The Shmooze

Forward Columnist Masha Leon Honored by Poland

By Lillian Swanson

  • Print
  • Share Share

Columnist Masha Leon, who has covered social events for the Forverts and then the Forward for more than 30 years, was honored Thursday night by the government of Poland for her articles and other work that have helped further the understanding of Polish-Jewish lives, history and culture.

Karen Leon
Masha Leon receiving the award from the President of Poland.

The president of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, pinned a blue-ribbon medal with a silver eagle, the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, on her chest in a ceremony held in the grand salon of the Polish consulate in New York City. The award has been given since 1974 to foreigners or Polish citizens living abroad.

Leon was among 26 honorees — three of them women — who attended the ceremony and were given the diplomatic order for their extraordinary service to the Polish nation. The names of about a half dozen other honorees were also read, among them Forward contributing writer Ruth Ellen Gruber.

Leon, who is normally talkative, was at a loss for words to describe how she felt about receiving the prestigious award. “It’s beyond description,” she said. “It’s really a validation by the government of the role Jews historically played in Poland.”

In presenting ribbons around the necks of some and medals to others, Komorowski, said the honorees were chosen for “the achievements you have made throughout your lives.” His remarks were spoken in Polish, and translated into English.

Noting “the Polish heart is so big” the president said that each of the honorees had a story to tell about what he or she had overcome.

“Behind every person is a very difficult history,” he said, adding that for some it was “a very difficult Jewish history. Thank you for everything you have done.”

For Leon, on the night that she shook hands with the Polish president and was warmly greeted by Consul General Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, the memories of her girlhood days on the streets of Warsaw, where she was called names and stones were thrown at her simply because she is a Jew, came flowing back easily.

In an interview, Leon, nee Masha Bernstein, recounted how during World War II she and her mother, Zelda Bernstein, were hidden by a Catholic woman, until they could escape from German-occupied Poland to Russian-occupied Poland. Her father, Matvey Bernstein, a Polish journalist, was imprisoned for his anti-Communist sympathies.

For Leon and her mother, the odyssey took them to Lithuania for a year, to Japan, and eventually to the United States.

Leon began writing for an English insert in the Forverts in about 1980. Then her coverage of Jewish galas, dinners, awards ceremonies and other events migrated into the Forward, where she writes a weekly newspaper column called “On the Go” with an expanded version of the column online. She has also written about the Holocaust, arts and culture, moderated panels and been involved in other ways in furthering Polish-Jewish dialogue.

From attending dozens of events each month, she is widely known in Jewish circles for buttonholing machers for comments and boldfacing their names in the paper. Her daughter, Karen, is always at her side, camera in hand.

The Polish consul general told Leon about six months ago that she was being considered for the award. The columnist submitted 25 to 30 articles from the Forward, and promptly forgot about it until the consul general called to tell her recently that she would be recognized.

Thus, the tables were turned.

Leon was honored in the Versaille-worthy, mirrored salon with the gilded ceiling, where down through the years she has reported on the remarks of many high achievers. The columnist confessed to the Forward that it was very hard to sit on her hands and refrain from jotting down notes when it was her turn to be in the spotlight.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Masha Leon, Poland

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.