An Unforgettable Teacher

Louis Lichtenstein - APW Central

By Judy Berman

The prospect of standing on a stage and acting out lines from a play were even worse than I imagined.

Just what was I thinking when I signed up for my high school’s prize-speaking contest?

Was it the lure of acting that spurred me on? The promise of easy money? It was a paltry sum, but anything that added to my feeble allowance was a plus.

I turned to Louis Lichtenstein, a history teacher, and asked him if he would help me prepare. He wasn’t my teacher, but he was someone I often turned to for advice and knew I could count on.

It’s been years since I’ve graduated from high school, but I’ve never forgotten Mr. Lichtenstein and how he encouraged me to step outside my comfort zone.

I was reminded of this incident twice – on the same day – the day before I returned to school to teach after summer break.

During pre-planning, Brevard County Public Schools’ South Area Superintendent, Dr. Mark Mullins, asked all of the teachers at our school to stand. He asked us to think of a teacher who made a difference in our lives.

Then he pointed at me and a few others and asked us to name that teacher. There have been many wonderful teachers in my life. But, without hesitation, I said: “Mr. Lichtenstein.”

Dr. Mullins noted how we were all smiling as we reminisced about our own days as students. He told us we could be that teacher for our students.

That night, at home, I read Sara Paulson’s column in “Florida Today” about a high school teacher who made a lasting impression on her.

Among her concerns prior to the start of her children’s school year were whether they’d be going to a good school this year, whether they would struggle with their workloads and how they’d get along with their peers.

Paulson wrote: “Will this be the year that one of my kids meets his or her Mr. Collins?”

Tom Collins, she explained, was a teacher who was friendly, approachable. “Kids gravitated toward him. His class had a reputation for being fun.”

Motivational - The teacher will come when the student is ready.

Again, I thought of Mr. Lichtenstein as he listened to me emote lines from “Arsenic and Old Lace” – a dark comedy that Frank Capra turned into a movie in 1944 starring Cary Grant.

At times, from where he stood, my voice was barely audible. He’d tell me to project my voice. Or, he’d suggest ways to enhance my performance.

My confidence grew as I practiced my lines. I really got into the play.

Then, the big day came when I had to act out this play before the WHOLE school. OK! Altmar-Parish-Williamstown was a small school in Oswego County, but that didn’t make me dread the outcome any less.

As I crossed over to center stage, I prayed that no one would hear my knees knocking.

My mistake was that I looked out in the audience to spot one of my friends. At that moment, I realized my English teacher was saying my lines along with me.

I froze and stammered “I forgot.” It seemed like forever before I regained my composure and finished the play.

It’s safe to say that I raced thru my lines as fast as I could so I could escape the glare of the spotlight and the audience’s attention.

My discomfort was short-lived. Despite my lousy performance, I began to think about trying out again the following year.

After graduation, after I got married and had two daughters, I went to visit Mr. Lichtenstein. As always, he was a great listener, empathetic and gave excellent advice.

He’d left teaching. But his heart was still involved in helping others. He was a counselor who worked at Farnham Crisis Center in Oswego.

When I searched for his name this week on the Internet, I learned that he died in April at the age of 91.

I recalled the students who sought him out.

Like me, their spirits were uplifted after talking with him.

Mr. Lichtenstein’s belief in me made me feel I could conquer whatever I set my mind to. We should all have a caring educator like him in our corner. I know he made a real difference in my life.


What teacher made a difference in your life? Or, in your children’s lives?

Photo: In my yearbook, a photo of Louis Lichtenstein, a history teacher at Altmar-Parish-Williamstown Central Schools.

Photo: The teacher will come when the student is ready.


Link: “Momsense: Who was the teacher who changed your life?” By Sara Paulson, Florida Today.

Did I Make a Difference?

Community service - USS Frank Cable Sailors

By Judy Berman

Some people make our lives richer just by crossing our path.

For parents, they might not know what influence they’ve had until their child’s nearly grown.

As a teacher, I often wonder: Did I make a difference? I don’t mean in test scores. I’m looking for a deeper impact.

Are my students thinking more critically when given conflicting points of view? Have any of our class discussions led them to think more about what they can do to forge stronger, positive relationships? Or how to make the world a better place?

That’s when I think about a story I was assigned to report on when I worked for Florida Today.

There are certain people we’re meant to meet in life. For me, Irene Summerford was one of them.

Volunteers were out in her Melbourne neighborhood painting houses, cleaning yards, and emptying lots of debris and brush.

A deacon told me about a woman who lived around the corner. He said Irene, a widow, spent what little money she had to help those who were hungry and hurting.

When the volunteers took a lunch break, I decided to go meet her.

Irene, who had been helping the volunteers paint her home, was sitting outside on a bench. A huge cross was on her front lawn.

She said she wished people would do something to make a difference every day, that a special day should not be needed to do so.

“Life is about reaching out thru love. It doesn’t take a rich person. All it takes is a willing heart to reach out,” Irene told me.

Irene admitted that sometimes she knows she can’t help and leaves it in God’s hands. Other times, if they need something to eat, she’ll offer a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Or, maybe what they need is “just a smile and a hug.”

Irene wondered if she’d always be on the outside looking in. I understood as I’ve felt like an outsider, too. But, she said, she learned a lot by being on the outside.

I was touched and humbled by her strong belief. We talked about half an hour. Her positive outlook prompted me to re-examine my own goals.

About 1 ½ years later, I left the paper and sought ways to help children through teaching. Irene’s passion to improve the lives of children in her neighborhood led her in another direction.

She “was the driving force behind the creation …for a drop-in center for kids in the community, a program that began life in a public housing apartment in 2004,” according to an article in “Florida Today.”

Irene died of cancer in 2006, at age 60, a year before a new building was completed to meet the growing demand for an after-school program at the community center.

Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Irene lived that and made life better for those around her.

Our lives intersected briefly, but Irene left a lasting impression on me.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: Conner and Cayden Long – SportsKids of the Year – An excellent example of brotherly love and sportsmanship – Conner’s brother, Cayden, has cerebral palsy, and they compete in triathlons together. 

Main Photo: Community Service – USS Frank Cable Sailors – Gunner’s Mate 1st Class, Sierra Clemons, playing a game with a child at the Child Protection and Development Center in Hua Yai, Thailand – photo taken Feb. 23, 2012


Spring at Last

Great Blue Heron - adult and offspring

Great Blue Heron – adult and offspring

By Judy Berman

Rains persistent patter
Dancing on the porch.
Heavy gray rain clouds
Cast a dark shadow.

After the deluge,
Birds chirping
In the cool, night air.

The harsh caw of one
Competing with the
sweet sound of another.
Spring – at last!

Buds are bursting thru
Birds are nesting
New life, renewal.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

White Pelicans

White Pelicans

Great Blue Heron warily eyeing an alligator

Great Blue Heron warily eyeing an alligator

Sandhill Crane nesting

Sandhill Crane nesting

alligator asking in the sun

alligator basking in the sun

Florida is the temporary home of birds that “winter” here. It’s also the year-round home for others.

Last weekend, my husband, Dave and I visited Viera Wetlands in Brevard County on Florida’s East Coast with Lee of Southern Photo in Melbourne along with another photographer, Jim.

We snapped away with our cameras as these birds swam in the ponds, a lake, and built their nest in a swampy area.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video – Florida Nature Compilation – Simoes Productions. Footage of nature in Brevard County, Florida.  

Photo: Viera Wetlands – Great Blue Heron – adult and offspring. They are year-round Florida residents. Taken by Judy Berman, 3-1-14.

Photo: Viera Wetlands – Hooded Merganser ducks swam in a pond near us. They winter in Florida. Taken by Judy Berman, 3-1-14.

Photo: Viera Wetlands – White Pelicans. They winter along the coasts. Taken by Judy Berman. 3-1-14.

Photo: Viera Wetlands – Great Blue Heron warily eyeing an alligator – “Come on in. The water’s fine!” the alligator smiled invitingly. Taken by Judy Berman, 3-1-14.

Photo: Florida Today – A few miles from our home, Dave took this photo of a Sandhill Crane nesting. Feb. 2014.   * For more on this, read “Love and loss in the parking lot” by Suzy Fleming Leonard. Photos by Craig Bailey. Slide show by Rob Landers. 

Photo: Viera Wetlands – alligator basking in the sun. Taken by Dave Berman, 3-1-14.

Vigilante or Self-Defense?

By Judy Berman

Let’s say you meet a stranger in a dark alley. Someone is killed. The survivor claims self-defense. There are no witnesses. Only one side of this story is available because the other person is dead.

That image of the vigilante who takes the law into his own hands was popularized in Hollywood. Think: Charles Bronson (as Paul Kersey) when he avenged his wife’s death in “Death Wish” (1974). Many cheered him on when he sought revenge.

But two recent cases in Florida, that appear to have taken the same path, ended in the deaths of two young men under the state’s “Stand Your Ground” law.

Make no mistake. This is not about anyone’s right to “bear arms” and protect themselves. This is about rights guaranteed to U.S.citizens in the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution.

Rights such as the right to a fair trial “decided by a jury” of your peers. There’s not much chance of that happening if someone apparently takes justice into his own hands.

“The 2005 law eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat when attacked, leading critics to say the statue fosters vigilante justice and allows criminals to get away with murder on a claim of self-defense,” according to The Miami Herald.

Florida Statute 776.013 (3), known as the “stand your ground” law, allows people to use deadly force if they think their life is in danger, or other lives are in jeopardy.

  • On Feb. 26th, an unarmed 17-year-old in Sanford, near Orlando, Trayvon Martin, was gunned down by 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. Martin was returning to his parents’ home after going to a convenience store to buy Skittles and ice tea. Zimmerman told dispatchers that Martin looked “suspicious.”
  • On Wednesday, March 21st, Miami-Dade Judge Beth Bloom tossed out a case against Greyston Garcia, who was charged with second-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of Pedro Roteta. 26, on Jan. 25th. “Police said Roteta was stealing Garcia’s truck radio.” Garcia chased Roteta more than a block before the fatal attack. Roteta had a pocket knife, but it was unopened and in his pocket, according to The Miami Herald.

In the Martin case, Zimmerman ignored police advice not to confront the teen. He followed Treyvon Martin in his sport utility vehicle and then on foot. The two allegedly got into a fight. The devastating outcome has been the subject of protests and national news coverage.

The Miami-Dade judge’s decision on Garcia angered Miami police Sgt. Ervens Ford, who supervised the case. The Miami Herald quotes Ford as saying the decision was a “travesty of justice. How can it be Stand Your Ground? It’s on (surveillance) video! You can see him stabbing the victim … “

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office may appeal the judge’s ruling.

The Miami Herald reports that “in the first five years the law was in effect, it was invoked 93 times. In the last year and half, it has been invoked at least an additional 37 times. ‘Justifiable homicides’ reported to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement have increased threefold since the law went into effect.”

The state of Florida should take action now to re-examine the Stand Your Ground law. What happened to Trayvon Martin … and to Pedro Roteta … could have happened to anyone’s child. This law is a matter of concern for all citizens who want safe passage on our streets and in our neighborhoods.


UPDATE: On June 26, 2012, Greyston Garcia, 26, was killed in Liberty City, Fla. shortly after he left his job at a convenience store. “Investigators suspect the shooting was between two rival gangs and Garcia was an innocent victim.” CBS Miami reported.

UPDATE: On July 13, 2013, George Zimmerman was found not guilty of killing Trayvon Martin. Here is the link to USA Today’s story:


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

* Main photo of Charles Bronson taken in 1973. In 1974, he starred in the vigilante film, “Death Wish”           Attribution: Fish Cop at en.wikipedia

* Editorial cartoon: courtesy of Jeff Parker, Florida Today 

* Miami judge decides fatal stabbing was self-defense, a news article in The Miami Herald.

* Number of “stand your ground” cases rises as legislators rethink law, a news article in The Miami Herald.

* The Bill of Rights