Thursday, July 20, 2017

You must come

images © David Greenfield 2017
Ellie’s home in Kutaisi, the former capital of Georgia

“You must come visit and see my country.” 
That was Ellie Kokhreidze’s impassioned request as she prepared to leave the US and return to her home and family in the Republic of Georgia. For two years Ellie cared for my mom 24/7. She had been a supportive ‘bookend’ as the last chapter of my mom’s life came to a close. Our families became one. But in 2013 with my mom gone, and too many years of separation from her family heavy on her heart, Ellie felt the draw of returning home to Georgia too powerful to resist. My wife and I didn’t know when we would visit, but we promised we would honor Ellie’s request to come ‘see my country.’

Where exactly is the Republic of Georgia? 
Georgia is nestled in the Southern Caucasus of Eurasia, at the crossroads of East and West. Traveling there is hardly a user-friendly journey; flights are long and tedious, and connections are  limited with long layovers. But with expert guidance and a lot of planning we made the journey, managing to traverse the country from Kakheti - the eastern wine region, to the mountains of the Kazbek in the north, to the shores of the Black Sea in the west. We returned to the US with profound appreciation for the warmth and hospitality of Georgians, passion for the wonderful food and drink, and new insights into geo-politics and personal sacrifice. Despite challenges of the travel, we wanted to go and keep our promise. 



Lunch at Ellie’s
gouda cheese, tomatoes, and bread, all fresh and purchased moments before.


But why did Ellie leave the country and her family? 
After collapse of the USSR in the early ‘90s, Georgia as a former republic realized independence but emerged from behind a shattered Iron Curtain devoid of any supportive Soviet infrastructure. Times were troubled, nothing worked, the Kokhreidzes lost almost everything. Although her first grandchild, a granddaughter, had just been born and her parents were aging, Ellie and her husband Johnny made a gut wrenching decision to leave and come to America to work and earn enough to rebuild. Becoming destitute was not in their playbook. Meeting Ellie’s family, spending time with them, and seeing how the Kokhreidze family’s life is back on track, was gratifying beyond measure.

Johnny’s toast to my family from his wine cellar

Crisscrossing the country, we also established a special friendship with another Georgian family - Molly, Kakha and their young inquisitive daughter Salome. Molly is an ex-pat journalist working for the BBC, Kakha is a patriotic Georgian Everyman who absolutely loves the US for having Georgia’s ‘back’ as it leans West away from Russia’s orbit. When we needed to travel from one region to another, regardless of road conditions, terrain, or weather, Kakha was at the ready to drive us. Along the way he tutored us about Georgian history, culture, food, wine, and religion while showering us with small gifts of local delicacies. When it was time to eat, he took us to out of the way roadside open air markets and bakeries, the ones only locals know about. Each stop on these roads less traveled brought us into another world. All were memorable. By the end of our adventure it was clear we were joined at the hip. For our last night in country, Kakha and Molly insisted Carol and I skip a hotel and stay over at their home and enjoy a home cooked feast and, of course, local wine. All of us, including Salome, are now also family. It’s the Georgian way. 

Salome and Kakha

                                                  The full Gallery of Georgia images can be viewed here: Georgia - the Republic of 


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Monday, February 27, 2017

Made in America



Fresh out of the oven, cradled in a checkered red and white towel, mom's apple pie permeates the kitchen with a sweet cinnamon aroma. 

Awakened by a cadence of wind gusts, the stars and stripes unfurl and snap crisply in a brisk autumn breeze. 

New Jersey’s favorite son, The Boss - Bruce Springsteen with his 
E Street Band belt out ‘Born in the USA’. 


All are 100% pure Americana. 




What about the Corvette, Levi jeans, Rawlings baseballs, Brooks Brothers suits, Converse All-Stars, even Ken & Barbie? They too are classics instantly identified the world over as ’Made in America’. 

But wait, are these icons  of Americana actually ’Made in America’? 

Hint, only one can claim the distinction. Can you guess?



    empty racks awaiting

Unless you selected Brooks Brothers suits, you’d be mostly wrong! Almost all production of the other classic Americana is shipped out.

Eighty percent of Brooks Brothers stately attire is made in the US. In fact they are produced in Haverhill, Massachusetts at Southwick, a company with a huge, impressively clean, and brightly lit integrated facility. By ‘integrated’ I mean the cloth comes in through one portal and the finished suits go out to retailers and custom order clients through another. 


                                                                                      
on Southwick’s factory floor


Next question — who are the craftsmen, gifted with the skill set to cut, sew, stitch, and assemble the high end suits?

Answer - immigrants, newcomers to the USA!

Southwick’s philosophy, coming directly from the top, is that all Americans - unless they are Native Americans - came from somewhere at some point. We have that in common. Southwick enables newcomers to continue coming to our country and realize their potential. Currently five hundred men and women, originating from Latin America, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, the Middle East, and further reaches buzz about the Haverhill plant. When hired, if their skill set is not up to par, they are trained at the company and put on a path to English proficiency. Southwick even provides subsidies for relocation and housing. The company is profitable and competitive while helping to weave new immigrants into the fabric of American life. 




                                                                            passing through Quality Control before the label and flag go on

Southwick doesn’t just share the American dream we talk about, it walks the walk. It keeps the American dream alive.
                          
                                                                                                                                 images © David Greenfield 

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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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