Archive | In My Mind’s I

Wondering why fewer choose medical careers

Posted on 26 September 2018 by admin

I’ve just read a provocative article by syndicated columnist Cal Thomas, who isn’t carried by any local papers in our area. (I’m always so grateful to far-away folks who keep me informed about things I might totally miss otherwise.) This recent column is titled “The Doctor Is (Not) In,” and bears an alarming subtitle: “Too few young people are going into medicine.”
A small number of my own doctors today are Jewish. I didn’t pick them because of that; it just happens that they are specialists on my current health plan. But Jewish doctors were a staple of my life until I married and moved away from my hometown. I think that was because my father was a doctor, and whatever I needed was always taken care of by one of his friends. I wonder now if medicine was a second career choice for some of them, as it was for my dad.
He wanted to be an engineer, and his first professional degree was in architectural engineering. But after graduation, he learned rather quickly that Jews were not welcome in that field; in those days, prospective employers asked prospective employees their religion, and Judaism was not on the approved list. I guess that wasn’t quite as blatant as “No Irish Need Apply,” but it was just as effective for exclusion. My father actually got a job with a company that just plain forgot to ask; however, when someone remembered and posed the question, he wouldn’t lie, and that was the end of his engineering career. “The only security for a Jew is to be his own boss.” That’s what he said at the time, and in order to do that, he returned to school and became a physician.
(That silent ban on Jews being hired as engineers continued for many, many years. When I was a college student in the mid-‘50s, we used to call accounting and business administration “Jewish engineering.” We were laughing about it then, but it wasn’t a joke…)
My father’s medical specialty became diagnostics – the closest thing in his second field to his chosen first, because he could study the body the way he would study a blueprint to figure out how all the parts fit and should work together. Then he was able to diagnose many illnesses that other doctors could not, and became known in his medical community for that elusive skill. But he was also known as the only doctor who – in those precious few moments between patients – would be reading Architectural Digest, the magazine that to this day deals with how individual building parts fit together rather than unitized structures.
In Russia, when women were the medical majority, it made medicine something of a second-class profession. In the U.S., women weren’t welcomed into it for many years; they were like Jews who wanted to be engineers. To this day, I am friends with the one woman in my college class who went to medical school; she never told anyone – not even her own mother – that she had applied until after she was accepted.
She is now retired after a long, successful career in child psychiatry, an “OK” field for a woman. Not Jewish herself, she has followed those in her class who were; one of the best left medicine to become president of a prestigious university whose specialty is engineering.
Has inclusion “cheapened” medicine as a career choice? Or are fewer young people choosing it because doctors are no longer looked upon as caring healers, but as cogs in the wheel of “a nationwide system in which the ruling denizens are huge corporate entities…”? Whatever – the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a U.S. shortage of 105,000 doctors by the year 2030.
Who remembers, today, “First do no harm”? Today, STEM is the mantra of professional education, an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. Perhaps sadly, the M does not also encompass Medicine…

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Apologies to those I’ve offended

Posted on 13 September 2018 by admin

“‘You are old, Father William,’ the young man said, ‘and your hair is exceedingly white. But yet you continue to stand on your head. Do you think at your age this is right?’”
These words are from “Alice in Wonderland.” I surely qualify as old at 84, and my hair goes with it. But I have never stood on my head in my whole long life (although once I was able to lie flat on my back and touch my toes to the floor behind my head).
Still, as we journey through these Ten Days of Teshuvah, I make the head-banging effort of making things right with those I have wronged during the past year. Our tradition tells us that T’filla – Tzedakah – and Teshuvah may avert the stern decree. The first is easy enough; I’ve been praying since Selichot. The second: I open my pocketbook as widely as I can. But the third is the hardest: there are so many deserving my apologies.
So I’m starting with a group shoutout to all of you who read me weekly: I know I‘ve written things that annoy you, that you don’t agree with or that sometimes (not too frequently, I hope) even offend. So although I cannot say I’m sorry for having written them – because part of a columnist’s calling is the hope that words will stimulate thoughts and reactions, both positive and negative – I do ask forgiveness for any mental discomfort I’ve caused. (Remember: I love to hear from those of you who disagree as well as those who don’t.)
There’s a little Rosh Hashanah ditty that used to be a staple song for Jewish preschoolers. Its words are wonderfully simple: “Let’s be friends and make amends. Now’s the time to say ‘I’m sorry.’ Take my hand and I’ll take yours – Let’s be friends for always.” I’ve always thought we adults can learn a lesson from this, the essence of these 10 penitential days, which — if we’re honest with ourselves — are never enough for all our necessary apologizing.
Myself, I wonder if it’s too late to apologize for errors of all kinds — not just in the past year, but far before that. It seems the older I get, the more my hair turns into that of Father William, the more I remember what I’m truly sorry for. And sometimes, it’s too late to offer a personal “I’m sorry.” But I think that may be part of what Kever Avot is for; when I visit the cemetery as the New Year approaches, I tell my sorry stories to those who no longer walk this earth, hoping that they can hear me anyway and forgive me.
It’s a rule of nature, a law of life: people who actively interact with others make mistakes and need to say they’re sorry. The only way to avoid Teshuvah is to have lived as a hermit for the past year without saying a word to anyone. But that has never been our Jewish way of life. We are a people, each one responsible in a very subtle but very true and vital way for every other. When we give money to our Federations, we’re helping to shoulder that responsibility. Example: Although we can’t personally apologize to every Israeli for our stateside disagreements with their country’s policies, our Tzdakah helps take care of their real, personal needs.
Well, the Ten Days are half gone already, and I still have a lot of apologizing to do, so I’d better get busy telling many other folks what I’m sorry for, and how sorry I am, and how I want to be connected – to hold hands like preschoolers and sing “let’s be friends for always.” I hope my conscience will be clear enough to stand with my congregation on Yom Kippur, as together we can ask God’s forgiveness because we’ve first obtained it from our fellows. May we all live long enough to apologize again next year.

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The difficult decisions to make in old age

Posted on 07 September 2018 by admin

I recently received a difficult but thoughtful post from a dear old friend in Chicago. It poses the kind of important decision all of us must face from time to time; hers has come at the time of the approaching New Year.
When I say “dear,” I mean we have been friends for 62-plus years. When I say “old,” I mean on the cusp of 90. Now, she is in an assisted living facility in that same city, fighting kidney disease. In her case, the body is weak, but the mind is strong. Very strong. And that’s her dilemma for Rosh Hashanah.
Friend Bobbie has two daughters — one in Pennsylvania, the other quite close to her in Chicago. The nearby one has Parkinson’s. She would now like to relocate to be closer to her sister and three nieces in the same area; she has a good husband and one daughter (but she is away at college) and is anticipating need for support for herself as her disease progresses. She herself has been her mother’s primary support for a long, long time, and she wants to take her mother along with her.
Bobbie is nothing if not a realist. “I’m really not wanting to move,” she writes, “and they all know that. My friends are all gone now. My daughter and son-in-law are all the family I have here, and I’m not strong enough to live without them nearby…too many runs to the ER. And it’s a toss of the coin now when I will go into end-stage 5 kidney failure.”
Dialysis would be the only thing to keep Bobbie alive at this point, and she doesn’t know yet if that’s even a possibility — or if she would even want it if it is. In a few days, the vascular surgeon will determine if her veins are strong enough to handle a fistula — and that would take up to three months of healing before it’s ready for use. “They could make an entry into my stomach,” she writes. “Then I could do my own dialysis at home every evening. But it may mean there’s already too much calcification for anything to be done. If so, I’ll be gone within a month.”
Her mind is still 100 percent, which she now calls both a strength and a curse. She hasn’t even said she’d want dialysis, given the advanced gravity of her disease. “I have to educate myself more on the subject to make an informed decision,” she says. “On the positive side, I still have some time ahead of me. But I’m physically feeling my age, and I’m fighting a kind of depression: I’d like not to have to think about this all the time, but that’s impossible, since everything I do is a constant reminder…”
My old friend Bobbie has never been a quitter. She’s faced some very difficult life situations — a sad divorce; an addicted son she’s had to cut entirely out of her life to ensure her own peace and safety. This current dilemma shows she isn’t quitting now. She’d like to live, but she doesn’t yet know if there’s much time left for living, or if the strain of a major move might take the greater part or all of it. That’s her reality.
The one thing she has never mentioned is wanting to die. Some in her position might wish for death, might even think suicide. Not Bobbie. But “This live-or-die stuff is getting to me,” she says. “It’s as though the Sword of Damocles is hanging over my head…” Yet her sign-off tells me she’s getting ready to go to her living facility’s Labor Day party!
What’s the best response to a post like that? “Shanah Tovah” certainly can’t be right. But I’ll send her what support I can over the miles as she makes the (perhaps final) decision(s) of her life. So I ask: Please add my friend to your own prayer lists. Debbie Friedman’s prescient words, “for renewal of (body and) spirit,” invoke the only thing possible now.

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Roth Patrimony: a guide on how to say goodbye

Posted on 29 August 2018 by admin

It’s no secret that I love Philip Roth. He’s my favorite author of all time, because of his deft use of English (the language I love almost as much as my blood relatives) and his total honesty in what he writes in that language. I thought, over these many years of reading and rereading him, that I’d gotten him figured out. Think again, O deluded self.
I’ve just reread Patrimony, Roth’s account of his father’s descent to death. The title itself poses a question. Matrimony and patrimony are both derived from Latin: the first from the word mater — mother; the second from the word pater — father. But in our translations, look at the difference: Matrimony equals marriage; patrimony equals what’s passed from father to son. What a difference.
I’ve also always thought this was the most personal of all Roth’s many books, and I still think I’m right. But my rereading has helped me realize that all the others are just as personal, the difference being that he has fictionalized them. However, not this, which is 100 percent first-person feeling, right out in the open with the all raw emotions it exudes.
Follow with me, if you are a Roth lover — or even if not: In Goodbye Columbus, his first book, he is the boy having his earliest sexual experiences, making mistakes and suffering from them. In Nemesis, that terrifying tale of polio in the 1950s, he is the young man for whom devotion to duty causes great mental and physical suffering. In American Pastoral, he is the “golden one,” that fair-haired “god-on-earth” to whom all is given — but ultimately has all taken away.
These may not be actual experiences, but they are certainly drawn from Roth’s personal history, played out in his own exemplary fiction. Taken together, and if read as I propose, the total of Roth’s voluminous output equals his own life in its entirety.
I can’t be the only one who thinks this. However, I’ve never seen or heard it articulated just this way before.
Patrimony is a wonder, a deeply personal and no-holds-barred look at a son’s struggle as his father’s life ends — perhaps even more than the father struggles to deal with his own inevitable, forthcoming death. The father’s troubles are basically physical, although physicality calls into play much else; the son’s troubles are basically rooted in memory: How could I have forgotten X? Why didn’t I handle Y differently? Have I ever made clear to my father how highly I really regard him? And if I haven’t — why not? These are questions all of us ask at the bedside of a terminal parent, but not all of us can answer them. Roth struggles to do so, and he succeeds. He is able to identify the patrimony — what passes from his father to him. And it is not always pleasant, not always what he might want, but he recognizes it for what it is.
Many of us have experienced this painful role-reversal, unimaginable in our lives until it happens: We may become the parent to a parent of our own. It is not a welcome or easy stage of existence to deal with, but we have no choice. Roth takes up the challenge and tells us all about it, in all its pain, with all the soul-searching, the self-accusations, the love that is in every thought and every word — even though the latter might not sound exactly that way. This book is a manual for how to say goodbye when that is all there is left to say. And it is the ultimate, very human, picture of esteemed author Philip Roth.
My own parents are long gone. Now, I’m passing my new appreciation to my children, asking them to send it along to my grandchildren — and beyond. If you have current struggles, or have ever struggled with these issues, I recommend this book: Philip Roth’s remarkably honest best. Because someday, you’ll need it.

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A small town with a big pop-top memorial

Posted on 23 August 2018 by admin

I recently wrote about the unusual Holocaust memorial in Pittsburgh — 6 million pop-tops now encased in a massive, walk-through, Star-of David-shaped construction of glass blocks. I’m proud of my home city for this, because pop-tops were first used on the beer cans of its local Iron City brewery, a logical and unique medium of remembrance. Or so I thought. But I’ve learned: not so unique, after all.
Take a mental trip with me to Mahomet, Illinois, a very small town out on the prairie. Only 10 miles from Champaign, site of the University of Illinois, but another world. Now, thanks to a couple of Dallas readers, I’ve learned that this little town also chose pop-tops, and for the same purpose, more than 20 years ago.
It was back in 1997 that Kevin Daugherty, social studies teacher at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High, popped the top off a Coke can and realized its classroom value. He’d been mulling over how to get his students to understand the magnitude of the Holocaust. “It’s not that a pop-top can represent a human being,” he said. “But, collected together, they could give some idea of the numbers who perished.”
Word of the project got out fast, and the school’s 650 students began receiving them from across the country. People who didn’t drink canned beverages sent pop-tops from cans of tuna and pet foods. Mahomet’s population then was less than 4,000 (it has more than doubled in the years since) and was anything but diverse. Daugherty realized that this collection could have a further use: “We have to work at teaching tolerance for others,” he said, “because we have so few ‘others’ here.”
So, after the initial goal of 6 million tops was reached, the collecting went on — to represent, in addition to Jews, the homosexuals, handicapped, disabled and political prisoners all put to death by the Nazis.
Child survivor Edith Mozes Kor, now 84 — who with her sister Miriam had been part of Mengele’s grotesque experiments on twins at Auschwitz — came twice to Mahomet from her Indiana home to speak about the Holocaust. Her first visit was what sparked the collection. At the second, there was a special ceremony: All the pop-tops had been counted as received and stored in bags of 20,000 each — the number of people killed per day as Nazi extermination reached its height.
Daugherty’s students brought those bags to the gym of Mahomet Senior High and dumped their contents into one huge pile in the center. The tops were then sold to a recycler, and the thousands of dollars received were given to Kor for her organization, CANDLES: Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors. I learned her story while learning about Mahomet.
Edith Kor’s family was deported from their longtime home in Romania to Auschwitz in 1944, when she and her twin sister were 10 years old. She lost her parents and two other siblings there and, as she told the Mahomet students, this is where she also lost a normal childhood. Almost all of Auschwitz’ 180 child survivors were twins who had lived through the quasi-medical ordeals inflicted on an original 1,500 sets of young Jews.
Kor was first placed in a Polish orphanage, then returned to Romania with an old family friend. In 1950, she traveled to Israel, where she served in the army, and there met and married Michael Kor, a U.S. citizen, and went home with him to Indiana, becoming a citizen herself in 1965. From Kor and CANDLES came the Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute.
Now, I beg you: Do not say, “Enough already about the Holocaust.” There is never enough. We Jews are among those “others” who must get our “others” — the American majority — to know us and our history, in thoroughly non-Jewish places like Mahomet, Illinois, where we do not live ourselves. Only then can good things happen. Only good things can happen then.

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How long till the supremacists will find us?

Posted on 16 August 2018 by admin

Open before me on my computer screen is a post from a new (at least to me) organization called “They Can’t,” based in Jerusalem. That is in very small letters. Above, in much larger letters, is this: “The Jews are responsible for all the bad that has happened in this world. They all deserve to die.”

The “signatures” are an email address and two hashtags, none of which I’d copy here. In between, in big bold white letters shot with red, I read: “We removed this post…and 73,000 other anti-Semitic posts, videos and accounts! Help us DO MORE!”

Here’s the explanation and mission statement: “‘They Can’t’ refuses to let this incitement stand! Hate online is a worldwide phenomenon and has required us to track these perpetrators in multiple languages, including English, Arabic, Hebrew, French and German. Only TOGETHER can we defeat these forces and WIN THE ONLINE WAR!”

Of course, this online business is just a newer form of the old war we’ve been fighting since Biblical times. Here comes Amalek again, sneaking up on little kids wearing kippahs, making even adult men who have covered their heads (“religiously,” I might say) afraid to honor God in public. Random acts coalesce into mob actions.

And now comes this: A little town called Ulysses, in the rural, Amish area of north-central Pennsylvania, has been identified by the Washington Post as “A haven for white supremacists.” That’s the headline of a clipping I’ve received from one of those blessed folks who send me items that I’m unlikely to see here.

In that little hamlet, there is an entire house dedicated to Adolf Hitler, where “swastikas stand on poles, and Nazi flags fly side by side with star-spangled banners.” (I’ve taken just a little liberty with these quotes from a lengthy article by Gabriel Pogrund.) Potter County, Pennsylvania, has been a haven for white supremacy for 100 years, he reports, when the KKK first took up residence there. In the mid-20th century, it hosted a gathering of Klansmen, skinheads and neo-Nazis, all joined together as the World Aryan Congress. Recently, residents received “goody bags” with candy and this message: “You can sleep tonight knowing the Klan is awake.” The local newspaper ran an advertisement reading “God Bless the KKK.”

A 43-year-old woodcarver named Daniel Burnside owns the Hitler house. He doesn’t call Donald Trump a leader of his cause, but does say “We’re anti-Semitic. When Trump says something that aligns with us —  close the borders, build the wall, look after your own — that’s good. We’ve been saying this for 25 years, but he has made it mainstream. We’re a white nation, and I respect that he supports that…”

Why am I not surprised that a white restaurant manager recently ran away from Ulysses with his black wife? After he found a KKK flyer outside his home, this man spearheaded an anti-racism gathering right there in town. And “Those guys drove by us and gave the gun signal, like they’re gonna shoot us,” he said. (One of “those guys” had already served 10 prison years for aggravated assault upon a black man.)

A long time ago — at the time the Holocaust was first becoming something talked about out loud — my Sunday school ninth-graders wondered why German Jews hadn’t just left their homes at the earliest signs of trouble. I asked what they would think if they went home from our class to find their parents sitting around the kitchen table with some non-Jewish neighbors who were advising them to make a quick getaway. And the kids laughed at how ridiculous that would be.

I write all this after the latest gathering of white supremacists in Washington, D.C. To them, we Jews are not white, and therefore not safe. I’m a native Pennsylvanian from nowhere near Ulysses. But today, as I write this, I worry if it’s only a short time until Ulysses spreads, and may even find us.

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To dream the Impossible Hamburger

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

Is it possible to make the impossible possible? Well, if this can be done, we can count on our Jewish selves to do it. Case in point: I’ve just received a lengthy release from kosher.com that says it’s already happened. The “Impossible Burger” is now on the menus of 36 (what a happy double-chai number) kosher restaurants in the United States and Canada.

“This is not your typical veggie burger,” the website reports. “This patty looks and tastes just like a ‘real’ (read ‘meat’) burger.” Making it so is “heme,” the iron-containing compound that gives real meat its distinctive taste. It’s certified by the Orthodox Union (OU) and is vegan as well as kosher.

Dani Klein, who blogs about kosher restaurants, tried Impossible Burgers in two New York-area locations and reported that at a dairy cafe, he found his delicious: “The texture, mouth-feel and flavors were great; the first time I’ve ever had anything so similar to meat with real cheese.” And in a fleishig place, “…just a straight-up burger, so spot-on with the flavors that I left satiated and satisfied, not craving meat afterward.”

Rivi Landesman of kosher.com offers a more comprehensive take: “On first bite, I found that while it was certainly delicious, it was definitely milder in flavor than a beef burger, but nothing like the soy or vegetable patties I’ve had. Texture-wise, it had a nice chewiness, and there was a good, realistic redness in the center. It really takes on the taste of what it’s served with. One of my burgers was topped with fried onions, wild mushrooms, saffron, aioli, BBQ sauce and cheese fondue; it was fantastic! The other was a bit simpler, with avocado, tomato, cheddar, sriracha mayo and shredded lettuce.” She noted that overcooking impacts taste and juiciness, and recommends ordering these burgers medium-rare.

The stumbling block — at least for now — may be the price. Although neither Klein nor Landesman said how their burgers were listed on the menus, the latter added this to her report: “To me, the biggest deal is there’s finally a burger that doesn’t taste like soy or vegetables. However, it is extremely expensive, and I’m wondering when costs are going to come down…” Impossible Foods now charges restaurants $3 per patty, wholesale.

So — will this new burger succeed in the long run, in both the kosher and vegan markets? “I think it will,” says Charles Herzog, vice president of new business development for Kayco, a leader in kosher foods. “Interest in plant-based protein has really been growing; we see it in categories from tahini to snack bars. While there have been veggie burgers on the market for years, this burger really mimics an authentic meat burger. It has the potential to really disrupt the category.”

And Chanie Nayman, food editor of Family Table by Mishpacha magazine, agrees: “Vegetable-based foods are extremely popular now, with all the different dietary needs, and for people looking for hormone-free foods. The Impossible Burger is extremely innovative and will be helpful to many people. For kosher-observant Jews who have special dietary needs or are vegetarian/vegan, it will continue to be popular.”

But Klein does hesitate: “I think the frum community has a general hang-up about vegan food, that it could never be substituted for meat. It may take years to change this perception…” In contrast, Yussi Weisz, owner of a kosher meat restaurant, is full of praise: “Vegan, kosher, parve, looks and tastes like meat — an automatic winner! The people who don’t eat meat love it. Those that do eat meat say it’s the closest thing to a fleishig burger. Definitely the best vegetarian food option I ever tasted.”

Herzog says, “The initial buzz and excitement will wear off. But as production scales up and costs come down, I really think this can become a mainstay in everyday diets.”

Go to yeahthatskosher.com to find where Impossible Burgers are already on the menu. No places in Texas yet. But — maybe…

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Inquisitor’s Tale reminds us of Chaucer

Posted on 25 July 2018 by admin

Here’s a new book that can be read with enjoyment by almost anyone approaching teenage or above — and almost everyone, depending on age, will get something different from it. Its format and historic setting mimic Geoffrey Chaucer’s great Canterbury Tales, where everyone sitting in the same inn tells a different, fascinating story.
Adam Gidwitz adapts many of those literary conceits for The Inquisitor’s Tale, subtitled The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog. This last, all by itself, should be enough to get you interested.
But here’s a problem: It has won just about every prize awarded for children’s books since it appeared in 2016, which can be a turnoff for adults — who will actually get much more out of this reading than any youngster. I assure you, the twists and turns of Gidwitz’ compelling story, with Hatem Aly’s marginal illustrations in the style of pre-printing press manuscripts, will both fascinate and challenge.
There is no way I can compress the plot for you without destroying the joy you’ll have in following it yourself. But I can describe — briefly — the principal characters. There is a tall, rather dark-skinned boy, William, who has been a monk-in-training and brings his amazing physical strength to the story. There is a young Jewish boy, Jacob, a healer who knows about pogroms and such, but also much of our people’s heritage and wisdom (not a surprise: I’m sure Gidwitz knows his Jewish history and has himself studied up on Torah and Talmud). And there is a girl, Jeanne, who, with her greyhound Gwenforte, can do things that sometimes verge on the supernatural — and sometimes really are. How this trio comes to be a powerful unit starts off the story.
But only a start, for the big tale — in the style and spirit of Chaucer — is made up of many little tales, told as a variety of travelers while away their evenings in a French inn, with strong drink flowing into their tankards to encourage talk about their experiences, and the memories that bear upon — and ultimately reveal — the whole story. The year set for these tellings is 1242.
I should be more specific and tell you that the children’s literature prizes showered upon this book tend to specify it for a middle-grades readership. But I think that even those youngsters may have a hard time handling some of the harrowing experiences these three children go through, throughout The Inquisitor’s Tale. If you know about the Middle Ages and the Crusades, I don’t have to tell you that most of the strange, heroic trio’s adventures involve deaths, some of those most beloved to them, and sustained threats to their own lives.
The happy ending comes because of how these children pool their exceptional abilities to help each other survive all those threats. This brings with it some surprises — none of them baldly telegraphed in the writing so that they do remain to surprise at the end — and the assurance that normal lives (at least what would be most normal for each of them in their time and place) await them after the book’s last page has been turned.
And there are 350 of them. In addition, there is an extensive listing of annotated sources that writer Gidwitz used in the six years it took him to assemble all these varied takes on medieval tales into one complete book. The adjectives awarded it by a stellar number of review sources attest to his success: The New York Times calls his achievement “staggering”…to the Wall Street Journal, it is “sparkling”…Booklist’s words are “a taut, inspired adventure.” But Kirkus tops them all: “Gidwitz strikes literary gold with this masterpiece of storytelling…”
Postscript: Mont-Saint-Michel is the final setting for this book. It was also of great importance in World War II. For a truly Jewish tale in which this same site figures importantly, read Irwin Shaw’s compelling and haunting story, Act of Faith.

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Women in clergy have made gains

Posted on 20 July 2018 by admin

One evening, I’m sitting at my desk with a list of five items to my right — all potential subjects of future TJP columns. To my left: two clippings from a recent Dallas Morning News.
Many years ago, when I was first offered the opportunity to become a columnist, I sent three samples to my managing editor, who got back to me thusly: “Can you keep this coming, every week, week after week, all year long?” My answer was a writer’s “no-brainer”: “That’s a valid question for an editor. But the columnist’s question is, ‘What should I write about first?’” (And I “columned” for that paper for almost a decade, until I came to Dallas.)
So now, to my right are those five subjects, fighting for me to write about them ASAP. But to my left are the reasons I’ve chosen a different topic for today: one woman who wanted to be a church leader but couldn’t, and another who wanted to be a synagogue leader and could.
Peggy Wehmeyer, a self-identified Evangelical Christian Dallasite, was the first person of either sex ever to be a religion correspondent on national network TV. But that wasn’t the career she’d wanted; her aim was to be a minister, a leader of a church congregation. Her religion, however, would allow her to lead groups of women only, not to influence men. It maintained that a woman’s highest calling came straight from God: Marry and have children.
About that same time, Ellen Lewis — one of the earliest ordained women rabbis, and the first ever to serve a congregation in our area — became Temple Emanu-El’s religious school director. But she also had some pastoral responsibilities, among them making visits to hospitalized Jews who requested them. She returned from such a “deployment” one day, madder than she’d ever been before, because when she had tried to turn her car into the parking lot’s clergy section, the attendant denied her entrance: he insisted that “Women can’t be rabbis.”
Just as Wehmeyer couldn’t be a minister. Her church wouldn’t let her preach to men; it maintained they would “obey” a woman only if they were too weak to do otherwise. Be like Sarah, she was instructed; God told her to listen to Abraham, she was told. (I wonder if the giver of that advice had ever read far enough into the Bible to notice what God said when Sarah urged Abraham to send Ishmael away and he was reluctant to do so: “Listen to her.”)
Wehmeyer is more content now because her own daughter is attending a Christian seminary that prepares women for full ministry. But we Jews have been ahead of that curve, even though some of our own are as reluctant to accept this as are some evangelicals — like the one I recently heard on the radio (I have a pre-set in my car that used to play my favorite music, but it’s now gone to full-time Christian broadcasting; I keep listening, because I learn so much): His “expert” opinion was that a woman can now preach, but not pastor. In other words, she can speak, but she can’t lead.
My second clipping shows the DMN’s recent editorial “thumbs down” to the Richardson church whose minister had circulated his views about “many dangerous ‘isms’” — including Judaism among them. Then, leading many in public opposition to Pastor Sheldon Gibbs III was Elana Zelony — not only an ordained Conservative clergyperson, but the only woman rabbi in North Texas (maybe even in all of Texas) to stand in her very own pulpit. She’s living the life of religious leadership she wanted, as Wehmeyer could not, although her daughter can.
Ages ago, when I was a young woman daring to say out loud that I would like to be a rabbi, I got this advice: “You can marry a rabbi.” Bad idea. But these two recent clippings illustrate changes, both profound and undeniable, in today’s religious leadership.

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Readers respond with their own polio memories

Posted on 12 July 2018 by admin

Two readers responded to my recent column on polio with very different — yet somehow connected —stories of their own, plus permission for me to share them. One is frightening, the other enlightening. Let’s be grateful for them both.
Roy Edenson shares his “vivid memories” of August 1953, when, at age 4, he suddenly couldn’t swallow the ice cream his father was feeding him from a Dixie cup with a wooden spoon. A quick trip to the doctor was followed by immediate admission to the local polio hospital. Roy had the bulbar strain, which affects swallowing and breathing. For weeks he was in an oxygen tent with an iron lung; raw eggs and milk were fed through a rubber hose threaded from his nose down to his stomach. Many “get-well” gifts included an RCA portable record player, which Roy credits with inspiring his engineering/electronics career.
During Roy’s recovery, his microbiologist father learned about the Salk trials; when the vaccine was finally approved, he took a part-time job as health officer in East Brunswick, New Jersey, organizing clinics to vaccinate children free of charge.
“I learned how lucky I was to have an aware parent who saved me from certain death with his early intervention,” says Roy, who was largely unaffected for 50 years afterward. But now, he calls polio “the gift that keeps on taking.”
About 20 years ago, his overworked neurons started weakening and dying, causing fatigue, muscle weakness and pain that finally necessitated back and neck surgeries. But hand, finger and leg problems continue to escalate. Still, Roy says, “I often remind myself of the 65 extra years I was gifted. Our eldest daughter gave birth to identical twin girls on the first anniversary of my initial back surgery, and our only grandson was born six weeks early – on the same day as my neck surgery. Life is what happens.”
Eleanor Eidels tells of her strikingly different involvement with polio, which also illustrates the early preventive efforts of that fear-filled time.
“As a third-grader in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, I was one of many kids in the field trial for the Salk vaccine,” she recalls. Testing involved three shots, so “Three times, virtually all the first-, second- and third-graders in my school were lined up to go through the high school cafeteria, where dozens of tables were set up with doctors and nurses ready to give the vaccine.” Since one of the girls always fainted when she got shots, the other kids would warn them in advance. “Sure enough, that girl became a physician,” Eleanor comments today.
She continues: “One of the cool things was that they taught us kids what a ‘double-blind’ study is, so we all understood that not even the doctors knew who was getting the real vaccine. It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that they revealed who got what. Fortunately, I had received the actual vaccine, though they decided to give us a booster shot. The poor kids who got the dummy shots had to go through the whole series again.”
But: “It was such a big deal because polio was a terror. A girl in my grade needed braces on both legs. A little boy down the street from me got polio one summer. Why not his brother? Why not me? He ended up with a brace on one leg. A couple of streets over was a boy in an iron lung. We were not allowed to drink from the water fountain at the playground.”
Eleanor concludes: “I still have the card that proclaims me a ‘Polio Pioneer’ — signed by me, Eleanor Royster, in third grade. And to this day, I still never let my face touch any part of a water fountain, a habit drilled into me in those awful years.”
(Postscript: 56 years ago, July 29, 1962, almost a million Dallas children received the Sabin sugar cube, replacing the Salk shots as protection against polio.)

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