From World War II to Santa Claus and Snowballs
Local authors discuss their latest works
By Terri Akman

Three SJ authors sat down with SJ Magazine Editor-in-Chief Marianne Aleardi as part of the Festival of Arts, Books and Culture at the Katz JCC. Bringing their unique backgrounds and perspectives to the literary world, these writers introduce readers to new worlds and new ideas.


Matt Goldberg

“A Snowball’s Chance: Philly FiresBack Against the National Media”

Philly fans get a bad wrap, insists Cherry Hill author Matt Goldberg, and it all started in December 1968 with the now infamous Santa Claus incident.

“The regular Santa couldn’t come to the Eagles football game that day,” says Goldberg. “A guy named Frank Olivo was sitting in the stands in a Santa suit and was asked to come down and act as Santa. There’s some debate – some say he was drunk, he swears he wasn’t. Some say he was wearing a cheap suit, though he protests otherwise.

Matt Goldberg JCCbooks_1390“It was another lost season in Philadelphia, and the fans were in a miserable mood. I don’t know if it was more venom or good-natured teasing, but the boo-birds starting coming, and they threw some snowballs at Santa Claus. It wasn’t an assault, but the legendary Howard Cosell included it in a highlights package and it took on a life of its own. People from outside Philadelphia act like it’s a pagan ritual that whenever we see Santa Claus we boo and peg him with snowballs.”

These and other stories of how passionate Philly fans earned their bad reputation are explored in the book, co-authored with Joe Vallee, Billy Vargus, Ryan Downs and Dennis Bakay.

“We have a little fun in the process, saying that there’s actually a secret handbook given to outside media on how to go about ripping the Philadelphia sports fans,” Goldberg explains. “We play on that throughout the book but in a way that defends and celebrates the Philly sports fans.”

Goldberg hopes readers will see the Philadelphia perspective, presented in various chapters by ex-great Philly athletes, including Larry Bowa, Mike Quick and Bernie Parent.

“Philly fans are perhaps the most notorious in the world, and it’s an easy story for sports journalists to rip us for our behavior. Any incident that happens in Philadelphia seems to be magnified 1,000-fold,” he says. “We decided to take the fans’ side of the story, although we are fair-minded. Philadelphia sports fans aren’t angels, but we’re knowledgeable, passionate and sentimental. We have a collective chip on our shoulders from all the years of losing and in recent years, getting very close, but having few parades to celebrate a championship.”


Rhonda Fink-Whitman

“94 Maidens”

Based on the true story of her mother’s escape from Nazi-occupied Poland in 1942, Rhonda Fink-Whitman felt compelled to write this highly personal story.

“It is inspired by true events of how my mother survived the Holocaust,” she says. “My mom was very young then. She was 6 years old when she was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. My grandmother had told her story of survival but we don’t have her with us anymore, unfortunately. So, there were pieces of the story that were missing.”

With her husband and teenage son in tow, Fink-Whitman traveled to Europe to fill in those missing pieces.

Rhonda Fink Whitman JCCbooks_1386“We gained access to sealed Nazi documents and were able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together by actually following in my family’s footsteps to see what happened,” she says. “My story blends present with past, so in one chapter you’ll be with me, my husband and son as we’re standing on the train tracks in Auschwitz-Birkenau and finding out what happened to certain family members there. Then the next chapter flings you back in time and now you’re on those very same train tracks in 1944 and you get to see it unfold for yourself.”

Beyond sharing a moving story, Fink-Whitman hopes that “94 Maidens” will educate readers about the Holocaust. Though the book is complete, she feels her mission has just begun.

“There are so many Holocaust deniers and minimizers that are trivializing the atrocities of the Holocaust,” she says. “This was what I could do to help educate people about what happened. It wasn’t my choice to write this story, it was my responsibility.”


Dr. Winker JCCbooks_1383

Sheldon Winkler

“The Music of World War II: War Songs and Their Stories”

As a schoolboy during WWII, Sheldon Winkler learned many of the patriotic songs that define that era. The retired Temple University professor realized he needed to share these songs with the world.

“I just loved those songs and still remember the lyrics,” says the Cherry Hill native. “My mother started teaching me piano when I was about 6. I later formed a band, and we played at school dances, weddings and bat mitzvahs. We appeared on the radio several times, and those songs stayed with me throughout my life.”

Most interested in the stories behind the songs, Winkler began researching their origins. “‘My Sister and I’ is a very interesting story,” he says. “It was a book published during the second World War by a young 12-year-old Dutch boy, Dirk van der Heidi. He kept a diary and apparently was in Holland when the war broke out, and he did a tremendous job on the book. It was a really good seller and the song was recorded by a number of well-known bands.

“Apparently young Dirk went through every possible misfortune. His mother was killed, an uncle was able to save him and his sister, and they managed somehow to make it across to England. Many people questioned the book at the time, wondering how a 12-year-old boy could write a book like that. The Queen of Holland, Wilhelmina, came to the United States on two occasions during the second World War and she was looking for young Dirk to present him an award. She could never find him, because he had never written the book. It was written by a professional author.”


December 2013
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