Saturday, December 31, 2016

Break Is Over and So Is 2016

Time to get back in the saddle, on track, back in the grove and all of the other sayings that mean BREAK IS OVER.
I'm reading a lot about all of the terrible things that happened in 2016.  Yeah, some bad stuff happned but so did a lot of wonderful things.
Let's change the bad stuff that we can and learn from it but let's also rejoice in the many, many wonderful things that happened during the past year.  We are alive and that is miracle enough.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Letter to the U.S. Electoral College

Dear Electors,

My name is Thomas D. Walker from Tucson, AZ.

I am 74 years old and grew up very poor, on Arizona cattle ranches. Through education and hard work, I've risen above that with successful careers in journalism and social service. It's a story that many people of our great nation have shared. We have made some incredible strides in improving the lives of Americans, persons around the world and the environment, through our domestic and foreign policies and legal battles.

That all changed in December 2000 when the Electoral College voted to elect George W Bush president over Al Gore who won the popular vote. As we all remember, the policies of the Bush administration ushered in an ideological agenda that resulted in an illegal war that destabilized the middle east, destroyed the country of Iraq, and ramped up the rise of terrorism.

We suffered through the collapse of our economy due to deregulation and the supply side economic policies of the Bush Administration. Millions of Americans lost their economic security through the loss of homes and retirement savings. After eight years of an Obama presidency that was shamefully obstructed by those same right wing ideologues in Congress, we are barely making gains in an economic recovery.

I wonder daily how different the world would be today if the Electoral College had voted for the winner of the popular vote in 2000. But the Electoral College didn't know what lay ahead and could not predict the disasters of a Bush presidency.

Now, 16 years later, we are at another tipping point. However, the stakes are much, much greater this time. In 2000 Al Gore was the winner of the popular vote by 539,000. In 2016, Hillary Clinton is the winner of the popular vote by 2.8-plus million votes. Despite that, the GOP managed to garner more electoral votes for a man, who any rational person can observe, is temperamentally unstable and wholly unqualified to perform the duties of the office of President of the United States of America.

Donald Trump is assembling a cabinet of anti-democratic billionaires, Wall Street insiders, white supremacists, religious-right wing ideologues, science/climate change deniers; many of these people also have no experience in governing.

This cabinet, aided by GOP politicians who are wholly in service of the billionaires and corporations who fund them, is poised to create policies that privatize every aspect of American life while dismantling the civil rights gains of the last 60 years. At the same time, they will reverse environmental protections that will hasten the destruction of many species, accelerate the refugee crisis globally and unleash disease and unknown consequences on the human race, due to accelerated climate change. All of which threaten our national security.

Now, we learn from the CIA that the Russian government intervened in the 2016 election in an effort help Donald Trump win the presidency. Hackers connected to the Russian government provided WikiLeaks with thousands of stolen emails designed to boost Trump and hurt Clinton’s chances. Whether these clandestine efforts had any effect on the election is unknown, but it certainly should cast doubts.

Donald Trump's administration is extremely dangerous internationally and he threatens to, through ignorance, narcissism and poor impulse control, destroy our relationships with our NATO allies and inadvertently destabilize America's relations with many countries that have the potential to create chaos on the world stage.

I base my opinions and predictions on Donald Trump's past and current behaviors. Instead of using the 146 days between the election and inauguration working daily in Washington, preparing to govern, studying daily briefings and overseeing the hiring of 4,000-plus persons (who, by the way, need to be highly vetted and will need security clearances) to run our government under his administration, this man is on a road trip, holding “thank you” rallies, continuing to make promises he cannot keep, engaging in divisive rhetoric, lying, calling foreign leaders willy-nilly without consulting the State Department, attacking and demonizing the free press and tweeting absurd threats to strip Americans' citizenship from them for exercising their first amendment rights.

Who knows what he’ll do today? He is a one man media circus clown.

And I haven't even gone on about his financial secrecy, international and domestic conflicts of interest, which alone disqualify him from the office of President, as he will be violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution on the day he is sworn into office.

So, the Electoral College is at another tipping point. In the spirit of Alexander Hamilton's letter writing campaign in 1800, when he urged the Electoral College to elect Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr due to his opinion that, "...Jefferson is in every view less dangerous than Burr," I, Thomas D. Walker, respectfully and tearfully write this letter to plead with the Electoral College of 2016 to vote for the winner of the popular vote, Hillary Clinton's 48.2% of the popular vote to Mr. Trump's 46.3% of the popular vote.

Please exercise your duty to protect the citizens of the United States of America from a mentally unstable demagogue who views the presidency as a vehicle to promote his brand. Please elect the "less dangerous" and highly qualified, lifelong public servant, Secretary Clinton as the next President of the United States of America. If you cast your votes for Donald Trump, when our country is ripped apart, you will not, in years to come, be able to say, "Well, we could not have predicted this....".

Thank you for your time and consideration, I appreciate and respect the role you serve in our electoral process.


Thomas D. Walker

Sunday, November 6, 2016

We're All Just A Little Crazy Right Now

I'm not talking hyperbole nor am I denigrating those of us who suffer from mental illness.  I'm a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and I'm here to say I think that a huge percentage of this country's population suffers from a psychiatric illness called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (DSM-5 300.02).  According to the Diagnostic And Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition this particular disorder can be hard to diagnose.  However, some of the primary symptoms include excessive worry about stuff like health, family, money and work.  Further symptoms include feeling tense, tired, irritable and restless.  The symptom list goes on to include difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
Any of those symptoms sound familiar?
I'll go first.  I can't remember the last time I slept through the night.  I am tired and tense.  I'm having trouble concentrating maybe because I'm so restless and tense.  I worry about the future of my family, this country and, quite frankly, the world.   I keep checking my phone for updates -- for any indication that things are not as bad as they seem.  And so I ride the roller coaster of good news, bad news and of despair and exuberance.
Now your turn.  Go ahead.  I won't tell anyone.  How are you doing?
Anytime we are diagnosed with something or other we want to immediately know the cure.  The cure may be when the polls close on November 8.  However, that may be just a bandaid.  The outcome of the election may lead only to more things to worry about regardless for whom we vote and regardless of who is declared the winner.
So are we to simply descend into the morass of our disorder?  No.  Here's what we can do.  We can put down our cell phones and our iPads.  We can shut off our televisions.  We can look for reliable, objective news sources if any still exist.
We can also live our lives mindfully and with intention.  The time has come to embrace miracles:  early morning drops of dew on leaves, music, poetry, smiles, rainbows, sunsets, laughter, family, love.
I love you.
That's the bottom line and it's time to live a life of love.
Anxiety eats away at our souls.  Love replenishes, restores sanity, and nourishes life.
Live and love.
Go for it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Here's An Academic Article I Co-Authored

Volume 6.2 | Fall 2016 | Practice Digest | © November 2016 | Virtual Academic Challenges To Real-Time Trauma
Susan Hess, MSW
University of Southern California

Melissa Indera Singh, MSW University of Southern California
Mary Walker Baron,MSW University of Southern California

Helping graduate level social work students address and process recent mass casualty violence is a challenge to any classroom. We feel it is especially challenging when the classroom is virtual. While the virtual format allows for video and audio contact, students and instructors may be thousands of miles apart and see each other, like the old Hollywood Squares television program, from only the shoulders to the top of the head. Our Virtual Academic Center (VAC), while in most ways a marvel of technology, does present special challenges when faculty is confronted with such sensitive issues as the killings in Orlando, the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and the shooting of police of cers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.
Classroom conversations dealing with emotionally charged topics are always challenging. However, in our virtual atmosphere, the subtle nuances of discussion may be more dif cult to interpret. According to the Substance Abuse Mental Health and Service Administration (SAMHSA, 2014), the guiding principles of trau- ma-informed care are: safety; trustworthiness and transparency; peer support; collaboration and mutuality; empowerment; voice and choice; and cultural, historical and gender issues. These guided principles were presented in the discussions with faculty with encouragement to be integrated with students in their class- rooms in order to avoid re-traumatization.
Shortly after the events in Orlando, Florida, we met with other VAC instructors for a regularly scheduled faculty consultation group, which we co-facilitate. During that meeting we presented the question of how best to approach this tragedy in our virtual classrooms integrating the principles of collaboration and peer support. What we immediately discovered was that before facilitating any type of effective student discus- sion, faculty needed an opportunity to address their own thoughts and feelings. We provided some of that needed time before moving on to classroom and student issues.
Virtual Academic Challenges To Real-Time Trauma 2
We expected the student conversations to be intense. What we did not anticipate was the intensity of our faculty discussion. Such intensity, however, deserves opportunities to both problem-solve and process. We believed that to be effective these opportunities for dialogue would need to avoid personalization and politi- cization while including safety as a guiding principal to facilitate a trauma-informed dialogue. The challeng- es were to invite students to explore their own experiences with stigma and to facilitate the creation mecha- nisms for personal and professional stigma reduction.
We provided students opportunities to engage in critical thinking and discussion on micro, mezzo and macro levels.
We suggest the following whether your classroom be in person or virtual:
  1. Often we begin our classes with a “check in” designed to help students enhance their clinical interven-
    tion skills by inviting them to facilitate and to share recent challenges or experiences. We encourage faculty to adopt the “check in” as a way to begin each class. Aligning with the Trauma-Informed Care principles of empowerment, voice and choice, students can “check out” if they do not feel comfortable discussing the tragedies.
  2. It can be challenging for even the most seasoned clinician to differentiate between the personal and the professional. We suggest faculty encourage students to check their own responses to determine whether the response is personal or professional. Our personal voices may be emotional or opinionated informed by our own bias and potential dysregulation. However, our professional voices must stay calm. We need to let our personal voices go at the appropriate time in the appropriate manner. We discourage using social media as a forum for our personal voices. We also remind students and faculty that our own expe- riences shape our unconscious bias.
  3. It is critical to address the effects of listening and watching traumatic events on a daily basis and to implement strategies of wellness in order to prevent burnout, vicarious trauma and secondary trauma (Schott & Weiss, 2016). Students and faculty are encouraged to identify daily wellness strategies.
  4. We stress the value of creating an educational frame of bias, self-awareness and self-regulation in the classroom. One way to do this is to offer questions around informing the students’ identities and
    how they can be challenged by those who are different from themselves. This approach incorporates
    the guiding principles of trauma-informed care by integrating cultural, historical, and gender issues (SAMHSA, 2014). Another strategy would be to incorporate mindfulness of emotions leading to taking a breath prior to engaging.

  5. Regardless of the venue, faculty can set a framework to focus the discussion on feelings, re ections, and counter-transferences instead of politics.
  6. Regardless of the venue, faculty can set a framework to focus the discussion on feelings, re ections, and counter-transferences instead of politics.
Some faculty attending the consultation meeting later shared their classroom experiences, which we now present for additional consideration.
Virtual Academic Challenges To Real-Time Trauma 3
“I showed the video Imagine a World Without Hate ( and asked the students to be fully present when they watched it and to think about the circumstances and the shooting in Orlando. After the video we came back together for a very thought provoking dialog about what it means to have
a social work response to this tragedy. Later I showed Dear Young Men of Color ( BUaLsXmQ) and invited students to discuss this through a macro, micro and mezzo lens.”

“I gave my students the following activity. I told them that they were the management team of a community based social work agency. A mass casualty shooting had just taken place in their area. Their task was to triage needs based on the capacity of their agency and formulate responses appropriate to social workers.”
Students attending our Virtual Academic Center are from all over the nation and part of the conversation, according to faculty response, was about why we all need to care about this.
Faculty shared that some expressed ideas about engagement on LGBTQ issues in their communities. Other students discussed violence used by police through a historical context while others sought to understand historical trauma, generational trauma and systemic trauma.
“We talked about healing and how social work promotes healing.”
The activity sparked engagement in some students and raised their consciousness about thinking like a social worker. For minority students in the class it was a forum to be heard and supported.
“Overall it was very moving to see the up and coming social work professionals address this tragedy from a new perspective.”
As social workers and as teachers we understand the implications of vicarious trauma. We also appreciate the challenge of creating opportunities to process feelings while avoiding personalization and politicization. The frequency and magnitude of recent mass casualty events challenge our objectivity and our capacity to absorb. The degree to which we reel from it all surely must mirror the degree to which our students reel. We all need a forum in which to absorb and process and learn so we can move forward to create viable solutions based in our core social work principles. We believe the best venue for such innovative healing is the social work classroom.
Since the social work classroom extends to eld placements, our student learners may encounter the parallel processes of managing their own trauma reactions while providing places of clinical refuge for those seeking assistance. Students may also feel buffeted by the employees of their placements as they process their own trauma related thoughts and feelings.
Virtual Academic Challenges To Real-Time Trauma 4
We believe that wellness plays an essential role in social work education and must receive attention as students new to this very demanding profession begin their eld education. Those students intent on academic accomplishment may resist the very notion of taking care of themselves and become at risk, even before graduation, of professional burnout. We believe that social work faculty can prepare students with readings, videos, and discussions of secondary traumatic stress, vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, and professional burnout. We also encourage faculty to integrate mindfulness practice in each class. We further believe in the value of frequent student contact from faculty to reinforce wellness for students in their eld placements. While eld faculty cannot function as student therapist, we can identify possibilities and suggest school-approved resources for students needing additional emotional support.
In order to assess student burnout potential, we suggest that eld faculty become comfortable discussing topics such as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced sense of personal accomplishment (Newell & MacNeil, 2010). In order for students to successfully provide their own wellness, the eld instruc- tors in the placements must also embrace this educational and personal necessity. We acknowledge that this may be a signi cant barrier to the prevention of student burnout since encouraging wellbeing might very well y in the face of the culture and practice of the placement agency.
Regular attention to wellness has the potential, we believe, to minimize the toll of vicarious trauma. In the classroom as well as in the eld we suggest frequent discussions of the realities and the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual symptoms of vicarious trauma (Gerding, 2012). Gerding (2012) further suggests that supervision can be a coping mechanism for clinicians if the supervisee feels safe to express fears, concerns, and perceived inadequacies. Once again, such supervision should not stray into the realm of therapy.
Realizing that students may have already experienced trauma, it is critical that Field Instructors provide trau- ma-informed discussions to prevent additional trauma. Field faculty may need to facilitate such discussions during eld visits. During eld placement, it is important to discuss populations that may trigger students and how eld placement may feel like a scary environment.
While we often think of families, youth, individuals and communities experiencing trauma, it is important to recognize that the trauma experiences of our students may have led them to the eld of social work. SAMHSA can be used during individual supervision when exploring countertransference. Students who present with ght, ight or freeze responses, for example, may be experiencing re-traumatization and it is important to know how to support them in eld placement. An effective response to such a student might be to offer a break before discussing a client experiencing trauma. Providing choice and safety can support the intention of doing no additional harm while providing students with trauma-informed supervision.
With or without the involvement of the placement agency eld supervisor, faculty can facilitate student wellness by encouraging student activities to help minimize the effects of vicarious trauma. Pearlman and McKay (2008) suggest activities to help escape, rest, and play. We have suggested that students escape by
Virtual Academic Challenges To Real-Time Trauma 5
watching videos of cats riding robotic vacuum cleaners or listening to music. Rest for graduate students may seem an anomaly. However, students schooled in the value of wellness may schedule times to stand up and stretch or meditate. Play can come in many forms. We might participate in sports, write poetry, go to the gym, or read an absorbing mystery. If wellness is included as an essential part of professional development, we believe students will become more aware of their own physical and emotional needs and this increased awareness will move students toward successful completion of their eld placement experience.
We regularly remind our students that the world needs social workers and thus the world needs them. An essential task of faculty is to prepare our students to enter and remain in this essential profession. Such preparation, we believe, must include not only familiarity with trauma-informed care but increased awareness of the urgent need for our own wellbeing.
Virtual Academic Challenges To Real-Time Trauma 6
Gerding, A. (2012). Prevention of vicarious trauma: Are coping strategies enough? Master of Social Work Clinical Research Papers. Paper 27. Retrieved from
Newell, J. M., & MacNeil, G. A. (2010). Professional burnout, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, and compassion fatigue: A review of theoretical terms, risk factors, and preventive methods for clinicians and researchers. Best Practices in Mental Health, 6(2), 57-68.
Pearlman, L. A., & McKay, L. (2008). Understanding and addressing vicarious trauma. Pasadena, CA: Headington Institute.
Schott, E. M. P., & Weiss, E. L. (2016). Transformative social work practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2014). Guiding principles
of trauma-informed care.
Retrieved from Number_2/trauma_tip/guiding_principles.html

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Look For The Rainbow

I don't think that looking for the rainbow is just a metaphorical suggestion even though the suggestion that we look for miracles and reasons for optimism is compelling and powerful.  I try to do that every day.
However, I also look for and delight in the discovery of actual rainbows.
Physics informs us that a rainbow is a meteorological phenomenon caused by reflection, refraction and dispersion of light in water droplets resulting in a spectrum of light.
Okay.  Got that.
I have twice witnessed rainbows in the making.  The first was in 1995.  I was sitting on a porch in Brooklyn just looking at the sky.  Suddenly I realized that something was happening.  The sky just looked different in a kind of unformed forming sort of way.  And then the rainbow materialized.
Last night I again witnessed the creation of a rainbow.  I went outside because the sky was so beautiful.  And then, just like on that Brooklyn porch, the sky seemed to be forming or making room in itself for the birth of the rainbow.  Then suddenly there is was.  It was visible just about long enough for me to take this picture.  Then it was gone.
Rainbows are, to me, magic.  I will continue looking for the rainbow in both metaphor and life.
Each time I find the rainbow I will remember that miracles happen.  Sometimes we just need to look for them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

New Jersey Does Ice Cream

Summer comes and the ice cream places open up.  Summer will soon end and with its departure the ice cream places will close for the long winter.  New Jersey does ice cream.  People drive distances just for a cone or a dish.  New Jersey also does summer.  The days of summer, though, are waning.  Soon the leaves will turn and, yes, most of the ice cream places will close.  Jakes.  Ryans.  Four Boys.  Hoffman's will stay open.  Maybe Rita's Ice Custard Happiness will also weather the winter.  Otherwise where could we order and then pick up happiness?
I love ice cream.  I don't do cones, though.  I find eating an ice cream cone about as stressful as it gets.  It's just too much with which to deal.  You've got the melting ice cream.  Then you've got the crumbling, wet cone.  I can't manage the stress.  I eat my ice cream out of a cup or a bowl.  I'm not ashamed to do so.
And the ice cream places don't seem to begrudge me my dish.  They still get paid.  And I still get the ice cream.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

So Who Was Mildred Greensfelder?

Not too long ago we spent a week in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Almost every evening we visited the Mildred Greensfelder Playground adoring our favorite two-year-old as he climbed and ran and laughed.  It's a wonderful playground.  Each evening in addition to admiring my grandson I wondered who, exactly, was Mildred Greensfelder and what did she do to get a park named in her honor.
There isn't much information available about old Mildred.  However, I did learn something about her activism in a book called "Provincetown:  From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort" written by Karen Christel Krahulik who is almost as obscure as Mildred Greensfelder.  Anyway, Ms. Krahulik tells us that in March, 1949, a guy named Edward Roach set off a firestorm in Provincetown because he said that the high school's play depicted people of color in a racist manner.  Mr. Roach did acknowledge that there was probably no harm intended but nevertheless harm was committed.  A lot of P-Town residents strongly, dare I say vehemently,  objected to Roach's comments.  Mildred Greensfelder was apparently one of the many voices shouting down Roach's concerns.  She stated the belief that rather than being critical the town should embrace all attempts to accept and encourage diversity and that the play whether or not it succeeded made that attempt.  She concluded her published remarks by reminding people that the Provincetown residents should always embrace gaiety and laughter.
And so they have.
Right on, Mildred and thanks to Karen Christel Krahulik for shedding a little insight into the life of the woman in whose honor children laugh and play.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Well Whoa It's Been Awhile

Time flies when you're living life, apparently.  At any rate I apologize to you and to myself for my absence.  In my defense, however, you should know that I have just completed a book.  It is now in the design phase and hopefully will be published soon.
No, it's not a novel.  There are more of those in the works.  This book is inspirational in nature.  It's called "Stick With Us And We'll Get You There:  How To Be Where You Want To Be On The Road And In Life".  I wrote it in collaboration with Jeff Baugh.  Those of you living in the Los Angeles area know his voice well.  He's the guy who every morning and evening tells you how to get where you want to be on the road.
I'll be posting snatches from the book just to whet your appetite.
In the meantime, it's back to business here in blog land with the things I care about and about which you hopefully also care.
Off we go - again.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Study Session for Sisterhood Shabbat at Etz Chaim/Monroe Township Jewish Center, Parashah Chukkat

Numbers 20:1-2
The Israelites arrived in a body at the wilderness of Zin on the first new moon and the people stayed at Kadesh.  Miriam died there and was buried there. And there was no water for the congregation and they joined against Moses and Aaron.

AND THERE WAS NO WATER FOR THE CONGREGATION - Since this statement follows immediately after the mention of Miriam’s death, we may learn from it that during the entire forty years they had the “well” through Miriam’s merit.         
--Rashi’s commentary on Numbers 20:2

As soon as the well ceased flowing, Israel gathered around Moshe and Aharon, who were weeping for Miriam.  G’d told them: “Because you are mourning, shall all Israel die of thirst? Stand up, take your staff, and give water to Israel.”
 -Tzena U’rena

Numbers 20:10-12
Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod.  Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.  But G’d said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them”.

BECAUSE YOU DID NOT TRUST ME — Scripture discloses the fact that but for this sin alone, they would have entered the land of Canaan, in order that people should not say of them, “Even as the sin of the generation of the Wilderness (a term used of those who left Egypt) on whom it was decreed that they should not enter the Land was the sin of Moses and Aaron” (cf. Rashi on Numbers 27:13). But was not the doubting question (cf. Rashi on Numbers 11:22), “shall the sheep and oxen be slaughtered for them?” a more grievous lack of faith in God than this? But because that had been said in private (no Israelites being present and therefore it could have no evil influence upon them), Scripture (God) spared him (and did not make his lack of faith public by pronouncing punishment for it), but here, where all Israel were standing by, Scripture does not spare him because of the Hallowing of the Divine Name.       
 --Rashi’s commentary on Numbers 20:12
The sin consisted in their saying: “Are we to extract water for you from this rock?” They should have said instead: “G’d will extract water for you.”. In Exodus 16:8 Moses had been careful to phrase the announcement of the forthcoming phenomenon of manna by attributing it to coming directly from G’d. Similarly, when predicting any of the other miracles which had been announce beforehand, Moses had carefully attributed the miracle to G’d. By failing to do so this time they left the way open for some of the people to think that the water when it would gush forth would be the result of Moses’ and Aaron’s combined knowledge.
--Rabbi Chananel on Numbers 20:12

His whole sin lay in erring on the side of anger…when he used the expression, ‘listen, you rebels!’ The Holy One, blessed be, censured him for this, that a man of his stature should give vent to anger in front of the whole community of Israel.
 –Moses Maimonides, Shmona P’rakim

Judaism teaches that the greater the man, the stricter the standard by which he is judged, and, if he does not measure up, the greater will be his judgment and punishment.
–Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch

Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Day I Drove Elie Wiesel Across Los Angeles County

This is my most recent Huffington Post Article which can be found at:
 On Sunday, March 29, 1998, Elie Wiesel spoke in Bridges Auditorium
at the Claremont Colleges in Claremont, California. Days before
Wiesel’s scheduled address Rabbi Leslie Bergson, Hillel Director and
Chaplain for the colleges, with profound generosity asked if my
daughter, Jesse, and I would like to drive Mr. Wiesel to his next
speaking engagement. We immediately accepted her invitation.
The Rabbi would also accompany us.
Claremont, California, is at the far eastern edge of Los Angeles County.
Mr. Wiesel’s next speaking engagement was on the far northwestern
border of Los Angeles County. Under normal circumstances the drive
could take up to two hours. Normal circumstances could not possibly
have applied to this day in 1998. I felt an all-consuming terror filled
with what ifs. What if I made a mistake? What if another driver made
a mistake? What if the Jeep broke down or had a flat tire? What if
he didn’t like riding in a Jeep Cherokee?
What if he preferred riding in a vehicle with automatic transmission
instead of one with standard transmission? What if? What if?
What if?
My vehicle then and now is a 1996 Jeep Cherokee. There’s nothing
fancy about that Jeep. I doubted if it was ‘good enough’ for Mr. Wiesel.
Surely he deserved the very best mode of transportation I could provide.
I considered renting a Lincoln Town Car or some other worthy
automobile. And then the night before his scheduled speech I read
the weather forecast. Rain. Lots of rain. I decided that we would all
be safer if I drove a vehicle with which I was familiar.
That Sunday morning I went to the car wash. It was, of course, closed.
Car washes generally do close when it rains. So Jesse and I cleaned
up the Jeep as best as we could. Then off we went to Claremont.
When we pulled into the Bridges Auditorium parking lot I informed the
security guard that I would be driving Elie Wiesel to his next
speaking engagement. The guard, although appropriately doubtful,
told me where to park.
Once inside the auditorium my daughter and I first located Rabbi Bergson
who pointed us to the man in the front row.
“Hello,” I said to him. “I’m your driver.”
Elie Wiesel took my hand and thanked me. He hoped driving him
was not too terrible an inconvenience. I mumbled something incoherent
and then sat down.
A security guard approached me with instructions.
“Go backstage when he’s finished. I will guide you out the door to
your vehicle. It will be cordoned off by security. No one will be able
to approach.”
Mr. Wiesel’s address was amazing. In it he movingly spoke of years after the
liberation placing his hands on the same cement balustrade as Hitler. He
reminded us that history often lacks justice but frequently contains irony.
His speech ended and we followed security to the parking lot. My Jeep
was, indeed, cordoned off. Even though his address had ended just
moments before, a crowd had already gathered in the rain.
A man shouted out, “Elie, you taught me to play chess in the camps!”
Mr. Wiesel stopped and in the rain asked the man if he still played. The man
said that he did. Mr. Wiesel encouraged him to keep playing.
And then we were in the Jeep. I assured Mr. Wiesel that my research had
indicated that he was safest in back of me. He replied that he felt safe
regardless of where he sat. Headlights and wipers on, we left Claremont
with Rabbi Bergson in front with me and Jesse in back with Elie Wiesel. I
drove with white knuckles and depended on my passengers to make
conversation. He and Rabbi Bergson shared the latest news from
Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. My daughter pointed
out sights such as the Rose Bowl. They chatted. Jesse confided to him that
she felt challenged by her math class. He confided to her that he had also
been challenged by math. They formed a bond born of common challenge.
Later my daughter shared that she felt fascinated by his hands and all that
they had touched including Hitler’s balustrade.
I did not speak until we arrived at his next engagement.
We got out of the car and in the rain I said, “Mr. Wiesel, I would love to take
a picture of you. I hate to do it out here in the rain but I’m afraid they won’t
let us take pictures inside.”
This incredibly humble man said the only thing that hinted of his awareness
of his place in the world.
“Mary,” he said. “They will let you take my picture wherever I want you
to take it.”
Once inside and out of the rain, Elie Wiesel put his arms around Rabbi
Bergson and my daughter and I took the picture. I then told him that I was
reading his book “Night” to my sixth grade religions school class.
His reply was, “Never stop reading and never stop remembering.
He then thanked me for the ride, hugged us all, and went off to speak
My friend Carole later asked me how it felt to drive a world treasure and
have his life in my hands.
I thought a moment and then told her that it felt a lot like driving my daughter
and having her life in my hands because they were both world treasures.
My friend agreed with my reasoning. I suspect so, too, would the very humble
and very real man I drove across Los Angeles County on that rainy
March day.
We are blessed by the life and memory of Elie Wiesel. I am blessed to
have been his driver.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Stop Must Start Somewhere

We are a violent society.  This isn't news.  We don't need mass shootings to remind us that we are violent.  Our language is violent.  Our entertainment is violent.  Our lives are violent.  I've been giving this situation a lot of thought lately and decided that I must start somewhere.  Here is the somewhere.  I will be writing about domestic violence on a regular basis.  I don't that that at this point it much matters where we focus our attention as long as the focus is on decreasing the violence in our society.
I have chosen the following organizations as resources for my writings:
The Joyful Heart Foundation -
NoMore -
And to get us started, here's some important information.  We've got to start someplace.  I'm starting here.

Need help?

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence you can call to speak to a counselor or be referred to local services:

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Let's All Be Gay For A Day

I am shocked by the events in Orlando, Florida.  This is unspeakable.  This is unacceptable.  This is not surprising.  We are becoming an increasingly violent society.  Our violence is fueled and even encouraged by political diatribe.  The NRA holds unimaginable power.  Those among us so gentle they help bugs cross sidewalks and those among us not quite that gentle but nevertheless trying to be that gentle understand that no one except possibly our armed forces ever needs an assault weapon.  On social media we cry for an end to violence.  We condemn human slaughter.  Our voices seem lost in the winds of violence.
And so we despair.  We hope for a return to civility.  We hope for peace.  However, hope is not a plan.  We do have voices and in the political world our voices can be heard.  Our voices matter.  Each and every one of us is represented on the local level and on the national level by someone elected to office.  Those elected folks care about votes.  We can let them know we've had enough.  Keep writing.  Keep calling.  Even if the responses we receive are scripted and seemingly meaningless, keep on the pressure.  I further believe that we must create or reclaim and certainly nurture our own gentleness -- our own acceptance.  What if for one day everyone flew a rainbow flag?  I don't have any answers right now.  I may never have answers for this type of horror.  However, I did not want to be silent.  I, too, have a voice.  May my voice always speak kindness and peace.  And may my actions reflect and embody my voice.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Torah Thoughts on Bamidbar

When I go to my synagogue for services, I always sit in the same place: left side of the pulpit, second row, first seat.  One Shabbat morning, I sat down and found that the legs of the chair in my usual spot were uneven, and the chair moved back and forth as I shifted my weight.  It was quite uncomfortable, but it was my place and I sat in it.  I’m not the only one who does this.  Many people have “their seats” in their house of worship, and if they find someone else sitting in their place, they can get pretty upset.

This week’s Torah portion, Bamidbar, (Number 1:1 – 4:20) begins with a census of the Israelites.  The second thing that God requires of the Israelites is that they find their place. God tells Moses where each tribe shall place their encampment around the Tabernacle, and when they move, they will march in the same order so that when they come to their next stop, they are in place to encamp in the same order once again.

In the Etz Chaim commentary to the Torah, Rabbi Harold Kushner notes that “the details of tribal encampments are a way of emphasizing the need for order and organization in achieving a spiritual life.” The Israelites, not long away from the chaos of slavery and the exodus, are finally given their own place.  Maybe our own needs are not so different from theirs.