overtakes us, we should all learn to say (to ourselves): ‘Here, have an empathy pill.’

Here, have an empathy pill: understand ME! This isn’t about YOU!” Though I’ve always imagined empathy pills shaped like pretty little colored shoes. For men, they can be black loafers and sneakers.  Get your prescription today!

These would be bitter pills to swallow because empathy is a toughie.

Do we really want to stop judging others and give up our safety?  Here are 12 things to consider:

  1. REALIZE you probably have NO idea what the other person is feeling.  Realize that knowing they are in ‘pain’ may be enough.
  2. DON’T say, “I know EXACTLY what you are going through, because do you really?  How can you?
  3. SHARE experiences that are similar but only later, just to let them know that they are not alone.
  4. ASK how you can help to make it better.  Listening helps.  Just listening – to them – not to yourself talking about yourself.
  5. ASK if it’s okay for you to offer a suggestion.  Don’t assume you know what someone else needs.
  6. ASK questions:  even if it’s just ‘tell me more’
  7. DON’T judge.  When you judge, you bully – it’s unkindness.
  8. LISTEN for the underlying emotion, pain and/or issue which you can probably relate to.
  9. DON’T make this about you.  It’s not.   Here’s why:  you don’t know.   What you did or what you would do just doesn’t matter.   You don’t have all the facts even if you’ve been told.
  10. TELL someone you care.  Ask them to tell you more.  Ask them how you can help.
  11. MOST OF ALL: Imagine what it would be like if…  How you would feel if….  How it must be to feel such pain…  What you want from someone if you felt….  What you would want or need from someone if….
  12. STAND UP AND REMIND others to also walk in another’s shoes.  Remind people inflicting pain on others does NOT lessen their own pain.  Not really.  Not for long.
Standing up to prevent bullying is a big deal.
Standing up to prevent bullying is a big deal.

There’s room for all of us in the shoe store of life.  IF we bother to understand someone else’s heel height.

What will you do to understand someone else’s pain and perspective?

Remember:  Only YOU can prevent Bullying
Remember: Only YOU can prevent Bullying


6 strategies for Preventing Genocide through (naked) Identity

Talking about 6 steps to prevent genocide…

While walking through Brooklyn’s Greenwood Cemetery  with my friend Julie, she pointed out nobody cares about genocides.  Not really.  After all it will never  happen to them.

This is to prevent forest firest....genocideourcarelessness.jpg
This is to prevent forest firest….genocideourcarelessness.jpg

People care about bullying.

Bullying happens.  A lot.  School yard bullies graduate to board rooms.

Have you ever  teased a little too far or not acted with kindness when you were feeling unhappy or insecure?  Bullies act because they’re not secure.

Bullying and genocide share DNA.  Genocides, the Holocaust, hate crimes – are merely bullying on steroids.

The Holocaust started as aggressive bullying way before Kristallnacht (1938) and Germany’s invasion of Poland  (1939).  It started in 1933 with Hitler Youth learning to spot Jews, and beat up weaker ‘youth’.  Hitler youth turned in parents who didn’t support Hitler.  They learned new songs…

“Yes, when the Jewish blood splashes from the knives, things will go twice as well.”


Hitler youth were primed and ready for genocide.  Why did they get so wrapped up in this identity?  What was wrong with their authentic selves?

I wonder how this relates to  branding on Facebook and Twitter in the wild world of social media.

It’s a similar question to why kids  join gangs:  the need to belong.   To be liked.

After the recent Boston bombings, the ‘experts’ chimed in about what makes a terrorist:

“Terrorists are people who are alienated.  They have a confused identity… not ‘x’, not ‘y’… not connected to family or to parents… they find a new identity on the internet…” (summarized and pulled from various sources)

Red flag: people are turning to the internet to build community, AND to discover who they are, or who they want to be. HUH???

“Those who don’t love themselves as they are rarely love life either.”  Rachel Naomi Remen

For self-love, here’s my 5 strategies for secure identities:

disc improves....

Step 1:  KNOW your strengths, weaknesses, challenges.    Learning about yourself can’t be googled.  It’s complex and includes race, religion, gender, nationality, looks, socio-economics, and, our innate personality or what I call ‘naked identity’:  who you are without your ‘stuff’.

The best way to undress your naked identity is through the DiSC assessment tool.  The DiSC uncovers how you behavior, act, react, deal with conflict, work and your natural abilities as well as challenges.

I had an education student who was told to be an engineer – inside he was an English major.  Look around your office/classroom – are people their inside ‘selves’, or doing/being what others expect from them?

I’d put money on the mean, grumbling person not being their DiSC style.  Don’t judge others for not being like you.  Accepting someone else helps them accept you.  Focus on you.

Step 2:  Let your values guide your action

Identify your values (click here to identify yours).   Live them.  Believe me it’s hard.  And realize:  you and I may value ‘relationships’ but define it very differently. Understanding these differences in defining them is what’s key to security.

Step 3: Listen to yourself 

Everyone has an opinion about who you should be and what you should do.   Chances are those ‘everyone’s’ are telling you what they want.   I bet they have a different DiSC style and values than you.    Moments of Awareness  is the best and easiest way to listen carefully.

Your ‘friend’s’ not quite complimentary comment that leaves you wondering how you feel – about the comment, him/her, and yourself?  Listen:  it’s more about the commenter than you.  Listen to yourself.

Step 4:  Care more about yourself 

This may sound selfish – but just the opposite.  You can’t take care of anyone else unless you’re secure in yourself.  Taking care of yourself makes it easier to listen to others.

Step 5:  Don’t be a victim of Identity Theft:  Believe in yourself 

Knowing your DiSC, values, and regularly using Moments of Awareness to assess your feelings, will secure your identity.   If someone makes you doubt yourself, try


to understand which of their values aren’t met.  Learn and ‘listen’ if it is in line with YOUR identity.

Step 6:  Share your identity

D., a young American-Korean woman I met in Berlin said it best:  A secure identity means you can explain who you are to others.  Practice till you can.

What is your identity?  

How does knowing your identity keep you from lashing out to others?

What do you think we need to teach others to prevent bullying – and genocides?

Happy Earth Day: Go get hugged!

‘They’ say we need 8 hugs a day to be at our best.

A celebration of earth's bounty: 'Spice and Tease' at NYC's Chelsea Market

A celebration of earth’s bounty: ‘Spice and Tease’ at NYC’s Chelsea Market

‘They’ say each person needs 56 trees’ oxygen to offset her personal production of carbon dioxide.

How many hugs then do trees need – or deserve – for taking care of us each and every day?

Before you read further:  go hug.  Hug a person and/or a tree.

Not aware of Earth Day?  It’s probably because it’s not a Hallmark holiday.  That’s a good thing –  (wasted) paper would exhaust the very resources to celebrate:  trees and water.

But the downside:  it’s not well celebrated – and our survival depends on it.  Literally.

Wikipedia  ‘facts’:  Earth Day (the first in 1970) and  International Mother Earth Day (by the United Nations in 2009) is observed annually on April 22  in support for environmental protection.   Around the planet, people are listening to music, learning about eco-friendly technology, recycling electronics, clothes, bottles and cans, and participating in cleanups.

I’ve done beach clean-ups, including in the Hurricane Sandy devastated Rockaway’s.  One long-time Rockaway resident observed:  ‘lots of people come here to clean up on one day.  Then, nothing.  Nobody comes to clean when the beaches get crowded – and dirtier.’

It’s true of course.

We put a lot of momentum into one day, and then go about our business.

That one day is our consolation, and a commemorative prize.

Aveda's annual water campaign provides awareness and clean drinking water!

Aveda’s annual water campaign provides awareness and clean drinking water!

But I wonder: why do the beaches need to be ‘picked up’ so often?   We’ve picked up cigarette butts, toys, bottles, cans, socks, towels, styrofoam cups, those big plastic cups, straws, and suntan lotion bottles. In April or May. Long before beach season begins.

People must believe it’s okay to bury their garbage along with their heads or feet in the sand….  Or that small stuff, like thousands of cigarette butts won’t make a difference because they are small.

Btw, cigarette butts don’t degrade.

Saturday, I volunteered with Riverkeeper, at NYC’s Hudson River Greenway.  The bright sunny day masked the freezing wind, keeping people moving along the beautiful green space that parallels the High Line and the Hudson River.  This event brought several environmental groups together to share information.

Solar One:  those little black squares are solar panels and the little colored things are spinning around
Solar One: those little black squares are solar panels and the little colored things are spinning around

(Interestingly, I was told, environmental groups compete for attention and funding, often not communicating and sharing thoughts and action.)

These groups do amazing things - not many people because it was FREEZING! Panelists including:  Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper, Grow NYC and Hudson River Greenway
These groups do amazing things – not many people because it was FREEZING! Panelists including: Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper, Grow NYC and Hudson River Greenway

The passing public collected ‘swag‘:  reusable bags from Magnolia Bakery, Aveeno face cream, and pamphlets.  People love free stuff.

Swag (bags from Magnolia Bakery) roadkill?
Swag (bags from Magnolia Bakery) roadkill?

I asked one event participant why Earth Day wasn’t a widely celebrated ‘event’.

‘Exhaustion from being over publicized’

Is this really what we want to hear?
Is this really what we want to hear?

I wonder if it’s become like the boy calling ‘wolf’:  the environmentalist calling ‘global warming, global devastation’ one time too many.


And we deal best with catastrophes when they strike –  all of us trying to stay afloat between devastating events from super storms to job loss.  Exhausting!

It’s almost understandable that clean air, water, healthy food, the diverse ecosystems that provides these things are exhausting to think about. Much less do anything about it.  I’ve often seen bottles in cans in Whole Foods garbage cans when a recycling bin is steps aways (and yes, I take them out and settle them in their proper receptacle!)

But here’s the most interesting thing:  Earth Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day are days apart.  


Maybe.  But these two days are joined in a tight hug.

This WWII poster says it all!
This WWII poster says it all!

Last year I wrote about the Bielski Partisans (movie: Defiance) WWII survival in the forests.

Wars, hate crimes, genocides ultimately are over resources.  Natural resources that come from the Earth.

People are killed over land, water, diamonds. Food.  Not to mention Nike’s.

So my thoughts on this beautiful Earth Day are:  Stand-up!

Hug a tree.  Hug a person.

Fight Genocide – fight for a healthy planet.

You can prevent war- reduce your consumption of ‘stuff’, turn off the water, drive less, recycle.

less is more earth day

Let’s focus on quality – not quantity.  Let’s care enough about ourselves and future generations to leave them a real inheritance.

Stand up by donating time, money, and energy.  Talk about and share these organizations:


Grow NYC


JNF (starting planting trees in Israel in 1901!)

Sierra Club

US Holocaust Museum

A Meaningful World (anti-Genocide)

The Raoul Wallenberg Effect: Leadership from a Hero

London Memorial

London Memorial

The story of a hero and a leader.

The BBC’s report on Raoul Wallenberg achieving honorary Australian citizenship this morning told of a remarkable man’s accomplishment.  Or of a man making

Raoul Wallenberg

Raoul Wallenberg

the best of all his knowledge and being and ‘stepping’ up in times of need?

Raising the question are leaders born or made?

This question gets raised when leaders are identified and scrutinized.   If it’s the latter, (and most of us believe it is) we can all adopt the ‘Wallenberg Effect’ and become the leaders we are meant to be in our everyday life.

A little background:  In 1944, Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat was sent to Budapest to ‘save’ this Jewish community.  You can imagine the challenge:  the Nazi’s were in a hurry to ensure Budapest’s 700,000 Jews followed in the footsteps of millions of other murdered Jews in Europe.  Wallenberg was only 33, and had no real diplomatic skills.  He was rich,  He had connections and his family name offered protection.  Mostly, he had chutzpah, conviction, and, courage.  Taking extraordinary and audacious actions, he managed to save close to 100,000 Hungarian Jews.  In one story he jumped on top of a cattle car to hand fake Swedish passports to people  on the way to camps.  He took people out of death march lines, ‘reminding’ them of their Swedish backgrounds.  On more than one occasion he convinced the Nazi’s NOT to shoot people after round-ups.  In sad irony,  when the Russians ‘liberated’ Budapest in January 1945, they placed Wallenberg in jail and he was never heard/seen again.

It’s ‘interesting’ there are roughly 100,000 Jews identified to be living in Hungary today.  This is the largest Jewish population in Eastern Europe, and there is also rising Anti-Semitism.

Budapest plaque

Budapest plaque

But his strength in action, lives on.  And after hearing the story this morning, I was reminded of the why and what of the  ‘Wallenberg Effect’.

The 5 characteristics attributed to Wallenberg are easily matched with basic leadership professional development we’ve all taken and/or taught.  And it’s always good to take a moment and remind ourselves (and others) of how to be our best:

1.  Knowledge:  Wallenberg know his strengths and communication style. He took 100% responsibility for ensuring (the Nazi’s) heard his message by meeting their ‘WIIFM’s’ (What’s In It For Me) or motivation which was to be strong and secure.

How do you define your EQ?  How do you support and develop this knowledge in others?

2.  Objective:    Wallenberg acted on what he thought was right (values) and “walked the talk” when it came to saving the Hungarian Jewish community.

What are your top 5 values?  What actions do you take on a daily basis that support your beliefs?

3.  Ingenuity:   To be sure Wallenberg had great connections, but he also used his knowledge of the Nazi’s love for extravagant detail when he supervised the creation of fake Swedish passports.  I’m sure his ingenuity, along with his EQ came into play as he ‘created’ 30 safe houses to hide people.

How do you know when things aren’t working and what steps do you take to identify a new win-win solution?

the 9-dot puzzle:  think outside the lines!

4.  Confidence:  Chutzpah anyone?  Wallenberg made full use of his ‘charisma’ to stand up and ‘direct’ the Nazi’s in a way no-one else had.  Certainly his conviction and confidence swayed the Nazi’s to let him pull people out of death march lines.

How do you act when you are 100% sure of your conviction (versus when you are not)?

saw a guy on the subway yesterday in a superman costume... didn't take a picture... this from

saw a guy on the subway yesterday in a superman costume… didn’t take a picture… this from

5.  Courage:   I heard Wallenberg acted with, ‘No fear of death’, focused on the end result.  He was shot at while he was on top of that car handing out fake passports, and certainly could have been killed by the Nazi’s at any point in time.

When do you stand up for yourself and others even when you know you ‘are going against the grain’?

An icon of courage!
An icon of courage!

Surely being in remarkable circumstances brings out the extraordinary in all of us.

But why wait?  If not now, when?

I think there are important small, quiet and safe times when we can stand out and develop ourselves to be our best.  Hopefully, most of us will never be in the position Wallenberg was in.

We can all take small steps that lead to giant saves.

We can still sign petitions and speak up against hate of all kinds.

a Budapest monument
a Budapest monument
Tel Aviv Memorial
Tel Aviv Memorial

What you do Matters: 20th Anniversary Lessons from the USHM: Part 1

First 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 for me.

  • Pastor Martin Niemoller, a one-time supporter of the Nazi’s who emerged as an outspoken Hitler foe was incarcerated for seven years in Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps.  After the war, he traveled and preached collective guilt for Nazi persecution and crimes against humanity.  (This bio is adapted from the US Holocaust Museum calendar)

That’s what?  Four degrees of separation from one group to ‘me’.    That is certainly part of my ‘fascinations’ (if I could even call it that) with the Holocaust.  Even closer, I am – or could have been – the prime victim – as a Jew.

But my reason for attending the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s 20th Anniversary National Tour in NYC on March 3rd goes deeper than that, as I’m sure it does for so many of us:

  • disbelief of the horrors mankind inflicts on each other
  • sadness that people will follow without thought
  • awe in human nature’s resilience and strength and ability to survive
  • disbelief that human nature doesn’t change and repeats horrific genocides

For pictures and more information go to:

67 years after the Holocaust and end of WWII, this is a good time to commemorate the Museum’s work, and:

To honor and celebrate NYC’s 300 Survivors, and

50 WWII Veteran Liberators.

Stories of survival are important.  How often have each of us shared our cunning ways of getting through the day without losing our minds, or, here in NYC, braving the subway at rush hour and feeling lucky when the trains run smoothly.

Perspective is everything.

I know I’ve read ‘that there have been enough movies about the Holocaust’, I think many of us would agree that there haven’t been enough.  Not enough for the simple reason that the act of genocide continues.

Holocaust survivor Eva Von Ancken donating toys given to her during the war.

Holocaust survivor Eva Von Ancken donating toys given to her during the war.

The USHM’s national tour honors and strives to protect – and commemorate the past, but the majority of sessions are about the present and future.  They are to remind us of our failings to honor ‘NEVER AGAIN in the near past:




That saying:  NEVER AGAIN after the Holocaust has come to be:

NEVER AGAIN – until it happens again.

The USHM’s 20th Anniversary National Tour events strive to:

  • Invoke the feeling that what each of us does matters, and,
  • Spread thought and action to insure another genocide does NOT occur anywhere – every again.
Survivor AND WWII Veteran, Hanna Deutch pins her location at the end of the war

Survivor AND WWII Veteran, Hanna Deutch pins her location at the end of the war

I pass people everyday, knowing they possess unimaginable stories and emotions. I remind myself:  ‘Be kind:  everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”  (St. Philo).

Walking into the Hilton on March 3rd,  my awareness and sensitivity of battles people have fought was supercharged.

Navigating the crowd I looked at people’s faces before my eyes darted to pins which proudly identified participants as  Survivor or Veteran.  When I saw either, I admit to being instilled with a sense of reverence and awe.  That, tinged with emotion.

Oh, and I got a pin too.  No notation.  Just a reminder of ‘Never Again’.


Over a dozen rooms were dedicated to recording histories of survivors and their children, collecting objects and memorabilia, film and video testimonies of survivors and liberators, amateur movies from life in Eastern Europe before WWII, and space to search for lost family history.  Or for that matter, children who were lost from their family history.

A big question raised here:  as Holocaust survivors die, who will tell their stories?

Here’s what I wonder:

How do we teach young people about the Holocaust in a way that makes them feel it’s real, it can happen again, – has happened again –  and they – personally – can do something about it?

Teens learn about the Holocaust in school, but how much will they read and pursue?  There’s so many other devastations that are competing for emotions and attention these days, will a 67 year old atrocity have the horrific honor of securing a spot in someone’s mind?

I’ll share more about the tour over the next four posts including:  the event (part 1), people (part 2), the message (part 3), and call to action (part 4).

What do you think are the lessons we should remember from the Holocaust?

What do you think people need to learn to prevent genocides?

Anything you would like to know about the day?

‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’: Celebrate Beauty!

Beauty is all around us and just because we seek it doesn’t mean we see it.  The key is in the definition (of beauty) and the hope and expectation: ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.

Celebrating beauty: Hava Hershkovitz crowned ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’

There is so much pressure and unrealistic expectations of beauty thanks to fashion mags and the silver screen.  Then there is Of course the ultimate celebration and proclamation of beauty:   beauty contests.

I won’t criticize beauty contests here and now .  This post is about celebrating one  important, unusual, and  very controversial contest:  ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’.

14  women aged  74 – 97 competed on Friday, June 28th, in Haifa, Israel for the crown of most ‘beautiful’ Holocaust survivor.  The criteria was  (largely) on their survival story and lifetime work.

Is a beauty pageant the answer to celebrating these women?  If it reminds us of the beauty of survival and the strength of the human spirit, I say yes.

“This place is full of survivors. It puts us at the center of attention so people will care. It’s not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest, but we‘re all doing it to show that we’re still here,” the silver-haired Hershkovitz said.  (Hava Hershkovitz was crowned the winner!)

“I have the privilege to show the world that Hitler wanted to exterminate us and we are alive. We are also enjoying life. Thank God it’s that way,” added Esther Libber, a 74-year-old runner-up who fled her home in Poland as a child, hid in a forest and was rescued by a Polish woman. She said she lost her entire immediate family.

Pageant’s many critics  felt focusing on beauty belittled the gravity of the Holocaust.  Others felt the sponsoring cosmetic companies ‘making up’ the contestants were in it for their own gain. I say focus on redefining beauty.   I think this is an opportunity to really, finally, understand  ‘beauty comes from within’.

A BBC listener commented on Friday’s story, ‘I can’t believe people came out of Auschwitz smiling’ (as a contest critique).  Based on my chilly October day tour last year, I couldn’t believe people came out at all

Imagine being able to survive such dehumanizing and horrific conditions, to survive and raise families, contribute to society, build the state of Israel, and have the humor to compete in a beauty contest.    I was and am filled with awe.

Survival takes strength.  If that’s not beauty, what is?   I think about how ‘difficult’ it is to ‘survive’ in today’s economic downturn.  In tough times it’s easy to shrug off shows of beauty,  diminishing (my own) strength.   Imagine  holding onto beauty in the depths of your soul in a death camp, partisan forest, or a root cellar.

300 interested contestants obviously survived with strength and dignity.   They  deserve my respect for their example to primp and preen and flaunt their beauty .

There are about 200,000 (aging)   Holocaust survivors still alive in Israel.

Sadly, Genocides continue.

‘Never Again’.  The Holocaust wasn’t just about extermination – it is about miraculous survival.

The Nazi’s and their collaborators showed the worst of human nature.  Survivors, the best.  Survival of the fittest!  Winner,  Ms. Hershkovitz, beautifully reminds us:  ‘We’re still here.’

How do you define beauty? 

Is this an appropriate way to honor Holocaust survivors?   Share your ideas!

Would you hide me? Or: WWID?

Afternoons, the ‘F’ train became the ‘fight train’ as I traveled to my NYU teaching gig.   High-schoolers’ pent-up energy ricocheted off subway walls, without regard to bystanders. Until the day this innocent was attacked by a flying jelly bean.  My gentle admonition to take care was answered with a threat to ‘beat me up’ – no great challenge for her and a lesson of caution for me.  A lesson to contain my ‘suggestions’.

An email discussion with my niece Emily found us chewing on the meaty topic of the Donner Party  (sorry….).   Revulsion aside,  Em wisely admitted she couldn’t really say what she would do in that situation.

How could she?  How could any of us?

Things always look easier when you are on the outside looking in.  Traveling to the past and critiquing the actions of others is easy.  It’s easy to slap  moral judgements and out-of-context beliefs on what was done in a time and place viewed far from the comfort of a book or LCD screen.  But when the going gets tough and push turns to  life and death, I always stop and wonder, “What would I do?’ (WWID)

In all situations, I  hope for the character and strength of Miep Gies, the family friend who helped hide and feed Anne Frank and her family regardless of danger to her and her husband.

Moral strength leads to moral pondering and to Nathan Englander’s  ‘What we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank’ (New Yorker 12/12/2011  (

My teaser:  An obsession-turned-‘game’ finds its way into the  reunion conversation of two slightly drunk, slightly high, middle-aged couples, connected through the wives Yeshiva school days.  An afternoon of tension and discomfort laced with humor and startling revelations leads to the taunting pose between spouses:  ‘Would you hide me?’

See, you need to read this book!

Provocatively, ‘would you hide me?’ haunts my mind’s crevices and shadows conversations.   Staring matches in my bathroom mirror dares:  What would I do?

Can I trust my eyes with the answer?  Can others?

Surely we all say we will protect others.  Of course.  How can we possibly say no?  But how do we really know?  Is the strength to hide and protect fused into a person’s core identity?

A recent review of the Holocaust movie:  “In Darkness” implied enough already with the Holocaust.  This topic’s been exhausted.  Read Mr. Englander’s story.

I wonder if we haven’t had enough.  Surely there is something more to our interest in Hitler’s horrors against Jews, Gypsies, gays, and others.  A gnawing question knocking at our sensibilities as we watch and read.  A question turned inward forcing us to (uncomfortably) explore moral strength and identity:  What would I do?

Yes, more stories of the Holocaust and other genocides are needed.  More stories to prompt consideration of ‘WWID?’

‘Never Again’!  A Holocaust slogan reminds.    I’d like to say that there will ‘never again’ be a holocaust, and a threat to wipe Jews off the planet.  I’d like to say there will be no more genocides.

I fear polar bears will become extinct before acts of genocide.  And people like polar bears.

Under the world’s watchful eyes genocides have threatened to wipe out nations around the globe.  Anti-Semitism is alive and far too well.

Every holocaust starts small.  In ‘small’, hate-filled people.  Hate-filled become haters.   Hate fills people slowly, as recipients of actions that expose rather than hide.   Actions that attack rather than protect.

‘Would you hide me?’  It’s small actions that protect and hide others.  From sadness, fear, hopelessness.  Actions we can all take.  These days it’s way too easy to poke fun at others using social media.  Too easy to exclude others who are sitting around a table if they aren’t part of the group.  Too easy to focus on our ‘stuff’ and not listen to a friend’s needs.  Too easy to criticize rather than compliment.  Or worse, purposely ignore an opportunity to compliment, to support another.

I think I can do the hard thing.  Can’t we all?

WWID?  I can do the small stuff.  Take  responsibility.  I can make decisions and take actions to demonstrate I am a person who protects and hides others.  I hope.  Even if I haven’t always done so, I can do better.

I can respect a confidence more than sharing a story on Facebook, tweet, or at a party.

I can resist the urge to say or post something about another that might in reality be insulting, even if it’s done with humor.

I can value a person’s sense of self rather than my need to be part of a ‘group joke’ – at someone else’s expense, even if that person isn’t there.

I can stop teases, taunts, and mean-spirited gossip – even if I can’t stop jelly beans shooting through subway cars.

Not yet.

It’s the decision to make little ‘random acts of kindness’ that turn us into protectors.  Right? 


Aspects of identity need to be taught.  As a coach, I help others develop secure identities, to be safely in the driver’s seat to turn right.

But I know it’s scary to be the face of reason.  The one saying stop when others look for Facebook likes.

How did we get here?  How have we not traveled further?

Take a leap.  It’s scary, but go ahead.  Take action.  Ask yourself:  ‘What would I do?’

Safe Havens: Partisan Forests

The safety of forests! Over 20,000 Jewish and 30,000 Russian partisans found forests to offer refuge and lauch resistance during WWII

Traveling from Berlin to Warsaw and beyond, passing acre after acre of Birch tree forests, my imagination morphed  forests into  havens  for hiding partisans.  These 

Furst is a great historical spy novelist providing insight and intrigue into WWII. Try 'The Polish Officer'

visual images leapt from the page (Alan Furst) and the screen (Defiance) through my eyes to outside my train window.  

Eastern European forests offered a safe haven for Jews, Russians, Gypsies, political dissidents and others both fleeing and fighting the Nazi’s.  These forest bound partisan resistance fighters conducted guerilla warfare, sabotage, and, military intelligence.    Imagining the forest as homey and hospitable in the middle of winter is a stretch, yet forests concealed family camps living in dugouts complete with craftsmen and schools.

Belorussia, location of Bielski camp. While most partisans were in Eastern European, others were in France and Belgium

The most famous,  the Bielski brothers camp in Belorussia numbered about 1,200 in 1944 and is the basis for the movie Defiance.

From the movie Defiance: Bielski brothers fleeing into the woods after their parents were killed

Of course it’s more complicated.  Jews sometimes joined larger (more powerful?) Russian partisan groups who were often anti-Semitic.

Russians air-dropped supplies to sympathetic partisans at the end of WWII.  Russian partisans turned  Anti-Soviet and resisted Soviet control from 1944 – 1953.

Faye Schulman, photographer and partisan chronicled her life in the woods in ‘Pictures of Resistance’.  The link:

Theo, my Berlin Free Walking Tour guide ( explained

German organization includes  numbering their trees:  4,100.   We count what’s important.  Money and barrels of oil are counted like partisans must have counted food.

In 2012, danger lurks outside ALL windows.

Birch forest view outside my train window

 Carbon dioxide levels have declared war with our climate – and therefore us. (Or is it the other way around?)  It’s a matter of time before we must all seek oxygen rich hiding places.  A matter of time before we all become partisans.  As modern-day partisans, it behooves us to know  the number of trees on the planet, and how many we need to be safe.

29.6%  of Earth is tree covered.  Once, it was almost 100%.  Between 1990 – 2000, 2% of trees were lost.

Mr. Smarty Pants:  96 trees/person to offset our carbon balance

Each acre of forest provides enough oxygen for 18 people.  As you can imagine, it’s difficult to count the number of trees or even acres of tress on the planet. 

But I’m sure you  also know people far outnumber trees on the planet.  We  can still breathe a sigh of relief, confident we will be suitably oxygenated. But can we hide from the facts?

Environmentalists may seem to be crying ‘wolf’ about global warming.  But most European Jews didn’t believe the  warnings about the Nazi’s either. 

How much longer will forests provide safety?  A haven to hide?  Without  trees, where will our species go for safety?

Resources.  Wars and genocides begin over a scarcity of resources.  (Blood) diamonds, oil, and land have been washed with green(backs) and red. 

2% of forests have been lost in the last 10 years and will never be recovered. What if these trees were your source for oxygen? Would you allow these trees to be clearcut? Burned down for burgers (grazing)?

Wants feed needs feed power and lead to starvation.  Trees are harvested, burned to make way for more lucrative ventures like grazing land.  Land that will lead to starvation.  Of oxygen.  Because what resources REALLY are needed for life?  Water.  Oxygen. 

Without trees where will we hide?  Where will we go to be safe?

Is the human race out to destroy itself?                                                          (BBC quote from Auschwitz  2009)story.   

Organizations providing safety through tree planting:



Shoes: One giant step for empathy?

Shoes!  When did shoes become the go-to destination for journeys to nirvana?  When did well-appointed heels turn cads into princes and transform us plain girls to ‘sex-y in the city’?   Or has footwear always been as important to fashion as the saying: ‘Don’t judge me until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes’  has been to identity and peace?

Does our penchant for buying shoes, amassing Imelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw sized collections speak to our need to understand others?   Do new shoes provide  the potential and ability to walk that mile to understanding?

My footwear reflects my soul and mirrors my identity.  My journeys are on

Shoes fit for very long journeys

foot and I’ve learned the hard way that Jimmy Choos and Manolo Blahnik’s derail my  joy into train wrecks.

Footwear can define identity, and, is just as complicated.   I recently told a dear friend, ‘we may wear the same size, but we like and wear very different shoes – literally and figuratively’.

It can be hard to understand someone you love.  Someone  whose footwear appears interchangeable with your own.  Different styles, different

One pre-Xmas night, a group of young men were camped in front of a shoe store on 34th Street in Manhattan. They were spending the night to be first in line to buy the ‘newest’ sneakers. What kind? What did they look like? No-one knew – just that they wanted them.

toes add difficulty relating to the owner of the heart-pumping-blood to those other  toes. As a species focusing on souls, rather than soles, and the miles journeyed, can surely help promote listening, peace and, understanding identity.

Swapping metaphoric  ‘shoes’:  Would any genocide occur if perpetrators imagined themselves, or their mothers, or wives, or children as victims?  Would they say ‘NO’ to crimes of hate?

Empathy, the ability to put yourself into someone else’s shoes, to listen for  identity without bias or judgement.   This must be a key to peace as I wrote about in my recent post ‘Peace Requires Listening’.

Daniel Lubetzky,CEO of Kind Bars and PeaceWorks remarked (one of) the key to Palestinian-Israeli peace is for Israeli’s to listen to Palestinian needs.  I think a shoe swap and long survival hike might help.

I’ve often found empathy, along with blisters, after finding myself on a path with someone I’ve judged (health).  ‘Blisters’ force me to slow down, open my eyes, acknowledge the pain.

It’s painful to listen if we are not sure of our identity, or we are not on firm footing ourselves. In Vilna, Lithuania (‘Dinner in Vilna’), Lilly said she was unhappy before she focused her identity and connected with Judaism.  Some say shoe shopping, especially during a sale, is a religious experience. There are other ways to worship.

Empathy.  Walking that metaphoric mile.  Several years ago, I discovered

Imagine these pills shaped like SHOES: Empathy pills!

the cure.  A pill.    A shoe-shaped empathy pill.   Mid-judgement, mid-hate action, a quick pill pop would change everything with, ‘Here, walk a mile in my shoes.  Have an empathy pill.’

As soon as a pharmaceutical company gets back to me, I’ll take your orders.

In the meantime, how has a pair of shoes helped you understand others, or, shaped or defined your identity?

What leg of your journey has developed your empathy?

Please, share your thoughts and also let me know how you came to read this post!

Auschwitz Thoughts: From unimaginable to awe

There are a few ‘must do’s in Krakow:  Auschwitz -Birkenau, Schindler’s Factory, and the Salt Mines, each reminders of the city’s past.  They also show the range of power mankind is capable of.  Although I’m in Budapest now, I had to share a few wide ranging and encompassing thoughts.

UNESCO Heritage site

Salt mine in Krakow

Krakow is a beautiful medieval city, complete with a castle, moat and never-ending winding streets.  Go back even further in time (about 700 years), 15 minutes away, and, about 500 steps beneath the surface to see what man took from the earth and the beauty he left in thanks.   The Salt Mines.  It amazes me people found salt all while uncovering its value.  Not to mention digging deep into the earth to satisfy man’s insatiable hunger for it.  This mine is unique:  as miners dug deeper and deeper in to the earth, they left their own messages through carvings of appreciation and beauty – maybe equivalent to today’s tagging and graffiti.

We reached this cavernous room  500 steps beneath the surface  by initially winding down 36o dizzying wooden steps.    Salt was so precious it became the root of the word salary.  People were (literally) paid in salt.  Our route to this  cathedral was on floors of salt,  encased in walls of salt and past small cathedrals made of, and carved into the salt.  The religious scenes were carved by miners out of love. Which religion?  You wouldn’t know it by my writing but  Krakow and this region of Galicia is strongly rooted in Catholicism.  My lasting impression of  the beauty and grandeur of this UNESCO heritage site is that this is a great symbol and reminder of the beauty mankind is capable of creating.

But mankind is complicated and easily seduced by greed, fear, loneliness and the need to comply with Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest’ in horrific ways nature seems unable to mimic.  Only 40 miles away from the depth of man’s beauty is another reminder of  mankind’s emotions.  This one focused on the cruel and unimaginable crimes mankind can create and impose on its fellow members.

Gate to hell; Auswitch

Work is freedom though there was no freedom from work here

This gate is the symbol of Auschwitz.   Though like most  things in life, can’t be captured by a picture.  Walk through this gate, through the camp barracks, crematorium, unloading platform at Birkenau and to the underground gas chambers and crematorium.  Steady yourself for the bombarding emotions of horror, sadness, loss, outrage, and, disbelief.

While standing on the unloading and selection platform in Birkenau and on the land where in winter women were forced to run naked in wooden clogs through the mud to take cold showers,  I ask myself again:

What creates enough hatred to disarm any semblance of a moral compass?

It’s a cold drizzly day, and certainly this hallowed ground, this cemetery must only have weather as sad as its story.  I’m cold in my layers of Polartec while thinking about my sore feet.  I  know in an hour I’ll be sitting in a warm bus sipping hot tea.   My cousin Sue says she always carries food in vestigial memory of those who got a cup of dirty water for dinner after working for 12 hours.   Hunger  is a feeling we may have when we haven’t eaten for a few hours.  I’m in tears as I walk around, bloated with emotions caused by the Nazi’s hunger for destruction.  Or rather to stave off their own fear.

What else can I feel other than outrage and horror except disbelief?

We are told over and over that though Jews heard about Auschwitz (and the other camps) they didn’t believe it was possible such places could exist.  Understandable – how could any feeling human being believe humankind capable of such acts?   Sadly,  this is part of mankind’s legacy.  Sadly this demonstrates the cunning, artful planning, and, exacting implementation  wasted on horrific deliberate and hateful genocide.

There’s sadness and heartbreak over the lost beauty and potential of the brilliant (more than) one  and a half million Jews who were killed here.  Imagine how different the world might be if those souls had lived.

Yet another emotion fills me as I walk and listen to our guide:  Awe.  I can’t help but be filled with  Awe, respect and pride.   Really.  I know it sounds strange.  Imagine:  That people with numbers tattooed to their forearms (and this was the only camp with tattoos) endured, survived, and went on to thrive. 

Victor Frankel in ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ along with others wrote about this enduring ability of man to survive.  Standing in the cold drizzle through stark barracks and looking at the concrete bunks dusted with straw as a mattress and hearing about how bodily fluids drizzled from the top to the bottom third bunk,   I can only repeat what my mother says:  ‘The greatest miracle of all is that there are still Jews in the world.”

Books, movies, talks have shared many stories.  And as Survivors are nearing the end of their lives, even more stories are fortunately being told.   I think each and every one of us can never read or see enough.  They say Auschwitz is a place everyone should visit.  It is. These days a sign at the entrance proclaim children under 14 should NOT visit.  Clearly this sign was absent from 1941 – 1945.  (Several hundred babies were born here and some 27 are still alive – How is that for a miracle!).

When I was in Krakow’s Jewish Quarter, entering the active Orthodox Remuh Synagogue, I saw a group of Yeshiva boys leaving, dragging suitcases behind them.  Surprised, I turned to Klaudia.   Before I opened my mouth to ask about them, she let me know they were probably from New York or Israel.

Entering the crematorium in Auschwitz, the sound of men singing the Mourner’s prayer seemed both appropriate and haunting.  Inside the farthest corner of this space stood these same Yeshiva boochers (I know I misspelled that) fervently swaying and praying.  My guide told me this is the only time she has seen men praying there.

Schindler’s Factory, which most of us know from the movie Schindler’s List, is  a ten minute walk from the Jewish Quarter.  It  is  now a state of the art interactive museum about Krakow’s German occupation.  Pictures of the the lucky Jews selected to live and work in the factory welcome visitors at the beginning of the exhibit.    I look carefully at each one, wondering if I’ll see a face reminding me of others I know.

While there is so much to write about – in fact whole books have been written that I know I can’t do justice to any of it right now .  I will mention there is a lot of controversy about Oscar Schindler’s character and motive in helping Jews.  My feeling:  screw motives!  Forget he was a womanizer, gambler, drinker.  After the war, he moved to Argentina (paid for by the Jewish community) with his wife and two of his lovers.

Bottom line:  He saved Jewish lives  and for that he is to be commended and celebrated.

It may seem Krakow’s Jewish history is seeped in the past.  Not at all true!  The Jewish community here is proud of its four synagogues/groups representing its 100 (or 200) Jews.  If you are thinking that is a lot of groups for a few people I agree.  Perhaps this is the quintessential Jewish option considering the ‘joke’ for the need of at least two synagogues:  ‘One to pray in, the other I’ll never step foot in.”

As I wrote about a few days ago, yes there are lots of options:  everyone needs to participate.   Participation may be attending free Friday night dinners at the Jewish Culture Center (JCC) built by Prince Charles.  Anna Gulinska, the JCC’s program manager told me after dinner people go out for drinks  at Mechanoff, one of the trendy bars in the neighborhood.   Those who are observant and can’t carry money during Shabbat pay their bar tabs on Sunday.  Gotta love it!

Anna is a symbol of Judaism’s resurgence in Poland.  To begin with: she isn’t  Jewish. Her interest in  Jewish studies began in high school in Tarnoff.   Before the war, 40 % of the population was Jewish, now represented and remembered by the overgrown cemeteries, ruined synagogues and street names in Hebrew.   Intrigued (which says a lot about her)  she entered a contest for high school students.   She interviewed a Jewish woman, who was rescued from the ghetto by a Polish guard, who fell in love with her.  Yes, another miraculous story.  This guard rescued both her and her 2 sisters.  He later refused any honor from Yad Vashem – he saved for love .

This woman  is now 92 and living in Krakow.  She is glad Anna is interested in Jewish history since her grandchildren are not.  Anna stresses that the strength of the community is in the living ,in the present.   Not the ghosts of the past.  She hopes  people walk away remembering that Jewish culture has been and is an important part of Polish history for thousands of years.  She stressed this history needs to be preserved.  Personally I think it is wonderful she is there to contribute to celebrating this next chapter.

There is one more conversation I want to share, but not today.  Swavick Postuske, a Krakow’ Jewish Studies student was hanging around the JCC.  He stood out for two reasons – he is young and he was wearing a yarmulke!   Although he kept saying his English was bad, we talked for over an hour.   I want to give justice to his stories which are amazing as you can imagine!