The Power of Choice by Lucia Weitzman

The Rose Temple by Mitchell Weitzman is the compelling story of a woman, a Jewish child Holocaust survivor, raised Catholic, who unexpectedly receives Biblical messages in the course of an astonishing spiritual journey. She finds answers to questions about God’s presence in our world during times of evil and suffering. Reading her story will ignite the power that lies within you to heal and transform yourself and the world you live in.

The extraordinary life of Lucia Weitzman begins in a small town in Poland, where as a toddler she is trapped with her parents in a Nazi-imposed ghetto. In a desperate attempt to save their daughter, Lucia’s parents place her in the care of a Polish couple who risk their own lives by taking her in. After the war ends, at age five she discovers her Jewish origins but remains with her adoptive parents.

Growing up a practicing Catholic, yet often taunted or threatened for being born Jewish, Lucia struggles with questions of identity and faith while drawing on a deep well of inner strength that would take her years to acknowledge and explain.

Forced to flee Poland to avoid arrest, she leaves everyone and everything she knows behind. She marries a Jewish man and raises a traditional family in suburban Detroit. But at age fifty-three, orphaned again by the death of her husband, her life takes on another dramatic turn as she embarks on a worldwide spiritual quest.   

Vivid dreams and inspired writings lead to mystical experiences containing profound messages about how to overcome adversity, empower personal growth, and find your soul’s purpose.

Lucia Weitzman’s conviction that “we all walk in God’s light and that we can choose a path that connects us to each other and to God” will inspire readers of all faiths and backgrounds.

Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

The Power of Choice by Lucia Weitzman

www.TheRoseTemple.com

The Rose Temple by Mitchell Weitzman

The Rose Temple by Mitchell Weitzman is the compelling story of a woman, a Jewish child Holocaust survivor, raised Catholic, who unexpectedly receives Biblical messages in the course of an astonishing spiritual journey. She finds answers to questions about God’s presence in our world during times of evil and suffering. Reading her story will ignite the power that lies within you to heal and transform yourself and the world you live in.

The extraordinary life of Lucia Weitzman begins in a small town in Poland, where as a toddler she is trapped with her parents in a Nazi-imposed ghetto. In a desperate attempt to save their daughter, Lucia’s parents place her in the care of a Polish couple who risk their own lives by taking her in. After the war ends, at age five she discovers her Jewish origins but remains with her adoptive parents.

Growing up a practicing Catholic, yet often taunted or threatened for being born Jewish, Lucia struggles with questions of identity and faith while drawing on a deep well of inner strength that would take her years to acknowledge and explain.

Forced to flee Poland to avoid arrest, she leaves everyone and everything she knows behind. She marries a Jewish man and raises a traditional family in suburban Detroit. But at age fifty-three, orphaned again by the death of her husband, her life takes on another dramatic turn as she embarks on a worldwide spiritual quest. Vivid dreams and inspired writings lead to mystical experiences containing profound messages about how to overcome adversity, empower personal growth, and find your soul’s purpose.

Lucia Weitzman’s conviction that “we all walk in God’s light and that we can choose a path that connects us to each other and to God” will inspire readers of all faiths and backgrounds.

Available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

The Rose Temple by Mitchell Weitzman
www.TheRoseTemple.com

Elie Wiesel’s Legacy and Tomorrow’s Headlines

Have you ever wondered about the headlines on the day that carries the news of your passing? If you could see them, would you be uplifted? Surprised? Apathetic? Upset?

I thought about this last week when I read The New York Times on Sunday, July 3, 2016. The paper ran a story about the passing of Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor, author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, activist, and humanitarian who worked tirelessly to make this a better world.

Would he have groaned to read the headline: “20 Killed in Bangladesh as ISIS Broadens Reach. It was another senseless loss of life in an era when senseless loss of life is all too common.

Despite his efforts to promote a better universe, Wiesel left us with a still much-troubled world where even the memory of the Holocaust is often forgotten or misappropriated. I wonder whether, in his final moments, he considered whether hope or despair lie in a future without him.

It is a question I grapple with as I launch a book about my mother’s transformation from child Holocaust survivor to spiritual messenger. The Rose Temple: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Vision of Faith, Hope, and Our Collective Future is a work that juxtaposes history, spirituality, personal identity, and healing the world.

If the latter strikes a clichéd, ineffectual tone—and I must admit that it can—the journey I undertook in writing the book empowered me to believe otherwise. The indescribable heroism demonstrated by the Polish Catholic couple who saved my mother is just one of many beacons of hope that exist whenever and wherever savagery is found.

Despair at reading today’s headlines should not, therefore, vanquish the vision and hope of what our world has the potential to be. My mother, despite having every reason to feel otherwise, holds closely to this conviction.

Of Wiesel, Michael Berenbaum (former Director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum) wrote in The Forward, “more than any human being I know, he was responsible for changing the status of Holocaust survivors from victims and refugees to witnesses with a moral mission not only to remember the past but to transform the future.”

The headlines written after the day Wiesel died, and the many despairing headlines written since he died, capture a cruel moment in time. Let’s hope that the impact Elie Wiesel has made on the world and the missions of transformation he encouraged are timeless.

Through the voice of a woman who, in The Rose Temple, infuses a feminine sensibility to the struggle to overcome hate and division, we honor and continue Wiesel’s legacy.

Reaching Beyond The Synagogue On Holocaust Remembrance Day

Holocaust Remembrance Day/Yom HaShoah, May 5, 2016.

Jews and others will gather in synagogues, community centers, schools, and other venues to remember those lost in the Holocaust, and to decry the intolerance and hate that enabled the tragedy. “Never again” will be a common refrain.

Who is Not Hearing the Message of Yom HaShoah and Why it Matters

Yet it is a relatively safe bet that the people who should be hearing the words spoken at Yom HaShoah gatherings, such as perpetrators of violence in Europe and the Middle East, will not be in attendance.

Some endorse the Holocaust without pretense. Others deny its existence or minimize its scope. A far greater number know little or nothing about its lasting significance.

Even the briefest of glimpses at world events since the Holocaust reveals that it is not just Jewish people who are affected by the spread of hate and intolerance. Many peoples—Muslims in Bosnia; Christians in the Middle East— have been persecuted. And a resurgence of anti-Semitism often cloaked as anti-Zionism renders the concept of “Never again” increasingly fragile.

Is There Hope for the Future?

In light of all the destruction since the Holocaust and the turbulent state of affairs today, one might ask: Is there hope for the future?

In time, tyrannical regimes and the evil they perpetrate will crumble, as they have throughout history. But what can be done to effect change and promote tolerance and peace now?

Military and security interventions can minimize damage, but they don’t change attitudes, and they don’t replace seeds of hate with seeds of love.

Fortunately, there are countless organizations, institutions, and individuals who work tirelessly to break down barriers and foster peace. Some do so within organized interfaith efforts on campus and in our communities while others engage in person-to-person acts of empathy and kindness.

Together with my mother, a child Holocaust survivor, we are striving to add our energy to these efforts. With the release later this month of The Rose Temple: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Vision of Faith, Hope, and Our Collective Future, we hope to flood the world with love, creating a deluge of such magnitude that there simply is no oxygen left for evil to breathe.

A related website invites people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds to share their stories of hope, faith, inspiration, heroism, empathy, or kindness and speaks to harmony, healing, peace, and breaking down barriers between people.

As these stories are collected, they become an antidote to the destructive events currently dominating the news. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, but surely most of us hope for a collective future that is better than what we have today—or what we had in Europe over seventy years ago.

A Golden Eagle, Hard-Boiled Brown Eggs, and A Black Woman: What Do These Have to Do with Passover?

Adapted from the pages of The Rose Temple: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Vision of Faith, Hope, and Our Collective Future, to be published in May 2016.

Three days before Passover in 2008, Lucia Weitzman dreamt that a golden eagle descended from the sky and embraced her with its wings. Onlookers watched in awe.

In a second dream the same night, she peeled two hard-boiled brown eggs, broke them apart, and ate the golden-colored yolks.

Finally, in a third dream, she took a train to her former home in Bochnia, Poland. Curiously, she did not see her adoptive mother, the Catholic woman who had nurtured her since Lucia’s birth parents sent their toddler to her home in a desperate attempt to save her during the Holocaust. But she see did her adoptive father, a flawed but heroic man, who was ill in bed. And then she was surprised to find a black woman there. She embraced the woman with love.

By this time, Lucia, was deeply engrossed in a spiritual, often mystical journey that was transforming her in ways she did not yet fully comprehend. And she was becoming adept at interpreting what her dreams were telling her. “The golden eagle is a messenger of Divine light,” she said. “It’s message: liberation, a central theme of Passover.” The Bible, in Exodus 19:4, relays this passage:

You saw that which I did to Egypt when I carried you on the wings of eagles and I brought you to Me.

And the eggs?

“It is significant that I ate only the yolks in my dream. If there is ego and spirit or humanity and Divinity, then the golden yolks represent divine nature, or divine sustenance. When I ate them, they became one in my body. Divisions that I’ve felt for so long disappeared. I felt whole. I was one.

And the black woman I found in my home was symbolic of mother-love, a universal love that is the most powerful force in the universe. But she only appeared to me to be black. Rather than representing skin color, she was a projection of what I was seeing through a spiritual prism. She represented the potential of divine illumination.”

Months earlier, Lucia came across a passage that was inspired by the Biblical Song of Solomon.

The Divine Sun has shone upon me
Hath looked upon me

My light has become so dazzling
That in your unilluminated state
You cannot interpret what you see
And I appear to you to be black

Now she began putting it all together.

The Hebrews liberation from Egypt was not an easy one. As many commentators have noted, their mindset and spirit was still in many ways enslaved by the Egyptian ordeal.

The presence of Lucia’s adoptive father in her dream reflected her challenges with him and her situation in Poland after the Holocaust. Though she has long since left her hometown, true liberation requires love.

Passover is indeed a holiday marked by liberation. It’s recounting at Passover Seders around the globe has long transmitted universal messages of both freedom and responsibility. Yet there is no true liberation without love. That was true after Egypt. And it is still true today.

Righteous Among the Nations

In July 1996, the Consul General of Israel presented Lucia Weitzman with a plaque recognizing her adoptive parents, Genowefa and Franciszek Swiatek as “Righteous Among the Nations” for their heroism during the Holocaust. Their names were added to the Wall of Honor in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem.

Genowefa, a dressmaker, and Franciszek, a railways executive, were a childless Polish Catholic couple when Lucia was rescued by them from a Nazi-imposed ghetto. It was a risky action for the Swiateks, who faced a death sentence if they were discovered sheltering a Jew.

Few can imagine the fear they must have lived with let alone their courage to have sheltered Lucia in the first place. Many who learn about Righteous Among the Nations, what Yad Vashem defines as “non-Jews who acted according to the noblest principles of humanity by risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust,” wonder how they would have acted if faced with similar circumstances.

It’s the right question to ask, not necessarily as a test of one’s courage, but because it raises the consciousness of what constitutes the noblest principles of humanity. The plaque with the Swiateks name on it is more than a historical marker. It is included here in the Rose Temple as an everlasting symbol of love, caring, and faith that speaks to our collective future.

For other Righteous Among the Nations stories from Yad Vashem, click on the link below.

When Faith in God and Destruction Met at the Beach

Standing on the shoreline at Ocean City, Maryland, cool sand brushing against my feet, the ocean currents soothing my senses, I contemplated the wonder of nature. I was alone on this cold, late March morning, having risen at sunrise to capture this moment.

It was Shabbat: the Jewish Sabbath, a time when God is closest to us. I could feel God’s presence here. I felt blessed. And then . . . a thought entered my consciousness. News about the Brussels terrorist attack was still fresh. And there seemed to be little doubt that more attacks were on the way. Our collective sense of security has been badly bruised, if not crushed. In the parlance of terrorism, the places we gather—restaurants, shopping malls, stadiums, houses of worship, and perhaps even the beach—are called “soft” targets.

I asked the same “why” questions as many before me have asked throughout history. Why the hate? Why the killing? And why the destruction of this beauty which God has created?

It’s happened before— these intrusive thoughts affecting the wonder of nature. On many occasions I’ve hiked on a scenic nature trail, mesmerized by the views, only to succumb to recollections of my father’s tales of survival in the forests of Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. For years he hid without shelter, foraging for food, in constant fear of being discovered and shot on sight. I wondered whether I would have survived under these conditions. And I asked those same “why” questions.

Now, as I stood on the shoreline at the beach, I pondered how the tension between the approaching waves breaking on the sand and the undertow pulling the water back into the ocean was constant; an ongoing battle since the beginning of time.

I wish I had been able to fully inhale all of the wonder I was witnessing without the undertow of these disturbing thoughts. As long as God-created beauty remains, and as long as mankind still has the ability to choose good over evil, perhaps there is the hope that, one day, I will be able to do so.

Has The Holocaust Overtaken American Jewish Identity?

In an opinion piece this last Friday, political columnist Charles Krauthammer  extracted a Bernie Sanders answer to a question in Michigan’s Democratic debate which serves not as a springboard discussing politics, but as a foundation for assessing the state of Jewish identity in contemporary America.

 

Debate moderator Anderson Cooper had asked Sanders to comment on a Detroit News article which said that Saunders had intentionally kept his Judaism in the background.

 

“No,” said Sanders.  “I am very proud to be Jewish, and being Jewish is so much of what I am.”  As Krauthammer notes, the fact that Sander’s Jewishness has largely been in the background is a testament to the “health of our republic — the most tolerant and open nation on earth.”

 

But it is in Sander’s follow-up that Krauthammer sees an opportunity not to criticize him, but to comment on contemporary American Jewish identity.  Sanders explained that the Holocaust had wiped out his father’s family and he remembered seeing, as a child, neighbors with concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms.

 

Krauthammer finds this “a fascinating answer, irrelevant to presidential politics but quite revealing about the state of Jewish identity in contemporary America.”

 

Why? Sanders might have spoken about his Jewishness in terms of his practices, or he could have referenced the Jewish notion of “Tikkun olam” (healing or repairing the world).  Instead, by citing the Holocaust, he reinforces what Krauthammer views as the phenomenon of the Holocaust becoming the primary identifier for American Jews at the expense of the richness Judaism offers to both contemporary and future generations.

 

Krauthammer points to the growing Holocaust emphasis in Jewish education, from Sunday schools to university Holocaust studies programs, as one example of what he sees as an unfortunate trend tipping the scales from a necessary dedication to keeping alive the memory and the truth of the Holocaust to Holocaust memory emerging as the dominant feature of Jewishness in America.

 

In August of last year, actress Natalie Portman, whose grandparents perished in the Holocaust, expressed similar sentiments. In an interview for the Independent, Portman said,  “I think a really big question the Jewish community needs to ask itself is how much at the forefront we put Holocaust education. Which is, of course, an important question to remember and to respect, but not over other things.”

 

To be clear, from what I gather, neither Krauthammer nor Portman are trivializing or minimizing the importance of Holocaust education. Their concern is that this not be the sole educational experience for Jews, and that Judaism and Jewish history not be reduced to victimhood.

 

I wholeheartedly concur with both Krauthammer and Portman, with a few caveats. We must remember that the memory of the Holocaust is still raw – yes, even over seventy years later. Is there a time limit for grief? Is there a point at which we are supposed to “move on”? If we can’t answer those questions individually, then what makes anyone imagine that we can answer them collectively?

 

My mother, a child of the Holocaust, has had a fulfilling, eventful life, including a remarkable spiritual journey which we wrote about in our forthcoming book The Rose Temple.  Yet, she says: “What happens to you as a child stays with you forever. It never leaves you.”

 

So let’s take a moment and be kind to ourselves if we tend to over-emphasize the Holocaust. Let’s forgive ourselves.  But let us also acknowledge that Holocaust remembrance need not overwhelm Jewish identity. Holocaust education and instruction in Jewish practice, history, and philosophy are not mutually exclusive.

 

Judaism has much to offer the world, and its essence should and must be preserved and fostered.  As for the Holocaust, its critical lessons, such as tolerance and empathy, are still very much needed today.

What the Academy Award-Winning Holocaust Film “Son of Saul” Tells Us About the Power of One

On Sunday night, “Son of Saul,” a work of fiction set in 1944 at the very real Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.  A unique aspect of this Holocaust film is its focus (literally its camera lens) on a single man, Saul Auslander, a Jewish prisoner forced to help the Nazis exterminate fellow Jews.  Through one man’s eyes, an unimaginable world comes into view.

“The continual close-ups of Saul serve a solemn purpose,” writes Anthony Lane, film critic forTheNew Yorker.  “They reinforce the sense that one man’s testimony is enough.”

If “Son of Saul” succeeds in personalizingthe enormous scale and complexity of the Holocaust,both the film and the filmmaker also speak to the power of an individual to exercise personal choice, even under the most trying circumstances.

The fictional Saul makes a choice, at great personal risk, to try to arrange a proper burial for a boy he “claims” as his son. Meanwhile, the film’s real life, first-time director, LászlóNemes, also demonstrated the power of one.

Nemesfaced significant resistance when he tried to get the film funded. Many detractors also cited lack of interest in another Holocaust film.  Yet Nemes prevailed, garnering a Golden Globe and Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film and, and more importantly, instigating conversation about the need for religious tolerance and kindness that is still, unfortunately, all too relevant today.

Numbers can be overwhelming and desensitizing.  That is why we can connect to one life more than we can grasp the fate of six million. To its credit, though, “Son of Saul” speaks not only to individual fate but also to personal choice.

The Holocaust may now be a historical event, but the matter of how we choose to conduct ourselves inour lifetimes long preceded the Holocaust, and will live on long after the last survivor has passed.  Any one person can and does have an impact on our collective future. The power of one is exponentially more than just a number.

Mitchell Weitzman is the co-author of the forthcoming The Rose Temple: A Child Holocaust Survivor’s Vision of Faith, Hope, and Our Collective Future. http://therosetemple.com

Book Review of Where the Streets Had a Name by Randa Abdel-Fattah

This review might have had a very different tone if I were in middle school, a girl—or a Palestinian.  I chose to read Where the Streets Had A Name, published in 2008 by Randa Abdel-Fattah, because I am in the process of writing a middle-grade/young adult allegory based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and wanted to better understand the Palestinian viewpoint, especially through the eyes of a young narrator.  I was not gearing for a battle, just a great story with something I could take away.

The book revolves around thirteen-year-old Hayaat, a likeable sensitive soul who lives in Bethlehem (West Bank) and embarks on a mission to retrieve a handful of soil from her grandmother’s ancestral home in Jerusalem in order to cure her ailments.  She takes the journey with her best friend, Samy, a brave Christian boy with chutzpah. Together, they encounter checkpoints, security walls, and protests along the way.

Beautifully told, with deft use of child-friendly humor and adult historical context, Hayaat is a girl to cheer for, one who struggles to come to terms with the predicament her people are in, horrific memories of her recent past, and hope for the future.

Palestinian life is well rendered, with family quirks and squabbles mixed in with generational wisdom that anyone can relate to, including Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinians who populate Where the Streets Had a Name are not terrorists, Islamic fundamentalists, or Jihadists. They are, simply, human beings.

Unfortunately, and this is where perspective comes in, Israelis are not rendered as kindly, save for a liberal American-Israeli couple who work with a human rights watch group. Others, mostly Israeli police and military figures, are drawn one dimensionally, as cold-hearted, thoughtless characters who seem to derive pleasure from humiliating Palestinians. There is no acknowledgment that they are there to protect Israelis who have been under near constant siege since the day Israel was established.

Security walls loom large in the book—very large—but there is never any sense of why the walls are there in the first place. In one of the few mentions of suicide attacks, the concern of Abdel Fattah’s characters is not the welfare of an innocent Israeli or others who may have been killed, but what punishment awaits them from the ruthless Israelis.

Hayaat’s family longs for their pre-Israel home and life, quite understandably.  Yet Abdel-Fattah makes only fleeting mention of the contextual situation that underpins much of the conflict and thus misses a golden opportunity to add some depth and understanding to the story, especially for young Palestinian readers who may not be familiar with history.

In one scene, following the 1967 Six Day War, Hayaat’s grandparents attempt to reclaim their home that had been seized by the Israelis.  A Jewish couple now living there answered the door and refused a request to leave.  They were Holocaust survivors, the woman said; her entire family had been gassed. The response is one commonly heard from Palestinians. “I’m sorry for what happened to your family, but why must we be punished.”

Whatever the merits of either party’s position in that encounter, what’s missing from both is empathy.  And it reaches back to the origins of the state of Israel, and the crushing of Palestinian hopes for a state of their own. Jews beleaguered by pogroms and the Holocaust nevertheless might have been more sensitive to Palestinian concerns about land grabs and domination.  And Palestinians might have recognized the beleaguered state of Jewish refugees and acknowledged their historical ties to the land. Compromise and cooperation could have conquered the day. Instead we have more than six decades of war and terror, where one lovely fictional girl lives in an occupied land under conditions no one should have to experience.

As the book concludes, our Palestinian heroine retains her desire to not only survive, but to love. “That in the end,” she says, “we are all only human beings who laugh the same, and that one day the world will realize that we simply want to live as free people, with hope and dignity and purpose.”

If she can express the same wish for the people across the wall, then indeed there may be hope.

#Readukkah