Harlem’s Gospel experience and invitation

The Apollo theater, Harlem’s famous landmark was initially home to Yiddish theater before launching the career of musical giants including Michael Jackson!

On a hot August morning,  buses line Harlem’s 125th Street as hundreds of people snake single-file past street vendors and residents before dodging down side streets in search of spirituality.  Spirituality in Gospel music.

Soaking up the cultural and spiritual Gospel experience is a must-do for NYC tourists and residents.   A to-do that took this New Yorker 11 years to accomplish!  Along with fifty members of NYC’s

138th Street, Strivers Row was where the wealthy lived in Harlem 100 years ago

Shorewalker’s, we looped through Harlem’s Striver’s Row on 138th St. on our way

Striver’s Row @138th Street in Harlem, NYC.

to a large square building more reminiscent of a government building or bank than of a church.

Fitting I suppose for a religious institution.

Mount Olivet Baptist Church, at 120th Street and Lenox Avenue (now Malcolm X Boulevard), was built  in 1907 as Temple Israel for German Jews. Its four trunk like Corinthian columns could be mistaken for something out of imperial Rome were it not for the Stars of David nestled in their leafy capitals – and the Stars of David in the balcony section and the Ten Commandments and Hebrew inscription above the baptismal pool that was once the Ark. The synagogue was designed by Arnold W. Brunner, architect of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, at Central Park West and 70th Street.

Hundreds of us – literally – are crowded into the back of the sanctuary of this exotic venue.  We’re sweaty and makeshift fans courtesy of the programs are both relieving and mildly distracting.

Stars of David atop the pillars of Ephases Baptist Church. Respectful of the service, I didn’t take any pictures inside.

It takes only minutes for us to sink into the warm ambience and spiritual energy that makes Gospel a full experience.   Four women singing around the piano in the front left, belt out songs, challenging us to participate. 

The question is, how do we participate? 

Do we sing? Clap? Stand and sway? 

Is there a protocol and how do we learn it?

Congregants rise to shake hands in welcome to  each other while slowly making their way to us visitors.  This is the easy part: it takes little enticement for us to eagerly reach out for connection, touch.

Many of Harlem’s churches, like Mount Olivet reveal rich reminders of its Jewish past, brief as it was.  In the balcony, emerald-green Stars of David are centered in the stain glass windows of this former synagogue.  Front and center, the Ten Commandments atop the ark, held the

Manhattan Grace Tabernacle in Harlem with its Magen David. The writing in the arch is Hebrew

Torah’s and now houses the Baptismal pool.  Hebrew lettering arched above reminds all of the German and Eastern European Jews who called this sanctuary and neighborhood home from the late 1800’s to the 1920’s.

This Gospel Church’s Jewish past  surprised many in my group.  Yet, human ‘migrations’ are the universal story of cities large and small, for better or worse.

Neighborhoods change, seemingly in a NY minute here in the Big Apple.  Subtle reminders remain, requiring focused attention and observation.  In Harlem alone about a dozen churches began their spiritual life as synagogues!

Former Allen St. Synagogue in the once Jewish Lower East Side and now Chinatown is a  Buddhist Temple and 99 cent store

‘In the name of G-d has sparked so many wars, yet sanctuaries fluidly change religious affiliation.  Both from year to year, and more often, from day-to-day.  My Kabbalat Shabbat, (Friday night services welcoming the Sabbath) are spent in a Presbyterian church.

There’s peace in those pews.  If we can pray in the same space, can’t we play nice?

As I sway and clap back in Harlem on that hot Sunday, letting my body blend with the music, my mind wonders and wanders: why don’t tourists  include Jewish services, or other religious services to their cultural experience?

Here in 2013, post-apocolyptic-Mayan-miss, there’s a perfect opportunity to understand and connect with others.  To develop and grow our empathy. 

If we can’t literally walk in someone else’s shoes to grow and develop empathy, it’s possible to pray in someone else’s pews. 

Have you had the opportunity to pray in another house of worship? 

What did you learn about your own religion and sense of spirituality?

Here’s to a year of peace, empathy, and, connection!

Post-Newtown, CT, – how do we save the world?

A young man opens fire on an elementary school – LITTLE KIDS – killing 20 kids and 6 adults.

We’re not at war, are we?

So why?

I don’t know, and, since the shooter has killed both himself and his mother, we may never know.

It’s unimaginable to think about anyone going into a school and shooting 6 year olds.

Yet it’s happened.

And I know cyberspace is filled with us bloggers writing about yet another attack.  A terrorist attack of a sort.  A hate crime of a sort.

The BBC this morning discussed the lack of care for those with mental illness.

THIS to me was the issue.  After all, it’s not guns who kill, but rather people.  And to commit a crime of this magnitude and with this focus, surely this young man had some sort of mental illness.

We can all speak up and sign petitions.  And we should.  For gun control, and especially for mental health services.

Even more, I think we can all do little things and help those with lesser pain, ‘managed’ illness, I guess you can say.    ‘Illness’ like being affected by shorter days, or less work, or depleted resources – financially or emotionally.

Especially this time of year.  While the airwaves are filled with toe-tapping music even for this dreidel-spinning, menorah-lighting Jew, and yummy delights are passed beneath our noses, this can also be a sad time for many.

Just last night someone told me she can’t wait for the season to be over.  To get back to everyday life.  ‘Regular’ life.  ‘This‘ is all too much.

I love this sign from Bija Yoga not far from Union Square in NYC.  I think it offers compassion and kindness to all of us in the midst of a struggle.

I love this sign from Bija Yoga, 20 E. 17th St., NYC. I think it offers compassion and kindness to all of us in the midst of a struggle.

We may not be able to take care of the big things, but we can take care of these little ones:

We can offer support and kindness to people feeling vulnerable.  Compassion and humorEmpathy and an ear without judgement.

How do you know who’s in pain?


It’s just as easy to treat everyone as if they may need a little extra  cheer.

“The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen. Just listen. Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention…. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.  ”
―    Rachel Naomi Remen

The holiday season is short but our memories are long.  I say let’s reach out and touch someone’s heart this season and do what we can to really bring good tidings and cheer into as many lives as possible.

That to me is creating a miracle!  A much needed miracle!   Bolstering someone’s ‘internal life’ is huge.  And sometimes all it takes is a smile or the patience and time to connect.

My friend Pam brought this powerful post to my attention.  Please read:

“I am Adam Lanza’s Mother”


We can all do ONE thing.  Remember:

“Whoever saves a single life, it is as if he had saved the whole world.”

— The Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:5

If we can’t banish guns off the face of the planet, we can still save the world!

Chanukah: The Power of Light

Samantha at Bourbon Coffee on 14th St., Manhattan unique and joyful celebration of Chanukah

Samantha at Bourbon Coffee on 14th St., Manhattan unique and joyful celebration of Chanukah

Amidst the lights and music of Chanukah comes the lights of Chanukah.  It’s a festival – not a holiday, and, like many Jewish celebrations it involves near annihilation and food.

Sunday, a friend asked about the meaning of ‘gelt’ as we walked chomping on chocolate gelt coins.    Midway through making up answers, I came face to face with the fact:  after lighting hundreds of Chanukah candles, spinning countless dreidels, and, eating twice my weight in potato latkes and soufganiot (doughnuts) over more than half century of celebrating:  I DON’T KNOW!

Fortunately, I had picked up a brochure:

I'm thinking this is an "Everything you wanted to know about Chanukah - that your friend didn't know" brochure, courtesy of Lubavitch Youth Organization/Chabad

I’m thinking this is an “Everything you wanted to know about Chanukah – that you didn’t know” brochure, courtesy of Lubavitch Youth Organization/Chabad

In fact, while reading Chabad’s Lubavitch Youth Org’s www.lubavitchyouth.org short brochure I realized not only do I NOT

The way we Eastern Europeans prefer to ingest our oil!  martha stewart highlights sharon lebewol's latke's from her 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook

The way we Eastern Europeans prefer to ingest our oil! martha stewart highlights sharon lebewol’s latke’s from her 2nd Ave Deli Cookbook

understand the meaning of ‘gelt’, I don’t fully understand the whole festival.

Ultimately, Chanukah, is about the triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter, of light over darkness.

Our sages said, “A little light expels a lot of darkness.”

Notable as the longest night of the year is days away.

Lighting the candles Sunday night

Lighting the candles Sunday night.  My Chabad brochure explained: ‘ the 8-branched menorah is a symbol of hope and eternal optimism that G-d will make things work out for us, even when it seems unlikely.’   It must work!  Menorahs have nurtured perseverance during the horrors of the Holocaust and the gloom of the Soviet gulag!

Some of what I needed to learn:

313 B.C.E.:  Alexander the Great conquered Jerusalem.  The Jews lived under Greek ‘rule’ until they were forced to worship statues of Zeus.  Then, enough was enough:  In 140 B.C.E., the Jews fought a war over religious freedom led by the Maccabees, an acronym for ‘Who is like You among the powerful, O L-ord?’

Battles were fought and miraculous victories led to chasing the Greeks out of Jerusalem.  But the Greeks had desecrated the Holy Temple and there wasn’t any undefiled oil to keep the special light above the Ark where the Torah’s are kept lit.  It would take 7 days round trip to get undefiled oil.  Ah, the days before Fed-Ex!

Miraculously, a pure, sealed bottle of oil was found beneath the floor.  A bottle to last a day, miraculously lasted for eight.

Miracle or luck?  A question for another day.

Chanukah celebrates this miracle with the ritual of lighting menorah’s:  special candlesticks allowing candles to be lit for each of the  miraculous eight nights,

Eating oil laden food like potato pancakes fried in oil

Sufganiyah, fried jelly donuts - a Chanukah delicacy!  pic courtesy of wikipedia.

Sufganiyah, fried jelly donuts – a Chanukah delicacy! pic courtesy of Wikipedia.

Giving ‘gelt’ or charity.  Most often in the form of foil wrapped chocolate, though as kids it’s much sweeter to get a gift each night.  I become my niece’s least favorite aunt by giving donations in their name!

Gelt!  Check out About.com/judaism/whatis hanukah for more info

Gelt! Check out www.About.com/Judaism/whatis Hanukkah for more info

Playing Dreidel, spinning a four-sided top – for money – and praying for a miracle to take the pot.   Here’s the deal with dreidels:  When the Greek

Dreidel playing gelt!  Winner eats all - happily!

Dreidel playing gelt! Winner eats all – happily!

Antiochus forbade Torah study, Jews studied secretly in caves.  When an officer approached, they would hide their books and pretend to play with tops. The dreidel’s four sides have a Hebrew letter imprinted on each side:  Nun, Gimmel, Hay, and Shin, standing for the Hebrew:

Spinning dreidels!

Spinning dreidels!

‘Ness Gadol Haya Sham’: 

‘A great miracle happened here’

FYI:  Give the top a twirl and when the dreidel stops spinning, if it lands on the Gimmel it means you win everything.  Landing on the Shin will diminish your lot by 2 M-n-M’s.

chanukah dreidel gimmel

Today, Wednesday, the fifth night, is the most special:  five lit candles out of eight signifies more light than darkness.

Watching the candles burn on my menorah, I’m acknowledging struggles and darkness, taking in the light .  Menorah’s have been lit and dreidels have spun through far worse than my measly problems, I know.  Still, it’s reassuring.

My Lubavitcher Youth www.LubavitchYouth.org brochure says it better than I ever could:

Let us pray that the message of the Chanukah lights will illuminate the everyday life of everyone personally and of the society at large, for a brighter life in every respect, both materially and spiritually.

I’ll drink (some hot chocolate) to that!

What’s your favorite holiday ritual? 

What have you learned about it lately that blew your socks off?

A Moment of Silence PLEASE – Olympics Opening Ceremony NEED

Wherever you may be, join the worldwide 1minute silence, on the morning of the London 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony

The IOC would not agree for this minute to honor the (anniversary) of the 11 Israeli’s murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics.


Minute for Munich
Friday at 11:00am in UTC+01 at Wherever you may be

Please celebrate the games and peace. Remember terrorists threaten life’s celebrations, global and personal.

Share this as a reminder: ‘Never Again’.


From Moscow about Love: identity Talk in the Park

What part of your life would you change for love?

Why would you  change your beliefs and identity?

How do you know if what you changed for is ‘real’?

 I meet M. in NYC’s Bryant Park where as ‘The Coach is IN:  A Talk in the Park:  people present situations and needs.  I  ‘coach’ success strategies to help them resolve conflict, improve communication, and  focus careers.
I think of it as my new conversational journey:  http://communicationessentials.wordpress.com.    
M. and her friend L. huddled over their MAC’s debating ‘to be or not to be coached’at the table next to me.  Insinuating myself into their conversation,  I had myself two new ‘clients’.  (like Peanuts’ Lucy, I charge a nickel so “clients” must be in “air quotes”) http://communicationessentials.wordpress.com
M. and L’s  friendship begun on a bus to Boston  has lasted through time and distance – a fact that speaks volumes about them both.  Interestingly, both had relationship questions but at different ends of the ‘love’ spectrum. http://communicationessentials.wordpress.com/2012/07/12/friends-after-…ch-is-in-vol-5/

M’s in a relationship and she’s scared.  Fear is causing a conflict:  internally.   

This fear has evolved in the last year – it wouldn’t have been relevant before.  A Moscow Jew,  she has been learning and becoming involved with Judaism (it sounded like through Chabad).


One of Moscow’s synagogues: Choral Synagogue

Friday nights find her in Shabbat Services these days.  Her beliefs, life style and identity have changed.  She now works for a Jewish organization, taking young people to Israel on Birthright/Taglit trips.  www.birthrightisrael.com

The Friday we spoke would be the first Shabbat not spent in a synagogue in a year.  She wondered how she would feel, already missing the sanctuary services offered.

M’s complications:  love and religion.  She’s dating a young man from her synagogue, a man she was friends with for months.  They like each other – a lot.

Her fear is NOT about whether the relationship will last. (she knows it’s a real possibility).

Remember her conflict is internal.  It’s about her changing at her pace. Her boyfriend is more observant, observing dietary laws (kosher) and the Sabbath (Shabbat).  For them to be together she would have to be equally observant.  Now she  attends Shabbat services,  but is she ready for more?  What does she want?  She’s not sure.

Her fear:  being told what or how to do things.  She doesn’t want to change for the wrong (read:  not her) reasons.  This tug-of-war wraps pulls at her mind  and emotions:  she loves shrimp but might  be willing to be Kosher.  He can keep Shabbat, but she may still want to see a Saturday movie with her friends.

Optimistically she questions: Perhaps he’ll change and meet her half way?  She knows the answer.

As her afternoon coach, I can only offer strategies to understand and then

Me with my coaching sign in Bryant Park!

communicate her needs.  Providing a framework to sort through her thoughts and feelings, I leave her to do the hard work.

While M’s story is not unique, I’ve heard  50 shades of it since my conversational journey last fall,  amazement at this movement’s magnitude continues.  

Throughout Eastern Europe, Jews are exploring  long hidden, forgotten, ignored Judaism.   Throughout Russia young people are exploring (all) religion, dealing with the ‘usual’ debate over who is ‘legally’ Jewish.   A generation after the fall of communism  people have the freedom to ‘wake up’ and stretch their beliefs.  Religion, and faith can be explored and expressed.

I’m reminded again how easy it is to take my Judaism, my freedom to believe, for granted.   My fear:  how easy it is to store aspects of my identity until they’re needed or wanted.

M. is strong and determined.  She’ll maintain, grow and develop her identity, discovering  who she is and who she is meant to be.  I hope I can do the same.

One bit of (ironic) news about Eastern European Jewry heard while docenting at  Museum at Eldridge Street:   A., an Israeli-German woman living in Hamburg, shared  all (almost) synagogues in Germany are Orthodox!  Before WWII, Reform Judaism began there.  

New Jewish congregants are moving into Germany from ‘the East’.  The only reform synagogue is the Orienenburger Synagogue, http://www.jg-

The Orienenburger or Neue Synagogue in Berlin is home to a beautiful and welcoming egalitarian service (just be sure to get on a list to get in!). The beautiful facade is all that is left of the synagogue which was destroyed during Kristallnacht in 1938. Germany has a GROWING Jewish population, only recently publishing a Jewish newspaper for the first time since WWII!

berlin.org/en/judaism/synagogues/oranienburger-strasse.html   is egalitarian. The  Cantor and Rabbi are women, lead beautiful and welcoming services.    I attended several services here when visiting Berlin,  services which felt like ‘home’.

Multi-faceted Jerilyn: Recreating Identity Perfection

What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned about someone you thought you knew recently?

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve unveiled about yourself?

Think of people you know: from work, a social group, church or synagogue, or family. How well do you know them? Or as Charlotte in TV’s “Sex in the City” asked: “How well do we really know anyone..?”

According to John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816 – 1887) version of the famous Indian legend, getting to know people takes exploration. My favorite reminder is the

Sufi tale of the Elephant and the Blind Men. If you don’t it, read it for great analagies to so many life situations

Sufi tale of the blind men and the elephant.


There’s more to a person’s identity than meets the eye, as ‘seen’ by these six explorers.

Let’s face it’s easy to apply generalizations to someone, even if our belief is flattering. Take my friend and colleague: Jerilyn WillinL  Speaker/Writer/Adventurous Fiction, Inspiring Self Help

You can learn better business practices in one of her leadership development classes, achieve your goals as her coaching client, or listen and be inspired by one her speaker presentations.  She comes across as what I describe as “all business”.   You may think you know her.   Think again.

To start: Dig deep. In fact deep, deeper and deeper still!  Jerilyn’s  co-written journal  journey for people to explore professional and personal life potential and focus. (Sign up for her email prompt for deep thought and conversation: www.jwillinconsulting.com .  New quotes and deep digging questions are sent weekly and will spark your creative juices.)

Digging deep and  listening beneath the surface reveals glimmers not captured by  the boardroom or office cubicle.  Identity, afterall,  is about sharpening and polishing personal facets at the surface and below.  Some of those facets are easily recognized and  ready to be unearthed and exhibited.  Others take lots more elbow grease to unveil identity perfection.

Ever notice how people sparkle when their identity is polished.  It’s more than charisma – it’s magic!  Without a doubt, identity is ROMANCE.

How do you get find the romance in management consulting? (No federal workplace laws are violated here!)

 I looked to Jerilyn for direction.  Digging deep, she summoned her inner romance, by sharpening another facet of her identity.   Practicing Thomas Edison’s: “Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration” a brilliant romance e-book  was uncovered.

  “Unless a Love be Free”   is available through Amazon at www.Amazoncom.

This is such a perfect summer – or year-round subway read!

This is a read you won’t forget – or regret!  (There’s a reason romance novels are popular – they really are about power and freedom which you’ll see when you read this. )

Think your identity doesn’t include reading a romance novel?

If so, that’s the perfect reason to read ‘outside of the box’.  I’ve found reading new genre’s  polishs my facets and even improves my ability to solve problems, communicate and daydream.   Laugh about daydreaming, but it’s key to polishing  new facets of  identity.

So read “Unless a Love be Free” and daydream.   Especially if this is your first romance share how this book revealed new ideas for you!

Another plug for great authorship and ingenious selling modes: Garrett Robinson was in NYC’s Bryant Park selling his self-published books including Zoe, a fictional account of his identity quest through travel. Sounds captivating and is available through Amazon.com. How to sell your wares???

‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’: Celebrate Beauty!

Beauty is all around us and just because we seek it doesn’t mean we see it.  The key is in the definition (of beauty) and the hope and expectation: ‘I’ll know it when I see it’.

Celebrating beauty: Hava Hershkovitz crowned ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’

There is so much pressure and unrealistic expectations of beauty thanks to fashion mags and the silver screen.  Then there is Of course the ultimate celebration and proclamation of beauty:   beauty contests.

I won’t criticize beauty contests here and now .  This post is about celebrating one  important, unusual, and  very controversial contest:  ‘Miss Holocaust Survivor’.

14  women aged  74 – 97 competed on Friday, June 28th, in Haifa, Israel for the crown of most ‘beautiful’ Holocaust survivor.  The criteria was  (largely) on their survival story and lifetime work.

Is a beauty pageant the answer to celebrating these women?  If it reminds us of the beauty of survival and the strength of the human spirit, I say yes.

“This place is full of survivors. It puts us at the center of attention so people will care. It’s not easy at this age to be in a beauty contest, but we‘re all doing it to show that we’re still here,” the silver-haired Hershkovitz said.  (Hava Hershkovitz was crowned the winner!)

“I have the privilege to show the world that Hitler wanted to exterminate us and we are alive. We are also enjoying life. Thank God it’s that way,” added Esther Libber, a 74-year-old runner-up who fled her home in Poland as a child, hid in a forest and was rescued by a Polish woman. She said she lost her entire immediate family.

Pageant’s many critics  felt focusing on beauty belittled the gravity of the Holocaust.  Others felt the sponsoring cosmetic companies ‘making up’ the contestants were in it for their own gain. I say focus on redefining beauty.   I think this is an opportunity to really, finally, understand  ‘beauty comes from within’.

A BBC listener commented on Friday’s story, ‘I can’t believe people came out of Auschwitz smiling’ (as a contest critique).  Based on my chilly October day tour last year, I couldn’t believe people came out at allhttps://identity5772.wordpress.com/2011/10/28/from-unimaginable-to-awe/

Imagine being able to survive such dehumanizing and horrific conditions, to survive and raise families, contribute to society, build the state of Israel, and have the humor to compete in a beauty contest.    I was and am filled with awe.

Survival takes strength.  If that’s not beauty, what is?   I think about how ‘difficult’ it is to ‘survive’ in today’s economic downturn.  In tough times it’s easy to shrug off shows of beauty,  diminishing (my own) strength.   Imagine  holding onto beauty in the depths of your soul in a death camp, partisan forest, or a root cellar.

300 interested contestants obviously survived with strength and dignity.   They  deserve my respect for their example to primp and preen and flaunt their beauty .

There are about 200,000 (aging)   Holocaust survivors still alive in Israel.

Sadly, Genocides continue.

‘Never Again’.  The Holocaust wasn’t just about extermination – it is about miraculous survival.

The Nazi’s and their collaborators showed the worst of human nature.  Survivors, the best.  Survival of the fittest!  Winner,  Ms. Hershkovitz, beautifully reminds us:  ‘We’re still here.’

How do you define beauty? 

Is this an appropriate way to honor Holocaust survivors?   Share your ideas!


Communication Essentials of a Conversational Journey

People are so interesting!   Identity 5772, my recent conversational journey provided me lots of opportunity to listen and share the stories of amazing people.  I’m always  filled me with awe at how much there is to learn and grow from a simple conversation.  Or should I say a conversation focused on the essentials of good communication.

With this in mind I want to take this opportunity to tell you about my new blog:


This new ‘journey’ will share tips and techniques based on my communication and conflict management coaching experience and expertise as well as new, yet different stories.  Collecting stories based on coaching topics is easy.   Well, sort of, I discovered as I launched my coaching biz in of all places:  NYC’s Union Square.

Enticing people to share with my cardboard sandwich sign advertising:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            First I sat at a small table with my sign perched in the middle, my eager smile plastered on my face as I scanned passerby’s faces.  Catching eyes was as difficult as it must be catching fly balls at Yankee Stadium.  Impatient after 20 minutes, I got up and moved to one of the benches lining one of the Square’s walk though path.

In reality, if you saw a woman sitting with this sign in a public park, what would you think???  Would you go talk to her?

Three very different stories and conversations were my reward for tweaking my position.  Interestingly the three people I spoke with were in change mode from changing EVERYTHING in N’s life to changing strategies for meeting a personal and community need in Gary’s.  Sign on to hear these stories in next Monday’s post on:  http://communicationessentials.wordpress.com

Read my post where I confess to being a bit of a dinosaur.  Then take the poll and vote on which method of communication you prefer:

 Tongues or Thumbs communication

Which do you prefer?  Please be sure to share your preference!

I’ll share the results in two weeks on both blogs.

In the meantime, have a good weekend filled with good conversation


Pictures of Zagreb’s Jewish community

This gallery contains 28 photos.

‘We’re still here’ was a frequent refrain during my October conversational journey with Eastern European Jews.   Conversations unsurfaced pride, wonder, and questions.  Questions continue to blossom as I sift through notes and pictures in the comfort of local coffeehouses.    Zagreb, a last minute substitution  as my time … Continue reading

Would you hide me? Or: WWID?

Afternoons, the ‘F’ train became the ‘fight train’ as I traveled to my NYU teaching gig.   High-schoolers’ pent-up energy ricocheted off subway walls, without regard to bystanders. Until the day this innocent was attacked by a flying jelly bean.  My gentle admonition to take care was answered with a threat to ‘beat me up’ – no great challenge for her and a lesson of caution for me.  A lesson to contain my ‘suggestions’.

An email discussion with my niece Emily found us chewing on the meaty topic of the Donner Party  (sorry….).   Revulsion aside,  Em wisely admitted she couldn’t really say what she would do in that situation.

How could she?  How could any of us?

Things always look easier when you are on the outside looking in.  Traveling to the past and critiquing the actions of others is easy.  It’s easy to slap  moral judgements and out-of-context beliefs on what was done in a time and place viewed far from the comfort of a book or LCD screen.  But when the going gets tough and push turns to  life and death, I always stop and wonder, “What would I do?’ (WWID)

In all situations, I  hope for the character and strength of Miep Gies, the family friend who helped hide and feed Anne Frank and her family regardless of danger to her and her husband.

Moral strength leads to moral pondering and to Nathan Englander’s  ‘What we talk about when we talk about Anne Frank’ (New Yorker 12/12/2011  (http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2011/12/12/111212fi_fiction_englander).

My teaser:  An obsession-turned-‘game’ finds its way into the  reunion conversation of two slightly drunk, slightly high, middle-aged couples, connected through the wives Yeshiva school days.  An afternoon of tension and discomfort laced with humor and startling revelations leads to the taunting pose between spouses:  ‘Would you hide me?’

See, you need to read this book!

Provocatively, ‘would you hide me?’ haunts my mind’s crevices and shadows conversations.   Staring matches in my bathroom mirror dares:  What would I do?

Can I trust my eyes with the answer?  Can others?

Surely we all say we will protect others.  Of course.  How can we possibly say no?  But how do we really know?  Is the strength to hide and protect fused into a person’s core identity?

A recent review of the Holocaust movie:  “In Darkness” implied enough already with the Holocaust.  This topic’s been exhausted.  Read Mr. Englander’s story.

I wonder if we haven’t had enough.  Surely there is something more to our interest in Hitler’s horrors against Jews, Gypsies, gays, and others.  A gnawing question knocking at our sensibilities as we watch and read.  A question turned inward forcing us to (uncomfortably) explore moral strength and identity:  What would I do?

Yes, more stories of the Holocaust and other genocides are needed.  More stories to prompt consideration of ‘WWID?’

‘Never Again’!  A Holocaust slogan reminds.    I’d like to say that there will ‘never again’ be a holocaust, and a threat to wipe Jews off the planet.  I’d like to say there will be no more genocides.


I fear polar bears will become extinct before acts of genocide.  And people like polar bears.

Under the world’s watchful eyes genocides have threatened to wipe out nations around the globe.  Anti-Semitism is alive and far too well.

Every holocaust starts small.  In ‘small’, hate-filled people.  Hate-filled become haters.   Hate fills people slowly, as recipients of actions that expose rather than hide.   Actions that attack rather than protect.

‘Would you hide me?’  It’s small actions that protect and hide others.  From sadness, fear, hopelessness.  Actions we can all take.  These days it’s way too easy to poke fun at others using social media.  Too easy to exclude others who are sitting around a table if they aren’t part of the group.  Too easy to focus on our ‘stuff’ and not listen to a friend’s needs.  Too easy to criticize rather than compliment.  Or worse, purposely ignore an opportunity to compliment, to support another.

I think I can do the hard thing.  Can’t we all?

WWID?  I can do the small stuff.  Take  responsibility.  I can make decisions and take actions to demonstrate I am a person who protects and hides others.  I hope.  Even if I haven’t always done so, I can do better.

I can respect a confidence more than sharing a story on Facebook, tweet, or at a party.

I can resist the urge to say or post something about another that might in reality be insulting, even if it’s done with humor.

I can value a person’s sense of self rather than my need to be part of a ‘group joke’ – at someone else’s expense, even if that person isn’t there.

I can stop teases, taunts, and mean-spirited gossip – even if I can’t stop jelly beans shooting through subway cars.

Not yet.

It’s the decision to make little ‘random acts of kindness’ that turn us into protectors.  Right? 


Aspects of identity need to be taught.  As a coach, I help others develop secure identities, to be safely in the driver’s seat to turn right.

But I know it’s scary to be the face of reason.  The one saying stop when others look for Facebook likes.

How did we get here?  How have we not traveled further?

Take a leap.  It’s scary, but go ahead.  Take action.  Ask yourself:  ‘What would I do?’