A Little Help from My Friends

Its college acceptance season.  For some, the mail will bring life-changing news crediting a lifetime of hard work and personal discipline.  For others, the reach proved unreachable and the disappointment is heart breaking.   For all, it’s a nerve-wracking, nail-biting, sleep-losing process.   And, for parents, it’s the first of many of their children’s milestones that are beyond their control.  Or, is it?  Turns out, not always.

Students with special needs, learning disabilities, classifications, and IEPs receive critical and necessary support.  Often, this means examinations are administered in separate rooms with extended or even unlimited time to complete the test.   For most students in high school, the difference between an A or a B is less their mastery of the materials and more the time constraints designed to ensure the subject matter has not merely been learned but the ease with which the information can be summoned,  applied, and communicated.    Every thoroughbred can cross the finish line; but the most successful must do it within a challenging amount of time.

For those with special needs, the narrow allotment of time is often an unfair and prejudicial evaluation of what they have achieved and, for them, an inaccurate barometer of what they are capable of.

As an attorney who has spent a fair amount of time advocating for such students, I am the first in line to testify as to the life-changing and critically important efficacy of these programs.   It is not about those students to whom this piece is addressed.

But, imagine the improbable scenario of a student without legitimate needs, disabilities or challenges given the advantages of educational support.   Imagine two identical students, one must complete a high level physics exam in 55 minutes.  The other gets 2 hours.  Maybe one is given access to the examination in advance.   Imagine both are placed in high honors classes and the transcripts do not reflect the advantages but merely recite high honor-level grades.   You are beginning to see the problem.

Improbable?  Now imagine it’s happening in schools across the nation, and consider that the better universities only accept 1 or 2 students per school.  Should the coveted spot go to the student who is scamming his way to the top of the class?

You see, one cannot merely announce a special need or learning disability in order to take full advantage of the support available.   As you would expect, it requires professional analysis and a medical diagnosis.  It requires independent and verifiable proof that the need exists.  Which is why almost all cases of educational support are valid and legitimate.  It would take a particularly crowded bank account, an ethically challenged parent, and an even more ethically challenged healthcare professional to conspire to pull this off.   But it’s possible.  And, make no mistake, it’s happening.

Is this easy to prove? Or prevent?  No.  Certainly not without rigorous testing and multiple second-opinions.   And, that would be unfair and cost prohibitive to the overwhelming  majority of families who have legitimate needs and use the system fairly and with compassion.

Some have suggested that students with classifications should simply not be permitted to join high honors classes, which might de-incentivize the practice.  But, I am not sure that’s fair or even legal.  And, I am not sure it would de-incentivize the practice.    Others have suggested a second level of inquiry where there is suspicion of abuse by consensus of educators.   That might work.  But it raises other complications.

The solution to a complicated problem is beyond the scope of this piece and may be elusive in the short term.    But, there are a growing number of parents who are rightfully outraged.   The solution will come when enough people demand it.     I hope that day is nearing.

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Political Payback

I forgot to be upset today. Even with the hundreds of consolation emails, voicemails, text messages, and grim shrugs. I lost the election. But, I cannot summon any regret, sadness, or melancholy. Au contraire. I am in a great mood, full of hope, appreciation, and happiness. Here’s why: the world did not end. Not my world. It did not even bend. New Milford will survive and prosper. I have work to get back to and children to continue to raise. I am catching a flight in few hours to Los Angeles with my best friend and soulmate.

There were over 12,000 individual votes cast for these two seats. I lost by about 160. That was my sweet spot. Less, and I surely would have lost sleep wondering what I could have done differently. More, and I would have given in to paranoia. You see, there are thousands of voters who have no idea who I am. There are only so many doors upon which one can knock. For most, the first time they ever saw my name was in the voting booth. And, how many times have I skipped over unfamiliar, if not qualified, candidates for those I knew something about. Of the 6 council candidates, I was the least known by far. Against those odds, I did my daddy proud.

But, there is more to celebrate. This was, in my view, the most civil, respectful, and amiable election that I can remember. (With a few ugly exceptions). It’s a credit to all the candidates and most of their enthusiastic supporters. I promised to restore civility. And, while I do not and cannot take any credit for the tone of the campaign, I am proud to have been part of it. I hope it continues with the new council. I think it will.

We have some issues in town that need some attention. Nothing cataclysmic or catastrophic. Nothing that good people, with good hearts, great minds, and mutual respect cannot tackle. If they can, I am content to sit out. If they can’t, I am happy to try again someday. It’s all good.

The rub, of course, is the amazing people I have met along this journey. Every door, every address. Supporters and not so much. We have a great town, filled with the most amazing people. Everyone I met was kind, friendly, interested, and interesting. (With a few ugly exceptions). Abraham Lincoln once said that “the true measure of a town’s greatness can be found in its citizenry.” He didn’t actually, but he should have because it’s true. Politicians come and go. But the character of this town is imbedded in its DNA.

That reminds me of a few examples. Mike Putrino, my campaign manager, is about the nicest, most sincere guy I have ever met. I cannot wait for his return to politics. Randi Duffie cares more about New Milford than almost anyone I know. She is kind and selfless and willing to do just about anything to help. She was, is, and will be among the giants of our council. Ira Grotsky is a cutie. Humble to a fault, but sharp as a tack, he will literally transform the council next year, and the dividends of his election will be immediate.

Diego and Dominic have worked tirelessly for the last 6 years for New Milford. We can, and almost surely will, disagree on various obstacles and their cure. We can stand on opposite sides of an issue. But, no one should ever question their motives or their love for this town. We agree on far more than we don’t.

I’d have seriously considered voting for Kelly. She’s smart and exhausting. But, she is on the first K of this marathon and she already has the tools to be a first-ballot Council Hall of Famer. She is strong enough to break the long cycle of partisanship and cabalistic rule. If she does, she’ll have my vote for reelection.

And, all the rest. The people, and you know who you are, who made this trip so much fun! It was exhilarating and rewarding. I saw my side of town rally around me in a way that I will never forget. I saw my wife and children laugh with me (and, often, at me), but I knew they were behind me all the way. I saw long standing Republicans support me (some very quietly). I made new friends. Lost weight. I found respect hidden in plain sight all over town. Yes, there were jerks. There always are. But, the payback is that they will continue to be jerks long after this election is forgotten. Heck, even the jerks were entertaining.

So, you see, there is much to celebrate today; little to despair. For the thousands of people who read this blog (apparently, not too many of them in New Milford), you know I am never shy and rarely hesitant to speak my mind. The journey exceeded the destination. Rarely is that more true than today.

Thanks for the adventure.

By the way, who won the presidential election?

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An Open Letter to David Weisbrot

I’ve got a lot on my mind these days.  Between a major trial, college admissions, school and zoning boards, back surgeries, and the municipal election, I am not getting much sleep.  But, there is one place to where my thoughts keep meandering.

My father.

I cannot help but think he’d be proud that I am running for my township Council.   Yes, he was a staunch democrat, so he’d like that I am running as one – – even though we certainly disagreed politically over the years.  He’d get a kick out of the lawn signs, the articles, the endorsements, the letters to the editor, the candidate forums, canvassing, door hangers, and campaigning.   He’d root for a win but in his heart, I know he’d be just as proud win or lose.

My dad had two defining characteristics:  he was about the nicest, most civil man you would ever meet and he devoted his life to helping others.

He can’t be with me physically but I feel his presence looming large every step of the way.  It was he who taught me that, regardless of party affiliation, there should be no ideological differences at the local level.    He was often frustrated at the political divide in local politics because he saw it as a gimmick.  You cannot distinguish yourself because you want to lower taxes or improve services – – everyone wants that.  So, you need to create an artificial distinction and that usually means partisan pugilistics.   And, once the battle lines are drawn, its them or us.  There is no direction from there except down.

I wish I had 5 more minutes with him this week.  Because I know what his counsel would be:  As long as you are campaigning with respect and civility, it doesn’t matter if you win.  You will sleep better losing with compassion and integrity, than winning through dirt and deception.   I would proudly tell him that I had all the candidates to my house for a social dinner.  That I have met with other leading local republicans to talk about the issues.  I avoided, at all costs, attacks, hostility, and slander.  When an opponent was attacked, I was the first to condemn and disavow the incivility.  When I was the target of a healthy dose of smearage myself, I declined to respond in kind, choosing instead to change the conversation to more productive matters.

Finally, he’d like my agenda.   I won’t repeat it here except to say that my entire platform is built around helping my neighbors.   From fixing playing fields and roads, to stabilizing out-of-control taxes, and reducing a crippling debt.    He’d like that.  But, above all, he’d like that I am being honest.  I have not hidden behind the platform of others.  I have not avoided outlining my personal opinions.  And, I have never, not once, tried to mislead or deceive.

I hope I have made him proud in the years since he died.  Not through my accomplishments or successes.  But, by incorporating his essential and foundational decency into my every endeavor.

Thanks Dad. I miss you.

** I am not David Weisbrot, but I think he would approve of this message

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Temple Of Doom

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) passed a resolution today declaring no historical relationship between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  The Temple Mount, so named because of its long-standing relationship to Temple University in Philadelphia, is now, according to UNESCO, exclusively a Muslim holy site.  Brushing aside the Old Testament, New Testament, the Quran, and Roman Emperor Titus, UNESCO argued “those are very old sources that have been completely repudiated by UNESCO chair, Iran.  These are Jewish propaganda documents that cannot be independently verified.”

UNESCO voter, Lebanon, added “does anyone seriously believe that Moses split the Red Sea?  C’mon. It’s obvious that most of the biblical stories about the Jews are false.”

Egypt, voting for the resolution, added that “we surveyed top scholars from Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, and ISIS, as well as several Iranian Nobel Prize winners, and they were unanimous in their opinion that the Jews have never even been to the Temple Mount.”

Now that it has dealt with its top agenda item, UNESCO plans on debating the question of whether Jews have any historical relationship to Planet Earth.  Acknowledging that many Jews were “probably” born on the planet,  there simply is not enough evidence to reach any conclusive determination.  Qatar, in explaining the agenda, stated “Look, we deal in historical and scientific fact, not speculation.  Even if we assume that Jews are, in fact, human, they could easily have been born on another planet.  Show me any proof that they are earthlings.”

Presidential hopeful, Donald Trump weighed in on the decision. “The Jews tried to grab the Temple Mount, and f**k the Muslims.   I generally find that sort of behavior unacceptable.”

For her part, Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton declined to comment, choosing to wait until she could float a quick poll before announcing her position.

Libertarian candidate, Gary Johnson, responded simply “What’s Jerusalem?”

UNESCO’s resolution, according to member Morocco, is important because of all the issues facing the Middle East right now, the claims to the Temple Mount are clearly the most pressing.  If there is enough time in this year’s session, “we absolutely hope to discuss the destruction of historical sites by ISIS and the Taliban.”   Syria, not currently a member of UNESCO, was unavailable for comment but promised to issue a statement after today’s chemical weapon attack.  “We have a lot on our plate right now, but we applaud our Muslim brothers for taking decisive action.”

Saudi Arabia, also not a UNESCO member, but a vocal member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, was in favor of the resolution, but expressed “concern” that some of the UNESCO votes were cast by women.

Still no comment from the “Israeli” government but an unusual joint statement from its Muslim Supreme Court justices, Muslim Army Generals, Muslim Parliament members (including its Speaker of the house), Muslim Ms. Israel, Muslim top businessmen, and Muslim star soccer players, decried the Jewish claims to the Temple Mount. “Israel is an apartheid state where Muslims are treated as second class citizens deprived of basic human rights and access to the most basic opportunities.”

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Give Me A Break

Here’s a name to remember: Wilhem Belocian. He’s a French sprinter. He spent his entire life training for the 110 meter hurdle. He skipped women, school, booze, life. He was singularly focused. He was literally one in a million. But, he made it. He qualified. The grueling schedule. The stunted social development. Missed opportunities. Lives lost. It paid off. He was in the Olympics. On August 15, his parents, friends, enemies all tuned in. They knew this guy! His heart was racing. All of his sacrifices, dreams, and inspiration came down to this: he was on a stage that most would kill to occupy. Ready [is she watching?] Set [here comes the gold!] Go! [Huh? What’s the announcer saying?] False start. Wilhem is disqualified. He is out of the Olympics.

And, just like that, Wilhem was on a plane home. Check out the video. You won’t see the imperceptible off-sides. Even if you do, you will be hard pressed to justify his harsh, cruel fate. This guy will not be in Tokyo in 2020. His whole life reduced to a millisecond of anticipation. His entire career lasted exactly 1.7 seconds.

It got me thinking. We have become a society that demands a second chance. We raise our children to believe that everyone gets a medal. 10 teams in the league? Let’s have a 10-team playoff. Tonya Harding’s skate was loose? Start again. Gore lost the election? Re-count. Good is no longer good enough. But, fear not, everyone gets a mulligan.

So what’s the problem? This: It’s not realistic. Life does not give second chances. First impressions rule!! Bad first interview? You’re done. Awkward first date? It’s going to be a cold, lonely winter.

Here’s what you’re thinking right now: I like his concept, but what is his point?

I want a second chance. At everything. You know me. I say the wrong things. I make poor decisions. I jump the gun – – even if the tape is inconclusive. But, I don’t want to go home. I have trained too long. Ran too hard. I want my kids to be inspired by the effort not the result. There should be points for trying. Medals for wanting it. Credit for heart and hunger. Not the gold medal. Duh, that’s for the winners. But, maybe, just a heart. Not the sacred purple ones reserved for soldiers injured in the line of duty. But a complicated red one for the people just trying their very best and coming up short. Whenever you see someone with a red heart in their chest, you’ll know they tried their best, even if they fell short. You’ll understand that what you see is not often what you get. You will sympathize with their unknown secrets and travails. You will root for a second chance. Not because they deserve it. But because you do.

Its been a good year. We did not post much, so no one cared. But, our last 3 blogs were read by over 180,000 people. In December, we will post an award from WordPress!! So, please pass this around. Share it. Like it. Subscribe to it.

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The East of my Youth and the West of my Future

I don’t have a bucket list.   It’s not that I don’t expect to die; I just don’t have time to put one together, let alone implement it.   But, if I had a list, you can now cross off what would be the number one entry.   I have visited all 50 United States.  It took almost 50 years and was never an official plan until I woke up one day and realized I had already seen more than 40.   But as I crossed into Oregon this week, it happened.

I don’t know why it matters.  But it does.   My father inculcated in me a love of the road that only expanded as I raised my own children to the edge of adulthood.  It took on a life of its own that far outpaced the adventurous spirit upon which it is bedrocked.

And, it’s been a good run.   Skiing with Stats in Utah and Colorado.    Cross country with Shoshana in Oklahoma City.  Vegas with Gronk, and Yo.   Courtrooms in Atlanta,  Cedar Rapids,  Miami,  Fargo,   Hartford,  and Seattle.   LA with Elisha.   My honeymoon in Hawaii, and its 20th anniversary in Alaska.    12 visits to Bentonville over 9 years.   Orlando with David and Montana with Benny.   Dallas with Hannah.  New Orleans with Molly.  Providence with my parents.

But, without debate, the highlight has to be the 4 cross country road trips with my wife and children that brought us to more than 40 states.  From the plains of South Dakota to the wastelands of New Mexico.  From the heartland to the Badlands.  Sidestepping the Bourbon trail in Kentucky and outracing hurricane Isaac in New Orleans.  Grilling kosher steaks in South Dakota,  New Orleans, and, literally, everywhere in between.    Taking in a Cowboys’ game in Dallas, a Nationals’ game in DC, the Mariners, Blue Jays, Lakers,  Eagles, Dolphins, Seahawks, a minor league game in Albuquerque.  From my hometown of New Jersey to the hospital room in Boston that started it all.  The Statute of Liberty, Mount Rushmore,  the Grand Canyon, Route 66, Graceland,  the Smithsonian, Old Faithfull, the Kentucky Derby.  From the Mountains to the Prairie.  From sea to shining sea.

This is my American Tune.   I know there is a great big world out there.   I want to see Asia and Africa.  Australia and New Zealand.  Ireland.  Scotland.  Eastern Europe. I want to climb Kilimanjaro.  It will take a lifetime and lucky lottery numbers.  Meanwhile,  you have no idea what you’re missing in your own backyard.

I learned a lot on those road trips.  About the United States.  About history, patience,  kindness, the wild diversity and concurrent similarities between people from all backgrounds.  I’ve seen Eskimos, native Americans,   aboriginal tribes, immigrants (the legal and illegal kind).  I met millionaires, movie stars,  the homeless,  criminals, professional athletes.   The range of perspectives and cultures were as wide as the continent.   But, each has an unmistakable shared humanity.   I made a point of talking to people everywhere I went.   It was a soaring highlight.

But, mostly, I learned about myself.  And my family.   It’s a lot of hours behind the wheel.  Often alone with my thoughts.   Not alone.  My dad was with me.  He kept me company most of the time.  He explained that the special relationships that I have with my brother and sister were forged in the backseat of our Chevrolet a lifetime ago during beta versions of these same trips.  Josh and Miriam are the best friends I have.   And, I see those same roots reaching across my minivan and strapping themselves to my own children.

The world has become unrecognizable to its 1970s self. Children no longer have the attention span or wanderlust for prolonged unplugged family time.  Parents just don’t have the time,  burning both ends of the candle to keep up with the supersonic speeds of 21st century materialism and technology.   I am not one of those who mourns the death of a more “simpler time.”  Who sees the future as tragic.    But, there is something to be said about a week on the road without cell phones or Netflix.   Experiencing the wonders of nature and the monuments of man through the eyes of the only people in the world who matter.    Invariably, you return home but always a little smarter, calmer, inspired, and determined.

We don’t need to make America great again.  We just need to get to know it a little better.


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Why I’m Running

When I was in college, my political science professor announced that any student who could get his name on an electoral ballot would earn an A for the semester. No one in the class did. Until now. Almost thirty years later, I am a candidate for the New Milford Borough Council.

I am running as a Democrat because I am a Democrat, and because I happen to support most, but not all, of the Democratic Party platform. The conclusions I reach, as a lawyer and candidate, are based less on any political ideology and more on exhaustive research and, hopefully, sound principles.

But, here’s the thing.  The true differences between the major political parties are irrelevant in local governance.  The significant and deep divides that define national party affiliation surround foreign policy, abortion, guns, (most) taxes, crime, the judiciary,  commerce,  trade, the military, defense of the homeland, and interpreting the Bill of Rights.  And, while these issues are important and impact the lives of  every American, they are controlled exclusively by the federal and state governments.  You will never attend a municipal council meeting where these issues are seriously debated.

When it comes to the agenda of local government, the differences become a lot murkier. Local taxes, open space, policing, library hours, trash and recycling, stop signs, snow removal, public schools, zoning, and paving roads. These are the real issues that affect residents on a daily basis. Not surprisingly, when it comes to those issues,  you’d be hard pressed to find material disagreement among Democrats and Republicans. I assume they all want to lower taxes, attract business, preserve open space, reduce crime, improve educational standards, and so on. And, you know what? There is only a limited universe of ideas to accomplish these priorities, and those ideas are not defined by political party.

So, why am I running?  Our borough council has fallen into a crushing cycle of animus and hostility. Mayor & Council meetings and real issues are hijacked by mistrust and recrimination. Often, decisions (good and bad ones) are made without substantive debate or compromise. It seems as if some council members may vote against good ideas merely because they are proposed by a member of the opposing party. Heels are sometimes dug in over bad ideas simply because winning a vote becomes more important than contemplative consideration. Along the way, little gets done while the municipal debt continues to grow at an unconscionable rate.

The dysfunction is palpable.

Two years ago, the council decided to upgrade the police station.  It’s a great idea and needs to be done. So why hasn’t it? The council could not agree on the scope, location or cost. So months and months of infighting meant wasted time, rubber stamping designs, and a triangle of mistrust between the council, the police and the public.

Last year, the governing body removed a number of bus stops because it seemed like one major bus company was not using them,  and some felt them to be a nuisance. Turns out, other bus companies used them and residents were outraged at their removal. This year, the bus stops were returned. A 360 degree reversal that did nothing but waste much needed tax dollars.

Currently, they are taking steps to upgrade the Memorial playing field to artificial turf but the discussion is drowned out by noisy accusations in and out of meetings. The upgrade to the field has proven benefits and some parents seem to be in favor.  Others believe the cost may be prohibitive —  especially in light of the growing debt. The prospect was handily rejected by voters in a ballot question 3 years ago.  So, what is the plan?  Why is this good idea? What are the positive and negative impacts on the borough? Is this the ideal time and location? The public does not know because all we hear about is how this council member is lying or that one is abdicating his duties or how some council members must obviously hate children.

And, it goes on and on.

Up and down the political spectrum, it seems like the  line between healthy debate and valueless ad homonym personal attacks is slowly becoming the accepted norm. Unfortunately, that is where we have arrived in New Milford.

I am running because we need to inject more civility and more open mindedness into a healthy debate.   I am running because I am tired of waiting each election cycle for something to change.

Don’t get me wrong. I respectfully disagree with those in town who decry any dissension on a town council. Who hate the debate. They want kumbaya harmony on the governing board. But, deliberation, dissension, disagreement, and, yes, even heated fights are not only necessary, they are literally the foundation of democracy.

Without serious opposition, the voice of minority positions are lost.   Those in power need not even consider alternate positions because none are advanced.  It’s not merely the obvious value of alternative approaches to the same problem.  To properly govern, you need to know the flaws in your own position.  And that will often lead to argument.  Tension.  Debate.  And, often, it isn’t pretty.  And, it shouldn’t be.

Until it leads to dysfunction and paralysis.

Yes, I will try to lower taxes, improve our recreational facilities, protect open space, attract commercial tax ratables, increase sharing services, pay down the debt, and expand policing. I imagine the candidates running against me will offer much of the same.

But more than anything, we need a governing body that listens to the voices of its residents, composed of people who may not necessarily agree on anything – – except that both the needs of the collective good and the voices of those in the minority, must always transcend personal agendas or political pumpfuffery.[1]  You need a cross walk? Concerned about crime on your block? Mistake in your tax bill? Garbage not getting collected until the wind distributes it all over your street? You should have someone you can call. You’ll have my cell phone number. Use it. Because, in my mind, that’s the value of a town council.  They should not be advancing their own agenda, they should be advocating yours. They should be able, every day, to help at least one person with a municipal problem.

Yes, as a litigator, I know how to fight. I know how to argue. But, I also know how to negotiate. How to listen. How to change minds (including, often, my own). I can advocate for my neighbors without necessarily fighting against anyone.

I am proud that I am a Democrat appointed to the Zoning Board of Adjustment by our Republican Mayor and Council. During a time of increased antagonism between the parties, I think it says a lot.  Actually, I am fond of a number of members serving the borough council on both sides of the proverbial aisle, and have worked with our mayor on several issues.

I serve on the New Milford Democratic County Committee and the Zoning Board.  I am an acting prosecutor in Teaneck. I serve and have served on multiple school boards.  I have lived in New Milford for over 16 years, and in this area (New Milford + Teaneck) for over 40 years.  I love this town and its diverse population. My wife and I raised our children here.  It’s our home.

That’s why I am running.


[1] Not really a word.

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Grease is the Word

When I was 10 years old, and this is true, I wrote a love letter to Olivia Newton John.  I don’t remember what message I hoped to convey but I had just seen Grease and connected with her non-conformist,  outsider-does-good theme.  She didn’t write back.  It’s possible she was embarrassed by my profession of love.   It’s possible my mother intercepted the letter and it never reached her.   I’ll never know.

It’s a memory that safely slept in the recesses of my subconscious until it was Frankensteined back to life by last night’s live TV performance of Grease.    It was awful.  Unwatchable.  Yet, I had to hide my tears from Hannah until I feigned disinterest and left the room to “watch the Pro Bowl” (equally unwatchable).

Back to that in a minute.  This year, I reluctantly attended the 20th year reunion of my class of Brooklyn District Attorneys.  We enlisted in 1995.  It was my first job out of law school, along with 50 other red-shirt lawyers.  We spent 5 years together fighting injustice, prosecuting evildoers, consoling crime victims, and standing for truth, justice, and the American Way.   Every day was war, and every night was furlough.  We were a platoon fighting our way out of a foxhole.  Eventually we graduated back to civilian life, trying to measure up to our glory days, but never, ever forgetting the good fight.   I count these people as among the very best people I have ever met.   So why was I reluctant to see them again?  Simple.   I always assumed they thought they were better than me.  But, really, it was I who thought they were better than me.   It’s easier to blame others for our own insecurities.  I moved on.  Made new friends.  Achieved various successes as a lawyer.   My days as a prosecutor are way back in the deepest corner of the rear view mirror.  But, I forgot – – objects in the rear view mirror are closer than they appear.   And so I went.  And it took all of 1 minute for the warmth of our camaraderie to drown my insecurities.   I re-connected with people I forgot how much I loved.  The depth of my affection was overwhelming.

That reminds me of my recent 25th year high school reunion.   Sort of.  4 classmates showed up (and I wasn’t one of them).  I heard about it.  All 4 spoke. 2 disparagingly of our high school experience.   I actually attended an ad hoc reunion last month at a rock concert in which 5 of my classmates coincidently happen to show up.  When I saw them walk in, I was ready to slip out.  Why?  Simple.  I always assumed they thought they were better than me.   That wasn’t my flaw;  It was that I cared one way or the other.  It’s an insecurity that literally shaped my adult existence.  And, I hated them for it.  Which was well and good because they hated me right back.   Or did they?  You wouldn’t know from our reunion.  They were warm and friendly.  Decent and honorable guys.  One joined my family at a Jets’ tailgate the following Sunday.  Could I have been wrong all these years?

That reminds me of two former girlfriends (both read this blog). We dated on and off for years.  There were times I assumed I would marry these women. Unfortunately, those times were not while we were dating.   You see, while we were dating, I just assumed they thought they were better than me.  And, they were. I know that now.  I didn’t know it then so I treated them otherwise.   But they taught me, more than anyone else, who I am, and how to love (myself and others).  It led to spectacular outcomes.  For me and them.

That reminds me of my grownup friends.   The people I see every week.  Whose birthdays I celebrate.  Who sit at the dais of my children’s rites of passage.   They are a stark contrast to my childhood friends.  My lawyer friends.  We don’t always see eye to eye.  We argue.  Over major and petty things.   But these are the people I will call first if a neighbor tries to murder me.  Or if my children need anything.   And, I know they will be there.

That reminds me of a lawyer against whom I am currently adverse.  He’s a jerk.  He’s obnoxious, arrogant, loud, and simply a terrible lawyer.  I wonder how he would describe me?

That reminds me of my father.  I wish he were alive.  I didn’t appreciate him when he was around.   He wouldn’t recognize the man I have become.  I need 30 more minutes with him.

I have travelled a very long road since my cousin Alisa took an insecure,  immature, obnoxious 10 year old to a Boston movie theatre 35 years ago to watch Grease.  It has not been a smooth road.  Many dangerous and unanticipated curves.   I have loved and hated.  I have been loved and hated.  I have regrets.  4 major.  10,000 minor.

Watching this awful production of a beloved movie reminded me, not of the journey, but how far I have come.  I wouldn’t trade any part of my life or change a single thing.  I have done far more good than bad. I have helped far more than I have hurt.   And, with the steady collaboration of my wife, I made 4 children who amaze me every day with their bottomless capacity for love and compassion.

What do you say now, Olivia?


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Give Me Your Chocolate Milk

Stop it.   Just stop.  Please.   Stop asking me why I haven’t blogged about the murder of Ezra Schwartz.   Don’t text me.  Or send an email.  Don’t come over to me at youth sports events.  I grow tired of trying to lie to you.  I will tell you that better writers than I have already said all that needs to be said (including a brave 18 year old friend from Teaneck).  I might tell you that I am too sad to write.  I might explain that it’s arrogant or presumptuous to speak on behalf of this boy or the Jewish people if you are not in his inner circle.   I may well just ignore you.

It’s been going on all weekend.  It has to stop.  Sometimes there is a truth that just cannot be spoken.  Today, I added my voice to the impossibly muted movement decrying the silence by our President, who refuses to speak Ezra’s name.  Who refuses to acknowledge his murder.   Until, a well-meaning friend pointed out that I haven’t either.   And with thousands of readers, I was told, my silence was even more deafening.  He stayed at your house!   He knew your son!

How could I explain that he IS my son.  He simply would not understand.

You see, talk is cheap.   Words are cheap.  Actions are cheap.   Everything is cheap.  Except the life of an innocent 18 year old Jewish boy.

I am so tired.  And sick.  I just am not sure against whom to direct my anger.    And, there’s the sorry truth.  It’s us.  We don’t know what to do.  We cry. We pray.  We hijack Facebook with our valueless expressions of moral outrage. We open our wallets.   We pay shiva call after shiva call.   We established, against impossible odds, a homeland in the desert.   We built the most powerful army in the world.    But we are still losing.   Read the papers.  We are in the midst of a slow death march to another world-wide Jewish destruction.  Never again?  Give me a break.    It’s already happening on campuses,  parliaments, and busy roads all over the world.

A black criminal attacks a police officer in St. Louis and gets himself shot.  It sparks a protest movement heard around the world.  A protest that is still paying dividends.    What are we doing about the piecemeal annihilation of our precious children?   Sharing on Facebook a Jewish media report of Ezra’s murder with our predominantly Jewish “friends?” Hey. Here’s an idea.  Let’s sign a digital petition to have President Obama mention Ezra’s death in an upcoming press conference.  That’ll show the terrorists that Jewish Lives Matter.   I have a friend.   He has become the self-anointed defender of the Jewish people on social media.   He means well.   But I swear to God, if I read another post questioning the order of the universe, I will have no choice but to de-friend him.

Meanwhile, a score of my closest friends and I aren’t sleeping tonight.   It wasn’t just Ezra who was harmed last week.  It was our children who literally stand in his place.  Every day.    If I bring Benny home, do the terrorists win?   Screw the terrorists.  I am not going to bury my baby.  But, will that ruin his new-found sense of responsibility and in the process crush his self-image?  Trust me. I know a little but about this.   A fractured ego is as disabling a handicap as any other life impairment.    Do I lock him down until June?    I cannot keep him safe.    That’s the bottom line and it is terrifying.

What’s the answer?  I have no idea and nothing to add.  Don’t blame me – – you brought this up.

So, I will continue to stay quiet.   Cry myself to sleep and pray for the lives of all our children.   I will go to Israel next week to see my boy and admire him from up close.   And, I will take for dinner any of your children who continue to inspire us every day.  Send me an email.   Dinner is on me.


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If Fiddler on the Roof taught us anything, it’s that being rich is good and that ancient traditions have uncertain value. The modern orthodox community has fully embraced the former, while outright rejecting the latter. It’s circular reasoning at its chicken-egg best. Those who consider rabbinical tradition to be sacrosanct will perpetuate it at all cost. Those who are not so certain are, well, not so certain. Some traditions are more equal than others. Not eating legumes on Passover, for example, does not cause any pain or suffering and honest people can debate its value. Wearing a kippah in public can be dangerous but few realize it’s more custom than tradition. Try telling that to the head-covering European Jews getting attacked in the streets of Paris. They seem to think the kippah custom carries some sort of implicit obligation to risk bodily harm.

This week, the RCA and Agudah reminded us that women cannot be rabbis or anything that sounds like rabbi. They cannot even be rabbits lest the public be confused by the title.
I have listened to good people (and not so good people) on both sides of the divide stake their ground in blogs and on social media. Each has scored points.

Here is an important one: every single time, throughout history, that a movement of Jews attempted to relax or disregard the tradition, they have lost the battle for religious propagation. Say what you want, Orthodoxy has the highest retention rate of affiliated Jews than any other group. Reform Judaism has lost more than half its population to intermarriage and assimilation. This is nothing new. We lost 10 of 12 tribes to Assyrian influence. The value inherent in tradition and the uncompromising adherence to law is precisely that it disallows wiggle room for those looking for ways to introduce practices that are inconsistent with core, defining Jewish identifiers.

I hate to admit it, but this makes sense to me.

The debate, however, lacks a certain intellectual honesty. The role of women in Judaism is not divinely ordained. Neither God nor the Torah ever pronounced, implicitly or impliedly, that Women are restricted in any way. Indeed, the only clear message to be extrapolated from the Torah is that women can own and inherit land, secure the future of the Jewish People, have day jobs, decide who to marry without outside interference, cry out if raped by a man, and dance and sing in public in celebration of God.

God truly was thousands of years ahead of his time with respect to women’s rights. These concepts were considered radical just 25 years ago!

So, who decided that women cannot be rabbis? Is it the same people who eloquently penned the morning prayer for men in which we thank God that he did not create us as women? Is it the same people who prohibited public singing by women, looking at their naked hair, being alone with them, letting them put on tefillin, act as witnesses? The ones who excused them from performing most mitzvoth because, gosh, they are so busy washing dishes and raising the children, how can they be expected to pray like a man?

Ask yourself this simple question: do these rules sound like a GOD – – who specifically let us know that he created woman to be man’s equal? Or do they sound like the words of male rabbis living 2000 years ago when women had no rights, no vote, no say, no jobs, and were very busy washing dishes and raising children? (did I say 2000 years ago? I meant 25 years ago).

I am not blaming the ancient Torah scholars for this. They lived during an era where they were confronted with the realities of the time. They made decisions that were practical and time-sensitive.

Nor, do I blame modern orthodox rabbis, who see the continuity of ancient traditions as critical to the future of the Jewish people.

But, let’s make the debate more honest. It’s not about God or the Torah. It’s not divine and it’s not real. You want proof? Ask the RCA or Agudah to come out with a proclamation that says that women are not as smart as men. Or capable. Or that they cannot understand intricate torah laws as well as man-rabbis. Ask them to confirm that women are inferior in any way to men. Find out if they are willing to go on the record with the belief that women cannot have a baby and counsel congregants about matters of great religious faith. Ask them about Nechama Leibowitz. Or Devorah. Or Bruriah (the woman, not the school). Or Queen Esther. Or Erica Brown.

We know how that inquiry ends. Either on the front page of every Jewish Newspaper or with the quiet admission that the restrictions on women are neither functional, practical, nor true. Now, that sounds like something with which God could agree.

Another celestial being, Captain Kirk, once said that “people can be very frightened of change.” He’s right. But it’s not for me to say which change is good and which is not. The heavy responsibility for ensuring the future of the Jewish People falls on the rabbis and I am happy to delegate that duty to them.

As long as they have the courage to admit that sometimes their decisions are not born from the word of God or strict adherence to the Torah but simply to avoid loosening standards that, however misguided, have worked for a long time. Without that, our lives would be as shaky as, well, as a fiddler on the roof.


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