Apr 222018

Evanston RoundTable, April 19, 2018

Maybe the luckiest thing that ever happened to me happened right at the start, in the genetic lottery at conception. That’s when I inherited the “reading gene.”

OK, there probably is no such thing, but I remain convinced of it. I have met people who rarely or never read, for whom reading is a chore or worse yet, an ordeal. At the other end of the spectrum there’s the cohort I belong to, people who read obsessively and voluminously, devouring books and magazines as naturally and inescapably as breathing.

In a lifetime of reading, a few dozen authors have become inspiring and dependable companions: Tolstoy, Nabokov, Graham Greene, Philip Roth, John Updike, George Saunders, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Wallace Stegner, David McCullough, Ann Patchett, August Wilson, David Malouf, John McPhee, the Bards of Avon and Asbury Park, and more.

What is it about their books that is so compelling? The best writing helps us understand history and better appreciate people. Beyond that, reading is a blessing in at least two respects: it allows readers to roam the world in time and place learning from others, and it is a great balm and solace in periods of loneliness.

This is the subtext for a classic novel I only recently discovered, “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005. The book’s narrator, the aging and ailing John Ames, is writing a letter to his 7-year-old son, a kind of summing up of his life, which he expects will end soon, before the boy ever gets to know him.

Ames lives in the small Iowa town of the title, and is a preacher who is the son and grandson of preachers. His first wife and child died at childbirth, and he has since experienced profound loneliness. He has lived alone for decades, cared for by sympathetic parishioners, until meeting and marrying a much younger woman, with whom – a surprise to them both – he has a child.

Ames and his best friend Boughton, also a local preacher, discuss religion, the great political and social issues of mid-20th century America as well as their personal lives. What bedevils Ames most is Boughton’s troubled middle-aged son, who has come back to Gilead.

Death too is never far away from Ames’ mind. He writes: “Our dream of life will end as dreams do end, abruptly and completely, when the sun rises, when the light comes. And we will think, All that fear and all that grief were about nothing.”

The story is simple and timeless: the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next, the deep love of a man for his wife and child, his regrets and weaknesses, and his constant and beautiful humanity. John Ames is one of the finest creations of 20th century literature. And “Gilead,” the first book of a trilogy about these characters, is one of our finest achievements in literature.

 Note: This version adds seven few words to the list of writers, to reflect two I missed, “the Bards of Avon and Asbury Park.”

Apr 062018

Evanston RoundTable, April 5, 2018

In the war against polio, Rotary is winning. And unbeknownst to most Evanstonians, the PolioPlus global eradication campaign is directed from the Rotary Building in downtown Evanston, headquarters to the million-plus Rotary members and 35,000 Rotary clubs worldwide.

When Rotary began its first polio immunization campaign, in the Philippines in 1979, there were more than 1,000 cases a day being reported worldwide. The following year, at Rotary’s 75th anniversary convention in Chicago, oral polio vaccine inventor Albert Sabin challenged Rotary to consider taking on the task of worldwide polio eradication. “Dr. Sabin said an organization like Rotary could make that happen, because we had members in nearly every country in the world,” said Carol Pandak, Director of PolioPlus.

The idea was highly appealing to Rotary, but also audacious. Only one major disease, smallpox, had ever been stamped out worldwide. Nevertheless five years later, in 1985, Rotary launched its PolioPlus initiative. Partnering with the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has provided some $685 million in funding help, by 2017 PolioPlus had reduced the incidence of reported cases worldwide to just 22. And those cases were in just three countries – Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan – where war and insurgencies made immunization campaigns chaotic if not impossible.

So far this year there have been just five reported cases, all in Afghanistan.

Dr. Pandak said the role of the 500 or so staff people at the Rotary headquarters in Evanston is “fundraising, advocacy and raising awareness with Rotary members. Our Rotary volunteers worldwide are the arms and legs of the PolioPlus campaign.”

Two of those volunteers are Ann and John Searles, longtime Evanstonians and Rotary members. After hearing about the PolioPlus volunteer efforts at a Rotary club meeting, they decided to go to India in February 2004. The polio vaccine is easy for volunteers to administer, requiring just two drops, dispensed from a medicine bottle. “We didn’t need much training,” Ms. Searles said. “You just press the children’s cheeks and their mouths pop open.”

The Searles stayed with local Rotarians in Ghaziabad, about 30 kilometers east of New Delhi. The immunization campaign lasted three days, during which they estimate they immunized several hundred children. They went to clinics, street corner booths and even bus stations. Some mothers would hand their babies to the volunteers right out of bus windows. India was declared polio-free in 2014.

“We were really glad to go,” said Ms. Searles. “It was such a worthy project.”

Worthy – and working, a miracle in the making. “2018 could be the year we see the last case of polio,” said Dr. Pandak, thanks to the efforts of Ann and John Searles and tens of thousands of Rotarians and others in a program started and managed right here in Evanston.

Mar 272018

Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018

“We’re the new kid on the block,” says Evanston resident Angela Young Smucker, one of the founders of Third Coast Baroque, “so we’ve come up with some fresh angles to reframe the music.”

Angela Young Smucker (Photo by Steven E. Gross)

Fresh is good, because the Chicago area is awash with Baroque and early music ensembles, including Music of the Baroque, the Newberry Consort, the Haymarket Opera Company, Callipygian Players, and Schola Antiqua of Chicago. Each has a different spin on music of that era, generally considered to include works composed between 1600 and 1750 and exemplified at its peak by the towering music of Monteverdi, Bach, and Handel.

Baroque’s popularity derives from its effervescent, ornate, and often brilliant style and a trend toward more historically informed performances that strive for greater authenticity and take into account the instruments, bows, and playing techniques of the era.

Third Coast Baroque’s approach reflects the unique perspective of the group’s Artistic Director, Rubén Dubrovsky. Mr. Dubrovsky is from Argentina but studied in Germany and is based in Vienna, where he leads his own group, the Bach Consort Wien.

Ms. Young Smucker, who is a highly regarded mezzo-soprano studying for her doctorate in vocal performance at Northwestern University, had worked with Mr. Dubrovsky previously. “I admired his engaging and collaborative approach and unique presentation style,” she said. “Rubén takes the repertoire and uncovers why it’s still relevant for today’s audiences.”

So she and a colleague, Nathalie Colas, approached Mr. Dubrovsky in 2016 about starting the group.

Their first performance was Nov. 6, 2016, in Chicago’s Columbus Park. A benefit at Piccolo Theatre in Evanston was held the next night. Since then they’ve performed in Evanston and Chicago in April and November 2017, varying vocal and instrumental programs. Their next concert here is 7:30 p.m. April 7 at Galvin Hall at Northwestern. The all-Vivaldi program will feature renowned mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux.

Mr. Dubrovsky’s mother taught piano and his father played Argentine folk music. He grew up playing folk guitar and cello. Many years later, he said, “I realized our native folk music sounded like Baroque music—the dances and rhythms.” And the folk music, he further realized, had its origins in African rhythms and songs that slaves brought over to the New World. He frequently talks about Baroque’s varied roots in the engaging presentations he makes during his concerts.

He will also discuss Baroque’s relevance to today’s music. “Kids think classical music is for rich white people and has nothing to do with them. Not so,” he says emphatically. “The folk roots of Baroque reflect native dance music,” which he says can be heard in black, African American, and Latino music and even contemporary pop, rap, and R&B. “Baroque,” adds Ms. Young Smucker, “is a building block.”

This kind of audience discussion is critical, Mr. Dubrovsky says. “It is very important to provide context, to make it easier for people to understand and connect. It’s not just nice music; I’m trying to provide insight into an aspect of our universal culture.”

“Call it Baroque musicology made painless,” wrote the Tribune music critic John von Rhein after the group’s April 2017 concert. “Also informative. Also entertaining. If this is how Dubrovsky hopes to reframe early music, break down barriers, and cultivate an ongoing dialogue with listeners, then bring it on, I say.”

“Rubén is wildly enthusiastic about the music and works at a very high artistic level,” says Evanston resident Jerry Fuller, who plays double bass with and sits on the advisory board of Third Coast Baroque. Mr. Fuller also leads his own Baroque ensemble, Ars Antigua Presents. “[Rubén] has been very successful bringing his cross-cultural vision to audiences. He knows how to bring it all together.”


Mar 262018

Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018

Chanting “hey hey, ho ho, gun violence has got to go,” thousands of Evanston Township High School students on March 14 joined the nationwide student walkout for stronger gun laws.

The morning rally, held at Lazier Field, filled the stadium’s west stands to overflowing. A school official estimated almost all the school’s 3,500 students attended.

Emma Stein, president of the Student Senate, prepares to address the school rally. (RoundTable photo)

“Students were given a choice whether to attend,” said Emma Stein, a senior and the rally’s chief organizer. “It wasn’t a school-sanctioned event but the school helped us. But the vast majority of planning was done by the Student Senate and the school group Students Organized Against Racism.”

“We wanted to keep our students safe as they engage in free speech,” said ETHS Principal and District 202 Assistant Superintendent Marcus Campbell. “We are happy that they are speaking up on the issues that matter to them.”

Emma, who is a senior and president of the Student Senate, was the first of several students to speak. “Today our voices ring out in solidarity with the youth of America,” she said. “Our voices mourn, and our voices demand change. Our voices ring out for Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Las Vegas, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Stonemason Douglas and so many more. Our voices ring out for Danae Coleman, Benjamin Mandujano Bradford, Yakez Semark, Kaylyn Pryor.”

She was followed by Liana Wallace, a junior, whose speech “See Something, Say Something,” was delivered with a passionate fervor that alternately stunned and fired up the crowd. (Her speech is reprinted at left.)

The next speaker, Ari Badr, delivered a stinging rebuke of America’s gun culture, “Our country dismisses people of color as criminals and terrorists and at the same time defends weapons of terror,” he said. “The U.S. disregards real people with heartbeats and brains for cold metal weapons they don’t need.”

Sophomores Hannah (left) and Sydney en route to the school rally. (RoundTable photo)

Senior Genevieve Lindley noted that ETHS seniors were born in 1999, the same year of the Columbine shootings. “In the 19 years since then, the 19 years within which we have all grown to be the young adults standing here, there have been more than 25 massacres in elementary, middle and high schools all around the country. “

The next speaker, Sofia Garcia, a senior, urged students to take action, and concluded by quoting her dad, who said, “‘Sofia, you can’t even walk into a bar but you can get a gun on your lunch break.’ That is the harsh reality in the United States because for some people their right to own and carry a gun is more important than our safety and our life. So I’m pleading with you all to please take action, call your reps, your senators, and anyone who you think will fight for us and demand some action…Enough is enough.”

Emma concluded by urging students to “take this moment into the rest of your life. Hold this sense of unity, of empowerment, of whatever you may need in the future. Take this moment into voting booths. Take this momentum, this energy, that I can feel buzzing around the stadium, into further activism…Take control of your voice.”






Mar 262018

Evanston RoundTable, March 22, 2018

Everyone experiences tragedy and trauma. They are unavoidable, no matter how blessed a person’s life is.

And everyone will suffer as a result. But most people recover and go on to lead relatively stable, happy lives. Others even transcend their traumas, inspired in some fashion to change how they live in order to help others.

How people manage to overcome life’s suffering is the subject of Evanston author Mark Miller’s powerful new book, “Jolt: Stories of Trauma and Transformation,” published in February by Post Hill Press.

Mr. Miller is a Chicago journalist who has worked at Crain’s, the Sun-Times and the Tribune, where he launched Satisfaction magazine about retirement. After the magazine folded he continued writing about aging and retirement for Reuters and other news syndicates, and his articles have also appeared in AARP magazine and the New York Times.

In 2010 he published his first book, “The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work, and Living.”

“Jolt” grew out of his work on retirement. “I grew interested in midlife career transitions, of people reinventing themselves to serve a greater social purpose.”

He said he noticed a pattern. “Often some traumatic event triggered a change and made people re-evaluate their life.” Mr. Miller discovered there is a rigorous field of research in the psychology of “post-traumatic growth” and set out to find and profile such survivors.

The work resulted in “Surviving the Jolt,” a 2015 article for AARP magazine. “The piece got a good reception, but I felt I had only scratched the surface.” He spent the next two years doing further research and identifying the many first-person accounts for the new book.

These accounts are riveting. A New York couple whose 25-year-old son died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. A Detroit couple whose seven-year-old daughter was abducted and murdered on a family camping trip. A Chicago man burned almost to death in a freak on-the-job fire. A Detroit woman reduced almost to homelessness after her husband lost all their money. And many more.

The wonder is not that these stories abound: of course they do. As Mr. Miller says, “they were hiding in plain sight.” The wonder is that in each case, the people in his book not only survived but grew from their tragedies and found in them the impetus to achieve great change, to grant forgiveness, to start charitable organizations, and generally to make the world a better place.

“These people didn’t regain their old life, but they were able to start a new life,” he says. And for many, the new life was a blessing they could never have imagined without the jolt.

Of course, not everyone manages to pivot from tragedy to transcendence. But a surprising number of people do.

These are among the many profound lessons in “Jolt.”

Mar 092018

Evanston RoundTable, March 8, 2018

When our grandson Benjamin turned one, our daughter asked my wife and me to write a few words of advice for him. Mine went something like this:

Do. Get out on the playing field of life and give the ball a whack. Be active. Participate. Join. Get your fingers dirty. Calloused hands are the toughest.

Read. Reading is mental doing. It requires time, thought, and imagination. Reading frees the mind to roam the world. You will find reading fun, amazing, informative, and it will help you be a better writer. It is also a wonderful consolation, a way to enjoy being by yourself.

Learn. Be intensely curious about things, places, and people. Life is an amazing, incredible adventure, an incomparable and precious gift, a treasure we can never fully understand and appreciate. We can only try. So never be afraid to ask questions and respect and seek out wisdom.

Explore. There is no better way to experience the world than to see it up close. I have traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, and have visited Israel and lived in England and West Africa. All my trips, even (especially!) the ones that didn’t turn out as expected, were an incomparable way to see and experience life.

Shine. Smile and be happy, if you can help it. And guess what – you can! The glass half empty and the glass half full is the same glass. Most things, even the biggest challenges and problems, tend to work themselves out pretty well. “Shine” also means be a beacon of light, support, and friendship to others.

Adjust. Life is a constant series of corrections: learning to walk, talk, run, play, and fit in. You will make tons of mistakes along the way. Study them, learn from them, and move on.

Feel. Be sensitive and compassionate. Try to experience the world as others do, feel their pain as well as their joy. Be a part of the community, not apart from it. Be a support and help to others, and most times they will do the same for you.

Be thoughtful. Think before you act. Impulsiveness is only good in an emergency. Otherwise try to anticipate the effect your words and actions will have on others before you say and do them. It will save you and others a lot of grief.

Laugh. Life is a mystery and sometimes very painful, but most of it can be navigated with the attitude that what doesn’t hurt you and others is really, when you stand back and look at it clearly, pretty funny.

Grow. No one knows how or why we’re here. It could be God’s plan, or it could be an accident. Either way, we should live the same way: help others and make the world a better place. At first you’ll need a lot of help just learning how to get along in it, but after awhile, you’ll get the hang of it. Then you can start helping others. The goal is to be the best Ben you can be. That’s true growth.

Mar 092018

Evanston RoundTable, March 8, 2018

The Evanston bus women helped make history.

At least that’s how it seemed when they returned from Springfield Feb. 28 after spending the day rallying, lobbying, and cheering on State legislators intent on passing long-delayed gun-safety legislation.

“I feel elated, hopeful, and invigorated,” said Kathleen Long, one of the trip organizers, of the day’s efforts.

The “Action Lobby Day” in Springfield had been planned months in advance by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and the bus with 49 women, mostly Evanston moms, which left from Dempster Dodge Plaza at 5:20 a.m., had been booked weeks earlier. So no one involved in planning the day knew what would play out in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day, or that there would be seven critical gun bills up for consideration at the Illinois State Capitol on Feb. 28.

Nevertheless, the timing could not have been more stark. Exactly two weeks earlier 17 people—14 students, a geography teacher, an assistant football coach, and the school’s athletic director—had been killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Even as the tragedy unfolded, students were texting a play-by-play narrative. Since then many have become passionate advocates for gun safety.

Emma Gonzalez, an 18-year-old Douglas senior, has risen to prominence through her appearances on network news shows, her social media posts, and a widely praised essay in Harper’s Bazaar magazine advocating stronger gun-control measures. She now has more than 1 million Twitter followers, which according to the political website Politico is more than the National Rifle Association. “We will be the last mass shooting,” she declared at a rally in Fort Lauderdale.

As if following her lead, thousands of high school students across the country have marched and rallied since Parkland. Additional school walkouts are planned for March 14 at Evanston Township High School and elsewhere around the nation, as well as April 20 to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. A March 24 rally called March For Our Lives is scheduled in Washington D.C. and in other cities nationwide. As a result, some people are now hopefully predicting a turning point in the decades-long campaign to enact common sense gun laws.

That was one of the reasons Northwestern freshman Ellise Shafer was on the bus. She and two of her fellow students spent the day videotaping the Evanston women for a Medill class assignment.

“This has been an amazing experience for me,” she said afterward. “One reason I came down here was because of the inspiring actions of the Parkland students, speaking out and taking action. I’d like to reach out to the kids and encourage them to carry on.”

Still, when Ms. Shafer and the other Evanston activists scrambled back on the bus at 4 p.m. for the three-and-a-half hour ride home, they were not altogether hopeful. Discussions in the House had not yet concluded on a key initiative, SB 1657, the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, and the debate had been contentious.

But half an hour after the bus pulled out of town, word came via text that the bill had passed, 64-52. Loud cheers erupted and people shouted, “This is awesome.”

In fact, it was only the beginning. Shortly afterwards came news that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, had raised the minimum age to buy guns and ammunition to 21, and would stop selling toys and other items resembling assault-style rifles. Dick’s, a large sporting goods chain, had announced earlier in the day that it had raised the minimum gun-buying age to 21 and that it would halt sales of all assault-type weapons.

Next came a text from 18th District State Rep. Robyn Gabel applauding the group’s efforts. “Thanks so much for coming to Springfield,” she wrote. “It means a lot to us.”

Then in the next hour more good news rolled in: several other gun-safety bills—an amendment raising from 18 to 21 the age a person can buy an assault weapon; a bill banning bump stocks; and a required 72-hour “cooling off period” on sales of assault weapons—also passed. The licensing bill now goes to the Governor’s desk. Several other measures, including a bill to ban body armor, are still under consideration.

“This is very exciting,” said Evanston bus rider Bob Grannick, the sole male activist on board. “Especially the enthusiasm of young people that we’ve seen. It’s a marked contrast from some of the cynicism [about gun violence].”

The day began before sunrise when the bedraggled crew set off by bus from Evanston for the State Capitol. Some riders, like Ms. Long, reminisced about the 15-hour bus rides to and from Washington D.C. for the Women’s March to Washington in January 2017. Betsy Storm, co-leader of the Evanston-Wilmette-Skokie chapter of Moms Demand Action, found herself sitting next to Laurel Latimer. It had been the first time they had seen other since May 2000, when they went to the Million Mom March together.

Ms. Storm said Moms Demand Action was started by a stay-at-home mom right after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Today it has 4 million members.

“It’s not easy getting up at 3:30 in the morning,” she said. “But it’s such important work.”

Ms. Storm was one of several riders who spoke to the group on the way to Springfield. Others included Karen Smith, Director of Operations for Curt’s Café. She talked about the restaurant’s mission and introduced a young employee who was on the ride. Other speakers included Jennifer Moran of the Evanston Community Foundation, talking about Leadership Evanston; Karla Thomas, a political blogger; Laura Tanner Swinand of Indivisible Evanston; and Eileen Soderstrom of People for a Safer Society.

On arriving in Springfield and checking in with Mothers Demand Action in the Capitol building, the group split up to meet with 17th District State Rep. Laura Fine, 18th District State Rep. Gabel, and 14th District State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, all of whom represent parts of Evanston.

Rep. Fine stressed the importance of their work. She said her son’s university had recently notified parents that a student had been suspended for having a semi-automatic rifle in his fraternity house and a handgun in a nearby garage. “How can we prevent this sort of thing from happening?” she asked.

The answer, she suggested, comes from the growing strength of their gun-safety campaign. “Five years ago, only a handful of people would show up at these rallies. Today it’s 500,” she said.

And she praised their efforts as meaningful and effective. “Because of you guys, I have the strength to say [to the gun lobby and pro-gun lawmakers], ‘This is what my community wants.’” She said it’s a matter of “health and safety, of protecting our children. I hope this [legislation] is just the start, and when other states see what Illinois has done, they’ll be encouraged to stand up to the NRA too.”

Next, the Evanston group joined the Moms Demand Action rally on the front steps of the Capitol. Gun violence survivors spoke of children killed in shootings. Many people at the event wore “Survivor” buttons. They or a loved one had been the victim of gun violence. One woman said she had been kidnapped at gunpoint and held in the trunk of her car. She survived when her assailant abandoned the car.

After lunch some of the Evanston group joined the visitors’ galleries in the House and Senate, where various gun bills were being debated, before heading back to Evanston.

Nina Kavin, one of the bus ride organizers and founder of the Dear Evanston website, summed up their experience on the ride home. “It’s been an unbelievably long day, but so worthwhile,” she said. “A lot of people are motivated to make changes, to get on the bus together and protect the kids of Evanston—and everywhere—by making it harder for illegal guns to be sold to the wrong people.”

Just before the bus pulled back into Dempster Dodge Plaza at 7:30 p.m., Ms. Long told the group: “Today represents everything I love about Evanston.”

There were extra loud cheers.

Looking back two days later, Rep. Fine said, “It was such an emotional day. But all the pieces fell in place, and together we made history. I was so proud to have so many constituents from my communities come down and stand up for what we believe is right. I really believe that because of their efforts—the phone calls, the emails, the meetings, coming down to Springfield—that we were able to get this done, to protect our children and protect our community.”

This article has been corrected to identify the gun bill as SB 1657.


Feb 232018

Evanston RoundTable, Feb. 22, 2018

David Baskin grew up in Evanston and like a lot of kids who went to ETHS, got to know and admire Ross Freeland. Ross taught statistics, which David took in his senior year, and was the assistant coach on the Wildkit baseball team, where David played for four seasons.

They bonded, David recalled recently while visiting his family in Evanston, over morning batting practice at school. Ross would come every day before classes to pitch to David. “Those practice sessions symbolized who Ross was,” David said. “He was quiet, sincere, and always there for you. He didn’t make a show of things, he simply showed up when you needed him. As we grew older, that took many forms—calling in times of need, being a true friend. He was always there, on time and ready to throw.

“He changed my life, gave me a confidence I didn’t know I was capable of. I loved him dearly.”

David carried that love and confidence with him to Denison University and then, a year after he graduated, to Israel, where he went to live.

It was while serving in the Israeli Army that he learned Ross Freeland had died of stomach cancer in March of 2016.

Traveling home on a two-day pass, David managed to attend the memorial the following month. The service was held in a jam-packed ETHS auditorium. Many people—Ross’s students, his colleagues, his wife, the head baseball coach—shared their memories and appreciation of Ross.

David didn’t speak, but he kept thinking about a philosophy Ross shared with his students. It was about putting other people ahead of oneself. Ross would say: “First comes the greater good, the welfare of others is second, and I am third.”

He had a chance to put this philosophy into practice back in Israel. He had served part of his Army stint along the Syrian border, and participated in Operation Good Neighbor, helping Syrians in need of medical care. Working with the so-called enemy, connecting with them through humanitarian aid, was his first real experience helping others.

When David finished his Army service in July 2016 he started his own program, called Ani Shlishi, which in Hebrew means “I am third.” The not-for-profit collects items donated by soldiers, civilians, and department stores and sells them at “pop-up” shops in markets and universities. The money collected goes toward trade school scholarships as well as donations of clothing, books, and school supplies for impoverished and at-risk youth, both Arab and Israeli.

“Everything we do is guided by the philosophy ‘I’m Third,’ and of giving other people opportunities,” says David.

Last year Ani Shlishi donated more than 40,000 pounds of clothing and raised more than $10,000 toward scholarships.

It is a fitting memorial to a great role model, and a reminder of the good one can do if you put others ahead of yourself.


Feb 092018

Evanston RoundTable, Feb. 8, 2018

How do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

Aside from the cold, there is ice, slush, shoveling, chopping, slipping, falling, flu, cabin fever, gray skies, dry air, static electricity…. Well, you get the idea.

I refer, of course, to winter, that unloved annual visitor who like some crazy Uncle Wilbur shows up uninvited at your doorstep every December, messes with your life and your mind, and doesn’t leave for months.

Who needs it?

And yet, here we are, in the midst of another winter. Since we’re stuck with the darn thing, we better make the best of it.

Herewith are two sets of reasons for tolerating our cold and icy annual visitor.

The first are what I call the negative pluses, excuse the oxymoron, of the season.

The great newspaper columnist Mike Royko used to say Chicago winters, especially “the Hawk,” that ferocious blast of freezing air that sweeps across the prairie and blows into the city through the skyscrapers and makes your eyes water and your tears freeze to your skin, is “character-building.”

To which I say, like Falstaff on the subject of “honour,” who needs character?

Still, there is something about confronting the bitter cold, especially that first electric rush when you step outside and despite four layers of clothing your heart flips like a pancake and your breath congeals into icy shards on your lips, which might be considered thrilling and even a little death-defying.

Winter also divides those two great seasons, spring and fall, and imbues them with meaning. Consider San Diego. Average year-round temperature: 64°; number of sunny days: 300-plus. Nice, sure, but after awhile oh so boring, to the point where the weather is like outdoor wallpaper: it ceases to be of interest.

The reason spring and fall here are so wonderful is because, like life itself, the seasons are temporary. So we treasure them all the more.

Winter has its plus pluses too.


There are great winter activities like sledding and cross-country skiing; ice cold water from the tap; the best sleeping of the year, snuggled under all those comfy blankets; and the best seasonal beverages, including hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and hot toddies.

And there are some important dates like Dec. 25 and Martin Luther King’s Birthday and some fun and goofy ones like New Year’s Eve, Valentine’s Day, Super Bowl Sunday, and Groundhog Day.

5 p.m. sunsets are always a good excuse to leave work early, spend more time with friends and family, and curl up to watch great movies or series on TV. And there are mornings when we wake up to the beauty of snow-tufted trees, their branches reaching up to the sterling blue skies.

Best of all are the first warm days of late winter, when snow and ice start to melt for good, and everyone seems to pour out into the streets to renew neighborly friendships, resume jogging and biking, and start contemplating the renewal of life that spring foretells.




Jan 252018

Evanston RoundTable, Jan. 25, 2018

The sun winked out.

Not from a passing cloud, not from a sudden storm, not from a rose-hued sunset. It just vanished, without warning, without a sound, quick as the snap of a finger.

Humanity had no notion, at first. It takes 500 seconds for gravity’s reach and the sun’s rays to hit the planet. But specially designed solar probes registered the event, and sent back a single, dire pronouncement: #sun gone!!!

The first reaction was disbelief. Equipment malfunction! Human error! Fake news!

But it was soon clear the probe was working and the signals were accurate and irrefutable: after four-and-a-half billion years, the sun was gone. The last rays of life-giving light and gravity were now speeding to Earth. There were just a few minutes left.

People poured into the streets to howl, weep, and scream, to beat their chests and shake their fists.

How could this be? Why now?

Bitterly they railed: if there had to be an end time, why should it come during my lifetime?

But none of these thoughts made any difference. Unmoved by the public demonstrations, light and life were streaming to an end. As that reality sank in, people made frantic efforts to reach their loved ones—to make amends, to tell them goodbye, to ask forgiveness, to hug them and say, “I love you.”

Then a strange thing happened. Everyone began to realize how unimportant most of their concerns had been. What seemed so serious and profound before now seemed trivial and inconsequential.

Why were we so worried about the color of people’s skin, the religion they professed, the identity of their gender or the status of their citizenship papers? Why did we argue about who spent what money or failed to take out the garbage or walk the dog? Why weren’t we more focused on fighting poverty, healing disease and divisiveness, stewarding the planet, and supporting and helping each other?

In the final moments people began to reflect on their fondest memories—family vacations, glorious rainbows, shared laughter, long and lovely walks, the beauty of nature and the power and glory of art.

Of course, this scenario could never happen. The drone’s signal and the sun’s demise would arrive simultaneously. The world would be plunged into darkness before anyone knew what was taking place, temperatures would begin to plummet, and the Earth, our moon and all the other objects in the solar system, released from the sun’s gravitational grip, would fly off into space.

And thus would end humanity’s brief and thrilling adventure.

But in a sense, the end times are already close at hand. Everyone has a date with mortality. We will always need to make amends, to regain our sense of proportion, to act on our best instincts, to take time for nature and art, and to tell those dear to us, “I love you.”

Do it before the sun goes down.