Among my favorite assignments at El Nuevo Herald — and there are so many — Christmas stories stand out, even though I’m Jewish.
Every year, when December comes along, I throw out my net in search of a community story that would incarnate the Christmas spirit. Stories about medical miracles, overcoming adversity by the virtue of faith, lay entities serving the faithful, solidarity and collective cooperation, turn into a gift from the newsroom to our readers.
Some time ago, I wrote about another facet of the holiday with a bittersweet tint — the last Christmas of terminal patients preparing to enter eternal sleep. I visited a West Miami-Dade hospice and drew a contrast between two scenes: the room of a patient embraced by children and grandchildren and, next door, a man from the Bahamas agonizing in solitude because he had no family in Florida.
The following day, a reader expressed her gratitude on Miami Herald’s webpage: “I went to St. Catherine west [hospice] this morning and spoke with Mr. Carlton Lightbourne (a distant relative of mine) who I don’t know,” she wrote. “But we talked about some of the people we know here and in the Bahamas. It was sad but a pleasant visit and if I had not read this in today’s Herald, I would not have known.”
“Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world,” states the Talmud. The fact that the hospice patient received a visitor on his deathbed is one of the biggest rewards I have received as a journalist.
I treasure multiple experiences of this nature in my spiritual bank after working almost a decade and a half for El Nuevo Herald. Also, thanks to the newspaper, I met the most exceptional individual in our community: Monsignor Agustín Román, the soul of the Cuban exile community, who made his flight to heaven last year.
Now, thanks to the generosity of the Bacardi Family Foundation, I will be able to devote all my time and efforts to fulfill the dream of many people — to hold in their hands a biography of their beloved Bishop Román.
The Bacardi name is known worldwide and is synonymous with Cuba and Cuban Americans. But even more, the Bacardi family since the 19th century has upheld a legacy of patriotism and loyalty to Cubans around the world. Román’s life also had an international scope with enormous social and patriotic achievements.
To keep connected with the public, I will continue to write a weekly Sunday column for El Nuevo and a monthly Spiritual Journeys column for the Miami Herald’s Opinion page. This is my farewell View from El Nuevo Herald column in the news pages.
For the past five years, the Miami Herald Media Co. has offered me the opportunity to cross over and share my ideas with the English-speaking audience. I don’t have enough words to thank all the reporters, editors, copy editors, page designers and photographers who have contributed to my work. For me, this space has been sacred.
Just a few months ago, a column revived the gratitude than envelops me when I write. It was about the selfless nuns of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. These servants of God had been harassed by the city of Miami with a notice of a potential property lien for feeding the homeless in their small convent. In the eyes of City Hall, the sisters operated a “business without a license.”
Two days after denouncing, with the sword of the pen, this gross misjudgment by city inspectors, municipal authorities — seeing a media nightmare headed their way — claimed it was all a misunderstanding. Since then, I keep in my cellphone’s voicemail two messages from the convent’s mother superior that are more valuable to me than any prestigious journalism award.
In 2009, a source told me the Miami-Dade County School District was charging thousands of dollars for the use of classrooms to a nonprofit orchestra that gives free music lessons in public schools located in low-income neighborhoods. The directors of The American Children’s Orchestra for Peace had tried, even approached school board members, to obtain a waiver, but to no avail. In the end, they were forced to drop or reduce the program in some schools.
Because the press is the Fourth Estate, several days after the publication of the column that exposed this shameful district decision, school authorities sent a letter to the orchestra apologizing. It was immediately exempted from payment and the music lessons were saved.
Outcomes like these are the incentives that inspire us journalists to continue this hard work despite long hours and light paychecks.
This platform also allows us to occasionally share with the public personal stories. Many readers still remember the passionate column about my friendship with Morris Rosen, a Jewish centenarian whom I accompanied for years as a volunteer until his death. The impact was so marvelous that a cable-television team from Hallmark Channel proposed taping a segment about this unusual intergenerational friendship.
When producers rang the bell at Morris’s Sunny Isles Beach apartment, he enthusiastically opened the door and said: “I have waited 100 years to be on television.”
My friends, Shalom!