I am old enough to remember having briefly met then-senator from Massachusetts, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, at a synagogue breakfast in my hometown – a suburb of Boston.  He had donned a skull cap, and shook hands with my parents as well as with me.  I talked little in those days, which is a testament to how young I was. I could stand unaided, and the senator shook hands with me.

Pres. Clinton wears a yarmulke

Bill Clinton courts the Jewish vote

Years later, his was one of the first presidential elections I tried to follow.  People were very worried that he was Catholic.  In our neighborhood, anybody I knew who was not Jewish seemed to be Catholic.  It had never bothered me. I remember seeing on television some news-reporting-human asked him about his need to be obedient on the Pope, being a Catholic and all, and how that could limit his ability to serve. He gave what I thought then was a good answer, about not being obliged to do anything the Pope happened to say, but saying his service to the people of the United States came first. I had thought that a good answer at the time.

My parents had all kinds of concerns, as did many Jews of their generation, even though they habitually voted Democrat. Read more on Whose Beliefs Do You Follow? Your Own!…

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Map of targeted congressional districts from Sarah Palin websiteIt is horrible and terrible and should not have happened, but it did. We have to look at questions we have looked at before.  We claim — all of us at one time or another — that human life is precious, and that its very existence is beyond price, and the quality of such existence is pristinely precious, and then everybody in America has to process this tragedy.

First, let’s take care of the straight medical questions. Congresswoman Giffords is obviously getting the best possible care and the most modern possible care.  People have learned a whole lot about injuries to the brain since yours truly hung out in a semi-rural University Medical Center in Northern France. (I cannot believe it was over two decades ago).

The people taking care of her have told USA Today the basics, so I can only recapitulate.The shot was made at point blank range, estimated by some as 3 or 4 feet. The bullet entered the back of her head on the left side, and exited through the front. It is true that the structures controlling heartbeat, breathing, and basic survival are more toward the middle of the brain, or “brain stem.”  Things like using the senses to put together images of what a human is dealing with are a bit more superficial. Read more on Left, Right, Jewish, Christian — Arizona Shooting Victims Are More Than Political/Religious Pawns…

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Well, it’s about time the military took its head out of the sand regarding homosexuals in the ranks.  I could never see the reasoning behind someone considering gays inappropriate for the military. The opposition had been saying things like this would “undermine order and discipline and unit cohesiveness.”   Of course, I cannot find a single article or source to support these fanciful statements.  People abandon reason when it comes to finding ways to endorse previously existing prejudices. The military — in the U.S. at least — has been a haven for discrimination.  I dare anyone to tell me it isn’t. It has been 25 years since I served my hitch, and during that time, I heard enough of people feeling hurt and abused by statements perceived as racial slurs, as well as actions that ranged from hostile to physically violent. Sometimes these affronts came from peers, but more often from people of higher rank.

Yes, as a woman, a Jew and a psychiatrist, I had my share of harassment. It was bad enough coming from among the ranks but I even heard an unforgettable anti-female slur from my Jewish chaplain — a real live ordained rabbi in uniform who had had a camouflage yamulke and liked to jump from airplanes.  When I told him I was heavily trained in Jewish liturgy and wanted to contribute to the ritual any way I could — including teaching others — he told me that there plenty enough men to fill ritual needs and so it was not necessary for him to do anything with a woman. The military was to me a place where civil rights were stripped from you.  The idea of the military taking time to comply with this new ruling — well, the bigger and the more unwieldy the bureaucracy, the longer it takes to do things.  But when it bucks longstanding, pre-existing prejudices, it can only take longer. Read more on Don’t Ask Don’t Tell: Will The Military Adapt?…

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We have chosen collectively, as a society, to use the year-end holidays to mark the passage of our years.  This means that both memories and emotions seem to pour out of the heavens and clobber us all. None of us has had, to my knowledge, a Thanksgiving that looked anything like the Norman Rockwell painting of everyone sitting at the table being fed by a loving grandmother — a reality that has been soundly parodied.

Despite efforts at legislating “political correctness”, there are plenty of people who are not Christian suffering through Christmas — especially those with children who watch television and assimilate its methods. When I was very young and going to a Jewish religious school, the intensity of the group identity made it easy, even though there were several group activities my parents did not let me participate in. They were mostly the Sabbath-oriented ones, as we drove in cars and turned on lights and did other things the very Orthodox, who ran the place, did not do. It was clear even to a very young psyche, that Chanukah was a warm and light-filled time, with special games and special treats and special songs and special joys. Read more on Christmas For Religious Minorities…

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There was only one patient in the waiting room.  “Shalom, Dr. Goldstein,” was what I heard.  I answered in the only possible way. “Shalom.”  It means “peace” in Hebrew, and is a traditional greeting.

She was excited to have a doctor with a name like “Goldstein” who might actually be Jewish.  She was a Jew from the east coast who had landed in the semi-rural place where I found myself; no synagogue, no Jewish community, “only a couple of Messianics.”  These are Jews who consider themselves “completed” having “added” Christ on to their belief system.  I am not, and won’t be, one of them. This woman wanted a “Jewish word” so badly that she took my hand.  She also wanted at least three prescriptions, one of which would be for Xanax (alprazolam), the most addictive of the benzodiazepines.  She had run out several weeks ago.  No wonder she looked so nervous. I told her I used to be a cantorial soloist — someone filling the role of a cantor (which is a formal title of the temple choir leader, the singer of liturgical solos and who also leads the congregation in prayer).  So, yeah, I really was Jewish. Read more on Shalom In The Waiting Room…

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During residency training in psychiatry, when I was learning how to do psychotherapy, I learned that the lady at the front desk ran the clinic.  She did the “statistics.”

I thought she was hyper, but she told me she subsisted on coffee and crashed on the weekends.  She actually told me so much personal information, I suggested she become a patient at the resident clinic.  She said there was a rule against it.  I told her to go to another clinic, but she told me she could not get time off, something I never quite believed.  But she told me, also, that she understood what was going on with me.  This was news to me, except that I knew I was struggling to be a good psychotherapist.

The stories of everybody’s lives that they told me were so terrible I thought I might just go home and cry every night.  I did a little at first, but I got over it.  Then, she told me my “statistics.” It seemed that more of my patients came back for more visits than anyone else’s.  They liked me. Read more on You Don’t Have To Be A Jewish Mother To Have Empathy…

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