David Mandler, Ph.D.

Thoughts, feelings, reactions to events in the world. Hungarian, Jewish, assimilationist, Orthodox, American issues.

A Poem for Holocaust Remembrance Day, 2016

Red Danube

I see my grandmother
Lying on her hospital bed
Thinking she’s back home
The youngest of eight

Walking an hour each way to school
With three girls and two boys
Making jokes
Throwing rocks into mossy ponds
Her feet massaged in the evenings
Dressed up as Queen Esther
At the carnival
Sitting in Papa’s soft lap
Embraced by the puffs of smoke
Coming from his pipe
Listening to Berty
Making love
With his violin
The challah in the oven

She lies in her bed
Staring at he ceiling
Nurses cold unfeeling
Waiting for her to die

She doesn’t talk to anyone
Her thoughts are incoherent
The light in the room disturbs her eyes
The room sinks under her

Her mother sings a lullaby

Bye bye world
I’m leaving you behind
The blue Danube turns red
Berty’s shoes floating
Upside down

The violin pulls her away
Floating above the tiny shoes
She’s lost in eager silence

April 30, 2015
© David Mandler

David Mandler’s short story, “The Loft,” is available on amazon.com.  http://www.amazon.com/Loft-David-Mandler-ebook/dp/B00E4WONNA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1462375125&sr=8-2&keywords=David+Mandler

The Singer

The Singer

If you have nothing wise to say,
Sing! Nobody cares about the lyrics.
With that, she turned around in bed
And slept away the rest of the day.

So he sang and sang and sang until
A horse came trotting up to his window.
A contrarian by nature, the brute neighed
Wordless tunes that could all but kill.

He smiled, and vowed to sing some more
About alien love, laughter in losing battles,
Frustrated frosty young men, and nothingness
Until his hoarse notes refused to soar.

When they took off his silver hat, bozo nose,
Flushed away the thickened white face paint,
Shaved his bowie hair, and removed the pants,
His skeletal nakedness spoke in silent wisdom.

© David Mandler


The Skullcap: to Wear it or Not to Wear it?

Following a spate of physical attacks on Jewish men wearing skullcaps in Marseilles, the head of the Jewish community, Avi Ammar, has suggested that Jewish men should stop donning skullcaps in public.

While I completely understand the sentiment, I cannot help but feel that this kind of response will only embolden those who seek to hurt Jews in France and all over the world. Nothing pleases Islamic fundamentalists more than seeing their violent actions against Jews and “Crusaders” bear fruit. Lone wolf attacks against Jews in France have occurred with increasing frequency in the past few years. These attacks were not exclusively directed against Jews who wore skullcaps in public. The hostage taking and eventual murder of four people in Paris at a kosher supermarket last January was a deliberate attack on Jews as well. Yet, nobody suggested that Jews stop frequenting kosher supermarkets in order to prevent future attacks on Jews.

In a society that feels solidarity with all its citizens, a groundswell of support for victims of terrorism or bigoted, racist persecution should be expected. There is ample historical precedence for this in Europe. While the story that King Christian X of Denmark vowed to wear the yellow star if the Nazis forced Danish Jews to don this most hated symbol of religious persecution is apparently a myth, it is true that Denmark went out of its way to protect and save its Jewish citizens from certain death at the hand of the German Nazis during World War II.

Far from discouraging Jews from wearing skullcaps, Jews who normally don’t wear them should begin to do so en masse as a result of these unprecedented attacks on freedom of expression in Europe. Moreover, a mass solidarity movement with victims of religious fanaticism should form with a clear message: we will not be cowed into submission. What an inspiring symbol of solidarity it would be for people of all religious backgrounds to wear the kippah, the skullcap for a day in Marseilles, all round France, and, perhaps, all over the world.

One thing is certain: abandoning a single religious principal or a way of life as a result of terrorist attacks will only lead to more attacks against Jews. Those who demonstrate fear instead of steadfast resistance in the face of such threats by these thugs can expect to be next after the Jews.


Te is Mosod Kezeidet?

1944 augusztusában, Szombathely mellett öt kilométerre, Simi bácsi (Glück Simon) 40-50 zsidó fiatalemberrel együtt Munkaszolgálatos volt. Minden este pontosan tíz órakor, az amerikai légvédelem repülôgépei elrepültek a város felett. Állitólag fegyvereket vittek Titó partizánjainak.

Egy este, az amerikaiak sztálingyertyákkal megvilágították azt a területet ahova a németek egy kis katonai repülôteret építtettek, majd másfél órán keresztül egy olyannyira borzalmasan pusztító szônyegbombázást hajtottak végre, hogy a környékbeli sáncokban rejtôzködô munkaszolgálatos fiúk közül sokan vidújt, a halál elött elmondandó imát, mondtak.

A bombázás után, amikor Simi bácsi és társai kimerészkedtek a sáncokból, arra lettek figyelmesek, hogy az elôttük fekvô terület szórólapokkal volt betemetve. A különbözô fenyítéseket üvöltözô keretlegények ellenére sikerült felszednie valakinek egyet a sok sok szórólap közül.

Innen tudta meg Simi bácsi, hogy mi történt az otthon maradt zsidókkal.

Innen tudta meg, hogy az egész családját akik közül szinte mind Újpesten maradt deportálták a lengyelországi halálgyárba.

1945 januárjában, amikor hazatért, az udvaron már csak édesapja Talmud kötetének szétmarcangolt darabjait, édesanya parókáját, és nagymamájanak egy jellegzetes babfôzôfazekát találta meg szemétben.

Amerikában letelepedve, évtizedekkel késôbb, Simi bácsi megszerezte a Magyar Honvédelmi Minisztériumtól a Szombathelyen olvasott lesújtó röpcédulának másolatát.

Ezt most itt közlöm, hogy senki se tudja mosni a kezeit. 2016-ban sem!

Sun of Soul

Sun of Soul

The astonished boy in the forest made
the pieces of meat wiggle and melt away
in the fuming furnace of my brain.

Pieces of sizzling meat; heaps of gray dust.
My animal spirit caged, my mouth veiled
behind a tainted white handkerchief. No verbs.

Thousands scream their souls into hoarse silence
behind giant green iron doors. Lights out.
Cold shivers—soaking in the shower of dumb death.

Hail Living Bullets! Make my holy profanities dance
amidst these silent green trees.
Blow-dry the ink of that last smile on my broken face.

Let that smile hug this doe-eyed, blond child,
standing  in the forest of the night, soaked in daylight–
The child that breathes memories of the future
through my dead lungs.

© David Mandler


Why I’m Going Off Facebook

For many of us, Facebook has become a way of life. I don’t know about others, but the first thing in the morning after washing my hands and brushing my teeth, I sign on Facebook to see what’s happened since I went to sleep. I scroll down on my wall with the eagerness of a drug addict ready for his next fix. I notice the few new postings (a new selfie, a cute dog, an historic picture of manly women from the 1920s, and a rant about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict). Just like a fully fledged narcissist, I check how many likes my latest post received. Usually, the number is disappointingly low. But what is even more disappointing is acknowledging just how much I have conditioned myself for this type of validation.

So, I have made a New Year’s resolution to break the habit. Starting January 1, 2016, I will no longer be on Facebook.

Facebook has become a familiar presence in my life that I know will be hard to leave behind. Perhaps too hard. But it’s worth a shot. I know that the people who truly care about me will want to stay in touch. We still have email addresses, don’t we? I still have my hardly-used Twitter account that I will use more now that I’ll have no status updates until I decide to cancel it as well. Not being on Facebook may lead to more phone conversations or texting. And then, there is the old fashioned way of communicating that seems as ancient by now as smoke signals: writing letters.

Why is it that I no longer feel the need to post more news items every day I find soul-shakingly important? Because by now, my acquaintances and friends know all too well my positions on the Middle East, on politics, and on life in general from the many comments and posts I have made in the last few years. In fact, they must know my thinking so well that they have practically stopped providing any feedback on my posts at all. Then again, it may be for other reasons the likes and the comments have dwindled to close to zero lately.

Still, it pains me to see the minimal (or no) likes on posts I intended to carry much weight, only to see dozens of likes on rather frivolous ones. After all, why don’t my Facebook friends react to my outrage when I see the biased media coverage on Israel? Why don’t I see more feedback on news about my work into which I had put so much energy and effort? Why doesn’t anyone care about my posts on the political cesspool that is Hungarian politics today? The habitual lack of feedback infuriates me. And therein lies the problem.

It should not!

Facebook has prompted me to seek instantaneous feedback, to post my thoughts, not to mention images of myself and my family, more quickly than I would ever do in a more contemplative mood without Facebook. And to what effect? The rare occasion my posts garner a sizable number of likes translates into a fleeting and insubstantial sensation of pleasure or resentment that threaten to lead me into inflating or deflating my own sense of ego. Of course, I tell myself that I have a more healthy sense of ego to let such things affect it. Still, my awareness that I give it a second thought at all it makes me want to take action now.

Therefore, I resolve to spend more time concentrating  on my work and selecting more fulfilling entertainment. Learning, reading, writing, correcting essays, researching, writing emails to friends and family who care to stay in touch, taking walks, meditating, praying, exercising, and making music are all infinitely more important than staring at the familiar blue and white screen that is increasingly being populated with “suggested posts” as Facebook launches into its money making phase. It was bad enough trying to see what posts mattered. The Facebook experience will likely worsen as Facebook users are made to navigate around a stream of paid advertisements even as fewer and fewer people on one’s friends list actually see genuine personal posts with more filtering built into the system. Even now, I have no idea how many people on my friends list actually see anything I post.

Certainly, I may end up missing some truly touching updates about tragic personal losses, or wonderful news of various life cycle events. But I know I will survive just as I did before 2006. What’s more, I will thrive once again by doing what truly matters in life.

Deactivating my Facebook account will be a stab in the eye of the growing monster of misplaced narcissism I fear Facebook has been feeding in me lately. It will also spare me from having to see how some of my “friends” are moving farther down the road towards losing any sense of compassion and humanity as they take positions on current political events that are totally antithetical to mine all the while refusing to be engaged in a meaningful debate. (As if meaningful debate were even possible on Facebook).

Friends, Acquaintances, and Strangers! Lend me your ears. Please don’t take this personally. It’s not really you. It’s me.

I hereby collectively “Like” all of your future updates about yourselves, your poems, your children, your parents, your political rants, your perspicuous readings of events, and even of your dogs and cats. Of course, this very last paragraph is enough of a testament to just how narcissistic Facebook has allowed me to become. Here I am, worrying about how you’ll feel once I am not on Facebook when the sad fact is that you will not even have noticed my absence if not for this self-promoting newsflash.

On January 1st, I will no longer check in to see in the morning to see what happened over night on Facebook (and I will be on time for the morning prayers).

Where Facebook ends, life begins.



War is me

On the third day, all was well.
With a shot of whiskey and
two jelly doughnuts in me,
I was ready to face the world.

Or so I thought.

In reality, the world faced me
in a kind of death stare of
a thousand kristallnachts
echoing in the dumb pages
Of multilingual newspapers
plastered to the sides of
flimsy bodegas in the streets–
and the shapeless howling of
a hundred kids streaming to
school in the morning.

I found myself in a sweaty
chill of indifference.
What’s Syria to me and I to Syria
that I should care at all?
I have a war in my body now
That holds my attention more
than could a thousand Syrias.

A glass of whiskey with antibiotics.
Just as the doctor never prescribed.
I have Syria in my stomach:
no idea who’s shooting whom.

The entire world is inside me.

©David Mandler

The Sacrificial Chicken (Yom Kippur 5776)

I haven’t asked anyone to forgive me this year.
Not because I’ve thought about or done
The right things all year–
Oh no.
I spent too much time on
Facebook and writing poetry
Talking at the world while
Failing to connect with and refusing to hear
The muffled sounds of my caged love songs.

I spent too little time listening with my heart
To my wife’s daily musings and nightly longings,
To the pleas of the homeless in the subway cars,
Thinking my feel-good quarter’s gift to them was enough.

I spent no time at all in a hospital ward
Visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry
In a homeless shelter filled with ruined lives
Hidden from me
Only because I had no desire to find it.

Forgive me, everyone!
I can’t be silent when I see inhumanity,
Even if it’s perpetrated on the enemy of my people,
Even if it’s directed against those who,
In happier times, would gladly
Celebrate my death as a victory.

But I know, not all of “them” are like “that.”

And if you all forgive me for all of my failings and sins,
Whether they be open or hidden,
Loud or mute,
Searing your skin as molten lava
Or freezing your blood as liquid ice,
Then I can ask the Master of the Universe
To forgive me
For being late
From synagogue almost every time
And glossing over words I don’t understand and
Have no time to articulate with serene concentration.

Forgive me for being on Facebook too much
And writing poetry only a handful of people
Will ever read.

Forgive me for not asking you for forgiveness
In person.

I’m a sacrificial chicken laden with
Other people’s sins to be slaughtered and made into
Chicken soup for the destitute.


Ishmael, God, and the Angels: A Morality Tale with a Lesson for Our Times

Whether you see them as refugees or economic migrants, I see the people in the pictures below, first and foremost, as human beings with human needs in deep trouble. To those who reject these people from Syria on the grounds that they represent danger to the Christian character of Europe–as Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary has claimed–I have a story to share that sheds light on how people who truly want to emulate the ways of God should relate to these hungry and thirsty masses flooding into Europe, seeking shelter.

“Ishmael, left under a shrub by his despairing mother, prayed to God to take his soul and not permit him to suffer the torments of a slow death (comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 15). God then commanded the angel to show Hagar the well which was created on Friday in the week of Creation, in the twilight (comp. Ab. v. 6), and which afterward accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness (Pirḳe R. El. xxx.). But this was protested against by the angels, who said: “Why should Ishmael have water, since his descendants will destroy the Israelites by thirst?” (comp. Yer. Ta’an. iv. 8; Lam. R. ii. 2). God replied: “But now he is innocent, and I judge him according to what he is now” (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; Gen. R. l.c.; et al.).

Let us judge these people according to what they are now!

Source: http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/8251-ishmael

Photos courtesy of Petra Parker (Budapest, near Keleti Railway Station on August 31st, September 1st and 2nd).



An Urgent Open Letter to the Worldwide Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of J. Walter Thompson Company

Rendorsegssept2Dear Chairman Martinez,

In the last few weeks, thousands of migrants and refugees, predominantly from civil war-torn Syria, have made their way though Greece, Serbia, Hungary and Austria with one purpose: to settle in Germany. While each European country has taken its own approach to the emerging humanitarian crisis, Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, acted quickly to turn public opinion totally against the refugees who chose to travel through Hungary towards Germany. Now, it appears that your reputable advertising firm, the largest U.S. advertising agency with a long and illustrious past, is poised to become an accessory to Hungary’s anti-immigration campaign abroad. The purpose of this letter is to make it clear to you that acting as Orbán Viktor’s voice in foreign countries would be very controversial and would, thus, damage your brand name.

From the beginning of 2015, the ruling Fidesz Party, firmly under the direction of Viktor Orbán, began what some would consider an incitement against immigrants in a way that gave permission to the proverbial average citizen in the street to manifest freely his or her baser human instincts about foreigners.

Mr. Orbán’s first formal move in this area was to launch his so-called National Consultation initiative in June of 2015. The first round included the mailing out to the entire Hungarian population a staunchly anti-immigrant letter by Orbán in which he pejoratively calls refugees “economic migrants” along with a questionnaire of twelve manipulative questions. Incidentally, only ten percent of the recipients bothered to respond.

Shortly after this colossal waste of public resources came a print advertising campaign. The large blue-and-white billboards placed throughout the country contained such grandiose proclamations as follows: “If you come to Hungary, you must respect our laws!”, “If you come to Hungary, you cannot take away the jobs of Hungarians!” and “If you come to Hungary, you have to respect our culture!” Since the messages on these billboards were all in Hungarian, it is clear that this whole campaign was intended for domestic consumption.

The campaign elicited mixed reactions. It aided in strengthening the more xenophobic elements in Hungarian society even as hilarious spoofs of these billboards went viral on Facebook. Any sense of hilarity evaporated, though, with the announcement that Hungary would build a barbed wire fence along its border with Serbia. Since then, the suspiciously overpriced and surprisingly flimsy barbed wire fence has been completed, and, just as quickly, breached.

Using the migrant crisis as a pretext, Fidesz legislators proposed a string of new laws effective September 15th that will result in the curtailment of individual rights by empowering the military to search the homes of individuals suspected of harboring illegal immigrants without a warrant, stopping cars on public roads, and the ability to deploy tear gas, rubber bullets, arrest nets, and even fire arms with deadly force if necessary against refugees. At the same time, the Hungarian government has decided to spread its anti-immigrant campaign in Serbia, Macedonia and Greece. It is at this point that your reputable advertising firm enters the picture. A few days ago, it became clear that J. Walter Thompson’s Hungarian affiliate was selected for this purpose, shocking many in the advertising world.

Dr. Martinez! While it is not in your power to solve the refugee crisis by asking each EU country to take in its fair share of refugees as well as pressuring affluent Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar to step up to the plate or orchestrating a satisfactory solution to the Syrian conflict, it is in your power to prevent the deterioration of your brand name’s reputation that will inevitable result from proceeding with this contract. Major news outlets such as the BBC and NPR have already begun to devote significant space to this issue of Hungary’s treatment of war refugees and migrants and will continue to do so with increased attention. In the next few days, the focal point of news, Keleti Rail Station, will be emptied of migrants and refugees. They will reportedly be sent to the city of Debrecen and housed in refugee camps with no end in sight. Judging by the leading questions of the questionnaire, refugees will be responsible for their own expenses and may even be sent to work in Hungary’s workfare system.

Clearly, no reputable international advertising firm would want to become an accessory to spreading Hungary’s dual message of coded Islamophobia and its policy of turning away all war refugees from Syria or elsewhere. Signing a contract with a country that is moving away from a system of checks-and-balances towards what Viktor Orbán has called “illiberal democracy” may result in more costs than benefits for your company. Considered from a moral point of view, anyone with a developed sense of empathy, especially people who consider themselves “global citizens” can only find this one-size-fits all rejection of all immigration objectionable. According to some Hungarian news outlets, even some of JWT’s Hungarian employees have found their position morally untenable and are, thus, considering resignation. The short and arguably cynical statement JWT Budapest’s Creative Director, Tamás Faragó, made in a Facebook reaction that was later republished with his permission may only help to push out some of JWT’s morally-inclined creative staff. Faragó stated that “the campaign would be worth it if it prevented even one child from stabbing him or herself on top of the barbed wire fence by knowing ahead of time what awaited him or her” (my translation). Were JWT’s Hungarian affiliate to proceed with this assignment, you would have to look forward to designing a PR campaign in defense of your assent in participating in the PR campaign ordered by Hungary’s opportunistically nationalist government against refugees.

In light of all of the above, I ask you to reconsider and, ultimately, reject this deal.


David Mandler, Ph.D.
P.S. The photo on top was taken on September 2nd near Keleti Railway Station and is courtesy of Petra Parker.


This open letter was republished in The Budapest Times on September 11, 2015. http://files.theschoolsystem.net/stuy/mandlerd/OpenLetterBudapestTimes.pdf


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