Friday, November 06, 2009

Jenina and Margaret and Love and Tolerance

"Fuck you what are you looking at? I'm a fucking little girl and your mothers eat shit from whores, you assholes!"

Little Jenina was quickening her pace. She couldn't have been 5' tall and she was trying to stay out of range of the 2 menacing men who were following her. They were wearing thick long coats and carrying rifles. They could have caught up with her if they wanted to, but they enjoyed taunting her. They were asking Jenina for "identification papers."

It was mid-1940's, a town in Poland, and Jenina had no such "proper" papers. As a Jewish girl she wasn't free to walk about the streets of the town.
She should already have been rounded up like all the other Jews, and carried by cattle car train to Auschwitz, where Jews were sent to be killed.

All the Jews in Europe knew about this Nazi program, and Jenina knew she was in jeopardy. She was trying to figure out how to keep away from the bullies. She had just bought a loaf of bread to take home to the gentile family she was staying with.

We've all known bullies. I have--from when I was a little boy in the back seat of my mother's car, and the older kid up front kept punching me, and everyone said "stop crying, David--it's no big deal." To when I was a teenager and saw my friends pick on an effeminate guy, so I thought it would be cool to do the same thing. I found out pretty quickly that it wasn't cool after all. And I felt sick about it-which is no apology, but here is the truth after all.

So I was a bully too.

Don't give the Germans under Hitler and Nazis all the credit--it's part of human nature, and not a very pretty part, to somehow "lord it over" someone else even
when you don't have the merit, to make yourself feel somehow better than that person.

It doesn't really work, I unfortunately can remember.

So these two grownup bullies, Nazi soldiers, thought it would be a good job to harass or even abduct a young girl, little Jenina. Put another notch on their rifles--caught another wayward Jew.

They didn't do it--why not?

In those days, Jews were not known to use bad language. In fact, it was a mark of their honor that they didn't swear--use "curse words." So when Jenina told off her followers using the worst language she could remember, the two Nazi soldiers said, "She can't be a Jew--they don't use language like that!" And they left her alone, and let her go.

Jenina's son, Robbie, a handsome middle-aged fellow to whom I have often waved hello--we lived across the street from his mom, Jenina, and dad,
Frederich, for 2 years--told that story at Jenina's funeral last week. That's how I know about it.

Jenina was a "Holocaust survivor." Most of her family at that time were not survivors.And Robbie related his mother's story of how her life was saved that first time, one of many.

When we lived across from Jenina, who was now in her 80's, she and my wife loved each other. It was only natural--my wife loves everyone, and is interested
in all the underpinnings and experiences--and Jenina was exactly the same!

We moved into a house in Studio City with so much "history," in which only I and my wife would be interested. Bobby Troupe, the great singer, and
his wife, Julie London, my 1950's heartthrob and another great singer, lived next door years earlier to where we moved, and Abbot and Costello owned two houses in the English Tudor tradition on the next goes on and on--and Jenina and her husband Frederich knew them all.

My wife would say, "I'm going over to Jenina's for a minute to return the pie pan." Jenina would cook dishes and cookies all the time and bring
them to us. Then hours would pass and my daughter would say, "Where's Mama? I want to go to bed." and Mama was at Jenina's talking for
hours and hours.

Jenina and Frederich were married 56 years. He was in England in WWII and helped translate coded messages. He was entirely fascinating despite his hearing deficiency and old age. I would pick his brain about the Nuremberg trials and other events to which he was a first-hand witness--amazing and fascinating.

My wife's mom died three weeks ago. My mother in law was a non-judgmental, un-envious, gentle person. Margaret was always happy for someone else's good fortune. Everyone was impressed by that. And she led a simple life, with no frills. Yet in her calm wake she left many people touched by her kindness, her compassion, and her genuine interest. My wife and her mom were lucky to have each other, and they both knew it.

Margaret didn't live through the trials and near-death experiences like Jenina. She did live a life of joy, balance, and calm, despite whatever hair-raising stuff was happening around her, including an alcoholic husband and drug-addicted mother. She was an example of how to live a life each day as it comes. And Jenina was the example of life as a matter of love, no matter what. I am lucky to see the embodiment of both in my wife.

And my wife took care of her mother, and she loved Jenina very much.

For me it is fitting that the final resting of these two women came in the same month that a piece of humanistic legislation finally became a law.
This bill had a history of development, and birth, as difficult as any law in US history, and yet it seems so obviously appropriate and needful in its
immediacy. In other words, what took so long?

"The Matthew Shepard Act, officially the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, is an Act of Congress, passed by
Congress on October 22, 2009, and was signed into law by President Barack Obama on October 28, 2009, which expands the 1969 United States
federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability."

A separate essay would be required to summarize the almost decade-long attempts led by Congressman John Conyers and Senator Edward
Kennedy to introduce and reintroduce this legislation, which extends the parameters of the federal hate-crime law.

Jenina, a holocaust survivor, and Margaret, with humility and animosity toward no one, would not understand what the opposition to such a law
could be. But there was plenty of opposition, from many varied quarters, mostly right-wing, conservative, and irrational.

Some examples:

...James Dobson, founder of the socially conservative lobbying group Focus on the Family, opposed the Act, arguing that it would effectively "muzzle
people of faith who dare to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality."...

...Senator Jeff Sessions, among other Senators, was concerned that the bill would not protect all individuals equally.[16] Senator Jim DeMint of
South Carolina spoke against the bill, saying that it was unnecessary, that it violated the 14th Amendment, and that it would be a step closer to the
prosecution of "thought crimes"...

The details of the law's history are immense--it was added as an amendment to other bills several times, passed by the House and Senate in various
forms, and finally last month made it to Obama's desk for signature.
Such a simple concept: tolerance of our fellow human beings' personal freedoms.

To answer "what took so long...?" is that everyone is not like
Jenina and Margaret, simple in the highest values, and profound in wisdom. I'm sure they would have easily understood the legislation's necessity.
It's part of my memory of them.