Thursday, February 9, 2017

Coming to America


© David Greenfield 2017

Far
We've been traveling far 
Without a home, but not without a star
Free, only want to be free
We huddle close, hang on to a dream
On the boats and on the planes, never looking back again
They're coming to America 

excerpts from America by Neil Diamond

For a hundred and thirty years these tempest-tossed souls yearning to breathe free have seen … a mighty woman with a torch … and silent lips, lifting her lamp beside the golden door!*  upon arriving to our shores.

* excerpts from Emma Lazarus’ The New Colossus poem in Lady Liberty’s pedestal 

                      © David Greenfield 2017                                                                                         

But after a century plus of proudly welcoming the tired, huddled masses entering America through New York Harbor, the golden  door is closing and a tightly meshed screen has been inserted before it. Perhaps a closer view of Lady Liberty’s face expresses what her silent lips now cannot. 


Just  few days ago, my wife Carol and I boarded a ferry for the cold, wind-swept journey out to Liberty Island on which the Statue stands. Both of us wanted to reconnect with her spirit at this time. I first saw the Lady in New York Harbor at the end of a Germany to America trans-Atlantic journey more than six decades ago. 

While in the Big Apple, we met and had revealing conversations with a lot of folks, people with names like Assumana, Marzena, and Ali just to name a few. The first was a man from the Dominican Republic who tucked our car away in the parking garage. He lit up when we mentioned fellow Dominican Big Papi and the Sox. Then there was  a hotel worker who inadvertently slipped into his native Polish as he passed us in the lobby offering a friendly good morning greeting of dzien dobry. He did an about face when I responded in kind. 

At our favorite Mediterranean restaurant, co-owned by a Greek and Jew, our Greek waiter introduced us to Ali from Bangladesh. Ali beamed recounting how he’s been working at the restaurant for fifteen years and has a sole purpose of providing the best education possible for his kids. Our friendship immediately blossomed. Within moments he followed up with presentation of complimentary double espressos and what Carol described as the best plate of assorted sweet treats she ever tasted.

So where are these little vignettes pointing? 

In short, the city that never sleeps would be taking a nap - actually very long and frequent ones - were it not for the efforts of immigrants. Not only that, if it weren’t for immigrants we might still be singing Rule Britannia to English monarchs. 

Consider this interchange in the play Hamilton between the Marquis de Lafayette and Alexander Hamilton. While savoring their key roles in General Washington’s Continental Army defeat of Cornwallis’s Red Coats during the decisive battle of Yorktown, the Marquis and Alexander turned to one another and proclaimed, “Immigrants, we get the job done!

By now you probably know Alexander Hamilton was a native of the West Indies and the Founding Father on our ten dollar bill. He was also the first Secretary of the Treasury, and responsible for developing the national bank and our Coast Guard.

Bottom line, immigrants are truly the ones contributing to making America great. 


Yours truly in Hamburg boarding the SS Marine Tiger, a converted WWII troop transport and cargo ship, for the two week voyage to New York. Family stories note I was always ready to eat during the journey whenever the dining bell rang. My parents unfortunately were often too sea-sick to join in.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Leaving what is familiar


                         

logo - 1255 Central Street office
Sunrise, sunset; swiftly go the years.’  The lyrics sum up passage of precious time. They are a signature theme of Fiddler on the Roof, an old story that never grows old, and one currently being retold to the delight of audiences at Boston’s New Repertory Theater. Leaving what is familiar is another of Fiddler’s timeless themes. Time and Leaving - both concepts brought me back to the day before bidding a last farewell to my office, a comfortable place to go to every workday for decades and one always perceived by patients and visitors as a warm, inviting venue. When my few remaining possessions were securely packed away that day, the place was transformed into a hollow shell of its former self. Surprisingly, rather than getting faklempt (from the Yiddish - choked up and sad), I actually felt content and at ease, my soul being infused with a sense of quiet satisfaction. That's when it hit, my Anatevka Moment.

But what is an ‘Anatevka’? 


It's actually a place; a fictitious, diminutive village somewhere in the vast steppes of Russia that served as the setting for Fiddler
a real East European village close to my heart

There's a telling scene near the end of the play just after the Tsar issued an edict expelling all Jews from the village that had been their home for as long as anyone could remember. For generations they persevered through harsh times and pogroms by roving bands of Cossacks, but this time it was different, it was the End - they would have to leave for good. Unlike the feeling when leaving ‘my Central Street office home’ the villagers did initially become faklempt at the thought of leaving their precious Anatevka. But soon they refocused, busying themselves loading horse drawn carriages for the forced journey ahead. As Tevye the Milkman and main character finishes packing his wagon, he spots his wife Golda sweeping the floors of their empty home and in shock bellows, ”What are you doing, we have to go, why are you cleaning?" Golda replies that even though she is not coming back, and certainly has no affection for the Tsar, she wouldn't feel right not leaving a clean house.  In the following exchange as villagers bid final farewells and reminisce a bit more, it became clear 
Anatevka-the place with its olio of pots, pans, brooms, hats, and ‘so what’s a stove?’ was not nearly as special as its families, friends, and the Traditions maintained.
That was the inspiration for my Anatevka Moment. 1255 Central Street was Home Sweet Home for decades, so ‘thanks for the memories,’ but leaving it was not time for sadness or regrets. The solid bond with everyone in my village was the all important take-away. Townsfolk of Anatevka gradually came to that realization as well. 

As 2016 fades to memory, more humanity is being forced to leave what is familiar to them now than at any time since the vast displacements post WWII. Witnessing this unfolding trauma of displacement fraught with uncertainty, and feeling helpless to stem the migration, I hope in a fleeting moment of respite, perhaps only an island spec of calm in a boiling sea, some will think of those closest to them on their march and experience an Anatevka Moment. 


Recounting a prior journey of forced displacement 


all images ©David Greenfield

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Patrol


The first emergency call 

My foot kept pumping on an imaginary brake pedal the instant Officer Pat Keogh flipped on his flasher/siren, stepped on the gas, and began whipping through the city on our way to a crisis in Sector II. Everything on the streets that could move scrambled to part the roadways. It was like Red Sea waters opening up when Moses lifted his staff skyward creating safe passage for the Israelites’ exodus when Pharaoh’s chariots were in hot pursuit. But this was not a Bible story, it wasn’t a video game, it was for real. 

Moments earlier a dispatch from HQ flashed an alert on Officer Keogh’s on-board monitor. His screen was basic black and white, as was his Waltham Police cruiser. The call was a medical emergency; a kid having dinner with a friend and parents at a neighborhood restaurant was acutely ill, dazed, and vomiting. After purging his system but still in a fog, the teen was sitting outside when we pulled up. Officer Keogh’s face to face questioning while catching whiffs of exhales was enough for him to make a field assessment; the kid was drunk. He and his buddy managed to tank up somewhere before parents were on the scene. EMT’s and Cataldo Ambulance also got the call and joined us. They confirmed this incident was from intoxication, not to be confused with a diabetic ketoacidosis episode. Reports were filed and the kid was released to parental custody; mom & pop justice to follow. Back in the cruiser we resumed patrol duty. Before my night ended there was an acute anxiety attack and a few  traffic stops to handle. But wait a minute, what was I doing riding along in a cruiser?

Here’s the back story: My neighbor Bruce was sporting a T-shirt with Citizen’s Police Academy printed across the chest. “There really is such a school,” he assured me. Not only that, “Graduating was the best thing I ever did.” Bruce is a smart guy so I took him at his word. Completing the program a few months later confirmed his endorsement. My class of close to fifty, ranging in age from a high schooler to folks well into their seventies, learned about all aspects of community police work, i.e. constitutional, motor vehicle, and drug enforcement law, the 9-11 call center protocol, elder crime, firearms and use of force, patrol procedures, SWAT, and more. The class came away with a profound respect for the challenges, complexities, and yes, dangers of today’s police work. Another result was a shared sense that no municipal group in town knows the community as well as the police, and at least from all the officers we met and taught us, it’s evident the  department’s MO is concern for the welfare of all Waltham citizens. 
Bottom line: Bruce was right, the Citizen’s Police Academy program is a valuable eye-opening experience. It should be available in every community and part of every high schooler’s core curriculum.

Epilogue: Whenever I now see a patrol car or officer on the street, I have newfound appreciation for what they do and the risks they take every time they put on a uniform and punch in for a shift. In today’s street climate even a traffic stop for a missing headlight can escalate to a confrontation. In policing, there is no such thing as innocuous and routine. 



An ‘innocuous and routine’ traffic stop

all images ©2016 David Greenfield

* Officer Pat Keogh is the name I assigned to my cruiser partner for this post.

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Hope can be a strategy




Nurse Peg - in the beginning   

No longer pressured by the passage of time within each day, but perhaps only by passage of time itself, she cautiously emerged from her room to meet me. Peg, the name she preferred to be called, was a WWII era nurse, and her service to the country was to be profiled in a Veterans Day article honoring vets in our community. Her daughter was with us to help mom recount exploits from the heady days Nurse Peg cared for wounded servicemen. My role was to listen, comment, and capture portrait images to accompany the story. But now into her ninth decade, Peg’s clarity of recall was not her strength, at least not until just the right button was pressed.

Having heard all her mom’s stories over the years, Peg’s daughter tossed out leading questions to pry open familiar conversational streams. Despite repeatedly treading on well worn turf, the fog of past history would not burn off Peg’s memory bank. When a storyline did open, it was often the one we just heard. Then a breakthrough, not from the right question, but from the small framed photo of a youthful Peg in uniform which her daughter gently placed in her mother’s lap.   




Nurse Peg beamed as her hands bookended the photo. Pictured was a gathering of smiling khaki clad GIs stationed overseas sharing a few light moments. In the center with his arm resting on Peg’s shoulder was American icon Bob Hope. He was at their base entertaining troops as he did for our soldiers everywhere and anywhere, more times than could be counted. The buoyant memory of Hope’s visit radiated through Peg’s fog springing loose other memories, memories previously embedded too deeply to be called up. Stories began to flow, and to her daughter’s amazement, she heard many for the first time. 

An unmistaken twinkle in the eyes shared by mother and daughter now seemed to illuminate the room. The power generated by a single image triggered memory of that distant joyful episode. Both women relished ‘the story of Hope’; one reliving it, the other experiencing it for the first time.

In the glow, I captured the image I wanted.


Nurse Peg - in the end
images © David Greenfield 2016

* Peg is not her real name, rather one used for this posting.

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Monday, November 21, 2016

What's your zip code?


Are we going to the dogs?

“We will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no White Paper.” 
David Ben-Gurion, head of the Jewish Agency in Palestine (1939) 

Hold onto this, I’ll come back to it later.

Two sobering outcomes were evident from the recent US election:
  • half the country was elated while half was and remains distraught 
  • half live within zip codes, actual or virtual, to which the other half cannot relate.         
We are a house divided and a divided house cannot stand. Is there a way out? 

If this zip code concept was applied in the mid-nineteenth century, half the US populous (the North) would live in zones determined to end the practice of slavery. Across the divide, ’others’ (the South) lived with equal resolve to preserve their tradition. Battle lines were drawn. The ensuing bloodshed consumed greater than half a million Americans, more than would die in almost all subsequent US wars! Our ‘house’ was not simply divided, it was ripped apart. In the aftermath, re-forming a union, perfect or otherwise, appeared to be beyond the pale. Yet, a union was formed.

Now in the adolescence of the twenty-first century, once again our house is divided, and  once again it’s an imperative to make it whole. A first step is acknowledging that half our nation felt so deeply disaffected and desperate for change, it was prepared to roll the dice and vote for an unconventional candidate with no government experience. We must feel that half’s pain then hold the incoming administration accountable to address legitimate needs as it travels forward in the landscape of this new century. 

But, if the new administration signals a vision of America as one embracing or condoning venom directed at any segment of our society, we need to loudly vocalize disdain and protest, then use the power of the ballot box to quickly end its tenure. This citizen response is open to Americans in all zip codes. 

Now back to Ben-Gurion’s call to action. His words were delivered as the fires of WWII were being stoked. Across the Channel, Great Britain had just issued The White Paper. The document outlined governing principles for its Mandate of Palestine including a policy of severe immigration restrictions for Jews desperate to escape Europe’s emerging inferno. In the spirit of how Ben-Gurion threw down the gauntlet, I offer the following: 
We in the US should start working for the goal of re-forming our union as if signals condoning bigotry, racism, and exclusion emerging from the new administration don’t exist, and we should fight any odious signal as if re-forming a perfect union was a goal that doesn’t exist.

May the Force be with us.


Massachusetts Sate House Rally - November 21, 2016
images © David Greenfield 2016

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

He's the only one left to call

Leo 
© David Greenfield 2016

in the hand-held photo, Joe and Leo - 1945

He is the only one left; my remaining witness. I call him every year on the 5th of May. At ninety Leo can recall a distant May 5th like it was yesterday.  Mainly he remembers the guys with him. I used to call them all,  but now Leo is the only one left to call. He’s the only one left, the only one who can remember.

Allies were advancing, closing in from east and west. Units of Germany’s once invincible army were in retreat, moving closer to the heartland. Three thousand of their surviving prisoners - camp inmates and forced laborers - had to be dragged along; there could be no ’evidence’ left behind. Although broken in body and spirit, each was a witness to unspeakable crimes. But now with the perpetrators trapped in a pincer and no way out, the ’evidence’ had to be eliminated. Elimination operations in wartime should not be confused with release from a jury pool and a pass to go home. Elimination meant liquidation, you go to your eternal home. 

Eighteen prisoners were selected to ‘clean up’ after the operation - Leo, my father Joe, and sixteen other young men. Selection in those times was not a reprieve. They knew after ‘clean up’, their crew  would soon join the ranks of the three thousand. But it didn’t turn out that way as all prisoners saw the sun the next morning. At dawn on May 5th 1945, US 11th Armored Division tanks reached the camp perimeter and rammed the gates. Guards scattered - it was Liberation.

In the ensuing years after that eleventh hour rescue, my father adopted the 5th of May as his second birthday. No matter where I happened to be, no matter what, I always called him in celebration of what he considered his ‘rebirth’. I also called his remaining 5th of May buddies, Leo, Hymie, Freidel, and my favorite uncle Mendush.

Leo remembers like it was yesterday. He continues to tell the story, reminding us of what happened, and what is still happening.

He’s the only one left for me to call. 

Joe and Leo working for the American Occupation Army a few months after Liberation
Austria, 1945

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Unintended Journey

Mendush is the hatless one

Frankfurt, Germany - November, 2008

What I was about to do was a violation, I knew it. But the moment to act would never present again. I knew what I was about to do was wrong …. but I did it anyway. 

My father’s younger brother z”l, my favorite uncle Mendush (I always called him by the Yiddish name of his boyhood in Dabie, Poland) was standing on the bimah of Frankfurt’s main synagogue. Moments earlier prior to reading the week’s Torah portion, he was bestowed the honor of chanting the introductory blessings. Mendush was a survivor of the Holocaust. How could he be standing there, in Germany, now? Could this really be happening?

Almost eighty years earlier synagogues all across Germany were ablaze during Krystallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a massive pogrom targeting Jews and Jewish establishments. It was the night of terror considered the opening salvo of the Holocaust. Years later when the conflagration which scorched all of Europe finally ebbed to smoldering ashes, six million Jews had been consumed in Nazi Germany’s obsession of extermination. Somehow my uncle emerged from this greatest crime against all humanity. He was now an honored guest standing before the assembled worshippers in the country he never intended to set foot in. 

I sat in disbelief embraced by my father’s tallit (prayer shawl). Bringing the tallit with me  was my way of transporting him along for this surreal journey. Had my father lived to this day, he too would have been there with us. My thoughts raced in overdrive, my eyes moistened, and my body started to shake. I knew a truly decisive moment never to be repeated was playing out before me and I sensed an inescapable obligation to record the moment. But doing so was wrong, a violation of the Sabbath. I also knew I could never live with myself if I didn’t capture the image. Still trembling, I reached down to slip out a small pocket camera, the one I always had with me, and as surreptitiously as possible, composed and froze the moment for all time. 

Despite the stealth, I was outed and firmly berated by a congregation official. In response I acted apologetic, but  inwardly I was immune to his anger. In fact I felt a sense of accomplishment. As I said at the outset, ‘What I was about to do was a violation, I knew it. But the moment to act would never present again. I knew what I was about to do was wrong …. but I did it anyway. ’ Committing violations are not my typical MO. My actions in Frankfurt were guided in part by a lesson learned from a respected photography mentor and friend, Essdras Suarez, the Pulitzer Prize winning former Boston Globe photographer. He counseled that when the option of a decisive moment presents ….. click the camera’s shutter; ‘it is better to ask forgiveness than to request permission.’ That’s exactly what I did. 



 Mendush and me
Austria, 1948
photo - Joseph Greenfield

What were we doing in Germany anyway? The answer in my next photo-blog post. Visit my web site anytime to view Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog-posts. 

z”l (zichrono livracha) - may his memory be a blessing.