I was 15, a sophomore at Mahopac High School in Putnam County, N.Y. I had a couple of friends, zero game with the girls and—judging by the above photograph—a clumsy affinity for oversized sweat pants with an artificial pair of shorts stitched in.
Wait. I digress.
In December of 1987, my local elementary school—Lakeview—hosted its annual holiday concert. And because I was raised in a lovely place with far too many sheltered ignoramuses, there were complaints that the show (aka: a bunch of kids singing like dying emus) featured too many Jewish tunes and not enough Christmas tunes.
I’m not sure why, but something about that genuinely pissed me off. So I penned my first-ever letter to the editor, and a couple of days later it appeared inside the Reporter Dispatch, our local Gannett daily. That was nothing short of a thrill—my name, my hometown, words I’d typed now being seen all over the county. The comments followed when I attended Sunday school; Jewish parents happy some kid took a stand.
But the best was yet to come. In early January I received a letter from John P. Sheppard, the pastor at a Presbyterian church in nearby Pleasantville. He wrote:
This is well stated—speaking up always makes a difference. People do notice, and are moved to more tolerant positions—even if the movement might be barely perceptible.
There’s no way the pastor could understand the impact that letter had on a young Jewish kid in Mahopac. But as I sit here some three decades later, stumbling upon the note for the first time in years, the feelings rush back.