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, November 8, 2016

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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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

He's the only one left to call

© 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.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ryokan Revelry

© David Greenfield

…. a mysterious knock at my door later that night ….. Who could it be, and why was someone there in the shadows? That was the scenario at the close of my previous blog installment. Here’s how it played out.

With breathing temporarily on hold, I cracked the door open in measured increments staring straight ahead at all times. What, there was no one there! Actually not true, I only had to cast my gaze downward. Rather than facing the hulking sinister silhouette I envisioned, it was thankfully only the petite ryokan hostess, hardly an imposing figure at four feet something tall. She arrived repeating her one word message – geisha, geisha accompanied by a waving hand motion beckoning - follow me. Despite her zero command of English, meaning further explanation was not a possibility, in a flash I put two and two together. Here’s the theory: When first welcomed to the ryokan, my wife and I passed through a comfortable communal sitting room replete with tea and goodies. Aha, that’s it … a geisha musical performance was being offered to guests that night! It seemed quite plausible as we followed along towards the main entrance. Wait! Why is she now turning sharply to lead us up a darkened narrow flight of stairs? What now?

Our destination: a suite with private party already well in session. The revelers, none other than Otaro and my other hot pool friends, were lolling around on cushions, a table laden with assorted finger foods, bottles of Asahi beer, and sake was set before them. Two animated geishas were attentive to their every want. A third strummed on a shamisen, something akin to a distant guitar relative. Turns out the boys were enjoying a weekend company perk provided by the Boss, a smiling likable older gent who would not allow my glass of Asahi to remain only partially full.

We were invited as honored guests. Otaro picked up our hot pool ‘conversation’ where previously left off. With each mention of Boston, Uehara, Red Sox, or Tazawa, another round of sake was enthusiastically poured. As the strumming droned on and the geishas flitted about and the laughter and good cheer intensified, my wife and I sensed it was time to signal ‘nine innings, game over’, and gracefully work our way to the exit. Amid the raucous revelry, somehow we managed to slip out; everyone else partied on.

Looking back now to relive and relish that day, it seemed reminiscent of a favorite old Twilight Zone episode, certainly an encounter to remember. For sure, Otaro, the boys and geishas played ‘the game’ well into extra innings that night. I’m not sure how it all ended, or what any of them may have remembered the morning after.

Before saying sayonara, check out the upper right corner of this page to sign up and automatically receive these posts. Visit my web site anytime to view Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog-posts. 

Seventh inning stretch - Otaro, geishas, Carol and me

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Baring All and Our National Pastime

© David Greenfield

We were stark naked, lathered up, and clutching hand held shower heads, all while crouched on postage stamp sized foot stools. Awkward?… perhaps, but our condition was standard operating procedure in preparation for a healing soak in the ryokan’s (inn’s) hot mineral infused pool just outside. The other guys in the slippery line-up were Japanese; no surprise, we were in Japan. I sported the only Caucasian face. Aside from anatomical traits all men share, we had almost nothing in common, certainly not a common tongue. Well maybe not. With the pre-soak regimen completed and only our heads bobbing above steamy waters, a magical connection soon unfolded.

It started with a few back and forth darting glances …. then an audible from Otaro, the good friend I was about to make. Without minimizing his observational skills, it wasn’t a reach for Otaro to surmise I might be an Anglo. He broke the ice, figuratively, by offering up a greeting with his best but broken English. Since his ‘best’, while admirable, was on par with my meager Japanese, I promptly reciprocated with my ‘best’. And so a cross-cultural conversation was born. It quickly passed through infancy and adolescence reaching adulthood when I uttered the two words which in the year 2013 instantly transcended respective native languages and bound us together – RED SOX.

Boston’s nine was not only baseball’s reigning champs, but over the course of the past season the Sox accomplished nothing short of a miracle; they went from their league’s last place to first. But the boys weren’t done until completing another improbable feat, clinching a coveted World Series victory! And what was the Sox’ secret sauce …. UEHARA and TAZAWA, the two formidable Japanese pitchers on staff. Mere mention of their names, national heroes to my companions, and our hot tub crew seamlessly became family, and a tight knit one at that. But the best was yet to come.

It started with a mysterious knock at my door later that night when a veil of quiet and dimmed lights had already descended on the ryokan. Who could it be, and why was someone there in the shadows? ….. To find out, watch for my next post, Ryokan Revelry. Until then, why not use the sign up (upper right corner of this page) to automatically receive these periodic posts. Visit my web site anytime to view the Galleries, Photo-essays, and read previous blog posts. For now, sayonara.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Mother and Child Disunion

© David Greenfield 2015

On a side street in Old Havana our eyes locked. He was a boy in wondrous gaze clutching his mother’s hem. I was strolling with a few Americans. Unlike the boy’s awe, even a glimpse of mami’s face reflected something very different … deep concern. Their yin-yang of expressions formed a perfect photographic decisive moment. Click. For me the moment also recalled  memory of a mystery, a musical mystery.

Consider these lyrics from Paul Simon’s Mother and Child Reunion (1972).

I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine

As soon as the song hit the charts fans searched for hidden meanings and pondered Paul’s inspiration for writing.

Did the reunion take place in the afterlife or was it a down on earth meeting of biological parent with a child previously put up for adoption; why a false hope; why sad and mournful, and what action could trigger a reunion that was only a motion away?

Back on the street, rather than union, I sensed a certain disunion. The boy appeared awestruck, perhaps imaging what magic the Americanos possess. The mother's demeanor suggested a discomforting uncertainty. Was it not knowing how Cuban life might change if the sought after rapprochement with the US ever occurs? Would outcomes be for the better, or not? 

Two weeks after I captured the image, Breaking News stunned us all with broadcast of renewed diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba. It came decades after La Revoluciรณn, Castro’s embrace of Communism, the Embargo, and severed ties. A reunion of sorts was now in the making. Would it be a false hope?

Spoiler alert: When Paul Simon was pressed to offer the ‘true’ inspiration for the song title, he admitted his creativity was drawn directly from a chicken and egg menu item on the NYC Chinese restaurant he frequented.

Go figure!

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