Inspiring People


 Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems

My Oh My, sings the prophet/poet Leonard Cohen on his just released new album, Popular Problems. Simply put: this is a majestic, mysterious, magical, meaning-saturated masterpiece that I have listened to every day since I bought it. What are the Popular Problems Cohen alludes to? The intractable ones for which there are no final solutions, only ever-new iterations:? war, aging, terror, tragedy, sexual longing, desire, our spiritual yearnings, suffering, moral ambiguity, our religious identities, our mortality, and of course, love for the older you get, the lonelier you become, and the deeper......

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A Police Officer, a Homeless Black Man and an NBA Star: A Story of Character

Obviously, there are serious tensions and real problems between the police and the black community across the country. Every black person in this country knows that being stopped on the street by the police is one of the more dangerous moments in life – something white people cannot understand. Addressing this will require police departments to make significant changes in their legal, political economic, historical, and social structures. But, as necessary and critical as substantive structural changes are, these are also psychological and ethical challenges. Law can protect equal treatment and equal......

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In Memory of Leibel

My teacher, colleague, and friend – Leonard “Leibel” Fein – died this past Thursday at the age of 80. Leibel reflected on every central theme, new idea, debate, fault line, and cultural and political innovation that Jews and Americans have argued about in the past half-century. You can read the New York Times obituary and the many tributes that have appeared in the last few days to learn about the myriad accomplishments of this brilliant, passionate, eloquent, poetic, mischievous, funny, idealistic, realistic, prophetic, relentless, energetic, builder, writer, speaker, lover, and truth-teller. He......

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Lifesaving Words Sent 'From Auschwitz with Love'

Imagine writing love letters from Auschwitz. That’s exactly what Welsh soldier Ron Jones did. Captured in 1942 by the Nazis as a British prisoner of war, Jones penned heartfelt messages to his sweetheart, Gwladys; the two met as teenagers and experienced “love at first sight.” From his darkest days as a laborer in Camp E715 at Auschwitz, Jones poured out his heart in writing. And you can see him read his letters in the BBC documentary below, From Auschwitz With Love. The messages capture Jones’ unwavering devotion: “I am, like you dear,......

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The Transformation of Russell Brand

Do you believe people can change? What does it take to change and what would convince you someone has changed? Remember Russell Brand, the controversial, formerly drug and sex-addicted, adolescent funny man who became a movie star with roles in mindless hit comedies and was married for a bit to Katy Perry? In the video below, a collection of interview highlights, Brand shares a message of spiritual revolution and idealism. Is it possible he has evolved into an enlightening force? Watch as he describes how celebrity, our mainstream media, and corrupt political,......

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Inside the Lives of Single Mom Rabbis

I just watched a documentary – called All of the Above: Single, Clergy, Mother – that touched my heart, mind, and spirit. In the movie, three rabbis and a cantor, each raising kids, describe with remarkable vulnerability their candid experiences pursuing the choice of single motherhood. All of the subjects of the film are successful and prominent in their communities and of course, for any woman, the decision to become a single mother is complicated. Their four narratives vary in poignant ways, but in eloquently revealing personal physical, emotional, and financial details......

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How We Choose Our Heroes

Some say that we live in an age without heroes. Do you think that is true? Well, even if it is – even if we no longer have people who walk among us who seem larger than life – we surely have not lost the ability to admire others. The question is whom do we admire, and why them? Perhaps it was the video below about a former skinhead, or perhaps it was a recent conversation with my 12 year-old daughter, but the question of whom we admire and why we do......

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Gratitude for a Life Well Lived

Yesterday, I buried a friend and teacher of many years. She was older, but hardly “old,” at least not from my perspective. Sadly, she had an unusually limited amount of time in which to deal with her impending death. In fact, the duration from diagnosis to demise was exactly five weeks. In those weeks, however, she continued her role as a brave teacher, living life well and wisely. From the very beginning of the 35-day process, her dying was marked by two repeated sentiments. The first was that it really was a......

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How the Big Bang Brought Big Joy

Imagine how you would feel if years of curiosity, perseverance, creativity, love of learning, and faith were rewarded with confirmation of everything you believed! Well, last week, a team of scientists announced that the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole detected gravitational waves that could be traced to a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, providing evidence to a theory about the universe’s expansion called Inflation. Stay with me now, as I am a lot like you. While I got an A+ in Astronomy for Poets at Columbia University......

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In Praise of 'Into The Woods' Composer Stephen Sondheim

Earlier this year, Frank Rich wrote an insightful and heartfelt piece in New York Magazine on the extraordinary American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Since his Broadway debut at age 27, as the lyricist for Leonard Bernstein’s score to West Side Story (that’s a debut!), Sondheim has redefined musical theatre over a course of six decades, writing the groundbreaking scores for Company, A Little Night Music, Follies, Sweeney Todd, Sunday in the Park With George and Into the Woods – works that have earned him every prize an American artist can win.......

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