Friday, June 12, 2009

It is a "small world" on the Internet

I posted a piece on this blog entitled "My life with music" this past April 4. In it I bemoaned the fact that, as a boy in the mid 1930s, I foolishly turned down a chance to take piano lessons because the lessons would interfere with playing ball. My mother had a distant cousin, Sidney Sukoenig, a concert pianist and teacher at the Juilliard School of Music. He was willing, my mother had said, to give me lessons.

In just another demonstration of how it is indeed a "small world" on the Internet, I recently received an e-mail message from a man identifying himself as Alan Sukoenig, the pianist's son. He had apparently Googled his father's name and was astonished to be referred to my blog. He wanted to know how we were related.

And so began an adventure in genealogical research. I had no idea, I told him, what the family link might be. I did know, however, that a cantor named Sukoenig officiated at my parents' wedding in New York in 1923. Alan confirmed that his paternal grandfather had indeed been a cantor.

In trying to establish a family relationship with me, Alan listed all his family names that he could remember. As part of the genealogical exercise, we began exchanging the maiden names of our maternal grandmothers and great-grandmothers. As we reached back historically, a familiar name emerged, who we concluded was a maternal great, great-grandmother from whom we were both descended. We mathematically concluded that we were third cousins.

The name was Rifkin, which he contributed to our search. I told him that I recalled that my maternal grandmother, with whom I lived as a boy, would frequently mention that name when reminiscing about her life as a child in the province of Minsk in what is now Belarus. It was evidently the maiden name of her own maternal grandmother. (My grandmother's own grandmother appears in a photo posted on this blog March 19 of this year, entitled "My ancestors in Jerusalem.) Alan confirmed that his father's family were also immigrants from the the Minsk region.

This was not my first experience establishing Internet connections to relatives and to the offspring of people I had named in postings on this blog. A second cousin discovered me because his mother's maiden name was the same as my maternal grandmother's.

The children and grandchildren of men with whom I served in the Army in India during World War II and of men with whom I worked as a journalist before retiring 20 years ago have also responded to references to their relatives on my blog.

These are the kinds of fascinating experiences that indeed make the blogosphere a small but wondrous world.

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Saturday, June 06, 2009

What Obama didn't say in Cairo

I've been pondering how to comment on President Obama's speech this past week in Cairo. He succeeded in mending the U.S. relationship with the Islamic world. But in trying to be even-handed between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he overlooked some background on their conflict.

I hesitate to be critical of Obama because he has brilliantly performed as President in his five months in office. So I will quote from a letter to the editor in today's New York Times by Joel S. Engel to explain what bothered me about Obama's speech.

"To create an appearance of equivalence between the Holocaust and the condition of the Palestinians," Mr. Engel wrote, "[Obama]said of them: 'For more than 60 years, they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead.'

"The inconvenient truth, which he failed to acknowledge, is that, for the first 19 of those 60 year, the West Bank and Gaza were administered by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, and that it was under the administration of the Arab nations that the Palestinians were confined to refugee camps.

"At any time in those first 19 years, the Arab nations could have provided 'a life of peace and security' by, for example, establishing a Palestinian state or integrating the people into their own countries. Instead, they kept them confined in the camps as pawns in a propaganda war against Israel.

"At the same time, Jewish refugees from Arab countries [and Iran]were forced to flee their homes by the backlash of the establishment of Israel.

"In contrast to the actions of the Arab nations, Israel took them in, sometimes requiring daring rescue missions, and integrated them into their modern, Western-oriented society, just as they did, one might add, for the Arabs who chose to remain as citizens of Israel."

Mr. Engel's eloquent letter suggests that President Obama sees a moral equivalency between the Israeli and Palestinian causes, which I think is a bit of a stretch.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Ending a "sabbatical" to comment on a horrendous crime

I've been on a sort of sabbatical leave from blogging over the past three weeks as my wife and I have gone through the logistical discomfort of moving back to our New Jersey home from our winter residence in Florida. I often wonder how people like Sen. John McCain and his wife, who reportedly own eight or nine houses, handle such residential moves.

I am still awed by the fact that I now own two houses. I was raised during the Great Depression of the 1930s and early 1940s when my father was frequently unemployed. During those years, I never knew anyone who owned a single house. My psyche has been framed by my boyhood experiences, much to the annoyance of my wife and two children who are distressed over what they regard as my excessively frugal disposition.

I have been impelled to now return to this blog to comment on the horrendous murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, Kan. on Sunday. Dr. Tiller was one of the few American doctors who still perform late-term abortions. He has thus been exposed to continuing violence and harassment by so-called "pro-life" advocates who oppose women's right to have an abortion.

I have always been enraged by the hypocrisy of these alleged protectors of "life" who have tormented women who want to choose to have an abortion. No pregnant woman casually decides to have an abortion. It is a traumatic decision invariably based on personal tragic circumstances. And in the case of late-term abortions, these are very rarely performed and only because of critical medical factors that threaten the mother's health or the viability of the fetus.

I am unimpressed by the leaders of the anti-abortion organizations who have denounced Dr. Tiller's murder. It is their hysterical, extremist efforts to block a woman's right to choose to have an abortion that emboldened a fanatical crackpot like Dr. Tiller's murderer.They created an atmosphere with the hateful rhetoric that encouraged this so-called "pro-lifer" to take another man's life.

Dr. Tiller was murdered during religious services in a Christian church. It is an extraordinary irony that anti-abortionists base their opposition to abortion on their own religious beliefs.

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