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Friday, April 14, 2017

From Holocaust to Vegetables

Dear Family and Friends:                                                               April, 2017

You know, I meet some interesting folks during my rabbi hours.  I have told you about some in the past.  I still stroll over to the Indiana University Memorial Union every Thursday afternoon, sit at a table at Starbucks, and put up a table tent that says something like, "Rabbi on Duty.  Keep Calm and Ask the Rabbi.  Ask me anything."  Interestingly, most of the people who do stop by are not Jewish, but have questions about Jews, Judaism, or sometimes Israel.

Last Thursday an older gentleman sat down across from me and introduced himself as, let’s call him Robert...something.  His last name was long, unpronounceable, and filled with consonants.  He told me that (in this order) he was Polish, a botanist, and from the south side of Chicago, now living in Bloomington.  So we immediately had three connecting points.  One of my grandfathers came from Tarnow, Poland, I grew up in Chicago, and I too now live in Bloomington.  Robert proceeded to say that he wanted to know everything about his Polish heritage.  He had studied Polish, traveled to Poland, etc.  And his goal in life was to help people grow better plants.  We did a little Jewish (in this case Polish/Chicago) geography and discovered that he had been a landscape architect in Indianapolis and as a matter of fact had done work for a family that lived directly across the street from the camp I directed.  He knew the camp but not exactly what it was all about.  I knew the family he had worked for.  OK.  That was the small talk.

When I asked him what prompted him to sit down with me he said that he had a question.  

"What do post-Holocaust Jews think of the Polish people?"   

I get questions about Jewish holidays, philosophy, and life after death, politics, bible.  This was a question with no easy answer.  I told my visitor about the two trips my wife, Juca and I made, chaperoning groups of high school students to Prague and then on to Krakow and Warsaw, including the concentration camps.  I said that we really wanted Poland to be ugly so we could totally dislike it.  But no, it was beautiful and the Poles we interacted with were very nice.  But I also told him of conversations I had with a few on those trips regarding World War II and the Holocaust.  In each case the Poles were adamant that all of the troubles were the fault of the Germans. 

Robert responded with a single word, "Bullshit!"  We both knew that some Poles had saved Jewish lives at the risk of their own, but most had no love for the Jews.   

We talked a bit about the Partisan underground resistance to the Nazis in Poland and Russia, and about the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt.  Then our conversation shifted gears toward botany.  This fellow, at sixty-nine years of age had decided that he wanted to change the world by teaching regular, everyday people how to grow better vegetables.  He asked if I had any ideas as to how he might accomplish this.  I responded by telling him of the cartoon I had in my office for years that preached, "First the socks...then the shoes."  Start small and build.

I had two ideas for Robert.  I described this blog to him and that it has had almost 60,000 openings since it began.  I recommended that he look into beginning his own blog; just with friends, students, and colleagues.  It just might grow and expand as one person shares it with another.  He liked the idea.

Idea number two (because I am so social media minded...not) occurred to me from hearing one of my former camper's podcast about summer camp.  A recorded podcast/radio program, featuring Robert’s ideas with guests etc, might just catch on.  I asked him if he had any connections with either students or professors in the school of informatics.  He said that he did.  I was sure that any one in that field could advise him as to how to initiate either a blog or podcast.  As a backup he could turn to Google.

I think this Robert….something is going to look into these two ideas.  We left off by noting that I'm here every Thursday (like a stand-up comic) and that I'd love for him to drop by and let me know how it's going.  

That was a good talk; from Holocaust to vegetables.  You know, I meet some interesting folks during my rabbi hours.