Nov 21 2014
Journalist and Kveller contributor Sarah Wildman is the author of the recently released “Paper Love: Searching for the Girl My Grandfather Left Behind” (Riverhead Books, 2014). Over the six years it took Wildman to research and then write the book, she also became the mother of two girls, aged 5 ¾ and 17 months. She chatted with me about the motivations and challenges of chasing down this extraordinary love story on both sides of the Atlantic.
How would you characterize your relationship with your grandfather as a child?
My grandfather was larger than life, the patriarch in every way we think of that word. He was incredibly warm, incredibly charismatic, and he made everyone feel that he or she was the only person in the room. He used to kiss my hand, like a Viennese gentleman. I was in awe of him, a bit.
How did you happen to find out about his paramour, Valy, and what drew you to learn more about her? Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 19 2014
I was 7 years old the first time my mother told me that the fate of occupied Europe was in my hands. I remember it clearly. My mother sat me down and explained to me that if, when I grew up, I failed to marry a Jewish girl and raise Jewish children, it would mean that Hitler won. I, in turn, explained to my mother that Hitler had already lost the war, and also that girls were gross and that I had no intention of getting married to anyone ever.
I suppose some people might consider that sort of conversation odd, but my mother grew up in Belgium during World War II and had lost both her parents in the camps. My sister and I were told and told often that we had special responsibilities as the children of a survivor. To my mother that responsibility was clear. It was my job to have Jewish children. For many years, when I was growing up, my mother would quote the words of Martin Niemoller: “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.”
The words were meant to tell me that I must always help those who needed my help, but in truth, for my mother, they were always at heart an acknowledgement that it was the Jews who’d have to look out for the Jews, since no one else ever would. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 18 2014
The bumpy ride and cacophonous roar of the kids’ voices were giving me a headache. I was on a bus with 45 sixth graders, full of hormones and fart jokes, on our way to the Lower East Side in Manhattan. I’d volunteered as a chaperone for my twin sons’ class trip to visit New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. I was interested in the exhibits but I also wanted to be close by as my boys witnessed a memorial to the darkest time in modern Jewish history. I wasn’t sure how they, or the other kids, would react upon seeing such vivid images, and if they had the requisite maturity to process what they’d be witnessing.
The kids had been studying World War II in their social studies classes, so there was certainly preparation by the teachers in an age-appropriate manner. However, I knew there was a difference between learning about the Holocaust in an academic setting, and actually seeing the depth of the destruction that took place from relics and vivid documentary testimonial.
As we made our way through the narrow streets of the Financial District, a kid shouted, “Look, there it is!” I was surprised at their enthusiasm about spotting the museum until I realized that the kids had spotted the gleaming Freedom Tower, the new building under construction in the former location of the World Trade Center. We all craned our necks and took pictures of the magnificent building and I realized that the kids had historical context from their own lifetime with which to understand the Holocaust. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 31 2014
“What are you reading?”
My 3-year-old had suddenly materialized next to the chair in my room. I was so immersed in my book that I hadn’t even heard her come in.
“A book,” I said, smiling.
“I love books,” she said. “What’s your book about?”
“It’s about love,” I said, telling her the slimmest sliver of the truth.
The truth is the book was “Paper Love,” by my friend and fellow Kveller writer Sarah Wildman. I highly recommend it–but the book is far from a typical love story. It is the true, well-researched story of Sarah’s exploration into her deceased grandfather’s romantic history, and the correspondence from the lover he left behind in Holocaust-era Europe, while he went on to America. He lived through the war. And she did not. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 20 2014
Last week, Kveller broke the story that a “punk rock” swastika ring was for sale on both Amazon and Sears’ websites. People were, understandably, outraged, and the story soon went viral, prompting even Carson Daley to talk about it on the “Today” show.
After getting flooded with angry comments on social media, Sears clarified that the item was posted by a third party in their free marketplace, and quickly took the item down, releasing this apology on their website. Amazon also quietly removed the ring from their website.
But wait, there’s more.
A concerned reader pointed us to several other Nazi-affiliated products currently for sale on Amazon, including: Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 13 2014
Got a hot date tonight? Nothing spells romance like a chunky black swastika.
Billed as an edgy fashion accessory, this giant swastika ring is part of Sears’ “men’s punk rock style” jewelry collection, and is also available from online retailers like Amazon. The product description explains that the rings are to be used solely for purposes of wooing the ladies: Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 17 2014
I’m an Orthodox woman and pretty soon, I’ll be wearing my first kippah (skullcap). Well, sort of. My son turns 3 in November, and along with a new pair of Jordans, he’ll be boasting a navy knitted kippah that says his name–in Hebrew, no less–on his first day of school. For the first time, he, and I, will be publically identifying ourselves as religious Jews. I’ll be frank: I find it terrifically daunting.
Until now, I have enjoyed the anonymity that is concomitant with being a bareheaded woman. There is something both thrilling and peaceful about the ability to get lost among (most) peoples of the world without anyone knowing, or caring, about my religious identity. I have been free to behave as I wish, without bearing any theological, cultural or religious connotation.
But as I prepare to accompany my son while he sports his new symbol, I know we are entering the grounds of involuntary Torah ambassadorship. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 19 2014
There are two sentences that have impacted my parenting philosophy more than anything else I’ve read about raising children. In “The Art of Loving” by psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm, he writes, “The Promised Land is described as ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ Milk is the symbol of the first aspect of love, that of care and affirmation. Honey symbolizes the sweetness of life, the love for it and the happiness in being alive. Most mothers are capable of giving ‘milk,’ but only a minority of giving ‘honey,’ too. In order to be able to give honey, a mother must not only be a ‘good mother,’ but a happy person.”
I didn’t have children when I read those words for the first time, and yet, I made a promise to myself that when I did, I would make an effort to be happy, no matter what life threw my way.
A few short weeks after I encountered Fromm’s writing, my then-boyfriend brought up the idea of starting a family, and before we realized the enormity of our decision, there was a wonderful baby boy in our lives. Read the rest of this entry →
Aug 1 2014
“Do you believe in God, Mama?”
A hard lump of something rose up from deep in my chest and got lodged in my throat.
This was the kind of question that pierced right to the heart of things, the kind that forced you to take sides, make a decision, woman up. The kind of question my 4-year-old daughter excels at. Read the rest of this entry →
Jun 30 2014
Today, reading “The Diary of Anne Frank” is a rite of passage for every Jewish middle schooler. But once upon a time, Anne was just a normal, carefree girl, on the cusp of adolescence, taking in the world around her.
The day is July 22, 1941; the scene is the Franks’ next door neighbor getting married. As the handome bride and groom exit the home, the camera cuts to an overlooking window where little Anne can be spotted leaning out to catch a glimpse of the festivities.
One year later, on July 16, 1942, the Frank family would received a call-up notice and go into hiding to avoid deportation. Read the rest of this entry →