Announcing the Moses Altsech Random Acts of Kindness Award

Recently I learned that Dr. Moses Altsech is bringing his parents to the United States from their home in Greece. The political and social climate in Greece is akin to pre-war Germany for Greek nationals of Polish descent, such as Moses’ parents. Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn Party has launched a vicious attack on a leading Jewish organization, claiming that “Zionists” control U.S. and Greek policy. Similar to the Nazis’ use of cartoons in Europe in the 1930s-’40s, the party recently posted a cartoon depicting Prime Minister Samaras sitting on the floor under a bloody logo in front of a caricatured Jew in a chair. On the wall is a demonized President Obama, who is described in racist terms and is also portrayed as a religious Jew.

You’d think it couldn’t happen – it must be the work of a small gang of thugs – and no, you aren’t reading about it on the front page of our newspaper, but this is no youth movement. It’s serious. Golden Dawn gained 18 parliamentary seats last year in Greece’s national election. It has since become notorious for blatant anti-Semitic and xenophobic rhetoric, and Moses has firsthand knowledge of beatings, burglaries, and other public attacks on Jews and foreigners. With knowledge of what happened in Germany, and how fast it happened – shaped in part by his ongoing friendship and correspondence with the famed author of Night, Elie Wiesel – Moses is trying to convince his father to give up all that he knows, including his friends and home, to move with his wife to America. The final determination will likely be made this fall.

These are heartbreaking decisions and conversations, but you won’t know what’s going on if you meet with Moses for lunch. He’ll predictably turn the conversation to you – to your life, family, and dreams – and he’ll smile and laugh and encourage you.

You likely know Moses as marketing department chair at Edgewood College and president of executive training and consulting. I also know him as an avid collector of antiques (including a rare book collection), a philanthropist, a connector of people, a colleague, the life of any meeting or party, and most importantly, a friend who chooses not to dwell on the hate affecting his parents, but on what he can do to better their lives.

Usually, Moses is the one behind the scenes nominating others for their 15 minutes of fame, and usually his nominees win the awards he feels they deserve. Most recently, he suggested Melanie Ramey for a prestigious honor given by the Rotarians and, predictably, she won. It’s predictable because Moses truly understands the core values of the various awards, and he matches them with people he knows and admires who fit the bill.

I’m turning the tables on him and matching an award to his strengths. Moses first caught my attention when he was honored as an IB 40 Under 40 inductee, and then I discovered that he was given the Estervig-Beaubien Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring Award from Edgewood College. He’s also earned the Alliant Energy Foundation Underkofler Award, the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation Award, outstanding teacher awards (Butler University, Penn State) and many, many others. So why does he need another spotlight?

Last week we met for lunch at the Madison Club, where Moses surprised me with gifts for my grandson Patrick. Though they have never met, Moses read my blog about Patrick’s visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and the profound impact it had on him, and he wants to inspire the boy to learn more about the people affected by the Holocaust. Moses bought him beautiful copies of The Diary of Anne Frank and also a pictorial book of her home.

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Moses picked a story of hope for Patrick, not atrocity. He doesn’t want to frighten Patrick with stories of torture and extermination – he wants Patrick to understand that people are people, and Anne Frank was very much like him, though she was Jewish and Patrick is Catholic. She was a young writer. A child with hopes. A person he might have befriended. Moses picked a role model who went forward with love and hope and gratitude in her heart, despite her wild fears and dire circumstances.

And that made me think of Patrick’s new benefactor in that same way. Moses is quietly supporting at least two people that I know of (likely more) to whom he is not related. These are people still living in Greece whom he admired when he was a boy; he can’t emotionally let them age without dignity, as they would, given their limited resources today. In addition, I’ve met students who have told me that Dr. Altsech had the most profound impact on their lives; he did more than influence them – he changed them to be more giving and thoughtful about the choices they made after meeting him, both personally and in business.

Moses has had that effect on me, too. And if you know him, I bet he’s touched you and likely found a way to show you a random act of kindness. I know that this past weekend, when I handed my grandson the books, Moses very much touched him.

So I find it befitting to bring a little smile to Moses’ lips today, while he wrangles over arrangements to assist his own family. I want this award to acknowledge that he would be bringing his parents to a community that loves their son and appreciates how he makes our little corner of the world a better place through his teaching, mentoring, business consulting and by his very example. I would want them to have faith that here, in the United States, in this time and place, kindness trumps hate.

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