Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Tale of Two Museums: It's Complicated

In our never-ending quest to expose Miguel to a variety of cultural experiences, we brought him to two, yes, two museums this week while he’s on winter break from middle school. Unconfirmed reports that our parenting behavior is being closely monitored by the International Red Cross and Amnesty International are false.

On Monday, we went to the De Young Museum in San Francisco and saw the King Tut exhibit with my brother-in-law and niece, Katy, who is not quite three months older than Miguel.

As we waited in line to enter, I puffed my chest out slightly and announced to my family and everyone else within earshot because of my booming voice that I was probably the only one there who’d actually been to King Tut’s tomb in Egypt.

“I could probably be the tour guide inside the exhibit,” I said.

Miguel probably rolled his eyes. As did Verna.

I visited Egypt in 1980 when I was a student in Israel for my junior year of college. My friend Dan and I hitchhiked in a taxi across the Sinai Desert with five other tourists and spent nine days in Egypt, just months after the border between Israel and Egypt had officially opened.

After exploring Cairo and Giza, site of the pyramids and the Sphinx, we boarded a 12-hour train ride to Luxor. I promptly got dysentery, derailing our plans to travel to King Tut’s tomb, about 8 miles outside the city on unpaved roads. Dan went by himself. The following day, no longer violently ill, I rented a moped and a driver of sorts and bumped and bounced my way to the tomb.

I don’t remember much about the tomb. I do know that when the original exhibit toured the United States in the late 70s, I was a college student in New York and tickets were the hottest item in town. It was rock concert crazy as long, long lines formed outside the museum as people waited to purchase entrance to the gold and glitter of the Boy Pharaoh.

None of this mattered much to Miguel even though I retold the story of my trip to Egypt to him while we stood in line.

In the end, he liked the exhibit. Verna had purchased the tickets at a discount from Costco, hoping to offset the traditional Christmas gifts with something of cultural substance, which included vouchers for an audio tour.

Miguel was pretty blown away with how the 3000-year old artifacts have held up so well over the centuries. He was grossed out by the Canopic jars, funerary containers that held the bodily organs of the Egyptian kings, queens, and other officials. But he liked King Tut’s gold dagger, the one that was buried with him when he died mysteriously at 19.

At one point, he and Katy asked if they could get something in the gift shop. I said, “Yes, but only if you can tell me three facts about the exhibit. And not that King Tut was the Pharaoh. Something more than that.”

They both said, “OK.”

A half a dozen facts later, Miguel and Katy were inside the gift shop, a kind of sickening homage to consumptive excess. OK, I know that the museum needs money, but King Tut shot glasses, magnets, pencils, and note pads?

The gift shop only increased the creeping unease I’d been feeling for most of the time we were there. The exhibit was fascinating and the artifacts very interesting, but I felt on some level that it was wrong for Howard Carter and his team to have unearthed the Tomb’s remains in 1922. We should let the dead remain in peace.

“How would you feel if someone went through your gravesite in 2000 years?” I posed to my brother-in-law, Marty.

“That’s fine with me,” he said. “Then they’ll see my Grateful Dead t-shirt, and they can do whatever they want.”

Miguel settled on a container in the shape of King Tut’s head. Not for use as a funerary depository, Miguel’s container will hold his puka shell necklace and other jewelry before basketball and baseball games.

We bought some King Tut-Egyptian stickers for Maya, who was across the street at the Steinhart Aquarium with her grandfather. I tried on a few Pharaoh headdresses and did my best imitation of Yul Brynner from The Ten Commandments:

“So it is written. So it shall be done.”

Yesterday we took everyone, including Maya, to the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, which is about 40 minutes north of where we live. Schulz, a simple and gentle man who earned at one point 30-40 million dollars a year, bequeathed the center, which housed his office, to the museum after his death.

The museum, with live size models of various Peanuts character dotting the grounds, also showcases a brief history of comics in America to the evolution of Peanuts from the Lil Folks cartoon strip in Minneapolis, MN, to a worldwide phenomenon.

Peanuts has always been one of my favorite comic strips, and I’ve read it daily for more than 40 years. I laughed out loud yesterday several times as I read the panels from the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and all the way up to Schulz’s last ones in 1999. He was funny, sweet-natured, and possessed a tremendous amount of empathy for young people. We even watched a fascinating 60 Minutes interview with Schulz, done a few months before he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

As I stared at one of the enlarged panels I whispered (if that is possible for me) to my brother-in-law, “I think I like this exhibit even better than King Tut.”

Later I asked Verna to compare them. “You can’t,” she said. “It’s apples and oranges.”

I guess for me there was guilt that the King Tut exhibit should never have seen the light of day, while the Schulz Museum was uncomplicated and carefree joy over a comic strip I have loved since I was a kid.

I am glad we went to both, though. I learned a lot at each one. And I know Miguel and the rest of the family did as well.

Being the happy consumer already at such a young age, Miguel picked out a Peanuts collection of all the strips from 1963, which he bought with his own holiday money. He read it last night and stopped at times to share particularly funny ones with Verna and me. I left for work this morning with Miguel deposited on the couch reading Peanuts comics from more than 40 years ago.

Who says exposing kids to ‘culture’ is a bad thing? Then again, isn’t everything culture?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Happiest Place in the World

I led a protest several years ago against Disney’s use of sweatshop labor in Latin American factories with a few of my middle school students and their parents. Flash forward to the present and the two days I just spent with family at Disneyland, relieving ourselves of a boatload of money at Mickey’s theme park.

Rosa Parks, Saul Alinsky, and other direct action freedom fighters are turning over in their graves.

With a creeping sense of guilt over abandoning my progressive values, I must admit, though, that the two days at Disneyland were magnificent and fun, fun, fun. Well worth it many times over for a variety of reasons.

The trip was probably hatched shortly after one of Verna’s oncologists said recently, “Make memories now.”

So Verna got her brother and his wife, who live halfway between here and Disneyland, on board and plans were underway in rapid fashion. We drove to their house last Friday night after work and left for Anaheim on Saturday afternoon.

Now it would be easy, very easy, for me to trash so much about Disneyland given my political predilections. But that would be hypocritical of me given that I unloaded my annual salary there in just two days. And enjoyed myself.

So I decided to share a travelogue of our experiences, highlighting a few of the negatives along with the many positives.

The Negatives:

1. The traffic. How does anyone in Southern California not keel over daily from high blood pressure, heart attacks, or strokes? We got into the LA area around 5:30 in the evening and it took us another hour to travel 15 miles. The highways are seemingly packed all day long.

2. Disney and sweatshops. I really can’t say much about this anymore because we bought so many Disney items for Miguel and Maya. But old habits and values die hard. While I still believe it is wrong for Disney to pay workers in its foreign factories less than livable wages, how can I utter even a feeble protest after I supported the machine with my hard earned dollars?

That’s about it for the negatives. I didn’t really mind the near gridlock crowds at the park on Monday. I like people. And even though I felt caught in a massive stream of humanity as we tried to reach Toontown, I enjoyed meeting strangers and hearing their stories and sharing some of ours.

The Positives:

1. Maya. Verna bought her a princess dress on Sunday and then treated her to the kids’ boutique on Monday, where Maya had a complete kiddie makeover—hair, hair extensions, make-up, finger- and toenail polish. Maya pranced around like the benevolent princess she was. She waved at all the characters, asked them how they were doing, and bade them goodbye by saying, “See you tomorrow.”

Maya was nervous at first around the Disney characters after Verna and I brought her to breakfast at the restaurant where you can meet them. There is a fixed price for the buffet and that doesn’t include the photo they take of you at the entrance. We paid $76 for the meal, but Maya got to either meet or wave at Minnie, Mickey, Pooh, Tigger, Dale (from Chip n’ Dale), Goofy, and Papa Gepetto. She hugged a few and beamed at all of them.

Verna and Maya were together the whole time. Verna’s doctor said she could only ride the same ones as Maya, which was fine with Verna. Who doesn’t love It’s A Small World and the Winnie the Pooh rides?

Verna would probably say the highlight for her was the Winnie the Pooh rollercoaster, which several of us rode together on Monday afternoon. After spending most of the morning and early afternoon in the California Adventure Park across the way, Miguel and I joined up with my brother-in-law, one of his daughters, and my father-in-law to track down Maya, Verna, and my sister-in-law so Grandpa Martin could ride the rollercoaster with his granddaughter. Maya sat next to Martin and squealed the whole time, her eyes ablaze with delight and silliness as the ride lurched forward.

The only bittersweet moment came on our walk to the rollercoaster. Verna shared with me that she went slightly overboard with Maya’s princess dress and make-over because “I probably won’t be around to help her pick out a wedding dress.”

I started crying.

2. Miguel. The look of unabashed joy on his face as we hurtled down the Tower of Terror and then popped back up as our stomachs did somersaults was well worth the 40-minute wait. He kept screaming, “This is awesome. This is awesome,” words he’d also offered several times when we’d careened through the dark on the rollercoaster at Space Mountain and on the herky-jerky Matterhorn.

It was a little sad that Miguel no longer appreciates certain rides as he did when he was five. It’s a Small World and Winnie the Pooh don’t hold any magic for him now, but he braved them because his parents wanted all of us to be together before the boys went off and Verna turned Maya into a Disneyland Princess.

3. The motel. We stayed at an Econo Lodge not even two miles from the entrance to the park. The rooms were $56/night, and you could see the nightly fireworks show bold and clear from the balcony. It was clean, inexpensive, and included a Continental breakfast that won over all the kids with donuts and juice. What more could they ask for than an early morning sugar rush?

4. My family. Besides being the memory-creating experience for Verna with her children, the jaunt to Orange County was also about spending time with Verna’s brother, sister-in-law, three of their kids, and my father-in-law. We also got to see my other nephew, his girlfriend, and their almost one-year-old daughter, Lola. I am lucky to have on my in-law side (as in my immediate family) a cast of extremely generous and interesting characters. My father-in-law stands out for his quiet and munificent manner.

5. The gift shops. You name it, we bought it. Christmas gifts for other cousins, our neighbors, friends, the kids. Miguel got a “I Survived the Tower of Terror” hoodie and zippered sweatshirt, a twisty straw cup, a goofy Grumpy winter cap topped with a faux Mohawk, tons of candy, and a Christmas ornament, while Maya scored the aforementioned Princess items, candy, an ornament, and a cup she hasn’t seen yet because Miguel picked it out as a Christmas present.

At one point, as I watched the overflow of people streaming in and out of the various gift shops, I said to Verna, “We should invest in Disney. This place is a goldmine. I am sure we could afford some shares in stock.”

“We could,” she said. “But do you really want to do that given your past protesting?”

OK, OK, I admitted, I was getting carried away by dreams of cashing in our Disney portfolio in several years and paying for Miguel and Maya’s college tuition.

6. Oregon Ducks Nation. Miguel became a Ducks football fan a few years ago when we visited Portland, and now I am one as well. We even flew to Eugene in 2008 to see the Ducks trounce Utah State. Well, the Ducks Nation, almost as ubiquitous as the Red Sox Nation, was seemingly everywhere in Disneyland. We passed and talked with at least a dozen Ducks fans sporting t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats, all emblazoned in yellow and green and the familiar Big O. We even met someone all decked out in Oregon colors in a wheelchair. I guess the Ducks Nation is gearing up early for the Rosebowl on New Year's Day.

What else can I say? The two days were truly glorious and Disneyland is one of the world’s happiest places. We laughed, we cried, we joked, we laughed some more, we squealed, we shrieked, we ate, we drank (mostly water), we walked miles and miles, we laughed, and we embraced the blessings of family and holiday freedom (and a bit of conspicuous consumption where we did our part to fuel the American economy).

Can I get an Amen?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holiday Letter 2009

Here is the holiday letter I sent out this season. I am still honing my skills as a holiday letter writer, but I see the missives as humorous responses to those who detail EVERYTHING about their families in wondrous tones:

Happy Holidays!

Life here is OK. Miguel is now in middle school and peppers many of his conversations with “I don’t know and “Not much.” He constantly reminds us that he is a preteen. We put him in an ultra advanced writing class and he is working on an underground blog created by a mystical band of children raising themselves.

He is still into sports. All the time. You name the sport, and Miguel will watch it or play it with gusto. We have entertained several offers from professional baseball, basketball, football, and curling teams for his services and are trying to decide which among them will be the best one. Skating across the ice with a broom appeals to me.

Maya started preschool in the fall, and we needn’t have been worried about her adjusting to the change. Her first words to Verna were, “Mommy, you can go now.” Maya is happy playing by herself or in groups. She smiles all the time, prances around the neighborhood as if she is the mayor, and is a total goofball. She loves books, especially when you read the same ones again and again, day in and day out.

We are in serious negotiations with CBS, Oprah, and the Cartoon Network for a syndicated TV series based on Maya’s life, a vast amount of experiences accumulated in less than four years on this planet. We’re talking millions!

I am no longer selling cars, drywall, and any other assorted useless or wasteful items that Corporate America continues to foist upon gullible consumers. I am a funeral director. Pause. Cue jokes and laugh track. Yes, things are dead here today. There, I said it. I am working for a non-profit Jewish funeral home, so I appreciate the opportunity to help people without worrying about commissions and selling.

In all seriousness, this year has turned out to be trying and difficult. As many of you know already, we found out on September 11 that Verna’s cancer had returned. But we feel extremely grateful to be surrounded by so many loving people, near and far, who have brought us meals, watched the kids, kept us in their prayers, and given us other temporal and material gifts.

May all of us be blessed with a healthy and happy 2010. All our love, Verna, Steve, Miguel, Maya, and Gigi

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Searching for God with a Three-Year-Old

I have an interesting relationship with God. I don’t really believe in any Deity.

For the first 19 years of my life (at least the ones in which I had a basic understanding of theology), I believed in God like just about everyone else. I imagined him to be a kindly but authoritative old white man, sort of a cross between the Wizard of Oz (the fiery image) and the heroic airline pilot, Sully Sullenberger.

Then I hit college, that godless and secular universe. I was in a Sociology of Deviance class when I was a sophomore at Columbia University and the professor was talking about moral relativity. That was the first time I began to seriously doubt God’s existence.

My mother freaked out and begged me to make an appointment with someone at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where I was also an undergrad in the combined program between the two schools. I phoned the secretary of Neil Gillman, who would later win a Jewish Book Award and was a noted Jewish philosopher and scholar. He’d been my freshman Jewish philosophy professor and was the head of JTS’ rabbinical school.

He made me nervous. He was clearly very smart and had a finely honed arrogance to his classroom manner. I never really studied in his class and squeaked by with low Bs and Cs. I figured of all the students who’d sat in his classes over the years, he resented me most for wasting his time.

So I sat down in his office amid shelves and shelves of books, and he asked me, “What brings you here?”

I said, “I already explained it to your secretary.”

“I know,” he said. “But I want to hear it from you.”

“Well,” I stammered, “I don’t think I believe in God any more.”

He got up from his desk, walked over to me with an extended hand and said, “Welcome to the club.”

Professor Gillman, who also wrote The Death of Death, and I spent the next few weeks discussing God and theology. He gave me readings. One of Gillman’s points was that people move back and forth over their lives on a continuum of belief in God. Some times we are closer to the believing side and other times we move to the other end and become agnostic.

I haven’t really budged from the not-really-believing side since 1978. But now that I have kids, and don’t want to ram my views down their throats, I see my role as a father and transmitter of values and beliefs with greater urgency.

In addition, since Verna was first diagnosed with cancer and has now seen it metastasize, I am searching for some deeper meanings and connections with the spiritual side of the world.

When Verna was in the hospital in 2006 after she’d delivered Maya, six days after we found out she had Stage III breast cancer, we had a powerful moment with one of her night nurses whom we’d asked to pray for us. She said, “We could do it right now.”

So we held hands and she politely and slightly apologetically issued a prayer to Jesus (“He was Jewish, you know,” she said.) and the Divine sense of healing on our behalf.

Several weeks later, after Verna had just about wrapped up her chemo treatments, she and I had another powerful moment in front of my brother in church on Easter. Verna kneeled in prayer before a small altar at St. Raphael’s parish in our hometown and I did the same. It felt natural and supportive. I didn’t pray to Jesus, but I did want to be present for Verna.

Before any more of my Jewish family rises in indignation over the two examples I’ve cited, yes, I had powerful moments in a Jewish context as well. But I selected these two because I can’t write about everything.

I still don’t really believe in God, powerful moments notwithstanding, but (and this is really weird) I teach at a local synagogue and tutor bar and bat mitzvah kids and officiate at their ceremonies. I am Jewish guy.

While I am searching, I do feel drawn to the precepts of Reconstructionist Judaism. Reconstructionism, founded by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan nearly 100 years ago, sees God as a human construction and posits that each of us possess a ‘spirit’ within us that calls us to act morally and ethically.

Spirituality and the Divine have been on mind lately not only because of Verna’s cancer, but also because I read The Bedtime Shema to Maya every night before bed. The book is a prayer of sorts and ode to the comforting words of the Shema, Judaism’s most important prayer, an affirmation of God’s Oneness, to let young people know they are not alone as the darkness envelops them before they drift off to sleep for the night.

“I rest myself in God’s hands. God is with me and I am not alone,” are the last two lines in the book, which Maya basically has memorized.

Listening to her sweet voice sing the first two lines of the Shema, an ancient prayer, is almost enough to make me believe in God. She is so genuine and filled with grace that her recitation of the book and prayer takes my breath away.

So I decided to ask Maya about God. I can’t remember how I phrased the question, but it was something like, “Maya, what do you think about God,” which is probably unfair to pose to someone who isn’t yet four.

She answered that God is in heaven with Grandma Chela. I probed some more but I could feel she was confused, so I dropped the subject. I didn’t want her screaming to Verna, “Mommy, why is Daddy making me talk about God? We just finger painted in school today and I am looking forward to the cookies you are making for the holiday party. All this theology is giving me a headache.”

I don’t have any answers or neatly packaged solutions. I am still searching, probing, trying to figure out the big and small questions and answers. I met with a Rabbi friend a few weeks ago and he said, “I don’t know if I believe either. But it is nice and comforting to feel that there is something greater than ourselves out there.”

He still prays and is a fairly observant Jew. He said he had recently spent 25 minutes during morning prayers just meditating one thought: God please help me get through this. I never asked the rabbi to elaborate, preferring not to intrude on his inner pain.

So I will see where my journey with God and the Divine Spark takes me as Maya gets older and Miguel lies on the cusp of being a teenager and seeing the world differently. They will need Verna and me to help guide them. Right now, I can only guarantee that I will be there as a moral force. The God stuff is still a work in progress.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Comeback Kids

I don’t know how much more excitement my healthy heart can take. Miguel’s CYO basketball team played a game last night that turned into a second half thriller of epic youth sports proportions.

I am the team’s assistant coach. I signed up in early September to help. They released player information and the practice schedule in October, which was when I found out that I was the sole coach.

I immediately emailed the league commissioner. I told him, given that Verna had just been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, I was unable to shoulder the burden of coaching by myself. He responded that I should ask other team parents for help. So I sent out a request, and one parent, Martin, said he’d be happy to assist. He also offered his older son, Connor, who plays high school varsity basketball, as our real head coach.

We started practicing two weeks ago. We have nine sixth graders, eight of whom go to the same school and are fun and energetic kids. Martin and I thank the hoop gods for Connor because Martin and I know very little about the intricacies of basketball. Yes, I follow the game. But I could never draw Xs and Os and diagram plays or run a practice with a series of drills.

Regular season games do not begin until January, but earlier this week all the teams in our league, St. Isabella’s, started competing in a pre-tournament qualifier. We lost our first game on Monday to the defending league champions, a team that has played together for three years. We led most of the game and only lost by four points. Given that we’d only practiced three times to that point and one of our starters had never played organized basketball before, we were very happy with how well the kids played.

All Miguel said after the game was, “Dad, I need new basketball shoes.” During the game he was slipping all over the court and even fell once while dribbling. I looked down at his soles and, sure enough, they were worn past the treads. If automobile tires looked that worn they’d be highly illegal and dangerous.

Whether it was a case of nerves or his faulty soles, Miguel missed all his shots and was tentative on offense. On defense, he is what we call a beast, a swarming, aggressive, hands-in-your-face kind of guy.

All I said to him after the game was, “Miguel, you guys almost beat the defending champs.” Then I paused. “Hey, don’t be afraid to attack the hole and take the ball to the basket. Play like you do at the park. I don’t want you to be like me.”

But we bought him some new shoes on Thursday. I definitely don’t want him following in my footsteps.

Miguel is familiar with my sports past, a history filled with mediocrity and fear and retreat. I was a good basketball player in my immediate neighborhood, given that I was taller than just about everyone else, but at school or in leagues I was a frightened kid who often passed the ball away as soon as it touched my hands.

Miguel knows all too well the stories of my Jekyll and Hyde basketball career. I am the guy who once played a pick-up game outside my cousin’s home in Massachusetts and the other team refused to play a second game with me because I racked up so many points. But I am also the guy who scored 10 points in four years of JCC ball and that includes scoring eight points in one game.

So I don’t want him to go through his athletic life playing like his formerly skittish father who does regret his past docility.

A biting chill hung in the air as we arrived at the gym last night. Verna was there for her first night out in a while as was Maya. The game started at seven.

I tutor one of the players from the opposing team along with Miguel on Wednesday evenings. He told us the other day, “You’ll beat us.” He and Miguel are on the same Little League team.

At half-time, though, we were down 19-7. We did not score a single point in the second quarter. Our normally composed kids were racing recklessly down the court, throwing up ill-advised shots and making passes that were either telegraphed to an opponent or missed their teammates completely.

They came off the court at the half looking very dejected. Connor moved over to huddle with them. I came over and said, OK, yelled because the acoustics inside the St. Vincent’s gym are horrible, “We can win this game! It’s not over yet. Just play your game. Take good shots, make better passes, and get those hands up on defense. We can chip away at their lead. We can win this game!”

Four minutes later, the second half began. By the end of the 3rd quarter (each quarter is eight minutes), we were down three. Everyone contributed to the second half effort. Our defense tightened up as I kept shouting, “Hands up, hands in their faces.” Kids were more aggressive driving to the basket. Our two big men, Jacob and Kendal, snared a slew of rebounds. Martin’s other son, Patrick, drained two shots from the top of the key. Miguel sank his first basket, added another one with less than two minutes to go, hauled in a key rebound, and also stole the ball.

With under two minutes to go, we tied the score at 23. Jacob was on the line shooting two free throws. He missed the first, but made the second. We were ahead by one. The four kids on the bench whooped and hollered. All we had to do was hold them. They took the ball out, but turned it over. We didn’t score either. With 20 seconds left, they had one last chance to overtake us. But we prevented them from taking any good shots. All they got off was an off-balance air ball with four ticks on the clock.

Game over. We’d won after erasing a twelve point half-time deficit. We earned tonight off, and play tomorrow morning against the team that nipped us on Monday. Miguel was totally stoked at how he and the team played. Must’ve been the shoes.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What Would You Do?

At the end of what is one of Maya’s favorite books, The Cat in the Hat, after the Cat and Thing One and Thing Two have cleaned up the house, the young boy narrator asks the reader if he and his sister Sally should tell their mother about the wild happenings that occurred while she left her two children home alone.

“What would you do?” he asks.

For some strange reason, I was thinking about the moral dilemma elucidated by Dr. Seuss as I watched a news report last night of the trial of suspected former Nazi guard and former US resident, John Demjanjuk, in Germany on charges that he helped kill nearly 28,000 Jews in a Nazi death camp more than 60 years ago.

Guards wheeled in Demjanjuk, seemingly a prisoner in his wheelchair, wrapped in a light blue medical blanket, an almost silent scream of pain pasted across his face. I have been aware of his case for many years, which emerged as Demjanjuk was living a relatively quiet life as a retired autoworker in Cleveland, OH, after eyewitnesses—Holocaust survivors—swore he was really Ivan the Terrible, a sadistic guard from the Treblinka death camp.

Demjanjuk is now 89 and may be in failing health. He may also be a war criminal. But as the TV report unfolded, I thought to myself, “What should we do?” Do we still punish Demjanjuk, who has already been deported from the US and could serve 15 years in prison if he is convicted?

I don’t know the answer. I certainly don’t want to trivialize or marginalize or dismiss the past, but I do wonder if Demjanjuk has already suffered enough? Of course, one could argue that there is never enough suffering for anyone so complicit in the Holocaust. And I agree.

But the man is almost 90, may be in deteriorating health, and probably only has a few years left to live. What do we accomplish by consigning him to prison at this point? On the other hand, there is the issue of justice for the dead and the survivors.

As the question what should we do reverberated through my mind, I thought about memory and remembrance and the past. The news report on Demjanjuk showed an elderly Holocaust survivor in court with his shirt sleeve rolled up and his clearly visible ID number tattooed onto his forearm. I wondered if he was excited about the prospect of Demjanjuk being convicted or did he feel a sense of weary calm as justice was meted out so many years later?

But I also thought how can any of us know, so many years later, if the alleged criminals are the right ones? Yes, someone has to pay, but was Demjanjuk a murderer or merely, as his lawyers unsurprisingly allege, a victim of circumstances and a former prisoner himself?

I thought of the movie The Music Box, which starred Jessica Lange, about an attorney who defends her kindly Eastern European father against charges that he was a horrific killer during WWII who participated in the mass murder of Jews along the riverbank.

During the trial of the Lange’s character’s father, the testimony of Holocaust survivors was challenged, and some of it was dismissed as failed memory. In the end, though, the father was guilty and Lange helped to denounce him the Justice Department.

The Demjanjuk case has not been resolved as neatly as a Hollywood-fabricated movie. It has been stewing for 30 years. I have no affection or allegiance or even understanding for Demjanjuk. And much of this blog is really an attempt to verbalize the internal roiling I am feeling about a particular moral dilemma.

Maybe the dead and the survivors, among whom I can count distant relatives I never knew, deserve the final nod. No matter what we think or anguish over, maybe our responsibility must be to those who seek justice and those who are no longer alive to pursue their killers.

According to the Israel Journal of Psychiatry and Related Services (1990), “Without confronting the fear and recapturing the fragments of memory, the survivor cannot make the necessary connections which allow reintegration of their whole life; neither can they obtain the peace of mind that comes with closure.”

Is Demjanjuk the monster of one savage death camp or the victim of mistaken identity? Is he the sacrificial lamb that will allow some to achieve a measure of closure and “reintegration of their whole life”, the person who may be quite culpable that pays for crimes against humanity?

What should we do? A zany cat may not always provide the necessary answers or resolution.