Armenian Holocaust Survivor Aurora Mardiganian

I will warn you now that if you are faint of heart, do not read this blog.

And it’s long, but I didn’t even try to shorten it.

The story is too remarkable to whittle down, so this blog post is how I will honor Christmas this year.

Skim it if you must, but I am hoping you will not.

And at the end of this blog post is a YouTube video I hope you take the time to watch.

On October 21, 2019, I wrote a blog post about how, during the Armenian Holocaust, the Turks drove my paternal grandparents out of Syria.

During that harrowing time in my grandparents’ young lives, millions of Armenians, Assyrians, and members of other non-Muslim minorities were deported, starved, raped, kidnapped, and slaughtered.

I had no idea that my post about my Syrian grandparents would be read by so many thousands of people.

To be honest, I didn’t think anyone would care at all about what happened to them.

To my readers: Thank you for caring.

While working on the blog post, I discovered and ordered a book about the Armenian Holocaust written by a 16-year-old survivor, Aurora Mardiganian.

First things first.

Turkey continues to deny what historians have called the first genocide of the 20th century, and in Turkey, it is an actual crime to “insult Turkishness” by even raising the issue of what happened to the Armenians.

And the Trump administration backed Turkey up, arguing that if the U.S. ever recognized the Armenian genocide as a matter of foreign policy, such a resolution would damage the United States-Turkey relationship.

To be fair, many past administrations have disappointedly backed Turkey up.

On Thursday, December 12, 2019, the Senate, for the first time, voted unanimously to formally designate the 1915 mass killings of an estimated 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.

Of the nearly 1.5 million Armenians killed, some were massacred, and others were forced to march to the Syrian desert where they were left to starve to death.

And then there were the women and little girls who suffered unimaginable violations, sold into Turkish harems, ravished by the roadside, crucified, and so much worse.

One of those young girls was Aurora Mardiganian, and her story will chill you to the bone.

Aurora, born Arshaluys Mardiganian, in 1901, was the daughter of a prosperous Armenian family who lived in Ottoman Turkey, twenty miles north of Harput, a few miles east of the river Euphrates. The Turkish residents and the Armenians had been good neighbors.

That was until 1914, when at fourteen-years-old, she witnessed the deaths of her entire family, including watching as Turkish soldiers ripped open her pregnant aunt’s stomach with their bayonets, and trying in vain to save her older sister who was murdered as she resisted being raped. She was later forced to watch as her mother, and remaining siblings were whipped and stabbed to death.

Aurora, who was forced to march over 1,400 miles, was brutally raped, beaten, kidnapped, and sold into the slave markets of Anatolia.

Three years into her nightmare, she miraculously escaped, roaming through a region of nothing but desert, where she encountered many acts of kindness from the Dersim Kurds whom she described as people “without the lust of killing human beings…” and to them “she owed her life.”

After months of wandering through the desert, Aurora finally reached the Turkish city of Erzeroum, which was by then occupied by Russia. In her book, she recalled her arrival there and being greeted by “a beautiful sight—the American flag.”

She then made her way to Tiflis, which is now Tbilisi, Georgia, then to St. Petersburg. From there, she traveled to Oslo, and finally, with the assistance of an organization called the Near East Relief, she made safe passage to New York City and arrived at Ellis Island in 1917.

Soon after she arrived In New York, Aurora was approached by a young screenwriter named Harvey Gates, and he helped the then sixteen-year-old orphan write and then publish her memoir titled Ravished Armenia.

According to Gates, her work on the book was exhausting: “Sometimes there had to be intervals of rest of several days, because her suffering had so unnerved her…You who read the story of Aurora Mardiganian’s last three years will find it hard to believe that in our day and generation such things are possible.”

Back in 1917, Gates found the Armenian Holocaust hard to imagine. But history has taught us that “such things” happen every day.

This is Aurora’s dedication from the book:

“To each mother and father, in this beautiful land of the United States, who has taught a daughter to believe in God, I dedicate my book. I saw my own mother’s body, its life ebbed out, flung onto the desert because she taught me that Jesus Christ was my Saviour. I saw my father die in pain because he said to me, his little girl, ‘Trust in the Lord; His will be done.’ I saw thousands upon thousands of beloved daughters of gentle mothers die under the whip, or the knife, or from the torture of hunger and thirst, or carried away into slavery because they would not renounce the glorious crown of their Christianity. God saved me that I might bring to America a message from those of my people who are left, and every father and mother will understand that what I tell you in these pages is told with love and thankfulness to Him for my escape.”

In 1919, the book was made into a silent film with the same title.

Referred to in the press as the Joan of Arc of Armenia, Aurora heroically played herself in the film. And the then Ambassador Henry Morgenthau played himself as the American Ambassador to Turkey.

As a survivor and eyewitness of the Armenian Holocaust, Aurora’s memoir heartbreakingly recalls the brutality, ugliness, and horror of genocide, and what occurred to the young girls and women as a result of male dominance, their sick sexual desires, and their inhumanity and hatred for Christians.

In one section of the book, Aurora witnesses sixteen young Armenian girls being crucified “on rough wooden crosses” by their Ottoman tormentors.

The film depicted the victims nailed to crosses, but in 1989, seventy years after the film was produced, Aurora confessed to the film historian Anthony Slide, that the scene was inaccurate. She painfully went on to describe what was actually a vaginal impalement.

She stated that “The Turks made little pointed crosses. They took the clothes off the girls. They made them bend down, and after raping them, they made them sit on the pointed wood.

The book depicts the cruelty of the Turks, but they weren’t the only ones with blood on their hands.

They allowed and orchestrated others to join in: The Chechens, the Kurds, and the Germans.

According to Aurora, all of the evil and wickedness perpetrated by the “bandits of the desert” was inspired by “their Turkish masters.”  

She describes the Chechens as being more cruel and wicked than the Kurds and that during the massacres, the Turks gave them permission to steal as many Christian girls as they wished.

There was a section of Mardiganian’s book describing “The Game of Swords” played by the Chechens after they tired of raping the young women.

“They planted their swords, which were the long, slender-bladed swords that came from Germany, in a long row in the sand, so the sharp pointed blades rose out of the ground as high as would be a very small child. When we saw these preparations all of us knew what was going to happen… Already I was trembling with sickness of heart because of the awful night before and the things I had seen that morning when daylight came. The other women beside me were trembling, too, and felt as if they would rather die than see any more. We begged our Tchetchens to take us away—to take us where we could not look upon those sword blades—but they only laughed at us and told us we must watch and be thankful to them we were under their protection.

When the long row of swords had been placed the Tchetchens hurried back to the little band of Armenians. We saw them crowd among them, and then come away carrying, or dragging, all the young women who were left—maybe fifteen or twenty—I could not count them.

Each girl was forced to stand with a dismounted Tchetchen holding her on her feet, half way between two swords in the long row. The captives cried and begged, but the cruel bandits were heedless of their pleadings.

When the girls had been placed… one between each two sword blades, the remaining Tchetchens mounted their horses and gathered at the end of the line. At a shouted signal the first one galloped down the row of swords. He seized a girl, lifted her high in the air and flung her down upon a sword point, without slackening his horse. It was a game—a contest!

Each Tchetchen tried to seize as many girls as he could and fling them upon the sword points, so that they were killed in the one throw, in one gallop along the line. Only the most skillful of them succeeded in impaling more than one girl. Some lifted the second from the ground, but missed the sword in their speed, and the girl, with broken bones or bleeding wounds, was held up in the line again to be used in the “game” a second time—praying that this time the Tchetchen’s aim would be true and the sword put an end to her torture.

Another section of the book describes the sick cruelty of the Kurds as told to Aurora by Margarid, the wife of a pastor about the rape and murder of her six daughters, including her oldest daughter Sherin, who was fourteen:

“There were a thousand of us,” Margarid said when we had brought her out of the stupor of grief which had overcome her… The first night Kurdish bandits rode down upon us… They stripped all the women and children — even the littlest ones… They took all the pretty girls and violated them before our eyes… When we left the Kurds and [Turkish] soldiers who were tired of the girls were killing them. …the soldiers killed my little ones by mashing their heads together. They violated Sherin while they held me and then cut off her breasts, so that she died.”

Aurora wrote much about the cruelty of the German soldiers and how they armed and taught the Turks how to use machine guns. The Germans would lead the Turkish soldiers personally and helped to raid and machine gun Armenian houses.

There is one particularly disturbing section of the book that describes the evil of the German soldiers:

“Late in the afternoon the chief of our Tchetchens came out from the city. His men drew off to one side and talked with him excitedly. When it grew dark they lifted us upon their horses and carried us into the city through the south gate. At the gate the Tchetchen chief showed to the officers of the gendarmes a paper he had brought from the city, and the Tchetchens were permitted to enter. We passed through dark narrow streets until we came to a house terraced high above the others, with an iron gate leading into a courtyard off the street. A hammal, or Turkish porter, was waiting at the gate and swung it open.

The bandits dismounted outside the gate to the house and lifted us to the ground. The leader waved us inside. With half a dozen of his men he entered behind us and the gate closed. Some of the Tchetchens went into the house. In a few minutes they came out, followed by a foreign man, whose uniform I recognized as that of a German soldier.

Servants followed with lighted lamps, and the soldier looked into our faces and examined us shamefully. Only eight of the girls pleased him. I was among these. We were pushed into the house and the door was closed behind us. Then we heard the Tchetchens gather up the other girls and take them into the street. I do not know what became of them. The soldier and the servants, all of whom were foreigners, whom I afterward discovered were Germans, took us into a stone floored room which had been used as a stable for horses.

It must have been two or three hours afterward—after midnight, I think; we could not keep track of the time—when the soldier and the servants came for us. Before they took us from the stable room they took away what few clothes we had. They led us, afraid and ashamed, into a room where there were three men in the uniforms of German officers. The soldiers saluted them. The officers seemed very pleased when they had looked at us. We tried to cover ourselves with our arms and to hide behind each other, but the soldier roughly drew us apart. The officers laughed at our embarrassment, and then dismissed the soldier, saying something to him in German, which I did not understand.

The officers talked among themselves, also in German. They tried to caress us. It amused them greatly when we pleaded with them to spare us, to let us have clothes and to have mercy, in God’s name.

Almost two weeks I was a prisoner in this house… To this house were brought many pretty Armenian girls stolen by the Kurds and Tchetchens. When they tired of them they sent them away to the refugee camps outside the city or to be sold to Turks.

There was another girl, who had been a prisoner in the house longer than others—since before I was taken there. She had especially pleased one of the under-officers. She told me of one night when the officers had taken much of their whiskey and were particularly cruel. She said they sent for some of the girls then in the house and, standing them sideways, shot at them with their pistols, using their breasts as targets.

During the days I spent reading Aurora’s book, it was difficult to sleep at night. I would lay awake and ask myself if I could have survived. I honestly don’t think so.

With every word I read, it was unfathomable how one young girl could have witnessed and experienced so much brutality, so much grief, and still come out on the other side.

And yet through all of the torture, the misery, the agony, hope and faith endured.

In Aurora’s words: “But always there was hope of deliverance. So many Armenians had friends in America, sons and brothers who had left our country to go to the wonderful United States. They prayed every night that from America would come help before all were dead… It was this hope that kept thousands alive.”  

Aurora ultimately married a fellow survivor in 1929, had a son and lived in Los Angeles until her death.

In 1994, Aurora spent the last few weeks of her life at a nursing facility in the San Fernando Valley. On February 6, 1994, she died alone at Holy Cross Hospital at age 92. At the time of her death, she was estranged from her son. Her body went unclaimed, and she was cremated and buried anonymously in a mass grave somewhere in Los Angeles.

Aurora is long gone, but I sincerely hope that she will never be forgotten.

Her life and legacy highlight the importance of action over apathy and compassion over indifference.

Like many films made during the silent era, Ravished Armenia was lost.

There are some who say that that the disappearance of the film was the result of a Turkish conspiracy.

All that is known to be left of the film is 18 minutes of poorly preserved footage, which was discovered in a trash bin.

Please watch the film footage, and in honor of Aurora, never forget.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTnCaW-Uo_s

Thanksgiving Dinner with My Deceased Grandmother


I know what you’re thinking. MORBID!

But I don’t feel morbid at all.

I feel excitement.

I’m looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with my grandmother.

The big day is almost upon me, and I’m excited about sharing it with a lot of the people I love the most and who will help to make my Thanksgiving special, including my deceased grandmother Mammy (MayMe).

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that my grandmother was the matriarch and head honcho of my family of four women, which consisted of Grammy Nadeau (my great-grandmother), Mammy, Mommy, and me.

Now that I have finally published my second book, The Day It Snowed Popcorn; I’ve started on my third, a cookbook titled Tu Me Manques.

When I first thought about what the title of my cookbook would be, Tu Me Manques was the name that kept churning around in my head over and over again.

There was another possible title that kept creeping into my psyche as well: Mon Petit Chou.

Mon Petit Chou was my grandmother’s pet name for me, which means “My Little Cabbage.”

As a kid, I wasn’t thrilled about being compared to a gassy vegetable, but Mammy said it with such affection that I begrudgingly grew to accept her quirky nickname for me.

Now, I revere the pet name and wish I could hear her say it to me one last time.

While it became a choice between the two titles, Tu Me Manques seemed to be the most fitting name for my book of Mammy’s recipes.

This deeper connotation perfectly sums up my sentiment about Mammy.

Sorry if this tu me manques business is going on too long.

But I’m not sorry that I found the phrase.

Because it almost makes my grief explainable. I’m almost able to put the pain and loss of Mammy into words.

Whatever the translation, the title Tu Me Manques is a done deal.

I was once asked what I would like to have as my last meal, and my quick reply was:

Anything made by Mammy.

Trying to recreate the foods my grandmother cooked is to celebrate her and to forever preserve her memory through the taste and smell of her recipes.

Mammy served up lots of kisses, lots of good advice with a constant side of delicious and comforting food.

My daughter Ariel once asked me if I had any recipes handwritten by Mammy.

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

French was Mammy’s first language, and she was just fifteen when her father was rendered a vegetable from a traumatic brain injury.

As a result, she was pulled out of school to help work the farm and take care of her younger siblings. She was one of ten kids; one died at birth.

Mammy was barely able to read or write in English, so I have nothing left of her handwriting at all.

I once had a birthday card, but during an unfortunate time in my life, it went missing.

Mammy wasn’t literate, but she was one hell of a cooker.

Unfortunately, her recipes were all in her head and never written down, except by me over the years.

When my grandmother died in 1983, so did all of her recipes.

I have spent the better part of the last 36 years trying to recreate them.

So today, when I sat down to plan out my Thanksgiving dinner, Tue Me Manques, was what I wrote down.

What better time to start testing my memory of Mammy’s holiday foods, than a Thanksgiving gathering when family heirloom recipes are traditionally in abundance?

And as I chop and mix and bake, I’m sure I’ll give thanks to Mammy for believing in me and loving me the biggest and the best of anyone ever.

I spent a lifetime doubting myself, but I never doubted her love for me.

But mostly, I will thank her for the cherished memory of a woman who was broken time and time again, tested in ways that still bring me to tears.

And yet, she pulled herself up, stood tall (even though she was only a little over 5 feet), and always walked with dignity and pride.

And I will also thank her for the precious space she holds in my heart that’s filled with lessons taught of empathy and strength and resilience.

As I prepare Thanksgiving dinner this year, I know Mammy will be in the house.

And while I cook away, I’ll imagine Mammy at my side, guiding me along.

“Not so much of this. A little more of that. Don’t forget to taste everything.”

And I will fondly recall how we stood side by side, back in a time that is becoming harder and harder to remember, mixing and mashing, while my Mammy would tell me stories of young love and yesterdays, sprinkled with her unforgettable giggle, a twinkle in her beautiful eyes and just a hint of regret.

Happy Thanksgiving, Mammy.

Tu me manques, mon petit chou.

Your Publisher Is Going to Be Screaming on Broadway

This post might seem to meander, but give it a chance because I want to provide you with a glimpse into how dangerous the magazine and newspaper business can be.

First off, being the boss has its advantages and disadvantages.

There are a lot of haters out there.

And there are a lot of haters inside too.

I’ll explain what I mean about inside in due time.

And when you’re working for the best of the press, the haters multiply exponentially.

Inside and out.

I’ve worked for some of the top magazines in the world.

I’m not bragging; I’m just telling it like it is.

For example, in my ten years at Newsweek Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time), our rival was Time Magazine (either the number one or number two magazine at the time).

We were the Big Kahunas. Right up there with the best of the newspapers. The best of the press.

To be clear, this blog isn’t about Newsweek Magazine. But I wanted to give you a little background about my publishing experience because I had a lot of it.

And again, with all due respect, I was good at what I did.

When I finally reached the top position, as the publisher and chief operating officer of an unnamed magazine, I thought that was the happiest I would ever be in my career.

I was so wrong.

With the top job came a lot of outside animosity in the form of hate mail and letters about how the press were liars and twisters of the truth. You know, the usual partisan nonsense.

But it was the simmering resentment from the inside, that I couldn’t understand.

I mean, it wasn’t my fault I had been hired to run the magazine. If some of the wannabes on the inside didn’t get the job, why was that my problem?

Oh, but it was.

Now everyone in the publishing industry knows that there is fierce competition between the editorial side and the business side of magazines and newspapers.

The editors hate the business side because they think they’re smarter and better than the business side executives.

And in many publishing outfits, the editors get paid less than the senior business executives, although the business side does have control over the bottom line, so in good times, why shouldn’t we get the glory?

Anyway, I say that as a business side executive. I’m sure the editors would have their own take.

The bottom line is that there is a constant internal battle between the two entities:

Who’s the dog and who’s the tail?

I’m not saying that all editors are bad guys and girls.

But as they relate to this story, I’ll leave that for you to decide.

Anyway, I wanted to give you some background.

And now for the story.

The magazine was editorially heavy. Most of the employees were editors, or in editorial layout.

Even the IT guy was mostly a troubleshooter for the editorial staff.

And the receptionist was a junior editor who helped with the phone lines.

I had one business-side employee who was responsible for the circulation and marketing of the magazine.

I handled everything else business-related, including advertising sales.

As the boss, I wasn’t exactly “buddies” with the staff.

My job was stressful, the hours were long, and the pressure to succeed was enormous.

As such, I expected a lot from my staff.

But, in my mind’s eye, and I am positive about this:

I expected a lot from my staff, but I was generous and understanding and empathetic.

And I didn’t expect anything from my staff that I wasn’t willing to do myself.

And yet what occurred in this story is going to stun you.

The magazine was closed from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day.

I had fought hard with corporate for those days off, and I was happy to be able to provide them to the staff.

Workwise, I couldn’t wait until the new year because my circulation director, who had just had a baby girl, was on maternity leave, and I was looking forward to her return on January 10.

As a former circulation promotion director (at Newsweek), I had extensive circulation experience, so, while she was out of the office, I had assumed all circulation related responsibilities, in addition to my other duties, and the pressure was intense.

And as a result, I was working tons more hours than usual.

With young kids at home to worry about, I was counting the days until my circulation director came back.

My youngest child was finally at an age where she was coming home alone after school and taking care of herself until my son or I got there.

This newfound freedom for my daughter was something she was incredibly proud of, and it took a massive weight off of my shoulders.

I was, for the first time since my children had been born, seeing in real-time that there was finally going to be a light at the end of the childcare tunnel.

January 10 couldn’t come fast enough.

My first day back to work was January 3.

Our office, which was located at 4th Street and Broadway, opened at 9:00 am, and I always tried to get there no later than 8:30 am.

That day was no exception.

I sat at my desk and checked my emails.

The staff started arriving, peeking their heads into my office, saying hello, making small chat.

I spoke to my IT guy at length and a few of the editors.

At 11 am, I received a chilling phone call I will never forget.

It was the young woman on maternity leave.

In near hysterics, she shouted into the phone that she had received a letter from a former magazine employee, and in her words, “It was disturbing.”

This former employee she spoke of, had been in the editorial layout department and had recently quit.

When he came in to give me his two-week notice, he informed me that he was moving back to wherever small town he was from to live with his sister.

She cried her way through the story:

This ex-employee had written to express his undying devotion to her. He also referred to her being a Greek Goddess and made mention (more than once) of wanting to meet her newborn daughter.

She further explained the letter was dated December 25.

And at the top of the letter, was a black and white image of King Kong hanging onto the Empire State Building, holding the girl in his hand.

I was worried about her. This letter was downright scary.

She whimpered as she further explained that she looked up the Greek mythological figure, who turned out to be the goddess of sacred law and the cycle of life and death.

And then she told me something really terrifying:

The daughter of the Greek Goddess had been abducted by the god of the underworld.

I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.

She said it for me.

“I quit.” “I’m never coming back.”

“I totally understand,” I replied as softly and caring as possible.

I couldn’t blame her.

My brain was racing as to what I should do and what I should say to this beyond hysterical new mother.

And then she hit me with the bombshell.

“He mentioned you in the letter as well.”

“Me?” I asked incredulously.

She paused for a few seconds, so I repeated my question.

“Me?”

Her answer left me cold.

“Yes, you.”

“And your daughter.”

Okay, so threaten me, and depending on my mood, I might cut a bitch.

But threaten my daughter?

I got off the phone, got up, closed my office door, and called corporate.

Then I called the New York City police.

After composing myself, I walked around the office to briefly let everyone know that the NYPD were on their way to our office and why.

The staff all stood there, dumbfounded. Nobody said a word.

I rushed back into my office, closed the door again, and called a friend to ask her to go to my house immediately and stay there until I got home.

Even though my daughter and son were in school, I wanted to make sure someone was there as soon as possible.

I felt sick.

Then I called my local police.

I sat behind closed doors, stunned until the editor/receptionist called me on the speaker to let me know the police had arrived.

Two detectives questioned me for about an hour and then spoke on the phone with my now former circulation director.

While the detectives walked around the office and interviewed the staff, I made a call to my kids’ school and to the local police department where my former circulation director lived.

As I finished up, the detectives came into my office and closed the door.

“What kind of relationship do you have with your staff?” one of them asked me.

“I have a great relationship with them,” I answered, somewhat defensively.

“Why do you ask?”

They took turns explaining to me that there were other letters out there.

It took a minute to register.

“Other letters? Who were they written to?”

The detectives looked at me solemnly.

“Everyone on staff,” one responded.

I was speechless.

“Except you,” the other detective added.

My whole body tingled, and I could only repeat what they had told me.

“Everyone on staff?”

“Except me?”

They placed a pile of letters on my fancy mahogany desk.

Every letter was topped with December 25, King Kong and the girl.

And the one thing that tied all of the letters together was that they all mentioned me.

And my daughter.

He was ranting in many of the letters about how I fired him, and how, because of me, he was living in one room with a hot plate.

Because of me?

He quit.

He spoke endearingly of my daughter, and reminisced about the times she had come into the office, popped popcorn, and then walked innocently around the office, offering it to the entire staff.

He mentioned my home address in one of the letters.

He wrote in another letter that he had seen me with my daughter at the subway, and spoke about how I kept her close to me and far away from the platform edge.

And two of the letters said: “Your publisher is going to be screaming on Broadway.”

I was screaming inside.

Once I pulled myself together, I demanded that the detectives arrest him.

They went back to their precinct to work on the arrest and to secure a search warrant for his one room.

It took everything in my power not to go to his lousy one room myself, and wring his creepy neck.

I walked out into the main office with the letters in hand.

“No one thought they should tell me that your publisher was going to be screaming on Broadway?” I asked them incredulously.

One of the editors piped in. “We didn’t want to get him in trouble.”

“You didn’t want to get him in trouble? He talked about my daughter. He talked about the subway platform. He has my address.”

They all hung their heads in shame.

My Nightmare Job Interview

Many years ago, I interviewed for the job of my dreams.

The salary was the culmination of everything I had worked my entire adult life for.

Not only did I want the job, but I also needed it. Desperately.

In pursuit of the dream job, I had been through countless interviews, and this one, HR said, “was the last stop.”

The final decision would come down to an investor, not an employee of the magazine, and a legend in the publishing industry.

I was freaked out.

The interview was scheduled for 7:30 am at the Palace Hotel, on the corner of 50th Street and Madison Avenue.

7:30 am? Really?

I was used to the daily commute from Long Island to New York City, but 7:30 seemed a bit much.

On the day of the interview, I woke up at 2:30 am and was sitting at the table a little before 6:30.

I asked the waiter for water and read and reread the pricey breakfast menu.

I went to the ladies’ room.

Twice.

My heart was pounding, and I was talking myself down (or maybe it was up) the whole time.

You can do this. You can do this.

At 7 am there was a flurry of activity at the entrance of the breakfast room. His persona was grander than I had imagined.

He stood tall, flanked by the last two men I had interviewed with.

Oh, joy.

He sat down and then waved to Frick and Frack to do the same.

And make no mistake about it. Frick and Frack were luminaries in their own right.

He ordered hot water with lemon and asked me if I wanted anything.

With my hands shaking and stuck to my lap, I politely refused.

He never even asked Frick and Frack.

He leaned uncomfortably forward.

“I’m going to ask you a series of questions, and I am expecting you to answer them quickly, with the first thought that comes to your mind.”

Okay, I’m screwed.

After his pronouncement, it was rat-a-tat-tat — one question after another. I tried to answer them as quickly as possible.

Some of the questions (and my answers) remain indelibly stuck in my psyche.

“Let’s start with the hole in your resume.”

Oh yeah, I’m totally screwed.

“You only completed two years of college. Why didn’t your parents stress the importance of education?”

“Parents?” My question came out as an incredulous blurt.

Calm yourself down.

“I didn’t have parents. I was raised by my grandmother, great grandmother, and mother. I had a family but no parents.”

“Tell me the first three things that come to mind with the letter T.”

He then said, “go,” while pointing his finger for me to start.

“Teri, truth, Tony.”

“Tony?” he asked me.

“Personal,” I replied.

“A man?”

“No, a woman.”

“How old was your mother when you were born?”

“Not old enough.”

His hot water went untouched.

So did mine. Who the hell had a nano-second to cop a sip?

“What is your means to an end?”

This question gave me pause.

“Answer?” He quickly prodded.

“For me, the end comes before the means. My kids are the end, and then if possible, a stellar career would be the means.”

“Define stellar.”

“The best that I can be.”

It was way too early in the morning for this.

“One word to describe you.”

“Fighter.”

“What’s your biggest regret?”

“Never meeting my dad.”

“The worst thing anyone ever said to you.”

“If it wasn’t for you.”

“What time did you get here?”

“6:30.”

“Why?”

“Why not?”

He sat back in his seat.

“We’ll be in touch.”

With that, he stood up. Then I stood up.

Frick and Frack followed suit.

As we walked out, he led the parade; I was behind him, Frick and Frack were behind me.

He turned around abruptly, and I came uncomfortably close to colliding with him.

Frick or maybe it was Frack, bumped into me.

I thought we were done here.

“How bad do you want this job?”

“Bad,” was my reply.

We said our goodbyes, and I assumed the interview was over.

But you know what they say about “assume.”

“Last question.”

Is this guy kidding me?

“Taxi or subway back to Penn Station?”

I tried my best not to show my exasperation.

“Walking?” was my answer, although it came out like a question.

I saw in his face that I got him on that one.

It was the quickest and most bizarre interview I had ever been a part of.

I left the hotel, trying to figure out what the hell just happened to me.

Tears flowed down my face as I stormed back to the train station.

I was perturbed.

And I was angry.

Furious might be the better word.

Parents?

Tony?

If it wasn’t for you?

WTF?

P.S.

I got the job.

And P.P.S.

I was employed at the magazine way longer than Frick or Frack.

Turkish Soldiers Drove My Grandparents out of Syria in 1920

 

My maternal French grandmother would often say:

“Plus ca change, plus c’est la même chose.”

“The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.”

I heard heartbreaking stories about my grandparents from my paternal aunts and uncle.

All three spoke chillingly of ethnic cleansing.

From about 1914 to 1923, terrified Syrian Christians, Syrian Jews, and of course, the Armenians were forced into hard labor, murdered, raped, robbed, starved, and if they were lucky, deported.

They were called Ottoman soldiers back then. From the Republic of Turkey.

My uncle once described the horrific experiences his parents went through as the “Turkification” of Syrian border towns and villages.

Turkification gave the bad guys the license to expel, to kill, and to destroy anything or anyone non-Turkish.

Christians and Jews were seen as a danger to the integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

An inconvenience.

The Ottoman soldiers were systematic, and the killings were well organized and state-sponsored.

They needed to clear out their border, and so they did. The Turkish government denies that they slaughtered innocent men, women, and children, but they lie.

Hearing Trump say, “They had terrorists, they had a lot of people in there they couldn’t have …. and they had to have it cleaned out” gave me the chills.

The president of the United States called for northern Kurdish Syria to be “cleaned out.”

They’re at it again, I thought to myself, but this time with the assistance and blessing of my president.

When is enough enough? Have we as a country no shame? Where is the outrage? Why are we not taking to the streets?        

These were my thoughts as Trump spewed his hateful words.

According to my uncle, my grandmother was a Syrian Jew whose five sisters were raped and slaughtered. She hid and somehow escaped to France.

My grandfather was a Syrian Christian who saw the writing on the wall.

The Turks wanted to clear Turkish soil of Christians, including the Syrian border.

My grandparents were from an area called Suedeyeh in the Hatay Province, although I’m not sure of the spelling.

But what I am sure of is that Turkey eventually annexed the Hatay province and after the area was cleaned out, Suedeyeh was no longer part of Syria and renamed Samandag.

Were it not for my grandmother and grandfather’s escape to France and then to the United States; I wouldn’t exist.

I recently read that there were a lot of German officers in Turkey during the massacres of the Syrian Jews, Syrian Christians, and the Armenians, who in WWI went back to Germany.

What happened in Turkey left an indelible impression on the German officers and many of them ended up in the Nazi party.

And we all know how that ended.

Atonement

As many of you know, I converted to Judaism from Catholicism almost 37 years ago.

And for those of you who are wondering how I could have walked away from my religion, I will tell you in all honesty that it was one of the most difficult life decisions I have ever made.

What gave me solace over the years was my belief that if I lived a kind, honest, and generous life, I would be blessed no matter what religion I was.

And if there’s a heaven, I have faith and hope that I will be welcome there when the time comes.

But this blog post isn’t about my conversion.

It’s about atonement and my fear of it.

Let’s start at the very beginning.

According to rabbinic tradition, the Hebrew calendar started at the time of creation, placed at 3,761 BCE.

This year, on Rosh Hashana, Jews throughout the world celebrated the ancient anniversary of the creation of humanity; the commemoration of God’s creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden 5,780 years ago.

As a celebratory holiday, I gathered family and loved ones together for two nights, eating challah bread and apples dipped in honey, and prayed for a sweet year.

I prayed for a positive future and asked for the strength to believe in the promise of better humanity and a brighter tomorrow.

According to Jewish tradition, God opens three books on Rosh Hashanah.

In the first book, the righteous are inscribed for life in the coming year.

In the second book, the wicked are inscribed for death.

And in the third book, the names of the rest of us are temporarily inscribed. Our fates during the coming year are based upon our actions and behavior during the Ten Days of Repentance, which culminates on Yom Kippur, a solemn day of fasting, repentance, and atonement.

The Hebrew word for atonement is “Teshuva,” which translates to “return.”

Over the years, I have personalized what the word “return” means to me in the context of atonement.

I have rationalized what “return” means to me in the context of my life.

Return to my better self.

Return to a place of goodness.

Return to kindness.

Return to the people I’ve hurt.

Returning to the people I’ve hurt is a tough one because, in the Jewish tradition, the process of atonement and repentance includes three acts:  confession, regret, and a vow not to repeat the misdeed.

Judaism requires that those who are in need of atonement must seek out those they’ve hurt and ask for their forgiveness.

And if the apology is rebuffed, the atoner must ask at least three times before giving up.

For me, three times rebuffed is way more rejection than I would care to bear.

But the possibility of forgiveness more than makes up for my fear of rejection and gives me the courage to ask, regardless of the pain it may cause.

My angst is overwhelming, but I know I need to set it aside and reach out to that person I hurt in the hopes of reuniting and returning to a more fulfilling, loving life.

I forgive you. Three words that could change my life. Or lives.

Judaism requires atonement but also emphasizes that it is never too late to make amends. It is never too late to repair what’s been broken.

Return, atone, repair.

On Yom Kippur, we take a frank look at our character and our actions over the past year and ask ourselves, “What is the purpose of our existence?”

And we promise God to engage in a project of self-improvement, self-transformation, and self-actualization.

And we ask ourselves:

Could I have done something differently?

Should I have done something differently?

Do I owe someone an apology?

Are there errors that I can still fix?

Have I made my family proud?

Have I made God proud?

Am I fulfilling my mission on God’s great earth?

During Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, many of the blessings, prayers, affirmations, and confessions are said as “we.”

“We have sinned” vs. “I have sinned.” “We ask for forgiveness” rather than, “I ask for forgiveness.”

Perhaps this is done to remind us that we are united and to help us understand that we are all in this together. We have all sinned. We all need to ask for forgiveness.

Pay it forward. Cause and effect.

One of us affects another, who, in turn, affects another, and another, perhaps infinitely.

It is all up to us. We have the option to cause pain or to repair.

We can choose to do something to someone rather than for someone or speak badly vs. praising a person.

Each action we choose will have repercussions upon our life and someone else’s life and perhaps the lives of generations to come.

I’m afraid of rejection, but during these holidays I know I need to atone, I recognize I must be brave and take a chance at repair. Reach out and ask for forgiveness.

I fear the silence, but I have hope; the hope of the return of someone I love and miss more than life itself.

The Angels Among Us


The sculpture “Angels Unaware” by the Canadian artist Timothy P. Schmalz, depicts 140 migrants and refugees from various historical periods traveling on a boat.

The displaced people include the Virgin Mary and Joseph, Jews fleeing Nazi Germany, and a crowded mass of others.

In the center of the sculpture, two wings majestically soar; proof that someone in the crowd is an angel.

The sculptor’s inspiration came from scripture in the New Testament.

In Hebrews 13:2, the passage reads: “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

Made in the USA: Chlorinated Chicken?


Wait a sec…

The chicken I’ve been eating is washed in chlorine?

Urgh, yet another government mess to worry about.

Were it not for all the recent Brexit articles; I wouldn’t have known washing U.S. chickens with chemicals was even a thing.

With Brexit looming, the UK is shopping around for ways to open up trade with countries outside of the EU.

Enter Trump and Pence, who are both working double overtime with Boris Johnson to provide among many other U.S. goods and services; chemically-washed chickens.

As part of their trade talks, the U.S. is trying to convince the UK to accept U.S. food standards, that in many cases are subpar to theirs.

I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that standards that are perfectly acceptable in the United States are illegal in Europe.

Let the Brits eat chicken… Saturated with chlorine.

I know what you’re thinking, and okay, I agree. Who would EVER choose to eat chlorine-soaked chicken? I certainly wouldn’t.

But low and behold, I have indeed been eating those subpar USDA approved suckers.  And since chicken is my meat of choice, I have been eating a ton of them.

Yep, subpar chickens. That’s the latest and greatest Trump-Pence sales pitch.

Subpar? Who cares? If it’s good enough for the citizens of the United States, it should be good enough for UK citizens, right?

Not according to the EU, who has been dead set against using chlorine to wash chicken carcasses, and banned the process twenty-two years ago—in 1997.

The EU rule prohibits the use of anything other than water to decontaminate meat and effectively bans U.S. imports of poultry treated with chemical rinses in an attempt to eradicate bacteria and fungus.

An additional EU concern is that the U.S. chemical decontamination process could encourage resistance to antibiotics.

Apparently, antibiotic resistance is also a thing.

Experts have been warning that we are close to the point where humans worldwide may find themselves without effective life-saving drugs, which could escalate into a global health crisis.

The EU is adamant that food manufacturers focus on top-of-the-line hygiene rather than using chemicals to eliminate bacteria and disease.

Duh, makes sense to me.

But not to the good old U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The USDA is perfectly fine with unhygienic processes, and have no problem with the soaking of our poultry in chemical rinses, including acidified sodium chlorite, trisodium phosphate, peroxy acids, and chlorine dioxide.

(My grandmother used to say that if you can’t pronounce the ingredients on a label, don’t eat it.)

But I digress. Back to chemically washed chicken carcasses.

Now that the UK is preparing for post-Brexit, they are free to change up their rules. They don’t have to adhere to anything the EU says.

EU Shmee-U

Lucky for the Brits, post-Brexit, they too will be free to buy and eat all the U.S. subpar chlorinated chicken they want!

Not so fast, say the Britons, who are extremely unhappy that below par, unhygienic chicken from the United States may soon flood their markets.

Aw come on…what’s wrong with providing the UK with a flood-load of chemically washed chickens that hopefully got rid of all that harmful bacteria due to unhygienic U.S. practices?

We’re allies, right?

For all my sarcasm, let’s be clear here.

Chlorine-washed chickens are just one example of subpar U.S. regulations vs. the EU rules regarding food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards.

As an example, in the EU, there is a legal minimum amount of space, ventilation, and lighting for EU poultry houses.

Not so in the United States.

Thus, the reason the U.S. needs to wash their chickens with chemicals.

There are ZERO laws governing the amount of space, ventilation, and lighting needed, because, you know how the U.S. feels about the almighty dollar.

It’s always about the bottom line.

Because there are no rules and regulations regarding poultry space, ventilation, and lighting, U.S. produced chicken is a fifth cheaper than in the UK.

And the chlorine is free.

The U.S. poultry houses have complete unregulated control over how many birds they can stuff into their artificially lit sheds—so they cram up to a whopping 20,000-30,000 chickens into a poultry facility.

The result? Production costs are indeed kept low, but the risk of disease and contamination are sky-high.

Low cost, high risk.

Because U.S. chickens are packed together so tightly, the birds have limited to no movement, with little light or ventilation.

And as a result of not being able to move, the chickens are forced to wallow in filth, resulting in rotting skin diseases, which spread from bird to bird at lightning speed. (BTW: Until doing this research, my favorite part of a chicken used to be the crispy skin. Ew.)

Additionally, their food and water are full of mass doses of antibiotics and other drugs to control parasites, but without any legal requirements who knows if the process of bird-medicating is safe, or if it even works?

As if that isn’t enough reason to question the lack of U.S. rules and regulations, the poultry houses aren’t cleaned until the end of each production cycle. So, the birds sit in feces and disease for at least two to three weeks.

Leave it to the U.S. to approve bathing chickens in a liquid recipe of chemicals to hopefully eradicate their bacterial diseases, because it’s a whole lot cheaper than clean, regulated hygiene procedures.

And chemical washing has other advantages:

Not only does the process hide odors and skin slime, but the meat can be passed off as fresh for way way longer than it should be.

And since common sense hygiene is not required, who’s to know if the heavily soiled birds are sufficiently disinfected? Is there a regulated bath time?

And relying on chlorine washing may well lead to more reduced hygiene standards overall.

They’re (supposedly) washing the chickens anyway so why waste time with cleanliness?

Don’t forget the old U.S. adage; time is money.

Chlorine isn’t supposed to be toxic at the levels used in the washing process and isn’t supposed to cause cancer.

But studies have shown that the washing process can cause dangerous carcinogens to form in the chicken meat if the concentration of chlorine is high enough.

And even though the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service have set chlorine limits to protect us from cancer toxicity, I’m not buying that every slaughterhouse follows the rules.

Right after I finish writing this blog post, I’m going to do my homework and see what kind of chicken I can eat that hasn’t been swimming in feces or bathed in chemicals. I suggest you do the same.

But I’m not finished with this post yet.

As if chicken skin sopping in feces isn’t bad enough, the neck and organs can also be severely diseased and bacterially compromised.

So why the hell do they pack that stuff into the cavity of our already at-risk chickens?

The statistics speak for themselves:

There are hundreds of recorded salmonella deaths a year in the U.S.

The UK has in recent years recorded none.

I’m no expert in chicken cooping, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that keeping chickens in filthy conditions will produce an unclean product.

Post-Brexit, the UK is free to change the rules and eat any kind of cooped-up chicken they please. After all, it’s a free of the EU country.

No regulations, no rules mean that untold numbers of U.S. slaughterhouses and processing plants rely heavily on chlorination because their hygiene standards are pathetic at best and non-existent at worse.

And the UK wants to cut a chicken deal with us, because?

It makes you want to fly the coop.