Inspiring Others to Act: The Power of Storytelling

John Everett Millais’ The Boyhood of Raleigh (1870)

— by Marta Fuchs, MLS, MFT

Recently I had the pleasure to speak to a group of fourth and fifth graders at a San Francisco public elementary school for their annual Writers Faire. Since my new book is about my family’s Holocaust experiences, I was not intending to talk about its content but rather the process of doing family research and writing stories, something I was encouraging each one of them to do.

To provide some context, I held up my book and asked the students what they thought the title Legacy of Rescue: A Daughter’s Tribute meant. “Legacy,” I began,” is something you inherit. What do you think it includes?” Hands shot up and a student asked, “Traditions?” “Yes!” These kids are really sharp, I thought. “What does ‘rescue’ mean?” A bunch of boys yelled out “saving someone!” Indeed. When I got to “tribute” I suddenly realized I would not be able to easily explain it since the term evokes so much for me. A shy little fourth grade girl slowly raised her hand and quietly but confidently stated, “Thank you and remember.”

More after the jump.
I was stunned. Tears welled up in my eyes as I repeated to everyone what she had said. “That’s exactly right! I couldn’t have said it better myself. I wrote the book as a thank you to my wonderful father and the wonderful man who rescued him, and as a tribute to them both so we would remember them.” I looked at her and saw that she was smiling proudly as my knees were still a bit wobbly. “I’m not sure I can continue talking after that!” Everyone laughed and I turned to the little girl and said, “Thank you. You gave me such a gift by saying that.”

When I got back to work and told some colleagues about this experience, they all got tears in their eyes. “That is amazing! Kids are so insightful.” My boss even asked if my new career was now going to be teaching fourth grade since I was so struck by what happened.

“People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Storytelling is a form of history, of immortality too. It goes from one generation to another,” said Studs Terkel, the consummate storyteller best known for his oral histories of everyday Americans.

Storytelling is an age-old tradition of passing on individual, family, and cultural experiences. Stories about an experience that has touched your heart have the power to touch someone else’s heart as well. Stories connect us deeply to each other and foster empathy. They can challenge our assumptions and create new ways of perceiving, and ultimately serve as catalysts for new ways of acting.

My friend and colleague, Dr. Jon Herzenberg, reminded me of the online non-profit Kiva organization as a great example of the power of stories to be transformational. Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending as little as $25 in order to alleviate poverty around the world. “We’re inspired to contribute based on the human story,” Jon explains. “We connect to people’s aspirations. We trust a global stranger whose story moves us to act.”

Inspiring others to act is exactly why I have been speaking for over two decades about my father’s rescuer who saved him and over 100 Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. When people hear the story, they not only are moved by the compassion and courage of this individual, but are also beckoned by the story to consider what they would have done. Many of them have told me, “I hope I could have done the right thing under those circumstances” or “I would hope that I could have that kind of courage to help not just a family member but a complete stranger.”

The truth is there are circumstances in everyday life that give us opportunities to do the right thing, to help each other. After all, we’re all part of the same human family. My friend Jon shared the perfect metaphor, the Banyan tree. “It’s not just one tree. Its roots cascade down to the soil and grow another tree off the side. As it reaches out it keeps expanding. It’s symbolic of the tree of humanity.”

Talking with the elementary school kids and sharing a few stories my kids wrote about their wonderful grandfather, it became clear just how powerful stories can be. The students laughed and resonated with what my kids said. Despite coming from different families and different cultures, the students saw themselves reflected in my family’s stories and perhaps were inspired to tell and write their own.

Marta Fuchs, a marriage & family therapist and librarian, is the author of Legacy of Rescue : A Daughter’s Tribute and co-author with her brother Henry of the multi-generational extended family memoir, Fragments of a Family: Remembering Hungary, the Holocaust, and Emigration to a New World.

Why I Could Write a Positive Holocaust Book

Jews in Auschwitz being seperated to go to either labor or gas chambers

— by Marta Fuchs, MLS, MFT

I am a member of a generation that wasn’t supposed to have been born, living proof that Hitler’s Final Solution to whatever “Questions” he had about the Jewish people didn’t succeed completely. I am also the grateful daughter of loving parents whose sense of optimism and belief in people miraculously prevailed despite it all.

I’m filled with gratitude for my parents’ love and protection; for giving me a sense of family connection and continuity by telling me about life and people before; for recounting the sorrowful details of their Holocaust past while also honoring the individuals who showed them human kindness in those abandoned days.

More after the jump.
Born in Hungary after the war into the remnants of the once thriving Tokaj Jewish community, my brother and I as children only knew the bare outlines of what happened to our parents. When we came across old sepia photographs of people we didn’t recognize, Mom and Dad explained with just one word: elpusztultak, they perished. (The “sz” in Hungarian equivalent to an “s” in English) to my child’s ear it sounded like “poof! They vanished”. How can people simply disappear without a trace? I wondered.

Dad never even considered himself a Holocaust survivor: “I was only in labor camp. It’s your mother who is the survivor,” he said. We knew that Mom and her sisters had been in some terrible place called Auschwitz where someone named Mengele decided we would never know our grandparents. We knew that Dad was the sole survivor of his family. His older brother, two older sisters, and all their six children also “remained in Auschwitz.”

It would be three decades later in America that we started asking. Until then, there was a conspiracy of silence, borne from kindness and necessity, each generation protecting the other by not talking and moving forward. After all, they had to rebuild their lives from nothing, and not once but twice: first after liberation in 1945, and then again after we escaped in the wake of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

In their Auschwitz barrack a few hours after arrival, already in rags, completely shorn, so quickly dehumanized, my néni (aunt) Bözsi asked the woman in charge, “Where are our parents? When am I going to see them?” ‘Look outside, they are going up in smoke there,’ pointing to the chimney. I thought that I would kill her.”

Through countless, naked selections they managed to live and still be useful; so they were taken out to other camps. In Magdeburg, they worked in a munitions factory.

“They had a machine,” Mom described.

I had to push it in and be careful not to cut my hand. The Obermeister came and told me, ‘Mein Kind, my child, be careful.’ He was a nice elderly man. He said, ‘You know, many people cut the hand in this machine. You be very careful because you know what happens when you cut the hand.’ You’re not useful so they take you to the crematorium.

Mom continued, telling me about another kind soul:

And where we went for water we saw beets on the ground and they were frozen because it was winter. We took a couple of them and the German of course yelled at us. And the owner who gave the water said that the beets are his, that we may have them. And all of us started to cry. And he said to the German, ‘This will not always be like this.’ He dared to say it, I don’t even know how, that this is his land and these are his beets and ‘these frozen beets, how can you begrudge it from them?’

“And I remember,” my mother’s youngest sister Sárika néni recounted:

Once when I started working at this machine, I saw that a young hafling who didn’t work far from me was watching me. Then when I was allowed to go to the bathroom he started to say, ‘boudoir, boudoir.’ Well, I thought that he said it with a different accent, with a French accent, and then, before I went into the bathroom he kissed me. Well, I say to myself, there’s nothing wrong with this, it’s worse if they hit you. And the next day, close to Christmas, they got packages. And when no one was looking, a honey heart, a pogácsa he gave me in a package. I never saw this person again. I was so full of hope, that you see a human being who is good to you, even if you can’t speak his language.

Garden of the Righteous in Yad VaShem

I know the reason that my father survived, and his name is Zoltán Kubinyi, the commanding officer in charge of Dad’s labor battalion, number 108/52, comprised of Jewish men from the northeastern countryside of Hungary. A devout Seventh-day Adventist and a conscientious objector with no gun in his holster, Kubinyi defied Nazi orders to have the men be liquidated as Germany was losing the war and there was no more need for them. Upon liberation by the Red Army, he was captured as a POW, died a year later of typhus in a Siberian labor camp, and was buried in an unmarked grave. His final resting place though is where I visited him, in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, where a wall bears his name, having been honored posthumously as a Righteous Among the Nations due to my father’s testimony. I placed four stones on that wall, one for each of my father’s grandchildren, and said Kaddish.

From his hospital room, one week before he died, my father dictated to me some messages for the grandchildren. As he sat up in bed, you could see that he could see each one of them standing before him. Here are some excerpts, the latter ones to my son Jacob, 16 at the time, two years before going off to college:

  • Be friendly and polite to everybody. Never wait for people to say hello.
  • If someone needs some help and you can help, I’m sure you will help them.
  • Don’t associate with bad people. Make sure all your friends are intelligent, responsible people and it won’t cause you any trouble. Love them, study together, spend time together, enjoy life.
  • What you study is the most important. There is something that you like to do that’s going to pop up.
  • And what you do, take it with a good feeling: say “I love to do it”, and do the work.
  • If you have a boss, be respectful and follow his advice and directions.
  • Sometime you are going to have your own company. Be reasonable with people.

“I can’t imagine never knowing such a wonderful man as Grandpa,” my daughter Sophie says.  

And I can’t help but think a lot about Zoltán, who rescued Grandpa. I’ve only known this man through stories and already he feels like part of the family. I can’t help but think that if this mensch of a man hadn’t had an ounce of compassion in his heart, my Grandpa would never have been in my life. My mom wouldn’t be here; she wouldn’t have had my brother and me. I wouldn’t be in this world. The stories everyone is hearing about Grandpa wouldn’t exist had this wonderful man not saved him during a brutal time. It is amazing to think about one single person making a difference in so many lives.

Marta Fuchs, a marriage & family therapist and librarian, is the author of Legacy of Rescue : A Daughter’s Tribute and co-author with her brother Henry of the multi-generational extended family memoir, Fragments of a Family: Remembering Hungary, the Holocaust, and Emigration to a New World.

Value Your Children for Who They Are, Not Who You Need Them to Be

— by Marta Fuchs, MLS, MFT

I got everything I wanted except what I needed.

It was a breakthrough moment. A therapy client suddenly discovered what he always knew and now could finally identify. By being able to name it, he became a witness to his experience, and could finally begin to feel compassion for himself. No wonder there were tears, in his eyes and mine.

Countless other successful people I’ve counseled have had that same sorrowful feeling that something basic was missing. They got everything they wanted from their parents except what they needed the most: to be seen and valued.

That is the essence of parenting — to see and value your children for who they are, rather than as an extension of yourself or as the means to fulfill your own needs.

More after the jump.
I remember as a teenager practicing late one night one of my favorite Mozart sonatas when Dad came into the room and quietly sat down. He had just come home from another long day making screens. As I glanced at him from the piano, I saw how peaceful and happy he looked. When I finished, he turned to me with a twinkle in his eyes and said, “What a good return I’m getting on my investment!” We laughed and I continued playing. It wasn’t what I was playing or how, though because I was fortunate to have lessons since I was four years old, I was admittedly pretty good. It was the way he was beaming that I could tell that he was enjoying me, and it meant the world to me.

In contrast, a colleague told me about a significant dream she had about her mother. Early one morning she awoke to hearing her mother’s distress looking at a stack of photos. “Why aren’t you in any of them?!” My colleague knew that her mother was talking about her. As her mother continued complaining, she finally got out of bed to try to comfort her. “How come you’re not in any of these pictures?!” her mother kept demanding. My colleague gently took the stack and began to look at each photo. She was in every single one. “Look, Mom, there I am! And here! I’m in this one, too!” It was to no avail as her mother kept complaining and blaming her, unable to see her daughter in the images.

When she woke up, my colleague instantly knew what her dream meant. “It encapsulated the essence of my relationship with my mother,” she told me. “She’s never been able to see me. And I’ve always tried to comfort her.”

To be seen by those we love and those we’re dependent on — be they parents, grandparents, teachers, caregivers, officials with power over us — is essential to our sense of self and self-worth.

Despite losing his entire family during the Holocaust, or perhaps because of it, my father was a master at seeing people, listening to them wholeheartedly, making each of them feel special and loved.

My brother’s daughter Miriam fondly remembers early mornings they spent together:

Every time we would visit, I would try to wake up before Nagypapa (grandpa). Yet every single morning, when I tiptoed out into the kitchen, he would be sitting in his white leather armchair, reading the paper. He would just smile and hand me the comics. After reading, we would walk out into the orchard and pick the best-looking oranges and tangerines in order to make freshly squeezed juice for the family. I loved spending mornings with Nagypapa, reading and making orange juice, because they were our special time together.

My daughter Sophie proudly states that her favorite memory is the “four kisses story”:

Grandpa would pick us up at the airport and the minute he saw us, he smiled and gave each of us hugs and kisses. ‘Mártika! How wonderful it is to see you!’ he would say to my mom, wrapping his arms around her. ‘Jacobka! How are you? I’ve missed you!’ And finally he would turn to me. ‘Sophieka! How many kisses?’ ‘Four!’ I answered enthusiastically, and Grandpa would kiss me on my cheeks, two on one, two on the other. Each visit he would ask the same question and I always replied with the same answer, four. Then one day when Grandpa asked, ‘Sophieka, how many kisses today?’ I thought for a moment and replied, ‘Three!’ Grandpa looked at me with his warm twinkle in the eye, smiled and said, ‘That’s not enough!’ as he began to give me lots more. Every time I relive that story I smile. My Grandpa was a good Grandpa who loved everyone so much and wasn’t afraid to show it.

Marta Fuchs, a marriage & family therapist and librarian, is the author of Legacy of Rescue : A Daughter’s Tribute and co-author with her brother Henry of the multi-generational extended family memoir, Fragments of a Family: Remembering Hungary, the Holocaust, and Emigration to a New World.

Joe “You Lie!” Wilson Imitator At Congregation Keneseth Israel

Area Jewish Dems Praise Obama’s Support  Of Israel & Jewish Values

Photo: Richard Chaitt / Jewish Exponent.

Last night the Jewish community came out in force to Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park for a serious discussion of politics sponsored by Jewish Americans for Obama.

As expected Pennsylvania State Representative (17th district) and former standup comic Daylin Leach had everyone’s attention with his unique blend of political analysis and satire. However, Daylin’s comedy was overshadowed by the spectacle afforded by a small group of tea party enthusiasts who were in attendance. These right-wing extremists stood up and interrupted speaker after speaker.

Representative Joe Wilson only interrupted President Obama’s 2009 State of the Union address with “You lie” only once, but these protesters were comfortable shouting “It is a lie” over a dozen times during the night.

Their random outbursts seemed like a crude caricature of a rabid Tea Party member. The continual refrain of “It is a lie” punctuated the most anodyne statement of fact.

Here is one example: Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro praised Obama’s record of vetoing every anti-Israel United Nations Security Council Resolution since he took office. And the protester was rose and cried out,

“It is a lie.”


Tell us what UNSC resolution escaped the attention of this administration? Perhaps he was thinking about UNSC #1405 which required Israel to submit to UN inspections of the Jenin refugee camp as a result of libelous accusation against Israel during Operation Defensive Shield. Actually, this happened under President George W. Bush’s watch in April 2002. That was the last time the US failed to wield its veto power in the United Nations Security Council to protect Israel.

Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rod McCord quoted Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai who proudly took credit for our state’s new Voter ID law saying

“Pro-Second Amendment? The Castle Doctrine, it’s done.
First pro-life legislation — abortion facility regulations — in 22 years, done.
Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.”

To which our friendly protester provided comic relief by bellowing out “It is a lie” at the top of his lungs.

At the Keneseth Israel event, Rabbi Lance Sussman(second from right) addresses the crowd. Also at the podium are (from left) State Sen. Daylin Leach, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and county Democratic head Marcel Groen.
Photo: Richard Chaitt / Jewish Exponent

Spiritual leader Rabbi Lance J. Sussman welcomed the standing-room-only crowd of 1,200 members of community packing the sanctuary. He welcomed the community’s commitment to the political process and indicated that Keneseth Israel desired to hold a similar event on behalf of Governor Romney.

Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Marcel Groen served as master of ceremonies, he and all the members of the political panel started their remarks with their Jewish bona fides, detailing their history of commitment to Israel and the Jewish community (even if some of the panelists didn’t have very Jewish names).

Daylin Leach and Josh Shapiro echoed the sentiment that a candidates’ understanding of the unique relationship between Israel and United States was condition sine qua non to get their support. Neither had any doubt that Obama’s feels a love for the State of Israel “in his kishkes.”

Daylin Leach said he was just 20 feet away from Barack Obama at this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference when the President declared that “I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

Rep. Leach also praised Obama for fighting anti-Semitism here and around the world.

Rep. Leach spoke about the importance of the separation of church and state. He warned that it was not so long ago that we had mandatory school prayer, and that if school prayer were to return, it would probably not be the shema. He emphasize the closely divided nature of Supreme Court on this issue. The next President will likely nominate one or more justices who will shape our understanding of law for decades to come. Romney used to hold Chief Justice John Roberts as an example of the type of judge he would nominate for the Supreme Court. Now that Roberts ruled in favor of the Affordable Care Act, Romney has now chosen Associate Justice Antonin Scalia as his model for a Supreme Court nominee. To understand who Obama is likely to nominate, we can look at the two judges he has nominated so far: Associate Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.

United States Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz (PA-13) was on hand. Rep. Schwartz is the only woman and the only Jew in Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Her Congressional District covers much of Eastern Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia. Thanks to the latest redistricting Congregation Keneseth Israel is now part of her district, and she welcomed her new constituents.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz fields questions at K.I.
Photo: Richard Chaitt / Jewish Exponent.

The highlight of the evening was Democratic National Committee Chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-20). She addressed the many hoaxes being circulated attacking Obama’s stand on Israel. She recommended that everyone keep a copy of the campaign’s Myths vs. Facts document and their six-page fact sheet detailing the ironclad relation with Israel that the Obama campaign has nurtured.

The crowd also heard from Obama’s Pennsylvania Jewish Outreach Coordinator Alan Fuchs, Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, as well as Obama for America Montgomery County Field Director Dan Siegal. The campaign opened their county headquarters at 115 Yorktown Plaza in Elkins Park, PA. The headquarters was conveniently located at the intersection of RT 611 and Church Rd just across the street from Keneseth Israel.

Philadelphia Interfaith Walk Supports Park 51

As members of the Philadelphia Interfaith Walk for Peace and Reconciliation, we write to express our strongest support for the construction of Park51, previously known as Cordoba  House, a community center and mosque to be located near the site of the former World Trade Center. For seven years now, members of the Peace Walk-Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, and Buddhists, among others-have gathered monthly at the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society in North Philadelphia to learn and draw strength from each other as we work toward a more peaceful world. Our Muslim brothers and sisters at Al-Aqsa and elsewhere have been gracious hosts and models for the open-mindedness, peacefulness, and compassion at the heart of their faith. Those same values are evident in those who seek to found Park51. According to its own vision, it plans to be a “center for multifaith dialogue and engagement.” One of the leaders of the proposal, Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, has justly been recognized as a courageous and eloquent leader in improving relations between Islam and other faiths.

More (including list of co-signers) after the jump.
We, too, feel the lingering trauma of 9/11. We continue to mourn the victims, including the many Muslims killed and wounded. We unequivocally denounce the attackers’ perversion of a holy faith shared by a billion people, just as we denounce all violence that profanes the name of God. But it is precisely for these reasons that we support the construction of Cordoba House, along with Mayor Bloomberg, President Obama, many survivors of 9/11 and their families, and the majority of those who actually live in Manhattan.

The question is not simply whether the groups sponsoring Park51 have a right to build it. The Constitution makes it clear that they do, though we are dismayed that some would question it or even argue, as has one prominent commentator, that no more mosques should be built anywhere in the United States. The question is whether this center should be built in this place. Our answer: An unequivocal yes. This mosque and community center will build bridges among various faiths (just as we seek to do in the Peace Walk). In doing so, Park51 will concretely and symbolically reject the evil aims of those who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks and their allies. It will be a sign of our resilience. It will promote something even better than tolerance­-mutual understanding and a celebration of differences as well as commonalities. In other words, it will
embody our nation’s unofficial motto: E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one.” We can’t think of anything more American than that. We also can’t think of a better way to honor the image of
God in all of us.


(affiliations listed for identification purposes only)

Ronald Abrams, Mishkan Shalom
Margarita (Miriam) Abuawadeh, Al-aqsa Islamic Society
Anthony Brummans, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church
Vic Compher, Tabernacle United Church
Edd Conboy, Broad Street Ministry
Patricia Coyne, Peace Walk
Katy Friggle-Norton, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College
Ayala Guy, Peace Walk
Peter Handler, Mishkan Shalom
Adab Ibrahim, Al-Aqsa Islamic Society
Wilson Kratz, Chestnut Hill United Church
Lance Laver, Mishkan Shalom
Brenda Lazin, Mishkan Shalom
James McGovern, Catholic Peace Fellowship
Neomosha Nelson, Metropolitan Christian Council of Philadelphia
Steve Newman, Mishkan Shalom
Douglas Norton, Central Baptist Church
Ruthy Lachman Paul, Peace Walk
Peter Pedemonti, New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia
Jeanne Swartz, Peace Walk
Linda Toia, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church
Rev. Frank P. Toia, priest, Episcopal Church
Ayesha Weinberg, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen Fellowship
Justina Wiggins, Mirabilia Circle
Pecki Witonsky, Peace Walk
Pam Yaller, Upper Dublin Friends Meeting