On Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. And, as is customary this time of year, the Jewish press has been offering us a great deal of Holocaust-related material to read and consider. For me, one of this year’s most important contributions is The Jewish Week‘s article (by staff writer Steve Lipman) on financially needy Holocaust survivors.

“On the streets of Jerusalem, their plight is well chronicled, and even debated in the corridors of power in the Knesset. It is a well-told story across Eastern Europe and in the former Soviet Union, too, where a frayed social safety net affords little protection.

But here in New York, probably the world’s wealthiest Jewish community, the story of needy Holocaust survivors exists beyond the media’s glare. The overall level of Jewish poverty here — exacerbated by the economic downturn — has come into much sharper relief of late in the wider Jewish community. Soup kitchens have opened, UJA-Federation has launched a major recession-fighting initiative and reports have trumpeted unprecedented numbers of Jews living a paycheck or two from financial ruin.

Yet the plight of Shoah survivors — most of them in Brooklyn — struggling to eke out an existence remains stubbornly out of view. ‘It is a totally unknown problem,” says Louise Greilsheimer, senior vice president for agency and external relations at UJA-Federation.'”

Well, for my family, it isn’t an entirely unknown problem. We have supported The Blue Card, one of the resource organizations cited alongside the article, for years. My sister has served on The Blue Card’s board. As I’ve mentioned, I plan to donate portions of proceeds from the sale of my story collection, Quiet Americans, to The Blue Card, too.

But there is so much need. This article just reminded me. Whether you’re also being reminded, or you’re learning about the plight of these elderly people for the first time, won’t you please consider, today, contributing to one of the organizations mentioned by The Jewish Week?

“The Conference on Material Jewish Claims against Germany ([646] 536-9100; claimscon.org) funds more than 100 Jewish organizations, primarily Jewish family and children’s service agencies, in more than 20 states.

In the last decade, the Claims Conference came under attack from survivors, who complained about its lack of transparency and accountability, and its funding of educational programs at the expense of survivors’ immediate needs. In response to the criticisms, the Claims Conference has changed many of its operating procedures, decreasing the amount of its annual grants to educational projects from 20 percent to about 13 percent.

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty ([212] 453-9500; metcouncil.org) coordinates services for survivors provided by a local network of Jewish community councils and other agencies. These services include kosher food programs, minor home repairs, transportation and home care.

The Blue Card ([212] 239-2251; bluecardfund.org) was founded to assist indigent refugees from Nazi Europe and now provides modest stipends to nearly 1,900 indigent survivors each month, 80 percent in the New York area.

Selfhelp Community Services ([866] 735-1234; selfhelp.net) is the largest provider of services to survivors in North America, offering ‘enhanced case management services’ for home health care, guardianship and financial management, and assistance accessing benefits and government entitlements.

iVolunteer, ([646] 461-7748; ivolunteerny.com) coordinates a visitation-companionship program for survivors.

The New York Legal Assistance Group ([212]613-5000; nylag.org) has a Holocaust Compensation Assistance Program that helps survivors obtain legal information about various benefits.

The Project for Holocaust Survivors of the Bikur Cholim of Boro Park ([718] 438-2020; info@bikurcholimbp.com) has a special outreach to childless survivors.

Project Dorot ([212]769-2850; dorotusa.org) on the Upper West Side and Project Ezra ([212]982-4124; projectezra.org) on the Lower East Side number several Holocaust survivors among their elderly clients.”

Thank you.

Jewish Book Week 2010: Guest Post by Andrew Sanger

Jewish Book Week 2010

by Andrew Sanger

This year, London’s Jewish Book Week coincides with Purim. Plenty of extra fun is promised as an unlikely band of comedians and academics get together to put on a Purim Spiel “with a contemporary twist and some all-new conspiracy theories.”

Jewish Book Week is not just Europe’s biggest festival of writing for, about and by Jews. It’s a highlight of the UK’s non-Jewish literary calendar, too. Few other events in Britain attract so many highbrow and high-profile speakers. In fact, the modest billing as a “book week” doesn’t do justice to a culture-fest delving the whole eclectic mix of arts, science, politics and ideas.

The venue is surprisingly low-key – three conference rooms in a dated 3-star hotel in the heart of Bloomsbury, traditionally London’s literary district – and in the typically British way there’s nothing slick about it and no razzmatazz.

Yet during the course of the week, as many as 10,000 visitors come to browse, buy and, most of all, attend a succession of talks and debates with an astonishing array of leading journalists, novelists, historians, philosophers, playwrights, actors and broadcasters.

There are quite a few non-Jews among them. The 2010 programme includes talks by the popular mathematician Professor Marcus du Sautoy and former Sixties activist and present-day Leftist political writer Tariq Ali (who is of Pakistani Muslim origin).

Of course, the “Jewish” in Jewish Book Week covers the whole spectrum, from militantly secular to devoutly Orthodox. Among this year’s speakers are the anti-Zionist novelist Will Self, the fertility expert Professor Robert Winston (who manages to combine being a leading scientist and a lord with being an observant Jew) and Britain’s Orthodox Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

The biggest names are usually scheduled for 7 p.m. and 8.30 p.m., but the show is open all day long. There’s something going on all the time.

Up-and-coming authors can often be heard at lunchtime talks. I was lucky enough to be a speaker myself last year, at a “Meet The Author” event. These take place in the early evening, when many people drop in after finishing work. An interview about my novel The J-Word was followed by comments and questions that turned into a terrific discussion on the issues the book raises about secular Jewish identity.

Friendly, intelligent and informal, talks usually end with a book signing, perhaps a chance to exchange a few thoughts of your own with the author or even to continue in the JBW café.

Andrew Sanger is a well-established travel writer living in London, England. He has contributed to a wide range of British newspapers and news-stand magazines, and is the author of more than 30 guidebooks. His first novel, The J-Word, published in England in 2009 to wide acclaim, has just been released in the United States.

"Reflections During the Days of Awe, 1989-5750"

Last Friday, I posted an essay from my personal archive on my other blog. Titled “Reflections During the Days of Awe, 1989-5750,” the essay is 20 years old. I wrote it when I was enrolled in an undergraduate creative nonfiction workshop. It still means a lot to me, and it’s definitely relevant for the Rosh Hashanah-Yom Kippur season. I hope you’ll read (and enjoy) it.

Pre-Rosh Hashanah Notes from Around the Web

Here’s a really lovely post about the connections between a temple-based writing group (located in Tuscon, Ariz.) and the Holy Days.
Michelle Cameron, a self-described “writer of Jewish-themed books,” guest-posts on my friend Lisa Romeo’s blog.
The aforementioned Scribblers on the Roof Web site has launched! Check it out. And look forward to a Q&A with founder/editor Kelly Hartog, right here on My Machberet, in the not-too-distant future.
Jeffrey Goldberg links to an outrageously hilarious spoof of Mad Men (retitled for these purposes “Meshugene Men“).
Finally, and on a more somber note, the new issue of Brevity, which bills itself as “a journal of concise literary nonfiction,” is online, featuring an amazing piece, “Somebody Else’s Genocide,” by author Sherman Alexie.

Shanah Tovah, everyone! See you back here in a few days.

For the Kids: New Holiday Web Site from Behrman House

Just received this a couple of days ago from Behrman House, and I think it will be keeping my soon-to-be six-year-old niece busy for quite awhile!

We have just developed a new website, www.ElijahRocks.net, that can help you and your family learn about the Jewish holidays. The website provides fun, interactive computer games that explore concepts from our latest holiday book Jewish Holiday Treasure Trail, plus holiday blessings, dictionaries of key words, and word puzzles.

Just click on www.ElijahRocks.net, or type it into your web browser. After the site downloads (it will take about 20 seconds), select a holiday—Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover, and more. Then the fun and learning begin!

As you and your family surf the website, you’ll begin learning more and more about the Jewish holidays. By purchasing Jewish Holiday Treasure Trail, you’ll continue to build your family’s holiday knowledge and traditions. As an introductory offer, you can get FREE SHIPPING for one copy of this title. This special offer is only good through June 5, 2009, so act now! Please mention code: TREASURE when ordering.

We hope you’ll visit the website with your child throughout the year, and spend time together learning about the Jewish holidays.