Watching the flames in California along with the destruction of lives and livelihoods in Kenosha, it suddenly hit me that we can either grow together or burn together. I say this as both a Holocaust-traumatized Jew and as a family therapist. Seeing fear in the faces of children most days in my practice on Zoom as they head back to school, I know that an assault weapon can end their lives sure as the peanut butter mom put on their bagel this morning. Because that’s what happened 20 miles up the road from me in Newtown, Connecticut. And for me, it’s too much to bear alone.
So yesterday I decided to end my coastal elite isolation and call my closest relative in Wisconsin. She’s someone I love and feared as one of my family members who could vote me, and progressives like me, into a world where AK-47 toting teenagers rule the streets. God forbid. So, one hour before my scheduled Jewish Dems voter outreach, I picked up the phone to contact my only surviving first cousin. Republican or not, I know if armed vigilantes come for me in the night, I may need somewhere to escape. Enough of family separation. We need to talk.
To my relief, I found someone very much like me on the other end of the line. A human being who wants us all to have a plan, even though she’s undecided on who to cast a ballot for.
Like me, my cousin loves cooking chicken soup for family. Visiting farmer’s markets. Discovering new places in the world to travel (may it come to pass speedily and in our days). Together we share the memory of my dad, a World War II tank gunner who died 120 days ago at age 96, breath leaving his body from Covid-related grief and isolation. He had lived through times where the world also threatened to explode in flames. Where being a Jew meant you were stuck with a gun in some muddy trench thousands of miles from home or taken away at the point of a gun. We remember how the family split in 1938 between Russia and the Midwest as the KGB snuffed out communication between Brodsky brothers and sisters who wanted to reunite and couldn’t because the United States had shut the doors.
I spoke to my cousin about what scares me. My memory of the McCarthy Era where the parents of my friends couldn’t work because of the blacklist that scooped up reform-minded Democrats like my parents, along with other progressives who dreamed the New Deal could last. Of the trenchcoated FBI on the other side of my fireproof steel front door. I was only 4 years old watching my mother rearing up to her full 4 foot eleven height, peering through the peephole. and telling the men to “get the f*** away from this door.” How my sense of safety skewed from that day on towards terror, even though the intruders left quietly, never to return again.
My cousin and I shared the words we so often say to each other: “I love you.” And she offered another gift, reminding this frightened activist that my voter outreach calls have the most chance of influencing people I know in my immediate circle. In the glow of these moments, I took another risk and told my cousin that Billy Crystal, Mandy Patinkin, and Carol Kane would do a reunion film script reading of “The Princess Bride” to benefit the Wisconsin Democrats that night.
I couldn’t watch because I would be calling Jewish voters in Minnesota. Maybe she would like to use my ticket? Turns out she loves Mandy Patinkin. So, I sent her the link. My cousin reminded me that Bob Woodward of “All the President’s Men” fame would soon recount his recent conversations with the 45th male occupant of the White House on television. I suggested we watch together. She said she’ll take notes. We can fact check together. As our family call wound to a close, I knew in my heart that this step to reach out beyond a silence of my own making had borne sweet fruit. That my cousin and I would, God willing, continue to build our individual antidote to anxiety in these uncertain times.
In these days of electronic overload, of hiding out from well-meaning folks calling, reminding us to vote, consider the potential value of answering the call. Perhaps the person on the other end of the line has something to offer, a kind word or a chance to check in on how you’re doing in these difficult times. It could be someone like me who cares so much they’re willing to risk reaching out to a stranger. Or it could be a family member whose views are different. Someone your heart could touch to build a brighter future, one family member at a time.
A holistic psychotherapist, writer and activist based in the woods of Connecticut, Neal Brodsky’s words can be found online at The Forward, The Times of Israel, on his WordPress Blog and in the upcoming International Handbook of Play Therapy.