Space and Sparks and a Jewish Woman Astronaut

This month, Jewish astronaut Jessica Meir added to my love of all things space and NASA. She and her sister astronaut, Christina Koch, took a seven-plus hour jaunt outside the International Space Station to perform maintenance. The 7-year-old space fan in me resurfaced when I heard about this first all-female spacewalk.

Courtesy Photo (NASA)

I have always imagined space as a black galaxy flecked with infinite stars and dreams and prayers. Space was the place God inhabited. Miracles were shipped down to earth from there. As a little girl in the 1960s and ‘70s, I couldn’t get enough of the NASA launches. There was the rumbling of the rocket engines. The release of orange fire provided the momentum for a spaceship to pierce the earth’s atmosphere. I was mesmerized by images of the Gemini and Apollo launches on a black-and-white television. Those events were almost as exciting as my birthday. I was ecstatic when I heard the scratchy, disembodied male voices connecting the earth to the heavens. Now I am thrilled at the sound of women’s voices transmitting from space.

I loved watching the astronauts of Apollo 11 set foot on the moon’s dusty crater-pocked surface for the first time. The whole endeavor was wild and wonderful. It was 1969, and I had not yet flown on an airplane. As far as space was concerned, my body and soul were blank slates.

In March 1970, space was back in my life during a moment when day became night. It was a solar eclipse. My father, the NASA maven, prepared for it by buying us three kids and my mother plastic sunglasses to shield our eyes in the unlikely event we were exposed to the blocked sun. “Looking into the face of an eclipse can blind you,” he said. I sat frightened on the sofa with my feet sticking out at a 90-degree angle. I didn’t trust those small sunglasses to protect me against the fierce sun. I shut my eyes tightly until I saw a gathering of swirling light.

Meir, who is 42, is the fourth Jewish woman, 15th Jew and first Swedish woman—she holds dual American and Swedish citizenship—to participate in a space mission. She may also become the first woman to walk on the surface of the moon. At this time, she is among 17 candidates who are being considered for NASA’s Artemis program. From Greek mythology, Artemis was Apollo’s twin sister, the goddess of the hunt and the patron of women. Meir may do a moonwalk in a few years; the space agency has announced there will be another one in 2024.

Space and moon exploration may have a Jewish antecedent. In the Bible, Joshua begged God to still the sun in the middle of a battle. God heard his pleas, and the day stopped. Only the moon continued to move, slipping in front of the sun as it did for me on that March day of my own solar eclipse.

And now there is Jessica Meir. Her Iraqi-born Jewish father immigrated to Israel and fought as part of the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1948 War of Independence. He met Jessica’s mother in her native Sweden. The family eventually settled in Caribou, Maine. Although Meir’s mother did not convert to Judaism, the family identified as Jewish and attended synagogue. Meir was quoted in Kveller as saying, “Personally, I’m not really a religious person, but I think my Jewish cultural background is obviously a big part of my culture and especially traditions.”

It is standard for an astronaut to take three personal items on a mission. On her mission, Meir brought an Israeli flag, a pair of socks with images of menorahs and, according to The Forward, a painting of a phoenix by the late Rona Ramon, widow of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli in space. Ramon, along with six crewmembers, died in the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003.

Meir is not the first Jewish astronaut to bring Jewish items to space. Ramon brought a drawing by a 14-year-old boy trapped in the Theresienstadt Ghetto during the Holocaust. He also carried with him a miniature Torah smuggled out of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Other Jewish astronauts have transported a mezuzah, shofar, dreidel and small Torah complete with breastplate and traditional pointer.

As a child, I had always hoped that just as Moses had glimpsed the back of God’s head, the astronauts would see a defining part of God, however briefly. Maybe someday they will. In the meantime, I squeeze my eyes shut this time to conjure sparks of the Divine.

 

An Open Letter to President Donald Trump

Dear President Trump:

I write this letter to you as a daughter of a Cuban immigrant and a daughter of a naval officer who served in the Pacific theater during the Second World War. I am also an American Jew. The growing anti-Semitism in this country and around the world, and your recent comments about Jewish “disloyalty” if we vote for Democrats deeply trouble me. In our country alone, hate crimes against Jews and Jewish institutions have risen by almost 60 percent in the last year.

In this centennial year of my late and very patriotic father’s birth, I believe that this statistic, and your assertion would have devastated him. My father was not a religious man; he was what is typically described as a cultural Jew. Born in Connecticut in 1919, and a 1940 Yale graduate, as a Jew he kept his head down much of the time. He experienced anti-Semitism in this country while also taking part in the best of what it has to offer in education, culture and the freedoms that they afforded him. He was also very much a man of the 20th century. The Holocaust deeply affected him. Although I was born a number of years after the Second World War, I saw glimpses of his five-year tenure in the navy. He was a disciplined man who did pushups every morning. He had tears in his eyes whenever he heard our national anthem.

My father was a very private man who believed in the power and the right of the secret ballot as integral to our democracy. He never told a soul for whom he voted. He was old enough to vote for Roosevelt but would neither confirm nor deny if he cast his ballot for our 32nd president. He simply answered me with a wry smile when I asked. He followed his heart and married my immigrant mother at the beginning of the Cuban Revolution, actively assisting her family to come to his beloved United States. That might resonate with you.

My mother, on the other hand, was a Kennedy Democrat. After she arrived from Cuba, Fidel Castro descended on Havana. She left her home to attend university and partake in American democracy. This was the beginning of the 1960s and for my mother the Kennedys represented vibrancy, youth, freedom and the dream of Camelot. In the early 1970s she and my father were involved in Latinx social justice issues in Hartford, Connecticut.

All this to say Mr. President, is that people and their politics are complicated. This especially applies to people with whom we disagree. I am firmly opposed to the Boycott, Divest and Sanction Movement (BDS) that has been orchestrated against Israel. I love Israel, warts and all, and I believe in her right to exist. But I also affirm Representatives Omar and Tlaib’s right to free speech. I wish you had not obstructed their trip to Israel. Among the ways for them to understand and appreciate the country is to see it in person. During a visit they might have encountered some of the 500 organizations on the ground there actively working for peace in Israel and Palestine. Perhaps the congresswomen would have been moved when they observed how thin the Green Line is.

Which brings me back to your latest observation that “any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” As I understand it, at the time you made that statement you were talking to the press in the Oval Office about Israel, and how you persuaded the Jewish State to bar Representatives Omar and Tlaib’s entry to the country. What you might have thought was defending Israel and the Jewish people actually called up the dangerous and horrendous anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.”

Mr. President, we live in a democracy that protects all points of view. Some of those views are upsetting, some are even heinous. One of the pillars of our great country is everyone’s right to free speech. However, please bear in mind that free speech that is hateful and inciting does not fall under this rubric. Think of the rhetoric of men—and they have all been white American men—responsible for mass shootings in these last years. Any one who has taken an eighth grade civics class understands the distinction.

You are the president of all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, and anyone who checks off the “other” box. One of the privileges of being an American is the right to disagree openly with our government, and directly with you, without fear of being maligned or persecuted. Again, please note that these are bedrock American rights.

I am a proud American, Latinx, and Jew,. As the great American poet Walt Whitman said, “I contain multitudes.” We all do. To that end, I hope and pray you will come to welcome and respect all of our citizens, residents and immigrants.

Respectfully,

Judy Bolton-Fasman

Yousef Bashir’s Journey To Peace

 

Yousef Bashir was 11 years old when the Second Intifada began in 2000 and the Israel Defense Forces took over his family home and farm in Gaza. The land had been in the family for over 300 years. Bashir’s father, Khalil, refused to move. For the next five years, up to a hundred soldiers occupied the second and third floors of the house at any given moment. “They smashed holes through the upstairs walls to set up gun positions,” Bashir writes in “The Words of My Father.” “They covered all the windows with camouflage netting and installed automatic machine guns at each corner of the roof.”

The Bashir family, which included his parents, seven siblings and grandmother, were confined to the living room at night. They needed to receive permission to enter their kitchen to cook or to use the bathroom at night. They were only allowed to leave the house during the day for school or work.

Throughout their ordeal, Khalil remained cordial to the military and steadfast in his belief for peace. Despite the daily humiliations, he called the soldiers his guests and invited them to have coffee with him. The invitation was rebuffed over and over, but Khalil never stopped asking. He was grace under pressure when the soldiers made him undress to ensure that he wasn’t bringing weapons into his home. All of this duress attracted international media attention. The BBC and CNN regularly reported from the family’s home, highlighting Khalil’s unwavering commitment to peace.

Yousef was alternately terrified and angry throughout those years. The culmination of that fear and anger happened in 2004, when he came home from school and found three United Nations officials visiting his father. From their guard tower next to the house, the Israelis ordered the U.N. officials to leave. As Yousef and Khalil accompanied them to their car, a single shot rang out. An Israeli soldier had shot Yousef in the back with an M-16 automatic rifle.

Through his father’s connections, Yousef was admitted to Tel HaShomer Hospital in Tel Aviv. It was the first time the boy had positive interactions with Israelis. Despite his rage toward Israeli soldiers—military officials visited him in the hospital to apologize but Yousef refused to acknowledge them at the time—he grew close to the other Israeli and Palestinian patients. The Israeli nurses were kind; the doctors were caring. Yousef found himself appreciating his father’s hopes and dreams for peace. In subsequent months, Yousef endured many surgeries and painful therapies.

In the second half of the book, Yousef rallies and goes to Seeds of Peace camp with Israeli kids in Maine. It’s his first time in America and his first time speaking publicly about his experiences in Gaza. Yousef eventually wins a scholarship from a boarding school in Utah and begins his rocky journey toward peace. He ultimately graduates with a master’s degree from Brandeis University.

Bashir recently spoke to me about his late father, Khalil, his new memoir and his hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

How can a Zionist like me reconcile the behavior of Israel’s soldiers, who held you and your family as virtual prisoners in your house, with the Israel I know and love?

I’ve never been asked that question before, and I appreciate you asking me. Is Zionism about taking over a house and shooting a 15-year-old? The obvious answer to you is no. I want to find a way to reconcile what Zionism stands for and how it became a movement where we all work and come together. Zionism was never about someone taking over a house. That’s the best advice or answer I can give you. Having said that, no one brainwashed me against the army. I saw it in my own living room, and yet my dad kept reminding me that Jews are good. He said I had to distinguish between Judaism and Zionism. The Jewish faith seeks peace, and to live in harmony. Jews feel they are God’s chosen people and have an even higher form of responsibility to do the right thing. The Jewish people have been suffering for all of their history. I hope you never change your views of Zionism, but I hope you also take the initiative to see what Zionism is about and should be about in today’s world.

After an Israeli soldier shot you in the back, you were eventually transported to a hospital in Tel Aviv. You write extensively about the relationships you formed there. How do those relationships continue to nurture your desire for peace?

First of all, my dad explained what the soldiers were doing in my house. Then all of a sudden I’m in Israel surrounded by different Israelis. Until then, I thought Israelis were only capable of pointing a gun at my dad. Suddenly they are lifting me up and teaching me how to walk and swim again. That was very transformative for me. To this day, with every step I take, I am reminded of the Tel HaShomer Hospital. Yet nothing has changed. I could argue that things are worse for my people. For example, Israel never stopped building more settlements. But I look at this from the standpoint of faith. If I didn’t, I couldn’t write this book and share it with Jewish audiences across the United States.

How do your father’s wisdom and commitment to peace continue to inspire you?

I would need to write 10 more books to explain my dad. In the end, I only spent five memorable years with my father. Starting in 2005, I truly came to see my dad through many lenses in a short period of time before he died in 2010. Those five years are all I have of him. But I saw him as a husband, a father and a headmaster. I saw him dealing with the soldiers in our house. Despite my questioning him about his strategy, he got our house back. It was the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed. He never used the rhetoric of revenge. He stood his ground and was true to his message. In the end, after the last soldiers had left, my father went upstairs and said, “I told you we’d get the house back.” That was when I was fully convinced my father’s ideas weren’t just romantic; they truly worked.

At the end of the book, you write a letter to the soldier who shot you. How were you able to forgive him?

I forgave him for my father. When I was paralyzed in a wheelchair, my father told me to think of my situation as an opportunity. My mother said a new door had opened for me. At the time, the things my parents told me didn’t register with the kid stuck in a wheelchair. Fifteen years later, I walked, I wrote a book and I went to college in the United States. I got everything I dreamed of because of what my parents said to me on that day.

The letter makes two important points: That I stay committed to my dad’s message and that I stay true to what could be possible for me in the future. I didn’t want to use my pain. To my dad, doing that would be the ultimate defeat. The painful actions of others should not define what kind of human beings we’ll be in life. We are peaceful people, and the soldiers were wrong. They didn’t need to do 90 percent of what they did in the house. I was not going to let their actions determine my future. Plus, my dad didn’t want me to add another layer to the cycle of rhetoric and violence that has been happening in Israel for years.

I still have nerve damage in my back, and I get frustrated and mentally tired at times because of that experience. The pain is still there no matter what I do, but I’m always thinking of my father. I would let him down, especially after everything he did for my family, my people and me.

Building on your work with Seeds of Peace, what is your vision for the future?

The first time I spoke about my experiences publicly was at the Seeds of Peace camp in Maine. And I’ve been speaking out ever since. I am currently a Seeds of Peace Fellow. Like the camp, the fellowship brings together people including Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians and Pakistanis. Some of these people have become authors. Some have opened a school in Bosnia that brings together Israelis and Palestinians. Some work on hunger issues. All of them have a vision of promoting human connection.

What are you doing now?

I’ve been on a book tour since February and presented at the Jewish Book Council. The PLO office where I worked as a congressional affairs advisor shut down in December. My work had consisted of promoting Palestinian interests and engaging congressional staffers. I think we Palestinians deserve better and more representation in Congress and across the country. I have been in the United States long enough to see that many Jewish Americans are not against Palestinians. It’s time for Palestinians and Congress to have more conversations that lead to policies based on an understanding of what’s happening on the ground. Although it’s not the right time now with the current administration, when we are upset with each other is when we need representation. The PLO office in Washington, D.C., should be reopened.

I also like to think I am spreading my dad’s message. The world has been generous to me despite some of the unjustified things that happened to me. I want to make this time count not only for my fellow Palestinians but for my fellow Israelis, some of whom are convinced they don’t need to live in peace with me. I want them to understand that a life of war doesn’t have to be our destiny.

A version of this interview was published on JewishBoston.com

Translating the Holocaust

Last week, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York was at the center of a firestorm when she referred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention centers as “concentration camps.” In an Instagram Live video, the freshman Democrat asserted: “The U.S. is running concentration camps on our southern border, and this is exactly what they are. … I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say ‘never again.’”

Ocasio-Cortez instantly drew both support and ire for her comment. I wondered whether this kerfuffle was a question of semantics or an analogy gone awry. After all, concentration camps call up images of the Nazi genocide, and genocide is not what is happening on the border. On the other hand, as Andrea Pitzer, author of “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps,” recently told Esquire, “Things can be concentration camps without being Dachau or Auschwitz.”

Concentration camps did not start out as brutal slave labor camps or extermination camps. Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg sagely and calmly wrote in The Washington Post recently that, “We already know that the path to atrocity can be a process, and that the Holocaust began with dehumanizing propaganda, with discriminatory laws with roundups and deportations, and with internment. Those things are happening in our country now, and they’re known as some of the stages of genocide first articulated by Genocide Watch in 1996.”

When I watch the news clips or listen to radio interviews from the border, I shake as I hear my mother’s Spanish, now my Spanish, being spoken. Ocasio-Cortez and I share the touching intimacy of a common language. Spanish was the language of our childhood, the language of our grandparents. It was the language that distinguished me as a Latina Jew. Though it wasn’t always easy, I’m proud that I was a bilingual baby.

My cousin was 6 months old when she fled Cuba with her parents. I can only imagine the horror if she had been separated from my aunt and uncle. These children who are captured on the border are herded into cages where, terribly frightened and very hungry, they are vulnerable to crimes and misdemeanors by officials in charge. They are prisoners of a war about which no one is talking. I read that a border guard sexually assaulted a 4-year-old girl.

My Cuban relatives were never here illegally, and neither are the migrants in this administration’s concentration camps masquerading as euphemistic detention centers. It’s important to point out that anyone declaring asylum at the border of the United States has a right to a hearing and to due process.

Sometimes Holocaust vocabulary contains the only words that can describe the human rights tragedy happening at our southern border. We’re on the cusp of something revolutionary in terms of our thinking about the memory of the Holocaust. Using some of its vocabulary cautiously is wholly appropriate in extreme situations, like the one we face today. For example, visit T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights online and find a picture of a woman holding a sign that says: “This is what ‘Never Again’ looks like.” How does that dishonor the memory of the Holocaust? Those words are an improvised Kaddish—a prayer of mourning—for the 6 million. The words are also a prayer of optimism. When “Never Again” is evoked it shows that the victims of the Holocaust did not die in vain.

This past year I have spent time in a church basement, and what I do there is called companionship. That is, I watch over a family who is on the run from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement—ICE. The people I’ve grown to care about are always a hair’s breadth away from being deported back to the poverty and violence that plague their Central American country.

There is a script for me to follow if ICE comes to arrest this family, my family. I will ask to see a warrant. If they have one, I will let them in, but not before I’ve allowed enough time for the woman and her family to hide behind the broad lectern on the altar of the church. The altar is the most sacred space in the building. To arrest innocent people there would taint the holiness of the place. I will tape the incident with my iPhone and say, “This is the last opportunity you have to check your conscience before you take these innocent people away.” I will then go off-script and ask the ICE agent a final question before these people are handcuffed: “Are you sure you want to take this beautiful mother away from her American-born children?” I will ask again and again until she and her children are out of sight.

One afternoon, the church basement flooded. The mother and I mopped the floor of her living area together in companionable silence until she sadly riffed: “The people here are nice, but I wish they spoke Spanish like you. I don’t know why it doesn’t matter that my children are American. Hace meses que no veo el sol. I haven’t seen the sun in months.”

Good Germans asked themselves in the 1930s what they could do to help their fellow Jewish citizens. (Yes, another imperfect analogy.) We can donate today to organizations like HIAS and T’ruah. When federations like Combined Jewish Philanthropies sponsor trips to border cities like McAllen and San Diego, we can make every effort to go. We can lobby our representatives in Washington, D.C., to stop this madness. We can vote. And we can we sit in church basements in close, loving silence until this nightmare is over.

This essay was originally published on JewishBoston.com https://www.jewishboston.com/translating-the-holocaust/

My Father’s Silence

A few years after my father died in 2002, I sent away for his naval records. K. Harold Bolton, who served in the South Pacific during the Second World War, never talked about his time in the U.S. Navy. His silence about everything made me a snooping little girl, which turned me into a curious adult. There was nothing more I wanted to know than what my father had seen from the deck of his supply ship.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone. A recent New York Times front-page article bore the headline: “Their Fathers Never Spoke of the War. Their Children Want to Know Why.” These children who span the generations want the same thing: to crack open their fathers’ silence about their war.

My father’s silence and his subsequent secrets have haunted me all of my life. My father, who was part of the “Greatest Generation,” is also a member of what the Times describes as the “Quietest.”

His records arrived in a thick packet wrapped in brown butcher’s paper. As I avidly read them, the information that floated to the top was that he was exceptionally stubborn, inexperienced and always one of the youngest officers on any ship to which he was assigned. The numerous Reports on the Fitness of Officers in my father’s file consistently indicate that although he stood out for his bravery, loyalty and patriotism, in the end, he was an average, even naïve, officer.

This was not the answer I had expected when I examined the mystery of my father. Although I was thrilled to have the status reports, solid evidence that revealed facets of the man, they surprised — and ultimately, disappointed — me. I was so sure these reports would confirm that he was larger than life and, at last, make him understandable. Instead, the reports didn’t mesh with the man I thought he was. From the few pictures I had seen of him in uniform, I expected a capable officer who comported himself like a much older man.

Maybe this is the way most children see their parents — through a lens of time and story that ultimately fuses into lore. My father was the man who did push-ups every morning on the green shag rug of his bedroom. He was the man who walked a brisk two miles a day, even in winter. He expected his orders to be followed as he gave them. Yet blue-back nights when my coughing from asthma shook the house, my father stood guard by my bedroom window, gazing out, one of the few times I felt secure and loved.

I found a handwritten note in his file in which my perceptions of him as a young man became clearer. In the letter to his commanding officer, my father laid out his reasons for disobeying orders. He had been waiting to ship out in San Francisco the first Christmas after Pearl Harbor and wrote that he had decided to give the men under his command three additional hours of liberty to boost morale. At the very least, that unilateral decision must have incurred a reprimand.

I also came upon a punishment meted out to my father. It happened toward the end of the war, when his commanding officer remanded him to quarters for 24 hours for going AWOL for a day. Disappearing like that didn’t seem in character. Yet the information rounded out the profile I was putting together of an officer who did not follow established ship routines and, according to notations from his commanding officer, did not “wish to acquaint himself with them.”

My father’s stubbornness also surprised me. He never properly learned to use the sextant for navigational calculations. According to his file, he was resistant to acquiring this new skill. But a spiritual part of me thinks that perhaps it was because those kinds of calculations demystified the heavens, while my father wanted to romanticize them. Over the years, I had seen glimpses of Dad, the romantic, who cried when he listened to opera on Saturday afternoons. Dad, the patriot, who cried when he listened to John Philip Sousa’s crisp, booming marches. Dad, the accountant, who finally, reluctantly, learned to follow established routines.

My brother, who became the keeper of the Navy stories Dad chose to share, had another version of Dad’s punishment to supplement the Navy records. Our father was never AWOL, he says. The real story is that Lt. Bolton had fraternized with the ship’s black cook, called Cookie. Our father had stepped out of class and hierarchy, away from racism and inhumanity, to put his arm around a man who had just received news that his brother had died while fighting in Europe. He called Cookie by his given name, Ernie. The lieutenant also removed his hat in a show of mourning, making him technically out of uniform.

Finally, the lieutenant wept with Ernie on the deck of their ship.

Contrary to the jumbled, sometimes discouraging, naval reports, there was a promotion for my father by the end of the war. By the time the Navy honorably discharged Lt. Cmdr. Bolton in 1945, he had proven himself an exceptional man.

This essay was originally published on Cognoscenti https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/06/14/my-fathers-silence-world-war-2-navy-judy-bolton-fasman

Living in Translation

My grandparents, who were among the wave of Cuban refugees that came to the United States in the mid-1960s, never felt malleable enough to learn English. “No eshpeake Engleesh” was their standard retort. This set of circumstances not only made me bilingual, but also designated me as their official translator. With no English, my grandparents were essentially isolated in America.

A person’s native language is love and memory. It is comfort and familiarity. It is bedrock identity. I thought about that when I read a recent article in The Washington Post with the headline: “Nearly Half of White Republicans Say It Bothers Them to Hear People Speaking Foreign Languages.” Though not a surprise, it still saddened me.

I often accompanied my grandfather, my Abuelo, on walks around his neighborhood where we ended up at the corner grocery store to buy packs of M&Ms. “Que dice?” What is this person saying? He always asked me that question when we were out in the world. He tried to pronounce some of the English words he overheard, but the consonants crumbled in his mouth. He proudly told anyone he encountered, pointing to me, “Mi nieta es Americana. Eshpeake Engleesh good.”

My grandmother, Abuela, was a homebody who loved American soap operas. In the pre-cable, pre-Univision years when there was no Spanish programming on American television. My grandmother stayed glued to “As the World Turns” and “The Guiding Light,” soap operas that reminded her of the novelitas she had listened to on the radio in Havana. I translated a bit for her, but somehow she understood the intricacies of those shows without me. One character was “malo.” Another one was “desafortunado,” unlucky. These imaginary friends of hers kept my Abuela company on long and dreary winter afternoons in Connecticut.

The Post article further reported that according to the Pew Research Center, “Forty-seven percent of such Republicans say it would bother them ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ to ‘hear people speak a language other than English in a public place.’ Eighteen percent of white Democrats said they would be similarly bothered.”

The article described two incidents that were part of a pattern of racism towards others. In the first, a United States Border Patrol agent detained two women for speaking Spanish at a gas station in Montana. It turned out the women were U.S. citizens. The second incident happened at a New York deli where a man was enraged when he heard the workers speaking Spanish. He threatened to call immigration officials.

The United States as a country does not have an official language. I wish I had known that in the days when Abuelo would pick me up from school. “Ándale!” Hurry up. The kids made fun of us. They called me Spic and Span, and one said, “Your grandpa can’t speak English because he’s so stupid.”

When my children were young, I encouraged them to learn Spanish. My son is now as bilingual as I once was. That bodes well in the United States, which has 41 million native Spanish speakers and 12 million bilinguals. If the trend continues, the United States could very well surpass the number of Spanish speakers in any country by the year 2050.

Another important piece of advice I gave to my kids was to engage in deep, meaningful translation to understand people. The example I gave them was that God happily listens to prayers in more than 70 languages. It’s a metaphor that I plucked from a Jewish commentary on the Bible: God has always been an equal opportunity linguist.

When I think of my Latina heritage, I always paraphrase Winston Churchill, who said he was half-American but wholly English. I too was half-American, yet my childhood was completely Cubana. These days my Spanish is more Spanglish, reflecting how rusty I’ve become. But plunk me down in a Spanish country, and it comes back to me much the way a photograph develops in a darkroom. The language is imprinted in me. And while my Cuban Abuelos were not able to communicate with the American side of my family directly, they always had me to translate for them.

This essay was originality published on Cognoscenti https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/05/13/spanish-language-republicans-judy-bolton-fasman

My Father’s Centennial

This year marks my late father’s centennial. He was born in January of 1919 in New Haven, Connecticut on the second floor of a two-family house. Woodrow Wilson, the stony-faced Princetonian, was the president of the United States, negotiating placebo treaties in top hat and tails.

This was an era when modernity and Puritanism mingled as child labor laws, pure-food laws, free love, free verse and Prohibition were all in play. The gross national product had tripled and the national debt had gone from one billion to 24 billion dollars. A jury acquitted eight baseball players from the Chicago White Sox of throwing the World Series to the Cincinnati Reds, but barred them for life from playing baseball.

Mobility was on the rise — faster cars, changing neighborhoods, increased consumption. Toys, stocks and birth control were for sale; my grandparents bought all three. Energy was abundant and houses were wired for electricity. Cars reached speeds of forty miles per hour. Life was moving fast and my Grandpa and Grandma were early adopters of the changes that went with it.

By 1919 the First World War was over, but the Bolshevik Revolution was in full swing. My father lived his entire life with Russia menacing him. He inherited his patriotic DNA from his father. America was everything to my grandfather, who changed the family name from Bolotin to Bolton to ensure that his children assimilated even further into American life. This was a country that had enabled my grandfather, an immigrant from Ukraine, to receive a high-profile education at Yale and in time to send his only son to the same institution.

Beginning in the summer of 1919 my grandparents rented a beach house in Old Saybrook, Connecticut — a town name that sounded fresh and breezy. A town that accepted the Boltons over the Hurwitzes, relatives who tried to rent there too. My grandfather had the chutzpah to pass, the nerve to hobnob with the sons of Connecticut Yankees.

My grandfather did well in the stock market. He drank illegal liquor to keep warm at his alma mater’s football games. Walter Camp, the father of American football and the coach of the Yale team, introduced calisthenics and packaged them to America as the daily dozen. Hemlines rose, although my grandmother still could not vote.

The tango was a forbidden dance. Ragtime was considered “black music,” yet too good to not to be played; a Jew named Irving Berlin wrote Alexander’s Ragtime Band. Thirty years later he sealed his fame with a song called White Christmas.

My father lived his entire life in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but he wanted to distinguish himself from his father who was exempt from serving in World War I. The Second World War was my father’s grand, personal adventure. He served on a naval supply ship in WWII, drifting and dreaming and ultimately steaming ahead on the Pacific Ocean to magical places like the Philippines that his father could only imagine.

He married my Cuban mother who was two decades younger than he was. She periodically inspired him to set aside his American ways and allow the dream-laden music of Spain to animate his soul. The clashing percussion of bullfight music and rousing zarzuelas brought out a life force in him he otherwise rarely showed the world.

He took his love of Spanish music to the airwaves for two hours on Sunday afternoons to broadcast a show simply called “The Music of Spain.” My father had somehow collected hundreds of imported records with covers showing bullfights and ladies dressed in mantillas. All of this happened from the Hartford, Connecticut studios of WEXT, a country-and-western music station that donated space and time for community programming during an otherwise dull, blue-law day of the week.

In a black-and-white picture of my father as a DJ, scattered white lines break up the photograph’s glossiness. My father wears a no-nonsense white shirt, black pants and a five-o’clock shadow even though the clock in the picture is just coming up on 12:15 p.m. In his left hand is a stopwatch. Behind him are consoles with large buttons and instruments to gauge sound levels — instruments that look as if they belong in a war room rather than a radio station. Two turntables unfurl the music. There is a record cover propped in front of him, announcing in a ribbony script: Suspiros de España, Spanish marching music that has an accompanying pasa doble, a two-step dance that acts out the drama of the bullfight. My father is smiling, a toothy grin that announces his happiness born of music and memory.

“Caballeros y damas,” he says into a large microphone suspended from the ceiling. Gentlemen and Ladies. His voice pours out of the radio and fills the house; his heavy American Spanish so distinctive from my mother’s light velvety version. We three children gather around the radio with my mother and thrill to the sound of my father’s voice. In that moment, he is a celebrity.