The Light in Anne Frank’s Attic.

(Original photograph by Steve Villano, April, 2024, taken at the Anne Frank Huis, Amsterdam)

It was a small window,

At the very top of the house;

And through it she could see the sky,

And see that life went on; just, to know.

No, it was not Shel Silverstein’s light,

Which burned from inside,

Telling the world someone was there,

Thinking, writing, upstairs at night.

She could not risk a light in her attic,

Exposing her Secret Annexe,

Risking the lives of eight humans

Hiding from demons, who demonized them.

And so, sunlight streamed in by day,

Starlight by night,

Atop the narrow Dutch house,

Where she tiptoed, like a mouse.

Not to be heard, not a word;

But, seeing the light coming into the attic,

Gave her hope, and dreams,

Helping young Anne swallow her screams.

She always wanted to write,

And she did,  by day,  by night;

Locked away as a young teen,

Recording thoughts,  & what she’d heard and seen.

She wrote about things 13, and of feeling

“Wicked sleeping in a warm bed,

“While my dearest friends have been knocked down,”

In the gutter reeling, pummeled upon the head.

They leaned toward the cracked and crackling radio,

Listening to the news;

To learn that the crime for which they were all wanted

Was “all because they are Jews.”

For two years they hid, away from cold, evil eyes,

Fed and protected by a woman, Miep Gies.

On the day the Franks were arrested, 8/4/44,

Miep sheltered Anne’s writings, til the end of the War.

The sisters sent to Bergen-Belsen,

Papa and Mama dragged further east,

Toward the darkness and the fire breath

Of the annihilative Auschwitz beast.

If only, if only she could live to 16,

Anne might have a chance to be rescued, or seen.

Starvation, disease, no light, and no breath,

Silenced her voice, and hastened her death.

Only Otto survived from the Amsterdam “annexe”,

Returning back to the last home he knew;

Daylight still shining into the attic,

Illuminating where Anne’s words and dreams grew.

“The Sympathizer” Hits HBO at a Time of Great Urgency.

The Pulitzer Prize winner author Viet Thanh Nguyen in his masterpiece The Sympathizer, has a remarkable passage toward the end of his book which takes away my breath by it’s sheer force and power.

The long paragraph runs across pages 353 and 354 of the paperback version of the book, over 40 lines, is punctuated by semi-colons, and populated heavily by a set of “ifs.” The super sentence suggests how different the world, and his character’s life, would have been, “If” only certain events had or had not happened:

“…if history’s ship had taken a different tack, if I had become an accountant…if we forgot our resentment, if we forget revenge; if we acknowledged that we are all puppets in someone else’s play, if we had not fought a war against each other; if some of us had not called ourselves nationalists or communists or capitalists or realists…”

Now, The Sympathizer, an extraordinary story and a literary tour-de-force, will be shared with tens of millions of viewers in an HBO seven episode mini-series beginning on Sunday night, April 14. The “big names” starring in the HBO series are Robert Downey Jr., and Sandra Oh, and, it will introduce us to an entire ensemble of Vietnamese actors, including Hoa Xuande in the lead role of The Captain. Today, Xuande has only a smattering of followers on Instagram. When the series concludes in late May, he’ll have hundreds of thousands. That’s how powerful the role of The Captain is in The Sympathizer.

The Sympathizer itself never leaves you; it disturbs you in your sleep, and when you are awake. You can smell the Napalm as you frenetically turn the pages, and hear the sound of helicopters whirling, when, in fact, it was just your car’s engine sputtering. It is transformative.

I first read Nguyen’s haunting language during the early summer of the American Presidential campaign of 2016, and repeated the “if” sequence dozens of times during the campaign’s closing days.

I traveled around North Carolina observing Barack & Michelle Obama, and Elizabeth Warren try mightily to win that important swing state for Hillary Clinton. I interviewed dozens of voters for Clinton, Trump or “unaffiliated,” entered historic African-American churches constructed since before slavery was dismantled, and listened to the rhythm of the voices of the citizens with whom I spoke. The cadence of Viet Thanh Nguyen’s words echoed in my ears each day, as the “Ifs” of that historic campaign began to be tallied well before the first votes were cast.

I contemplated how things might be dramatically different “if only” a few things were changed:

If history had taken a quicker turn toward the arc of justice, if everyone’s skin color were the same; if furniture were still being made in North Carolina’s factories, and clothing in it’s mills; if I had become an attorney or a diplomat and moved away; if my Jesus could sit down and have a beer with yours, and pick ribs clean together; if I was not frightened by the darkness of your skin and the bright, bold hope in your eyes, and if you did not resent my very existence on the same street where you lived as a sign of your own failure; if I was a teacher or a clergyman or a doctor and could heal your wounds, then maybe my touch would not be so repulsive to you; if I was raised to read about Rosie riveting airplane bolts as well as adoring the Blessed Mother; if Hilter had perhaps, found love, and the murders of millions never happened; if weapons were not invented that could vaporize thousands of children while they rode their bicycles; if we acknowledged that we were all pawns in a game played by the rich and powerful; if we understood that killing because of someone’s choice for loving was an act of violence against ourselves.

I went back, again and again, to that serpentine, ever-ending sentence in The Sympathizer, and my mind was exploding into thousands of new directions:

If some of us had not called ourselves Democrats or Republicans or White Nationalists or Socialists or Pragmatists or Progressives; if there were no poor people or poor healthcare, or run down housing where roaches dart from room to room carrying our resentments; if Muskie hadn’t cried, nor Nixon lied, or Joe Biden’s son died, or, if Mario Cuomo tried, at least once, to be President; if we were all connected by more than a flickering screen, or image on an I-phone, like family, not alone, not so mean; if Trump’s father loved him more than money, or Bill Clinton fell down the steps leading to Loretta Lynch’s plane and expired before being exposed; if Hillary put her dog before the data and walked free among the trees in Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania a few more times; if more people thought, or read, or voted, or listened before talking, or choked on their own bile while spewing their vileness of hate; if there was a God or force or some High court that kept the good alive, and punished the evil for diminishing the dignity of others, then maybe…maybe I could sleep, just sleep through the night.

And now The Sympathizer, the HBO mini-series, hits this nation’s consciousness while some 1200 Israelis, and tens of thousands of Palestinian children and women have been slaughtered because they got in the way of a vendetta of hate between Hamas, and the ultra-orthodox political extremists in Israel, led by Bibi Netanyahu. My head, again, was overwhelmed with “Ifs”, so again, I sought guidance or solace or something from the pages of The Sympathizer that so mesmerized me:

“…if you would please just turn off the lights; if you would please just turn off the telephone; if you would just stop calling me; if you would remember that the two of us were once and perhaps still are the best of friends; if you could see that I have nothing left to confess; is the invisible hand of the market did not hold us by the scruffs of our necks; if the British had defeated the rebels of the new world; if the natives had simply said , ‘Hell, No,’ on first seeing the white man; if the Bible had never been written, and Jesus Christ had never sacrificed; if Adam and Eve still frolicked in the Garden of Eden…”

And, then, as a convert to Judaism by my own choice, and a believer in humanitarianism, I added some conditions of my own:

If Empire after Empire hadn’t ravaged the land of Palestine; if the Ottomans of Turkey had picked the winning side in the Great War; if the British had recognized all brown-skinned people as equal to the White Men of Europe; if the Jewish Holocaust had never happened and there wasn’t a need for a special homeland to protect the Jews; if generations of Palestinian families hadn’t been forced from their homes; if the Arab nations had waged peace instead of war at the outset; if Israel had lived up to its charter and its promise of treating all people equally; if every instinct to hate, was replaced with one to love; if each child born in any country was considered to be our child, regardless of faith or nation or economic condition or race; and, if only, all adults were held accountable for all our children who die on our watch.

Then maybe, just maybe, I might be able to sleep. If only…

“Food Is A Basic Statement of Humanity.”

(This New York Times Op-Ed by Jose Andres, the founder of World Central Kitchen, published on April 3, 2024, may well be the most important and powerful collection of words published thus far this year. It is urgent that Andres’ message be distributed—and immediate global humanitarian action taken—worldwide. It is a matter of life, or mass death by starvation in Gaza.)

By Jose Andres, Founder of World Central Kitchen:

Published in the New York Times, April 3, 2024,


In the worst conditions you can imagine — after hurricanes, earthquakes, bombs and gunfire — the best of humanity shows up. Not once or twice but always.

The seven people killed on a World Central Kitchen mission in Gaza on Monday were the best of humanity. They are not faceless or nameless. They are not generic aid workers or collateral damage in war.

Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, John Chapman, Jacob Flickinger, Zomi Frankcom, James Henderson, James Kirby and Damian Sobol risked everything for the most fundamentally human activity: to share our food with others.

These are people I served alongside in Ukraine, Turkey, Morocco, the Bahamas, Indonesia, Mexico, Gaza and Israel. They were far more than heroes.

Their work was based on the simple belief that food is a universal human right. It is not conditional on being good or bad, rich or poor, left or right. We do not ask what religion you belong to. We just ask how many meals you need.

From Day 1, we have fed Israelis as well as Palestinians. Across Israel, we have served more than 1.75 million hot meals. We have fed families displaced by Hezbollah rockets in the north. We have fed grieving families from the south. We delivered meals to the hospitals where hostages were reunited with their families. We have called consistently, repeatedly and passionately for the release of all the hostages.

All the while, we have communicated extensively with Israeli military and civilian officials. At the same time, we have worked closely with community leaders in Gaza, as well as Arab nations in the region. There is no way to bring a ship full of food to Gaza without doing so.

That’s how we served more than 43 million meals in Gaza, preparing hot food in 68 community kitchens where Palestinians are feeding Palestinians.

We know Israelis. Israelis, in their heart of hearts, know that food is not a weapon of war.

Israel is better than the way this war is being waged. It is better than blocking food and medicine to civilians. It is better than killing aid workers who had coordinated their movements with the Israel Defense Forces.

The Israeli government needs to open more land routes for food and medicine today. It needs to stop killing civilians and aid workers today. It needs to start the long journey to peace today.

In the worst conditions, after the worst terrorist attack in its history, it’s time for the best of Israel to show up. You cannot save the hostages by bombing every building in Gaza. You cannot win this war by starving an entire population.

We welcome the government’s promise of an investigation into how and why members of our World Central Kitchen family were killed. That investigation needs to start at the top, not just the bottom.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said of the Israeli killings of our team, “It happens in war.” It was a direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by the Israel Defense Forces.

It was also the direct result of a policy that squeezed humanitarian aid to desperate levels. Our team was en route from a delivery of almost 400 tons of aid by sea — our second shipment, funded by the United Arab Emirates, supported by Cyprus and with clearance from the Israel Defense Forces.

The team members put their lives at risk precisely because this food aid is so rare and desperately needed. According to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification global initiative, half the population of Gaza — 1.1. million people — faces the imminent risk of famine. The team would not have made the journey if there were enough food, traveling by truck across land, to feed the people of Gaza.

The peoples of the Mediterranean and Middle East, regardless of ethnicity and religion, share a culture that values food as a powerful statement of humanity and hospitality — of our shared hope for a better tomorrow.

There’s a reason, at this special time of year, Christians make Easter eggs, Muslims eat an egg at iftar dinners and an egg sits on the Seder plate. This symbol of life and hope reborn in spring extends across religions and cultures.

I have been a stranger at Seder dinners. I have heard the ancient Passover stories about being a stranger in the land of Egypt, the commandment to remember — with a feast before you — that the children of Israel were once slaves.

It is not a sign of weakness to feed strangers; it is a sign of strength. The people of Israel need to remember, at this darkest hour, what strength truly looks like.