When candidates cry

On the presidential campaign trail this month, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie shed real tears and moved millions speaking personally about loved ones  who have struggled with drug addiction. Former Florida Gov. Bush spoke about how he never expected to see his beautiful daughter in jail.  Fiorina spoke of living with the enduring pain of her daughter’s death by overdose at age 34.   And Christie’s video story about his close friend’s death from a prescription drug overdose overwhelmed him, and the millions who watched it virally.

“When I sat there as the governor of New Jersey at his funeral, and looked across the pew at [my friend’s] three daughters, sobbing because their dad is gone—there but for the grace of God go I,” Christie said. “It can happen to anyone. And so we need to start treating people in this country, not jailing them.”

The candidates said the answer to drugs is treatment, not jail. 

Which, you’ll recall, is very, very different from what most Republicans and many Democrats have been saying for years.   Despite evidence that treatment works far better, despite repeated calls for a saner drug policy, lawmakers have long held firm to their misguided, moralistic beliefs that addicts belonged behind bars. 

What changed are not the facts. For years there has been plenty of evidence that our drug laws weren’t working.  What changed, it seems, is this: The abstract became personal.

Before that, they resisted pushing for more effective policies either because it was too politically risky, or because they simply lacked the imagination that would enable them to see the suffering around them and say, “What if that were me?”  

It is a shame, if not a tragedy, that it took the flat back hand of direct experience to slap these men and women across the face before they could hear what so many others had been trying to say, before they stopped reciting “Just Say No” and started saying, “Hey, what actually works?” Reality flipped their empathy switch.  

So my question is this: Why won’t they turn on the same empathy when it comes to gun control?

This week, President Barack Obama announced a series of executive actions he is taking in hopes of reducing the scourge of gun violence in this country. These are sober and sensible measures, the most he could do without Congressional cooperation, which, because of the gun lobby, isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Obama cried, too, as he spoke at a public forum announcing his actions, where he was introduced by Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  

“Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad,” Obama said, pausing to wipe away tears.

I don’t know whether Obama has lost anyone close to him due to gun violence, but as president, he has met with and spoken to hundreds of victims of the mass shootings that have taken place during his time in office.  It can’t not get to you.

Unless, of course, you don’t let it.

Republicans condemned Obama’s executive actions even before they were announced.  Jeb Bush said Obama’s “first impulse is always to take rights away from law abiding citizens.”  And Gov.Christie, speaking two days before on “Fox News Sunday,” dismissed the coming orders as “illegal,” calling Obama a “petulant child.”

The two candidates are wrong on the facts. Nothing in what Obama proposed does more than strengthen existing laws, which are designed to keep guns away from criminals and improve mental health treatment, something Republicans have said should be done to limit gun violence.  These are good things, but what really needs to be done are universal background checks, mandatory gun training such as is required in Israel and, I believe, a law that demands gun owners to get liability insurance, as is required of people who drive cars.  Put insurance companies on the hook for damages and you will see guns get safer faster than you can say AR-15.

Those very modest measures, which do not in any way take away the lawful right to bear arms – which I support — require an act of Congress. That means at least some Republicans must support them. That means Republican leaders, like the men and women running for president, must be able to empathize with the current and future victims of guns. 

After all, the numbers of people affected each year by dugs and guns aren’t very far apart.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40,393 people died of drug-induced causes in 2010, the latest year for which data are available.  That same year, 31,000 died from gun injuries, through suicides, homicides and accidents. In  2013, firearms caused 33,000 deaths– and 84,000 injuries.

So Bush needs to imagine himself as personally affected by gun violence as he is by drugs. Christie should think how’d he feel if someone he loved lost a child to a gun accident. Fiorina ought to meditate for a second on whether she’d feel any differently if her beloved daughter had died of a gun-inflicted suicide instead of an overdose.   

In short, I would ask the candidates to apply the same minimal level of empathy they now have for drug addicts to victims of gun violence.  

And I have to wonder: Is that asking too much?

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Journal.  Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism. To support sensible gun control, go to everytown.org.

Sense and Sensitivity

If you spend much time looking at online dating profiles — and admit it, you do — you’ll notice that the No. 1 characteristic men seem to be seeking in a potential match is “attractive.” We women (attractive or not) are overwhelmingly in search of “sensitive.” For us, Mr. Right is Mr. Sensitive.

And we mean it.

Self-described sensitive men, though, will tell you that we’re full of it. My guy friends come armed with dating war stories about being dumped after crying too many times in front of their girlfriends — although the girlfriends invariably say it’s not because of the crying, it’s just that “something’s missing.”

Usually my guy friend starts tearing up when he gets to this part of the story.

“I just don’t understand what’s missing,” he’ll say, his voice cracking, his face reddening, his nose beginning to run into that little crevice above his lip.

Hello? What’s missing is your masculinity!

You see, the problem lies not in women misrepresenting what they want, but in the gender-specific definition of the word “sensitive.” Sensitive women cry. Sensitive women are emotional. Sensitive women have lots and lots (and lots) of feelings.

A sensitive man, on the other hand? He doesn’t have feelings … he understands our feelings. He doesn’t act emotional. He empathizes with our emotions. He doesn’t crank up Sarah McLachlan and spill tears onto his journal. He sucks it up and goes out to shoot hoops with the guys. He’s stoic in the face of our meltdowns. He listens, he soothes, he assures us everything will be OK. Heck, he’ll even give us an extra-long backrub.

Women don’t want to play this role for men very often. Seeing our boyfriend cry is creepy. It’s like walking in on your parents during sex: We’re aware they do these things, but please do them when we’re at sleep-away camp.

Granted, we’ll watch our man cry. We won’t sprint out of the room. We may even feel flattered that, if push comes to shove, he feels close enough to be vulnerable with us. But we’ll only do it once a year or so. Like a birthday. (Only our birthday wish is, “Please God, not for another 364 days.”) Because vulnerable can turn into pathetic if he becomes a blubbering mass of tears as often as we do.

It’s OK for me to cry if my boss yells at me. But it’s just … icky … for him to cry if he gets fired. He can yell, he can scream, he can curse the heavens, he can blow things up in his video games, he can pop an extra Prozac. But he shouldn’t break down and cry. Double standard? You betcha. Men don’t want dumpy women and women don’t want wimpy men.

Take Carrie Bradshaw’s boyfriend Aidan on “Sex and the City.” Mr. Sensitive, right? Lasted a season and a half. But the stoic Mr. Big — who caused Carrie to cry instead — made cameos from the beginning to the very end.

Women, on the other hand, usually get the guy because they’re crying. In “When Harry Met Sally,” Meg Ryan’s a balling mess — snot pouring out of her nose, mascara trickling down her face — when she calls Billy Crystal to come over to comfort her.

“It’s not that Joe didn’t want to get married,” she whimpers through hiccups about her ex. “It’s that he didn’t want to marry me!”

They kiss, they make love, they (eventually) live happily ever after. Had Billy Crystal’s character been the gushing faucet, would Meg Ryan have slept with him that night? Not a chance.

There’s only one time when a woman likes — in fact, desperately wants — to see a man cry: after they break up. She wants to know that he cares, that he misses her, that he has feelings for her. She wants to know that he hurts as much as she does.

She’ll call him late at night (sobbing, of course), and when he betrays no emotion about the breakup, she’ll ask indignantly, “How come you’re not crying? Didn’t I mean anything to you?”

“Um, I gotta go,” he’ll say in a neutral tone, which only makes her cry harder. Then she’ll tell her friends what a heartless jerk he is. And when she finally comes up for air, she’ll emphatically declare that next time, dammit, she’s going to make sure she finds a sensitive guy.

Lori Gottlieb is author of the memoir, “Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self” (Simon and Schuster, 2000), and has an essay in “The Modern Jewish Girl’s Guide to Guilt” (Dutton, 2005). Her Web site is www.lorigottlieb.com.


If We Don’t Cry Over Carnage, Who Will?

Yechezkel Chezi Goldberg, a Jerusalem-based counselor for adolescents and families at risk, wrote the following essay in 2001. On Jan. 29, Goldberg was murdered in a Jerusalem bus bombing.

The scene: 7:30 a.m. Israel time, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2001 — eight hours after a triple terror attack at Jerusalem’s popular Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall.

He walked into shul, synagogue. I nodded my acknowledgment as I always do. He made some strange gesture, which I didn’t comprehend. I continued praying.

A few minutes later, he walked over to me and said: “Didn’t you hear?”

“Hear about what?” I replied.

He grew impatient, almost frustrated. “Didn’t you hear?”

I understood that he was talking about last night’s terror attack on Ben Yehuda mall, a trendy nightspot frequented not only by Israelis but also Western tourists. I assumed that he obviously was intimating that someone we knew was hurt or killed.

I replied: “About who?”

He looked at me as if I had landed from another planet.

“About who? About everyone who was attacked last night.”

I nodded. “Yes, of course I heard.”

“Then why aren’t you crying?”

His words shot through me like a spear piercing my heart. Our sages teach that “words that come from the heart, enter the heart.” He was right, of course. Why wasn’t I crying?

I could not answer. I had nothing to say.

He pointed around the shul. “Why aren’t all of my friends crying?”

I could not answer. I had nothing to say.

“Shouldn’t we all be crying?”

I could not answer. I had nothing to say.

What has happened to all of us, myself included? We have turned to stone. Some would call it numbness. Some would call it collective national shock. Some would say that we all have suffered never-ending trauma and it has affected our senses.

Frankly, the excuses are worthless. All the reasons in the world don’t justify our distance from the real pain that is burning in our midst.

When an attack happens, in the heat of the moment, we frantically check to see if someone we know has been hurt or killed. And then, if we find out that our friends and family are safe, we sigh a deep sigh of relief, grunt and grumble about the latest tragic event, and then we continue with our robotic motions and go on with our lives.

We have not lost our minds, my friends. We have lost our hearts. And that is why we keep on losing our lives.

When I left shul, my friend said to me with tears dripping from his bloodshot eyes: “I heard once that the Torah teaches that for every tear that drops from our eyes, another drop of blood is saved.”

We are living in a time of absolute madness. It is obvious what is going on around us, and yet, we detach ourselves and keep running on automatic in our daily lives.

Last night, when it was only 10 people who were known killed and just 200 injured, even MSNBC.com referred to the triple terror attack as a “slaughter.” (More tragedy, it turns out, awaited us a few hours later.)

And yet, we are not crying.

I know a woman who lost sensitivity in her fingers. When she approaches fire, she doesn’t feel the pain. That puts her in a very dangerous position, because she might be unaware she is burning herself.

If we are being hurt and we don’t feel it, then we are in a very risky position. A devastating three-pronged suicide attack on Jerusalem’s most popular thoroughfare should evoke a cry of pain and suffering from all of us, should it not? Unless of course, we have lost our senses.

And if we have lost our senses, then what hope is there?

When our enemies pound us and we don’t react, because we no longer feel the pain, we are truly in a dangerous and precarious position in the battle and struggle to survive.

Perhaps, my friends, we are being foolish to really believe that the nations of the world should be upset about the continuous murder and slaughter of Jews if we are not crying about it. Am I my brother’s keeper?

The most effective way for us to stop the carnage in our midst is to wake up and to react to it from our hearts. How can we demand that the Creator stop the tragedy, when most of us react like robots when tragedy strikes?

If we don’t cry about what is happening around us, who will?

If you don’t cry about what is happening around us, who will?

If I don’t cry about what is happening to us, who will?

Maybe our salvation from this horrific mess will come only after we tune into our emotions and cry and scream about it.

As King Solomon said, “There is a time for everything under the sun.” Now is the time for crying.

May He protect each and every one of us from our enemies, so that we will not have to cry in the future.

Reprinted with permission by

One American Muslim

Tashbih Sayyed told me he has cried three times in his adult life: once when his father died, once when his mother died and once when he had to sell his house.

Sayyed was born in India in 1941 into a Shiite Muslim family. After the 1948 partition, his family, feeling persecuted by the Hindu majority, fled to newly created Pakistan. There, Sayyed received his master’s degree in political science, and started his career as a journalist. He eventually became the founding director of Pakistan television’s current affairs programming, the Don Hewitt of Karachi. But his liberal views put him in conflict with the Zia al-Haq regime, and Sayyed immigrated to the United States in 1981.

He worked as a translator and ghost writer for several years, and eventually saved enough money to realize one of his American dreams: he and his wife, Fatima, bought a large five-bedroom house in Laguna Hills.

Sayyed founded his own paper, Pakistan Today, in 1991. The paper survived on donations from fellow Muslims, newsstand sales and advertising. The Sayyeds produced it from a room in their house, using stringers in South Asia, wire services, local columnists and writers. At the paper’s peak, about five years ago, Sayyed said he printed 30,000 copies and broke even on a weekly budget of about $10,000.

Then Sayyed began to, as he put it, "veer from the right path." He wrote an editorial condemning "anti-Zionist governments" for having a hand in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina that killed 87 people. He published quotes from Jewish communal leaders like Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "My dream was to provide a platform to the Islamic community for other opinions," he said. He printed Op-Ed pieces by pro-Israel columnists.

And he didn’t stop there. The American Jewish Committee (AJC) published two handbooks, one by a Jewish scholar explaining Judaism for Muslims, one by a Muslim scholar, Dr. Khalid Duran, explicating Islam for Jews. "Children of Abraham: An Introduction to Islam" outraged Muslim groups for taking a critical look at current Islamic practices. Sayyed ran two quarter-page AJC ads for the book in Pakistan Today. "It was part of my mission to establish that the other version can be presented to the Muslim community," he said.

Sayyed also went on CBS’s "48 Hours" and told correspondent Bob Simon that Arab threats against terrorism expert Steven Emerson were real and credible. The mainstream Arab community reviles Emerson, author of "American Jihad" (Free Press, 2002). The backlash was immediate. "Brother," Sayyed said one Arab leader told him, "now you are HIV positive."

Within a month, Pakistan Today’s advertising revenue fell from $4,000 per week to $350 (the sole remaining advertisers are two Hindu store owners). Muslim-owned stores stopped carrying his paper. Sayyed said he received "veiled physical threats." His contributors threatened to stop payments unless he ran a full-page apology — on the front page. When he refused, the money dried up.

Faced with $3,200 in weekly bills he could no longer pay, Sayyed had to decide whether to close the paper, or sell his house. "My wife understood," he said. He dabbed at tears in his eyes. "I apologize. It broke me."

The Sayyeds now produce Pakistan Today out of a small, rented house in Fontana. He still struggles to pay the printer and wire service bills, and his circulation has dropped to 4,000. (U.S. Census Bureau figures put California’s Pakistani population at 20,093, though Pakistanis I spoke to believe there are tens of thousands more). Pakistan Link, the largest national Pakistan weekly, publishes 25,000 copies per week.

Sayyed acknowledges that in pushing unpopular opinions he has created — surprise — an unpopular paper. Others in the Muslim community say he is simply too far outside the pale to make a difference. "Our goal is to build bridges of understanding," Akhtar Faruqui, editor of the Irvine-based Pakistan Link told me. Faruqui’s editorials have spoken approvingly of Seeds of Peace, a program that promotes Palestinian and Israeli coexistence. Faruqui, whose paper does reflect many moderate and liberal ideas, said he received no negative response for supporting Seeds of Peace, but he said he wouldn’t publish some of the opinions found in Pakistan Today, such as Op-Ed pieces critical of the Saudi royal family. "We try to promote understanding," Faruqui said. "We don’t go to extremes. That would be too extreme."

Publishing such pieces has pushed Sayyed to the fringes of the local Muslim community, said Salam al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "Every religion has its extremist fringe," Marayati said. "We believe mainstream moderates represent the mainstream of the faith. The extremist fringe has been given way too much public attention by people whose political purpose it serves."

Marayati said that several years ago, Aslam al-Abdullah, editor of the local Muslim magazine, The Minaret, shaved his beard to protest the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban. For that he received threats and negative letters. "Everybody goes through this," Marayati said, "for some it’s more of a story." Sayyed accused Marayati of being a Muslim extremist in Western clothes.

Sayyed’s story has prompted some Los Angeles Jewish donors to send some money his way. Their involvement comes at a time when Western observers, from the State Department to New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, have come to realize that Islamic extremists — the popular term is Islamists — can only be defeated by Islamic moderates. Look to Iran, wrote Friedman in his Wednesday column, where the success of moderate Muslims in defeating Islamism could prevent a war between Islam and Western civilization.

Sayyed sees himself as a solider on the side of moderation, and his Jewish supporters agree. "We have to support the voices like his," one donor, who requested anonymity, told me.

Consequently, Muslims accuse Sayyed of selling out to the Jews. Sayyed laughed off the charges. "I said if I were open for sale, why wouldn’t I be for sale to the Saudis?" he said. "A friend came to me and said, ‘Who’s supporting you?’ I said, ‘Americans.’"

Hey Kids!

Zimmer Kids Say

Zimmer kids were asked this question:

“If you could invite anyone to your house, whom would you invite and why?”

Here are some of their answers:

I would invite my friend Armando, because whenever I don’t have lunch, he shares his food with me. So I will invite him over and make him dinner. — Carlos, age 6

I would invite a giant talking bee, because I have always wanted to know how bees live their lives. — Brandon, age 5

I would invite the world to my house, and teach it how to share. — Yojar, age 7

A Portion of Parshat Vayigash

This week, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. “I am your brother Joseph,” he tells them. Joseph can’t hold back his tears anymore, and weeps openly and loudly. It is through these tears that the ice is broken, and the brothers can hug and become friends again.

Do you ever hold back your tears when you really want to cry? It is always a good thing to tell people what you are feeling, if you are hurt, sad, or upset. It is only when your friends or parents know what you are feeling that they can help you feel better. The family in the picture is talking about their feelings.

This week we will begin a column where we can hear your voice. If you visit the Zimmer Jewish Discovery Museum (at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 100, in Los Angeles) you will find an area where you can write your comments on subjects such as: “What am I thankful for?” and “How would I help the world?”

Each month, the museum will send your writings to The Jewish Journal, and we will choose a few to publish in that week’s edition of the For The Kids page. Good luck!