Sidewalk Ghosts / Taylor and Ben— Young Survivors

“When I was five I was shot because I am Jewish. I got hit by two bullets, one in the leg and the other in the abdomen. I lost fifty percent of my blood and almost died.

“The next generation of guys need to treat their women better.


Picture me as a 365 billboard, everywhere I go handing out cards and promoting our movement to all I pass. On one such evening a handshake turned into twenty minutes of fascinating conversation, and by the glow on the faces of my then unknown, and young acquaintances, was a proclamation of the great depth and experience they had. I could not pass on extending them an offer to contribute to 365. They lit up and we arranged a safe meeting place, Rite Aid in the Calabasas commons shopping center. A strange place to meet, but it was there call, so I went with it.

Two days passed and I found myself standing outside of our agreed upon Rite Aid. It was cold, and waiting in the parking lot, I stood in expectation of my friend’s arrival, when from behind me I hear, “Richard.” I turned and there they were two unique and caring young adults, both obviously committed to their special friendship with one another, readers please extend a warm welcome to survivors, Taylor and Ben.

You will understand what I mean by survivors as you read on.

I had to ask, Why Rite Aid?

“It’s our office, we have a place to sit in the back,” They laughed.

“The managers and everyone who work here know us, it’s warm and they let us hang out. Sometimes they even feed us.”

That place to sit they talked of— the waiting area of the pharmacy. They even had a screen for privacy. At one point during beginning introductions the manager walked over, placing his hand on the screen and firmly commanding, “Why is this here!”

Ben flew off, “Because we need privacy!”

I was caught a little off guard, and trying to lessen what seemed an uncomfortable situation, I tried to diffuse, Do you want me to take them outside? I joked with what looked like a very annoyed store manager.

They all crack up. The joke was on me. These kids were special and the manager knew it. Seemed I was set up. Our manager friend replaced the screen and we began a deeper conversation.

Taylor went first in encouraging all, “Don’t give up, only the strong survive.”

Only the strong survive? A very bold opening statement from a very young mind.

I quickly discovered that Taylor had earned the badges to own such a sentence.

“I was very rebellious, ran away at fourteen, I lied about my age, told them I was sixteen and got a job at a restaurant that paid under the table. From there I couched it at friends houses until one day I moved in at the house of a guy that I really liked. That was a big mistake. The police came and arrested everyone. I got sent to one of those places in Utah for a year and a half. I hated it, but it saved me. While I was there I wrote letters to my father, he was in too.”

I had to interrupt, He was in too? Was you father incarcerated?

“Yes,” Taylor told me, “But our letters helped bring us together and motivated both of us to rebuild our lives.”

Under sixteen and rebuilding her life? Think about that for a moment?

Taylor was a unique young woman, a blend of radical independence mixed with a charming and heart-felt attachment to the importance of family.

“Man! It doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you have family, they will always be there. You have to have good family values.”

Even though Taylor and her father lived, and learned, via the school of hard knocks, they both had a special connection, one that was apparent in Taylor’s words.

So what was the core to Taylor’s rebellion? Believe it or not, it is a medical condition: ADHD. In telling me of it Taylor spoke with the maturity of a women twice her age and had a regard for its influence on her life. Yet she looked at life with optimism and vigor, “You only have one life to live, if you are given the opportunity to do it, take it, and you have to be yourself.”

With the inclusion of Ben, we talked about being yourself. Taylor talked of life and what she saw in other kids her age, “People need to find happiness from within, not from the world around them. So many kids are unhappy. That’s why they go to school with guns or overdose, because they are unhappy.”

Ben opened up, “I’d love to see us all get alone. I see too many people hating and fighting because of religion and skin color, and I believe in second chances. If someone messes up, we have to give them a second chance.”

Easy for a kid to say, the pessimistic may shout. But I tell you, of all the people I know, Ben is one of the few who truly have the right to make such a claim.

“When I was five I was shot because I am Jewish. I got hit by two bullets, one in the leg and the other in the abdomen. I lost fifty percent of my blood and almost died.

The guy who shot me was a member of the Arian Nation Movement and came here from Idaho to make his point. He walked into our Jewish Center and opened up. Shot five of us. Then he left and shot and killed a Filipino man at another location. It was a big deal and in the national news. I remember meeting President Clinton, my mom speaking to Ted Kennedy, and a lot of other famous people stood by us. But that was a while ago. I’m past it and hold no hatred for what happened to me.”

By the way, Ben was also diagnosed with ADHD, part of the reason for the special bond of friendship he and Taylor shared.

Ben had been brutally attacked by the hate of the world and Taylor had walked the paths of the lost, but together, both proved the wonderment of the healing power of friendship.

A gentle giant, Ben spoke optimistically of the world, “I’d like to see a future where more people are sharing. People are selfish and greedy and that gets them in a lot of trouble.

And also, I’d like to see more real friendships.”

Taylor smiled infectiously, and with that she praised Ben’s view of friendships with a loving, “Amen!”

These two remarkable young adults had seen life through the darkest forests, and even then, they were not fully clear of the thistles.

Taylor talked of young womanhood and charges the new generating to shape up, “’The next generation of guys need to treat their women better. It’s not just the way they act, that Cholo thing; it’s the media too. They are messed up and trained to look at women as less than. They look at us as ‘Ho’s’ and ‘Bitches.’ What’s even sadder is the women are buying into it too. I know this first hand, I used to live that way and know how it feels. Girls need to step up and the guys need to respect them.’”

It was remarkable to meet two young people with the depth of life perspective and experience that Ben and Taylor possessed. In listening to them, I was acutely aware of the conditions that the youth of America endure. Both of these special kids showed astonishing stamina and a powerful desire to overcome their obstacles.

Ben was in the fight for focus, and Taylor was battling to find her way through a history of vice and rebellion. But in both of these outstanding and emerging individuals I saw one common voice. A voice standing strong in a unified and compelling call to action.

Ben and Taylor are working to be part of a noble generation. May we wish that they grow to be all that they can, be able to do their part in making the planet a better place, and that all their dreams may come true.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Eleanor Kadish says:

    Ben, you and Taylor left an indelible impression that will withstand any adversity. I am grateful that two beautiful people have become friends and can share your past in order to celebrate the future!

    This is a touching story! The moral of the story is to be kind to one another – for what goes around comes around!

    Love to everyone!


  2. Faye Herskovits says:

    Thank you for writing a wonderful article about my cousin Ben and his friend Taylor.


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