I’m Going Abroad!

I’ve been wanting to go back to Israel and travel elsewhere and last night I bit the bullet and bought a set of plane tickets!  From November 29 to December 21, I will be traveling to Israel and England!

Winter Trip 2010 Flight Map

Hopefully, I will have a job when I graduate and so after saving during the school year and throughout the summer, I decided to take the opportunity my long winter break presents and go abroad.

In Israel, I will be going back to some of the places I saw when studying abroad, going to some of the places I missed, seeing new things, and visiting friends.

In England, I will be staying with a friend (he is serving as my tour guide as well) who I worked with last summer at Boy Scout camp.  I will be going around London (hopefully including places my grandma remembers hearing about from my great-grandma who was from London), traveling the country, and perhaps briefly checking out Scotland and Wales.

I am very excited to this trip.  Now I need to relearn Hebrew.  I think my English will suffice!  Any input on places to visit is definitely appreciated. 🙂

Lady GaGa on the Carillon

The University of Denver has a beautiful set of 65 carillon bells “cast by the Eijsbouts foundry from the Netherlands in 1998. The largest bell weighs 11,685 lb”.  The bells are in the tower over the Ritchie Center and ring for the time and when they are played throughout the day.  I like them a lot.

Some of the carillon bells at the University of Denver

One of my friends posted a video on Facebook that is definitely worth playing.  The carillonneur at Iowa State University played Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” on their carillon.  It’s quite amazing!  I hope DU does the same.

Carillon Tower at the University of Denver, above the Ritchie Center

Fire At Majdanek

The title of this post seems a little eerie.  I feel like it would be inappropriate if it were not true.  And by being true, the title seems to remind us of a not too distant past of horror and of the ability of humans to be led like sheep – both by force and by propaganda.

I was at Majdanek in the summer of 2005 with USY Poland/Israel Pilgrimage (a program of my youth group).  We spent a week in Poland and five weeks in Israel.  Visiting Majdanek was one of the most meaningful and impactful experiences of that summer, even my life.  It is still difficult for me to look at the pictures from that visit to Majdanek – the concentration/death camp near Lublin, Poland.

In case you have not heard, a fire recently destroyed most of the original barracks of the camp that contained shoes of the camp’s prisoners – seeing/smelling/being in the midst of all of the thousands of shoes of real people is a saddening and real experience.

A picture I took in 2005 of the shoes barrack at Majdanek.

Information about the fire seems to be inconsistent.  Nevertheless, here are two articles about the recent fire:

From the JTA:

Op-Ed: The Shoes of Majdanek

By Michael Berenbaum · August 26, 2010

lOS ANGELES (JTA) — Reports of a fire at Majdanek that damaged the barracks housing hundreds of thousands of shoes of the Jews murdered in the death camp should cause us to shudder. Something monumental has been lost.

A word about Majdanek: The camp is situated in a valley just outside the major town of Lublin, in proximity to Little Majdan, from which it derived its name. It was situated in the Polish territory annexed to the Third Reich. During the war, it was part of Germany proper.

Majdanek was captured whole in July 1944. Unlike at Auschwitz, the Nazis had no time to evacuate the camp or to burn its contents. Its liberation was featured on the front page of The New York Times. H.W. Lawrence, a correspondent for the Times, wrote: “I have just seen the most terrible place on Earth.” These revelations were not given much credence. The very existence of something as awful as a death camp seemed impossible. Even graphic films of the camp shown in Britain and the United States were dismissed as Soviet propaganda.

Because Majdanek was captured whole, those who visit the death camp see far more than they might see at Auschwitz. As any visitor to the camp will tell you, Majdanek is more primitive, more actual, more real and more powerful.


Visitors to Majdanek would walk through the barracks of shoes, the shoes of the 500,000 Jews from the various ghettos and camps who entered but did not leave. To me, that barracks was the most powerful part of a visit to Majdanek, more moving even than the gas chambers and crematoria that one sees intact at the top of the hill, more powerful still than the pyramid of ashes that form a mountain just outside the gas chamber.

Moses Schulstein, the great Yiddish poet, wrote of these shoes in his poem “I Saw a Mountain”:

I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy than the Mountain of Sinai.
Not in a dream. It was real.
On this world this mountain stood.
Such a mountain I saw — of Jewish shoes in Majdanek. …

Hear! Hear the march.
Hear the shuffle of shoes left behind — that which remained.
From small, from large, from each and every one.
Make way for the rows — for the pairs,
For the generations — for the years.
The shoe army — it moves and moves.

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam.
And because we are only made of stuff and leather
And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.

We shoes — that used to go strolling in the market
Or with the bride and groom to the chuppah,
We shoes from simple Jews, from butchers and carpenters,
From crocheted booties of babies just beginning to walk and go
On happy occasions, weddings, and even until the time
Of giving birth, to a dance, to exciting places to life…
Or quietly — to a funeral.
Unceasingly we go. We tramp.
The hangman never had the chance to snatch us into his
Sack of loot — now we go to him.
Let everyone hear the steps, which flow as tears,
The steps that measure out the judgment.”
I saw a mountain
Higher than Mt. Blanc
And more Holy than the Mountain of Sinai.

The shoes of Majdanek are rotting. They smell. The rot and the smell viscerally illustrate the distance that stands between that time and our time. They bear witness to the erosion of time, which we want to decouple from the erosion of memory.

In a barracks adjacent to the barracks housing the shoes, the visitor files past the uniforms of men and women, even of children who lived in this camp, who died in this camp. Human beings once wore those uniforms and those shoes; once, they were alive; now, they are dead. One can sense their absence; the visitor must imagine their presence.

How did the shoes and uniforms arrive at Majdanek?

Majdanek was the place where the warehouses from Aktion Reinhard (Operation Reinhard, the Nazis’ code name for their plan to exterminate Polish Jewry) were located, where the clothing and valuables taken from the prisoners were collected, sorted and stored, and shipped back into Germany.

The death camp was also the headquarters for the destruction of regional ghettos and the place of supervision for the Aktion Reinhard camps — Sobibor, Belzec and Treblinka.

So much was lost in the fire – the material remains of the people who were consumed there and elsewhere by fire, and whose burial place was the sky.

I cried when I heard of the flames that consumed those shoes, and then I thought again. Perhaps after 66 years of bearing witness to the hell fire, the shoes – made of fiber and leather – were reunited with the grandfathers and grandchildren from Paris, Prague and Amsterdam, the men, women and children of flesh and blood.

(Michael Berenbaum is a professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He was the project director for the creation of the U.S. Holocaust Museum and is the former director of its research institute.)

I recently saw that poem and the some of the shoes at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

An article from the Jerusalem Post:

Majdanek: 10,000 pairs of shoes burnt

08/10/2010 14:37

A fire broke out Monday night at the Majdanek concentration camp barracks in Poland and destroyed ten-thousand pairs of shoes belonging to former prisoners, according to Majdanek Museum Director Tomasz Kranz.

The fire, which seriously damaged two-thirds of the wooden structure, occurred at midnight and took six hours to put out, a spokesman from the Lublin fire brigade reportedly said.

On Tuesday, Yad Vashem Chairman Avner Shalev expressed support and assistance to Kranz following reports of the fire.

Shalev conveyed deep sorrow that such a historic landmark and invaluable artifacts suffered such damage.

“The damage to these irreplaceable items is a loss to a site that has such historical value to Europe, Poland and the Jewish people,” Shalev told Kranz.

Authorities have not been able to locate the cause of the fire yet are investigating all possibilities.

The site manager stated that the cause of the fire was unclear but it was likely that it started as a result of a power outage.

Majdanek concentration camp is located near the southeastern Polish city of Lublin.

Over 360,000 people, over half of them Jews, were murdered at the camp.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp also suffered damage this year as heavy floods covered the site and nearly destroyed the memorial area.

Apparently there was also flooding at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Click here to read about it.

I kept a journey during my trip to Poland.  Below is an unedited copy of what I wrote at/about Majdanek:

Journal Entry of June 24, 2005

Majdanek Death Camp, Lublin, Poland

“Words can’t describe emotions right now.  We are currently at Majdanek (pronounced My don ek).  The crows call above us.  Constantly calling out as if to say ‘here lie the dead’.  I’m sitting on a piece of concrete in front of a barrack.  I don’t know what to write.  I feel guilty?  Lucky to be alive?  Hopeful for the future?  Worried for my kids?  The crows seem to be mocking us.  Rattling Nalgene bottles, beeping digital cameras – how?  How do we allow ourselves such luxuries in the place of countless dead?  We walked through our first building & saw an experimental gas chamber, real showers, Zyklon B storage room & real gas chambers.  Not until sitting outside the buildings did I realize what I’d just seen.  It was in there!  There people were not killed or murdered but exterminated.  Ah the crows!  Kids ride their bikes through the camp as a shortcut home.  People live right next door.  We saw a van drive through.  How?  How does this happen?  The barracks are larger than I thought & many have museum exhibits.  I was looking for one to still have the bunk beds.  I’ve yet to find it.  Creaking floorboards, wet, moldy, perhaps, rotten wood.  How?  Why?  Evan asked me to read part of a poem as we do our memorial service before we leave, but not yet though.  At least I’ll be able to do something in memory of the 350,000 dead.  They wanted us to bring water bottles.  How?  I couldn’t eat or drink in this place.  They wanted us to wear hats because of the sun.  How?  It didn’t matter for the prisoners.  I want to show off my yarmulke as if to say ‘A Jew still lives!’  The crows!

“We just did our memorial service.  We’ve seen barracks from different stages of the camp.  We walked through fields.  Saw the guard towers.  We went into the last building.  We saw the dissecting table where gold was removed from the dead.  We walked through a dark, damp, cool crematorium.  Ah! The thoughts!  The feelings!  Oh God!  We entered the room housing the crematorium.  What to think?  I’m so mixed up, sad, angry, I don’t know, I don’t – I don’t know what to do.  18,400 Jews were killed one day in pits behind the crematorium because of revolts at other camps.  It’s hard to write.  I want to cry but the tears won’t come.  I want to hug someone – to feel someone close to me to know others are still alive.  The crows keep making noise & now dogs are barking.  Everyone has different reactions.  The tears on many!  There is a monument/mausoleum where a pile of ash is under a stone dome.  We did our memorial service.  We read a poem about the blue on the walls of the crematorium from the poisoned breath.  Reading it was very moving.  I was shaking (like I am now) so badly I was afraid I would fall into the ash pit.  Elana read the poem ‘I am a Jew’.  It has new meaning having been read here.  Marc read the memorial prayer & asked us not to close our eyes.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, looking over the camp.  Oh God!  I can’t write more.  I’m shaking too badly.  The thoughts!  The feelings!”

Me and two friends writing in our journals at Majdanek, 2005.

The Call of the Wild

At each opening and closing campfire at summer camp, a staff member of the Ranger Program presents a poem/story of some sort and recruits for the program.  These stories are inspirational, motivational, and meaningful.  They tend to (appropriately) relate to the outdoors.  One of my favorites is “The Call of the Wild”.  This poem by Robert Service is not the same as the story by Jack London, but is nevertheless a challenge for exploration and understanding.  It is definitely worth reading and considering.

The Call of the Wild

by Robert W. Service

Have you gazed on naked grandeur
where there’s nothing else to gaze on,
Set pieces and drop-curtain scenes galore,
Big mountains heaved to heaven, which the blinding sunsets blazon,
Black canyons where the rapids rip and roar?
Have you swept the visioned valley
with the green stream streaking through it,
Searched the Vastness for a something you have lost?
Have you strung your soul to silence?
Then for God’s sake go and do it;
Hear the challenge, learn the lesson, pay the cost.

Have you wandered in the wilderness, the sagebrush desolation,
The bunch-grass levels where the cattle graze?
Have you whistled bits of rag-time at the end of all creation,
And learned to know the desert’s little ways?
Have you camped upon the foothills,
have you galloped o’er the ranges,
Have you roamed the arid sun-lands through and through?
Have you chummed up with the mesa?
Do you know its moods and changes?
Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.

Have you known the Great White Silence,
not a snow-gemmed twig aquiver?
(Eternal truths that shame our soothing lies).
Have you broken trail on snowshoes? mushed your huskies up the river,
Dared the unknown, led the way, and clutched the prize?
Have you marked the map’s void spaces, mingled with the mongrel races,
Felt the savage strength of brute in every thew?
And though grim as hell the worst is,
can you round it off with curses?
Then hearken to the Wild — it’s wanting you.

Have you suffered, starved and triumphed,
groveled down, yet grasped at glory,
Grown bigger in the bigness of the whole?
“Done things” just for the doing, letting babblers tell the story,
Seeing through the nice veneer the naked soul?
Have you seen God in His splendors,
heard the text that nature renders?
(You’ll never hear it in the family pew).
The simple things, the true things, the silent men who do things —
Then listen to the Wild — it’s calling you.

They have cradled you in custom,
they have primed you with their preaching,
They have soaked you in convention through and through;
They have put you in a showcase; you’re a credit to their teaching —
But can’t you hear the Wild? — it’s calling you.
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
There’s a whisper on the night-wind,
there’s a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling. . .let us go.

Robert Service

New Email Address

[This has been edited due to an increase in spam.]

I have a new email address: joelaportman [at] gmail.com.

I’ve been contemplating changing my email for some time, but never wanted to take the time to update all of my accounts, etc.  Nevertheless, I decided it was time to move from “mazeltovjp@gmail.com” to something more professional as I begin my last year of college/graduate school and take on the job hunt.

This has also given me the opportunity to update something else: my address book.  I decided it would be good to back up all of the phone numbers from my cell phone onto my computer.  As I considered this, it made sense to also update email addresses.  It seemed to me that if I had someone’s phone number in my phone, then I should probably also have their email address readily available.

I’ve had the “joelaportman [at] gmail.com” account for some time, sitting and waiting for use.  I wanted to use Gmail, as it is currently my favorite email provider and hopefully will continue to hold that place well into the future.  My ideal address would have been “jportman” or “joelportman” but since those were already taken, I included my middle initial.  I have posted that I have a new email address on Facebook and have gotten such quality comments as “im gonna call you ‘joela’ now cause thats what it looked like when i saw it” and “i’m going to call you Joelapo R. Tman”.

Delivering Happiness

This summer, I have finally had some time to read for fun!  I love reading, but not enough of it happens while I am at school.  With so much to do for class and everything else, there does not seem to be time to sit down and enjoy a good book.  Now, it may seem that this post’s article is because I finally have had time to read – and in a way it is.  Really though, it is the name of a book I recently read.

Delivering Happiness is by Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos.com.  Delivering Happiness is Tony’s story – in business and in life, the story of Zappos, and generally a guide to success in business and life.  It is exciting, informal, intuitive, and instructional.  At times I felt like I was reading a novel, not a book about business.

Tony talks about succeeding in business through profits, passion, and purpose.  He describes Zappos.com’s focus on customer service (that is actually the business he claims to be in) and how it could make every business successful.  His focus on company culture makes sense and influenced my understanding of my experience this summer during my internship.  Build-A-Bear Workshop seems to be very similar to Zappos in many of the topics described in this book.

I would recommend reading Delivering Happiness whether you are involved in business, want a good read, or just want to be happier.  For added incentive, here are Tony Hsieh’s reasons for reading his book:

10 You want to learn about the path that we took at Zappos to go from nothing to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales in less than ten years.
9 You want to learn about the path that I took that eventually led me to Zappos, and the lessons I learned along the way.
8 You want to learn from all the mistakes we made at Zappos over the years so that your business can avoid making some of the same ones.
7 You want to figure out the right balance of profits, passion, and purpose in business and in life.
6 You want to build a long-term enduring business and brand.
5 You want to create a stronger company culture, which will make your employees or colleagues happier and create more employee engagement, leading to higher productivity.
4 You want to deliver a better customer experience, which will make your customers happier and create more customer loyalty, leading to increased profits.
3 You want to build something special.
2 You want to find inspiration and happiness in work and in life.
1 You ran out of firewood for your fireplace. This book makes for an excellent fire starter.

Build-A-Bear Workshop Presentation

I wrote in an earlier post about my internship presentation to the Build-A-Bear Workshop Chiefs and Managing Directors.  I’ve had some questions so I figured I would share more of an “outline” of that presentation.  Some notes are below.

® & © 2010 Build-A-Bear Workshop. Reproduced with permission—all rights reserved.

Slide 1

My position, my supervisors

Slide 2

Who I Am – high school, college, etc.

Slide 3

Learning about the Build-A-Bear Workshop business and shortened project list.

Slide 4

Introduce the International Holiday Toolkit and it’s role in the International Operations Summit; the focus on execution.

Slide 5

More details on the Holiday Toolkit – designed to fit Summit theme, made more functional, easier implementation, led collaborative effort of departments across the company.

Slide 6

My Takeaways:

  • The opportunities and challenges of running an international business.
  • Tim has described our work as a business of relationships.  Whether it is coordinating projects with an international team made up of representatives from across the company or saying something to each franchisee in just the right way, this statement is certainly true.
  • Happy employees are more productive and are able to create new and happier customers.
  • Asking questions, exploring new ideas, and challenging the status quo are not only okay but important pieces of business growth.
  • The importance of simplicity and clarity.
  • Excel is everywhere and that larger paper can offer larger spreadsheets.

Slide 7

Impact on my career plan:

  • Desire in an employer and piqued my interest in exploring the world of franchising.
  • I want to work for a company which values its employees and its customers, that has great public reception, and which cares about more than just the bottom line.
  • I like the fast-paced work environment with projects that change daily and unexpectedly.
  • Tim has taught me that franchising is “like being on the board of a bunch of small companies”.
  • This translates into Karen’s description of Build-A-Bear’s franchising as working like consultants.

Slide 8

Thank you for an amazing experience and a great opportunity!

Washington, D.C.

I have not posted anything on here lately because I have been on vacation with my family.  We went to Washington, D.C. for several days.  They were certainly action packed but I really liked what we saw.  That included:

  • National Mall
  • A lot of monuments, statues, and memorials – WWII Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, Boy Scout monument, Ulysses S. Grant Monument
  • Washington Monument – rode up
  • Museum of Natural History
  • Museum of American History
  • Air & Space Museum
  • Freer Art Gallery
  • Smithsonian Castle
  • National Archives
  • The White House
  • Bureau of Engraving and Printing
  • U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • U.S. Capital
  • U.S. Supreme Court
  • The Library of Congress
  • The Pentagon
  • Arlington National Cemetery
  • Chinatown
  • Georgetown
  • DuPont Circle/Embassy Row

Basically, it was a great vacation and we saw a lot.  I would like to go back and see more/some things again when I have more time to do so in a more relaxed manner.

I am looking forward to actually relaxing for the first time this summer.  That is not to happen yet though as I am leaving to go to a wedding in just a few minutes.  Hopefully after getting back on Monday, things will slow down or at least allow for sleeping time before I go back to Denver for school.

End of Internship & Final Project List

Well, today was the last day of my internship at Build-A-Bear Workshop.  I cannot believe how quickly it went.  While I was a bit unsure about leaving summer camp, I have had an amazing experience and learned, contributed, and grew more than I ever could have expected.  I am very happy to have had this experience.

Today I had the ability to sit down with Tim and Karen and talk for a bit, get to know Darlene better (she is the head of HR), complete projects, clean up, and say my goodbyes.  Although, I hope they are really just “see you laters”.  That would be wonderful.  I plan on keeping up with the progress of the company and related news.  I will certainly be back to visit BearQuarters and stay in touch with those I worked with this summer.  Who knows – if I am lucky, I will have the opportunity to do so again.

Below is the final list of the projects I completed in my internship this summer:

Project List

  • Updated Merchandising Assortment Guide (MAG)
  • Updated and branded prospective franchisee materials
  • Partnered in the preparation of a PowerPoint presentation on International for a Board of Directors meeting
  • Compiled international store profit/loss analysis
  • Analyzed seasonal global sales by country and product for the 2010 FIFA World Cup
    • Developed tools for an international assessment of the World Cup program
    • Created reports for the FIFA licensor towards evaluation of a contract for the 2014 World Cup
  • Created a “toolkit” to assist franchisees in driving sales during Quarter 4 / 2010 Holidays that involved compilation and creation of resources from across the company
  • Helped plan the 2010 International Operations Summit
    • Developed presentation materials for presenters
  • Organized international store pictures
  • Updated international store layout/blueprint records for store fixture assessment
  • Researched 2011 International Licensing Opportunities
  • Analyzed international supply chain/inventory flow and product loads by country as a tool for assessing the international franchise model
  • Assisted franchisees in developing inventory forecasts and turnover/ordering projections
  • Reviewed new store proposal/design and real estate opportunities
  • Offered feedback on business plans submitted by prospective franchisees
  • Conducted merchandise reviews for seasonal and core product planning, ordering, and delivery
  • Developed tools for end-of-season program evaluation and product analysis
  • Assisted in the development of strategy and promotional plans for complimentary business products
  • Acted on behalf of franchisees in resolving disputed invoices
  • Assisted with headquarters training of franchisees
  • Filled out a Franchise Offering Circular for new franchise development
  • Forecasted yearly revenue from royalties and development fee amortization in developing the FY2011 International Department budget
  • Communicated regularly with franchisees worldwide

Through these projects I have been able to:

  • Analyze and evaluate product sales
  • Assist in franchise development
  • Help franchisees become more profitable while increasing royalties to Build-A-Bear Workshop®
Countries with Build-A-Bear Franchises (as of 13 August 2010)

Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Thailand, Japan, South Africa, Germany, Mexico, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Russia, Singapore

It may seem unrealistic to have done all of this in just ten weeks, but that is the reality of Build-A-Bear Workshop – surpassing expectations. 🙂

The Second To Last Day

Today was amazing.  I really do not want this internship to end.  I hate goodbyes – although hopefully this will not be goodbye.  I would love the opportunity to come back to work for Build-A-Bear Workshop after graduation and it seems as though that may be a possibility if a position becomes available.  I’ve got my fingers crossed.

When I got to work today, I had an email from Maxine (the CEO) that she had sent to all of the interns with the subject “You guys rock!!!”.  That’s pretty awesome.  She wanted to thank us for our work this summer and asked us to be in touch.  That seems to be a theme with most people in the company and they genuinely seem to mean it.  I will definitely be in touch.

Laurie, who coordinates our internship program, shared with me a message that Maxine had sent out to Tina (CFO), Eric (General Counsel), Darlene (Chief of HR), and Laurie early this morning.  She had seen my blog post from yesterday and sent it to them to “enjoy”.  How nice!

Today I worked on finishing a few projects, went to lunch with the international team, met with several people, and went to the Bon Voyage Paw-ty for the interns.

At lunch, Cory and I were each given a Zakumi, the World Cup mascot, from Build-a-Bear Workshop International for our work on the World Cup as well as a Build-A-Bear Workshop International portfolio and highly sought after jacket.  I was pleasantly surprised and am happy to be able to take these with me to remember the international team.

At our Bon Voyage Paw-ty, a good chunk of BearQuarters showed up to say goodbye.  It was nice of them to come se us off and showed me, once again, how interconnected we all are.  The company gave each intern a bear with a shirt that had been embroidered with our university name on it, a signed copy (with a personal note) of Maxine’s book, The Bear Necessities of Business, among other gifts.  They are really very kind.

I met with Tina and Eric today.  It was my first chat with Tina and I got to find out her history and involvement in the company and a bit about her personally.  I was able to reflect on the summer and the company’s future with both of them.  Everyone here has such unique stories and perspectives that together give the company a lot of opportunities.

There will be a Bear Builder in town from Denmark the week after next.  Even though I will no longer be with the company, I have been invited to help show him around St. Louis and participate in events with him in the evening.  That should be a lot of fun.

One more day.  I know it will be good.