Thursday, October 3, 2019

We Need Good Fences

Robert Frost
In his poem Mending Wall, Robert Frost concluded with the famous line, "Good fences make good neighbors."   I agree with that line.  Fences help us feel safe.  So do doors and windows.  A fence keeps pets and children from running into the street.  Fences also keep strangers from approaching our home.  The same goes for doors and windows.  We don't want strangers having access to our homes nor do we want insects going in and out of our homes.  Fences, doors and windows are boundaries to help us feel safe.  We also need personal boundaries to help us be safe.  Personal boundaries are guidelines, rules or limits that we create for reasonable, safe and permissible behaviors for other people to act towards us and also how we will respond when someone passes those limits.  I must confess that if I run a red light the first thing I look at is not for moral outrage.  The first thing I look in is the rear view mirror to see if a cop is behind me.  Laws also help keep us safe.  Things must be able to bend a bit.  If the fence is too high and has no gate then no one can approach the house including those I want to approach.  If I keep the doors and windows locked at all times then no one can enter even those I want to see.  And if laws are too strict we feel frightened and no longer safe.   In life and in all things related it is important to give and take.  Being too rigid robs us of life's opportunities. In the words of Barbara Mandress, "We've got to give a little and take a little," in order to discover the wonders of life.

Monday, September 30, 2019

At This Narrow Bridge Again

At This Narrow Bridge Again
@Mary Walker Baron

Here we are again at this narrow bridge
Ready to begin our annual crossing --
Returned to this moment by ancient migratory
Patterns mapped in stone.
For a month we’ve wondered
What to bring – how best to pack and what to wear -- .
Difficult preparations even though
We try to make them every year.

I always over pack and now at this
Pre-crossing liminal moment I wonder –
Will I really need a flashlight?
If I haven’t yet read that issue of ‘Scientific American’
I bought on impulse last year at the Jet Blue
Terminal of JFK maybe I should admit
That I’ll never read it
And leave it behind.

I open my pack for a final inventory before
Stepping on to the bridge.  Does my Zip Lock
Bag of anger weigh too much?  Is my Nalgene
Bottle of tears absolutely necessary?  Did I pack
Enough hope and forgiveness?  Where is that
Stuff bag of patience I meant to take?  Is there
Time to repack before I cross to the other side?
Is anyone less prepared than I?

Rav Nachman -- our tour guide – said that
The important thing is to not be afraid.
I just heard a scream.  No wait.  We’ve heard
That sound before -- our shrieking
Hollow filled with awe horn
Reminding us to watch our steps.
This bridge between our sunsets is, indeed,
Narrow.  Each year we journey together we

Become better packers.  We learn to travel
Lightly.  The anger was too heavy.  Tears once
Shed are gone forever.  Maybe the flashlight is
Still a good idea.  We make these crossings
Together to steady and prepare for the moment
We must cross the bridge alone – comforted by
Our yearly migrations to sacred moments at this
Fearless time.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Happy 60th Anniversary Guggenheim

The Guggenheim Museum is celebrating. The Guggenheim commissioned Frank L. Wright to design "a temple of spirit and a monument". It is his most visited building.  The outside walls are only 5 inches thick. Mr. Wright never saw the completed Guggenheim.  He died a few months before it opened.  Still, it remains a tribute to his genius.
Frank L. Wright
The Guggenheim

Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Transformative Power of the Settlement House

I once had a friend who came to this country from Eastern Europe.  Her family settled in Chicago.  My friend once told me that she used to sit on the steps of Hull House chatting with Jane Addams.  Mildred remembered these visits as life changing.  The Digital Public Library of America tells us "...that between the 1880s and 1920s, hundreds of settlement houses were established in American cities in response to an influx of European immigrants as well as the urban poverty brought about by industrialization and exploitative labor practices. Settlement houses were organizations that provided support services to the urban poor and European immigrants, often including education, health care, childcare, and employment resources. Many settlement houses established during this period are still thriving today."  One of those still thriving settlement houses is the Henry Street Settlement on the Lower East Side of New York City founded by a nurse named Lillian Wald.  Ms. Wald was born into wealth. One day as she was teaching a home economics class for immigrants on the Lower East Side of Manhattan a girl rushed into the classroom and screamed that her mother was bleeding to death in childbirth and that the doctor had left because the family couldn't afford his fees.  Ms. Wald rushed to help.  She saved both the mother's and the baby's lives.  After that defining moment, Ms. Wald moved to the Lower Side and established the Henry Street Settlement.  Even before she established the Henry Street Settlement, Lillian Wald was an advocate for children.  She created the first playground in New York City, pioneered special education, introduced the concept of free lunches and nurses in schools and fought against child labor.  In the first year after establishing the Henry Street Settlement Ms. Wald hired 90 nurses of whom 10 lived with her on Henry Street. Her effort gave birth to the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.  That organization continues to thrive as does the Henry Street Settlement.  Today Henry Street serves 50,000 people a year.  It runs 18 locations throughout the Lower East Side including four homeless shelters.  It provides services from after school programs to job training.  I became a social worker in large part because of the stories my friend Mildred told me of sitting on the steps of Hull House chatting with Jane Addams.
Lillian Wald

Jane Addams

Monday, August 12, 2019

I Ate Lunch With History

I recently had lunch with Rabbi Sally Priesand.  Rabbi Priesand was the first woman ever to be ordained by any Jewish seminary.  And there I was eating lunch with history.   By the time she was sixteen years old this teenager decided that she wanted to become a rabbi.  When she was still in high school she applied for admission to Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. The letter she received from the College did not deter the determined high school student: "We are pleased to learn of your interest in our college. ... Since you state in your letter that your interests lean specifically to the rabbinate, we would have to inform you candidly that we do not know what opportunities exist for women in the active rabbinate, since we have, as yet, not ordained any women."
Rabbi Priesand is soft spoken.  I asked her if she knew as a rabbinic student that she was making history.  She replied that she was well aware of her historical role and added that the College set up many interviews for her.
After her ordination she served first as assistant and then as associate rabbi at Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York and later at Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls, New Jersey.  She was the senior and only rabbi of MRT from 1981 until her retirement in 2006.
She created the path for all future women rabbis.  Without Rabbi Sally Priesand and her determined courage there would be no other woman rabbis.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

I'm just trying to right a terrible wrong

Rabbi Leslie Bergson and I spent this morning in Newark protesting the inhumane treatment of immigrants in the detention centers. The event was organized by Bend The Arc.  Twenty-Four immigrants have died in ICE custody.  That is 24 too many deaths.
Part of today's program featured readings from testimonials written by interred children:
"About three days ago I got a fever.  They moved me along to a flu cell.  There is no one to take care of you there.  They just give you pills twice a day.  I also am having an allergic reaction all over my skin.  My skin is itchy and red and my nose is stuffed up.  Two times they gave me a pill for it but not anymore."  Written by an 11 year old boy.
"I'm hungry here at Clint (detention center) all the time.  I'm so hungry that I have woken p in the middle of the night with hunger.  Sometimes I wake up from hunger at 4:00 AM., sometimes at other hours.  I'm too scared to ask the officials here for any more food, even though there is not enough food here for me." Written by a 12 year old boy.
"We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children.  We have one mat we need to share with each other.  it is very cold.  We each got a mylar blanket, but it is not enough to warm up.  There are benches but we cannot sleep here.  Sometimes it is so crowded we cannot find a place to sleep, so they allow a few of us to sleep outside the fenced area.  The lights are (on) all of the time." Written by a 16 year old girl.
"They took us away from our grandmother and now we are all alone.  They have not given us to our mother.  We have been here for a long time.  I have to take care of my little sister.  She is very sad because she misses our mother and grandmother very much.  We sleep on a cement bench.  There are two mats in the room, but the big kids sleep on the mats so we have to sleep on the cement bench."
Written by an 8 year old boy.
This cannot be just a political issue.  This is about how we treat people who have come here to escape the terrors of their homelands.

Thursday, August 1, 2019


Back in the day there were a lot of hoops to jump through to get an LCCN (Library of Congress Cataloguing Number).  One of the hoops involved verifying that the book was not self-published nor were you the author.  Also with the old system passwords had to be changed every 90 days which involved counting the days and marking the calendar. Now all of that has changed.
To obtain an LCCN simply click on https://loc.govpublish/prepubbooklink/ and register as a new user either as an author/self-publisher or as a publisher.
If you identify as an author or self-publisher, approval is immediate.  Once you create your account you can then apply for the LCCN.
If you identify as a publisher, the process takes a bit longer because your application has to be approved.
And that is it.  Thank you Library of Congress for making life much easier.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Torah Thoughts on Chukkat

This week’s Torah portion, Chukkat, (Num. 19:1-22:1) tells of the death of Moses’ sister Miriam.  Immediately afterwards, we are told that there was no water for the Israelites, and that they rebelled against Moses and Aaron.  God tells Moses to take his rod in hand and speak to a rock and order it to produce water.  Instead of speaking to it, Moses strikes the rock with his rod.  Water pours out of the rock anyway, but God says 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.” (Num. 20:12)
Commentators on the Torah have struggled to explain why this seemingly minor infraction should cause such a harsh punishment.  Some suggest that Moses’ statement to the people implies that it is he and Aaron, and not God, who will bring about the miracle.  Some say that Moses loses his temper and becomes visibly impatient with the people, citing the Talmudic statement, “When a prophet loses his temper, his gift of prophecy abandons him” (B.T. Pesahim 66b).  But I find most persuasive Rabbi Harold Kushner’s remarks in Etz Hayim Torah and Commentary:  “One might conclude that God’s decree of death in the wilderness for Moses and Aaron was not so much a punishment as a recognition that their time of leadership was over…Moses and Aaron were not sinners; they were the right leaders for the Exodus, for Sinai, for establishing the tabernacle. They were not the right people to lead a younger generation into battle.”
It is hard to give up doing what we love when we become too old or too infirm to continue it. Even a person as great as Moses had a hard time handing over the reins.  Yet, a new generation of leadership arises, and carries the tradition on to this day.  As hard as it may be, we must learn to trust in the future.

Monday, June 3, 2019

The First Word Is The Hardest Part

It doesn’t matter if you are using a pen and paper, a pencil and paper, a typewriter, a computer or your phone you’ve still got to come up with that first word.  I suggest you not spend too much time worrying about whether or not it’s a perfect first word. Just do it.
My brother and I used to write letters to each other so when I found myself struggling with that first word I would use two first words instead:  Dear Tom. Because we wrote so many letters back and forth those two words would get me started.  After that I would just start telling him my story. My brother died several months ago and I still start my stories with ‘Dear Tom’. It feels comfortable and continues to effectively get me going
Find something that effectively gets you going and then use it because, after all, that first word really is the hardest..

Monday, May 27, 2019

We Honor Our Fallen

My uncle, Jerry Walker, never made it home. He served as a belly gunner on a Flying Fortress and died in the South Pacific. He was 19 years old.  I never met him but I grew up with this picture.