Awash in Water – Detroit’s Jewish Community Responds to Flood

jodi-flood-1-300x300

It was the flood disaster minus the hurricane. Talking to folks for my story reminded me of the frustration suffered by my parents and so many others after Sandy. I want to thank all of them for sharing their stories, and for the Jewish agencies like NECHAMA and Jewish Family Services who are working tirelessly to all people affected by this historic flood. Here is my front-page story from this week’s Detroit Jewish News. 

Awash In Water

Posted on August 21, 2014, 9:05 AM . Filed in featured, Uncategorized. Tagged , . Be the first to comment!

Flooded Detroiters find aid through agencies and synagogues.

Spencer Cherrin of Huntington Woods stands in his flooded basement. Damaged prayer books there will be taken to Congregation Beth Shalom for proper burial.  Jewish organizations in Detroit and around the country rose to the needs of last week’s flood victims as rapidly as the waters rose in the streets and basements.

They provided hands-on assistance, from hauling out damaged carpets and soggy sofas from basements flooded with smelly sewage to offering financial assistance and loans.Congregation Sharey Zedek in Southfield had a free, warm Shabbat dinner waiting for its members tired after a week of cleaning up. In the first week of responding to Detroit’s historic flood caused by torrential rains on Aug. 11, there was no shortage of an outpouring of help to Jewish families in Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge and hardest-hit Huntington Woods.

By Thursday morning, Nechama, a Jewish nonprofit disaster relief agency based in Minneapolis, had boots on the ground in Detroit. They quickly collaborated with Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit as well as other area nonprofits in the general population to help the disabled, elderly homebound and economically disadvantaged in the secular and Jewish communities.

Nechama Field Operations Specialist Mark McGilvery drove through the night to arrive in Detroit the morning of Aug. 14 to mobilize a team of volunteers who could be ready to work as early as last Friday.

“We are like a Home Depot on wheels,” said McGilvery, referring to the trailers stocked with a large amount of supplies and clean-up equipment they are able to bring to populations affected by natural disasters. Nechama, Hebrew for comfort, has the capacity of training and mobilizing Jewish organizations in Detroit and around the country rose to the needs of last week’s flood victims as rapidly as the waters rose in the streets and basements.

They provided hands-on assistance, from hauling out damaged carpets and soggy sofas from basements flooded with smelly sewage to offering financial assistance and loans.

Congregation Sharey Zedek in Southfield had a free, warm Shabbat dinner waiting for its members tired after a week of cleaning up. In the first week of responding to Detroit’s historic flood caused by torrential rains on Aug. 11, there was no shortage of an outpouring of help to Jewish families in Ferndale, Oak Park, Pleasant Ridge and hardest-hit Huntington Woods.

By Thursday morning, Nechama, a Jewish nonprofit disaster relief agency based in Minneapolis, had boots on the ground in Detroit. They quickly collaborated with Jewish Family Service of Metropolitan Detroit as well as other area nonprofits in the general population to help the disabled, elderly homebound and economically disadvantaged in the secular and Jewish communities.

Nechama Field Operations Specialist Mark McGilvery drove through the night to arrive in Detroit the morning of Aug. 14 to mobilize a team of volunteers who could be ready to work as early as last Friday.

Suzanne Rosenthall’s basement in Huntington Woods“We are like a Home Depot on wheels,” said McGilvery, referring to the trailers stocked with a large amount of supplies and clean-up equipment they are able to bring to populations affected by natural disasters. Nechama, Hebrew for comfort, has the capacity of training and mobilizing volunteer crews as large as 100 to help with debris cleanup and tearing out drywall and waterlogged flooring materials. McGilvery said his organization expects to stay in town for at least two weeks volunteer crews as large as 100 to help with debris cleanup and tearing out drywall and waterlogged flooring materials.

McGilvery said his organization expects to stay in town for at least two weeks or maybe longer depending on the need.

“A natural disaster like this is something new to us,” said Dan Trudeau of Jewish Family Service in West Bloomfield. “We are relieved to have the expertise of an organization like Nechama that could mobilize and put together tremendous relief efforts as quickly as they did.”

Trudeau said within the first days following the flooding, JFS received phone calls from nearly 50 community members, most JFS clients, experiencing flood-related problems and requesting help cleaning out their basements flooded with sewage backups. Callers also reported loss of major appliances, furnaces and hot water heaters. Trudeau said he expects the number of incoming calls to increase.

“Our family case management supervisor said they had 10 calls in 45 minutes on Thursday afternoon,” Trudeau said. Most came from families in Oak Park and a few from Southfield and Huntington Woods.

Last week, streets in these areas were deluged with huge piles of sour-smelling debris at the ends of driveways awaiting city garbage pickup.

Rabbi To The Rescue
Rabbi Robert Gamer, also of Huntington Woods, found it a challenge to care for his congregants at Congregation Beth Shalom in Oak Park while he also cleaned his family’s flooded basement.

In the days following the storm, he spent mornings in shorts and a T-shirt ripping out basement flooring and hauling a ruined couch to the curb before changing into more rabbinical attire to comfort congregants who recently lost a loved one as he officiated at a funeral. He also spent a great amount of time reaching out to his congregants, most living in Huntington Woods.

According to Gamer, around 40 to 50 families of Beth Shalom had flooding. Prayer books in basements may have been water-damaged, so Beth Shalom is collecting prayer books to ensure they receive a proper burial in a Jewish cemetery rather than ending up in a landfill with other debris.

Lev, Pelli and Mia Mechnikov stand in front of what is left of their basement playroom.“We were disappointed that some of our siddurs and mahzors were lost in the flood,” said Daniel Cherrin of Huntington Woods. “However, I am grateful to Congregation Beth Shalom and Rabbi Gamer for providing the valuable service of properly taking care of damaged prayer books. It provides a difficult but great lesson for me and my children in dealing with damaged religious items.”

Gamer said, “It has been an emotional week. It has been hard on my young children. We lost some major appliances. We lost some wedding and baby pictures of our kids; but in the end, we are fortunate. There are many much more worse off than we are.”

On Sunday afternoon, Gamer invited all to come together for a hot dog roast, right in his driveway. Beth Shalom supplied the hot dogs, drinks, chips and watermelon.

Rabbi Aaron Starr at Congregation Shaarey Zedek said 35 congregants impacted by the flood attended a Shabbat dinner at their shul. The CSZ Sisterhood as well as Quality Kosher Catering sponsored the dinner.

“Our affected congregants worked hard all week at the frustrating task of cleaning out flooded basements,” Starr said. “It was the least we could do at the end of that week to provide them with a warm Shabbat dinner that nourished both body and soul.”

Susan Kirschner, executive director of Temple Emanu-El in Oak Park, said congregants “totally stepped up to the plate” in volunteering and reaching out to fellow congregants after the flood. Congregants sponsored a free Shabbat dinner attended by 80 members.
Members also baked desserts, so much that there will be enough for Oneg Shabbat for many weeks to come. Rabbi Arturo Kalfus spent the greater part of last Friday delivering challahs to congregants most affected by the flooding.

“This flood has taught us that we need to come together when disaster strikes,” said Kirschner. She added that several rooms in the synagogue’s basements had been flooded, including a teacher resource room, but the damage had been minimal and the temple’s organ was still in working order.

And in an effort to raise awareness for relief efforts from Jewish Family Service, JN columnist and caterer Annabel Cohen set up a grill and donated 500 hot dogs to flood victims in Huntington Woods on Sunday.
Flooded homes also mean a flood of business for disaster recovery companies.

Cynthia Maritato Schick of Pleasant Ridge said she was fortunate enough to have connections to companies that do basement cleanup and flood restoration. Recovering from her third back surgery, she said it would have been impossible to do the cleanup herself. She was able to get a fast response from Absolute Services in Brighton.

“Our phone has not stopped ringing since Tuesday,” said Mindy Long, an estimator with Absolute Services, who said they had an overwhelming influx of calls and a wait list of customers that goes into the hundreds. “Just this morning, when I checked our answering machine we had 28 calls overnight.”

Jodi Fox snapped this photo from her home on Kingston Avenue in Huntington Woods.

flooding in Huntington Woods, where 75 percent of homes had flooded basements.

Financial Aid
David Contorer, executive director of Hebrew Free Loan in Bloomfield Township, said his agency is here to help people get through “wrinkles that life throws our way.”

“In our 119 years in operation, we have never seen such an unprecedented disaster as this flood in Detroit,” Contorer said. “But Hebrew Free Loan is here to provide interest-free loans up to $7,500 to members of the Jewish community, whether you have lost your car or wish to refinish your basement.”

Those interested in applying for a loan can call Hebrew Free Loan at (248) 723-8184Monday through Thursday or begin the application process online at http://www.hfldetroit.org.

Bat Mitzvah Plans
Overall, flood victims maintained a cheery outlook that “things could always be worse.” They know personal belongings they lost are “just stuff,” but they still are in a state of mourning for sentimental and priceless possessions that money cannot replace.

Daniella HarPaz Mechnikov of Huntington Woods was one week away from celebrating the bat mitzvah of her daughter, Pelli, when raw sewage water seeped into her family’s basement and rose to nearly 3 feet. In addition to furniture, photos and other mementoes stored in the basement were the new shoes she and her daughter were supposed to wear for the simchah.

“You know what was also floating around in the basement? My rain boots,” Mechnikov said. “I’m lucky my neighbor let me borrow his big fishing boots so I can get down there and clean.”

Though she has a rider on her homeowner’s insurance policy for sewer water damage that should cover the cost to replace her furnace and appliances, Mechnikov is uncertain when the family will have the money to restore their finished basement.

“Still, you just have to take a deep breath and put things in perspective,” Mechnikov said. “After all, I have a brother in Tel Aviv who has been running to a shelter for cover all summer. It could be worse.” 

JFS is seeking donations to help families recover from the flooding. To donate, go to http://www.jfsdetroit.org/support-jfs. Donors can indicate they want to support flood relief in the comment box. Nechama is looking for donations as well as local volunteers. Call (763) 732-0610 or sign up to volunteer at www.nechama.org and click on the Detroit Area Flood Response link.

By the Waters of Babylon, Michigan

iraqi christians

iraqi christians

It has been a while since I have written anything outside of a letter to my kids at camp, or a few articles for my work.

This summer I’ve been reading more than writing.

I can’t say I have been reading for pleasure, as most of my reading has been the unending news and commentary on the news from the Middle East.

Concentrating on anything else has been challenging. Even the weekly meditative practice of clipping coupons before going grocery shopping can be distracted by another worrisome report about another hateful demonstration popping up in Europe.

So, there I was in the dairy aisle in a Detroit suburban supermarket without my Greek yogurt coupons when I hear …..

“You know, the news, it gets more terrible with each passing day …. Yes, they are beheading children… they fled with nothing….

….yes, I was born in Baghdad

…. I have no homeland to return to

… but what can you do, what can you do?”

The horrors of the world these days, they are never far away.

Especially in Michigan.

You see, only second to California, Michigan is home to the largest community of Iraqi immigrants in the United States. Half of them are Chaldean Christians. Studies from Data Driven Detroit, the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, and the Chaldean Federation revealed metro Detroit’s Chaldean population hovers between 100,000 and 120,000. Nearly 60% of that population owns a business.

The Chaldean people, one of the most ancient people on the planet. They are even mentioned early on in the Torah, the ancient city of Ur was part of the Chaldean empire, the city which was the hometown of Abraham, the guy who smashed the idols, the father of all three major faiths.

But getting back to present day ….

I felt so badly for this poor man.  I wanted to express my sympathy, to let him know that people were listening and caring about the persecution of his people who are speaking out against the brutality ….

But he stayed on the phone.

And I had to pick out my yogurt.

So I circled around the aisles a bit more and did catch up with him at the check-out aisle.

He was off the phone.

“Look, I am sorry if I overheard your conversation, I just wanted to express my sympathies and sadness of what is going on in Iraq.”

He turned to face me and I noticed the gold cross pinned to the lapel of his brown suit jacket.

He waved his hand towards me as a sign that it was no problem that I was snooping on his conversation. He eyed my Star of David, the one I got in Italy, made of Merano glass, and then we spoke.

“Listen to me. These people. They are barbarians. They chased my people out of their homes with nothing but the clothes on their back. They are killing children by chopping off their heads, stealing the women. And for what?  They are following the instructions of their prophet Mohammed, exactly to the letter in their Quran. They kill anyone who is not Muslim.”

My mouth hung open, shocked at his bluntness as what most of us would be labeled “Islamaphobic” for saying.

He looked at me again. He unloaded his two bottles of  Coffeemate and his large container of dates and he continued.

“The Israelis? You are the only people who know how to deal with their mentality, they only respond to force. I grew up in Baghdad with Jewish friends. They were scholars and merchants, doctors….”

“Yes… I know there was a Jewish community there-“

“Yes, for 2,500 years, there were Jews in Iraq. And then, in the 50’s, Iraq kicked most of them out, drove them out,” and then he said something profound.

“You know, my Jewish friends said to me before they left…. something to the affect ‘They are kicking us out today, on a Sunday. They will kick you out by Tuesday.'”

I nodded in total agreement. I feebly mentioned to him that I had read a book, Farewell to Babylon … but why would he have to read such a book about the exile of Iraqi Jews. after all, he lived it.

He misunderstood.

“Ah yes, there is that psalm, we share with you, “By the Waters of Babylon, we sat and wept, when we remembered Zion….”

Right there, as I unloaded my greek yogurt and Multi-grain Cheerios, I was having a moment of deep spiritual connection with this stranger.

He went on to tell me that Jews and Chaldeans literally share the same blood line, before he moved up to pay. Before I knew it, I realized that the cashier and the bagging clerk were smiling,  also listening intently to our conversation. When the man started to speak Arabic with them, I realized then they were also Chaldean.

You can learn a lot and connect with hurting people in a grocery store.

Next Monday, I will continue to learn more about my Chaldean neighbors as I attend a joint program with the Jewish and Chaldean communities of Detroit, as we build bridges of understanding and stand together against hate and terror.

Stuck on Israel

detroitsolidarity

Last night, I volunteered at Detroit’s evening of Solidarity with Israel. After attendees passed through a strict security screening process, I gave them each a sticker bearing the logo shown above. Fellow volunteers gave out over 2,700 stickers to Israel supporters.

While the world looks bleak now for all world Jewry, and while radical Islamists spread their fiery hatred for Jews just like the Hitler Youth did in the 1930’s, it soothed my soul to see so many: Jewish, non-Jewish, black and white, coming together for a few hours to support the United State’s biggest ally in the Middle East in her war on terrorism.

By the way, my daughter is still on her trip in Israel. She just returned safely to Jerusalem after a sea-to-sea hike in the North.

 

Last weekend, she did spend some time in a bomb shelter. She heard the Iron Dome obliterate an incoming misile.  But then, after they got the clear, she and a family she was staying with went on with life.

Here is my most recent piece published in the Detroit Jewish News.

A few weeks ago, my parents, husband, son and I were riding down the Belt Parkway in New York to take our 17-year-old daughter to JFK. She was about to embark on Ramah’s six-week Israel Seminar, a trip she knew she wanted to do since she was about nine years old. The news that Hamas murdered the three teenaged boys was less than 24 hours old. Seated in the middle row with my mom, I curled my hand into hers. I just kept squeezing it.
The scene at the departure terminal, though chaotic, was almost healing. Hundreds of Jewish teens about to leave for Israel on one trip or another greeted each other with smiles and hugs.
Expressions on the faces of the parents revealed one thing: we all knew our relatively carefree Jewish American kids were headed to Israel in a time of national mourning. Who could predict that a war would unfold in just days after their arrival?
What have I been doing since she left?
It has been a surreal time. While the program posts photos of the kids having fun on hikes and gazing over the Haifa skyline, while my daughter calls me from Jerusalem telling me about the fantastic time she had working with the children at the Ramah Israel Day camp in Jerusalem, friends in Tel Aviv, Ra’anana and Be’er Sheva post on Facebook about dashing for stairwells or shelters when the sirens blare.
On my wrist, I wear a blue Stand With Us rubber bracelet showing my support for Israel. My watch is set to Jerusalem time so I know the best time to call my daughter. My cell phone has become an appendage to my body. I pray daily for her safety, for all of Israel and her Defense Forces.
I thank Ramah Seminar in Israel for their tireless efforts of keeping our kids safe and having as an enjoyable and educational experience as possible while constantly keeping parents in the loop of the changing security situation. After an extended stay in their northern base in the Hodayot Youth Village, the “seminarniks” finally traveled safely to their home base in Jerusalem on July 15. In fact, a parent conference call to update us on the matzav started just as the IDF launched their ground offensive into Gaza.
But life goes on. I have taken the cue from my Israeli friends who endure this daily threat to keep moving on through routine and simple distractions. If my Israeli psychologist friend, an olah from New York, can help spread calm by teaching Yoga to women in a bomb shelter in Sderot, I too will try to find Zen on my mat. I work in my garden and take walks.
Even as the bombs fall, and the inevitability that she may spend some time this summer in a bomb shelter is very real, I have no regrets that my daughter is in Israel. I will not deny the danger or my worry. I know that this time in Israel will be a transformative one for her that can only strengthen her understanding of what it means to be a Jew and never take our Jewish homeland for granted.
When midnight here rolls around, my mind is already seven hours ahead wondering what the dawning day on the other side of the planet will hold for Israel. If you too have a loved one in Israel and find yourself up in the middle of the night, I’m sleepless right there with you.

Just another rocket fire-free day in the Motor City

flashyredcars

Summertime is usually a carefree time.

Not this summer.

This summer, it has been hard for me to focus on anything that is not Israel. And usually I love thinking about Israel – all the great things it gives the world , memories of my four visits there, and now living vicariously through my daughter, who is spending her summer in Israel.

That’s where the carefree element of my summer has all but disappeared.

It started with the kidnapping and murder of the Israeli teen boys. It was followed up with the equally horrible murder of that baby-faced Arab boy.  Then the increase of rocket fire. And now, our soldier’s putting their lives in jeopardy to protect the lives of all living in Israel.

That includes my daughter. And people I met through a sister-city educator program. And my daughter. And friends who now live there. And my daughter.

The news has been all-consuming. Other news is barely registering with me. Was there some ruling on Hobby Lobby that I should be all fired up about, or sending unaccompanied children back over the border to Central America? What was that again? But, oh, another rocket has been fired into Israel. Another Palestinian child has been used as a human shield by Hamas. Oh, am I supposed to be packing my youngest up for camp?

Over Facebook, I see my Israeli friends posting about running to a bomb shelter, or a miklat,  a safe room,or when there are neither of these things, a bathroom or stairwell shelter.

Some darkly joke about what are the top 10 essential things you need in a bomb shelter. Topping that list includes flashlights, water, ice cream, wine, and chocolate. LOTS of wine and chocolate.

This week, I had to ask the surreal question to my daughter, who wished to visit her friend for Shabbat in Ra’anana.

“Can you please find out if your friend’s family has a bomb shelter?”

Can you imagine asking your American friend such a question before visiting?

Do you have cats, ’cause my kid has allergies.

What can I bring you for dinner? Wine? A salad?

Oh, and does your house have a bomb shelter?

In more peaceful days in Israel, I remember spending a summer working on a kibbutz up near the Golan Heights. I didn’t think twice about going into a bomb shelter, but they were pretty much used as “disco” shelters back in the 80’s. The shelter was a cool place to hang out at night after working. I never associated it as a place to take cover from an attack.

In more peaceful days in Israel, I gave my daughter about 50 shekels for the evening as she set to hang out at night in Tel Aviv with her friend, the one from Ra’anana. They roamed freely the streets of Tel Aviv, got pizza and gelato, and hung on the beach until 11 at night.

Fear free.

Care free.

This Shabbat, my daughter, my intrepid and strong daughter had her first taste of what it is like to sit in a bomb shelter.  She heard the boom of Israel’s Iron Dome shoot down a rocket aimed for where she is, a suburban town near Tel Aviv. In her nonchalant manner, she said it was like going to hang out in our basement.

Last weekend, I tried to snag some of my own carefree moments. My husband took me on a bike ride along West Bloomfield’s trail system.  I felt carefree and peaceful. But every now again, a dark thought crept into my mind. If a siren went off along the path, and we had 15 seconds to take cover, where would we go?

Last weekend, friends who, most likely sensing that I really needed a night out, invited us out to Detroit’s Concert of Colors. Among the many free acts who played at Detroit’s Orchestra Hall was the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars  group that came out of the horrors of war in their native country and helped heal with music.

Indeed, the infectious music was healing and joyful.  Everyone, in every shape, size, color, religion was dancing in joy to the music. I also let myself feel some joy and danced with my husband. The leader of the band was right. He was no doctor, but he said dancing a little bit every day gets rid of all the toxins in your body and makes you feel good. After every song, the leader of the band just wanted to know one thing from their audience: Are You Happy?

And I was.

But there was one guy at the show with a smug look on his face. He wore a beat up T-shirt that read “Free Palestine” in English and I guess Arabic. He didn’t look happy. But I refused to let him make me not feel happy that very moment. Even though, I felt like telling him, that cause he holds dear, well, some of the people who are so dedicated to that cause would have no druther about strapping a bomb to themselves underneath their clothing, walking into that concert hall where we were all dancing in joyous unison, and blowing us all to pieces.

 

The Tragedy of the Palestinians

stacylynngittleman:

yes, you can feel sorry for the Palestinians, but they have chosen their leadership poorly and this is the result. If you need to place blame for civilian deaths and injuries, place it squarely on the terrorist organization that is Hamas.

Originally posted on We Are For Israel:

The United Nations reports that 177 Palestinians have been killed since Operation Protective Edge began a week ago. A quarter of the victims have been children. Palestinian medical sources say that some 1,280 people have been wounded.

All of this is a tragedy. It did not have to happen. Two sisters aged 13 and 11 were seriously injured by shrapnel in a village close to Beersheba earlier today.

Of course the numbers hurt on our side are considerably lower than those on the Palestinian side. We build bomb shelters and reinforced rooms in which our families can hide when Hamas fires rockets at an innocent population. By contrast, Hamas uses civilians as human shields and prefers to use the concrete at its disposal to build massive tunnels into Israeli territory in an attempt to infiltrate villages and kibbutzim close to the border for the purpose of murdering and kidnapping.

Some misguided…

View original 125 more words

A Mother’s Love. Too many Questions, no Answers.

boyz

Summer in our house means that the kids in my family get a break from their usual surroundings and, though we will miss them, we the parents take a short break from parenting.

I know that sounds bad to some, that we need a break from parenting so we ship them off to camp. But a wise woman, a mother of five boys, once told me when my children were very young, that one day I will understand: summer is a good time for everyone in the family to have some time on their own in a different place.

Last Friday night, our family of five had our last Shabbat dinner together before we headed to the separate destinations of camp and Israel. And New York. And Italy.

I lit three more Shabbat candles than usual and said an extra prayer.

Eyal, Naftali, Gilad, where are you? Who is watching over you? Who is feeding you? Who is clothing you? Gd in Heaven please give them strength and keep them safe until they are rescued. Please. 

My husband and I held hands with our three children and sang the blessings. We blessed our children. I now have to rise up on my toes to kiss the top of my fifteen-year-old son’s forehead. He has to bend down to put his head on my shoulder when he hugs me. I can feel his shoulders getting broader. Looking down, I wonder how those feet which were once so tiny got to be the size of a mans, with no signs that they have stopped growing.

As much of a man he is turning out to be, I still dote on, and nudge my teen-aged son. A son who can’t seem to eat enough though he remains thin as a bean pole. A son who plays guitar, has formed a band, and has introduced me to a lot of cool music

The kids that night ate heartily. They enjoyed the last homemade challah they would have until the end of August.

We are not Shabbat observant. After dinner, Broadway show tunes played on the Sonos. My children sang and danced loudly together around the family room.

I tried to soak it all in and be joyful, but having the knowledge that across the sea, there were empty places at the Shabbat tables of three families in Israel, my joy was tinged.

We are going on the third Shabbat in which these families will not have their sons home. Kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from school, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal have not been heard or seen since in spite of a vigorous search and investigation from the Israel Defense Forces.

I don’t know what is sustaining these families.  Think about when you lose sight of your kid in a shopping mall or at a carnival. Those few moments are agony. For two weeks, every moment for these families has been agony. Every night their beds are empty must be agony.

I have so many questions.

Where are they being held?

Why is there NO coverage of the kidnapping of these boys in the US media, even though one of the boys has dual US-Israel citizenship?

Why has our President been so silent in this matter?

How could the United Nations be so cruel as to mock the pain of the three mothers, who went to Geneva to testify and plead on behalf of their sons, only to get a response from the UN that there is no evidence of an abduction, that perhaps these “settlers” went on holiday and didn’t tell their parents?

 

Where are they?

Where are they?

And, what can I do?

What else can I do?

I follow every bit of news coming out of Israel on my Facebook feed, sites like the Times of Israel and Israel365

I say special Psalms

Ribbons tied to my tree for the boys? Check.

Create a sign with the hashtag #BringBackOurBoys? Check.

There is one woman I know who is doing more to help the boys more than anyone else I know.

Remember the woman with the five boys? Almost a decade ago, she and her husband and five boys made aliyah. Now, she works as an educational psychologist and is on the ground in the very town from where the boys families live and is helping schoolchildren there cope with this crisis that has taken away their friends or their siblings. You can listen to her being interviewed on a local Israeli radio show.

Therein lies the difference between one side and the other.

We as Jews when it comes down to it, we really care for each other and will support each other because we are responsible for each other. All of Israel is responsible for each other. In the end, it is something we must stand by to know that it will be all right in the end because we care for each other, and we place the value of life of any living human in the highest regard.

It is sad to say that on the other side, that is clearly not the case.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

Conform or be cast inside out – – A rant on School dress codes

mitzvahswag

mitzvahswagThe other night, we had a family outing to a very large fair. The kids rode on typical fair rides that spin you around and hurl you upside down into the air after eating typical fair fare like corn dogs and fried dough.

I am not a big ride person. At all. But I do like to people watch at carnivals and fairs.  I like to see what people are wearing, or what they are not wearing enough of so everyone can see the writings or etchings that cover their arms and legs in the form of a tattoo.

At least, under those summer carnival lights, there is still somewhere left on earth for self-expression.

 

Today, my 5th grader came home from school. His shirt was inside out.

Did I miss the note that today in school was inside out day? It’s late May. I’m kind of done with checking homework, checking notes.

No. A teacher in school made him turn it inside out.

Why?

The shirt was “too religious.”

The shirt in question said: “I rocked out at xxxxxx’s Bar Mitzvah”  It was black and had a guitar emblem on it hand designed by my daughter artist-in-residence. You would think that an art teacher would have admired the shirt for its individuality. But no, she in front of the whole class made my son wear his shirt inside out for the rest of the day. No one had paid any mind to my son’s shirt until he was asked to turn it inside out.

The shirt was leftover from his brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

From three years ago.

You can blame me, teach, because he has so many of that shirt in his drawers and there was probably no other shirts left because I’m a bit behind on the laundry.

Initially, I became furious that my son could not wear anything “religious.” Would a Christian kid be asked to remove a cross? A Muslim kid remove her hajib? God in heaven, I hope not.

So I called the school with my concern and calmly (okay, NOT calmly) explained the situation.

“Oh yes, kids are not supposed to wear shirts they get from Bar or Bat Mitzvahs. It makes other kids feel …. bad.”

Sorry, but I guess I never got that memo either. Because my son, and his brother and sisters, have tons of T-shirts from Bar Mitzvahs. And sports teams.  And youth group weekend retreats.

In fact, if it weren’t for all those shirts they received when they worked the Bar/Bat Mitzvah circuit, why, they may have not had any clothing that school year at all!

Giving out T-shirts, or for those high-end B’nei Mitzvah parties, sweatshirts (!) has been the popular party favor for decades.

The school’s rationale is that these types of Bar/Bat mitzvah T-shirts distract the student from their academics. The school’s rationale is that this rule is there to protect the uninvited from feeling excluded.

Let’s examine how other items of clothing, or any other actions we do, may make people feel excluded. If we are really going to take inclusiveness to the highest level, perhaps school boards should consider banning the following items of apparel:

Sports or athletic clothing: Lots of kids wear varsity clothing and some may even have varsity letters. This may make the non-athletes around them feel sad or unsatisfied with themselves.

Concert T-Shirts – I remember in high school the kids who spent all their money, or got money from their parents to go the hottest tours and they would wear their T-shirts that they bought from that concert that very next day. I remember thinking how much I too would have loved to see that band and then …. I got over it.

Vacation T-Shirts: When kids from families who can afford plane tickets during peak vacation time return from Florida or their time share in the Caribbean, it makes the white, pale pasty kids who didn’t escape to somewhere warm feel very excluded.

Designer clothing – My son speaks of a classmate who he swears gets a new pair of $200 sneakers every other week. That could make anyone -ANYONE – who is not a Joneses – feel excluded.

I presented these ideas to the principal when he called me back. I asked him if, during the months of October through December, if he could make sure that there would be no showing of anything red and green, or that no one in school wears Christmas lights or ornaments as necklaces or earrings, or that no one be allowed after Christmas to wear any sweaters with reindeer or candy canes or snowflakes or fir trees on them.

Absurd? Well, it might – MIGHT – make a tiny part of the school population feel – excluded.

I asked him how much longer he wanted to continue this ridiculous conversation with me. But if the ridiculous rule were not there, we would not be having this ridiculous conversation.

Want to see the dress code rules? Here they are. Please see if you see any mention of Bar/Bat Mitzvah or any party swag in here:

14. STUDENT DRESS
District students are expected to dress, groom, and attire themselves in a manner that is not
potentially dangerous, does not distract others or disrupt education, and does not convey a
message contrary to District policy. The following are examples of dress, grooming, and attire
that may violate District policy. This should not be considered an exclusive list.

Potentially Dangerous Items:
Chains, pointed rings, metal spikes, clothing or attire restricting physical movement,
etc.

Distracting or Disruptive Items:
Clothing that exposes or draws unusual attention to breasts, buttocks, or
genitals; styles that expose undergarments; bizarre clothing, grooming or attire that
focuses attention on a student or group of students at the expense of learning, such as
nightwear or beachwear, etc. Students must wear shoes.

Contrary to District Policy:
Clothing that advertises or promotes smoking, alcohol, or the illegal use of drugs;
clothing reasonably likely to be perceived as promoting racial, ethnic, or religious
discrimination or intolerance; clothing reasonably likely to be perceived as advertising
or promoting illegal behavior; clothing reasonably likely to be perceived as obscene,
lewd, vulgar, or plainly offensive, etc.

 

What are we doing when we have rules that go to the extremes to coddle the middle schoolers  feelings?

We do our kids no favors by not teaching them to start developing a tough skin and not to feel disappointment. Yes, have a tender heart, but start thickening that skin by age 12 or 13. So it won’t hurt so badly the first time you get rejected. By a college. Or a boy. Or a job. With that tough skin, you know it will hurt for a little. And then, you’ll go on.

Know now, starting in middle school, that even the most seemingly popular kids are frightfully insecure, and all you need in life is a few good true friends.

You don’t need everyone to be your friend.  But you need to find that bunch of friends who will include you for YOU. Not because you are going to have the fanciest Bar Mitzvah in town and give out the best T-shirts.

Better to learn in middle school, that no, you won’t get invited to every party. You may or may not go to prom. But you’ll know the kids who did, because guess what, in HIGH SCHOOL, along with that expensive prom ticket, guess what you get to wear Monday in school?

A sweatshirt. Saying you went to prom.

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Paying that tuition for the Elite Private University: Will it really open more doors?

pamelas

 

20140408_174325pamelasFor those of you following my posts on college and college visits, thank you for your public and private comments. I hope this post will resonate with many of you and spark even more debate and discussion, so load up my comment box.

 

After our visits to Case Western Reserve, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, my house became somewhat of a house divided. The heated discussion perhaps at this point of the game was maybe pointless. We were at the beginning phases of the college search. My daughter has high grades but had yet to take those multiple college entrance exams. She hadn’t even applied.

But what if she applies to places like CMU, or my husband’s alma matter, an Ivy League institution, and gets in? My mother-in-law (don’t worry, she never reads my blog) has this crazy idea that my daughter should apply to Yale because they have a fantastic graphic and visual arts program. With tuition at these colleges averaging around $64,000 a year, for a field that is super competitive and mostly employed by freelancers who have to pay their own way for health insurance and retirement funds, I hope that my mother-in-law has a huge college fund set aside for her grandchildren that she has not yet told us about.

Granted, private universities have large endowments and are more likely to bestow deserving students with a generous financial aid package. Let’s look at CMU’s 2012-2013 financial aid profile:

Nearly 70 percent of incoming freshman applied for financial aid and of that group, 77 percent of them were found to have financial need and were awarded an average financial aid package of $35,000 per year.

That same week we visited Pittsburgh-area colleges, the New York Times published a troubling article that said that the elite colleges were becoming even more elite. This might be in part because of the new common application process, where students can fill out online a common application, tweak it just a bit according to each school’s requirements, and with a click – and an extra fee per college – can apply to numerous colleges all at once.

The article stated “….Deluged by more applications than ever, the most selective colleges are, inevitably, rejecting a vast majority, including legions of students they once would have accepted. Admissions directors at these institutions say that most of the students they turn down are such strong candidates that many are indistinguishable from those who get in.”

This article, plus the media coverage that has been pointing to a troubling trend for years that college debt is crushing a generation who can’t find work outside of becoming a barista at Starbucks upon graduation, made me pose the question to my husband – is that private university price tag truly worth it. Isn’t it fiscally responsible to get a great education at a quality state school over an expensive private school?

One take on that outlook is this: When looking at job applicants fresh out of school, those with the Ivy League or private colleges get looked at first, and those graduating from a state school have a greater chance of being overlooked.

For those of you who are graduates of a public state university, like me, that answer can really sting.

I posed this question and put it up for debate on my Facebook status. Got a slew of comments.

Some, who were Ivy League graduates in their 40’s, wondered if they would be accepted by their alma mater if they applied today. A fine arts graduate from CMU said she was accepted based on her portfolio and that parents need to “chill out.” There are “best schools” out there as far as status, but there is a school out there for every student which will serve them the best, and that may not necessarily be an Ivy League school.

Graduates of public state schools stood proudly by their alma mater and said from a regional standpoint, companies know the reputation of state schools in their area. Many managers are, in fact, products of those state schools. However, the grooming and the connections one gets at an Ivy League are clear advantages, some said.

So, there is no clear and dry answer.

My husband and I were still mulling this debate over when we went for breakfast at Pamela’s, in the lovely Shadyside neighborhood in Pittsburgh. As if by some cosmic fate in the academic universe, an older couple was watching us from a nearby table. They were admiring our three children as they wolfed down their pancakes and waffles and listened to our conversation about getting into college.

As it turned out, the gentleman was a mathematics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“Listen to me. Don’t waste your money if you have a great in-state public university at your doorstep.”

Which we do.

“I’ve seen so many kids burn out at places like CMU in the undergrad years. The University of Pittsburgh is a fine, fine university. Don’t go into debt,” he said, then turned to my oldest. “If you want the elite private school status, wait for graduate school, where if you get in, they will most likely pay your way through grants and scholarships.”

And with that, he paid his bill and the couple bid us a good day and good luck.

The issue: still up for debate. And I welcome your comments. 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

Campus Visits and test-taking angst: University of Pittsburgh

20140408_171905

 

“Oh, crap mom, they are everywhere!”

My daughter and I were stopped at a red light, on her way to her A.C.T. tutorial class, and there they were. In perfect order on the license plate of the car in front of us.

A.C.T.

It does seem that letters and acronyms are all that is on my high school junior’s mind.

A.P.

A.C.T.

S.A.T.

Around my town, you can see her peers in places like Starbucks and Panera accompanied by a private tutor and hunched over one of those mammoth  ACT prep books.

Taking the tests costs money.

Hiring a private tutor or taking a private class costs LOTS of money – try like $90 an hour.

Times like this, I often think of that movie Race to Nowhere. It’s becoming a race to empty our bank account in the name of college admissions.  Taking admissions tests and studying for them is all that really occupies my daughter’s existence. She asks how long going out do dinner will take if it means she will be separated from her study guide. And she really doesn’t part from it because it comes along wherever she goes. She went to prom with a boy the other night. It surprised me that she did not take it along in the limo.

And when you finally get to college….

My daughter, visiting a friend who was showing her around his new surroundings at the University of Pittsburgh, told her “no one here cares what you got on any of those tests.”

This blog post is a long overdue follow-up to my post on our visit to Carnegie Mellon University. At CMU, my daughter sensed just how intense a campus atmosphere could be as the students there were in the midst of cramming for finals.

Just across the river, at the neighboring University of Pittsburgh, the atmosphere seemed livelier. And happier.  Yet still very competitive.  According to about.com, The University of Pittsburgh often ranks among the top 20 public universities in the U.S., and its strong research programs have earned it membership in the exclusive Association of American Universities. Pitt also can boast of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In athletics, the Pitt Panthers compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.

Unlike the dimmed dreary lecture hall at Carnegie Mellon, prospective students to the University of Pittsburgh started their tour at an information session in the in a massive historic building of Alumni Hall. The interior was decked out with balloons and music and the smells of fresh-baked cookies and popcorn wafted from the main salon, where Pitt seniors were collecting their caps and gowns and other graduation mementos at a pre-graduation reception.

Our admissions official was a young African American man in a cardigan sweater. He was a recent Pitt graduate who was in the process of applying to law school. He told the prospectives that during his time at Pitt, he changed his mind on what he wanted to study several times, from business, to engineering, and, he said, and I quote,

“to worry my parents, I once even thought of becoming a writer!”

His advice: Unless you have your heart on becoming an engineer or you absolutely know you are going to medical school, keep a decision on a choosing a major fluid and take a course load from Pitt’s multiple major offerings. At Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, one can wait until the end of their sophomore year to declare a major.

And as far as acceptance rates at Pitt?

As it stands, Pitt in 2012 had an acceptance rate of 56.1 percent. Admissions officers are looking for the following ACT breakdown from applicants:

  • ACT Composite: 25 / 30
  • ACT English: 25 / 32
  • ACT Math: 25 / 31
  • ACT Writing: 8 / 9

However, our admissions rep stressed that test scores and grades of B’s and A’s were just one part of what they were looking for in a prospective freshman. They wanted to see a well-rounded student taking vigorous courses. They wanted to see a students’ involvement in their community and leadership positions they took at school. And then he said the words I was longing to hear: better to get a high B or low A in an advanced course than all A’s in less challenging classes.

After the informational tour, we met our Pittsburgh Pathfinder. He led us on an hour tour across campus, highlighted by a visit to the Cathedral of Learning, the undergraduate library, open nearly 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the quad of freshman dorms, and the dining halls. He even told us in confidence, even though his official job was to tell us to buy books at the campus bookstore, the best place to rent textbooks for the semester. For that, I gave him a stellar grade on his evaluation.

And, we even got a few Pitt T-shirts for free from the guy selling T-shirts on the corner from our fearless Pathfinder. Apparently, he has some kind of deal going with the guy:

pitttshirts

 

No T-shirts were handed out at CMU.

Best of all, my daughter got an unofficial, insider perspective on campus life from a friend who was finishing up his freshman year:

IMG_0372

 

He has loved his first year of Pitt, both academically and socially. He loves the urban atmosphere of being on a campus in a big city.

After our visit, my daughter can see herself applying  to school in Pittsburgh. She could see herself taking classes either at CMU or Pitt. And, for a break, she can see herself going for a run (with a friend of course, not alone!) in beautiful Schenley Park.

IMG_0378I could see her going here because it would give me a chance to visit my Pittsburgh cousins more often.

What is not to love about Pittsburgh?

Then again, there is the whole in-state out-of-state tuition factor which weighs heavily on most admissions decisions.  Out-of-state tuition is nearly double.  At this point, she had yet to visit one of the best state schools in the nation, in her own state, just 40 minutes down a potholed highway to Ann Arbor.

But that visit, I will leave for another post.

Enhanced by Zemanta
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 811 other followers

%d bloggers like this: