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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TRADITION!

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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Hands Up Don’t Stab!

I briefly come out of retirement to discuss transportation. Specifically, buses.  More specifically, the random stabbing of Jews riding buses.  Yeah, I know. Everyone is writing and posting about this. Except anyone who is not Jewish. I have addressed this before. Why are the Jews so shocked that the world and New York Times do not care? They didn’t care about the murder of 6 million Jews a mere 60 years ago. I can only imagine the Facebook rants during the Holocaust!

I don’t want to hear it anymore. It’s so whiny. Why does Israel draw 1500% more United Nations condemnations than any other country? How can the world stay silent when 250,000 Syrians are murdered but call for urgent international action when Israel builds a few new houses? Why, when two Palestinians murder an Israeli child and are then shot by police trying to escape, do we read that “Two Palestinian Youths Gunned Down By Israeli Forces?” And, why does the world sanction, to avoid “provocation,” the exclusion of Jews on the most holiest site in Judaism (and third holiest site in Islam, twice removed), but insist that Israel is an apartheid state because they built a wall to cage in the suicide bombers that were wrecking daily havoc on the streets and discos of Israel?

It’s because everyone hates us. Everyone has hated for thousands of years.

But I am not here to discuss this. (If you want a more detailed primer, please see my very first blog, THE JEWS! https://ariweisbrot.com/2009/09/27/the-jews

I am here because this week my son was on a bus in Jerusalem with a stabber. My son is fine. The stabber, not so much. Some idiot on Facebook wanted to take this opportunity to remind us that Palestinians are people too. Here’s the thing: I don’t divide people based on race, religion, or creed (I don’t even know what creed is). This is my simple framework: If you run around stabbing innocent children, you are not a person. If you cheer the stabbing of children, you are not a person. If you hand out candy when airplanes crash into buildings, you are not human. If you shoot your celebratory guns in the air because two young parents were shot and killed in front of their four children, I hope those bullets find their way back to earth. At precisely the spot you are standing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not outraged. I am not vengeful. I am not advocating any unfair or unjust treatment of the Palestinians. But my son is trying to enjoy the most meaningful, important year of his young life and he should not be locked down in his school, unable to leave or get pizza. Who in the world lives this way? The Jews! If you think it was ever different, at any time in history, in any country, think again.

I just bought a plane ticket to Israel. I will go and show my support. I will travel around and take Benny and his friends for pizza. I hope not to get stabbed. But, if I do, I hope the guy who stabs me is made to realize that Jews are people too and that we shouldn’t be stabbed just for our religious beliefs or common heritage. I hope he is made to realize that with prejudice.

Come to think of it, I hope he doesn’t read this blog or see this video: https://www.facebook.com/idfonline/videos/1049414485081421/?fref=nf

When will it end? Never.  Let’s not waste any more energy trying to get in with the popular crowd.   They will always be out of our league and they will always give us wedgies and bully us.   Let’s stop complaining that life is unfair and that the bullies seem to always win.  Instead, we should continue to do what we do best.  Lead the world, by far, in Nobel Prize winners per capita.  Invent USB drives, cell phones, and drip irrigation.   Develop most modern chemotherapy and sit back and watch Roger Waters boycott the medicine should he come down with some cancer (God Forbid).  And, of course, do the most important thing of all:  serve and protect the Jewish People.

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One Last Thing Before You Go

Of all the things we do as parents,  nothing is more primal, instinctive, and meaningful than holding our children.   There is much I no longer remember about those early years, but I can recount for you every heartbeat, every sound emitted from each of my children the first time I held them.   For them, it’s protective, soothing, comforting.  For us, it establishes the relationship.  It makes it real.  This tiny living thing belongs to me.  He needs me for everything.  A bad day at work was never a match for the gentle cuddle of my baby’s body.

You hold your children every day of their lives until you can’t anymore.   One day, you pick her up. You put her down.  She runs away.  And just like that, you will never pick her up again.  The last time you hold your child is monumental.  It’s both a happy graduation of sorts, and the end of the most critical stage of childhood.   Yet, we don’t mark the occasion.  We don’t cry. Or smile.  We don’t ask for one last time.  In fact, we don’t even realize it’s over.

Benny is 18 and off to college (via a year abroad).  He drives and votes.  He has a job and earns a salary.  He is a man.  An adult.   How the hell did that happen?

We did it!  We raised a child to adulthood.  This occasion, like the final time I held him in my arms so many years ago, will pass without fanfare.  As quickly as he came, he will be gone.  And, while he will surely spend time here again, he will no longer be a permanent resident of this house.    My little tax deduction is all growed up.

It was a trick of genetic engineering that enabled me to weed out my bad qualities and inculcate my son with the very best of me and my wife.  He has my smile and height, but he has Francine’s sensitivity, kindness, and maturity.   He managed to finish high school with a solid group of exceptional friends.   Unlike my childhood (and some adulthood) friends, they are friends in every sense of the word.  Selfless, sensitive, generous.   They look out for him and would never intentionally cause him pain.  It may seem trite but it’s a solid foundation for his next stage of growth.

I saw a video recently in which a man adopted a baby lion cub but, years later, released him into the wild when the lion grew too big to safely care for.   After about 10 years, the two were reunited in a scene that both warmed my heart and scared the crap out of me.    This manly-man, strong enough to raise a lion, cried like a baby when he released him, and then again at the reunion.   I stifled a giggle of superiority.   I understand the attachment, I argued, but I think the lion will survive just fine in his native habitat.

I am no longer sure.  Just as my legal obligations are terminating,  I am more worried than ever.  Is Benny ready for the wild?  How will he survive?  There is no way we taught him even the most basic survival skills.  The world is a huge, scary, terrible place.  Especially for the good guys.

So, here it is.   Don’t be influenced by money, love, success, or fame.  They are truly the path to the dark side.    Chase compassion relentlessly.    Never compromise your principles or the people who rely on them.   And, in a world where dishonesty is the standard, always speak the truth and always keep your word.

This advice is hardly novel.  Youtube any graduation speech and you will hear the same words in one form or another.   They are, after all, the easiest things to say to a child.   But, as common the advice, you must concede, the message is quickly disregarded on the way to College.

So maybe this is the better advice. Don’t change.  Grow.  Maintain the same innocent narrative, the same wide-eyed ideals and lofty goals that got you here but expand them to meet your growing universe and influence.

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

Can I hold you one last time?

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*** Apologies to my closest friend for the use of his title.

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Big Time

My first Piece for the Times of Israel has gone viral!

Check it out at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/are-you-an-anti-semite-or-just-anti-israel-finally-the-difference-revealed/

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Fire in the Sky

It’s been a pretty good day. Successful deposition, major court victory, and no one tried to kill me (yet). I have no interest in re-visiting this story but I have received hundreds of emails, calls, and visitors today, and I suppose, having brought this to your attention, you are entitled to closure. A suspect was arrested and charged with, among other things, arson. He is an emotionally disturbed person, whom I was told has spent time in a mental institution.

We are stirred, not shaken. It is too surreal to take seriously. I am gratified that it was not a stable person. That would indeed be an assault on my self-esteem. From both a safety and ego perspective, you want your fire-bomber to be crazy. They tend to try to light a match in the pouring rain.

But I learned two things today. For every one person who has tried to kill me, there are hundreds of others who dropped everything to offer assistance. If you are a longtime reader, you know I have an impaired ego. And yet it is hard to misinterpret the widespread show of love and support from literally every person I know (and quite a few that I don’t). Yes, even Gronk. It is overwhelming.

Second, try making a list of the people you think want to see you dead. It is not as easy as you may assume. As I spent a long day pondering that question, I could come up with just one name. And, I helped put that guy in jail for 22 years. So, he hardly counts. Nothing cures extreme insecurity better than a good attempted murder.

I wont have much more to say about this. I have an important, long-overdue article coming out this week in the Times of Israel. I would prefer you read my recent press relating to a major victory for Walmart than the articles about my near-death experience.

But, with the thousands of people who read this blog in 24 hours, and the hundreds who stood by us, I appreciate your friendship.

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Smoke on the Water

In a lifetime full of surprises, a brush with attempted murder has rattled me. Last night, in the early morning, as my wife, son, and I were fast asleep in our beds, someone walked up my steps, approached the front door and squirted an entire bottle of gasoline into my mail slot. He then dropped a lit piece of paper through the opening. The rain foiled his plans and he retreated, his murderous plans unfulfilled.

A multi-jurisdictional task force responded and I am told they are making progress. But, the near-death experience is not the worst part. It is the realization that someone hates me enough to try to wipe out my family. For those who read the New York Post, this story may fail to impress. Arson is rampant in this country and people die every day from random and intended acts of violence.

Yes, I am an aggressive, forceful lawyer. I am sure I have enemies. Though, to be honest, I feel like I would make enemies regardless of my occupation. You see, I am brash. And forceful. I am aggressive and relentless. And, I can hardly get through a day without penning a hostile e-mail. I am overly sensitive with super-human strength. But, I have dedicated my entire life to helping other people. Given the chance to advance my own interests or quietly help someone in need, the choice has always been clear and easy. A guy in my neighborhood who has abused me needs interference with the township construction official? I didn’t hesitate. You see, I have strong opinions. I believe in a self-defined sense of right and wrong. When my sensibilities are offended, when my code is violated, I react. Strongly and perhaps disproportionately. And, if that weren’t bad enough, I am not always right in my initial, forceful reaction. But, it comes from a good place. A place of love and compassion. It is often misinterpreted.

So, who wants to kill me? It’s been 15 years since I put someone in prison and 5 years since he was released. Today, most of my time is dedicated to fighting financial disputes on behalf of major corporations. Hardly the stuff of dramatic vengeance. I still litigate against the occasional evil-doer, but that’s the price you pay for always defending the good guys. Still, with one or two exceptions, it’s hard to believe someone would take out my family over anything I have said in court.

Maybe it’s a Palestinian sympathizer, angered by my public expressions of Zionistic integrity. I doubt it. If it were, I would surely be dead.

Maybe it is one of my closer friends; frustrated by months of an inability to penetrate my rut. That seems unlikely. It is obviously their fault.

I am hoping it turns out to be a prank. A random assault without meaning. And, yet, tonight I find myself living an episode of Law & Order. Wondering how I can protect my wife, the greatest person I know. Or my children, who could never understand this level of violence.

For now, I can only engage in critical self-analysis and let the police do their job. But, I am shaken. Not because I fear the future. It’s the past that makes me worry.

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Rabbi Yossi Stern

Dear Rabbi Stern:

I will never forget the last words you spoke to me, about two weeks ago. Like most of the things in your life, our conversation must be kept confidential. But, the last thing you said was how proud you were of me. I wondered, at the time, if you remembered the very first thing you said to me. It was about thirty-eight years ago. Most of the other grown-ups in town had written me and my friends off as miscreants. Not quite ne’er-do-wells. We weren’t bad kids by any measure. Just loud. And insensitive. Maybe a little misguided. It was easier to ignore us. But you wouldn’t. In your quiet, dignified way, you encouraged us to get involved in our community. To give back. You singularly reminded us of all the gifts and advantages we received simply because we were growing up in Teaneck, America. You didn’t make us feel bad. Or that we were bad. To the contrary. You made us feel like each of us mattered. Your love for every Jew, every human being, big and small, was an earth-shattering revolution. None of our parents or teachers could reach us in the way that you did. And, looking back I realize that you did it without trying. You didn’t strategize. Or play games. You did it simply and without pretense. As a ten year old, I wanted to be a better person because I wanted you to be proud of me.

This week, I listened to your son eulogize you. I remember him as a baby. Big cheeks, huge smile, and a giggle that was infectious. I haven’t seen him in thirty years. He is a man now. You probably knew that. Most of what he said about you, I already knew. Frankly, everyone knew. But, I didn’t know how much he loved you. That sounds silly. Every child loves their father and everyone loved you. But, he made a case for your legacy that surprised me. Yes, you learned Torah all day and night. Yes, you had a jewelry business. You started Project Ezrah and devoted every waking minute to helping the mal-affected find jobs, pay bills, and get back on their feet. I just assumed you did all of this at the expense of your family. After all, we are taught that Moshe Rabbenu’s family life suffered because of his service to Am Yisroel. So, I think you’d get a pass if you couldn’t attend your child’s siddur play. Or parent teacher conferences. If you were too tired listening to communal maladies to listen to familial problems. But, once again, I underestimated you. Listening to your son describe your life together – – business trips, chavrutot, quality time, and some laughs thrown in along the way – – listening to how unconditionally, without reservation, he loved and respected you, was yet another lesson you taught me. Lots of people contribute. They donate time, money, energy. There are activists and leaders and role models. You have undoubtedly read about them in the newspapers Or on their blogs. They are heroes. But, dear Rabbi Stern, you didn’t want attention. Or respect. You didn’t want anything. Your every breath was motivated by love. Nothing more. You loved your community. You loved people. Jewish, and not so Jewish. You loved your wife and children. And, yes, you loved the young trouble makers who constituted the earliest generation of a nascent Jewish community. When you are motivated by love, life is good. Even when it’s not. Ironically, your heart was larger than its walls could hold. Your love just couldn’t fit. I suppose it was inevitable. The human heart is just not made to hold as much emotion, as much benevolence, as much kindness as you dispensed on a daily basis.

I spent decades chasing your approval. Two weeks ago, it seemed in hand. But, I reject it. I am not worthy of your pride. You are a giant and I constantly struggle with my inner and outer good. But, you deserve credit for yet another soul. And I pledge mine to your memory. Every day, I will endeavor to perform an act of love and kindness. Not in your memory or in your honor. You would hate that. But, simply because I should know better. Thanks to you.

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