Saturday, December 01, 2007

In passing

Yesterday, I received an email from someone I didn't know and almost deleted it, but something told me to read it -- probably the subject: Benson Wolman. The email was from one of Benson's colleagues at the ACLU in Columbus, Ohio. He died yesterday. I was contacted because I interviewed Benson for an article about a case he had coming up before the U. S. Supreme Court. He was defending the Ku Klux Klan. What was most surprising to me is that Benson was Jewish. The time I spent interviewing him was delightful and we ran well over the 30 minutes he originally offered, neither of us willing to end things. He was my first professional interview, but not my last, and the newspaper ran the picture I took of him in the conference room at the Columbus ACLU in front of a poster of the American flag.

Benson was in his late fifties at that time and had decided to go back to college to get his law degree. He retired and wanted to do more with his life, so he studied law. He made Law Review and was hired by the ACLU, making his dream come true. I asked him why a Jew would consider defending the Ku Klux Klan, especially considering the Klan's stand on where Jews fit in the scheme of things, and he told me what his rabbi told him.

The thing about democracy and freedom is that it entitles everyone to their own opinions and politics. It is the most aggravating thing about democracy and freedom of speech, but it's also the most wonderful thing. Freedom of speech means everyone is allowed to say what they want, whether you agree with them or not, and only in a country like ours will you find people at opposite ends of the political spectrum defending each other's right to speak.

Benson Wolman was a remarkable man and a champion for freedom and justice. I am proud to have known him and to have interviewed him.

I had no idea Benson Wolman had kept up with my writing or that his colleagues at the Columbus ACLU read my articles, stories and books. Now I know.

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