Hi, I’m Ken Besser.
You can use this link to open your own copy of my life-changing motivational book, Great! All the Time! E-Book
I’ve lived an interesting life on my way to this forum, which has given me a wonderful collection of education, training, and experience to help people obtain the peace and satisfaction they really want, need, and desire to get out of their lives.
My background comprises a diverse mix. As a radio announcer at age fifteen, a wire cable mini-magnate at sixteen, a medical student, an Amway distributor, a cook, a homebuilder, a software publisher, a medical practice administrator, a lawyer, an assistant law professor, a novelist, a patent writer, a debt collector, a business consultant, and a motivational writer and speaker, professionally, I have been “a jack of all trades and, hopefully, a master of some.”
I have lived in a large variety of reformed, conservative, and orthodox communities. I was born in 1959 in Wichita, Kansas, but soon thereafter followed my parents and was reared from 1960 through 1970 in the small Mississippi River town of Natchez, Mississippi. We attend Friday night services religiously at Temple B’nai Israel and had one of the few kosher homes in Mississippi, shipping our meat and chicken in frozen on a bus from Kipper’s in Memphis. While our kitchen was kosher, however, our stomachs were treif, because as my father answered my question about why we didn’t eat kosher only, “That’s just how we are doing it here.”
When I was eleven, twelve, and thirteen, I lived in Memphis, attended the Memphis Hebrew Academy, where I had great teachers like Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt and Rabbi Yehuda Silver. I lived in the high school dorm of the Yeshiva of the South while preparing for my bar mitzvah. I was almost as orthodox as one could get, in the mid-South, unless, of course, I was visiting or spending summers with my father back in Natchez.
I then spent a year living with some older cousins Little Rock, Arkansas and prayed regularly on Friday nights and Shabbat mornings at Congregation Agudas Achim, an Orthodox-leaning-Conservative shul, to which everyone drove, except of course, the Rabbi.
When I was fourteen, I returned to Natchez, and in my fifteenth summer, we moved to Vicksburg, where we joined the Anshe Chesed Temple. I do not remember seeing another Jewish child there, though I am sure there were some. My best friend in town was a classmate, Cecil C. May, III, who, by the time he was in high school, preached as a third-generation Church of Christ minister. He now pastors in Arkansas and we still stay in touch over Facebook.
I ran through high school in two and a half years, earning an early graduation at age 16 in January of 1976 and moved to Jackson, Mississippi, where I started first corporation, Central Mississippi Wire Rope, Inc.
Very soon after I moved to Jackson, I was introduced to my first and only real love in life, my beshert, Susan, by a nice Jewish customer of mine, Shirley Webber, who hooked the two of us up on a blind date. Susan sang in the choir at Jackson’s Reformed Temple, Beth Israel Congregation. An Episcopal choirmaster played the organ, a Catholic soprano led the singing of the hymns. Rabbi Birnholz worked with what he had. Years after Susan and I left in 1984, the congregants felt disconnected from the musical liturgy and got rid of the professional Christian choir and replaced it with a lay volunteer, mixed-gender, but completely Jewish choir. I’ve heard them. It’s a definite improvement.
Susan and I began living together in May of 1977. I started college that same August. Susan’s grandmother, who had raised her since she was 8 figured our living arrangements out in he summer of 1978 she insisted on loaning me the money to buy Susan a small ring and we got engaged in 1978 and married the night before New Years’ Eve in 1979. I graduated college in 1981, and finished two years of medical school in 1983, when I decided I’d rather stay married to a nice Jewish doctor than become one.
Susan and I were initial going to be DINKs (double incomes, no kids), but something happened and we intentionally became pregnant and delivered our first child two months after Susan finished her residency in family medicine. We decided, if we were going to have children, we wanted to give them a more Torah-observant lifestyle than either of us had. And, doing that required moving to a multi-level Jewish community.
We chose Nashville, Tennessee, because my sister and her family had just moved there. We initially joined the Conservative shul, West End Synagogue, but almost immediately got pulled down the street to the Orthodox shul, Sherith Israel, by a nice baalei-teshuva couple, Dwight and Trisha Davidson. Dwight was a former Christian minister, who finally found the Jewish light. We four were all makerev-ed to a Torah-observant life by Rabbi Zalman Posner, one of the best Chabad Lubavitch rabbis the Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, ever sent to the galut of the southern United States. Rabbi Posner gave us a connection to Torah observance and the Chabad Lubavitch movement that has colored the rest of our lives.
And, then, my sister’s husband got transferred to Ft. Wayne, Indiana and we decided to follow her west, be we stayed in the mid-south. I got to return to the land of my first teshuva, because Susan found her first job practicing family medicine in Memphis.
Rabbi Nathan Greenblatt’s did my bris-al-pi-halalcha in 1970 when I attended the Hebrew Academy. After we moved back as adults, I davened in his minyan many shabbatim and he remains my go to rabbi for serious religious questions. A lot of my contemporaries davened shabbat shacharit at the yeshiva minyan as did I for a very long time. But, I celebrated my bar mitzvah at Baron Hirsch and when it finally built a real shul in the East Memphis King Arms neighborhood, I “moved my letter” to there.
As a husband and work-from-home father, which are my most cherished roles, I have tried to be my wife’s best friend since 1977 and my six kids’ best role model since the first one popped out in 1984.
I’ve lived a fractured and multi-faceted life. As a child in a reformed Jewish, lower middle class family, I felt the dual stings of poverty and racism in the segregated south. The son of a steel warehouseman and a housewife, I went to doctors’ and dentists’ offices and sat with my parents in separate waiting rooms for white and black folks, which made no sense to me as a single-digit-aged child. I attended elementary school in the mid-to-late sixties as the civil rights movement was just coming to a head and busing was just being court-ordered.
I often picked pecans on the property of the antebellum home Linden behind my house and sold them to the Krause Pecan Company to help pay for things for our family’s home or to have spending money.
One luxury pecans often brought me was a movie at the Clark Theatre downtown. While there, however, I could not understand why my black friends from school and my father’s warehouse laborers’ families had to sit in the balcony upstairs and buy their candy through a one-foot square hole connecting the concession stand to stairs leading up to it.
Experiencing the bitterness of one segment of society imposing itself on another led me to adopt a doctrine of nonimposition that has infused my personal, business, and professional lives and my writing. As a child, despite having to watch my mother battle addictions to tranquilizers and alcohol and attempt suicide trying to escape her own demons, I regretfully lost the safety and security of an intact family to the divorce of my parents at age ten. The next year, I was sent off to an orthodox Jewish day school in Memphis, Tennessee, where I lived mostly alone in the Jewish high school yeshiva dorm while attending the junior high school.
My ideas of religious tolerance and ecumenism grow out of my religious interactions in my childhood. First, I was reared as a reformed Jew in Natchez, by a mother who practiced Christianity until she married my father, who was raised in an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Little Rock, Arkansas that eventually moved to Conservative and allowed my family to swing all the way left to Reformed Judaism.
We attended a Reformed Jewish Temple in Natchez until my parents divorced in 1969. I was then exposed to intense orthodoxy in Memphis, which deepened my strong grounding in Judaism. Following my bar mitzvah in Memphis, I was recalled back to a Reformed Jewish life in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
I graduated high school after only five of the required eight semesters. Despite my intense Jewishness, my best friend in Vicksburg, Cecil C. May, III, was a third generation Church of Christ minister, who, as a high school student, already had his own pulpit serving a predominantly black congregation, which I fondly remember attending a time or two to see him preach. Cecil and I remain in contact to this day.
In addition to Cecil and my mother’s family, I have had tangential professional associations with Christianity. My first job in high school was as a radio announcer. I closed the station down on Saturday nights following a four-hour big band show and opened it at six o’clock each Sunday morning producing four hours of radio shows for black gospel singing groups followed by two hours of live church services. Despite my exposure to the Christian world, I never developed a Christian faith, but I also never sought to challenge those who had.
I have had a lot of business experience. Following my early graduation from high school, I had my legal disabilities of minority removed and charted my first corporation, a steel cable and wire rope distributorship, at the early age of sixteen. I have since owned and operated many enterprises and helped hundreds of clients charter, organize, operate, succeed at, fail in, and close a variety of businesses.
Fifty-five days short of becoming 18, I met the first and only serious love of my life, Susan Elizabeth Levine, a curly-haired brunette from the east bay of San Francisco, and I married her shortly thereafter. Susan attended medical school at the University of Mississippi, while I, five years younger than she, attended Millsaps College diagonally across the intersection of State Street and Woodrow Wilson Avenue in Jackson, Mississippi.
Susan and I first thought it would be good to practice medicine together, me as a surgeon and her as a family physician. After two years of medical school, however, seeing the effects of medical school and residency on all of the other six dual-doctor couples in Susan’s class, I decided I would rather stay married to a physician than become one himself. I dropped out of medical school and lived as a house husband until a year later, after Susan finished her residency and bore us our first of six children.
Soon after that first birth, Susan, Julius, and I moved to Nashville, Tennessee. While in Nashville, I owned and operated a homebuilding company. After the delivery of our second son, we moved again to Memphis, Tennessee, where Susan practiced medicine and I became a distinguished law student (I graduated cum laude and served as two law review editors, both administrative editor and research editor) and passable lawyer at Burch, Porter, and Johnson, one of the top five law firms in Memphis.
I left Burch in 1993, as our sixth child was born. I “leaned in” before leaning in was cool as a work-from-home dad to our six practically perfect children. Because Susan also suffered from an abusive father and a successfully suicidal mother, we, as parents, were determined to focus most of our lives’ precious resources on raising our kids and killing the cycle of violence and abuse that had plagued the two of us in our own childhoods.
In 1996, Susan and I moved to Columbus, Ohio and opened and ran together Bexley Family Medicine where she practiced “Family medicine from the family perspective,” while I administrated her practice and also practiced law sharing her patients as my clients.
Shortly after investing all our money and other resources in practicing our professions in Columbus, Ohio, Susan suffered through and overcame ovarian cancer, which completely changed the entire way we looked at life and made me develop the idea of being Great! All the time!
For my entire legal career, I have practiced a specialty of my own creation that I called “Lifecycle Lawyering.” The scope of that field of law involves integrating the marrying, birthing, divorcing, and burying of people and small businesses and anything else that comes up in folks’ lifecycles.
Having lived successfully in one marriage since December 30, 1979 and raised six practically perfect children and having helped hundreds and hundreds of clients get divorced and having saved a few couples from doing so along the way, I am uniquely suited to serve as a marriage and family counselor.
Having run many businesses successfully and having helped hundreds of people with all legal and other aspects of their businesses, I am also uniquely suited to serve as a business consultant.
Helping people integrate their personal, business, and legal spheres in their lives has become my expertise.
Helping people become Great! All the time! and find peace and satisfaction through the value-driven use of their lives’ precious resources has become my passion.
And, like most of you, there are some previously unknown “Freaky Facts” about me. Here’s a sampling of them: I was a Law Review editor in law school. I am presently studying for a rabbinical ordination. The reasons I am so rabid about teaching people how to “rightsize” their bodies include (1) I want to see my all of grandchildren’s weddings; (2) I once weighed more than 70 pounds more than I do now, (3) my Dad died from cardiovascular disease, and (4) I am a Type 2 diabetic with a chunk of calcium in my heart that can only get bigger and will never get better, so I use it as my internal motivator to “Eat less CRAPF (the P is silent) and move my fat ass more!”
Combining all of what you have read above has made my Great! life possible.
I look forward to sharing the rest of my life with you.