Thank you, Thank you, Sam-I-Am!

Love is a funny thing. It is stingy. Think about what it takes to love another person. I mean, really love them. It’s hard. Hatred is easy. Look around. Hate is currently destroying the world and it spreads like wildfire. Love, not so much. Yet, humans seem to have a reserve of unlimited capacity for love. We get a spouse and love them. And, if you do it right, it feels like you could never ever love anyone as much. Then you have a kid. And you love them just as much. After that? Its off to the races. You could have a dozen children and love each one with the entirety of your heart (if you do it right). Where does all of this come from? We throw around terms: family, love, friendship, compassion. Trust me, for most of us, it is a punchline. We literally have no understanding of those terms. Throw in some narcissism, arrogance, and self-promotion, and we obliterate any meaning.

Then, this happens.

My best friend is marrying HIS best friend this week. I do not feel like I am losing a son. I feel like I am gaining a second mortgage. It feels like he has loved Sabrina forever. That scares me. So, I watch them. I listen to them. I look for any crumb of understanding. And there it is: Pandemic. Riots. Cancellations. Re-scheduling. Stress. Apartment. Menu. No food! Masks. And through it all, they hold hands. I mean that literally. Look carefully, you can see it. It’s not quite love. That takes 20 years and raising a child (in my view). But it is every raw material that incubates love. They can block out the noise and focus on each other’s happiness. And if that isn’t love, what is?

My most popular piece was about holding him for the last time. (https://ariweisbrot.com/2015/06/10/one-last-thing-before-you-go/). I mourned the loss of his childhood but celebrated the rest of his life. And here it is. Benny is ready. He understands what love is. It is his soul-mate. He understands friendship – – having felt its unconditional best from Solomon, Ari, BennyL, Aaron, Karesh, Yoni, Marc, and of course, his man, David. And his mother. His amazing mother, who loves him more than eternity.

Yeah yeah. Some of you have done this and are yawning. Some of you haven’t done this and are yawning. It takes a great writer to bore ALL of his readers. Guess what? I don’t care. There is so much hate and hostility and divisiveness in the world today. A lot of pain and suffering. Hell, we do not know what craziness comes tomorrow. But, I know what craziness comes next Tuesday: love. And I will take that.

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There’s Only Milk and Orange Juice

Huh?

I CAN SEE IT!

I tried to fight off sleep but it was an early flight.

WAKE UP, she pleaded. I thought: you are a third child, leave me alone. But that’s the thing: she cannot leave alone. She is a force of nature. As we descended into San Juan, I could feel her heart beating. It was my first trip to the Island. We were fulfilling an old promise to see Hamilton featuring Lin Manuel Miranda for its short charity-driven run. I had a special client who helped it happen.

It was her second trip to Puerto Rico. She was 16 and had already been there twice more than me. More on that in a minute. Alexander Hamilton was a flawed hero. He made many powerful enemies. He made serious mistakes. I, no conspiracy theorist, accept the theory that his fatal confrontation with Vice President Aaron Burr was an act of intentional suicide. His heart, and his motivation, dwarfed his judgment. But he yielded nothing and bowed to no one. He early determined his path and never veered. His every breath was focused on his goals. And, say what you want, he, more than anyone else, built this country that you love so much.

I get it. I understand Molly’s obsession with this founding father. I have never, at any stage of life, met anyone more fiercely dedicated, more singularly focused, than my baby girl. And now, she graduates high school.

She is, in some ways, an amalgamation of her older siblings. Taking up and excelling at floor hockey, along with a clear self-awareness – both tributes to her sister. Fiercely inquisitive and protective of her family, like her older brother. But in so many ways, she has blazed her own trail.

Molly’s first trip to Puerto Rico was in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to volunteer to help the most vulnerable devastated by the storm. Then she went to North Carolina. Same deal. Who does that? I literally do not know a single child her age with that resume. When she told me, 10 years ago, that she wanted to become a nurse, I laughed. Then chastised her for limiting her options at such a young age. Ten years later she is admitted to the top nursing schools in the country. She’s attending a joint program with NYU and YU, and she will become a nurse. Pediatric. Who does that? Ten years in advance? I am in my 50s and I am still not completely sure what I want to do when I grow up.

Molly has, since she learned to talk, demanded justice for everyone. Not afraid to speak out. Or speak up. Or speak. She champions the underprivileged and the weak. She is tough, but I have seen her cry over the plight of the underdog. Heck, she got thrown to the floor in a critical game last year – – drawing a five-for-fighting against the other team’s star, who unleashed a rant, inappropriate for a family blog. Molly was uninjured, but she was dismayed. For the other girl.

Here’s a peek into her soul. A few years ago, a hockey injury depressed her spine. She couldn’t walk. Her irritable pace was enhanced. By a factor of 100. Anyone I know would have shut down and left a trail of collateral damage along the way. Molly didn’t. She shut up and went to work. Spinal surgery and a long rehab. And then, back in time for the playoffs. Who does that? And if you think she pulled her punches, you don’t know Molly.

For better or for worse (worse), Molly is the most like me of my children. Fiercely independent. Ferociously determined. But, navigationally on course. She does not care what anyone thinks. She does not care how others interpret her. She cares only about trying her best to do the right thing. Sometimes she comes up short. Most of the time, she doesn’t. But she always does her best and her best is pretty damn great.

And, so, this is my third graduation blog. (Benny- https://ariweisbrot.com/2015/06/10/one-last-thing-before-you-go/ (Hannah – https://ariweisbrot.com/2017/06/05/i-got-sunshine-on-a-cloudy-day/). Technically, I should say something to Benny, graduating the University of Maryland this month but, I sense some BennyCentric pieces coming up. Molly spent our three epic cross-country road trips in the back seat, listening to music, and lost in a world I would kill to know. Yet, she is the heart and soul of this family.

My words of wisdom are a bit different for my third child. She isn’t going to change, or compromise, or give in. I have no worries on those fronts. But, her heart is pure and her mind is committed. Her eyes are rosy. Maybe too much in a challenging world. And, so, Molls, my cupcake, don’t change a thing. Go change the world and help everyone you meet.

You made us proud.Now go. Before I change my mind.

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Tap Tap. Sledgehammer.

Next week marks 25 years since I became a lawyer. That is about the same amount of time that I have not been a lawyer. If you throw in 4 years as a legal assistant at Prudential-Bache Securities, I have been practicing law longer than I have not. If you add the years of dreaming about the law, or carefully plotting the things that would set me apart, well, I’ve been a lawyer for my whole life.

It started as a child, when my grandmother announced that I would “make a great lawyer someday.” It took twenty years for me to realize she meant it as an insult. But, at the time, it felt like the greatest compliment I could get. A lawyer. Attorney. Consigliere. Counselor. Advocate. Advisor. Councilor. Mouthpiece. Name me a profession with so many titles. Yes, yes. I know about the underbelly: Liar. Ambulance-chaser. Dirty shirt. Fee-chaser, loudmouth, shark, shingle, shyster, slicker, snipe. I know Shakespeare wanted to kill all the lawyers. I know how so many people see us. I didn’t care. I was going to change all that. I had big dreams and an even bigger mouth.

I’ve met with some amazing successes. My client list over the year reads like a Fortune article. I’ve won all of my dozens of trials. I’ve helped the downtrodden. I’ve given back. I’ve lost sleep over the treatment of many litigants. I’ve spent a quarter of a century not only practicing law but trying to perfect it. Not for myself; for everyone.

I’ve also had failures. I’ve made mistakes. And, I made some powerful enemies. Alienated equally powerful friends. I have stepped on toes. Heck, I’ve broken toes. Often deserved. Sometimes not. Let me explain.

About 4 years ago, I suffered what I describe as professional mental break. After decades of following every rule, every law, of meticulously taking care to never lie, cheat, or steal, I had the misfortune of litigating against 3 adversaries. In a row. Each, more unscrupulous, dishonest, and evil as the last. Coming in, I was cocky. Even arrogant. These guys will never prevail. They will never succeed. As long as I stick with the Law and the Rules, justice will prevail. But, it didn’t. Three times in a row. These liars won. Maybe not in the end, but along the way. It became impossible to explain to clients. It was, literally, outright fraud on the Court. In one case, the Judge concluded on the record that my adversary had lied. Then punished me for trying to impose sanctions on the liar. I locked myself in my room for a week. I couldn’t eat or breathe. What was this? Do cheaters prosper? Is the system broken?

I don’t have a happy ending. I changed that week. I became angry at everyone. I lashed out. I lost friends who couldn’t understand why I was so angry and did not care enough to ask.

But, I had no choice. The law was all I know. All I ever cared about. So, instead of retreating, I decided to fight even harder. Instead of treating the profession as a personal step stool, I was going to redouble my efforts to dedicate myself to the rules. To cultivate a generation of young lawyers who would succeed in the practice. It mattered. And, I am proud of my accomplishments over a quarter-century. Here is a thumbnail:

• I have never lied, cheated, or stole. I have never even been accused of lying, cheating, or stealing.

• I have never prejudiced a client once. I have never been sued or accused of malpractice. Indeed, I take my client relationships very seriously. I never charge them for any communications, calls, emails, texts, or meetings between us. So, I end up “donating” hours every day, just talking to clients. Not just corporate clients. But, individuals who are scared, worried, angry, etc. I counsel them. I advise them.

• I get calls weekly from locals. They need me to assist, pro bono, with some legal problem for someone down on their luck. Someone who cannot afford a lawyer. Someone with a real problem. I take EVERY single call. I sit/meet with every one of them. For hours. I give advice, counsel, suggestions. And, if need be, representation.

• I have never been accused of or engaged in any conflict of interest.

• I have never been accused of or otherwise interfered with the administration of justice. I am very proud of my spotless record with the court. If anything, I am a cheerleader for prompt, efficient, and fair process. I care less about winning than I care that civilians feel that they were treated fairly and equally. I fight every case for that.

• For every hour that I bill a large institutional client, I spend an hour working pro bono for the less fortunate. I have helped charities, orphans, widows, the unemployed. I devoted a ton of time helping an organization that supports abused women.

• I have never once turned down a client because they could not afford me.

• I have publicly served on charitable boards – – providing legal advice and guidance.

• I have publicly served local municipalities (as prosecutor, recreation board, zoning board). Towns have issued statements about my integrity and service. They have endorsed me for public office. I have letters from municipalities speaking to my integrity and service.

• I have never been disciplined. I have never been the subject of an ethics grievance from any client, court, judge, adversary, associate, partner, female, or colleague.

• I have never been the subject of a fee arbitration. Or any fee dispute. I have never been the subject of court sanctions, or even threatened by any court with sanctions.

• Long before the judiciary mandated better exposure for associates, women, and minorities, I permitted young associates to take depositions, argue dispositive motions, and question witnesses at trial. Then, I sat with them for hours reviewing their performance.

• I have fought for the integrity and love of this profession for my whole life. I have constantly worked to make lawyers look good and to ensure honesty in the profession.

I hope you noticed. In summarizing the high points of my career, I did not mention a single lawsuit. A single client. A single courtroom success. Those things are important. They will determine one’s course in law. But, if you do not have a broader love for and commitment to the law, you don’t have anything. I do not know what the next 25 years have in store for me. I am taking it one-year at a time. This one will see one son become a man and the other become a husband. It will see one daughter move into business school with an epic academic record. The other daughter will head off to her gap year in Israel. It will be my 20th anniversary in my house and my 25th anniversary as a lawyer. It will celebrate my 24th anniversary of marriage to my best friend and the love of my life. There will be missteps. Mistakes. And sorrow. But, I’ve learned my lesson. I will never ever stop defending those with no voice. I will never stop trying to improve my profession and my own practices. It’s been a great ride so far.

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Silence of the Goats

Once upon a time, there was a goat. His name was Flavian. He wasn’t named after anyone. His mother liked the name. His mother was, by any measure, insane. Even for a goat. Flavian was born with only one horn. It may seem trivial, but a goat needs two horns. One on each side. Without a left horn, Flavian was vulnerable. The other goats could goad with impunity. An approach on the left side was without recourse. Flavian could not defend himself. And, he paid a heavy price. They called him “Half.” But, goats have no silent letters, so it was pronounced “haaaaal-phhh.” Stupid goats. They cannot even insult properly.

Flavian was on vacation and met a girl. Actually, a female goat. He was instantly smitten. Her name was, coincidentally, also Flavian. It turns out, goat names are gender unspecific. Another thing about goats? They show affection by playfully butting heads. Flavian, the female, wanted to make a spectacular first impression. So, she caught Flavian, our hero, unawares and, stealthily approaching from the west, lowered her head, and rammed him where the sun shone. The resulting head-wound was catastrophic. As he lay on the ground, Flavian wondered why love hurt so much worse than hate.

For the next 5 years, as he recovered, Flavian did not see Flavian. She never took vacation. And, even if she had, she did not know where he lived. His wound healed but left a painful mark. If goats had not stared before the accident, the scar ensured that his deformity would never again escape attention.

Flavian was not amused that some humans describe Tom Brady as the Greatest Of All Time. He thought, how can being a GOAT possibly do justice to greatness?

One time, Flavian was watching Forrest Gump. He did not like the film. He could not understand any of the historical references but was outraged at Forrest. He spent his entire life chasing Jenny who, at every phase of her life, found contemporaneous ways to hurt him. Jenny was the villain, as far as Flavian was concerned. He hated her. And he hated Forrest for not hating her. But, Flavian did not understand that Jenny was damaged too. The nuance of her childhood scars – and their lasting impact on her personal relationships – was lost on the goat. Flavian’s father, no expert on the subject, found it ironic that Flavian’s disdain for another broken creature was sourced in his own childhood trauma.

But, here is what most troubled Flavian for all the days of his life. When humans would come to the farm and see the lambs grazing next to Flavian’s pen. Inevitably, some blowhard father would call them “sacrificial lambs,” and laugh until one of his children would take the bait and inquire. “A sacrificial lamb,” blowhard would explain, “comes from the bible. The high priest would place a sign on the lamb – – identifying him as a sacrifice for the sins of the community – – and then throw him off a cliff. In this way, human faults, sins, and crimes, were forgiven.” The children would react in horror and then it was usually time to leave. The goats were almost always the victims of the shortened visit.

But, the bible doesn’t talk about “sacrificial lambs.” They were sacrificial goats. Lambs had nothing to do with the story. Flavian did not know when in history this vernacular injustice was perpetrated. Or why. But his ancestors were sent to their most horrible deaths for the benefit of humankind, and it was the lambs who got all the credit. Flavian wanted to write a book about it and call it “The Silence of the Goats.” But, he did not know how to write. Also, beyond the clever title, he was not sure what he wanted to say. He was just angry. Always. And, he never ever spoke to a single lamb in his entire life. He did not even talk to any sheep because he was not 100% sure if they are the same animal.

I mention all of this because Flavian died on Christmas. They say it was natural causes. He was 17, after all, which is pretty old for a goat. His death was not tragic; his life was. His last thought was about Flavian. He was certain that he outlived her and then chuckled when he realized that she had left a far greater mark on him than he had on her.

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Bruce Almighty

Last Saturday, I was in temple and came across my friend Bruce. I hadn’t seen him for a while because we’ve taken, of late, to attending different services.   I asked him how he was doing.  He smiled, like he always does, in lieu of an answer.  It wasn’t polite or evasive.  It was his answer.  It said: “what could be wrong?”   It was the same smile he gave me when I knew he wasn’t so great.  When the weight of a world that he carried upon his shoulders seemed too great to bare.  Even then, “what could be wrong?”   A smile that spoke volumes.

He asked, as he always did, how I was doing.   I wasn’t in the mood for prevarication.  It was too early in the day and too late in the movie.

“Honestly, not so great.”   He dug a little deeper and I instantly regretted opening a conversation that belonged neither then nor there.  I pivoted and just like that, we moved on to other topics.   I was instantly cheered by his outlook and world-view.   Many years ago, while discussing the well-being of a common friend, I asked him whether he was the sort of guy who saw the proverbial cup as half-empty or half-full.  He said:  I see it as full.   I protested. That was not one of the options.  He said, and I’ll never forget this:  “why not?  If we are talking about perspective, it should always be an option.” That was Bruce.

Later that night, I got a call.  Bruce.  “What’s wrong,” he wanted to know.  It was too complicated to explain.  He persisted.  I demurred.  He told me he was going out of town but upon his return, he’d get to the bottom of it.    “Let’s plan a dinner.”    I acquiesced.   Just to avoid any further discomfort.

He died 5 days later.

I’ve never met anyone like him.  Growing up, I was indoctrinated with stories of ancient divine messengers who appeared on earth as mortal men.   They performed some unimaginable act of kindness then disappeared. I never bought into it.

Until I met Bruce Weinrib.

Suddenly, every apocrypha seemed possible. A sweet man, raised from the ashes of the Holocaust.  Like he had a mission to cure the world.  No matter the cost.

I am blessed to live in a community that comes together at the faintest breeze of despair.  Most are willing to sacrifice of themselves to shoulder the burden of those in need.   Some ask nothing in return except the quiet admiration of their peers.   I say that without snark.  I really don’t care why you’re motivated.  Your ledger records your actions, not your motivation.   But, Bruce, if he had a defining characteristic, it was his adamant insistence on anonymity.  He cared not a single iota about his personal standing, often allowing others to accept the credit for his good works.  His measure of self-worth lay not in his standing among others but in the success of those around him.

16 years ago, we accepted an invitation to break Shabbat bread at his house.   We barely knew him.  I was apprehensive.  What would we talk about?   Nary 5 minutes into the meal when he popped the question.  “Tell us about some of the more interesting lawsuits you are working on.”   His children stared like they cared.  I stuttered because I’m not used to people actually asking about my life.   My pithy answers apparently did not satisfy, so, he took matters into his own hands.    With the active participation of his children, he kicked off a round-table by raising ethical and philosophical issues implicated by the brief set of facts I disclosed.   He understood the law, and its human impact, in a way that challenged my arrogant perception of the cases I was handling.   In minutes, he isolated considerations that I had never considered.  That my bosses overlooked.   Without exaggeration, it changed the way I looked at those cases.  And, every one since.

How do you repay someone who literally changed the way you think?  Who, without pretense, taught me that every decision, every strategy, every act or omission, impacts other people’s lives.  Even when the connection may be elusive, it’s there.  For anyone who cares to look for it.

For me, it was transformational.  For Bruce?  Another day in paradise.   When we left, I thanked him.  I teared up and then felt silly.  He just smiled.  “What could be wrong?”

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judenrein

Adolf Hitler never visited a single concentration camp.   There is no historical evidence that he personally ever killed a single Jew.  And, there exists not a single written order from him implementing the “final solution.”  And, yet, he is the symbol par excellence of the destruction of the Holocaust.   He rightly gets the credit for the murder of 10 million people, even though the very worst of the atrocities were committed by regular citizens.   Neighbors.  Teenagers.  Whole communities.  Soldiers. Lawyers, Doctors.  You name it.

The sociological explanation for this phenomenon is beyond the scope of this piece.  Except to say, Hitler created the environment of hatred and anti-Semitism.    By espousing and spreading the notion that Jews were the root cause of the many trials and tribulations the German nation faced in the 1920s and 1930s,  the stage was set.   Vilify, accuse, attack, and defame a people often enough,  the toxic conditions become inevitable.   With its economy, reputation, world-standing, armed forces, culture, and living conditions in shambles,  Hitler handed his people an easy target.  He put the gun in their hand and pointed it for them.

Old news, you say?  Maybe not.

Try moving to Mahwah, New Jersey.  Its God’s country.  Rolling hills, beautiful parks,  a good school system, bucolic homes on green acres, a nice shopping district.    If it seems like utopia, check your side-locks at the door.   You see, in recent weeks,  Mahwah has  adopted three, seemingly unconnected ordinances with familiar themes.  First, the township has outlawed the placement of small PVC pipes on certain utility poles, in violation of an existing ordinance that prohibits the placement of “signs” on public utility poles.     I could not understand how a PVC pipe could be proscribed by the ordinance but, just to be sure, I went back and listened to the 1971 song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band and there was no mention of Pipes – – PVC or otherwise.   Merriam Webster defines “sign” as

a: a motion or gesture by which a thought is expressed or a command or wish made known; b: signal  c: a fundamental linguistic unit that designates an object or relation or has a purely syntactic function signs include words, morphemes, and punctuation d: one of a set of gestures used to represent language;

Clearly, the PVC pipes are not signs.  So, what’s the deal?    The pipes are used by observant orthodox Jews to create a fictional “community” within which they can carry objects or stroll their children on the Sabbath.   It’s called an eruv and the only impact of the PVC pipes is that Jews passing through or living in Mahwah, can take their children outside on Saturday.    There is sometimes a consequential result:   Jews who follow those rules may decide to move into a community with an Eruv.

But a community group has formed,  #Mahwahstrong, and hundreds have joined and regularly attend council meetings.    The issue of removing the PVC pipes (and the tenuous claim that it “has nothing to do with the Jews”)  has attracted 2000% more protestors at council meetings than tax hikes,  reduced services,  the construction of a mall, etc.   All because the PVC pipes are signs and therefore must be stopped.

Not convinced?   Consider the second ordinance, whereby Mahwah sought to exclude “New Yorkers” from using township parks, if it would interfere with the enjoyment of local residents.   Not all New Yorkers, wrote the town Council president.   If out-of-town grandmothers wish to visit, no worries.  Hmm.  Who, therefore, does the ordinance target and how could it be enforced?   Tough to say, but a lot of orthodox Jews use the park on Sundays.    The police chief complained that the inconsistent enforcement (i.e. targeting Jews) may be unlawful.   The council ignored his pleas, so he sought advice from the county prosecutor, who opined that the ordinance should not be enforced as it will almost certainly lead to discrimination.

Still unsure?  The third ordinance prohibits out-of-towners from knocking on the doors of residents without permission.   Seems reasonable. Except it was adopted because of rumors that orthodox Jews had been going door-to-door to see if any houses were for sale.   The ordinance would surely prevent that practice.

To their credit, most Mahwahnians do not try to hide their xenophobia.  They readily admit that they do not want “those people” moving into town and “ruining” their public school systems.    The bizarre claim fails to acknowledge that orthodox Jewish residents pay the same taxes as everyone else in town, but typically send their children to private school.  In other words,  “those people” fund a significant percentage of the public school system, with nary a benefit.   Sounds awful.   But, consider this:   Fair Lawn, with its Eruv and huge orthodox population,  ranks 46th in the annual ranking of hundreds of New Jersey school districts.    Paramus 42.   Highland Park comes in at 40.  Tenafly is 15th – – even after losing its legal battle to prevent its eruv.    East Brunswick is 13!  Livingston lands at number 9.   And, Princeton?   Number 1.   The eruvs in those communities did not seem to impact their public school systems.    Mahwah, by the way, lands at 60 – – behind at least 10 districts with eruvs.

But, put all that aside.  Is there any community, any race, any religion, any creed targeted by  such ordinances that would not attract the outrage of celebrities,  the media, politicians,  liberal activists,  regular activists,  Rev. Al,  Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi?  If a township passed ordinances to exclude minorities,  LGBT,  immigrants,  Christians, Muslims,  it would land on the front page until it was defeated.

But, with very minor exceptions,  no one is talking about the Mahwah brouhaha.    It’s troubling but not surprising.

Jews were among the first and most vocal supporters of the Civil Rights Acts, and Martin Luther King, Jr.    Google any injustice perpetrated against the African American community, and you will find Jews, and Jewish organizations at the front of the fight.    Yet, attend any “Black Lives Matter” rally and breathe in the visual hatred expressed against Jews.    Israel is the most progressive, liberal, and supportive nation in the world for LGBT rights, but any reference to Israel was barred from a recent LGBT march in Chicago.   No such prohibition against displaying support for countries who throw gays off roofs,  force sterilization, and criminally  ban any LGBT activity.  As long as there are no “Stars of David,” which organizers found offensive.   And, by the same token,  Israel has some of the strongest laws against rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.  Its former president is in jail for violating those laws!   That didn’t stop organizers from Chicago’s “slut Walk” from excluded any displays that relate to Israel or Jews.

It’s funny.  My Facebook feed is routinely filled with outrage from my Jewish friends,  the Jewish Media (or, should I just say “media”),  Jewish activists, and Jewish organizations whenever an injustice is perpetrated on any group – – including Muslims and Arabs.    In addition to our own history which compels us to speak out,  the theory goes,  if we don’t speak out for others, who will speak out for us?    I guess we’ll see.

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I Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day

388490_117139495071579_1297849374_n    Amanda is graduating High School next week.   She’s the oldest of three and her parents could not be more proud.  But, especially her father. What is it about fathers and daughters?   Anyway, her parents are making special arrangements to make sure they do not miss the big day.   They will be sitting in the front row, wiping away tears, and applauding their little girl, along with all the other moms and dads.   If this seems unexceptional, consider that Amanda’s father is Phil Mickelson, one of the greatest professional golfers of all time, and he will be missing the U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s graduation.     Phil has won 5 major championships but the US Open title has always eluded him.   This was potentially his last best chance.   If you believe him,  it was not even a close call; nothing would keep him from watching his daughter accept her diploma.

I believe him.

You see, my little girl is also graduating high school.   This week.  Then, a quick summer job and she’s off.   A gap year abroad.   Then college.  Then the world.

 

This isn’t my first rodeo.  (see, https://ariweisbrot.com/2015/06/10/one-last-thing-before-you-go/).  But, I find myself utterly unprepared for this moment.    I find myself thinking about the precious, fragile, squeaky little lady who entered the world with barely a contraction and then grew up to captain her high school hockey team.  Benny was always my little buddy.   But, Hannah was my princess.  It wasn’t just a pet name.   It defines our relationship.   I treasured her successes more than my own.   I cried at her heartbreak.  I counted every goal she scored and beamed at every report card.

Hannah is unlike my other children – – or most children I know.   Dissatisfied with her grammar school grades, she took it personally.   Yada yada,  4 years later she is accepted to every college to which she applied.   All top tier institutions.    She was a bit of a goal-hang in grade school hockey but the fire burned in her eyes.  4 years later she owns two championship rings – – scoring the winning goals in both games.

I think about those things and sleep easy knowing that she is ready.   But, for some reason, I cannot  shake her scent.  I mean that literally.  I smell her everywhere I go these days.   Her perfume.  Her soap.  Her hockey jersey.  Her pillow.  Like she’s standing next to me.

It’s not sugar or spice.  It’s not everything nice.   I now know that this is a lie, perpetuated by Robert Southey in 1826.   It’s a blend of 18 years’ worth of sweat and tears.  It’s pride and kindness.  It’s self-worth and self-doubt.  It’s boundless energy with a pinch of fear.  It’s the sweet smell of a lifetime of  successes.  And the stink of failures, left in the rearview mirror in pursuit of the next adventure.  It’s love.  A whole lotta love.   You think those things don’t leave a scent?  Please, stop and take a whiff of your children.  Store the memory deep within the recesses of your brain.   Because you will be searching time and again for that smell.   And, before you know it,  it will be gone.

Have no fear, Princess.  You got this.   By this, I mean life.   Keep fighting for yourself.  For your friends and family.  For your people.  For the things that matter to you.  More than most, you have everything you need for Phase 2.

You made us proud.  Now go.  Before I change my mind.

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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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