Monday, February 24, 2014

I'm Not Ready to Applaud Ukraine

Have you been following the extraordinary, tingling news from Ukraine? Sounds like the good guys won, at least for now. Yet I am ambivalent. You see, the Ukrainians who have seemingly toppled a government are from the western portion of the country, the descendants of anti-Semitic beasts who aided the Nazi extermination of Jews, including my father’s family in Ottynia in the Galicia region, once considered a central concentration of Jewish life and culture in Eastern Europe.

According to Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, 1,200 Jews were killed by Ukrainians in the nearby Szeparowce Forest on July 7, 1941, just days after Germany occupied Ottynia on July 1. On August 3, Wiesenthal reported, 45 Jews were shot by Ukrainians in the town. 

Ingmar Oldberg, an associate researcher in the Russia program at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs, wrote in August 2011, “According to Jewish scholars and organizations, the Ukrainian Nachtigall battalion, together with German troops and local Ukrainians, massacred Jews in the first days of July before continuing their march. At the end of the month a new pogrom was carried out in the city (of Lviv), known as the “Petliura Days”, named for the Ukrainian leader who instigated pogroms during the 1919 struggle for independence. Even after Nazi troops retreated toward the end of the war, incidents of persecution by the Ukrainians against the remaining Jews occurred throughout Galicia.”

He concluded his essay thusly: “The Holocaust of the Jews and Ukrainian complicity are still rarely addressed ... The world is still waiting for Ukrainian historians in general to admit that Ukrainians were not only victims, but also executioners. The Jews are waiting for their rightful place in Ukraine’s history and contemporary life” (

My Uncle Willy, a survivor of the extermination in Ottynia who hid from the Nazis for several years before being enlisted by the Russian army, related his own story of fear of Ukrainian anti-Semitism. When assigned to a battalion to be shipped out to fight the Germans, he asked for a transfer to a different unit. Why? Because, he told his commandant, his original unit was composed of Ukrainian soldiers. He feared being shot by them because he was Jewish. He asked for a transfer to a Russian battalion. His request was granted.

So no, I am not ready to stand up and cheer just now.

Speaking of Nazis: How’s that for a segue into my next topic, taking a small round of applause for correctly predicting Downtown Abbey’s Lady Edith’s lost-in-Munich-lover had a run-in with Brown Shirted bullies in the Bavarian capital. 

Okay, I suggested he embedded himself with the Nazis to get a scoop for his paper, instead of being assaulted or worse by them, as Lady Edith told her family, but let’s not quibble about small details, nor about my prediction he’d return in time for the birth of their love-child. 

More Kudos: For those who watch CBS Sunday Morning, yesterday’s edition featured a profile of an old-fashioned Colorado newspaper produced by Linotype machine, just as I explained to you the other day how my college newspaper, Calling Card, made it into print. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

French Toast from Generation to Generation

Of all the comfort foods in the world, French toast has to rank among the best. Not so much for its taste, though I do like it, but because it's a food often made on weekends by dads and granddads.

A last minute visit by Dan, Allison, Finley and Dagny gave me the opportunity to exhibit the culinary skill passed down by my father. He rarely made an appearance in my mother’s kitchen in Brooklyn. He never cleaned the dishes or the pots and pans, though he did don jeans instead of his usual dress pants to lie on the floor to fix the dishwasher when it went on the fritz.

Other than French toast, his cooking—better to call it, food preparation—was confined to peeling an apple or slicing a pear for his three children. But he did make good French toast. Challah French toast, made from leftover Friday night sectional challah.

Cooking French toast has made its way down to another generation. Dan cooks it for his family, and after seeing his dad and grandpa do it I hope we are planting the seed of continuity inside Finley.

Finley already has experience with generational continuity. Gilda and I saved many of our children's toys including lots of Legos and construction trucks, one of which is a giant crane. For more than a year we made it a point to show Finley a picture hanging on our family room wall, a picture of young Dan playing with the crane just as Finley now does. Soon, Gilda will hang next to it a picture of Finley playing with the crane.

The Legos, of course, are as much fun for Dan to play with again as they are for Finley to explore. But it's the books we kept that really choke Gilda and me up. Seeing and hearing Dan read to Finley books he loved, like “There's No Such Thing as a Dragon” or “Sylvester and the Magic Pebble,” is beyond priceless.

To assure there will be enough bread for French toast on Saturday or Sunday morning I always buy two challahs when I know the kids are staying the weekend. I can't say I include any secret ingredient in the batter. Just eggs, milk and vanilla extract. My dad didn't include vanilla extract and neither did I until Ellie made it that way during a recent family get-together at Dan’s house.

Finley and Dagny like to dip their French toast pieces into maple syrup sitting in a monkey dish. I drip sugar-free syrup onto my slices. Dan only uses real maple syrup. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Junior's, Brooklyn's Original Cheesecake Factory

News broke earlier this week that the iconic Junior’s restaurant in downtown Brooklyn will sell its location on Flatbush Avenue so a high rise condominium could be built. Junior’s hopes to lease back ground floor space in the building but in the interim also hopes to open a nearby restaurant for its signature cheesecake and other delectables (

Junior’s opened in 1950, a year after I was born, but my experience with the restaurant didn't deepen until 20 years later when I was editor of Calling Card, a Brooklyn College newspaper published by the House Plan Association.

Calling Card came out every two weeks or so. We produced Calling Card the old fashioned way, through a hot lead process. Copy would be retyped by Linotype operators sitting in front of enormous clanking machines reminiscent of a Middle Ages torture chamber device complete with an arm suspending shiny lead bars slowly melting into a well that in turn were transformed into individual lines of words printed in reverse and then lined up on a page form based on a layout designed by one of our editors. 

Ink would be rolled over the hot lead to imprint a true version of a story or advertisement. But as anyone who worked in these pre-computer printing days could tell you, we didn't wait for the inked version to check copy. We all learned to read upside down in reverse, a skill that proved quite invaluable in the real world of reporting when one found oneself seated across from someone who was reluctant to talk, confident incriminating evidence on his or her desk was incomprehensible to prying eyes.

But I digress from Junior’s. The printer we used was located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. About half a dozen editors would drive to the printer. We'd arrive around 6 pm, not finish until well past midnight. We didn't get paid for this work, but we did get a communal dinner allowance— $40, which worked out to a princely per person sum back then. Often we'd go to Junior’s around 11 pm before returning to the printing plant to put the paper to bed.

We'd order strip steaks or hamburgers and always dessert. I wasn't a big fan of cheesecake at the time, so I usually opted for a wedge of banana cream pie or nesselrode pie. Believe me when I say a “wedge.” Junior’s’ portions were gigantic.

Heading back to the printer one misty night I got my first traffic ticket. I made what I thought was a legal left turn from Flatbush Avenue onto Lafayette Avenue. A few blocks later I pulled over to let a police car with its rooftop bubble gum machine ablaze in rotating blue and red lights pass me. Only the cop car stopped right behind me. “No, officer, I did not see the ‘No Left Turn’ sign.”

A few months later our printer moved to Great Neck, just barely inside Nassau County. It was too far away to eat in Junior’s. We discovered the Scobee Diner on Northern Boulevard in Little Neck, Queens, another landmark eatery that no longer exists (

When my kids were young they'd ask if I believed in god. I'd tell them about a ride home to Brooklyn from the printer in Great Neck one winter night when I experienced the invisible hand of good fortune or god, depending on your outlook. 

At 2 am I had the Belt Parkway all to myself. I must have been going at least 70 miles per hour, maybe closer to 80. With no one else on the road, I traveled in the middle lane. Around Pennsylvania Avenue I inexplicably switched lanes, moving to my left. No more than a few hundred yards later I passed a deep pothole in the center lane. Had I not changed lanes I surely would have hit that pothole, doing untold damage to my car and possibly to me. 

Karma or Jehovah? You tell me.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 16 Is a Day I Will Always Remember

Eighteen years ago today it snowed. Ten  inches. I had reservations on a flight to Orlando to attend my magazine’s largest annual conference, SPECS. I never made it down to Florida. Yes, the airline canceled my flight. But even if it had taken off I would have remained on the ground. Two hours before my scheduled departure time I received a call informing me my mother had died.

Eighteen years. In Hebrew, letters are assigned a numerical equivalent. Eighteen is a combination of a chet for eight and a yud for ten. As a word the letters spell out the word chai. It means alive, living.

Though she probably would not classify herself as one, my mom was an early liberated woman. She worked from the time she graduated from high school in 1936. She was, in the vernacular of the time, a full-charge bookkeeper. She could easily have been a CPA. As a young woman she was sassy and strong-willed. She also was quite handsome. That is, when she took the time to tame her frizzy hair. After marrying my father in 1942 she became more than just a partner in his home. She became his business partner as well. She took care of the office while he ran the factory where they produced half-slips and panties and, in the latter years, t-shirts.

In her eulogy back in 1996 my sister noted how our mother was not a 1950s stay-at-home type like those of our friends. Mom used to say my feeble eating habits as a toddler drove her back to work, but the reality is, she could not be content sitting at home, though she still remained active in the PTA and sisterhood of her synagogue and our elementary school. She was a good cook of Jewish cuisine (Dan particularly loved her chicken soup with noodles) and a gracious host for Rosh Hashanah and Passover meals that could number as many as 40 guests. She left Thanksgiving chores to one of her sisters, like her, liberated working women.

She wasn't afraid to travel by herself. In the summer of 1957 she journeyed to Israel, Italy and France by herself as our parents could not close the factory to vacation together for extended periods of time. As I looked at film of her trip I was amazed to realize she was just 40 that summer.

She instilled culture into her children. Every year she would take us to an opera at the Met. She'd also take us to a Broadway show. We would accompany our parents on weekends in the Catskills or Lakewood. She taught my brother and me to play ball. She took us to baseball games.

I've painted a positive picture of our mother. In her final years, however, she suffered from an addiction to cigarettes and the congestive heart failures they caused. Cigarettes robbed her of strength and cognitive functions. A diabetic, she endured a below the knee amputation and was in the hospital awaiting a second amputation when she succumbed to heart failure 18 years ago today.

It’s hard to recall her early vibrancy, so pronounced was the change in her twilight years. But those are the times I want to remember and if I concentrate real hard I manage to hurdle the chasm of a life too soon confined to sitting by the living room window of our Brooklyn home, the smoke of an ever present cigarette wafting above her head.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Day Thoughts: LinkedIn, Water Pipelines, and Baseball Sans Derek Jeter

They’re coming out of the woodwork. Like characters from The Walking Dead, people I hadn’t heard from in years have been sending congratulations messages and asking to re-connect, all because I failed to update my LinkedIn profile. So, they all think I am celebrating my third year anniversary at Green Retail Decisions as director of industry relations when in truth I stopped consulting for them last summer. Still, it’s nice to know some people still care enough about me to want to keep the relationship alive ... 

I cleared 11 inches of snow from the driveway and walkway around noon today. Thank god I bought that snowblower a few years ago. Waiting for the second round of snow from this storm …

Perhaps you’ve thought of this idea as well: If we have the capability to build the Keystone XL (crude oil) Pipeline from Canada to Nebraska, a distance of 1,179 miles, with the hope there won’t be any negative environmental impacts from leaks or spills, why can’t we build a water pipeline to take the inevitable runoff of spring flooding along the Mississippi River in Iowa and points south to the parched Texas landscape, a distance of about 1,000 miles? Or maybe divert flood waters from the Missouri River to Denver? Sure, each would be a massive project, but would provide jobs and much needed drought relief. Plus, we wouldn’t have a catastrophe if a few gallons of water leaked along the way. 

I just did a Google search and found several entries outlining the difficulties of advancing these projects, from structural, financial and, even more importantly, political perspectives.  We had massive public works projects during the Depression and the building of the interstate highway system beginning in the 1950s. But it is doubtful all the stars would line up to implement any such tasks in this day and age ...

O Captain! My Captain! I don’t mean to trivialize Walt Whitman’s tribute poem to the assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but one of the first thoughts I had upon hearing of Derek Jeter’s pending retirement from the NY Yankees at the conclusion of the 2014 season was the opening lines of the poet’s elegy:

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather'd every rack, the prize we sought is won;

Nobody can play forever. Jeter’s departure, along with that of Robinson Cano in free agency and the joint retirements of Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte in 2013, will leave no internally grown superstar among pinstriped players. What a pity. The long line of Yankee greats, that started with Gehrig and wound its way through DiMaggio, Berra, Mantle, Ford, Howard, Guidry, Munson, Mattingly, Posada, Pettitte, Rivera and Jeter appears to be, at best, in hiatus.

My hope, probably shared by anyone who has appreciated Jeter’s professionalism, is that injury will not mar his final trip around the basepaths of major league baseball. Let’s hope that just as Mariano enjoyed a splendid comeback year after his injury-shortened 2012 season, Jeter will play to the level of 2012 when he led the American League in hits with 216.   

Monday, February 10, 2014

Weekend to Remember

It was a loooong weekend of remembrances. 

For those of you who didn’t bother to catch Jay Leno’s final stint as host of The Tonight Show last Thursday, it was a mostly maudlin affair. The best comment (joke) of the night was Leno saying “the saddest part of it all (his 22 years as host)” was “OJ never found the real killers.” 

I find myself choking up more frequently these days when talking about family or anything sentimental, so I empathized with Leno during his final words of thanking fans and staff. I particularly associated with the thoughts he expressed when explaining why he did not jump to another network. 

“When people say to me, 'why don’t you go to ABC, why don’t you go to Fox, why don’t you go …,' I didn’t know anybody over there. These are the only people I’ve ever known.” 

It struck home. I worked for Chain Store Age for 32 years. I was a young 60 when I retired, like Leno, more a decision initiated from above but not resisted. I could have jumped to another publishing company. But I just couldn’t see myself carrying any other press card. Fortunately, it hasn’t been a decision I’ve regretted. 

Thanks Mom: With the Olympics set to begin Friday night, a real estate colleague sent along a YouTube clip meant to pull the heartstrings. See for yourself: 

Now, I ask you, did no fathers get up at 4 am to drive a son or daughter to practice? Did no dad sacrifice anything on the road of hope to Olympic gold? Why do athletes from all sports always thank or say hi to their moms and not recognize their fathers? Are they all from broken homes? 

Joan Ranger: Saturday night I missed an opportunity to sign in as a Joan Ranger to Joan Rivers herself (to those not familiar with Joan Rangers, they are loyal fans of Fashion Police, an often hilarious, outrageous commentary on celebrities and their fashion choices, presided over by Joan Rivers. It’s one of Gilda’s and my favorite shows).   

Joan, Gilda and I, along with our friends Ken and Jane, attended the Playwrights Horizons preview performance of a new play, Stage Kiss, by Sarah Ruhl (we highly recommend it).  Rivers was very accessible, talking with audience members during the intermission and after the final curtain. I told Rivers I liked her show but failed, in the moment, to say I was a Joan Ranger. 

For those who may not know, Rivers is 80 years old, but as spine specialist Gilda noted, she stands very erect. This was the second time we met Rivers. The first was back in 1998 at the 50th anniversary performance of the New York City Ballet. Gilda and I, along with our then 16-year-old daughter Ellie, were invited by an executive of Talbots to attend the performance. We sat in the second row. After the ballet, the audience retired to the forecourt of Lincoln Center for a sumptuous meal during which Ellie and Gilda talked with Rivers and with designer Vera Wang. 

British Invasion: Sunday night, of course, marked the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and the beginning of the British Invasion by music groups. Though not a regular fan of Ed Sullivan, I remember watching the telecast that night. But I had already experienced the Beatles some five weeks earlier.

I was a regular viewer of the Friday night Jack Paar Show. On January 3, five weeks before February 9, Paar broadcast footage of the Fab Four singing several songs. He purposely chose to pre-empt Sullivan’s scoop. But his tactic might well have had unintended consequences.

While Paar increased his normal audience of 17 million to 30 million, mostly by attracting younger viewers, he primed the pump for Sullivan to achieve astronomical numbers. Sullivan’s audience reached nearly 74 million, up from its usual 35 million. And it was Sullivan, not Paar, who was credited, for better or worse, with bringing the Beatles into the living rooms of America.  

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

From Transit Woes to Nuns to Super Bowl and Downton Abbey

Transportation Woes: Traffic snarled in both directions of the George Washington Bridge during Tuesday evening’s rush hour, another reminder of the troubles people have getting into and out of New Jersey. It’s the latest example of frustration, coming just two days after fans leaving MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands had their ride home on New Jersey Transit trains stalled for hours, much like the Denver Broncos offense was during the Super Bowl loss to the Seattle Seahawks. 

At least, for now, no one is pointing any blaming fingers at Governor Chris Christie for the latest debacles. But is seems apparent that from here on out any restriction to the flow of traffic will forever evoke thoughts of Christie underlings meting out political payback without regard to the innocents forced to sit in their cars and trucks for hours upon days.

It is hard to swallow Christie’s denials that he knew nothing about Bridgegate. Even if we grant him ignorance of the first day’s congestion on the bridge last September, he cannot be excused for not taking decisive action on days two, three or four. Or for not getting to the bottom of this mean-spirited act. He fostered a climate of retaliation, a small-time Nixon’s enemy list mentality. 

We like it when bullies get their comeuppance. We cringe when they throw one-time friends or colleagues under the bus, as Christie has with David Wildstein, his former appointee on the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who orchestrated the traffic jams on the bridge last fall in an attempt to punish the mayor of Fort Lee for failing to endorse the governor’s re-election campaign.

Though more conservative Republicans disapproved of his praise for President Obama’s support after Hurricane Sandy, Christie is repaying the favor by hogging the media spotlight. Instead of focusing on some of Obama’s shortfalls, the media looks to the future for personality or scandal stories rather than stories of policy substance. 

Another Transportation Dilemma: Bathroom graffiti ain't what it used to be, it was revealed to me during a quick trip to visit Finley, Dagny and their parents last week. 

In the westbound Charlton, Mass., Turnpike rest stop, one stall had but a single word written on a wall—Bitcoin. With no other words to guide me, I didn't know if the scrawl was meant to praise or damn the virtual money.

I'm conflicted: Gilda and I saw Philomena last weekend. I must admit I came away with very little sympathy for the nuns portrayed in the movie.

Is that what I'm supposed to feel, or should I be more inclined to associate nuns with the loving, altruistic sisters depicted in the PBS series, The Midwives?

Final word on the Super Bowl: Okay, my prognostication was waaaaaaay off. My only consolation is that nobody of sound mind predicted the one-sided massacre.

But I do wonder about the brains behind this sport. As we all know, playing football is dangerous. In an instant, injury can inject itself into a game with the potential to destroy a career. So I ask you, what coach in his right mind (are you listening, John Fox and so many of your brethren) would continue to play his most important player in a game that is beyond reversal of fortune?

Why was Peyton Manning still quarterbacking the Broncos with a little less than four minutes to go in the game and his team trailing 43-8. It wasn't just improbable, it was impossible, for Denver to come back. Why risk Manning’s already precarious health? Someone please explain why coaches do that.

Where is he? Spoiler alert, Downton Abbey fans. I think I've figured out what has happened to Lady Edith's boyfriend in Munich. 

The time is 1922 to mid 1923, the period when Adolph Hitler and the Nazi Party are planning their unsuccessful Beer Hall putsch in Munich in November. It was too good a story for a journalist like Michael Gregson to have passed up. Somehow, he has embedded himself in the conspiracy to overthrow the government. He can't risk letting Lady Edith or any of his colleagues know his plans or whereabouts. 

Eventually he will be reunited with Lady Edith in time to welcome their love child. At least that's the way I would write the plot. Let's see if Julian Fellowes has as dramatic an imagination as mine. (I know I could have searched British Web sites for the actual plot line, but I'm trying to give a surmised opinion on what would happen.)

One more thing. Downton Abbey began its storyline in 1912 when the Titanic sank. Now it's 10 years later. Why hasn't anyone aged?