Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Tu Mir a Toiveh*

*Tu Mir a Toiveh: Do Me a Favor (Yiddish)

Toiveh comes from the Hebrew, Tovah, meaning loosely translates as "something good."

No doubt I've made mention of it countless times in my blog, but I'll do so again. Take the time to do someone some good. Don't do it for brownie points, for another "Been there, done that" to check off on your mitzvah list. In the words of Nike, JUST DO IT!...simply because.

I do things for others...because I can. Because I want to.

In busy traffic or not, I let people merge into my lane -- wouldn't I want someone to do that for me?

I often give people coupons in the supermarket, coupons that I happen to have and know that I will not use before the expiry, but I see these people have the item in their shopping cart or on the conveyor belt at the checkout aisle.

I give compliments. Doesn't it perk up your day if someone, even a stranger, throws a nice word or two your way? It might not just perk up your day, it might make your day, and make all the difference.

I share my knowledge and resourcefulness with others. If I can help someone get ahead in the editorial world, if I can help them better their writing, it helps better my writing too.

I advertise others' blogs -- not because they ask me to, but because I often suggest it and ask permission to do so, or simply because I want to share what I think is interesting/brilliant/creative or maybe even helpful to another reader. (I kvell when I go to a referral blog and see that visitors have come there via my suggestion. If I'm on to a good thing, I'm happy that others can join in that discovery.)

So "tu mir a toiveh" and do yourself a favor: DO A FAVOR FOR SOMEONE ELSE, thus creating a link of goodness.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Perfect Name

Her name is Ruchama. Ruchama King Feuerman.

Ruchama is the Hebrew word for mercy/compassion. She was named well.

Ruchama is a published book author and regular contributor to the World Jewish Digest. She has written about stories and children, death and the chevra kadisha (Jewish burial society), childbirth and parenting. Her book Seven Blessings, put out by St. Martin's Press, was well received.

A couple years ago, someone asked me if I'd like to contribute a short story to an anthology. To say that I was flattered is an understatement. To learn that a story of mine -- if accepted, of course! -- would be published alongside one of Ruchama's, floored me! I started writing, but had great difficulty writing in that genre...and perhaps lucky for me, the literary project folded before it had ever truly begun. But still, I walked away smiling, just thinking about authors such as Ruchama, in whose company my story would have appeared in this book.

Well, I'm not writing short stories these days, but I'm sure Ruchama still is... And long stories... And everything in between!

Ruchama is a ghostwriter, and a writing coach. And she just recently started a blog. You can reach it, and her, at

I like the Jewish proverb that Ruchama cites on the blog: "There are three things a person should do in one’s lifetime: Have a child, plant a tree, and write a book.” this point in my life, I guess I have to say, "Two out of three ain't bad"!

Do check out Ruchama's writing, and if you're a writer with a story to tell, why not contact her for some friendly pointers in the WRITE direction!? You might just end up writing a book...

Monday, February 26, 2007

(Not) Full of Gas!

I feel these days as if there's a world war going on, with a shortage of this, a shortage of that, raised prices on this, raised prices on that.

A frost in California or Florida? The price of oranges and grapes go up. Salmonella outbreak? No greens to be found. A refinery fire? No gas...

Read on. This article is from last Wednesday. The problem is continuing, and getting worse.

Gas shortage a symptom of big Ontario problem, group says

An Ontario refinery fire has left gas stations with dry tanks and higher prices because the province depends too heavily on imported fuel, an independent retail group says.

Jane Savage, president of the Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, said the Feb. 15 fire at Imperial Oil's Nanticoke plant has triggered "a very severe shortage."

"I'd characterize it as probably the worst supply situation the industry here in Ontario has seen in decades," she told CBC News Online on Wednesday.

Speaking from her east-end Toronto office, Savage said the shortage has been accompanied by a rise in the wholesale prices charged by Imperial and other refiners.

But she joined other industry officials in urging drivers not to panic and not to hoard fuel, which she said is unnecessary and would worsen shortages and drive prices higher.

Ontario's basic problem is a lack of refining capacity, partly a result of the closing of an obsolete Petro-Canada refinery west of Toronto in 2005, she said.

There have been other recent glitches, however.

"We had a problem at Imperial's other refinery over the holidays," she said. "There's the rail strike, which has chewed up the transportation network pretty badly. So getting product is hard in a landlocked province which is net short of refining capacity."

Drivers encountering locked-up pumps this week at scores of southern Ontario gas stations - some under Imperial's Esso banner, others supplied by the company - can testify to that.

Although a small fraction of the province's thousands of gas stations ran out of fuel, pump prices moved well above 90 cents a litre in many places, up from the 70s in January's mild spell.

The crippled refinery normally converts 118,000 barrels of crude oil a day into about 12 million litres of gasoline and varying amounts of jet fuel, heating oil, diesel fuel and other products, Imperial spokesman Gordon Wong said.

The fire has temporarily halved its gasoline output and also reduced production of diesel and heating oil, he told CBC News Online.

Imperial hopes to avoid having furnaces go cold at this time of year, he said.
"We're giving priority to heating oil customers."

Savage said Ontario is too dependent on refined fuel landed at Montreal and pumped west by pipeline.

"These are cargos that are on the water and are being traded and diverted into Montreal, so it's European refineries, generally, and eastern U.S refineries."

"The supply line into Ontario is a long one," she continued, "and when you get a refinery that has another problem on top of that, you're into some pretty significant issues, as we're seeing right now."

A former Imperial Oil engineer, Savage now represents large independents such as Canadian Tire, Pioneer and OLCO. Those companies buy their fuel from Imperial and other majors.
"Independents, as I think folks know, are just overgrown consumers. We buy directly from the refiners, just in bigger quantities," she said.

Not only have the prices they pay jumped, but the spread between local and international prices has widened, she said.

On Monday, the Toronto wholesale gasoline price (known as the rack price) was 7.7 cents a litre above a benchmark New York cargo price, she said.

That represents an increase of 3.2 cents since Feb. 14, she said, and the highway diesel fuel spread widened even more.

At the same time, the international price rose about a penny, she said.

She declined to speculate on whether the Ontario shortage has emboldened operators to raise pump prices beyond their cost increases.

Despite the shortage, she stressed the folly of fuel hoarding.

"Panic would be the worst possible thing here in terms of the public, and only because it would cause more shortages and more price increases.

"There's no need to panic from the public's point of view, but I do want to be very up front with people about the fact that I think our governments need to take some action on improving our supply networks here."

With files from the Canadian Press

Sunday, February 25, 2007

An Avocation for an Advocate

I recently completed copy editing a novel written by a lawyer. It was not his first novel. His first novel was published last year and well-received. No doubt this second novel will be quickly picked up and published, perhaps by an even bigger publisher than the previous book. I understand he's already working on his third novel.

Two months ago, I completed copy editing a novel written by another lawyer. It was his first novel...but not his first attempt at writing. He was a journalist with the New York Times for several years in the mid seventies to early eighties. I understand he's already working on his next novel.

Both these lawyers are superb writers. Is that mere coincidence? Do lawyers go to the Writing School of Scott Turow or the John Grisham Academy of Writing? Do they have so much "downtime" to work out plots and characters, all the while interspersing some good courtroom scenes and downright nasty lawyer behaviors in their books?

I know another lawyer -- a former lawyer -- who no doubt was very good at his job. But he also heard the calling to be a writer. Not only is he a writer for himself, he is a writer for others: a ghostwriter... And let me tell you, he is another superb writer.

I'm fascinated by these lawyer-writers I've been dealing with. And apparently legal fiction writing is a big deal, even offering writing symposiums.

And then, some lawyers become not just writers, but bloggers:

After (Billable) Hours, Lawyers Moonlight as Bloggers

By Cameron Stracher

The recent disclosure (by the New York Observer) that the anonymous legal blogger Opinionista is 27-year-old former law-firm associate Melissa Lafsky -- following the recent disclosures (by the New Yorker and the New York Times) that former prosecutor David Lat was the voice behind the blog Underneath their Robes and that former Harvard law student Jeremy Blachman penned the blog Anonymous Lawyer -- raises a question. Are all lawyers secret bloggers, frustrated writers or both? More important, should they keep their day jobs?

Lawyers and blogging go together like witches and stoning. According to a survey conducted by, lawyers ranked fourth among both readers and posters to blogs. Many of the best- known blogs, such as, are run by lawyers. It's easy to understand why blogging attracts the J.D. set: Few professions combine as much creative talent with so much mind-numbing work.

Each year thousands of otherwise perfectly normal college graduates with perfectly worthless degrees in the humanities venture into law school in the hope of landing a paying job that requires no science and little math. Many have been encouraged by college counselors who have told them that law school will "keep their options open" -- code for delaying the inevitable for another three years -- and it pays better than academia.

Law schools feed this myth because they need paying customers, even as the members of their own faculty are refugees from the very firms to which they are sending their students. Upon graduation, however, many students find that the entry-level jobs they get are little more than glorified secretarial positions. Sure, they pay well, but how many paper clips can you remove from a stack of documents before you start questioning your entire existence?

In the dark hours, writing seems like a natural escape. It's what most lawyers do (when they're not reviewing documents), and though blogging is very different from drafting a prospectus, it's close enough to fool many lawyers into trading one form of verbiage for another. Writing a blog can also be done in secret, on your own time (or during office hours if you're careful), and it is potentially lucrative (if you can get some ads or make a name for yourself). For many lawyers, writing is also their true love, a dream they had before financial concerns and parental pressure drove them into drudgery. Some turn to nonfiction, hoping to transform their legal meanderings into punditry. Others (myself included) seek to channel their inner McInerney by penning the next great American novel, or at least a best seller.

The first generation of lawyer/writers, like Scott Turow and John Grisham, were able to blend law and writing (even now, Mr. Turow practices part-time). The second generation seems to want only to avoid practicing law at all costs. Mr. Lat, for example, essentially forced his employer to dismiss him by posting comments about some of the judges before whom he appeared (though he denies that he was fired). He now writes for the blog, a Washington gossip site made notorious by Ana Marie Cox. Mr. Blachman wrote screeds in the voice of a fictional law firm partner that effectively made him unemployable by any major firm, then unveiled himself to the Times. His novel will be published this summer by Henry Holt. Ms. Lafsky told the New York Observer that she outed herself to "forc[e] myself to really make a career in writing work." In January she signed with a literary agent at ICM and quit her day job. She is writing a novel.

We should applaud their efforts to escape a profession that has one of the lowest levels of job satisfaction. If money is the goal, though, these lawyers might be more successful if they played the lottery. Legal-thriller writer Lisa Scottoline once told me that she wrote her first book as a way to earn some money following a divorce. She succeeded in spite of her naïveté.

Most writers will not see a cent from their efforts. Those who do will quickly realize that they cannot survive on books alone. Instead, law will pay their bills while they toil in obscurity, learning a cold, cruel lesson about the realities of the publishing industry: It takes more than a cup of coffee and a laptop to write a good book.

It also takes more than a blog. While the breathless form of the Web diary might work to titillate readers as they surf during their lunch hour -- particularly when the author is anonymous and dangerous (to himself, if not to anyone else) -- holding a reader's attention over the course of 300 pages requires a different skill entirely. The same unattributed gripes and gossip feel random and weightless strung together page after page (one reason perhaps that Ms. Cox's novel has not been particularly successful). Quotidian blog entries succumb to what the late author Frank Conroy called "abject naturalism," the agglomeration of details devoid of larger structure. Without a clear narrative thread, a blog is simply sound and fury, signifying nothing but misplaced ambition.

Good writing, contrary to the advice of your creative writing teacher, is about more than what you know. The world these writers are trying so desperately to flee is not a world any of us would want to visit for more than five pages: the overbearing boss, the dehumanizing office, the mindless drudgery. It might have worked for Kafka, but only after he turned himself into a cockroach.

The lawyer/writers who have succeeded -- Mr. Turow, Mr. Grisham, Ms. Scottoline and a handful of others -- have done so because their worlds are so unlegal, or illegal. After all, it's not every new associate who finds that his law firm is controlled by the mob (as was Mr. Grisham's in "The Firm") or every Supreme Court clerk who is tricked and then blackmailed into disclosing pending decisions (as was Brad Meltzer's in the "The Tenth Justice") or every defense attorney who has to represent her professed twin sister (as in Ms. Scottoline's "Mistaken Identity"). Law is just an excuse for a venue in these books, not its raison d'être.

Unlike unhappy families, unhappy lawyers are all unhappy in the same way. A happy lawyer, now there's a story worth telling. Start a blog!

-- Mr. Stracher is publisher of the New York Law School Law Review and author of "Double Billing: A Young Lawyer's Tale of Greed, Sex, Lies and the Pursuit of a Swivel Chair I just need to know if being a blogger and a writer...will automatically make me a good lawyer???

"Bonjour Monsieur Shlomi"

I just finished watching this film with my husband. As I've said before, I'm sure, he and I have trouble agreeing on films. I'd taken this one from the library a couple weeks back and waited for a time that we could watch it together.

My husband agreed to watch it tonight, but preempted me with a warning that he didn't think he'd sit and watch the entire thing...thinking he probably wouldn't enjoy it.

HA! He had to eat his words -- he enjoyed it, as did I. This Israeli film, which was distributed just three short years ago, is very enjoyable -- somewhat sad, somewhat funny.

It had been released to mixed reviews throughout the U.S. and Canada, as I discovered on the Internet, but my review is that I give it 4 stars out of 5. By the way, the Hebrew name for the movie is "HaKochavim shel Shlomi," which translates to "Shlomi's Stars."

Yes, stars figure in the story line. And something else I noticed from the onset of the movie is that the color BLUE figures throughout, as well. The stars, and the color blue, are later mentioned by a central character in the film, so these were meant as metaphors.

If you don't mind subtitled films, I (and my husband) highly recommend this one.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

A Place to Hang One's Hat

Shavuah Tov, everyone. Sometimes brilliant ideas come to mind over Shabbat; you can't write them just have to hope you remember them -- for your blog! -- for when Shabbat is out. Lucky I just remembered that something today triggered an idea for a post...

I was looking at an item in my armoire today and noticed the label. Made in China for some corporation located in...CITY OF INDUSTRY, CALIFORNIA.

What the heck kind of name is that? It sounds so Orwellian, so "1984" as in "Big Brother is watching." It doesn't sound real, so I just decided to look it up. It's a real place with real history, real people, and, of course, real industry.

And then I thought of other "odd" names of places I've heard or seen.

The one that stands out for me the most is INTERCOURSE, PENNSYLVANIA. It lies in the heart of Amish country, and is a tourist attraction...probably simply 'cause of the name. I was there many, many years ago with very frum Yeshivish cousins of mine and we toured a homestead. When I got to the gift shop, I decided I had to add to my slogan button collection. Up to that point, for all the years I'd collected buttons, I'd never purchased one, aside from perhaps giving a donation to a cause to get one. But I just HAD to buy this one: "ASK ME ABOUT INTERCOURSE." (Of course that button just got shoved into a box in my cupboard along with the rest of the collection; I was never brave enough to wear it on a shirt...just to get a reaction from people).

I also read this about the town:

This is the name of a small town in the heart of the Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster County. It is mostly a tourist attraction in the summer. There are lots of small shops and there is also an old hardware store that the Amish people frequent.

It is not hard to find but you cannot find any road signs directing you there. They are stolen as fast as they can be put up so the road dept. doesn't buy them anymore.

While there, I also picked up a free newspaper "The Intercourse News" -- I'd always wanted to copy that banner and design my own newspaper with its own sections and headings, writing up my own fun, and salacious articles. It would've been so appropriate in later years when I worked for the world's largest and most popular romance publisher, don't you think?

There's somewhere in the country we go to via a smaller rural highway. I pass signs for MOON RIVER, and of course Dean Martin starts serenading me in my mind...or is it Andy Williams? I used to watch both their shows...and I'm guessing they both sang that song.

I've also passed a sign for GO HOME LAKE. C'mon, now what kind of message are you giving tourists in Ontario when you have a sign like that? Upon seeing the sign, no doubt people can often be heard murmuring, "WHAT?! We just got here! Harumph, seems as if we're not wanted 'round these parts..."

I just looked up the name of that lake...and apparently the name doesn't just stop with a lake.

Fur traders would meet on Go Home Lake at the end of the season to "go home", hence the name. Go Home Lake is approximately 5 miles long and ranges from a 1/2 to 3/4 miles wide. Its length runs in a north-south orientation. The lake is fed at its most northern point by the Moon River. Go Home Lake empties into the Gibson River at the south end of the lake as well as into the Go Home River at the north end of the lake.

You're really not wanted if Go Home Lake becomes Go Home River. There's probably a sign somewhere at the foot of the river that says simply: GO HOME.

(And it was merely coincidence that Moon River played into this description too. I didn't quite remember where I'd seen these signs, and that they were anywhere close to one another, but apparently these place names made such an impression on me, didn't they?)

I've not been to this place; it chills me to think it even exists with this name.

This is fun to look at; so is this. And if you've got nothing better to do, why not visit, BORING, OREGON? Or even better, COME BY CHANCE, NEWFOUNDLAND? And if it's too cold where you are, pop in to HELL, TEXAS. Don't get lost in LOONEYVILLE, WEST VIRGINIA! And WHY, ARIZONA might be what you ask after your trip!

If any of you have a personal experience with or knowledge of an odd place name, why not share it with us? (the experience couldn't possibly be any weirder than the name!)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Women in Tights -- Part 2

Back in the fall -- October 26 , to be exact -- I wrote a post about my love affair with tights.

Even though today is springlike with milder temperatures, the sun warm and lovely, and the snow melting all around, I'm wearing a pair of tights. And not just any pair. Not just solid black or cocoa brown as are my other pairs. I'm wearing a pair that makes me look as if my legs have intricate hennaed designs on them; a pair that makes me look as if I belong to some little-known African tribe who tattoo their arms and legs.

I feel good in these tights, even if they do make me stand out in a crowd.

This a.m. I went to visit my father in the hospital (it's his 9th week being there), and as he was sitting in a chair, I sat on the bed. The bed had just been freshly made and thus was elevated, so I sat there with my feet dangling, my feet not touching the floor...something I probably haven't been able to do since I was very young. I've always been tall, with long legs.

My father said, "Why don't you go sit in the other chair."

As I sat there and swung my legs back and forth, I said, "No, that's okay. I feel like a little kid up here."

He took a look at my tights then and said, "YOU JUST WANT TO SHOW OFF YOUR LEGS!" father still knows his to make his little girl smile. :)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Art of Multi-Tasking

It's after 11 p.m. and I'm still right here at the computer. But I'm proud of myself 'cause I'm multi-tasking.

1. I'm drinking coffee.

2. I'm checking in to my three email addresses every now and again.

3. I'm listening to Internet radio, a "lite jazz" station from Tampa. For all the hours I spend at the computer, you'd think I'd remember there's such a thing called Internet radio. Nuh-uh...but somehow tonight I remembered and searched for some light background music to listen to as I do my work.

4. I'm inputting editorial corrections to a manuscript that I'm copy editing. This has to be in California tomorrow as promised.

5. I'm reading blogs every now and again.

6. I'm letting the dog in and out of the room, as necessary.

7. And I'm posting on my own blog.

Okay, you might think I'm not multi-tasking, just being distracted by many things. Okay, then you're right. But I'm always distracted, so this time 'round I thought I'd give it a fancier title: multi-tasking. (Wait, I have to close the office door; the dog just walked in, circled the room and left again to get attention elsewhere.)

Guess it's back to just the music and the manuscript now -- investment tips and money management for retirees. I have a few years yet till I officially retire, but I can squirrel away the ideas until then. If I would squirrel away ideas from all the books I've ever edited and copy edited, I'd really be distracted, wouldn't I? Hmmm... another potential idea for MULTI-TASKING!

Haiku for Windows

[Rabbi Neil, perhaps you'll like these...]

Haiku poem version of Windows In Japan. Sony Vaio machines have replaced the impersonal and unhelpful Microsoft error messages with their own Japanese haiku poetry:


Windows NT crashed.
I am the Blue Screen of Death.
No one hears your screams.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A file that big?
It might be very useful.
But now it is gone.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Web site you seek
Can not be located
but Countless more exist
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
ABORTED effort:
Close all that you have worked on.
You ask way too much.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Yesterday it worked
Today it is not working
Windows is like that.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen
dies so beautifully.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
With searching comes loss and the presence of absence:
"My Novel" not found.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The Tao that is seen
Is not the true Tao,
until You bring fresh toner.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Stay the patient course
Of little worth is your ire
The network is down
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
A crash reduces your expensive computer to a simple stone.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Three things are certain:
Death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Out of memory.
We wish to hold the whole sky,
But we never will.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Having been erased,
The document you're seeking
Must now be retyped.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Tefillat Ha-Derech for Web Surfers

Apparently, these days there's a prayer for just about anything!

Westminster Dog Show...A Look in Pictures

Bill Cosby's winning Dandie Dinmont, named Harry.

All dressed up and no place to go...

A Bedlington Terrier. (the first time I ever saw this breed of dog, sitting in a car and waiting for its owner, I was 9 months pregnant. I burst out laughing so hard, I thought I was going to go into premature labor!)

Old English Sheepdog...with a Bouffant!

A Hungarian Puli. (aka Rasta Dog)

Happy President's Day

How the heck do I know it's President's Day in the U.S., when I usually don't even know what today's date is?!
When I worked full-time as a copy editor, and had daily work to complete, date-stamping everything kept me in check of the day/date. Now that I'm home, and simply doing the odd freelancing, days of the week blur from one to the other.
If it weren't for having to keep track of my children's many extra-curricular activities, and their lunch programs at school...and having the school calendar at arm's length, I'd be COMPLETELY in the dark.
Guess I can also say if it weren't for blogging and hitting the Publish button, and seeing the time and date that gets printed along with a post, I'd also be out in left field.
In any case, I hope you Americans have a wonderful extra day off from work. Come to think of it, I guess some of you have disappeared from reading blogs (read: MY BLOG) this past weekend because you've taken advantage of your three-day weekend and gone off to explore your world or do things with your family. Hope that's been fun.
What do I associate President's Day with? you ask.
I associate it with sales, with mid-season markdowns. Hmmm, maybe I should've traveled to Buffalo this weekend, simply to hit the stores for those mid-season markdowns. Yeah, right, me and thousands of other people -- Canadians and Americans both! (BTW, did I tell you I hate crowds...especially when shopping!)
I do remember being in NYC many years ago, staying with a friend. We'd gone into the city together from Brooklyn, where she lived, and had gone to a couple department stores. She had to leave me to head off to work, and I was left to my own devices to shop and find my way back to the city's outskirts.
What did I end up buying? Well, seeing as it was post-Valentine's Day, and President's Day, many items were being cleared and marked down. In the cosmetics department of one of the larger department stores, I found a gift hat box filled with... Epilady products.
The gift package looked so inviting--plied high guessed it, an Epilady shaver, a facial sauna, moisturizing creams and the like. I believe I paid $60 U.S. for it, thinking it was a bargain. The Epilady, at that time, was still just a few years old and quite the novelty, and it had an Israeli patent, so I was supposedly doing myself -- and my unwanted body hair -- a favor, and doing Israel a favor by buying it.
Then I happily shlepped my oversized purchase back to Brooklyn. And if I remember correctly, no doubt it also became my hand-luggage on my flight back to Toronto.
Well, what the heck was I thinking buying an Epilady shaver for my legs?! I might as well have bought a Weed Wacker (tm)...or even paid for a few sessions of "Rip My Hair Out By The Roots" with a master esthetician -- same difference.
I think the shaver was used twice, the facial sauna was used twice...and they got pushed away into an under-the-sink bathroom cabinet. (okay, they moved with me from my parents' home, to my first "married" apartment, to our first married home and now to our second married home....but still lay low in the master bathroom cabinet.) Every now and again, I take the items out, stare at them and think, "What the heck was I thinking, spending $60 U.S. on this stuff?!"
Does anyone think I might be able to sell "one gently used Epilady shaver" and "one barely steamed-up facial sauna" on Ebay? These are the original designs, you understand. I MUST be able to get something for that!
In any case, I associate my Epilady products with President's Day... Hey, maybe after I hit Publish, I should head to my master bathroom, open that bathroom cabinet door, and take out the Epilady products -- in honor of the holiday.
Happy President's Day, (Epilady) friends...and fellow bloggers!

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Jacob Feldman and the Netivot Hatorah Choir - Ani Ma'amin

"Ani Ma'amin."

This was the highlight feature of the Netivot Choir's performance at Toronto's recent Zimriya Festival. My daughter is in her third year with the choir. This boy, Jacob, is in grade 5.
Isn't he gifted?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Bag Lady

I like to go grocery shopping late on Thursday nights -- first, I go to one supermarket, which closes at ten o'clock. I help close it...and then....I go to another supermarket, which closes at eleven o'clock. I help close that one too.

Yes, there's still produce, there's still Kosher meat, there are still baked goods or freshly-baked goods available, so I'm not usually missing anything as I buy my last-minute items for Shabbat, the weekend and the early part of the following week.

But tonight I was I looked down at myself, standing in the fruits and vegetable section of the first store. I tore off from a roller some plastic bags to use to bag the fruits I'd selected. I separated the bags at the perforations and then... I attempted to open them one by one.

I stood like like an idiot, trying to find the seam for the opening. If you looked over at me, you'd have seen a woman in a heavy-duty-good-for-the-Arctic-or-in-this-case-Toronto-weather parka standing and looking as if she was just rubbing her hands together, trying to warm them; she might've even looked as if she was rubbing two sticks together in a natural attempt to make fire. No, not at all. She was just trying to get the damn plastic (equivalent plastic of Israel's "sakeet nylon") bag open!

I become very self-conscious in a situation like this and often attempt to make small talk with the people around me: "Can you get these bags open?" "How do you get these bags open?" "Could you please get this bag opened for me?"

Unfortunately, tonight there was nobody worthy of approaching in the fruits and veggies section, and I had to become self-reliant and manage the bag on my own. At one point, I was tempted to just hurl the nectarines I'd picked into the shopping cart -- to hell with the bags.

But I persevered and did manage...slowly but get the several bags I needed open.

Hmmm. Have I given the term "bag lady" a new meaning...?

All in the Name of Love

I noticed a strange phenomenon in my blog statistics over the past several days. The numbers of visits (okay, so it wasn't the number of comments; I can live with that... I think!) went up... I mean WAYYYYYYYYYYYYYY UPPPPPPPPPPP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Daily visits and page views were the hundreds category, something I'd never seen. A couple times when I checked, and looked under "last hour," it said 147. "Why the sudden 'growth spurt'?" I wondered. "Is it a kind of SPAM?"

And then I probed further and realized that my blog had been found via a particular image when GOOGLEd.

That image?

Of course...Valentine's Day. Love. Sweethearts. Candy.

People were planning and looking ahead to Valentine's Day, seeking out images and messages on the Internet, and in doing so, "found" my blog.

It's interesting to note that the image in question was posted on my blog a year ago today -- February 15, 2006.

And now that the day of romance is over, so is the romance with my stats. Yes, I'm mentally prepared to see the numbers slope back down...but I don't have to like it!

And here's what singer-guitarist B.B. King has to say about all this:

The thrill is gone
The thrill is gone away
The thrill is gone, baby
The thrill is gone away
You know you done me wrong, baby
And you'll be sorry someday

The thrill is gone
It's gone away from me
The thrill is gone, baby
The thrill is gone away from me
Although I'll still live on
But so lonely I'll be

The thrill is gone
It's gone away for good
Oh, the thrill is gone, baby
Baby, it's gone away for good
Someday I know I'll be over it all, baby
Just like I know a [woman] should..."

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Strike a Pose

I took this photo from a subsection of the photo gallery of the Houston Chronicle, entitled "Fashion We Don't Understand."

So true.

I was looking at a fashion magazine that came into the house today. It did nothing for me except made me roll my eyes.

What kind of bizarre designs are these haute couture designers coming up with? For whom are they meant? Aliens, no doubt. 'Cause not too many earthlings can be seen in some of the wilder designs that are strutted on the world's most renowned fashion runways.

I always wonder to myself: Who is going to wear this? Where are they going to wear this? And to top off some of the more elaborate and flamoyant looks are the hair and the makeup. Okay, I guess NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD makes for a eye-catching look, and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN tresses help birds find places to nest, if necessary.

From some of the major fashion houses, we are getting designs that must require detailed handbooks on how to wear these clothes and where to wear them. I don't call them clothes, I'm sorry. I think they are costumes and should be referred to as such.

The designers are actually costume makers, wardrobe men and women. Some of the looks are fitting for a futuristic movie made in 1952, or for the circus, or simply for the garbage.

I can't help that I appreciate a classic, lasting look in my clothes designs... And I can't help but think that most of the models out there on runways and in fashion spreads and fashion advertorials are actually ugly. Their inner beauty and external beauty is marred by hideous teased hair, charcoal-outlined eyes that make these women and young girls look like those famous clown pictures that were so popular in the late sixties and early seventies, and just plain ugly clothes.

My mother owns a Victor Skrebneski pictorial book; he is the photographer of the Estee Lauder print campaigns, or was (not sure if he's still alive and still doing them). He captured classic beauties adorned in classic wear. His photos made me smile. Many of today's photos of models and what they represent are not worth a second look, except if one wants to see how "freakish" ought to be defined.

I prefer that you give me a simple and practical clothing design. Give me a design within my budget. And give that design a model who can strike a STRIKING pose while wearing it.

That is fashion at its finest.

Ain't This Post the Cat's Meow?!

I've directed you before to Quinn Cummings's blog, The QC Report.

Quinn is funny, and as precocious an adult as she was a child actor. Her writing leaves you very amused, and wanting to read more about her and her world.

We now interrupt this regularly scheduled blog to bring you this special post...written by Quinn, produced by Quinn.

Feel the burn.

When last we saw Lulabelle the cat, she was eating wet food and bringing sexy back with the external hard drive. I think even the most churlish among us would consider this a December well-spent, for a cat.

But, as many of us find out every year, winter calories don’t just go out with the molting brown Christmas tree sometime in January, to be picked up by the Fat Sanitation department, to be shredded into cellulite mulch which can be packed around Nicole Ritchie in order to keep her warm. No, winter fat is more like a gopher, wrecking the stability of your lawn of self-esteem, eating the tubers of your hope for wearing shorts this spring.

[Note to self: Read Sunset magazine only after writing blog.]

I don’t know exactly what happened. Maybe Lulabelle noticed she was grooming a few more inches of stomach than she had been last summer. Maybe she saw a candid snapshot from Christmas and mistook herself for an ottoman. Possibly some kind neighborhood cat clued her in to how our new nickname for her, “La gata gorda grande” did not, in fact, translate as “Walks the runway for Oscar de la Renta”. Whatever did it, by the first week of January, Lulabelle was clearly on an exercise regimen. I respected her discipline and maturity. She didn’t strap on a pair of running shoes and try for five miles the first morning, only to turn her delicate ankle and head back to the loving embrace of the hard drive. No, Lulabelle works out in a smart and measured way for forty-five minutes to an hour every day.

Oh, did I say day? I meant night.

It goes like this. Night falls, the humans read and watch a little television. Eventually, we turn out the lights and, inexplicably, attempt to sleep. The cat, on the other hand, fresh as a cat food-scented daisy from an entire day of sleeping, views the bedroom light going as the cue to start stretching out her hamstrings. Within minutes, she’s doing time-trials through the house in pursuit of her prey. And what is her prey, you might ask? Is it one of the literally dozens of toys which have been bought for no other purpose than to cause her feline delight?

Have you ever met a cat?

Her great pleasure is throwing, stalking, pouncing on and then killing Daughter’s fuzzy ponytail holders. Having had a few weeks of late nights to contemplate this new avocation, I think I’ve discovered their appeal. They are little enough to be thrown and then carried around after you kill them. The fuzziness means they hang on to your claws, seemingly mocking you by refusing to die. Best of all, their very smallness means no matter how hard Quinn looks, no matter how certain she might be that she’s found every rogue ponytail holder in the house, Lulabelle can always find one more for the 3:45 am “Stretch and Tone” class she has devised for herself.

What I don’t understand is how a cat who, even Super-sized, still weighs less than twelve pounds, can make so much noise. Wouldn’t you think an animal genetically wired to be a killing machine would skulk? Every night is the Running of the Bulls at Pamplona here, only with trash-talking. Because when one catches her intended prey of North American Pink-Breasted Ponytail Holder, one wishes to let everyone know. Since I speak basic Cat, not idiomatic Cat, I can only guess, but the yowls and yodels could probably be safely translated as “…who’s your kitty-daddy, chump?”

This leads effortlessly into an aria I like to call “All hair-holders bow down before me”. This is usually around the time I come staggering into the living room. Lulabelle, understandably frightened by the homunculus with closed eyes lurching towards her, grabs her kill and takes off, leaping over the couch, sliding under the dining-room table, streaking through the bedrooms across people's heads. This is the circuit-training portion of her workout.God help me if I try to lock the Workout Queen out of the bedrooms. Unbeknownst to me, I am her exercise buddy, and Lulabelle will be damned if she’s going through all this by herself. She stands by the outside of the bedroom door.


QUINN: Hush, Lu.

A second of silence, where we all contemplate what an incredibly stupid thing I said.



A paw slides under the door, trying to wiggle the door open. Sensing this won’t work, the paw slides back. A moment later, there is the sound of a cat’s body throwing itself against the door.


Over the sound of her hurling herself against the door, I can hear Daughter sleepily saying “…Mommy?” and feel Consort thrashing into wakefulness. I give up, leap from the bed, and open the door. The cat, mid door-hurl, skids into the room. We stare at each other in the half-light until the cat sees something under the bed. With a crow of triumph, she darts under the bed.

The amount of noise she generates would indicate she has either trapped a wolverine under there, or she found a ponytail holder. I slide under the bed and, in the dark, differentiate the precious toy from a rubber band and a dust bunny. I wriggle back out from under the bed, walk to the door, and throw it into the living room. The cat races after it, screaming in joy and blood-lust. I get back into bed and am just drifting off to sleep, so I don’t hear the sound of tiny well-exercised feet walking up to my side of the bed.


On the plus side, I think the shadows under my eyes make me look mysterious, and the cat’s wearing jeans she hasn’t worn in years.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Leitz, (Leica) Camera, Action

New life through a lens

By Mark Honigsbaum

For me, a lot of this goes back to being a teenager, dribbling over photography magazines and fantasising about being Henri Cartier-Bresson. And then, on top of that, there’s the Jewish bit.” Frank Dabba Smith, rabbi of the Harrow and Wembley Progressive Synagogue in northwest London, is trying to explain what first drew him to photography.

It is a bright winter morning in Harrow on the Hill, but the curtains in Smith’s living room are drawn as he adjusts his slide projector. On one wall, a grainy shot of an ash-coated shop window near the World Trade Center site in New York, the dusty glass inscribed with the legend “Heros [sic] live forever”, jockeys for attention with portraits of Smith’s wife and his three children.

Finally, Smith is ready. He slots the first slide into place - a striking night-time image of a 1930s German factory complex, showing a series of linked blocks with the lights burning on every floor. On the main building, spelled out in giant neon capitals, is a sign that reads “ERNST LEITZ”.

“This is the factory in Wetzlar where Leitz manufactured the Leica camera and apprenticed young Jews who were victims of anti-Semitism,” explains Smith, an authority on the use of photography as a propaganda tool during the Holocaust. “Much of Wetzlar was destroyed by Allied bombing during the war, but somehow the factory survived.”

The next slide is from 1911. It shows Ernst Leitz II, then a vigorous 40-year-old, posing with his three children, Elsie, Ludwig and Ernst III, beneath a portrait of his father, Ernst I, the founder of the camera company.

But it is the following series of images that Smith, who has spent 15 years researching Leitz’s role in Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany, has brought me here to see. The first is a portrait of a local Wetzlar corn merchant, a Jew called Nathan Rosenthal. Dressed in a smart suit and waistcoat, he is seated beside his wife Else and their children Paul, then 14, and Gertrude. The year is 1929 and they look settled and contented, a picture of middle-class German respectability.

Next comes a shot of one of Leitz’s young Jewish apprentices, Kurt Rosenberg, beavering away at his workbench. This is followed by a slide showing Rosenberg’s original apprenticeship contract and a certificate with the date he completed his training and left Germany. The documents clearly show that Rosenberg was apprenticed at Wetzlar from 1933 to 1937, and emigrated on January 28 1938, setting sail for New York on a Hamburg-America Line steamer.

“Rosenberg’s is the strongest case of all because there’s a paper trail,” explains Smith. “Not only can we show that he was a Leitz apprentice, but we have proof that Leitz paid his passage to New York and later gave him a job in the Leica showroom on Fifth Avenue.”

According to Smith, both Rosenberg and Rosenthal’s son, Paul, were beneficiaries of a remarkable series of transports designed to spirit German Jews to freedom out of Nazi Germany. Now these convoys and the man who masterminded them are to finally get the recognition they deserve. This week, on February 9, the Anti-Defamation League, a non-profit group devoted to battling anti-Semitism, will present Ernst II’s granddaughter, Cornelia Kuhn-Leitz, with the Courage to Care Award, in recognition of Leitz’s role in helping at least 41 Jews to flee Germany during the Nazi persecution of the 1930s. In addition, Leitz is being credited with helping a further 23 people to circumvent Nazi laws aimed at punishing Jews and Germans related to Jews by marriage.

Past recipients of the ADL’s award include Jan and Miep Gies, who sheltered Anne Frank and her family, and Oskar Schindler, the Sudeten German industrialist who is estimated to have saved more than 1,200 Polish Jews from death in the Krakow ghetto. On the evidence available, the number of people Leitz helped was far smaller, but according to Smith, who has painstakingly pieced together the story of the Leica refugees, the risks the Wetzlar entrepreneur took were just as high.

Leitz’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of Wetzlar’s Jews began within days of Hitler’s rise to power in March 1933 and continued through Kristallnacht, the night in November 1938 when Jewish businesses and synagogues were systematically looted. Leitz’s secret campaign only ended in 1939, when Hitler’s invasion of Poland resulted in the closure of Germany’s borders.

Typically, young Jewish men like Rosenberg would be offered apprenticeships at Wetzlar. Then, after varying periods of training, they would be transferred to New York and put to work in the Fifth Avenue showroom or associated dealerships across the US. Leitz paid all the bills for their travel, and his executives furnished the refugees with letters of introduction and helped them obtain visas.

Incredibly, it is only now that the full story of the Leica escape routes is emerging. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that Leitz, a modest and close-lipped Protestant businessman, never spoke about the Nazi period in public, and even kept his good works secret from his family.

“One of the marks of the true altruist is that they don’t parade their works, they just get on with it,” says Smith. “From Ernst Leitz’s point of view, he was only doing what any decent person would have done in his position.”

It is hard to think of an invention that had a greater influence on the photographic record of the 20th century than the Leica. Launched at the 1925 Leipzig spring fair, Leica was one of the first cameras to combine high-quality lenses with a compact portable body. The brainchild of Oskar Barnack, a brilliant young mechanic whom Leitz had poached from rival company Carl Zeiss, this quintessentially German product revolutionised 35mm photography; by the 1930s, pictures taken on Leicas filled the pages of magazines such as Life and Picture Post.

But while leftist photographers like Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa were using Leicas to capture documentary-style images, the Nazis were using them for more sinister purposes. In August 1937, Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels, instructed news photographers that the “use and promotion of small modern cameras constitute[s] a duty inherent to their mission”. Two years later, he dispatched propaganda squads equipped with Leicas to the Warsaw ghetto to record the “degenerate” habits of the city’s Jews.

Leicas became a preferred vehicle for projecting idealised Nazi images of the “master race” - a trend particularly apparent in the consumer advertising from the period produced by the Leitz company itself, in which Aryan women balance on the end of diving boards as their blond infants frolic at the pool side. Indeed, on the face of it Leitz ran a model Nazi corporation, supplying Leicas to the Army and the Luftwaffe, and manufacturing the navigation gear for the V-2 rocket. Not only that, but in 1942 the Nazis forcibly conscripted hundreds of women slave labourers from the Ukraine to bolster military production at Wetzlar, a fact that prompted Holocaust survivors to file a class-action suit in 1998 against Leica and other leading German manufacturers such as Siemens and Daimler-Benz, accusing them of illegally profiting from Jewish and eastern-European slave labour. (In Leica’s case, the allegations were never proven. Nevertheless, in 1999 the German government and more than 100 German companies, including Leica, agreed to a compensation fund totalling $7.5bn.)

Was it really credible, wondered Smith, that at the same time as Leitz was supplying parts to the Nazis, he was rescuing Wetzlar’s Jews? And if so, how did he and his executives keep their activities hidden from the Gestapo?

Then there was the question of motive. Although Leitz had been a prominent member of the German Democratic Party before the war, in 1942 he joined the Nazis. Was Leitz, like Schindler, whose Krakow enamelware factory depended on Jewish slave labour and who many historians of the Holocaust argue was initially motivated by self-interest, a bit of an opportunist? Or was his Nazi-party membership a tactic, a way of allaying the Gestapo’s suspicions so that he could continue protecting his employees?

Smith makes an unlikely sleuth. A softly spoken Californian with receding, light-brown hair and Woody Allen-esque glasses, he has lived in London since the late 1980s and has a bookish innocence. He first began taking photographs as a schoolboy growing up in San Diego, and at 15 blew all his bar mitzvah money on his first Leica. His love affair hasn’t abated since. As a semi-professional photographer - he’s had more than 150 photographs published in The Economist - he favours the Leica MP and M6 rangefinder cameras and the latest Leica aspherical lenses.

Smith first heard about Leitz’s role in Jewish emigration from Nazi Germany when he was a student at Berkeley and came across a passing reference to the Leica apprentices in an article about Norman Lipton, the managing editor of Popular Photography magazine. As a 25-year-old, Lipton had worked in the advertising department at Leica’s offices on Fifth Avenue. From May 1938 to August 1940, he says he witnessed the arrival of scores of German Jewish refugees from the Wetzlar factory. According to Lipton, the refugees were processed by Alfred Boch, the company’s general manager and vice-president.

As Lipton was to recall in a subsequent magazine article: “I would see between 20 and 30 weary men and women lined up along the side wall of our large open ‘bullpen’ office. All carried luggage and a Leica camera around their necks. The line moved slowly in and out of Boch’s private office at the front of the room. The process was repeated every few weeks, following the alternate arrivals of the SS Bremen and SS Europa at the nearby Hudson River piers.”

Lipton claimed the refugees were then escorted to the nearby Great Northern hotel on West 57th street (now demolished) where they were housed and fed until jobs could be found for them at Leica and other camera businesses. “Day after day, Boch would be on the telephone trying to match their skills and training to job openings - at Kodak, Wollensack, Ilex, Univis and other upstate New York optical firms, as well as at camera stores, photofinishing laboratories, factories and business offices where their skills could be put to use.”

In 1967, Lipton set about tracing and interviewing his Jewish former co-workers with a view to publishing the tale in Reader’s Digest. But when he approached Gunther Leitz, the youngest of Leitz’s three sons (born after the 1911 photo), he received a surprising response. Over dinner at Haus Friedwart, the sumptuous mansion overlooking Wetzlar that Leitz had built in 1917, Gunther made it clear he didn’t want the story published in his lifetime. “My father did what he could because he felt responsible for his employees and their families and also for our neighbours,” he told Lipton. “He was able to act because the government needed our factory’s output. No one can ever know what other Germans had done for the persecuted within the limits of their ability to act.”

Lipton reluctantly agreed to Gunther’s request (indeed, his story in Photo International, from which the above details have been taken, did not appear until 1999, 30 years after Gunther’s death). Were it not for Smith, that might have been the end of the matter.

In 1991 Smith visited Wetzlar and toured the Leica factory. But it wasn’t until he stumbled on another reference to the Leica story - this time in an encyclopedia of Jewish photography - during a visit to New York in 1997 that he decided to contact Lipton. By now the editor was in his 80s and retired, although he was still living in New York and doing the occasional freelance job for photographic companies.

One of the first documents Lipton showed him was a letter from Nathan Rosenthal, the Wetzlar corn merchant, sent to Leitz from New York in February 1947. Rosenthal begins by recalling how the “Nazi criminals” forced him to flee to America in 1938. However, it was the next paragraph that caught Smith’s eye: “I shall always be grateful that when I pleaded my plight to you 14 days after Hitler’s rise to power, when my son Paul, who was in the upper fifth of the high school and who could no longer shield himself from the anti-Semitism of his teacher, you immediately accepted him into your firm without taking into account the political [consequences]. His training with you and later employment in your firm here [in New York] made a way for us to emigrate which would otherwise have been completely impossible.”

Lipton also handed Smith a letter from Henry Enfield, a Miami Beach camera dealer, dating from 1961. It explained how, in 1935, Enfield, who was then living in Frankfurt, had sent his son to England for safety, and how, after the boy finished school, Leitz had helped him to obtain an apprenticeship at Wallace & Heating, a prominent photographic dealer on Bond Street. In August 1938, three months before Kristallnacht, Enfield had approached Leitz for advice about liquidating his assets and relocating to the US. With the help of senior Leica executives, he obtained a visa from the US embassy in Stuttgart. Like Kurt Rosenberg, Enfield was also furnished with a letter of introduction to Leica’s New York office signed by Alfred Turk, Leica’s sales director. That transfer cost Leitz dearly: following Enfield’s departure, a spy at the Wetzlar factory leaked Turk’s letter to the Gestapo, and Turk was thrown in jail, forcing Leitz to travel to Berlin to negotiate - successfully - his release.

Smith was eager to question Rosenthal and Enfield further but both were dead. Nor was Paul Rosenthal very forthcoming. Smith didn’t give up. Instead, he wrote directly to the Leitz family, and got an immediate response from Knut Kuhn-Leitz, son of Leitz’s daughter Elsie.

Knut was seven years old when his mother was arrested for her own attempt to help a Wetzlar Jew, and he had vivid memories of the Gestapo bursting into their house while he and his sister were in the bath. Knut had been very close to his grandfather, but while they had spent many happy afternoons discussing the family business, Leitz never once mentioned Wetzlar’s Jewish apprentices or their escape. Now, Knut was curious to learn more and agreed to help Smith search the Wetzlar archives.

A sprightly 70-year-old with watery blue eyes, Knut no longer resides at Haus Friedwart - “it is too big, too drafty”, he says - but he still keeps an office there and visits nearly every day. Designed by the German architect Bruno Paul, the white-stone mansion is an unusual blend of styles, boasting a grand colonnaded portico and loggia, as well as a reception room with a carved wooden staircase offset by a figure of Christ and busts of three generations of Leitz males. However, the house’s most striking feature is its location. Built on the slopes of a medieval fortification known as the Kalsmunt, it sits directly above and behind the old Leica factory, as if keeping watch on the goings on below.

The house’s grandeur notwithstanding, Knut says his grandfather was a man of simple tastes. “His own room was small and spartan. He had maybe two suits, and used to wear the same hat every day. He was very warm, very approachable. He hated to see people suffer. Mentally, he was my protector. I knew that if something was wrong or needed changing, I could go to my grandfather and he would do it immediately.”

In hindsight, Knut says it is not surprising that Gunther forbade Lipton to write about his father’s good works. “My grandfather never put it into so many words but the family credo was ‘do good, but do not speak about it.’ If he were here now he would hate all this talk.”

After the war, Germany was racked by soul-searching and recrimination. Who was a Nazi and who wasn’t? And could ordinary Germans have done more to stand up to Hitler and oppose anti-Semitism? Those tensions would have been especially acute in a small town like Wetzlar.

Then there was Leitz’s Nazi party membership. One of the first documents uncovered was a detailed statement prepared by Leitz for a denazification trial court in Wetzlar in 1947. Reading it, one is struck by how painful the process must have been for him. Leitz begins by pointing out that in 1933 he had stood as a candidate for the German State Party and had “violently” attacked the national socialists, describing Hitler’s Sturm Abteilung troops as “brown apes”. Leitz goes on to say that he never departed from a “fundamental democratic attitude”, employing Jews at his factory throughout the 1930s and helping them to escape abroad. These acts of defiance had provoked the suspicions of the Gestapo and made him an “object of indignation” in the Nazi party. It was only when the Nazis had threatened to sack his senior managers and take over his factory that Leitz reluctantly agreed to join the party in order to avoid, as he put it, “the most extreme scenario”.

With characteristic understatement he concludes: “I was not only a passive member but resisted actively against the Nazi tyranny as far as my means allowed.”

Perhaps part of what Gunther meant when he told Lipton that no one could know what Germans had done for the persecuted “within the limits of their ability” was that his father wasn’t all that proud of his record and didn’t think he was in a position, as Smith puts it, “to lord it over anyone”.

In the preface to his Booker-prize winning account of Schindler’s life, Schindler’s Ark, the Australian novelist Thomas Keneally writes that it is easy to avoid bathos when describing evil, malice being a staple of fictional and historical narratives. By contrast, “it is a risky enterprise to have to write of virtue”.

Part of the problem is that acts of virtue - what today we would term altruism - are rarely as straightforward as they seem. Is it altruism that prompts mothers to make sacrifices on behalf of their children, or is their behaviour better explained by what evolutionary biologists would call the selfish furtherance of their genes? Similarly, when philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet donate billions to disease research, is it simply the poor of Africa they are hoping to make feel better or does it offer them some comfort, too?

We will never know what drove Leitz to take the risks he did - like Schindler he does not lend himself to what Keneally calls “easy character headings” - but we do not have to look far to see where he got his morality. Born in Baden in 1843 to a staunch Protestant family, Leitz’s father, Ernst I, had been groomed for a life of the cloth. In 1865, however, he decided to train as a mechanic, moving to Wetzlar to work at Carl Kellner’s Optical Institute. When Kellner died four years later, Ernst I took over the business, and quickly proved to be a progressive and enlightened employer, setting up one of Germany’s first company health insurance schemes.

In this respect, if not others, it seems that Ernst Leitz II, who joined the company in 1906, was very much his father’s son. Leitz made a point of learning the names of all Ernst I’s employees by heart. And when Ernst I died in 1920, and three years later hyperinflation threatened to erode employees’ earnings, Ernst II printed his own form of currency at Wetzlar and imported groceries from Denmark so that his workers wouldn’t go hungry.

The Leitz family’s reputation for humanitarianism might explain why, when Paul Rosenthal began to suffer anti-Semitism at school, Nathan appealed directly to Leitz, who enrolled Paul in a three-year sales training programme. And it also explains why, when the Nazis forced Paul’s father, Nathan, to close his corn business, Leitz rented warehouse space from him at a fair market price. The rental income eventually enabled the whole family to join Paul in New York.

Rosenthal concludes his 1947 letter by praising Leitz for the “sincerity” of his ideals, and tells him that his “exemplary works will exist for unlimited years to come”. He also wonders: “How many innumerable young Jewish people from Giessen, Frankfurt and Darmstadt did you train in your photo business during the Hitler period in order that they were able to earn a living on emigration without taking into account whether your assistance pleased the Nazis or not?”

It is a good question and one Smith has spent many hours puzzling. But in spite of publishing an article in the Leica Historical Society of America newsletter appealing for more apprentices and their families to come forward, Smith has so far been unable to substantiate Lipton’s claim to have witnessed as many as “20 to 30” refugees arriving at Leica New York “every few weeks”.

Smith’s conclusion is that Leitz did not set out to be a hero but simply responded “as and when something came up”. In other words, there was nothing calculating about his altruism.

But a wider question is why the Nazis tolerated Leitz’s activities at all. One answer is that in the 1930s, Hitler was desperate for hard currency, and Leica, with its lucrative overseas sales of microscopes and cameras, was an important source of foreign export earnings. This could also explain why, when Turk’s letter of recommendation to Enfield was intercepted by the Gestapo, Leitz was able to negotiate his release. (The Gestapo agreed, but only on condition that Turk resign from the company.) But Smith believes the main reason was that the Nazis feared that without Leitz at the helm, there was a danger production at the company would collapse, threatening their ability to source optics for the military.

“Ernst Leitz was utterly revered by his employees. The Nazis knew that without him, the whole sense of motivation, cohesiveness and precision at the factory would be gone,” Smith says. He has meanwhile discovered numerous other examples of Leitz’s good work, involving not only Jewish employees, but also Jewish members of the wider Wetzlar community as well as non-Jews related to Jews by marriage.

And just as Leitz was programmed to act in the way he did by his upbringing and the dictates of his conscience, so, it seems, was his daughter. In 1942, the first Ukrainian slave labourers began arriving at Wetzlar. Appalled by their living conditions, Elsie Leitz began visiting the camp and agitating for better food and clothing. Her visits irritated the Gestapo, and in May 1943, when the half-Jewish wife of a local optical-maker was caught attempting to flee across the German border into Switzerland, suspicion immediately fell on Elsie. Indeed, she had given the woman a map showing her the route across the border, as well as forbidden Swiss francs; Elsie was arrested and taken to Frankfurt. There is also evidence the Gestapo suspected Leitz of being in on the plot (the woman, Hedwig Palm, had hidden for several weeks at his sister’s house in Munich), but couldn’t prove it.

It took Leitz three months to secure Elsie’s release - a period that took its toll on both of them. Elsie was badly treated by the Gestapo while her father, by then in his 70s, suffered a stroke. Elsie spent the remainder of the war a virtual prisoner at Haus Friedwart. In a subsequent account of her arrest and imprisonment, she wrote that “it was the law of humanitarianism” that had provoked her into coming to the aid of her Jewish neighbour, and she “felt no reason for regret”.

Later, she threw herself into good works, supporting Dr Albert Schweitzer’s healing of the sick in Africa and promoting Germany’s efforts at reconciliation. Leitz, meanwhile, got on with what he did best: making cameras.

I ask Smith to show me a picture of Leitz in later life, after his secret transports, after his daughter’s imprisonment, after US troops arrived in Wetzlar and liberated his factory. The Californian flicks through his slide carousel before alighting on a favourite. Taken on Leitz’s 80th birthday, it shows an elderly, frail man walking into the Wetzlar factory on the arm of Dr Theodor Heuss, president of the Federal Republic of Germany. Leitz’s face is in shadow, obscured by an oversized trilby hat. The year was 1951. Five years later he was dead.
Now that Smith knows the lengths that Leitz went to help Wetzlar’s Jews and what he and Elsie suffered, why does he think Leitz never mentioned his efforts to Knut?

Smith doesn’t reply immediately but walks over to the window and parts the curtains. From his living room you can see clear across northwest London. “Perhaps it’s like some survivors of the Shoah,” he says eventually. “They rarely discussed it with their children either for fear they would drown in it. When you’ve been through a trauma like that you just want to get on with living life.”


At 5am on February 12 1938 Kurt Rosenberg rushed upstairs to the deck of the Hansa.
The Hamburg-America Line steamer was about to dock at the Hudson River pier, and Rosenberg, a 22-year-old camera mechanic from Wetzlar, was eager to capture the moment on his new Leica.

“The boat was sailing at half-power into the New York harbour,” he later wrote to his parents in Frankfurt. “Right and left, thousands of lights, and in front of us the skyscrapers of Manhattan.” Unfortunately it was too dark to take pictures and the moment went unrecorded. But Rosenberg was able to take numerous other photographs in the US, making his life the best documented of any Leitz refugee.

Rosenberg was brought to Wetzlar by his father Georg on April 25 1933, five weeks after Hitler’s rise to power. While there, he learned how to repair microscopes and cameras. At first, Georg, a Jewish banker and German war hero, refused to accept the need to emigrate. But in 1938, with the Nazi persecution of Jews intensifying, he relented.

Leitz immediately furnished Kurt Rosenberg with a letter of introduction to the New York office and a ticket for his passage. Like other Leitz refugees, Rosenberg also received a new Leica camera as security in case of financial difficulty - hard currency couldn’t be taken out of Germany, but Leicas, which were readily exchangeable for cash, could.

On arrival in New York, Rosenberg was taken to the Leica showroom on Fifth Avenue, where he was put to work in the repair room. However, the following day Customs paid him a surprise visit - despite Rosenberg having the correct papers, there were evidently suspicions about him - and he was subsequently transferred to Leitz’s San Francisco office “since not only my fate but also that of the company was on the line”.

By now the situation in Germany was worsening, and Rosenberg began sending urgent telegrams and affidavits to his parents. On November 9 1938 - Kristallnacht - the Nazis looted Jewish business across Germany and Georg was thrown in Buchenwald. Although he was later released due to his age, in 1941 he was deported to the Lodz ghetto, where he died in 1942.

In 1943 Rosenberg volunteered for the US Army. His ambition was to be an air-reconnaissance photographer but, on April 20 1944 the troopship on which he was travelling was torpedoed in the Mediterranean, and he was killed along with 500 other US serviceman. He was just 28.

In all, Rosenberg left more than 1,000 photographs recording his journey from Wetzlar and his new life in the US - an invaluable archive now in the possession of his family.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Hey, Mel, Any Chance You're Out There Reading This?

"I have worked with some of the most talented producers, directors and actors in Hollywood. I would trade every one of them to work with Mel Brooks. Sigh."

-- Robert J. Avrech,

February 5, 2007

Mamale Cass

I was born in 1961, and from an early age, I was into music. It would be primarily the songs and singer of the late sixties that left early impressions. (okay, aside from "Hello, Dolly", which I loved and sang when I was about five years old)

Because my oldest son is into the classic rock of the sixties and seventies, and the music is heard throughout the house and car - "Put on Q107" is the oft-repeated request -- I often have flashbacks when I hear certain songs or hear the deejay make reference to songs and singers of that era.

Denny Doherty, from The Mamas and Papas, died in mid-January in a suburb just west of Toronto. I'd had no clue he lived in our vicinity, and had no clue he was Canadian-born (Halifax, Nova Scotia.) Of course, radio stations began to play the music of Denny's famous band, The Mamas and the Papas.

Around the time of Doherty's death, my son and I had to go to the library for a research book for an assignment of his. We were in the music section, and I found a "Jews in Music" book for him to sign out and peruse. But I found myself perusing the book, too.

The most common refrain from my mouth was "I didn't know ________ was/is Jewish!"

The most common refrain from my son's mouth was "__________ from ____________ is Jewish" and he proceeded to share some Jewish related tidbit of info given about the named performer.

On this musical journey through the book, I made a discovery that sort of blew my mind. Maybe you're all in the know already, and I'm just slow on the uptake, but I found out that Ellen Naomi Cohen was better known as Mama Cass Elliot. Is this news, or what?!

She stood out for me in my musical memories; this overly large woman who helped make mumus popular in the mid to late sixties, and helped make The Mamas and Papas popular, had always been a source of wonderment for me. And when she died, supposedly eating a ham sandwich while in London, I recalled that too.

Apparently, she didn't choke on a ham sandwich...and apparently Cass Elliot gave birth to a daughter in 1967, never revealing publically the name of the child's father.

There is a site that talks about Jews in music. It features a wonderful piece on Mama Cass Elliot, and Cass's daughter, Owen, maintains a website about her late mother.

Somewhere, no doubt, Mama Cass Elliot is belting out "Dream a Little Dream of Me."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I Could've Written This...

Several weeks ago my mother passed along an article that she'd cut out from a local, monthly Orthodox Jewish paper. She knew I would appreciate it. She knew that I could sort of relate to it. She knew that she sort of could too.

I'm typing it now for you, simply because... it is beautiful, even if sad.


My dear father, incredibly bright, wise and understanding, is now struggling to recover from an operation just one week ago that removed a large, cancerous tumor from deep inside his brain. If only I had known that I would not be able to communicate with my father after the surgery, I certainly would have made sure to lengthen and deepen our prior phone conversations. Though I made every effort after Rosh Hashanah -- during my short visit to Los Angeles -- to savor the precious moments we shared together, these days it doesn't at all seem like I valued my father's companionship enough.

When we were finally allowed to enter the recovery room after the surgery -- which took almost a day to complete after many more days of preparation, with multiple doctors' appointments, testing of the brain and bodily functions -- my father ever so sweetly apologized to my siblings and me for not being able to remember our names. Though at that time he was still able to recognize us, his voice and behavior stung of change and more change to come. Little did I realize, though, that the loving caresses he gave me on my cheek after I kissed his hand that day would be the last interaction we would share that week. I have replayed that poignant moment countless times in my mind.

The brain, with its storage of memories, identifies our unique selves, our history and our world. When the tumor first made its ugly way into our lives, it gradually took over my father's short-term memory. But we were comforted, knowing that his long-term memory had not been damaged. But now it is different. We are just a bunch of strangers to my father. Even my mother, after 50 years of marriage is painfully unrecognized by her husband.

I cry to Hashem -- I want my father back! The doctors and nurses reassure us that some patients go through this stage after brain surgery, and that some do snap out of it. At least a few days ago we were able to say that my father's behavior was probably due to the medication or the swelling of the brain following surgery. But now that he is off those medications, we can only face the hard facts. We must turn to Hashem, and wait with humility for the outcome.

Let us look at the special people in our lives and appreciate the gift of their presence. It's a gift that comes with no guarantees, a gift which is both given and returned by the swift movement of a secret key, held only by the One Above.

I hope readers could kindly make time to help us shake the heavens, so that Hashem might return to my wonderful father his memory and his health. The name to daven for is Gavriel ben Vilca.