Never Forget

Today is Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Remembrance Day. A day to take time and recall the atrocities of the past so that it does not repeat itself.

To be honest, I don’t think I can ever forget, growing up with grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. But I look to my son who doesn’t quite grasp the horror that occurred, and wonder if he’ll connect with it in the same way I did.


My grandfather (who passed away a few years ago) and my son. I’m glad he was able to meet him and spend a few years together.

Growing up, I just knew. It was hard not to when your grandfather had numbers inked into his skin and you were a curious kid who asked too many questions.

My grandfather’s family was rounded up from his hometown of Schaulen, Lithuania. His parents, brothers and sisters all taken to concentration camps. There he wasn’t known as Feiwa Sal, but rather #85705. He was shuttled between a handful of camps, unknown horrors occurring at each one before finally being liberated from Dachau. 
Dachau Document
He was able to locate most of his family that he knew didn’t die, except for his two youngest brothers. To this day, nobody is sure whether they perished in the Holocaust or somehow made it out safely to an unknown fate…



B&GAfter he was liberated, he met my Bubby Esther in a displaced person’s camp in Germany. Her story of survival is its own unique one – one I hope to record someday soon. She lived underground in bunkers in the woods and in barns of righteous gentiles who hid her family. She doesn’t have numbers inked into her skin, but her memories are etched in her forever. How does one forget?


I grew up with these stories hardly talked about but still known. When I eventually learned about the Holocaust in school, I needed to know more, craved more information, but found that my grandparents didn’t want to talk about it all that much… understandable.

But we had documents, like pictures, and release papers and more, like this note my mother wrote in hopes of securing money to cover my grandfather’s medical care. She wrote this note for her parents when she was in high school.

So, I read all I could. But I needed, wanted to know more. When I was a senior in high school, I decided to take part in the March of the Living – a 2 week trip to Poland and Israel.

In 1998 I joined many other teens and adults as we traveled to Poland, taking in the country and the history.

We walked the reverse path, from the death camp of Auschwitz – which claimed 1.1 million lives – to the work camp of Birkenau, reversing the path of so many Jews before us.

The gates of Auschwitz. "Arbeit Macht Frei" Work sets you free

The gates of Auschwitz. “Arbeit Macht Frei” Work Sets You Free


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The local Polish people would watch as if we were some sort of macabre parade. I wondered what they were thinking...

The local Polish people would watch as if we were some sort of macabre parade. I wondered what they were thinking…


We also visited a number of other former concentration camps. I can’t forget Treblinka. There’s no actual camp still remaining there. Just some memorials that were created. But the grass. It was the greenest grass I had ever seen in my life. Somebody pointed out that it looked so alive because it was fertilized with the dead.

Then there was Majdanek. This camp was on the outskirts of Lublin. When I say outskirts, I mean it was jutted up right against the city.

Majdanek barracks with the city in the background.

Majdanek barracks with the city in the background.


We learned that the people of Lublin would complain… they would complain that the laundry the put out to dry would get dirty from the soot the wind carried over from the camp. The soot caused by burning bodies. Did they know? What could they have done?

Shoes. So many shoes. Why did they keep them?

We walked through the gas chambers of Majdanek barefoot. I can’t remember why we were barefoot so many years later. Out of a sense of respect for those who walked before us, perhaps?

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The thing about Majdanek is that since it was captured nearly intact, it’s just a few switches of electricity from being back up and full running. That terrifies me. It is also an in-your-face reminder that we should never forget.

I haven’t shared any of these pictures with my son yet. He has a vague idea of the Holocaust – in the way a 7-year-old can understand. As he gets older I’ll fill in the gaps and explain how our family factors in to this story. Like how his great-grandparents lived the stories he reads about in school. As he grows older, he won’t have the same ability as I did to ask questions of those who were there. Thankfully, many survivors are getting their stories down – recorded for posterity, so that we never forget.


*All historical pictures via my uncle Jack Sal and his book Re/Place. All other pictures are mine.



Guess Who (Isn’t Really Getting a Fair Deal)

We’re a gaming family. Not so much the video kind (although we’ve been known to get our Mario Kart on), but more so of the board persuasion. Both MD and I played board games growing up, and we started our own substantial collection when we got together.

When EZ turned 4, we started getting him in on the action. We started with Chutes & Ladders and Candy Land, and soon he was addicted as well. Every so often we’ll add a new one to our collection, and they are usually child-friendly. This past weekend we picked up both Operation and Guess Who. Operation has changed a bit…there’s no longer a bread basket or butterflies in the tummy (instead there’s “cellphone wrist” and neon green boogers…both of which I’m sure we’ll lose in the next week or two, as is par for the course with any tiny game piece).

Then there’s Guess Who. I loved that game as a kid, and was super excited to play with EZ. But I have to say, once we set it up and got started I was shocked. Out of 25 characters to choose from, only 5 are women. That couldn’t be right, I thought, and rushed to see what the original game had…

Original Guess Who

It also only had 5 (It was also extremely white-washed. The current version is a bit more colorful). And then it all came rushing back to me. Whenever I played as a kid, I hardly ever picked the girls. Why? Because when you’re as calculating and competitive as I am, you knew that the odds would never be in your favor if you chose a girl. She’d be guessed in less than 3 questions.

Yeah, I can't get excited over a victory that is basically handed to you on a sexist platter.

And you know what? EZ is picking up on that now. He hardly picks a female character because he knows that I’ll be able to guess it in a couple of questions. We’ve mostly stuck to the animal side of the board (where this is almost an even ratio of cat:dog, mind you), and I’m trying to figure out if we can somehow create our own board to use.

I could get all angry and up in arms over how Guess Who is a totally sexist game, but really, instead of being shocked and angry, I have to admit, when this all sank in, I was more disappointed than anything else. I doubt it was a conscious choice on the part of Hasbro to only include 5 women in the game. In fact, that’s the problem…Nobody thought about it.

It’s part of a larger, systemic issue, one that is perfectly laid out for us with the latest drama surrounding LEGO’s new girl line.  LEGO continues to claim that their research has shown that girls just don’t like their gender neutral sets, and the company won’t back down from promoting their new LEGO Friends girl line, no matter how upset customers are. But the problem goes beyond LEGO Friends.

Pigtail Pals recently posted a picture from LEGOLand, showing a LEGO female firefighter (yay!) putting on lipstick (WTF?). Nobody from LEGO corporate (or any park employee) took a second to think about why that could be off putting and completely sexist? I have nothing against wearing make up, but to portray a woman as a firefighter, and then to rely on tired stereotypes to complete the piece seems like poor form to me.

But should we be so surprised when the management team for LEGO is compromised solely of older white men? (That ironically look like they belong in the original Guess Who). Their board of directors isn’t any better, including only one woman, who incidentally joined the board just this past May.  

Looking at who makes up the decision-making team of LEGO, one immediate solution jumps to mind: More women. Sure, it might not solve all of their issues, but it would be a good start. We need more women in these types of positions…or we at least need more people in charge that will take a second to really think through some of these decisions.

Hm…maybe we can have the firefighter carry an ax or fire extinguisher instead of touching up her lipstick?

Why don’t we have half men and half women in the next edition of Guess Who? That will really throw them for a loop! 

Let’s be the change we want to see. Let’s encourage our daughters and our sons to find their way into jobs that impact society for the better, so perhaps one day they’ll be the ones making these types of decisions and they’ll make better ones.

Goodbye Go Daddy

Break ups are never easy. There can be hard feelings or moments of regret that can last well beyond the actual parting of ways. Sometimes, even just getting the gumption to actually go through with it can be the hardest part.

Then again, sometimes circumstances arise that make it very, very easy to walk away.

Image via

I received an email about a month or so ago, letting me know that my domain hosting package from Go Daddy was up for renewal in March. I have to be honest, I don’t really think all that much about that kind of stuff. Way back when, I signed up for Go Daddy because I saw some deal (and many other people I knew had recommended the site to me) and that was that.

My site is pretty small potatoes, and it’s simply laid out, so I never really needed much from my host. And, as one tends to do, when you don’t need something, you tend to forget about them.

But then…in the past year or so, I kept seeing Go Daddy’s name in the news, and not for anything positive. Stories about their CEO’s shady background regarding elephants starting leaking, causing me to wonder just why I was staying with them. But despite my intentions to switch hosts, I never got around to it.

I had a list of excuses…I was lazy; I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about doing it; Who would I switch to?

So I chose the path of least resistance.

But then, Go Daddy had to go and make me take the time and effort to drop them. Their consistent use of sexist ads (which they reminded us again this past weekend during the Super Bowl) was the last straw for me.

Miss Representation goes into more detail as to why folks should drop Go Daddy, and Lifehacker has written up a step by step guide on exactly how to do it.

And you know what? I feel pretty darn good about this break up.

I no longer need to stammer through a list of weak excuses when I explain why I’m still being hosted by Go Daddy. I don’t have to have that wave of squick wash over me when I think about their horribly sexist commercials and then ponder just how uncomfortable it is that they keep parading scantily clad (or completely naked) women in their ads while their company has “daddy” in its name.

Instead, I transferred my domain over to Hover. I have yet to see a sexist or insulting commercial for them, and they also happen to oppose SOPA (which not all hosting sites seem to be in agreement over). It may not be much, but not putting anymore of my money in Go Daddy’s pockets feels like a step in the right direction.

So…we’re through, Go Daddy and I. I have to say that this won’t be one of those break ups that tear at me, making me question whether or not I did the right thing. The moment I clicked “accept” for the transfer to Hover, I felt a little bit lighter.

Who knew shaking off some sexism could feel so freeing?

Not So Neutral on Gender Neutral Parenting

There is never a shortage of reactions to parents who attempt to raise their children in a gender neutral environment (i.e. raising children without the stereotyped notions of what is for girls & what is for boys). Responses run the gamut from confusion, shock, judgment, and disagreement, to support, acceptance, and understanding. But no matter what the reaction, everyone seems to have something to say.

Baby Storm & older brother Jazz. Photo via ABC

Last spring, Kathy Witterick and David Stocker of Toronto made the decision to keep the sex of their 3rd child a secret, in an attempt to raise baby Storm in a more authentic gender neutral environment. While they never intended for their story to go viral, it did, sparking a plethora of articles that spawned thousands of comments, from folks cheering on Kathy and David, to those who were certain that this would ruin Storm’s life. Even I chimed in back in May with my own thoughts.

Sasha & his mother. Photo via The Mirror

More recently, the story of a little boy from the UK named Sasha has hit (filling up my inbox daily with my Google alert set for “children, gender,” naturally). Sasha’s parents, Beck Laxton and Kieran Cooper, opted for gender neutral parenting, and seem quite pleased with the results thus far, five years out. Like Storm’s parents, Beck and Kieran chose not to reveal Sasha’s sex at birth, and only recently revealed it due to the 5 year old starting school. Yet, despite revealing their son’s sex (or perhaps, because of), they have been inundated with negative criticism from folks all around the internet who clearly know the best way to raise Sasha.

Personally, I (shockingly) remain neutral on all of this. I understand where these families are coming from, and I respect the concept of gender neutral parenting in general. I do feel that many folks (especially those who criticize it) frequently confuse sex and gender – already muddling a very complex debate. Every article that talks about these families, or the concept of gender neutral parenting in general, should start off with some sort of primer on the difference between sex and gender. If The Oatmeal hasn’t yet created some sort of pictograph on it, they should get on that!

EZ in his (still) favorite pair of BabyLegs

All that aside, we never set out to parent in a gender neutral way. Rather, we parented in a way that felt natural to us. However, natural to us meant dressing EZ in all the colors of the rainbow, allowing him to play with a variety of toys, and ensuring we never complimented him solely on stereotypical male traits. In retrospect, perhaps we were parenting in a gender neutral way, just without the need to label it. (So maybe not so neutral after all…)

As EZ grew up, he led the way and we followed. He was the one to let us know that his favorite colors are pink and purple. He was the one that has continuously requested we not cut his hair. He is the one that jumps for joy when I pull out the polish to paint my own nails, pleading to paint his own. 

We have responded in kind. We’ve allowed him the space and freedom to explore the concept of gender. He knows the biological differences between boys and girls (sex, not gender), and he’s constantly redefining and exploring the concept of gender everyday. I find that my own understanding of gender is constantly changing as well, and allowing myself to see it through EZ’s eyes helps tremendously.

I don’t understand why these two families (and potentially others like them) who have made the choice to not disclose the sex of their children constantly find themselves under attack. Well, I do understand it. I just don’t agree with it. I don’t agree that the discomfort of other people should dictate how others raise their children. Just because something is a stereotype doesn’t mean it’s right (and often isn’t). What is the true damage from not disclosing a child’s sex, and allowing him/her to explore gender in a different way?

How would those same folks respond to me? We DID disclose our child’s gender, but that didn’t change the fact that he is now a five year old boy that loves dancing around in homemade tutus while wielding a self-made LEGO laser. It doesn’t change that fact that he wears shirts covered with T-Rexs while a hot pink beaded hairband rests in his longish hair. He is not confused about who he is, or wishes that he was a girl. He just likes certain things…regardless of whether he “should” or not by traditional standards.

Many critics of gender neutral parenting fear the repercussions of what will happen if we simply rid ourselves of traditional gender boxes for children. They say that sex-conditioning is necessary for a society to function, and that gender-segregated boxes are crucial building blocks of civilization. While I don’t agree with such drastic claims, I’m also not calling for the dismantling of traditional gender norms. Instead, I’m more interested in perhaps enlarging those gender boxes a bit, and watching my son grow up has only solidified those thoughts.

EZ's box has grown since he was 1.5

EZ dictates his comfort zone and we work with it. In doing so we’re raising (I hope) a young man who is both comfortable and confident in his biological sex and gender choices. While many of his choices fit within the stereotypical gender norm, plenty do not – of his own volition. Yet, instead of perceiving himself as not fitting in, he’s created his own box. It’s bigger than the traditional gender boxes and more encompassing and inclusive. There’s less judgment and no “You can’t do that because you’re a __(fill in the blank here)__”

So, perhaps I’m more than a little neutral on gender neutral parenting. Labels aside, I’m all for growing bigger boxes, easing up on traditional stereotypes, and most importantly, allowing our children a safe, secure, and judgement free environment to grow up in.