Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Grim Sandy      Two coeds were in line in front of me. When they heard me ask the Greyhound driver whether his bus to Raleigh had empty seats, one of them turned and spoke.

“Our 8:30 flight tonight was canceled,” she said. “We were supposed to fly to Tampa in time for classes on Monday. But the airlines told us nothing was moving in New York except buses…”

Whatever else she said was lost to me as I calculated my chances of getting out of Manhattan if I wasn’t allowed aboard. It was 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Hours earlier I’d received a cancellation notice from Delta about my Monday morning flight. Sunday flights weren’t available; after hearing the coed, I knew why.

When I received Delta’s message, I was with my partner at a restaurant in New Canaan, CT.  “Try the train,” she suggested.

Amtrak didn’t respond. Since I knew their schedule well, I understood why. The next train for Danville or Durham wasn’t until Monday afternoon. Nothing would leave then.

Greyhound was my only hope. To my surprise, there was a seat available on the 6:30 p.m. bus from the Manhattan terminal. Since I’d flown to La Guardia from RDU (on Saturday), I had to return to RDU to claim my car.  With my e-ticket in hand, I grimaced. Anticipated arrival time was twelve hours later.

“Bet it’s been twenty years since I rode a bus,” I said to my partner. “Wild things happened on buses then,” I mused. “Wonder if they’ve changed?”

That didn’t matter; I‘d find out soon enough. While thick gray banks of clouds piled overhead, we walked to the station.

“Let’s go to the gate,” I said. “If the bus is packed, I want to be one of the first so that I can get a seat near the front.” Years ago I’d experienced some scary things in the back of a bus.

We hurried to Gate 77. As always, the driver stood by the door punching tickets. He looked worried, as if eager to close the door to his bus and leave. That’s when I realized that, if he was that concerned about getting away at five, what would conditions be when my bus left? Waiting an hour and a half to find out made no sense.

My partner and I hugged; relative to her, I felt safe. “Please be careful,” I said. The storm was coming her way. I didn’t want to leave her.

“Call me,” she insisted.
We texted instead; vocal connections were hard to maintain. Through the night, the first driver raced to Richmond. We were more than thirty minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival. Two and a half hours later, another driver ignored the speed limit and the rain to get us to Raleigh in what seemed to be record time.

From the bus station, I took a taxi to RDU to claim my car. At about 8:15 a.m., I reached home. Danville was safe, but stormy.

For my partner, as I’d feared, news was dire. As winds powered up, she texted that two pines had blown down, roots and all, along her driveway. Later messages were bleak, scarier than any Halloween I could imagine.

One tree fell near her house and brushed her daughter’s room. Another wrecked her deck. She had no power; fortunately, her generator worked. Its output was meager; it ran her refrigerator and little more.

Trees were down on every road in her neighborhood. Her text told me there was no way out. Crews were working their way there, but they were overwhelmed. More than 80% of the homes in her community were without power.

She managed to call. Before a broken signal ended our conversation abruptly, she told me that what she was seeing reminded her of a movie she’d seen recently. It depicted our world after it had been destroyed by a human or a natural cataclysm. “That’s what this feels like,” she told me.

As much as I wanted to help, I knew I couldn’t. Nor could I ignore the immensity of the damage; the devastation she had witnessed had stranded millions of others. She’d described power lines on the ground and others that hung so loosely that cars were forced to drive under them.

Everyone in her area was trapped until a few locals with chainsaws managed to clear single lanes. That was very good news, perhaps lifesaving for some.

Although I wanted to drive to her, that made no sense.

Even a Greyhound couldn’t get me there.

                                         B. Koplen 10/31/12

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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Coming soon?

Armageddon?           “He’s made a fortune since he began his company, SLN,” said my friend, Mike, a salesman for that company.  Mike had shown me SLN’s ties and shirts. “They’re making shoes too,” he said, as he showed me samples. “You know,” said Mike, “the owner is from Israel. He spends much time there. His wife is there.” Mike paused. “He believes that a war with Iran will begin soon.”

“How soon?” I asked. Buying clothes had suddenly lost its appeal. Of greater concern was Mike’s last remark.

“He’s gotten gas masks for his family. They live near Tel Aviv.”

“I’d like to speak to him about Iran. And Israel,” I said.

“You’re worried about your children, aren’t you?” asked Mike. He’d known about my daughters since they were in elementary school. He’d visited my home; he knew my children resided in Israel. “I’ll give you his e-mail address,” said Mike. “He’ll respond.”

Yesterday, I wrote to the owner of SLN after I’d received a message from my friend, Solly Ganor, author of Light One Candle, his Holocaust memoir. “Have I sent this to you?” he asked.

I read with great care Solly’s article about his conversation with a Christian Arab who lived near Solly in a community not far from Tel Aviv. Parts of what he’d written were very troubling.

According to Solly, the Arab spoke freely about living in Israel. “As Christians, we are in a difficult situation here in Israel. Unfortunately, the Moslems and especially the extreme Islamist section, are setting the tone here. My family who lived in Bethlehem probably since the Crusades, had to flee for their lives. The Moslems have been forcing us out, by threats and even murder. Bethlehem that was once predominantly Christian is now predominantly Moslem. Very little is written about it even in the Israeli press.”

Startling as that was, it didn’t surprise me. I’d read and written about the Christian exodus from Bethlehem for years. I’d seen it when I was in Israel. What disturbed me were other parts of Solly’s article. Excerpts follow:

“…When will you Westerners realize that half measures don’t work with people who are willing to die by the thousands for Allah to achieve their goal? In their eyes, the Western World is simply an abomination on earth that has to be wiped out.”

“…The Americans, the Europeans, and even you Israelis really don’t know what it is all about, do you? During the last generation hundreds of thousands of children have been taught all over the Moslem world in Madras schools to become martyrs for Allah in order to kill the infidels. These youngsters not only are ready to do it, but are actually in the process of doing it. Bombs are going off all over the world killing and maiming thousands of people, not only on 9/11 in the US, in London Madrid and Bali, but in Africa, India, Bangladesh, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and many other places. The first signs of the Islamic Tsunami is already here, but the West doesn’t understand, or doesn’t want to understand what is coming."

“…The Americans, instead of realizing that this is as bad as World War Two, or even worse, are going to pull out of Iraq, handing it over to Iran on a silver platter. Next may come the Saudis and the rest of the Gulf states. When dirty bombs go off all over Western towns, who is going to stop the Iranians?"
“…Now is the time to stop them, not only because they are developing nuclear bombs, but because Iran has become the base for all Islamic terrorism. They supply, money, men, and weapons to Islamic terrorists around the world…”

“…And who would you call the forces of good ‘Israel or Islam?’ I asked looking him straight in the eyes. He gave me a startled look. “If I were a Moslem, I would have no problem to name the forces of good and it wouldn’t be Israel. As a Christian, I would probably name Israel, but as a Christian Arab I would prefer not to answer.”

We looked at each other. His answer made it clear where the Israeli Arabs stood, whether they were Moslems or Christians. And why should I be surprised? After all, the Israeli Arabs call the establishment of the State of Israel their nakbah (disaster)… [the Arab continued speaking…]

“…all the West has to do is follow Putin’s ways. He assassinates his enemies without blinking an eye. Assassinate the four or five Mullahs who run the show, Ahmadinejad, and a few more Iranian fanatics, and the War can be avoided. It may be difficult to do, but not impossible. With today’s hi-tech technology I am sure that new weapons against individuals are being prepared right now. I think it would be a better way of handling the matter than an all out war against Islam.”

After reading that, I e-mailed the owner of SLN. Then I looked at Solly’s message again. His one line introduction, a personal note to me, jolted me as much as his article.

He’d written, “I wonder if you have received my article I wrote five years ago? It’s still relevant."

                             B. Koplen 10/25/12

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p.s. If you’d like to read Solly’s article, I’ll gladly send it to you.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Trick or...

Not just Halloween            Half an hour early, I watched the ghost hunting team set up their presentation about spirits they’d discovered and recorded in historical Carter’s Tavern on River Road near South Boston, Virginia. Again and again, a recording made at that 200 year old site was being played to set sound levels. Thanks to Halloween, ghost busters and ordinary members of the Historical Society were gathered together in the pews of one of our city’s oldest (former) churches. In that venue, with its stiff antique chairs on its unadorned wooden altar, spirits seemed to lurk then jump off the unfurled screen.

As soon as the event began, a narrator from the Society made clear its role in the presentation. Slides and histories of the area and its many well-preserved homes and taverns provided a perspective. “This is the Meriwether House,” she began.

What followed was a replay of what I’d heard earlier along with a detailed explanation of how the investigators had become involved with Carter’s Tavern. Although the Carter spirit’s incantations were impossible to ignore, another recording at a less historic site was much more impressive.

And spooky. In the dark church, I was reminded of scary stories told around campfires and my real life adventure at a place called The Monroe Institute.

Due to a tragedy, the stabbing death of their almost twenty-year old nephew, a couple had asked the spirit investigators to try to detect the presence of their nephew’s spirit. Moments after the scratchy recording began, spoken words were clearly audible. “Anybody home?” said a disconnected voice.

“I didn’t know the significance of that,” said the investigator. “But the couple told me that was not only the voice of their nephew, but it was also what they had heard him say each time he entered their home because he always entered without knocking.”

I listened again; I imagined the nephew. His voice sounded kind and inoffensive; his murder happened little more than a year ago. I shuddered; each year at Passover, Jewish children are taught to open the door for the spirit Elijah.  Suddenly, I wondered whether Elijah had ever really made his presence known.

Although I didn’t mention Elijah, I asked whether people might have been more sensitive to receiving waves on which spirits’ voices travel before we were inundated with those of radio and television. Because of what I just heard, that had become something to consider.

“There are members of our group who are sensitive to spirits,” answered one of the presenters.

“Are any of them here?” I asked.

“Yes,” came the answer after a moment’s hesitation.

“Would they be willing to speak?”

With that, there was a nod to the woman sitting in front of me. “She can. Would you mind speaking?”

“No,” she answered. She rose and explained that she’d been aware of her ability since she was fourteen. “I’m twenty-eight now,” she said.

For a few minutes, she spoke. The room grew quiet; there were no more questions. Lights were turned on. People started to exit.

I didn’t. “I’d like to join your group,” I said to Michelle, the woman who sensed spirits.

“Let’s talk,” she said, as she slipped from her pew and walked around to mine. “Tell me about your experiences.”

“It started at The Monroe Institute,” I began. “Monroe was famous for his work with learning about and teaching how to have out-of-body experiences. I enrolled in his week long course at his place in the mountains near Lynchburg, VA.”

One of the presenters interrupted us. He needed to speak to Michelle. “Be there in a minute,” she said. In a kind way, she let me know that was all the time I had.

“Each of us had our own room,” I said. “In it, we listened to tapes Monroe had created. I practiced as he instructed and had a slight out of body experience. The next day, while in a trance like state, I looked up at the ceiling in my room and saw the image of a woman there. She was looking down at me, smiling. I recognized her as one of the other people in our group.”

“Were you projecting?” Michelle asked in a way that seemed to suggest I was seeing what I’d wanted to see.

“That’s what I thought,” I said, “so I dismissed my sighting as my imagination at work.” I paused and noticed she was staring at me, as if eager for me to finish. So I did.

“I left my room and went to the cafeteria. All of us met there after our private meditative sessions. Listening to the speaker, I sat without expecting the tap on my shoulder. Surprised by that, I quickly turned and saw the woman I had seen near my ceiling.” I stopped and looked in Michelle’s eyes.

She was listening intently.

I continued. “She told me that she had come to visit me and asked whether I had seen her.”

Michelle smiled as she slipped away. She understood what had happened to me. At least it seemed that way.

I’ll know when I’m made a member of the club.

                                                     B. Koplen 10/25/12

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Beyond remarkable...

Holocaust poetry, living memories         “There’s a book, just published, of interviews with former Nazi soldiers,” said Dr. John Guzlowski, our guest speaker. John mentioned that the soldiers had been asked why they were willing to kill indiscriminately, why they followed brutal commands. Although I wanted to read the book, I wasn’t sure I would believe a single word in it.

What I did trust was John’s poetry about what his parents had endured as Polish Catholic prisoners in Nazi German work camps. “My Dad weighed seventy-five pounds when he was liberated. Do any of you remember when you weighed only that much?” he asked my class.

So softly spoken, John caused all of us to feel personally involved with the tragic experiences his parents had survived. Too many of his parents’ closest relatives and friends had been smashed or raped or viciously murdered while his parents were present. John’s father had lost the sight of an eye to the butt of a Nazi’s gun. As John read poems from his painfully brilliant collection, Lightning and Ashes, a mournful but appreciative pallor touched all of us.

Remarks about why the Holocaust atrocities happened were followed by details about the horrors survivors could not escape. “My Dad had such nightmares. He would scream in his sleep. On his death bed, he shouted fearfully; he thought Nazi doctors were in his room.”

Each poem was picture perfect and was absolutely heartbreaking. Every story John told reminded us that the Nazis had placed no value on their human conscripts. “Estimates are that 12,000,000 to 20,000,000 people, from Europe to Africa, had been captured. My Dad,” John said quietly, “saw his first black person, a fellow prisoner in the camps.” No one had escaped the reach of the Nazi collectors.

“The prisoners lived on less than 600 calories a day, yet they worked hard labor twelve to fourteen hours each day.” Such gruesome facts were followed by a story about John’s mother who was forced to harvest beets from frozen ground. “With her hands,” he told us, “and with no warm clothes.” She may not have had shoes.

For years, his mother wouldn’t talk about what had happened to her to John or his sister. “We were normal kids in a crazy house. It was just like the others in our neighborhood. Most who lived there were Polish Holocaust survivors.” He said that his father came home drunk “three or four times a week.” Not until years later, when he finally received help from a psychologist, was his father able to stop drinking.

“Dad never hesitated to talk about what happened. Mom kept quiet until Dad died. Then she told me to write down her stories. Even so, some of the worst, she never revealed.”

John read another poem about his dilemma about what he should or shouldn’t tell his children. “When I was a child, I know that my mother and Dad had different answers. Our house was insane. My sister married at eighteen to get away. She never wanted to hear the tragic stories. I wrote a poem about her, a poem she told me never to publish. She didn’t want to read it. I didn’t put it in my first collection, but I added it to my second one. And I sent her a copy.”

“How did she respond?” I asked. Everyone in the room was eager to hear John’s answer.

“She didn’t,” he said.

“What about your daughter?” I asked John. She teaches English at our public high school. “How does she feel about your poetry and your readings?”

He paused, then answered in a way that made us think she kept a safe distance from that part of John’s past.

I watched John, a man I’d known for years, as he tried to answer that query. That’s when I wondered about the impact of the Holocaust on third and fourth generation family members.

“Would your daughter speak to us?” I asked, gesturing to my students.

All eyes turned to John. “She might, if I’m not here,” he said. “I’ll ask her.”

I checked the time. To my surprise, more than two hours had passed. I dismissed my class, although many lingered. One student, a young Polish immigrant, spoke privately with John. Admittedly, I was curious about their conversation.

And I wondered whether John would be curious about what his daughter might tell our class about being the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. “Do you want to meet her?” I directed that question to my students.

They responded with an instant, “Yes!”

Later in the day, John’s daughter e-mailed me that she would visit us. Both she and I understood that her father wouldn’t appear with her. We agreed with John on that condition.

My students left the room; they seemed subdued. I sensed that many of them were trying to imagine what Friday’s class would bring.

So was I.

                        B. Koplen 10/21/12

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