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Card Collectors

My little brother Kenny loved sports. He knew more about Detroit sports teams and its athletes than almost any adult. Kenny kept track of the sports statistics of almost every player from the Detroit Tigers, Lions, Red Wings, and Pistons, along with his favorite college teams, MSU and U of M. He preferred MSU over U of M because he was able to witness an actual championship, the only one of his life, since he was born a few months after the Tigers miraculously won the 1968 World Series Championship. He relished the joys of watching Magic Johnson and Greg Kelser leading MSU (where his sister Leslie went to college) to a 1979 national championship, soundly defeating the great Larry Bird. Both Magic and Bird were drafted that same year and signed with the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics, continuing an intense rivalry that spanned 15 years.

My brother didn’t just love sports. He was also a card collector which involved buying and trading hundreds of cards with his friends. He collected thousands of them, including Mickey Mantle, Kirk Gibson, Gordie Howe, and the fabulous hockey rookie, Wayne Gretzky. My family knew that Kenny loved to trade cards but didn’t know how valuable and extensive his collection would become.

Kenny loved sports so much and fittingly spent the last day of his life with my father at a Detroit Tigers game, watching Detroit beat Chicago in a 1-0 nail-biter on July 20, 1982. After the game, on the drive home, another car sideswiped my dad’s Chevy Citation on 11 Mile Road and Inkster, a half-mile from their Farmington Hills home. I was called by a policeman to come as fast as I could to Botsford Hospital on Grand River where my mom, my aunt, cousins, and I waited, so scared we could hardly talk (my sister Leslie was in Europe with her symphony and didn’t find out for another day) In the hospital, we learned that my dad survived the deadly accident but his youngest son did not. Kenny was pronounced dead after midnight and I had to go into my dad’s hospital room to give him the devastating news that his son, my little brother, was gone.

Kenny’s bedroom was a treasure trove of sports posters as well as boxes of baseball, football, hockey, and basketball cards. My mom and dad could barely touch his room for years and kept all of his cards, preserving a small part of Kenny’s memory. They hoped that one day, my sister Leslie and I would have kids and eventually pass the cards down to our kids or grandkids, sell them, or keep them as souvenirs of a time when sports were thrilling to, among others, a little 13-year-old boy.

My parents gave all of the boxes of cards to my wife, Judy, and me, to store them and eventually do something with them. These boxes survived two basement floods and many clean-ups, including a clean-up in 2019, when Judy organized all of Kenny’s cards. She had heard that Mike Silverstein, who had dated Judy’s sister, Nancy, many years earlier and still kept in touch with the family, was a knowledgeable card collector and could help direct us. When Judy’s brother, Joel, another great sports fan of Detroit sports, died in the same year of a heart attack, Mike came to the funeral.

We realized then that we would eventually contact Mike about Kenny’s cards. When Covid 19 reached the U.S, bringing fear, lockdowns, and extra time for many to clean up, wade through, and organize extra stuff. Judy and I thought: why not now? So I contacted Mike on Facebook Messenger on July 16, 2020, almost 38 years after Kenny’s death, “Mike, I don’t know if you remember me. My sister-in-law, Nancy Frank, says that you know a lot about baseball cards and she was going to contact you. We have thousands of baseball and other sports cards in our basement that my brother, Kenny, collected before he died in 1982. I know many were worth a lot then and probably more now. We are looking for a card dealer who could value these and sell them. We are willing to pay a pretty good commission on them because they aren’t doing us any good and our son isn’t interested. Are you? Let me know. Thank you.” Mike wrote back within minutes, “Of course I remember you!! Hope all is well. I appraise collections all the time!! What is a good time to take a look at the cards?”

Mike came over that night, spent about two hours thumbing through the cards, and took some boxes home, letting us know he would get back to us soon. We told him that we weren’t in a rush since we had had the cards for decades and had done nothing with them. He seemed to know which cards had sales potential and which ones didn’t. While watching Mike for a brief time, we felt his passion for sports and cards and were pleased with the way he honored my brother’s collection. Kenny’s collection of cards was my brother’s long-lost treasure and Mike treated the cards as if they were his own.

About a week later, Mike showed us which cards had the highest potential value and explained how cards were scored. He admitted that Kenny had a lot of valuable cards but that it wasn’t simply the athletes, statistics, or rareness that made them valuable. It was whether each card was near perfect or not. They could be scored from 1-10 based on centering, corners, edges, and their surfaces. We later learned that Kenny’s Gretzky rookie card (stored in a plastic case) had recently sold for $3.75 million and so we were excited what his card could possibly fetch. But Mike said that realistically (as he looked at this card in depth,) it was probably around a 3.

We told our son, Kyle, about it and he asked if he could send it to the ultimate grading facility, PSA, with a payment of $225. In a few weeks, it turned out that Mike was right. Kenny’s Gretzky card was graded a 3 and Mike said that the market at the time for his card was somewhere between $1200-$2400. There hadn’t been much excitement for sports during the last year of Covid because most arenas and stadiums didn’t let people in to watch games live. So without fans and their loud cheers, many people lost interest. Mike suggested that the Gretzky card would probably get more after hockey season in 2021 started. So we agreed to wait a few months, let Mike take Kenny’s cards to card conventions where he could draw a lot of interest with the Gretzky card and a few other top cards.  He asked us if he should take a good offer on the Gretzky card or instead wait for hockey season in 2021 when the price of trading cards could rise. We told him that he could wait. We were not in a hurry.

 Mike had told us that he had had kidney cancer and took medication and went into remission. We also learned a few months later that he had a serious case of Covid before the vaccines were offered. Yet, Mike’s attitude was positive and nothing seemed to stop him. On Father’s Day, his daughter, Jenna, wrote on her dad’s Facebook page, “Happy Father’s Day Dad! Can’t wait to go to Michigan State games with you again soon.”

We simply waited to contact Mike again, understanding that he would let us know how Kenny’s cards were selling or if we should wait a few months to sell. We didn’t give it much thought, until the last week of October, 2021, when we heard our rabbi on Zoom services recite a healing prayer and include “Michael Silverstein and his family.” Judy and I were worried and so I sent Mike a message on Facebook Messenger. No response. I checked again a few hours later and then I got a ping on my phone and then read, “This is Mike’s daughter, unfortunately he is not doing well and we have to take him off life support tomorrow.” I responded to her that we were stunned and saddened and would pray for him.

Prayers didn’t help. Mike had gotten sick at home ten days earlier. He said he didn’t feel good and after two days, was admitted to Henry Ford Hospital. He had also had a cardiac arrest, we learned, and according to his friend, Steve, who visited him in the hospital, Mike was mostly unresponsive in his bed.

So we waited with dread and heartbreak, realizing that Mike would probably not be able to watch Saturday’s rivalry game between the Michigan Wolverines and his beloved MSU Spartans, both undefeated and in the top ten. I thought back to Mike’s Facebook page when his daughter Jenna said she couldn’t wait to see MSU games with her dad and felt sad that they wouldn’t be able to see any more games together.

We forgot about Mike for a few hours when we watched the football game between the two undefeated Michigan schools on Saturday afternoon. My wife Judy and son-in-law Jonathon, both U of M grads, rooted for the Wolverines, and our daughter, Ilana, an MSU grad, and our two granddaughters, Talia and Shira, wore Spartan shirts. Michigan had a commanding lead but MSU made a valiant comeback in the 4th Quarter, taking the lead and the victory. Judy and Jonathon were upset, Ilana was thrilled, and I was disappointed since I was rooting for Michigan.

Everything changed later in the day when we read on Facebook that Mike died. His daughter Jenna wrote, “Today I got to watch one last Michigan State win with my dad. Right after the game he grew his beautiful angel wings and passed away. He will always be my hero. I love you most dad! Keep those MSU wins coming 💚💚” His wife, Suzie, later wrote, “My heart is broken 💔My wonderful husband is at peace today. I will love you and miss you forever. I was so honored to be able to watch MSU beat U of M with you yesterday! RIP baby! I love you most!”

The next day, his other daughter, Kayli, wrote, “Yesterday evening my world was turned upside down. Trying to think of the words to say is impossible. This world lost an incredible human being and I lost my best friend, my dad. My dad is no longer in pain and can finally rest peacefully. Thank you dad for being the most amazing father to me and Jenna Silverstein and an incredible husband to Suzy Smith-Silverstein. You are our everything. We love you, we love you, we love you. May his memory be a blessing. Rest peacefully Dad.”

I stopped caring about the Michigan Wolverines, Kenny’s cards, how much the cards were worth, or anything else after I heard the news of Mike’s passing. I read about what Mike meant to others, how devoted he was to his family, how much joy he brought to everyone around him. He was unselfish, kind, a true mensch. When Judy and I watched the funeral service on Zoom, we weren’t surprised at the inspiration others felt from Mike’s life. Like Kenny, he bought and sold baseball cards as a young boy and became an entrepreneur, selling tickets for concerts, music events, and sports. He didn’t just sell tickets, Mike told them. Instead, he sold “memories.”

Mike owned two sports memorabilia stores in Grand Rapids and Monroe and even after those closed, he still bought and sold sports cards. He had an incredible memory and was “one question away from being on Jeopardy.” He loved the hustle and bustle of life and even though he was struck by cancer too early in his life, he never stopped living. He was a very hard worker and devoted to making people happy. I was struck by a story when he drove four hours with his nephew Riley to deliver 2 Jonas Brothers tickets to a customer. He made $12 on the tickets but he didn’t care about the time and his gas money. He just wanted people to be happy.

I can only imagine what my brother might have been if he had lived and realized that he might have followed the same path as Mike because they were similar. He would have still been a lover of sports, probably a smart businessman as an adult, a passionate entrepreneur, still buying and selling sports cards, and quite possibly starting a wonderful family like Mike. But all this is conjecture and pointless to imagine. But it doesn’t stop me from dreaming that Mike will get to meet Kenny on the other side. I picture them together, talking about baseball cards, Magic Johnson, Detroit sports, MSU football games, and rock bands.

I didn’t care that Michigan lost a football game. I cared more that Mike was able to watch one more MSU game with his family and that his last memory was an incredible come-from-behind win that he shared with his whole family. He passed away at the end of the MSU press conference, which is stunning in itself. It might just be the ultimate way to finish life, to be able to do what you love, with your loved ones right by your side.

Even though Mike died too young at 59 years of age, I can only hope Kenny and Mike are able to see us still, watching us from above, watching all the sports games that they can now see on their own big-screen view of the world.  

Mike told his family that what he wanted to be written on his gravestone was “A Front Row Ticket to Life.” I pray that Mike and my brother are able to get actual front row tickets to whatever they want to see, whenever they want to see…sports games, our daily lives, anything we can imagine. Anything.

In Memory of Kenny (updated in 2022)

In Memory of You, My Brother  

1968-1982

(updated in 2022)

Sometimes I forget

What can never be again,

A life that disappeared,

Yours, begun on a fearsome,

Ice-drenched December

Night, ended thirteen years later,

In a car after a baseball game,

Less than a mile

From home, forty

Shattered years

Ago. I can barely remember

The timbre of your voice,

Chanting your Bar Mitzvah

Prayers, the sound of your

Lingering laugh. When I sift

Through your photos,

The collage of your silent

Faces seem out of focus

In dense disbelief.

I keep imagining

The ghost of you hovering,

Helping us, how I don’t know.

I imagine you still dribbling

On a gray pavement, each

Shot a silent swish. Do you

Glide above the children

Back and forth on a court

In a league named in your memory?

Can you help them stop and savor

Their lives; can you help me?

Today, my dream is a prayer

That you, dad, and mom

Know what we know,

Your family now blessed with

New life, two beautiful girls

And two boys who remind

Me of you, fifty years ago, and

Each precious moment of

That life, yours, that I now try

So hard to remember.  

My Father’s Hero

My Father’s Hero

May 21, 2007

I lost my only brother at 25 but I have been blessed with a father for 50 Father’s Days. I have watched and admired how someone who had so much ripped away can still be delighted by his grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. He listens and plays with them as if he were their brother, as if he were their age.

My father’s hero was Hank Greenberg. In my father’s childhood, “Hammerin’ Hank” became the most prolific hitter on the Detroit Tigers. The first Jewish superstar, Greenberg refused to play on Yom Kippur when the Tigers were fighting for a pennant. In 1938, he hit 58 home runs, the most home runs since Babe Ruth’s 60, and in 1942, he volunteered to join the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

As my father and I walked the corridors of Comerica Park and viewed Greenberg’s photo and his 1945 Detroit team, I listened to my father’s memories of “the magical season” when my dad was 13, the hometown hero returned to his city, and the war ended.

This was the first time that my father and I went to a Major League baseball game in decades and his first trip to the “ballpark” that replaced Tiger Stadium. As the Tigers and Orioles reached the sixth inning, the wind started to gust and the rain fell hard on our heads. We then decided to escape the driving rain and went to watch the game on a 19” TV screen above the concession stand.

As we watched Gary Sheffield come to the plate, my father told me about the return of Greenberg. My dad and his friend had paid 50 cents to get bleacher tickets for a doubleheader on July 1st, 1945, Hank’s first game since joining the army. The Tigers were up in the early innings of the game but Hank’s turn at the plate was many batters away. My dad decided to join his friend who said they had plenty of time to get a hot dog before Greenberg. But the lines were very long, my dad said, and then a thunderous ovation erupted while they were in the bathroom. Hank had hit his first home run since World War II and didn’t homer again that night and didn’t play in the doubleheader’s second game. After the story about his deep disappointment, we heard a loud noise and watched Gary Sheffield on instant replay hit his first home run since joining the Tigers.  

I couldn’t remember when my dad and I had last seen a Tigers game. Even though we had worked together for two decades in the company he managed, I couldn’t recall going to a game with him during or after hours. Instead, I remember my days in Little League and the time I slugged my first good hit over the left fielder’s head with the bases loaded and trotted the bases from first to second, heading to third. I will never forget the third base coach, my dad, screaming at me to keep running. But I was too tired and stopped at third as he yelled, “You could have had a grand slam!”

That’s what I remember now though my memory is selective, often focused on what’s most hilarious or horrible.

My father’s most towering memory is his worst, the night he went with my brother, Kenny, to a Detroit-Chicago baseball game in the summer of ’82 when Kenny was 13. On their way home, at the last traffic light before he entered his subdivision, another car raced through a blinking red light into my father’s car, slamming into the passenger side. A few hours later, my dad lay badly injured in a hospital bed but his son, my brother, did not survive.

My father has lived with so many what-ifs in the last quarter-century. What if he had swerved left? What if he had slowed down or sped up just five seconds? What if he had never gone to the Tigers game with his youngest son?

The last night he shared with Kenny can never be erased. The night has markers every year, always within six weeks after Father’s Day. This year is the 25th anniversary of the death of my brother, Kenneth Samuel, who was born on December 23, 1968 and died on July 21, 1982.

I now think of the grief of parents when I read of dead American soldiers in Iraq and know their aches may soften but the haunted wishes for their sons or daughters’ returns will never disappear.

I know survivors fortunate to have fathers are incredibly lucky, as I am, after my father survived the crash and stayed in my life for another 25 years.

My father was a tough boss and sometimes a demanding father, expecting a lot from me. Or so it seemed before my three children, before watching my oldest son, named after Kenny, ready to enter his fourth year of college.

I lost my only brother at 25 but I have been blessed with a father for 50 Father’s Days. I have watched and admired how someone who had so much ripped away can still be delighted by his grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. He listens and plays with them as if he were their brother, as if he were their age.

My mother, sister, wife, and I know that a 75-year-old man with lymphoma and veins prepped for kidney dialysis won’t live forever. So we must be thankful for the days we have left, the nights we will never get again.

I am thankful for memories and imagination. After the seventh inning, when we left Comerica Park, I began to envision Kenny’s last night alive when he and his dad entered Tiger Stadium.

I smiled when I imagined my dad showing Kenny a photo of the one and only Hammerin’ Hank. I could picture the enthralled eyes of my brother, listening to his dad reliving his childhood in 1945. I could envision Kenny’s delight as he heard his dad tell him about his hero, Hank, coming home after fighting in a horrific world war and then leading his Detroit Tigers to a World Series Championship.

Road Rage and Regret

Bengals celebrating against SF in Super Bowl XXIII Jan 22 1982

After the Cincinnati Bengals prepare for their first Super Bowl since 1989, I think back to when they played against SF in Detroit. I wrote the following essay in 2006 when the Super Bowl was about to be held in Detroit.

(Printed in The Detroit News First Person Essay as “Super Bowl road rage—and regret,” Sunday, January 29, 2006 edition, Page 19A)

Everyone’s excited about the Super Bowl coming to Detroit. Jerome Bettis is thrilled to play in front of his home town. Stevie Wonder is preparing for his pregame show, the Stones are practicing for halftime, and office pools are picking points on the Seahawks and Steelers.

Me? I just try to avoid TV commercials and news shows preparing us to watch. I don’t have the heart for it. I live in my own time tunnel traveling back to the days of Super Bowl XVI in Detroit.

I had turned 25 on January 3, 1982. I was working for my dad’s company, Hardware Sales and Supply, and had money in my pocket most of the time. I worked in purchasing and advertising, sometimes receiving perks like the two Super Bowl tickets given by Master Lock, a sponsor of the Super Bowl. Their sales representative presented the tickets to dad and me in early December.

My father decided to give his ticket to my little bother Kenny. He turned thirteen on Dec. 23rd and this was going to be one of his birthday presents. Kenny was a big sports fan. He knew every Lions player and most others in the NFL.

When January 24th arrived, what everyone feared occurred. The snow fell steadily and the streets were slick. The wind-chill factor was minus 30. I’d told Kenny to be ready early and picked him up at my parents’ house three hours before the 4p.m. kickoff.

The streets weren’t slippery near home. I drove on Middle Belt to Square Lake Road. Traffic was moving pretty well until Opdyke, about three miles from the Silverdome, which we could see from the car. It looked like a circular silver Oz and we were on the gray brick road of Opdyke with plenty of time.

We listened to some of Kenny’s favorite songs on my 8-track stereo in my blue Fiat Strada. There must have been an accident ahead. We listened to Supertramp and REO Speedwagon as we moved one and two car lengths per minute. The brake was on most of the time.

We had an hour to go and I was getting nervous. We turned on the Super Bowl pregame show on AM radio and waited.

We’d stopped moving, my blood pressure was rising and kickoff time was approaching. I pounded my fists on the steering wheel, furious at the Silverdome crew and planners in charge. Weren’t they prepared for bad weather? Didn’t they have other roads and parking lots?

Kenny sat quietly, a 13-year-old boy dreaming of the big, green Super Bowl Silverdome field just a few feet ahead and football players in colorful uniforms right in front of him. He’d only been to a few football games in his lifetime, never a playoff game. He couldn’t wait to get there. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and into a restroom.

I opened the car window and heard a man asking for tickets. He would pay $100 per ticket.

I told Kenny we’d probably miss the first quarter anyway, and asked him what should we do. He gave me a half-hearted smile, and said $100 could buy a lot of football cards and he needed a new baseball mitt anyway. I took the money, gave Kenny a $100 bill, stuffed mine into my pocket, passed the stadium, and turned 180 degrees back down Opdyke.

On the way home, we listened to the first half on radio. I told Kenny we were lucky to leave since it was a blowout, San Francisco leading 20-0. We reached our parents’ house by halftime, in time to see Up With People presenting a “Salute to the 1960’s and Motown.”

Kenny and I watched some of the third quarter. After San Francisco held Cincinnati to two yards on four plays during the “greatest goal line stand in Super Bowl history,” we stopped watching.

 Kenny went to his room and I went down to the basement. When I came upstairs, I went to Kenny’s room and saw the Cincinnati Bengals score a touchdown to make it 26-21 with 20 seconds left.

Kenny stared at the crisp one hundred dollar bill.

Cincinnati tried an onside kick, which San Francisco recovered. The game was over.

The next year, I was invited to a Super Bowl XVII party, but I could hardly watch. I drank a few beers, ate some appetizers, and laughed. When I stared at the TV, my eyes started to water, so I went into another room and ate some more.

Only a few months before, Kenny had seen his last Detroit Tigers baseball game before being hit in my dad’s Chevy Citation just a few hundred feet from their house. I was called to come to Botsford Hospital. That night, I had to nudge my dad, his head swollen with bruises from the crash, and whisper to him that Kenny was gone.

Next Sunday, when Super Bowl XL game is played, and tickets now being sold on eBay for $2000 and more are scalped outside Ford Field, I plan to sit with my daughter, Marlee, in her bedroom, five days before her 11th birthday, playing any game she wants: Uno, Twister, or Skip-Bo.

It doesn’t matter. I will have no rage. I will not be her father that day. I just want to be her friend, her friend forever.

The Driver’s Test

Outlive Me

(from my book, Outlive Me, 2005)

As I tiptoe from bedroom to bedroom

Unable to sleep, I move closer

To my children’s faces,

Their ears cuddling the pillows,

Deep into their death-defying dreams,

Their breathing stops and starts,

The faint snoring of their hard-working

Chests rising and falling inward,

Their breaths rhythmically slowing.

My oldest daughter is taking her

Road test Saturday to get her license,

My son is due to graduate Wharton in

Less than three years and my youngest

Daughter is in the fifth day of her

Second period. She told me with

A voice of sadness

That she can’t go swimming

In “papa’s pool.” I want to tickle

Her armpits and wake her, let us

Listen to our iPod Shuffles

Together and forget that she

Will be Bat Mitzvah’d in two years.

Not even eleven years ago

She escaped from my wife’s womb,

Her screams bursting in the hospital

Room, the blood covering her eyelids.

I thanked everyone then, God

Mother Nature my wife the nurses

From this monumental moment,

This third and last miracle

Of my life. I pull up a chair

And gently kiss her cheek.

I wait and wait, thinking of the

Coldplay song Ilana loves,

“Don’t panic” which repeats and repeats

The words, “We live in a beautiful

World.” I can’t stop hearing it

And start singing in the faintest of breaths.

Marlee starts to stir, her eyelids

Fluttering, as if she could feel me

Hovering over her,

As if she could hear my prayer

As loud as I’m thinking it:

Outlive me.

Outlive me.

My daughter, Marlee, was desperate to get her driver’s license when she turned 16. She had been planning on it for over a year. At 15, she was acting already like a 25-year-old. Getting a license was going to be her ticket to freedom, to respect from her friends, to being in the next stage of her life.

It was September 2010 when we went to a Grosse Pointe Park Lincoln dealer to look at a 2009 black Mazda Tribute with only 10,532 miles, designed for her to drive. When we bought the car and brought it home, my wife, Judy, went to check it out and said, it smelled like cigarette smoke. She didn’t like it at all but to Marlee, it was the greatest car in the world and she was thrilled.

Marlee was a pretty good driver, like our oldest son, Kyle, and oldest daughter, Ilana before her. Marlee had a good knack of holding the wheel, stopping not too quickly, and not going too fast, while I was in the car with her. She did well in Driver’s Ed and I don’t remember how many times I went out driving with her. There were no near misses or anything that sticks out in my memory.

Everything was moving along for her to get her driver’s license right after her birthday. She was nervous and wanting so badly to make it. We drove to Mercy High School where the driver’s license instructor was stationed. I had her parallel park and back up in the cones there, always the hardest thing for me ever since I got my license in 1973.

Marlee and I got to Mercy High School early in the day on Saturday, February 13th, 3 days after her 16th birthday. We practiced parallel parking and backing up between the cones in the parking lot. Parallel parking is still the skill that I have the most trouble with, to this day. We practiced for a few minutes before the driver’s test woman came out to meet us. I remember her as a middle-aged black woman but I don’t remember much more that.

I got in the back seat and Marlee sat next to the driver’s ed tester. I was a little nervous but I had been in the car many times before with her and she was a competent driver. So we took off first down Eleven Mile Rd and then took a right on Orchard Lake Road. I knew what was coming next because I had sat for the same basic test with my son, Kyle, 9 years earlier and my daughter, Ilana, 3 years after Kyle. It had been about 6 years since I had to go through another driver’s test.

I knew where we were going. We turned right on the I696East interchange off of Orchard Lake Rd. Marlee stayed in the right lane and was able to keep up with the highway traffic. I thought that once she was able to pass this part of the test, the rest would be easy. We got off on the first exit, American Drive, went south to Eleven Mile Road and headed toward Middlebelt Road, back to Mercy High School. I figured we would just go straight through Inkster Road, where my brother Kenny lost his life over 28 years earlier, in a traffic accident with my father who was driving home from a Detroit Tigers baseball game. The passenger side of my father’s car was hit by a young woman who crossed a flashing red light, slamming into my father’s car. My father and brother were rushed into Beaumont Hospital and Kenny was declared dead a little after midnight on July 21, 1982.

Eleven Mile and Inkster was less than a half mile from where my parents lived.

A few blocks before Inkster, the driver’s license tester told Marlee to prepare to turn left. She slowly got into the left lane and I partially froze, knowing that this was the intersection that I almost always avoided since the 1982 accident. The time this took felt a lot longer than it was, as Marlee drifted into the left lane, ready to turn. But what happened next is still foggy in my mind.

There was oncoming traffic heading east on Eleven Mile Road. Marlee was preparing to turn left but when the traffic cleared, she didn’t turn. She didn’t move. The tester said “Marlee, turn.” She said again, “Marlee, turn,” slightly louder. Then she shouted, “Marlee, turn!”

I moved up in the back seat, with an instant dread, an instant thought, Not again! I then yelled from the back seat, “Marlee, turn!” A car was just about to go through the intersection, heading east, heading right into our car if Marlee turned. Suddenly, the car flinched ahead and Marlee put on the accelerator and turned, the approaching car slamming on the brakes to avoid the collision.

We were on Inkster, driving south away from 11 Mile Road. I could see the half-panic, half-relief stare of the driver’s tester and the look of panic and fear in Marlee. This was a teenage parent’s worst fear, his child unable to drive safely, unable to avoid a collision, and for me, it was like reliving the most horrible night of my life, when my little brother, Kenny, left his life after a horrendous accident, in the same intersection, over 28 years earlier.

The rest of the driver’s test came quickly as Marlee turned into a subdivision and calmly drove through a few turns down side streets and back to Eleven Mile Road, heading west to Mercy High School again.

After the driver’s tester told Marlee to pull into the parking lot and parallel park between two cones, I was almost okay, as my daughter seemed to get back to being a good driver. But when we stopped, the tester turned to Marlee and told her that “you know, I cannot give you a passing grade,” as you handled the intersection turn “poorly,” not turning when she needed to. The good news, she told Marlee, is that the test could be rescheduled in a week or two and if she did everything right, she would pass. “It was only a matter of time,” the lady said.

The trip home was awful, as Marlee cried nearly the entire time, saying that she couldn’t believe she didn’t get her license, that her life was over, as a license was all she ever wanted. I told her, all that was important was that she was safe, no one was hurt, no one was killed. We would practice again and she would probably do very well.

I wondered then…what was the meaning of the sudden stopping at Eleven and Inkster, the sudden slow-motion near-deadly near-miss test? Was Kenny saying to Marlee, be careful, pay attention, because if you don’t, you will die like I did? Was he saying to her, stop caring so much about something so trivial like a driver’s license, a license to drive the lethal weapon of a car? Or was all this just a coincidence that my brother played no part in?

Marlee told her mom that she was devastated, that she did not get her license, that she didn’t remember what happened, why she choked the way she did. A few minutes later, when Marlee went to her room to cry, I turned to my wife and said that this had been one of the scariest moments of my life, that I was scared that Marlee and I were going to be killed in the same spot that Kenny was.

The rest of the day stood in slow-motion, caught up in my mind’s eye, reliving the few moments of dread, of terror.

We drove again, Marlee and me, quiet and concentrating on the road. We went through the same route and she did well, turning exactly when she should, holding the wheel without fear, driving like she was an experienced driver. When she went back to take the test, she passed “with flying colors,” as the saying goes, flawless and fearless.

I prayed again when we went through that intersection, that Marlee would drive perfectly, that she would be safe, that she would always be safe. I prayed that Kenny had actually frightened her badly but made sure that she and I were okay. I prayed that Kenny was still around, that my little brother was with her ten years ago and is still with her today, insuring that my youngest daughter is safe, protected, that she is kept from the ultimate danger, that she will outlive me and live a long, long life, away from fear, far from pain, kept away from death as long, as long as she can.  

Seven Months of Covid

Seven Months of Covid

The first time I found out that Cheryl had Covid was on April 28, 2020 with her Facebook post, “I am fighting the virus. I can use all the prayers I can get.” My cousin Fred married Cheryl in the early 80s. He was the first cousin on my mom’s side to marry. They lost their first child after having a difficult labor. Her name was Kara Erin and according to my cousin, she was “beautiful.” Kara was born and died on September 23, 1983.

On July 1, 2020, Cheryl wrote on Facebook, “Tell the ones you love every day, how much you love them. I say this because in an instant, they could be gone.” Thankfully, Fred and Cheryl had two more children in the 1980s, Sean and Seth. Seth was born on Cheryl’s birthday, August 31, 1989. For the last 25 or more years, Cheryl lived with sickness, hospitals, and surgeries. And since her divorce many years ago, Cheryl fought the battle of sickness mostly alone.

Cheryl had what is now called “Long-Haul” Symptoms of Covid. “There is an urgent need to address long-term symptoms of the coronavirus, leading public health officials said this week, warning that hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of people worldwide might experience lingering problems that could impede their ability to work and function normally.”  (“Covid Survivors With Long-Term Symptoms Need Urgent Attention, Experts Say,” NY Times, Pam Belluck, December 4, 2020) “’This is a phenomenon that is really quite real and quite extensive,’” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said at the conference on Thursday. While the number of people affected is still unknown, he said, if long-term symptoms afflict even a small proportion of the millions of people infected with the coronavirus, it is “going to represent a significant public health issue.”

On July 8, 2020, over two months after Cheryl was tested positive for Covid, she wrote a long exposition about Covid as well as so many other things. “I am starting a new group it’s called well I got many names for it and I would love your input I think right now we’re not together at all as a society and my goal is to get us together everybody, old people young people black people white people green yellow, tall short people. I feel like everyone is so narcissistic right now and all people really are thinking about is themselves when you just have to put on a mask to protect yourself and others and people are arguing about that. You have to wonder, it’s not like you have to inject something or get a drug or get something experimental. All we’re talking about is a mask and yet there are so many people out there that aren’t willing to do that and because they’re not going to do that, they’re testing positive for Covid-19. I personally want to try to get the numbers down to 0.

I tested positive and I’ve had it. It’s not something I would want anyone to get. Simple things like wearing PPE and masks could prevent it; that would be amazing. So many of our children and grandchildren are starting school in September and I want them to experience what I experienced and what are friends experienced. I want them to be able to be with other children and socialize. I don’t think home school is the answer. Half the fun of growing up is being with other people. It’s not always fun, sometimes you’re bullied. I was bullied as a child but you know what I learned from it and everybody learns from things that you do. I was talking to an Amazon rep for 2 hours and had the most interesting conversation and he lives in Chile and his lifestyle was completely different than mine. We grew up totally different and yet we both learned a lot from each other….

“Let’s see what we can do to really make this world a better place for our children, our grandchildren, our friends’ children and everybody and stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about what we want the world to be everybody it’s a fight every day when I was fighting for my life I had to think of even the littlest thing just to make me go on and it’s not easy but I’ve also learned that nothing in life is easy and if it what he was easy we wouldn’t appreciate it….

“There are many different avenues around where people can talk to each other and get together and I think getting together is the key. Nobody wants to be alone nobody wants to deal with all the things home and we have stress at home we have stress at work we have stress with our families and our extended family right now and I don’t think there’s anywhere in life that there isn’t stress but I think that we can do better and we can like each other and help each other as opposed to saying, let’s do this together as far as I can see nobody’s doing it together starting all the way up all the way down…

“I know what I look at my granddaughter and my grandson all my problems go away I can’t be with them but virtual hugs and virtual kisses what I have to do right now and I know the day will come where I’ll get to do it for real and you know I try to keep up and let them hear my voice and see my face on Zoom or Skype you don’t like the way I think I’m not a big fan of social media but I do think it can be used for a good purpose you know I’ve met so many people and I’ve done so many things I’m just having to deal with what I’ve had to deal with that and I say get rid of the anger and the bitterness and all that and let’s just try to get along and to work together.”

There were more Facebook posts that Cheryl shared over the next few months:

On July 14, 2020, she wrote, “What would you do? Yesterday before therapy a man at rehab said to me, u know those Jews they’re all the same. It took me by surprise. What would u have said if anything? Since anti-Semitism and hate in general is on the rise, am I just being sensitive? Ór since he didn’t know I was Jewish were his true colors showing? He has made other comments before but this was definitely different. So… What would you have said or done if anything?”

She wrote on July 18, 2020, “I love these children (her grandchildren Ezra and Nora) more than I thought was possible. I’m learning how to walk again and when I see their 2 little faces, I get the motivation to go on. Hopefully next week, I will take my first step and so on and so on.”

July 23, 2020 “Well I stood up today. Haven’t gotten the courage to take my first steps but the day is young. I have PT this afternoon and I hope I will be in the right mind set to take a step. Who would of thought at my age that just taking a few steps would be so difficult. I guess I have to watch the videos of Ezra taking his first steps. Holding on to the couch for dear life with terror in his eyes. Finally letting go and the look of relief and joy in his face that he did it. Hopefully I will be able to report the same experience.”

July 25, 2020 “You are braver than you believe, Stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Winnie the Pooh

July 26, 2020 “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.

Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” Martin Luther King

On July 28, 2020, Cheryl pleaded, “Those of you that don’t want to wear mask: would you rather wear oxygen for the rest of your life? Think about it!!!”

On August 12, 2020, she asked those who had Covid, “For those of u that lost your taste and smell because of the virus, have u gotten it back? If so how long since u have recovered did it take to get them back? For those of u that have gotten Covid-19 did u lose all your hair? If so, are you wearing a wig or just dealing with the hair loss?

I have lost all my hair in one day; my thick long hair all fell out. I couldn’t stand the outcome, so now I am wearing a wig 24/7.”

August 31, 2020, Cheryl wrote, “It’s my birthday today and my son’s Seth Birthday. I can’t believe 31 years ago, I had this 2-month-early 4lb-6oz baby boy. 31 years later, he is married to the love of his life Sarah. He’s a CPA with a great job, a new house, and a new dog. Happy Birthday Seth you’re an awesome young adult. have a Happy Birthday and an awesome day. I love you!!!!😘😘♥️♥️

It’s been a crazy year for me. The worst is I got Covid-19, was on a respirator etc .

The best news is I survived!!!

I am starting to learn to walk again. it’s hard work but worth it. I want to thank my OT’s and PT’s who have been so supportive and helped me so much remaining positive and helping me get through this hard time.”

October 2, 2020 “I voted today!!! Make sure you vote too. it’s up to us to make the difference.”

October 25, 2020 “Please wear your masks!!! I am recovering from the virus. I still can’t walk. I can’t remember things. I have muscle pain that is indescribable. My taste and smell still haven’t returned. Just think, by wearing a mask it will reduce your chances by 80% or more so you don’t have to go through this. I will never be the way I used to be so please wear a MASK.”

October 30, 2020 “To all my friends and family today is moving day!!!!! Can’t wait. Still not walking but I am getting there. My major message: Wear your mask!!! No excuses wash your hands all the time wear your mask! You never want to go through what I have gone through. To all have an awesome day. To Karen (her daughter-in-law’s mother who had Covid), I am thinking about you. Stay strong. You will get through this my thoughts and prayers r with you for a speedy recovery. To Craig (her daughter-in-law’s father who also had Covid), the same: stay strong, baby steps. You and Karen will get through this.”

November 6, 2020 “Exciting News!!!! Having one

of the worst medical years ever. I have my very own

apartment It is so beautiful !!!!!”

Nov 20, 2020 “Today I am going to ask my doctor about donating my plasma/antibodies against Covid. It would be so awesome if I could help someone else. The only immediate problem is I have been sick and I don’t know how long I have to be healthy before I can donate. Keep your fingers crossed.”

Cheryl last wrote on November 22, 2020, A“This little girl has changed my life. Sean’s little girl Nora. Now I am obsessed with 2 grandchildren. Ezra 5 1/2 and Nora 1 1/2 I am so blessed.” This was the last post she ever wrote on Facebook.

On December 1st, my wife, Judy and I, received the news from my cousin Fred that Cheryl passed away. Her father had also died on December 1st, seven years earlier.

Cheryl was buried on Wednesday, December 2nd, with only her two sons and her two daughters-in-law in attendance. The recording of the funeral was on the Internet the next day. It was a 20-minute service, Cheryl’s 60 years summed up in 20 minutes. She fought, according to the rabbi, through 25 years of sickness but he said “she won the battle,” since she had two wonderful children who were both happily married, and she had two grandchildren, Ezra and Nora. After 36 years, she had finally had a baby girl.

I believe that Covid also gave Cheryl’s life some more purpose. Cheryl became vocal on Facebook and tried to use her voice to warn of the dangers of Covid and to wear a mask. Many people may never understand that point of view but some of us will.

She wrote just ten days before her death that “it would be so awesome if I could help someone else.” My hope is that her words will help someone. Let her memory be a blessing, not just to her small family and friends but to all those who never knew her and yet are able to gain some wisdom from reading her words.

Cheryl had the effects of Covid-19 for seven months but her words are a warning to all of those who don’t believe in the devastation that this virus can cause, since it has already killed over 280,000 in the US and over a million souls around the world.

Cheryl’s life was fraught with sickness and sadness but she was blessed with two extraordinary children and two grandchildren and a voice at the end that sends shivers to those of us who are afraid in these times of Covid.

I go back to the words that Cheryl shared from Winnie the Pooh that can be lessons to all of us. “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” And I think of Chery’s own words that sum up her life so well, “Tell the ones you love every day, how much you love them. I say this because in an instant, they could be gone.”

Amen

To Kenny

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During the Coronavirus Quarantine in April, 2020, Judy and I found a photo that I didn’t remember taking. I also found this letter in an old drawer down the basement from my mom to our little brother, Kenny. 

You will always be Kenny to me, though you kept insisting you wanted to be called Ken. Tomorrow, you’d have been fifteen. You would have been such a handsome boy. Soon, your braces would have been removed and that would have been exciting for you. You would be able to chew gum again; that is, you would be able to chew gum without me telling you to spit it out.

What new interests would you have had? Baseball cards or stamps or stocks or tennis, or would you have been interested in girls? I believe you’d have done well in high school, enjoyed much, and probably avoided the drug scene. You’d have seen the foolishness in it. Perhaps you’d have tried, but you were always the type of kid who could get a natural “high” from life. You see, Kenny, this is the advantage and, I’m sure, the only one: I can see you as I choose. Maybe you will miss out on some pleasure but I must console myself that you are missing some very painful times.

I surely know the real meaning of pain. I am trying so hard to go on without you but it is the most difficult thing. All those years of being with you, when you were sick or sad or when you were funny or especially when you were happy…your eyes were so bright then. You gave us your zest for living and you gave us the strength to go through a lot of hard times, but most of all you tried to teach us the strength to be rational instead of being over-excitable with no reason. You showed us how painful it was for you to see us upset. Because of that, Kenny, I must try to do as you wanted us to do. I will go on and survive and enjoy some things because that will be my memorial to you. Life will never be the same without you, but I will try to enjoy parts of my life and get some satisfaction out of the things I do. But please, be patient with me. This is not an easy thing; you were such an important part of my life…it will take time.

Still, somewhere in a little corner of my heart, I keep hoping things will change and you’ll come back to us. But in time, somehow, I will accept that this can never be, that you cannot be with us in body, but I know, for the rest of my life, you will always live in my heart

12/22/1983

Al my love,

Mom

The Last Photo

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I think this was it, the last one

Taken of my brother and me. 

Twelve years after my Bar

Mitzvah, one day after New Year’s,

A day before my 25th birthday. 

We looked like normal brothers,

Twelve years apart, trying to look 

Serious over the Torah scrolls. 

I am holding the yad, Kenny looks 

Kind of bored but completely fearless.

We must have believed then 

in the promise of a New Year.

Today, 38 years later, 

 

I am practicing Shemot’s 

Haftorah, that Parshah

With baby Moses in the river,

The burning bush, and “Let my people go.”

My Golden Bar Mitzvah is on January 18,

The day my granddaughter Talia turns 2. 

I can’t remember that day 50 years ago 

And can’t find my Bar Mitzvah book

But I found Kenny’s album and stare now, 

Remembering the ghosts of Kenny’s 

Bar Mitzvah, our aunts, uncles, cousins, our Zadeh, mom and dad, and the phone call 

seven months later, 

 

The speeding car to Botsford Hospital, 

the waiting, then the

White coat approaching, his hollow voice

Breaking our little world, 

Our spirits forever shattered. 

What happened in between these years, 

All those who perished while we weren’t 

Paying attention? As I prepare to

Read something I chanted and forgot

At age thirteen, the same age

Kenny will always remain,

His short, thin frame, the

Dark brown beautiful hair, 

 

Angular handsome face,

His mischievous laugh

Underneath the surface, 

I can barely hear his unheard

Voice so distant, our family

Mesmerized by the gift 

Of his timbre, his words, his life.

Beyond the 1982-quality video

Of the Bar Mitzvah party, 

This photo is all that’s left from ’82 

Of just my brother and me.

I guess I have no choice. I must 

Hold onto this gift forever.

Remembering Joel

The Talmud asks, “Who is wise?” and answers, “One who learns from all.”

Joel Frank was truly a very wise man because he loved to learn. He loved socializing, watching television, reading newspapers and magazines, as well as writing endless letters and notes to his family members. In fact, he wrote so much that he would constantly ask for sharpie pens as birthday and Hanukah gifts because they would dry up from so much use and he couldn’t ever take the risk of his pen stash running out.

Whether Joel was at home visiting with family, watching his favorite movies and TV shows or video tapes and then DVDs over and over again, or reading the sports section of the newspaper, he was constantly learning. He would surprise our family constantly with his knowledge as we learned he was truly paying attention to whatever he was taught, listening, reading, or watching.

Joel’s parents, Carole and Max, made sure Joel understood that he was a Jew. At 13, he had his Bar Mitzvah at Young Israel on Thanksgiving morning, where he proudly recited Aliyah blessings in Hebrew at the Torah. Family came from all over to celebrate him. Joel’s dad not only taught him to read Hebrew, he also took him to shul regularly for years, and for over 40 years, sat with him weekly after Shabbat services to study Hebrew and review the 4 questions so that by Pesach, he was able to recite them all in Hebrew and English.

Joel embraced his Judaism and loved all the Jewish Holidays and Shabbat and the delicious treats at Kiddush and would often call his sister, Judy, just to tell her what time “licht benching” was for the week. But of all the Jewish holidays, Passover was his favorite by far.

Joel was the eldest in the family. Judy wrote, “he was there when I came into the world, and I have never known a world without him. He was my first friend and my greatest teacher. In a world of bullying and intolerance, Joel taught me patience, compassion, unconditional love, and acceptance. He taught me optimism and to always look on the bright side of life. Joel was my brother, my forever friend, and my special superhero. There wasn’t anything I wouldn’t have done for him. In all the years I’ve known Joel, he didn’t say a mean word about anyone or anything unless you consider the phrase, ‘Good grief,’ when asked to do something that he didn’t like. But even then, he would end up doing what he didn’t like, saying “That would be easier.”

Joel would call Judy after I married her, just to ask ‘what have you been up to?’ and never skipping a beat years later, asking about each nephew and niece, Kyle, Ilana, and Marlee. He loved and treasured his family unconditionally, always excited to see them or to ask for a new picture he could place on his dresser. He celebrated at their bar and bat mitzvahs, and attended Ilana and Jonathon’s wedding, welcoming Jonathon into the family as his new nephew. He didn’t get to know Melissa as much, but he knew that Kyle and Melissa were married in Chicago, even though he wasn’t up to attending. He included in his family my family, Leslie, Bruce, and Karenna as well as my parents, Milt and Rochelle. He loved to have his picture taken with any of his family, at all times. Family pictures were very important to him as he kept them framed by his bedside always.

Nan and Judy said that Joel loved the ladies in his life. He would flirt with his nurses, hygienists, and doctor’s aides, his favorite line being “anything for a lady.” Even during his later years, he would still accommodate a lady’s request, saying “Merci boucoup.” But of all the women in his life, his heart truly belonged to his mother. He loved and trusted his mom more than anyone.

Judy said that her mother is the most devoted mom in this world. It really makes perfect sense that God chose her and her dad as parents for Joel. They say it takes special people to care for special people. There isn’t anything her mom wouldn’t do for her family and she accepted her lot in life and devoted the last 61 years, making sure Joel had everything he needed, was educated, taken care of, and most importantly, loved. After his dad passed, his mom would often make special dinner dates with Joel which he treasured so they could spend one on one time together. Judy said that his love of Dairy Queen and ice cream, which he enjoyed even near the end of his life, came from their mom. In fact, it was the very last food he ate and enjoyed the night before he passed.

I lost my only brother in 1982 but I met Judy, her parents, her grandparents, sister, and her brothers in 1984 and when we married, I had two new brothers. For me, Joel became my little brother, even though he was only 11 months younger than me and even though Barry was even younger. I loved taking Joel to Tigers, Pistons, and Lions games, to movies, having him over our house to watch Batman or any of all the other shows, sports, movies, and soap operas he loved to watch.

For me, Joel was always a believer. He never stopped believing, no matter how far his sports teams were down or how far his heroes and superheroes had fallen. Like Dorothy in his favorite movie, the Wizard of Oz (which he saw dozens of times) or Batman, he would rise up one day to defeat the wicked witch or the competing sports team or the Joker or a soap opera’s villain. No one could stop Joel’s positive beliefs. No one could stop Joel.

I have so many great memories with Joel, including some of the craziest Tigers and Lions games in history. I was with Joel on August 23, 2000 at Comerica Park when a swarm of millions of flying ants descended like locusts covering all of the fans, forcing us to move (a perfect story for this time of Passover.) But even flying ants wouldn’t stop Joel from enjoying a night with his beloved Detroit Tigers. And I will never forget going with Joel to celebrate his 40th birthday on the Lions’ final regular season game, December 21, 1997, when Barry Sanders electrified the crowd and rushed for 184 yards in a 13-10 victory over the New York Jets at the Silverdome over Bill Parcells, which propelled the Lions into the playoffs.

Never making a Super Bowl didn’t matter much to Joel because even during the Lions’ winless season or the Tigers’ record-breaking losing season, he always believed the Lions and Tigers would win it all, even if they were officially out of it. When they would lose, he would get a little miffed and then was off, rooting for them the next game. When we talked about the next game, he would always tell me, “Don’t worry. I’ll keep you posted.” No matter what happened, his teams were always going to win the championship. That’s just the way Joel thought, always an optimist, always believing in the best of all things.

I wrote a poem called “Down” 14 years ago, when Joel was 47, which started,

“What would I give to believe like my brother-in-law Joel

That everything is possible that no matter how far down we are

We can come back we can always come back…. He is my Peter Pan

Always looking forward to another game, another win.”

More than sports, Joel treasured his siblings. He always trusted his sister, Judy, listened to sister Nancy when she tried to help him eat healthier. And when his younger brother, Barry, moved back home, Joel was thrilled as Barry helped take care of Joel, especially in the last years, when Barry literally bent over backwards to be there for his brother.

Joel also loved his nieces and nephews and they loved him back. His nephew Kyle enjoyed bowling with Joel and said that he remembered Joel’s love of bowling and how he was always able to hit impossible shots that Kyle could never make. In fact, Kyle sent us a video he took of Joel making a difficult spare and Joel’s signature move, lowering his right arm majestically in celebration. Kyle said that Joel had a never-ending optimism for Detroit sports, which was infectious. He also used to leave Kyle long handwritten notes that were hard to read, asking Kyle to help him do some General Hospital research for Joel. Joel’s niece, Marlee, said that he even though it was difficult for him, he still came to her graduation from U of M. She remembered his love of Passover, the Wizard of Oz, puzzles, collecting cards, and giving very long hugs. Ilana and Jonathon remember his famous “what have you been up to?” line, and would give them a long hug and say, “you’re my favorite niece and nephew…and Marlee and Kyle too.” He would call on every birthday and give a personal birthday card with a gift inside, signed “Love from Uncle Joel Frank.” He gave the best massages, and as soon as Ilana sang a song, Joel would chime in with his high-pitched falsetto voice. She also fondly remembers his thumbs up at every movie ending and sports game ending. She also recalls watching a Lions game at our house and saying to him, “Joel, we’re so far behind. Do you really think we’re going to win?” And Joel said yeah, of course, and they came from way behind and won, and Ilana said, “Joel, I guess you were right.” And Joel then said, “Of course. I told you so.” And Ilana and Jonathon remember when they dropped grandma off after Kyle and Melissa’s wedding, when Joel greeted his mom with a big Welcome Home sign and gave grandma the longest hug they had ever seen.

How many things did Joel love? He loved going to the JCC Thursday Night Social Club and reading the 4 questions, answering trivia, playing his favorite game, bingo, and of course, singing Karaoke like You Light up My Life, one of his all-time classics which I videotaped him singing 15 months ago, after he stopped eating and drinking, when we thought then we might lose Joel. 15 months is the same age as his great niece Talia. 15 months is the time between his birth and his younger sister, Judy.

So what else did Joel love? He loved baking challahs, thanks to Kim Kaplan and her class through Friendship Circle at the JCC. He loved Batman, James Bond, and so many other shows. He used to make a prune face and say “e prune,” getting lots of laughs in the process. He rented library books, all about travel, so he could unravel and “crack the code” of the mysteries in General Hospital. He would write me a list of all sorts of soap opera issues and sports teams schedules and videos and then DVDs that he needed me to get him. “Please,” he said, “can you try?” Ok, Joel, I’ll try, I said. I remember when I got him an extensive James Bond set of DVDs which didn’t include a couple of movies, so he’d follow up with this: can you get me this movie or this guide or another schedule that I already got him? And I said, Joel, come on, I already got you that.

Now, I would give everything to have him ask me one more time, “can you get me a few more Sharpies, some new cards, a new puzzle, or a poker or blackjack hand-held game? Can we see the new Star Wars movie?” I wish he could ask me again to tape the Amazing Race, Lost in Space, Bewitched, Batman….I have to admit that I used to get annoyed by some of his requests, but how I miss them now…

The last years were tough after Joel suffered two brain bleeds but his mom, siblings, and caregivers were dedicated to help him live his best life. When it became more difficult for Carole to routinely care for Joel, Judy did everything in her power to help Joel get additional help. She found wonderful caregivers for Joel, especially Kathy and Chinita who treated Joel like he was their family. And when it was best to move Joel out of his home, Judy put her heart and soul to find a good place for Joel. It took awhile but Judy found a wonderful home managed by a dedicated caregiver, Elana, whom Joel called Lucy (which was one of his favorite characters,) and her wonderful staff. In fact, when Joel moved there, Elana’s son, Vladimir, dressed up with a full head-to-toe Batman outfit to try to make Joel feel right at home. (I have it on video.) Sadly, Joel only lived there for a month.

Joel passed one day before his father Max’s Yahrtzeit, one day before the first Seder. I guess it’s fitting that this funeral, like his father’s, is during Passover because Joel loved Passover and we can never forget Joel at this time of year. He loved Pesach and its rituals, he loved the hiding and searching for chummetz and he loved to eat during the Seder. We would just stare, eyes wide open, as Joel mixed up dark turkey meat, mashed potatoes, mustard, and catsup and after, had all sorts of Pesach treats before ending the night, joining the singing of rousing songs. I especially remember his Dayenu chant and joyously singing Adir Hu and Had Gadya while pretending to play instruments in the orchestra, often near midnight.

As Judy and I attended the Siyyum service before Pesach for Max’s Yahrtzeit, I believed that Max and his oldest son were together again, ready to observe Passover once again, practicing the 4 questions, free away from the discomforts and difficulties of their last years in life. And I can’t help believing that Joel and Max were with us during our family Seders this year. Dayenu.

And now, as we sadly whisper goodbye to our son, brother, friend, uncle, and great uncle, we take a few moments to remember the essence of Joel. What we will all remember is Joel’s passionate love of life, every moment of it, his belief in miracles and his essential goodness. No matter how I believe in miracles because of Joel, I know that not all miracles come true.

Here is the miracle that I truly wish comes true. I dream that when Joel left his life, he traveled somewhere over the rainbow and was welcomed by his dad, Bubbe and Zayda, and his uncles, aunts, and other relatives and when he saw my parents again and met my brother for the first time, he saw them clearly with no glasses and no fear, approached them and said, “Hey, how you doing? What have you been up to?” And then I hope that they welcomed him into their home the same way that Max and Carole embraced Joel into their home a little over 61 years ago. Then, when they ask him how his mom, siblings, nephews and nieces, and beautiful great-niece are doing here on earth, he will look down from above that rainbow and tell them, as he had told me so many times in his life, “I will keep you posted. I will keep you posted.”

We will forever miss our Joel, our family’s superhero who made us proud. If we could tell him now how much we love and appreciate what he gave us and how much we will miss him, he would probably answer us as he did so many times before, “I know that.”

I want to end by giving Joel the sign that he always gave us after every happy movie ending and every sports win.  Thumbs up, Joel. Thumbs up.

How to Spot a Jew-Hater

Two Orthodox Jews in Belgium parade

A leading right-wing national weekly newspaper in Poland recently published an article on its front page, “How to recognize a Jew.” (‘How to Spot a Jew’: Polish Newspaper Front Page Gives Readers Anti-Semitic Advice,” David Brennan, Newsweek, 3/14/19).  The Tylko Polska ran the story that recognizing a Jew involves “names, anthropological features, expressions, appearances, character traits, methods of operation” and “disinformation activities” that might mark a Jewish person. “How to defeat them?” the headline added. “This cannot go on.”

Nowadays, Jews all over the world have a much more urgent task: How to spot Jew-Haters. Every day, there is evidence of anti-Israel/anti-Semitic words and actions in Europe and in the United States. There are so many examples, including a photo shared over the Internet of a Ruth Bader Ginsburg poster in Brooklyn, with a swastika covering her face and the words, “Die, Jew bitch!”  On the same day, Norway’s Attorney General ruled that Norwegian rapper Kaveh’s exclamation, “F*** Jews,” in front of families with children at a food festival, “could be understood as criticism of Israel, targeting the state of Israel and showing dissatisfaction with its policies.” Ten days earlier, a float in a Belgium carnival paraded two caricatures of Orthodox Jews with large crooked noses and suitcases of money, as if this were just some funny innocent cartoon.

The New York Times, often guilty of reports and essays blatantly critical of Israel, just published “Anti-Semitism is Back, From the Left, Right and Islamist Extremes,” (Patrick Kingsley, April 4, 2019). “Anti-Semitism has become a section of today’s political Venn diagram,” Kingsley writes, “where the far right can intersect with parts of the far left, Europe’s radical Islamist fringe, and even politicians from American’s two main parties.” One of those politicians, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, questioned American Jews’ allegiance to the United States and said that Jewish organizations like AIPAC were buying Jewish support, tweeting, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”

The Democratic Party offering mild criticism/enabling of Omar is similar to the Republican Party quietly criticizing President Trump’s defense of some white Nationalists as “very fine people,” many of whom chanted “Jews will not replace us.” As Kingsley writes, “bigots have seemingly become more brazen, creating a climate that has made anti-Semitism far more permissible and dangerous.” France reported a 74 percent spike in anti-Semitic incidents, Germany a 60 percent increase in violent anti-Semitic attacks, and the US reported a 57% increase of anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, including 11 Jews murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue during prayer. Pittsburgh just fades into the distance, now seeming like just another forgotten American mass murder. Oh well…

I have never seen so much blatant anti-Semitism in my 62 years of life. Yet, it often seems so ordinary and common that I begin to wonder, what can I do about it? What can we all do about the insidious spread of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish hatred?

We need to keep our eyes and ears open to Jew-haters everywhere, whether it’s in the guise of poisonous BDS supporters, politicians questioning the legitimacy of Israel, or universities enabling blatant prejudice against Israel. It’s easy to forget that extreme criticism of Israel is more than just politics…it can turn into swearing against Jews or essays about how to spot Jews and defeat us.

We cannot stay quiet, naïve, or apathetic. Accepting Jew-hatred as normal and the way it’s always been is the first step toward accepting a terrible fate that should never be tolerated.

We used to proudly say, “Never Again!”

We should never accept anything that could lead to the tragic words of “well, here we go again.”