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Dan Ornstein

  • When you take I-90’s Exit 5 to Everett Road in Albany, in either direction you will, almost every day, encounter hungry, marginalized people seeking help. The exit ramps are real-time stages for these indigent and unhoused Americans – mostly but not exclusively men - who stand along the ramps, hoping for the attention of a motorist stopped at the light who might hand them a charitable dollar or two. This troupe of rootless human beings, reduced to the humiliation of begging, shifts in number and visibility as the weather changes and the hours of sunlight wax and wane. These are people who have been forced into the very real and shameful drama of American poverty.
  • My uncle was dying, and I didn’t know where to go.
  • I have hiked many streams and creeks in the capital district. Because I love trees, I make a point of stopping to examine them in the forests and preserves that I frequent.
  • Plagued by sleep that was more turbulent than tranquil, I startled just before the sun began to rise over the ocean near the house we had rented. Agitated and barely awake, I forced on my beach sandals and nodded to my youngest child who now stood in front of me, prepared to walk with me out to the water. As our family slept, we crept, like Carl Sandburg’s fog, on our little cat feet, through the living room and out onto the street.
  • From Charleston to Charlottesville to Pittsburgh to Poway to DC to El Paso to Buffalo, each of these people was a victim of racists emboldened by replacement conspiracy myths to commit mass murder. They were victims of a subculture of scapegoating, masterfully repurposed by supremacist politics, politicians and shock jocks seeking to retain their power over an inflamed base, at all costs. They were victims of our ancient, obstinate refusal to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.
  • I cannot locate the origins of this figure of speech. Perhaps it was first used in a comedy sketch many decades ago, but it has since become a catchall for any criticism of a person who busily pursues low priority activities during a crisis. We imagine the eater chowing down on a five-course gourmet meal inside a besieged bunker or settlement as the bullets fly and the bombs fall. In a comical context, we laugh because the meal being eaten with such gusto seems so out of synch with the grave situation at hand. Beneath that laughter, as we all know, is our anxiety that we are witnessing a very unfunny distortion of priorities in dire circumstances.
  • Twenty years ago, I wrote the following words for Northeast Public Radio in an essay about turning forty.
  • The phrase, “The Big Ten” is one of the most interesting examples of an American figure of speech whose dual references can be amusing, confusing or both, as I discovered one morning after worship at my synagogue. I had just finished delivering a sermon about “The Big Ten,” my allusion to the biblical Ten Commandments that seemed obvious enough to me, when one of the former presidents of our community approached me.
  • The Kaaterskill Clove, a million-year-old gorge that reaches depths of 2,500 feet, is a majestic gem of the Catskill Park, the vast wilderness area of the Catskill Mountain range in New York. The Catskills still elicit mixtures of laughter and nostalgia among the diminishing ranks of East Coast Baby Boomers, Jews especially, who grew up vacationing or working in the area during the heyday of its Borscht Belt hotels and resorts that long ago disappeared.
  • I live on land that I purchased in the city of Albany, New York in 1994.I live on land whose previous owners included African Americans and American Jews who moved to Albany, New York at different times in the late 1970’s and early 80’s.