Monday, December 26, 2016

In My Journey Through Life, A Real Surprising Development

Readers, something really surprising has happened. My blog has been hacked by Russian hackers. Don’t worry that I’ve flipped out. I know it’s them because in the statistics, I see the largest number of my readers are in Russia. Besides that, I keep getting anonymous comments that don’t make any sense. Sometimes they’ve been just a bunch of numbers. Other times they’re a bunch of nonsense words and I’ve had to send them all to spam. Who do they think I am - Hillary Clinton? I’m kind of flattered that they think I’m someone prominent.

So I’m thinking of sending them a comment in reply. Let me know what you think.

Dear Russian Hackers,

I don’t know why you’re bothering to hack my blog, but I kind of feel sorry for you because you’ve wasted a whole lot of your time. You’re not going to find out anything from me that you couldn’t find out by reading the newspapers. I’m just a private American citizen exercising my freedom of speech while I still have it. The events I write about are all public knowledge that I’m merely expressing my opinion about.

It reminds me of two funny FBI stories. One was an old friend of mine was a member of the Communist Party. The FBI sent an agent to spy on him. They spent so much time together that they got to be friends. When the FBI agent’s dog ran away, my friend helped him to look for his dog.

During the Vietnam War, my friends and I went to an anti-war march. We met a man who was wearing a “May 2nd Movement” campaign button. I asked him what that was and he told us. About a year later, one of my friends told me that he read a story about an FBI agent spending six months with the May 2nd Movement and finding out everything we did in our ten-minute conversation. I guess bureaucracies have something in common all over the world.

I’m willing to let bygones be bygones if you’d just say you’re sorry and unjumble my blog. While you’re at it, could you do me a favor? My aunt was a great cook and she made fabulous beef Stragonoff. I lost the recipe so could you send one to me? If you tell me your real name, I’ll mention it in my blog.

And that’s another thing: Just a friendly tip: You’d probably do better if you used an American name on your comments and improved your English grammar. Just saying.

Happy New Year. May 2017 be a more peaceful one for all of us. Lisa Sachs

So readers, until this hacking problem is resolved, I won’t be able to post anything. Happy New Year to all of you and may 2017 be a peaceful year for all the world.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Only Twenty Nine Days Until Donald Trump Becomes President. What Do We Do Now?

There are only 28 days until Donald Trump becomes President of the United States of America. We have less than a month left to live in a Democracy that has a semblance of a social safety net, that has outlawed hate crimes, that guarantees us freedom of the press, speech, assembly, and religion. I feel that I must do something each day that counts toward saving the good that American has been and will be - until January 20th. The time to cry was after the election results came in. The time to panic is probably just beginning. I’m sure I’ll be doing plenty of that in the future. For now, I’m trying to be constructive.

Yesterday, December 21, I volunteered as I’ve been doing each Wednesday, at the ESL CafĂ© at the Skokie Library. Since this is a drop-in program for any immigrant who wants an opportunity to practice speaking English, we never have the exact same group that we had the week before. While a core group attends each week, people are always dropping in or out. We go around the room asking the people to introduce themselves. Today, people came to the group from Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Syria, Iraq, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The way in which people introduce themselves is always interesting. “I came from Syria five years ago,” says a woman. The tears she is trying not to shed are visible. “It used to be beautiful. Not now.” She cannot continue talking and we move on to the next person.
Many of the people who attend the group talk about how grateful they are to be in America and Skokie, Illinois in particular. “I’ve been here over 20 years,” says a Russian woman. “God bless this country.”

We welcome them all to the group. I tell them my name and that I was born in New York and have spent most of my adult life in the Chicago area. “My grandparents came from Russia over 100 years ago,” I tell them. “We’re all immigrants or the children or grandchildren of immigrants. Welcome to the group. Welcome.”

I wonder how long I’ll be able to say that. Will any immigrants be truly welcome here during the next four years? I swallow a lump in my throat and my co-volunteer goes on to our activity for this day – sharing holiday music from our respective countries. Everyone seems to enjoy sharing it. We sing. We dance. We eat cookies from various countries that participants have brought in. We’re from many lands but we’ve shared our music, our dance, and our foods. We can no longer be strangers.

I’m grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer in this program, a joint project of the English Language Learners Center and the Skokie Library. How long will I be able to welcome new immigrants to America? I don’t know, but I’m determined to work with Immigrant Rights Groups to make sure that America remains a beacon of hope to the world.

The countdown continues. I hope to do something today and every day to make the next month meaningful.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Finding Optimism Now That Trump Is President-Elect

Dear Millenial Children and Friends,

I’m sorry that I wasn’t more encouraging on the phone Tuesday when we got the election results. I was too busy sobbing hysterically to think of anything hopeful.

Now that I have had a few days to reflect, I feel better about Trump’s winning. I’ve looked back at other horrible times that I’ve experienced in American history and realized that they passed.

The darkest era in my lifetime was the Vietnam War period. That unjustified war finally came to an end. That didn’t happen, however, because of the passage of time. It didn’t happen because the War petered out of its own accord. It ended because we intervened. We marched. We picketed. We campaigned for anti-war Congressional Candidates. We opposed the draft. We draft-counseled. We burned our draft cards. We went to Canada. We went to jail for draft resistance. We boycotted Dow Chemical for manufacturing napalm. We were neat and clean for Gene McCarthy. We campaigned for Bobby Kennedy. And finally, after several years, the government ran out of human cannon fodder and the War ended.

A famous Chinese curse is “May you live in interesting times.” I have already lived through one interesting time and I’m very distressed to find myself living through another one. This time will also pass, but it won’t pass by accident. We must do everything legally possible to prevent the worst of Trump’s policies from coming to fruition. We cannot let him shut down the free press. We cannot let him jail his political opponents. We cannot let him place heavy surveillance on our Muslim friends and neighbors. We cannot let him deport all our Mexican friends. We cannot allow African-Americans to be hounded and persecuted. We will support the disabled and demand that they are treated with the dignity that they deserve. We will stand up for women’s rights and refuse to let Trump turn back the clocks to the 1950’s. We will be there for our friends and family in the LGBTQ community.

We must organize. We must march. We must write to the newspapers and our Congresspeople. We must be involved. And with our intervention, this too will pass and America’s better angels will prevail again.

I’ll see you on the picket line or anywhere else we can stand up for all the good that America actually is. And this time will pass, too. If it doesn’t, I’ll meet you at Tim Horton’s for coffee and we’ll grieve for America together. It’ll be on me.

Love, Mom 

Thursday, November 3, 2016

What My Travels Have Taught Me About the 2016 Election

I keep thinking of the trip we took to Argentina and Chile and the message in Rick Steves’ book Travel As A Political Act. He talks about the ways in which traveling to foreign countries has helped him to appreciate how fortunate he is to live in the United States of America. It has also helped him to realize that some other countries often have good solutions to problems and also offer their citizens a good life. Sometimes we Americans can even learn from them.

One of the most fascinating places we visited on that trip was the Eva Peron Museum in Buenos Aires. Before that visit, I had thought of the Perons as Fascists who had their opponents imprisoned, disappeared, and in many cases killed. They did do those things, but Eva Peron advocated for women’s rights and suffrage and spearheaded projects to improve the lives of the poor, also. The Perons ruled Argentina by the Cult of Personality, but they weren’t 100% evil. At least they set up low-cost housing projects and free health clinics for poor women thanks to Eva Peron. Even fifty years later, Argentines still revere Eva, visiting her grave and leaving flowers on it. I used to think that “Don’t cry for me Argentina” was just a song in the musical. When we visited the cemetery in Ricoleta and saw Eva Peron’s grave, I learned that it is the beginning of Eva Peron’s epitaph.

picture of Eva Peron hanging in the Eva Peron Museum, Buenos Aires
Eva Peron's gravesite in the Ricoleta Cemetary, Buenos Aires
When I hear Donald Trump denouncing the free press and freedom of speech, ridiculing his opponents, and having opponents at his rallies physically manhandled, I think back to our trip to South America. Yes, Trump has also threatened to have his opponents jailed if he’s elected. He has roiled up latent feelings in Americans of racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and misogyny promising to build a wall between the USA and Mexico, bar Muslims from America, and set up surveillance on immigrants and African-Americans. Donald Trump threatens to rule by the Cult of Personality without regard to any civil liberties.

Argentina has since recovered from Juan Peron’s rule. Nevertheless, think of all the people who were disappeared, imprisoned, and killed while he ruled Argentina. America might survive a Trump presidency, but I shudder with fear to think of all the lives that will be ruined and lost if he comes to power.

Our trip to Argentina taught me that life is complicated and most people aren’t 100% good or 100% evil. At least Juan Peron had Eva to remind him to look out for the poor. Donald’s Melania shows no such inclination. I keep a kitchen magnet with a picture of Eva Peron on it to remind me daily how complicated human beings are. I hope and pray that if the worst happens and Donald Trump becomes President, I’ll find something positive in his actions. Right now, however, I can’t think of a blessed thing that would be. Please, America, come to your senses and vote against this harbinger of racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism. It could be a matter of life and death for many of us.  


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Holding Up Half the Sky at the Illinois Holocaust Museum

The exhibit “Half the Sky” now at the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie, Illinois is definitely worth a visit.  I went to see it and it didn’t disappoint. The Holocaust Museum and the Evanston YWCA collaborated on it to increase public awareness of the many critical and sometimes life threatening problems that women face in parts of Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

Skokie, a suburb just north of Chicago, is home to the largest concentration of Holocaust Survivors in the United States. In the 1970’s, out of about 70,000 residents, 7,000 were Holocaust Survivors and their families. Prior to the attempted march by Neo-Nazis through Skokie in 1976, many of those survivors had never spoken of their experiences. After that event, many realized that they had to speak out before it was too late to prevent another Holocaust from ever happening again and thus, the idea of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center was born. A small archive had been open since the 1970’s, but the current museum building opened to the public in 2009.

 This exhibit is a great example of the Holocaust Museum’s collaborating with other organizations to bring awareness about current issues of racism. “Half the Sky” will be there until January 22, 2017.

“Women hold up half the sky” is a Chinese saying and the idea for the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sherry DuWunn. They give heart rending examples of problems that women face in countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and some creative solutions that innovative, dedicated people have found and implemented to improve women’s lives in various locales. One of the most well known of these is extending micro-loans to women so that they can start their own small home-based businesses. These loans have enabled many women to become self-sufficient and support their families. In some instances, it has enabled women to thrive and in turn help other women.

While I had read Half the Sky several years ago, I still found it worthwhile seeing the exhibit at the Holocaust Museum. Not only does it discuss various solutions, it also displays many pictures of these women and videos of the women talking about how they’ve participated in the program and how it has impacted their lives. Many of the women shown had to risk their safety to participate. Others have dedicated their lives to some life-saving programs. It is inspiring to hear them.

 The Holocaust Museum forbids picture taking in any of their exhibits so I have none to share with you.. You’ll have to go there and see for yourselves.     

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Indigenous Peoples' Day At the Mitchell Museum

I can’t think of any place better to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day than at the Mitchell Museum of the American Indian in Evanston. I decided to pay a visit there. The Mitchell Museum is small but they change their exhibits often so you can always see something new when you go there. Right now they have an exhibit of pictures of prominent women who are among the First Americans. They ask, “Did you know that these women are Native Americans?” For the most part, I didn’t know so thanks Mitchell Museum for trying to upend another stereotype.

the first Native American woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court

Evanston, Illinois joined the growing list of American cities and universities that have voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Most of the Evanston’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day events took place at The Mitchell Museum of the American Indian. In addition to the exhibits, they had a panel of three Native Americans participating in a discussion about identity, connection to roots, and racial stereotyping. Later, a concert by Native American musicians was presented at Northwestern University. The concert featured the group Scattering the Bones, a family of self-educated musicians. They played their music with heart were a pleasure to watch.

at the concert, Scattering the Bones group

You’re probably asking yourself why we should replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There are several reasons:

Since 1977 proposals to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day have been offered. Many people - especially the First Americans - have had issues about Columbus Day. For one, how can someone say he discovered a place that is already inhabited? There are various figures from studies for what the population of the Americas was just prior to 1492. The average number I saw was 54 million for North America and 37 million for South America.

Leif Erikson, a Norwegian explorer, “found” Canada in about 1003. One can argue that the indigenous peoples themselves discovered the Americas some 10,000 years ago [archaeological evidence is in dispute about the exact date] when they crossed the Land Bridge from Siberia into Alaska.

There are many myths about Columbus in American culture. Yes, he was the first European to settle down in what is now the United States of America. Was he a benefactor to the people he found there? According to historians, he was not and in fact committed genocide against the Native Americans living in Puerto Rico. Surely we can find a more appropriate person to create myths about.

I hope that next year Indigenous Peoples’ Day festivities in Evanston are better attended. All of us Americans should know more about Native American cultures and peoples. Over five million still live here. After all, they were here first.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Peace in Columbia At Last - A Good Omen for the New Year

Ever since reading Even Silence Has An End, My Six Years of Captivity in the Columbian Jungle by Ingrid Betancourt, I have followed news of the talks between the Columbian government and the FARC, the leftwing guerilla group that has been terrorizing the people of Columbia for 52 years. I am not well versed enough in this conflict to have an opinion about whether or not the FARC’s demands had any justification. Whether they did or not, they held many Columbians terrorized and were responsible for the deaths of many. Their tactics were ruthless.

In her book, Ingrid Betancourt chronicles her experiences being kidnapped and held captive by the FARC in the jungles of Columbia from 2002 to 2008. It is amazing how far the depths are of people's cruelty to one another. In Ingrid Betancourt’s experience with the FARC, the depths of inhumanity seemed to have no bottom.  I felt as though I was plodding through the jungle with her as I read her book. Several times Ms. Betancourt spent months planning an escape in intricate detail. Each time that she tried to carry out her plans she was recaptured and brought back to the camp where she was being held hostage. She maintained her sanity by praying, reading, exercising, and forging friendships with the other hostages whom the FARC was holding in captivity.

Ingrid Betancourt had a relatively high position in the Columbian government and she was fortunate in another respect. She had dual French/Columbian citizenship and the French government advocated for her release. The Columbian government did as well and finally rescued her and several other hostages in a raid on the FARC.

Now that the Columbian government and the FARC have signed a peace treaty after all these 52 years, I wonder what Ms. Betancourt will say about it. For me, it is a sign of hope. If after 52 years at war they can finally sign a peace treaty, there must be hope for the rest of the world. As Jews including myself prepare to usher in a New Year on our calendar, I take this event as an omen. I hope that in the year ahead the Israelis and Palestinians will return to the negotiating table and that other such conflicts will also find an end.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Saving the Planet Scandinavian Style

From the moment we were hurtled into downtown from the Stockholm airport on their high speed train, it was clear to us that Scandinavia would be a place that was innovating ways to save the planet.

At the Stockholm airport, we took an elevator one floor down to get on a high-speed train that took us into downtown at 135 miles per hour. The thirty-mile ride took nineteen minutes and brought us to the Central Train Station a ten -minute walk from our hotel.

In the high-speed train station
The HTL Hotel was another example of high tech design. It’s no wonder that IKEA started in Sweden. I was so impressed with the design that I took a picture of our hotel room - something I’ve never done before. The room was small and had no closets or dressers. Two ample draws were built in under the bed. Several hooks were placed on each wall for hanging clothes. Although it looked small, there was enough needed space especially for a few day stay.

In the HTL Hotel
On the Under the Canals boat-tour, we rode past a “passive” apartment building. The narrator explained that it was termed “passive” because its net energy use was zero. Each apartment in the building has a pipe for depositing waste that is funneled into a nearby recycling station that transforms the waste into biofuel. Another pipe into the apartments brings the apartments biofuel that is then used for heat and electricity. In a recent survey, 77% of Swedes said that they’d be willing to pay higher rents to live in a passive apartment.

A "Passive" Apartment Building
Throughout Scandinavia we saw buses running on solar energy and other renewable fuels.

Especially in Copenhagen – but throughout Scandinavia – we were amazed by the amount of people riding bikes instead of cars. In Copenhagen, bicyclists definitely have the right of way and wide, safe bike lanes. Without a doubt bicyclists have the critical mass and have changed the way in which people move from place to place. Instead of huge parking lots for cars, one sees huge bicycle parking lots. For those who don’t bike, of course, they had plenty of public transportation. As a result, there are many fewer cars on the road than one would see in an American city.

Copenhagen Parking Lot
The Scandinavians are definitely leading the way in terms of ecology. Hopefully, the rest of the world will follow them in this regard. On a positive note, enough countries have signed the Paris Accord on global warming to make it a binding treaty by the end of 2016. People in all countries will have to look for ways to save energy. They can look to the Scandinavians for some innovative ways to do it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Are Those Norwegians So Happy About?

Before traveling to Scandinavia, I wondered how the Danes and Norwegians always appeared in worldwide polls as the happiest people in the world with the greatest overall sense of well -being. They live in a place with long, cold, dark winters even worse than Chicago’s. On our trip, I found out.

Yes, they have beautiful places where they can enjoy the outdoors. The fiords and mountains were spectacular to see. We heard from our guide that most Norwegians live for their opportunities to be outdoors skiing and otherwise enjoying their beautiful mountains.

There has to be more to their secret of national happiness than the beautiful scenery and there is. Norway has an extremely admirable social safety network. National healthcare is virtually free to all Norwegians. The government pays for daycare and most Norwegian women work outside the home. They get a 47- week paid parental leave. What can you say to that besides “Wow!”?

All laws are gender-neutral and in many families, the father is the one to stay home. After the leave, the parent has the option of working part-time.  Those women who don’t work are looked down upon by most of Norwegian society. The unions set the wage scales and the least anyone makes is $20 per hour. Of course, school through University is free.

Any Norwegian who has worked 40 years gets a pension worth about two thirds of his (her) salary starting at age 62. Anyone who has worked less than that can work until age 67 and get part of that amount. If someone needs to go to assisted living when he (she) is elderly, he (she) pays 80% of his (her) pension check and their government pays the rest.

Norwegians are taxed heavily to pay for this generous social safety net. As a result, no one there is extremely wealthy. People there pride themselves on having a more equal society. If you want to become uber-rich, don’t go there. In Oslo, I was impressed when we were told to visit their most prominent, wealthy hotel. It was very nice, but I was impressed by how unimpressive it was. The Palmer House in Chicago is much ritzier. If you want to live in a society where everyone has at least the basics and nobody is homeless, Norway is the place to go. Most Norwegians will accept you as long as you work, learn to speak Norwegian, and try to fit into the norms of their society.

Of course, a social safety doesn’t prevent all problems. People can still become physically or mentally ill or develop addictions. They can still have family problems, disabilities, or other emotional difficulties. Nevertheless, I think how much easier it would have been for my former clients’ issues to be resolved had their lives been stabilized by such a safety net. We can certainly learn from the Scandinavians in this respect. In a way, it’s what my book Breaking the Fall is all about. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Stockholm, Sweden - A City Lacking Some Major Earmarks of Urban Life

Stockholm is beautiful, built on an archipelago of 14 islands. The best way to gain a perspective of it is to take a boat tour around it. We did on our last day there. Not having enough time for that the first day, we took a walk around Normann, the area that included the main business district and downtown of Stockholm. I was immediately impressed by how different it looked from anywhere else I’d been. Its architecture, a mixture of Swedish functionalism and buildings built a thousand years ago, somehow all fit together in a beautiful stately whole.

panoramic view of Sweden

The first thing I noticed missing were the panhandlers. All right, during our four days there, we saw a few –maybe five. In most American downtowns, one would see a lot more. Later on our trip we learned that in Scandinavia, people use credit cards for everything and carry no cash. All of their credit cards have chips and are impossible to use by someone who has stolen one. Since potential panhandlers know this, they don’t bother to panhandle. Thus, the government is left to help people in need instead of relying on the generosity of individuals.

The next absence we noticed was the homeless. We learned at the Nordica Museum and on the Under the Bridges boat tour that in the 1920’s and again in 1960, the Swedish government undertook a massive program of building affordable and low-cost housing for its citizens. In 1920, it was done to stem the emigration to America caused by poverty. In the 1960’s, a million housing units for upper income, middle income, and low- income people were built. For a country with a population of about 10 million, this is really remarkable. Most of the housing built were apartments. We didn’t see any large single- family homes but we didn’t see homelessness either. On the boat ride, we saw some government housing. It didn’t look beautiful but it was better than seeing people walking around downtown pushing shopping carts with all their earthly possessions in them because they have nowhere to live.

public housing in Stockholm
One of our first stops was to the Stockholm City Hall where we took a tour. The tours are given in English every half hour. We were taken through the banquet hall where the banquet for the Nobel Prize winners takes place. The building itself and the artwork in were definitely worth a visit. Upstairs, we saw the rooms where the Stockholm City Council has its meetings. One fact I found very intriguing is that the City Council members are part-time workers with other jobs who are paid only for the meetings that they actually attend. I am still working on a proposal to adapt this concept to the Illinois Legislature. It sounds like a great idea to me.

Stockholm City Hall

In the Banquet Hall

In the Stockholm City Hall
We saw a lot more in Stockholm in the following days. I felt that I had seen the future both in how to design a government that works for all its citizens as well as in some very innovative technology that goes a long way toward preserving the environment and slashing the carbon footprint. All in all, Stockholm is a unique, forward looking city.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Traveling in Chicago - The Chicago Cultural Center

One of the little known but great things about Chicago is the abundance of art and culture that’s free and accessible to the public. We took advantage at one of those places by seeing two art exhibits at the Chicago Cultural Center Completed in 1897, the building served as the main branch of the Chicago Public Library until 1991. You can enter the building on either 78 East Washington or 78 East Randolph St or through its Pedway entrance.

There are many free concerts, art exhibits, and other cultural events at the Chicago Cultural Center and the building itself is beautiful and well worth a visit. Free tours of the Cultural Center are given Wednesday through Saturday at 1:15PM. 

Free lunch time concerts are given year round on Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:15. I’ve attended several of them where I’d see many people coming from work to enjoy the concerts on their lunch hours.

Since we had been in the Cultural Center many times before, we went to see the art exhibits before going to Millennial Park. Most of the art exhibits are there for a few months. Unfortunately, the exhibit the works of Carlos Rolon/Dzine closed on July 31st. The exhibit Under the Pleasure Dome by Phyllis Bramson is there until August 28th. Ms. Bramson’s fertile imagination is something to see. She synthesized the ideas and images of Asian art, Freudian concepts, and her own imagination into very colorful paintings, collages, and other artifacts. Her works are quite unique.

Carlos Rolon/Dzine is also a very imaginative artist. From Puerto Rico, he draws on his origins in his work. He has created flower arrangements, sculpture, and murals in addition to paintings. His work is also unique and worth seeing. Look for it in other museums and galleries.

The Chicago Cultural Center is open every day. Check the website for hours. You’ll be happy that you stopped by.


Thursday, August 18, 2016

Traveling in Chicago- The Swedish American Museum

America is a country of immigrants. Sometimes it’s good to remember the immigration story of a group that came a few generations ago before all the current strife. It's easy to do that in Chicago, a city of museums, many of which are ethnic ones. Before going on a trip to Scandinavia, we thought we’d get ourselves ready by taking a trip to the Swedish American Museum It was well worth the trip. This museum tells the story of Swedish immigration to America, but in a sense, it’s the story of all immigration to America.
Located at 5211 North Clark Street, The Swedish American Museum is located in the heart of Andersonville, the neighborhood that used to be a focal point of the Swedish-American community in Chicago the majority of whom emigrated in the late 1800’s. Although the Swedish community is now dispersed throughout the Chicago area, this neighborhood still has several Swedish restaurants, cafes, and stores.
on the corner of an Andersonville street near the museum

We started our visit to the museum by going to the third floor to see The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration. This exhibit is great for children between the ages of four and nine. It has several interactive areas complete with costumes the children can wear while they pretend to be Swedish immigrants to Chicago. The museum also has  a simulation of a Swedish cottage and a farm as well and areas where children are invited to draw pictures. One part of the exhibit we enjoyed was an exchange of letters between Chicago middle school students and students from a middle school in a small Swedish town. I was so impressed with the English written by the Swedish students that I asked the museum guides if the students had written the letters in English themselves or had them translated. I was assured that the students had written the letters in English.

On the second floor of the museum is the main exhibit for adults. The visitor is directed to the entrance where the exhibit starts. It shows all the steps that Swedish people had to take before emigrating from there. The rest of the exhibit highlights some of the community’s history after it came to Chicago as well as pointing out some prominent Chicagoans of Swedish descent.

diorama of a Swedish man leaving for America

example of Swedish cabinetry

Swedish handicrafts

During the summer, the Swedish American Museum offers walking tours of Andersonville on the last Thursday of each month. We’ll have to do that sometime soon as well.

If you want to add to your museum experience, have dinner afterwards at Tre Kronor, our favorite Swedish restaurant located at 3258 W. Foster, just a few minutes' drive from the Museum. It will definitely complete the experience.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

When Muslim and Jewish Women Meet - Finding Common Ground

I have always felt that if people can meet across national, ethnic and religious lines, the barriers can be broken one dialogue at a time. So I was happy to introduce my daughter, an Orthodox Jew, to a friend who’s a Muslim.

We offered her some coffee or tea that she declined. She had just had something to drink after exhausting herself searching for a comfortable pair of shoes. Quickly the discussion turned to something that can unite all women – the difficulty women have finding comfortable shoes. Especially if one’s foot is wide or narrow as opposed to average, finding a comfortable pair of walking shoes that actually fit properly can entail an expedition to numerous shoe stores, often in vain.

My friend wanted a pair of comfortable shoes for her pilgrimage to Mecca. My daughter walks to and from religious services every week on Shabbat (Sabbath). If there is any area of common ground, it's definitely the ordeal it is to find the right shoes for the purpose of walking on this Earth.

When I went shoe shopping myself, I thought of them as I wore out every shoe salesperson in the store. After trying on about 40 pairs of shoes, I finally found a pair settling on something not perfect but comfortable.

My husband waited for me in the front of the store looking extremely bored. This is something I didn’t think would ever happen to us. When he planned to retire, I told him it was fine with me on the condition that he would never ask to go shopping with me. As an anti-shopper, he has always been very happy to comply with that condition but that day we were in the process of doing several different errands. Why did I think for a second that shoe shopping would be a quick stop? I should have known better.

“What do you think?” my husband asked. “Why aren’t women’s shoes more lasting?”

The answer was obvious. Most designers of women’s shoes are either sadists or misogynists or both. What man would walk a mile in these moccasins?


Do these shoes befit any religious pilgrimage? I wouldn’t even wear them to walk around the supermarket.

 When Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President, they shattered the glass ceiling. "When there's no ceiling, the sky's the limit," she said in her acceptance speech.

Thank heavens, we American women have finally achieved that milestone albeit after at least 20 other countries around the world. Now that we have, maybe we can focus on the ground again and the shoes women are forced to wear to walk on it. If we’re going to walk beside our men instead of lagging far behind them, we’re going to need more comfortable shoes to do it in. After all, how are we supposed to hold up Half the Sky in shoes like these?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Another Look At String Theory - Revisiting Ways to Extend Assistance to People

 There are many ways to say it. “Give someone a fish and he eats for a day. Teach him how to fish and he has food for the rest of his life.”

“Not a handout but a leg up.”

Being vertically challenged – I’m 5’ tall- I’ve had a problem for a while. I have overhead fans with lights attached to them in several rooms in my apartment and if they weren’t on when I turned the switch, I had a few choices: I could stand on a chair and reach for the string wobbling as I got to it. I could do without the light. If my husband was home, I could ask him to turn the lights or the fan on or off for me. Not being able to do something as simple as turning the light on or off both infuriated me and reminded me of what disabled people experience sometimes on an hourly basis. Either do without or be dependent. Often there are simple devices that can solve the problem. Microwaves with the controls in Braille, voice-activated computers, and telephone connections for the hearing impaired are a few that come to mind. 

Finally, we decided to solve my problem. We bought extensions for the chains on the overhead fans and lights. Now I can turn them on or off all by myself. Wow! The feeling of independence feels so liberating that I find myself turning lights on and off just because I can. Why didn’t I think of that before?

In a way, this is a metaphor for the issues that I depicted in my book Breaking the Fall. In the book, Sherry, a Chicago therapist, works with people who face problems for which they seek her help. Often systemic problems in our society place obstacles to their healing. These people seek help so that they can live their lives as independently as possible. Sherry has to help her clients unravel their problems and find the solutions and understandings that will help them overcome the obstacles that they face. Many of the obstacles are ones that society places in their path and that threaten their lives and sometimes their very survival. Will Sherry be able to help them or will her own problems engulf her? That’s for the reader to discover by reading Breaking the Fall. It can be bought as a paperback on Amazon or read on a Kindle or a Nook.

All people are searching for is the string to pull that can unravel the problems. Usually it’s more complicated than a single string but being able to unravel any part of a problem helps and sometimes leads to solving another piece of it.

In the meantime, I’m going to turn out the light when I leave this room. It feels so good to be able to do it all by myself.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Playing the Woman's Card and Proud Of It

In 1970, after graduating from college, I took my resume around to many employment agents. They all admired it and gushed, “You have such a wonderful resume for one so young. How many words per minute do you type?”

A few of them threw in this advice: “Enroll at Katie Gibbs. It’ll only take a year. Many girls move up from secretaries to management.”

My male friends did not have similar experiences. NOW had an action at the time where they’d send women and then men with similar qualifications to employment agencies and then they’d compare notes. Their experiences were very different. I remember giving NOW a list of all the employment agents who asked me what my typing speed was so they could investigate those agents.

I attended consciousness-raising sessions and learned that I wasn’t the only young woman who was asked by employment agents about my typing speed. FROM THE PERSONAL TO THE POLITICAL, the most misinterpreted slogan in political history. What it meant was yes, it happened to me. It also happened to hundreds of others. Maybe it’s a political problem demanding a political solution. Thus the personal became political. Nevertheless, it also remained personal. I remember how angry and frustrated I felt. It’s part of my story.

Many younger women who grew up after the women’s movement don’t remember those bad old days. They take it for granted that women can be accepted at medical school and law school, become engineers and CEO’s of companies, Senators and Congresswomen. And yes, even President of the United States. Yes we’re behind many other nations in that regard- England, Germany, Israel, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, and Brazil just to name a few countries that have had women heads of state. Nevertheless, maybe America is finally catching up and it's a momentous step for us. Yes, America has come a long way and I hope a longer way by electing Hillary in November. 

When Hillary Clinton was nominated by the Democratic Party  to be their nominee for President of the United States, I felt a lump in my throat. Then I felt a rush. Hillary has worked all her life for women to get equal pay for equal work, for women’s right to choose, for child care that will level the playing field for all women regardless of economic class. We can continue to call those issues “women’s issues” if we want, but they affect everyone in our society. If we want to continue to improve economic justice in our country, they’re vital issues.

Maybe those bad old days are on the way to becoming a moment frozen in history but maybe not. This may not be the case if Donald Trump and the Republicans win and turn back the clock on women’s right to choose, funding for childcare, equal pay for equal work, and many other issues. I'll hope for the best. Then I’ll do what I can to help get out the vote for Hillary and other Democrats. We’ve come this far and it would be tragic to get turned around now.  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Traveling to America - It Doesn't Seem Like the Country I Know Anymore

My grandmother came to America with her family in 1905. She was only eight years old at the time, but remembered this major event for the rest of her life and told me about it repeatedly until she passed away at the age of 86. Theodore Roosevelt was President then and my Grandma always spoke about what a great man he was and how her father-my great-grandfather- respected him. They were always grateful to the United States for taking them in.

How transformative it must have been for my relatives after fleeing the anti-Semitism and pogroms of Russia to sail into Liberty Island and see the Lady gleaming in the harbor, her poem by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the statue’s base welcoming them into America, a country of freedom and opportunity.
The last few lines of “The New Colossus” which Emma Lazarus wrote in 1883 are well known.

….Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Unless you're a Native American Indian, you’ve come to America from another country or your ancestors have – maybe your parents came or maybe in your case, it was many generations back. Maybe your relatives came very unwillingly as slaves or indentured servants but regardless, they came from another place and made America their home. We are a country of immigrants and it is a major source of our strength.

Admittedly, America hasn’t always unanimously welcomed every wave of immigration. In the 1850’s, the Know Nothings nominated former President Fillmore as their standard bearer to fight against the tides of Irish Catholic immigration. In the 1920’s, the Asian Exclusion Act of 1924 was passed and the Immigration Act of 1924 was passed as well establishing yearly quotas for immigrants from each country. During World War II shiploads of Jewish refugees were turned away. In more recent times, we’ve made it difficult for Mexicans and other Central Americans who’ve come here from poverty and violence desperately trying to survive. I’m not proud of any of these moments in our history.

Rather, I like to think of the America that has managed better than almost any other country on Earth to form a nation out of all the many peoples who have come seeking  here refuge and/or better opportunities. From 1880-1920 America received 20 million immigrants. Their descendants are now Americans. 

When I see people subscribing to the racism and xenophobia espoused by Donald Trump, I feel blessed that neither my grandmother nor mother is alive to see him receive the nomination of one of our major political parties. We have done so much better and we should continue to do so much better. I pray that we find a way out of this wilderness of hatred and listen to our better angels. I know that we Americans can.
The Statue of Liberty - May she continue to be the beacon of freedom and hospitality to the world.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

Traveling in Chicago and Finding a Message of Peace

Few people visiting Chicago these days are looking for peaceful messages and I wouldn’t tell people to come here in search of any. With the recent murder of police officers in Dallas and the all too often murder of African-Americans at the hands of police, many of us are searching for peace. Fortunately for those of  us who live in the Chicago area there is one place to visit where we can find tranquility – the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette.

When we lived in Haifa, Israel in the early 1970’s, we could look through the back window of our apartment and see the Baha’i Shrine. The shrine itself was beautiful and its gardens were a rare sanctuary of peace in a world often torn apart by violence. I felt fortunate then to be able to see it from my window and envision a world in which inter-ethnic harmony was a possibility although a very distant one.

the Baha'i Shrine in Haifa
I can no longer see the Baha’i Shrine from my window, but I can drive a few miles and visit the Bahai House of Worship in Wilmette just north of Evanston along Lake Michigan. I think the building is even more beautiful than the one I remember in Haifa. Entry into the house of worship, the gardens, and the visitor center are free to the public. No wonder Victor Danilov lists it under religious museums in Chicago’s Museums, A Complete Guide to the City’s Cultural Attractions. 
the Baha'i Shrine in Wilmette, Illinois

The Bahai’s main belief is in the oneness of humanity and in the development of relationships among individuals, communities, and institutions that reflect that. Attainment of peace is their goal. They believe that all religions are one in a continuing progression of learning throughout the centuries. That’s a very small thumbnail sketch of their belief system. To explore it further, you can go to their website

In the Visitor Center

Indeed, the Baha’i have attained peace in the style of the building and in the visitor center where you can learn more about this religious group and its belief system. The real attraction for me is the gardens. Walking through them is a walk through tranquility itself. The entire shrine is surrounded by gardens that are beautifully manicured and painstakingly cultivated. For that alone, it is worth the visit. Do go there while everything is in bloom. It’s a massage for the soul. 

one view of the gardens at the Bahai shrine in Wilmette

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Traveling in Chicago- The Museum of Contemporary Photography

Sometimes it “takes a village” and other times it “takes a photograph”. When we hear about an injustice, we may feel some concern. When we see it right before our eyes, it can be impossible to ignore. Few people will forget the image of the three-year-old Syrian boy whose body was washed upon the shores of Europe. Knowing how powerful an image can be, the Museum of Contemporary Photography displays photography exhibits depicting social conditions.

The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MOCP), ,a part of Columbia College, was opened in 1976. It is located at 600 S. Michigan Avenue and is free to the public. It is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00-5:00 and on Sundays from 12:00-5:00. This museum is small and it doesn’t take long to see one of their exhibits. I recommend a visit when you’re in the area. The images in its current exhibit are quite poignant.

I was fortunate to pay a visit to the Museum of Contemporary Photography in time to see their current exhibit Burnt Generation, Contemporary Iranian Photography. It is there through this weekend- through July 10th- and definitely worth seeing. This exhibit of contemporary Iranian photographers is powerful. Although we have seen many Iranian movies that eloquently depicted the challenges in Iranian society, we had not seen Iranian photographs. Nevertheless, the movies had piqued my interest and I was interested to see this exhibit.

Many of the pictures are in black and white adding to the severity of the situation the photographer is showing us. Most of the pictures that aren’t in black and white are in very subdued tones showing a whole society caught in a very somber mood. The photographs are all taken by contemporary Iranian photographers of people in the generation-those born between 1963-1980 known as the Burnt Generation. They had experienced the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the Iran-Iraq War and all the consequences thereafter. The social and political unrest that they endured shows on the people’s faces.

I especially admired the photos taken by Newsha Tavakolian. She took pictures of people in such private moments that I almost felt like I should look away.


This other picture by Gohar Dashti is of a group but it had the same effect on me. Could we be that different from one another? I think not.


Altogether, this was a very thoughtfully assembled exhibit. The MOCP’s next exhibit starting July 21st will be open until October 9th. Its title is “Petcoke: Tracing Dirty Energy.” I’m looking forward to seeing how they treat this timely topic.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Traveling In Chicago-Something Missing On a First Anniversary

As of today, Illinois has gone a whole year without a budget and many supports for low income people have been vanishing as a result. While it looks like Governor Rauner and the Dem. leadership may come to an agreement on a budget for the next fiscal year, many services for the poor have been cut or eliminated.Who knows how long it will take us to restore everything that was lost.

Therefore, I was thrilled when I found a vendor selling Streetwise, the weekly magazine for and about the homeless. He was the first vendor whom I had seen in months. Gladly, I bought an issue of it from him and asked where all the vendors had gone. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m here every day.”

           He may be here every day, but a lot of the social safety net has disappeared in Illinois in the past year. We’ll probably see many more homeless on Chicago’s streets and be panhandled more often as more people become desperate. In such times, it’s great to see Streetwise vendors selling their papers.

           Streetwise is a magazine about issues relating to homelessness. The organization trains and employs the homeless. Vendors go through a month training program to learn about customer service and other aspects of business. The issues sell for two dollars apiece and $1.10 of that goes directly to the vendor for his or her income. Last week’s issue focused on restaurant reviews written by Streetwise vendors. Each reviewer was given ten dollars to write the reviews. The restaurants were all ones with meals for ten dollars apiece or less, places that vendors may frequent. There were also articles in the issue about current events affecting the poor, the homeless, and those at risk of becoming homeless.

           The homeless are the other 1% in America. At any given time, that’s how many people are homeless here. While some of the homeless are quickly identified, many more homeless people defy the stereotype we have of them and look just like you and me. Thus their condition is invisible to most. And it could happen to almost anyone.

           When a person becomes a vendor of Streetwise, it may be that person’s first chance in many a year to re-enter the job market and slowly extricate himself from the downward spiral of homelessness and despair and to do it with dignity. The Streetwise organization also has a Transitional Jobs Program and supportive services.

          If you want to learn more about this worthwhile organization, donate money to it, or volunteer with them, you can visit their website at

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Walking the Trail of Woman's History

With Hillary Clinton presumably becoming the first woman to run for president from either major political party, it’s good to refresh our memories about all the efforts that came before to make her candidacy possible. The Evanston History Center gives walking tours of the historic points in Evanstonian women’s history and I am very glad that I joined them for that walk on Saturday June 18th. Most of the Evanston History Center’s historic tours begin at the Evanston History Center, 225 Greenwood Street, Evanston, Illinois but this one began on the lawn of the Frances Willard House.

The Frances Willard House

Besides learning more about Frances Willard, I learned about the women’s history of Evanston. Evanston grew up around Northwestern University, a college that was associated with the Methodist Church and preached abstinence. Women were welcomed in Evanston as both college students and career women as early as the 1860’s.  Northwestern University became the third university in the United States to become coed in 1870 after Oberlin and Antioch.

Because of the atmosphere created in Evanston encouraging women to have educations and careers, many dynamic women moved to Evanston in the late 1800’s. On the walking tour, we saw the houses of many who had lived in Evanston and made important contributions to women’s history. We were told that the Evanston History Center has many documents about these women’s lives that are available for reading there. I plan to go there and research this in more depth as the other women whose houses we also saw on the walking tour are too numerous to mention here. 

With Hillary Clinton presumably getting the Democratic nomination we see how far we have come and how much further we still have to go. I have to say, however, that we got there behind numerous other countries that have elected women heads of state long before this. Some that come to mind are Germany, England, Costa Rica, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Israel, India, and Pakistan just to name a few. And this history tour reminded me that it didn’t happen here in the United States or anywhere else by accident. Women have been working on it for more than a century. It’s about time.