Why I Love the Lone Ranger

LR_1956_Moore_SilverheelsWhy would a 71-year-old rabbi spend time watching reruns of “The Lone Ranger,” a western television show more than 60 years old? The answer is simple: The message.

 As creatures created b’tzelem Elohim (in the image of God), our primary responsibility and purpose is to use our skills and talents to create a more just, caring, and compassionate world.

Although we may not cure cancer or make peace between Israel and the Palestinians, our covenant with God requires each of us to do what we can to fulfill the charge God made to Abraham in Genesis: to “[k]eep the way of the Eternal one, and to fill the world with tzedakah u’mishpat (righteousness and justice).

Pursuing righteousness and justice is exactly what the Lone Ranger and Tonto do. Battling hopeless odds, they right wrongs; thwart those who kill, cheat or exploit others; and help the good guys come out on top. In real life, of course, evil often triumphs over good, and fighters for justice and righteousness do not always prevail.

No matter what we have suffered, and no matter how dire things may have been, our people clings to the idea that the world can be better – and that we can be agents in that improvement.

We do well to remember that in the wake of Charlottesville!

Indeed, the Lone Ranger and Tonto symbolize the vital Jewish value of hope, always on the lookout for evil forces to defeat and never seeking or accepting rewards for doing what is “just and right.” Once their work is done, they ride off swiftly, searching for the next opportunity to make a positive difference in the world.

In particular, Parashat Re’eh, this week’s Torah reading, reminds me of what the Lone Ranger and Tonto represent. First, we read God’s ideal: “There shall be no poor or needy in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:4). But several sentences later, we confront the contradictory reality: “But the poor shall never cease from your land…open your hand to the poor and needy kin in your land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). Do not turn away from them. Do whatever you can to help.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto embody this ideal, fighting relentlessly to make the Wild West a place in which ruthless villains are nearly powerless to thwart others’ hard work or hope for the future.

But, just as these two cannot eliminate the bad guys entirely, neither can we create a world that is fully without evil. It is a glorious ideal that constantly eludes us.

But we, like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, can inch the world closer to that celebrated hope. Their work – and ours – takes on greater urgency as the Hebrew month of Elul approaches and with it the task of scrutinizing our conduct to determine how we – individually and collectively – might live closer to God’s hope for us.

Our tradition teaches that after shattering the Golden calf, Moses went back up the mountain on the first of Elul to try again. He hewed new tablets and spent 40 days in contemplation on Mt Sinai before descending, on Yom Kippur, with the second set of God’s commandments.

When we reach the first of Elul in less than a week, Yom Kippur will be just 40 days away. The Lone Ranger and Tonto model well how we can use these precious days, and it is reflected in this story I first heard from Rabbi David Saperstein more than 40 years ago:

A man who went every day to the wicked city of Sodom encouraging the people to repent.

His friends called him a fool saying, “Don’t you know those people will never repent. Why do you go down there every day wasting time and energy? Those people will never change and be like you.”

“Perhaps not,” the man answered, “but I must do what I can every day, so that I don’t change and become like them.”

No, the good guys don’t always win and the world will never be perfect. It is for these very reasons that I love watching “The Lone Ranger” because he and Tonto never stop trying to make our world a better place – and we can do the same.

 

What Disturbs Me Most About Donald Trump

In the year preceding the election and in the days that followed I wrote a number of essays about President Trump and included them in my book, Why the Kof? Getting the Best of Rabbi Fuchs https://tinyurl.com/jz4utns

For several months, though, I have had nothing to say about him.

The primary reason is that others have—more pointedly and eloquently than can I–written everything I feel about his policies, appointments and public statements.

But eight months after his inauguration I must express my dismay:

Donald Trump diminishes the pride I feel as an American.

When I see him dressed as the American flag in red (tie) white (shirt) and blue (suit) responding in such an equivocal, mealy-mouthed way to the violence in Charlottesville, I want to vomit.

As horrible as they are, moments of tragedy are golden opportunities for a president to stand tall and unite the country in pride and resolve.

Such horrible moments allow the president to speak for all decent Americans and express the country’s outrage and resolve to do all that is necessary to comfort the victims and condemn the perpetrators.

Even a president I did not like, George W. Bush, rose admirably to that responsibility in the aftermath of Nine Eleven.

But Trump? Uh Uh!

Whether you agreed with him or not, Barack Obama is a man of gentility and class. He was almost always eloquent and appropriate in his responses to terror and those who besmirched the values this country represents.

But Trump is the opposite. He represents nothing but selfishness, greed and a callous disregard for the very people, as Emma Lazarus wrote on the Statue of Liberty, our country is here to protect: “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Donald Trump has offered these precious potential sources of our country’s future greatness nothing but an upraised middle finger.

He seems to wink at—if not fan–racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. His grandiose promises to repair our country’s infra structure, bring thousands and thousands of jobs back to America, bring an end to urban violence and uproot international terrorism have been nothing but empty words.

But what is most disturbing is that so many people continue to rally around him.

In addition to continuing to condemn Trump and protest his actions and policies, it is in our vital interest to understand why.

What is it that he brings to the table that induces so many to resonate to his words and persona?

Until we find the answers to what is really behind Trump’s appeal, we will continue to write essays that allow us to get things off of our chest. And yes, we should.

But we will really be no closer to fixing the problems that led to his election in the first place.

And that is what disturbs me most about Donald Trump!

Who Will Fill Their Shoes?

Reading the obituary of a Holocaust survivor this morning, reminded me that far too soon there will be no survivors left.

This stark realization brought to my mind a country song by George Jones–regarded by many as the greatest of all country singers–“Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

In the song Mr. Jones refers to an impressive list of country singers who have died and asks essentially, “Who will take their place? Who will do for us what they did?”

I ask that question about the Shoah.

When there are no Holocaust survivors left, who is going to speak with first hand knowledge of Nazi cruelty? Whose stories will offer chilling testimony to the depths of bestiality to which human beings can descend? Who will speak with first hand knowledge of the power of hope in the face of unspeakable horror? Or in the words of George Jones, “Who’s gonna give their heart and soul to get to me and you?”

Of course those of us in the second generation–we whose parents fled from or survived Hitler–must tell their stories with passion and empathy. We must do so not to wallow in the misery of the past but to learn from it.

When I speak in Germany to high school students I always say, “Wir können die Vergangenheit nicht ungeschehen machen, aber wir können gemeinsam an einer besseren Zukunft arbeiten. “We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape!”

Yes, we of the second generation must do our best to tell the story, but the next decades will fly by quickly and soon, we will be gone as well.

When that time nears I hope others will find effective ways to teach a new generation to learn the lessons of the past in order to shape a better future. I pray that others will find ways to answer George Jones’ question: “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”

 

To Thwart God’s Wrath

In his wonderful book, Ten Sheaves, Rabbi Paul J. Citrin reminds us:

“Idolatry is more than the worship of a statue” (p. 117).

It is a vital lesson to remember as we read the retelling of the incident of the Golden calf in Ekev, this Shabbat’s Torah portion.

My revered Bible professor Chanan Brichto repeatedly reminded us:

“Idol worship is selfishness and greed. It is a failure to live up to God’s ideals of justice, righteousness, concern for others less fortunate than we.”

In this week’s reading, after an eloquent recitation of all God had done for the people and God’s hopes for their future, the Torah retells the heartbreaking story of their great apostasy.

After God freed them from slavery and brought them to Mount Sinai where they received the charge to be examples of God’s values to the world, the sin the Children of Israel committed was far worse than “worship of a statue.”

Indeed the Israelites rejected the Ten Commandments, which they had just received, and all for which God stands.

God is so furious that the Eternal One threatens to destroy the people. Bravely, Moses–in what arguably is his greatest moment–restrains the Eternal One.

And so begins the arduous forty-year journey of instructing the newly freed slaves in what God wants from them.

Three thousand plus years later we are still trying to assimilate those values.

Learning not to worship statues has been relatively easy. But learning to create the just, caring and compassionate society God wants has proved more elusive.

Thanks to Moses for convincing God not to give up on us, and thanks to God for holding back the Divine wrath we deserved.

But after all this time God’s patience must be wearing thin at how little progress we have made.

Scientists may scoff at me, but I advise us all to view the despoliation of our environment and the increase we have witnessed in natural disasters around the globe as a sign of God’s displeasure.

What can we do? Small things.

  • Stop and talk to the guy on the street with a sign asking for change and a beaten down look on his face.
  • Give him a dollar or two. You won’t miss it.
  • Volunteer to tutor a child struggling to learn to read.
  • Contribute to a local food bank.

The list is endless.

Change begins with each of us, and each of us can, like Moses, forestall God’s wrath by turning from idol worship.

But we can do more!

By performing small acts of kindness and compassion we can evoke God’s pleasure!

Wow!

 

 

The Hebrew Month of Av Begins: What it Can Mean to Us

As the Hebrew month of Av begins, Jews become starkly aware that Rosh HaShanah, the new Jewish year arrives in two months… and they’re two months that will pass quickly. It is time to get ready.

In just another week, we commemorate Tishah B’Av, the Ninth of Av, a day Jews commemorate as the anniversary of the destruction of both the first temple in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and the Second in 70 CE by the Romans. In addition, many other catastrophic events in Jewish history – including the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the beginning of World War I – fell on that date.

Most Jews commemorate Tishah B’Av by reading the biblical book of Lamentations, which places responsibility for our catastrophes squarely on our own shoulders. Its essential message is that we have a Covenant with God, who hopes and expects us to create a just caring and compassionate society, but we did not. Consumed by jealousy and baseless hatred for others, we neglected the poor and needy, failed to treat the elderly with dignity and respect, and spurned opportunities to make newcomers feel welcome in our midst.

If on objective examination the judgment feels unduly harsh, it remains—if we allow it to be—a powerful spur to our process of self examination and change as we get ready for the New Year to arrive.

For me the key moment of Tishah B’Av is when we read in the middle of Lamentations (3:40) the verse:

‘ נַחְפְּשָׂה דְרָכֵינוּ וְנַחְקֹרָה, וְנָשׁוּבָה עַד ה

Nah-pisah d’ra-cheh-ch v’ nah-ko-rah, v’na-shoo-vah ad Adonai

“Let us search and examine our ways and return to the Eternal One.”

The overriding message of Tishah B’Av for non-Orthodox Jews – who do not mourn the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and certainly do not pray for its rebuilding – is: “We can be better than we have been. The time is now to begin the effort to align our actions more closely with God’s hopes and dreams for us.”

After all, the message of Rosh HaShanah, as the anniversary of Creation itself, is that we human beings – not the rhinoceros or the tiger, though they be swifter and stronger than we – are in charge of and responsible for this world and for one another.

This coming year, I begin a new career venture as seasonal rabbi at Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, FL. In the past, the rabbi conducted services for Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and then returned when “the season” begins on November 1.

In my  interviews, I pointed out that I would like to begin before Rosh HaShanah with Selichot and other events in preparation. By way of analogy, I explained that the Boston Red Sox don’t just show up on Opening Day in Fenway Park to begin their season. They train in nearby Fort Myers in order to be ready for the season.

Similarly, we Jews should not just show up on Rosh HaShanah and expect to be ready for the arduous season of repentance and atonement that culminates on Yom Kippur. We must prepare our hearts and minds in advance for that sacred task.

No one doubts, of course, that any day is a good day to think about how we act and how we can do better. But in its wisdom, our tradition has marked the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur as the time to focus on improving ourselves with particular intensity.

If we take that assignment seriously, we must prepare in advance. As the Hebrew calendar flips from the month of Tammuz to Av, it is a good time to begin to prepare.

I am pleased that this essay appears on the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ.org) blog, July 26, 2017

 

Poppy

My grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein My grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein

July 11, 2017: My grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein, died 61 years ago today. I was only ten, but we had a special bond.

You see I was Benny’s first grandson after he had been blessed with five granddaughters, and that made me very special in his eyes.

My mother often described how Benny was overjoyed when he visited her in the hospital. He so hoped to have a grandson, and there I was.

My sister Rochelle, who was 13 ½ when he died, remembered her grandfather this way in a high school essay; “Looking 50 while being 70 my grandfather, Benjamin Goldstein, was the handsomest man I ever knew.”

Benny could fix anything, an ability that sadly was not passed down to his grandson. Miraculously, though, remnants of that gift do manifest themselves in his great grandson who carries his name, our son, Benjamin Fuchs.

Our Ben gently chides me when I have trouble fitting something into somewhere, “Don’t force, Dad, never force.” When he tells me that, I can hear my grandfather’s voice.

In 1914 my grandparents and two other couples bought a patch of land in what was then far remote Dover, NJ. During the summers the three families lived together in Dover to escape the teeming heat of the Bronx. The women and children stayed the summer, and the men joined them on the weekends.

They were by no measure wealthy. My grandfather worked as a cutter in the garment industry, but land was cheap back then. If only our family still owned that property.

For us grandkids who have childhood memories of the place, “Dover” was a miniature Eden.

Next to the cow pasture of an adjoining farm there was a field perfect for me to play catch with anyone whom I could corral into joining me. There was a wonderful chestnut tree that I loved to climb, and there was a brook a short walk away where we could cool off, and there was a dairy farm up the road that sold the most delicious chocolate milk. Our visits often included a drive to nearby Lake Hopatcong for swimming and a picnic.

My memory of Poppy at Dover is of him walking purposely from the house toward the tool shed on his way to fix something or other.

Poppy’s favorite holiday was Simchat Torah, and I can still see the pride in his face as he carried the Torah around the synagogue! I have no doubt that in that memory lie the roots of my love for Torah to this day.

Poppy was also an integral part of my first solo bus trip.

My mom and dad sent me when I was nine to visit grandma and Poppy. I was going to ride the bus from East Orange to New York City all by myself.

I stocked up on comic books at Rosen’s Candy Store, and my mother walked me to the bus stop. I was excited to get on the bus, but once Mom was gone, I was scared.

Seeing Poppy’s face atop his blue winter coat and underneath his gray fedora when the bus pulled into the Port Authority terminal was the most comforting site I have ever beheld.

We went to the circus, “the Greatest Show on Earth” at Madison Square Garden … just my Poppy and me. I could not imagine anything more wonderful!

Living in Grandma and Poppy’s small Bronx apartment was a revelation. They squabbled with each other quite a bit. That was a shock because I never saw my parents argue.

When I came home, I asked my mother, “When are Grandma and Poppy getting divorced?”

“What?” my mother responded. “They are not getting divorced. They love each other very much.”

“But they always argue.”

Don’t worry, “ my mother comforted me again. “They will never divorce because they love each other so much.”

All of their four children and their spouses took Poppy and grandma to the Concord Hotel in the Catskills (a place where years later I would subsequently work as the Assistant Tennis Pro) to celebrate their forty-eighth and, as things turned out, last anniversary.

Poppy died on July 11, 1956 when I was away at camp. Wisely or not—and to this day I have mixed feelings about this—my parents chose not to tell me until camp was over.

That 1956 summer at Camp Minnisink was a banner year for me!

I was the only boy (it was a boy’s camp) to earn the highest YMCA swimming designation, “Sea Horse.” The previous summer, I only got past “Minnow.”  But in ’56 I soared through the remaining tests,  “Fish,” “Flying Fish,” “Shark, “ and the ultimate, “Sea Horse.” I still remember having to tread water for thirty minutes. But the coup de gras for me was being named the most valuable player for the summer on the Minnisink Braves softball team.

I felt like I was on top of the world. The Triple Crown won by Mickey Mantle that same year hardly seemed more significant, and surely the Yankees and the Olympic swimming program would look for me in the not too distant future.

But it all came crashing down the next day when my parents picked me up and, after kisses and hugs, my father told me, “Your grandfather has died.”

I cried and cried.

And I was not the only one.

Grandma cried for him frequently during the subsequent five years that she lived.

In those days on Yom Kippur those whose parents were alive did not stay in the synagogue for Yizkor (the Memorial Service). I vividly remember that when I would come back in for Neilah (the closing service) my mother’s eyes were wet with tears, a sight I rarely saw.

Wonderful memories of Poppy live on in my mind. Just as my birth brought him joy, I try to act in ways that continue to bring him joy in the world beyond!

 

 

 

Longfellow

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, Why the Kof?James Longfellow Watson was a key–though underrated–defensive tackle in East Orange High School’s 1963 state champion football team.

My enduring memory of him in that role is the game against one of the toughest teams on the schedule, Phillipsburg High from near the Pennsylvania state line. Jim seemed to live in the Phillipsburg backfield that day sacking the quarterback and stymying runs.

As a senior Jim took up ice hockey, and that’s when we became friends. EO was nobody’s hockey powerhouse. In fact we were perenially one of the leagues’ doormat teams.

But Watson was a gifted athlete and an imposing–6’4, 210 –physical presence.

Our high school yearbook noted, “Fuchs was joined on defense by newcomer Jim Watson who developed rapidly as the season progressed. The two often skated the entire game, a rarity in hockey.”

And we became friends. I called him by his middle name, Longfellow, and he referred to me as “Tuffy Fuchs.”

That winter of ’63 was the year the Beatles invaded America and changed popular music forever. It is hard to imagine this today but their mop haircuts were a complete novelty then.

One Saturday morning after hockey practice, Longfellow and I were hanging out in his basement. “OK, Tuffy,” he said, “close your eyes.”

Standing before me, when he told me to open them thirty seconds later, was this very tall, very Black young man wearing a hilarious Beatles wig. And then he started to laugh, one of the most infectious laughs I have ever encountered, and I started to laugh too. And it seemed like we laughed for an hour.

I will always treasure the memory of that day, but not as much as I treasure the memory of our game against Montclair.

As I wrote, we were not a good hockey team, but due largely to great work in the goal by Jim Ross, and Watson’s improved play, we won our last three games.

But the one I will never forget was Montclair. Montclair and East Orange had a historic rivalry in football and that carried over to all sports. Earlier in the season Montclair defeated us handily at South Mountain arena, and there was no reason to think they would not do so again on the cold evening that we met at the outdoor rink in Branch Brook Park.

Late in the second period, a light snow had begun to fall, and the scene is flash frozen in my mind. The score was 2-2, and The Montclair Goalie kicked out a hard shot by our star forward, Joe Mirabella. The rebound dribbled toward Watson as he skated in from the blue line. Skating full steam toward the puck, Watson hit a slap shot so hard that the Montclair goalie did not see the puck until he fished it out from the back of his net.

3-2, EO!

We desperately tried to hold onto our lead as the snow that made us feel like we were skating through mud continued to fall.

As the final period wound down Montclair was pressing when I intercepted a pass and scored on a breakaway to give us an insurance goal and a 4-2 victory. Watson and I had skated the entire game. When we embraced at the final horn, we were exhausted but overjoyed.

We beat Montclair!

After graduation we lost touch. Last time we spoke he was accepting a football scholarship to the soon to be open and not long thereafter to close Parsons College in Iowa. His vision was to become, “Jim Lon Watson, all American Tight End from Parsons.”

After that to my regret, all I know about Jim is that he was listed among our classmates who had died when we planned our fiftieth reunion in 2014.

I wish we had kept in touch because I smile each time I think of the joys we shared.

Really?!

IMG_0692Guns don’t kill people! People kill people!

Really?!

How often have we heard these words? Too often for my taste!

Of course people kill people. But guns certainly make it a lot easier for them to do so!

Really!

Licensing and registration for every firearm would not abridge the rights of law-abiding citizens to bear arms. It would make it harder for criminals to do so. And would that not be a good thing?

The statistics boggle the mind. If you are reading this, then you have read them. But they still shock. You are 25 times more likely to be killed by a gun in thr USA than in any other first world country!

If you are Black the odds go up exponentially!

Really!

It is a national disgrace.

How dare we even talk about being a great country when we give such low priority to keeping our children alive and our streets safe!

We are like the idols the Psalmist decries: “Eyes they have but do not see. Ears they have but do not hear! (Psalms 115 and 135)

When will we learn?

What will it take?

Another Sandy Hook?

For the sake of our children and for the sake of our soul as a nation, let us act to curb gun violence now!

Really!

Sanibel Sunrise

 

A new friend I hope to see in SanibelIMG_9096“מצוה גוררת מצוה. One good deed leads to another,” is one of the best-known quotations from Pirke Avot (4:2), the Talmudic tractate of wise maxims and moral teachings of our Sages.

Its wisdom again touched my life recently when Rabbi Guershon Kwasniewski from Porto Alegre, Brazil contacted me. Guershon was applying for membership in the Central Conference of American Rabbis and wrote to ask if I would write a letter of recommendation on his behalf.

Few requests could give me greater joy, as Guershon is an amazing rabbi.

When I visited Porto Alegre, as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in 2012, Guershon’s wisdom, caring and skill impressed me in so many ways.  He is a wonderful spiritual leader, an amazing organizer of events, a gifted teacher and a powerfully positive presence in interfaith community.

The furthest thing on my mind when I finished my letter for Rabbi Kwasniewski was looking for a job.

But when I went to the CCAR web site to look up the address of CCAR’s Placement Director, Rabbi Alan Henkin, (soon to retire after rendering years of invaluable service to our conference and the person to whom Guershon requested I write), I noticed our list of available positions.

I was not looking for a job, but the notice about a “part-time seasonal” position at Temple Bat Yam in Sanibel Island, Florida caught my eye.

Bat Yam’s rabbi, Myra Soifer, a highly respected colleague, is among the first female rabbis ordained by the Reform movement. She has left her post to join the Peace Corps and will teach English in Rwanda!

Myra wrote glowingly of the community and its members. She added that the congregation meets in a building owned by a UCC church and they had a wonderful relationship with congregation and its pastor, Dr. John Danner.

It is a congregation comprised almost exclusively of retirees, most of whom spend the warm weather months elsewhere.

The position seemed right up my alley.

It runs from the Days of Awe through the Sanibel “season” in April. So I would have several months free. The congregation’s demographics mean no religious school, youth groups, B’nai Mitzvah students—save for any interested adults—or Confirmation Class.

The primary rabbinical responsibilities are teaching, speaking, leading worship, attending to pastoral needs of the congregation and representing the congregation in the community at large.

So, I uploaded my CV, which I had not looked at in six years, added just a few pertinent items, and asked Rabbi Henkin to send it to Sanibel.

A few days later I got an email that the search committee chair would like to Face Time with me. She did and I was most impressed by her.

After the interview she said she would like to schedule another Face Time with other members of the Search Committee.

After three more Face Time interviews with members of the committee, the congregation invited Vickie and me down for a weekend of interviews and presentations.

One of the vital appointments I asked the committee to include was a meeting with Dr. Danner, Pastor of the UCC Church in which the congregation “lives.” Within five minutes, I knew it would be a privilege to work with him.

When they offered me the position several days later, I enthusiastically accepted.

Of course when a rabbi—any rabbi—is offered a position, other colleagues are disappointed. I feel for them. I have certainly been there.

Still I rejoice at the opportunity Bat Yam has offered me. I pray that I will be a blessing to the community and that serving them will bring blessings to Vickie and me.

I marvel too that all of this unfolded because I was doing a favor for a colleague.

Indeed, “מצוה גוררת מצוה. One good deed leads to another.”

 

 

Bernard Werthan, Jr.

No one outside of my immediate family has had as great an impact on my life or been a greater inspiration to my thinking than Bernard Werthan, Jr.

Bernard was born to a family of means and could have lived a life of self-centered leisure. Instead, he chose a life of tireless service to others. He gave to his community and to individuals who needed help in too many ways to count.

He and Betty, his lifelong love, were an amazing team. She was his muse, his inspiration and his support. They were far greater together than even the considerable sum of their parts.

One of Bernard’s main charitable endeavors was OIC***.

One year, when Senator Albert Gore, Jr. had to cancel at the last minute, after he had accepted the invitation to speak at the OIC graduation, Bernard decided I was the one to take his place.

“You mean,” I asked incredulously, “they are expecting Al Gore, and they are going to get me?

“You can do it,” he said.

That was just one example of a time that Bernard had more confidence in me than I have in myself. I shall always be grateful for the trust he placed in me.

Bernard never stopped learning and stretching the extraordinary mind with which God blessed him. He was always on the lookout for ways to use his knowledge to serve others.

During my last visit to Nashville, Bernard said just before I left: “There are two books that you have to read. They put race relations in our country in a whole new light. I’ll have them sent to you.”

A few days later two volumes arrived: Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson and The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. They sat unopened on my shelf for a year and a half.

Then the invitation came for me to be this year’s keynote speaker at the annual Martin Luther King Day Commemoration and Scholarship Awards Ceremony in Albuquerque, NM.

It was as though Bernard had sent me Stevenson and Alexander’s books for just that occasion.

I read them, and it was just as Bernard had said, they put race relations in America—a subject with which I thought I was thoroughly familiar—in a whole new light. The insights those books contain added immeasurably to the quality of my speech.

For me and for so many others Bernard Werthan put not only race relations but also the very meaning and purpose of life in a whole new light.

His generosity, his wisdom, his caring and his compassion will be a blessing to me—as it will be to so many–as long as I shall live.

 

***The mission of Nashville Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) is to provide education, training, counseling and job placement services for citizens of the community who are disadvantaged economically, educationally, and socially.

Our vision is to guide people on a successful road to self-achievement: leading to self-reliance.