Thursday, January 29, 2009

Challah for Hunger: Raising Money for Disaster Relief Through the Sale of Challah Bread

I've just learned of a college project that started at one school and has now spread to several others -- Challah for Hunger.
Challah for Hunger raises awareness of and money for hunger and disaster relief through the production and sale of challah bread.

During the spring 2008 semester, the Challah for Hunger chapters (Pomona College, Scripps College, Syracuse University, University of California – Los Angeles, University of Texas at Austin, Vassar College) collectively baked more than 500 loaves of challah every week and donated a total of $20,000 to non-profit organizations providing aid directly to people who need it. Since the founding of the program in late fall 2004, Challah for Hunger has donated more than $55,000.

This is a great project and it benefits three different groups: 1) the bakers appreciate the weekly community; 2) the buyers appreciate the bread); and the 3) aid recipients appreciate the aid. A win-win-win situation.

Check out the Challah for Hunger website now to learn more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cyberspace Charity Auctions: Helping Your Favorite Charity

The January 28th Wall Street Journal had Sue Shellenbarger's Work & Family article "Do You Want An Internship? It'll Cost you." The article is quite interesting, but I'd already known about parents buying internships for their children at school auctions.

What I didn't know about was the existence of online fundraising sites that make money for charities by holding auctions. According to The Wall Street Journal article:, a fundraising Web site, saw a sharp rise in internships offered for sale last year at such employers as Rolling Stone, Elle magazine and Atlantic Records, says Chief Executive Kelly Fiore. Another site,, says a one-week internship at a music-producing company sold last month for $12,000.
I looked up both these sites to see what they are about.
Charity Folks is the leading online marketplace for nonprofit fundraising, corporate cause-marketing campaigns and celebrity-driven charity initiatives. Managing hundreds of successful charity auctions since its inception, Charity Folks has raised millions for nonprofit organizations around the world, all while offering consumers highly coveted auction lots donated by today’s hottest celebrities, musicians, sports stars, high-profile personalities and top-tier brands.
At charitybuzz, we believe that cause marketing can be both effective and trend setting. Our innovative auctions reach millions on a global basis. Our growing community of bidders are driven to do well, affluent, well educated, well informed and brand loyal. Our methods ensure successful results through a focus on value to consumers, collaborative marketing and unsurpassed white-glove service.
It's a new world of fundraising in cyberspace, and you might want to check it out for your favorite charity.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

French Catholic Priest Patrick Desbois Saves History Before It's Too Late

The expression “do gooder” doesn’t even begin to describe the amazing task that French Catholic priest Patrick Desbois has undertaken since 2002. The task? Searching out the last remaining witnesses to the Nazi death squad murders of Jews in the former Soviet Union.

The story of this Catholic priest is told in the January 23rd Wall Street Journal article by Jordana Horn titled How Father Desbois Became a Holocaust Memory Keeper. Horn writes:
How much he has accomplished since 2002 can be seen in "The Shooting of Jews in Ukraine: Holocaust By Bullets," which runs until March 15 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York. The exhibit was created by the Memorial de la Shoah Paris in cooperation with Father Desbois's organization, Yahad in Unum (the words for "together" in Hebrew and Latin). It follows the publication last August of his book "Holocaust By Bullets" (Palgrave MacMillan).
What I found most amazing, besides Father Desbois’ self-imposed mission, is that children and adults were made to participate in the death squad shootings of the Jews. I’ve read a vast amount of first-hand accounts of the Nazi murderers as well as fictional accounts (Saul Bellow’s MR. SAMMLER’S PLANET has a scene from these death-squad shootings that I’ll never forget). Yet I had never heard that there were forced local participants and witnesses. And it is those then-children participants/witnesses who Father Desbois is searching out in order to find the unmarked mass graves of the Nazi atrocities.
As the unmarked mass graves are slowly located, one by one, and sanctified with the recitation of the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning for the dead, the cries can at last be silenced. Are we our brothers' keepers? To Father Desbois, the answer is a resounding "Yes."

Even so, I ask him: How can you bear to listen to a woman talk about when she was 14 years old and was forced to walk on corpses, between shootings, in order to pack them down in a mass grave? "I keep my faith in God," Father Desbois responds, "not in humanity."
Father Desbois wants people to contact him through his organization’s website to tell him about more mass graves and eyewitnesses.
"These were young children who were forced, in the course of one day, to fill the grave and to witness," Father Desbois said. "They heard the last words of the dead. They want to speak."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Short Story and Poetry Contests: Consider Trying Your Hand at These Fiction Forms

John E. Murray, III just interviewed me about my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT for a future RamblingVerser podcast on his site Story Institute.

While checking out his site, I noticed that he’s having a poetry contest and a short story contest – both with deadlines of March 15. As it’s not so easy to find markets for poetry and short stories today, if you write this type of fiction check out the site while you have time to submit to the contests.

And if you’ve never tried your hand at poetry or short stories before, it’s never too late to take up a new creative pursuit. There’s even a section on this site with “ideas and suggestions for short stories, poems, and writing tips”.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Martin Luther King Day, Barack Obama and MRS. LIEUTENANT

In honor of Martin Luther King Day and the Presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, I'm sharing with the readers of this blog the children's picture book story I wrote after the Presidential elections in November. This is a "continuation" of the story of Wendy, the African-American character in my novel MRS. LIEUTENANT that takes place in 1970:

Rosemary woke early on the morning of November 5th. Today she turned seven years old. But her mother and father hadn’t yet come into her room to wake her and sing happy birthday. She knew they had stayed up late the night before, celebrating that an African-American man had been elected President of the United States.

Rosemary slid her feet into her bunny slippers and skipped down the hall to her parents’ bedroom. Pushing open the door, she saw they were still asleep.

Rosemary took a flying leap and landed on the bed between her parents.

“Wake up! It’s my birthday!” she said.

Her mother woke up first. She smiled and kissed Rosemary. “So it is. You’re seven years old today.”

Her father pulled on the loose end of one of Rosemary’s pigtails. “You got an early special birthday present yesterday when Barack Obama won,” he said.

At breakfast Rosemary and her parents read the newspapers announcing the Presidential win. “He’s not there on his own,” her father said. “He has a lot of people who went before him to thank.”

“I know,” Rosemary said. “Martin Luther King Jr. led the fight for our rights.”

“There were others too,” her father said. “You know the story about Rosa Parks in 1955 starting the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama.”

“Were you there?” Rosemary asked her parents, who laughed at her question.

“No, honey, we’re not that old,” her mother said. “But your grandmother was just your age in 1955.”

“Did she boycott the buses too?” Rosemary asked.

“No, she lived in a different Southern state. But her parents protected her from racial prejudice.”

Rosemary frowned for a moment, trying to understand what her mother meant.

“How did they do that?”

Her mother took Rosemary’s hand. “When your grandmother comes to dinner tonight for your birthday, ask her.”

That evening Rosemary put on her favorite dress and waited near the front door for her grandmother to arrive. When her grandmother entered the house, Rosemary jumped up and down in front of her.

“Grandmama, tell me about growing up in the South. Did you have to sit at the back of the bus like Rosa Parks?”

Her grandmother shook her head, then sat down on the sofa and motioned for Rosemary to sit in her grandmother’s lap.

“Oh, Rosemary, I had a very unusual life growing up in the South. But today I’d rather tell you another story. Because next week is Veterans Day, when we honor the men and women who have served in our military forces. And you know that your grandfather was in the army during the Vietnam War.”

Rosemary nodded, although she had never known this grandfather. “What story do you want to tell me about?”

“The story when your grandfather first went on active duty in May of 1970. He was an officer and he had to attend armor school at Ft. Knox, Kentucky.”

Rosemary tugged on her grandmother’s hand. “What’s armor school?”

“Armor is tanks. An armor officer trains on leading tanks into battle.”

Her grandmother paused for a moment, brushing her hand across her eyes. Then she continued. “We had to live in a trailer because people wouldn’t rent to us. I thought I would have to spend all nine weeks alone by myself. But something funny happened.”

“What, Grandmama? What happened?”

“There was a training program for the wives too. And I got to be on the entertainment committee. There was a white woman from Chicago – she was the chair of the entertainment committee. She wrote a little play for the wives’ graduation luncheon and we got together and practiced the play.”

“Was it a good play?”

Her grandmother laughed. “Lord, I don’t know. But we had fun practicing. And it made those of us on the committee into friends.”

“Were the other women on the committee also white?”

Her grandmother nodded. “Yes, there was a Southern who didn’t much like blacks – that’s the polite word we were called in those days. And there was a Puerto Rican.”

Her grandmother looked at Rosemary. “Do you know where Puerto Rico is?”

“Yes, Grandmama. It’s in the Caribbean near Cuba.”

From the kitchen Rosemary could hear the sounds of her parents preparing her birthday dinner. She hoped they would take more time, because she wanted to hear more of her grandmother’s story.

“What happened to the other women?”

Her grandmother shook her head. “I don’t know. At the end of the nine weeks we all went to our husbands’ next duty station. But for me those nine weeks had been an amazing experience. It was the first time I had been friends with white folks. It gave me confidence that I would be okay in the white world.”

At that moment Rosemary’s mother walked into the living room. “Good evening, Mother,” Rosemary’s mother said to Rosemary’s grandmother. “I just heard what you were talking to Rosemary about.”

Rosemary’s mother stopped in front of Rosemary’s grandmother and held out a book. “I have a surprise for you even though it is Rosemary’s birthday. I’ve just read a new book that I think is about you.”

Rosemary watched her grandmother take the book and look at the cover photos of four women – one of them an African-American. “Mrs. Lieutenant: A Sharon Gold Novel by Phyllis Zimbler Miller” her grandmother read aloud. Then she turned over the book and read from the back cover:

“In the spring of 1970 four newly married young women come together at Ft. Knox, Kentucky, when their husbands go on active duty as officers in the U.S. Army.

“Different as these four women are, they have one thing in common: Their overwhelming fear that, right after these nine weeks of training, their husbands could be shipped out to Vietnam – and they could become war widows.

“Sharon is a Northern Jewish anti-war protester who fell in love with an ROTC cadet; Kim is a Southern Baptist whose husband is intensely jealous: Donna is a Puerto Rican who grew up in an enlisted man’s family; and Wendy is a Southern black whose parents have sheltered her from the brutal reality of racism in America.”

As Rosemary’s grandmother read those last words, Rosemary’s grandmother gasped. “Oh my heavens, you’re right. Someone has written our story.”

Rosemary saw the tears gathering in the corners of her grandmother’s eyes. Rosemary took her grandmother’s hand and said, “It’s okay, Grandmama. We’ve come a long way since then.”

Her grandmother smiled at her. “Yes we have.” She paused for a moment and squeezed Rosemary’s hand. “And your grandfather would be so proud of America today.”

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Peace Corps Service: A Rite of Passage That Helps Others

Today I attended a “bon voyage” open house for a young man who recently graduated college. Yet he wasn’t off to explore the art museums of Europe or the cheap travel in countries such as Thailand. He was off to join the Peace Corps in Nicaragua.

Those of you who were “of age” during the Vietnam War remember the Peace Corps. It was a big topic of conversation during the army draft years. Yet I haven’t heard very much about this program in recent years.

Home from the open house, I went to the Peace Corps website to read about what it’s been up to in the last 40 years.

In a January 12th press release I read:
For the third consecutive year, the University of Washington is No. 1 on the undergraduate list in the large schools category, with 104 alumni serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. The University of Colorado-Boulder has risen dramatically from sixth place last year to claim the No. 2 in the large schools category, with 102 Volunteers. Michigan State University has also risen up two spots from fifth place last year to take the No. 3 rank among the country's large schools, with 89 currently-serving Volunteers.
Michigan State is where I earned my undergraduate degree in journalism, so I was impressed to see the school so high on this list. And I have to admit I didn’t realize how active the program continues to be.

Read the entire press release to learn which colleges have produced the most volunteers since the program’s founding in 1961.

And I wish this young man, whom I’ve known his whole life, a rewarding and fulfilling experience during his 27-month commitment.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Operation Support Jews in the Military: My Newest Do-Gooder Project

Over the past few months I've been contemplating how I could help with the problem of a drastic shortage of Jewish chaplains in the military. I've talked to people who are interested in helping, and people who have put up obstacles to helping.

And then on December 31 I had an epiphany. I could utilize everything I've been learning about internet marketing to start a "citizens' movement" in support of Jews in the military. And as my company Miller Mosaic, LLC was already building websites for clients, we built one for this project.

Introducing Operation Support Jews in the Military. I'm not trying to raise money -- I'm trying to raise awareness of the need for the U.S. Jewish community to support Jews in the military. This support can take a variety of avenues, from inviting Jewish personnel from nearby bases to synagogue services to providing online discounts to military personnel for Jewish products such as Shabbat candlesticks.

I hope you will consider checking out this site, and then emailing the domain name to people you know who might help to get the word out. My goal is to have the U.S. Jewish community use this site as a focal point for supporting Jews in the military.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Movie DEFIANCE Tells the True Story of the Bielski Brothers During WWII

I have been debating since I saw the movie DEFIANCE two days ago what I thought of this true story of Jewish brothers “who defied the Nazis, saved 1,200 Jews and built a village in the forest.”

This quote is from the cover of the book THE BIELSKI BROTHERS by Peter Duffy (which I have but haven’t read yet). The movie was based on the book DEFIANCE: THE BIELSKI PARTISANS by Nechama Tec.

(There’s a little confusion in reviews about how many Bielski brothers there were. The Duffy book says three, although the movie gives the three a little brother. Perhaps this is why at the end of the movie only the fate of the three brothers is given.)

On the one hand, this movie is as important storytelling as was Jon Avnet’s television movie UPRISING about the Warsaw Ghetto. Both these stories tell the world that all Jews did not go quietly to the gas chambers.

On the other hand, to me this particular version of a true story was really told as the biblical story of Esau and Jacob. And, in fact, the movie version ends when the Esau character (Liev Schreiber) and the other Jews who have been fighting with the Russian partisans return just in the nick of time to save the Jacob character (Daniel Craig) and his “sheep” from being slaughtered – approximately two years before the end of the war.

I’ve read glowing reports and not-so-glowing reports of the film. You’ll have to see the film yourself and make up your own mind.

One thing I can say about this film, it’s no SCHINDLER’S LIST.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Spirit of America Partners With Soldier in Afghanistan

Something amazing has happened since I wrote a post on my Mrs. Lieutenant blog on December 23rd about a single soldier deployed in Kabul who was requesting donations of blankets to prevent Afghan children from actually freezing to death in the brutal winters.

In that post I mentioned that my husband had told me that Spirit of America was an American organization that supported efforts by U.S. personnel stationed in places like Afghanistan to help the civilian population. And I sent the blog post to Spirit of America after finding a contact email on the website.

A couple of days ago I got an email from the program director at Spirit of America saying that the organization was going to contact the soldier and send $300 worth of blankets. I was so excited that I wrote a second Mrs. Lieutenant blog post about this.

And then I got another email from the organization's executive director saying Spirit of America was increasing its donation to $1500 for blankets and the school supplies that the soldier now also requested. I have to admit my eyes filled with tears when I read this second email.

I wanted to share this generosity of Spirit of America with you, and to tell you that the soldier has now also requested gently used children's clothes. His return to the U.S. has been pushed back from April to September, so he'll be in Afghanistan longer and will have more time to help the people there.

Here's part of the email that the soldier -- Specialist Gerardo Llamas -- has just sent out to people interested in helping with his project:
I have partnered up with a great organization that is helping me get more donations as well as helping with shipping charges. You can see the ad they have posted for me here. They are great and hopefully I can reach a lot more people and make this project a huge one. I want it to make a huge difference in the lives of these people, the people of Afghanistan. If you are interested in helping by donating blankets, clothes or school supplies, you can do it directly through me, like before, or you can do it through Spirit of America.
If you would like to help this effort, please go to the Spirit of America page for this project.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Your Turn to Win: New Book by Lance Heft

Today on the BlogTalkRadio show -- Nancy Brown and I interviewed Lance Heft, the author of the new book "Your Turn to Win."

I can't recommend the book because I haven't read it yet. But I can recommend you listen to our 30-minute interview and consider the book yourself.

And the part of the interview that most moved me was when Lance described the breast cancer fund he recently set up to honor his fourth-grade teacher, a breast cancer survivor, because of six words she wrote on the back of his end-of-year report card. I'll give you a hint about the words -- Shakespeare put them in the mouth of a father giving advice to his son in "Hamlet."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009 Launched to Help Screenwriters and Directors has just been launched by my older daughter Rachel Miller (she’s @Rachmiller on Twitter) with the website built by my younger daughter Yael Miller (she’s @MillerMosaicLLC on Twitter).

The three of us are very pleased with how the site has turned out. And we’re hoping that there will be a sizable online target audience to learn insider Hollywood knowledge from Rachel.

If you know of any aspiring or just-starting-out screenwriters or directors, do send them along to check out the site.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Doubt the Movie: Questions Raised That Aren't Necessarily Answered

I saw John Patrick Shanley's play "Doubt" performed in Los Angeles, and he himself adapted his play for the screen and directed the movie. I thought the play powerful, and the playwright has preserved his story in the movie he wrote and directed.

Still, the play's ending seemed much more ambiguous than the movie's ending. Perhaps Shanley felt that movie audiences needed a more settled ending than did theater audiences. Regardless of the case, the story itself -- set in a Catholic elementary school in Boston a year after the assassination of President Kennedy -- raises some interesting moral questions for all of us today.

In the absence of evidence, are we morally required to go with our "gut" in order to protect a child, even at the risk of ruining an adult's life? Or are we all liable to see what we "see" based on our own insecurities and prejudices?

If you've seen the movie or the play, leave a comment as to whether you think the head sister (played by Meryl Streep in the movie) was correct in the action she took.

And, oh yes, the actor who plays the child's mother in the movie, Viola Davis, I predict will be nominated for an Oscar in the best supporting category. When I said this to my younger daughter, she informed me that this is already being predicted by film critics. I hadn't read anything about this, but there was no doubt, as I watched Viola Davis' heartbreaking scene with Meryl Streep, that Viola Davis will be one of five names in that category when the Oscar nominations are announced.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year’s Day: Making Resolutions for the Coming Year

Harvey Mackay’s December 30th weekly column titled “How to stay young as the years go by” had lots of good advice, perhaps to me the most important being “Keep only cheerful, positive friends.”

The following morning my business partner and I were reviewing 2008, and we realized that this was the year we had taken control of our own destinies. We had stopped waiting for people to say yes to us and instead had said yes to ourselves. My novel MRS. LIEUTENANT was published in April and her children’s picture book TOO MANY VISITORS FOR ONE LITTLE HOUSE is due out any moment. And we had started other endeavors as well.

This morning, as I reflected on the coming year, I thought of Mackay’s advice, my conversation with my business partner, and a conversation last Saturday night at a Hanukkah party. I had been talking about how Twitter can be used for business purposes, and one person just dismissed the idea out of hand. Yet another person there, an M.D., jumped up and right then hired me to come to her office Monday to get her started on Twitter.

When I went to the office Monday I first met some resistance from her assistant. I realized that her assistant was concerned that I was taking over her role as the computer expert in the office. But I’m not a computer expert. I was there to use my marketing expertise to help her boss. And by the end of the two plus hours, both boss and assistant seemed on board.

And they were definitely on board when I subsequently shared the info with them that the New York Israeli Consulate had held a “press conference” on Twitter. What’s a press conference on Twitter? It’s a way to bypass the often-biased media channels and take the info straight to the people. Twitter users asked questions in 140 characters and got answers in 140 characters. And afterwards these conversations were “enlarged” from Twitter language (for example, changing 4 to for) and put on the consulate’s blog.

I thought this was a genius idea, and apparently the doctor’s assistant thought I was “brilliant for recognizing the power of Twitter.” (The truth is that Twitter combines my two expertise areas of communication and marketing – so I’m definitely open to its power.)

And this new media, this technology, is available to all of us as we begin 2009. Only yesterday I had an epiphany about a do-gooder project that I want to undertake but could never do in the traditional way. I suddenly realized I could use all the new technology/marketing I’ve learned in the last year to do this project.

I immediately registered a domain name (after checking with my business partner as to which of three names was the best for this project) and I hope to be off and running in days. My husband isn’t convinced my plan will work, but I’m taking the chance. Because if it does work, I’ll be accomplishing something for lots of people. And that’s worth a try.

Stay tuned for a progress report on the above project. And for all of you, I wish you a year of saying yes to yourself and a year of being open to new ideas and new technology and of surrounding yourself with “cheerful, positive friends.” (Oh yes, and good health for all.)