Monday, September 22, 2014

Searching for the Salzman Family

My great-aunt passed away in 2002.  She had built a family tree for many sides of the family going back a few generations.

Unfortunately, she also made some mistakes, too.  Unfortunately, some of these mistakes meant that it took longer to find some families--by which point some of the older generations have passed away.

What we do know is that Kassel Salzman immigrated to America in 1896 after traveling with his wife, Pauline, and children from Russia.  What we do know is that he had quite a few children: Charles, Max, Annie (Anna), Maurine (Mary), and Sadie.

We know that Kassel was convicted of larceny in the early 1900s and went to prison where he ended up dying in 1911.  We have managed to get in touch, finally, with Anna's descendants so as to update that branch of the tree.  But outside of that, we're stuck.  When it is a common name (Saltzman became Salzman or Solzman), it makes it harder with marriage records, etc.  I've found obituaries but when they don't mention siblings, it's hard to confirm whether that's the one I am looking for.

We know that the name was Saltzman in the 1900 census and Salzman when the 1905 census was recorded.

But we're stuck.  My only hope now is for a distant cousin to find this, get in touch, and help us rebuild this branch.

Book Review: Tradition!

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical by Barbara Issenberg
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (September 2, 2014)

It was on this date in 1964 that the musical, Fiddler on the Roof, opened its doors on Broadway.  History would never be the same!  It may not be the behind-the-scenes movie that Mary Poppins got but it's the next best thing: the behind-the-scenes of both the Broadway production directed by Jerome Robbins and the movie directed by the not-Jewish Norman Jewison.

Since it opened 50 years ago today, there is rarely a time in which the sound of the off-tune violin is not heard somewhere on stage.  Whether it be a school, community theater, army base, Broadway revival, or countries from Argentina to Japan, the musical is being performed somewhere.

Isenberg weaves the tales and anecdotes of making the musical or film with thoughts on its cultural importance and why it resonates with such a diverse audience.

If they were still living in the author started researching and writing the book and worked on the Broadway production, the film, or significant revivals, Isenberg interviewed them.  This includes the likes of Harold Prince, Sheldon Harnick, Joseph Stein, Austin Pendleton, Joanne Merlin, Norman Jewison, Topol, and Harvey Fierstein, amongst others.

It's an amazing result.  Isenberg takes us on a wild ride as Fiddler worked its way to Broadway and later the big screen.  It's not just a look at how Fiddler became a hit on Broadway or the big screen but also how the musical became a hit across the globe!

If you love Fiddler or the soundtrack, this is a book you will enjoy!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering 9/11: 13 Years Later



A poem written by Jack Buck

Since this nation was founded under God
More than 200 years ago

We've been the bastion of freedom...

The light that keeps the free world aglow.
We do not covet the possessions of others,
We are blessed with the bounty we share.

We have rushed to help other nations...
Anything...anytime...anywhere

War is just not our nature...we won't start
But we will end the fight.
If we are involved we shall be resolved to
Protect what we know is right.

We have been challenged by a cowardly foe
Who strikes and then hides from our view.

With one voice we say, "There's no choice
Today, there is only one thing to do"

Everyone is saying the same thing
And praying that we end these senseless
Moments we are living.

As our fathers did before, we shall win
This unwanted war

And our children will enjoy the future,
We'll be giving.


Written by Jack Buck
September 14, 2001

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Book Review: Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin

Bruce by Peter Ames Carlin
Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: Touchstone (October 30, 2012)

Bruce is the first authorized Bruce Springsteen biography to have been written in the last 25 years with the full cooperation of the Boss himself.

This sweeping portrait is the latest in a series of musical biographies written by Carlin, who previously has written on Paul McCartney and Brian Wilson.

In writing Bruce, Carlin had unprecedented access to Springsteen, his family, friends, past and present bandmates, including one of the final major interviews with Clarence Clemons.  It all adds a vivid, initmate detail, and context to a groundbreaking picture of the Boss.

As a songwriter, Springsteen has voices hopes, triumphs, and heartaches of the working class.  His career has brought him 20 Grammy Awards, two Golden Globes, an Academy Award, and over 120 million albums sold.

Carlin follows the Elvis-loving grade student as he grows into that scruffy looking bandleader all the way up to the release of Wrecking Ball in 2012.  With the release of Born to Run, Springsteen rocketed into critical and commercial orbit.  No concert goes without the singing of "Born to Run."  The album is a keystone of Springsteen's musical legacy--one that would both reflect and shape the culture.

Along with years of meticulous research, Carlin has spent a countless number of hours in interviewing Springsteen, his inner circle, friends, musicians, and even ex-girlfriends. It all builds up to presenting the most revealing account of the American icon, even as he redefines his style and sound.

Until Carlin started writing the biography, not many family members had done interviews on the rocker.  The Springsteen family was impacted by mental illness and Bruce managed to avoid the fate of his father by years of therapy and even anti-depressant medications.

The E Street Band share their memories of the first time they met Bruce and their painful memories including in 1989 when Springsteen was disbanding the band.

Bruce's gradual journey towards being a committed and influential voice in politics was validated when President Barack Obama spoke at a reception for Kennedy Center honorees.

Carlin offers a nuanced analysis of every song and album that Bruce has made.  Five months before the release of Wrecking Ball, Bruce had played a dough mix in the studio.

This definitive biography is compulsively readable, and a must for all fans of the Boss.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book Review: 1954

1954: The Year Willie Mays and the First Generation of Black Superstars Changed Major League Baseball Forever by Bill Madden
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Da Capo Press (May 6, 2014)

The 1954 baseball season was historic for Major League Baseball.  This was the same year in which the Brown vs. Board of Education court case decided that segregation be outlawed in the public school systems.

The World Series pitted the Cleveland Indians against the New York Giants.  It was the first World Series that featured African-Americans on both teams: Willie Mays and Larry Doby.

This was seven years after Jackie Robinson had made his debut.  Doby was already a dominant player in the American League and Mays was just emerging in his own right as one of the best players in the game.  He played baseball with a flair and boyish innocence that all fans embraced.

Doby and Mays were already on their way to stardom but Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks were just getting started with the Braves and Cubs, respectively.

Bill Madden shows exactly why he is in the Writer's Wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This book is the first to fully examine the 1954 season.  Madden draws on recent interviews with players themselves: Mays, Doby, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Monte Irvin, Carl Erskine.  Madden transports readers across time, revisiting Spring Training in Florida and Arizona as the future baseball stars were entering the league.

Madden weaves the narrative with the racially charged events of 1954.  With exception of the New York Yankees, the national pastime was ahead of the curve when it came to accepting African-Americans at a time when the nation struggled with acceptance.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel

Making David into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel by Joshua Muravchik
Hardcover: 296 pages
Publisher: Encounter Books (July 8, 2014)

Making David into Goliath could not have been released at a better time as Israel is in the new for defending herself, once again, from Hamas.

Israel, one of the lone democracies in the Middle East and America's strongest ally, is also one of the most criticized and most despised nations in the international community because people such as Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former UN chief Kofi Annan take the time to lambaste Israel every time that they act to defend herself against terror.  During the recent campaign, Carter took the time to pen an op-ed saying that Hamas is a legitimate political government.  Yeah, right...and pigs can fly, too.

At a time when Iran is seen as a major threat with the capability to make nuclear weapons, Europeans are telling pollsters that they feel that Israel is a bigger threat.  At the same time, about a quarter of all votes in the United Nations are directed toward Israel while an increasing number of college campuses are adopting policies of BDS.

As hard as it is to believe with the current climate right now, it was only forty years ago that Israel was attracting admiration and widespread sympathy from people around the word.  Progressives and intellectuals were praising Israel.  They aren't doing that all that much these days and Muravchik goes into detail as to why.

Muravchik explores just how and why this transformation, as wrong as it is, has taken place.  He goes into detail on who is behind it, too, in detail.  A fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, Muravchik is one of the nation's leading scholars when it comes to socialism and the Middle East.

He shows how the pressure of terrorism, oil, and demographics have led to Israel being treated as a pariah.  In the 1970s, the Arab League threatened to raise oil prices to those countries that voted in favor of Israel at the United Nations!  These were the same leadeers that bowed to Palestinian pressure to release those suspected by terrorism so as not to have another bombing or hijacking on their soil.

One of the chief culprits in the transformation was the rise of a intellectual paradigm that saw the replacement of workers against capitalists to the "people-of-color" struggling against the "white man."  This was the new moral drama for progressive thinking.  No matter what Israel did to defend her borders, she was attacked as being on the wrong side.

The UN, as things stand now, is one of the biggest anti-Israel groups out there.  This is mainly due to the Non-Aligned Movement reshaping the the UN to be one that is anti-American, anti-Western, and most of all, anti-Israel.  They created three special bodies that, no matter the name, were exclusive to denigrating Israel and serving as a pro-Palestinian body.  Not a single such body has ever existed for any other people, cause, or country!

Human Rights Watch cannot be described as humanitarian when they are anti-Israel to an infinite degree.

Edward Said, the godfather of modern scholarship on the "Third World" was one of the most widely assigned authors on campuses in America and Europe.  His anti-Israel bias has poisoned a countless number of generations in Western academics just through sheer intellectual charlatanism.

Bruno Kreisky, the self-hating Jewish socialist Chancellor of Austria, was the leading figure in the hate-Israel movement.  This was a guy who filled his cabinet with former Nazis even though a number of his family had died in the Shoah.  He was ashamed to be Jewish and used that to persuade socialists in Europe to embrace Yasser Arafat and disavow Israel.  This was at a time when the PLO believed in terrorism and strongly opposed to Israel's right to exist.

Before the Six Day War of 1967, not a single person in the world cared for the human rights of those living in Gaza or the West Bank.  After Israel gained land in a war that was started by her Arab neighbors nonetheless, all of a sudden people cared for their human rights.  It was this war that redefined the Israeli-Arab conflict as one between Israel and the Palestinians.  Before this point in time, there had never been a Palestinian nation.  The PLO's Palestinian National Covenant did not call for a Palestinian state.  Instead, it called for Jews to be ejected so that the Palestinian Arabs could be able to take their place in the "Arab nation."

Evangelical support, for now, remains strong when it comes to Israel.  However, a number of U.S. churchs, mainly the Presbyterian Church, have been targeted by anti-Israel activists to cut ties with and boycott Israel.  Notably, the anti-Israel group, Jewish Voice for Peace, has endorsed BDS.

The home-grown "adversary culture" in Israel does her no favors.  This includes Haaretz, revisionist historians, and "post-Zionist intellectuals."  In their behavior, they provide an never-ending supply of grist for the Israel haters.

The Middle East is more tumultuous now then ever before with Iran, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq being a threat in one way or another.  Groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda are violent and a threat to mankind.  Israel is and will continue to be on the front lines against the terror from radical Islam.

All in all, this is a book that shows how Western opinion, shaped by progressives, abandoned Israel and chose to embrace its enemies despite the fact that they were enemies of the West.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Book Review - The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur

The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur by Mark Perry
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Basic Books (April 1, 2014)

Douglas MacArthur was an interesting character.  To put it differently would be an understatement.  Those admiring MacArthur were outranked nevertheless by those that, to put it simply, were not fans.  MacArthur could be described as headstrong, vain, he had a rebellious streak, and a massive ego.

Mark Perry examines the general and sees that his actions have been misunderstood and overshadowed by his faults--thus the general's significant contributions to become marginalized, unfortunately.

In this new biography, Perry sets the record straight.  What we have is a new reconsideration of the American hero.  It was MacArthur's combined-arms operation in the Pacific (a first of its kind during war) that enabled America's triumph during World War 2.  During World War 2, MacArthur had to overcome both personal and professional challenges to lead his troops.

But this isn't just MacArthur's story.  No.  It's also the story of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the men that acted behind the scenes.  It was MacArthur's subordinates who had to tame the general, make him useful, and help him achieve victory on the battlefield.

The title of this book comes from a phrase that FDR once uttered about the general even though he also described him as an intelligent and brilliant soldier.  FDR was not alone in having polarizing feelings.  MacArthur, depending on who one talks to, is a gifted general or the most reviled military figure in history.

As time passes on from MacArthur's death, his hazardous faults have eclipsed his incredible genius.  With this new biography, perhaps the time has come to reconsider MacArthur's character, both controversial and equally brilliance.

Perry traces the general's path from the Great Depression to the end of World War 2.  The author shows how the general's military genius was matched by a massive ego and sense of decorum.  This was a guy that commanded a great deal of respect from the Republican Party and the American public.  There's no mistaking how powerful a figure that he was and FDR was right to fear him.

After the Great War, MacArthur was sidelined with a ceremonial position in the Philippines but faced with the threat from Japan in the lead-up to WW2, FDR promoted MacArthur to Commander of the United States Armed Forces in the Far East.

His capricious personality led to more casualties than any other general during WW2.  His success in the Pacific, Perry notes, can be attributed to combat commander Robert Eichelberger and aide Dwight Eisenhower.  Without them helping to sideline his faults and draw on his strengths, he would not have been able to fight one of the most visionary campaigns of all time.  It was the first combined-arms operation in the history of warfare.  It was this bold innovation that paved the way for Japan to be defeated.

What Perry has done is revisit MacArthur's legacy, as unfairly skewed as it was, and rehabilitates his image by displaying how the general not only led the United States to victory in the Pacific but reshaped modern warfare while doing so.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book Review: Rebbe

Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History by Rabbi Joseph Teluskin
Hardcover: 640 pages
Publisher: HarperWave (June 10, 2014)

Rabbi Teluskin has written a brilliant biography of one of the greatest influential Jewish leaders of probably the last few centuries.  It's been 20 years since the death of the Rebbe and this biography is highly insightful and really tells how Chabad went from being a small war-torn group into the most dynamic and geographically diverse religious movement in Jewish history.  The Rebbe's legacy is felt on college campus and at Chabad Houses throughout the globe.

Telushkin was afforded extraordinary access to the Rebbe's intimate circle and guarded documents.  This biography, five years in the making, examines the Rebbe's personal side while exploring his achievements, philosophy, and pioneering initiatives.  Telushkin also analyzes the Rebbe's stories and speeches.

While I don't consider myself to be a Chasidic Jew (I am Modern Orthdox), I found it fascinating to learn about the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.  No matter what denomination of Judaism they were, many people sought out his guidance be it via a private meeting or by letter.

From his perch in Brooklyn, the Rebbe taught transcendant words that were able to resonate with many people, no matter what faith they were.  Prior to being elected to the U.S. Senate, then-Newark mayor Cory Booker went to the Rebbe's Ohel to pray.  The Rebbe's Ohel is the first major Jewish holy site in the United States without a doubt.  Thousands of Jews visit his Ohel on his yahrtzeit of 3 Tammuz.

The Rebbe had some radical ideas--refusing to judge others based on their level of observance and a belief in the brotherhood of all mankind.  It's because of ideas such as these that Chabad was able to grow into a worldwide movement.  His emissaries across the globe continue to spread his teachings of love, unity, and righteousness.  Despite his being the leading figure of Chabad, he was a very humble person at heart.  He was accessible to just about anyone that wanted to meet him!

The most intriguing things that Telushkin addresses about the Rebbe, his ideology, and his actions include:
--The hope of a small sect of his followers who believed that he was the Moshiach.  Had his wife not preceded him in death, she would have put a stop to this really quick.  The Rebbe even rejected such claims!
--The innovation and advocacy of taking Judaism out into the world, be it through the wearing of Tefillin, offering Shabbas candles to women of all ages, public Chanukah lightings, etc.
--Israeli and American elected officials, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Moshe Sharrett, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Bejamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon, to name a few.
--His willingness to oppose non-denominational prayer in public schools.

I highly recommend this book.