Archive for February, 2013

Outrage @ Walmart

On Friday I returned a purchase to my local Wal-Mart, in my home town.  In line in front of me was a lady in her 80s, shriveled from osteoporosis and who knows what else, slumped in a motorized wheelchair and unaccompanied.  She had taken great care to look sharp:  a bright red hat, red lipstick, a dash of rouge and a touch of eye shadow, but not enough to hide her frailty.  She was waiting for the Store Manager, who finally came to the counter with a look of impatience and a scowl.

“Like the clerk told you, ma’am, you need to first call the police and  file a police report, and then we’ll take your information,” the Store Manager said.

“How am I supposed to do that?   Do you have the police’s number?”  she asked.

The manager did not let the lady use Wal Mart’s company phone.  “Call 9-1-1.” she said brusquely.

“Can you please call them for me?” the old lady asked.

“No ma’am, I cannot.  You have to be the one to talk to them,  I cannot make a report for you.”

“Here is my cell phone. I’ll talk to them. Can you at least dial for me?” the lady asked.

“Fine!” the Store Manager said with a big harumph, as if she was doing the old lady the biggest favor in the world.

Here is what happened:  as the lady was shopping in WalMart, someone stole the lady’s purse which contained her wallet with all her money, ID, credit cards, and keys.

Here is what should have happened:  the store should have gone on immediate lock-down, with each person leaving the store subject to inspection for the stolen purse and its contents.  Police should have been called immediately by the employees.  But not only did the store not care a whit about this poor lady’s situation, they treated her as if the whole episode was a huge inconvenience to them and not their problem, which considering her purse had been stolen inside their store, was nothing short of chutzpah.  A clerk or store manager should have been pulled from the sidelines (there were plenty of them standing around doing absolutely nothing) to devote all their attention to helping her, calling a family member or a cab.  The lady asked if they would help her call her bank and let them know about her missing credit cards, and they refused.  She had no way of getting home (the robber had her house keys, and she had no money for a cab); she had nothing except her cellphone, which she was too shaky to use.

And while this drama was being played out before my eyes, I thought,

This would never happen in Maine.

Yes, there is crime in Maine.  There are drunk drivers and tool thefts and in the city there is shoplifting and drug deals gone bad.  But no one in Maine – and I do mean no one – –  would steal a purse from a disabled little old lady who is all by herself in a wheelchair.  And I also guarantee you that in the unlikely event that her purse would have been stolen, the little old lady would have been surrounded by both customers, clerks and the store manager who would have ensured that she was taken care of, both emotionally, physically, and practically, and they would have made however many calls needed to be made along with an offer to drive her home.

“Where is the common decency?”  I thought out loud.  “What kind of animals prey upon utterly helpless people like this?”

But the clerk only shrugged her shoulders, her eyes and heart apathetic.

And I thought:  when people get used to things, they become complacent.  They convince themselves that it’s just how things are, that there is nothing you can do about it.

Maybe things really are like this in my hometown, but there is something we can do about it.  We can choose to not put up with it, and if we cannot change things as they are, then we can only make a change for ourselves.

I am very glad to be returning to Maine.  Because I don’t want to live in a society like my hometown’s,  where apathy and lack of decency and fear is is the new normal.    There are plenty of good people in my hometown, but oh, how the rotten eggs permeate and bring ruin upon all of us.

Quite simply, I’ve had enough.


Due to complications from my recent surgery, we were unable to return to Maine according to our preferred schedule.  Unfortunately this meant that we missed Nemo entirely.  I say “unfortunately” because we love snow and extreme winter weather, especially when experienced from inside our woodstove-heated house that has plenty of stored food and emergency supplies, along with 2 different backup systems if there is a power failure:  indeed, we are snug as bugs in the rug, despite windchill temperatures of -30F.

And when the storm finally clears, there is nothing more magnificent that first few hours post-blizzard than a deep blue, crystal clear sky; the brisk frigid air that is tempered by the sun’s reflection on the powdery white, gleaming expanse;  the branches heavy with clumpy snow; the intermittent chaos of sliding and pounding snow falling off the roof at any given moment; the fun of trudging and exploring on snowshoes or cross-country skis; my dog jumping and diving and burying himself in the drifts with utter exuberance; the clean whitewash of terrain as far as the eye can see; and especially, the still quiet that is so profound that it makes your ears burn and your soul leap.

Our friend Peter was kind enough to send us a photo from Old Orchard Beach, where a tiny pocket of Jewry maintains its presence along the Atlantic shore.  Oh, how I wish I could have seen it!

Where sand, snow and surf meet, post-Nemo:  Old Orchard Beach, Maine.

Where sand, snow and surf meet, post-Nemo: Old Orchard Beach, Maine.


Although I’ve been trying alternative treatments to correct an ongoing medical problem for the past three years, they were unsuccessful; so I knew I could not push off  major surgery much longer (thankfully for something that was not life-threatening and was benign).  Just what surgical method would be used was up for debate, and required getting 2nd and 3rd opinions until I felt comfortable that I was not only doing the right thing, but with the right doctor.  Each time I wanted to try a different doctor, I had to wait a month or more to get an appointment as a “new patient”; I waited further weeks for tests and lost or unreported test results; still more time wasted waiting for lots of unreturned phone calls – – all delaying the inevitable even further (at the time I did not know that the findings would be benign; I hate to think how much precious time would have been lost if the results had not been good).

Out of desperation I called Dr. B.,  a well-regarded doctor in my home town who, free of charge, runs an informal medical referral service.  (Similar to Rofeh International in Boston and ECHO  (718) 859-9800 and (845) 425-9750 in New York, which work without compensation and no ulterior motives to recommend the best possible doctors for specific conditions and situations requiring medical attention.) When I told Dr. B. my problem he consulted with a colleague, and got back to me within an hour:  he had never personally worked with Dr. F or even met her, but his colleague said Dr. F was at the forefront of innovation, research, and treatment, plus she was an excellent surgeon.  I was impressed that Dr. F’s secretary was able to fit me in quickly, and within minutes  of my visit I knew I had found the right person:  besides her expertise, Dr. F was mentschlich.    She also confided that if we were to have a long-term professional relationship, that she would soon be leaving her current position and moving to another local hospital.  As it turns out, Dr. F had just been appointed head of an entire surgical department at Johns Hopkins Hospital – – so I felt I had made the right choice technically speaking as well; for me, that sealed the deal.  As head of the department at Johns Hopkins, scheduling would be prolonged and her services would not be covered under my current insurance, so I felt fortunate to get her at her “old” hospital before she made the switch.

The three weeks before the surgery were a crash course in saintly living.  I exercised daily, doing weight-bearing exercise, hiking, 4-mile walks, and even a little jogging (my dog was especially excited by all the opportunities for outdoor adventure).  I continued to attend my Tai Chi class 2x a week.  I stopped eating processed food and piled up on fresh produce and daily juicing of kale, beets, ginger, carrots, celery, peppers, cucumber, kiwi; I sautéed lots of Swiss chard, ate roasted sweet potatoes, steamed quinoa, and plain yogurt; I took my usual dose of Vitamin D3 and added Vitamin C.  I cooked up soups, grilled lean chicken and turkey steaks, and prepared ethnically inspired vegetable dishes which I put in small ziplocks in portions sized for my husband and myself, labelled them and put them in the freezer.  I shopped for more than a week’s worth of groceries; I did all the laundry and checked out DVDs and books from our local library.  I bought all the post-op supplies I could think of including ginger tea for nausea, throat drops, a cozy new bathrobe (LL Bean outlet and on sale!) and a new pillow (with a moose on it, of course).   I was ready!  My husband would not be stuck with cooking or shopping and if I needed anything, it would be minimal.

The surgery itself (done in my hometown) was mostly uneventful.   After all that pre-op running around, the best sleep I’d gotten in a week was that 2 hours under general anesthetic!  I was able to discontinue narcotic pain meds within 5 hours of the surgery.  And by the 2nd day I felt really terrific, physically and emotionally.

I remember when I awoke from the anesthetic, the nurse was looking at me and smiling.  “You look just great!” she chirped.  I realized something was funny when the next morning before discharge the nurse said, “Oh, you look just so much better today!”  I was horrified when I finally looked in the mirror – – EGADS!   I literally couldn’t believe that it was me.  Due to the enormous amount of IV fluid pumped into me during the surgery as well as inflammation from surgical trauma, my entire body was completely puffy and bloated.  My eyelids no longer existed – I had beady brown eyes that resembled a weasel.  I looked like one of those animated M&M characters:  a completely round, enormous body on legs.  (When I weighed myself when I got home, and despite fasting the day before the operation, I had gained 9 lbs in 48 hours, so it was not my imagination!)  The circles and bags under my eyes made me look like I had aged 20 years.  If I looked like this now, I hate to think what I had looked like on Day 1, when according to Miss Chirpy Nurse Who Is A Pathological Liar, I looked “just great!”

Eeyew! Self-portrait, post-op.

Eeyew! Self-portrait, post-op.

The doctor told me that because the surgery was done laparoscopically rather than abdominally, recovery was about 2 weeks.  That number – – two weeks – – kept playing in my brain like an annoying song you can’t get out of your head.  So when complications set in,  two weeks now sounded like a bad joke; I was not mentally prepared to handle setbacks.

A good friend recommended I check a website and recovery forum dedicated to women who had the same surgery that I did.  This was a wonderful resource.  I also learned that while the two weeks marker was valid for the external laparoscopic incisions to heal vs. six weeks for the abdominal version of the same surgery, that internally the trauma and repair was identical whether it was done laparoscopically or abdominally and it could take 6 months to a year before I finally felt like I was back to my old self (naturally the doctors don’t tell you this)!

While I was pretty much horrified by this news (will I be able to lift my kayak into my car once the ice on the lake melts 2 months from now?  Will I be able to lift a log and put it into the woodstove?) I also realized that I simply needed to let it go.  We all think we are in control, but certain things are just not in our hands!  We must do our hishtadlus (make our best effort) – in my case by resting, eating healthfully, walking daily and praying – but the rest is up to HaShem.

I really, really wanted to return to my home in Maine 2 weeks post-op.   (Here’s what I’m missing:  another blizzard this weekend that will bring 24 inches of snow and temps of -30 F with windchill).  However disappointed I may be, it’s not going to happen.  The thought of an 11-hour car ride is overwhelming.  I can’t ask my husband to run to the supermarket on his lunch hour in rural Maine – to get there is 40 minutes each way.  I can’t take advantage of outdoor exercise – I’m basically mostly lying around.  More importantly, I don’t want to overdo it and relapse – I am instead focusing on what I need to do to be able to kayak, fish, hike, and entertain guests this summer – – and to achieve that goal means I must stay put.  (At least we will save on Snow Plow Guy’s snowplowing our driveway, a service I called to cancel for the next few weeks.)

And now for my findings from the other side of the bed on the topic of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick):

  • Loved getting emails.  Unlike phone calls or visits, I wasn’t compelled to be awake to receive them.  When I had insomnia, I could  read them and respond at unconventional times, like 4 a.m.  It also showed that I hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth, and that you cared enough to be thinking of me.
  • If you are going on an errand, call the sick person and say, “I’m going to “x” – do you want me to pick up anything for you as long as I’m going anyway?”  That way the sick person doesn’t feel like s/he’s imposing.  Also nice:  “Can I do any errands for you that your husband might ordinarily do?”  Being sick is also stressful for the primary (in my case, only) caregiver, who may be completely overwhelmed.  They need a breath of fresh air once in a while, too!
  • Don’t say, “Is there anything I can do for you?” if you can’t do it.  Yes, I know people have busy lives that do not revolve around a person who is unwell.  But if there are only specific favors that you are offering, then tell that person what they are, so both of you don’t feel bad when the sick person makes a request that you can’t or don’t want to fulfill.
  • Try not to sound too relieved  when, after you offer to help but realistically cannot possibly fulfill your offer, I decline your offer (and you sigh dramatically in relief and confess how grateful you are because you don’t know how you would have managed it).  I know you’re busy, and you mean well, but instead you not only make me feel like a burden, your insincerity is upsetting.  It’s better to be honest.  I would much rather hear, “I feel really terrible that I cannot help you, but I’m completely overwhelmed at home with my own problems.  But I am thinking of you and davening for you every day!”
  • Do not feel insulted if someone says they don’t want visitors; respect their wish.  Sometimes post-surgical effects are unpleasant and embarrassing. Despite your trying to do a mitzvah by visiting the sick, remember it’s not about YOU, it’s about the person who is ill and desperately wants to get well.  But also check back – they might be up to visitors a week later.
  • It’s important that the person who is ill not be overly demanding or ask for help too repeatedly.  Which is why I sent an email to people who had offered to help, when my 2-week supply of food began to run low.  “This is a one-time request:  Is  anyone going to Target, WalMart, BJ’s, Sams Club, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in the next 4 days?” Admittedly I am very picky (I eat lots of fresh organic produce), plus I wanted to buy some bulk items like toilet paper and paper towels.  Not ONE person could help me!  Yes, I have a husband who can help – but it forces me to rely on him for everything and then he has zero personal time, not to mention that at that point I really do become a burden – – to him.
  • When someone is sick, their world shrinks dramatically, basically to the four walls to which they’re confined.  So everything within that tiny space takes on gigantic proportions and exaggerated detail, because the wider world is not there to distract them.  So if the sick person makes a big deal over what seems like nothing to you, realize that even if it’s not a big deal, it may seem like one to the sick person – – because sadly, that’s all they have to focus on in their line of sight.  Be patient and tolerant – G-d willing this too shall pass.  The sick person doesn’t mean, and doesn’t want, to be “difficult.”
  • If you say to the sick person, “I’ll call you,” then do.
  • If you have a sick child at home, then don’t bring the other kids to visit.  Chances are that the other kids will get whatever virus the sick kid has, and pass it on to the person you are visiting who is unwell.  People who are sick have very little immunity or resistance to disease.  Even a child’s simple cold could be a big deal for a person who is unwell if they catch it, too.
  • Before bringing the sick person or the sick person’s family a meal, first find out if they need it, want it, and/or have any dietary restrictions.

Before my surgery, I had taken care of everything I thought I’d need for a two-week recovery period, except for one thing I knew I wouldn’t be able to do:  walking my very active, athletic dog.  No, it’s not good enough to let him out in our fenced backyard . . . dogs need stimulation on a daily basis beyond the four walls of one’s house.  I’m talking about 10 – 15 minutes per day, 1 – 2x a day.  So I sent out an email response to anyone who asked “what can I do” saying no, I don’t need meals, but if anyone would offer to come by and walk the dog, that would be really helpful and a give me great peace of mind.  The more people who would respond, the less commitment they’d need to make.  Only ONE person responded:  my 10-year-old grandson, Yehudah.  He has been at it faithfully now for 2 weeks daily in all kinds of extreme weather.  I recently sent him a thank-you note and enclosed $5 for his efforts.  He called me back to say, “Honestly Savta, I didn’t expect you to pay me for this, I just wanted to help you!”  Now that is nachas!  And it definitely contributed to my refuah.

The next time I have a friend who is unwell, I hope I will remember how it felt from the other side of the bed to be the one who is sick,  so I can fulfill the mitzva of Bikur Cholim in a positive way.

It may be awhile before I get my old self back, but even if I still look like an M&M, at least I'm feeling better!

It may be awhile before I get my old body back, but even if I still look like an M&M, at least I’m feeling better!

Safety First

Safest and Most Dangerous States, 2012

The second annual edition of the United States Peace Index, produced by Institute for Economics and Peace, measures peacefulness according to five indicators: the number of homicides, number of violent crimes, the incarceration rate, number of police employees and the availability of small arms.

Rank State
1. Maine
2. Vermont
3. New Hampshire
4. Minnesota
5. Utah
6. North Dakota
7. Washington
8. Hawaii, c
9. Rhode Island
10. Iowa
11. Nebraska
12. Massachusetts
13. Oregon
14. Connecticut
15. West Virginia
16. Idaho
17. Wyoming
18. Montana
19. Wisconsin
20. South Dakota
21. Kentucky
22. Ohio
23. Indiana
24. Pennsylvania
25. Virginia
26. Colorado
27. Kansas
28. New Jersey
29. Michigan
30. North Carolina
31. New York
32. California
33. Alaska
34. New Mexico
35. Illinois
36. Georgia
37. Oklahoma
38. Maryland
39. Delaware
40. Mississippi
41. Alabama
42. South Carolina
43. Arkansas
44. Texas
45. Missouri
46. Arizona
47. Florida
48. Nevada
49. Tennessee
50. Louisiana
Source: 2012 United States Peace Index.

Read more: Safest and Most Dangerous States, 2012 —

Here’s what I find interesting about the above list:  Vermont, which is the second safest state in the country, has the United States’ most liberal gun laws, summarized here by Wikipedia:

Vermont has very few gun control laws. Gun dealers are required to keep a record of all handgun sales. It is illegal to carry a gun on school property or in a courthouse. State law preempts local governments from regulating the possession, ownership, transfer, carrying, registration or licensing of firearms.[1]

The term “Vermont Carry” is widely used by gun rights advocates to refer to allowing citizens to carry a firearm concealed or openly without any sort of permit requirement, however this term is being replaced by the term “Constitutional Carry”. Vermont law does not distinguish between residents and non-residents of the state; both have the same right to carry while in Vermont.

The Vermont Constitution of 1777, dating well before the Bill of Rights to a time when Vermont was an independent republic, guarantees certain freedoms and rights to the citizens: “That the people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State – and as standing armies in time of peace are dangerous to liberty, they ought not to be kept up; and that the military should be kept under strict subordination to and governed by the civil power.”[2]

In Maine (we’re #1!) and New Hampshire, the other safest states, access to firearms and getting a concealed carry permit is pretty straightforward.  So, you might surmise, perhaps the answer to controlling violence and crime is more liberal gun laws?  Well, not so fast.  As you see on the list, states like Texas (#44), Arizona (#46) and Florida (#47) are among the most dangerous of States, yet they have similarly liberal gun control laws and “shall issue” CCW (concealed carry) gun permits.  Could it be that gun laws (restrictive OR liberal) have NOTHING TO DO with cause-and-effect in determining a State’s level of safety and violence?

If guns – their prevalence, accessibility, or lack thereof – – are not a catalyst for the number of homicides, number of violent crimes, the incarceration rate, etc., what other factors might be more reliable in determining the positive reason for an individual State’s safety and quality of life?  Is it not interesting that the 10 most dangerous States are Southern and/or are on the Mexican border?  Could specific regional, cultural, economic, racial, religious, health care (i.e. how a State addresses and guides treatment for mental illness), education level, substance abuse levels, or population density factors be primarily responsible?  I don’t have the answers, but I do think problems and rates of violence may be about a lot more than guns . . . and worth studying.


Although terrorist threats directed at Maine seem absurd, who can forget that 11 years ago, the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks waltzed through security at Maine’s Portland International Jetport to start a day that ended in death and destruction?  Also, in recent years Maine has absorbed tens of thousands of Muslim refugees from places like Somalia and Sudan . . .

from the Bangor Daily News . . .

Maine State Police chief travels to Israel for anti-terrorism training

Maine State Police Col. Robert Williams, left, went to Israel for a week, returning on Feb. 4, 2012, to learn counter-terrorism tactics. He is pictured with Chief Superintendent Binyamin Herness, who is commander of the Kfar Saba Police Station.

Courtesy photo
Maine State Police Col. Robert Williams, left, went to Israel for a week, returning on Feb. 4, 2012, to learn counter-terrorism tactics. He is pictured with Chief Superintendent Binyamin Herness, who is commander of the Kfar Saba Police Station.
By Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff
Posted Feb. 05, 2013, at 6:23 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The way law enforcement agencies in Israel work together to deal with threats is a model the United States can learn from, the chief of the Maine State Police said after returning from a weeklong training trip to the Middle East nation.

“They have a very high level of cooperation between agencies,” Col. Robert Williams, chief of the Maine State Police, said Tuesday, the day after he returned from the anti-terrorism session in Israel. “Granted, there are only three — the military, the Israeli National Police and the intelligence agency — but if they have information that a suicide bomber is coming into the country, they let everybody know.”

Every police officer, airport or border security member, and even mall guards, are informed.

“They want everybody looking for it,” Williams said. “That [line of thinking] is kind of foreign to us.”

The state police colonel was one of 15 high-ranking law enforcement officials from all over the northeastern United States who traveled to Israel for the counterterrorism training and education, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, a national organization that fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry in the U.S. and abroad, the group’s website states.

The group had a grueling six-day schedule filled with 12- to 16-hour days designed to educate them about basically two things, Williams said.

“One was how do they secure their country and the other one was how they police their country, which is two different things,” he said.

In one 24-hour period, “you were able to attend mass beside the stone where Jesus was crucified, meet with a woman who survived a suicide bombing on a bus and someone who survived the Holocaust,” the state police chief said. “It helps bring everything into perspective.”

Each of the six days in Israel was just as hectic, Williams said.

ADL uses information sharing, education, legislation and advocacy to fight hate, bigotry and extremism, their website states. They invited Williams to attend the counterterrorism seminar and paid for everything except for a flight from Maine to New York City, he said.

“Israel, regrettably, has had to deal with terrorist threats since its founding in 1948,” Robert Trestan, an ADL member who led the group, said Monday.

The decades of unrest have provided law enforcement officials in the country with a vast amount of experience with identifying potential threats and neutralizing them, he said.

“They call it riots and we called it civil unrest,” said Williams, who, along with the group, stopped for lunch about 20 miles away from where an Israeli aircraft dropped bombs in Syria last week.

“It’s a country where literally all their neighbors hate them,” said Williams, describing Israel as about the size of Connecticut. “One missed word [could mean] Israel doesn’t exist tomorrow. It’s very complicated and that’s why they take security of their country and threats very seriously.”

The training session is an opportunity for U.S. law enforcement to learn about the latest strategies and techniques used in combating terror threats, while strengthening professional relationships, Williams said.

The group went to Jerusalem and saw the massive video surveillance system used by local police to keep the peace. They went to a border crossing used by 80,000 people a day, to airports, and to the country’s biggest shopping mall, where everyone who enters goes through a metal detector.

In the Jerusalem, “they have a system of 200 cameras,” Williams said, describing the surveillance system as high-tech. “In the old part of the city, they can follow you anywhere.”

He later added, “it was like Star Wars compared to what we do.”

At the border, “they use biometrics to check people,” the state police colonel said.

“After presenting your paperwork, officials can verify it with your fingerprint,” he said. “If you’re a suspect in something, they can pull you out.”

At the mall, “Everybody gets checked. They go through a metal detector and profiling is not a dirty word,” Williams said. “As odd as it is to us, it’s just a way of life for them.”

The sharing of information between the law enforcement professionals in the U.S. and Israel went both ways, he said.

“In some places they were ahead of us and in some places they were behind us,” said Williams, giving laptops as an example of one U.S. advantage. Pagers are what officers use in Israel to send and receive information, he said.

The sense of duty is another thing about the Israelis that really impressed him, Williams said. All are required to serve in the military and afterward many volunteer to work for the police department.

“There are 26,000 police officers and 118,000 volunteers,” he said. “People feel it’s a sense of their duty to help protect their country.”

The volunteers investigate accidents and crimes and those who earn certifications get a uniform and are armed, the state police chief said.

ADL, which turns 100 this year, started the National Counterterrorism Seminars in 2004 and has offered the northeastern program for four years running. It gives U.S. law enforcement a firsthand understanding of the psychological impact of terrorism on civil society and allows them to interact directly with their Israeli police peers, an ADL press release states.

“Some of the issues are different but the techniques [to deal with them] are the same,” Trestan said.

It is too early to say exactly what information he learned in Israel will be implemented in Maine, Williams said.

After spending a week in a foreign country on the other side of the globe learning all he could about counterterrorism, Williams said he came away with one underlying thought: “We all have more in common than we realize.”