Mumbai is on the West coast of India; Kolkata in the East.  But this Holy War is not about geography.  It is only about targets.  It can happen anywhere.  It has happened anywhere.

It feels risky even to write about the subject, about what I think and feel.  But for me, hiding is also a kind of poison, an added layer of isolation for someone who is generally alone anyway.  It’s just how I am.  If this is a Holy War, then I am a target.  In fact I’m a few targets, wrapped up as one.

Why would anyone try to hurt me?  Why would I feel like prey?  My first level of fear is in being a woman.  I was raped at knife point when I was 18.  There are men who would hurt me simply because I am a woman.  It happened.

I am a white woman and therefore represent to some the historic injustices of white people as oppressors and colonizers.  I am white prey because I represent white.  Some years ago I was working with an orphanage in Kolkata, where I’d put in a septic system and toilets.  I discovered that girls were being tortured, and that they were being kept home from school to work as servants.  I tried to get the government to intervene, as all the school records were falsified.  I was driven out of the orphanage.  Later I heard that the Director told the children, “We drove out the British.  We will defeat Mummy!”  Indeed they did, as girls would be beaten if they were seen talking to me outside the orphanage.  I had to walk away.

Just before the children came I was denounced and threatened by the local political bosses who gathered with a mob outside out gate.  I refused to hire “party people” to work.  I was being extorted for a lot of money that I ended up having to pay as I didn’t have the support I needed to fight them.  But in the midst of it all, in the midst of men on motorcycles brought to intimidate me, I was told, “This isn’t America.  We own the police.”  So I am target as an American, a particularly dangerous form of having white skin. 

I am a white Jewish woman.  In Kolkata my white skin leads to the assumption that I am Christian.  In the battles with the orphanage I mentioned, I was also accused of proselytizing.  A crowd was called to the gates of that orphanage and people were screaming at me, accusing me of spreading Christianity.  I was saved because it was visiting day and the parents there knew what I had done for their children.  I wondered that day if I would be a Jewish lady killed as a Christian martyr.

Religion, or my religion is not something I talk about much.  I come from generations of non-religious, secular, socialist, atheist Jews.  I come with a culture, if not a God, as I seem to have developed my own personal relationship with a God or Gods,   But in Kolkata, partly to reassure people I wasn’t here to convert anyone, I made it clear I was not Christian.   Few people knew what “Jewish” meant.  It didn’t seem to matter.  Mother Teresa is  loved here.  I’m often referred to as “The Mother Teresa of Our Area.”  They don’t realize I’m the Jewish Mother Teresa of Our Area. 

The Murders in Mumbai, the assault on Chabad House, the slaughter of the five Jews, the young American Rabbi, his Israeli wife, and others, made it clear that this is not just about white skin or Western influence.   This is a Holy War, and Jews will be singled out, as we were in Germany, in the concentration camps.  I have pictures of my relatives who died in the camps, only in the pictures I have they are still children.  Last week in Frankfurt Cici and I visited The Jewish Museum.   It was sanitized, cleansed of words like torture, starvation, medical experimentation, gassings, trough graves, shoes, lampshades, gold teeth, mothers and children clinging to each other…. crying to be saved.  The museum simply described “deportations.”

I studied at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in the summer of 1990.  I wanted to understand better the Holocaust as I was studying and writing on medical experimentation and new reproductive technologies.  In my private relationship with my God, I felt I had to answer to the question, “In your lifetime, did you think about the Holocaust?”  At Yad Vashem, images of how Jews were historically distorted, portrayed, remind me of literature now coming out of the Arab world. 

Before I left for Yad Vashem a neighbor brought me a brown bag of old news stories from Germany — brought back by a soldier.  Oddly the bag sat, moved with me a few times, and not until I was getting rid of things to move to India did I actually go through them all.  They were  not just news stories.  They are posters from the Third Reich, and publications, showing Jews as poor, dark, dirty, untrustworthy.   The world needed to be cleansed of the Jew,

Are Jews white?  I haven’t seen that question discussed.  I remember as a child riding through areas with “restricted housing.”  That meant no Jews or Negroes, the term used at the time for African Americans.  Clearly our blood was not white enough to cross the restricted lines.

Am I white?  Here in Kolkata, the woman on the treadmill next to me at the gym last week has lighter skin than I do.  I studied her arms as we each walked, jogged…. she is lighter than I am.  As a child I was often taken for Puerto Rican, and people would come up to me and talk to me in Spanish.

To the Nazis, I would be Jewish whether I practiced or not.  It was about blood, a genocide that began in the early 1930’s with the murder of the mentally and physically disabled and grew to include the Jews, the Catholics, the gays, the dissidents, and then the genocide spread to Russia and the slaughter continued.


This is a picture of my relatives.  The woman standing is my grandmother.  The two girls are my mother (to the left) and my aunt on the right, with my grandmother’s sister’s arm around her.   That would make Berta my great-aunt, and her sons my cousins.  The man on the left is my great aunt’s husband.   Berta, her husband and my cousins all died in the concentration camps.  In this picture they are all marked by light.  I wrote a haiku….

Since the ancient past

We bear witness in our sleep,

Shadows in daylight.

I believe we are living in very dangerous times.  I hide out in my Home for orphans, but I write as part of the larger community from which I also come.  I check homework, make funny sounds with Rani, and work at document after document to prove I am taking good care of the children.  But I also write, blog, ponder our times, think about history, and wonder about the future.  It’s a pretty normal existence.  I am happy this way.

But still, I’m curious, “Are Jews white?”


The Magic Show

Sometimes I forget to write about how much fun I have here!  The kids were invited to a magic show being held on the rooftop of one of the members of Inner Wheel Club of Behala.  They weren't able to organize anything for Children's Day so they held it this week.  Getting places is stressful.  Getting 8 girls ready, choosing dresses, getting hair done, keeping an eye of the trunk of hair things and bangles so they don't ALL get used in one outing…. no so much fun.  We took two of the handicapped children, Bornali and Ganga because they understand more, and are easier, and I was trying to keep the trip easy on myself.

In Kolkata I get to be silly.  In Kolkata my kids aren't embarrassed by my silliness.  It's a different culture, and they are just happy to have a mother person taking them places.  These kids are so unsophisticated (so unspoiled) and it was wonderful to see how they giggled at things they had never seen before.  It was all magic to them.  They were polite and incredibly well behaved.  I brought two massis to help with the little ones, but the big girls quickly took possession of them and kept them on their laps.

I wasn't silly that much, but I've never been good with some things, like a magic show where the dove's neck is supposedly twisted so I ran off and couldn't watch for that part.  Everyone laughed.  I did the same when the magician pretended to put the sword through his assistant's neck.  Makes me shiver just to write about it.

Our hostesses were really nice too, were really respectful of the kids and there was no sense of their being treated differently from any other children.  They also sent home a wonderful dinner for all the girls.  It was enough for two days actually.

"I could be anywhere," is a common refrain in my life as I both live and observe my life at the same time.  I'm with my kids at a magic show and having a wonderful time.  Recently in the process of changing schools for our handicapped children, a school official I met commented, "You are actually pretty simple."  I agreed, said it was what most people didn't understand.  I'm not fancy.  I'm functional — and fun — and practical.








We were all tired after the show.  I was "stressed" because I'm trying to reduce stress, and everyone knows how hard that is!  I went to see a second doctor and the general opinion was that I'd had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) often referred to as a mini-stroke.   This was not good news, though I really believed that's what it had been.  I got back home and let the kids watch TV.  Somehow time passed and I realized I'd let them stay up very late.  Everyone was sleeping upstairs in the classroom for the week while our big room was repaired and painted.  I went up there and made them promise to do well on the exams the next day and not to tell the teachers i'd let them stay up so late.  It was an "inside joke" and they loved it.  They did OK on the exam.  Some did very well.


It's been a couple of weeks of extremes, of fun, of stress, of a wake up call about my life and mortality.  Blogging reduces stress for me.  It's funny but true…. so i must do it more.  My brain is clogged with things I want to blog.  That is a terrible non-pun, so either I have brain damage, or i'm just getting to be Silly in Kolkata!  I vote for Silly.






Why was I in the hosptial?

I wish I understood what happened.  The last thing I remember was feeling tired around one pm on Sunday. I'd been checking homework, and planning a light afternoon for the children.  The day before had been intense with a dance competition.  Preparation is huge, with making sure their clothes are right, hair done, etc, transportation, whether to take the little ones….  I was feeling quite overwhelmed with the work and the singular responsibility.  I am too alone here.  But Sunday started fine. We held art classes on the roof because of renovations downstairs,  I spent time online, and had a head massage.  Then as I said, around noon-1 pm I felt tired.  I cleared the couch in the office and lay down for a nap.  This is not unusual.


I woke up 16 hours later in the intensive care unit of Kolkata Hospital.  In the distance I recognized familiar faces.  There was total commotion around me and I kept being told i must stay a few days and rest.  But no one could tell me why, was it a stroke?  I pieced together that no one was able to wake me, that the children tried banging pans (I recall hearing them) that they tried getting me up but my speech was not understandable.  By late evening, everyone was scared.  They were not able to get any local doctor to see me so they decided to go to the hospital.  The local ambulance was busy so they wrapped me in sheets and carried me out to the car and then to the ER.  I was initially admitted to a general floor and then moved to ICU because the staff said I was too difficult — but I was totally asleep with only an iv running, so I suspect some other reason.  Once in ICU I woke to the clashing of beds, metal, yelling, general chaos, the antithesis of peace.  I could see friends watching from a distance.  They were frightened.  I understood that.  I don't know that I was frightened.  I felt more of a, :OK what do I have to do now?" mentality.  I could get no answers from docs.  All they would tell me is to rest a few days.  My friends told me what had happened and that they had talked to my children in the US,  Then they were told to leave,and then I discovered my cell phone battery was dead.  I said I was leaving, and they said I'd have to sign myself out.  I agreed.  it took hours and I couldn't call anyone because I didn't even have their numbers.  All this time I couldn't get anyone to tell me about my condition.  The hospital finally reached Seema to settle the bill, as she had signed me in, and then I left.  I got to see my reports which suggested dehydration only.  There was no recorded BP or respiration.

I came home to very happy kids and staff.  They had been so frightened.  Yesterday morning, the morning I'd become ill, a board member stopped by to remind me that if I die there is no one to cover.   I told him I was constantly aw\are of that but there was nothing I could do at the moment.    I desperately need a second in command, one to train up but there is NOTHING I can do at the moment.  In an emergency my son-in-law would immediately fly in and manage things.  It's a start.


Now I must pursue what is wrong with my health, and I will do that. It didn't feel like a stroke.  I knew I was tired and went to sleep.  I had no aftermath.  It actually felt more like a poisoning of sorts because I could hear everything but couldn't respond.  I was so helpless.  But I didn't eat anything unusual….


For the moment urgent work to do. The most urgent is preparing application for a grant for computer equipment and supplies for the handicapped children.  I am determined they will learn to talk to us, to tell us about themselves, not just learn to answer questions posed to them.  I want to hear from them.


The room painting will be done in two days.  I had to repair broken and leaking walls… repairs I paid for long ago but were never done and the workmen absconded.

The girls did well in the dance and will go to next higher level of competition.  Four girls also scored in sports day and will represent the school.  I will drink lots of water with salt and sugar and try not to be stressed!



I was looking through the bills to figure out what was done and saw two medications.  Then I remembered Seema handing me two pills, which in my stupor I thought were my regular anti cancer meds.  But they were hosp meds for hypertension and I had one of each kinds, which I also can't figure out.  Anyway, I'm getting clearer about what happened.  there are certain levels of stress that used to set off migraine headahces.  I learned eventually to anticipate them, and I did so just a few days ago.  it's when i feel totally trapped by things that MUST be done and alone because there is no one to help, and I'm being told I must do even more.


I love this home.  I love the children.  I love my life here.  I have to keep working to make it better. 



December 2008
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