Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Let the Gift-Giving Begin

With the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle tonight, the annual gift-giving holiday season officially begins, not to end until Kwanza arrives one day after Christmas. Our material world seemingly knows no bounds.

I’m no innocent in this gorgefest of trinkets, toys and trifles. I have a primal need to acquire, though I must say that since retirement I have vastly curtailed my personal material gluttony. I used to enjoy visiting stores not just because it was part of my job but also because I would go on a quest to find something to indulge my desires. Now I mostly relieve my bank account of extra cash by buying “stuff” for our kids and their mates, our grandchildren, grand nieces and grand nephews. 

We overindulge Finley and Dagny, buying eight days’ worth of presents for each for Hanukkah. To be honest, it’s a lot easier choosing presents—clothing aside— for four-year-old Finley than 17-month-old Dagny. Aside from buying for the second child who already has access to Finley’s stash of goods, it’s tough tiptoeing through the minefield of gender neutrality when it comes to toys for a young girl. 

If you haven't been following it, most recently spurred by Goldieblox’s controversial use of a parody of the Beastie Boys song “Girls” (, there's been quite a lively discussion on gender neutrality when raising a child. It's part of the overall debate on whether environment or heredity has more sway in a child's development. Last December, The NY Times ran an Op-Ed piece on gender-based toy marketing (, followed by an interesting Letter to the Editor from a woman from Tarpon Springs, FL, which I will reproduce here: 

“I once thought that biological gender preferences were ‘ridiculous’ until I raised a girl and a boy born in 1983 and 1990, respectively. I raised my children — to the best of my feminist knowledge — without stereotypes and with a minimum of television.        

“But as a toddler, my daughter would mostly ignore the cars and trucks and spend hours with the dolls, while my son, seven years later, would discard within minutes his sister’s leftover dolls and find the cars and trucks — and most disconcertingly, form a gun with his pointer and thumb and shoot at things. His drive for toy guns, swords and light sabers knew no bounds, yet he has always been sweet and gentle.        

“The fact that toy marketers tap into biological preferences does not necessarily mean that we are being pushed back into an ‘unequal past’ or homophobia or ‘gender conformity.’

Our experience in raising Ellie parallels the author’s. Gilda was determined to avoid imprinting any feminist mystique into Ellie’s brain. She’d be raised as gender neutral as we could. No Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty stories for her, nothing to suggest that it would take a Prince Charming to fulfill her destiny. Ellie could play with any of her older brother’s toys, be they trucks or blocks, balls or Legos. She would not be given dolls, for sure no Barbies. 

Ellie did play with Dan’s toys, but it was obvious to Gilda’s friends she lacked a certain joie de vivre. At Ellie’s third birthday they took matters into their own hands, bestowing on her a torrent of dolls and frilly accessories. Ellie immediately transformed into a happy princess.   

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today

I was sitting in art class on Friday, November 22, 1963. Mrs. Franzblau was the teacher. No doubt, my high school sophomore classmates were like most of our predecessors. We made fun of her. We paid little attention to her. We giggled a lot and bantered a lot during the art exercises she tried to get us to master.

Suddenly, the loud speaker on the wall at the front of the room crackled with static. It was a few minutes after one pm. An announcement was made that the president had been shot in Dallas. All students were to return to their home rooms for subsequent early dismissal.

I'm an early baby boomer, born three years into the population explosion of 1946-1964 when more than 76 million gained entry onto the nation’s census rolls. I'm therefore bemused when the John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination is portrayed as one of the defining moments of my cohorts. Truly, few of them were old enough to fully comprehend its significance. Bill Flanagan, born in 1955, a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, said the death of JFK resonated so powerfully with those who were kids at the time because “it was the moment our parents went from believing in all the great things that were going to be, to regretting what might have been.”

It’s a nice turn of phrase, but I’m too basic a person to wallow in the psychology of the moment. I can’t say I remember my parents moping about the assassination, though they were deeply disturbed by it. It didn’t stop my father and mother from working hard in their small manufacturing business, from prodding their three children to excel in school. Like most families that fateful weekend, we watched the round-the-clock network coverage. I seem to recall being home from school Monday and watching the funeral on television. Yet it would not be until 1968, when Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets, that sudden, unimaginable tragedy struck a more intimate chord within me. By then I was 19, a sophomore in college this time, old enough to recognize and fully comprehend racism, intolerance and inequality, old enough to worry about the war in Vietnam and what the prolonged conflict might mean to me, personally, if I were drafted when my college deferment expired. 

That’s not to say I was oblivious to national and international events as a younger teenager. I can recall watching Kennedy’s press conferences, at least the ones he held late in the afternoon after I returned home from school. I remember watching on television our United Nations ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, use aerial photographs to expose the buildup of Russian missiles in Cuba. Did I think the world was about to come to an end? Probably not. It was more like a war game being played out before our very eyes as we saw our navy intercept Russian freighters on the high seas. It was only later we learned how close to the brink of annihilation the world had come.

A wasted world is what is lamented at the end of Camelot, the Lerner and Loewe musical of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that opened on Broadway in December 1960, a month after Kennedy’s election victory over Richard Nixon (the show closed January 5, 1963, 11 months before the president’s fateful trip to Dallas, and, coincidentally, my father’s birthday). 

Jacqueline Kennedy depicted her husband’s presidency with lyrics from the last song of Camelot, “a brief shining moment.” Just months after it opened, I saw the original Broadway production of Camelot, starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowall. Each year my parents, usually our mother, would take my brother, sister and me, individually, to a Broadway musical. I loved Camelot. My mother gave it mixed reviews. The next year we saw Kean, about the life and loves of Edmund Kean, the noted 19th century Shakespearean actor. I hated it. My mother loved it, partly because it starred Broadway legend Alfred Drake. I remember my mother favorably comparing Kean to Camelot. The public agreed with me. Kean closed after 92 performances, Camelot after 873. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Detonate the Nuclear Option

It's time Democrats faced reality. It's time they detonated the so-called Nuclear Option in the U.S. Senate by changing the rules to eliminate the ability of a minority—even one senator—to thwart the will of the majority. The nuclear option would empower a simple majority of senators to pass legislation or affirm presidential appointments ( 

Under current rules, it takes 60 votes to cut off debate, to end a filibuster. As neither party has 60 members in its caucus, even one senator can hold the government hostage. For example, Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has held up presidential appointments until he is satisfied he has all the information he wants on the Benghazi affair. Similarly, Republicans have stymied President Obama’s efforts to appoint three judges to the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Democrats have threatened before to change the rules. They demurred because they feared what would happen if Republicans ever gained control of the Senate. Here's what would happen: The GOP would not hesitate to employ the nuclear option. Any party that already has shut down the government, toyed with defaulting on the national debt, and blatantly said its mission is to thwart anything the president does would not hesitate to change the rules and emasculate a Democratic minority. Just look at actions Republicans have taken in state legislatures. They repeatedly have passed measures dear to Democrats. They have enacted laws to stifle voting opportunities for minorities, have curtailed a woman’s right to choose, have diluted the rights of unions, and have redrawn (gerrymandered) voting districts to ensure GOP majorities until after the next census in 2020. 

It is foolish to think the Yahoos in the Republican Party would not opt for nuclear political warfare should they succeed in securing a majority in the Senate. 

Haven’t the Democrats learned anything over the last five years of Obama’s presidency? It might have been nice to try to work with Republicans during the first two or three years, but being nice has merely emboldened Republicans. Perhaps, if Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had shown some backbone the GOP would have sought common ground. As it stands now, Republicans have no problem testing the limits of their power, limits that Obama and Reid have not strongly enough delineated for them. 

Bottom line: Democrats have nothing to lose. Start the countdown now: 10, 9, 8, ... 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If it's broken fix it ... If it's Not broken ...

Update on Gilda’s injured wrist: It’s not broken. She appreciates everyone’s concern and has been following the doctor’s advice to wear a brace to keep her wrist locked while it heals. She jettisoned the brace Monday, except while sleeping. We’re hoping there are no setbacks.

Speaking of setbacks, one of my archly conservative friends sent me this note with the text for my first Christmas card of this year: 

“I love Christmas lights! They remind me of...
‘the people who voted for Obama...’
They all hang together; half of them don't work,
and the ones that do, aren't all that bright!”

It made me chuckle and somewhat relieved that it wasn’t more vituperative against President Obama and the health care fiasco. Of course, my relief was short lived as another email arrived within minutes from him proclaiming one of the Affordable Care Act navigators in eastern Kansas had a history of financial problems and an outstanding arrest warrant, not the type of person you’d want to have access to personal information from Obamacare applicants.

I’m too beaten down to check the veracity of the claim, which cited local newspapers. Let’s face it—the rollout has been a big joke. It hasn’t killed anyone, like the weapons of mass destruction lie, or the failure to protect New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina, but the cumulative effect might well damage the underpinning of the social contract progressives believe exists between a government and its citizens. 

I believe the problems will eventually (who knows how long “eventually” truly means) be fixed. Most complex legislation undergoes a shakedown period. Congress often smoothes out the wrinkles in new laws. But this Congress, and here I’m referring to the Republicans, hardly seems open to resolving any inadequacies in Obamacare short of scrapping the whole enterprise, and that is ridiculous. 

Ok, the rollout is a bust. Fodder for GOP grievance. But no one can honestly argue the coverage provided is bad or not necessary. Bottom line is that millions of Americans will have health insurance they didn't have before. It might be a rough ride during the rollout period but let's hope that a year from now the snafus will be nothing more than cocktail party conversation, a prelude to many an addendum about a health problem resolved because a friend or family member who previously would not have had insurance is now alive and solvent, not destitute nor bankrupt, or worse, dead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Remembering Birthdays Past

Spent the weekend in Massachusetts for Finley’s fourth birthday. Twenty-two kiddies, more than half girls, and about 20 adults entertained by a guitar playing children's singer. Outdoor play followed by the music, birthday cake and then free play in a carpeted basement with more trucks and trains than Ford, GM and Chrysler combined. A fun time for all, but as Gilda presciently noted, probably the last time until Finley’s bar mitzvah there will be so many girls at the annual festivities.

I can't remember all of Dan’s birthday parties though several of them stand out in my memory. There was the one when he was five, in our old house. Dan wasn't the most adventurous of small children when it came to animals beyond our three cats. So I was a little bemused when Gilda booked a visit by a menagerie from the Greenburgh Nature Center. The highlight was when Dan was somehow talked into permitting a snake to slither around his body. 

Before his next birthday we moved to our current home. One year we engaged one of his baby sitters, the son of a United Nations official from either Nigeria or Ghana. Whatever. The point is, the lad was a budding magician. Poor fellow ran into a most unappreciative, even disruptive, audience of boys. Whenever he’d attempt to do a trick, at least one youngster would cry out he knew the trick and its secret. They were so dismissive that we had to stop the performance in midstream.

We had to fill time till the parents came to retrieve their Dennis the Menaces, so Gilda took them outside for a good old-fashioned tug-of-war. As luck would have it, the ground was moist. The losing team was dragged through the mud. Most parents went with the flow when they arrived to find their “darlings” in soiled clothing. One father, however, would not let his son into his new Cadillac unless he was wrapped in towels. 

Dan’s most memorable birthday party was his 11th. He asked if he and six of his friends could have an “all-nighter” on Saturday. We agreed, reasoning to ourselves the boys would surely fall asleep by 2 am. We’d take turns staying awake till then. 

A good plan goes awry when the “party-of-the-second-part” (that is, the boys) do no adhere to your script. They did not fall asleep at 2 am. Nor at 3 am, 4 am, or 5 am. By 6 am, Gilda decided she’d make lemonade out of this lemon of an idea and take the half dozen boys on a trek in nearby Saxon Woods Park. (I, by the way, had gone to sleep at 2 am. Gilda had pity on me and never woke me up for my watch, not even when she took them on the hike.) 

The boys came back shortly before their parents arrived to take them home, exhilarated by their achievement and ready to impolre their respective mothers and fathers for a similar experience. We heard later than one set of parents enforced a 2 am curfew on their son’s “all-nighter.”

Dan’s birthday triumph did not end when his friends went home. An hour later he was to start in goal for the first time for his traveling all-star soccer team. The weekend before, when Dan was a defenseman, the team played a tournament in Yonkers. In each of the four games they had surrendered more than 10 goals. Now they were to play a strong team from Rye, led by the coach’s son whose name (not sure if it was his first or last name) was Winchester. 

I worried how Dan would respond to the new challenge, especially since he had not slept since Saturday morning. The game was tense. Each time Rye controlled the ball, its coach would be screaming for Winchester to make a play. Midway through the second half, Winchester blocked a ball at midfield and took off in pursuit of the sphere as it bounced toward the White Plains goal. There was no one between him and Dan. 

Time for a slight digression. You should know that as a defenseman, Dan had been among the most polite. If he and an opponent contested a ball, he was generally content to allow the other team to come away with it, reasoning, no doubt, that someone else on his team would get the ball back before a goal could be scored. Of course, by the scores of the previous games, that usually did not happen. 

But now, he was the only one standing between Winchester and the goal. He made a decision not to stand his ground. He charged at the ball. Like two knights on horseback charging at each other, Dan and Winchester converged, crunching together. The slightly larger Winchester kept going straight toward the goal, but Dan had succeeded in diverting the ball to the sideline. Though he had been run over, he had saved a goal. 

I don’t recall, seriously, I don’t remember, if Dan’s team won that game, but it was that play that transformed him into an all-star goalie in more than name only. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wrist Shot

Gilda woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in her left wrist, a remnant of a fall she took over the summer as she descended a friend’s sloped driveway. She's been suffering off and on, made all the more inconvenient because she's a lefty. She's going to see a hand specialist this week. Until then she's been wearing a wrist brace at night, a souvenir of one of my bicycling misfortunes.

We were out in Uniondale for a weekend soccer tournament for Dan’s traveling all star team. We took our bikes with us as we knew there'd be lots of down time between and after games. Uniondale is next to Garden City where we rode.

The end of our family jaunt was on Stewart Avenue, a major roadway. I’d recently learned to ride a two-wheeler (shortly after I turned 40), so I wasn’t too comfortable riding on a busy thoroughfare. I suggested we bike on the sidewalk. Gilda said it would be safer in the street as the roadway was better maintained than the sidewalk. Fearful of cars, I insisted on the sidewalk. While Gilda, Dan and Ellie rode on the street, I pedaled along on the sidewalk. 

As we approached a massive tree with a low hanging branch, Dan said he would try to reach up to touch it. I turned my head to tell him not to, in so doing steered my bike directly into the tree trunk. I crashed, breaking my fall with my right forearm. X-rays from a midnight trip to the emergency room revealed no broken bones, but the wrist took months to heal, less time than it took my ego to admit Gilda was right about where to ride.

Now, careful readers should have noted Gilda hurt her left wrist, I hurt my right. Thus, she could not possibly be using the brace from my fall in Garden City. Correct! She’s wearing the brace from the fall I took the next summer on a charity bicycle ride along the shore in Norwalk, Conn. On a hairpin turn a car came, in my view, perilously close to knocking me over. I panicked and tumbled to my left, breaking the fall with my left wrist. 

I was lucky. I escaped both times with no more than a bone bruise, no torn ligaments, no hairline fracture. It was inconvenient trying to type while wearing the brace, but I survived. We’re really hoping Gilda is at least equally fortunate.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jon Stewart Should Cover Up

Jon Stewart needs better, that is, higher, socks. 

In a segment Tuesday night, the host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart lampooned CNN for making its morning anchors “go to the couch” to present some features. During one of his more uproariest tirades, Stewart kicked up his heels, and revealed ... skin of his shin ( Now, it was only for an instant, but it’s my firm belief that any male worthy of public exposure should not expose his legs, at least while wearing business or formal attire. 

You might recall that one of my first blogs, the tenth one in fact, back on September 21, 2009, excoriated President Obama for displaying his shins during an interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulus of ABC News. Under the title, "Shins of the President," I wrote, “Sitting with his legs crossed, Obama showed viewers several inches of bare skin where his pants leg did not meet the top of his socks. 

“It is inexcusable, it’s a fashion faux pas, especially considering his wife’s keen fashion sense, that the commander-in-chief of the United States does not wear knee-high socks when he is dressed up.

“Indeed, anyone, anyone who is in politics, in business or in any way in a public situation, should wear knee-high socks. There is nothing appealing or sexy about seeing a man’s shin-bone skin.”

Someone in the White House, perhaps his fashion-conscious wife, must have noticed because Obama has been more properly attired since that faux pas. Stewart would do well to follow the president’s lead. Buy the knee-highs. Cover up, please. 

(For those wondering how a journalist writing under a no-socks-needed-anymore banner could demand proper hosiery, let me point out that one, going sockless is a sign I no longer need to dress corporately, and two, I really hate not wearing socks.) 

As long as we’re talking about The Daily Show, have you noticed the Mass Mutual ad that runs on the program picturing a father and son eating out. When the bill comes there’s an awkward moment when each contemplates who is the proper person to pay. I had such a moment with my father.

It was back before our children were born. It was Father’s Day, so Gilda and I took my parents to a restaurant in Greenwich Village. When the bill came I reached for the check. My father said he would pay. I said it was Father’s Day, let me pay. He reiterated he would pay. I said no. My father reached across the table ... and grabbed the tie I was wearing, choking me. Okay, Dad, if you want to pay that much, be my guest.  

Now that Bill de Blasio has been elected mayor of New York City, we’re in for non-stop pictures of his son Dante and his Afro, which I must say, is quite impressive.

Each morning as I coif my hair, I reach into a bathroom drawer to take out a Black Power steel hair pick I bought back in 1974 in New Haven when Gilda convinced me to shed my old-fashioned hairdo in favor of a more modern look. For years I had been trying to deal with my naturally curly hair by brushing it to the left while wet and then violently brushing it to the right. My barber in Brooklyn gave me razor cuts to weed out the curls, which, according to my recollection, showed up when I was about three years old after letting my sister Lee play hairdresser on my locks. I’ve never forgiven her. 

Anyway, Gilda importuned me to change. We had just moved into New Haven from nearby Seymour. Walking around the Westville neighborhood, we passed a unisex hair salon. It took all of her persuasive powers to get me inside, especially when I discovered a woman would be cutting my hair (remember, this was almost 40 years ago when I was but 25, so cut me some slack, please. For the record, my haircutter for the last 30 or so years has been a woman, Rosie.). 

To get back to the story, from the get-go I liked my Afro. One of Gilda’s favorite pictures of me was taken shortly thereafter in the newsroom of The New Haven Register. I’m sitting, my left knee akimbo atop the plane of the desktop, my head flush with a bushy Afro. Not as well-cropped and rounded as Dante’s, but as much a statement of my liberation from my childhood years as any I could make. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Time to Party Up, Support Obamacare and Feed the Hungry

Today marks the end of the latest cycle of robo calls and, at least in my case, coming home to a porch littered with multiple copies of campaign literature beseeching me to vote for Noam Bramson for county executive of Westchester. Interestingly, nowhere on the flyers does it indicate Bramson’s party affiliation. Am I supposed to know the absence of any red color on the flyer means Bramson is a Democrat through and through? 

Why is it that almost all election literature, particularly those annoying road signs, and all radio and television ads fail to identify a candidate’s political party? It’s a real bugaboo of mine. Candidates should be proud of their party endorsement. It should be mandatory to include on all campaign material.

Simply Put, We Can't Start Over Again: No self-respecting Democrat can be happy with the launch of the Affordable Care Act. The Obamacare rollout is making it difficult to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. The humor in the foul-up of the launch is painful to watch. At least no one is dying because of the screw-up. No country is being bombed back to the Stone Age or into the arms of al-Qaeda.

The only reason I’m not in favor of scrapping the program and beginning anew is that Republicans would never cooperate in drafting a more workable and still comprehensive bill that would care for tens of millions of Americans who need medical coverage. That’s a given, given the reluctance of numerous GOP-controlled state governments to enter into the federal program. They have refused to expand Medicaid eligibility. They have placed stumbling blocks before the navigators who are supposed to help citizens sign up for Obamacare. They have continually tried to defund enactment of the law. 

So we’re stuck with what we have. It’s not perfect. But it’s better than the “you’re-on-your-own” Republican plan for medical coverage.

How’s He Doing? Based on a Saturday Night Live skit three days ago, it turns out I have much in common with Afro-Americans. In a skit entitled “How’s He Doing,” black performers repeatedly affirmed their allegiance to President Obama despite missteps with Obamacare and the National Security Agency wiretapping scandal, as well as hypothetical questions about his possible conversion to another religion and his choice of an all white all-star basketball team to play with him against a Russian team assembled by Vladimir Putin. 

The tone of the skit was set when the host of the faux talk show asked, was there any time in the last month when you wished you would have voted for Mitt Romney? Uncontrollable laughter was the response. See for yourself:

Did you eat well today? Yesterday? The day before? Millions of your fellow citizens did not. On top of their hunger they had to swallow a sizable cut in the food stamp assistance program with Republicans threatening even deeper more emaciating reductions.

Waiting to oust GOP congressmen is impractical. We need to act individually to reap a collective response to hunger in America. Do at least what I do every month. Donate food to your local food bank. Don't just send a check, though money is always welcome. Don't just drop off groceries at your church or synagogue once a year. Go to Costco or some other low-cost provider and buy food for the hungry. $50 a month, or more if you can afford it. Take the food yourself to the food bank. Talk with the volunteers. Educate yourself to the needs of your neighbors. It will wind up being among your most worthy activities of the month.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Park Avenue Memories

I wouldn’t swear to it but I’m almost certain The NY Times ran a picture Monday of the office building where I formerly worked on Park Avenue in Manhattan. The picture was large, running across five columns and was 7-1/4 inches deep. It accompanied an article on the legal battle between Major League Baseball and Alex Rodriguez over his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. My personal office was on the sixth floor, at various times overlooking Park Avenue, or East 55th Street or East 56th (the picture on page three of the online story, by comparison, is postage size: 

It was a great location for an office building. When you’re walking on Park Avenue north of Grand Central Terminal it’s a different world from the rest of Manhattan. Not as gritty. Often the esplanade in the middle of the avenue is adorned with flowers or works of art. There are few commercial establishments along the way, no hole-in-the-wall delis to grease up the street, though there are some fruit and vegetable carts and hot dog stands along some of the cross streets. Luxury car dealers, such as Mercedes and BMW, located showrooms on the avenue.  

Except for often seeing celebrities on my jaunts to and from the office and Metro North station, or being inconvenienced by the many movie, TV and commercial scenes shot along Park Avenue, especially around St. Bartholomew’s Church or the Seagram Building, nothing too exciting ever happened along the way. Except one year, about three decades ago, during the time the South African embassy was located in our building. At the time my window looked out on Park Avenue. Early one afternoon everyone was told we could not leave the building. There was a bomb scare, a suspicious package at the door of what is now a Staples Express. We were told to stay away from the windows, not to look out, as a bomb blast could send shrapnel and debris as high as the sixth floor, where we were. Of course we ignored that advice. Turned out it was nothing more than an abandoned briefcase. 

Another time, when my office faced East 55th Street toward Lexington Avenue, I missed by a few minutes watching a spectacular fire at the Central Synagogue on the corner of Lex and 55th. It was about 4:30 on a Friday. I left work early. Just minutes later the fire began. Roofers had not properly put away a piece of equipment that set the roof of the historic synagogue on fire. The roof eventually collapsed into the sanctuary which was completely gutted. 

To fight the blaze firemen carrying hoses went into an adjacent apartment building. They entered---that is, they knocked down—the door of an apartment with windows overlooking the burning structure. I tell you this because of the only-in-New York coincidence that this apartment was the home of one of the doctors in Gilda’s medical practice at Beth Israel Hospital.   

My office home for 32 years, 425 Park Avenue, is scheduled to be torn down sometime after April 2015. About 10 years ago an electrical fire fried all the circuitry in the building one weekend. Some tenants were displaced for months until a temporary fix could be wired. 

It should be a lot easier finding new space for my former company. Instead of room for close to 150, just 35-50 spots are needed. It’s been a tough half-dozen years for the publishing industry in general, my company in particular. One of the benefits of early retirement is I don’t have to angst over the relocation process. A creature of habit, I couldn’t imagine commuting to anywhere but 425 Park Avenue.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Allianz Is Back in My News Views

The latest New York edition of The Jewish Week arrived Thursday. Once more I was thrust—anonymously, but still the party responsible—into the debate on when, if ever, Allianz and its executives should no longer be held accountable for a role in insuring Nazi death camps and for a refusal to issue timely compensation or full compensation to Holocaust survivors or their heirs.

The lead story in The Jewish Week began, “When the German insurance company Allianz bid for the naming rights to the Meadowlands stadium in 2008, there was such an outcry over the company’s past complicity with the Nazis that the talks were called off” (for the full article click on this link:

You might recall it was my Letter to the Editor of The NY Times five years ago that first exposed this controversy which, by week’s end, ended in Allianz withdrawing its bid for naming rights of what is now known as MetLife Stadium, the home field of the NY Giants and Jets.

This time the controversy takes on a human face. It's not a corporate entity seeking to imprint its name (surely, not its history) on the public in our increasingly commercialized, branded world. Rather, it is about a decision by a Jewish organization to honor an individual employed by an Allianz subsidiary.  

Peter Lefkin is a senior vice president of Allianz North America, who, by all accounts, is an upstanding citizen, an American who was not part of Allianz’s ignoble activities undertaken years before he was associated with the financial services and insurance company. Lefkin has been chosen by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous to receive its Recognition of Goodness award on December 3 in New York. 

“The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous provides financial support to more than 600 non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust and preserves their legacy through a national education program,” according to its Web site. Lefkin is too young to have personally saved lives during World War II. The dinner also will “reunite Czeslaw Polziec, a Righteous Gentile from Poland, with Leon Gersten, the Jewish boy he and his family saved.” 

So the question becomes, is it seemly or unseemly to honor Lefkin for his support of the JFR and other Jewish causes, or does his association with Allianz forever bar him, and any of his colleagues, from positive recognition for their good deeds? 

The linked article provides point/counterpoint arguments, as does The Jewish Week’s editorial ( I won’t go into them here. I’m more absorbed by my personal reaction. 

I consider my revelation of Allianz’s history a cherished accomplishment. Had I not seen a short article about the pending purchase of the naming rights in the marketing section of the sports pages of The Times there is a good possibility the Allianz name would be prominently displayed on the stadium, a visual reminder and affront many Holocaust survivors and their families would see each time they drove along the New Jersey Turnpike past the Meadowlands. The Times article merely referred to Allianz as a German “financial services company.” My Letter to the Editor alerted The Times and other media to the full Allianz story. 

To be fair, Allianz does not hide its sordid past. Its Web site provides details. Yet, it was wrong for the Giants, Jets and Allianz to consider the naming rights proposal without first publicly taking into account the sentiments of Holocaust families. The swift scuttling of the deal was affirmation that not all was kosher with the transaction.

The current conflict has Holocaust survivor community members upset. They were surprised by Lefkin’s selection. They see no difference between the company and the man. Sorry, I cannot agree. Absent a history of prejudice, Peter Lefkin appears to be a worthy recipient of the award to be bestowed by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.