Life is a journey of self versus self.
Cleveland, Ohio, My Journal, January 17, 1998 – Everyone has
an exodus. Mine has been fear. I believe I’ve been afraid of
myself – of who I am, of my potential. The visions have been
too great, too lofty, too unimaginable, too impossible. I didn’t
fully realize that God makes the “impossible” possible,
that He gives us the power, the vision, the strength to do things.
But first we need to exercise our own power – to have the courage
to step into that vision of greatness. I will not fear the future.
I will not fear my dreams. I will not fear my potential. I will
just believe. I will believe that God is with me in everything I do.
will believe that I can overcome obstacles that are in my way.
I will believe in my vision of the future. I will believe in the possible.
will not be afraid. I will not see terror in the corners. I
will not see
the evil or ulterior motives of mankind. I will believe in goodness. I will
believe in the power of love and kindness. I refuse to see the negativity
that is so predominant. I refuse to see others’ doubts and judgments.
I believe in love and in my journey and I will go on my way.
I sat in a room
by myself, and the silence was deafening. I felt as though suspended in
time, staring at the worn piece of paper that was my own proclamation
of freedom. My life flashed before me, scenes of a movie that I had experienced
before. I asked myself: What had I produced? What had I contributed? What
had I had stood for? I questioned the utility of my thoughts and dreams.
trembled as I contemplated whether I could muster the courage to realize
my dreams and leave a lasting legacy – to be the person I was meant to
When I was a boy, I would awaken at night to screams – my grandmother’s
screams. The incessant nightmares of the Holocaust wouldn’t
leave her, even in the comfort of her Shaker Heights home. As
I grew up with the Holocaust as my heritage, I sometimes wished that
scream like Grandma did, but I couldn’t – I needed to
take the journey first. Grandma became my guide.
This is my story,
but really it is everybody’s story. Some of
us are more honest in this quest to find meaning and completeness
in the world. Others deny that this struggle even exists.
I believe that we are all searching and screaming. We sense
that that there is something missing in our lives. For some,
it is the search for the eternal, for a larger reality that
mundane. For others, it is the search for their role in the
world. Ultimately, we are searching for each other, for how
all the puzzle
pieces fit together.
My mother says that children are like cholent, a potato stew that
Jews cooked every Sabbath in her hometown of Mezritch in Eastern
Poland. Before the Sabbath, people would take cholent down to the
cooked it in his oven all night. The ingredients were pretty
much the same, but some people came back with burnt cholent while
had a great Sabbath meal.
As a father, I know the ingredients
that I put into my kids. I stir in love, caring, confidence,
determination, and a positive
home. But my children are like cholent. I don’t know exactly
how all those ingredients are going to cook when the flame hits
the pot. I don’t know what other influences – friends,
teachers, circumstances, their own interpretations, their own
fears, hopes and
dreams – will contribute to their stew.
I do know that I can
add values to the mix. Values are still not absolute guarantees
of success in life, but I know that
values will guide my children through life and ground them to
live in a positive
way. Values will hold them up when they are down and balance
them when they are up. I know, because values became my compass
on my journey.
Ideally, every father is a salesman. We try to
sell our children a set of beliefs – right and wrong, good and
bad, and success or failure in the “real world.” I want
to sell my children on the power of love.
The love of a grandmother started me on
my search, and the challenge of another grandmother motivated
me to continue. Finding the values
of decency in their painful stories led me to invent my own
brand of cholent that I call “me.” Through their influence,
I ultimately became a force for good, and goodness became my
ideal, my aspiration and my measurement. I want to sell my children
power of goodness.
I know that this is a difficult sell, because
children live in a world where concepts like goodness and love
predestined for doom. They’re weaned on a steady diet of killings,
cruelties, embezzlements, deceptions, and apathy as seen in
the morning paper
and on the nightly news. They’re confronted with cheating in
school. They hear obscenities on the street. They’re accosted
by negativity and vulgarity in music, on TV, and in the movies,
and they’re taught that “nice guys finish last.” These
messages litter their environment and pollute their minds.
too, bought into these messages before I reclaimed the positive
values that I found in my search. I wandered and fumbled, and I felt
unfulfilled along the way. But I want our children to be able
to traverse the bumps in the road and to see that love will
I want them to see that we each have a purpose in life. Some
people harness the magic of the Internet. Some know how to
build airplanes. Some create beautiful music. And some have even bigger
I was one of those kids who wanted to change the world. I wanted
people to be kinder. However, as I grew up, I lost sight of
my vision, and my fears got in the way. Like many children
of Holocaust survivors,
I was looking to make it in America in a way that my parents
did not. I was driven by their expectations of what I could
become, and I was
haunted by their fears and dreams. I tried to impress people
with money, the immigrant’s measure of success. I felt that
the end justified the means, and I tried to climb and claw my way
to the top.
Somehow, I stopped hearing my parents’ other message – that
I had to be a decent person as well.
But throughout those years, I had also been inspired by my grandmother
Lea Lew – by her goodness, level-headedness, and dignity. My
search originally focused on uncovering the story of her life, but
somehow I experienced a metamorphosis that led to the search for who
I was and how I could contribute to the world. That search led me
back to Poland and to the Polish families that saved my grandmother
during the Holocaust. In the process, I had an epiphany of conscience
that showed me what’s right and wrong in the world and instilled
in me a commitment to serve.
The story that unfolds in the following pages will tell you
about my search. It will tell you about the people of a small
town in Poland who shaped principles that were transmitted
generations, to my grandmother, and then to me. As we are
each a reflection of the past, the search starts there.