Sunday, August 31, 2014

Confessions of an Addict

Hello. My name is Murray and I am an addict.

I bite my nails. Actually, just one nail. The one on my left pinky.

I used to bite all my nails. For the first 28 years of my life I was a constant nail biter. My parents threatened to put hot peppers on my nails to discourage the habit. Even after reaching adulthood, even after marriage, I persisted in the pernicious practice.

But the first day on the job at the company where I would work for the next 32 years, I stopped cold turkey. I had gone to lunch with a few of my new co-workers and felt self-conscious they would think lesser of me if they saw my fingers. It’s now 37 years later, and only in the last several weeks has my smallest digit become tasty again.

That’s not quite right. I don’t have a craving for fingernail. I started biting the nail again because I didn’t have my trusty nail clipper with me and I needed to trim it. One bite led to another and before I knew it I had eaten away half my nail. Each time the nail begins to grow back I wind up picking at it and eating it again. I’ve tried wrapping it in band-aids but they fall off, exposing the delicate, delectable nail.

If this all sounds crazy, it is. It’s an addiction, after all, with no equivalent of Alcoholics Anonymous, Odyssey House or 12-step program to counsel me through my compulsion, though I did just google Nail Biters Anonymous and sure enough, other desperate souls have publicly humiliated themselves by revealing their nasty habit. 

I’m confident one of these days I will overcome it. I did, after all, do it once before, for all 10 digits. Until then, if you see me, please don’t stare at my left pinky.

There’s Hope for America: Gilda and I went to Croton Point Park to sit along the Hudson River Saturday afternoon. There was a large gathering of Pakistani families, many of the women dressed in traditional garb. 

A hundred yards away from their parents, some two dozen boys played football. No, I do not mean football as Pakistanis normally call soccer. I mean American football. They were playing an intense game of two-hand touch football.

Take that, those of you who predict soccer will supplant the great American sport.

No Lines: One of the pleasures of retirement is my ability to shop stores such as Costco during the week when lines are shorter than on weekends. But two weeks ago, as we were making our way up to Maine for a week-long family vacation, Gilda and I had to stop at the Nashua, NH, Costco Saturday afternoon during peak shopping hours to stock up on supplies. 

The parking lot was pretty full, yet when the time came to check out, we were pleasantly surprised to find two registers completely devoid of customers and just one or two shoppers deep at the other lanes. It was obvious we were not in Westchester.

Freak of Nature: My ophthalmologist basically told me I am a freak of nature. He had no explanation as to why my long distance vision is as good without glasses as with corrective lenses, as I reported to you in mid-July.

He did caution me, however, that if a policeman stopped me I better have my eyeglasses handy.

Another Sign of Our Enlightened Time: Back at Costco in New Rochelle I read the following on a Puma long sleeved, light weight Tee Shirt care label: “Wash this when dirty.” 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

My Wife Wants to Sleep with a TV Star

My wife wants to sleep with a TV star. 


Last week Gilda saw an article about an open casting call for extras for two television shows to be filmed in Westchester in the fall. After not acting like a stage mother with our daughter when Ellie was a teenager, despite Ellie clearly having more talent and stage presence than I, Gilda encouraged me to strut my stuff at the “auditions” that would be held August 26 at Manhattanville College in Purchase.

Now, I am very comfortable delivering speeches even to an audience of a thousand or more. But the last time I performed on stage was 1962, when I was 13 and cast as Rusty Charlie in a summer camp production of Guys and Dolls. I was one of a trio singing the opening "Fugue for Tinhorns." I didn’t have a single piece of spoken dialogue. But this open casting call was for extras, and extras rarely have speaking parts, so the idea of being on TV intrigued me.

The casting call was scheduled for 1 to 4 pm. As I had to be in Manhattan to pick up Gilda at work at 4, I arrived at the college around 12:15 to be part of the first wave of wannabes. The guard at the entrance gave me a sardonic smile when I asked where the auditions were being held. It was a smile you see in all those old Dick Powell-Ruby Keeler 1930s movies about stage door hopefuls trying to bluster their way past the guard onto a Broadway stage.

If my time at the auditions was typical, hundreds, make that thousands, of would-be stars showed up, most of them not yet possessed of a college degree. Which was okay, since the casting agents described not two but three shows they were seeking to populate. 

For CBS’s Members Only, they needed extras to play the staff and members of a private country club. HBO had them looking for background actors to be “working and middle class types of all ethnicities” in Show Me a Hero, a six-hour mini-series about the court-ordered construction of low income housing in Yonkers in the late 1980s. The cast includes Oscar Isaac, Winona Ryder, Alfred Molina and Catherine Keener. The third project is an Amazon pilot, Mozart in the Jungle, based on a memoir of the same name by Blair Tindall.

In groups of around 200, we were ushered into and seated in a large hall where we were told about the three shows, asked to fill out a one-page questionnaire, and had two digital pictures taken. They did not interview anyone. 

The form included some basic questions such as height and weight. Asked for my age within a five year range, I did what many actors do. I lied. I opted to shave three years off my 65. 

They wanted to know what type of car we drove and if we had any skills, such as playing golf and tennis. I wrote I was a slightly above average tennis player (which only my winter tennis buddies may dispute). They also wanted to know about our wardrobe at home, especially if we had any clothing typical of the 1980s. As most of the candidates were barely in their twenties it was doubtful any of them had such outfits, but I still have some suits from that era hanging in my closet. 

Most everyone in my group of 200 came dressed casually. It was, after all, in the mid 80s Tuesday. But one twenty-something girl stood out. Above her high heels, she wore a short, tight fitting, plunging neckline black dress enhanced by a severe push-up bra that revealed, depending on your point of view, either healthy genes or great plastic surgery. Either way, two middle-aged women sitting behind me couldn’t stop talking about her as she posed for her pictures.

“Oh, she’s bending over and they’re popping out,” said one, to which the other replied, “She’s actually pushing them out.”

To hear veteran extras talk about the work, it’s a day-long drag waiting around hours for a few minutes of being background scenery. We were told it’s a full day’s work, usually about 11 hours. And you won’t know if you’re needed until the day before shooting.

I left the “audition” at 1:35, time enough to easily get back to my temporary day job chauffering Gilda to and from work. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

The "Softer" Side of Facebook, Islam, Diana's Baths and Church Signs

Facebook Taught Me Something Today, thanks to my cousin Steve, who posted a video on the proper way to use Reynolds Wrap. To keep the aluminum foil from rolling out of the box, you are supposed to punch in two pre-set “soft” points in the ends of the carton. Who knew!?!

Action, Not Words, Needed: There’s been lots of talk lately about the excesses of ISIS, the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq that is giving Islam a bad name, as if the religion already didn’t suffer from bad press given tumult (how’s that for a “soft” word on internecine bloodbaths) in Libya, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and barbarism in other parts of the world, including sub-Saharan Africa. 

Finally, Islamic leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, among others, are condemning the terror tactics of ISIS, saying they do not represent the true values of their faith. But let’s be honest—for The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheik, to declare the group Islam’s No. 1 enemy, is a bit disingenuous given his country’s strong support and export of the austere Wahhabi brand of Islam that has fomented much of the reactionary thinking among Muslim extremists. Moreover, Egypt’s merciless crackdown on The Muslim Brotherhood demonstrates again that an iron fist is the most effective governing tool across the sands of Arabia. Nothing “soft” in Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s approach. 

We are told that the rank and file Muslim cherishes peace. Assuming that is correct, it is time for the Silent Majority of Muslims, whether they be Sunni or Shia, to stand up and march for peace, as the war weary populaces of Northern Ireland and Argentina did to end the terror in their midst. 

It is painful to observe the deaths of non-combatants in Gaza from justified retaliation against a fringe group that wants to eradicate the state of Israel and its citizens, that fights behind a shield of civilians it is willing to sacrifice. If many of the 1.8 million Gazans want peace, let them stand up and march for it. Risky? No doubt. But far better to take action for peace than to give over one’s future to Hamas. Instead of preaching hate during Friday’s services, imams should rally the masses to march for peace. 

Not So Soft Landing: Our Forseter Family went on vacation to Bridgton, Maine, last week. A fine time was had by all, even by our matriarch who broke a not so soft fall on a boulder at Diana’s Baths waterfall in Bartlett, NH, and fractured her left wrist in two places. 

For those who aren’t aware, Gilda is a leftie, which means for the next four to six weeks I will be chauffering her to and from work (arising at 6 am for the drive to Manhattan is not my idea of the best way to enjoy retirement. Nor is the return trip during the evening rush hour a highlight of my day). 

I’m also handling all the cooking chores (I already do most of the shopping, laundry and vacuuming). Tonight’s dinner was barley, fresh cauliflower and what my friends Jane and Ken F. call “Murray’s fish.” It’s panko breaded frozen tilapia (bought at Costco). I recommended it to Jane a few months back when our trips to Costco coincided and they’ve been enjoying it ever since. 

Another friend, Ken G., sometimes orders my preferred drink, vodka on the rocks with a twist and just a splash of cranberry juice, and calls it a “Murray,” so I’m well on my way to compiling the Murray Handbook of Epicurean Delights. 

Religious Soft Sell: Posted outside a church in Lewiston, Maine: 
“You wanted a sign. Here it is.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Remembering Robin Williams

Robin Williams was so achingly funny, so capable of mining the essential human spirit out of a moment, that you would have to be reminded he was not Jewish.

Quick. Make a list of memorable comics/comedians during your lifetime. Here’s my top of the mind list: 

Milton Berle, Red Skelton, Jack Benny, George Burns, Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, Phil Silvers, Alan King, Jackie Mason, Louis CK, Sarah Silverman, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Martin Short, Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Flip Wilson, Godfrey Cambridge, Totie Fields, Joan Rivers, Johnny Carson, Jay Leno, Joey Bishop, Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory, Jonathan Winters, Steve Allen, George Carlin, Ernie Kovacs, Sid Caesar, Henny Youngman, Jack Carter, Buddy Hackett, Jimmy Kimmel, Tina Fey, Carl Reiner, Myron Cohen, Shelly Berman, Jim Carrey, Freddie Prinze, Andy Kaufman, Red Foxx, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Bill Maher, Robert Klein Woody Allen, David Steinberg, Jerry Lewis, Billy Crystal, David Brenner, Ellen deGeneres, Pat Cooper.

Fifty-four names. With rare exception, if they weren’t/aren’t Jewish (32) they were/are black (6), similarly from heritages of suffering and exclusion. Doesn’t it reveal something that of those who are not Jewish some of the more prominent and successful, including Martin Short, Steve Martin and Bill Maher, are often thought to be tribe members.

Among the many tributes his fellow comedians extended Monday was this one from Steve Martin, himself a brilliant observer and commentator of the human condition.  “I could not be more stunned by the loss of Robin Williams, mensch, great talent, acting partner, genuine soul.”

How revealing, how nuanced, that Martin would include mensch in his recollection of Williams.

I wrote this blog (until this paragraph) the night Robin Williams’ death was announced but have been reluctant to post it, thinking I might be a little too jingoistic in my Jewishness (would you have known what I meant if I had just written “Jewgoistic?). 

I’m not the only one to have noted the crossover ties between Williams and his Jewish audiences (here’s a columnist for The Jewish Week: 

Perhaps it stemmed from the dramatic roles he undertook in film. Though not necessarily Jewish characters, several represented professions that embodied nurturing and healing—doctors in Good Will Hunting, Patch Adams, What Dreams May Come and Awakening; teachers in Dead Poets Society and Flubber. He portrayed outcasts of society in Jack, The Fisher King, Bicentennial Man, Good Morning, Vietnam and The Birdcage. He exemplified the Russian Refusnik who emigrated to America (and Israel) in Moscow on the Hudson. In Jakob the Liar Williams made the Holocaust bearable, for a time. He played everyone’s favorite nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire.

Like most people I marveled at his comic genius, his creativity, his ability to spout on-the-spot humor. But, from what I’ve read, before Williams hit pay dirt with comedy, he wanted to be a dramatic actor. Few would deny he became one of the best of his generation.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

There Is Such a Thing as a Good War

I am, by nature, anti-war. A non belligerent. A pacifist. Yet, I am increasingly finding myself comfortable with the notion that some wars may be justified, that some wars are good.

Take what’s happening in the areas controlled by ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Are we willing to just sit by and watch our television or computer screens convey the evil being inflicted on people and their heritage merely because they do not share the same religion as ours or their conquerors? 

Slaughter, genocide, is being perpetrated in the name of God. Holy shrines are being blown up and toppled. We are witnessing tribal behavior abhorrent to 21st century mores, but apparently acceptable to those who seek a return to 8th century customs (I’m not sure if that’s 750 CE or 750 BCE, but either way, the treatment of the vanquished is not what rational man has evolved into, though there are many recent examples—Rwanda, Serbia-Croatia, Cambodia, to name a few—that would argue against such a enlightened state). 

ISIS has engaged us in a battle of cultures. We would be foolish to trust these fanatics to soften their extremism once they subjugate all of Iraq and Syria. They seek domination throughout the world.   

So the question becomes, is there such a thing as a good war?

For sure, peaceful coexistence is the desired state for all but the most unbalanced mind. But we do not live in a perpetual nirvana. Conflict has become part of mankind’s daily ritual. I’m not happy with that reality but short of God installing a miracle fulfillment to our eternal wishes we are destined to kill and maim.

Another question is, can we morally justify combat even when we know for certain civilians will be injured or killed?

By the way, I did not say “innocent” civilians because not all civilians can be exempt from responsibility. Many, after all, may have voted in a regime intent on war. While they may not be soldiers, they empowered the military to act on their behalf. They are not innocent. Non combatants? Yes. Innocents? No.

My rabbi pointed out an interesting, applicable verse from the beginning of Exodus 22 last Saturday. The verse states, “If a thief be found to be breaking in and be smitten so that he dieth, there shall be no bloodguiltiness for him.” The sages interpreted “breaking in” to mean tunneling at night, with the intent to kill if discovered.  Furthermore, it was postulated that if you are aware someone is planning to kill you, act precipitously—kill him first.

Hamas with its tunnels had murder in mind. No legitimate government could not respond as Israel did to protect its citizens.

Sadly, too many non combatants died in Gaza, even if they were Hamas sympathizers and empowerers. But let’s not trot out any doctrine of equivalency. Wars are waged to win, not tie. A country, a legitimate government, doesn’t put its own people at risk.

Here’s an interesting idea for equivalency: In Israel, tens of thousands have gathered to lobby for peace. When was the last time Palestinians marched for peace? The answer is never. When has Hamas recognized Israel’s right to exist? Never. When has Hamas chosen construction instead of destruction, except, that is, to carve out tunnels meant to inflict casualties on Israel? If the 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip want peace, let them march for peace. They have permitted their homes, mosques, schools and hospitals to be shields of war.

It used to be fashionable to exempt ordinary German citizens from the butchery of the Holocaust. But recent scholarship has revealed that ordinary Germans were complicit. Israel is within its historical and current rights to vigorously defend itself, even if civilians suffer in Gaza, for they are not blameless or powerless to demand a safer, better life from Hamas.

Hamas wants the blockade lifted. No doubt to import more cement for more tunnels and for more rockets. Hamas spent billions on weaponry, virtually nothing to shelter and provide for the population of Gaza.

It is beyond irony for the U.S. and Europe to castigate Israel for civilian deaths in defense of its borders. I don’t recall Israel issuing any tsk-tsks after U.S. or NATO missiles mistakenly killed Afghani or Iraqi civilians over the last 10 years. Israel recognized that in the fog of war mistakes happen. Civilians may be killed. Not intentionally, as terrorist organizations like Hamas pledge to do, but rather because war is still an unmanageable, imperfect science. 

Let’s be clear. Israel is in a war of survival. Even as a truce held for a third day in Gaza, a leader of Hamas, Mushir al-Masri, told a rally of supporters, the group’s arms will not be “relinquish(ed) until all our lands are liberated.” In other words, until they destroy Israel and kills all the Jews.

The Iraqis may be too cowed and cowardly to resist ISIS. Israelis have no illusions about Hamas. Residents of the Gaza Strip should have no illusions about the Israeli response to future aggression.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Men of Summer Become Boys Again

For his 40th birthday Howard Silver’s wife sent him to the Mets baseball fantasy camp for a week of instruction in the finer points of our once and forever national pastime. Sunday, on his actual 65th birthday, with his wife and grandchildren watching, he faced the ultimate daydream moment—top of the ninth, bases loaded, tie score, Howard at the plate. With a crisp level swing, Howard laced a single to left, knocking in the go-ahead run in the first and hopefully annual Temple Israel Center of White Plains Old Timers vs. Current Team game. Final score: Old Timers 10, Current Team 9. 

Perhaps no outcome could have been better than no-one-got-hurt, except the joy and thrill of seeing players who had not graced a softball field for 10, 20 or more years once again scurry around the base paths and float in the outfield grass snaring fly balls, or at least getting a glove on the horse leather. And for some of us—myself and Howard—it provided the chance to once again play alongside our now 35-year-old sons, something we hadn’t done in almost two decades. Howard at third base and his son Dani at shortstop flashed leather, picking hot shots with aplomb, believe me, they did not demonstrate 20 years ago. 

For the better part of 30 years I forsook sleeping late Sunday mornings from April through September. As the pitcher of our temple’s team, I felt a responsibility to show up to all games, even if it meant not scheduling family vacations during the season or coming home early so I could play the next day. Gilda did her best to tolerate my obsession. Perhaps she reasoned at least I would be doing some exercise that morning. 

This season I’ve passed the pitching baton to the next generation. I’ve shown up to just three games, the first one in April as a designated hitter, next to a double header two weeks ago to pitch one inning, and, finally, last week to pitch the last five innings of an earlier suspended game that we were losing 1-0. I gave up one run. We won 7-2. I felt young again, especially as I had a key hit in our six run rally.

But Sunday’s Old Timers game was different. Playing with the old timers—my contemporaries after all—evoked a throwback feeling.  We were older men reliving our boyhood, or at least our younger adulthood. We didn’t slide. Heck, a few of us, including me, couldn’t run the base paths. But no one got hurt. No egos were bruised, though we were merciless on each other with our banter. Even our near misses made us feel good that we were still close enough to be competitive. In other words, no one embarrassed themselves.

After winning last week’s game I couldn’t wait to rehash my exploits to Gilda who stoically listened yet again to my softball musings. I went to sleep reliving the game. 

I can easily imagine the rest of Howard’s special day and night yesterday.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Crime Story Edition, Men from Mars, Louis the Smuggler and a Tall Dark Stranger

“You left the lights on in the computer room last night,” my good wife gently admonished me early this morning as she prepared to go to work.

“No, I intentionally left the lights on,” I replied. Why? Because from 12 am to 2 am last night a police helicopter kept circling our neighborhood. When I called the police I was told there was an ongoing police investigation in the area.

“In other words, you’re searching for someone.” 

“There’s an ongoing police investigation.”  So much for confirmation.

Armed with that knowledge, I decided the last place a suspect would try to break into was a house with lights on, so I kept the lights ablaze in the computer room after I posted my last blog shortly after 1 am. 

Smart, huh? Except Gilda pointed out I left some first floor windows open and unlocked, making entry rather easy. 

Next time I’ll play more attention to those CSI television shows.

A couple of minutes ago I checked the local newspaper’s Web site. Yup, the police were trying to locate a man who twice crashed his car into other automobiles, injuring two others, and fled the scene just blocks from our home. They caught him around 4:30 am (

Best Sellers: Disclosure. The Bridges of Madison County. Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend. Fatal Cure. Like Water for Chocolate.

Did you know those were the top five best selling fiction novels the week of February 13, 1994, according to The New York Times Book Review? Or that the number two book in the “advice, how-to and miscellaneous” category was Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus? And that Howard Stern’s memoir, Private Parts, ranked tenth on the nonfiction list?

Am I some kind of savant to know such an obscure bit of publishing history? While I claim to be a know-it-all, the answer is quite simple—Gilda was cleaning out some “old” newspapers on her night table when even she was surprised by the age of her discovery. 

Now, if I could only find a way to use this 20-year example of newspaper hoarding to justify my habit of accumulating junk. Hmmm …

From Dump to Dumbo: Oh, to be a kid growing up now in Brooklyn, to be taken by one’s parents to Brooklyn Bridge Park, to experience the joys of playing by New York harbor. It’s a wonderland to be savored, a reclaimed landscape to be treasured for its natural beauty and man-made niches ( 

When I was growing up in Brooklyn, the area now gentrified and embraced as Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) was to be avoided. Thanks to my father, I became quite familiar with the territory. You see, my dad had a customer near the docks for the half-slips and panties he manufactured. Near the end of Old Fulton Street, right before the water, Louis LaFlotta ran a dry goods store. My brother Bernie always called him “Louis the Smuggler,” though the only danger we experienced was the air of mystery and peril that permeated any visit to his storefront. 

We’d go on the way home from my father’s factory on lower Broadway. We’d string together a dozen boxes of half-slips and panties, toss them into the trunk and drive to LaFlotta’s. It was usually dark when we’d pull up in front of the store. When I was young, my dad would go inside. As a teenager, I would be sent in to collect the cash, hundreds of dollars, with a warning to be careful. Sailors or longshoremen were considered unsavory characters.

From LaFlotta’s we’d make a left turn onto Furman Street, under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway that invariably was backed up with traffic. Furman Street never was. It became a favorite time-saving detour of my Brooklyn-prowling days.

Now that Ellie and Donny live in Brooklyn I’m retracing many of my old stomping routes. LaFlotta’s has been replaced by trendy eateries and saloons. And Brooklyn Battery Park is a car magnet. Now, just navigating the few blocks of Old Fulton Street can take 15 minutes or more. 

The old Brooklyn was definitely easier to get around in than the new Brooklyn.

Tall Dark Stranger: Flipping through the TV channels today I landed upon a rerun of Maverick, starring the recently deceased James Garner.

Sunday nights in the late 1950s at the Forseter household in Brooklyn my mother controlled the television. ABC Channel 7 at 7:30, a rotating series of westerns. Cheyenne was her favorite. She drooled over Clint Walker.  Sugarfoot starring Will Hutchins she could live without. 

My favorite was Maverick when it featured Garner as Bret Maverick. I wasn’t enamored of Jack Kelly as Bart or Roger Moore as Beau, but Garner’s Bret probably instilled in me a love of poker and the idea to keep a secret stash of cash for emergencies. Bret pinned a thousand dollar bill inside his ruffled shirt. That’s $980 more than I secret around but let’s not quibble about a few dollars. It’s the concept that counts.

BTW, for those who didn’t get the bold face reference Tall Dark Stranger, here are the lyrics to the Maverick theme:

Who is the tall, dark stranger there? 
Maverick is the name. 
Ridin' the trail to who knows where, 
Luck is his companion, 
Gamblin' is his game. 
Smooth as the handle on a gun. 
Maverick is the name. 
Wild as the wind in Oregon, 
Blowin' up a canyon, 
Easier to tame. 

Riverboat, ring your bell, 
Fare thee well, Annabel. 
Luck is the lady that he loves the best. 
Natchez to New Orleans 
Livin on jacks and queens 
Maverick is a legend of the west. 

Riverboat, ring your bell, 
Fare thee well, Annabel. 
Luck is the lady that he loves the best. 
Natchez to New Orleans 
Livin on jacks and queens 
Maverick is a legend of the west. 
Maverick is a legend of the west.

Reflections on Another Mideast War

You might be wondering why I have mostly refrained from commenting on the conflict in the Gaza Strip, restricting my posts to first-hand accounts from either Israelis or American visitors to Israel. 

Even in my private life I have resisted round-the-clock immersion in the war. It’s just too depressing to spend all my waking hours, as others seemingly are doing, monitoring news feeds when everyone knows Israel will not be defeated.

Israel’s fate was not always a certainty. On June 6, 1967, I spent harrowing hours with friends at the Knight House “fraternity” table in the Brooklyn College cafeteria, not knowing if Egypt and Syria and their allies were on their way to conquering Israel. The Arab media were trumpeting huge successes, tank columns driving on Tel Aviv. 

I had particular reason to be apprehensive. My sister Lee was nearing the end of her second year in Israel studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Our family had no idea where she was. Was she safe? 

As the world soon learned, Arab media were not to be trusted. Israel had achieved a stunning, lightning victory in the Six Day War. In her own way, Lee contributed by volunteering to pack foodstuffs for the troops. 

Three years ago Gilda and I visited communities adjacent to the Gaza Strip, the ones that, until the recent onslaught of long-range missiles aimed at larger population centers, were the targets of spontaneous and repeated attacks by, thankfully, often inaccurate Katyusha and Qassam rockets. Trauma, however, does not need a direct hit to be experienced. 

We were the guests of 16 trauma care first responders from the Sha’ar Hanegev area who had been brought to New York in 2010-2011 for two weeks of rest and relaxation by Shalom Yisrael (24 others came from the Eshkol Regional Council over the last three years). 

They have no rest or relaxation now. As long as the tunnels from Gaza into Israel exist, no Israeli, particularly the residents of the Sha’ar Hanegev and the Eshkol region, will sleep comfortably.  

When I do check Facebook and see the postings, I am surprised by some of the deeply hidden stories that surface. Here are a handful I found fascinating:

Do you know who Ismail Haniyeh is? He is often named as the Hamas leader in Gaza. Israel fired a missile at his home on Tuesday. But that’s not why I bring his name up.

Turns out three of his sisters live in Israel and are Israeli citizens. Moreover, several of their children have served in the Israeli army (

Here’s another interesting fact about Haniyeh. Last fall, when his granddaughter was critically ill with an infection of her digestive tract, he sent her to Israel for treatment (

I got a chuckle out of this recently revealed fact. The British newspaper The Telegraph reported that the photograph of the perfect Aryan baby chosen by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels was, in fact, a picture of a Jewish infant!

Finally, for those who cringe and despair at deaths of civilians in Gaza, it is important to keep in context several points. First, the voters of Gaza chose Hamas, knowing full well its commitment to the destruction of Israel and all Jews. Second, instead of building a productive land, Hamas invested in tools of war. Instead of building schools, hospitals and, yes, bomb shelters, Hamas built a network of tunnels to kill and terrorize Israelis. Third, there is no equivalency in war. Civilian Israelis haven’t been killed because Israel invested in defensive measures, such as safe rooms and the Iron Dome missile defense system. It seems sometimes the world is waiting for one of Hamas’ missiles to penetrate the Iron Dome and kill masses of Israelis. Only then would they, possibly, feel Israel has been justified in curbing Hamas’ power. Fourth, even as the war progressed, Israel continued to send food and other supplies into Gaza. What other country at war has been quartermaster to its enemy? Fifth, though the inevitable mistakes and tragedies of war have occurred, Israel has been more careful and considerate than any other adversary would be, warning Palestinians to vacate target areas. 

On Monday, Theodore (Dutch) Van Kirk died. He was the navigator and last surviving crew member of the B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. He died nine days before the 69th anniversary of the catalyst that hastened the end of World War II.

Did we have to drop the bomb? I’ll leave that answer to historians and to your own conscience. But here’s what Van Kirk had to say about war. Read it knowing what Hamas thinks about Israel and Israelis: 

“We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat.  It’s really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence.”

“Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or the bombing of Dresden, or the Bataan Death March, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? 

“I believe that when you’re in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives.”