Doing the Right Thing

Twenty-six years ago I was fired from my job as Wisconsin’s first legal counsel to the Board on Aging and Long Term Care for blowing the whistle on the Executive Director, who was a high functioning alcoholic, but had previously succeeded in insulating himself from evaluation by the Board. After lobbying Congress to require that state long-term care ombudsman programs have legal counsel, I successfully obtained what had appeared to be a dream job, advocating for people living in institutions and receiving long term care, by providing legal counsel to a great team of ombudsmen, and representing victims of abuse and neglect. Little did I know that my dream job would only last nine months.

Before I took the job, I knew the Executive Director. He was very friendly, but had a reputation of being somewhat lazy. Since I am a very independent worker, I did not think it would bother me to have a lazy supervisor. Indeed, my first few months were highly productive. However, staff started approaching me with concerns, and I soon realized that the director’s apparent laziness, which included often not showing up for critical hearings or meetings, was really a symptom of serious alcoholism. It became apparent that the director frequently lied about his whereabouts to cover for his drinking.

Since I was legal counsel to the agency, I sought advice from the State Department of Justice, and on their advice, I proceeded to gather first person evaluations from staff to provide to the Board, whom I discovered had never evaluated the director. I knew I was taking a risk, but I simply could not stand idly by while the director’s alcoholism degraded this state agency, resulting in inadequate protection for the people in institutions and those receiving long-term care, whom we were statutorily required to serve.

After completing my investigation, I provided all the first person information I had obtained to the Board, and then I waited. All of a sudden, a veil of silence dropped down and the Board no longer communicated with me. Fortunately, to protect myself, I retained my own legal counsel and filed a whistleblower complaint with the State Personnel Commission in case of retaliation.


At this point, the Board had one of its regular meetings over the weekend, and since staff were prohibited from meeting with the Board without the director’s permission (one of his self-protective maneuvers), I went into the office on Monday not knowing what might happen. The director  rarely called staff meetings, but he called staff in to tell us that he had tendered his resignation to the Board. However, the director told us that the Board refused to accept his resignation, conditional on his going into rehab. I vividly remember putting my hand on his hand and telling him that I knew this must be very difficult for him, and that I would be glad to do whatever he needed to help manage the agency while he was in rehab.

The week proceeded and the director did not announce when he was going into rehab. Nor did he tell any staff how the agency would operate in his absence. However, on Friday, he asked me to write a memo to him summarizing my cases (something he had not previously done), then he called me into his office and fired me.

It did not take long for me to obtain what was the largest whistleblower settlement in Wisconsin history, but that was small compensation for losing what I thought was going to be a dream job. Fortunately, this firing did not derail my career, and I am proud of what I have accomplished since that time.

Why am I writing about this ancient history today? One of the consequences of living in a small city, is that I regularly bump into people I know in public places. This morning, while doing some grocery shopping, I saw the man who fired me 26 years ago. We made eye contact, said nothing to each other, and proceeded to continue our shopping. This is not the first time I have seen him since he fired me, and each time I see him, I wonder if he will ever have the courage to thank me for saving his life, as he did go into rehab after firing me, and I believe he has stopped drinking. Of course, I also wonder if he will ever have the courage to apologize for firing me. However, just like the handful of other times I have seen him in public, he said nothing.

So, the awkward moment passed, and I must simply take comfort in knowing that I did the right thing and that is all the thanks I will ever receive. He must live with his own behavior. I remain proud of my own. Due to my personal experience, I have a great deal of respect for all the brave whistleblowers out there who risk their careers and livelihood when they expose a superior’s malfeasance. Most will never receive thanks for their important work, so like me, I hope they are able to remain proud of the good work they have done.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


Zoning Out Gun Sales

While Congress spins its wheels accomplishing nothing to stem the control of gun violence in our nation, some states are taking quick action to regulate the sale and possession of guns. Since the Parkland massacre:

  • Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island to sign an executive order to establish a policy to take guns away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
  • Oregon’s House passed a bill making it illegal for people convicted of domestic violence or those with restraining orders against them to possess weapons, even if they are not married to, do not live with, or do not have children with their victims. The State Senate is expected to pass the bill and the Governor has promised to sign it.
  • Other states, including Florida, Vermont, Washington, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, South Dakota, and Texas are actively considering gun control legislation.

Today, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced that it would stop selling assault style rifles and would halt all gun sales to those below age 21. Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer and a major seller of firearms, announced it would stop selling the military-style semiautomatic weapons in August 2015.

Yet, given Congress’ inaction, the failure of most states to enact strong gun control laws, and purely voluntary measures by retailers, gun control advocates should also consider engaging their local communities to zone out gun sales. Indeed, that is exactly what Madison, Wisconsin has done for many years regarding handgun sales.

Madison Ordinance Chapter 28.151 applies the following zoning restrictions to handgun shops:

(b) No handgunshop shall be located within one thousand (1000) feet of any church, synagogue, temple, mosque or other place of worship; a lot in a residence district, either in the City of Madison or in a municipality adjacent to the City of Madison; a Planned Mobile Home Park District, Planned Development District with dwelling units; a public or private playground; a day care center; a public library, a youth recreation area, including little league baseball fields, soccer fields or YMCA/YWCA.

(c) No handgunshop shall be located in the same building where alcohol beverages are sold.

(d) No handgunshop shall be located in the same building where any patron thereof under the age of eighteen (18) years may enter, unless accompanied by a parent, guardian or adult spouse eighteen (18) years of age or over.

This well crafted ordinance steers clear of an outright ban on handgun shops to avoid a Second Amendment challenge, but it effectively bans them by applying reasonable zoning regulations to make it nearly impossible to locate a handgun shop in Madison. Indeed, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart do not sell handguns in Madison due to this zoning regulation.

For some perspective on the number of gun shops in the United States, consider the following data:

Since Congress members’ thoughts and prayers will fail to save a single life, and many states will fail to enact reasonable gun control legislation, gun control advocates across the nation should apply pressure to their city councils and mayors to enact and strengthen zoning ordinances to effectively control the sale of guns in their city limits. While the NRA will surely fight such efforts, requiring it to spread its efforts at federal, state and local levels will diminish the NRA’s effectiveness and finally allow gun control advocates to gain the upper hand.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.



The Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell wrote The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference in 2000. In his book, he discusses how “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses.” He defines the tipping point as  “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.” From a systems change perspective, the concept of a tipping point is important when analyzing both how to create sufficient momentum behind a policy change to bring the change into fruition.

One of the most frustrating failures in American public policy has been the complete ineptitude of our nation’s leaders to enact reasonable reform to combat gun violence. Many gun reform advocates believed that our nation would finally overcome the opposition by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to all efforts at reasonable gun reform, after 20 children and 6 adults were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. However, as we all know, the NRA and too many politicians simply offered their thoughts and prayers, and no meaningful gun reform was enacted.


But then came the high school students who lost 14 fellow students and 3 staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. While the NRA and Congressional leaders continued to send thoughts and prayers, and the President and many legislators would rather arm teachers than enact meaningful gun reform, on behalf of her fellow Parkland students, Emma Gonzalez called BS on these unhelpful ideas. As one of the students, Cameron Kaspy, stated quite simply, My generation won’t stand for this.”

But why might this event be different than Sandy Hook or the many other gun massacres and become a tipping point to lead to meaningful gun reform, when the other horrific incidents did not? While it is too soon to know whether the results will be different, and we truly cannot expect meaningful change until after the November mid-term elections, there are indications that a number of different dynamics are in play that did not exist before, such that we may be approaching a tipping point which could impact the November mid-term elections culminating in meaningful gun reform in the next Congress.

Of course, the first new dynamic is the bold, energized leadership of the Parkland High School students. But since they cannot vote, high school students alone will not have sufficient impact to reach the tipping point. Ironically, the callousness of our President who appears to be devoid of empathy, combined with the energy of these high school students may be what energizes voters to impact the November mid-term elections in a meaningful way on this issue.

There are many signs that a shift in the gun reform dynamic is in play, such as:

  • Republicans who recognize that their day of reckoning on guns is here.
  • A well organized campaign targeted at politicians beholden to the gun lobby to throw them out.
  • A recognition that women could be the undoing of the President.
  • The March 24th March for Our Lives to demand that lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings.
  • Poll results showing American voters support stricter gun laws 66 – 31 percent, the highest level of support ever, including 50 – 44 percent support among gun owners.
    Support for universal background checks is almost universal, 97 – 2 percent, including 97 – 3 percent among gun owners. Support is also at its highest level with:

    • 67 percent favoring a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons;
    • 83 percent favoring a mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases and
    • 75 percent believe Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.

Of course, tipping points are reached by many actions, and as Gladwell pointed out, many of those actions are small actions taken by individuals. So, if you want to be part of the change that leads to a tipping point to achieve meaningful gun reform, here are some things you can do.

  • Investigate how your members of Congress vote on gun reform bills. You can check their votes here.
  • Check to see whether your members of Congress receive contributions from the NRA, and if so, how much they receive, here.
  • Tell your state legislators to support a law that exists in five states that allows guns to be seized from those whom a judge deems a threat to themselves or others.
  • Tell your members of Congress to support laws that evidence demonstrates will save lives including:
    • Requiring permits to purchase all guns by eliminating the exemption for private sales;
    • Banning individuals convicted of any violent crime from gun purchase;
    • Making all serious domestic violence offenders surrender firearms;
    • Banning active alcohol abusers from firearms; and
    • Banning assault weapons.
  • Join and/or contribute to an organization that is working on these issues such as Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action  for Gun Sense in America.

Finally, the tipping point will not be reached if politicians believe that NRA support will preserve their power in office. Since the vast majority of Americans support meaningful gun reform, they must translate this into votes that change the calculation of politicians and make them realize that NRA support will become a liability instead of an asset. The only way to make that happen is for gun reform advocates to support gun reform candidates and to vote for them. As Justin Dart, considered as the father of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), said so eloquently in a way that gun reform advocates must take to heart:

Vote as if your life depended on it, because it does.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish progressive, effective systems change, contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his web site: Systems Change Consulting.


Reinvent School Policing

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) continues to study possible changes to the way it uses police in its schools. The school board set up an ad hoc committee to study this issue over a period of 15 months. At a recent meeting of that committee, some advocates argued that police have no business in our schools. They argue that restorative justice is a better approach to resolving discipline problems. However, others believe that police presence in our schools is necessary.

A few years ago, I suggested that police presence in schools should be limited to genuine emergencies in order to avoid the kind of abuse which some police have perpetrated on students in school as depicted  below from an incident in South Carolina. Subsequently, given that police presence continues in our schools, I urged that school based police officers need teen training in order to do their jobs successfully without fueling the school to prison pipeline.

SC police brutality

In Oakland, California, police stationed in schools are taking a different approach. While they handle tough situations that can range from verbal altercations to weapons possession and sexual assaults, they are tasked with much more than providing security in Oakland schools. Using social and emotional learning (SEL) skills like empathy, self-awareness, and communication, officers are directed to build relationships with staff and students first, asking questions that might give them insight into why a student is upset or disengaged, or what really caused a fight.

The Oakland Unified School District started providing Social and Emotional Learning training to police stationed in its schools two years ago. The core competencies of SEL are:

  • Self-Awareness-The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior. The ability to accurately assess one’s strengths and limitations, with a well-grounded sense of confidence, optimism, and a “growth mindset.”
  • Self-Management-The ability to successfully regulate one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in different situations — effectively managing stress, controlling impulses, and motivating oneself. The ability to set and work toward personal and academic goals.
  • Social Awareness-The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports.
  • Relationship Skills-The ability to establish and maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with diverse individuals and groups. The ability to communicate clearly, listen well, cooperate with others, resist inappropriate social pressure, negotiate conflict constructively, and seek and offer help when needed; and
  • Responsible Decision-Making-The ability to make constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and social norms. The realistic evaluation of consequences of various actions, and a consideration of the well-being of oneself and others.

The Oakland school district started incorporating SEL into its curriculum in 2011, when it accepted the research that students with higher levels of social competence will not only do better in school, but they will have a better success rate in the workforce after school.

Like Madison and many other school districts nationwide, Oakland shares a problem with disproportionate discipline of students of color. To combat this problem, in 2015, Oakland started funding restorative justice programs and banned suspensions for “willful defiance” and “disruptive behavior.” Unfortunately, due to financial problems, Oakland’s SEL and restorative justice programs have been implemented piecemeal, with some schools seeing full adoption and others, none.

While I continue to question  the need for police in schools outside of genuine emergencies, I have no doubt that if police are stationed in our schools, they cannot use the same techniques and training that prepare them for patrolling the streets, with children inside schools. The sooner police in schools receive training geared towards teenage behavior and social and emotional learning, the more success they will have in stemming the flow of the schools to prison pipeline instead of fueling its growth.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


Grocery Store Community Building

I do most of the grocery shopping in my family. Not only do I enjoy choosing fresh produce, but I truly enjoy the cross-cultural exposure which grocery store shopping provides. On a recent shopping trip, I was reminded of how choosing to interact with other shoppers and staff in the grocery store may provide one of the best antidotes to the fear mongering designed to make us afraid of people who are not like us that is so sadly prevalent in our society.

Most of my grocery shopping is done in two stores: the Willy Street Co-op and Woodman’s. My wife and I became members at the Co-op on the first day we moved to Madison in 1985, and we continue to support the cooperative model of governance, the healthy food choices provided there and the ease of shopping at a smaller store. However, as it is not a supermarket, there are many grocery items that one cannot buy at the Co-op and other items are too expensive to buy there since the Co-op does not have the buying power of a large supermarket. Probably due to higher prices on many of its items, the clientele is not as diverse as the community as a whole.


Woodman’s, on the other hand, is a very large supermarket, with low prices on most items. I have also shopped there since we moved to Madison in 1985. Over the years, I have noticed a number of interesting developments there.

  • As Madison has become far more culturally diverse, Woodman’s shoppers and employees have reflected that change and people of all ages, colors, and backgrounds both shop and work there.
  • The produce and grocery selection has evolved in response to the cultural diversity of our community to provide a wide array of items to suit cooking from most ethnic backgrounds.
  • Many of the staff working there have been there for over 20 years, indicating that they are treated reasonably well as employees, a hallmark of any workplace that maintains relatively low turnover.

I often run into friends while shopping, some of whom I see often, and others of whom I may not have seen in a long time. These interactions remind me that grocery shopping can truly help build community.

But, more important than meeting friends while shopping is crossing over cultural divisions and interacting with people with whom I do not have a personal relationship, namely staff and other shoppers.

During my last trip to Woodman’s, earlier this week, the man who was bagging my groceries greeted me by saying, “Nice to see you. You sure have been coming here for many years.” I told him that I had been shopping there for 32 years, and asked him how long he had been working there. He told me he had worked at Woodman’s for 20 years! I noticed that he had an accent, and in my effort to cross a cultural divide, I asked him where his accent was from. He told me he was from The Gambia, a country in West Africa. That gave me the opportunity to let him know that I host the PanAfrica Radio Show on our local listener sponsored community radio station WORT. He was pleasantly surprised to meet the host of a show that he listens to and enjoys and he promised to listen to my upcoming show Saturday afternoon.

As I was walking out of the grocery store, a shopper who must have overheard my conversation with the bagger asked me if I hosted a show on WORT and when I told her that I did, she told me that her husband was the Treasurer on the Board of Directors. These unanticipated connections reminded me of the value of both interacting with strangers at the grocery store, and the community building ability of community radio.

Perhaps the next time you go to the grocery store, my story will inspire you to have a personal interaction with a shopper or employee whom you do not know, crossing a divide that may help you and that person bring our world a little bit closer together.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Active Shooter

Last week, I attended an active shooter training put on by the Madison police department. The training was sponsored by First Unitarian Society, which also houses my synagogue, Shaarei Shamayim, and a child care center, so they invited staff and board leaders to this training. It is truly sickening that we now live in a world active shooter events have become almost daily occurrences. The school shooting on January 23rd in Kentucky, killing 2 and wounding 18 was the 11th school shooting of the year.

Meanwhile, our federal government does nothing to put an end to this madness and most states have actually made it easier to carry guns, rather than harder. While Americans who are as sickened as I am with the lock grip that the NRA has on our legislators should continue to exercise their political power to change this dynamic, I chose to take this training because I realized that if I was at an active shooter training, I would have absolutely no idea what to do.


Sandy Hook Elementary School Lobby (Connecticut Dept. of Justice)

It is important to keep in mind, that despite the increasing frequency of active shooter events, the chances of actually being involved in one are about the same as getting struck by lightning. Fortunately, that means that most of us will never have to experience the horror of such an event. However, just like we have all learned some basic lessons of what to avoid when a lightning strike takes place, it also makes sense to learn some basic and potentially life saving responses that we can all take if we are in an active shooter situation.

The training was gut wrenching. We listened to the Columbine High School librarian’s 911 call, which included sounds of gunfire, and sadly, a librarian who was not following the instructions of the dispatcher because she was in such a state of panic. While she survived, 11 students in that library were murdered.

However, the training also made me feel safer because I now feel that I have tools that I can use in such an emergency that I never would have thought of before. While some may seem obvious, most of us in the training did not know these basic principles known as A.D.D. (Avoid, Deny, Defend), before the training. While this is no substitute for going through the 2 1/2 hour training, the basic idea is:


  • Always be aware of escape routes, even if it means breaking open a window.
  • Leaving the area is the first priority.
  • Playing dead, hiding and hoping are not successful strategies as they leave you without options if they do not work.


  • Move into a room and lock the door.
  • Barricade access points.
  • Turn off lights and silence phones.
  • Remain quiet and out of sight.
  • Once barricaded, remain in place until rescued.


  • If Avoid and Deny have failed, you must defend yourself.
  • Use improvised weapons (e.g., a sharpie or scissors to the attacker’s eyes) and remember there is strength in numbers to overpower the shooter.
  • Consider attacking at the doorway. The change in lighting and obstacles place in the way may be the best window of opportunity to attack the shooter.

At the end of the training, I realized that it was insufficient for our congregation  that only one board member and I had gone through this training. Fortunately, the Madison Police Department offers these trainings for free and they will return to our synagogue and we will invite all our members in March. In setting up the training with Officer Matthew Magolan, I noticed the following quote at the bottom of his e-mail.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”                                                                                                                           -Theodore Roosevelt “Citizenship In A Republic” speech delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910

That quote made me realize that while I may not be able to save myself or anyone else if I am confronted with an active shooter, I now have tools that will at least allow me to try to save my own life and the life of others. While I have been given no comfort from our feckless government which stands idly by with thoughts and prayers instead of real action to stop these mass shootings, I do take some comfort in knowing that I now believe I will try my best to save myself and others, and even if I fail, I will die knowing that I tried my best.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

Engaging in Difficult Conversations

As Chair of J Street’s Madison Chapter, following is my testimony against Wisconsin bill: AB 553.

J Street is the political home of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans. For the reasons set forth below, while J Street opposes the global BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement, it also opposes legislation like AB 553 that penalizes the BDS movement because such efforts are the wrong way to combat BDS.


J Street has always been and remains opposed to the Global BDS Movement

J Street advocates for a two-state solution and a secure, Jewish and democratic future for Israel. The Global BDS Movement does not support the two-state solution, recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state or distinguish between opposition to the existence of Israel itself and opposition to the occupation of the territory beyond the Green Line. Further, some of the Movement’s supporters and leaders have trafficked in unacceptable anti-Semitic rhetoric. The Movement is not a friend to Israel, nor does its agenda, in our opinion, advance the long-term interests of either the Israeli or Palestinian people.

We do not oppose boycott, divestment, or sanctions initiatives that explicitly support a two-state solution, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and focus only on occupied territory beyond the Green Line

These kinds of initiatives are different than those advocated and initiated by the Global BDS Movement. Unlike AB 553, it is critical to maintain the distinction between boycott and divestment efforts, which work against the interests of Israel, and initiatives, which are limited to opposing the occupation.

There is a fundamental distinction between the state of Israel and the territory that it controls over the Green Line, and that distinction must be maintained

J Street believes it is vital for the future of Israel that this distinction be maintained, and clarified wherever it is now obscured. AB 553 specifically treats the occupied territories the same as Israel proper, failing to recognize that the occupation violates international law and interferes with prospects for peace and a two state solution. Funds contributed to the settlement movement help perpetuate the occupation and blur the distinction between democratic Israel and the occupied territory beyond the Green Line.

Since 1967, the United States government has clearly insisted that the settlement enterprise in occupied territory is illegitimate and counterproductive to Israel’s interests and the cause of regional peace and stability.

J Street opposes legislative efforts at the state and federal level, such as AB 553, which blur the distinction between Israel and the territory it controls over the Green Line, and thus act to contravene that longstanding policy.

The Global BDS Movement can only be successfully opposed with a genuine commitment to ending the occupation and achieving a two-state solution

Opposition to the Global BDS Movement that refuses to countenance any criticism of the occupation or of Israeli policy will never succeed in winning over any Movement supporters, and will only drive more and more frustrated and concerned people into their camp. It is precisely the wrong approach, and it is having a devastatingly counter-productive effect, especially on campus.

For all these reasons, J Street is opposed to legislative attempts to penalize or criminalize BDS activities because they are the wrong way to combat the BDS Movement.

J Street is opposed to federal and state legislation, like AB 553, that would penalize BDS supporters or impose BDS-related litmus tests on individuals and organizations. This type of misguided legislative overreach is the wrong way to fight BDS. In fact, it actually empowers the BDS Movement. This legislation violates constitutional free speech protections, and is fundamentally inconsistent with our democratic principles as Americans and as Jews. J Street urges lawmakers to engage Americans who are sympathetic to BDS in serious and open conversation and debate, rather than seeking to silence them by aggressively penalizing their actions and positions.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.

The Kindness of Strangers

Although we live in a world that can feel terrifying more often than we would like, sometimes it is the kindness of strangers that reminds us that on balance, most people are truly kind and helpful. I am in the middle of a two week family trip in Mexico. We spent the first part of the trip with my wife’s family in Nuevo Vallarta. That gathering ended on December 31st. But, we extended our stay in Mexico because my cousin Beatriz is getting married in her home town, Los Mochis, Sinaloa, on January 6th. While we would have flown from Puerto Vallarta to Los Mochis on December 31st, there were no flights available.

This left us with the challenge of finding a place to stay in the Puerto Vallarta area for one night on New Year’s Eve, which turned out to be very challenging. Since it is peak season, like just about everywhere else, the place we stayed with my wife’s family was booked solid. So, I decided to try Airbnb, which also proved challenging, as during peak season, most places required a minimum of more than one night stay. After a lot of searching, I finally found a place, but the hostess cancelled on us due to a family emergency, so I had to renew my search, and by that time the options were few and far between.

I finally found a small place in a village, San José del Valle, a half an hour from Puerto Vallarta. Since it was just for one night, I assumed it would be sufficient for our needs. We took a taxi there, and the village is remote enough that the taxi driver was not confident he could find it, so he called the owner and with her help on the phone while he was driving he was able to find it. Given the small size of the town, I was concerned that we might have a hard time getting a taxi to the airport the next day, so I asked the driver if he would pick us up at noon, and he agreed. He even gave me his phone number just to be sure.

The Airbnb hostess told us that if we needed any help, we should ask the next door neighbor Noe. Given the small size of the town, it was not immediately obvious where we might find a decent dinner. So, after we unpacked, I found Noe hanging out with his friend Hector and I asked them if they had any suggestions for dinner. I relied on my less than fluent Spanish, as they spoke virtually no English. They told me that there were no restaurants within walking distance, but they could take us to a good seafood restaurant when we were ready.

Although my wife and son were somewhat reticent to have strangers take us to an unknown location for dinner, they realized that our other options were pretty much non-existent, so they agreed to go with them. Although I saw a car in Noe’s driveway and assumed they would drive us, it must not have been in working order, as when it was time for dinner, we all started walking to the main road. When a mini-bus pulled over, Noe and Hector told us to get in and then we all travelled 2 more towns down the road until they told us to get off. They paid our fares and then we walked across the street to a seafood restaurant, which turned out to be fantastic. Of course, we bought them dinner and we got to know each other better. After we finished, we noticed that the restaurant had a foosball table and we had a lot of fun in friendly competition.


We asked Noe and Hector if they knew where we could buy some eggs to cook for breakfast, so when we returned, they told us to get off the minibus at the closest grocery store to the Airbnb. After we bought a few things for breakfast, we all walked back and said good night.

The Mexican music that permeated the atmosphere all night seeped through the walls and lulled us to sleep. The next morning, I discovered that our Airbnb was even more primitive than I thought as there was no hot water, so we just took quick chilly showers and after breakfast, we relaxed and packed our luggage for the trip to the airport. Just to be sure, I called and sent text messages to the driver who had agreed to pick us up at noon. He did not respond, which caused me some concern, but I also didn’t want to give up on him because if he honored his word, and we left before he arrived he would have driven to this small town for nothing.

But, noon came and went, and by 12:10, we determined that we had to look elsewhere, so we tried to get an Uber. Despite numerous attempts, however, no Ubers were available and we now started to fear that we would miss our flight. I knocked on Noe’s door and asked if he had any suggestions. He told me it is difficult to get a taxi in his small town, but he agreed to walk out to the main road to see if he could find one. While I appreciated his effort, it offered me no assurance that he would find a taxi in time.

Since I am a solution minded person who never gives up, I looked around the neighborhood, and noticed a house a few doors down with a car that seemed big enough for my family and our luggage, so I knocked on their door. A woman answered and I once again relied on my Spanish to explain our situation and asked her if there was any chance she could drive us to the airport. I assured her we would pay her. She asked me to wait a minute, after which she told me that her daughter would take us but needed 20 minutes to get ready. As it was now 12:30 and we calculated that we need to leave by 12:45 to get to the airport in time, I pleaded with her to ask her daughter to get ready as fast as she could. She agreed to do so.

We brought our luggage over to their car and loaded it in the back while we waited for her daughter to freshen up after a night of New Year’s Eve festivities. Her mother joined us for the ride, and both of them, Alondra and Laura, were gracious and kind and very happy to help us on our way to make sure we got to our cousin’s wedding. They allowed me to take this lovely picture of them when they dropped us off at the airport.


What could have been a disaster turned into an experience that restored my family’s faith in humanity. We will never forget Noe, Hector, Laura and Alondra. They are a reminder that most people are generous and kind and will help strangers in need. The challenge, of course, is to turn the kindness of strangers into public policy. The struggle to do that continues.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


When I was a child, I had very little physical endurance. It was extremely difficult for me to swim across the public pool without getting winded and running further than 50 yards posed a huge challenge. Eventually, with a lot of practice, and good swim instruction, I learned how to swim long distances and eventually earned my life saving and water safety instructor certificates.

Running even a moderate distance posed an even bigger challenge for me. Since I was not athletically gifted, it was a big deal to me to try to earn a Presidential 50th percentile patch back in 6th grade which I missed in 5th grade because my time in the 600 yard run was too slow. As it turned out, I was sick on the day my gym class ran the 600 yard race, but my gym teacher allowed me to run it when I returned, along with a girl who had also missed the race due to illness. Since she was not particularly fast, I was really worried that running with her alone would not set a pace fast enough for me to earn my 50th percentile patch, so I asked my very fast friend, Mike, if he would be willing to run ahead of me and pace me. He agreed, and the gym teacher had no problem with Mike setting the pace for us. Sure enough, Mike’s speed and my determination to do my best to keep up with him enabled me to run fast enough to earn my 50th percentile patch. I was overjoyed!

As a young adult, I developed arthritis and started swimming regularly as it was a very good exercise that did not cause problems for my joints. Initially, I just did the breast stroke since my endurance was still not very good, but I learned that if I slowly added in the crawl, first 1 in 10 laps, than 2 in 10, eventually doing predominantly crawl, though continuing a mix of strokes to vary my exercise, I was eventually able to swim a mile without difficulty.

When I reached my late 40s, since I was also an avid bike commuter, many friends suggested that I try a triathlon. My initial response was that I could not run long distance so it was out of the question. But, at some point, that response rang hollow, as I was playing ultimate frisbee with much younger people, and that involves a lot of running. I discovered that there was a triathlon distance known as a “sprint” that was only a 5 km run, which seemed remotely possible, even though I had never run longer than a mile, and had not run a mile since 10th grade gym when I had to do so.

I vividly recall my first 5K training run. I had measured the distance in my neighborhood and had a nice route mapped out. I set out from my  house and within a few hundred feet, I was already huffing and puffing and wondering if I would be able to run the whole distance. Fortunately, another part of my brain responded by reminding myself that it did not matter how fast I ran, and even if I had to walk some of the distance, I should keep on going. Sure enough, I was able to complete that training run and compete in my first triathlon on Father’s Day of that year. After 3 years of competing in sprint triathlons, I pushed myself to an Olympic length triathlon (1.5K swim, 40K bike, 10K run) which I did for 2 years before deciding that I had accomplished my goal of proving to myself I could run, but since I still did not like running very much, I could give myself a break and just spend more time on my bike which I enjoyed more.

I have been thinking a lot about endurance lately. Initially, my thoughts were personal related to my spending a week with my wife’s family in Puerto Vallarta and enjoying sunrise open water swims of about a half an hour in the ocean each morning. Today, I must have worried a nearby fishing boat who pulled up to me and asked if I was ok. I told them I was fine, although it turned out that the current must have pushed me out further than usual, and my 30 minute swim stretched into 40 minutes.


However, there are also systemic reasons for thinking about endurance. Since I do a lot of education advocacy, I have read a lot about one of the big school reform topics known as resilienceThe concept is to support children who have suffered one or more traumas in order that they can be resilient and overcome their trauma in order to succeed.

While there is nothing wrong with appreciating resilience and to the extent possible, teaching children to become resilient, the problem with such an approach is that the ability to be resilient is not inherent in everyone. Expecting that all children (or even adults who suffer trauma) should be expected to become resilient, despite the many traumas they may have suffered, and lack of support they may have at home and in the community is simply unrealistic.

In reflecting on my efforts to increase my own endurance, it dawned upon me that a better education policy would be to train children (and adults) to increase their ability to endure challenges, as over the long haul, resilience presumes that one should be able to overcome trauma and worse yet, may be a failure if one cannot overcome the trauma. Yet, like my experience with long distance running and swimming, though my body is not designed to run or swim quickly, in focusing on improving my endurance, I have been able to steadily increase the distances than I can swim and run.

Since the November 2016 election, many of us who abhor the daily traumas foisted upon our nation and the world by the current administration, need to focus on improving our endurance to stay involved in public policy despite the ongoing nightmares emerging from our nation’s capitol. It is not easy, but nothing that requires endurance is easy. However, through focus, dedication and support of friends, family and community, we can all improve our endurance to emerge from the nightmare that our current President and his minions have created in order to return to a better world where we focus on supporting each other instead of tearing others down.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.


Othering & Belonging

Last Sunday, my synagogue, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim held the 3rd in a series of Adult Education programs featuring members of both our synagogue and the wider Madison Jewish community who led discussions on inclusion of various parts of our community. The first session focused on people with disabilities, the second focused on transgender members of our community, and the most recent session focused on racial and ethnic diversity and was facilitated by Shahanna McKinney-Baldon. Shahana led a very rich discussion based on her experience as a Jewish woman of color.


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Shahana introduced many ideas, including the fact that a majority of Jews are people of color. She also briefly touched on the body of work known as Othering & Belonging which is sponsored by the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California-Berkeley. As Shahana did not have time to discuss this in detail, she encouraged us to research it further for ourselves and upon doing so, the work compelled me to share what I learned with my readers.

The Othering & Belonging web site contains many articles as well as information about its conferences. In an article entitled, The Problem of Othering: Towards Inclusiveness and Belongingauthors John A. Powell and Stephanie Menedian make a compelling case that:

The problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of “othering.” In a world beset by seemingly intractable and overwhelming challenges, virtually every global, national, and regional conflict is wrapped within or organized around one or more dimension of group-based difference. Othering undergirds territorial disputes, sectarian violence, military conflict, the spread of disease, hunger and food insecurity, and even climate change.

They define “othering” as:

a set of dynamics, processes, and structures that engender marginality and persistent inequality across any of the full range of human differences based on group identities. Dimensions of othering include, but are not limited to, religion, sex, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status (class), disability, sexual orientation, and skin tone.

They conclude by identifying:

belonging and inclusion as the only sustainable solution to the problem of othering. As dispiriting as world events may seem, humanity has made tremendous progress toward tolerance, inclusion, and equality. We live in a period of dramatic social change and unprecedented openness in human history. Whether we continue to march toward a more inclusive society while taming our “baser impulses and steadying our fears” depends on us.

Of course saying that we want to move away from “othering” and towards “belonging” and actually doing so are two different things. That is why although my synagogue’s tag line is, “inclusive Jewish community,” and our membership includes Jews of color, people with disabilities, people who identify as LGBTQ+ community, and a majority of couples who are from intermarried religious backgrounds, simply putting that on our website and proclaiming it is not enough. That is why we sponsored these diverse inclusive adult education programs and continue to do the hard work required to put our lofty thoughts into action.

As the Othering & Belonging conference web site states:

Belonging means more than just being seen. Belonging means being able to participate in the design of political, social, and cultural structures. Belonging means the right to contribute and make demands upon society and institutions.

Thus, it is helpful for each of us to examine our actions and determine if we are engaging in othering or truly making our best efforts towards ensuring that those who may be outside looking in are welcomed to fully participate and belong. This requires actively welcoming and listening to people who come from different backgrounds than us. It further demands that we examine our own actions and inactions and challenge those whose actions push difference outside by othering and actively support those who truly welcome full participation in all societal structures in true belonging. None of us do this perfectly, so all of us can improve and change the entrenched systems of othering into naturally welcoming systems of belonging.


For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.