Monday, September 11, 2017

Hallowed Ground

The tiny physician lounge on the first floor of a small community hospital in central New Jersey featured a few comfortable chairs, a conference table, cubicles offering computer access, and a large television set mounted on the back wall. The room, located across the hall from my public relations office, required a key code to enter, and only those who had earned their medical degree were granted access.

However, on that morning - that fateful morning - the room played host to a sea of humanity who did not carry the title of "doctor". With the normally locked door unceremoniously propped open, the lounge filled up with nurses, therapists, accountants, administrators, cafeteria workers, housekeepers, and me....all gazing in horror at the incomprehensible images on the television screen.

As the sickening, slow motion video of a jumbo jet deliberately slamming into the World Trade Center replayed over and over, the ticker crawl at the bottom of the screen informed the world that a plane had crashed in Somerset County.

Somerset County?

I lived in Somerset County!

Did the plane crash in my neighborhood? Near my home? Were my husband Bob and four-year old daughter Melissa in harm's way?

Before I had time to even process these thoughts, I read the ticker more closely.

Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Not Somerset County, New Jersey.

My relief, however, was short-lived. People died in that plane crash. In Washington, DC, the Pentagon erupted in flames. In New York City, the World Trade Center came tumbling down.

We were at war.

And the world would never be the same.

Nearly 15 years later, Bob and I turned our car off the highway and wound our way through the rolling hills of the rural, central Pennsylvania landscape enroute to the tiny town of Shanksville, population 245.

The countryside seemed unchanged. Stuck in time.

It was not difficult to imagine this remote part of the world as it had been 15 years earlier.

As it had been on a glorious September morning.

As it had been before these rolling hills became a final resting place for 40 heroes.

A permanent memorial now sits  atop one of these rolling hills, bearing the names of ordinary men and women who decided to go out fighting, on their own terms, in their own way. Their acts of bravery forced the terrorists to bring the plane down in a lonely, deserted field in central Pennsylvania, rather than our nation's capital. The ultimate sacrifice of 40 unsuspecting heroes undoubtedly spared countless lives.

Bob and I walked silently through the Visitor's Center, where an exhibit gave a detailed account of the day's events. Thanks to evidence recovered from the passengers' calls to home as well as the black box recorder, officials were able to conclude, with near certainty, what had happened during the final few moments of Flight 93.

Fifteen years later, people come. Every day they come. They come from near and far. Hundreds of people winding their way through the small farming communities of Somerset County, PA.

They come to listen. To learn. To understand.

They come to gaze at a peaceful field once ablaze with an act of war.

They come to pay their respect.

For on September 11, 2001, the beautiful, rolling hills of Somerset County, PA, became hallowed ground.

*This post was originally published on September 11, 2016

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Melissa Goes Back to School

Last September, Bob and I bid farewell to the single family home where our daughter Melissa had grown from a shy first-grader to a confident, college co-ed. New adventures awaited in a smaller house a mere ten minutes away, where picturesque, tree-lined streets and welcoming neighbors made us feel right at home.

Well...most of us.

Bob and I unpacked and settled right  in, but Melissa, a freshman at American University located three hours away, felt more comfortable and at ease in her college dorm than the place where her parents now called home.

I often walked into her bedroom, where our kitty cat curled up on the brand new comforter that lay on the hardly slept in bed. Unlike the room in the house we had just sold, this room's bare walls lacked the dozens of posters that defined her childhood. The carpet did not play host to piles of dirty clothes and at least six or seven half finished water bottles. No guitar sat in the corner, waiting for my talented daughter to express herself through song. No sounds of laughter echoed down the hallway. No little girl snuggled under the covers, eagerly listening to me to read a story, and begging for one more kiss goodnight.

I missed her terribly, but found distraction in the comfort of home. We bought new furniture, hung photos, installed a new sound system for the big screen TV (a mandatory request from Bob), and enjoyed cozy evenings together as the weather grew colder.

For Melissa, the first semester passed with all of the adventures and anxiety one would expect from a college freshman. Finally, as December blew in, she packed up her things and headed back home for winter break..... to our home, not her's.

Although it took less than a day for the dirty clothes and water bottles to once again cover the floor, she still had trouble embracing these new walls as her own. Especially because she knew that her stay would be temporary. Indeed, the holiday festivities came and went. She returned for a new semester, leaving her mommy behind to face the long, cold, winter months without those late night sessions where we talked for hours about friends, family, hopes, dreams, and of course....boys.

Not a day passed where we didn't talk, but still, I counted the weeks until the semester's end, when my baby would return for the long summer months.

Sure enough, on a sun-drenched day in the middle of May, Melissa and I strategically forced clothes, sheets, blankets, pillows, posters, storage containers, toiletries, towels, and yes, her guitar into every last nook and cranny of the car and headed away from the college campus towards the home that I hoped she would soon embrace as her own.

Before long, the guitar took it's rightful place in the corner, the clothes littered the floor, empty water bottles covered the desk, and the cat curled up next to his favorite human who happily shared her bed with him each night.

Evenings were spent taking long walks in our new neighborhood, where we resumed our deep conversations about all aspects of her life, and mine. She also grew closer to Bob, even consenting to laugh at his jokes instead of the typical rolling of the eyes.

Her presence filled the house, as our tight-knit family shared laughter, love, and unexpected loss as we mourned the death of my mother who passed away in July.

Yes, these walls had finally, truly become her home.

Yet, all too soon, sophomore year beckoned, drawing my cherub back to Washington, D.C.

I thought saying goodbye again would get easier the second time around.

It didn't.

With a sigh I threw away the last of the half-finished water bottles that remained on her now clean bedroom floor. The cat looked at me with confusion in his eyes, as if I were to blame for the empty bed.

Bob and I will undoubtedly go back to our routine, once again enjoying warm, cozy nights cuddled together as summer's warmth gives way to the crisp autumn air.

And I'll be counting the days to December, when Melissa says goodbye to school and comes back home.....to my home, her home, our home.

Melissa in her college dorm, ready to start sophomore year.
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Tribute to My Mom

On Thursday, July 27 at 9am, I sat in front of the computer, responding to emails, and settling in for a typical day of work. When I saw my brother Steven's phone number flash on my cell phone call ID, I just knew it had to be bad. 

My mom had not been doing well at all. The past several weeks had brought on a renewed set of symptoms that wrecked havoc on her body and soul with unrelenting fury. I expected Steven to tell me that she had been taken to the ER....I didn't expect him to say the words that still haunt me.

"Mommy passed away."

Below is the eulogy I wrote and shared during her funeral.

How do you describe the very essence of a person - their hopes, their dreams, their loves - in less than 2 minutes.

The answer is. You don’t.

But it’s ok, because you really don’t have too.

All you need to do is to look out into the sea of faces who came here today on a sunny, summer Sunday to pay their respects.

To honor a memory.

To say goodbye.

Friendships than span over half a century.

Cousins who share childhood memories.

Children. Grandchildren. A great-grandchild. A husband.

All bound together by the bonds of love….for my mom.

My earliest memory is of my mom playing peek-a-boo with me, a happy toddler who took delight in hiding behind the kitchen curtains.

My last memory is of talking to her about the subscription to "Highlights Magazine" that she bought for my grandson's second birthday.

But how do I recount the thousands of memories in between?

Quite simply, I can’t.

The memories will come slowly, unexpectedly.

When I hear Stevie Nicks singing "Landslide" – one of her favorite songs.

When I watch the "Academy Awards" – which, for my mom – was an event equal in importance as the Super Bowl was to my dad.

When I tune in to Season 2 of “This is Us” and learn the fate of Jack, Rebecca, Kevin, Kate, and Randall without our requisite post-episode analysis

When the clock hits 7:30 on an average weekday evening. When the phone WILL NOT ring….and my mom will not be on the other end of the line asking my husband Bob and me to guess the final question on "Jeopardy", her favorite game show.  Oh the joy of getting the answer right when she had to admit that she’d been stumped. Because beating my mom at trivia was no easy task! 

When my dad, my sister Bev, brother-in-law Rick, brother Steven, sister-in-law Svetlana, nephew Adam, niece Amy, Bob, daughters Melissa and Jessica, son-in-law Brian, grandson Miles, and I come together, as we most surely will, to celebrate Rosh Hashana, and Hanukah, and Passover….while mourning the empty place at the table.

When I see the beautiful art work created by Amy, or hear about Adam’s incredible success in the latest Rubik’s Cube competition….and just know how much my mom would have swelled with pride.

When I see my daughter Jessica embrace her baby Miles, knowing how much my mom loved hearing about the little boy she affectionately called “the boops”

When I look into the eyes of my daughter Melissa, and see my own likeness, along with the faded image of my mom, reflected back at me. When I hear my daughter sing, and remember my mom’s determination to come to every school play, every chorus concert, no matter how lousy she felt.

I think back on my mom during those chorus concerts, seeing the tears in her eyes. Tears of joy. Tears of pride. Tears that defined what was most important – her family.

I’m sure those tears of joy would have flown freely had she been here today.To see you. To thank you.  To rejoice with you as we celebrate her life.

Thank you.

This photo from my parents' 55th wedding anniversary celebration in June
was the last picture taket of us as a family before my mom passed away. 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Transition From College to Home

My daughter Melissa ended her freshman year at American University looking forward to a 12-day trip to Israel, followed by two part-time summer internships that promised to give her great experience...and a some spending money to boot!

Only one problem left to tackle.

Work clothes.

My jeans-wearing college student needed work clothes.

I promised to take her to the mall, but that thing called life kept getting in the way. As the first day of her summer employment crept ever closer, prime dress shopping hours grew scarce. And so it was that I found myself at 5 pm on a Sunday evening in a department store dressing room, complimenting my offspring on a lovely black and white checkered dress and matching blazer.

She agreed with my thoughts on the dress, but something about the blazer didn't capture that "fits just right" feeling. I turned to walk out of the dressing room to scout out additional blazer options, when the familiar sound of my cell brought me to a a halt.

"YOU NEED TO COME HOME RIGHT NOW!" came my husband Bob's panicked voice at the other end of the line.

My poor hubby had borne witness to the first disaster to strike our new home, which we had only occupied for a mere seven months. Seems the water heater, located in the second floor laundry room, decided to spring a leak. Two inches of water covered the laundry room floor, but even worse, Bob watched in horror as the unstoppable drip drip drip came through the ceiling and spread out onto our dining room carpet.

When Melissa and I cautiously walked into the house 15 minutes later, I expected to be greeting by a raving maniac because - suffice it to say - Bob and home repairs don't go well together. But my man surprised me. Instead of scoring a "10" on the lunatic scale, I gauged his mood at a manageable "5".

Fortunately, he had the good sense to shut off the water supply to the house, thus stopping the drip drip drip from disolving to disaster, but leaving us without the ability to shower.

He had called a plumber with 24/7 availability, who promised to arrive sometime in the overnight hours. Melissa and I, in the meantime, were consumed by more pressing matters. What if the plumber came but couldn't fix the problem. Or worse, what if the plumber never showed up? The thought of going to work without showering or (egads) washing our hair was simply preposterous. Especially on my baby's first day of her internship!

Not wanting to impose on anyone, I made a quick reservation at a local hotel. Melissa and I packed our bags and off we went, leaving my poor Bob at home to wait....and wait....and wait...for the plumber to arrive.

Despite the unfortunate events of the evening, during the drive to the hotel I felt a level of calm and comfort in the company of my daughter. She had left for college last September as a sheltered teen, and had come home in May as an independent young woman. Still my child but yet, a stranger.

While I had counted the days until her freshman year ended, I must admit, Bob and I had carved out a comfortable routine without her daily presence. As for Melissa, transitioning from dorm living to the quiet of home came with its challenges.

The homecoming honeymoon gave way to awkward mood swings, angry outbursts, and yes, a few tears.

We were forced to adjust.

And some time between her return from college and the night of the broken water heater....adjust we did.

Without realizing it, I had stopped trying to remember how to act around my daughter. In fact, during our stay in the local hotel, things seemed, well, normal.We talked about college. We talked about friends. We talked about work. We talked about boys.

We talked and laughed and talked some more. Just like it had been before college took her away. When long evenings were spent sitting on my bed, discussing the details of her high school days. Evenings where I clung to every word she said, so grateful that my grown up teen still wanted her mommy in her life. Evenings that I thought - or feared - would be relegated to a distant memory of her pre-college years.

Until the night in the hotel.

The next day, with a new water heater installed, we all returned to our routine. Our wonderful, usual, normal routine.

But I know that it won't last for long.

In two months' time we'll be forced to say goodbye yet again as she returns to dorm life three hours away in Washington, DC. But for now, I treasure each day with her home, and give thanks to our pesky water heater for helping us get back to normal.



Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Cancer Scare

Although we live a mere 60 minutes from the beautiful, white sand beaches of New Jersey's coastline, my husband Bob and I rarely make the drive these days. Not so when our daughter Melissa,19, was in her elementary and middle school years.

Back then, weekend trips to our favorite shore town, Ocean City, were a common occurrence. Melissa and her friends would ride the waves for hours while Bob and I positioned our lounge chairs on the sand, safely tucked away under a beach umbrella, shielded from the sun's harmful rays.

With a good book in hand and plenty of caramel corn from one of the boardwalk vendors, we'd while away the gorgous, sun-drenched days, content, comfortable, and feeling very much at home.

It was during one of these lazy summer days in August of 2010 that I first noticed it.

A mole on my upper left thigh.

My body is no stranger to moles. I'm covered with them.

But this one was different.

I had never seen it before.

The tiny, brown, slightly raised spot appeared no larger then a pencil eraser.

Yet I knew. I instinctively knew.

This was melanoma.

My fears didn't come without justification. I first experienced skin cancer at the age of 27 when a basal cell (the least serious type) appeared on my left cheek. Two or three more basal cells invaded my skin over the years, but melonoma (the most serious type) had never reared its ugly head.

Until that day. On the beach.

A month later a biopsy confirmed my suspicions.

If melanoma is found and treated early, it is usually cureable. But if not, the cancer can advance and spread to other parts of the body where it is harder to treat and can be fatal.

The good news? I caught it early. But my dermatologist, erring on the side of caution, insisted on going back in to remove a great deal of tissue under and around the site of the cancerous mole...just to be sure that there had been no sign the disease had spread.

I was left with a huge, ugly, purple scar....a small price to pay for peace of mind.

As the months wore on and I dutifully visited my dermatologist for follow up, there were no signs of reocurrance, even after that significant five years post-diagnosis milestone.

 I had tackled the cancer and won.

Or so I thought.

I noticed it a couple of weeks ago while taking my morning shower. Unusual puffiness around my left groin area. At first I dismissed it as more of those unwelcome rolls of fat that have started to appear in unusual parts of my body ever since I entered the dreaded "change of life."

"Dang," I thought. "I have to double down on my diet!"

But upon further review, I second guessed my original assumption. While I certainly do not profess to be a cancer expert, my years of working in health care marketing and public relations taught me enough to know that if cancer is going to spread, it's first target will be the nearest lymph node...which in my case was located in my left groin.

Yes. That's right. My groin. As unlikely as it seemed, perhaps, over the course of the past seven years, one tiny melanoma cell had broken free and travelled through my body, multiplied, and now decided to appear as something that seemed much more sinister than a roll of fat.

I told myself not to panic, and decided to do a google search. (NOTE - if you think you have cancer, do not, I repeat - DO NOT - do a google search.) Before long I found myself in melanoma chat rooms reading posts from 130,974 patients who all had their melanomas come back after a number of years.

Do not panic. Do not panic. Do not panic.

Breathing heavy, my heart racing, I decided to keep my fears to myself and call my dermotologist the first chance I got. After all, no reason to worry Bob or anyone ele for that matter, at least until the doctor gave me something to worry about.

Predictably, I didn't listen to my own advice.

I decided to show the strange puffiness to my ever so patient hubby. "I'm sure it's nothing," came his attempt at reassurance. "You'll call the doctor in the morning, but I wouldn't worry about it."

Predictably, I didn't listen to my sweetheart's advice.

I tried to nod off, hiding my anxiety from Bob who slept soundly by my side. But the fears were insidious. They invaded my thoughts, spinning round in my head until they built to an incredibly irrational crescendo that left no doubt in my mind....I was going to die.

Bob would be left in a state of total devastation. Who would take care of him? Would he find love again? And my sweet Melissa, a college girl who still needed her mommy. What would she do without me? And my beautiful step-daughter Jessica and her baby Miles. I would never get to see her continue to be such an awesome mommy, or get to watch my precious Miles grow into a young man.

I could pretend no longer that all was ok.

Bob awoke from his slumber and held me tight, letting my tears flow freely. His love filled my heart, pushing the irrational thoughts aside and allowing me to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Two days later I found myself in the dermotologist's exam room, showing him the unusual puffiness. He took one look and shook his head. "That's nothing," he said with authority. "If it were melanoma it would be further down, closer to your groin and it would be a solid lump."

"Then what is it?" I asked, still concerned.

He took a closer look and said, "It's just fat."

Great. I don't have melanoma, I'm just a blob.

Back home, against my better judgement, I once again initiated a google search. But this time I came back with a diagnosis that perfectly matched my symptoms, a femoral hernia, which appears as a bulge near the groin or the thigh. This type of hernia happens when the intra-abdominal tissues are pushed through a weakened spot in the the muscle cause by overstraining.

A few days later I found myself in my gynecologist's exam room, showing her the puffiness, explaining my melanoma fears, and my hernia hypothesis. She seconded the dermologist's opinion that it was not a return of the most deadly form of skin cancer and agreed it was probably some type of a hernia. She ordered a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis, and I cautiously breathed a sigh of relief.

Unfortunately, thanks to a family history of melanoma, my bad habit of tanning as a teen, and skin that's covered in moles - I know am still at high risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. In fact, I had a basal cell removed from my forehead last month. That's why I continue to obsessively check my skin and see the dermotologist twice a year.

The experience of thinking I had cancer strengthened my empathy for those who courageously struggle with the disease every day. It also helped put life into perspective and reaffirmed what is more important to me than anything in the world....my family.

                                                                                     ~~~~

Signs of melanoma:

  • A new spot on the skin
  • A spot that is changing in size, shape, or color
  • A sore that doesn't heal
  • Redness or swelling beyond the border of a mole
  • Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin

To learn more, click here


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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Heart-Shaped Coffee Stain

My husband Bob and I don't travel often, but when we do, we typically stay at a Hampton Inn. Reasonable prices, clean rooms, comfy beds, free breakfast, and best of all....freshly brewed, free coffee available 24/7 that could give Starbucks a run for their money.

And so it was on a recent trip to visit Bob's family in North Carolina that we found ourselves in our room at the Hampton Inn, coffee in hand...that is until Bob accidentally spilled his precious brew all over the carpet. Acting quickly, I threw a towel on top of the spill, hoping it would stop the coffee from seeping onto our shoes, luggage, etc.

A few moments later as I busied myself  in the bathroom with hair and make-up, Bob called me back to the scene of the crime.

"Lisa, look!" he said in amazement.

I poked my head out of the bathroom and, as commanded, took a look.

The towel had started its job of absorbing the coffee stain, which one could hardly call extraordinary.

However, the stain had formed itself into a perfectly shaped heart.

Extraordinary indeed.

A coincidence?  Perhaps.

A sign? Much more likely.

The heart-shaped coffee stain came as I neared the end of a seven-day sprint spent with people I love. The week began when my daughter Melissa, on her college spring break, once again stripped us of our "empty nester" titles as she resumed her familiar presence at home. And as the week inched towards its conclusion, the hubby, the daughter and I made a 9-hour journey by car to Raleigh, NC for a "not long enough" weekend visit with Bob's parents, sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephews.

We relished in our brief time together, talking, singing, laughing, eating, playing games, and eating some more (courtesy of my mother-in-law's superb cooking), and all too soon, sharing warm hugs of farewell.

We had planned the trip to coincide with the end of spring break so that we could make a pit stop on our way home to New Jersey to drop Melissa off at American University in Washington, DC.

Not one for long goodbyes, Melissa couldn't wait to get out of the car and embrace campus life after a week's reprieve from term papers and professors. Bob and I helped with her bags, gave our cherub a quick squeeze, and reluctantly walked away as she laughed with her friends, secure in the knowledge that this place had truly become her home.

 I climbed into the car, feeling that familiar, overwhelming sense of  melancholy that has become an unfortunate part of the "my child is in college" experience. But this time, those feeling would not last long. Our "family time" weekend still had one more treat in store...precious moments spent with our 19-month old grandson Miles and his parents, our daughter Jessica and her husband Brian, who live in the DC suburbs.

Bob and I whiled away the afternoon with Miles by playing with toy trains, reading books, and enjoying a walk outside.

Then, yet all too soon....another goodbye.

Later that evening I collapsed into bed, wrapping my arms around my sweetheart, whose exhaustion mimicked my own. Within moments we both lapsed into sleep. A warm, sound, comfortable, content sleep.

Memories of our time with treasured loved ones would soon take their rightful place in our hearts as once again - as was the case before the start of spring break -  my world would be shared with my husband...and only my husband!

Perhaps it was no accident that Bob and I were the only people who bore witness to the heart-shaped coffee stain. Perhaps it was a sign that no matter how many times we say goodbye to those we love, no matter how many times we shed a tear as a daughter or grandson walks away...that the one constant in our lives will be each other.

And I wouldn't have it any other way.




Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Fire at the Jewish Community Center
*When this incident happened two years ago, my initial fear was that this was a terror attack against our local JCC, and that my daughter was in the midst of it. In light of the more than 50 bomb threats that have been made against JCCs across the country since the start of the year, I thought it was an appropriate time to run this piece again. It has been edited slighlty from the original.

Two years ago, as vice president of her local B'Nai B'rith Girls Jewish youth group, my then 16-year old daughter Melissa could often be found  co-leading chapter meetings or lending her creative skills to a committee of teens planning a calendar full of special events.  And so it was on a Thursday evening that I found myself, once again, on my way to the neighborhood Jewish Community Center (JCC) where the meetings are held, ready to fulfill my end of the carpool bargain to drive Melissa and her friend Gabby home.

With an Olympic-size indoor poor, comprehensive fitness complex, a preschool, a conference center, and dozens of classrooms, the JCC is an impressive facility used by hundreds of people, both Jewish and non-Jewish alike, on any given day.

Arriving early as I usually do, I loitered in the lobby, flipping through some brochures to pass the time until the meeting ended.

I didn't pay much mind to the middle-aged man who walked through the lobby following his workout, until he paused in front of the information desk and announced that he smelled smoke.

To verify this seemingly odd claim, I took a deep breath and, indeed,  inhaled the distinctive odor of a recently lit match.

The elderly woman at the information desk called security, her nonchalant manner demonstrating no sense of urgency, no indication that she had detected the ominous scent that now permeated the entire lobby.

My thoughts turned to Melissa!

I know from experience that my daughter tends to linger a bit longer after the official chapter meetings have ended, taking advantage of a few moments to debrief with the other board members. However, as my mind began to make sense of the impending danger, I determined that on this night there would be no such lingering....I had to get her out of the building!

I propelled my out of shape body up the stairs faster than I thought possible.  Here, the smell of smoke became noticeably stronger, leading me to the incorrect conclusion that the fire had started on the second floor.

That's right.

The second floor!

The floor that played host to my Melissa and her unsuspecting friends!

I raced down the hall, becoming more and more frantic with the passing of each packed classroom. Finally, when I arrived at the far reaches of the second floor corridor, I burst through the door,  an emotional wreck of a mom, ordering Melissa and her friends to evacuate.

"The building is on fire!" I screamed.

They didn't need to be told twice.

Together we ran toward the stairs, banging on classroom doors as adults and teens alike poured into the hall, all striving to reach the safety of the fresh air that beckoned from beyond the building's front doors.

Smoke continued to fill the corridor.  As Melissa and her friends descended the stairs, the fire alarms finally began to reverberate throughout the building, providing proof positive to anyone who doubted the danger that they needed  to GET OUT!

We tore through the lobby, only to witness a JCC employee attempting to calm the masses, assuring everyone that the fire had been extinguished and they could come back in.  Not wanting to take any chances, I yelled for Melissa and her friends to ignore this attempt at reassurance and to keep going!

Shaken, but unharmed, Melissa and Gabby followed me to the car, where, during the drive home, we wondered aloud what had started the fire, and if the building had gone up in flames.

Fortunately, it had not.

Yet, unanswered questions remained.

1. What started the fire?
2. Why did it take so long for someone to activate the alarm?
3. Why did an employee tell people it was safe to return to the building, when the large facility was still filled with toxic smoke?

The next day I called the JCC, expressing my disappointment at how the staff had handled the emergency.  A senior member of the JCC's administration listened to my call with grave concern. Tucked away in a board meeting in one of the classrooms on the second floor, he too, had born witness to the events of the previous evening.

I shared with him the deep-rooted fear that had gripped me since the night before, since I had raced up the smoke-filled stairs in search of my baby. During those tense few moments, only one thought filled my mind - that this was a terror attack, and the name of my innocent daughter would blare across the next day's headlines as the victim of yet another anti-semitic hate crime.

My fears, though fortunately unfounded, were not without reason. After all, the reports of a self-proclaimed neo-nazi who killed three people at a JCC in Overland Park, Kansas were still fresh in my mind.

The fire had started on the first floor in the preschool kitchen, and had indeed, been extinguished almost immediately. However, the JCC executive agreed that the alarm should have been pulled the moment the flames had sparked, and that nobody should have been allowed back inside until the fire department - not a member of the staff -  gave the ok.

He assured me that the JCC would use the fire as a terrifying wake up call for much-needed emergency response training so that if smoke fills the halls because of a small kitchen fire - or if flames occur as a result of a something more sinister - the staff will know what to do.

And now, two years later, the threat has become even more real...and even more terrifying. Since the start of 2017, there have been 53 bomb threats made against JCCs in 26 states, as well as extreme vandalism to to Jewish cemetaries in St. Louis and Philadelphia.

I am at a loss for words to explain the bomb threats, or the antisemitism behind them. All I can do is provide education and awareness and hope that good will, eventually, prevail.

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