As a Jewish woman, this anti-Semitic photo is a reminder of the pervasive threat of hate in 2020

In the midst of racial equality protests following the murder of George Floyd, a recent photo of college students with drawn-on swastikas on their shoulders surfaced—bringing me to tears.

It's hard to imagine Ryann Milligan, a Penn State student, who has been identified in a change.org petition, stands with her friends smiling proud, showing off their swastikas and anti-Semitism. All over the country, people are angry and hurting. These egregious acts tear us further apart.


The photo reminds me of the first time I saw a swastika tattoo. It was 2007, and I had just turned 21 years old, entering into my junior year at Temple University. I was moving into a new apartment in Philadelphia, bright-eyed and hopeful to be a journalist and graduate soon. My roommate at the time was dating a sweet guy, someone I had met through social circles and lived down the hall from me on campus the year before. He invited his friend, someone I had never met, to help us move all the heavy furniture. It was a sweltering day in Center City, temperatures nearing 100 degrees, pearlescent sweat mustaches dotted our upper lips and perspired our faces. The friend I never met before, peeled off his shirt, leaving his white chest exposed. There it was—the hooked cross swastika tattoo of oppression and symbol of hatred— right in front of me.

I stood there, alone with him, looking at this large swastika near his right shoulder. It was an immediate gut punch. I wondered if he knew I was Jewish? If he found out, would he harm me? Does he hate black people too? I thought about all the times I read about people like him. All the racism, prejudice, xenophobia and white supremacy that's continued to grow across the globe. I remembered my recent trip to Israel and the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. What about my great grandmother—she was 13 years old when she escaped Nazi Germany on a boat after her entire family was slaughtered in a concentration camp. I thought about all the Jews who have been discriminated against for centuries.

I was silent for a few minutes, but those minutes felt like hours. A phone went off. I ignored it. I stared at him a little longer. "You going to answer it?" he asked me. I gripped the cell phone to my chest. "You know I'm Jewish," I blurted out. He looked perplexed. I pointed to the swastika. "Oh, that," he said. "I got dared to get that one night. I was really drunk. It doesn't mean anything to me." I don't know what offended and enraged me more—that he dismissed it or that he didn't understand why it was a big deal.

He clearly knew very little about the history of Nazism. I felt like it was my responsibility to strengthen his understanding of what it meant. Knowledge was my way of responding to the hate and anti-Semitism. I told him how horrible it made me feel. I explained how Jewish people and black people take that symbol as a sucker punch in the face. To my surprise, he listened and then apologized. He told me he would get it covered up immediately. I hope he did.

Things like this continue to happen in our country. Let's not forget, less than three years ago, hundreds of white supremacists and neo-Nazis marched the streets of Charlottesville, Va., in the "Unite the Right" rally, protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. They brandished weapons and lit tiki torches, performing Nazi salutes and chanting "Jews will not replace us."

The rally turned violent when white supremacist James Field Jr. steered his Dodge Challenger into a peaceful crowed of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring many others. There was also the off-the-rails press conference with President Trump and his infamous quote: "You had some very fine people on both sides." It's difficult for things to actually change when the leader of our country doesn't fully condemn racism.

Seeing that picture of those young women really brought me back to that day in 2007. That was twelve years ago, but what has really changed? According to the NY Times, the Anti-Defamation League statistics reveal that anti-Semitism has more than doubled in the United States in 2018 over 2015. The question begs why would these young college girls do this? What were they thinking? It could be that they don't know better. Maybe they were raised like this. Maybe it was supposed to be a joke. Who knows.

The University responded to the image in a tweet stating, "We are disgusted by the behavior portrayed, which does not reflect our values. It is deeply troubling that as a society, we today are still facing racism." They also mentioned that they will continue to speak out against hateful speech, but they don't have the power to expel students over it, even if it is reprehensible. "But the University does have the power to condemn racism and address those who violate our values." However, the Change.org petition is asking for Milligan's removal at the college, which has garnered over 120,000 signatures so far.

In a time when our country is in turmoil, strife and demanding change, this can be a learning experience. When the women wash away the black ink swastikas on their skin, I hope they think about the visceral impact it's caused others. I can promise you that pain won't wash away as fast. Maybe they'll think about their actions—let's hope it's tattooed inside their brain. At least, this time, the ink wasn't permanent.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.