The Suicide Plan

Friday, November 9, 2012
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1 Guest: A Conversation with Rabbi Harold Kushner

By Azita Ghahramani   |   Thursday, June 14, 2012
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Our summer 1 Guest series, where Emily Rooney spends the entire show with one individual with a story to tell, and a vision to share, continues with a conversation with Rabbi Harold Kushner.
June 19, 2012
As a young rabbi, Harold Kushner often grappled with how to console grieving members of his congregation. Then his firstborn son, Aaron, was diagnosed with progeria, a disease that prematurely ages a child. With a limited lifespan, each milestone Kushner and his wife Suzette celebrated with Aaron also meant a milestone closer to the boy's inevitable and untimely death. 
After Aaron died in 1977, just after turning 14, Kushner used his own grief to answer some fundamental questions. Why do some people who have lived according to all the principles of goodness, still have to suffer through pain? His first book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," tackled those questions and touched a nerve, becoming a bestseller. 
Kushner's personal tragedy transformed how he dealt with congregants. "I'm embarrassed now to remember some of the things I said in those first few years. That changed right after Aaron was diagnosed with the disease," he said.
At first, he tried to tell himself what he had said to congregants — parents whose sons died in their teens, people whose loved ones had been killed in accidents. He would tell the bereaved that their loss was part of God's plans — plans that were not for them to understand.
His own tragedy thrust him into a crisis questioning how he could continue to be a rabbi, and whether or not he believed in a God who would inflict this kind of pain on good people.
"God is on our side, not on the side of the illness" or the tragedy, he now tells his readers. "Homeowners insurance doesn't prevent your house from catching fire. It ensures that if that should happen, you'll have the resources to rebuild it. Life insurance policies don't keep you from dying. They make sure that should something happen to you, your family will be able to go on."
And so, he said, a belief in God and religious faith should act the same way; giving people the resilience they need to protect against breaking when misfortune strikes.
He also has come to believe it's important to overcome the belief that God makes everything happen for a reason. Kushner often referred to the 23rd Psalm during funerals and memorial services. To him, the psalm represented God's presence at his side during difficult times: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
Kushner said when he originally started claiming God doesn't control everything, he was treated like a heretic. But now, he said, it's become an acceptable notion. "We have confused God with Santa Claus," Kushner said. "We think the role of religion is to persuade God that we have been good girls and boys, and therefore He ought to give us everything on our wish list. That is Santa Claus. That's not God. God's role is to give us a sense of what is right, and to give us the strength and purpose to do it, and to sustain us when things don't work out for us."
But to Kushner one of the best lessons on how to live life comes through the book of Ecclesiastes: "Life is unpredictable. Find joy where you can," is what Kushner took from the book. "Enjoy life with a person you love. Let your clothes always be freshly laundered. Eat your food in gladness, and drink wine in joy. Because that's really the payoff for being alive."
Now 35 years have passed since Aaron's life and death transformed Kushner's outlook on life. Kushner was grateful to have emerged with his faith intact. Still — "Would I have rather had a normal child, and ended up being a mediocre rabbi who never had a book published in his life?" he asked.
"Yes," he concluded, "I would go for that in a moment."

Presentation School Opens to Community

By Toni Waterman   |   Thursday, May 17, 2012
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May 17, 2012
BRIGHTON, Mass. — For the first time in 6 years, children’s music filled the hallways of the Our Lady of the Presentation School in Brighton as a young man on a guitar sang “The Wheels on the Bus” to a group of babies.
It’s a stark contrast to what took place here in June 2005, when the Boston Archdiocese locked students out of the building 2 days before graduation. The community was outraged. Parents, students and neighbors vehemently protested outside the school, some pitching tents on a tiny patch of lawn across the street in Oak Square.
What to do with an empty school?
While the lockout came as a shock, the closure did not. The year before, the archdiocese announced it was closing some of its parochial schools as part of a cost-savings measure. At the time, there was wide speculation that it was diverting costs to help pay the legal fees associated with the church sex abuse scandal.
When the school shuttered, a group of parents and community activists banded together, forming the Presentation School Foundation, and petitioned the archdiocese to keep the school open. They were denied. So they decided to buy it. After 16 months of negotiations, the foundation bought the building in 2007 for $1 million — half the property’s value at the time.
Then 2008 hit, the economy tanked and fundraising flopped. Still, foundation volunteers like Kevin Carragee managed to raise $4.2 million in the midst of an economic collapse.
“There were severe doubts all along the way and we’ve had more lives than the nine lives of a cat,” said Carragee. “We had moments where we were very close to organizational death.”
A dramatic turnaround
When Greater Boston visited the school in 2010, it was a real do-or-die moment for the foundation. The loans on the property were in default, there was a $750,000 fundraising gap and the building was in shambles: white paint peeling in large swaths from the ceiling, plaster crumbling off the walls and water pooling in the dark and dingy basement.
Two years later, nearly everything has been painstakingly restored to its 1920s glory with a modern-day touch. The windows are energy-efficient, the Spanish-tiled roof a composite replica and the original hardwood floors refinished and gleaming.
Old classrooms are now home to nonprofits including an affordable daycare, St. Elizabeth’s WIC program and a transportation service for the elderly.
“Also, we have community spaces in the building where local groups like the garden club, the Little League, the Girl Scouts will use that will forge a sense of community and keep people in the neighborhood,” said Carragee.
The Presentation loyalists
People like Stephen Ashcraft, who first came to the school as a kindergartener in 1964 and has been here ever since.
“This was a David versus Goliath story — and David won. It’s social justice,” said Ashcraft.
Heartbroken when the school shuttered, he has been doing his small part to keep the building going, cutting the lawn and plowing the snow pro bono for the past 8 years.
“We’re going to get our reward now because the building is complete. That’s our reward — for the community,” said Ashcraft.
Nancy DeRosa’s two daughters were students at the school. She said her youngest daughter was going to celebrate her fifth birthday, cupcakes and all, on the day DeRosa got the call that the doors to the school were locked. The entire family was devastated.
Now her daughters are helping with the grand reopening.
“They’re volunteering their time and looking forward to the educational opportunities that may still be in that building for them,” said DeRosa.
Presentation and the public
The entire project has been a true community effort. Residents and local businesses donated $325,000, the City of Boston gave $501,000 and New Balance gave a whopping $550,000 to the project.
As for those children locked out in 2005, some are in college now. Kevin Carragee hoped they would be inspired by this grassroots success.
“Our hope is that they learn from this and they become active in civic and community life,” said Carragee. “There’s a tremendous sense among the kids … that this was a special time, special people, special thing”
To celebrate, the foundation is throwing a party on Friday, May 18 from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. The event is open to the public.

The Church Protests A Federal Birth Control Mandate

By Adam Reilly   |   Thursday, February 9, 2012
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Feb. 8, 2012

BOSTON —  The Catholic Church and the Obama Administration are squaring off over a rule that could force Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for contraception.
"Our Catholic institutions that serve this nation well are being told: You who find these things offensive should pay for them. In fact you must pay for them," said Bishop Donald Wuehrl.
It’s an issue that raises questions about the limits of religious liberty – and it’s becoming a flashpoint in the presidential race, with Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich all speaking out against it.
Catholic doctrine condemns birth control. Critics said the new rule is a direct assault on religious liberty.
The Rev. J. Bryan Hehir is the Boston archdiocese's secretary for health care and social services and a former head of Catholic Charities USA. He told WGBH News that in order for religious nonprofits to work well, their core values need to be respected. 
"How do you cooperate with a nonprofit that has defined value commitments, defined religious commitments? And the First Amendment style of the United States has been to provide space within which institutions can function and maintain their identity," he said. "The institutions need to be able to hold on to their identity or else they're not going to be able to play a major role."
But White House spokesman Jay Carney insisted the rule strikes an appropriate balance between the needs of religious believers and the needs of women.
"Churches, houses of worship are exempted from this policy. Those institutions where women of all faiths work need to have the same kind of coverage that other American women have," he said.
The White House also said it wouldwork to address religious groups' concerns before the rule takes effect next year. 

LOUUUUUUKing Forward To The Red Sox Season

By Frannie Carr   |   Thursday, January 19, 2012
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Jan. 20, 2012

kevin youkilis

Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis waits for the season when he can once again wait at first. (Keith Allison/Flickr)

BOSTON — With the question of whether the Patriots make the Super Bowl resting on the result of this weekend’s high-stakes match-up against the Baltimore Ravens, the local sports news is pretty much all football, all the time. But baseball fans know that it's just a month until pitchers and catchers report to spring training — and veteran Red Sox infielder Kevin Youkilis is thinking ahead.
True, he acknowledges, "It was definitely a shock with a lot of the things that transpired in September, all different kinds of things that were happening," Youkilis said on Jan. 19.
He could be referring to a number of “things."
Could it be that the team, considered in the early summer to be the best in the majors, failed to win even one-third of its games in September?
Or the revelations that players were drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the dugout during games?
No: “Youk” said that for him, the most upsetting “thing” was the end of manager Terry “Tito” Francona.

kevin youkilis
(Keith Allison/Flickr)

"Tito’s the only manager I’d ever played for in the major league, so I don’t know any new manager or how to handle it," he said.
Still, Youkilis said he’s optimistic about his new boss, Bobby Valentine.
"Managers just want you to play the game the right way," he said. "You all have your different personalities on your team and not everyone’s going to be best friends with everyone, but you have to respect each other and play the game right — and I think that’s the biggest thing going in. As long as you play hard and with control, I think it’s going to be great with myself and with Bobby."
Despite this player's rosy outlook, and despite the many weeks to go before Opening Day, some observers have already counted the Sox right out.
That didn't bother Youk at all.
"People are still saying we’re not good enough. And we kind of like that. We kind of like that ability to say — You know what? We’ll prove you wrong. We’re going to win."
In the meantime… go Pats.

Hear more from Youk, including his thoughts on his charity Youk's Kids, on "The Emily Rooney Show."

Religion In The 2012 Race

By Bob Seay   |   Thursday, January 5, 2012
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Jan. 6, 2012 

BOSTON — New Hampshire is not Iowa, and perhaps no other issue reflects their differences than the role of religion in politics. Social conservatives are credited with helping Rick Santorum surge in Iowa and they're standing by to help him again in South Carolina.

But in between is New Hampshire and the Dec. 10 primary. While Mitt Romney may get a one-week reprieve from facing a religious voting block, his Mormon faith is something he's been forced to address, as he did in this 2007 speech.
"When I place my hand on the Bible, and take the oath of office. That oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I’m fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States," he said.

That was then. "This time you can't get a quote out of the Romney campaign about religion. They don't want to deal with it," said professor Mark Silk, who studies the role of faith in politics.
During the last presidential race, Silk said, Romney met with evangelicals and "asserted that like them he accepted Jesus as his lord and savior. It didn't work." That's in part because evangelical Christians consider their religion to be very different from Mormonism. "When you claim to be like them, that gets their hackles up."
So it might not be a bad strategy for Romney to steer clear, Silk said — if he can keep from being forced to address the issue. 

More videos on religion in politics:

Candidate Rick Santorum, favored by evangelical Christians, rang notes of faith in his speech the night of the Iowa caucus.  

John F. Kennedy gave the grandaddy speech on faith during his presidential run in 1960:

About the Authors
Adam Reilly Adam Reilly
Adam Reilly is a political reporter and associate producer for WGBH's Greater Boston.
Bob Seay Bob Seay
Bob Seay is the host of NPR's Morning Edition on 89.7FM WGBH Radio. He got his start in radio during college at WMUH, got involved with WGBH TV while in graduate school at Boston University and formerly hosted ME at WRNI in Rhode Island.


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