Howard Brown on: Why should we all join in interfaith bridge building?

Free to download from the Shining Brightly discussion guide …

Interfaith bridge building: Why do we do this work?

We are sharing with our readers the three major themes of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown—along with some inspiring samples from the book and parts of the book’s discussion guide.

Howard’s interfaith bridge building is a core commitment that springs from the Jewish tradition of tikkun olam, or repairing the world. He has worked tirelessly to help combat the rise of hate fueled violence in our world. Recognizing the powerful truth that friendships can prevent conflict and often whispers are more powerful than bombshells, Howard has served through Jewish nonprofits in California, Michigan and across the U.S. While living in California, he was honored with the Lloyd Dinkelspiel Young Leadership Award from the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation and became part of the National Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America. He and his wife Lisa both were selected to complete the multi-year Wexner Heritage Foundation fellowship in Jewish leadership. In Michigan, he was elected board president of the American Jewish Committee’s regional office in Detroit. Nationally, he has served on the International Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee. Howard was awarded the Activist of the Year award for the southeast Michigan Jewish community in 2019.

Among the interfaith endorsements for his book:

“Together we can shape history.’ That’s a core belief that animates longtime interfaith bridge-builder par excellence, Howard Brown. The global challenges are so profound that we need all hands-on deck. Shining Brightly, shows how one person, despite facing life-threatening challenges, can help to heal our troubled world by reaching out to other communities at home and abroad. That makes this book such timely and valuable reading.”
David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee 

 

Click on this image to download a printable and shareable version.

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

A true story from Howard Brown’s ‘Shining Brightly’: Rosh Hashanah heralds new hope for friendship across our communities!

And: Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation 

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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A true story from Howard Brown’s ‘Shining Brightly’: Rosh Hashanah heralds new hope for friendship across our communities!

By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

Dr. Al-Hadidi (left) with Howard Brown

I got my favorite shofar from a Muslim friend who carried it halfway around the world to present it to me as a gift.

I have other shofars. Most Jews do—and most of us are thinking about these “ram’s horns” this month as we are approaching the Jewish High Holy Days, when the unforgettable blasts of shofars summon our fresh commitment to renewed life in the year ahead of us. In the traditional Jewish calendar, the year 5783 will begin with Rosh Hashanah, which literally means “head of the year,” after sunset on Sunday, September 25.

This year, I will be thinking especially of the shofar that sits in my office near my desk—the shofar brought to me from Morocco by my friend Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi. Dr Al-Hadidi is a physician specializing in pulmonary intensive care, which has placed him on the front lines of the pandemic. He is also Chairman of the Board for the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC). Dr. Al-Hadidi also has worked with me through the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Committee for Michigan (MJAC).

Like my friend, I have been involved in building interfaith bridges for many years. This year, however, I can’t help but feel the heavy weight of so many painful divisions all around our world. I’m carrying all of that in my heart as I get ready for these milestones. So, in this troubled year? Believe me: Hopeful rays of light are welcome wherever I can spot them.

This is deep spiritual work we are called to do every year. As Jews approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which follows 10 days after the new year celebration, we are required to make amends—as best we can—with anyone we have harmed in the past year. You may not be Jewish, but just stop and think for a moment about how you would approach such a solemn challenge if you had to make a list—literally make a list—and start reaching out to each individual. If you are an observant Catholic, think of it as approaching confession once each year. What a list you may have accumulated!

This tradition of asking forgiveness and making amends is one of the most powerful annual obligations in Judaism—because it is an affirmation that we believe the world can be healed, repaired, made whole again. We do this, each year, because we believe it really can make a difference.

In all of my writing these days—especially in my new memoir Shining BrightlyI’m focusing on the many ways each of us can find hope each day. Yes, our world is badly broken right now. I’m well aware of the crises. But, I don’t choose to linger over these great chasms that have formed between people. I choose to focus on how we can always keep calling out to others across whatever divide we find between us. I choose to spend my energy on hope and healing. If you’re not Jewish, you’ve at least heard of this pillar of our tradition: tikkun olam. It means that God is calling us always, every day, to find ways to “repair the world.”

The services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur normally draw the biggest attendance to Jewish congregations, every year. In the midst of the COVID pandemic, many may join services virtually this year—but some will show up in person. Between the Internet and personal attendance, the crowds will be vast.

While these services are so long that they try the patience of children (and, to be honest, many adults)—there are moments of great wonderment in these traditions that even the youngest girls and boys will never forget.

As a small child, of course, I didn’t know too much about the ancient traditions unfolding around me in those services. I didn’t understand all the tensions circling our globe in the iciest depths of the Cold War. I couldn’t have explained the crucial obligations of tikkun olam and all the hopeful inspiration I draw, today, from our tradition. I was just a little kid who had a chance to sit next to my father waiting, waiting, waiting for that moment when the shofar was blown.

I would stand up in our pew, holding onto Dad for balance to see the shofar raised—and blown.

What a sound!

Eventually, I learned the names of the tones:

  • Tekiah, a single long blast
  • Shevarim, a trio of sounds
  • Teruah, a whole series of sounds

And then the Tekiah Gedolah—the “great tekiah” when the sound was held, and held, and held. I would actually check Dad’s watch and count.

The blowing of the shofar is a call to the Jewish people to awaken, repent and bless God—and each other in the coming year.

To receive any shofar as a gift is truly an honor. The reason I hold this particular shofar from Dr. Al-Hadidi so dear—quite literally, it’s a daily visual reminder at my desk—is the impulse that led him to reach out toward me with this gift.

This was no casual souvenir of a holiday. Dr. Al-Hadidi took very seriously our interfaith work together. This shofar was selected, transported and given with a great deal of intention. I was invited to Dr. Al-Hadidi’s home to hear Michigan’s U.S. Senator Gary Peters speak to an interfaith audience of Muslims, Christians and Jews. In the midst of the program, I was asked by Dr Al-Hadidi if I would say a few words representing the Jewish community of southeast Michigan. I am the past board president of the American Jewish Committee Detroit (www.AJC.org) and now a current board member for the Jewish Community Relations Council–American Jewish Committee Detroit (www.jcrc-ajc.org).

I thanked Peters for the U.S. Senate’s adoption of legislation to crack down even further on antisemitism, because we all were concerned about the huge increase of harmful acts against Jews across our country. But I went a step further and urged that the legislation also include islamophobia as both religious-ethnic minority groups face the same forms of hatred. Jews and Muslims must shoulder this hateful burden together—along with allies all across America.

“Hate cannot be tolerated,” I said. “Our children are born to love. Hatred is not born in us. Hatred is learned, acquired and a choice that is propagated in our communities. We must stand against it—together.”

As that event came to a close, another friend Bushra Alawie, former Detroit FBI Community Outreach Agent, asked me to come speak with Dr. Al-Hadidi.

To my sheer surprise, Dr. Al-Hadidi told me of his family trip to Morocco. While visiting a small Jewish area of Marrakesh, the doctor met one of the last Jewish street vendors in that area whose history stretches back more than 10,000 years. The doctor immediately thought of me, he said.

Even though he is Muslim and was traveling in one of the world’s great centers of Islamic culture—he was thinking of me. He wasn’t my doctor, but he had become a dear friend through our peacemaking work together across our religious boundaries. And, he was aware that I had been struggling with—and thankfully recovering from—stage 4 colon cancer for several years.

What did the doctor know about the complexities of our Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur traditions? Not a lot. But he did know that the shofar is a potent symbol of renewal, a cherished reminder of hope—and its sound stirs our commitment to keep reaching out to others.

I was so surprised and humbled as he presented that shofar, I barely recall what I said to him.

Did he know all of our customs and liturgies and traditions? No. But he deeply understood the foundations of both of our traditions—a call to recognize that we all are children of God and must mend the divisions that separate us.

That’s why I display that particular shofar in my home office.

That’s why I look at that shofar—not just at the high holy days—but every day.

Half a world away from Michigan in a tiny market stall in the midst of a family vacation, Dr. Al-Hadidi suddenly thought of me and, from that spark, he made a simple decision to buy a little gift and carry it halfway around the world.

His choices continue to shine brightly in my life—and in the lives of all who know him.

As we approach the Jewish New Year 5783 and I prepare my own prayers of thanks for the blessings I have received over the years, my friend’s name is on my list.

And that’s why shining brightly is such an important idea—because those rays of light just keep on traveling far beyond where we ever could have guessed.

By reading this story today, I have just given you Dr. Al-Hadidi’s gift. His ray of light—from far away Morocco to me in Michigan—is now shining on you.

Will you reflect that light in our world? Will you send that hopeful ray just a little further? Share this column on your social media or via email.

That’s the idea of Shining Brightly.

And with that, join me in wishing the world:

Shanah Tovah!

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

A true story from Howard Brown’s ‘Shining Brightly’: Rosh Hashanah heralds new hope for friendship across our communities!

And: Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation 

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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In ‘Shining Brightly,’ Howard Brown shows us the power of mentors to pay it forward, generation to generation

Three decades ago, Howard Brown became the Jewish Big Brother to Ian, forming a relationship that far exceeded the hopes of the agency’s experts.

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“We’re not given life to see how much we can get—
We’re given life to see how much we can give.

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By HOWARD BROWN
Author of Shining Brightly

Among the dozens of endorsements I have received for my new book, Shining Brightly, one note that is especially close to my heart is from Cari Uslan, CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles:

Shining Brightly is Howard’s testament to the transformative power of mentorship. In 1993, he became a ‘Big’—a Jewish Big Brother—to Ian and truly made a difference in his life. Our staff members are proud to have matched these two incredible people and to have supported their growth—and we are so happy to learn in this book that the scholarship provided by our organization helped Ian afford college and pursue his dreams. Howard exemplifies the efforts our mentors make to transform the lives of youth, and how in some special cases they go above and beyond and become family for life.

Back in the early 1990s, when we first met, I was only Ian’s “Jewish Big Brother” on a carefully monitored trial basis. Today, I simply call Ian “my brother”—because our relationship has extended and strengthened through cross-country moves, various academic degrees, job changes and shared family milestones. Ian now is an essential part of our family.

All that love and the inspiring adventures we’ve shared in life sprang from a generational commitment to mentorship. That’s why my wife Lisa urged me to consider volunteering as a “Big Brother” in the first place. That’s why I followed her advice and signed up. And that’s why, today, Ian shares that same value and is a mentor to our college-age daughter. It’s a circle that keeps turning, knitting one generation to another.

Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

What I’m saying here, and in Shining Brightly, is that mentorship is in my DNA—and that value can be passed along through families and through entire communities.

My book opens with the harrowing story of my Bubby Bertha, who embodied a true American Dream. A century ago, she managed to escape the grinding poverty and deadly antisemitism in Eastern Europe largely because other family members and friends who had left that region remembered to keep in touch and “pay it forward” for others who were left behind in the shadow of violence that eventually would build into the Holocaust. Bubby Bertha made it to America long before Nazis rose to power and the Holocaust could ensnare her. And, as a result of her daring odyssey to reach America—I eventually became part of her living legacy. I grew up to become one of the successful early Silicon Valley pioneers because I shared in the simple principles of mentorship: We don’t live successful lives alone. We always make time to befriend and help others. We always pay it forward.

And so to this day, one way I pay it forward is by mentoring students at Babson College. I’m proud that Babson wins the top rating from US News each year for the best college program on entrepreneurship. One way I have given back to Babson was by serving for years as the head of the college’s worldwide alumni organization. And, in Shining Brightly, I share some downright astonishing stories about how Babson’s founder Roger Babson embodied and taught this concept of joining with others to make the world a better place. You’ll likely find yourself turning down the corners on some pages involving Babson’s life to share those gems with others. That’s why you’ll also find a dozen long-time Babson leaders endorsing this book.

But I want to be clear about this. The value of mentoring is not all about achieving success in business, although that is one outcome.

The conscious choice to care for each other, to pay it forward and to form mentoring relationships also is crucial to surviving traumas such as cancer—another major theme of my book that I wrote about last week. That lesson of healthy mentorship became especially powerful when I had to conquer aggressive stage IV cancer not just once—but twice in my life! The “cancer whisperers” who helped to save my life transformed me into a committed cancer whisperer myself. Serving as a cancer-survival mentor—a “cancer whisperer”—is now an essential part of my daily life.

In 2022, this is such a timely message. In today’s world of conflict where selfishness is often celebrated as a winning strategy—I’m sharing with the world a potent antidote to that dangerous message.

If you come away from my book with any message, it will be this:

“We’re not given life to see how much we can get—
We’re given life to see how much we can give.

That’s true from start to finish in the true stories I tell in these pages.

Want to read some of the keys to mentorship, which I listed as part of the discussion guide for Shining Brightly? Scroll down.

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And here’s my brother Ian celebrating with me today …

 

Free to download from the Shining Brightly discussion guide:

Why should we become mentors?

Over three weeks, we are sharing with our readers the three major themes of Shining Brightly by Howard Brown—along with some inspiring samples from the book and parts of the book’s discussion guide.

Click on this image to download a printable and shareable version.

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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Remembering the community leadership and interfaith peacemaking of Shahina Begg, co-founder of the WISDOM women’s organization

Shahina and Victor Begg.

EDITOR’S NOTE—Shahina Begg, the wife Victor Begg and his lifelong partner in countless community projects in Michigan and Florida, died on August 23, 2022. She was the mother of Sami Begg, Yusuf Begg and Sofia Begg Latif—mother-in-law of Isma Begg, Nazira Begg and Farhan Latif—and grandmother to Zohaib, Dalia, Sarena, Adam and Ayla. The following article is a tribute from all of us at Front Edge Publishing and Read The Spirit who worked with Shahina over the last 15 years on various books to which she contributed. We all miss her!

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Shahina Begg—

Daring to cross barriers

Throughout her life, Shahina Begg dared to cross barriers that others thought were too daunting for her—starting with learning to drive. She was a University of Detroit student living in Detroit, at the time, and was so determined to conquer the skills needed to drive a car that she set off on her own—even though all she had was the loan of “a junky old car” with expired license plates. Her adventures in early driving led to so much anxiety that, one day, she wound up crashing into a utility pole! Victor tells the whole story in the memoir, Our Muslim Neighbors.

That daring decision to learn to drive, despite the flaws in that old car, was nothing compared with her even more daring decision to marry Victor. She came from an Indian-Hindu background while his family was steeped in the deep Islamic traditions of Hyderabad, India. Anyone reading news headlines from India in 2022 understands what the young couple was risking.

As they fell in love, Shahina boldly decided to convert and adopt Islam as a faith that would sustain her throughout the rest of her life—and, as many community members have attested in tributes to her life, now has guided her to heaven.

But conversion to Islam is an enormous challenge, involving years of learning! Shahina proved herself equal to that task.

In the personal story Shahina chose to contribute to the collection of WISDOM women’s stories, titled Friendship and Faith, she wrote about the long and daunting train ride she took across India to meet Victor’s family for the first time. Because he was unable to accompany her on that trip, she had to make that journey on her own.

“As I set off on this long train journey, I had no idea how the meeting with Victor’s parents would go. His mother’s name was Hasina Sultana, and his family was very well-known in their region of central India. Victor’s grandfather was chief justice of the Hyderabad court and his uncles also were justices. I was a convert to Islam but I had not yet studied much about Islam, at that point. I didn’t even know all of the Arabic prayers that are important in Islam. What would Victor’s parents think about me?”

Spoiler alert: That adventure in crossing India had quite a happy ending. Victor’s mother embraced her at the end of her long ride.

In Our Muslim Neighbors, Victor also writes about how—early in their marriage—Shahina helped him start a family business, which eventually became a successful chain of stores called Naked Furniture. That success helped to establish both Victor and Shahina as well-known civic leaders across southeast Michigan. However, that business startup also was a daring gamble. Many evenings, the two of them would close up the store and set out in a truck to personally deliver the furniture they had sold. In his book, Victor tells the story of a man who lived in a third-floor apartment buying a heavy dresser—so heavy that both Victor and Shahina strained their muscles at every step to deliver that order! On those steep steps under an almost crushing burden, she never wavered in helping Victor lift and push until the dresser was safely in that man’s apartment.

Victor and Shahina also partnered in co-founding one of southeast Michigan’s major Islamic communities, the Unity Center. Then, years later when they moved to Florida, both were involved in local Muslim groups as well as in friendship circles among the diverse residents of their neighborhood.

Among Shahina’s most lasting achievements, during the many years they lived in Michigan, was co-founding WISDOM, Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit.

In her introduction to Friendship and Faith, award-winning journalist Patricia Montemurri adds her own tribute to the pioneering work of Shahina and her several co-founders, writing in part:

WISDOM started after Gail Katz, who is Jewish; Trish Harris, who is Catholic; Shahina Begg, who converted to Islam from Hinduism; and Peggy Kalis, who belonged to the Unity Church, met over informal lunches to discuss the underpinnings of their faith. Together they formed the Women’s Interfaith Solutions for Dialogue and Outreach in Metro Detroit, aka WISDOM. Over the past decade, the non-profit WISDOM has presented and co-sponsored more than 100 public programs in and out of Michigan, highlighted by women sharing stories of friendship that cross divisions created by the imagined barriers of religion. They teach that the Golden Rule is universal across faiths. As important as what people believe is how they behave. Show me; don’t tell me. One of WISDOM’s first outreach programs was to make aid packages for children affected by war in Sudan’s Darfur region in 2006. As they filled each package, they asked participants to recite a tenet from the dozen faiths represented in the room about how to love your neighbor as yourself.

To learn more, order your own copy of the book, Friendship and Faith, on which Shahina worked tirelessly both in the 2009 first edition and again when the book was later expanded into the current version. We know that Shahina would smile if there were some additional book sales, now, because those sales benefit her legacy at WISDOM in an ongoing way.

As a result of her remarkable life and always welcoming spirit, Shahina Begg’s passing is mourned by thousands of people who have been inspired by her example across the U.S.

And her passing certainly is mourned throughout our network of writers and authors.

We send our condolences to her entire extended family.

 

‘Dear Ron—’ A Sister’s Remembrance of Evangelicals for Social Action founder Dr. Ronald Sider

Ronald J. Sider, courtesy of Eastern University. This photograph also was used at the top of the lengthy obituary of Ron published in The New York Times after his death on July 27, 2022.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: When Ronald Sider died this summer, remembrances flowed around the world in tribute to his half a century of progressive Christian activism. Care to read more about those milestones in his career? Check out Ron’s Wikipedia page. In the following column, Ron’s sister Lucille writes about the far more personal side of the brother she loved so dearly. Her remembrance takes the form of a letter she wrote to—Dear Ron.

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‘Dear Ron—’ A Sister’s Remembrance

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Author of Light Shines in the Darkness

Dear Ron,

I want you to know some of the many ways in which you have influenced me. My earliest memory of you stretches back to your practicing baseball at home. You were about 14. You were a pitcher—the kind of picture that swings your arm in a full circle. You were fast—very fast. You needed a catcher and asked me. I was 6 at the time.

I was determined to catch those fast balls and I did. The glove I used was way too big for my hands but that didn’t stop me from using it.

I clearly remember your second year in college, Waterloo Lutheran University which was close to home. Near the end of that year you lost your faith, having been influenced by a professor who was an atheist.

Our parents were beside themselves and started to pray. They prayed that a Christian professor would come to the college. Their prayers were answered and that next year Dr. John Warwick MontGomery came. Through your experiences with him, your faith was restored.

When it was time for me to go to college, I assumed I would go to Waterloo Lutheran like you. But Mother and Dad were dead set against it for fear I would lose my faith. They insisted I go to our church college, Messiah College, in Pennsylvania. They helped pay for my tuition—even though their finances were modest. But they would do anything to help me maintain my faith.

Their prayers were answered.

In college I had a double major—psychology and religion. In high school, I had discovered psychology and especially dream interpretation. I wanted to learn more about dreams but my college was focused on teaching about becoming a social worker. So for several years I turned to my other interest: religion.

You and your wife Arbutus were at Yale University when I graduated from college. You had just graduated from Yale Divinity School and you were working on your doctorate. I was delighted that you were there! You finished your doctorate that year, but you told me about a friend of yours who had just spent a year in Israel. His name was Don and we started dating immediately. At the end of that year we married in the Divinity School Chapel where friends and families assembled to celebrate.

You and Arbutus supported me in my interest in Christian Feminism. I was a founder of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus (EWC), which was really an offshoot of Evangelicals for Social Action—of which you were the founder. Recently EWC expanded and is now EEWC—Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus.

You and Arbutus also supported me in my work for Daughters of Sarah, a Christian feminist magazine, for which I was a founder and editor.

When I was 50, my second husband Denny suddenly divorced me to marry a student. I was absolutely devastated and I had to resign my position as Director of the Samaritan Center in Evanston, IL. After a year of turmoil you invited me to come and live with you in Philadelphia. The plan was to stay with you while waiting to become a member of Gould Farm in Massachusetts. Gould Farm masterfully combined physical labor with psychology and spiritually and it was clearly what I needed for two and one-half years. The trip to Gould Farm from your home in Philadelphia was about three hours. You and Arbutus visited me often and, when it was time for me to leave Gould Farm, you drove me to Binghamton, New York, to live near my cousin, Twila.

During my time at Gould Farm, I revealed to you and Arbutus the secret I was holding for years: sexual abuse when I was a child. It became clear to all of us that this sexual abuse was a big part of my mental illness.

You and Arbutus strongly encouraged me to report the abuse and confront the abuser, a brother in law. I was not strong enough to do this at that time but by your knowing the secret, the burden was somewhat lightened. Then when I later reported it, you both upheld me. You assured me that it was the right thing to do.

Ten years later I was encouraged by my writing teacher, Dr. Arlene, Malinowski to write my life story, which included the sexual abuse. You and Arbutus were the first family members to read the manuscript. You absolutely agreed that my story should be published and you and Arbutus wrote the Preface of the book. My book title was: Light Shines in the Darkness: My Healing Journey Through Sexual Abuse and Depression.

By this time, you had become a very, very well-known Christian activist. I knew that you were prolific in your writing but just recently I asked how many books you had written. I expected it would be 10 or so but was dumfounded when you told me it was 45!

And then, Ron dear, you were felled by complications from colon cancer.

In our final meetings, I tried to tell you how much you mean to me—and now, I have asked my editor David Crumm to publish this letter in ReadTheSpirit so my appreciation is as public as our various books about our lives.

I will always love you dearly from the bottom of my heart.

I am so blessed to have you as my brother.

Much love,
Lucille

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. She also is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day.

Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

 

A remembrance of Queen Elizabeth II: ‘Like millions around the world, I cried when …’

Millions around the world saw Queen Elizabeth’s face every day on the walls of schools and other civic buildings, on currency and postage stamps, especially among the 56 countries that are part of the modern Commonwealth of Nations.

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‘I cried when …’

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By LUCILLE SIDER
Author of Light Shines in the Darkness

Like millions of others around the world, I cried when I heard the news that Queen Elizabeth died.  It was instant.  And it quite surprised me.

My mind then travelled back to Canada, where every day in school we sang, “God Save The Queen.” My mind then flipped to a slight anger at God, for God did not save the Queen—she is dead! Then came the realization that she was 96 years old. But the tears kept coming.

My mind flashed to a recent conversation with my son about my citizenship. I am still a Canadian although I have lived in the US for 57 years. I am a Permanent Resident in the US and as such I renew that status every ten years. The cost is approximately $300. But I sharply replied to my son that I will not become a US citizen. I am and will remain a Canadian. That is settled.

I vividly remember myself as a child standing at attention in various classrooms as we solemnly sang, “God Save The Queen.” We faced a large picture of her at the front of the classroom and in some way we loved her. Her smile was so warm. It filled us with love every single morning at school.

All of us girls were in love with Prince Charles and we dreamed of marrying him. We later thought he was quite mean to Princess Diana so were not sure that we would marry him even if he asked!

When Trump became president it was quite a relief to know that I could return to Canada at any time. There was considerable joking that I could marry my good friend Frank and enable him to escape the US, too.

Now, writing this remembrance a day after the Queen’s death, I wonder why I cried and why I have a certain sadness and fear in my heart. It seems that the world is just not safe if the Queen is not here protecting us.

I watch on TV the throngs of people in England gathering to bring flowers to the royal family.  I watch King Charles and Camilla going among the crowd of people shaking hands.  One person kissed Charles’ hand and another kissed his cheek. If I were to travel to England, I would just shake his hand.

I love watching the pictures of the Queen over the years. Her marriage to Prince Philip. At first he seemed a bit abrupt but then we saw his warmth and his care for the Queen.

I love seeing images of the coronation when she was just in her twenties. Her travels across the empire.

As I sit down to write on this day after the Queen’s death, my tears are mainly gone.

My sadness has turned into gratitude. Gratitude for her long life. Gratitude for the deep wisdom she bestowed on the whole world. Gratitude, that, as a Canadian, I hold her in my heart in a precious way.

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Care to Read More?

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Lucille Sider inspires readers nationwide with Light Shines in the Darkness, her memoir about spiritual resilience in the aftermath of life-shattering trauma. She also is publishing a series of columns about the many ways men and women find themselves confronting trauma every day.

Here are some of her earlier columns:

 

 

 

 

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’

“Whose name shall be inscribed in the book of life?” Ultimate questions are raised each year during the Jewish High Holy Days. On both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, congregations include the centuries-old prayer that begins “Let us now speak of the awesomeness“—a prayer that echoes many passages of the Hebrew scriptures from Genesis to Psalms. That powerful prayer emphasizes these life-and-death questions. The questions are so central to Judaism that this stained glass window (above) is dedicated to this prayer in the Renanim Synagogue, which now is part of the Heichal Shlomo complex in Judaism. Parts of this 18th-century Italian synagogue were painstakingly shipped to Jerusalem and reconstructed there. Today, Heichal Shlomo is a frequent destination for international visitors to Israel.

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In 2022, the whole world asks these questions

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By HOWARD BROWN
Contributing columnist and author of Shining Brightly

When you’re healthy, you may not think twice about a question like: “Who shall live and who shall die?”

For Jews, this is a central question of the High Holy Days: a small yet powerful handful of words among the hundreds of traditional words we pray, chant and contemplate between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Traditional foods for a “sweet” Rosh Hashanah. (Photo by Sufeco, courtesy of Flickr)

Right now, millions of Jewish families are looking forward to the start of Rosh Hashanah. It’s a happy yet solemn time of year—an eagerly awaited opportunity for spiritual renewal and family reunions. Themes of life and death remain central reminders throughout these days, as they have for centuries. Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews take stock of their actions over the past year, ask for forgiveness to those they have wronged and vow to do better.

Tradition tells us that God ponders who shall live, or be inscribed in the Book of Life, and who shall die by the close of Yom Kippur. This year, of course, millions are pondering these sacred words in light of the United States passing more than 1 million deaths due to COVID. Worldwide, the death toll is more than 6.5 million!

Who else hears those solemn words in the service each year with high anxiety and often with broken hearts? Anyone who struggles with cancer in their own life or in the lives of loved ones.

Believe me: I have these words—these questions—leap off the page at me. I have moved from a diagnosis of stage III in 2016 to state IV metastatic colorectal cancer with “3-6 months to live” the following year —to a patient determined to beat this disease in 2018—to rebuilding my life and celebrating my survival in 2019—to becoming a national advocate for all those who continue to suffer cancer’s effects currently.

“Who shall live and who shall die?” There is more than a simple annual tally in that question. It’s a deep question each of us struggles to answer every day.

My friend Sarah DeBord.

This story is my story, but also about some friends I met along the way—like the remarkable “cancer whisperer” and activist Sarah DeBord. It’s their story as much as it is mine.

But—perhaps like your own life’s story—mine began as a surprise. I was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer after my 50th birthday in June of 2016.

My gastroenterologist was hovering over me as I was awakening from the procedure and my wife Lisa was at my side. This colonoscopy was supposed to be an unremarkable milestone—just one of those medical tests you’ve got to check off as you age.

So, I was groggy but jovial as I recognized him looming above me.

“Hi, doc! Everything is OK, right!” I wasn’t asking him. I was telling him. I was ready to pop back into the rest of my life. Like always, I just kept going: “I’m in great shape and feeling well.”

Then, I suddenly realized something was wrong in their faces. Dr. Goldmeier said, “No, Howard, everything’s not OK. I found something way up in your Cecum connecting your small and large intestines. Usually, this is bad news.” He took a biopsy and sent it to the lab. It was bad news and an 8-centimeter tumor turned into a diagnosis of stage III colorectal cancer.

My thoughts were speeding 100 miles per hour: What if the screening age had been lower!?! And, finally after years of advocacy work, it has dropped from 50 to 45. Even now I think it needs to move even lower as younger-onset colon cancer is growing. The death of Chadwick Boseman at age 43 in 2020 became a national wakeup call to younger adults.

‘Get Your Affairs in Order’

“Get your affairs in order.” I heard those unimaginable words. My life span was constricting to a 4% chance of surviving 18 months. My daughter Emily had just completed her sophomore year in high school. My wife Lisa and I had just celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary.

I had beaten Stage IV Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma cancer when I was in my 20s. Then, I had started out more passive, like a deer in the headlights. This time, I set out on that long, painful journey like a Marine on a mission—assembling my support team, relying on the strength of my amazingly supportive wife, family and large social network, determined to kill cancer rather than letting it kill me. Still, to be honest, there were those agonizing questions. Would I live to see Emily graduate? To grow old with Lisa? I am living out the ancient wisdom: Nothing in life is guaranteed and our tenure on earth is a short one.

And, one autumn after another as we—as cancer patients and care partners—struggle through surgeries, procedures, chemotherapy treatments and all kinds of crazy side effects, there came those inevitable lines in the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services: Who shall live and who shall die?

In the fall of 2017, I started salvage or second-line chemotherapy called Irinotecan coupled with Avastin. With my body cooperating and God’s good graces I got some good news. I had a slight “regression” or shrinkage of the tumor set. My reward was six more cycles of chemotherapy. While doing more chemo, my wife Lisa “graduated” to the Stage IV Caregiver’s group of Colontown.org, a private Facebook support group and I joined its neighborhood group Hipec Heights through Vincent De Jong and Kim Sully (Stage IV colon cancer patient-survivors-advocates). In March of 2018 I had the mother of all surgeries: CRS/HIPEC at the Rose Cancer Center at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. The recovery was brutal and then more chemo and major side effects along the way. It took me a full year just to feel close to right again. I continue like many cancer patients and families trying to put “Humpty Dumpty” back together again and rebuild our lives.

To date, I survive. This year, when I hear those words in the annual prayers, I’m more confident for myself, because I now am NED (No Evidence of Disease at this time) after a lengthy series of periodic scans.

So, are those words less solemn for me? Less freighted with emotion? Easier to roll past me as the holidays come and go?

No. And the reason is: When coping with cancer, we learn that we cannot do this alone. We learn to lean on others, to depend on others—and eventually to reach out and let others lean on us, depend on us. And, in doing so we unwittingly sign up for a terrible toll we all know so well—the loss of fellow cancer patients.

‘Cancer whisperers’ and ‘survivors guilt’

Volunteering with Sarah Debord at Get Your Rear in Gear fun run in Grand Rapids in 2019.

The question quickly becomes: Why am I alive and great people like my dear friend Sarah DeBord died after a courageous and inspirational eight-year battle with colon cancer? I did get to see Emily graduate and start college. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next milestones I will enjoy with her and Lisa. But, Sarah left behind her a devoted boyfriend and 2 precious young boys.

Sarah was “a cancer whisperer” to me and so many others. Her life had such meaning! So many people depended on Sarah; and she graciously welcomed that. I keep asking: Why did Sarah die? Why am I still here? And, yes, I understand that we call this “survivor’s guilt” and it’s common among us. But, that still doesn’t answer the questions that keep rattling around in our hearts.

I met Sarah Debord in Denver at a Colontown.org, Empowered Patient and Caregivers Conference in October of 2018. I randomly sat next to her, but I had heard of her, and had read her blog. Sarah was a social media guru, working in marketing communications for the Minneapolis-based Colon Cancer Coalition. She promoted screening, awareness and funding via the signature Get Your Rear in Gear and Tour de Tush event series. These are volunteer-driven efforts in communities throughout the United States, granting over $1 million to local community programs that will raise screening rates, increase awareness, and educate the public about the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer.

The baseball world series was on TV and we watched “my” Boston Red Sox play “her” Los Angeles Dodgers at a restaurant that evening.

With Dr. Chelsea Boet

Violet Kuchar, who is now deceased, joined us and we spent time with Dr. Chelsea Boet and Facetimed with Stacy Hurt in Pittsburgh. This group of Stage IV women and myself formed a private group to share, support and send virtual hugs to each other as we each faced chemotherapy, surgeries, clinical trials and side effects galore. So much darkness was heaped upon our families—psychologically, financially, physically.

My next meeting with Sarah was at Get Your Rear in Gear in Grand Rapids, MI, in September 2019. Dr. Chelsea was the chair and she had her “Team Chelsea” there to support her and the event. I served as a volunteer.

Sarah was tired and frail, but at 95-pounds was tough as nails. At the end of the day I spent some quiet time that ended with a hug and some good-natured ribbing about my Red Sox’ World Series win over her Dodgers. I told her to hug her boys, she told me to hug my girls and left for the two-hour drive home not knowing that I would never see or hug Sarah again.

Death is a part of life

Who shall live and who shall die? As I think about those words this year, I’m overwhelmed with memories of Sarah and Violet. They’re gone. Meanwhile, Stacy and I are grateful for achieving NED but have much farther to go to get away from this crappy disease. Dr. Chelsea is in active treatment and still fighting her fight. It is an unfortunate fact the we see far too much death following a Stage IV metastatic cancer diagnosis.

What that ancient question in the prayers reminds me of each year, is that I do not have any say in the matter. I struggle with Violet and Sarah passing—and I may never be over it. I cry every day that I cannot instant message, text, call or social media post to them. I hope somehow that they know in heaven that they are missed so dearly, so whole heartedly by me and so many.

What that ancient question reminds all of us is: Men and women have been asking these questions—and crying these tears—for thousands of years. Death is a part of life. Death humbles all of us. And, even knowing that, death remains such a blow when it comes because we dare to love each other and help each other—especially those of us who build these daily bonds as cancer whisperers.

In this new year—Jews number it 5783—who shall live and who shall die?

I do not know. Only God knows. What I do know is that I can remember each life. I can retell the stories as I have just done. And that’s ultimately the purpose of the prayers we read and chant and sing at the High Holy Days. We can learn and grow from our challenges and the example of other cancer patients. We pass along our hard-earned wisdom. We remember. We can tell and retell the inspiring stories we share. We pray together. We hope together. We recommit ourselves to keep on loving as long as we live.

And, this year, when I hear those words twice—on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—I can say: “O God, may their names remain a blessing to those of us who knew and loved them.”

One of the Rosh Hashanah cards from friends and loved ones that I have saved. Thanks to all of my family and friends who have wished all of us—and I do mean “all of us” within our global circle of family and friends—a sweet new year.

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Care to learn more?

This is a perfect moment to become one of Howard’s growing global community of friends by ordering your copy of his book.

Here are other articles we have published, exploring the launch of this book:

Take a look at the book’s Foreword: ‘Shining Brightly’ Foreword by Dr. Robert J. Wicks: ‘Learn anew about the American Dream’

We ask these timeless questions at each New Year: ‘Who shall live and who shall die?’ In this moving and inspiring column, Howard Brown writes about the powerful spiritual resources in our religious traditions that can help families struggling with cancer renew their resiliency.

Download printable and shareable resource guides for discussing Shining Brightly:

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