“Dear places who have seen this before…”

Santa Clarita poem - Jilli Spencer


“Can you tell me how… Can you tell me how you got up?” These are the anguished words of Jilli Spencer, a survivor of the November 14 shooting at her Santa Clarita, CA, high school. “It was finally us,” she says. We heard similar expressions combining disbelief with resigned acceptance at other schools? But is this normal?


In the 46 months of this year, according a CNN report, there have been 44 school shootings. Of these, 32 have been at schools serving students from kindergarten through grade 12.  Enough. Last year, Time magazine used this powerful word to honor the efforts of five students who survived the Parkland tragedy. They fought – and continue to fight – to prevent other children and parents having to endure their ordeal. Just this August, Time used the word… again.


The two victims – a girl, 15, and a boy, 14 – were not just people of tomorrow, they were people todayPeople magazine told the stories of Gracie and Dominic – and those who love them. Let us always remember the names of Gracie Meuhlberger and Dominic Blackwell.

Outside, it was a beautiful, sunny, and crisp day. Inside the school in which I was working, an dark announcement came over the school public-address system. “The shooter is in the G wing. He’s wearing a clown mask….” It was just a drill. Just a drill? is this now a normal part of the school day, like pledging allegiance to the flag or eating revolting food in the cafeteria? Sandy Hook Promise brought this point home in a searing PSA this September. Caution: Some readers may find the contents disturbing.


I love you, Mom.

Trauma to these Middle Eastern children goes well beyond the moment. It is a lifelong scar, at times with devastating consequences.

Victims of ISIS brutality much of the world has forgotten.


The New York Times Magazine recently published a searing editorial and photo essay piece on children from Middle Eastern countries (many of them Kurdish and Yazidi) caught in the cross-fire of conflict and “ethnic cleansing.” The article asks, “How Does the Human Soul Survive Atrocity?” Furthermore, “After the horror of ISIS captivity, tens of thousands of Iraqis—many of them children—are caught up in a mental-health crisis unlike any in the world.” Said one young woman about her younger family members, “Maybe I’ll be happier if they are all dead, because at least I’ll know they aren’t being tortured.”


Portrayed are the following children:

  • Kristina, 12. Enslaved by ISIS
  • Delivan, 10. Acts out violently
  • Sumaya, 21. Has suicidal thoughts
  • Enas, 17. Contemplates suicide (her 16-year-old sister put herself to fire)
  • Hessen’s four brothers and three brothers have been missing since 2014.


One form of treatment is a new cognitive behavioral therapy technique called narrative exposure therapy (NET). This was created during the Balkan wars in the 1990s to help children there cope with trauma from torture and genocide. Yet, trauma still makes it very difficult for children to feel safe and regain trust.

  • Rezan, 11. Kidnapped in 2014 and freed only this year
  • Hediya, 9. Spent five years enslaved by ISIS with her sister Kristina
  • Hundreds of Yazidi children, some as young as 8, have been raped.


In Iraq, mental health treatment is almost nonexistent. Yet, about one in five Iraqis suffer from some form of mental illness. Among young Iraqis, the rate for PTSD is more than one in two; 60 percent suffer from depression. Some 92 percent of children show learning disabilities. Many children in Iraq have thought about suicide. The article goes on to chronicle atrocities inflicted by ISIS terrorists in the country.


Said Ilyas, who did not know whether her daughters were still alive, “I am sick, and I don’t know what to do.”

On this Independence Day, Many Children Are not Free

Huntingdon Freedom Monument Eagle

An open letter to my three representatives in Congress:

As I write you, Independence Day fireworks are bursting in all their glory in New York City and Washington. Indeed, like you, I treasure the many freedoms of our great country with immense gratitude. However, it is hard to do so at this moment, when over 2,300 children are suffering from physical deprivation and emotional torture (a word I do not use lightly), illegal under both U.S. and international law. The New York Times recently reported a psychologist and a pediatrician who visited one of these deplorable border detention facilities noted that children are even being prohibited from giving one another physical comfort, not even a hug! Or, to quote an article in The Atlantic, “Children Cannot Parent Other Children.”

As such, I urge you to visit at least one of the Border Patrol detention camps and report what you have seen.

According to one civil rights group, RAICES, “Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Representative Ayanna Pressley came because they want to hear more than just what Border Patrol agents have to say. We know that Customs & Border Protection (CBP) practice is to cover up their unjust practices. That’s why the Congresswomen joined immigrant rights groups in touring a Border Patrol facility.”

I now call on you to join Representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley and visit these facilities to see for yourself and to hold CBP and all representatives accountable.


Daniel L. Berek
New Jersey, USA

Teaching Respect. Teaching Kindness

Frontline Holocaust Education


Judaism. Christianity. Islam. Central to all three Abrahamic faiths is love, especially others. From the book of Exodus: V’ahavta l’reacha kamocha, And you shall love the stranger as yourself.

Congregants of all three faiths have recently been the victims of deadly hate attacks in what was supposed to be their sanctuary. A place of faith, of safety, of love.

Love comes naturally. It is what we are born with. The same can be said of altruism. Hate is something learned. And hate has been on the rise, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Anti Defamation League, and Simon Wiesenthal Center.

An insightful article from PBS Frontline explores how to teach about the evils of anti-Semitism in schools through Holocaust education. Moreover, Holocaust education is about fighting hate directed against all groups.

That piece depicts a project in which saplings from a chestnut tree have been planted at important locations throughout the U.S. And this was not just any tree. The chestnut in question was the one Anne Frank described in her diary as she peered out the window from her place of hiding. “From my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine,” wrote Anne Frank. “As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances might be.”