The Girl With The Apple ~ (True story)
August 1942. Piotrkow, Poland
The sky was gloomy that morning as we waited anxiously.
All the men, women and children of Piotrkow's Jewish ghetto had been herded into a square.
Word had gotten around that we were being moved. My father had only recently died from typhus, which had run rampant through the crowded ghetto. My greatest fear was that our family would be separated.
'Whatever you do,' Isidore, my eldest brother, whispered to me, 'don't tell them your age. Say you're sixteen.
'I was tall for a boy of 11, so I could pull it off. That way I might be deemed valuable as a worker.
An SS man approached me, boots clicking against the cobblestones. He looked me up and down, and then asked my age.
'Sixteen,' I said. He directed me to the left, where my three brothers and other healthy young men already stood.
My mother was motioned to the right with the other women, children, sick and elderly people.
I whispered to Isidore, 'Why?'
He didn't answer.
I ran to Mama's side and said I wanted to stay with her.
'No, 'she said sternly.
'Get away. Don't be a nuisance. Go with your brothers.'
She had never spoken so harshly before. But I understood: She was protecting me. She loved me so much that, just this once, she pretended not to. It was the last I ever saw of her.
My brothers and I were transported in a cattle car to Germany.
We arrived at the Buchenwald concentration camp one night later and were led into a crowded barrack. The next day, we were issued uniforms and identification numbers.
'Don't call me Herman anymore.' I said to my brothers. 'Call me 94983.'
I was put to work in the camp's crematorium, loading the dead into a hand-cranked elevator.
I, too, felt dead. Hardened, I had become a number.
Soon, my brothers and I were sent to Schlieben, one of Buchenwald 's sub-camps near Berlin ...
One morning I thought I heard my mother's voice.
'Son,' she said softly but clearly, I am going to send you an angel.'
Then I woke up. Just a dream. A beautiful dream.
But in this place there could be no angels. There was only work. And hunger. And fear.
A couple of days later, I was walking around the camp, around the barracks, near the barbed-wire fence where the guards could not easily see. I was alone.
On the other side of the fence, I spotted someone: a little girl with light, almost luminous curls. She was half-hidden behind a birch tree.
I glanced around to make sure no one saw me. I called to her softly in German. 'Do you have something to eat?'
She didn't understand.
I inched closer to the fence and repeated the question in Polish. She stepped forward. I was thin and gaunt, with rags wrapped around my feet, but the girl looked unafraid. In her eyes, I saw life.
She pulled an apple from her woolen jacket and threw it over the fence.
I grabbed the fruit and, as I started to run away, I heard her say faintly, 'I'll see you tomorrow.'
I returned to the same spot by the fence at the same time every day. She was always there with something for me to eat - a hunk of bread or, better yet, an apple.
We didn't dare speak or linger. To be caught would mean death for us both.
I didn't know anything about her, just a kind farm girl, except that she understood Polish. What was her name? Why was she risking her life for me?
Hope was in such short supply, and this girl on the other side of the fence gave me some, as nourishing in its way as the bread and apples.
Nearly seven months later, my brothers and I were crammed into a coal car and shipped to Theresienstadt camp in Czechoslovakia.
'Don't return,' I told the girl that day. 'We're leaving.'
I turned toward the barracks and didn't look back, didn't even say good-bye to the little girl whose name I'd ever learned, the girl with the apples.
We were in Theresienstadt for three months. The war was winding down and Allied forces were closing in, yet my fate seemed sealed.
On May 10, 1945, I was scheduled to die in the gas chamber at 10:00 AM.
In the quiet of dawn, I tried to prepare myself. So many times death seemed ready to claim me, but somehow I'd survived. Now, it was over.
I thought of my parents. At least, I thought, we will be reunited.
But at 8 a.m. there was a commotion. I heard shouts, and saw people running every which way through camp. I caught up with my brothers.
Russian troops had liberated the camp! The gates swung open. Everyone was running, so I did too. Amazingly, all of my brothers had survived;
I'm not sure how. But I knew that the girl with the apples had been the key to my survival.
In a place where evil seemed triumphant, one person's goodness had saved my life, had given me hope in a place where there was none.
My mother had promised to send me an angel, and the angel had come.
Eventually I made my way to England where I was sponsored by a Jewish charity, put up in a hostel with other boys who had survived the Holocaust and trained in electronics. Then I came to America, where my brother Sam had already moved. I served in the U. S. Army during the Korean War, and returned to New York City after two years.
By August 1957 I'd opened my own electronics repair shop. I was starting to settle in.
One day, my friend Sid who I knew from England called me.
'I've got a date. She's got a Polish friend. Let's double date.'
A blind date? Nah, that wasn't for me.
But Sid kept pestering me, and a few days later we headed up to the Bronx to pick up his date and her friend Roma.
I had to admit, for a blind date this wasn't so bad. Roma was a nurse at a Bronx hospital. She was kind and smart. Beautiful, too, with swirling brown curls and green, almond-shaped eyes that sparkled with life.
The four of us drove out to Coney Island. Roma was easy to talk to, easy to be with.
Turned out she was wary of blind dates too!
We were both just doing our friends a favor. We took a stroll on the boardwalk, enjoying the salty Atlantic breeze, and then had dinner by the shore. I couldn't remember having a better time.
We piled back into Sid's car, Roma and I sharing the backseat.
As European Jews who had survived the war, we were aware that much had been left unsaid between us. She broached the subject, 'Where were you,' she asked softly, 'during the war?'
'The camps,' I said. The terrible memories still vivid, the irreparable loss...I had tried to forget. But you can never forget.
She nodded. 'My family was hiding on a farm in Germany, not far from Berlin,' she told me. 'My father knew a priest, and he got us Aryan papers.'
I imagined how she must have suffered too, fear, a constant companion. And yet here we were both survivors, in a new world.
'There was a camp next to the farm.' Roma continued. 'I saw a boy there and I would throw him apples every day.'
What an amazing coincidence that she had helped some other boy. 'What did he look like? I asked.
'He was tall, skinny, and hungry. I must have seen him every day for six months.'
My heart was racing. I couldn't believe it.
This couldn't be.
'Did he tell you one day not to come back because he was leaving Schlieben?'
Roma looked at me in amazement. 'Yes!'
'That was me!'
I was ready to burst with joy and awe, flooded with emotions. I couldn't believe it! My angel.
'I'm not letting you go.' I said to Roma. And in the back of the car on that blind date, I proposed to her. I didn't want to wait.
'You're crazy!' she said. But she invited me to meet her parents for Shabbat dinner the following week.
There was so much I looked forward to learning about Roma, but the most important things I always knew: her steadfastness, her goodness. For many months, in the worst of circumstances, she had come to the fence and given me hope. Now that I'd found her again, I could never let her go.
That day, she said yes. And I kept my word. After nearly 50 years of marriage, two children and three grandchildren, I have never let her go.
Herman Rosenblat of Miami Beach , Florida
This story is being made into a movie called The Fence.
This e-mail is intended to reach 40 million people world-wide.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
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Soul Kitchen, Jon Bon Jovi's Charity Restaurant, Opens In New Jersey
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RED BANK, N.J. — In three decades as one of the world's biggest rock stars, Jon Bon Jovi has eaten in some of the world's best restaurants, savoring the best food the planet has to offer.
Yet there's no place he'd rather have dinner than The Soul Kitchen, a "pay-what-you-can" restaurant he and his wife Dorothea established in a former auto body shop near the Red Bank train station in central New Jersey.
The restaurant provides gourmet-quality meals to the hungry while enabling them to volunteer on community projects in return without the stigma of visiting a soup kitchen. Paying customers are encouraged to leave whatever they want in the envelopes on each table, where the menus never list a price.
The restaurant is the latest undertaking by the New Jersey rocker's Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, which has built 260 homes for low-income residents in recent years.
"With the economic downturn, one of the things I noticed was that disposable income was one of the first things that went," Bon Jovi told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday before the restaurant's grand opening ceremony. "Dining out, the family going out to a restaurant, mom not having to cook, dad not having to clean up – a lot of memories were made around restaurant tables.
"When I learned that one in six people in this country goes to bed hungry, I thought this was the next phase of the Foundation's work," he said.
It started several years ago when Dorothea Bongiovi (she uses the legal spelling of her husband's name) and Jon started helping out at a food pantry at nearby St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church. They later moved their focus to the Lunch Break program, which feeds 80 to 120 people a day, dubbing it "The Soul Kitchen."
They brought that name with them to a former auto body shop down the street from the Count Basie Theater, where Jon and his self-titled band have played many fundraising shows for local charities.
It took a year and $250,000, but the restaurant now rivals any of its competitors in trendy Red Bank, with entrees like cornmeal crusted catfish with red beans and rice, grilled chicken breast with homemade basil mayo and rice pilaf, and grilled salmon with soul seasonings, sweet potato mash and sauteed greens, many of which were grown in the herb and vegetable garden right outside the restaurant's doors.
Bon Jovi, who has a home in next-door Middletown, is adamant about one thing.
"This is not a soup kitchen," he emphasizes. "You can come here with the dignity of linens and silver, and you're served a healthy, nutritious meal. This is not burgers and fries.
"There's no prices on our menu, so if you want to come and you want to make a difference, leave a $20 in the envelope on the table. If you can't afford to eat, you can bus tables, you can wait tables, you can work in the kitchen as a dishwasher or sous chef," he said. "If you say to me, `I'm not a people person,' I say, `That's not a problem. We'll take you back to Lunch Break to volunteer with those people. If you don't want to volunteer with that, we'll take you to the FoodBank."
After volunteering at one of those places, a person will be given a certificate good for a meal at The Soul Kitchen.
"If you come in and say, `I'm hungry,' we'll feed you," Bon Jovi said. "But we're going to need you to do something. It's very important to what we're trying to achieve."
That includes making people feel part of a larger community that cares about them, while still expecting them to contribute to society at large.
"This is not an entitlement thing," Bon Jovi said. "This is about empowering people because you have to earn that gift certificate."
He and others at the restaurant want those who can afford to dine out to patronize the restaurant as well and pay what they consider market prices, or even a bit more than that, to help sustain The Soul Kitchen as a true community resource.
Bon Jovi said he is currently writing songs for his band's next album, due out in 2013, along with another typically massive Bon Jovi tour. He said many of the songs are inspired by the current economic downturn and the struggles of everyday people to make ends meet without losing hope.
In the meantime, he and his wife plan to stay active in the restaurant, where he estimates he has worked at least once a week in recent months. The Soul Kitchen is open for dinner Thursday through Saturday, and offers Sunday brunch.
How important is rolling up his sleeves and working in the restaurant to him?
"Last Friday, I was at the White House, serving on the Council for Community Solutions, got on a train, changed in the bathroom and got here in time to wash dishes Friday night," he said. "I'm the dishwasher, for real. I can't cook a lick."___
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC
Rescuing children from a trash dump
By Brittany Stahl, CNN
June 9, 2011 7:00 p.m. EDT
- Elena Durón Miranda is helping Argentinian children through her nonprofit, PETISOS
- The group provides children with free education and extracurricular programs
- She started it 10 years ago after seeing kids at a trash dump in Bariloche
- Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2011 CNN Heroes
"I saw children collect green sausages, a bag of potato chip crumbs, a bag of noodles with cream, and recovered leftover yogurt next to a diaper," said Durón Miranda, a Mexican psychologist who was visiting Bariloche to do research. "The children began to gently clean the food -- wiping each little noodle, each potato and peeling the sausage skin so methodically and accurately. It was as if they had done this same activity many times."
Durón Miranda said there were maybe 200 children at the dump collecting things to eat and sell.
"At that moment in time, my son was the same age as many of them," said Durón Miranda, now 41. "So that struck me as horrific."
Durón Miranda learned that many children in Bariloche, a popular city for skiers and tourists in southern Argentina, drop out of school and spend their lives working at the dump.
Determined to restore their dignity, Durón Miranda decided to stay in the country and start a nonprofit called PETISOS, which stands for Prevención y Erradicación del Trabajo Infantil SOS (Prevention and Eradication of Child Labor SOS). The organization aims to provide children with free education and extracurricular programs so they have an alternative to working.
Today, approximately 200 boys and girls in Bariloche benefit from PETISOS.
"We carry out very personalized tracking of all the boys and girls we work with," Durón Miranda said. "We work with the families, we work with the schools, we work with the medical or health centers in order to ... get them out of the labor situation."
Do you know a hero? Nominations are open for 2011 CNN Heroes
When she was starting, Durón Miranda first set out to understand what was leading the children to work in the dump.
"I wanted to know what would lead a family to let this happen," she said. "What I did was set up camp inside the garbage dump and work with the children, right alongside them. I picked through garbage, too. I also watched how they got around, everything they did. So the families started to develop a lot of trust in me."
While Argentina has laws against child labor, the majority of working children do so for their families as unpaid laborers, according to the International Labor Organization. Parents don't force their children to work, but the children join in at an early age because work activities often revolve around family networks.
"All parents want a better life for their children than what they had," Durón Miranda said. "However, there are times when their situation is so precarious they have no other way out but for the whole family to work and try to make ends meet."
PETISOS programs are open to anyone in the community, working or nonworking. But involving a working child can be a lengthy process.
Durón Miranda and her team start by tracking a child and observing his or her work habits. After earning the child's trust, which can often take between six months and a year, they set up a meeting with the child's family. Then they develop an integrated plan for helping the child and try to get the family to understand the importance of education.
"When you work in situations where the context is one of such great poverty, it's very difficult to talk to parents about the long term because usually they live in the immediate term," Durón Miranda said. "We tell them that a child that has more years of schooling has the opportunity to get a better job and eventually (make) more money than (they make) doing subsistence work."
PETISOS has a team of professionals and volunteers working with the children to ensure their growth.
The children are enrolled in school and have a tracking group to make sure they attend. There are afterschool workshops held at the PETISOS headquarters, where children can get help with their homework or do art projects. And psychologists, doctors and social workers are also available to work with the children and their families.
Family heads can also receive job training and child-rearing support.
"The parents are happy with the project because they realize we're concerned about the children. ... We give them an incentive to have a better future, a different future," Durón Miranda said.
Oftentimes, there are several children from the same family in the PETISOS program.
Rosa Del Carmen Aguilar is a single mother of seven who used to work in the garbage dump to provide for her family. Durón Miranda's programs helped Aguilar get out of the dump and keep her children out of trouble.
"I didn't have a salary, I didn't have a job, and we always have the need," Aguilar said. "I resorted to her. She was the person I had the most trust in. ... The kids are moving forward, and we've gone a long way."
The group is funded by grants and donations. As a result of PETISOS efforts, many children have gone on to graduate from high school and attend college. There are others who are working stable jobs, and many young women have started families and are more sensitive to the upbringing of their children.
"That's very important for us," Durón Miranda said. "I think that's where we start to break vicious cycles stemming from negligent upbringing and upbringing with mistreatment. I think that's our greatest success to date."
Durón Miranda describes her job as "full-life" rather than "full-time," but she said she can't imagine it any other way.
"The problems these boys and girls are living, and which we spend all our time on, are very painful," she said. "Fortunately, we have the capacity to transform pain into the desire to do something about it."
Want to get involved? Check out this website to see how to help.