Monday, November 16, 2020

5 Words You Almost Never Need in a Sentence

Here is an excellent post from Dana Sitar (@danasitar) about frequently used words you can often cut from your writing.

  1. Different
  2. That
  3. Currently
  4. Certain
  5. Very

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Reform Jewish Leadership Statement: Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value

Reform Jewish Leadership Statement: Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value: Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value: A Statement from Reform Jewish Movement Leadership

Reform Jewish Leadership Statement: Black Lives Matter is a Jewish Value

A Statement by the Organizations of the Reform Movement

June 12, 2020 

Throughout the past 400 years, Black people in America have been enslaved, subjugated, disenfranchised, murdered, and discriminated against. From generation to generation, white Americans, including white Jews, have failed to own and end the systemic racial injustices on which the nation was founded, and instead have actively or passively perpetuated these injustices.

Our Jewish tradition is replete with instances of moral reckoning when we are asked to be present and accounted for. “Ayecha?,” we are asked. “Where are you?” We respond with a full throated, “Hineinu.” “We are here.”

As Reform Jews committed to the spirit of this teaching, we say unequivocally, Black Lives Matter.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to commit to a human and civil rights movement, working to end systemic racism against Black people and white supremacy.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to recognize that we are a racially diverse Reform Jewish Movement, and that our diversity is a source of our strength.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is for white Reform Jews to pledge to be in solidarity with Black Jews and Black people from all backgrounds against racial injustice and to act accordingly.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to recognize the imperative to live with complexity and know that we can be steadfast in our love of and support for Israel while working side by side with those who hold differing views and express them respectfully.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to accept discomfort, knowing that actions or inaction of white Jews have contributed to ongoing racial injustice.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to move beyond allyship and commit to long-term solutions both internally in ourselves, our own organization, and externally in our communities to disrupt and dismantle white supremacy.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to acknowledge that Black people risk their personal comfort and safety every day in white dominated institutions, and that white Jews must commit to risking their personal comfort and even safety in the struggle for racial justice.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to ensure that People of Color can be whole, never expected to choose between aspects of their identity and celebrate the multifaceted nature of humanity.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is to commit to individual and organizational antiracist trainings, identifying specific antiracist hiring practices and lay structures, and outlining goals around specific racial justice action steps.

To affirm that Black Lives Matter is for white Jews to reflect on their own thoughts and behavior, to build meaningful relationships with Jews of Color and People of Color generally, and to work for reforms that will achieve real, lived freedom for Black people.

We affirm that Black Lives Matter.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Stop Making Sexual Harassment a Partisan Issue

Stop Making Sexual Harassment a Partisan Issue. Now!

Over the past couple of weeks, the public has learned about Harvey Weinstein’s decades-long illegal, disgraceful, abhorrent, and grotesque harassment and assault of women. Similar to Hannibal Buress’s outing of Bill Cosby as a serial rapist, this was one of Hollywood’s dirty little not-so-secretive secrets.

While the public appropriately reacted to the reports of Weinstein’s abuse with revile and disgust, the partisan tweets arguing whether his behavior is more akin to Bill Clinton’s behavior or Donald Trump's behavior does nothing but dilute the message that sexual harassment and assault must stop, and it must stop now.

Roger Ailes, Dov Charney, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Mark Foley, Bill O’ Reilly, Bob Packwood, Clarence Thomas, Isiah Thomas, Donald Trump, and so many more powerful men thought – and think – it was acceptable to coerce and take advantage of women (and men in the case of Mark Foley) simply because these men possessed power. There are certainly different degrees of harassment and assault, but none of them are OK. Perhaps, one of the most disturbing statements from Weinstein was his excuse for his behavior that he “came of age in the 60s and 70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.” Are you kidding me? Sexual harassment and assault were never acceptable. The fact that there was a culture that permitted, even encouraged, this behavior does not equate to it was acceptable behavior.

Also, while the focus has been on these powerful men, sexual harassment and assault are not limited to the rich and famous. These are just the ones that make the headlines. Sexual harassment and assault exist across all levels of management, in all industries, in government agencies, in the military, in the United States, and throughout the world. Moreover, it must stop.

Stopping sexual harassment and assault needs to be the discussion, not whether one side of the political aisle is more to blame. Sexual harassment and assault are in no way, shape, or form relegated to democrat or republican, black or white, or Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or atheist.

So, stop arguing about whether Weinstein is more Clinton-like or Trump-like. Simply stated, they are all wrong.

There have been many brave women who have confronted the men who have harassed and assaulted them. Among some of these women are Ashley Alford, Paula Coughlin, Carla Ingraham, Lois Jensen, Paula Puopolo, Mechelle Vinson, Rena Weeks, and Carmita Wood. Do you know who they are? You should.

Also, reverse sexual discrimination is on the rise. By no means do I intend to minimize or condone women in power harassing or assaulting men. “Men, as well as women, are entitled under Title VII to protection from a sexually abusive work environment.”[1]

Rather, the takeaways are simple:
  1. sexual harassment and sexual assault are never OK; and
  2. the discussion we need to have is how to stop sexual harassment and sexual assault; not which side of the political aisle has the bigger misogynists.

[1] EEOC v. Prospect Airport Services, 621 F.3d 991 (2010)

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Jews, America, Right, Wrong, Red, White, and Blue and Black

Jews, America, Right, Wrong, Red, White, and Blue and Black

Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed            

 לֹא תַעֲמֹד עַל דַּם רֵעֶךָ

Ten days ago Elie Wiesel died in his home in New York City. Wiesel lived his life following Leviticus 19:16, which teaches us to not stand idly by when we see injustice. In his 2011 commencement speech at Washington University, Wiesel amplified on the importance of this commandment, to him.

The greatest commandment, to me, … in the Bible is, “Thou shall not stand idly by.” Which means when you witness an injustice, don’t stand idly by. When you hear of a person or a group being persecuted, do not stand idly by. When there is something wrong in the community around you — or far way — do not stand idly by.[1]

The actual translation of Leviticus 19:16 is “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”
In the ten days since Wiesel’s death, the United States of America has come face to face, yet again, with the indisputable truth that our country has a race problem.

As an American Jew, I question whether I have been standing idly by. Have I been too silent, and if so, is there a reason for my silence? A reason, not an excuse, but a reason.

Then I came across an opinion article written by Rabbi David Stern of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas. For me, the article hit home. As I stated when I posted the article to Facebook, please take a few minutes to read the article; it is well written and on-point. I am not asking anyone to agree with everything Rabbi Stern writes, just to absorb the sentiment. Specifically, beginning with the part about why some people have been silent in the wake of the tragedies of this past week.  Vayidom Aharon.  “And Aaron fell silent.”

Below is Rabbi David Stern's opinion article published in Haaretz on July 11, 2016.

Jews Must Experience the Pain of America's Racial Rift - and Its Healing
Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement 50 years ago does not grant us a free pass today. We Jews have to hear about racism and white privilege, even when it hurts to listen.

Religion is sometimes unfairly derided for offering simple answers to complex questions.  There was no room for simplistic religion in Dallas this past week.  As Mayor Mike Rawlings eloquently said at an interfaith vigil on Friday, we can only address the horror of this past week if we are able to hold simultaneous truths:  that we have seen too many of our nation’s police commit acts of violence towards innocent civilians of color; and that the vast majority of our police risk their own lives to protect the lives and freedoms of all our citizens.

Grief is grief.  It might be overlaid by dramatic circumstance, by political turmoil, by violence and fear.  But grief is grief, and that is why as last Thursday night turned to Friday morning, none of us knew what to say.  Our silence was in part an expression of respect:  in the immediate aftermath of the fatal shooting of five Dallas police officers, it was not the time for analysis, nor for building a bully pulpit on blood and tears.   Here in Dallas, as throughout America, our voices cracked because our hearts broke. 

People quoted the Psalmist without knowing it:  How long, O Lord, how long?  How much violence, how much distrust, how many guns, how many innocent lives lost?  The fact that someone gunned down policemen who were protecting marchers who were protesting police violence was an irony almost too painful to bear. 

When, in the Book of Leviticus, Aaron’s sons perish for offering a strange fire, the Torah is painfully terse in describing his reaction:  Vayidom Aharon.  “And Aaron fell silent.”  Without presuming the intimacy or depth of loss of these officers’ families, we felt Aaron’s silence echo in our own:  in bewilderment and frustration, sadness and fear. 

Here are the truths which defy simple answers:  that a white teenager and a black teenager see the symbol of a police cruiser through radically different lenses related to dramatically different experiences, and that you dress those same two kids in the same hooded sweatshirt, and they will receive radically different reactions.  That slavery is a blight on our nation’s history, but does not have to be the defining force in shaping our future. That we know precious little of the lived experience of the people with whom we share our streets and our cities.  That precisely at a time when words feel so inadequate, we must be aware of their great power to do both harm and good. 

And maybe the greatest complexity of all:  the racial healing we seek will be painful, and the pain will be evidence that we’re healing. The involvement of Jews in the civil rights movement fifty years ago does not grant us a free pass today.   As Jews, we will need to expand our circle of prophets – because the voices of Jeremiah and Amos are carried forward in our day by writer/activists like Ta-Nehisi Coates and Bryan Stevenson.   Our own devastating history of suffering and oppression, definitive as it has been in our tradition’s call to compassion and our own self-image, does not grant us automatic understanding of the suffering of others.

Instead, the God who heard the cry of the oppressed requires us to listen – to narratives of racism, to exposures of white privilege and educational inequities and mythic meritocracies.  We do not need to agree with everything we hear, but we need to hear it.  And when that hearing produces pain, then we need to feel it. And if that pain motivates us to create a more just and safe society instead of silencing the truths that disturb us, we will know that we have broken through the silence towards hope.   The books of the Hebrew prophets are fundamental to our identity as Jews, but they do not make good bedtime reading.  This healing will sting before it salves.

On Friday, the day after the shooting, I participated in an interfaith vigil. After we prayed, an unknown young man began to sound a shofar.   After an hour’s worth of words from preachers and politicians in the scorching sun, there was something redemptive in his impromptu offering, the proud but ragged sound – a reminder that the tekiah of hope can break through when we least expect it.

And we need to keep listening and keep hearing. Three hours later, I received an email from the Imam who spoke at the vigil, an eloquent and courageous man whom I had introduced at the ceremony as “my teacher and friend.”  His email said this:

“I have no words to express my gratitude for the way you introduced me today.  It might seem like a word, but it means the world to me.  I am the son of Palestinian refugees and have always struggled to find a way to fight the anti-Semitism in my community that stems from genuine frustrations and aspirations.  I have struggled with this my entire life and in all honesty, have struggled to see how anyone could support Israel with all our history.  But as I’ve grown, I’ve realized that some may feel the same about my views and perspectives.  We need to grow together and truly love one another and listen to one another… I am deeply grateful.”

Silence?  Despair?  Tekiah.

[1] Elie Wiesel’s 2011 Commencement address at Washington University in St. Louis, Titled ‘Memory and Ethics’ (May 20, 2011)

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jon Onye Lockard – “Make Them Hear You”

Some people study history, some people live history, and some people make history. Then there are those rare few who do all three. Jon Onye Lockard was one of those rare few, and I am a better person for having known him for more than twenty years. Jon died this week at the age of 83; he fought to the very end – just as he has done his whole life. But, even at 83, he left us too soon.

One of Jon’s life’s mottos was “make them hear you.” Through his art and through his teachings, he illustrated and exemplified this motto.

Jon Lockard and Ricky Dessen 2013
As I sat in the front row at his funeral, I listened to the stories from so many people whose lives Jon touched and so many who said Jon changed their life. Sitting there, and knowing Jon, it was obvious that these were not words simply scripted for a nice eulogy. No, these were true testaments to a giant. Jon was certainly a giant, yes, in physical stature - especially standing next to me - but more in character.

According to the History Makers piece on Jon, he was a “painter, educator, and historian.”  According to Jon's obituary, “he was an amazing artist, muralist, master painter and story teller.” Some other highlights from Jon's obituary follow:

  • He was born January 25, 1932, on Detroit's east side.
  • He graduated from Eastern High School in 1949, Wayne State University in 1953, and the University of Toronto in 1958.
  • He was a professor emeritus from Washtenaw Community College where he taught life drawing & portraiture for over 40 years and at the University of Michigan Department of African-American & African Studies.
  • He was a past president and life-long member of the National Conference of Artists.
  • He led a contingent of artists to Goree Island off the coast of Senegal, West Africa.
  • He co-produced and hosted Barden Cable's Sankofa television program.
  • He was a co-founder and associate director of The Society for the Study of African Culture and Aesthetics.
  • He served as a Senior Art Advisor for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • His works speak with an uncommon eloquence, sophistication, and vibrancy and may be found in many collections nationally and internationally.
  • Some of his most notable masterpieces include a series of murals at Wayne State University, entitled, Continuum, and many murals & paintings at the University of Michigan, Central State University, and the Charles Wright Museum of African-American History.
  • His mural work was featured in Walls of Pride by Robin Dunitz. [1]

“His life's philosophy was the West African principle of Sankofa, which means, ‘You don't know where you are going if you don't know where you've been.’" [2] “Born in 1932, [Jon] grew up in the time when Detroit industry was strong and vital, but also when black people were largely invisible in the mass media (or flattened into limited, often subservient social roles).”[3] The History Makers piece discussed that Jon “won a job with Walker and Company,” an outdoor advertising company in Detroit during the first half of the twentieth century, “but was later rejected because of his race.”[4] The piece also revealed that Jon worked as a “traveling portraitist in the late 1950s and early 1960s [and] painted portraits at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962.”[5] Jon directed his art “towards human beings and to delineating their beauty, their anguish, and their joys.”[6] As described by Mike Mosher, Professor of art/communication & digital media at Saginaw Valley State University, “Lockard's art is about African American struggle, its pain, and joy. His visual style is assertive, athletic, muscular, buxom, bountiful, busting out all over.”[7] Jon’s paintings are certainly vibrant, both in color and comment. As Jon stated during a panel discussion focused on the inception, design, and construction of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., “we don’t see with our eyes we see with our mind, your mind tells you what to look for, your knowledge tells you what to seek.”[8]

This philosophy was ever present in my many discussions with Jon. Whenever we were deep in conversation, which we were often, I always knew that it was about to get real when Jon would say “Rick, now let me challenge you.” That would be the point I needed to be ready because Jon was smart … very smart, but more than smart he was caring. When he said “let me challenge you” it meant he wanted to get to the heart of an issue; no sound bites, no bullshit, no saying the politically correct thing, he wanted to know what I really felt and why. We had some great discussions about life, politics, race, religion, family, knowing where you came from, the importance of friends – true friends, and, of course, football (sometimes basketball, but mostly football). As soon as I thought I had answered Jon’s question he would ask “but why” and when I answered again he would reply “but if you look at it this way what do you think.” Later in life when I learned the principles of six sigma and how to conduct internal root cause investigations I just laughed, Jon had already taught me all of this. So even though I was never one of his students, I learned a lot from my brother-in-law. But, his students learned even more. As one of his former students so succinctly stated in his eulogy of Jon, “Jon made a difference.”

Jon, you will be missed but never forgotten. While no one word can capture your legacy, if forced to choose one, it would be “inspiring.” You inspired so many to be the best they could be. You did so by caring, by teaching, by mentoring, by being truthful, by being tough, by being gentle, by leading by example, but most of all, by being you.

 “Make them hear you,” you said. Well, we did.

Let the music play on.

Monday, November 11, 2013

What is A Vet; By Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC

What is a Vet?
By Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC
Some veterans bear visible signs of their service: a missing limb, a jagged scar, a certain look in the eye. Others may carry the evidence inside them: a pin holding a bone together, a piece of shrapnel in the leg or perhaps another sort of inner steel: the soul's ally forged in the refinery of adversity.
Except in parades, however, the men and women who have kept America safe wear no badge or emblem. You can't tell a vet just by looking.
What is a vet?
He is the cop on the beat who spent six months in Saudi Arabia sweating two gallons a day making sure the armored personnel carriers didn't run out of fuel.
He is the barroom loudmouth, dumber than five wooden planks, whose overgrown frat-boy behavior is outweighed a hundred times in the cosmic scales by four hours of exquisite bravery near the 38th parallel.
She or he is the nurse who fought against futility and went to sleep sobbing every night for two solid years in Da Nang.
He is the POW who went away one person and came back another, or didn't come back AT ALL.
He is the Quantico drill instructor who has never seen combat, but has saved countless lives by turning slouchy, no-account rednecks and gang members into Marines, and teaching them to watch each other's backs.
He is the parade-riding Legionnaire who pins on his ribbons and medals with a prosthetic hand.
He is the career quartermaster who watches the ribbons and medals pass him by.
He is the three anonymous heroes in The Tomb of the Unknowns, whose presence at Arlington National Cemetery must forever preserve the memory of all the anonymous heroes whose valor dies unrecognized with them on the battlefield or in the ocean's sunless deep.
He is the old guy bagging groceries at the supermarket - palsied now and aggravatingly slow - who helped liberate a Nazi death camp and who wishes all day long that his wife were still alive to hold him when the nightmares come.
He is an ordinary and yet an extraordinary human being, a person who offered some of his life's most vital years in the service of his country, and who sacrificed his ambitions so others would not have to sacrifice theirs.
He is a soldier and a savior and a sword against the darkness, and he is nothing more than the finest, greatest testimony on behalf of the finest, greatest nation ever known.
So remember, each time you see someone who has served our country, just lean over and say "THANK YOU." That's all most people need, and in most cases it will mean more than any medals they could have been awarded or were awarded.
Those two little words mean a lot, "THANK YOU."

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

My Wife, My Daughter, Their Periods, and the Space They Need

Generational gaps exist on all levels, even grammatical. What was once right is now wrong and vice versa. Two nights ago, my wife and my daughter were going over some work together. That is where the fun begins, at least for me. With all good intentions, my wife set out to offer some constructive advice and to correct an item in my daughter's writing; my daughter had only put one space after the period at the end of each sentence and before the next sentence. One space in between sentences. Anyone above the age the age of forty can tell you that is just wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Anyone who learned to type on a typewriter can tell you that there must be two spaces after the period and before the next sentence. Anyone who tells you this is wrong. Period!

As my daughter not so gently, politely, or respectfully pointed out, it is now proper to insert only one space between sentences. Without getting into too much discussion about mono-spacing and true type fonts, suffice it to say that "The times, they are a changing." My wife, of course, looked to me for support of her position. Unfortunately, since I had already been enlightened on this particular topic, I was of no help to her. In fact, I may have not so gently, politely, or respectfully pointed out that my daughter was correct.

What other grammatical generational gaps are out there, and where is the memo?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11 Ten Years Later

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks approached this past week, my thoughts tracked back to that fateful week and memories of my friend Courtney, with whom I had had dinner just days before and had made plans to see the following week.  I remember not being with my family most of that week because I had to work.  There was a candlelight vigil on 90th Street and Third Avenue that Friday night, September 14, which my wife and kids participated in but I was not there for. It is one of my daughter’s first memories, that whole week makes up many of her first memories, but I was not there.  I know I needed to be at work and know that our work was important to restore the “power” back to the city; still, I feel I should have been up at that vigil with my family rather than in the Corporate Emergency Response Center at work.  Work … I can still taste the air I encountered at Ground Zero on September 13 and remember the burning in my eyes when I got down there.  So much is still so vivid and, at the same time, so much has faded.  Most of all, I just can’t get my arms around the fact that the attacks occurred a decade ago.

That morning! I was sitting in my office on the 18th floor in the Con Edison building on Irving Place and 14th Street when I heard that one of the towers was on fire. I can’t recall if it was from the computer or from the hallway chatter that I heard it, but I do remember getting up from my desk and heading to the office across from mine. Charlie’s office had a direct view to the Trade Center. We watched as the tower was burning, somewhat in disbelief and trying to make heads or tails of how it could have happened. And then, out of almost nowhere, we saw the second plane come around and fly through the second tower. We watched as it created a hole and we watched knowing that the world had changed.

I was able to get to my wife on the phone before the land lines were overloaded. She immediately left and went to pick up the kids at school, Jamie (3 years old) on the East Side and Jason (6 years old) on the West Side.  I remember her telling me that she pulled out of the garage and drove the wrong way on 90th Street just to get to the kids quicker. If anything, that might have saved 2 minutes. But, at that point seeing your kids 2 minutes earlier might just as well have been 2 hours earlier.  After that point telephone communication was tough, both cell phones and landlines were out and/or overloaded, especially trying to call within New York City.  We were somewhat more successful calling my mother-in-law in Michigan and relaying messages to each other. My Blackberry was still working. Of course, a Blackberry in September 2001 was far from the device it is today.  But, the Blackberry 957 Enterprise Edition was communicating just fine and I was able to get in touch with colleagues, family, and friends using the Blackberry. My cell phone was not working, but my Blackberry was. The television in the conference room was working as were our computers, so we watched in horror and disbelief. At some point that day I walked home from work, not too bad just a little over 3 ½ miles.

That call! By dinner time I was home and had heard from or about most of my college and law school friends that worked down on Wall Street and all of them were OK. I don’t know why I had not realized that I had not heard from Courtney. My phone rang, I looked at the screen and it said “Rodway” and my gut knotted up. Trying to be optimistic I answered, “hey Rod” are you OK? Rodway’s reply still echoes in my head “We haven’t heard from Courtney … no one has heard from Courtney.” We spoke for about another 5-10 minutes as good friends would do on such a day. We discussed the implications of what happened, or so I think. Truthfully, after the initial words about Courtney, I don’t remember much of the conversation other than agreeing that if either of us hears anything we would immediately call the other. This, of course, meant Rodway would call me since he was close with Courtney’s family.

Rodway and Courtney had played football together for Hofstra University and it was Rodway who introduced me to Courtney years earlier. Rodway and I had been playing football together in the Yorkville touch league for years when he said, I got a guy to bring down this year. It was a statement I heard often; it seems everyone had a guy that was going to propel us to the championship.  Usually, it did not pan out, once in a while they were good and stayed on the team for years, but rarely was “the guy” a game changer. Courtney was a game changer. Courtney was also a life changer. He was an exceptional athlete, but all his athletic skill paled in comparison to who he was as a person and as a friend. Over the course of the next years, Courtney and I became good friends. He was one of those people that you want your children to grow up to be like. I remember on our 2001 annual group golf trip he hit a bad shot and yelled: “oh sugar.” I looked at him and he explained that he had made a pact with his god that he would try not to curse anymore. I asked if it would bother him if I continued to curse. His response was pure Courtney; he said he would be offended if I didn’t.  I do recall with great humor one play in particular from our games. Mark called a flanker screen to Courtney, the defense was in man coverage and when the slot receiver went in motion the defensive back went with him and that left one defender on Courtney and that defender was playing 10 yards off the ball. On this particular screen the center and guard – I was playing guard -- pull out in front of the screen, which we did.  With only one easy block to make it was 40 yards downfield for a touchdown. After hitting the goal line I was still huffing and puffing and only then realized Courtney had been behind me the whole way downfield. As I finally caught my breath, I looked at him and asked, “Court, did you even break a sweat?”  Without missing a beat he looked at me and said, “Ricky, I didn’t even break a jog, but thanks for the trip.”

Courtney gave of himself more than anyone I know. He coached and mentored kids because he felt it was his responsibility. He would say, “I give because that’s what God wants me to do. I can’t worry whether or not I’ll receive in return.”

We still have those annual golf trips and Courtney is still part of them. We collect a mulligan fund each year. Everyone pays in a set amount at the beginning of the trip and then there is the option to buy more mulligans. All the money collected goes to the Courtney Walcott Endowed Memorial Scholarship at Hofstra University. 

Courtney, I miss you and think about you all the time. But, especially this week.