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. I 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.

I 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. I 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 be.


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 I could 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.

But 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 transcends the 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 baker, who cooked it in his oven all night. The ingredients were pretty much the same, but some people came back with burnt cholent while others 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 on the power of goodness.

I know that this is a difficult sell, because children live in a world where concepts like goodness and love are almost 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.

I, 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 provide direction. 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 dreams.

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 throughout the generations, to my grandmother, and then to me. As we are each a reflection of the past, the search starts there.

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