Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Darker Side of Humanity

Earlier this year, two blog posts caught my eye:

First: What Happened to Kindness?  It's a good question.

Next: Scammers (one man's experience with scammers trying to trick him).  After reading this post, you may never trust anyone again.

What depths are some of our fellow humans capable of sinking to, preying on the elderly and other vulnerable populations (among other crimes against our own species)?  We've been warned, with the recent death of my mother in law, about scammers who will try to send us bills "she owes" or try other tricks to benefit from our loss.

We were told about obituaries that gave out "too much information" - but identity thieves love them.

Why? Because there are  people who use obituaries to steal from the dead and their families.

It's not just the old "burglarize the house of loved ones while they are at the funeral" but outright identity theft.  One of the first things we had to do after getting home from the funeral was contact credit bureaus to make sure her credit was frozen and she was marked as "deceased".

Do you need to fill your car's gas tank?  A skimmer may steal your credit or debit card information.

Can you depend on anyone, anymore?  Even the government warns us about scams (a warning well worth reading, by the way.)

Is this what has happened to kindness?  We can't trust anyone in everyday interactions anymore.  Even phone numbers and emails aren't what they seem.

My late mother in law was scammed at least once in her life (by a "driveway repairman") and saw through an IRS scam several years ago only because they insisted on her paying "the IRS" with Rite-Aid gift cards.  The "IRS agent" knew enough about her late husband to scare her.

I work with someone who witnessed a family member trying to deal with the "grandson" scam - it was so realistic. Turns out the scammers have ways of finding out personal information.  That is what happened with my mother in law and the "IRS" - they had personal information on my father in law, who (at that time) had been dead over 10 years.

There are the new Medicare card scams.  

Scams targeting those who are victims of recent natural disasters.  And it goes on and on.

If you think you are smart, and it can't happen to you - well, it can.  I received a scam call from someone pretending to be from my insurance company shortly after my spouse was injured in an accident (perhaps I should blog about that one day).  Fortunately, I decided to check into the phone call (it was a message left on my machine) with the insurance company, using their normal customer service number - and their reaction was pretty interesting, too.

Back to the blogger who asked "what happened to kindness" - she now tries to look out for acts of kindness in her everyday life.

Maybe that is what we need to do, too - if not out of self defense, then something enabling us to reconnect with our fellow human beings.

Don't let the bottom dwellers defeat us.

Easier said than done.

Has anyone you know been scammed?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Christmas Music by Jewish Composers - #MusicMovesMe

Welcome! It's Monday and time for another episode of Music Moves Me.

Who are the #MusicMovesMe bloggers? We are bloggers (and perhaps also musical elves) who blog about music each Monday and if you have music to share with us, you are most welcome to join! (Music Posts Only on this music train, please!)   First, there is XmasDolly,   Her co-conductors are:  Callie of JAmerican Spice,  and ♥Stacy of Stacy Uncorked♥   Also, co-conducting  is  Cathy from Curious as a Cathy .  And finally, there's me. 


What follows has become one of my favorite seasonal blog posts, which I update a little each year.

Why do Christians in the United States dream of a White Christmas?  Why is it so important that snow is on the ground?

Why does White Christmas have its own official website?

It could be because White Christmas (the song, as sung by Bing Crosby) is the best selling single of all time.

It may surprise you that White Christmas was written by a Jewish song writer.

It may also surprise you that Jews are responsible for many other beloved Christmas songs.


My quest to find out more started in 2010, reading a NY Times Op Ed.  There are a number of these songs, and other bloggers and writers have done the research for me:  I thank them, including the  this article. (a must read, based on extensive research).

Some may argue that these are NOT Christmas songs, but rather songs about what I would now call the "secular Christmas". True, these are not hymns.  But it is true that the American celebration of Christmas incorporates many aspects of non-religious symbolism - this ground has been covered by other writers.

I consider them Christmas songs.  I think, in particular, few would argue that "I'll be Home for Christmas" isn't one of the most heartfelt Christmas songs every written.

(Note, I have not done any of this research myself.  I am not a musician or a music expert, just someone who likes to listen to well written music.  So if I end up spreading wrong information, I apologize.  I did try more than one source, but - as you well know- you can't trust everything you read on the Internet.)

1.  White ChristmasIrving Berlin lived to 101, married a Catholic woman back when that type of intermarriage was extremely scandalous (to both families) and defined Christmas for entire generations of American Christians.  (Incidentally, he also wrote "Easter Parade" and "God Bless America".)

The next time you wonder if you will be having a white Christmas, and if you can't figure out exactly why that should be so important, well....blame Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin.  This is the original version from 1942.

 2.  Winter Wonderland: the author of this song was Dick Smith, who wrote this song in 1934, a year before he died (the day before his 34th birthday) from the tuberculosis that had plagued him for much of his life.  The man who set this poem to music, Felix Bernard, was Jewish.  



This song was originally intended for Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.  This cover is sung by Dean Martin.

3.  The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire):  The Nat King Cole version is one of my favorite songs, ever.  This brings back so many memories of the holiday season in the late 60's in midtown Manhattan and the vendors who would sell roasted chestnuts.  The fragrance carried for blocks.

For this song, we thank the Jewish songwriters Robert Wells and Mel Torme.  The song was actually written in 1944 but this recording is from 1961.

4.  I chose Andy Williams' cover of Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!, which was written during a 1945 summer heat wave in Chicago by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne. (Cahn's birth last name was Cohen and Jule Styne's birth name was Julius Stein).


5.  I'll be Home for Christmas.  As an almost-history major in college, this song makes me think of my aunts and uncles who served during World War II. 



This song dates from 1943 (World War II), written by Walter Kent (who was Jewish) and Kim Gannon, and was originally sung by Bing Crosby, but I chose a later version from 1957 as covered by Elvis Presley.

5. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" by Ralph Blaine and Hugh Martin, has been featured in a number of movies over the years. This comes from the 1942 movie "Meet Me in St. Louis" and is sung by Judy Garland.



Last but not least, something I picked up in my research:  remember Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer?  It would seem that Johnny Marks, the author of that song (and also "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas")  was Jewish.

So here we are with "Rockin' Round the Christmas Tree"  as sung by Brenda Lee.

And "A Holly Jolly Christmas", sung by Burl Ives, from the classic Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer TV special that is still shown.

Here is another list for your enjoyment.

Think of the themes of these songs:  Missing your home.  Childhood nostalgia.  Enjoying a season of lights and happiness. The different child (or reindeer), scorned by others, who becomes the best of all.  These are universal themes, and this is why these songs, I think, are so appealing, no matter who wrote them.  I also find it interesting that so many of these songs were written in the 1940's.

Join me next week for more holiday magic at #MusicMovesMe.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Two Boy Scouts

Out of a shameful part of our United States history came a wonderful story of two Boy Scouts that, in their small ways, changed history.

You can see and hear it here.

We just commemorated the 77th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japanese armed forces, which resulted in the entry of our country into World War II.

But what also happened is that thousands of United States citizens of Japanese descent were rounded up and sent to interment camps all over the country.  One of these was a hastily constructed camp at Heart Mountain, near Cody, Wyoming.

One of the detainees was a young man by the name of Norman Mineta.  He had been, back in California before he became a civilian prisoner of war, a Cub Scout.  His parents had wanted to become United States citizens before the war, but had been prevented from doing so.

The young of this camp were sent to school within the camp and permitted various activities to keep them occupied.  One of these was the formation of a Boy Scout troop and Norman Mineta joined.  The troop tried to engage nearby Wyoming troops in their activities, but all the troops rejected their overtures.  These boys were the enemy, after all.

Or were they? 

Only one troop accepted the overtures of the Japanese interment camp's troop, and came to visit   In that troop was a young Boy Scout by the name of Alan Simpson.

Alan Simpson and Norman Mineta became good friends.  And the 12 year old Simpson, who returned to a warm home after his visit to the internment camp, realized an injustice was being done.

The two boys didn't see each other again for some 35 years.

When they met again, it was thousands of miles away, in Congress, where Senator Alan Simpson (Republican) made his second acquaintance with Congressman  Norman Mineta (Democrat).  Eventually, Mineta would join the Cabinets of two Presidents.  Their friendship has lasted to this day.

Simpson, now 87, gave one of the eulogies at the recent funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, under whom Mineta served as Secretary of Transportation.

An interesting story of non fiction.

As it is said, you can't make this stuff up.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Sustainable Saturday - Apple Syrup from Peelings and Cores

I'm embarrassed (well, just a little). I promised you this recipe in my recent post for Lazy Applesauce.  Here's the background story:

Last month, my sister in law traveled from her home to say goodbye to her dying mother.  While she stayed with us, she helped me make an apple crisp.  There were peels and cores left over from her efforts, and I decided not (for once) to throw them away or compost them.

Recently, my spouse had gotten a book out of the library called "Cooking with Scraps:  Turn Your Peels, Cores, Rinds, and Stems into Delicious Meals".  The author is Lindsay-Jean Hard.  This is very much a modern cookbook, yet celebrates the old time virtues of "waste not, want not."

My sister in law is a firm believer in this concept, and decided, after helping with the crisp, that she wanted to do something with the peels and cores.  She had browsed the book and had an idea.

So here's the problem - I can't remember exactly what she did - because, true confession time, I had a stomach bug.  So all I can do is "sort of" tell you what she did.  (I could have asked her, yes, but that would have been too easy.)
My sister in law took the peels and scraps of five large apples, and cooked them with some sugar. (Spouse thinks it was about a cup - it was less than what the recipe called for.)
They were strained out.  The syrup was then cooked some more to reduce.

The finished (and delicious) syrup.  Cinnamon and/or cloves would be a nice additional touch.

I went ahead and found this recipe online - I hope it produces a similar result.

Incidentally, I browsed the "Cooking with Scraps" book and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves to cook and loves the concept of reducing food waste.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Upstate Sunset #SkywatchFriday

Joining Yogi and the other bloggers who watch the sky each Friday on #SkywatchFriday.  Have a picture of the sky? Come join us.

December sunrises and sunsets, so many times, are hidden by clouds where I live in upstate New York.

But, on December 2, the clouds cleared up enough to see the sky shortly after sunset.

The sky glowed blue and pink.

"Look at me!" the sky seemed to say.
A last look before the clouds returned.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Mansion that Swamp Root Built

I've blogged about the Hanukkah House museum in Binghamton, New York each Hanukkah season, but I've never shown you the building it is located in.

This is the Kilmer Mansion which is now owned by Temple Concord in Binghamton, not that far from where Rod Serling of Twilight Zone fame grew up.  It was built in 1878 by a family who manufactured a patent medicine called Swamp Root and were hated and feared.  For those interested in architecture, though, it is a gem.

The front has a chanukkiyah which stands all year.
Some detail of the floor inside.

An overview of one of the rooms.
And a tribute to the past.


There are several Kilmer properties in Binghamton, but this one has special meaning.  If you are ever in our area in December, do visit.  Admission is free to the Hanukkah House museum, although a donation to our local food pantry would be most welcome.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Dollhouses - #WordlessWednesday

Every year I pay tribute to Roberta King, who was murdered in a mass shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, New York on April 3, 2009.  She was a collector of dolls and dollhouses that represented Jewish life, and her family generously allows the Hanukkah House museum (open for a month each year in Binghamton, New York) to display some of her dollhouses and dolls.

When someone passes on, what remains are the memories.

A room.

This museum is in what used to be a mansion belonging to a patent medicine maker who became quite wealthy.

Memories of the past.


Join Esha and Natasha each Wednesday for #WordlessWednesday.