Thursday, April 08, 2021

Yom Ha-Shoah - Mordekhai Falkon (originally published on April 25, 2006)

(Originally published on Tuesday, April 25, 2006)

Since today is Yom Ha-Shoah - the day of remembrance of the Holocaust - I thought I would mention briefly my grandfather's uncle, Mordekhai Falkon, who was murdered by the Nazis in Liepaja, Latvia (known also as Libau, Latvia), in the summer of 1941. Mordekhai corresponded with my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses, from the mid-1930s through March 18, 1940 (just before the Russian conquest of Latvia). My grandfather was a doctor, living in Boston, Massachusetts, with my grandmother and their two children. He was contacted by Mordekhai Falkon and by another relative living in Jelgava, Latvia, Sima Shlosberg - both sought affidavits so that they could immigrate to the United States.

This is the text of Mordekhai's last letter (that is, the last one that I know of, which was saved by my grandmother for many years after my grandfather died).
Liepaja, 18th March 1940
My dear Nephew,

Not being sure, that my letter written about two weeks before, will reach you, I write you today again. My wife has been sick for a long time, but now she is again well up. Also I am well, but since January the 1st I left all my business and since then I am nothing doing.

I am thanking you very much for your kind will to help me get into U.S., but as long as it is possible to live here, I should not leave our old home. Should unforeseen circumstances induce me to leave, I shall not fail to inform you in right time. All papers received from you I delivered to the U.S. Consulate, which will inform me, when my turn will come.

I hope you and your family are all well and I shall be glad to hear from you as often as possible.

With kindest regards from me and my wife

Your uncle
M. Falkon

[on the back of the envelope is stamped: Stockholm 20.3.40]
For the text of Mordekhai's other letters, see Letters from the Past. You can also find there letters from Sima Shlosberg and from Mordekhai's sister, Gittel Falkon Kagan, who lived in Moscow.

As I found out from subsequent correspondence with a relative, Sima survived the war. She married and lived in St. Petersburg, Russia, for many years, before dying in the mid-1980s. We do not know what happened to Gittel and her family in Russia, because there has been no contact since the late 1930s with them.

According to the extensive database of Libau Jews developed by Edward Anders and his co-workers, Mordekhai was likely killed in July, 1941. As soon as the Nazis entered Libau on June 29, 1941, they began killing Jews. Mordekhai's wife, Dobra, was killed on December 15, 1941, along with almost 3,000 other Libau Jews during three days of murder at the Skede dunes along the coast, about 15 km north of Libau. (For photographs of the killings, see Skede executions. Warning: graphic and disturbing photographs; the story of the photographs can be found on the Yad Vashem site). Mordekhai's son, Abram, and his two children, Betje and Genia, were also killed in 1941.

May they rest in peace.

Monday, January 04, 2021

Each person's death diminishes me

Every day I check the website of the Tompkins County Health Department to read the latest report on Covid in this area. I check the number of new cases, the total number of people who are currently infected, and any deaths. For a long time there were two deaths - two people who had been brought to our local hospital from New York City during the height of the pandemic in the spring and had died here. 

Then there was one death of a 95 year old man. 

And then we started hearing about infections among people at the local nursing homes - first of all, Oak Hill Manor. It became clear, eventually, that all of the residents were infected. Twelve residents have now died - twelve of our elders, of people beloved by their families, by their friends, by the people who worked with them at Oak Hill. We then, recently, heard about people who tested positive for Covid at Beechtree, another local nursing home.

In the last two days there have been reports of two additional deaths, one, yesterday, at an unnamed nursing home, and one, today, of a resident of Tompkins County, who was not living in a nursing home. Now a total of sixteen people in Tompkins County have died of Covid, all but two in a nursing home.

When the Health Department reports on the deaths, they never give the name of the person who has died. I look in the obituaries in the Ithaca Journal, but often there's very little information provided about those who have passed away. I understand the concern for privacy, and that it's up to the family to reveal when a loved one has died of Covid (or any other cause). I still wish I knew the person's name, and something about their life.

Why? As John Donne wrote: "because each man's death diminishes me."

Just before the passage in which that sentence appears, he writes, using a beautiful simile in which every human being is likened to a page in one volume: 

[A]ll mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

Each of us is "translated," that is, dies at God's hand, by old age, or illness, or in war, or by the operation of justice.

We all belong to one another. None of us is separated from the other. When one of us passes away from the world, we have all lost something. When one of us enters into the world, we have all gained something, a new person whom we may come to know and love. 

As Donne writes:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

The quotations from Donne are from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, published in 1624, Meditation 17.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in Ithaca, New York

Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction.

Tonight is the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in the sky, as viewed from the Earth. They look really close to us, but in actuality they're hundreds of millions of miles away from each other. But they look cool.

Unfortunately, in Ithaca, New York, it's usually cloudy in the winter, and often raining or snowing. Tonight is a typical cloudy Ithaca night. So we can't see the Great Conjunction in the sky. We can see it, however, down the street from me.

One of my neighbors has created an entire solar system, from the Sun to Pluto, out of various translucent materials, and has hung them around his house, just down the street from me. We usually see them hitched to bicycles or on the backs of the bike riders as they wheel through the neighborhood on Halloween. Tonight Bike Walk Tompkins did have a celebratory bike ride, but without Dave's planets. 


Earth, Mercury, the Sun, Jupiter, and Saturn

Mars

Pluto, with Jupiter and Saturn in the background.

 

Friday, December 11, 2020

A song for Hanukkah, for our current darkness and fear



The Israeli children's Hanukkah song Banu Hoshech Le-garesh, as performed by Divahn (led by Galeet Dardashti), on their latest album Shalhevet.

Lyrics

We've come to banish the darkness
In our hands are light and fire
Each alone is a small light
But together we are a great radiance

Turn back darkness
Far away, blackness (of night)
Turn back from before the light

Turn back darkness
Far away, blackness (of night)
Turn back from before the light

Divahn and Galeet Dardashti

Iranian-descended singer Galeet Dardashti leads the all-female power-house Middle Eastern Jewish ensemble, Divahn. The New York City-based group has gained an international following with its fresh and fiery renditions of traditional and original Sephardi/Mizrahi Jewish songs: lush string arrangements, eclectic Indian, Middle Eastern, and Latin percussion, and vocals spanning Hebrew, Judeo-Spanish, Persian, Arabic, and Aramaic. “Divahn,” a word common to Hebrew, Persian, and Arabic, means a collection of songs or poetry. Through its music, Divahn underscores common ground between diverse Middle Eastern cultures and religions.

Divahn's new album, Shalhavet, was released in early March, 2020. The album release party, at Joe's Pub, was recorded and can be viewed here. The tour that was planned was cancelled due to Covid.

I first encountered this song in Israel more than thirty years ago - not at a children's party, but at left-wing anti-occupation demonstrations during the first intifada. I didn't know it was a Hanukkah song. I thought it was a political song against the darkness of oppression! I think it's equally good as a children's song and as a song against oppression - in our hands are light and fire, against the darkness, and we can turn darkness towards light if we all work together.

At the album release, Galeet explains the meaning of the song for her and why they recorded it.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah!


 

Wednesday, December 09, 2020

296,698 people have died of Covid-19 in the United States, as of today.

Today (December 9) it is reported that at least 3,243 people died of Coronavirus in the United States, according to Worldometer. In each of twenty states, more than 50 people died of the virus. This is the most reported in a single day, since the beginning of the pandemic. We've surpassed the level of illness that existed in the spring, and there's no sign of the toll lessening.


Update for December 10 - 3,105 people died of Covid, for a total of 299,738.


Update for December 11 - 3,042 people died of Covid, for a total of 302,773.


Update for December 12 - 2,038 deaths, for a total of 305,081 Americans.


Update for December 13 - 1,379 deaths, for a total of 306,459 Americans who have died of Covid.



Saturday, December 05, 2020

The Helix Nebula

Looking like a great celestial eye, this is the Helix Nebula. Discovered 200 years ago, it is a planetary nebula located in the constellation Aquarius. One of the closest to the Earth of all the bright planetary nebulae.

📷 NASA's Hubble telescope
(Image posted in the Nature Revives 2020 Facebook group).


 

Pottery masks for sale - Ithaca, New York


In January of 2016 I started to make pottery. I had made pottery when I was a teenager, along with other crafts, but stopped when I graduated from high school. I was inspired to start making pottery again because of a friend of mine who had many hobbies, and enjoyed them greatly. I realized that I didn't have any hobbies, and that I wanted to do something creative that appealed to my artistic side. I took classes at the Clay School of Ithaca, and I got hooked. I started with throwing on the wheel, but I never managed to get as good at it as I felt I needed to be, and took a handbuilding class and discovered that I enjoyed it much more. 


In 2015, on a visit to Israel, I went to an exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that displayed ancient stone masks from the Neolithic period. I became fascinated and started to make my own - first trying to copy the Neolithic masks and then creating my own designs based on the stone masks but in my own style.


I'm now selling these masks at a local pottery pop-up store (open until December 23). If you're interested in looking at them in person, they're being sold in the back room at Buffalo Street Books, in the Dewitt Mall, which is open from 12:00-4:00 pm.





 

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Trump denounces the "globalists" once again at the end of the 2020 campaign

Another reminder of the 2016 election - the globalists...communists...socialists...wealthy liberals. And who are they? 

Jews, just as in his last advertisement in 2016, which entwined Hillary Clinton together with the "globalists" Janet Yellen, Lloyd Blankenfeld (head of Goldman Sachs), and George Soros.



Monday, November 02, 2020

Headstones in Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, MI covered with "Trump" and "MAGA" graffiti today

For those who remember the end of the election campaign in 2016, there are some horrifyingly similar incidents happening now. 

A Jewish cemetery in Grand Rapids, Michigan, was desecrated today, just before Trump's last rally of the election campaign there. Headstones were covered by graffiti in red paint reading "Trump" and "MAGA."











Saturday, October 31, 2020

Halloween in Fall Creek, Ithaca

The Fall Creek neighborhood is usually the epicenter of Halloween celebrations in Ithaca. Hundreds of families from other neighborhoods and towns spill into the neighborhood to trick or treat. Little spidermen, witches, spiders, robots, ghouls, bumblebees, lions, tigers, and bears crowd the sidewalks going from house to house and collecting candy into their bulging pillowcases. Residents elaborately decorate their front porches to welcome the visitors. Pumpkins, willowy ghosts floating from trees, skeletons coming out of the ground, whole graveyards in front yards create the spooky Halloween atmosphere.

This year is quite different. There are still decorated porches and front yards, but it's much quieter, with many fewer children and teenagers out trick or treating. Some households decided to offer treats, but used safe methods to deliver candy. A favorite method, suggested by those discussing Halloween in the neighborhood listserve, was the candy shute - a long pipe down the front stairs, with candy sliding down it into the waiting hands of children. 

And then there was the bicycle parade - bikes and trikes ridden by people in costumes, both children and adults, some carrying frames with the sun and the planets glowing in the darkness, a caterpillar in several segments, a giant picture book, a bowling pin, and strings of lights. The parade began at the end of my street and then drove through the neighborhood down to the Commons and then back. 

Welcoming skeleton

Political pumpkins

Decorated porch

Giant tarantula

Masked caterpillar





Cat Tales glowing book


Circus caravan

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Suspect in antisemitic hate crimes arrested in Ithaca.

The police today arrested a person whom they suspect of antisemitic harassment in Ithaca in the last couple of weeks. When they searched his residence, they found more hate posters and bomb-making materials. I had feared that he was going to move on from posters and graffiti to physical violence.

From Ithaca Voice (go there for there for the whole story):

ITHACA, N.Y. –– The Ithaca Police Department has internally identified a suspect after at least three businesses in downtown Ithaca were vandalized with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti and posters over the weekend. Upon investigation, police uncovered materials for homemade explosives and firearms at the suspect's residence and at another "undisclosed location."

This weekend's crimes followed a similar incident last week that included the defacement of a sign outside a local chiropractor's office.

At this time the suspect is not being named, and their status is unknown except for that they are, "not out in the community," according to an IPD press release. However, police did say in their release that they plan to pursue multiple counts of Criminal Mischief in the fourth degree as a Hate Crime.

One of the hate posters is below. There's a threat of violence on the left-hand side: "Guns are the only way to smoke your predators," next to the photo of a pistol. This poster was glued over the Black Lives Matter sign on Moosewood Restaurant a couple of days ago. 


The Sunny Days store on the Commons was also defaced with spray-painted hate symbols, and more of these posters, and last week, an anti-racist banner on a chiropractor's office on Court Street was blocked out by the word "kike." (The sign originally said "End White Silence," and the owner had it repainted, but then the vandal tore the whole banner down).

Press release from the Ithaca Police Department:











Sunday, October 25, 2020

End White Silence - fighting against racism and antisemitism.

The repainted sign on Court Street in Ithaca.

A visit to Taughannock Falls

I went to Taughannock Falls yesterday afternoon with a friend. The falls are 215 feet high, higher than Niagara Falls (but nowhere near as wide!). We're having the last of the fall weather and the trees have shed most of their leaves, but there were still some colors there yesterday. We didn't expect a lot of people there, but there were many people coming and going to the Falls - fortunately, almost all of them were masked and they generally kept socially distanced. 







Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Why the rogue cloud appeared over Jerusalem

 From the Facebook page of Yerushamayim, the Jerusalem weather site -

"Someone said: sometimes Jerusalem is the center of the world"

And the explanation from Boaz (who runs the Yerushamayim site) - translation by Rahel Jaskow



A rogue cloud in Jerusalem

It rained in Jerusalem today - the first rain of the fall, an exciting event in Israel, where it doesn't rain all summer.

The rest of the country was dry, and the rain was not predicted by the forecasters.

Rogue cloud treats Jerusalem to first surprise shower of season

A freakishly hot summer in Jerusalem is being capped by a freak rainstorm that has swept across the city, bringing showers and joy to the capital.

The rainstorm is freakish not for the time of year — in fact it’s a bit late for the first rain of the season — but because it appears to have come out of nowhere.

Forecasts for Tuesday called for unseasonably warm weather and partially cloudy skies. The storm appears to be the result of a single large cloud that sneaked across the city.


“One cloud (the sky is clear nationwide) throws off all the models,” tweets the amateur meteorologist behind the popular Yerushamayim weather site, which crashes thanks to the storm.

“Fine, you caught me with my pants down. You don’t need to bring down the site,” he adds.

The first rain of the season is always an event in Israel, where the dry season lasts from mid-spring until early fall.

Antisemitism is alive and well in Ithaca, New York

 


Defaced sign on a friend's business in downtown Ithaca. "End White Silence," and the word "Kike" written over "Silence."

Ithaca is a liberal small city in a conservative area of upstate New York. There have been some right-wing demonstrations here lately, mostly for "Blue Lives Matter." I've seen other racist graffiti in downtown in the last few months, and recently the "Black Lives Matter" mural on nearby streets was defaced (see entry below). In Ithaca in the 1980s, there were some antisemitic incidents when a notorious antisemite and Holocaust denier was living here (he's no longer here, thank goodness).

I hope we can find out who did this and call them out for their antisemitism and racism.