Rosh Hashanah exclusive: Hot off the press

1. At sunset, tonight [September 24, 2014 on the solar calendar] the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah began.

2. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the new year 5775.

3. According to Wikipedia tonight “is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of humanity’s role in God‘s world.”

Lucas Cranach (1509-1533) painted this one of his many versions of Adam and Eve.
Lucas Cranach (1509-1533) painted this one of his many versions of Adam and Eve.

3. Here is The Jewish Publication Society’s translation from the book of Genesis. “And God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They [sic] shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth. And God created man in His image, in the image of God He created them; male and female. He created them. God blessed them and God said to them, ‘Be fertile and increase, fill the earth and master it; and rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and all the living things that creep on earth.'” The creation of Adam and Eve took place on Friday, the sixth day of creation.

4. “Chabad, also known as Habad, Lubavitch, and Chabad-Lubavitch, is an Orthodox Jewish, Hasidic movement,” explains Wikipedia. According to Chabad, whose Orthodox movement inspired the first eight years of my elementary school education: “Rosh Hashanah…emphasizes the special relationship between G‑d and humanity: our dependence upon G‑d as our creator and sustainer, and G‑d’s dependence upon us as the ones who make His presence known and felt in His world. Each year on Rosh Hashanah, ‘all inhabitants of the world pass before G‑d like a flock of sheep,’ and it is decreed in the heavenly court ‘who shall live, and who shall die . . . who shall be impoverished, and who shall be enriched; who shall fall and who shall rise.’ But this is also the day we proclaim G‑d King of the Universe. The Kabbalists teach that the continued existence of the universe is dependent upon the renewal of the divine desire for a world when we accept G‑d’s kingship each year on Rosh Hashanah.”


5. A note on the spelling of God’s name. When I was a student at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Miami, (when founding Rabbi Alexander S. Gross was principal), I wrote God’s name thusly, “G-d.” To be more precise, I followed standard practice of altering the spelling of God’s name in Hebrew. The teaching was in keeping with the Commandment not to take the Lord’s name in vain. One did not say the name correctly or spell it out in English or Hebrew.

6. Subsequently, I became a member of Conservative and Reform synagogues where observance is not taken as literally as my elementary schooling.

Rabbi David Ostrich
Rabbi David Ostrich

7. I am currently a member of State College PA’s Brit Shalom, a congregation that combines Conservative and Reform practice. My rabbi is David Ostrich, a wonderful man.

8. Rabbi Ostrich has just written a special prayer-book for Rosh Hashanah and the High Holidays. It is called the machzor.

9. Wikipedia: “The mahzor…is the prayer book used by Jews on the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur….The prayer-book is a specialized form of the siddur, which is generally intended for use in weekday and Shabbat services.The word mahzor means ‘cycle’ (the root …  means ‘to return’). It is applied to the festival prayer book because the festivals recur annually.”

10. Brit Shalom exclusive: Rabbi Ostrich’s mahzor has just been published this Rosh Hashana.

11. Here is a section  Rabbi Ostrich emailed me yesterday from the mahzor:


“As much as we are masters of our own fates—making decisions and living with the consequences, there are also times when greater powers toss us around like small boats on a stormy sea.

“Whether the “storm” is caused deliberately by God—as a punishment or a test—or by the vagaries of the natural world, we find ourselves victims or objects of the slings and arrows of fortune. Are events pre-determined, or do we have free will?

“This ominous prayer, Un’taneh Tokef, has for some 1500 years represented our people’s grappling with this question.

“We know that many of our decisions make a difference, but we also know that greater powers impact our lives in significant ways.

“We pray that the greatest of powers eases our way and makes our challenges manageable, and we pray that the decisions we make will be good ones.”

A live recording from the Vocalise Festival on November 23, 2010 in Potsdam, Germany.
Cantor Azi Schwartz and the RIAS Kammerchor, conducted by Ud Joffe. This setting of Un’tane Tokef (from the High Holy Days liturgy) by Raymond Goldstein.



I Joel wish you my readers a sweet and happy New Year. May you be recorded in the Book of Life.

–Joel aka  יואל





Truly good news: Out of the jaws of death AGAIN, plus Gloria Steinem and Feminism

  1. Truly good news concluding this season’s cancer scare.
  2. Dislike of purple prose such as “out of the jaws of death.”
  3. How Gloria Steinem, the feminist movement, and bra burning entered Dr. Imran Siddiqui’s operation room at the basement of Geisinger’ s Grey’s Woods facility, Greater State College, PA.
  4. What’s next?
Wheel chair lift enables me to ride to outpatient surgery.
Wheel chair lift enables me to ride to outpatient surgery.

Truly good news explained.

Summary: No fourth cancer; plus kidney cancer will not affect my lifespan. I will die eventually, but not from this season’s scare. Who knows? I may live to be 100.

Earlier this year, I found a small lump just below the skin on my belly close to my rib cage. On my medical chart, my belly is called “abdominal wall.”

After months of procrastination when the lump became larger and changed texture, I finally saw Dr. Imran Siddiqui at the Geisinger Medical Center’s Grey’s Woods. The facility is a beautiful 20 minute ride away from Addison Court where I have an apartment. The building houses 90 elderly and disabled low-income elderly and disabled residents and an excellent Indian restaurant.

Whether the lump was simply fat or a tumor only surgery would determine. Webster’s defines tumor as “a mass of tissue found in or on the body that is made up of abnormal cells.”

This is Dr. Siddiqui:


Despite counsel from friends not to worry until I knew there was something worth worrying about, I worried. Since age 28 I have had biopsies for three tumors; two of which turned out to be cancer. If this turned out to be cancer, it would be my fourth (Cancer IV).

At a biopsy at his office, Dr. Siddiqui inserted a needle and other impedimenta into the tumor and removed a considerable quantity of cells. The next step: Send the bag of cells to a pathologist who then looked at slides prepared from it under a microscope.

The pathologist’s job was to determine whether I had cancer. Given the location of the tumor, it could be one of any number of kinds of cancer. Then would  follow  more tests and determination on treatment.

Upon my characteristic questioning, Imran (occasionally I called him by his first name) predicted there was a 50 percent chance of it being cancer. That is high. In the past, two previous cancerous tumors were predicted to be less than 10 percent malignant—putting me on the wrong side of the odds.

The waiting period was difficult. The specimens were sent by currier (whether Federal Express or postal service I have not yet found out) to Geisinger Medical Center headquarters in Danville, PA, 71 miles away.

The pathologist at Danville who made the determination is Dr. R. Patrick Dorion:


Dr. Dorion sent his report to Dr. Siddiqui and to another physician whom you will meet shortly. Impatient for the results, I called and called again. One nurse read out the pathologist’s report saying the sample taken was not cancerous. She assured me I had escaped Cancer IV.

Alas, the good news was premature. When I returned to Dr. Siddiqui cheerful for the routine removal of stitches for Biopsy I, Dr. Siddiqui explained, the pathologist meant the sample is not sufficient. Remove the entire tumor. Ergo more surgery. More intense surgery. I hate surgery.

At which point the urge was strong to utter each of George Carlin’s 7 words too obscene to be broadcast on network television.

I had the surprisingly good sense not to say the words at the tip of my tongue. Some good fairy hovered over me reminding of past incidents where poor impulse control resulted in disaster.




I should point out my high praise for Geisinger Medical Center. Plus my praise for the uniformly excellent physicians (one of whom literally saved my life), nurses, and staff.

I will delay considerable Geisinger praise earned until I pass the cooling off point and resume this not yet completed posting.

My haste is a consequence of a phone call I received last night from a good friend Bonnie Finkelstein returning to Philadelphia after reading my “ordeal” while vacationing with her family (including two grandchildren) in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina . She had read the previous posting describing the operation and was eager to learn the outcome.

“I was afraid to call,” she said, “because I thought it might be bad news.” Out of consideration for readers concerned I am at death’s door, I have decided to pause this all too brief recitation to reassure. I am OK.


Coming next to this posting will be still more on the as yet uncompleted recitation of my cancer experience for those of you who have not had enough.

Also, I am eager to tell you about how Gloria Steinem entered the operating room. Not to push fast forward too much, there I was literally under the knife.

Dr. Siddiqui said, “You’re a writer. Tell us as story.” I told him about how Gloria Steinem tap danced on television (an obsession at the time which I will explain later). The story was frequently interrupted by my requests for more Novocaine-like injections.

Dr. Siddiqui had never heard of Gloria Steinem nor had three of the four nurses attending. That of course led to an explanation of the feminist movement which, in due course, will be followed up by my convincing Imran to become a card-carrying member of the National Organization for Women.

For the time being, I close with a video of the woman I most admire in the feminist movement.


[This space left deliberately blank.]


Copyright © 2014 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


“If anybody is lost, please raise their hand.”

Kris Kristoferson

The story of how Kris Kristofferson came to write this song. With Willie Nelson and other notables, they sing the first stanza.

Complete version with lyrics

Home following surgery

Dr. Imran Sidddiqui successfully removed my small tumor in his large operating theater surrounded by four nurses.

The pain was minimal after the local was administered. Getting pain relief sometimes seemed more painful that the reflief. Finally, he poured so much into me that I will be numb until next Tuesday.

It took ten minutes maybe 15.

Getting the necessary surgery involved over two solid days of work on my part.

The surgery would not have taken place without an adult. My friend Sally Kolesar is an adult and had a driver’s license to prove it.

It was an all day event. Sally, my scooter, and I boarded CATA Ride’s para transit bus at 10:15 AM. We arrived from Downtown to Gusinger’s Grey’s woods facility in time for preliminary tests and were at the operating room basement center by 11:30 as requested.

I was shown to my room, undressed, put on a hospital gown, failed the first attempt to insert an IV. Sally was excluded to the waiting area. The surgeon was three hours late. I slept.

My Joanna recommended a strategy for dealing with pain afterward. I communicated it to Dr. Siddiquie prescribed what Joanna recommended.

He also arranged for Medicare paid home nursing for tomorrow and Friday.

The CATA bus returned Sally, my scooter, and me to Downtown State College at 5 pm.

After the pathologist in Danville, the capital of the Geisinger Kingdom looks at the prepared slides from my tumor, he will decide whether or not I have cancer.

I will find out by the end of the day Monday.

Good night and good luck.



Premature good news: Woops

The question of whether the tumor in my belly is cancerous or not has not been resolved despite what seemed a clear resolution yesterday.

Yes, the Pathologist R. Patrick Dorion, at Geisinger Headquarters in Danville, PA, concluded the samples from my belly (“abdominal wall”) tumor were not cancerous.

Yesterday, the no-cancer-diagnosis seemed clear when read, re-reread and upon my repeated questioning meant: No cancer.

The brief report (or its summary) not intended to be disclosed to me yesterday, did not say more surgery is required.

Today, my physician provided an expert appraisal of Dr. Dorion’s conclusion. More intense surgery is required.

Despite scheduling problems, upon my insistence the surgery takes place next week.

I have an appointment for 2 pm Wednesday August 6th. Regulations require I bring an adult with me or else it will not take place.

More unpleasantness is in store. Whether I know anything definitive or even coming close to definitive by a week from today is unclear.

Please forgive my reassurance and optimism.


Copyright © 2014 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


Able at last to stop

And recall the days it took

To get them here, they sit on the porch in rockers

Letting the faded light

Of afternoon carry them off

–From ”Old People on the Nursing Home Porch” by Mark Strand


Pathologist delivers good news

After six days of worrying, the news is good. The tumor removed last Friday is not cancerous.

After a brief euphoric period, I promptly began making up for lost sleep.

What advice is useful and how do I decide how to use it?

Purchasing a kite
Purchasing a kite

My daughter Amelia calls over Skype from her apartment in rural Spain next to the Portuguese border. She is 23. “Look at this,” she says. The webcam displays a bandaged leg, a sprain resulting from playing rugby.

Amelia was born two months early in the D.C. hospital where President Ronald Reagan had been treated for gunshot wounds. Fortunately, Amelia was the second fattest baby in the preemie ward, first lying in her incubator between breast feeding, then one night forgetting to breathe.

[The librarian at the National Press Club helped me look up “sleep apnea” on the New York Times database; the Internet had not yet emerged for popular use.]

The apnea meant that upon hospital discharge for nearly a year Amelia was attached to a heart monitor, a bulky contraption that stopped her mother’s heart and mine whenever a false alarm went off as it did with some regularity.

Last year, I told Amelia I had finally forgiven her for being born early. I am not sure it is true. I am not sure whether I am joking when I say this. Certainly, I will never forget the fear at the time. Did I require advice for the fear? Would I have known what to do with good advice if offered?

There is strong sense of relief I feel now knowing my once premature baby plays rugby. Naturally, there is a part of me that wants to say after the fact, “You idiot don’t you know you can get hurt playing rugby?”


Amelia appears at the end of a video (no longer available) about her roller derby team.


Caution requires I abandon the pretense of spontaneity and nonchalance intended (or more accurately not-intended) to characterize these waiting –for-the-pathologist postings in recognition of a higher power. Sibling rivalry. I expect God created sibling rivalry on the Sixth Day of Creation (Friday), but I wish he had not done so.

Readers to this blog cannot help but notice a photograph of my elder daughter Joanna in her mother’s beautiful wedding dress. [Both my oncologist and psychiatrist attended my wedding to Diana.]

In October, I gave Joanna away in marriage to Jade Phillips riding her down the aisle in the power chair I had rented for the occasion.


The rules require I mention Joanna first before writing about her sister—rules established to provide harmony which each of my daughters break with impunity. Amelia, for example, has been known to issue at the dinner table the cunningly malicious lie, “Of course, I am Daddy’s favorite daughter.”

I have violated the sibling rivalry rules here for a variety of reasons.

  1. Joanna has already given me advice in the form of a ukase: “Dad, I know you won’t die because given all you have survived nothing can kill you.” I reject this advice even though I suspect despite my current pessimistic leanings she may be right. As Helen Reddy said, “My friends call me Cleopatra because I am the queen of Denial.”
  2. Amelia does not give advice. She listens. As I watch her listening to the darkness of my appraisal, I feel bad. Should I lie to avoid pain or tell the truth and thus inflict it?
  3. I require Amelia’s help for my column for e-architect. In my most recent column I wrote: “Future columns will also contain: My daughter Amelia’s quest for a photograph and perhaps even a video of Thom Mayne’s Spanish railroad station under construction near the Portuguese border.”

Thom Mayne’s BIM compliant Cooper Union appears at the end of the video.

So far, fear has paralyzed me from thinking about anything but doom and gloom. I bought a kite recently, but have not released it into the air. My addiction to Netflix videos has stopped giving me pleasure or even momentary distraction. [I highly recommend the Australian television series “Rake.”] What I grandiosely refer to as “my life’s work” namely adequate housing for the elderly and disabled appears to have been tabled.


I will return to architect Thom Mayne’s railroad station another time. Yes,  keep you in suspense except to note or perhaps hope that I am allowing optimism to creep into my consciousness.

Instead, I will end this posting with an answer to the question on advice. The only advice that has any meaning for me must come from within. My friend David Phillips called yesterday expressing frustration that the good advice he is capable of giving me, he had already given me before. I have known David a long time.

We met in 1965 at the bowling alley at Columbia College and over the years he has provided a lot of good advice, some of which I followed. He has also given me bad advice, some of which I followed. His current advice is excellent.

See the Buddhism section of David’s religion autobiography chapter

David expressed frustration that no advice he could offer provided comfort. I replied that for the immediate crisis simply caring is a comfort.

In my next posting:

  • Will, as promised, I answer the question: Is this period of waiting one of special significance where I decide the direction my life will take? [Double question mark.]
  • Will I digress and discuss Amelia’s quest to photograph a railroad station that has not been built yet?
  • William James said, “The reason that we pray is simply because we cannot help praying.” Who knows what will come next?

Amelia was born a year after I completed my second round of radiation treatment. At the conclusion of treatment, the technician gave me the lead shield that had protected my penis and testicles so I could have children. I suspect that somewhere that heavy object is being used as a paperweight.

When Joanna was born six years earlier, before taking her home, her mother and I detoured to the radiation treatment room where I had experienced the worst hell of my existence. I showed off my new baby to the patients waiting for treatment and to the technicians who had saved my life.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2014© by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Procrastination and the Fear of Death

If a psychoanalyst, testing his associations, had suddenly said to Mr. Salter the word “farm” the surprising response would have been “Bang!”—for he had once been blown up and buried while sheltering in a farm in Flanders. It was his single intimate association with the soil. It had left him with the obstinate although admittedly irrational belief that agriculture was something alien and highly dangerous

.—Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

The title Procrastination and the Fear of Death does not quite describe the issues I want to discuss here:

  1. When I am in a period of waiting to find out whether I have cancer or not and how dangerous it might be, does it make more sense to be positive or negative?
  2. What advice is useful and how do I decide how to use it?
  3. Is this period of waiting one of special significance where I decide the direction my life will take or is it more prudent to hold fast to firmly held convictions and patterns of behavior until the immediate question of mortality resolves itself?
  4. Is this the time when I resolve a lifelong pattern of procrastination?

Does it make more sense to be positive or negative?

When I was 28, while showering I found a lump in the pit of my right arm. At the time, I was in therapy.

By way of explanation, I was taught psychotherapy at my mother’s knee. More precisely, I was in her womb when I attended my first therapy session.

My mother Miriam prided herself on being “a pioneer.” One example she used frequently was that she was a breast feeding advocate at the time shortly after World War II when formula feeding was the rage.

Miriam had a distressingly bad childhood. I believe it took considerable courage to embrace psychotherapy at a time when it was not fashionable but she badly needed help.

Why I found therapy beneficial is another story. This story begins with my telling my therapist that a surgeon had removed a tumor and I was awaiting the results of a pathologist. What do you recommend I do?

Dr. Weisberg (I always called him Paul) recommended pessimism.

He suggested I spend the waiting period reading Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying and familiarize myself with the five primary stages of death:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

[To peak ahead, consult Wikipedia’s helpful but incomplete entry.]

knightdure 469x600

Paul’s advice was eccentric, even a little weird. The odds were overwhelming—over 90 percent my oncologist said–that the tumor the surgeon removed was benign. After all, I was physically healthy. I even gave thought to riding my red Taiwanese bicycle three miles to the biopsy.

My well informed, but controlling oncologist Amiel Segal had told me: Relax, there is probably nothing to worry about. He added:

You are not crazy enough to see a therapist when you can talk to me.

Plus: Dump your girlfriend she is too old for you.

I decided to follow Paul’s advice.

By the time I learned I did indeed have something to worry about, I was fluent with the five stages; albeit, still stuck in denial.

In retrospect, it was not surprising I learned I had cancer in the waiting room of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture.

At the time, I was covering food policy for The New Republic and the scheduled interview with Secretary Earl Butz was a real coup. While waiting, I dialed my telephone answering machine.

Dr. Segal had called several times leaving increasingly urgent messages. I called Dr. Segal (whom I thereafter called by his first name; a policy I pursued with subsequent physicians on the grounds they called me by my first name).

Amiel told me to get to his office immediately. When I told him I had an appointment with the Secretary of Agriculture, he insisted I abandon it.

The Secretary of Agriculture is more important than you, I said.

Tell me over the phone.

I can’t tell you over the phone, he said.

That is how I found out I had cancer.


Then there was my second cancer and my third. Now there is now.

Now I am not consulting anyone about what I should do during this waiting period. I am assuming the worst and would be pleased if I am wrong.

The second question which began this posting may seem to have been answered above in italics. Next, I will have more to say about: What advice is useful and how do I decide how to use it?

In case I have not mentioned it: This waiting period is tough.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2014© by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.