I was talking on the phone with my brother about the upcoming revival of the landmark musical West Side Story, which, by the way will be directed by librettist Arthur Laurents and will begin previews Feb. 23, 2009, at a Nederlander theatre to be announced. It will officially open on Broadway March 19, 2009, according to an Aug. 8 press announcement. I thought I had seen the play before, but my brother convinced me that I had probably not seen West Side Story, the original Broadway show, but rather I was remembering the movie version and confusing it with the the play. A few days later, my sep-hub said that he remembered seeing the play on Broadway. Some research was in order. It turns out I had, in fact, seen the play, as well as the movie. I did not, of course, see the original production, for if I had, I would have only been one month shy of 6 years old on the 26th of September, 1957, when it was first produced at the Winter Garden Theater, with Carol Lawrence as "Maria", Larry Kert as "Tony" and Chita Rivera as "Anita."

The movie came out in 1961, when I was either 8 or 9 years old, depending on the month. I was sitting up in the balcony of the movie theater and when the movie ended, I was sobbing my little eyes out. A woman, with what I guess were good intentions, approached me to tell me not to cry because it was only "make believe"! I don't know what world she lived in, but it wasn't mine. Even at the tender age of 8 or 9, I recognized the truth in the plays meaning and real life depictions.

I keep several binders of my old Playbills (see blog dated 6/4/06) and was, thus, able to find the Playbill: West Side Story, dated, May 1980, with Jossie De Guzman as "Maria", Debbie Allen as "Anita" and Ken Marshall as "Tony" (I must admit to knowing the 1957 cast better than the 1980 cast, with the exception of Debbie Allen). So, I did in fact see the play, if not the original, on Broadway, as well as the movie. I mustn't let others so easily dissuade me of what I know to be true.

From one classic old Broadway show to another older completely unknown and forgotten Broadway play ( December 1968) called "Jimmy Shine", with Dustin Hoffman as "Jimmy Shine". On this morning's edition of my favorite TV program, Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood, one of the featured segments was about Dustin Hoffman, who happens to have a new movie coming out. They talked a lot about his early history as a struggling actor and that despite a decade of working as an actor, he remained unknown. It was his part in The Graduate that began his career and future success. I was surprised and disappointed that they did not mention his role in "Jimmy Shine" and it was not until after I yahoo'ed the play that I understood why. Though I saw it, I have no recollection of it. I found this article, Urban Picaresque from Friday, Dec. 13, 1968. It starts out saying, "A play is a journey. It can be an outward journey through time, place and action. Or it can be an inner journey through mood, psyche and character. Murray Schisgal's Jimmy Shine attempts an inner journey. The trouble is that it doesn't go anywhere". I have to assume that the play had a very short run. Interestingly, it was a musical of sorts and you'll never guess who wrote some of the songs; none other than John Sebastian of The Lovin Spoonful.
By the way, you might notice that the head of Dustin Hoffman on the Playbill is not the original one. I must have had a pretty bad crush on old Dusty, so I cut out his picture and put it up on my bedroom wall. Posterity and the e-bay value of old Playbills was not on my 17 year old radar.

The Playbill went headless for many years until I decided I would try to patch it up.


Responding to Your Comments from the "I Voted" Post

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU 11 timeTHANK YOU~. I chose to wait until all the comments were in before responding to each of your comments. Seeing that my comments in response to your comments will be lengthy, I'll post them here as a new blog, rather than trying to fit it all in the comments section.

I am such a sop; I cried as I read each comment out loud. A large part of what has been so incredibly exciting for me in this election is the feeling of camaraderie I've had with all of you and the other millions out there who cared so much and took the election so seriously and the many who worked so hard to make it happen. I really believe that we did make a difference this time. Of course, Obama being the quintessential "Community Organizer" that he is, knew how to effectively lead the proverbial "grassroots" effort and make it work and work it did. He did it. We did it. It has been done. HALLELUIA!

Now for a few specific responses:

Farm Girl....what a happy surprise. You never told me that you had a blog here. Will wonders never cease? I'll drop by your blog now and again to see what my book toting, farm working, politically correct religionist is up to. My polling places, both in Lake Hiawatha and Morris Plains are also "hopping" when there are five voters there at the same time. You were not the only one who commented on the question of reliability of our senior citizen poll workers. I wonder if this should become an issue. It seems that it would come across as being ageist, but it is an important problem.

Ken B....thanks for responding to my call for commenters. Yes, I guess most of us who live in the suburbs and rural parts of NJ have similarly "easy voting" experiences, even at this time when city voters stood in lines for hours and hours. What impressed me about that fact was that people who might have otherwise "just left" seeing long lines, didn't leave, but waited to do their civic duty because they knew this time it really, really mattered. Shalom back at you.

Alicia....I appreciate that you took the time to comment. Like Ken and many of the others in NJ, our voting experiences are similar. Of course, what you represent is the "Youth Vote", albeit, the upper end of it. (: and as such, you and the others like you who are committed to progressive politics at a young age, are the hope of us more seasoned voters, for the future of progress in our country. Do you remember we worked together that one day for the Kerry campaign?

Becky...You and my other good friend, Diane S. from the now defunct blog The Unfound Door, are the sole representatives here from the very red states of Oklahoma and Texas, respectively. I love love love your exuberance. I remember we shared that child within us enthusiasm when we were students together at Wichita State University all those many years ago. I could see you standing there on your voting line as your mind was in a gliding pattern. You express yourself in a "gliding pattern' and it never ceases to refresh me. I am so glad that though we haven't seen each other since 1974, we remain "soul-sisters" in our politics and in our lives in general. Thanks god for the Internet. I wonder if Obama could feel your pride in him? I bet he could. So glad that your students could share in your enthusiasm for "our man" Obama.

LG...I am lucky to have a few people in my life who act as cheer-leaders for me and you lead that pack. Thanks for that. And thanks also for your "proxy" vote for Obama. I know you were a strong Clinton supporter and I appreciate that you believed in your friends dedication enough to vote for Obama. I hope and pray you will be forever glad you did.

Audrey...What a great tradition you have of voting with your family members. There are so many people in our country who don't generally vote (though not this time) and I think parents who have influenced their children to be voters have something to be proud of. Who'd have thought back when you were designing the decorative part of my daughter's and then my son's Bat and Bar Mitzvahs, that we were in the same political boat and that we would have this shared experience of anxiety ridden anticipation and then exultation around the election of 2008?

Len....I don't know anyone who votes at City Hall, but come to think of it, that seems like the most obvious place to vote. I'm used to fire stations, schools and VFW halls. Actually, Ken's library was a first for me too. I think the being mobbed by dozens of people and waiting longer on line adds to the excitement of it. Of course I share in that feeling of joy and pride. I know how you appreciate your relatively cheap ride from Boston to Chinatown in NYC, as do I since it gives me the chance to see you every once in a while, so I'm glad this momentous event also allowed you to share your "secret".

Penny....You didn't sign your comment, but we established that it was you. Paid off it did!! Having you as my comrade in progressive arms, has been a god-send for me.

Diane S.....I know just what you mean about making Election Day special and significant. I don't necessarily don any rhinestones, but I do make sure that I am given that "I Voted" sticker, which I then wear with pride and a hint of sentimentality for the rest of the day. I actually still have one from a past election on my computer and this years on the stick shrift in my car. I guess maybe your town isn't as "oh so white" as you thought, but perhaps instead, the minorities hadn't felt the urge to get out to vote before. What were the new machines like? We have touch screens and then a lever that you click at the end. Did you notice that there was much less discussion about the voting machines? I would like to see consistency of machines used throughout the country. Diane, thank you for being my closest friend who I've never met and with whom I share so much in common in sensibilities and outlooks on life. Oh, and one more thing. Do you know Farm Girl or were you just being "neighborly"?

Dave...Oh, Dave! It took me a while to realize whose comment I was reading. If it hadn't been for the "eh" and the very sad news about your mother, I may not have known at all. Politics aside, my heart ached when I read that your mother had died. You know I met her a few times and I thought we "connected", as it were. As for Politics, how happy I am that you did in fact vote and that you voted for the BEST CANDIDATE, OBAMA! He'd have done the same for you! (: I guess after the onslaught of Sarah Palin you decided it would make more sense to move to Canad than to Alaska. Not a bad idea. I know what you mean about missing the metal levers and hefty handles; they made you actually, physically feel the importance of what you were doing. As for legalizing marijuana, I suspect Obama has a few weightier matters to deal with first; but you never know! Will you ever legally partake with me if he does?


Book Club for Liberal Thinkers


I don't think I have ever blogged about the book club I started in May 2005, so here it goes. In 2004 I took a "sabbatical" from work and devoted much of my time to the politics of the day, that is to say to the failed election of John Kerry. In so doing, I became involved with MoveOn.org (com, pac, take your pick). Though all of my adult life I had been left leaning in my politics, I had never really become "involved" in any meaningful way short of signing a few petitions and writing my representatives a few letters. Bush changed all that for me (and for millions of other Americans) and MoveOn played a major role in helping us to have a voice and find a way to express it meaningfully. Through MoveOn, I hosted several "Political Parties". Each of the 6 or 7 parties drew from 10 to 20 people. A few became forever online friends and three became actual friends.

Kerry lost the election in 2004, but the fight was just starting and continued on for four years leading to the wondrous and hopeful conclusion of electing Barack Obama as our next President, but I digress. The second most important result of MoveOn and its many influences was the creation of Book Club for Liberal Thinkers, whose members included myself, my three MoveOn Party friends and about four other friends or friends of friends. There have been a few who have left us, one who left and came back and the political party friends have remained throughout. This is why and how the club got it's name. We don't necessarily read political books, though we have read a few, but a meeting doesn't go by when besides for discussing the book, we don't also
"talk turkey".

OK, enough with history and explanation. Here is a list of the books we have read. I have added an asterisk or 2 or 3 for the books that I really liked and would recommend.



1 The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

9 The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates *

10In Cold Blood by Truman Capote ***

20The Places in Between by Rory Stewart (very interesting)

25Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross (interesting)

26Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (interesting AND won Pulitzer)

36. Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs

37. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan*

38. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates*

39. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Laheri*

40. Suite Francais by Irene Nemirovsky*

41. Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortens

42. March by Geraldine Brooks***

43. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout*

44. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

45. Kindred by Octavia E. Butler*

46.The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows**

47. Dune by Frank Herbert

48. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

49. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald*

50. Little Bee: A Novel by Chris Cleave**

51. The Gilead by Marilynn Robinson

52. The Hamlet by William Faulkner

53. The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

54. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder

55. A Mercy by Toni Morrison

56.  Interpreter of  Maladies by Jhumpa Laheri*

57. Stone Diaries by Carol Shields

58. The Help by Kathryn Stockett

59. 41 Stories by O. Henry

60. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

61. Cry The Beloved Country by Alan Paton

62. Another Roadside Attraction  by Tom Robbins

63. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

64. The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obrecht

65. Summer by Edith Wharton

66. The Feast of the Goat by Mario Vargas Llosa

67. Netherlands by Joseph O'Neill

68. Room by Emma Donaghue

69.  The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

70. The Lover by Marguerite Duras

So, my friends, go forth and READ.....................................



November 4, 2008. I just got home from voting. I live in Parsippany, NJ. At 10:40 AM. my polling place was more crowded than I've experienced in my voting history in Morris County NJ, but not so crowded as to necessitate lines. However, the poll workers said there had been lines earlier this morning. The parking lot outside of the firehouse location is small and it was filled. Many of the cars in the small lot were of the larger, non-foreign variety, not your average Democrat's cars. In fact, I live in a mostly Republican part of New Jersey and have often felt a little out of place in my local voting places. I was hoping that the Obama decals on the back of my car were an appropriate distance from the door.

Still, I felt the historic quality of the moment and despite being the agnostic that I am, actually said a prayer as I gazed down at Obama and Biden's names with the little red check next to them. I wasn't leaving anything to chance. A few tears accumulated in my eyes as I got back into the car (no big surprise there). I drove home thinking about how profound this election has felt to me and thousands, maybe millions of others over the last year, in our country. I have felt to be in the best of company as I canvassed in Philadelphia,made phone calls here at home and sent and received hundreds and hundreds of emails with petitions, requests for donations, keeping us up to date and informed and some of THE BEST YouTube videos ever. One more piece of personal information regarding the significance of today's date. My son's birthday is November 4th. This is the second time in his now 23 years that his birthday coincided with an extremely significant event. The first was November 4, 1995. the day that Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was fatally shot. That was a tragic day. Today will signify the election of either the first Black President of the United States or the first Woman to become Vice President. On this momentous day, I will cast no dispersions, but I will say that if Barack Obama wins the Presidency, the significance will be even beyond breaking racial barriers (and that is of HUGE significance). It will mean that we will have a president with so much promise and even more capability to bring our country back up to the high standards that we desire and hopefully deserve.

I would love to hear about your experience as you voted today for the 44th President of the United States.

I invite you to comment here, even if you have never participated in blogging before. It's easy to do; you don't have to have a blog address. Simply sign in as anonymous, but then sign your comment at the bottom, so I will know who wrote it.

Thanks....Peace....oh and for one LAST time.....GO OBAMA!!!!!



Sarah Palin vs Bridgitte Bardot

Did you catch the debate with VP Candidate Sarah Palin and film legend turned activist, Bridgitte Bardot? In case you missed it........

BRIDGITTE: I hope you lose these elections because that would be a victory for the world.

SARAH: (1) Say it ain't so, Bridge, there you go again pointing backwards. You preferenced [sic] your whole comment with reference to the Bush administration. Now doggone it, let's look ahead and tell Americans what we have to plan to for them in the future.

BRIDGITTE: By denying the responsibility of man in global warming, by advocating gun rights and making statements that are disconcertingly stupid, you are a disgrace to women and you alone represent a terrible threat, a true environmental catastrophe.

SARAH: (2) I’m not an Al Gore, doom-and-gloom environmentalist blaming the changes in our climate on human activity. (3) We believe that the Service's (i.e. Dept. of Interior's) decision to list the polar bear was not based on the best scientific and commercial data available. (3) There is no "aerial hunting" of wolves in Alaska.Our science-driven and abundance-based predator management program involves volunteers who are permitted to use aircraft to kill some predators where we are trying to increase opportunities for Alaskans to put healthy food on their families' dinner tables. It is not hunting.

BRIDGITTE: This shows your total lack of responsibility, your inability to protect or simply respect animal life.

SARAH: (1) Senator McCain chose me because of my connection to the heartland of America. Being a mom, one very concerned about a son in the war, about a special needs child, about kids heading off to college, how are we going to pay those tuition bills? (4) And, besides I'm a Hockey Mom. Do you know the difference between Hockey Moms and Pit Bulls…. Lipstick.

BRIDGETTE: Ms. Palin I implore you not to compare yourself to dogs. I know them well and I can assure you that no pit-bull, no dog, nor any other animal for that matter is as dangerous as you are.

If I may rephrase Bardot's words, without changing her meaning, but relating it to another famous quote from another VP election some years ago.....

"Sarah, I know pit bulls. I have a pit bull. I love pit bulls. And YOU Sarah Palin are NO Pit Bull!"

In deference to full disclosure, this debate, per se, never took place, but it could have. I have taken actual quotes from both of the principal characters and though they are out of their specific context, they are in the context of the subject matter about which they are speaking. In other words, the essence is true, even if some of the words have been transposed or changed to fit the context of the debate.

Brigitte Bardot Quotes are borrowed from The Huttington Post, October 14, 2008.

Sarah Palin's Quotes are taken from (1) VP Debate October 2, 2008 and (2) Interview with Charlie Gibson and (3) On The Issues
and (4) The Republican Convention on September 3, 2008 and other times and places too numerous to mention
Created by: Sherril

Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be!MIGUEL DE CERVANTES, Don Quixote



I AM Rosie the Riveter

I must say for a 57 year old woman who has been living on her own for two years now, "I've come a long way baby". An hour ago, as I was putting in my contact lenses, necessitating pulling up the sink pop-up, in order to keep the water from running down the drain, should a contact lens accidentally fall into the water, a problem arose. The pop up got stuck in the down position and would not pop up. I was hungry and cranky, so I just left the water sitting in the sink, finished inserting my lenses and went on with the business of emptying grocery bags (cloth bags, may I add) and cooking something to eat for dinner. Having finished eating, cleaning up and turning on the dishwasher, I went into the bathroom and was immediately reminded of my Faulty Sink Pop-up Stopper problem. Feeling fed and less cranky, I decided to try to fix the problem. My first thought was to call some man in my life, or my daughter, to ask what to do. My second thought was to try to fix it myself. I Yahooed the problem and the site entitled, Faulty Sink Pop-up Stopper, fit the bill. It provided a picture of the parts of a sink under the counter, with several possible scenarios for causing the problem and probable fixes.

Long story short, the spring clip, which connects the pivot rod to the clevis, had become disengaged. I found it on the floor of the compartment under the sink. After examining the picture, I made several attempts to reconnect the spring clip, placing it in one hole in the clevis after another until I found the right hole that allowed the mechanism to work.



"If you can't vote my way, vote anyway, but VOTE!" Pogo... Walt Kelly.


An Opera Aficionada Newbie

I belong to several social groups that fall under the umbrella of Meetup.com.

They are groups of people who meet to pursue a common interest, anywhere from book clubs to Santeria. There are literally hundreds of types of groups, with new ones forming all the time. The latest one that I joined is called, New York Opera Meetup. But, I must take one step back. It was not the opera group that brought me to the opera, but another one called Culture for the Non-Cultured, which is organized, extremely well, by another Sheryl. I had taken a fascinating tour of the NYC Library with this group, followed by lunch (many of these groups include eating and drinking of one kind or another) and most recently I joined them at a joint meetup event (with the NYC Opera group) at the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center to see the La Traviata.

My motivation for signing up for this event was tri-fold. First, a little background. I must admit to previously not being a fan of the Opera, not at all. I specifically had a distaste for the Soprano voice and never had the patience to listen to an entire opera on the radio or watch it on PBS. The only opera I had ever attended was about 25 years ago, when I had gotten tickets to bring my parents to William Tell , a performance which happened to be in Florence, Italy, at the same time I was spending my semester abroad in my college years. I knew they would be impressed by my effort (they were) and I knew, though I was not a fan, my parents loved the opera, so I would be educating myself, while giving them a gift they would love. All I remember about it was that it was VERY long.

Fast forward 26 years when I get an e-mail from Cultured for the Non-Cultured meetup group to attend La Traviata at the low cost of $26 (seats in the nose-bleed section, more politely called the Family Circle, but affordable seats, all-the-same). So, call it circumstance, fate or chance, but call it the first fold of said motivation.

For the past few years, I have been re-evaluating my dislike of opera and considering trying to gain an appreciation of it. One reason was that I used to have a friend who loved opera, so much, that he could sing many of the arias and tell most of the stories (or should I say melodramas; huh, so, that is where the term soap opera comes from!). Also, ever since I saw the movie, Moonstruck, one of my many fantasies has been to "be" Cher, attending
Puccini's "La Boheme", at the Met, with Nicholas Cage. Oh that I could be swept off my feet by an overwhelming passionate love, defying all expectations - a passionate love!!! Anyway, back to reality, the opera loving friend and a far-fetched fantasy were the other two folds of my motivation.

So, I went to Wikipedia and printed out an explanation of La Traviata, background on the composer, Giuseppe Verdi and some information on this particular production, which had as its Production and Set Designer, Franco Zeffirelli. I read it on the bus ride into the city. It was a rainy day, which may have been why there were no cabs at Port Authority Bus Terminal, so I hoofed it from 40th and 8th to 65th and Broadway (that was the address I had, but I actually had to walk back to Columbus Ave. where Lincoln Center is "quietly" nestled, away from the noise of the traffic of any of the streets or avenues). Because this event was meant for people, like myself, new to the world of opera, the organizer of the Opera Meetup group, spent about 30 minutes giving us an interesting talk on the Met and it's history (that's how I learned about its "nesteled location"), as well as the opera we'd be seeing and it's composer. And then it was onward and UPWARD to our seats, which were not together since each person buys their ticket separately. Between each of the three acts, we met as a group in front of the Red Marc Chagall Mural, which famously and beautifully adorns the wall above one of the many bars in the building.

The opera experience that I had was more than I expected. Just being in the Met was truly magical...it's size and grandeur, the gorgeous chandeliers that resemble indiviualized snowflakes, looking down on the grand staircases and being among people of all ages, dressed from informal to elegant and simply "knowing" where I was all added to an amazing experience. Before the first act began, the chandeliers in the theater slowly rose upwards, I would assume to keep them from upstructing vision of the stage. Despite sitting so far from the stage, my handy opera glasses served their function well and allowed me to feel connected to the performers and the action on stage. In front of every seat, even non-seats, which is to say, in front of standing room only, there is a window in which you can read translations of the opera. I didn't think I would read them, as I thought it would interfere with the flow of the opera, but in fact, I read them throughout and found that they enhanced my experience.What most impressed me and totally surprised me, was that I loved the singing of the "diva", who in this case was Ruth Ann Swenson, who sang the part of Violetta. I loved everything about her voice...the range, and what they call florid runs and trills. I even loved the over the top drama of the arias. I had read about a technique Verdi uses in writing one part for Violetta where she reads a farewell letter she has written to her lover, Alfredo, and she "speaks" the words with a musical background, which serves to echo her feelings, rather than accompany her voice. This technique is called "melodrama", that is, a dramatic reading with a melodic background. Live and learn!

I can not fully analyze what it was that I so enjoyed while watching and listening to this opera; it is easier to say what I did not experience, that I thought I might have. I was not bored. I was not bothered by the fact that it was sung in a language I could not understand. I was not even thinking about what I was experiencing. I was mostly in the moment. I suppose that's the best that can be said of any experience. And so it was.


The Question Is, Is America Ready for Obama?

I listened to Barack Obama's speech tonight that he gave today in Philadelphia. I have been saying for years that the biggest problem we face as a nation is the problem of Race in America. I have long thought that the Racial Divide and the Divide between the Haves and the Have-Nots is the biggest problem that we are not facing and thus will be the one that will eventually overcome us. Instead of "we shall overcome", the results of racism in America will overcome us.

Barack Obama so eloquently and so succinctly spoke of how we must make the attempts to bridge these gaps; that we must do so by realizing that by raising those who have fallen, we raise ourselves. We must do so by realizing that "those children" are "our" children, that we are ONE NATION.

But, I'll tell you what really scares me. I watched Barack Obama give his speech and I cried. I cried because I think that we, the United States of America, may not be good enough for him. I cried because I am afraid that we may not be ready for him and maybe never will be. I cried becasue we may lose the opportunity of a lifetime to choose a leader who has that great quality of seeing clearly, from many angles and through many eyes and can use that clarity towards changing the direction of our country.

I think that Obama is offering himself as a means to an end, as a way to reach across the many divides we have in this country between Black and White, Blacks and Jews, Black and Brown People, Black Christians and White Christians, Muslims and Jews, Muslims and Christians, Muslim nations and Western Nations, including the United States, Rich and Poor, Educated and Non-Educated and finally Red and Blue. He is offering himself as a bridge that may help to not only cross these divides, but perhaps bring the sides closer together and thus better able to understand how the "other" feels and why each side acts the way they do and through this understanding maybe each side can learn to, if not love, at least hate less "those people" on the other side of the divide.

The challenge is ours and the opportunity is ours to embrace or lose, maybe forever.


Congressman Tom Lantos: A Farewell

I would bet that not many Americans, not to mention Jewish Americans, know that there was a member of the United States Congress who was a Holocaust survivor. He was the only one to hold that dubious, yet honorable distinction. I only learned of this fact in May of 2003, when I attended the annual Conference in Washington, DC of the American Jewish Committee. I attended an evening ceremony honoring Mr. Lantos with AJC’s Congressional Leadership Award. He spoke only briefly, but hearing his European accent made me tearfully aware that I was seeing a man who despite having suffered so much loss during the Holocaust, managed to get to the United States in 1947, as a result of an essay he wrote about President Franklin D. Roosevelt, which won him an academic scholarship to study in the United States. Thirty-three years later he was elected to Congress, the only Democrat to defeat an un-indicted incumbent Republican in the year of the Reagan landslide. He held his Congressional seat in the Office of the Twelfth Congressional District of California for the next twenty-seven years, until February 11, 2008, when, at the age of 80, he died of esophageal cancer.

I learned that Mr. Lantos was a champion of human rights from his involvement with the Dalai Lama, to getting willingly arrested for protesting outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington to denounce that government's role in the killings in Darfur, to his pivotal role in the House's passage of a resolution pressing the Japanese government to officially apologize for the thousands of women used as sex slaves during World War II, to advocating for Taiwan in its tensions with China.

During the Nazi occupation of his homeland in Hungary, Lantos was sent to a forced labor camp, from which he escaped and ultimately ended up in one of the Budapest apartments rented by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg. His story is one of the individual accounts which forms the basis of Steven Spielberg's Academy Award winning documentary about the Holocaust in Hungary, The Last Days.

Tom Lantos' biography is fascinating. He was married for over fifty-seven years to his childhood sweetheart, Annette Tillemann. They had two daughters. Annette (the daughter, not to be confused with her mother) had ten children and Katrina, had seven, giving Tom and Annette seventeen grandchildren. Also, interestingly, his daughter Katrina was the wife of Richard N. Swett, former New Hampshire Congressman (1991-1995) and former U.S. Ambassador to Denmark (1998-2001). Katrina ran for a U.S. House seat in New Hampshire in 2002, but she lost to incumbent Charles Bass (R), who had defeated her husband in 1994.

I was saddened when I heard of Lantos' death on Monday night, but extremely gratified to know that my life's experiences briefly intersected with his on that May evening in 2003. I am grateful because not only had I not previously heard of Tom Lantos, but I don't remember being aware of the organization, the American Jewish Committee (I would have thought that it was the same as the American Jewish Congress, which it is not). So it was another case of synchronicity (something I believe in whole-heartedly) that brought me to the AJC conference, at which, in their wisdom, they chose to honor this very important and memorable man.