When The Season Offers Challenges

“There will be times when standing alone feels too hard, too scary, and we’ll doubt our ability to make our way through the uncertainty. Someone, somewhere, will say, ‘Don’t do it. You don’t have what it takes to survive the wilderness.’ This is when you reach deep into your wild heart and remind yourself, ‘I am the wilderness.’” – Brené Brown

English Teacher Humor

This is the tee shirt I wear in December. Maybe I am desperate for some levity in these grim times in our national life so have a low bar, but this sentence cracks me up. Doesn’t take much.

Questioning As Learning Strategy And Survival Skill

The White House has announced that it is banning the asking of follow-up questions at Presidential news conferences. 

As we educators work to develop our students’ skills in asking questions because we know that asking multi-layered, deep questions is a powerful learning strategy for them and allows them excellent opportunities in critical thinking, the President of the United States prohibits exactly the kind of questions we are teaching our students to form and to shape on their own.

Follow-up questions are at the heart of all innovative endeavors in the workplace and are at the foundation of a functioning democracy. We educators must redouble our efforts with our students because now it is even more important that students learn to question one another and to question what they read than it has been. Questioning is the survival skill of our democracy.

Hey, Talking Heads, Listen Up.

Words matter. You know that as journalists and newscasters.

So please:

1. Do not use the word “caravan”. Say what that group really is. They are women, men, and children seeking political asylum from violence and threats of death

The word “caravan” is defined as group of Middle Easterners crossing through a desert. So when the asylum seekers are called a caravan, not only does it stoke fear of brown people coming from the South of the border but taps into Islamophobia as well.

2. When the President declared in a speech from the White House that the caravan is ” marching” towards us, correct that statement with words and/or photos showing that the asylum seekers are not “marching”. They are holding onto one another, walking or hobbling, and carrying their children for mile after mile. They are unarmed and hungry.

3. When the President goes on to claim that he understands women and speaks for women in this country and then articulates what women fear from the asylum seekers, laugh your heads off. When you stop laughing, show on the screen the list of women accusing him of assault and the list of women he has publicly humiliated with his savage tongue.

And maybe, after a commercial break, show a clip of an Obama or Biden rally where they speak the truth about the asylum seekers. Just for a contrast.

Our Hearts Are With You In Pittsburgh


A Prayer for the Dead of Tree of Life Congregation

   by Rabbi Naomi Levy

We are devastated, God,
Our hearts are breaking
In this time of shock and mourning.
The loss is overwhelming.
Send comfort and strength, God,
To grieving family members.
Send healing to the injured,
Send strength and wisdom
to their doctors and nurses.
Bless the courageous police officers who risked their lives
To protect innocent lives.

Shield us from despair, God,
Ease our pain.
Let our fears give way to hope.
Lead us to join together as a nation
To put an end to anti-Semitism,
An end to hatred,
An end to gun violence.

Teach us, God, to honor the souls we have lost
By raising our hands
and voices together
In the cause of peace.
Because Torah is a Tree of Life
And all its paths are peaceful.

Work through us, God.
Turn our helplessness into action.
Teach us to believe that we can
rise up from this tragedy
And banish the hate
that is tearing our world apart.
We must never be indifferent
to the plight of any who suffer.
We must learn to care,
To open our hearts
and open our hands.
Innocent blood is calling out to us.

God of the brokenhearted,
God of the living, God of the dead,
Gather the souls of the victims
Into Your eternal shelter.
Let them find peace
in Your presence, God.
Their lives have ended
But their lights
can never be extinguished.
May they shine on us always
And illuminate our way.


Note: Naomi Levy was in the first class of women at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the first female Conservative rabbi to lead a congregation on the West Coast. Her path to becoming a rabbi began when she was 15 and experienced the tragedy of her father being killed in an armed robbery on a Brooklyn street as he walked home. She wrote the book, To Begin Again, which was the only book that spoke to me when I suffered the sudden death of loved one. May this poem reach those in Pittsburgh and be of help to any of you suffering now.

The Message For The 2018 Election

I am very disappointed in what the Democrats are doing to regain the House and Senate as well as in their efforts to claim some governorships. As the only political party that can return sanity to our current national life, they don’t have a big enough message.  I finally realized what that message should be when I read David Brooks’ analysis of the 2018 campaign season recently in The New York Times.

He critiques the Democratic Party for being inadequate to the current moment because it offers no counter-narrative to the immorality of Trump’s behavior and no unifying argument against ethnic nationalism.

I get that the slogan “Make America Great Again” attracts some people. I can buy that many Americans feel threatened by cultural changes and economic insecurity and feel that the solution to their fears is to bring back the past, whether that past ever really existed or not.  It is true that we are living in an oligarchy in which those with the most money, those in the top 1%, prosper, and the rest of us struggle. It is true that our neighbors and fellow citizens are increasingly people of color. It is true that racial and ethnic diversity is becoming the fabric of our nation. It is true that a married couple is not limited to being a man and a woman. It is true that more of our neighbors are doing their grocery shopping on Sunday rather than going to church. So the past looks simpler and neater to many people.

However, that past, at its best, was based on principles of kindness and fairness. In that past, we welcomed strangers and made them feel at home in our neighborhoods. We would never publicly make fun of people and scream “lock her up” as a solution to a disagreement. We wouldn’t call people names and let our children watch us doing it. We valued the truth and worked to find out the facts before making a decision or taking a side. We respected the commitments we made to the person we married and didn’t take lightly marital infidelity. We stood for something.

Those values are what the Democratic Party should put up next to the values espoused at Trump rallies. The message of the Democratic Party candidates should be: LET’S MOVE THE COUNTRY FORWARD WITH THE BEST VALUES OF THE PAST.

It is not the best of our past that Trump heralds and to what he wants us to return. He offers a past that is racist, closed, and full of fear.

It is up to the Democratic Party to remind the country that in this election of 2018, it is to the values of kindness, inclusion, moral leadership, honesty, and commitment that we must return. And we can’t return to them by voting for Republicans. We can return to them only by voting for those who oppose lying, name-calling, unkindness, unfaithfulness and racism. We must vote Democratic as our best hope for the present and as our only hope for our children’s future.