Because of my wartime survival thanks to one of Japanese consul Chiune Sugihara’s visas (which saved nearly 6,000 Jewish lives), and my 1941 sojourn in pre-Pearl Harbor Japan, Esther Nussbaum, librarian at New York City’s Ramaz Upper School, asked me to be one of the speakers at the school’s March 28 “Book Day 2006.” The event centered on “Hiroshima,” John Hersey’s 1945 opus, which was read by all the Ramaz students. Presenters at the day’s 22 sessions included Ramaz faculty members, World War II veterans, and native-born and American-born Japanese. All addressed a range of thought-provoking topics that included: “Modern War and Just War: Do Ethics Matter?” “Following Orders from the Perspective of Jewish Traditional Sources” and “Hiroshima Maidens.”
The day’s keynote speaker, Columbia University journalism professor Samuel G. Freedman — a New York Times columnist and author of the recently published “Letters to a Young Journalist” (Basic Books) — told the more than 400 students assembled in the auditorium: “Hersey’s book was not an argument against dropping the bomb but to look unflinchingly at the consequences of war…. Hersey made no apologies for the Japanese and their atrocities. He knew about the Bataan Death March, Guadalcanal, the Rape of Nanking, the treatment of Allied soldiers in the Pacific, the Korean Comfort Women, [yet] Hersey, a child of Christian missionaries in China, did not see the Asians as ‘others.’ He told stories of six Hiroshima survivors — [including] a seamstress, a priest, a doctor. He listened to people who had no voice.”
Invoking a meteorological term, “counter-cyclical,” which describes a weather pattern that moves in an unexpected direction, Freedman alluded to “great works of writing — full of criticism [that] speak of the condition of the times.” As examples, he cited the books of the prophets Amos and Hosea, and “Night” by Elie Wiesel. “When the book came out… it only sold 1,000 copies…. It was seen as portraying Jews as waiting passively to be slaughtered…. Israelis saw it as the weakness of the galut [Diaspora] Jews.” Forty-five years later, “Night,” now an internationally lauded Holocaust memoir, is on Oprah Winfrey’s “must-read” list.
Professor Harold Feiveson (author of “The Nuclear Turning Point: A Blueprint for Deep Cuts and De-alerting of Nuclear Weapons”) — a senior research scientist at Princeton University and editor of the journal “Science & Global Security” — detailed to the students the “lunatic dimensions of the past nuclear race.” They include “the U.S.’s 40,000 atomic warheads — ten times the power of the Hiroshima bomb — and the Soviets’ 30,000.” Using clips from the 1964 film “Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” he noted that some of the characters’ dialogue eerily mirrored things that actual American officials were saying at the time. Apropos clips from the documentary “Thirteen Days,” about the 1964 Cuban Missile crisis, Feiveson informed: “There were 40,000 Soviet troops with battlefield nuclear weapons in Cuba to be used in case of [a U.S.] invasion.” At the conclusion of the day, the Ramaz choir sang Japan’s national anthem, “Kim Gayo” (“May the Emperor’s reign continue for 1,000 years…. 8,000 generations until pebbles grow to boulders lush with moss”), and a Japanese lullaby, and a student percussion Kodo drum ensemble rattled the walls. All was filmed, including interviews with Ramaz students, by a Japanese TV crew.
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To confirm that your doctor is indeed “the best,” you can look him/her up in such Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. tomes as “America’s Top Doctors” and “America’s Top Doctors for Cancer.” The company, founded in 1991 by John Castle and John Connolly, has physician-led research teams survey tens of thousands of doctors and hospital executives to select those whom their peers regard as among the best in their specialties. At its first National Physician of the Year Awards dinner at the Metropolitan Club — emceed by NBC Television’s health and science editor, Max Gomez — Messrs. Castle and Connolly joined Dr. Jordan Cohen, president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, in welcoming the doctors honored for their clinical excellence.
First was Dr. Bart Barlogie, director of the Myeloma Institute for Research Therapy at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. It was noted that he “tracks some 3,000 myeloma patients… and has helped double the survival rate of many with bone marrow cancer.” Barlogie, who was born in 1944 in Germany, said, “The reason I do what I do is because I wanted to make up for what happened then….There are friends [in this room, patients] who are wealthy. [But] I am [also] there to the ultimate degree for those who have nothing… and this will not change.” Also honored was Dr. Michael Zinner, surgeon in chief at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Zinner is also Moseley professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School. “I’ve got the best job in American medicine,” an upbeat Zinner said. “I take care of the sickest patients — and I get paid for it! And I get to train the next generation of physicians and scientists in America, [whom] I teach the following rules: ‘You sit down at the patient’s eye
level. You never look at your watch. You never put your hand on the doorknob, unless you are ready to leave. And you never address a patient by his first name, unless he/she is your friend.” (I love that one!). Princess Yasmin Aga Khan was honored for National Health Leadership. President of Alzheimer’s Disease International and chairman of the Rita Hayworth Galas, in memory of her mother, the princess has helped raise more than $38 million for the Alzheimer’s Association. The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented in absentia to 97-year-old “living legend” Dr. Michael DeBakey. His résumé, it was noted, “runs 24 single-spaced pages,” and his accomplishments include the first aortocoronary bypass and historic transplants of heart, kidney and lung. During dinner, chatted with Forward reader William Liss-Levinson, vice president and chief strategy and operations officer of Castle Connolly Medical Ltd. V.P., and endocrinologist Philip Felig (my table mate at several Jewish Museum Purim balls), who once told me he had been part of a medical team that took care of Menachem Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher rebbe.