Today, February 27th is Ralph Nader’s 86th birthday. He was my first boss in a professional position. Just about 50 years ago, July 1st, 1970, I reported for work at The Public Interest Research Group in Washington, DC. I had interviewed Ralph probably in early March over the telephone. He was rumored to call only from payphones. It was quick, and I got the job. Thanks to the recommendation of a fellow law student who had served as a Nader’s Raider.
I do know what Ralph would want for his birthday. For me to volunteer to once again jump n the fray. I could get a desk down at their DC offices and start a new on an urgent matter to address the urgent matters in the world. Ralph does that still every day. You can buy one of his books, listen to his podcast or read a weekly column. Just go to www.nader.org
My point today though might be to point out how he has been what I call a Door Opener for me. Now in my mid-70’s, I will turn 75 myself in a few months, I often think back on those people who have helped me in my life journey. Ralph, I have to say is probably number 1. We worked on a world stage together to make changes in how the world worked. He taught me many things. The one thing I think about most is that the responsibility of product makers is to design their products for how people actually use them. Or to design roads and structures in terms of how people actually engage them.
Happy Birthday Ralph. Thank you for all you do and have done and will yet do to save lives and make the world a better place.
Rabbi Berkowits turns 92 on February 29, 2020. (Technically he did on February 10th, he just likes to celebrate it on February 29th. You see for a long time he didn’t recall his actual birthday. He grew up in a Jewish orthodox world in Hungry where they didn’t celebrate birthdays. Too many Jewish holidays to bother with birthdays.
He also spent two years in concentration camps in Germany during which he lost most of his family. He went on to find his way to the US, serve in the US Army, become a Rabbi and join a small new Reform Jewish congregation in Falls Church. It is now the largest Jewish synagogue in the Commonwealth of Virginia and about the 11th largest in the United States.
He and I met in 1973 – not quite 50 years ago. He was the first Rabbi of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Virginia. we have known each other 47 years. Along the way he and I have become like brothers. We fight sometimes, not often. Mostly we share indelible time and moments together.
He and I have traveled now many times together back to Germany to the camps where he was prisoner. He does it in part to encourage those who now manage the memorials and who struggle in Germany with the pain of knowing what ancestors did continue to live productive lives. He taught me what it means to be able to love and forgive when stood in a room filled with young German high-school students and told them “it is not your fault.” And how he is optimistic about Germany and their future.
He and I enjoy lunch together every week still. He continues to teach me about the ultimate dignity of every human soul.
Happy Birthday Rabbi Berkowits! Thank you for all you have done and especially for teaching me one other thing: “A simcha you have to create, tzuris comes in uninvited.” That is the idea that we need to celebrate every joyous occasion because trouble and heart break come in on their own terms.