The Great Hamantaschen/Latke Debate Comes to Detroit

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stacylynngittleman:

My friend and fellow Congregant won the Latke Hamantaschen Debate for Hamantaschen lovers everywhere. Thank you for the mention!

Originally posted on Writing It Down:

Instead of a sermon, we made the congregation laugh.

Last Shabbat morning, I participated in a mock debate on the relative merits of latkes versus hamantaschen.

Hamantaschen Recipe I skip the prune filling. The notes reflect many years of experimentation.

I proudly defended the cookie, while our rabbi argued in favor of potato pancakes. In our small congregation, the debate was well-received – a dose of fun at the end of a long week.

If you’re wondering who won… Of course it was the hamantaschen. I mean, is there even any real contest?

Want to see what we both had to say?  Here is the text of the debate.

Chag Sameach!

View original

Have Blog will Travel – follow the adventures of Carole Rosenblat, founder of DropMeAnywhere.com

Mexico Me and the Kids

“Take a leap, and the net will appear.” “When you first fall in love, you feel like a better version of yourself. That is what travel does to me. Travel is my lover. I do not know how long the money will hold out, or if I will make any money by documenting these adventures, but for now, I am very happy.” – Carole Rosenblat

The things I’ve learned from Community Theater

mmcast

mmcastWordlessly, a bearded man dressed completely in black pointed at me and gave me directions.

“Hold this.” He whispered, shoving a clump of black curtain into my hand.

“When Frumma Sarah finishes singing, open the curtain from here very quickly so we can wheel her backstage,” the man in black ordered. “This will be your job at every performance.”

And just like that, I had my first job in community theater. While my son was doing his thing onstage being a shtetl boy, I had my part backstage helping Fume Sarah get offstage. And I did my job proudly, all the while pantomiming Frumma Sarah’s motions and words, with another stagehand who I had not met until that final tech dress rehearsal, every night I was not in the audience watching my son with pride.

I was a suburban mom. This other stagehand was a young woman at most in her 20’s. We had never met before that night, but though “The Dream,” we had an instant connection. And at that moment, I realized: I am not a soccer mom. I am a stage mom!

That was last year, the year my son came home buzzing about how he wanted to audition for Fiddler on The Roof with a local community theater group. He heard about it from a poster hung up at his new school. I drove him to every rehearsal and instead of dropping off and running home or going for coffee, I hung around.

This year, I was asked to serve on the board, and perform on stage, as a member of a long-standing mainly volunteer community theater group in the Detroit Metro Area.

As a transplant, getting involved in community theater has proven the best way for me to plug into a community. Now that the curtain has closed on our most recent production, here is a few things community theater has taught this newbie:

You cannot produce any old show you want - Planning to produce a show in community begins nearly a year before opening curtain. Music Theater International has strict licensing guidelines and a catalog of shows available for community theater production that is regularly updated. Nothing running on Broadway, or that is a Broadway national tour, can be produced. And licensing rights for some musicals, especially the Disney genre, are extremely costly. Being that our company is geared to be a family, multi-generational theater company also restricts our choices. Hair and R.E.N.T. are definitely no-nos.

 Everyone counts: To the untrained eye, a theatergoer might think that the female lead with the canary-like voice or the dancer with the highest kicks or the tenor with the sweetest crooning is the most important facet of a musical theater production. But the ones you see on the stage, we are just mere puppets. It is everyone else: the sound engineer who follows the script line by line during every performance, whose fingers fly across the soundboard making sure your mike is hot only when it needs to be,  the stage manager and their fearless tech crew who wheel stage sets around 180 degrees or pull the grand curtain open and shut within seconds, they are the backbone of any good production. As is the props master, whom months before opening curtain thought of every detail, and where it needs to be when not on stage, who matters. As is the costumer who hunts around at thrift stores and begs borrows and steals if she has to just the right costume from other community theater groups, who is up late at night sewing and resewing hemlines and taking in trousers, that’s who matters in a show. Not to mention (and OF COURSE they need mention!) the multi-piece orchestra that plays at your feet from the pit, whose musicians will even throw in their own laughter if a joke onstage falls flat. I don’t understand why they can’t join us on stage for a bow each night.

You gain an insane appreciation for people who actually want to do musical theater for a living  – As much as I loved being in a performance, towards closing night I was wiped. How do people do this and keep it fresh, some for 3,000 performances in a row? Maybe it is because most of our company is slightly older than professional Broadway stars. But Broadway stars, for eight performances a week, have to give it all to their audience, even when they may not have it all that night. Even if they are under the weather. Or had a fight with their boyfriend. One night, while driving to rehearsal, I heard Seth Rudetsky on the XM Broadway Channel interview an actor who passed a KIDNEY STONE on stage while he played Horton in Seussical the Musical. After all, the show must go on, and the paying audience does not care if you are passing a kidney stone. When you need to be on stage, you must be on stage. Even if you have to pass a kidney stone. Or even pee. Yes, perhaps of all the things I learned about being on stage is that performers do not get to use the bathroom any old zany time they want to. For thousands of performances. Yet, they have to keep themselves hydrated? How is that all supposed to even out?

Hair and Makeup - This again speaks to the immense appreciation I have gained for professional actors, because this business is way too high maintenance for me, an otherwise hermit-like writer, when it comes to tending to hair and makeup prep that is worthy of the stage. To get myself ready for performances, I spent hours watching Youtube videos on how to create the perfect Gibson Girl updo from the Edwardian era. I found videos on proper contouring and learned how to apply blush not to my cheekbones but underneath.  The first time I tried to apply my makeup, I looked more like a Geisha girl than someone who lived in River City, Iowa, but thanks to our volunteer makeup artist, a woman in her 40s who is also a national champion figure skater (!!), I got it looking just right.

Community Theater is not high school theater – You know where my favorite place in the theater is? Not on stage, under those hot bright lights, but deep backstage. Where the darkness is lit only by a string of lights. Where the smell of sawed wood and paint lingers in the air.  Where you can find random things like an old stove or a stripped down Chevy Convertible from shows past. Graffiti that says things like “Best Cast Ever Guys and Dolls ’86” Because if only for a second, I can pretend I am backstage in my own high school. But this is not high school theater, even if this may have been the high school of others for many decades. It wasn’t mine. And as a transplant, few, if any of the audience members knew me, let alone knew me from high school. I also got that lonely transplanted feeling after performances, watching my fellow cast mates surrounded by adoring family and friends, awkwardly balancing bunches of flower and candy in their arms while they posed for a picture. When you are a transplant, this post-performance shower of adoration can feel a bit thin.

*sigh*

But this post is not about being a transplant. It is about showbiz! So let’s move on:

Breath Support, Personal amplifier – Just as a choreographer tells a dancer how to move their body, a great vocal director will tell you how to move your lips, teeth, tongue in such a way that you would believe that you never knew how to move your lips, teeth,  tongue and even the roof of your mouth (did you know you can move the ROOF of your mouth?) before he taught you. Every note has choreography and a dynamic, and a good musical director will get this out of you if he has to beat it out of you to make sure you are sounding like a well-supported ensemble, a chorus capable of producing that building wall of sound. You might think that singing in the shower or singing in your car is singing, until you have taken actual formal instruction from a musical director. There really is a difference.

Community Theater truly is a community- My son discovered something that I learned this year. Yes, the cast and crew become like family. After all, in the intensive weeks leading up to opening curtain, you will see them more than your actual family. They are there for you – totally there – to celebrate your birthday, to say a community prayer of healing if you have a loved one in the hospital, to root for you if you are waiting on that job offer after months of unemployment. They are there for you to change you out of one costume and into another in under 90 seconds. Or loan you a favorite antique hatpin to keep your hat from flopping over your face, because, really, who owns hat pins in this century? They are there for you to hold your hand and wipe away a tear when it all becomes too overwhelming. And, if your cast is lucky enough to contain some medical professionals, they will do what they have to do to keep you healthy for those crucial last rehearsals leading up to opening night. Believe me. A month after closing curtain, and I am going through deep withdrawal missing my theater family. I cannot wait to do it all again next year!

If It came to it, would you hide me?

hiddenchildren

hiddenchildrenI’ve got an uncomfortable question to ask you.

I feel weird asking it because I am not the kind of person to ask for a lot of help. Hell, I even feel bad asking a neighbor to for an egg or a cuppa sugar to save me from pulling my boots on and heading out  to the supermarket on a snowy day. Or asking you to pick up my kid at band rehearsal if I drive the other way, would you drive the other?

But this is a biggie. A total solid.

If things in this country got very bad for me, your Jewish friend;

if it came to it where laws were put in place forbidding people to do business with Jews, for going to school with Jews, for being treated by Jewish doctors or seeking counsel from Jewish lawyers; if Jews were forbidden from riding in public transportation or eating in restaurants, or going to movie theaters:

Would you hide me?

What about just my kids?

In the height of World War II, there were the few, brave righteous gentiles who imperiled their own lives to hide Jews in their basements, a large closet, a ditch under their barn, and most famously, in an Amsterdam attic. Some of their stories can be viewed here in a video created by the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

Pretty dark and drastic, perhaps fatalistic and Pollyannaish all at the same time just a few days away from Valentine’s Day, right?

I know. Sorry if I am freaking you out.

Yet, I am beginning to have my doubts just how many would say yes.

It is evidenced by the alarming silence, or maybe apathy, or maybe just news fatigue I have witnessed ever since this summer.

And I know, for my Facebook friends, you are probably sick of all the stuff I have posted since this summer, starting with the horrible war between Israel and her neighbors in Gaza, followed by the outrageous double standard displayed in media coverage. You are just probably sick to death of me and have most likely hidden all my rantings from your newsfeed.

I have also posted many petitions asking you to stand up against hatred against the only democracy in the Middle East. I have tried to educate the unfamiliar on the history of the formation of the modern state of Israel, lest you are misled by those who want you to believe that Jews are land stealing colonists with no ties to this scrap of land in the Middle East.

I have tried to make you understand that yes, when some say “I have no problem with Jews, it is just the Zionists we hate” that this is just a thin veil, a code word for Jew hatred.

I have tried to teach you the real meaning of what it means to be a Zionist. I posted petitions asking our government to stop forcing Israel into any negotiations with a party who in its very charter calls for the total destruction of the Jewish state, and Jews in general.

I have shared petitions about lending your voice to speak out against the rapid rise of Jew Hatred in Europe and even right here in our own country as college student governing bodies pass ruling after ruling asking their university administrations to stop doing business with any business that does business with Israel, to stop RESEARCH and PROGRESS if it means collaborating and learning and working with Israeli researchers.

Post after post, I pretty much knew who would share, or who would comment, or maybe who would just click “like.” Same people. Same choir.

Otherwise, silence.

Those who know their history understand what silence in the face of evil brings. That is why I am asking you that very uncomfortable question:

Would you hide me?

It is not only me who feels this way. Just this week, clinical social worker Carla Naumburg, PhD wrote  in “Jewish, American and Scared” how she is making sure that all her ducks are in order: passport, bank statements, title deeds to house and car, just in case she has to flee with her family to Israel. As many French Jews have been fleeing after anti-Semitism in that country has nearly quadrupled over the last few years. I shared and posted about that too, mostly to seemingly deaf ears.

How many of you have dared to tweet #JeSuisJuif?

So, if you are Jewish, please share this post and ask this question of your friends.

If you are not Jewish, check in with your conscience and think back to a time when you (hopefully) watched a Holocaust documentary, or Schindler’s List, or visited a Holocaust Museum, and asked yourselves how the hell could this have happened??  Ask yourself what you are doing right now, in the 21st Century, to prevent this from happening again.

Silence and apathy of the majority of the good allowed evil to take over and murder millions.

Silence and apathy, that’s how it happened.

It is a good thing there is now a place I can go, if it comes to it.

 

 

The Play’s the Thing: Bloomfield Players Music Man runs January 23-31

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The Music Man, being performed Jan. 23-31 at Bloomfield Hills High School. For details on performance times and ticket sales, go to http://www.bloomfieldplayers.org or call Call 248-433-0885, M-F, 8am-4pm.

From Darkness Into Light – Chanukkah in the D

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I’ve only lived in Detroit for 17 months. And let’s face it, I don’t really live in Detroit. I live in the suburbs. Because that’s   – if you are fortunate – where you live to raise a family and find good schools. And I know there are many who are not fortunate. 

Things indeed are changing in Detroit. This week it emerged from bankruptcy and full control was given back to  Mayor Duggan and the city council. Still, the schools are in dire straights. Buses rarely run for those who have no cars in the Motor City. And one in four kids in Michigan live in poverty. 

But this article is about light. Lights are coming back on in the city streets faster than anticipated. Every day, 200 blighted houses are demolished to make way for new neighborhoods, a new start. Businesses in downtown are cropping up. And yes, Jewish life in the D is getting stronger.

Here is my latest piece in the Detroit Jewish News about the upcoming Detroit community Chanukkah celebration. I only wish I could go.

Happy Chanukkah to those who celebrate. And to all, let’s banish the darkness in this world with light.

Darkness To Light

By Stacy Gittleman|Contributing Writer

Posted on December 11, 2014, 3:43 PM . Filed in Uncategorized. Tagged , , . Be the first to comment!

Menorah in the D shines a public spotlight on Jewish unity.menorah in the dAs Detroit emerges from the darkness of bankruptcy into the light of regrowth, this year’s fourth annual “Menorah in the D” celebration — starting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 16, at Campus Martius — holds particular significance.

Organizers of the Chanukah event see it not only as a celebration of the victory of the Maccabees, but a victory as well for the people of Detroit.

Menorah in the D is hosted annually by The Shul of West Bloomfield, Chabad in the D and in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s NextGEN Detroit division, with support from Quicken Loans and other sponsors. This year, Mayor Mike Duggan will participate in the lighting ceremony along with other government officials.

Everything about the event is pure Detroit, including the 26-foot menorah designed and built by artists Erik and Israel Nordin of the Detroit Design Center in Corktown and complimentary snacks provided by local businesses.

For international flare, the celebration also features a live performance by the Israeli band SoulFarm. There will also be strolling jugglers and acrobats, roasting marshmallows and an opportunity to pose with the Paws, the mascot for the Detroit Tigers.

Event organizers are recruiting “MacaDees” to volunteer for the event. They are needed to direct foot traffic, help with children’s arts and crafts or serve complimentary hot cider from Blake’s Orchard & Cider Mill, soup from Chef Cari Kosher Catering and other goodies from Bake Station and Whole Foods. Volunteer by signing up at http://www.menorahinthed.com.

Sarah Snider, community outreach associate for NextGEN Detroit, said that when she was growing up here she could never picture a time when such a celebration could happen Downtown.

Volunteer teams are being set up from throughout the community, including groups from Tamarack Camps, Frankel Jewish Academy and the Camp Ramah Fellows.

“I never had friends or family who lived in Detroit,” said Snider, recalling how her grandparents moved from Detroit to the suburbs. Now she knows quite a few friends in their 20s who are living in the city. “Now, I am so excited to see the changes happening Downtown.”

Darien Sherman of Bloomfield Hills, a Ramah fellow, is looking forward to an evening celebrating with the entire Detroit Jewish community.

“It shows we can take the message of Chanukah, of rebuilding and rededicating, to rebuilding a city that so many of us are attached to and is a part of our lives in so many ways,” Sherman said. “We are not only commemorating the victory of the Macabees, but also for all of Detroit’s Jewish community to be strong and united.”

Sherman added that following the lighting activities, there will be additional celebration time for the 21-and-over crowd as NEXTGen will organize some pub visits that evening around Downtown.

Making A Statement

Celebrating the miracle of Chanukah publicly is also important this year in light of the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States, said Rabbi Yisroel Pinson of Chabad of Greater Downtown Detroit.

He said that after centuries of persecution in Europe, Jews forewent the Talmudic custom of lighting the menorah visibly. Only in the last 40 years, with Chabad’s leadership in holding outdoor menorah lightings, has global Jewry taken the mitzvah back out into the public. This year, in spite of the rise of European anti-Semitism, he said the public lightings will continue as a sign of Jewish pride.

“In Detroit as well as in many cities throughout the world, celebrating Chanukah is back where it belongs — in the public square,” said Pinson, a French native. He remembers politicians participating in public menorah lightings in his hometown of Nice, France, and, therefore, showing their “public endorsement of our right to be Jewish publicly.”

Pinson said the Chanukah festivities this year are also nicely timed around the first anniversary of the opening of the Chabad center in Detroit. Since it opened on Dec. 4, 2013, it has been a “nonstop” center for Jewish living and learning for the small but growing number of Jews who are moving back Downtown, he said.

“We are proudly one of the fastest-growing Chabad centers in the country,” he said.

“Chanukah holds the message that the combined small actions of every individual — the ones who come Downtown to shop or dine to support the small business owners — are all making a contribution to the rededication of Detroit.”

 For ease of transportation, there will be a round-trip bus available from The Shul, 6890 W. Maple Road, West Bloomfield, subsidized by The Shul and the Friendship Circle. Fee is $5 per person. Contact The Shul office at (248) 788-4000 to make a reservation.

After The Flood – Grief, then Grattitude

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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged purely for blogging’s sake. Writing and teaching more for pay will do that. 

Here is my cover story from this week’s Detroit Jewish News. Thank you for my new community for allowing me into your lives to listen and record your stories as you overcome from this summer’s rains:

After The Flood

Gratitude and perspective are common feelings among those hit hardest.

If Daniella HarPaz Mechnikov of Huntington Woods could write some Twitter-style hashtags about her feelings during the months following this summer’s floods, they would be #perspective and #gratitude.

Just two years ago, Thanksgiving 2012 was the last she would spend with her mother, who died in early 2013. In comparison, the sadness caused by this summer’s floods — timed just before her daughter’s bat mitzvah — was minor. Most people had a mourning period for their soggy basements and possessions, but realize it is time to move on.

“In the weeks after the flood, the flood was all anyone talked about,” Mechnikov said. “At the summer soccer games, the main topics of conversation in Huntington Woods were ‘How much water did you have?’ ‘Did FEMA help you?’ and ‘How long did it take you to find a contractor?’ Now, we are trying to put the flood behind us. We had a few bad months, but now we are trying to shake it off.”

In her home, the basement is restored with new drywall, paint and carpeting. Mechnikov was thankful to have taken out a sewage backup rider on the family’s home insurance policy, which helped pay for the damage. Their hot water heater is hanging on, and the big screen television in the basement was saved because it was placed on a high shelf. There is no longer a comfortable couch on which to watch it, but replacing it is not a high priority for the family now.

Throughout the neighborhoods in Oak Park and Huntington Woods, this sentiment of putting things in perspective during the Thanksgiving season repeats itself. Belongings, even as precious as journals kept over a lifetime or sacred prayer books, are just material possessions. Most residents express gratefulness that few lives were lost or injuries occurred because of the rising waters.

Help Was There

Many express their gratitude for the strong showing of coordinated financial and emotional support provided by local and out-of-town Jewish agencies.

Shaindle Braunstein, chief administrative officer of Jewish Family Service in West Bloomfield, said in the weeks following the mid-August floods, the agency received hundreds of calls and assisted 309 families victimized by the flood — 253 of which had never before contacted JFS for help.

According to Braunstein, JFS distributed $700,000 in grants to families who needed to clean and remediate their basements and replace furnaces and appliances, and also emotional support in helping overwhelmed families — sometimes with 10 or more members — sift through the paperwork they needed to file with FEMA or insurance agencies.

Art Van Furniture also played a role in donating furniture.

Kathy Moran of Detroit’s Focus:Hope, the organization responsible for coordinating the company’s donated furniture distribution across multiple relief agencies, such as JFS and the American Red Cross, said the company donated 300 sofas, 225 dressers, 100 carpets and 150 mattresses to deserving households.

She said Art Van Furniture “went above and beyond” in its generosity when it additionally donated 150 bookshelves for children’s basement bedrooms so children could once again rebuild their home libraries.

JFS was thankful not only for its existing local infrastructure, but also for the added efforts of out-of-town Jewish agencies such as NECHAMA, based in Minneapolis, Minn., which had boots on the ground through October and cleaned 250 houses; and IsraAID: The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid.

“Because of our everyday, business-as-usual infrastructure and coordination with partnering agencies such as the JCC in Oak Park and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, families knew how and when to reach us when the floods made the situation far from business as usual,” said Daniel Trudeau of JFS. “Grassroots organizations like Chessed, NECHAMA and IsraAID were instrumental in reaching those most heavily affected to get the word out of how to get help.”

Braunstein said the grassroots organization Chessed was an “invaluable” partner in reaching out to the Orthodox community in Oak Park and identifying needs. Many have large families who use their basements as prime living and sleeping quarters. Not only did they help in the distribution of furniture donations from Art Van, but also in coordinating donations of household goods from as far away as Cleveland and Chicago.

Hebrew Free Loan also offered assistance by approving a total of $290,000 in loans, according to executive director David Contorer. He said his agency did everything possible to expedite 43 loans for families in need of basement restorations and new furnaces and hot water heaters.

“We sped up our approval process by 50 percent,” Contorer said. “We knew there was an urgency to clean out basements because it was an immediate health issue, and getting these no-strings-attached dollars to clients was very important.”

Families Coped

One family that benefitted from JFS services was the Goldsteins of Oak Park. Channie and Yitz Goldstein have eight children, and they both work. They were not receiving assistance of any kind from JFS before the flood. Three children have bedrooms in the basement. Yitz, a computer analyst, also uses the basement as office space.

Channie Goldstein, a teacher, expressed gratitude that when the floods started, it was during the day and no children were asleep in the basement. In fact, she said all her teen-age boys were home at the time and when the basement began to flood, they acted quickly to retrieve as much as possible to the first floor. The family’s computers, the washer and dryer, and some other important belongings were hauled up the steps.

Outside, Goldstein said neighbors kept running out of their houses asking each other if they had water in their basements.

“When we all realized we all were flooded, there was nothing left to do but watch the water rise inch by inch,” she said. “My little ones were frightened and upset as they watched their toys floating in the basement.”

She added that it could have been worse — it was just water, not raw sewage as faced by others in neighboring areas, such as Huntington Woods.

The Goldsteins tried to do as much of the clean-up work and repairs themselves, following expert basement remediation guidelines from NECHAMA in how to rip out waterlogged walls and floors and taking all the recommended precautions to prevent the growth of mold.

However, the cost of repairing their basement and replacing what had been lost came on “too fast and all at once.” Goldstein said her family received minimal support from FEMA and the cost of the damages were not completely covered by their insurance.

In the months following the flood, the Goldstein household is slowly getting back to normal. After a few weeks of sleeping in the living and dining rooms, her sons were able to return to their basement bedrooms — albeit half finished — in time to use the upstairs space for Rosh Hashanah.

The entire experience made Goldstein very aware of just “how quickly life can change from everything being OK to finding yourself in crisis mode.” She and her family are extremely thankful and comforted to know she could count on the support of JFS and its partnering agencies “when we fell.”

“Everyone on the block was supporting each other — whether you needed an extra bottle of bleach, another mop or just a hug of support. We came through this experience learning that we can help each other and that we, in turn, can help others who were hit much worse than ourselves.”

Repairing and starting fresh after the flood has its bright spots. Rabbi Robert Gamer said that his sons are enjoying the new, waterproof epoxy floor that was recently installed in the basement of his family home in Huntington Woods.

“They think it is really cool because it glows in the dark,” Gamer said. “They are just glad to have a functional play space again, even though the walls are not back up.”

In the weeks after the flood, Gamer spent time not only tending to his own home but providing hospitality and rallying the community together for barbecues and Shabbat dinners. Gamer’s congregation, Beth Shalom in Oak Park, served as a host home for the eight IsraAID volunteers who worked tirelessly for almost three weeks cleaning out neighborhood basements. The Gamer family showed their gratitude to the Israeli volunteers by having them all over at their home for a Shabbat dinner.

“We had some fantastic conversations about Jewish faith and philosophy, and what it is like to be a Jew living in the United States versus being Israeli,” Gamer said. “Plus, one of the volunteers is a professional soccer player and he loved kicking a ball around with my kids after dinner.”

Now that winter is setting in, Gamer is thankful to be able to clear out his garage of all his shuffled basement belongings so both family cars can fit inside. He is thankful for the surprising speed at which FEMA handled his own personal flood claim. Most of all, all the things his family lost were “just material possessions,” as he sadly recalled the death of a congregant caused by the storm.

“In spite of how bad it was, more lives could have been lost. When you look back at the pictures of 14-foot swells of water under highway overpasses, you realize how thankful we should be that there wasn’t even more loss of life.”

By Stacy Gittleman, Contributing Writer

Uganda School primed for the Digital Age thanks to Detroit Grandfather/Granddaughter duo

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High-Tech Project

By Stacy Gittleman|Contributing Writer

 

Posted on October 24, 2014, 10:18 AM . Filed in Uncategorized. Tagged . Be the first to comment!

Grandfather and granddaughter work to keep Ugandan Jews sustainably wired.

Jerry Knoppow stands at the equator in Uganda.

At Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, all students learn to click, drag and research in fully wired media labs equipped to educate in today’s digital age. Far away, in a remote village in eastern Uganda containing a large percentage of the country’s 2,000 Abayudaya Jews, the Hadassah Primary School expects to open a computer lab for its 800 Jewish, Christian and Muslim students as early as February 2015 — thanks to the efforts of grandfather and granddaughter duo Jerry Knoppow and Miriam Saperstein.

The two went to Uganda on their own and aim to create a bridge of cultural understanding through the Internet between the Hadassah school and fifth- and sixth-graders at Hillel Day School.

This summer, Knoppow and Sapirstein left the comforts of their West Bloomfield and Huntington Woods homes and spent a week with the Abayudaya Jews of Nabagoya Hill in the village’s guest house and a second week touring the country.

In their suitcases, they packed not only prayer shawls, tefillin and siddurim to better connect their hosts to Judaism, but also laptops fully loaded with the latest software to connect them to the world.

For Saperstein, 16 and a student at Berkeley High School, the visit offered a hands-on exploration of a Jewish community she knew little about until she discovered them in a fifth-grade social studies class at Hillel. The school continues to teach about the Ugandan community on both religious and cultural levels and last year raised money for a clean drinking water supply for the Hadassah school.

This trip is nearly a decade in the making. In 2005, after learning about the Abayudaya Jews through Kulanu, a Baltimore-based organization involved in research, education and donations to those in developing Jewish communities, Knoppow arranged for the leader of the Abayudaya, J .J. Keki, to visit the Jewish community of Detroit.

Keki, a convert to Judaism, visited here for a week in March 2005 to teach the Jewish community here the customs, prayer melodies and other traditions of his community back in Uganda.

Knoppow said the goal of their high-tech project is not just to “pour in money to get the school wired and fitted with laptops and Internet connectivity and then walk away.” It is to help the villagers be able to become financially independent to sustain and update the technology.

He backed his passion for the project with statistical evidence from the Bill Gates Foundation, which shows that the introduction of technology to rural communities changes lives by motivating people to pursue higher levels of education.

The long-term cost of establishing this project is $40,000-$50,000, Knoppow said. In the latest update, he plans to pack six suitcases with additional laptops and get them to New York by Nov. 11, where leaders of the Ugandan community will be putting on a benefit concert for subsistence farmers.

Miriam Saperstein of Huntington Woods shows Ugandan Jews ways to use a laptop.For details on volunteering or making a tax-deductible donation to this project, or for those wishing to contribute through upcoming b’nai mitzvah projects, go to http://tinyurl.com/ok9rhxp or contact Knoppow at jerry.knoppow@comcast.net.

As for Saperstein’s take-away from the experience, she knows that most of her peers in suburban Detroit grow up in a “privileged bubble” where there is a b’nai mitzvah culture of short-term mitzvah projects. At home, she admits she is happy to be surrounded by creature comforts while also dedicating many hours as a PeerCorps volunteer at Detroit’s James and Grace Lee Boggs School.

After her visit to Uganda, she learned what it means to enter another community very different from her own with humility and the capacity to listen.

“Any time you enter a community as an outsider, you should not have preconceived notions that you know what will be best for them,” Saperstein said. “The Jews in Uganda are not there for us to pity or for us to feel good about ourselves by making a monetary donation. We must work together with them as a team to map out a sustainable plan that will enable both the teachers and students to compete globally.”

The trip was not all about work. During her stay, Saperstein also had fun “hanging out” and making friends with her Ugandan peers. A leader of teen discussions at B’nai Israel Synagogue of West Bloomfield back home, Saperstein felt honored to lead parts of the Shabbat morning services in the village’s traditional egalitarian synagogue.

“Though they prayed in Hebrew and their native Luganda language, I felt so connected to the melodies and the words,” Saperstein said. “I know I can go anywhere in the world and know I can feel connected to the rituals and prayers that unite us as Jews. That is very powerful.”

Knoppow said, “As I listened to my granddaughter lead the prayers, I could not see the words in my siddur from the tears of joy in my eyes.”

 

I’m donating My Two Cents to National Public Radio, and nothing more. Here’s Why

npr

nprDear National Public Radio,

It is late October and that means it is fall pledge drive around the country at local public radio stations, asking us to support their thorough, balanced in-depth reporting.

All summer, I listened to NPR’s reporting of Gaza’s war with Israel. Funny how, in the weeks leading up to the drive, hardly any stories have come out from NPR’s Jerusalem bureau. Really, NPR, did you think your listeners and long-time donors have such a short-term memory on how you cover Israel?

I know, I know, without the rockets firing from Gaza or the IDF shooting them down, there is really nothing coming out of Israel that is worth taking up precious air-time.

What with the Ebola epidemic (which Israel has sent a team of doctors in West Africa trying to save lives, and back in Israel, medical researchers are racing to find treatments and cures), and the increasing power of ISIS (which, many of ISIS’ Syrian civilian victims are being treated in Israeli hospitals), the story of the Middle East’s only modern, democratic country fighting for its life has slipped off the radar.

But your coverage of Israel, and your under-reporting of the rise of Jew hatred, in part by your coverage, has not slipped the minds of many of your donors, myself included.

So, in spite of my love of Car Talk, and Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and in spite of all the wisdom Michigan Radio has given me about my new home state, here are several reasons why I am no longer donating or picking up my phone:

  1. Coverage of the conflict is reduced to a perverted basketball game, where NPR kept score of the deaths of Palestinians and Israelis, as if there was some moral equivalence. It went under reported that the impetus of this summer’s conflict was the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teen-aged boys, and the fact that Hamas puts out handbooks to its population on how to kidnap Israelis. That you didn’t report.
  2. Gaza fires missiles into Israel for days or even weeks without NPR coverage. I know this is true because my Israeli friends, and an Israeli-Invented app called Red Alert tells me whenever a Quasam rocket is fired. It is only when Israel retaliated in self-defense, that NPR picks up the story, which continually makes Israel appear to be  the aggressor.
  3. NPR failed each time to report that it was Hamas that broke all 11 cease-fire arrangements in this summer’s conflict, prolonging the war and causing only more deaths to Palestinian civilians.
  4. NPR attributed the number of the deaths to “Palestinian sources,” which, in the Gaza strip, is Hamas, a terrorist organization which looks to inflate civilian deaths by using people as human shields to further perpetuate their cause.
  5. Let’s look at Hamas’ ultimate cause, which NPR time and time again failed to truly investigate, or question, when it so graciously interviews a Hamas official: If brought to negotiation table (negotiation with Israel, as stated in Hamas’ charter, is a non-starter, because Hamas states it refuses to negotiate with Israel) NPR reported this summer that Hamas’ goal is to lift Israel’s occupation and blockade around the Gaza strip and open up the waters to fishing boats. NPR fails to press on to really report what Hamas wants: the ultimate destruction of Israel and to murder all Jews. It is printed clear and simple in the Hamas Charter, yet those highly skilled NPR reporters somehow don’t have the time to do any in-depth reporting on this document.
  6. NPR’s failure to question the Palestinians on how they educate their children, which is pretty much clear brainwashing bent on fostering hatred towards Jews. Such education is administered through Hamas-sponsored children’s programming, and schooling conducted in schools monitored by the United Nations.
  7. Throughout this summer, and into the fall, there has been an uptick of Anti-Semitism. Jews being murdered in places like Miami. Brooklyn. Swastikas appearing on college campuses as fast as they can be erased. A rabbi’s car set on fire in the parking lot of a synagogue on Rosh Hashana.  All this has gone under reported by National Public Radio.
  8. Rosh Hashana came and went. Did NPR go to the Israeli towns in southern Israel for a follow-up story on how Israelis are celebrating the New Year, in what could have been a massacre delivered through Hamas’ terror tunnels? No. That would place Israelis in too human a light.
  9. Once again, money is being poured into Gaza to rebuild. Has NPR ever investigated how much money Gaza has received in the past, and how much of that money went into building terror tunnels instead of: schools, pharmacies, libraries, theatres, homes, etc? No.
  10. A virulent Anti-Semitic glorification of terrorism in the form of an opera is now being staged by the Metropolitan Opera amid protests led by Jews and prominent politicians like former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. No coverage.

I know I can name more reasons I am no longer giving to NPR. Now, don’t get me wrong. Oh yes, I’ll still listen. All day long. I’m just not paying for it anymore. Because paying for this kind of coverage is akin to weaving the rope that will be used for the gallows for my people and the Jewish state, thanks in part  to your incomplete reporting.

Tell the truth on Israel and the Middle East. Report the truth of what Hamas really wants. Then maybe I’ll meet your dollar for dollar challenge.

Got a Sweet Tooth and a Big Heart: Attend Camp Mak-A-Dream Benefit Oct 16 at the Somerset Collection

image 8Was honored to write this piece that appeared in the October 9, 2014 issue of the Detroit Jewish News. I hope I did right by the young lady featured in this story, who, attended Camp Mak-A-Dream for three summers. Catherine is now a student at Arizona State. who has become a champion for speaking out and speaking for coping with living with brain cancer. 

 

When Catherine Blotner of West Bloomfield was 17, she underwent a risky brain surgery procedure to remove a benign yet deep and invasive brain tumor that for years was causing seizures and threatened her vision and hearing. The doctors said the surgery could cause permanent speech and cognitive loss, and even the loss of her ability to walk.

Now, Blotner is 19 and a student at Arizona State University studying family and human development.  Not only did she keep her ability to speak, she is a blogger and founder of #btsm (brain tumor social media), a monthly Twitter chat open to anyone seeking resources on treating brain tumors.  Neurologists and healthcare professionals seek her out for speaking engagements and conferences focused on people coping with brain illnesses. On the back of her business card: her twitter handle – @cblotner, plus a photo of an MRI of her brain.

Her mother, Ann Blotner, attributes her daughter’s confidence, coping strength, and leadership qualities in part to the summers she spent as a camper at Camp Mak-A-Dream –  a free camp under the big skies of Montana for children and young  adults with cancer.  She has been both a camper and a counselor there, including the weeks leading up to her life- altering surgery.

“Through Camp Mak-a-Dream, Catherine has become confident and connected into a supportive network of healthcare professionals as well as a peer group who are going through similar health challenges that have changed their lives,” said Ann.

The Michigan Chapter of FRIENDS OF CAMP MAK-A-DREAM hosts its “sweet” 16th annual   “Cookies n’ Dreams” fundraiser 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 at the Somerset Collection in Troy. Food, beverages, entertainment and activities for all ages will be provided throughout the evening.  Admission for adults is $60; children under 17 pay their age and children 3 and under are free. For more information go to Camp Mak-A-Dream

According to Peter Grimes, the organization’s executive director, the long-standing event has attracted “eager sponsors” and area bakers donating hundreds of cookies as well as their confectionary time and expertise to the family-friendly event.  The bake-off expects to draw 600 attendees and raise at least $130,000. Funds raised in Michigan pay for the camping and transportation costs for 70 children from Michigan. Grimes added that former campers like Blotner come back to volunteer as young adults and offer support to the campers through talks and workshops.

The camp was founded by Sylvia and the late Harry Granader of Beverly Hills, Mich. Granader owned several McDonald’s restaurants and founded several Michigan-area Ronald McDonald houses. He donated 87 acres of Montana ranch land to build a camp especially created for children and young adults facing life-threatening diseases such as cancer and brain tumors. The camp welcomed its first campers in 1995. Since then it has hosted more than 6000 children and young adults, offering typical camping activities such as swimming, a ropes course, archery, hiking, arts & crafts as well as a state of the art medical center, staff and volunteers to allow the campers to get cancer treatment while they are at camp.

 

Hadar Granader of Bloomfield Hills wishes to carry on his brother’s legacy of granting sick children a summer out in nature where “no child will feel embarrassed or laughed at because of their illness.”

“Life is especially hard for kids with cancer because they become cut off from everyday life and healthy kids have a hard time relating to them,” Granader said. “At Camp-Mak-a-Dream, children with cancer get to bond and share memories and friendships that help sustain them long after the summer is over.”

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