Monthly Archives: December 2022

Should auld acquaintance be forgot?

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot auld lang syne?” Traditional New Year’s Song

The first time Larry and I met Milt at a neighborhood pool, I thought he was one of the “tribe.” Milton? Loessberg? Sounded Jewish to me. But within ten minutes, Milt informed me that he and Kathy were newlyweds and had met through their church. So much for guessing someone’s religion by a name! Standing waist deep in water, the four of us found other things we had in common: politics, travel, enthusiasm for life, and—especially for Milt and me—a love for journalism and the news.

Milt’s father was a civilian worker for the US Army when he had a heart attack. Milt’s mother was a few months pregnant when she became a widow after her husband, a civilian worker for the US Army had a heart attack. She eventually remarried, and Milt’s step-father became the only father he ever knew.

Tapping into his strong English and writing skills, Milt decided to go into journalism. During his studies at the University of Missouri-Columbia, Milt learned how to interview people and find out about their lives. In the end, his newspaper career focused on advertising and sales, and those listening skills helped him. “People tended to open up about their own situations, their business careers, and sometimes even their personal lives,” said Milt. “My people skills made the job interesting and increased my sales.”

Milt explored all of California as he traveled through the state for his jobs with different newspapers. Wherever he went, Milt took a camera, photographed the places he visited and mailed the pictures to his mother, who always “helped me find my best traits.” She recognized that Milt had a talent for photography. When Milt came to St. Louis for a visit, she told Milt that she had gotten in touch with a company that produces post cards. “She told them that I would be very good at supplying postcard views of nature.”

Even though he didn’t get the postcard job, Milt kept taking pictures. Building on his mother’s encouragement, Milt enjoyed photography as a lifetime hobby, He had a show in a small gallery in Affton, Missouri, as well as in other venues. He also joined the Art Association of St. Louis and nature photography club. “Photography was a way to give others pleasure and fulfill a personal need,” Milt said.

Beginning in his fifties, Milt developed macular degeneration, and his eyesight deteriorated. Thanks to modern technology, he continued his photography. “It’s amazing how many pictures in my collection have been taken with my trusty iPhone,” said Milt. “Many people have been fooled into thinking that they were taken with a professional camera because they are professional grade photos. “

While living in California Milt got married, a union that lasted 25 years. When Milt got a job offer with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, however, his wife decided to stay on the West Coast while Milt returned home. He treasured those years as it gave him a chance to reconnect with his failing mother. And—eventually—to meet Kathy.

Milt and Kathy both had lamented to a mutual friend from their church how it was hard to meet people. They were introduced in 2010 and connected quickly.Their wedding on September 8, 2012, was a joyous affair, attended by all of Kathy’s nine siblings and their spouses, officiated by Reverend Sallie Fox, and preserved in a lovely video. 

As they had done during their courtship, the two newlyweds traveled throughout the heartland of America. Their most influential vacation was a guided bus trip from St. Louis to Albuquerque, New Mexico, which allowed them to see the Old West. They were especially fascinated with Route 66, an interest that lasted their entire marriage. “I can come up with sixty-six reasons we love Route 66,” Milt quipped. The iconic highway was filled with American history:  refurnished motels, antique shops, old cars, and quality and service reminiscent of another time. “Kitch and nostalgia doesn’t exist any other place else in the world,” said Milt.

Three years after they were married, Milt was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. When Milt’s cancer went into remission, they made a deal that they would go to Florida for a few years, “as a four-year adventure” and would return to St. Louis when Kathy turned 65. They found a lovely home for the two of them, their cat Eddie, Kathy’s crafts, and Milt’s photos in Solivita, a fifty-five plus community near Kissimmee.

From the day they moved in, Milt and Kathy took advantage of every opportunity to soak in all Florida had to offer. Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, Bok Tower Gardens, Gatorland, St. Augustine, Sanibel Island, Captiva Island. If it was on the Florida map, they were headed to it. They bought a golf cart, and the two of them tooled around the neighborhood, checking out the best place to see alligators or catch a sunset. 

And we often joined them. On December 26, 2016, the four of us took long ride on their golf cart to all the homes that were decorated in Christmas splendor. No, there wasn’t any snow. But there were plenty of lights and Santas and reindeer in between the palm trees. 

By February 2017, however, Milt’s health declined as the cancer spread through his liver and kidneys. When Kathy went back to Missouri to visit her family in March, she called Milt to say she found “the perfect house.” They decided to move back to St. Louis, in part to make sure Kathy could be with family as they navigated through the last months of Milt’s illness. In June, the four of us took one last trip to City Walk at Universal. Milt was obviously in pain, but he wasn’t going to let that ruin his night. We ate Mexican food, took in the crowds, watched the roller coasters zoom over our heads. 

Kathy and Milt moved back to St. Louis that July. We communicated by email and by phone. When we Face-timed, I could see that. Milt was thin and pale. But he was still cheerful. “My father died at 32,” Milt told me. “I have had so many more years than he did. How lucky I am!”

Their last trip was by car to the annual balloon festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in October 2017. With Kathy at the wheel, they drove on parts of Route 66. The morning of the festival, the lines to get on the shuttle buses where ridiculously long. Kathy and Milt waited 45 minutes in the freezing cold and found out they weren’t even half way to the bus. Disheartened, they finally accepted the fact that Milt physically couldn’t handle the crowd and the weather. They went back to their hotel, opened up the curtains, and—-there up in the sky were the balloons in their full glory. “The view was as good as being there,” said Kathy. The trip was a success

Even in his final days, Milt was optimistic. “I got some good news,” he told me during one phone call. “The doctor said I wouldn’t benefit from anymore treatments. I am going on pain medication, and hospice will be coming. It’s wonderful that such help exists.” The last time I spoke to Milt, he was tired and confused from the disease and the morphine. True to form, however, Milt still had an enthusiasm for life despite his weakened state. He passed away less than ten days later, on December 15, 2017.

Five years later, Kathy is settled in St. Louis. She has not been back to Route 66 but hopes to complete the trip someday. Recently, however, one of Kathy’s sister and her family recently visited Santa Monica and sprinkled some of Milt’s ashes in their bay. Milt, you finally completed your journey. May your memory be a blessing to Kathy and all who knew you.

Is This Any Way to Stop Hate?

In 2021, ADL reported 2717 antisemitic incidents throughout the United States, a 34% increase over 2020. The recent mass shooting in Highland Park, Buffalo, Colorado Springs, and Virginia, are deplorable testimonies to the level of hate in this country. More recently, the New York Times YT has reported on the “unsettling stream of anti-semitism. [“Between Kanye and the Midterms, the Unsettling Stream of Antisemitism,” 11/4/2022] More recently, the NYT has reported on the “unsettling stream of anti-semitism].Then why does the online behemoth Amazon continue to sell material that profits from that hate? And more personally, why am I trying to be a David to Amazon’s Goliath?

Much has been written recently about the Kyrie Irving’s eight-game suspension after the Brooklyn Nets’ basketball star tweeted a link to a documentary containing antisemitic messages. Hebrews to Negros: Wake Up, Black America, is based on book of the same name by Ronald Dalton, Jr, which espouses virulent misinformation including Holocaust denial and claims of an international Jewish conspiracy. 

Although too few members of the Nets team spoke out against Irving’s actions citing reasons as insubstantial as “I just want to play basketball,” other notable athletes spoke up.”Charles Barkley said that The National Basketball Association’s (NBA) commissioner, Adam Silver, himself Jewish, “dropped the ball” when the NBA didn’t immediately suspend him. Shaquille O’Neal said “we gotta answer for what this idiot has done.”

The most eloquent quotes came from Kareem Abdul Jabbar. In June 2020, the retired basketball player admonished celebrities who failed speak out against the antisemitic comments by Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, and Stephen Jackson. “If we are going to be outraged by injustice, let’s be outraged by injustice against anyone.” He reiterated his concerns after what he perceived as a tepid response to the recent anti-Semitic comments by Kayne West and Kyrie Irving. “A number of Blacks expected support from Jews during the Black Lives Matter movement, and they got that help,” he stated. “But when the reverse was necessary, we ended up with silence…for weeks.” He went on to say, “If we don’t protect everyone, we don’t protect anyone. “

What many people, including myself until recently, may not be aware of is that Amazon offers both the book and DVD version movie on its website. The controversy has only caused a massive spike in sales. On November 4, Hebrews was the number one book in Amazon’s Religion and Spirituality and Social Sciences categories. As of Monday, November 28, the book was ranked #1 in the Christian education category in Kindle. What is even more disturbing to me is that Audible, a division of Amazon, is now offering the audio book as one of its free options with a trial membership. 

Requests by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), and other groups to stop its sale were first met with deafening silence. In a letter addressed to Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO, stated, “By platforming this film, and other clearly hateful content, you are knowingly and willingly propagating antisemitism.” 

Other influential groups have also taken on the fight. On November 10, over 200 leaders of the entertainment industry, including Mila Kunis, Debra Messing and Mayim Bialik, released a letter through the non-profit entertainment industry organization Creative Community for Peace urging Amazon and Barnes and Noble to stop its sale. “At a time in America where there are more per capita hate crimes against Jews than any other minority, overwhelmingly more religious-based hate crimes against the Jewish people than any other religion, and more hate crimes against the Jewish people in New York than any other minority, where a majority of American Jews live,” the letter reads, “it is unacceptable to allow this type of hate to foment on your platforms,” Soon after, Barnes and Noble, as well as Apple, removed the material. Amazon, however, had not. 

As I read all this disheartening news on the days leading up to Ere of Yontiff, the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the Jewish activist in me kicked in. In the midst of my husband Larry and I prepping a 22-pound turkey, assembling stuffing, and peeling five pounds of potatoes for our eleven guests, I got onto Amazon’s customer service chatline, expressed my concerns, and then was told that my remarks were being forwarded to the business department. I then hammered out a letter to the editor regarding the issue and emailed it my local paper, Orlando Sentinel, who published it on Saturday, December 3, issue with the headline, “Kyrie Irvings hurtful views still spreading.” A victory!

On Cyber-Monday, I upped the ante when, through the same Amazon chatline, I requested a callback from a real person with whom to speak about my concerns. Judging from the typing in the background, the representative took copious notes. After a couple of brief holds, I was told that the issue was passed to the appropriate channels. My comments regarding what I regarded as “offensive” material would be reviewed and someone would be in touch at an indeterminant date. Later that day, I got a follow-up email from the Amazon representative. “I am delighted for the warm and nice approach you gave me on the call,” she wrote. “It was indeed a pleasure helping you.” As gratified as I was by her lovely note, I rightfully held off pressing “Yes” to the “Did I solve your problem?” button. 

I also Googled to find other outlets selling the book or DVD. Only one other retailer, BooksaMillion, has continued the sale. An Etsy seller removed its sale immediately after I wrote him stating that its sale was violating its anti-discrimination policies. Another victory!

Alas, in the end, requests by the Anti-Defamation League and other groups to stop its sale have been rejected. Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, himself Jewish, stated on 12/1/2022 that the online retail behemoth has “to allow access to those viewpoints, even if they are ….objectionable and they differ from our particular viewpoints.”

If the ADL and the Creative Community for Peace have not been able to persuade Amazon leadership, why am I entering the fray? I feel as if I am David battling Goliath, ending unknown. But stone by stone, I will keep using my slingshot. Or maybe, during this Hanukkah holiday, I should feel more like the Maccabees, who overcame incredible odds to vanquish a much larger enemy. 

I got encouragement from a fellow SOLWriter and a dear friend, Ginny Campbell, who wrote in response a draft to my Orlando Sentinel submission, stating that my letter and work as a writer was “shining a light in a dark world. ” What a beautiful metaphor for me to contemplate as we celebrate the Festival of Lights! Ginny’s words will add an extra glow to my Hanukkiah candles. 

In the midst of your holiday shopping please do your part to shine a light in a dark world. Please urge Amazon and other retailers to remove these titles and others that profit off attacks on targeted populations. Rather than give more stuff to people who already are overwhelmed with stuff, consider contributions to the ADL, which is fighting anti-Semitism every day. We all need to lessen the fire of hatred, not add to its flames.