SAN DIEGO - Little miracles are happening in unexpected places every day during this pandemic.
One involves JoAnne Burns' trip to the grocery store. The 88-year-old great grandmother, whose family has lived in El Cajon since the 1920s, ventured out to a nearby grocery store and found herself waiting for 40 minutes in the checkout line at Albertson's.
"When I got up to the counter, the nice gal behind me said, 'Would you mind if I pay for your groceries?'" Burns thanked the stranger but said that wasn't necessary.
Nevertheless, the woman insisted that the cashier put Burns' groceries on her bill.
"I didn't know what to do," Burns related to me afterward. "I was touched," she said. "Normally, I would have given her a big hug, but I couldn't because of what's going on."
Instead, Burns thanked the stranger and hurried home. "I was afraid I was going to cry," she said.
Her cleaning lady, Emilia, was at her house. "She has been struggling. She lost several of her clients," Burns confided. Plus, two of her grown children had lost their jobs and had moved in with her.
"I just had a nice thing happen to me at the grocery store," she told Emilia,"and I'm going to pay it forward." Burns looked at her store receipt and dug into her purse to pay Emilia the $75 she would have paid for her groceries.
"She was speechless," Burns related.
When Emilia thanked her, Burns simply suggested that she pay it forward.
Second act: Veteran San Diego singer-songwriters Peggy Watson and David Beldock, joining with bassist Paul Beach, have put out a new CD, "Dreaming." Like most everyone else, the musicians' release plans were waylaid by the pandemic.
While their debut party is being rescheduled for a later date, they are selling the CDs in the interim through the PeggyWatsonsongs.com website for $15 and are donating $5 from each sale, from now through June, to The Jacobs & Cushman San Diego Food Bank.
As a retired school teacher and counselor who was treated for an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2016, Watson is doubly grateful for our healthcare workers.
He lives on: Leslie Schwartz, a Nazi concentration camp survivor who was the inspiration for a movie filmed in San Diego, passed away last week of natural causes at age 90.
His fictionalized character was played by Hal Linden in the 2018 feature film "The Samuel Project."
Schwartz's cousin, San Diegan Steve Weinberger, helped create the movie script and produced the film in which a concentration camp survivor eventually opens up about his painful past to his grandson, a high school senior portrayed by San Diego native Ryan Ochoa.
"'The Samuel Project' family lost a friend, mentor, and simply put ... an inspiration," said Weinberger upon learning of Schwartz's death.
The Hungarian-born Schwartz was shot in the face by a Hitler Youth member during an escape attempt when he was only 13. He lived through imprisonment at Auschwitz, Dachau and Muhldorf camps and was the only one in his immediate family to survive. After he was freed, Schwartz started life anew in the United States, where he was taken in by Weinberger's grandparents at age 16.
Schwartz didn't look back until 65 years later when he met another survivor, Max Mannheimer. The activism of Mannheimer, who was determined not to let people forget the Holocaust, inspired Schwartz, too, to tell his story.
Over the next several years, he traveled globally sharing his past experience with high school students in Germany and with many others. He received major news media coverage and numerous commendations. In 2013, he was given Germany's highest civilian honor and was praised by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"To the day he died, he never held a grudge," Weinberger said. "But most importantly, his legacy lives on in those of us he taught and inspired and in stories like 'The Samuel Project.'"
Weinberger said Schwartz saw the film and met Hal Linden in New York City when "The Samuel Project" opened there in September of 2018.
"He loved the film! Was pretty choked up actually ... (it) was hard for him to watch," recalled Weinberger.
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