THANKSGIVING

On Thursday, November 26, most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving. It is a paid federal holiday. All government offices and financial markets are closed. We will gather together with family and friends, eat turkey and other traditional foods, watch football games on TV, and enjoy a day off from work. Few of us will stop to think of the origins and meaning of the holiday. What is its meaning? What are its origins? Why is it celebrated at this time of the year? Read on for the answers.

Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated to give thanks for the year’s harvest. It has strong religious and cultural roots. Most people are aware that Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US (4th Thursday in November) and Canada (2nd Monday in October), but few of us are aware that variations of it are observed in other countries as well. In these other countries the holiday has a different meaning and purpose. For example, in Grenada it is celebrated on October 25, and it marks the date on which the US invaded the island in 1983 in response to the deposition and execution of Grenada’s then Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop. Liberia celebrates the holiday on the first Thursday of November, a tradition that was originated by freed American slaves that were transported there. In the Netherlands a Thanksgiving Day service is held on the morning of the US holiday. Its purpose is to commemorate the traditions of the Pilgrims, who resided in the city of Leiden for several years prior to their emigration to the New World. Japan celebrates a “Labor Thanksgiving Day” on November 23 to commemorate labor and production. It has its roots from the period of American occupation after WWII.

Like many of our traditions, Thanksgiving is rooted in English tradition. These date from the English Reformation in the 16th century and the reign of King Henry VIII. Apparently, the Protestant clergy had determined that events of misfortune or good fortune were attributable to God. Thus, unexpected disasters, such as droughts, floods or plagues, were followed by “Days of Fasting.” On the other hand, fortuitous events, such as a good harvest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, which was largely attributable to storms off the English coast, were to be celebrated by “giving thanks” to Him.

The origin of the Canadian holiday is uncertain, but it is most commonly attributed to the English explorer Martin Frobisher. He had been exploring Northern Canada seeking the infamous and elusive Northwest Passage to Asia. He wanted to give thanks for his party having survived the numerous storms and icebergs it had encountered on the long journey from England. Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated as a statutory holiday in most jurisdictions of Canada.

Most people trace the American Thanksgiving holiday to 1621 in present-day Massachusetts (although some claim that there were earlier celebrations by the Spaniards in present-day Florida circa 1565 and in the colony of Virginia circa 1610). The Pilgrims and Puritans living there had enjoyed a bountiful harvest that year and wanted to give thanks. Their harvest had been partly attributable to assistance from Native Americans, so they invited them to share in their celebration. Records indicate that there were 90 Native Americans and 25 colonists in attendance. The actual date is uncertain, but it is believed to have been between September 21 and November 11.

Prior to 1942, Thanksgiving was not celebrated as an official national holiday. Rather, it was celebrated periodically by proclamation. For example, during the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress established days of “prayer, humiliation and thanksgiving” each year. In 1777 George Washington proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the colonists’ victory at Saratoga. Following independence, various Presidents continued the practice of issuing proclamations periodically.

In 1863 President Lincoln proclaimed a national “Thanksgiving Day” to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. Historians believe that his action was prompted by a series of editorials written by Sarah Josepha Hale, a writer and editor of some reknown. (She wrote the popular nursery rhyme, “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”) The practice of annual Presidential Proclamations continued until 1939. That year, FDR broke the tradition. November had five Thursdays that year instead of the usual four. FDR figured that if the holiday were celebrated on the 4th Thursday it would provide a much-needed boost to the economy by enabling merchants to sell more goods before Christmas. (Even then, Thanksgiving was the unofficial start of the Christmas holiday shopping season.) Typically, this action precipitated a spat between the GOP and Dems in Congress. GOP congressmen viewed it as an insult to President Lincoln and continued to consider the last Thursday to be the holiday, so there were two Thanksgiving celebrations in 1939, 1940 and 1941, a “Democratic” one on the 4th Thursday and a “Republican” one on the last Thursday. The individual states split the dates (only in America!). Finally, in 1941 everyone got in sync. On December 26, 1941 FDR signed a bill into law that decreed that Thanksgiving would be celebrated on the 4th Thursday of November, a practice that has continued to this day.

Beginning in 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey to the President. Over the years it became customary for the President to grant a “pardon” to the turkey.

CONCLUSION

Many businesses are closed on Friday as well, which has had the effect of expanding the holiday into a four-day weekend. This weekend is one of the busiest travel days of the year, as anyone who has been on the roads or at the airports during this time can attest. The Friday after the holiday is known as “Black Friday.” It is one of the busiest shopping days of the year and signals the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. Many retail stores open early and offer sales. Some shoppers love this and camp out overnight; others deride it as a “fool’s errand.” Saturday is known as “Small Business Saturday,” which is an attempt to encourage patronage of small businesses. The Monday after the holiday is known as “Cyber Monday,” which encourages shopping on-line. The Tuesday after is called “Giving Tuesday” to encourage donations to the needy. The holiday is a prime time for charity. Many communities have food and clothing drives to collect items for distribution to the poor.

Many cities hold parades. The NYC “Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade” is a longstanding tradition. Many families have attended this every year for generations. It features floats with specific themes, such as Broadway shows, cartoon characters, celebrities and high school marching bands. The last float is traditionally one of Santa Claus, which symbolizes the beginning of the Christmas season. Other examples of cities that hold parades are Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Plymouth, MA, and Houston.

Many of us watch football. High schools and colleges play traditional games against their chief rivals. The NFL has staged a football game on Thanksgiving Day every year since 1934. At first, there was only one that was hosted by the Detroit Lions. Currently, there are three. Even basketball has gotten into the act. There are college tournaments and NBA games. For non-sports fans there are a plethora of TV specials with a Thanksgiving or Christmas theme.

So, now that you are “experts” on Thanksgiving, relax and enjoy the holiday.

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MIKE NICHOLS

Normally, when we see a movie, a play or a tv production we focus on the actors, the story, or, perhaps, the music. We give little thought to the identity of the director. Most of us fail to realize the crucial role of the director in the success or failure of the production.

Essentially, the director is responsible for everything, selecting the music, deciding in which scenes various pieces will be played, selecting the actors and handling their various and sometimes conflicting egos and personalities in order to get the most out of them, dealing with the producers, etc. Most of his work is behind the scenes and the public is unaware of it except when there is a problem that makes the news. Few directors become household names. Usually, it takes an award nomination or two. How many movie, Broadway or tv directors can you name? I would guess, not nearly as many as actors and musicians.

Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky was born in Berlin on November 6, 1931. In 1939, at the age of seven, his brother and he emigrated to the US to join his father, who had emigrated earlier. As recounted in the best-selling book “Faces in America” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., when he arrived he only knew two phrases in English – “I don’t speak English” and “Please don’t kiss me.” I can understand the first one, but the second is an odd one. His mother joined the family later.

Mikhail’s father changed the family name to Nichols, and Mikhail became Michael. The family settled in NYC, near Central Park, and lived comfortably as Mike’s father had a successful medical practice. Mike attended private schools and college at the University of Chicago, where he studied pre-med, but upon graduation he decided on the entertainment business.

In 1953 he got a job at a classical music station as an announcer. While there, he met Elaine May, his first love. They teamed up as a successful comedy duo for eight years until they broke up to pursue other opportunities. According to a review in “Vanity Fair” “Nichols and May combined the political and social satire of (Mort) Sahl and (Lenny) Bruce with the inspired comic skits of (Sid) Caesar and (Imogene) Coca.” If they had stuck together, who knows. The world might have gained a comedy team but been deprived of one of the most successful directors of the last 50 years. Later, Nichols, trying to find his niche, studied acting under the reknowned Lee Strasberg and worked at Chicago’s Compass Players, which was a predecessor of Second City.

Mike got his big break in 1963 when he was hired to direct Neil Simon’s “Barefoot in the Park” on Broadway. The play was a rousing success and so was Mike. The play ran for 1,530 performances, and Mike won the first of his nine Tonys. Next, he directed another Simon play, “The Odd Couple,” which ran for 966 performances and for which he won another Tony for Best Director.

Later he enjoyed great success directing movies and tv productions. Perhaps, his two biggest movie successes were “The Graduate” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” “The Graduate” (1967) became one of the highest grossing films in history up to that point. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Director, which Nichols won. Additionally, Nichols gets credit for insisting on casting an unknown actor, Dustin Hoffman, to play the lead. It had been widely assumed that Robert Redford would play the lead because he was more established and famous and bore a physical resemblance to the character as described in the book. Redford would have been the safe choice, but Nichols went out on a limb for Hoffman, who greatly appreciated the risk Nichols took and never forgot it. As we know, Hoffman delivered an outstanding performance, was nominated for an Academy Award, and has gone on to become one of the finest actors of his generation. Also, Nichols selected Simon and Garfunkel to write the music. Two of the songs, “Sounds of Silence” and “Mrs. Robinson” have become classic hits, and “Mrs. Robinson” won a Grammy. In addition, the placement of these songs in the movie, particularly “Sounds” in the opening scene, which was Nichols’ doing, added significantly to the audience’s understanding of the movie. William Daniels, who played Hoffman’s father, noted later that upon first hearing “Sounds” his reaction was “Oh, wait a minute. That changed the whole idea of the picture for me.” Right away, he knew this would be a serious movie, not a another comedy. I remember that when I first saw the movie, “Sounds” grabbed my attention, and I was hooked.

Each of the four main actors and actresses in “Virginia Woolf” – Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sandy Dennis and George Segal – were nominated for “Oscars,” with Dennis and Taylor winning. Overall, the film won five Academy Awards and was one of only two movies to receive nominations in every eligible category (13). The list of successful movies Nichols directed in his long and stellar career, such as “Catch-22,” “Carnal Knowledge,” “Silkwood,” “Working Girl,” and “The Birdcage,” goes on and on.

Some little-known facts about Nichols’ personal life:

1. He was a third cousin twice removed of Albert Einstein’s on his mother’s side.
2. At the age of four he lost all of his hair while being treated for whooping cough. As a result, he remained bald for the rest of his life and wore wigs to conceal it.
3. He was married four times. The first three ended in divorce; the last one, to newswoman Diane Sawyer, lasted until his death. He had a total of three children by those marriages.
4. One of his hobbies was breeding Arabian horses at his farm in Connecticut.

CONCLUSION

Mike was not only one of the most successful directors of his generation but also one of the most versatile. As an indication of his versatility, Mike was one of the few people to have won an ”EGOT,” that is, an “Emmy,” a “Grammy” an “Oscar” and a “Tony.” In all, he won four Emmys, one Grammy, one Oscar, and nine Tonys. In addition, he was known as a director who got the most out of performers. Many of them won awards for performances in productions under his direction.

At 7:45 pm on November 20 Mike received the ultimate Broadway tribute. The lights were dimmed for one minute in his memory. Rest in peace, Mike. You will be sorely missed.

A SOLDIER FOR ALL HUMANITY

Chances are you have never heard of David Daniel “Mickey” Marcus. I know I hadn’t until a few days ago. Who was he? Glad you asked. Read on and be prepared to be both inspired and saddened.

Mickey Marcus led a short but significant life. He was a US Army colonel who served in WWII, with distinction. Following the war he became a central figure in the fight for Israeli independence. His story is inspiring, poignant, and tragic.

Marcus was born on February 22, 1901 in New York City to parents who had emigrated from Rumania. He was raised in Brooklyn in a tough neighborhood where he continually had to defend himself against bullies and anti-Semitism. As a result, he became a proficient boxer. In high school he excelled both academically and athletically, which enabled him to be accepted at West Point. After graduating and completing his Army service he went to law school. He became an Assistant US Attorney in NY. One of his notable cases was the prosecution of the gangster, “Lucky” Luciano. He did such an outstanding job that Mayor La Guardia appointed him Commissioner of Corrections for NYC.

In 1940 even though the US was not yet at war, Marcus anticipated that the US would be drawn in eventually, so he re-enlisted in the Army even before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. During the war he held several key posts. For example:
1. He served as executive officer to the Governor of Hawaii.
2. He was appointed commandant of the newly formed Ranger school where he helped develop tactics for jungle warfare, which were applied successfully against the Japanese.
3. He volunteered to parachute into Normandy on D-Day even though he did not have any paratrooper training.
4. At the conclusion of the war, he helped compose the terms of surrender for both Italy and Germany.
5. He became part of the post-war occupational government in Germany.
6. He was appointed chief of the War Crimes Division. As such, he planned legal and security procedures for the Nuremberg Trials.
7. A key point in his life came when he was put in charge of caring for the millions of starving and displaced refugees from liberated areas. This included concentration camp survivors. It was probably during this time that he became more cognizant of his own Jewish heritage as well as the deep and unrelenting anti-Semitism in the world. He concluded that it was critical for the Jews’ survival to have their own homeland.

After the war, he returned to civilian life, but not for long. In 1947 David Ben Gurion requested that he recommend an American army officer to advise the fledgling Jewish army. Marcus decided that he was the best choice, so he volunteered himself. In order not to offend the British, the US required Mickey to use a pseudonym.

Thus, “Michael Stone” arrived in Palestine in January 1948. The military situation appeared to be hopeless. The manner in which the British had partitioned Palestine had set the Jews up to fail and, possibly, be annihilated. The Jewish army was ill-equipped and severely outnumbered. However, Mickey did his job, drawing upon his considerable military experience and expertise. He designed a command and control structure; he wrote training manuals; and he identified and shored up weaknesses in the Jewish army’s defenses. He was appointed Commander of the Jerusalem Front with the equivalent rank of Brigadier General. Thus, he became the first general in the Jewish army since biblical times and the first ever in the Israeli army.

When the Arabs attacked, his military tactics were invaluable. Perhaps, his most significant feat was planning and executing a daring operation to break the siege of Jerusalem. When the Arabs kept repelling all attempts to resupply Jerusalem, Mickey conceived the idea of bypassing the Arab troops by building a road through the mountains, a task that was widely considered to be impossible. This route became known as the “Burma Road,” named after the real Burma Road that had been built from Burma to China during WWII to enable the Allies to transport supplies to China. The Arab blockade was broken just before the UN cease-fire went into effect on June 11, 1948.

CONCLUSION

Unfortunately, this story had a tragic ending. Mickey was killed by friendly fire. One night, unable to sleep, he went for a walk wrapped in a white robe. A Jewish sentry challenged him. Mickey did not know any Hebrew and the sentry did not know any English. Due to this unfortunate circumstance the sentry mistook him for an Arab and shot him. Ben Gurion thought that the incident was suspicious. There were conflicting reports regarding the number of shots fired, who fired them and the number of Mickey’s wounds. Furthermore, the Palmach did have various factions, one of which could have had a motive to kill Mickey. However, the investigation concluded the sentry had shot Mickey in the line of duty. (For those of you that are conspiracy buffs, the investigation was not as thorough as it could have and should have been and the resultant report was never made public.)

Mickey is buried in the West Point Cemetery. His is the only grave of an American killed while fighting under the flag of another country. His gravestone reads “Colonel David Marcus – a Soldier for All Humanity.” In 1951 David Ben Gurion, himself, journeyed to his gravesite to lay a wreath on it. In addition, there is a memorial plaque in his honor in the Union Temple of Brooklyn where his memorial service was held. It reads, in part: “Killed in action in the hills of Zion while leading Israeli forces as their supreme commander in the struggle for Israel’s freedom…” In 1966 Mickey was immortalized by Hollywood in a movie, “Cast a Giant Shadow,” starring Kirk Douglas and an all-star cast.

Mickey was one of those rare people who truly made a difference. In his short life, he made a significant positive impact on the history of two countries – the US and Israel. That cannot be said about too many people.

WOMEN IN WWII

I believe that defeating the Axis Powers in WWII was America’s finest accomplishment of the 20th Century. Before the war, we were in an isolationist mode, focusing inward, trying to deal with our internal problems, notably the Great Depression. We had decommissioned much of our military men and materials. We were woefully unprepared for war. On the other hand the Axis powers – Germany, Italy and Japan – were ready, willing and able to wage war.

We were dragged into the war following Japan’s vicious sneak attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base on December 7, 1941, and we responded with a vengeance. We geared up at a frenetic pace. We fought two wars simultaneously on multiple fronts for four years, and we were victorious. During the war, we were at the very peak of our power and influence. Afterwards we had become the most powerful nation on earth and the world leader for democracy. Tom Brokaw, the newsman turned author, coined the term “The Greatest Generation” to describe the people of that time period, and it is hard to dispute that characterization. First, they endured great hardships to survive The Great Depression, which began with the crash of the stock market in October 1929 and did not end until we had to gear up to fight WWII. Then, they won the war, defeating three brutal totalitarian regimes.

Most of us are familiar with the history of the period. Time and space prohibit me from describing it in detail here. But, how many of us realize the vital part played by women in winning the war. True, women were not engaged in combat, at least not American women, but they did everything else you could imagine to support our combat troops. Contrary to what Hollywood would have you believe, not every soldier or sailor is actually engaged in combat. Armies and navies rely on a huge support staff.

Nearly 350,000 American women served in uniform in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard during WWII. The US was actually quicker to utilize women in the war effort than were the Axis Powers. Many of them enlisted, just like the men. In the military, they served as nurses, clerks, lab technicians, radio operators and even anti-aircraft gunners, among many other jobs. Often, nurses would be uncomfortably close to the front. Some were killed, wounded or captured. Over 2,000 women earned combat medals.

In addition, women took over many civilian jobs that had been the exclusive province of men, such as factory work, bus drivers and such. You name it; they did it, and did it well. Along the way they destroyed the conventional wisdom of the day that women were too weak physically, too emotional and too unreliable to perform many of these jobs.

From 1940 to 1945 the percentage of the civilian workforce that consisted of females jumped from 27% to 37%, and by the end of the war approximately 25% of married women worked outside the home. Before the war it was rare for married women to hold a job. In those pre-politically correct days society was of the belief that like the expression says “a woman’s place was in the home.” Generally, if a married woman was working it was assumed that the husband was unable to support the family.

At first, Hitler mocked the Americans for putting women to work in factories and such. The role of German women, he said, was stay at home, be a good wife and mother, and make babies for the Third Reich. Later, due to severe manpower shortages, the Germans did put their women to work.

Women also played a significant role in the war effort of many other countries. For example:

1. Great Britain – Like in the US, women entered the workforce in occupations that had previously been the exclusive domain of men, such as factories workers, munitions, gunners, and searchlight operators. Before the war, the conventional wisdom had been that women lacked the temperament, physical strength or technical ability to perform these jobs and others like them. They rose to the occasion and performed well. Then, at the end of the day, they went home and managed the household. In addition, thousands of them volunteered to serve in the armed services. Basically, they did everything but actually fire guns in combat.

2. Canada – The story was much the same. Canada established the Women’s Army Corps. Women volunteered by the thousands. Some of the jobs they performed were truck drivers, cooks, clerks, telephone operators and canteen helpers.

3. France – Many of the resistance fighters were women.

4. Germany – There was a severe labor shortage. Eventually, over half of the work-age women were in the country’s workforce. The Germans also employed people from subjugated countries as slave labor.

5. Russia – Approximately 800,000 women served, many of them in combat roles.

CONCLUSION

Upon the conclusion of the war the soldiers and sailors returned home and reclaimed their jobs. Once again, women were largely relegated to the home. This phenomenon was exemplified in a scene from a television show called “Homefront,” which was set circa 1945. In one scene, the personnel manager called a female employee into his office to inform her that she was to be replaced by a returning serviceman who needed and deserved her job. When she denoted that she was single and also needed the job to support herself, the personnel manager replied “why don’t you find a husband to support you?” With few exceptions, this was the prevailing custom of the day. Yes, times have surely changed.

One final point, a woman who was a real-life “Rosie the Riveter” back in the day was profiled recently in the local newspaper. During the war, she built parts for airplanes. She related that soon after the war ended she and the other female riveters were laid off to be replaced by returning servicemen. Nevertheless, she said she had no complaints and was proud to have “done her part” to win the war. She is still going strong at age 95. She travels around the country relating her experiences to enthralled audiences of mostly young people.

WHO AM I

It’s quiz time again. In this one, I have presented clues regarding a person’s identity, and your task is to identify that person. Good luck!

1. I am the wealthiest rapper.

a. Jay Z
b. “Fitty” Cent
c. Dr. Dre
d. Master P

2. I am a film and tv actor. I have appeared in the movie, “Apollo 13,” and the tv series, “The Following.” My first movie was “Animal House.”

a. Kevin Bacon
b. Tim Matheson
c. Elliot Gould
d. Tom Hanks

3. I am the only one of the four presidents whose likeness is sculpted on Mt. Rushmore who served in the 20th century.

a. Franklyn D. Roosevelt
b. Theodore Roosevelt
c. Abraham Lincoln
d. Dwight Eisenhower

4. I am an African American civil rights leader famous for refusing to give up my seat on a bus to a white person. This action triggered a bus boycott in
Alabama.

a. Martin Luther King
b. Medgar Evers
c. Rosa Parks
d. Ella Baker

5. I appeared in several movies such as “Dial M for Murder” and “Rear Window.” I married a prince.

a. Audrey Hepburn
b. Grace Kelly
c. Myrna Loy
d. Ingrid Bergman

6. I was a naval commander for the American colonists during the Revolutionary War. During a sea battle with a British warship, when the British commander demanded my surrender I brazenly declared “I have not yet begun to fight.”

a. Nathanael Greene
b. Stephen Decatur
c. James Clinton
d. John Paul Jones

7. I am an actor. Two of my earliest films were “Encino Man” and “School Ties.”

a. Brendan Fraser
b. Ben Affleck
c. Matt Damon
d. Tom Cruise

8. I was born in Macedonia. I conquered the known world by age 32.

a. Attila the Hun
b. Napoleon
c. Alexander the Great
d. Charlemagne

9. I am generally considered to have been the greatest field commander in Israeli history. I was involved as a soldier or a commander in every Israeli conflict from 1948 to 1982. Also, I served as Prime Minister.

a. Menachem Begin
b. Ariel Sharon
c. Benjamin Netanyahu
d. David Ben Gurion

10. I am an actor, producer and director of films. I appeared in “Tin Cup,” The Bodyguard,” and “Wyatt Earp.” I have won two Academy Awards.

a. Tom Berenger
b. Tom Cruise
c. Kevin Costner
d. Tom Hanks

11. I was an American poet. My most famous poem is “Leaves of Grass.”

a. Walt Whitman
b. Robert Frost
c. e. e cummings
d. Emily Dickinson.

12. I won the gold medal in the floor exercise in women’s gymnastics in the 2012 Olympics.

a. Jordan Wieber
b. Gabby Douglas
c. Kyla Ross
d. Ally Raisman

13. I am known as the “Robber Baron” of the US steel industry.
a. Henry Ford
b. John Rockefeller
c. Andrew Carnegie
d. J. P. Morgan

14. My brother and I formed one of the most famous outlaw gangs in the American west.

a. Jesse James
b. Wyatt Earp
c. Butch Cassidy
d. “Wild Bill” Hickock

15. I have written novels set in Long Island, including “Plum Island” and “The Gold Coast.”

a. John Grisham
b. Nelson De Mille
c. James Patterson
d. Ken Follett

16. I won the gold medal in the decathlon in the 1976 Olympics.
a. Dan O’Brien
b. Bob Richards
c. Bruce Jenner
d. Rafer Johnson

17. The Wall Street Journal has named me “Tv’s Premier Business News Anchor.”

a. Maria Bartiromo
b. David Asman
c. John Stossel
d. Lou Dobbs

18. I was President of the US during WWI.

a. Woodrow Wilson
b. Theodore Roosevelt
c. William Howard Taft
d. Warren Harding

19. I was the longest-reigning English monarch.

a. Henry VIII
b. Elizabeth I
c. Elizabeth II
d. Victoria

20. I was the gangster who reputedly fixed the 1919 World Series.
a. Al Capone
b. “Nucky” Thompson
c. Arnold Rothstein
d. Meyer Lansky

ANSWERS
1. c; 2. a; 3. b; 4. c; 5. b; 6. d; 7. a; 8. c; 9. b; 10. c; 11. a; 12. d; 13. c; 14. a; 15. b; 16. c; 17. d; 18. a; 19. d; 20. c

CONCLUSION

I tried to balance the degree of difficulty of the questions, recognizing that the readers will have widely diverse degrees of expertise about any given topic, but it was not easy. I think if you are knowledgeable about a particular topic, you find the question rather easy, otherwise, not so much.
In any case, good luck! In any case, let me know your score.

A SALUTE TO VETERANS

On November 12 we will celebrate Veterans Day. To many people, VD is merely a day off from work or a chance to spend time with family or friends. They do not stop to reflect on the significance of the holiday, its history, and the sacrifices endured by millions of people to make it all possible. Like so many things, we tend to take it for granted.

VD originated at the conclusion of WWI, which was the most devastating war up to that time. It lasted from 1914 to 1918. In those pre-WWII days, it was called “The Great War.” There were 37.5 million total casualties on both sides, including 8.5 million people killed. The countries with the largest number of casualties were Germany, Russia and France. The US’s casualties were relatively light, 116,000 killed and 323,000 total casualties, because it joined the war late (1917).

Most people know that the immediate cause of the war was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, by a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip. However, every war has underlying causes as well. The underlying causes of WW1 had been building for many years. They were:

1. The proliferation of mutual defense treaties. All of the major European powers, Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary were bound by interlocking treaties. This insured that if one of these countries were to go to war all the others would be drawn in as well.

2. Imperialism. This was nothing new. Imperialism had been an issue since the 16th century. In the early 1900s it has risen to a new level. The European powers were all vying for pieces of Africa and Asia, primarily for their raw materials.

3. Militarism. The militaries in each of these countries were aggressive, bold and influential.

4. Nationalism. Various ethnic groups, notably the Slavs in Austria, wanted independence from the imperialist countries that controlled them.

Against this background, it is easy to see how a world war could break out. All that was needed was a spark, and the abovementioned assassination provided it. The principal antagonists were Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire on one side and Great Britain, France, Russia and the US on the other, although the Russians were forced to withdraw in 1917 with the advent of the Russian Revolution.

After four years of fighting, from 1914 to 1918, the combatants were finally able to agree on an armistice. It took effect on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, 1918. Eventually, it was ratified by the Treaty of Versailles, which was signed June 25, 1919 at the Palace of Versailles. November 11 became known as Armistice Day. In 1919 President Woodrow Wilson made it official by proclamation. Armistice Day was officially changed to VD in 1954.

The “Father of Veterans Day” is a WWII veteran named Raymond Weeks. It was his idea to expand Armistice Day to include all veterans, not just those of WWI, and he became the driving force to effect this change. He petitioned General Dwight Eisenhower, and he led a national celebration every year from 1947 until his death in 1985. President Reagan honored him with the Presidential Citizenship Medal in 1982 at which time he was recognized officially as “The Father of VD.”

VD should not be confused with Memorial Day. VD celebrates the service of ALL military veterans living and dead, while Memorial Day celebrates only those who died in the service of their country.

VD is celebrated in many countries. Celebrations vary. In Canada the holiday is called Remembrance Day. In Great Britain the holiday is known as Remembrance Sunday, and it is celebrated on the second Sunday of November. In both countries as well as in many European countries, the occasion is marked by a moment of silence at 11:00 am. Also, in both Canada and Great Britain some people wear poppies in their lapels as a tribute. Red poppies became a symbol of WW1 after they were featured in the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.

In the US we enjoy parades and other celebrations around the country. Many restaurants and other businesses offer veterans free meals or discounts on various goods and services. Additionally, there is a special ceremony in Washington, DC which features the laying of a wreath at the “Tomb of the Unknowns” at Arlington National Cemetery.

CONCLUSION

So, tomorrow as you enjoy the day take a few minutes to recognize and show respect for the veterans who sacrificed so much in order that the rest of us could enjoy the freedoms that we sometimes take for granted. If you encounter a veteran, thank him or her for their service. It would mean a great to him or her to be so recognized.

Also, be cognizant of the inadequate medical services we provide our veterans, especially the significant delays in receiving medical care and other benefits. It is truly a national scandal that has received scant attention in the mainstream media and one that needs to be rectified asap. Just take a few minutes out of your day, a little bit of your time to those who have given so much.

MID-TERM ELECTIONS

Tuesday, the GOP won a resounding victory in the mid-term elections. They gained 14 seats in the House of Representatives to run their total to 243, with 13 races still undecided. More importantly, they gained seven seats in the Senate to give them 52 seats with three races still undecided. Virginia and Alaska are still too close to call and may have recounts. In Louisiana, neither candidate received a majority, so there will be a run-off on December 6, 2014. Regardless of the ultimate results in these three states, the GOP will have a majority in both Houses and will be in position to have a significant impact on legislation.

It should be noted that there were five groundbreaking results on November 4, all of which augur well for the GOP:
1. Elise Stefanik, 30, a conservative Republican from upstate NY near Glens Falls, became the youngest woman ever to be elected to Congress.
2. Mia Love, Utah, became the first African-American Republican woman to be elected to Congress.
3. Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker became the first governor to win three elections in a four-year span. He had won his first term in 2010 and a recall election in 2012.
4. Tim Scott, a Republican from South Carolina, became the first African-American to win a Senate race in the South since Reconstruction.
5. Alex Mooney, a Republican, became the first Latino to be elected to Congress in West Virginia history.

My advice to the GOP is not to fall into the trap of believing that Tuesday’s results was a positive referendum on its policies and political positions. To some extent, it was, but it was also a negative vote against President Obama and his policies. After all, the President, himself, had said that his policies were on the ballot even if he wasn’t.

In addition, as usual, turn-out was low, which normally helps the GOP. Moreover, historically, mid-term election turn-out averages only about 40% of eligible voters compared to 50-60% in Presidential elections.

Exit polls showed that the voters are very unhappy with the direction of the country. Many of them, particularly the middle class, are worse off today than they were six years ago. They have seen their income decrease, their expenses increase, and they have not shared in the run-up of the stock market, because relatively few of them own stocks. They are extremely frustrated and dissatisfied with ALL politicians – Mr. Obama, Dems and Republicans. They want a change in direction. Many of them just voted for the “outs” as opposed to the “ins.”

Additionally, the GOP should be mindful of the fact that historically, the nature of mid-term elections has been that the party in power loses ground, particularly in the sixth year of a two-term presidency. To put Tuesday’s results in perspective, in the last 100 years the President’s party has gained seats only five times in the Senate and three times in the House in a mid-term election. Furthermore, the GOP’s seat gains so far, though significant, are not the highest in history. The Dems gained 63 House seats in 2006 (G. W. Bush’s sixth year), and 13 Senate seats in 1958 (Ike’s sixth year). So, the GOP would be wise to proceed carefully in the next two years.

Also, the GOP would be wise to cease being merely the party of “no.” Put forth alternative policies. Coordinate efforts and ideas with the Dems. Bring them under your political umbrella. Try to compromise. The leadership of both parties must reign in their respective fringe elements. No one gets everything he wants. The idea is to pass the best bill that most people can live with. To quote one of my grandson’s teachers: “You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.” Pass bills and put them in front of President Obama. Yesterday, he said he was willing to work with the GOP; let’s see if he meant it.
I recommend that Congress start with the easier items. For example, don’t get bogged down on repealing Obamacare, which won’t succeed anyway until and unless there is a GOP President. Cease focusing on divisive issues such as race-baiting, class warfare, and the “war on women.” According to exit polls most voters now see right through those tactics, and they backfired. (Ask Senator Mark Udall, soon to be ex-Senator Udall.) Focus on items that concern the voters the most, such as:

1. The economy/creating jobs
2. Reducing the deficit
3. The Keystone Pipeline
4. Immigration reform (piecemeal, if necessary)
5. Avoiding another government shut-down
6. Avoiding defaults on debt payments

CONCLUSION

This election was a significant victory for the GOP, but I caution them to be careful what you wish for. As I said, prospectively, the GOP will no longer be able to blame the Dems for an underperforming economy, legislative gridlock and failures internationally. Rather than merely complain, they will have to promulgate alternative solutions. They will have to work with the Dems. Hopefully, one or two prominent leaders will emerge who can articulate the GOP’s positions on the issues. The electorate will be watching and holding them equally accountable, along with President Obama and the Dems.

Rather than resting on its laurels the GOP must use this victory as a springboard for capturing the real prize – the Presidency in 2016. I could make a good case that based on recent voting patterns all but five states are already “locked in” to voting either blue or red in 2016. The five states that are up for grabs and will decide the election are Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Florida and Colorado. Whichever candidate wins most of those will win the election. Both parties must be mindful of the issues that are important to the electorate in those states. Sometimes, the issues are different from state to state. As Tip O’Neill said: ”All politics is local.”

Forewarned is forearmed. The electorate will expect improvement in the state of the nation by 2016, or else it will exact its retribution at the voting booth.

YAD VASHEM AND THE RIGHTEOUS

What makes someone a hero? Are they born that way, or do circumstances shape the outcome? I maintain that, for the most part, heroes start out as ordinary people like you and me who, under certain circumstances, find the extraordinary courage and determination to do heroic things. So is the case with many of those who have been enshrined in Yad Vashem with the designation of “Righteous Among the Nations.” I will profile a few of these heroes below.

During WWII, at first, many, if not most people were mere bystanders, content to observe the persecution of the Jews and others rather than to speak out or act. We now know that a large majority of Germans were not Nazis, but for various reasons, apathy, fear, or anti-Semitism, they were reluctant or afraid to speak out against them or oppose them in any way. The attitude among the European populace ranged from indifference to outright hostility toward the Jews. The feeling was, so what if their property is confiscated, so what, if they are killed, beaten or transported to “work camps?” It’s not my problem. I’m not Jewish. Many even collaborated in exchange for favors or just out of spite, revenge, prejudice or hatred. As time went on, some regretted their failure to act early on when the Nazis could have been stopped. By then, however, it was too late.

This inaction or apathy calls to mind the famous quote about the pre-WWII German people attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoller, an outspoken critic of the Nazis who eventually was imprisoned in a concentration camp. After the war, Niemoller expressed his sincere regret for his inaction. There are various versions of this quote, but the gist of it is the following:

“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 out for me.”

As I said, most of these heroes were just ordinary people who found themselves embroiled in the caldron of war, turmoil, prejudice and hatred sometimes due to happenstance. Sometimes, their heroism was a gradual process. Maybe, at first they were just asked by a Jewish neighbor or friend to hide them for a day or two until more permanent arrangements could be made. Sometimes, that day or two became months or years. Other times, it would be an instant decision made on the spur of the moment. Rescuers lived with the constant fear of being caught in a raid, by their own slip-up, or being turned in by a friend or neighbor. Punishment would be swift and sure – arrest, torture or incarceration of the entire family.

Aid would take various forms:

1. Hiding Jews on their property. This was easier in rural areas where Jews could be concealed in barns, sheds or bunkers. In the cities it might be in attics, cellars or hidden rooms. People were very ingenious. There are even stories of Jews being hidden in cemeteries, zoos and convents.
2. Smuggling. This included helping Jews get to safe havens, such as Switzerland, Sweden or Casablanca.
3. Providing false papers. Examples abound. For example, forgers produced false documents; priests provided fake baptism certificates; light skinned people would pass themselves off as Aryans. We are all familiar with the story of Oskar Schindler, who provided false papers for many of the Jewish workers in his factories.
4. Rescuing children. Many Jewish parents made the heart-wrenching decision to give up their children, placing them with Gentile friends, orphanages or underground organizations, which would then transport them to other countries to increase their chances of survival.

The bravery and ingenuity of these rescuers were astounding. Sadly, many of their identities are unknown as they died during the war or shortly thereafter. Also, not all acts of bravery were successful.

Yad Vashem was established in 1953. The objective was to honor and perpetuate the memory of these heroes. Beginning in 1963 Yad Vashem set out to identify those who had risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Accordingly, the Israeli Government established a special commission to identify these people and examine their credentials to verify their eligibility. Those that were accepted were granted the designation of “Righteous Among the Nations.” The term was taken from Jewish tradition, the literature of the Sages, in which it was used to describe non-Jews who came to the aid of Jews in their time of need. The “Avenue of the Righteous,” where trees were planted to honor these rescuers, was inaugurated on Holocaust Memorial Day in 1962.

To date, over 25,000 people representing 49 countries have been so honored . Some, like Cuba, Egypt and Japan, have only one honoree; others, like Poland, France and the Netherlands, have thousands. The US has four (none of which is Golda Meir, incidentally).

As promised, I will present brief profiles of four honorees. Lois Gundin was a French teacher from Goshin, Indiana. In 1941 she went to work for the Mennonite Central Committee in Southern France. She established a children’s center for both Jews and non-Jews. Over two years, she saved many children. The Germans arrested her in 1943. In 1944 she was released as part of a prisoner exchange.

Waitstill Sharp was a Unitarian minister from Wellesley, MA. His wife, Martha, was a social worker. In 1939 they went to Czechoslovakia to do charitable work for the church. They also helped many Jews escape, including Lion Feuchtwanger, a famous German author who was on the Nazis “hit list.”

Varian Fry was editor of the Foreign Policy Association. In August, 1940 he went to Marseilles on behalf of the Emergency Rescue Committee. His mission was to smuggle refugees out of France. He started with a list of 200 names, but he ended up helping some 15,000 by May, 1941 when the Vichy police raided his office. He was deported to Spain. Sadly, when he returned to the US he was shunned by many of his former friends and colleagues.

Gertruda Babinlinska was born in Starogad, Poland in 1902. When the Nazis invaded she was working as a nanny for the Stolowicki Family in Warsaw. They had a son, Michael and a daughter who died. By happenstance, Mr. Stolowicki was in Paris and was not able to return. In addition, Mrs. Stolowicki was sickly and weak, so Gertruda assumed responsibility for the family. She was the only servant or employee who remained loyal to the family. They made their way to Vilna, Russia, but they were trapped when the Nazis invaded. Subsequently, Mrs. Stolowicki died. Gertruda elected to stay in Vilna during the war. She obtained false papers and a baptismal certificate for Michael that identified him as her nephew. After the war she took him to Israel to fulfil a promise she had made to Mrs. Stolowicki. First, they sailed on the “Exodus,” which, as most of you know, was denied entry to Israel. Subsequently, they spent several years in various displaced persons camps before finally arriving in Israel in 1948. Gertruda remained a devout Catholic the rest of her life; however, she raised Michael in the Jewish faith, again to fulfil a promise to Mrs. Stolowicki. Her life and experiences have been chronicled in a book, entitled “Gertruda’s Oath,” and a movie is in the works.

CONCLUSION

These four stories illustrate the bravery and ingenuity demonstrated by so many people during WWII to rescue Jews. As I said, these were ordinary people, just like you and me, who found themselves thrust into extraordinary situations. Most people just went with the flow, but these and others like them found the courage and determination to rise above and beyond the norm. As a consequence, they deserve to be recognized as truly the “Righteous Among the Nations.” If you’re ever in Israel I strongly recommend you visit Yad Vashem. It is truly an amazing and powerful experience.