Sunday, July 28, 2019

Secrets Exposed by The Farewell Span Cultures

“The Farewell,” a new film about extraordinary acts by a family to shield its matriarch from being told she is dying, has received lots of press lately including a piece Thursday by Brian X. Chen, a Chinese-American staff writer of The New York Times ( An underlying premise of the film is that Chinese, or for that matter many East Asian cultures, choose to keep secrets, even tell lies, rather than reveal truths that might be harmful emotionally or physically to the uninformed. 

I cannot dispute the notion but I would not limit silence as a tool to just Eastern Asian cultures. Even after my siblings and I grew up and married our parents kept quiet about health issues, about impending hospital stays. They didn’t want to burden us is how they would explain their silence. 

Perhaps it was an Eastern European thing, as well. Our father’s closest friends all emigrated from the same small town, Ottynia, in Galicia, at various times part of Austria-Hungary, Poland and now Ukraine. Many lost relatives during the Holocaust. During their monthly poker games, wives included, nobody talked about Ottynia. Nobody talked about departed, murdered, family members. They kibitzed about the cards, about business, about everyday life. Nothing about the past. Nothing about Ottynia. 

Was it any different from veterans of the Second World War who kept the horror locked inside military-issue chests stashed in attics, basements or garages until their exploits began surfacing after Tom Brokaw’s revelatory 1998 book, “The Greatest Generation,” released their collective heroism and trauma to a nation grateful but mostly uninformed to the sacrifices they made to protect and secure freedom for peoples around the globe? 

I can think of no example of silence more profound than what transpired between my father and his best friend from Ottynia, Charlie Brooks. Charlie was the youngest of three brothers. Adolph the oldest. Next came Harry. All three with their wives were part of the poker game that floated each month from home to home of the eight or so couples who were regular players. 

Eventually, all but Charlie, his wife Lily and my parents remained alive. They would see each other often. They usually ate dinner, then played cards to pass the evening. 

His voice was loud, a combination of a cement mixer with a bad muffler. Charlie was an effusive, stocky man. Always smiling. Laughing. He always was happy to see me. And Gilda. 

Several weeks before Ellie was born in December 1981 we came with three-year-old Dan to my parents’ home in Brooklyn one Friday evening for a weekend visit. Over dinner we asked about Charlie. 

Matter of factly my mother said Charlie had died. What!?! When!?! 

Right there, at the dinette table at which we were sitting, she dispassionately related. During a card game one Saturday night in August he suffered a heart attack. While they waited for an ambulance my father tried to revive him. He couldn’t. 

Lily never forgave his failure. You have to understand. To many emigres from Ottynia my father was an unquestioned leader of extraordinary talents. It was incomprehensible that Charlie could die in his house at his dinner table. That Kopel could not save him. 

I think my parents were caught up in the complex myth, as well. So they kept Charlie’s passing a secret, to be released only because we asked of him. Gilda and I did not have the opportunity to attend his funeral or make a shiva visit. My parents felt it was better to spare us the immediate sorrow of his death. 

Charlie is buried a few yards from my parents in the communal plot assigned to members of the Ottynier Young Men’s Benevolent Association. 

As is the Jewish custom, each time I visit my parents’ graves I place rocks atop their headstones and those of my father’s brother and his wife. And one on Charlie’s, as well. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Move If You Want to Save the Republic

Volunteers needed: Who wants to move to Pennsylvania?

Or Michigan? Or Wisconsin? Maybe you would prefer a sunnier clime? Okay. How about Florida or Arizona? 

It is all for a good cause. It doesn’t have to be permanent, but it does require a residential move relatively soon that would appear to be forever but has to last through November 2020. 

If you haven’t figured out my idea yet, then you haven’t read Nate Cohn’s recent analysis in The New York Times that swing states Donald Trump barely won in 2016 may be sliding further into his Electoral College victory column despite an expected national surge in popular votes for the Democratic nominee no matter who she or he may be (

Since Trump won the Electoral College votes of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by a combined 77,744 votes it is simply a matter of realigning residencies for some, okay, many, anti Trump voters from sure-win Democratic states to battleground states to turn them from red to blue. 

So, are you with me? Who enjoys cheese? Who can visualize themselves in the fall wearing a tricornered cheesehead hat cheering on the Green Bay Packers? Forget how cold and snowy Wisconsin can be come December. Your patriotic duty to defend our country should warm the cockles of your heart, even as your fingertips and toes tingle with early stage frostbite (of course, you can buy those glove and sock warmers for the one season you’ll be  exposed to a Wisconsin chill).  

Or maybe you’re a Revolutionary War or Civil War buff and would like to live closer to where the action was, say in Valley Forge or Philadelphia or Gettysburg. See, it’s not as if you have to move away from East Coast civilization to save our democratic republic. You could be happy in Pennsylvania. 

We can’t take anything for granted in 2020. No doubt, Republicans will get wind of this plan and try to pass laws that require at least two years of residency before a newly arrived citizen may vote. Let’s be thankful Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin have Democratic governors who would veto any such legislation because we all know which way the Supreme Court would rule if a court challenge ever reached its once hallowed hall of justice. 

Saving a democracy requires commitment. It won’t be enough to spend a few days in a battleground state canvassing districts or driving seniors to the polls. You have to be like the pig in the old joke about breakfast and the roles played by a chicken and a hog. For a bacon and egg breakfast a chicken must make a contribution. A pig must make a commitment. 

Keep in mind you can return to your posh liberal quarters after November 2020. In the meantime, you could Airbnb or VRBO your home. Saving our republic can be concurrently profitable and patriotic.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Sell the Sizzle, Not the Steak

Robert Mueller’s testimony Wednesday on his investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible conspiracy and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump, his campaign and administration reminded me of one of the first tenets of successful marketing I learned when I started covering retailing back in 1977: 

“Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” Presentation, not taste, was more important in restaurants trying to capture consumer acceptance. The concept applies to almost all consumer goods. Watch most automobile ads and you’ll see what I mean. Car ads sell you a feeling, an experience, not an actual product.

Sadly, watching or listening to a 74-year-old man dodder his way through six hours of grueling and grilling testimony, roughly half of which was intended to pierce his patriotic professionalism in defense of our country while his detractors defended a would-be despot, was an exercise so painfully depressing Gilda and I independently had to turn off the broadcasts we were tuned into in separate rooms, she while doing her yoga, I while eating my breakfast. 

Bob Mueller was no 34-year-old John Dean testifying cooly and controlled before Congress about a “cancer” growing on the presidency of Richard Nixon. Of course, most of the country wasn’t alive back in 1973 when Dean testified during the Watergate hearings while his wife Mo (Maureen) sat pertly and stoically behind him, her blonde hair pulled back tightly in a bun. 

The substance of Mueller’s findings were already known from his 448 page report. Anti-Trumpers wanted bold vocal confirmation that obstruction of justice had taken place in the Oval Office, that Russia had compromised the election. They had to settle for a less powerful than hoped for performance. 

Pro-Trumpers—in other words Republicans and the man himself—reveled in the optics. They claimed no verbal knockdown meant they won the day, ignoring Mueller’s assertion his report did not exonerate Trump from a charge of obstruction and that once he left office he could face prosecution. 

For those who didn’t tune in for all six hours of testimony, their take on the proceedings came from their main news outlets. So their views were reinforced. 

Few minds, I would think, changed opinions on the matter. You either like Trump or fear for our republic. 

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Does Trump Fit The Profile of a Fascist?

Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 amorphous description of obscenity (“I know it when I see it”), fascism is a concept much bandied about lately but little understood. It is often invoked to disparage political extremes on the right or left, leaving its true meaning murky. Most people associate fascism with Hitler and Mussolini and they want nothing to do with it. 

Of course, the reality is more imprecise in our application of the epithet “fascist.” Is Donald Trump a fascist or just an ill-spoken nationalist? 

Here, thanks to an article in Haaretz, a liberal Israeli news organization, by Dan Tamir, author of “Hebrew Fascism in Palestine, 1922-1942,” is a critical analysis of the features of fascism ( You can decide if some or all strains of the fascist model have invaded our government: 

“... what is fascism? What sets it apart from other right-wing political streams? In 2004, Robert Paxton, in his book “The Anatomy of Fascism” (disclosure: this writer [Tamir] translated that book into Hebrew), listed seven features that collectively might delineate the nature of fascism as an ideology and as a political practice. They are: 

“certainty in the supremacy of the groupnational, ethnic—over every right of the individual, and the individual’s subordination to the group; 

“belief that the group in question is a victim of other groups, as a consequence of which there is justification for every action taken against its enemies (domestic or external, real or imagined); 

“fear of harm befalling the group from liberal tendencies or ‘foreign’ influences from outside; 

“the need for closer integration of a ‘purer’ national community, whether by agreement or through violence;

“insistence on the group’s right to rule others without any limitations—a right accruing to the group by dint of its singularity or skills; 

“a sense of the existence of a severe crisis, not amenable to any traditional solution; 

“belief in the need for the authority of a lone and solitary leader, and obedience to that leader based on the conviction that he possesses supernatural insights or capabilities.”

Tamir added an eighth characteristic: “Another trait that some would add is fierce opposition to socialism in all its forms—a characteristic that was especially apparent in the practice of fascist movements active in the second half of the 20th century, even if not in their declared ideology.”

I’m not quite ready to declare Trump a fascist but it is troubling to see features of fascism that may be checked off when reviewing his actions. How many would you check off?

Friday, July 19, 2019

Bonding Between Males by Kiss and Hug

Here’s a question intended for just male readers. Do you kiss the adult male members of your family (on the cheek, neck or lips)? Do you kiss your close male friends when greeting them or saying goodbye?

I cannot recall if my father did. I’m sure he kissed me when I was young, but did he continue to show such affection after my bar mitzvah, after I was 13 and presumed a man by Jewish custom? I cannot recall. Neither can my brother or sister.

Hugs. I cannot recall him hugging me as an adult. Bearhugs upon greeting or departing are common among men. They show affection beyond a strong handshake. I don’t recall receiving any bearhugs from my father or his brother, the sole survivor of their immediate family’s annihilation in the Holocaust. I don’t recall ever seeing them hug. Or kiss. Or hug or kiss any of their childhood friends from Ottynia who emigrated to America before and after the Holocaust.

Some years ago, at least a decade I would imagine, I became indoctrinated into the custom of kissing while embracing some of my close friends. It was awkward at first. Like my first time driving on the left side of the road in England. We hug. We kiss each other’s cheek or neck in a much more meaningful manner than the peck on the cheek one dispenses to a female friend. 

I don’t hug and kiss all of my dear male friends. They or I sense it would be awkward. Neither party wants to initiate the exchange. So we shake hands firmly. Or just fist bump. 

It was only after I was initiated into the kissing club that I started to kiss and hug my now 40-year-old son and son-in-law. I sense my son is still a little uncomfortable with it. 

I am sure psychologists or relationship therapists could provide explanations why most men have not embraced the kissing embrace. I won’t insult them by offering my analysis. 

I will, however, strongly suggest this world would be a far better and friendlier place if we all did a lot more fraternal, not sexual, hugging and kissing. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Can "It" Happen Here?

Can “it” happen here?

The “it” is what haunts Jews across America. Could anti-Semitism, always present in the dark corners of our society, grow a public profile acceptable in deed and legal standing? Remembering how integrated and assimilated Jews were in Germany—in commerce and education, in science and medicine, in publishing and the arts, in government and the military—before Hitler’s rise to power, American Jews cannot help but keep in the recesses of their minds the abhorrent thought that this too could, under the direst of circumstances, happen again. Here. To them. 

Where does the slippery slope begin? Remember Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words about the rise of Nazism and the silence of the German populace:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We are witnesses today to the marginalization of broad segments of the American population and those who would seek to become part of our country. Hispanics. Blacks. LGBTQ. Muslims. Jews. 

Far fetched? Donald Trump spews racist venom against four Democratic congresswomen and barely a peep of protest is heard from Republican lawmakers. Silence has engulfed the GOP. No longer is it the party of Ronald Reagan who, in his last address to the nation as president stated, “We draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world.” 

Earlier in his presidency Reagan said, “Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.” 

How far Republicans have drifted from following a leader they all used to admire to following a leader they are afraid will admonish them if they waver. Their silence is overwhelming. How sad they do not harken to the words of Edmund Burke, the late 18th century British conservative: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ... All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. ... Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

When a party of great history and tradition becomes one of sycophancy, when it ignores reason and science, danger lurks in the shadows. Remember, National Socialism was a fringe movement in 1920s Germany. Hitler became chancellor after receiving just 37% of the popular vote in 1932. The rest, as they say, is history (look it up if you don’t know how and what happened next). 

I’m not suggesting Trump is a reincarnate of the Little Corporal (Hitler, after all, did not shirk his military obligation). But slippery slopes begin somewhere. After Trump, what excesses will be considered normative behavior?

Consider this: A survey reported in a late June by Haaretz, an Israeli news organization, found “one in five Americans say businesses should be able to refuse service to Jews.”

According to poll results, “24 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of Democrats think small business owners should be allowed to refuse service to Jews based on religious grounds” ( 

Overall, the survey found 19% of Americans thought that way, an increase from the 12% who agreed back in 2014. That’s more than a 50% increase in five years.

The survey of 1,100 adults found increased support for business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians, transgender people, atheists, Muslims and African Americans.

Trump is part of a march toward an imperial presidency that began in earnest with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (As an aside, it was displayed most comically when Richard Nixon outfitted White House guards in uniforms more associated with European operettas than security professionals ( After the laughter died down Nixon abandoned the wardrobing fiasco.)

The rise in physical and verbal attacks on Jews is part of an overall increase in hate/bias crimes. Paradoxically, it was our first Afro-American president, Barack Obama, who truly ignited it. White supremacists resented his ascendancy to the presidency. Their anger was fueled by Trump’s birther movement. But they didn’t just focus on blacks. Jews have always been part of the white supremacist hate/bias pedigree.

The white supremacist movement crosses international borders.

Speaking recently after a showing of a film on the last surviving prosecutor of Nazis at the post World War II Nuremberg trials, David Harris, CEO of AJC (American Jewish Committee), said anti-Semitism is on the rise because ethno-nationalists feel emboldened for several reasons: The internet is a factor; Witnesses to the Holocaust are dying, so the Holocaust is receding in collective memory; “Who replaced Elie Wiesel?”
Also, students on campus are not afraid of the Far Right but the Far Left is problematic because of its anti-Israel stance, he continued. 
And, said Harris, there is an Islamist problem. Not a problem with Islam. Jewish deaths in Europe are from Jihadists. 

It doesn’t really matter who killed Jews. Or who killed blacks or Hispanics. Or women of any color. When a population genre is singled out for persecution and murder, all of its members, all of society, are vulnerable.

Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump’s comments about the four congresswomen were racist and unAmerican. Racist, for sure. But, unfortunately, our history contains many similar instances of racial bigotry and discrimination, some even ensconced in our founding Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, which makes Trump’s actions prototypically American. 

Demonization has been an integral political strategy in our development as a country. The good news is that we have been able to overcome momentary power grabs by the forces of darkness. November 3, 2020, will define the next phase of our democracy. Will it be progressive or regressive?  

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Underpinning Kamala Harris' Popularity Wave

Turns out I am part of the wave Kamala Harris is surfing towards the lead of Democratic Party presidential hopefuls. 

Right before dinner Monday evening I did something I normally resist: I answered a land line telephone call from a number I didn’t recognize because the screen indicated the caller emanated from New Haven where Gilda and I lived 42 years ago. 

An elderly gentleman—I could tell he was elderly by his slow, raspy voice, his cheerful colloquial demeanor and the way technology challenged him—said he was calling from the Quinnipiac University national poll. 

Having employed consumer researchers for my magazine for more than 30 years, I am a sucker for surveys if they don’t interfere with what I am doing. He caught me at a good time. 

I haven’t chosen a preferred candidate, though I have opined that Joe Biden should be given a chance to strut his stuff to determine if he is 2020 qualified and not stuck in a 20th century time warp. Sadly, last week’s initial debate revealed him to be slow-footed in word and thought. Donald Trump must have been salivating at the prospect of squaring off against him.

On the other hand, Harris followed up on her sharp questioning of Trump Supreme Court nominees with a piercing attack on Biden. For those who later complained that she bushwacked Biden with a well planned foray, I say it showed she would be adept at confronting and countering Trump during a debate (assuming the chicken-in-chief agrees to participate—mark my words, he will at first reject any debates and then, in what he, in his own mind, will consider a majestic concession, will agree to debate three times). I want a candidate who prepares, does homework. Biden’s people had prepped him, but he failed to rise to the occasion. 

So I gave Kamala Harris a vote of confidence, though not an unqualified endorsement as I yet don’t know enough about her.

“A new national Quinnipiac University poll, released Tuesday, July 2, shows Biden, who once led the field by around 20 points, now clinging to a two-point lead over California Sen. Kamala Harris, 22 percent to 20 percent,” The Daily Voice reported. (For you political nerds, follow the link to Quinnipiac's release:

Now, one debate does not a president, or a party nominee, make, or break. But the winds of change are blowing hard, fueled by Trump’s take-no-prisoners stands on immigration and the detention of asylum seekers, census citizenship questions, tariff wars, relations with allies and Russia/North Korea/Iran, climate change and a host of other issues.  

Biden’s early strength came from the Afro-American community and senior citizens. It is dissipating. Biden is a “Yeah, I’m comfortable with him” vote. Harris, on the other hand, will ignite passion among black and hispanic voters, and among old-time liberals. Unless he shows more vigor during subsequent debates Biden would be no match against Trump. Harris has shown herself to be a sharp inquisitor and someone who could hold her own against a man.