Joanne Greene is the author of "By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go"
Joanne Greene is the author of "By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go"

‘By Accident’: Marin radio host hit by car reflects on how to handle setbacks in memoir

In 2017, Novato resident Joanne Greene promoted multiple interfaith gatherings of local Jews and Muslims, convened a symposium on the Golden Age of Spain and co-led a JCC trip to Spain.

It was a lot of activity for someone who only five years prior had been hit by a car.

In her first book, “By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go,” Greene, 69, assiduously recounts the impact of that accident — as well as a series of other ordeals — on her psyche and her life.

Formerly the director of Jewish engagement at the Osher Marin JCC, Greene writes that the accident proved to be “a catalyst for me, a sudden graphic stop to my constantly-in-motion existence, my need to produce and achieve to feel worthy of love, my need to control everything because I’ve believed it would make me safer.”

The JCC in San Rafael, in conjunction with Congregation Rodef Sholom and Copperfield Books, will host Greene for a reading and book signing on June 25, five days after the book’s publication date. (It’s already available as an audiobook on Audible.)

One day 11 years ago, Greene left work at the JCC and stepped into a crosswalk on North San Pedro Road. The car to the right of her stopped, but a truck behind that car did not, colliding with the car and pushing it forward. Greene was lifted onto the car’s hood, then thrown hard to the ground. The impact left her with multiple fractures of her pelvis and other serious injuries. Recovery would challenge her as nothing before had.

Born in 1954, Joanne Rosenzweig grew up near Boston in a fairly typical, close-knit Jewish family. After media studies at Northwestern University, she earned her bachelor of fine arts in communication arts at Emerson College. Making her way to the Bay Area, she launched a successful career in radio, including stints at KRE, KSAN (where she met her husband, Fred Greene, a producer), KFRC (where she spent 13 years as public affairs director then news director) and KGO (where she served as a fill-in talk show host).

It was while raising her two sons with Fred that she reengaged with Judaism. She got involved at Rodef Sholom, served three years as board chair of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Camp Newman, and in 2009 took the position of director of the Koret Center for Jewish Peoplehood at the Osher Marin JCC.

In an interview, she described herself pre-accident as a woman who took pride in accomplishment and set high standards for herself — as a professional, wife, mother, daughter, woman and feminist. She was the kind of person who was in perpetual motion from morning to night.

A broken pelvis put all that on pause. She is still high-achieving, but her accident forced her to surrender some of the pillars of her personality: independence, constant activity, and the illusion of control. The process of realigning her psyche was arguably as painful as the physical ordeal of healing.

We don’t have control over what happens to us but we absolutely have control over how we respond.

Some six months after the accident, she believed herself ready to return to work, even though the word “stress” now had new and unmanageable dimensions.

She reduced her hours to half-time, but “the universe,” as she is wont to say, had further challenges in store for her: a cancerous colon tumor, a benign tumor in her lungs and a hurricane in Mexico that confronted her with a near-death experience.

Greene had been keeping a journal as part of her coping strategy, and began writing a book after leaving the JCC in 2019.

“If I had to boil it all down,” Greene said, “what I wanted to offer my readers is this: Life is gonna happen, and loss, injury, illness; for some, divorce, or getting fired from jobs. We don’t have control over what happens to us but we absolutely have control over how we respond.”

Greene said she leaned on her husband for strength as the days of recovery turned into months and years. Indeed, she said, “Someone told me the book reads like a love letter to my husband. He was extraordinary.”

She also drew on Jewish tradition and community for support. “No question: Jewish wisdom helped me enormously,” she said. “I saw all of what was happening as opportunities for growth, to become a better person. And I think that’s a very spiritual approach. Which is not to say it was easy or that I was always successful.”

Greene explained, “We are descendants of survivors. It is no accident that my grandparents left Europe for a better life, fleeing the pogroms, fleeing persecution and lack of economic opportunity. They came to this country not speaking a word of English, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, dealt with challenge after challenge, and were undaunted. I feel like that’s deep in my DNA, as it is in the DNA of many J. readers. I’m sure that will resonate.”

With her background in radio, Greene in 2021 co-created the podcast “All the F-Words” with Gabi Moskowitz, a Bay Area writer. Taking off from virtually any word that starts with F, the co-hosts discuss issues from fanaticism to firearms to feng shui to FOMO (fear of missing out). Moskowitz, who lives a few blocks from the Greenes and is raising two small children, says she enjoys their conversations both on air and off.

“Joanne is a living embodiment of ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’ She is so good at rising above adversity large and small,” Moskowitz said.  “But it’s not just the literal words of her advice. It’s her tone. The energy she gives off is so comforting because you can see how unruffled she is by challenges. Her perspective and wisdom touch everything.”

In 2023, Greene created a  second podcast with her husband. “In This Story … with Joanne Greene” features micro-essays by Greene set to music and sound effects.

Both podcasts are available on all major podcast platforms.

While the radio medium suits her as much now as it ever did, writing the book provided an important sense of completion.

“It feels good to have captured my learnings,” she said.

“By Accident: A Memoir of Letting Go” by Joanne Greene (She Writes Press, 177 pages). Book talk and signing 5-7 p.m. June 25 at Osher Marin JCC, 200 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael. Free, registration requested.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s former culture editor.