What can possibly go wrong when a spiritual junkie gets a "sign" to work with an atheist? That has been a question I asked myself for years, but suddenly it has morphed into the premise of a new LGBTQ web series comedy I co-created and recently debuted with a filmmaker/friend of mine whom I've known for more than a decade.
The show is called "The You & The Me." It's fun. It's fresh. It's "The Gilmore Boys." (So, yeah ... that last sentence? It sounded so good I decided to just let reside there.)
In truth, the show takes the art of conversation between two extremely different gay men to new heights. But the backstory is interesting because there were lessons in there for me about collaboration, the creative process, and joining forces with somebody who holds a vastly different view of life, existence, and the world than I do.
I spent the majority of last 20 years living in Northern California. I ran an award-winning weekly magazine. I meditated, sought out the healing practices of shamans and regularly practiced Bikram yoga. I interviewed celebrities like Chelsea Handler, Cyndi Lauper, David Sedaris and James Franco -- fine, mostly I fawned over him and imagined sharing, oh, I don't know ... a chocolate malt on a Sunday afternoon somewhere in Palo Alto, California, while "Lost in Love" by Air Supply played on a retro radio station and ...)
Wait. Where was I? Right -- I lived in Northern California. I interviewed people. My friend is an atheist.
About that ...
I collaborated with friend-actor-filmmaker, Jeff Dinnell, on some of those red carpet and Hollywood-event interviews I did. Inevitably, either prior to these events, or afterward, we would find ourselves grabbing a coffee or a cocktail and engaging in spirited conversations about life, the LGBTQ community, dating, manscaping, God, atheists, social relevance, what makes a "bear" a bear, a "cub" a cub and an "otter" and otter in a gay man's universe.
Well, all that, and so much more. And then ... I felt led to press "record" on my iPhone's Voice Memo app. The result of my conversations with Mr. Dinnell made their way into the series we now see. True, these conversations have been somewhat enhanced for the creative process, however I find the end result, while thoroughly comedic, interesting because it reminds me that while people may have differing views of life, and the world in which they live, there's a rich place in the middle where we all can co-exist, agree to disagree, and perhaps even laugh at the complexities of life as we swing from one spiritual vine to another.
For those who prefer a more grounded analogy: "... perhaps even laugh at the complexities of life as we walk along the Earth together."
And in an era where we are reminded daily of how polarized the country can become, I doubt that humor can hurt -- at all.
There's a "you." There's a "me." There's a way.
(Damn ... I liked the sound of that.)
"The You & The Me" is created and produced by Jeff Dinnell and Greg Archer. Learn more about the show here and watch it on Logo (kidding!) or Comedy Central (still kidding) or Bravo (uh ...?) Shooting for Season Two, featuring a gaggle of well-known LGBTQ celebrity guest stars, begins in late-summer....
Agents of Change walk among us all the time. Look around: There's probably one of them in the same room with you right now. The neighbor who never told you that she spends several weeknights helping cancer patients at a local clinic....
They walk among us--those agents of change. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of who (and where) they are. These five guys create sea changes in their own unique ways. Take a look:
During mad dashes toward the future, inevitably, pockets of a nearly forgotten past emerge to make themselves known, lest they completely fade into obscurity. For decades, Joseph Stalin's mass deportation of Polish citizens during the 1940s remained one of the...
Seventy-five years ago, Joseph Stalin's henchmen (the NKVD) came pounding on my Polish family's door in Eastern Poland. It wasn't until 2012, after a series of serendipitous events, that I decided it was time for me to do some knocking on a few...
They walk among us -- those agents of change. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of who they are. Take note of five noteworthy souls striving to make the world a better place.
The marriage of humility...
Faith, trust and the courage to live as the person you know yourself to be all come into play in Karolina Bielawska's moving, award-winning documentary Call Me Marianna. The film, which has been turning heads at film festivals around the world, screens at Chicago's Polish Film Festival in America Nov. 13 and 22.
Shunned by her ex-wife, rejected by her daughter and misunderstood by a mother who still calls her "son," Marianna is a remarkable human to experience. For it is during her transition from male to female that audiences witness the depths of her grief as she is abandoned by loved ones and feels alone in a world that resists accepting her true self. Bielawska weaves together a remarkably powerful account of this individual's struggles -- and triumphs -- on the emotional road she travels to locate her own inner GPS and find acceptance among others.
A big winner at the Krakow Film Festival earlier this year -- it took home four awards, including the International Documentary Competition's main prize, the Golden Horn, and the Audience Award -- the film also picked up the Maciej Szumowski Award for remarkable social awareness (funded by the National Broadcasting Council) and Polish Audiovisual Producers Chamber of Commerce's Award for the Best Short and Documentary Films Producer in Poland (to producer Zbigniew Domagalski). The fest's jury noted" "that the journey through life from man to woman in a dualistically dominated culture, the transformation from being a family man to the finally self-determined life as a woman throws an analytically inspired light on our society and unlocks the protagonist's extraordinary inner strength."
Catching up with Karolina Bielawska proved to be illuminating. Here, the filmmaker shares her thoughts on Marianna and the journey to bring her unique tale to life.
Greg Archer: How did you come about meeting Marianna?
Karolina Bielawska: I read an interview with Anna Grodzka, a member of the Polish parliament, and a transgender women. After reading the interview I didn't understand how this could happen. How could you live all of your life in the wrong body? I was curious how it was possible. I called Anna, wanting to make a narrative film. When Marianna came for tea with Anna and I, I knew she was to be a character in the film and decided to make this documentary film.
Greg Archer: I'm curious about two things: What did you find most intriguing about Marianna, as a person; and what did you find most captivating about her journey?
Karolina Bielawska: Her whole person was captivating. When I met Marianna she was 47 years old and for four years she was fighting to get approval for sex reassignment from her parents in court. She was very attractive, religious and conservative. She wanted to be accepted as a normal woman.
Greg Archer: Can you talk a bit, in general, about LGBT, and especially Transgender rights, in Poland, currently?
Karolina Bielawska: The situation in Poland is very tragic for transsexual people. They have to sue their parents in court in order to get approval for sexual reassignment. Both for the surgery and all personal documents. When I met Marianna I didn't know how difficult it is to be a transsexual women. She has to fight for respect and dignity every day of her life.
Greg Archer: What surprised you during the filming; what insights or observations about humanity did you have?
Karolina Bielawska: The whole story and her life surprised me. It was her struggle that I witnessed, but she won. It is important for me that this film give hope for a better world.
Greg Archer: I sense there is a great deal we can all learn from Marianna.
Karolina Bielawska: After watching the film, it would be great if the audience thinks of Marianna like a friend and understands her story. I learned from Marianna that it is important to fight for your beliefs and that you have to always be honest with yourself. This is what makes life worth living.
English professor and social anthropologist Jonathan Webber may not have known the full extent of his actions when he first felt compelled to rebuild a cemetery in the bucolic Polish town of Brzostek, where his grandfather was born. Webber's journey generated a ripple effect that may have lasting effects on his own life, but also on those of many other souls living in the here and now.
Webber's journey comes to life to winning ends in filmmaker Simon Target's captivating documentary A Town Called Brzostek, which premieres Saturday, Nov. 14 at Chicago's 27th Polish Film Festival in America. It's a must-see on a number of levels. For starters, it is hard not to lured in and deeply moved by the odyssey on which Webber embarks. The professor at the Institute of European Studies at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland reveals plenty--that 85 percent of Jewish families around the world come from Poland, but that most of them still do not hold any real love for the country that gave them a home for centuries. Target allows Webber to uncover additional historic facts about Brzostek--other things the history books may have never documented well--and we witness Webber pull out a major surprise for the sea change he is attempting to create: He invites fellow Jews from across the world to visit Poland, in an effort to shift their perspectives about their ancestral home.
The documentary does wonders with its "talking heads"--dignitaries offering their perspectives. Target has assembled an alluring and at times engrossing crew here--Norman Davies (a British-Polish historian and renowned author), American and Polish journalist/Pulitzer Prize-winning scribe Anne Applebaum, Bay Area philanthropist Tad Taube, and Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich among them.
Other historic notables stand out: On Aug. 12, 1942, 260 Jewish people from Brzostek were gathered by the Nazis and marched into a nearby forest, only to be shot and killed in a mass grave in the Podzamcze Forest. The grave had been prepared the night prior.
Target, who wrote, produced and directed the doc, is best known for a series of television documentaries for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (King's School, Flight for Life, The Academy, Rough Justice). He takes a moment here to discuss A Town Called Brzostek and its noteworthy unfolding.
Greg Archer: Let's start with Jonathan Webber. How did your paths cross?
Simon Target: I met Jonathan for the first time when he came to lecture in Sydney, Australia. I had spent a lot of time photographing Poland for my wife Beata Zatorska's memoir of her Polish childhood, "Rose Petal Jam." I am not Jewish (or Polish) but I was surprised to photograph beautiful synagogues there, which had survived Communist destruction, and sometimes by being privately restored by local Poles. Jonathan's wife, Connie, bought Beata's book in London, and when they came to Sydney she contacted us wanting to meet up. It was a great opportunity to learn more about Polish-Jewish history. And when Jonathan told me of the inspiring events in Brzostek, I thought I just had to make a film about it.
Greg Archer: What inspired you most about his journey?
Simon Target: Jonathan knows more about the history of the Jews in Poland than anyone I have met. He was on the board of the Auschwitz Museum--the former Nazi concentration camp near Kraków--for 25 years. He is an orthodox Jew, and his strong interest in Polish/Jewish history made him give up an Oxford professorship to live and teach in Kraków. But he seems to be a minority voice among many Jewish academics--even his own family questions his position on Poland (some of them appear in the film). I believe iconoclasts, like him, who swim against the tide of popular opinion, at some personal cost, make very interesting subjects to film.
Greg Archer: Can you speak a little about the filmmaking process and what you wanted to convey?
Simon Target: I filmed Jonathan in Auschwitz in mid-winter and in Brzostek and Kraków in mid-summer. I went several times to Brzostek to interview the locals and traveled to New York, Paris and London to meet Jewish families connected to this unlikely place. I interviewed experts such as historians Ann Applebaum and Norman Davies, and Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich. It took a couple of years to gather all this material and another six months to edit it. In the end I thought the real stars of the film were the ordinary townsfolk of Brzostek. They somehow managed to distill this complex issue into something quite simple and touching.
Greg Archer: It's a remarkable work, and the facts are interesting--that 85 percent of Jewish families around the world come from Poland yet most have no bond with the homeland. Did you know this beforehand?
Simon Target: I did not know that Poland was once the center of the Jewish world, or that in the 1920s it had the largest population of Jews anywhere. As I traveled promoting books about Poland, I became aware of the anti-Polish feeling in the Jewish diaspora, which was puzzling and seemed to get stronger the further I went from Poland. Jonathan believes such negative feeling towards Poland is often based on particular Jewish folklore rather than historical fact. Sadly I think the obscenity of the Holocaust, that was mainly carried out in German-occupied Poland, has obliterated the memory of 800 prior years of successful Jewish life in Poland.
Greg Archer: Do you feel that with this film, and chronicling the work of Mr. Webber, that perhaps something can shift in regard to Jewish families looking at their homeland a bit differently?
Simon Target: Jewish audiences do enjoy my film, and are often moved by it. It helps that the message is coming from a devout man who lives publicly as a Jew in Poland today and can tell us exactly what that is like. The Jewish families I filmed returning to Poland all enjoyed the experience, and have been back since. I think traveling to Poland is the best cure for anti-Polish prejudice. Jews who, for example, visit not just Auschwitz, but also those beautiful baroque synagogues I photographed, in places like Tykocin, Zamość and Łancut, are more likely to understand the wealth of Jewish life here.
I have a Polish friend who guides Jewish tours of Poland, and says Jewish guests are often surprised by the kindness and warmth they receive, when traveling as a 'conspicuously Jewish' tour group. I think if you are a Jew who has been told all your life that Poles are anti-Semitic, you have to walk through the rynek of Kraków, Wrocław or Brzostek today, wearing your kippah or yarmulke, to realize the opposite is in fact the case.
Greg Archer: Poland is such a remarkable country with a fascinating history. Do you feel that in the past few years, there has been more attention ... or rather, more being revealed about the past--from Stalin's deportations to even the information offered in your documentary?
Simon Target; There was no open debate under the Communist occupiers, no history of Jewish life was taught in Polish schools (except the Holocaust, used as an example of the evils of Fascism). Since Poland became democratic in 1990 it has had to catch up rapidly with the West when it comes to trying to understand the horrors of the Holocaust, and the sudden removal of Polish Jewish life. But it is crucial that we study this history with balance and accuracy. It saddens me that some academics spend more time today poring over the details of reprehensible but rare Polish attacks against Jews, such as what occurred in Kielce and Jedwabne, rather than the much more common Polish efforts to hide Jews from the Nazis, at great personal risk, or the work of Żegota, the Polish council set up to aid Jews during the war. I believe such a jaundiced view of history does no person any good, and creates an inaccurate account of relations between Poles and Jews, before and after World War II.
Greg Archer: What was most interesting thing about filming this?
Simon Target: It was exciting to discover such interest in Jewish life in Poland today. I met older people who still remember Jewish friends and neighbors who left for Israel after the war. There are young Poles fascinated by the Polish/Jewish history that was hidden from their parents. Polish language and cooking is full of Yiddish influence. There is genuine interest in Jewish history in Poland today--you won't find this in Belgium or France, for example. The response to this film in Poland has been very warm, winning prizes and special screenings everywhere from Oświęcim to Białystok.
Greg Archer: What do you feel audiences will be left with after the film?
Simon Target: What most impressed me was the way the local people in Brzostek turned out to celebrate Jonathan Webber's Jewish cemetery restoration. These were not public officials or politicians with a barrow to push, but ordinary Polish folk who chose to spend their Sunday showing quiet respect towards their lost Jewish neighbors. In some ways, they were a model to the world on how to deal with all this. As the film shows, in Brzostek the Jewish and Catholic children once studied in school together and played in each others' houses and gardens. I believe that is the way it should be. We have enough hostilities in the world. It is time to tell this history accurately and fairly so an ancient brotherhood can be restored, and Polish and Jewish kids can form close friendships again, wherever they live in the world, even if just on Facebook.
They walk among us--those agents of change. Sometimes, we just need to be reminded of who they are. Take note of five noteworthy women who are making a positive difference.
She is the main focus of Kumu Hina, a remarkable, moving and powerful documentary, currently making its way around film festivals. In the film, Emmy Award-winning filmmakers Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson effectively chronicle an emotionally rich tale about Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, a Honolulu kanaka maoli teacher, cultural practitioner and community leader/activist. The doc shines the light on three specific things in Hina's life: 1) Her relationship with her husband. 2) Her experience as a kumu (teacher)--predominantly hula, but as the film unravels you see very clearly that Hina's education stretches far beyond her hula classes. And 3) The quality of her life as a māhū wahine (transgender woman). While the filmmakers may have been intent on creating a noteworthy doc about Hina's challenges to maintain Pacific Islander culture and values within the Westernized society of modern day Hawaiʻi--a huge issue now-they also manage to deliver a rare documentary that showcases a remarkable world, one where transgender people are visible and not marginalized, and one in which they are honored and revered. The film also illuminates something incredibly heartfelt--a safe place where youth are encouraged to be themselves; a place where their searching for creative gender expression is actually embraced and encouraged rather than hidden.
All of this comes to light thanks to Hina's efforts. She is a fascinating woman you can't help wanting to learn more about--her early days as a young man who always identified as a female helped fuel her rise of individuality and passion to keep the island culture alive for instance. To that end, we discover that Hina is a force of nature unlike any we may have seen on screen lately. As a prominent hula instructor, she was founding member of Kulia Na Mamo, a community organization established to improve the quality of life for māhū. She became the Cultural Director at Hālau Lōkahi, a public charter school that was dedicated to using Native Hawaiian culture, history, and education as tools for developing and empowering the next generation of warrior scholars. Warrior scholars--when was the last time you heard that phrase? We also learn that Hina served as a leader in many community affairs and civic activities, including as Chair of the O'ahu Island Burial Council--a riveting project that oversees the management of Native Hawaiian burial sites and ancestral remains. Interesting to note is that just last year, Hina also ran for a position on the board of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, making her the first transgender candidate to run for statewide political office in the United States.
At a time when transgender civil rights gains more momentum, the documentary and Hina herself, reveals the deep value of being of service to the community, and something quite profound, too: The idea that the soul, even though it resides within the framework of the human body, is its own powerful creature ... and that embarking on a path of honoring it fully can eventually turn into a unforgettable journey that affects the lives of others.
As Hina puts it: "A māhū is an individual that straddles somewhere in the middle of the male and female binary. It does not define their sexual preference or gender expression,
because gender roles, gender expressions and sexual relationships have all been
severely influenced by the changing times. It is dynamic. It is like life."
There are certain places on the planet that just emit a vibe of purity, beauty and transformation. Maui is one of those rare locales. So, it makes perfect sense that author-speaker-educator Eve Hogan is based on the magical isle of Maui--in an island jungle, in fact. For it is here, among a mix of ancient palms and other rain forest delights in a sublime portion of historic Makawao, where Hogan oversees operations of one of Maui's incredible gems: The Sacred Garden. Officially birthed about nine years ago after Hogan listened to "an inner calling" to transform a flailing orchid nursery, the garden quickly became internationally known for its unique locale but also for its stunning forest labyrinth and Full Moon Labyrinth walks. Hogan has been conducting labyrinth walks for nearly 20 years on Maui--nine at The Sacred Garden. In the early days, she says, she had to do a great deal of advertising and educating in order to get people to come and learn about the metaphoric and transformational essences of the centuries-old labyrinth walk. Now, Hogan says, "the [full] moon lets people know and I barely tell anyone because we wouldn't be able to handle the crowds. People come to Maui seeking labyrinths and every day they come to The Sacred Garden to walk."
The garden is also unique in that it provides a safe haven for individuals to experience what Hogan calls, "the divine in the beauty of nature, and a place to discover the beauty of their own nature as divine." She adds that, "in a beautiful place like Maui, you might think that a dedicated space would be unnecessary, however I have found that very few women feel totally comfortable enough alone in nature to close their eyes and meditate or journal beside a stream. We have an innate sixth sense that is always on guard for a predator. I love that the garden provides a safe place where people can sit by a stream, meditate, pray, journal, nap ... and listen."
The full moon walks regularly have 30-50 people in attendance.
But the core of Hogan's work, and what makes her stand out as a noteworthy woman generating positive ripple effects, lies in other realms, particularly in the field of motivational speaking and education, and assisting others in connecting to something deeper within--a truth, a calling, an essence, a clarity. In this sense, it helps that Hogan penned several notable books on the subject: "The EROS Equation: A SOUL-ution for Relationships!," "How to Love Your Marriage: Making Your Closest Relationship Work," "Intellectual Foreplay: Questions for Lovers and Lovers-to-Be," "Virtual Foreplay: Making Your Online Relationship a Real-Life Success," "Rings of Truth" (co-authored by Jim Britt) and the intriguing "Way of the Winding Path: A Map for the Labyrinth of Life." Often hailed as an exceptionally professional teacher, Hogan clearly is making her mark. Of her work, "Chicken Soup for the Soul" titan Jack Canfield noted that Hogan is a "very empathetic person who exemplifies patience, love and a positive attitude in everything she does."
As for that glorious labyrinth, Hogan remains candid: "It provides such a wonderful experiential path of self-discovery and insight. Once we see what it is that we are doing, we discover that we have choices. When we have choices, we become powerful. If we don't know what we are doing, or accept responsibility for the results of our choices, we think we are victims of life and other people, which is no fun at all. In my observation, the truth is that we are magnificent, powerful, creative, imaginative beings."
In the 1980s, Darryl Hannah rose to fame via the blockbusters Splash, Roxanne and Blade Runner. And how could we ever forget her role in the ensemble female cast that comprised Steel Magnolias? Jump to 2003, and we get a very different Hannah--rough, tough, and Tarantino'd in Kill Bill Vol. 1. Somewhere along the way, Hannah drifted away from the bright lights of Hollywood--at least full-time, although she's now on the Netflix hit Sense8--and morphed into a prominent environmental activist. What makes her a bona fide Agent of Change? The winning trifecta of intelligence, commitment and perseverance. An active campaigner for raising awareness for environmental health and environmental injustices--she has been arrested several times for protests against developments that some groups believe threaten sustainability--Hannah continues to keep the momentum moving on her popular sustainable living/environmental blog, DHlovelife. During the last 10 years, she has also been instrumental in helping organize a variety of protests--from surface mining in West Virginia (a hot topic) to the well-publicized closure of a community farm in Los Angeles. No doubt her Hollywood profile adds tremendous visibility to such causes that would otherwise be overlooked by today's news media. For a deeper look into how Hannah is using her creativity to spark more passion for the environment, take note of Love Life, a well-edited and impressive vlog. Updated regularly, it features a remarkable side of Hannah. Better still: Love Life draws viewers in to fully explore topics that could so easily just slip through the cracks.
Girl Be Heard
This eclectic posse of young women marvels in its ability to galvanize its forces to create a sea change in the lives of females near and far. That the New York City-based entity manages to do that through theater as their primary vehicle is noteworthy, however the end results keep showing us that these individuals know how to remain true to their mission: To empower young women to "become brave, confident, socially conscious leaders and explore their own challenging circumstances." Founded in 2008 (then Project Girl Performance Collective), it all began with about a dozen young diverse women from various ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. A play was written by Director Ashley Marinaccio for a theater fest and when that sprouted into a workshop in which the cast penned their own shows to tell their own unique stories, a new outlet was paved for the work that Marinaccio et al would be doing. A much more formalized a girl-empowerment workshop and curriculum was developed and along came mentoring in addition to the theater platform. These days, about 100 members tour the country in a valiant effort to raise the level of awareness on a myriad issues affecting girls. For instance, stats indicate that six out of 10 girls growing up in America will experience physical or sexual violence in her lifetime. More sobering perhaps is this: 34 percent of girls become pregnant before age 20. And the threat of being trafficked is a brutal reality. The theater component allows young women to discover their own strength, realize their potential and express a wide range of emotions--from fear and anger to their deepest hopes and dreams. Another interesting thing to note is that Girl Be Heard also serves many thousands of youth through its unique school performances, workshops and nonprofit partnerships in the five boroughs and Tri-State area. To date, Girl Be Heard has performed at the White House, State Department, United Nations, TED Conferences, off Broadway, and has gone on several national tours. They recently collaborated with Pakastani activist Malala Yousafzai to perform and offer an original anthem for the Malala Fund. Of being part of the group, member Aya Abdelaziz puts it this way: "I found that by investing in myself as an Egyptian female artist and activist I was investing in the world around me."
Yes. One person can make a difference. Meet Sarah Fields. "I found such humility with my experience volunteering with the Mayan people in the hospitals of Guatemala, treating PTSD, that I knew I wanted to travel and volunteer wherever and whenever I could," says the Santa Cruz, California, resident. The acupuncturist and natural health care practitioner was so driven to help others through the healing modalities she learned at Five Branches University, that she felt called to head to Nepal after April's devastating 7.8 Earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and left thousands injured. Enter Acupuncturists without Borders" The remarkable organization, which shows up on the scenes of natural disasters, was on hand in Nepal and Fields entered the fold last summer to assist. The purpose? To treat the injured via acupuncture and especially those people who were experiencing PTSD--more than 300 smaller earthquakes have rattled the area since April.
Westerners who are now being introduced to acupuncture are quickly getting in the know--that the centuries-old healing practice maintains natural health and well-being but also treats PTSD and calms the nervous system. It is now integrated in more Veterans and addiction clinics across the country than ever before. For Fields, who has her own practice, dubbed Leyki Healing, heading to Nepal was remarkably rewarding in that it gave her an opportunity to be of service, but also an opportunity to be reminded of her core values. "As a practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism I'm forever indebted to Tibet, Nepal, and this region of the world for freeing me of my own mental afflictions, internal battles and sufferings through the teachings of Buddha, as this was his birth place," she says. "I was given the chance to wake up from my ignorance blaming others for my problems. I delighted in laziness for too long. Service work offers a chance to awaken in this reality. The least I could do was give back in this way."
She calls Nepal a sweet culture steeped in all lineages of Buddhism and Hinduism, and its people with "hearts still pure."
"I visited demolished villages, orphanages, old people homes, schools, rescue homes where girls were freed from sex slavery and treated families in this time of grief, loss and great pain," she adds. "The Nepali and Tibetan Refugees were always so grateful to see us. As everything in this life is transitory and impermanent, the most lasting satisfaction I've come to know is serving others. "Giving truly is the new Getting," a wonderful spiritual practice when it comes from the right place."
Learn more about Acupuncturists Without Borders here. Discover more about Fields
Summer waved goodbye more than a month ago, but the fall season still remains one of of the best times for travel. Recent stats note that New York City, Orlando and magical Maui are...
Growing up in Chicago in the 1970s, I was aware that my parents were Polish immigrants. My father, William Krzos, was an engineer at GTE -- I was intrigued by his vague remarks about being in a German labor camp. My mother, Bernice Migut Krzos, worked in a Chicago bakery and it was actually the vivid tales that she, and her brothers and sister, shared that truly fascinated me.
They were relayed to me once a month, on Saturday nights, when my parents arranged a festive get-together for their Polish friends and my mother's siblings. En masse they arrived at our house on Altgeld Street. These folks were stylishly dressed and impeccably proud. They sat on the edges of our foam-cushioned sofas and chairs from Sears as Kent cigarettes made repeated trips to and from their lips. Full ashtrays collected around the house. Empty highball glasses begged to be refilled. And attention almost always fell upon my gregarious father, who, after just one Scotch and soda, could recite a rhyming Polish joke and have the guests howling with laughter.
These Poles were loud. They were expressive. They were joyous... on the outside.
But beneath the surface lurked stories -- both dark and menacing -- I was too young to fully grasp at the time. When I became an adult, the blinding truth could not be avoided.
In February 1940, under Joseph Stalin's orders, my family was taken by force from their farm in eastern Poland -- now Ukraine -- by Russian soldiers. They were treated like criminals, locked in one of hundreds of boxcars crowded with other Polish citizens, and carted off to a Siberian labor camp thousands of kilometers away. Nearly 1 million Poles suffered these mass deportations. For eighteen long, dismal months, the family endured brutal conditions in the labor camp, conditions so harsh that, eventually, it robbed them of their health and vitality -- and for some, their lives. In the summer of 1941, a surprising turn of events found these imprisoned Poles -- those who survived their confinement -- released from the camps. They were left to wander southern Russia in search of aid. Some of them found it in Uzbekistan. A vast number of them perished. Those who, either by twists of fate or unshakable faith, managed to escape Russia -- thanks to Gen. Anders and the Polish Army in Exile -- found refuge in the Middle East, India and, later, the eastern stretches of Africa or in more distant locales such as Mexico or Australia.
The mass deportations of the Poles during the 1940s was, and to some extent still is, one of the most underreported stories of Stalin's wrath. I take it that the U.S. and the rest of the world never wanted to bring up Stalin's atrocities at the time because he eventually became an ally to defeat Hitler. The world has been blatantly aware -- as well it should -- of what Hitler did to 6 million Jewish people, but so many souls are not fully aware of what Stalin did to Polish people, Jewish individuals, his own people and so many others.
As time went on and I excelled in a media career, I felt haunted and hunted to some extent by my Polish ancestors. Their story needed to be told. Earlier this year, the result of my efforts were birthed in a memoir Grace Revealed. I see it as one part of a colorful, much bigger historic kaleidoscope turning at this moment of time. For it was just the other day, during a recent book event, that a Ukrainian man reminded that, in what had once been Polish territory back in the 1940s, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) murdered an estimated 35,000-60,000 Poles in Volhynia and 25,000-40,000 in Eastern Galicia.
Again, these are among many of the historic events finally coming to light during October, which is Polish Heritage Month. Championing efforts for the Polish community are The Kresy-Siberia Foundation, The Polish Museum of America and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
And Chicago, which still has one of the largest populations of Polish people, has been host to many prominent events.
On Monday, Oct. 19 in Downtown Chicago, a prominent luncheon -- the 20th Chicago Luncheon for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum -- unfolded to remarkable ends. About 2,000 people were in attendance at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers. Remarkable because the event has become noteworthy for being the largest of its kind in attendance and funds raised. After a soul-stirring introduction by David Schwartz, acclaimed writer Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic delivered a sobering speech about the realities of anti-Semitism and more -- he noted that of the world's Jewish population, the majority of them now live in the United States.
Goldberg's remarks echo the concerns of the Museum, which reports that in 2015, the world is faced with "an alarming rise in Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism -- even in the very lands where the Holocaust happened -- as well as genocide and threats of genocide in other parts of the world."
An Agent of Change on so many levels, the Museum, since 1993, has been on the receiving end of more than 38 million visitors -- this includes 96 heads of state and more than 10 million school-age children. Its website remains the leading online resource and authority on the Holocaust.
Between 1939 and 1945, at least 1.5 million Polish citizens were deported to German territory for forced labor. Hundreds of thousands were also imprisoned in Nazi concentration camps. An estimated 1.9 million non-Jewish Polish civilians were killed by Germans during World War II. The Germans murdered at least 3 million Jewish citizens of Poland, reports the Museum's website.
During Polish Heritage Month, these facts serve as a blatant reminder to preserve history and to continue sharing the often haunting stories of what few survivors remain from that time period. And, while the hashtag #NeverAgain will forever circulate around Twitter and other social media circles, more importantly may be calls to action -- actually becoming involved. For it's in taking action where solidarity actually builds.
View a gripping video of the 20th Chicago Luncheon from WGN here.
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