On October 20 I made my first visit to Nashville, Tennessee where I was the guest of The Music City Vikings, Sons of Norway Lodge No. 5-681. It is a relatively new group, with committed and energetic members. They had read about my book on the internet and contacted me directly. About 50 people attended, and provided a warm, interested focused audience. The chemistry was very, very good, and it made up for the fact that unfortunately my slide presentation never made it to the screen, or maybe just because of that! We will never know… I stood in front of the audience and just talked and talked freely, but the group responded and had a lot of questions. The talk was followed by a reception with a table covered with all kinds of goodies, most of which were Norwegian, including an enormous Kransekake prepared by a lovely lady in her nineties. Was the enthusiastic attendance due to my talk or having been pre-alerted to the enormous table of goodies? At the end of the Q and A, as I was leaving the lectern, one person called out “one more question, please”, and when I said “okay”, he said “where can we buy the book?” “A very good question”, I said, as I began signing books. Fortunately I was able to have a kind person smuggle a big piece of the Kransekake over to me before it was devoured. It was a lovely group of people. Present in the audience for that day only was Cindy Olsen, Foundation Director, Sons of Norway.
New York, New York!
The next day I flew directly from Nashville to New York City where I spoke at the Norwegian Seamens Church in Manhattan. Unfortunately it must have been a busy day for many people, because attendance was sparse. Even so, the presentation was well received and the group showed interest and participated in an elaborate dialogue. Not much to report, but I still enjoyed it very much. There was quality in the group, although we could have used a little more quantity!
On November 1 I took off for Minneapolis, Minnesota. I had been invited to be the main speaker at Temple Israel on Friday, November 9, which this year coincided with the Kristallnacht commemoration which is held every year at Temple Israel. My contact person was Ms. Wendy Schwartz, the Adult Learning Coordinator, who was one of the nicest and most organized people I have ever met. It would take one whole page to enumerate everything she did to make me feel welcome. In addition she had arranged for a number of wonderful volunteers to pick me up at the hotel and take me home.
The annual Kristallnacht commemoration at Temple Israel is sponsored by the Grodnick family each year, in memory of their familys Holocaust survivors. A very touching and important educational message.
I had also volunteered to speak to students of their religious school, which I did on Saturday and Sunday mornings, in addition to a separate morning class at the Jewish Day School at the Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis.
On Thursday, November 8, I spoke to the students at Temple Mount Zion in St. Paul. It is one of my greatest sources of pride in that it seems that to get their attention, I have learned to adapt my talk to young students, ranging from eleven years of age up to high school students. It is vital that the story of the Holocaust is conveyed to this generation. I normally reach out to the youngsters by telling the details of my familys escape to neutral Sweden to allow the students to easily identify with real people in real danger-in this case the Levin family. I tell the story how we managed to escape from the German soldiers with the help of Norwegian resistance people, particularly when the author/speaker describes herself as a four-year-old sleeping in a backpack together with flashlights, snacks, a gun etc. while being carried by one of the resistance heroes while the rest of this small group walked through the woods in the middle of the night looking for the Swedish border to find a neutral country and safety.
Even if that is all that they will retain, perhaps this will one day help trigger their memory when they, as older students or adults, hear more about the Holocaust. I have received a number of lovely (and funny!) letters from this group. It is important to be able to connect to the Holocaust through a real persons story, as opposed to the report of a large mass of 6 million people which is almost impossible to comprehend.
Some time prior to my visit to Temple Israel which was scheduled to begin on November 7 I received an invitation from the Norwegian consul general, Gary Gandrud of Minneapolis to attend a luncheon given by Torske Klubben as a guest of the Norwegian consulate as early as November 2. The name of this renowned club means The Cod Club, in plain Norwegian. Torske Klubben, founded in 1933, is a Minneapolis luncheon club of men of Norwegian heritage who are deeply interested in Norway and Norwegian-American history and relationships.
Several of these clubs exist in the U.S. I had heard mention of this club for a long time, and found it hard to turn down the invitation. I took the liberty of responding to consul Gandrud by telling him that I would like very much to attend, and actually could extend my visit to Minneapolis. Might he perhaps have some ideas about a Norwegian group in the area which would be interested in my coming to visit? I therefore had illusions of staying at a hotel for a few extra days, reading, sleeping, writing, visiting with a group of old friends from my stay in Minneapolis many years ago, with whom I had reconnected, i. e. taking some “personal time”. However, within a few weeks the Norwegian consulate and their friends planned not just one major event, but actually several and I was picked up and taken to a variety of different lunches and meetings. I met a number of wonderful and interesting Norwegian-American people with whom I bonded. Time to relax and read, etc?…forget it, but I enjoyed every minute of it and was treated royally.
The luncheon at Torske Klubben at Interlachen Country Club on the first day of my visit certainly lived up to its reputation; and what female wouldnt love the opportunity to be one of three women introduced to 100 polite, charming and articulate men! Most of the traditional speeches focused on humor, Norwegian in style and manner, in addition to the main speaker who delivered an interesting analysis of what might possibly happen to the U.S. election, about to take place in three days. In retrospect, he was fairly accurate in his predictions. The cod servings were large in volume, and so were the potatoes. The quality would make any Norwegian fisherman proud.
On Sunday I was invited to Sunday services at Minneskirken, which in Norwegian means The Memorial Church. The Norwegian pastor was friendly and interesting and most of the service was carried out in Norwegian. I found it fascinating in that much of it reminded me of my school days in Norway a long time ago, as I recognized both the hymns and some of the prayers. So there I was, reflecting and revisiting my childhood where I, for the most part, was the only Jewish child, and now in the same situation in some way feeling the same way so many years later, but as an adult. I assume it is a compliment to the richness of my own eclectic identity, because thanks to the beautiful service, the wonderful people who had invited me and a number of other factors, as well the generosity of my host, the president of the congregation Orlyn Kringstad, I found it to be quite an emotional experience. Everyone who I met was friendly and welcoming. The service was followed by a reception with open-faced sandwiches and heart-shaped waffles making me feel even more at home!
On Monday, November 5, the Norwegian Consulate hosted their main event at the newly-built, beautiful Swedish-American institute, an extremely impressive building. A large number of people attended consisting as usual of a melange of people with a Norwegian-American background. Once again I found the group responsive, interesting and interested. I probably should think of an alternate way to describe the audiences that I met, as for the most part the rapport that I felt moved me deeply. The Q and As were diversified and provided a forum for unique questions. At a personal level I sometimes find the Q and A sessions the most enjoyable, in that people frequently ask questions that may perhaps have lingered in their minds for a long time, or in some instances questions that may have been generated directly as a function of my journey back in time. Book sales went rapidly. One woman told me she had driven from Iowa just to hear me…Wow…Once again the interest among the Norwegian-Americans never ceases to amaze me. I wonder if they realize how much this means to me, in that it has added a totally new dimension to the story. Another wonderful day.
On Wednesday, November 7, I was once again a guest of Gary Gandrud at the “Ham and Eggs Mens Breakfast” at the Edina Country Club(7.30 AM!) and once again the only woman present. At that point Gary Gandrud was so familiar with my material that he not only introduced me and asked me to speak for about 10-15 minutes, but he also made a point of telling me specifically what items should be included! The men represented a variety of businesses in the Minneapolis area and displayed tremendous interest. I had brought with me 8-9 books and they sold out within a couple of minutes. Once again, Gary Gandrud, it is impossible to express my gratitude for paving the way for me, welcoming me and introducing me to the people of Minneapolis making certain that I met and bonded with a large number of members of the Norwegian-American community.
The big event at Temple Israel took place on Friday, November 9 at 6:00 p.m. Just by chance, another coincidence was revealed, which seems to happen every time I turn around. One of the Rabbis at that synagogue, Simeon Glazer, happened to be a former Rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut, where my family and I were members for twenty years. He officiated at my eldest daughters marriage and I had not seen him for close to nineteen years. It was almost like another homecoming, in addition to my having lived in Minneapolis for a year when I first came to the United States, as well as to attending a seminar in the same city, which resulted in the inception of my book!
Once again this event was also attended by Gary Gandrud, the Norwegian consul general, who sat on the bima with yours truly, the three Rabbis, and the Cantor, as the four clergy initiated a meaningful and emotional Shabbat service. Following the regular traditional Shabbat prayers and music came the introduction of my book, after which the congregation sat down for a joint dinner. Thereafter I spoke to more than 200 people. A wonderful opportunity which brought me much personal pleasure.
I returned to Hartford on Sunday, November 11, and had about a day and a half to unpack, do some laundry, repack, answer some emails and make telephone calls before I had to take off…Who rests? Not I.
The next stop was Washington, D.C. on Tuesday afternoon for the big event the next day, November 14, at George Washington University which was sponsored by the Royal Norwegian Embassy. I had been told in advance that Ambassador Wegger Chr. Strommen had to attend another conference and could not be present. However, he was interviewed on video [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mbHTiWT_5nc] by Prof. Walter Reich representing the George Washington University. The focus was on a carefully produced and timely dialogue dealing with the fate of the Norwegian Jews, during the war years and to some extent by touching on the disturbing reoccurrence of anti-Semitism in todays Norway. Ambassador Strommen was straightforward and he stressed the importance of maintaining the presence of the Norwegian Jews in Norway.
Before the video my close friend and editor of my book, Carla Danziger, introduced the event and included recognition of the three Norwegian