Between you and me

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A dear friend of mine just celebrated her 65th birthday this week, and she regards it as a significant number. “How did I get here so fast?” she asks. She also recognizes that she is getting older. That might even be a little scary.

Yes, she is now covered by Medicare. This is both an asset and a shock. When she looks at her new Medicare card, she wonders how this could be. Is she really now eligible for Medicare? Her grandmother was on Medicare, surely not her. But there is her name; the reality is undeniable.

“Well,” she silently acknowledges, “it’s good to have that coverage.” But the sight still stings a bit.

Part of her response is the awareness that she is aging, that she has entered the first phase of the three-part delineation of older age. There is the young-older, from 65-75; then the middle-older, from 75-85; and the third segment, 85-95. Whoever decides and names these demographic groupings seems to have been unable to imagine any group beyond that point. Maybe it should be called “The Beyond Expectations Group.”

With her new realization comes a vow to concentrate on her health and to make the ensuing years hardy ones. She has vowed to pay more attention to her diet, to make better choices concerning what she eats. More fruits and veggies are in store. But no amount of blueberries and kale can eliminate aging. She has now followed through with her long-held intention to work with a trainer. And she is getting a new mattress to help her sleep better.

My friend is doing something helpful for herself. She is turning concerns of aging and the rapid passing of time into better health actions so as to control how she wants to age. Life for her will no longer be just on automatic pilot.

Although there are more older people in America than ever before, aging is fearful for 87% of the population, according to a survey of those turning 65 conducted by Pfizer. It’s called FOGO — fear of getting old.

Why are people afraid of getting old?

There are a number of reasons. Aging can diminish employment prospects. It is a given that older employees earn more than younger newcomers, and while it is illegal to discriminate by age, we all know that such bias exists. It is no wonder, then, that plastic surgeons do face-lifts to combat wrinkles and laugh lines, adjust sagging necks and erase any other evidence of aging. And it is not only women who undergo such procedures. Many men feel the need to blunt evidence of having lived into and past middle age.

People fear losses: of physical ability, of their good looks, of sufficient finances, of memory, of loved ones and consequently of being lonely, and even of their health shortly to be burdened with chronic diseases. Underlying all this is the fear of losing independence.

Interestingly, only 10% in the survey said they were afraid of dying.

Other cultures respect and may even venerate older members of society. Aging can bring people an enhanced sense of gratitude, a calmer demeanor, an awareness of what is truly important, greater ability to resolve conflicts and even an inclination toward forgiveness. Elders are assumed to have accumulated some wisdom just from more years of living and are respected for that.

Of one thing, my friend is sure. When we consider milestones, it seems like the time between them is little more than the blink of an eye. She clearly remembers the details of her Sweet 16 party, the fun of turning 21, her graduation from law school and now suddenly, to be in the Final Frontier is one swift stroke of time after the other. Blink and you are 65. And along comes the recognition that the future is no longer assured.

My friend does not want to go quietly into older age.

TBR News Media publisher Leah Dunaief meeting the 39th U.S. president, Jimmy Carter, at the White House in 1978. Photo from Leah Dunaief

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

This President’s Day saw two presidents much in the news, Joe Biden for his clandestine trip to Kyiv, and our 39th president, Jimmy Carter, for entering hospice care. Carter, who at 98 years old is the oldest former chief executive of the United States, signaled the end of his repeated hospital stays.

I had the honor of being invited to an out-of-town press conference at the White House during President Carter’s one term, and of course, the memory will always remain with me. It was my first of several such invitations, and I smile when I compare my Carter and subsequent Ronald Reagan visits. 

The year was 1978, the country was recovering slowly from severe stagflation, and everyone was watching their expenditures. Hence, it was not surprising that when lunch came in the middle of the event, it consisted of a boxed meal that we balanced on our laps in the Oval Office. In the box were two half sandwiches, one of cheese, the other of tuna salad. There was also a hard-boiled egg, accompanied by a small salt packet, an apple and a cookie. I confess to such high excitement that I don’t remember how the food tasted, just that I held the egg in one hand and sprinkled salt on it with the other. I do recall thinking then that I was experiencing one of the most amazing moments of my life at the same time that I was doing this most mundane action of salting my egg.

Carter talked about the economy, suggesting an optimistic view for the coming year, among other issues, and then we got up, formed a single line and moved toward him to shake hands for perhaps a three-second intro and photograph we could all carry back with us for the front page of our newspapers. I was toward the back of the line, and the photographer stood to the side, snapping away, as I drew closer to the most powerful man in the world. 

I tried hard to come up with something more to say than my name and where I was from. Then I remembered. His sister, Ruth Carter Stapleton, had recently visited Stony Brook to speak about her Baptist evangelism, and rather than telling him my name, I mentioned covering that.

“Isn’t Ruth wonderful!” Carter exclaimed in his soft drawl as his Caribbean blue eyes widened with pleasure. He then proceeded to talk about her for at least two full minutes, how proud of her he was, as I noted that he was not much taller than I and that his hands were rough.

My visit, a couple of years later, to the Reagan White House for a similar event included a sit-down luncheon of lightly breaded veal served on French china and accompanied by a smooth red wine from France. And Reagan, much taller than I, told me as he shook my hand that he liked my red dress.

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Nearly 40% of United States adults are single, which is up from 29% in 1990. Now, I’ve been married, and I’ve been single. My husband died just three months before we would have marked our 25th wedding anniversary and right around when the number of singles was so much lower. Next Friday would have been our 60th anniversary, but instead, I have been single for 35 years, so I know a little about both.

I was intrigued by an article in Time magazine that spoke about being single, asserting that about one-half of all singles aren’t interested in dating or a relationship and were happily single. This is quite a change from when I was newly alone. In the early 90s, single women were at best often ignored, and at worst, stigmatized and even preyed upon. All but the closest friends disappeared, and being the odd number for a reservation in a restaurant was a decided obstacle to being included.  I don’t think single men had it all that easy, either. While single men were often invited to gatherings, as opposed to single women, there might have been some doubt about their sexuality. Heterosexuality, as evidenced by marriage then, was the norm.

Today, according to Time, the solo life is thought of as authentic, fulfilling, meaningful and psychologically rich. I have found that to be true as the years have gone by, but what a total shift in popular perspective. The marriage rate has been decreasing for decades, as has the birth rate, and the age at which marriage finally may occur, if at all, is later in life for many.

How has this happened?

For one thing, marriage is no longer considered necessary for having a family or assuring financial comfort. Someone like Alexander Hamilton, who was tortured throughout his life for being a bastard child of an unwed mother, would not recognize today’s values and would certainly have had an easier time of it. 

While people in relationships may enjoy greater satisfaction, being married doesn’t guarantee happiness, as in, “They lived happily ever after.” There are people unhappy and even lonely in marriage, although with the decline in marriage, there has also been less divorce. Research shows that people in unhappy marriages have equal or worse health compared to those who never married.

Those who are single as a result of divorce seem to have the most difficult time, according to Time. Widowhood can also be associated with poor mental health, as grief can lead to depression and loneliness. But many of us cherish our freedom, independence, even our creativity and nonconformity, again according to Time, and I wholeheartedly agree. 

There was a time when people, especially women, felt they had to have a man in order to define themselves and their position in society. A woman often was the one who sought financial security, while a man wanted a woman on his arm. Today, with the ability to earn a living, sometimes quite an excellent living, women don’t feel the same pressure to marry, nor do their mothers in urging them.

Singles have more time for themselves. They can focus on goals without having to consider the needs of someone else. There is also more time for spending on hobbies and self-care. This is especially true for younger women and for those who consider sex outside of committed relationships. That, of course, doesn’t preclude interest in a romantic relationship, which some enjoy.

As Time points out, being alone is not the same as being lonely. We singles often have strong ties to our families, to friends and to our neighborhoods. We can be actively involved in community organizations, have a sense of purpose and are generally self-sufficient.

We have to be.

Unsplash photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Has anyone noticed that there seems to be a conspicuous lack of shame in our society? One could also point out, in the lacking department, the disappearance of honor. And to a great extent, of respect. Yes, and even civility, courtesy, apology and politeness. 

Now I am not pointing a finger at any particular demographic, as in, “In my generation, we always stood up if we were seated, when introduced to an elderly lady,” or “Children shouldn’t talk to their teachers that way.” Members of older generations have traditionally found fault with those coming up after them, for being less ambitious, or mannerly or some such. But I would hope I am not just another cranky, older person. No, I’m referring to something else, something more sinister in our present culture.

Now I am not accusing everyone here. Just saying that these qualities seem to be a lot less evident in today’s world. I guess if you never need to tell the truth, you never have to admit that you lost a tennis match … or an election. 

That loss of good sportsmanship is troubling. I like to see, for example, when the other two participants in a nightly round of “Jeopardy!” turn and applaud the winner at the end of the contest. It makes me feel that we are all together as part of a community when the ball teams each form a line and shake hands with the opposing team members, however competitive the preceding game might have been.

George Santos (R-NY3), the newly elected Congressman from Queens, is a case in point. He is merely a product of our times, if an extreme one. While he now admits to falsifying the resume he campaigned on, he seems to consider his behavior acceptable, exaggerating not lying. During Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, he unabashedly sashayed around the room, sitting in one of the most visible seats, shaking hands with many senators and the president, even taking selfies. He clearly feels no shame about his actions and no sense of consequence. What sort of culture does he come from? The answer is: one in which the lack of all the above attributes rule.

Santos is not the first such example, of course. I am reminded of the historic, “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?” question asked of Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) by soft spoken American lawyer, Joseph Nye Welch, for the Army during the infamous Army-McCarthy hearings. Those hearings searched for Communist activities in the early 1950s on behalf of the Senate. McCarthy lied his way to power, but Welch’s immortal query, in effect, ended his career, as his Republican colleagues no longer accepted his erratic antics, censured and ostracized him.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), before Biden’s speech and noting Santos’s actions, told him he “shouldn’t have been there,” meaning front and center in the House, and had no shame. But so far, Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA20) — odd repetition of names — has not publicly challenged or denounced him. 

“He shouldn’t be in Congress,” Romney said, when he was questioned by the press after Biden’s speech about the testy exchange with Santos . “If he had any shame at all, he wouldn’t be there.”

Far from shame, Santos tweeted Romney, “Hey @MittRomney, just a reminder that you will NEVER be PRESIDENT!” Romney, of course, lost his presidential bid in 2012.  

Perhaps in the culture of today, not only does one refrain from acknowledging wrongdoing but rather, when challenged, comes back fighting. How far we have come in our ethics evolution. Sounds a bit like Putin, doesn’t it? 

Season 1, Episode 13 of 'The Sopranos'

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Having been exposed to the pleasure of streaming movies on my “smart” television, I now look for good stories and have caught up with “The Sopranos.” I well remember how popular the series was, running from Jan. 10, 1999, to June 10, 2007, winning all kinds of awards and addicting millions with its 86 episodes. Somehow I never caught up with the drama, but now, thanks to HBOMax, I have turned the family room into a nightly theater and watch as Tony Soprano tries to balance his work “family” and his biological family responsibilities, thanks to the help of an Italian-American woman psychiatrist. 

At the end of the latest installment, Tony, his wife Carmela and his daughter and son are driving at night when they are deluged by a wild rainstorm. Unable to see the road ahead, and with all of them feeling in peril, Tony parks and ushers his family into an Italian restaurant nearby. There, despite the loss of electricity, the proprietor cooks a marvelous pasta dinner for them, which they finally calm down and eat by candlelight, huddled together at a table in the warm and dry dining room. As he is appreciating the spaghetti on his fork, Tony looks up and says to his children something like, “When you think back on your childhood, it will be scenes like this that you will remember,” while the camera fades out.

That got me thinking. Can I recall such scenes from my childhood, when being with my family in a safe place was so comforting?

One of the first such memories for me was of an intense rainstorm in the Catskill Mountains. I was perhaps 5 or 6 and with my mother and sister in a dilapidated cabin, whose roof leaked ominously. After my mother put pails under the leaks, she realized I was frightened. “Just wait,” she said with a smile, “This storm has brought us pancakes.” With that, she took out a large frying pan from the cupboard, mixed together flour, eggs and milk, poured Hi-Hat peanut oil (the popular brand then) into the pan, and started cooking the mixture, as thunder cracked overhead. Almost immediately, the irresistible smell of the pancakes started to fill the rustic room. 

My mother dabbed the extra oil from the dollar-sized pancakes at the stove, put them on a platter on the kitchen table, brought out a bottle of maple syrup, and my sister and I started to eat ravenously. Soon, my mother joined us at the table, and despite the frequent bolts of lightning I could see through the windows behind her head, and the dripping water in the buckets, I felt warm and safe.

The only trouble with that memory: every time there is a heavy rain, I get the urge for pancakes.

I asked my middle son if he had such a memory, and he remembered when we were out in the Sound in our 22-foot Pearson Ensign day sailboat, and the wind and seas suddenly picked up. We had been enjoying a sunny, peaceful sail near New Haven harbor, my husband and three sons and I, sprawled out in the big cockpit, when the unexpected shift in weather occurred. 

With the waves towering around us, we pulled down the sail, put the outboard motor at the stern on high speed, and made for the harbor. My husband, at the tiller, gave each of us a task. My sons were to bail out the water that was flooding the cockpit with every crashing wave, and I was to sit on top of the motor to try and keep it in the water every time a wave pushed us up.

Needless to say, it was a harrowing ride until we finally reached shore and tied up at the marina, onlookers clapping. We left the boat and were thrilled to be on the sand. Drenched as we were, we walked the short distance to the harborside restaurant, Chart House and, laughing by then, had one of the best meals of our lives. 

By the way, if you, too, missed “The Sopranos” the first time around, I heartily recommend it.

Photo by David Ackerman

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Maybe it sounds like I’m tooting our horn too much, but I have to say how proud I am of the columnists who write for our papers and website. They are clearly bright and offer the reader information and knowledge that aren’t usually found even in a big metro daily or a glossy magazine. They are, collectively and individually, one of the main reasons our hometown newspapers have managed to survive while so many of our colleagues, 25% of them in the nation, have had to shut their doors.

Readers want to learn from our regular columnists, who, by the way, are local residents. That’s not surprising, though, because the population we serve is exceptional, accomplished in their own right, and can be expected to harbor such talent. Let me explain.

The columnists are found in the second section of the newspaper, called Arts & Lifestyles. In the interest of full disclosure and without false modesty, I point out and salute my youngest son, Dr. David Dunaief. He is a physician totally committed to helping his patients, and the high regard is returned by them in equal measure, as testimonials about him confirm. In addition, he writes every week about current medical problems and brings readers up to date with the latest research and thinking regarding common ailments. I know him to be a voracious reader of medical journals and he footnotes his sources of expertise at the end of every “Medical Compass” column. 

Dr. Matthew Kearns is a longtime popular veterinarian who writes “Ask the Vet,” keeping our beloved pets healthy. Michael E. Russell is a successful, retired financial professional who cannot cut the cord with Wall Street, and  shares his thoughts on the economy and suggesting current buys on the stock market. He will also throw in something irreverent, or even askance, to keep you tuned in. 

Also writing knowledgeably on the contemporary scene about finance and the economy is Michael Christodoulou, who is also an active financial advisor. Ever try to read your auto insurance policies? If I had trouble falling asleep, they would knock me out by the second paragraph. Enter A. Craig Purcell, a partner in a long-established local law firm, who is attempting to explain auto insurance coverage, a merciful endeavor, with his column. His words do not put me to sleep. Shannon Malone will alternate the writing for us. Michael Ardolino, a well-known realtor, somehow manages to make both ends of a real estate transaction, for buyers and sellers, sound promising at this time. 

Our lead movie and book reviewer is the highly talented Jeffrey Sanzel. In addition to being a terrific actor, he is a gifted writer and almost always feels the same way about what he is reviewing as I do. No wonder I think he is brilliant.  Father Frank has been writing for the papers for many years and always with great integrity and compassion. 

John Turner, famous naturalist and noted author and lecturer, keeps us apprised of challenges to nature. This is a niche for all residents near the shorelines of Long Island. He also writes “Living Lightly,” about being a responsible earth dweller. Bob Lipinski is the wine connoisseur who travels the world and keeps us aware of best wines and cheeses.

Lisa Scott and Nancy Marr of the Suffolk County League of Women Voters, keep us informed about upcoming elections, new laws and important propositions. Elder law attorney Nancy Burner tells us about Medicare, estate planning, wills gifting, trustees, trusts and other critical issues as we age.

The last columnist I will mention is Daniel Dunaief, who, like bookends for my salute, is also my son. Among several other articles, he writes “The Power of Three,” explaining some of the research that is performed at Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Labs and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. He makes a deep dive into the science in such a way that layman readers can understand what is happening in the labs. He has been paid the ultimate compliment by the scientists for a journalist: they pick up the phone and willingly talk to him, unafraid that he will get the story wrong or misquote them. In fact, he has been told a rewarding number of times by the researchers that his questions for the articles have helped them further direct their work.

When my sons began writing for TBR News Media, a few readers accused me of nepotism. I haven’t heard that charge now in years.

P.S. Of course, we can’t forget Beverly C. Tyler and Kenneth Brady, stellar historians both.

Congressman George Santos, Photo from Wikimedia Commons

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Then give three cheers, and one cheer more, For the hardy Captain of” … no not the Pinafore but publisher of the North Shore Leader. With an appreciative nod to Gilbert & Sullivan, that line well applies to Grant Lally, who warned us of George Santos and his preposterous resume that rivals any tall tale. But unlike HMS Pinafore of 19th century fame for innocent entertainment, Santos may be a peril for our nation.

According to the Leader, a weekly community newspaper, and also The New York Times, PBS News Hour and other first line news outlets, newly elected U.S. Congressman George Santos (NY-3) is a deeply concerning fake who has totally falsified his background, assets and contacts, and who is a wanted petty criminal in Brazil. According to that country’s prosecutors, he stole checkbooks from the elderly patients of his late mother, who was a home health care nurse, and forged checks to steal merchandise. And although he claimed to have graduated from prestigious schools, he is a high school dropout who earned a high school equivalency diploma. He portrayed himself as having worked for top line financial institutions. As to being Jewish with grandparents who escaped from the Holocaust, his mother was in fact devoutly Catholic and his grandparents were born in Brazil shortly after WWII began.

Most serious are his financial claims. He said he loaned $700,000 to his campaign from personal wealth that it turns out he doesn’t have. Lying on a resume is not a crime, but lying on federal financial disclosures is, with each violation bringing a possible five years in federal prison. So where, exactly, did that large money helping him get elected come from?

A recent report in The Daily Beast, according to the Leader, showed that Santos took $56,000 from a Russian money man, a cousin of a Vladimir Putin crony, who is under international sanctions. According to the Leader, “the fact that [Santos’s] two campaigns have received large sums of money from Russian oligarchs close to Putin is cause for real alarm in the U.S. intelligence community.” They are afraid of a potential espionage threat, that he might be a foreign agent. Jim Geraghty, writing in the National Review and quoted by the Leader, offered, “For all we know, some foreign power may have bought itself a congressman. This isn’t outlandish speculation.” 

At this point, you, the reader, are probably asking yourself how it could happen that Santos wasn’t discovered far sooner by both Republicans and Democrats. According to an extensive lead article in this past Sunday’s The New York Times, he was. Republicans at several levels knew about the problem but did nothing to unmask the candidate for various reasons: inattention, underappreciated risks, otherwise distracted by the issues rather than the biographies, the promise of another GOP vote in the House, and other speculations. And some Dems knew, too, but were distracted or underestimated the threat Santos’s campaign posed.

Rather than go deeper into this issue, I would like the thrust of this column to be a celebration of the prowess of what The NYT called, “a small weekly paper on Long Island.” Run by Grant Lally, a Republican lawyer and former House candidate, it did its job of functioning as a people’s watchdog, especially on affairs of government, and reporting courageously on its findings.

“The paper published a pair of articles casting doubt on Mr. Santos’s claims that he owned extravagant cars and homes, and labeling him a ‘fabulist—a fake’, though it did not have other specifics that would later come out about his falsified resume or his past,” wrote The NYT on Sunday. “None of the bigger outlets, including The Times, followed up with extensive stories examining his real address or his campaign’s questionable spending, focusing their coverage instead on Mr. Santos’s extreme policy views and the historic nature of a race between two openly gay candidates,” The NYT continued.

Never underestimate a weekly hometown newspaper. Indeed, four cheers.

{Santos represents the 3rd Congressional District, which includes the Towns of Oyster Bay and North Hempstead and a small portion of northeast Queens.}


By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Why are we Americans so fascinated by the British royal family? Well, surely not all of us are, but enough to make even the staid The New York Times write daily stories about Prince Harry and Meghan leading up to the release of Prince Harry’s book, “Spare,” this past Tuesday. On that day, the story went front page and continued on an entire broadsheet inside page. Just about every news outlet has covered the Prince Harry and Meghan Show.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have read each and every story in the New York Times. So I’m trying to figure out the appeal for myself and those who are similarly addicted. It’s not as if we would want to have a king or queen in the United States. Heaven forbid. So what, then?

Maybe it has to do, like most eccentricities, with our early childhoods. Shortly after I learned to read, I loved fairy tales about princes and princesses, wicked stepmothers and dragons. Thanks to the Brits, we have a replay of such stories for our adult lives. Well, sort of. It depends to whom one assigns the role of dragon. 

But in fairy tales, they live happily ever after. For us adults, the royals’ stories have a reality component. We know there is no such thing because we all have families. And families disappoint each other, fight with each other, malign and divorce each other and otherwise disgrace each other. But families don’t usually put their “dirty linen” out in public. Yet here is that gilded group, in theory living the best possible lives as kings and queens, princes and princesses, causing each other unbelievable grief. It’s a rom-com gone dystopic.

The other part of this drama is its permanence. Like the soap operas of old, the stories just keep unfolding as time progresses. Again, in my elementary school years, when I would come down with some infectious disease, my mom would prop me up with lots of pillows in my parents bed, and I would listen to the half-hour soaps on the radio. Sometimes my mother would come into the bedroom to listen to one of her favorites. (Incidentally, that was before television.)

She was totally hooked on “Our Gal Sunday,” whose preamble each day would ask the question, “Can this girl [named Sunday] from a little mining town in the West find happiness as the wife of a wealthy and titled Englishman?” This may offer a clue to our captivation with the British Royals. In the case of Harry and Meghan, she, of course, is an American. While she doesn’t come from a little mining town in the West, she doesn’t have that as a strike against her, she is biracial, an actress and divorced. 

Divorced! Divorce prevented Wallis Simpson from becoming Queen. Divorced caused Princess Margaret to lose her true love, Peter Townsend. And although Diana and Charles were finally allowed to get divorced, that was only as a relief from the constant acrimony. 

As far as being an actress, Prince Philip, Harry’s grandfather, was quoted as having advised Prince Harry, “We don’t MARRY actresses.”

And what can we say about biracial? A glimpse into racial attitudes among the court was the recent kerfuffle involving Queen Elizabeth’s former lady-in-waiting, Susan Hussey, and her insistent questioning of a Black British guest at Buckingham Palace as to where her family came from. The implication was decidedly not Great Britain. Hussey was stripped of her duties and publicly apologized.

So the current situation with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, who have chosen as their refuge the (usually) sunny shores of Southern California, has many threads of interest for Americans. And probably the real appeal of the current tribulations of the House of Windsor is its relief from the hard, very hard, news of our time: the war in Ukraine, the immigration mess at the southern border and the spread, denial not withstanding, of the coronavirus, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) germs.  

METRO photo

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Peace. That is what religions ask for, what billions of people across all nations pray for. Why in our family of humanity is that goal so elusive?

Perhaps this is a question only for theologians and  philosophers to answer. But now, in this glorious holiday season, when we speak and sing of Peace on Earth, we all articulate the ideal.

Many seek, and indeed can find inner peace. But the dream of peace, the kind of peace that is defined as lack of conflict and freedom from fear of violence between individuals and groups, has never been achieved. 

When will there be such peace?

The answer, it seems, is when all humans are of good will.

And what does that involve?

For starters, it requires acceptance and respect for the “other.” We need to see each other as humans with the same ambitions and desires and feelings. Rather than look down on and despise people who are simply different, we can be intrigued and interested in those differences and therefore in those who are different.

We can invite into our world those who are different from us in the way of skin color or appearance or beliefs. And if we can do so, we can see them as humans, just like us, and bigotry cannot exist. For we cannot look down on ourselves. If we are to do so, starting now, racism and antisemitism and every other sort of hatred of our neighbors disappears.

For there to be Peace on Earth, it must start with accepting the stranger, the “other” among us.

By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Just to add some excitement to my life, I had Mohs surgery this past week. Of course, it was not my idea. The dermatologist identified a spot on the side of my nose as possibly the beginning of a basal cell carcinoma, scraped it off and sent it for a biopsy. The report came back positive.

The next step in this situation was a visit to a Mohs surgeon, who specializes in removing the unwelcome cells.

So off I went.

Now typically there are three types of skin cancers: basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. Mine was a basal, the least of the three and slowest growing. Nonetheless, it had to come off.

An appointment was made for the deed to be done. Now Mohs surgery, used first by Frederic E. Mohs in 1936,  is intended for areas totally visible, like the cheek or nose, where scars would be most undesirable. The skin with the troubled spot is cut away one layer at a time and then studied under a microscope. When a layer is found free of the cancer, the surgeon can stop removal. In that way, no more skin is cut away than is affected, minimizing the healing process and the scarring.

At the initial consult, I was told to come back at 8:30 a.m. last Monday and bring lunch and a book because there was no way to know in advance how deep the basal cells have penetrated and hence, how many layers may have to be removed.

“Plan to spend the whole day here,” the nurse instructed. “Of course you can leave as soon as the skin is cancer free.”

So I dutifully appeared at the appointed time, heart pounding, not knowing exactly what I was in for. For those facing Mohs surgery or will undergo the procedure in the future, here is what’s involved. And by the way, more and more people are developing various skin cancers because the skin is damaged by the sun, older people have had more time to be affected, and there are now more older residents in America than ever before. Thousands of baby boomers turn 65 every day.

Mohs surgery can be done in a hospital or a physician’s office. I was in an office. First, the nurse carefully and thoroughly wiped my face with antiseptic to prevent an infection. Pictures were taken to record the exact location of the spot. Then my upper body was draped, and the nurse injected pain killer in several locations on the nose and cheek, which each felt like a sharp but quick pinch.

When I was anesthetized, the physician entered, put on his surgical gloves, and the procedure began as Christmas music played softly in the background. It took less than five minutes to get the specimen for the lab. It takes about an hour for the slide to be inspected, using a special diagnostic machine.

I was then bandaged and sent out to wait. While I was waiting, I studied the others in the waiting room. Some had bandages on their ear or their cheek. One lady had a dressing on her scalp. A man had one on his neck. All were reading.

I also enjoyed the company of my son, who accompanied me throughout this experience, for it gave us an opportunity to chat and catch up on the latest. That was the silver lining.

In less than an hour, the nurse waved me back into the procedure room, and I swooped up my untouched lunch, my book and my coat and anxiously followed her.

“It’s all clear,” she said smiling. “No further cancer.”

“Hot dog!” I exclaimed, thereby giving both the young nurse and youngish doctor a laugh. Apparently, they were not familiar with that enthusiastic expression. I guess the current phrase would have been,


Then the surgeon took a thin slice of skin from elsewhere on my nose, and using this plastic surgery technique, covered the surgical site. The wound was next stitched up and covered with a pressure bandage that was to remain until the next day.

Happily we could leave. The task now is to keep the area clean and manage the ensuing pain until the healing is complete.

Until then, should we cross paths, I hope you won’t confuse me with your neighborhood raccoons. Or think that I was in a bar fight and got punched in the eye.