• WORK TOWARDS FAIRNESS | Opening Event 

___

  • -After WTF-

A Brief Foray Into BelgiumExploring My Foundation Through the Constructs of David Moed, My Great-Grandfather 

It’s the week after the opening of Work Towards Fairness. I decided to dedicate these precious days to discovering the architectural career my great-grandfather, David Moed through going to visit his buildings; including the one that my grandfather Leon, and his sister Pnina and brother Peniel grew up in before they were forced to flea Europe in WWII. I was overwhelmed to learn that many of great-grandfather’s works were not only still standing but fully functional and filled with members of the Jewish community in Antwerp! Additionally it was clear through researching at multiple archives that David Moëd was already a highly successful up-incoming architect- making over THIRTY buildings in the short era of his Belgian career, and getting published in numerous journals and magazines about new and fresh architects. [In Belgium Moed is spelled with an ë” thus pronouncing my last name (mo·aid) correctly!]  This is seemingly the beginning of a long exploration and documentation of an important era in Belgian Design and my family history [I think I’ll get a real job before I take that on..]
In short, the trip was quite different from many fruitless and disappointing trips that people take to ‘find their pre-war roots’ only to find a name in some dusty book and a bunch of goyim. This was most definitely not the case in Antwerp- though it was difficult to see a place that the family and many other thousands of Jews left or were deported from, a matter of life or death, there is a very large and vibrant Jewish community in Antwerp- some call it the last schtetl in Europe! A block away from my grandfather’s childhood apartment stands Gottesfeld’s, the Hiemeshe Bakery, Hoffy’s Steakhouse etc! Above all, I managed to find a bronze plaque on a modest art deco building [#13 Van Eykelei] bearing David Moed’s name. A stamp of permanence in a place that transformed into a tragically temporal home; the former city of the Moed’s and many thousands of others. Antwerp: a place that was abandoned by cataclysmic necessity, beyond anything my talented Great-Grandfather, his wife, his children and his neighbors, would have imagined.

Thank God these refugees, my family, were strong enough to run and pick up the pieces. And thank God for Aristides de Sousa Mendes, the man who opened the portal into the next phase of life: New York, New York- the city that I’ll be going home to soon.

  • Sunday | June 16

The Work Towards Fairness press coverage has begun! Please check out the below links for TV spots & articles. It was validating to see that the project, the Sousa Mendes story and my family’s story are getting shared. It is even more heartwarming to receive all of the feedback and support from those who are touched by the Casa do Passal and want to help. A big thank you to everyone who reached out. See below for the Press links..

PRESS
Video:
SIC TV
VISAO

News Stories:
Boas Noticias
Visao Magazine

  • Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday | June 11 & 12 & 13

This week was a week of planning and ‘panels’ – we placed and secured all 60 panels with 30,000 signatures into the pavilions starting with the pavilion roofs and moving on to the rest of the walls.  I am also finalizing the plans for the opening. I truly cannot wait, after studying, designing  proposing, pondering and emoting about this home and the project, the opening event is merely a week away. I am starting to feel a full-bodied sensation washing over me as I get further into the deep rooted emotional state that comes with doing the work you love for the ultimate purpose:  gratitude. And with that I’m off to Guimaraes- the birthplace of Portugal.

Before I go I thought it would be fitting to share a few thoughts regarding the ultimate purpose of this project along with a few facts about it!

  •  I view this project as Step One to inspire a plan to restore the Casa do Passal- proof that something can be done at this site and that it must be done!
  • This project is unique because I can use the specific skill that Aristides enabled 3 generations of my family to pursue personally and professionally, architecture, to honor him.
  • The exhibition is meant to teach about Aristides and the need for tolerance in today’s times, and to inform the public about the need to restore the home
  • This is the first act of building that has taken place at the Casa do Passal in over 50 years
  • The project took months to design, over 2 months to build, has well over 100 structural pieces and over 300 exhibition pieces. It took over a month to ship by container from Brooklyn, NY to Oporto, Portugal finally reaching it’s destination at Cabanas de Viriato

more after the jump..

  • Share and disseminate the story of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and the Sousa Mendes family and the need to restore the Casa do Passal
  • Unify those rescued by Aristides
  • Galvanize the Village of Cabanas to explore and celebrate their history
  • Galvanize the local community to return the property of Sousa Mendes to its rightful place, the home.
  • Unify and unite the Jewish communities of Lisbon, Oporto, and Belmonte
  • Unify the Sousa Mendes Family
  • Unify the Sousa Mendes Foundations
  • Educate about the Holocaust
  • Show that I am alive directly because of ASM. My family and I, and tens of others are living proof of the power of his actions
  • Show the third generation that we are directly connected to our history.
  • The design is completely comprised of units of ’3:” 3 Pavilions, Each gridded into sets of 3 panels, 30,000 signatures on all of the panels, even sets of 3 bolts to tie each detail together- from the largest scale to the smallest- just as Aristides cared for all people- with steadfast focus so that no ‘detail’ was overlooked.
  • I  can only express what has changed for me since hearing the news of my family’s rescue using geography as an analogy. Going from Brooklyn, NY [+ living in/near cities my whole life], all the way to Cabanas de Viriato, a place I would have never known existed, let alone visited, is much like the corner of [personal] history I never knew existed. Now I am here, living in this history, waking up to the same church bells that Aristides did and gazing upon his broken home each morning- a cathartic experience- a place at once a black hole and a halo.
  • As time passes the Casa do Passal deteriorates. WTF Work Towards Fairness, focuses on the proposal of a fresh schematic design for the Casa do Passal through the use of a temporary pavilion instillation. I intend to show in specific terms, how this now-decrepit home, can turn into a meaningful and dignified museum celebrating the life of its former inhabitant- the heroic Aristides de Sousa Mendes. Through the design process I hope to garnish recognition for this newly-landmarked building. This freshly harvested recognition, along with the cognition required to carry out a successful and immaginative scheme, can kick-start a new era of thought regarding this long-stalled project. Discussion can foster action; action that can lead to finally making something special occur at this meaningful site.

A recap of last week..

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  • Monday | June 10
Today was ‘Portugal Day’ – a day off. “Why?” you ask. Not because this day has any true political or social context, rather it’s simply a day that people relax, and oh yeah, supposedly some famous author was bor or died [none of the Portuguese people I polled knew] on June 10th. It was however an important day for other reasons- it was my filmmaker Max’s birthday! In celebration we went on a day-trip to the highest mountain in Portugal- Serra da Estrela Natural Park- it was incredible. We stopped the car every 10m to take photos, especially when we noticed that we were above the clouds. We also stopped in the storied town of Belmonte, the home to the largest Portuguese Jewish community- a community that used to be known as the last of the ‘Moranos.’ A super interesting historical place and story. Learn more about that here. Rosa, my translator, and her sister and mother were secretly preparing a feast all day in honor of Max’s birthday and after a long day of day-tripping, we surprised him 


  • Sunday | June 9

Porto was crazy. Let’s leave it at that- virtually zero sleep for three days due to the amazing crew I met and the non-stop 48h Serralves arts festival at the museum of the same name! Also hung out in an Alvaro Siza building- his first! Felt great to hang out in the same city that was home to my family for 2 months over 60 years ago while they were searching for passage to the Unites States.

 

  • Friday | June 7

After a long week of work: all three Pavilion structures are up! Off to Oporto for the weekend!

 

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  • Thursday | June 6

P1100070

 

What I thought would be yet another day of painting turned, to my surprise, into the initial walls being put up BEFORE LUNCH. I was also set to meet with a photographer from Visao magazine for a photo shoot/interview- marking the beginning of the press that this exhibit is meant to garnish for the Casa do Passal; to inform the public about the story behind it and the dire need to restore it. This will be a large feature in the magazine in the coming weeks! Of course nothing in Portugal would be complete without food and drink so we invited the reporters to have lunch with us [they wanted to capture our ‘natural habitat’ anyways..] and served them our Bacalhau + Beer- they actually liked it! This was by far and beyond the biggest compliment I’ve received here thus far. Bear in mind the Portuguese tend to be pretty polite but per usual, I’ll take it. After some coffee at our local “Piano Bar” we got straight back to work- with the help of 2 extra municipal workers we erected a scaffold and put up the frames of 2 structures [!!!!] I also did a video interview with the Visao reporters in the Casa do Passal simultaneously much to the workers [and my] chagrin.
To celebrate our progress the workers suggested that I drive them home and get some beer and special bread ‘shaped like a banana.. ‘Okay! Tabem’ I said.. so off we went, about one block before they told me to stop, pull over, and kept saying ‘Forno’ ‘Forno,’ I thought something was on fire! Turns out they led us up a circuitous road to a nondescript garage where an elderly couple had a huge baking operation in the works! We got out beer and bread [which the women in charge made me take a bite of as it came out of the over] and went home happy. Max and I spontaneously decided to go to Coimbra for dinner, a college town about 50km away, where Aristides and his brother Cesar went to university, it felt good to graduate to the next phase of this project- the signature panels.
  • Wednesday | June 5

 

More painting today! And on tope of that- carrying around 50-150 pound metal frames in the Portuguese sun- 12 hours of Working Towards Fairness. ..which could have been brutal save for the workers bring 3 BOTTLES OF WINE, homemade may I add, for the three of us. Senior Guerreiro’s won the toss up, though I was impressed with Senior Manuel’s efforts [he claimed he grew, harvested and stomped on his grapes..]
We rounded things off with a home cooked dinner with Padre Marco’s family & friends- strawberries from the backyard, parsley and lettuce from the garden and best of all tiny fish on toothpicks caught by Padre Marco’s father- a true delicacy. Clearly, the work is going slowly as this is sounding more like a food blog than an architectural one. I’ll take it. For now.
Tuesday | June 4
Still Painting..
Went to the supermarket! Any supermarket in a foreign country is a place of wonders.. this one did not fall short of that between the mountains of Bacalhau [salted-codfish] and the motor oil they sold- it was quite a trip!
After lunch I had a showdown/meeting with engineer- managed to convince him to let my workers put in overtime [unheard of in Portugal!] and get things moving on building the actual structures this week. This was a BIG victory. It didn’t hurt that Padre Marco brought me some beers to relax a bit- nice work Padre. The workers got some too and accomplished a day’s work [a Portuguese day..] in 2 hours! To celebrate Max and I cooked dinner for Padre Marco- what we called Bacalhau Americano -codfish hash with sunny-side up eggs and pasta with homemade sause! It took 30+ minutes to de-bone the fish [after letting it soak all night to release the salt] but it was well worth it. Passed out after a day of hard labor in the field and the kitchen.
  • Tuesday | June 4
Still Painting..
Went to the supermarket! Any supermarket in a foreign country is a place of wonders.. this one did not fall short of that between the mountains of Bacalhau [salted-codfish] and the motor oil they sold- it was quite a trip!
After lunch I had a showdown/meeting with engineer- managed to convince him to let my workers put in overtime [unheard of in Portugal!] and get things moving on building the actual structures this week. This was a BIG victory. It didn’t hurt that Padre Marco brought me some beers to relax a bit- nice work Padre. The workers got some too and accomplished a day’s work [a Portuguese day..] in 2 hours! To celebrate Max and I cooked dinner for Padre Marco- what we called Bacalhau Americano -codfish hash with sunny-side up eggs and pasta with homemade sause! It took 30+ minutes to de-bone the fish [after letting it soak all night to release the salt] but it was well worth it. Passed out after a day of hard labor in the field and the kitchen.
  • Monday | June 3
Still painting..
It seems that nothing does or can get done in this country. That is all.

We got a car! A mayonnaise colored Mercedes SL 300 from 1991 or something. BOSS. It locks and unlocks from the trunk and who knows what other ‘features’ are in store as I drive this boat/tank around Portugal..

WEEK 1 

  • SUNDAY | JUNE 29

I am finally gaining an understanding of Portuguese culture- both in regard to it’s oft-overlooked/interesting modern culture and of course through it’s extremely rich history.It’s a very quirky country. At once super formal and simultaneously free-spirited. Rooted in Catholicism and steeped in bureaucracy and surprisingly liberal and relaxed. Examples of this: Workers are prompt to work but often drink on the job take about FOUR ‘official’ breaks during the day: an hour-long breakfast, ‘onze’ a snack at 11 [usually a small sandwich], a TWO HOUR lunch from 12-2p and more breaks for beer/wine/cigarettes throughout the day. Another example: eating with ‘Padre Marco,’ our host here in the Parochial House, at a restaurant in Viseu- there happened to be a TV with a show called ‘Splash’ playing in the background-  a show consisting of ‘celebrities’ performing diving routines. We ate with the ‘Padre’ as scenes of a semi-clad transvestite diving played in the background. Above all people are hospitable. I have yet to meet a person who has not offered their help and their home, and not just in a polite way. On the other hand people seem quite suspicious of others.

Often times it seems that no work gets done. Between the breaks, the snacks and after the TWO-HOUR lunch from 12-2 WITH WINE, you can imagine how things go after that.. but somehow things happen.

Alternatively, I just got back from an INCREDIBLE weekend in Lisbon. Coincidences, sun and spontaneity abounded- big time.  After being in the village of Cabanas de Viriato for 1.5 weeks being in the city [my natural environment] was quite a shock! However I got used to it quickly. I stayed at a fantastic hostel downtown and met a bunch of great people from everywhere- Australia to Portland to Russia etc. On Friday night I went to the old synagogue- a beautiful stone and wood structure [with a ton of security outside- you get grilled/questioned before you can enter it, something we dont have to go through/take for granted in the US] and then on to dinner at Rabbi Eli Rosenfeld’s home- on the way to his apartment I met a couple that were neighbors with my grandparents in the US! It turns out the my late grandfather Henry used to dispence ‘free-advice’ and his hooch [a homemade alcohol] in great quantities and they still visit my grandma. At the table I met people from Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Israel, Mozambique, including an architecture student- [Hi Alan!] and learned so much about Portuguese history, specifically that of its Jewish population. Unfortunately these days there is little ‘glue’ and almost no outward presence for the Jewish community- a result of many years of silent persecution and a rich history of expulsions and massacres. With that said the two Rabbis in Lisbon are trying, and succeeding in changing all of that. It is truly promising to see.

  • WEDNESDAY | MAY 29

Building has commenced! I got two painters/welders.. one looks like a complete caricature of a painter- Super Mario in real life! Today we are sanding and welding to prep the pieces for painting- super excited to see the structures go from greasy steel to glossy white.

A few notes about the project:

-First act of building at the Casa do Passal in over 50 years
-The project took months to design, over 1 month to build, has over 100 pieces and took over a month to ship by container from Brooklyn, NY to Oporto, Portugal
-The design is completely comprised of units of ‘3:” 3 Pavilions, Each Gridded into sets of 3 panels

-This project is unique because I can use the very tool that Aristides enabled 3 generations of my family to pursue personally and professionally, to honor him.
-I can only express what has changed for me since hearing the news of my family’s rescue using geography as an analogy. Going from Brooklyn, NY [+ living in/near cities my whole life], all the way to Cabanas de Viriato, a place I would have never known existed, let alone visited, is much like the corner of [personal] history I never knew existed. Now I am here, living in this history, waking up to the same church bells that Aristides did and gazing upon his broken home each morning- a cathartic experience- a place at once a black hole and a halo.

  • TUESDAY | MAY 28

Moed Visa

Today started out in a frustrating way- waiting for a rental car that never came and a trip to Porto that never happened. That all changed when Padre Marco, our host invited us to join him for dinner- we went to “Pedro’s” a tiny restaurant on dark street- family run by none other than Pedro, his wife and his daughter. Although we didnt get a rental car Pedro brought out a ‘speaker car’ – it’s just like what it sounds like, a speaker in the form of a car.. Padre Marco proceeded to do Karaoke with Pedro’s daughter, which of course we joined and then something incredible happened.

Amidst the singing [which consisted of drinking during every instrumental] Padre Marco asked me to show Pedro and his family the project at the Casa do Passal. I happily obliged and showed them photos of the construct and explained my family’s story and how it led me here. That culminated with my showing Pedro the visa [pictured above] that my Great-Grandfather David Moed received. He studied it for a moment and then I saw his eyes light up.. he looked straight at me and said “28 Maio!” I looked down and saw that this date 73 years ago— May 28th, 1940, was the very day that my great-grandfather David Moed received a visa from Aristides de Sousa Mendes. This was by far and beyond the most emotional moment of my sojourn here thus far. I am speechless as I am thankful.

Padre Marco and Pedro suggested we drink [champagne] to that- and that we did, with the entire restaurant.

  • MONDAY | MAY 27

THEE big meeting at the local Municipality took place today- meeting with the president and vice-president of the municipality, which consists of several local villages grouped together, the municipal engineer and my new translator Rosa! I phased out the project build with them in detail and then began the intense negotiations revolving around getting a car- a necessity in the middle of nowhere.. after a lot of back and forth we went to a friend of the vice prez who hooked it up! We’ll see how long it takes to actually get one- still deciding whether to learn to drive manual or not.. Bottom line.. the work starts on Wednesday!

  • SUNDAY | MAY 26

Antonio Moncada de Sousa Mendes was kind enough to stick around to show me the relevant places & homes that pertain to the Sousa Mendes story- especially the “solars-” beautiful estates that once belonged to the Portuguese aristocracy. We started on a circuitous path that led us to the birthplace of Aristides de Sousa Mendes and his twin brother Cesar. The home was destroyed save for it’s brilliant kitchen chimney [pictured] and private chapel. We also saw the Solar belonging to Aristides’ grandmother in Oliverinah as well as the home where Aristides’ wife Angelina, the unsung hero of the Sousa Mendes story, was born in the Village of Beijos. Big thanks to João Pedro Tavares- who we ran into in Cabanas [where we are based] as we needed a miracle car to see all of the above- you provided it!

Tomorrow is a big meeting with the municipality of Carregal do Sal [which represents the many villages in the area] to determine whether I can solidify three very important factors for the project: a translator, skilled workers, an engineer and a car. All were promised in a jointly signed ‘protocol’ but we’ll see what the famous Portugese red-tape and bureaucracy has to say about that..

  • SATURDAY | MAY 25

Well.. this was an interesting one..

The normally quiet village of Cabanas was taken over by 650 ‘Scouts’- Portuguese kids ranging between the ages of 7 and 18. Along with them came Antonio Moncada de Sousa Mendes, a grandson of Aristides de Sousa Mendes. The scouts choose one inspirational person to study each year- this year happened to be.. you guessed it.. Aristides de Sousa Mendes.

What ensued was the discovery that the scout’s priest Father Gerald knew hebrew. He introduced himself by wishing me a ‘Shabbat Shalom” [!!!!] the first person who seemed to understand the fact that I don’t roll on Shabbos. To make matters more interesting, he started singing a famous hebrew song – Henai Matovu Manayim– which Antonio de Sousa Mendes asked us to sing to the 650 children present. Needless to say [we]/I did. It ended up being a solo, until.. I got the group to sing along! Luckily Max, my filmmaker cuaght it on camera for posterity. You’ll know when I release it..

What followed was a heartfelt speech by Antonio about his family’s history. We then spoke together, the “first time he had spoken with someone who was from a rescued family,” he told me. I spoke in one-two line phrases and he dutifully translated. I ended the speech by saying that if there was one message I wanted to convey to the kids it was the message that ‘just like Aristides  sometimes there won’t be anybody to ask you to do the right thing, you simply have to do the right thing.’ Before Antonio could translate I was met with applause.

Another important person entered the picture as well- Max Bartick– my filmmaker for this project/recent Columbia University graduate! The kid basically left to Portugal from graduation to film the construction and experience here, which is proving to be filled with a much more mysterious set of stories surrounding the Casa do Passal then we could have ever imagined.. more on that later..

  • FRIDAY | MAY 24
The container made it!
From Brooklyn, NY all the way to the village of Cabanas de Viriato, Portugal.

        • WEDNESDAY | MAY 22

          I have arrived!

          Cabanas de Viriato, Portugal.
          A village with less than 1000 people.. Damn this place is small! Definitely country living. A prototypical Young American going to a foreign town with a lot to accomplish and a tiny bit of local knowledge- sticking out like a sore thumb wearing Levi’s..
          Regardless the container with the project is set to arrive to the village tomorrow. Let’s hope that the offloading goes well..