Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No One Left To Remember Her

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I thought it would be appropriate to share what I read at my son Alec's 2007 bris -- when we officially gave him his Hebrew name. 

May all those who perished rest in peace. And may all of us who remain honor their memories.

Alec’s second name, Zachariah, is in honor of my mother’s first cousin, Bronia J├Ąger.

Some of you already know that my brother Daniel wrote a book called The Lost last year that tracked his round-the-world search to find out what happened to our great uncle Shmiel’s family, who were lost during the Holocaust in my family’s home town of Bolechow, Poland.

Bronia was the youngest of Shmiel’s four daughters and was only 12 or 13 when she died during a roundup at the Bolechow town hall on September 3, 1942. We know, sadly, that she died alone, without her sisters or parents.

Bronia’s older sisters’ stories are told quite vividly in the book, and there are survivors still living who actually knew them well and remember them. We chose to honor Bronia precisely because so little was known about her. Her older sisters’ friends remembered only that she was a sweet, dreamy, polite little girl still young enough to be preoccupied with her toys.

Bronia would have been a woman of 78 this year, and should have had a multitude of family – children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren -- to honor her in this way. We name Alec for Bronia as a mitzvah, a commandment, because there is no one left to remember her. We give him the name Zachariah, meaning “God has remembered” so that her innocent short life is never forgotten. And in doing so we hope by extension to remember so many children like her.

But we want this to be a hopeful gesture, not a morbid or sad one. Bronia represents pure, unfulfilled potential and in naming Alec for her, we hope that he may take advantage of all the opportunities that she was unable to. We hope that he grows up in a world that never knows the hatred and suffering that she had to. We hope that he uses and cherishes every chance presented to him to learn, to laugh, and to love. We hope that he has every opportunity to live life to the very fullest, and to live his life exactly as he chooses, and that he is always mindful what a precious gift that is.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Roundup

Hello? Is this thing on?

I realized the other day that I have become so reliant on sharing my work on Facebook and Twitter that I no longer have any central repository.

So herewith a few of the things I've been working on in the last couple of months.

  • An investigative story for Medium, showing that a viral video purporting to tell the story of a young Canadian woman dying of a brain tumor was a hoax. 

Amanda, @TrappedAtMyDesk on Twitter, Dies, Age Unknown

You can read Jezebel's take on my story here and Boing Boing's here.
  • A piece for Dame Magazine, about the unexpected death of the beloved therapist who changed -- and saved -- my life. "Losing My Lifeline."
  • My February, 2014 Baltimore Style column, about how my son stands especially tall. Metaphorically speaking. "Small Packages."
  • My January, 2014 Baltimore Style column, about how a fashion makeover brought a fresh perspective. "Do Clothes Make the Mom?"

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Year Anniversary of Newtown: A Mother's Plea

This is the text of an open letter I read during a Huffington Post Live segment recorded on 12/13/13.

I spent the evening of December 14, 2012 nestled under a dinosaur comforter, enfolded in the arms of my five-year-old son.

Like countless American parents, the unthinkable events at Sandy Hook Elementary school that morning drew me to my children with a visceral, almost primal fierceness. I hungrily gathered them up at school that afternoon, grateful beyond words for the mere sight of them, with their utterly ordinary jumble of backpacks and cockeyed art projects and muddy Velcro sneakers. That night, I crawled into bed with my kindergartener, reassured that for those hours he laid next to me, I knew he was safe from harm.

When I woke up the next morning, still dazed and horrified, I took a small measure of comfort in knowing that things would finally have to change. That surely the mass murder of 20 first graders – first graders! – and six educators in an American public elementary school in 2012 would shock everyone into action. Surely this would force us to tamp down the lunacy that is our obsession with guns. Who could possibly argue that we didn’t need to substantially overhaul our gun laws after a tragedy of this proportion?

And yet, here we are, a year and more than 11,000 gun deaths later.

Nothing has been done at the federal level to stop Americans from purchasing weapons meant to be used by soldiers and turning them on their fellow citizens in movie theaters and grocery store parking lots and office buildings and first grade classrooms.

Nothing has been done at the federal level to change the fact that 40% of gun sales -- some six million guns every year -- are still not subject to background checks.

I am not a public policy expert. I am not a politician. I am not a constitutional scholar. I am a mother, endowed with old-fashioned common sense and a respect for the sanctity of human life.

And I am here, on behalf of my two children, unafraid to say that the gun lobby emperor has no clothes.

You simply cannot look me in the eye and tell me that an America where a person can legally purchase an assault weapon and hunt people like animals is the America the framers of the Constitution intended when they wrote the 2nd amendment. You cannot tell me that a person’s right to own such a weapon trumps my children’s right not to be murdered in their classrooms with one. You cannot tell me that the wholesale slaughter of six and seven year olds is a necessary price for our freedoms. And I refuse to be cowed into thinking even for a moment that there are any shades of grey to that argument. To do so is sheer madness.

On December 14, 2012, we failed 20 precious American children.

In the year of inaction since, and every day we do not take steps to pass comprehensive gun control laws, we fail every single American child.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jay Mendelsohn, 1929-2012

Below is the text of the eulogy I gave at my father's funeral on April 9, 2012. Rest in peace, Dad.

In January of this year, there was much talk in the news about a new app called “If I Die,” which allows users to save a final statement to be posted on Facebook in the event of their death. And while as far as we know, my father did not subscribe to this service, I find it very fitting that his last Facebook status, posted four days before he fell ill, reads simply, “GO GIANTS.” The only thing more fitting, of course, would be for it to have read “Let’s Go Mets,” as close to a religious mantra as my father ever had.
My father’s love of sports, and his fierce, abiding loyalty to the teams he followed, was apparent to anyone who had even the most fleeting of interactions with him. One of my favorite Dad memories of all time is of calling him one summer day many years ago. “How are you doing, Dad?” I asked. He sighed and said, “These west coast trips are killing me.” My husband Greg once innocently inquired what television shows my father liked to watch. He famously replied: “I watch two series. One is called the Mets. And one is called the Knicks.” When I was in college, my father sent me a George Will column that begins, “It has been said that baseball is to the United States what revolutions are to Latin America, a safety valve for letting off steam. I think baseball is more serious than any Latin American revolution. But then I am a serious fan.” My father had written “My sentiments exactly” at the top of the page. And I still think that of all my professional accomplishments in journalism, my father was proudest of the fact that when I was 11, I got to interview Lee Mazzilli in the Mets’ dugout for the kids’ section of the newspaper.
The seriousness of my father’s passion for the game became quite clear to me when I was 23 and went through a particularly difficult breakup. My mother would call often and talk to me at great length about what had happened and how I was doing and how I was feeling and what I needed. My unsentimental father never once felt comfortable actually discussing the specifics of the situation. Not once. Instead he called me up and told me very matter-of-factly that he had bought me a round trip ticket to Florida for spring training. Because in my Dad’s mental calculus, there was no emotional crisis that watching some Mets baseball couldn’t cure.
I bring this up not as an idle or superficial observation. I think my Dad’s love of sports, and particularly his love of baseball, spoke deeply to who he was as a person. He always believed that the lessons of baseball were those of life. Baseball is of course a game of numbers and stats, which he reveled in. It’s a cerebral game, and he was nothing if not a cerebral guy. It’s a game where smarts often trump brawn. It’s a slow, unpretentious, even laborious game, where the quick, showy payoffs take a back seat to the long, deliberate build.  And that’s who my Dad was.
Even the kind of baseball fan my father was was telling. He was a Mets fan because, he liked to tell me, the Yankees were a rich man’s team. They won too much, he always said. And that wasn’t the point. He was the kind of fan who would sometimes watch the nationally broadcast Mets games with the volume turned off so he could listen to the old school radio commentary rather than the slick network suits. He liked to sit in the upper deck nosebleed seats, the kind you used to be able to walk up and buy the day of the game, rather than expensive box seats – just the way he preferred the low rent, basic Chinese take out from the greasy spoon in the Old Bethpage shopping center to the fancy, high end stuff from Woodbury Commons, and the way he cared deeply about books and music and ideas and not at all about clothes or fancy cars or celebrities. Substance was his middle name.
My father was a man of great integrity. Perhaps more than anybody I know, he had a deeply ingrained sense of rightness, an unswerving dedication to doing what he felt was the right thing, even when it was not always easy or fun. That meant joining the Army so he could go to college where he wanted. It meant that after his dear friend Bob McGill died suddenly, my father made sure to look after Bob’s widow, Ann, who was disabled. It meant forcing all his kids to learn to play musical instruments, and in my case, logging thousands of miles and hours driving me to countless lessons and rehearsals and concerts. It meant establishing a scholarship for promising kids at his blighted junior high school in the Bronx, and later, one for students at Hofstra University, where he taught. He always did those things quietly, with no fanfare or ego. He did them simply because he felt they were the right thing to do.
And that’s just how my Dad felt about those sad sack Mets in the late 70s and early 80s, when I began to take an interest. He taught his only daughter to love that terrible team, even after we watched them lose game after game after embarrassing game. Shea Stadium was habitually so empty we used to joke that if you tipped the ushers well enough, they’d let you play third base, but he still taught me to believe in and support that team no matter what, simply because they were our team and it was the right thing to do.
And I did believe. So hard that one October evening during my freshman year of college, I watched Jesse Orosco’s hands go up over his head in triumph as the Mets beat the Red Sox in the World Series. The first thing I did – or actually the third, after bursting into tears and swigging some champagne – was to call my father. Because this was the stuff that families were made of.
I have my own family now. A husband with whom I am delighted my father could share his late-in-life passion for a new sport: golf. And two little boys adored by their grandfather who are growing up Orioles fans in their native Baltimore, but who already like to keep tabs on the Mets, because they know they’re “Grandpa’s team.”
My father is, sadly, now gone. No more mornings talking sports and politics with the regular crew at Town Bagel. No more New York Times crossword puzzles in pen. Or annual trips to the Langer Invitational Golf Tournament, or nights staying up late watching the Mets play those West Coast series that tired him out. But I hope he will live on in the example he set for my brothers and me, and for all of our children. He was so very proud of all of them. I can’t stop thinking about the jacket he was wearing the day he had his stroke. Folded up in the pocket was a picture of my 8-year-old niece Alexandra in her ice hockey gear; he had brought it with him that day to show his old Grumman friends over lunch.
I hope my boys share their grandfather’s deep and abiding love for baseball, and that I can spend countless summer days and nights watching and going to games with them just the way my father and I did. But more importantly, I hope they share all the qualities that fueled their grandfather’s love of baseball: his rigorous intellect. His loyalty. His fairness and steadiness. His dedication and persistence. His high standards and discipline. His ability to take pleasure in the simple things. His understanding that the right path is not always the easy one.
Thank you for all that you were, Dad. And Let’s Go Mets.

Some have asked if there is some way to honor my Dad's memory. Donations can be made to the scholarship fund he established at Hofstra University, where he taught after his retirement from Grumman, to help promising students who have had to overcome adversity.
and mailed to: 

Friday, November 11, 2011

It Goes to Eleven

Anyone who was reading this blog about this time last year (which was almost the last time I posted. Oops?) may recall that I'm a big fan of birthdays. Particularly my birthday.

Which is -- ahem -- today. And not only is it 11/11, but of course this year it's 11/11/11, making it even more super special cool.

I share my birthday with Fyodor Dostoevsky, Kurt Vonnegut, Leonardo DiCaprio, Calista Flockhart, Demi Moore, Carson Kressley and Stanley Tucci. Oh, and Jessica Sierra! From American Idol Season Four! An impressive crew, no?

Today also would have been the fourth birthday of someone very special: a beautiful little girl named Madeline Spohr, who died suddenly in April of 2009 from a respiratory infection -- a consequence of her having been born eleven weeks early. Her parents have established a wonderful charity called Friends of Maddie that supports families with preemies in the NICU.

The Spohrs have recently recorded a sweet song that Maddie's dad wrote and are making it available for download --for just .99! -- with all the proceeds going to Friends of Maddie. Read more about the project here. If you would consider spending 99 cents for a really good cause, and/or making a larger donation to Friends of Maddie, it would totally make my day. And more importantly, it will make the day of a family with a new baby going through a difficult time. And that would be really super special cool.

Thanks, friends!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dude, Where's My Car?

A week ago today I woke up to discover that we had been (involuntarily) relieved of my trusty ten-year old Volvo station wagon. The previous evening, there had been a rash of car break-ins throughout our neighborhood, and some upstanding individual had managed to make off with our family car, strewn with granola bar wrappers, stuffed with the kids' library books and with their beloved Bop It in tow. I've been joking that justice will be served when the thief sees what's under the carseats, but that joke is wearing thin. We want our car back.

I'm telling you this because I just read this story, about a woman in Boulder, CO whose stolen bike was recovered a mere four hours after she posted about it on Twitter and her blog. It can happen, and I'm confident that our car can be found in much the same way.

Because the car didn't just disappear.

It's somewhere in Baltimore right this very second. We suspect, based on the pattern of other thefts from our neighborhood, that it is somewhere in the vicinity of the Reisterstown Road Plaza, in the neighborhood that stretches towards the intersection of Park Heights and Seven Mile Lane. (When our other car was stolen in '07, my husband had the unbelievable good -- or bad -- luck to see the thief driving our stolen car to run errands at the Plaza Home Depot. A chase ensued, but the thief managed to get away, only to abandon our car a week later.)

So, have you seen our silver 2001 Volvo V-70 wagon?

  • The license plate starts 8AD.
  • If the driver is using a blinker, the right one is fast blinking due to a burned out bulb.
  • There's a campaign '08 bumper sticker on the left rear bumper.
If you spot my car being driven in Baltimore, or see it abandoned somewhere, please call the police. And anything you can do to spread the word would be so appreciated. Because my three year old would really like his favorite Thomas the Tank Engine umbrella back. And his mother would like to be able to teach him that sometimes the good guys win.

Thank you.

Update 6/2/11: Due to an error on the part of the police dispatcher, the car was not reported stolen -- as in, entered into the database -- till yesterday. What this means for its possible recovery, we're not sure. But we're, uh, not very happy about it. Next time, I'm calling Bunk and McNulty.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Did Someone Say "3 Backyards"?

So it got to the point this spring that I was talking about my brother's latest film so much on Twitter that a follower in North Carolina -- a place that the film has yet to play -- actually dreamed about seeing it. I guess I'm not a bad publicist, huh?

But it occurs to me that while I was quite wrapped up in talking about the film on Twitter and Facebook (Disclosure: I actually run the social media for the film) that I hadn't said a word about it here since this post from last year.

And much has happened since Eric was named Best Director at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, making him the only person in history to do that twice. (Sorry. I had to get that in there.)

Namely, the film was released! In actual theaters! With popcorn! My brother, whom I adore, if that isn't totally obvious, was profiled in the Arts and Leisure Section, among many other places.

And major critics like those in The New York Times and the New Yorker really liked the film. No, no, they really liked it. They used words like "exquisite" and "American independent filmmaking at its best."

But the good news is it's not too late! 3 Backyards continues to play arthouse theaters around the country, with more bookings continually being added. Check this list to see if it's coming to you. You can also buy 3 Backyards on DVD beginning 6/28. Haven't seen the trailer? Well, it's your lucky day!

Which brings me to something fun.

Right after I saw 3 Backyards at Sundance last year, I told Eric it reminded me of a quirky little film called "Winter of the Witch" that we used to watch in elementary school, a film we always just called "the happy pancake movie."

But oddly enough, after seeing the film's New York premiere, actor Stephen Wallem, who co-stars with Eric's best friend Edie Falco on Nurse Jackie, told Eric that 3 Backyards reminded him of ... the happy pancake movie.

Which got me thinking about the happy pancake movie and why it stayed with so many people.

Which led me to write a story about the happy pancake movie and why it stayed with so many people.

A story that appears in this Sunday's New York Times. Hope you like it.

And here's your chance to enjoy 22 minutes of blissful Me-generation nostalgia.

Are you one of the witch faithful? Please let me know!