Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Branko Lustig, Producer, Dies at 87

Not Your Average Holocaust Survivor: We - the world Jewish community - lost a good one last week. Abq Jew is keeping score these days, and we are running out of living Holocaust survivors, witnesses, and educators.

Branko Lustig visits the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial
in Jerusalem in 2015. (Nir Elias/AP)

Abq Jew must admit that he didn't particularly know who Mr Lustig was. Until he read Emily Langer's beautiful Branko Lustig obituary in The Washington Post, and saw the accompanying photo (see above).

Branko Lustig produced Schindler's List.

Here is how Ms Langer starts out:
Branko Lustig, Holocaust survivor and Oscar-winning producer of ‘Schindler’s List,’ dies at 87 
Branko Lustig was just a boy, newly arrived at Auschwitz, when he witnessed a scene that would be seared into his memory. Seven prisoners at the Nazi death camp were to be hanged in a public execution, and Mr. Lustig found himself in the front row before the gallows. 
“Moments before they were hanged, before the bench was kicked out from them, they all said as one: 
‘Remember how we died,’ ” he recounted years later. “Tell the story about us,” they implored. 
Mr. Lustig was 12 years old and suffering from typhoid when he was liberated from another Nazi camp, Bergen-Belsen, in 1945. 
He returned to his native Croatia and, in time, embarked on a film career that would take him to movie sets across Europe and to Hollywood, where in 1994 he shared the Academy Award for best picture as a producer of director Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List.”

As if that were not enough! Ms Langer tells us:
Among Mr. Lustig’s first American films was “Sophie’s Choice,” a 1982 adaptation of William Styron’s novel about a Polish woman who is sent to Auschwitz and forced to choose which of her two children will be murdered. 
Meryl Streep played the title character and received the Oscar for best actress for the film, which was filmed partly in Yugoslavia, with Mr. Lustig as production supervisor.

Abq Jew is old enough to remember when the book Sophie's Choice first came out (1979). And we Jews were up in arms -


How could William Styron, a non-Jew, possibly
capture the depth and breadth of our tragedy?
And in a work of fiction, no less?

Well, it turns out, he could and he did. Mr Styron's novel Sophie's Choice won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1980.


Mr & Mrs Abq Jew went to a movie theater to see the 1982 film version of Schindler's List. One of Abq Jew's deepest memories is the collective


that went through the audience when they - even if they had read the book - realized exactly what Sophie's choice was.


As if even that were not enough! Ms Langer also tells us:
Later that decade, he was an associate producer of two TV series, based on Herman Wouk’s epic World War II novels, the 18-hour “Winds of War” and 30-hour “War and Remembrance.” 
“War and Remembrance,” which cost a reported $110 million, was the first occasion when officials in Poland, where Auschwitz is located, allowed moviemakers to film at the camp for a major commercial project. 
The series featured actors including Robert Mitchum, Jane Seymour and John Gielgud — as well as nearly 4,500 extras.
But wait! There's even more that Ms Langer relates:
[Mr Lustig] added that he tried in the course of his work to “cling to being a professional, like the others,” but that “once in [a] while, when we film children, I break down. 
When I was 12 I was here and my duties were to open the bar underneath the gate that said ‘Arbeit macht frei’ ” — work will make you free — “when officers arrived.” 
Mr. Lustig met Spielberg in Los Angeles and formed an immediate connection with the director of such films as “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and the Indiana Jones series. 
Mr. Lustig told the Hollywood Reporter that when he recounted to Spielberg, who is Jewish, his experience in the camps, the director kissed the number tattooed on Mr. Lustig’s arm and declared, “You will be my producer.” 
“He is the man who gave me the possibility to fulfill my obligation,” Mr. Lustig said of Spielberg.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Werner Gellert, Educator, Dies at 93

Not Your Average Holocaust Survivor: We - the New Mexico Jewish community - lost a good one last week. Abq Jew is keeping score these days, and we are running out of living Holocaust survivors, witnesses, and educators.


Abq Jew did not have the pleasure and honor of knowing Mr Gellert personally. And - as it turns out - Abq Jew was only aware of a small portion of what Mr Gellert had accomplished during his lifetime.

Which included, of course, the co-founding of the

Holocaust & Intolerance Museum of New Mexico

Abq Jew learned even more about Werner Gellert from - where else? - his obituary. Written by Mr Gellert's daughter, Julie Gellert, this appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on  November 13, 2019.

As you may know, Abq Jew seldom copies entire articles from the Web.
But this obituary is special. What a story!
For my father, Werner Gellert, there was no more important mission in life than eradicating hatred from the world, one person or classroom at a time. This desire to increase tolerance wherever he went stemmed from his experiences during the Holocaust and as a refugee in Shanghai, China, as well as the pervasive bigotry that he experienced once he came to America. 
Mr. Gellert passed away on November 9, 2019 at the age of 93. 
Mr. Gellert was born in Breslau, Germany on June 14, 1926. Following Kristallnacht, otherwise known as the "Night of Broken Glass," a time when the Nazis went on a rampage against the German Jews, he and his adopted parents escaped Germany and became stateless refugees in Shanghai. 
In 1943, the Japanese, who occupied Shanghai and were allied with the Germans, forcibly displaced 18,000 of the Shanghai Jews, including Mr. Gellert and his adoptive parents, to a ghetto in an area known as Hong Kew, or the "Restricted Zone". Although Hong Kew had better conditions than the Nazi concentration camps, it was still rife with disease and starvation. 
On one of his birthdays during his time in Hong Kew, all Mr. Gellert wanted was a loaf of bread and a jar of jam all to himself - a wish that was not fulfilled. Indeed, Mr. Gellert experienced severe starvation while in the Hong Kew ghetto and survived such diseases as typhus, yellow fever, and serum hepatitis. 
While living in the ghetto, Mr. Gellert had several confrontations with the chief of police of the Restricted Zone, a man known only as "Mr. Ghoya," a pugnacious individual who was known for his instability and violent flights of temper. During one of these confrontations, Ghoya hit Mr. Gellert in the eye, causing him to permanently lose most of the sight in that eye. 
After the war, Mr. Gellert remained in Shanghai, where he worked for the American Army as a typewriter repairman. When the army realized the extent of Mr. Gellert's intelligence and linguistic skills (he spoke seven languages, including the Shanghai dialect of Chinese), they recruited him into Army Intelligence as a civilian consultant. 
While in post-war China, Mr. Gellert worked undercover as a member of the Army Graves Patrol, gathering intelligence as he visited various areas in China, Tibet, and the Philippines. His time spent at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery made such an impression on him that he integrated many Buddhist beliefs into his Judaism. 
Once the Chinese Cultural Revolution was in full swing, Mr. Gellert and his adoptive parents escaped Shanghai on the last boat out to the United States. They settled in Denver, where Mr. Gellert attended Denver University, where he met his future wife, Frances Silverman, on a blind date. They would go on to be married for 54 years. 
Mr. Gellert later attended Hebrew University in Los Angeles with the goal of becoming a Reform rabbi. He led the congregation of the Downey Temple for a year as a student rabbi. 
Although a serious illness related to the hepatitis he had contracted in China kept him from completing his rabbinical studies, he was considered an honorary rabbi and served in that capacity at the Jewish Home for the Aged in Reseda, CA and, later, at Temple Albert in Albuquerque, NM. 
Once he recovered from his illness, Mr. Gellert began to work for the savings and loan industry. He continued to work in that field until the mid-1980s. 
Mr. Gellert and his wife retired to Albuquerque, where he quickly became involved in the Jewish community. He and Frances first worked to create a new Holocaust Memorial in the Albuquerque city center. To the chagrin of some in the Jewish community and to the joy of others, part of the memorial paid homage to groups that died in genocides other than the Holocaust. 
Mr. Gellert believed that education is the best antidote to hate. With this in mind, he and Frances went on to found the Albuquerque Holocaust and Intolerance Museum and Study Center in 2001. Like the Albuquerque Holocaust Memorial, the museum educates attendees not only about the Holocaust, but also other forms of physical and cultural genocide, such as the Armenian genocide and Indian boarding schools in America. 
For as long as he was physically able, which was well into his eighties, Mr. Gellert frequently spoke to school groups that attended the museum about his experiences during the Holocaust and his time as a refugee in Shanghai. He discussed the destructiveness of hate and the importance of tolerance. He also traveled around New Mexico educating students about hate and tolerance. 
Mr. Gellert is survived by his daughter, Julie Gellert, and his grandson, Brandon Ligon, who both reside in Arizona.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Horses Who Sing

And Whales Who Play: Hummingbirds must hum, as we all know (see Music Comes to B'nai Israel), because they don't know the words. Horses, on the other hand, can surely sing - because they do indeed know the words.

Nov. 5, 2019 | Iceland horses play in their paddock of a stud in Wehrheim
near Frankfurt, Germany.
(Michael Probst/AP)

Where and when, Abq Jew hears you ask, did horses learn to sing? A long time ago, Abq Jew must inform you. Horses learned how to sing (and, importantly, what to sing) from their ancestors - stegosauruses.

And this we know from two of Abq Jew's quickly-classic, scientifically-based blog posts - 2018's It's Noah Time Again! and 2017's Yontif Ends, Creation Begins.

Stegosauruses had beautiful singing voices, and they
knew all the words to The Seekers' greatest hits.

We all know that whales can sing. Here's a photo of a baby beluga just singing his heart out. Trying out for The Voice?


This particular baby beluga, however also has athletic talent. As shown in this video, which has been making its rounds across the Internet.


And, just as Jim Croce (see Remembering Jim Croce, MOT) sang - this baby beluga has a name.

Hvaldimir
Hvaldimir is a male beluga whale that fishers near Hammerfest in northern Norway noticed in April 2019 wearing a camera harness; after being freed from the harness, the whale remained in the area and appeared used to humans. 
Speculation that he had been trained as a Russian spy whale led to his being dubbed Hvaldimir, from Norwegian: hval (whale) and Vladimir Putin.

Hvaldimir's Story
from his foundation's website

A lone and friendly beluga whale with a harness attached to its body was first reported on 26th of April 2019 off of Tufjord, in Finnmark, in northern Norway. The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries sent experts to respond to this sighting and to assist the animal in disentanglement ...

The team first tried to unfasten the harness from a boat, but the operation failed each time due to challenging access to the clips. Eventually, and after entering the cold waters with the whale, they managed to detach the tight strap.

The harness was labeled with 
"Equipment of Saint Petersburg"
and had an equipment mount attachment
on the harness. 

Based on these elements and geographic considerations, it was speculated that the whale was a lost 'spy' animal, trained and used by the Russian Navy.

In the following days, the whale was seen again in the harbor of Tufjord, both by the dock and following local fishing boats cruising in and out the harbor. The locals ... were instantly charmed by the adorable whale, and special interactions with people started occurring.

On April 30th, the whale followed a sailboat during its entire 5-hour cruise to Hammerfest. The whale has remained in the harbor of Hammerfest since then.


However, is the story as "fun" as it seemed? 

Based on the harness and highly sociable behavior, it appeared clear that the whale had been used for human benefits and was most likely conditioned to be hand-fed. If so, such behavioral conditioning could have resulted in the whale being dependent on people and not able to successfully hunt and feed itself.

In fact, a week of behavioral observations and multi-sensor camera tagging (www.cats.is) conducted by scientists from Norwegian Orca Survey (NOS) failed to reveal any successful feeding. The whale's body was also judged to be lean by international experts.


NOS, therefore, urged the need to take action to ensure the whale's welfare and survival before the situation reached a critical point of no return.

The organization developed and submitted feeding protocols to the authorities, and secured the financial resources necessary to initiate the intervention. The first donation of funds to support the emergency response was the Sea World and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund (USA).


The local [Hammerfest] community has been incredibly welcoming, supportive and eager to help Hvaldimir. People provided us with additional logistical and financial resources that were crucial to initiate the feeding program as fast as possible.


In order to boost Hvaldimir's protection and health,
a code of conduct was also introduced.

The harbor authority further restricted access to the docks, which instantly promoted the whale to spend more time exploring his natural environment and reduced his time roaming in the busy path of the inner harbor.



The harbor of Hammerfest remains a busy location with boat traffic and was listed as one of the most polluted harbors in Norway. A long-term solution is urgently needed and most importantly, a relocation to a safer environment should be considered.

However, maintaining him in his natural environment will fully rely on the financial resources available to us.

With contributions from the world,
Hvaldimir's story could be a happy one.

Please contribute to save his future.



So, you may ask -


First of all ...


Nancy Pelosi was right (big surprise).
All roads lead to Putin.
Even roads under the sea.


 But also ...


Judaism stands firmly for
the ethical treatment of animals.  

In her article in My Jewish Learning, Rabbi Jill Jacobs makes it clear that

The concept of Tzaar Baalei Hayim
demands that we take animal suffering seriously.
Beyond simply prohibiting cruelty to animals, Jewish tradition associates care for animals with righteousness. Within the Torah, the commandment to send a mother bird away before taking eggs or chicks from her nest is one of the few commandments that promises long life to those who fulfill it. The book of Proverbs comments that, "A righteous person knows the needs of his beast, but the compassion of the wicked is cruelty." 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Music Comes to B'nai Israel

Join the Singing! Or Just Hum Along! Abq Jew would like to say he's sorry about the old Dad (see below) "hummingbird" joke - but he's not.

Abq Jew saw this marvelous hummingbird photograph on Abq photographer Jerry Goffe's Facebook, and he just couldn't resist.

Why do hummingbirds hum? Because they don't know the words!

Besides which - Abq Jew is a Dad (and a Popsie). So he's absolutely entitled.
At least once in a while.

But let's continue with the main topic of this blog post: music. Specifically, Jewish music. Even more specifically, Jewish music that people can sing (if they know the words, or can read them) or hum along with (if they don't or can't).


Now, you may (or may not) know that Congregation B'nai Israel of Albuquerque has a new-ish (he's been here for weeks) Interim Rabbi.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg answered all the quiz questions (see Wanna Be Our Interim Rabbi?) correctly (or close enough) and got the job!

Rabbi Gartenberg comes to CBI from Seattle, where (among a few other activities) he was deeply involved in getting that Jewish community to sing. And now us.


Friday November 8 @ 6:00 pm
Congregation B'nai Israel
4401 Indian School Road NE, Abq 87110
RSVP: (505) 266-0155 or office@bnaiisrael-nm.org

Abq musical cognoscenti will of course (of course!) recognize that B'nai Israel is coming late to the music game - Cantor Barbara Finn at Congregation Albert and Cantor Beth Cohen at Nahalat Shalom have been musicalizing for years.

However - as Abq Jew noted (pun fully intended) back in 2016 (see Peace in the High Places) -

When you daven exclusively at stodgy, old,
set-in-their-ways, "traditional" Conservative shuls,
you miss a lot of the fun.


Congregation B'nai Israel will soon (2020)
celebrate its 100th year, and will even sooner
(November 12) celebrate its building's listing
in the National Register of Historic Places.

Yes, you can call Congregation B'nai Israel "old" and "traditional." Just don't call B'nai Israel "stodgy". Or "set in their ways." Not any more.

Rabbi Dov Gartenberg is in the building.

Here are a couple of selections from Friday evening's set list. Singing will be led by Rabbi Gartenberg and - yes, by Nahalat Shalom's Cantor Beth Cohen. And by a few friends.

Lecha Dodi (Maccabeats; to Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Why do hummingbirds hum? Because they don't know the words!

And if you'd just like to hum along - where you don't need to know the words -

Bina's Nigun (Joey Weisenberg and the Hadar Ensemble)

You can see more of B'nai Israel's music
by visiting the 
CBI Songs playlist
on Abq Jew's YouTube channel.


Like what you see here?