When Did It Become OK? Rather, How Do We Make Sure It’s NOT OK?

When did it become OK?

Last week, as I have done ritualistically every year, I attended Yom Kippur services (along with millions of people across the globe), and reflected upon my actions as a human being over the past year.  Had I been selfish? Short of patience with people who needed my attention? Inconsiderate of others?  I further reflected upon which of these attributes I wanted to leave in the past and what behaviors do I want to bring into the new year.  Caring for strangers? Giving to those in need? Thoughtfulness towards others?

And as I sat contemplating just how I can possibly help make the world a better place, the Rabbi walked down from the podium and into the congregation to deliver his sermon.  He began with a simple, yet powerful question … When did it become OK?

He then shared the following recent example of the up rise of anti-Semitism not only locally, but across the world:

  • A hotel in Switzerland posted signs advising Jewish guests that they had to shower before entering the hotel pool.  August, 2017.  Swiss Hotel Asks Jewish Guests to Shower Before Entering Pool
  • Social media comments on Facebook and other sites, following the arrest of 14 Lakewood, NJ residents for insurance fraud, were raw and hateful.  Comments, with names attached, on the Asbury Park Press site included “cockroaches”, and “the final solution”. July, 2017 Arrests Spark Anti Semitic Sentiment

He then talked about the increased efforts of white supremacists and white nationalists to recruit specifically at college campuses across the US:

  • In Virginia, on the campus of the University of Virginia, several hundred white supremacists and white nationalists marched in a parade chanting “White lives matter!” “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” August, 2017   Alt-Right Nazi Salute.

If you look at the picture of the marchers, they are out there, in plain sight, arms stretched in a Nazi salute.  When did white supremacists stop wearing hoods and hand out flyers with phone numbers and website addresses?  When did it become OK for these individuals to openly advertise their racist and hateful beliefs?

These events are not “one off” incidents but rather are  becoming weekly, if not daily, occurrences.  Even today’s news reports contained the story of hate letters sent to various New York businesses, including a Borough Park bakery, three law firms in Sheepshead Bay, the Harlem Business Alliance on Lenox Avenue, the Numero Uno jewelry store on East 116th Street, and a Starbucks on West 145th Street.  The letters contained an image of a swastika, and included the phrase “Make America Great Again”.

Even when incidents don’t appear to be driven by hate, and are hidden under the guise of “make America great again”, they are blatantly targeting innocent people of minority backgrounds and are creating a “humanitarian nightmare”:

  • A single mother of four, who has been living in the US for 24 years, is now seeking refuge in a Connecticut church to avoid deportation.  The mother, is the sole caretaker of her children and her eldest son, who is 21 years old, has cerebral palsy (her youngest daughter is 9 years old).  July, 2017.  Single Mother of 4 Seeks Refuge from Deportation

When did it become OK to separate families?  These are individuals who have been living, working, and paying taxes in this country and who have no criminal record.  When did our moral compass go awry?

As a product of immigrant parents who came to the US in the 1950s to escape religious persecution, I am an American … my kids and grandkids are American … we go to school here … we own homes here … we work here .. we pay taxes here … and we have built our lives here.  And yet, there is now a true and real concern that one day there will be knock on my door advising that I can’t keep my home because there is a new regulation stating that people whose parents weren’t born in America can’t own homes … or that my son will be sent home from school because of a new regulation that prohibits children with brown hair from attending public schools … or that my husband has been removed from his work because of new regulations that no longer allow Jews to work …

I have visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC several times, where the atrocities across Europe are remembered … people removed from their homes, from work, from school … sent to ghettos and then to concentration camps … and then to gas chambers.  All of the exhibits note that the story is being told so that people will remember and not allow history to repeat itself.

I also came across the very impactful poem, First They Came …, written by Martin Niemoller (a German Lutheran pastor).  The poem calls out the cowardice of German intellects following the Nazis’ rise to power, for not speaking out and deals with the themes of persecution, guilt, and responsibility:


First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

This is not just a “Jewish” issue  … this is not a Republican/Democrat issue … this is not a Black or Hispanic or Muslim issue … this is a HUMAN issue.  When did it become OK? The question now should be … How do we make sure this is not OK?  Speak out. Not because you’re Jewish or Muslim, not because you’re black or hispanic, not because you’re gay or transgendered … speak out because you’re human … because “your voice matters” … and because you don’t want there to not be anyone left to speak out for you.

And that’s my two cents … for whatever it’s worth.


What Do Yom Kippur and “The Giving Tree” Have in Common?

For Jews across the globe, the period between Rosh Hashana (or Beginning of the Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), is a time to reflect on our lives.  It’s a time to contemplate our behaviors from the past year and to move towards letting go of our negative behaviors to bring about positivity and light to our lives.  If we look at the word At-One-ment, we can take it to mean we are to be “at one” during this time with our higher selves and the creative light by elevating our souls and fulfilling our purpose of taking care of the souls around us.   It means seeing the good in others regardless of what is going on … it means opening your heart and sharing … it means doing something that will make the world a better place for someone else.  (To be honest, this concept holds true for anyone of any faith who takes the time to be “at one” and connects their spirit with a higher realm, shredding negativity to creating positivity for of those around them).

So, what’s the connection to “The Giving Tree” you may ask? Let me explain …

I first came across Shel Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” about 25 years ago in my daughter’s first grade elementary class.  The teacher had read it to the students just before Mother’s Day as a way to bring to light all the amazing things parents share with their kids, unselfishly, that may be taken for granted.  (To be honest, when I first heard the story, I thought it was the most depressing thing I had ever heard and actually cried (so did my daughter!)).  But the story had a profound impact on me and I’ve revisited the tale over the years.  Each time I read the story, I find deeper and more insightful meaning in it, and as I revisit it again this year, I again find it to be thoughtful and significant to the meaning of Yom Kippur.

For those of you who are not familiar with the story, it is the tale of a boy and a tree, the relationship they cultivate, and the cycle of life as the boy progresses to and through adulthood.  In the beginning of their relationship, the tree invites the small boy to take apples from its branches and to eat and enjoy the fruit.  It offers its branches to the boy so that he may swing and play and be provided with shade.  Throughout this period, the tree gets great pleasure out of providing and sharing with the boy and the boy, in his pure innocence, enjoys the tree.  As the boy gets older, the tree provides yet again for the boy, this time allowing him to the pick the apples and sell them in the city for money and using its wood to build a boat.  As the boy’s needs develop, he selfishly keeps coming back to the tree and the tree continues to provide generously and completely out of caring for the boy.  So now, the “spoiler alert” … at the end of the story, the boy (now an old man) limps up to the tree (which is now nothing more than a stump) and the tree tells him that it has provided its fruit, its branches, and its trunk and has nothing left to offer.  With that, the old man sits to rest on the tree’s stump, and the tree is happy knowing that it can still share and provide.

Connecting this back to Yom Kippur, I mentioned that this is a time for us to fulfill our soul’s purpose by seeing the good in others, regardless of what is going on, and in opening our hearts, sharing, and doing something that will make the world a better place for someone else.  So, this year, I challenge each of you, regardless of your faith, to be a “Giving Tree” and to share your branches with family, friends, and strangers alike and make a positive difference for someone.

And that’s Sheri’s Two Cents … for whatever it’s worth!


Having an Attitude of Gratitude

It’s been a while (OK, a really long while) since my last post.  My friends, both at work and at home have asked the same question that I’ve been asking myself … “Why did you stop writing?”

The most obvious answer was … minutes, hours, and days seem to pass away with ease.  Like most, I get ready for school and work in the morning, try to make sure the dog has gotten sufficient attention (which never seems to be enough), cook in the evening, do the laundry, homework/projects … need I go on? And then, try to make sure to fit in friends, family, and some “me” time.  Oh yes … and then there’s the little matter of inspiration.

Well, part of the “me” time recently has been a further embarking on my spiritual journey.  And, on this path to enlightenment, I found the profound impact that simple meditation can have on balancing life, renewing appreciation of everything, and on providing inspiration.  In fact, this post came to me as I was sitting on a plane with my son heading for Arizona for Spring Break.  Thoughts of my recent meditation session last Saturday night came racing through my head.  In that session, I found myself amongst 30 individuals, all on their own journeys, laying on my green yoga mat, eyes closed, covered in a tweed blanket, purple satin pillow under my head, lights dimmed, new age music playing in the background, and Donna, the studio owner, walking around and through us and setting the intention (or the focus of the evening’s meditation) on “Abundance”.  She slowly walked, and explained that we need to take the time to be thankful for all the things we have … you can imagine my surprise when she said “I’m thankful for my refrigerator … can you imagine having to get blocks of ice to keep your food cold?”  And then it clicked …

Visions came flying across my mind’s screen … everything from the obvious, such as I’m thankful for the love, support, friendship, and health, my family and my kids, to the less obvious, such as even though the dog still has accidents in the house and she howls in the morning waking us up at 5:30 am on a Saturday, I’m thankful for the unconditional love and protection of that mutt (my refrigerator didn’t initially come to mind but on second thought I am pretty thankful for that as well!)  I continued … the smell of the ocean, the feel of the sun on your face, tears, sneezes, the internet, Iphones, love, firepits, having propane during a storm …

And then I thought about my colleague who unexpectedly lost her mom a couple of weeks ago, and thought … abundance … be thankful for whatever time you have together.  Or my friend who lost her job, went back to school, and is now enjoying a fulfilling new career … abundance … be thankful for opportunities that may not always present themselves as such at first.  Or friends who have struggled with addiction … abundance … be thankful for available support networks, the courage to move past challenges, and the strength to get through each day.

Don’t let minutes, hours, and days pass away without thinking about the Abundance in your life.  The simple thought of appreciating the things in your life (even if it’s your refrigerator), will provide you with an “attitude of gratitude” and put things into perspective.

And that’s my two cents … for whatever it’s worth …

You Don’t Have to be a Father to be a “Father”

It’s been a short 18 months and yet it feels like forever.  I remember the nursing home and the 2 hour drive to get there, first of endless highway then of winding wooded roads.  I can still see my dad during his last months and remember his concern that his once thick, straight, jet black hair, now thinning and white, was getting too long.  That the nails on his once strong masculine hands, now too weak to even hold a fork, needed to be groomed.  I remember reaching for the hair  buzzer he had carried with him to his new room and standing behind him while he tried to keep upright in his wheelchair and respectfully and lovingly beginning to buzz his hair.  The hands that used to hold me to the ceiling as a child while he would dance around the room singing “que sera, sera” were now in my hands and those of my brother and sister.

Today as I sat by his graveside, eyes closed, hearing every bird, smelling each blade of grass, and feeling the wind on my skin, I know that the connection remains and that a big part of who I am today is because of him.

And it made me realize that it begs the question, especially on Father’s Day, what is it to be a father?  Anyone can biologically create, but it’s a select few who can truly be a dad.  It is those who have the ability to unconditionally love, to sit back and, while it may pain them,  watch us make mistakes so we can learn and then help to put the pieces back together when we fall.  They sacrifice time and pieces of themselves for us.  They wearily pick up the phone at 4:00 in morning because their daughter calls to say there’s a flood in the bathroom.  it’s coming to the rescue when they get a call to say their child is stuck on the highway with a newborn;it’s hearing, “Dad, I don’t know what to do”, and without giving the answer, he says something that puts you back on track.

But what about those who have lost a father, either due to illness or other circumstances?  Or to fathers who may have lost a child to an accident or  untimely sickness?  There are men in our lives, uncles, brothers, friends, who step in to provide the same loving guidance and sacrifice that many “natural” fathers don’t or can’t.  Without even knowing it, they have significant impact on a child’s life.  So, today, let’s take a minute to appreciate and thank all the men in our lives who have been a “father” and who continue to shape our lives and our selves.

And that’s my two cents for whatever it’s worth … Happy Father’s Day!

And Then, You Die …

In my twisted effort to ensure the on-going well being of my kids, I’ve historically instilled what I consider to be a “healthy” level of neurosis.  So, if they were fooling around in the kitchen, rather than yelling at them, the calm conversation might sound something like, “Stop tilting your chair.  If you don’t, the chair will fall, you’ll bang your head, you’ll develop a blood clot, and then … you’ll die.”  It worked in just about any situation … “Don’t put that in your mouth.  If you do, you’ll accidentally swallow it, then you’ll choke, and then … you’ll die.”  Or, “If you take those surfing lessons, you can get hit on the head with the surfboard, the waves will take you under, and then …” Well, you get the picture … no matter what you did, it ended with “and then you’ll die”.

Fast forward twenty five years (or so!)…

While driving to work earlier last week, I realized that I had forgotten my eye glasses at home.  I was running late (what a surprise!), and was targeted to arrive with two minutes to spare before my candidate arrived to the office for an interview.  With my “over 40 eyes” there was no way I was going to be able to read her resume, so I stopped into a local drug store to “quickly” grab a pair of generic magnifying glasses.  It took all of a minute to grab the first pair I came across and race to the register but as I got there with my one item, a women pulled in front of me with her cart.  She was in her late 70’s, early 80’s … lightly colored hair that was fading, white roots protruding from her scalp, and a “flat” spot from where she slept the previous night.  I then noticed that her cart was filled with what must have been 5 different brands of adult diapers and bed pads.  She took each item out of the cart and placed it on the counter, and with each item she turned to me and expressed her apologies for “taking so long” and thanking me for my patience.  In that moment I realized … that’s me in 30+ years.  That’s  all of us at some stage of our lives.  I’ll be standing at a Rite Aid counter, with my red lipstick and matted hair, buying Depends with coupons, counting the exact change out of my purse, and triple checking the receipt.  In that moment, being late didn’t matter … the candidate didn’t matter … What did matter was providing the woman with the respect and time she deserved in her advanced age.

As if this realization wasn’t enough, later that week my son and I were out to dinner at a diner (yes, breakfast for dinner is still the best!)  As we settled into our booth and moved the menus aside, Corey broke out his IPhone and opened a new app my daughter, Nikki, is working on.  We were under time pressure to beta test the game and provide her with stats as the launch is right around the corner.  As we played round after round, recording each success and each failure, I noticed the table next to us.  There were about 8 men, all in the 70-80 year age range.  Each of them sported a cap, covering their varying degrees of baldness, black thick rimmed glasses, and white sneakers. Each of them had a history … a life … whatever that life was.  Maybe they were married, maybe divorced, or maybe they were eternal bachelors.  Maybe they had kids and/or grand-kids.  Maybe they were Wall Street tycoons under pressure to buy and sell, ensuring millions for their clients, or doctors who slept with their phones next to them so they could save lives in the middle of the night.  Maybe they came from the production line, working multiple shifts just to make ends meet.  Yet, here they all were, at 9:30 on a Saturday night, laughing, sipping chicken noodle soup, and harmlessly “hitting’ on the waitress.  Again, the realization of “that’s me in 20+ years” came over me like a wave.  “I’ll be sitting at a table in the diner, and no one will know where I’ve come from, what I’ve done, whose lives I’ve touched.”  The realization of “we all wind up in the same place at some point …”

Some of us, however, won’t be “lucky” enough slowly waltz through Rite Aid looking for pads or to meet the guys at the diner for a Saturday night out.  We may be sleeping in our bed on a quiet night during the week, when a sink hole opens under our bedroom and the earth swallows us and all our possessions, as happened to the 35 year old man in Tampa earlier in March.

I was talking to my daughter about the lady at Rite Aid, the men at the diner, and the guy in Tampa when she said, “Ma, all I could think of when I heard about the guy in Tampa was ‘Sucks to be you.  I hope you had a good day yesterday.'”  And in that moment I knew what the point of all this was … “I hope you had a good day yesterday.

Whether you’re fortunate enough to slowly waltz through Rite Aid with matted hair, or meet up with the guys for a big Saturday night out at the diner, or not fortunate enough because you’ve gotten swallowed up by a sink hole or hit your head on the floor because you’ were fooling around tipping your chair … make sure you had a good day yesterday. Cherish each moment, show patience for others … it could be you one day.  Don’t get so caught up in the day-to-day stress that you don’t have time to kiss your spouse, hug your kid, connect with a friend, or take a minute to appreciate some aspect of your life because you may not have tomorrow.  And, make sure “you had a good day yesterday” … every day.

And that’s my two cents … for whatever it’s worth.

Seeking Performance Feedback … From Your Kids?

Working in Human Resources, I spend a significant part of my day coaching people.  It can be anyone from a peer to a subordinate … from a Lab Technician to the Division General Manager … and topics range from  simple career counselling to the more difficult performance discussions.  At any given point, there can be line in front of my office (I’ve often thought of putting up a sign that says “Take A Number”).

Looking to see what new  coaching tools were “out there”, I attended a Coaching Workshop through Inside Out Coaching earlier this week.  I spent several hours learning their technique and then partnering with other people to practice and apply what I learned.  I had the opportunity to act both as the “coach” as well as the “coachee” and I worked on actual issues (both personal and professional) that I’m dealing with at the moment.  After each practice session, we were asked to self-assess our coaching skills, and then ask our “coachees” to assess us as well. The assessments were based on 3 questions:  What worked well? Where did you get stuck? and What can you do differently next time?  The feedback was quite enlightening (especially when you compare how you think you did vs. how someone else thinks you did!)

On my drive home, I thought about all the opportunities I have to get feedback (solicited or not!)  At work there’s annual reviews, mid year career discussions, or more informal “how am I doing”  talks with my boss and clients.  Then, there’s my friends, who sometimes put feedback into one simple question … “what the hell were you thinking?!”.  That’s when the reality hit me … my most important job is being a mom, and yet I’ve never asked my kids “how am I doing?”

So, the next day I was in the car with my 9 year old son Chaz, driving to his karate class.  I said to him, “Chaz, I was thinking about what it means to be a mom.  I think it means providing for you, teaching you, being responsible for your emotional well being … (and the list went on).  If I asked you, on a scale of 1 to 10, how I’m doing, what would you say?”

I could see the questions written all over his face,  “Are you serious?” and “OK, how much trouble am I going to get into if I answer truthfully?”    I immediately continued and said, “it’s really important for me to know what I’m doing well, where I’m getting stuck, and what you think I could be doing better.  And, I need you to be honest.”

He turned and said, “Mom, you’re an 8.  You would have been a 10, but you don’t get me everything I want, like that last XBox game I asked for.”  I turned and smiled at him.  And then he continued, “You should just keep doing what you’re doing … you’re a great mom.  Oh, yeah … but you could stop burning the food when you cook.”  And he smiled back, left the car and walked into the dojo.

Watching him walk through the parking lot, feeling satisfied with my score of 8, and happy that he thinks I’m doing a good job, I realized that I still wanted more feedback.  I needed someone to tell me that I have to do something differently (aside from not burning dinner.).

So, the next night, while I was having dinner with my  21 year old son, Jay, I recapped the sessions I took through Inside Out coaching and my subsequent revelation that I’ve never asked how I’m doing as a mom.  I then asked him to help me with those same questions … what’s working well, where am I getting stuck, and what could I do better.  Again, I got the “Are you serious?” question (although this time it was a direct question and not simply written on his face!)  Seeing that I was, in fact, serious, he took a deep breath … and then the feedback came.  “OK.  If you really want to know, I would rate you an 8.  Now you want me to tell you why?”

“Of course, that was the whole purpose of the question”, I said, anxiously awaiting for him to continue.

“I think you’re doing a great job.  Where I think you get stuck and where you can do better is in your follow through. I think when you threaten Chaz that you’re going to punish him, you should follow through and not just threaten.  When you do that, he doesn’t think you’re serious and then he continues to do what he wants.”

“OK”, I said.  “Valid point.”

Then he continued …” When you want to say something, stop worrying about coming down strong on us.  You tend to “sugar coat” things.  If you need us to work on something or if you’re upset about something, say what you mean and don’t hold things in.  When you hold it in time after time, it builds up and then you tend to explode down the line.”

Again, I said “Another valid point.  I’ll really try and be aware when I’m doing these things so I can change it.”  And then with a truly satisfied feeling, and with the utmost appreciation for the reality check, I said, “Thanks for the feedback” and kissed the top of his head.

A few minutes later, while passing the salad, he asked, “So, how am I doing as a son?”  I just smiled, knowing that he realized the value in getting feedback.  So, I took the opportunity to let him know what he’s doing really well, and where I think he gets stuck and where he needs to do things a bit differently …

Feedback … it’s a gift.  And even more important when it comes from your kids …

And that’s my two cents … for whatever it’s worth!

Creating Memorable Moments

Holidays … family, gifts, sharing … drama, chaos, angst.  And in the midst of it all, finding those opportunities that create memorable moments.

This holiday break, my son-in-law, Derek, braved a day trip with me to NYC along with my 10 year old son Chaz, and my nephews, Evan and Jake, who are 10 and 12, respectively.  If you’ve ever ventured into the city with three “tween” boys, you know an adventure awaits … you’re just not sure where it’s going to turn up.

The day was planned as a shopping spree in NY, where they would each pick their favorite store and then share in the commercialization of the season, spending their holiday gift money in packed stores embellished with elaborate holiday window displays, while being pushed in through cramped aisles after waiting in line half an hour to get into the store in the first place (it actually was really fun and part of the experience.)  Scheduled stops included the NBA and Lego stores, FAO Schwarz, and the Tree at Rockefeller Center (for unscheduled bathroom breaks and hot chocolate!)

During our last stop at FAO Schwarz, Jake turned to me and asked if he could spend the “extra $20” he got at the NBA Store.  Logical question … “What extra $20?”, to which he explained the clerk had made an error in his favor when he purchased his orange Knicks basketball jersey.   Instead of $40 in change, he was given $60.  Knowing that Jake has a reputation for exaggerating a bit, I took the liberty of opening  his blue Velcro wallet and found that, in fact, he did have an extra $20.

Before I could say anything, Chaz said, “We need to go back to the NBA Store and give it back.”  Not surprising, Jake said, “No.  The guy made a mistake and I’m going to keep the $20.”

As we started our two mile walk back to the car, chilled under a sky of falling snow (not to mention the soaked shoes and jeans), Jake got a rendition of “the world according to Chaz” …  “If you don’t give it back, karma will come into play, and something bad will happen to you.”

Seeing the sheer panic on Jake’s face (and trying hard to avoid a trip back to the NBA store), Derek brilliantly noted that you can give the $20 to charity, which would be just as good as giving it back to the store.

“Do you really think so?” asked Jake.  “Yeah”, said Derek.  “Or you can buy that poor woman a sweatshirt” pointing to the frail lady sitting by the golden facade of the Trump building, shivering under a thin white blanket.

With renewed excited and a mission in play, we J-walked across Fifth Avenue and straight into the Gap store.  Finding the perfect $20 neon green hoodie that symbolized the transformation that spring will shortly bring to us all, we walked up to the cash register to pay.  “That will be $14.99”.   The clerk might as well have told Jake he just won the lottery.  “It’s only $14.99!  Can I keep the extra $5 bucks?”

“Of course you can.  Do you see how things play out?  You did something amazing for that poor lady and you still wound up $5 bucks ahead.”

At that, we wrapped up the hoodie in the blue plastic Gap bag and ventured back into the cold, wet evening, back across Fifth Avenue, this time with a bright white star ornament hanging several stories above us.  Jake approached the woman who appreciatively accepted the sweatshirt (and the plastic Gap bag!) and then we continued our journey back to our car, knowing that we made a difference for one person in a city of millions.  As we continued to walk, I realized how incredibly proud I was of them and knew that we created a memorable moment that all of us will keep for years to come.

So as you venture through your days, look for those opportunities to create memorable moments.   They’re there for the taking.

And that’s just my two cents (for whatever it’s worth!)

Words to Live By

Words.  We speak them every day.  But do we truly realize the impact our words  have on others?

I was recently on a business trip in Geneva and had met up with a colleague of mine (we’ll call him “Luc”) whom I hadn’t seen in 4 years.  Luc’s smart, funny, carefree, and someone that can make the most uptight person feel liberated. 

Anyway, the last time I had seen Luc, he had been working with me in the US, and was successfully living up the bachelor life on an international assignment.  We all lived vicariously through him … the travel, the multiple relationships, the risks, the political saviness at work … After a year in the US, he returned to Geneva and life continued (as it has a way of doing) … he got married, had a child, and was diagnosed this year with a bone condition that’s resulted in significant amount of surgeries/rehab for him.  On this side of the Atlantic, I lost my dad, got divorced, and had tried unsuccesfully to resign after a great deal of frustration at work (don’t even ask, but Luc talked me into staying.)

On my last night in Geneva, the group went out for dinner and when the time came to say goodbye, Luc hugged me, kissed my cheek, and hugged me again tighter this time saying “Sher … be happy.  As long as you have your family and your health, you have everything.”  Given what he had been through this past year, I looked at him and said, “That’s so true…”  He looked at me earnestly and said, “I have been living with those words for four years now … and I remind myself of them every day.  Do you know who gave me these words?”  I looked at him and had no idea who could have left him with words that had touched him so profoundly.  He said, “You.  You gave me these words before I left the US to go back to Geneva.”  

And as I left the restaurant, with tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t help but feel touched that I said something to someone that had such impact.  Enough so that he wanted to share them back with me.  At the same time, I realized that in this case, the words had a positive impact but how many times I have said something that may have had a negative impact?

Words.  We speak them every day.  And sometimes, people use those words to live by.  Make sure you chose them wisely.

(and that’s just my two cents … for whatever it’s worth!)



The Simple (Profound) Lesson Found in a Quarter

So, last week, my family and I embarked on the 10 Days of Awe, which is the intermediate period between the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

While for most, these ten days symbolize an annual judgement period for the upcoming year, with the “righteous” being inscribed to the book of life, the wicked being “blotted out of the book of life forever” (according to Wikipedia!), and repentance for the rest of us, for me, it’s been a time of reflection of the past year and a time to decide who I want to be and what changes I am going to make for the new year.

In order to do this, we participate in a ritual called “tashlikh” in which we cast away our “sins” (while providing a meal of bread for the local ducks) into a flowing body of water.  I’ve always asked my kids to describe out loud what “sins” they were throwing away (this included “I won’t hit my brother anymore” to my perfect mom actually telling me this year that she didn’t have any sins to throw away.)  And since I don’t ask them to do something that I wouldn’t do myself, I also share my “sins” which has typically included needing more patience (I’ve been working on this one for several years), and being more charitable.

Well, today, I was at the park with my 9 year old son, who found a quarter in the grass.  Excitedly, he said, “Mom! It’s “heads up!”  That means, I’m going to have 25 days of good luck, but I have to hold onto it!”  Meanwhile, I thought, “Wow! What a great opportunity to put into action my tashlikh of being more charitable” (which, of course translates into my whole family having to share in my tashlikh of charity!)

So, I said, “That’s awesome!  Do you know, tomorrow, when you go to your religious instructions class, and you give your weekly donation to charity, you can include that quarter and maybe both you and whoever gets the quarter will have good luck for 25 days!”  To my surprise, he said, “No. I think I’ll keep this one.” I unsuccessfully tried to explain that giving makes you feel great, etc. but I might as well have been saying “blah blah blah”.  And eventually, he walked away.

Not even five minutes later, I saw him looking around in the grass and I asked what he was doing.  He said that he had been playing with his “lucky” quarter and lost it (not so lucky, huh?).  After searching a bit, I found the quarter and said to him, “Isn’t it funny how Karma works? You didn’t want to share the quarter, and then you almost lost it.”  And then I walked away.

On the way home, my son handed me his lucky quarter and said, “Please make sure this gets into my donation bag for school tomorrow.”

The point of all this?  Some lessons come down strong … a great power is judging whether you live or die this year (oh, and by the way, whether it’s by fire or by stoning!), and others come down in something as simple as finding a quarter.  Look for the simple lessons … they’re there for the taking.

And that’s just my two cents (for whatever it’s worth!)








Peer Pressure? Apparently Adults Are Not Immune …

Last week, several major news programs reported on the injuries sustained by 21 people who had attended an event called “Unleash the Power Within”, hosted by motivational speaker Tony Robbins in San Francisco.  The individuals suffered burns while walking across coals that had been heated to between 1,200 to 2,000 degrees for approximately 10 feet.  Three of the injured people required treatment at hospitals.

So, be honest … some of you are thinking “What idiots!  Everyone knows, unless you’re a Guru from the Himalayas, if you walk on hot coals, you’re going to get burned!” (Duh!)   But having recently attended the “Unleash the Power Within” program myself, it is not difficult to understand what happened …

Last March, I had the opportunity to attend the 4 day event in NJ.  While I was familiar with Tony Robbins (more so from his ability to hypnotize Jack Black in the movie “Shallow Hal” than from having heard him speak personally), I would not have thought of spending a couple of thousand dollars to watch a motivational speaker in a room packed with 5,000 other people.  But, as it turns out, my sister invited me and so I went with no other expectation other than having a bonding experience with her.

And so we arrived at the convention hall which was literally packed with bodies from every walk of  life … entrepreneurs, recovering addicts, VPs, teens, people in their 70’s, and just about every ethnicity from across the globe.  People were chanting, shouting, dancing … and if you weren’t, your neighbors made sure you were.  It was not “acceptable” to attend as a spectator.  It also became apparent early on that we were surrounded by Tony Robbins “groupies” … people who attended several other programs with him and came back for more.  The energy level was so intense, it was almost frightful.

The next several hours were spent going through a variety of exercises designed to keep you focused and to teach you to deal with your fears … to know that you can overcome anything … with the climactic experience occurring post mid-night.  After sitting, standing, jumping on and off plastic folding chairs for over 12 hours, with no official bio or meal breaks, you would then leave the arena and enter the parking lot, where coals had been set to burn, and where you would officially join the breed of “Fire Walkers” . (That was the mantra towards the end of the night … “you will now be part of a unique group … the Fire Walkers” … Ooh! Aah!)

What was amazing to see was how one man could stand on stage for all those hours (again, keeping in mind the no meal or bio break!), and radiate this perception of complete invincibility, compelling 5,000 individuals that they could do anything, including walking on fire.   While I know it sounds a bit dramatic, I became lost in thought for a moment … I visualized Hitler standing at a podium convincing millions of people that the Aryan race was supreme, and Jim Jones stationed in the temple pavilion persuading almost a thousand people to take poison, committing “revolutionary suicide” in protest of an inhuman world.

I was snapped out of my delusions when my neighbor turned to me and said, “So, aren’t you psyched about the Fire Walk?”  Psyched? Not really the first word that came to my mind!  The hot coals were definitely not part of the anticipated bonding experience.  I explained that I had not yet decided.  Wow!  I might as well have had 3 heads growing from my neck and been speaking a mix of Russian and Chinese.  It was apparent that it was incomprehensible that I would contemplate not participating.  What was even more amazing (frightening?) was that I actually began to question myself … if 5,000 other people are ready to walk on coals because Tony Robbins says they can, then what’s my problem?  Maybe I’m not getting the point of the program … I’m supposed to be “dancing with my fears”, going along with them and not letting them control me.  Isn’t that the kool-aid we’ve been drinking all day? What’s wrong with me?  Maybe my sense of thinking is warped … and on, and on, and on …

But my “out” (or my reality check, as I prefer to think of it) came at the last possible moment.  As everyone was getting ready to disrobe their feet and roll up their pants, Tony shared a story signifying the importance of staying “in focus” even after crossing the coals.  He indicated that in a previous Fire Walk, a person who had prepared properly, and who had actually made it across the hot coals, was severely burned by a coal that had stuck to the bottom of their foot.  At that point, “wimping out” was my decision.  And as 4,998 people headed for the exit (my sister stayed with me), they shook their heads in “disapproval” of my lack of ability to deal with my fears (OK, so not all of them shook their heads, but it did feel like I was the “lone man” standing at that moment.)

After reading the news reports last week all I kept thinking was that wimping out was probably not such a bad idea, but I also understood why those people had tried to go through with the Fire Walk.

So what’s the point of all this?  Don’t succumb to peer pressure … do what’s right for you … if it’s taking the risk of getting burned, then do it … if it’s wimping out … that’s fine too.  But do it because it’s right for you and not because you feel like you “have to” (even if there are 5,000 people around you!).

And that’s my two cents (for whatever it’s worth).