Archive | February 2012

Israel: a Human Problem?

With Israel-Apartheid week happening this week across college campuses, I wanted to bring to you some of the thoughts that are going around and what we are up against. Do you agree with this blogger? Is Israel a Human Problem? This is almost as salacious as when in 2001 French ambassador to Britain Daniel Bernard called Israel a “shitty little country.”
Is Israel a failed experiment? … do we displace little Arab boys?
What do you think?

Finding Color in Corning

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This Tiffany window once graced a mansion in Hastings-on-Hudson. Now it's at the Corning Museum of Glass.

“I returned to New York wondering why we made so little use of our eyes, why we refrained so obstinately from taking advantage of colour in our architecture and our clothing when nature indicates its mastership.” — Louis Comfort Tiffany

Mr. Tiffany certainly had a point.

It’s late February in Western New York. In the bleak late winter landscape, you can be hard pressed to find any color. Unless you consider muddy brown fields and yellowing corn stalks color.

This February break, my family did not escape to Floridian blue skies or green palm trees.  With no white snow, Western New York this time of year is nothing but grey.

So, we decided to go to the Corning Museum of Glass for color.

I came across the above quote by Louis Tiffany in front of one of his gorgeous windows that had been salvaged from a mansion on Hastings-on-Hudson.

This quote made me think – we really are afraid of color.

How many of us take the safe route and dress in black or beige because we don’t want to stand out from the crowd? Yes, we see models wearing bright fuschia or tangerine.  But in our closets, we always go back to black.

Tiffany’s quote holds true  to the home as well. My in-laws are in the process of selling their home. Most rooms have been repainted to  - you guessed it – eggshell white.

That’s a good thing for my husband’s childhood room, which was brown. Um, my mother-in-law referred to it as s*&t brown. In this case, repainting was a wise move.

But I was sad to learn that they had to paint over the crimson dining room as well as the hand-painted grey and silver squiggles my father created on their kitchen walls.

Color in and on a house was also the talk of my street when homeowners who since moved away painted their home dark purple. That really stood out on a block of beige, tan, and grey homes.

When this house came on the market to sell, potential buyers were scared off and could not get past the purple hue of the home. During an open house, my husband and I took a peek inside. The colors continued inside as well:  a brick-red dining room, cobalt blue kitchen and an orange bedroom. And, in the bedroom, the lady of the house proudly displayed her collection of  30 different shades of nail polish.

I actually loved how these soon-to-be ex neighbors embraced color.

Finally, the house sold. The first thing the new owners did was repaint the house. To grey.

But, I digress. Back to CMOG, as we Western New Yorkers call it.

When you think of Corningware, certainly this image comes to mind:

Your typical casserole dish. Very practical. Very white.

At the Corning Museum of Glass, the visitor learns that glass is science. It is everywhere in our everyday lives: light bulbs, windshields, windows. Fiber Optics. Casseroles. Glass insulates our houses, we can cook in glass, conduct scientific experiments with it. Tempered glass is used for shower doors and car windshields so they will not shatter into sharp shards if they break.

But, step into another section of the museum, into the more contemporary galleries, and the mundane is left behind.

Artists worldwide have taken this medium, and with it practical objects, and stretched both glass and our imagination to rethink the most practical of objects.

Imagine asking your kids to set a table with a top like this:

 Or placing flowers in vases like these

Or putting your feet up at the end of the day on a glass-beaded ottoman

Some artist visualised the human torso in glass:

Still others beckoned us to take a gondola ride suspended along an invisible river:

On our way home, we left all this color behind and re-entered the grey, rainy late winter afternoon. But, we were treated by Mother Nature to one last blast of color:

Sorting through cans of food at Foodlink and layoffs at Kodak

Last week, my family got a very small taste of what it would be like to live with food instability.

But not really.

Our refrigerator was on the frizz for a week because of some delays with repairs. For one week, my family had no reliable source of refrigeration. We used the snow and the sporadic cold of this very mild winter to keep our milk and produce fresh.

For a few days, it was like camping. But after a while, it was no fun having to go out into the snow and cold every time a member of the family wanted a drink of orange juice

or a pat of butter.

It was demeaning and demoralizing to live like this. Milk and eggs spoiled. Lots of food had to be tossed. As bad as it was, I realized this was for my family a temporary problem.

After all, we still had money. We could keep our food stability because we could – and did- go out for every meal for a few days.

But for many in Monroe County, food instability is a very real thing.

In Monroe County, where Kodak is bankrupt and has for the last decade shed thousands of blue and white collar jobs, food instability is increasing.

Last year, The Children’s Agenda in  a report called Decade in Decline that found that

  • Children attending pre-K classes are on the  rise
  • 96 percent of the county’s children have health insurance
  • the number of children found with high levels of lead in their blood dropped by 80 percent

However:

  • 22 percent of the county’s children live in poverty.
  •  44 percent of children in Monroe county in grades K-6 receive free and reduced lunch in public schools
  • 2,494 families in the county were placed in homeless shelters in 2009, up from 1,566 in 1999

There are many in our midst who live with real food instability every day. Kids who live in homes where they may not get much on the weekends after receving food assistance at school all week.

This week, over Februrary break, my kids and I got a better understanding of what it takes to keep people out of food instability and on the road to self sufficiency by volunteering at a vast food distribution center serving the poor by distributing this food to hundreds of food pantries within 10 counties in Western New York.

Together with a few of their friends, we worked a shift at Rochester’s Foodlink in their brand new facility in the northwest part of the city. Foodlink is a food distribution center that provides food and meal assistance to agencies and food pantries in 10 counties in Western New York. The new location moved operations from four floors in a warehouse near Corn Hill  to one on Mt. Read Blvd. No longer did millions of pounds of food need  to be carted up and down in a 100-year-old elevator. Just across the highway from Foodlink’s new digs are the huge but emptying buildings and factories of  Kodak, the company that was once the backbone of our city.

Foodlink is a great place to volunteer. In fact, thousands of people in Rochester volunteer each year to help end food instability within the 10 county area that  Foodlink services. In fact, it is so good at the efficient way it mobilizes its volunteers to distribute food to the hungry and to lead the hungry and poor onto paths of nutritious self-reliance, it was named by the New York State Commission for National and Community Service to:

  • help individual volunteers find service opportunities with local non-profit agencies within the region;
  • support the development of an on-line statewide network of volunteer opportunities;
  • measure the local impact of volunteer activity to share through a formal New York-specific study;
  • deliver training and technical assistance to support local volunteer organization

This is my second time volunteering at Foodlink with my kids. The volunteer coordinators are friendly and have a great hands-on training program to teach volunteers like us  how to sort through and rescue the many truckloads of food donations they receive from private and corporate donors like Wegmans Food Markets.

Some rules on sorting food:

  • Food that has an expiration date that is older than six months must be disposed.
  • Cans with bulges or dents with sharp edges or any dents around seams or lids must be disposed.
  • No baby food can be accepted. Not even sealed and labeled. It was painful to put baby food jars and formula on the discard pile. But we were assured that is why the state has a WIC (women, infants and children) program to assist mothers with young babies.
  • Nonperishable food bags with tears in an inner plastic lining must be disposed.

Finally, volunteers must be at least eight years old. This qualified my youngest, who loves sorting things in general and said he “had the best time and could sort food all day long”.

My older kids and their friends were having a good time too. How fun is taking off food from a moving conveyor  belt, after all?

The hardest item I had to put on the discard pile was a torn 20 pound bag of sushi-grade rice. I knew that had to be expensive and it was probably okay. But I knew that sushi rice is not cheap and it nearly killed me to have to toss it.

“Believe me, it kills us all the time, we see food like this all the time we have to toss,” one of the workers told me.

But not all this really goes to waste. Much of the canned food is taken from its metal containers and composted and used at local farms. Food waste is also used by another local business and converted into clean-burning ethanol.

How close are we to food instability? The news of Kodak’s demise make all of us here in Rochester a bit shaky.

As a friend and I sorted food, she told me some very hard news. Within that impersonal number of 3,000 to 4,000 people to lose their jobs in the latest round of Kodak layoffs was her boyfriend. He spent most of his adult life working there.

Suddenly, the joyful energy  I was feeling felt as crushed as some of the many dented cans we were tossing away.

My Life as Cosmo Kramer: Day seven of living with No Refrigerator

Kramer loved his life with no refrigerator. But he didn't have three children to feed

Kramer loved his life with no refrigerator. But he didn’t have three children to feed


“Kramer: Ahh, no, no, no. You got me all wrong buddy. I am loving this no refrigerator. You know what I discovered? I really like depriving myself of things. It’s fun. Very monastic. 

George: Well what do you eat? 

Kramer: It’s all fresh. Fresh fish, fresh foul, fresh fruit. I buy it, I omniga nominga, I eat it.”

Remember that episode? It was funny. But to live a life in the 21st Century with nowhere to put your milk and eggs and cheese, that’s another story.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Sears, again, I wait for the refrigerator repairman.

For the third time. The right parts, this time, have also been waiting in my entryway for the past two days.

But still, no repairman.

I’ve gotten pretty good at working out a system though.

Every day, I buy the smallest possible container of milk.

Instead of stocking up for a whole week, I buy a maximum of 10 pieces of fruit.

It’s a good thing I live up north, because the weekend’s snowfall provided me with cold stuff to pack into my cooler.

I plot out every meal plus snacks like cheese and yogurt for the kids to take in their lunches.

I have learned that most sources of protein and calcium  require refrigeration. I go buy these in small quantities each day as well.

I keep all my produce outside in my cooler. Like this:

Think about this:

How many times  a day you go to your refrigerator to eat a piece of fruit, drink a glass of milk or prepare a meal?

Every time I need to do this, I need to put  on my boots first and let in the cold air.

But even the Rochester cold is not cold enough to keep my strawberries from rotting or my milk from going sour after a day.

So, it’s almost 11 a.m. now. I’ve been waiting six days and .. three hours for refrigeration. It’s like waiting for Godot.

Sears, do you really think you are doing a good job by letting your customers, those who paid extra for a service contract, to live with no refrigeration for seven days?

Thank goodness  red wine does not need to be chilled.

In Defense of Newt’s Moon Colony

written by the daughter of one of my neighbors. hysterical must-read. To the moon, Alice!

Come see the Sorry Side of SEARS: A woeful tale of customer disservice

Tailgating? No.

Tailgating? No.

I should have been a SEARS repairman.

You tell a customer to wait around for you for four hours.

You show up even an hour later than the time window said you would be there.

No mere mortal customer can get in touch with you.

You can charge $250 for 30 minutes of work.

I get paid less than that after I’ve filed two weeks’ worth of columns.

And, as a SEARS repairman, you get paid hand over fist for your incompetency. And then, no mere mortal customer can reach you directly afterwards to complain. Man, I’m in the wrong line of work!

And  the work the customer waited around for doesn’t even fix the problem.

AND, you are not even obligated to leave the customer a reachable phone number to get you back the same day. That woeful customer (that would be … me) must once again be thrown into the 1-800-MYSEARS abyss.

Because I purchased – for extra money – a SEARS Home Appliance Service Contract, my family is plunged back to the 19th Century and we have lived without refrigeration for four, going on five days. Most of my food has gone bad. Some of it is in deep freezer storage thanks to the kindness of my neighbors. The squirrels in my yard are fighting over the rest.

1-800-MY-SEARS???

My Sears? Well, you can kiss my ……

One Quiet, Mosaic-Tiled Border

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“Hmmmm, this is interesting. I was just here six months ago and this was all covered in sand. Come, check it out.”

I was in the ancient city of Caesarea on the tail end of an 11-day family trip to Israel. Our guide Vivi led us over to a ledge overlooking a fenced-off excavation site on the Mediterranean Sea.

If we stood in this very spot about… 2000 years ago, we would be overlooking the patio of King Herod’s prime real estate beachfront palace, watching him sunbathe by his freshwater pool. Umbrella drink in hand.

Vivi directed our gaze to the remains of a mosaic-tiled floor (see lower left corner on the above photo) that King Herod himself walked upon, perhaps after finishing his water aerobics class.  These remains, hidden from the world for centuries, were such a new discovery that this was the first time our seasoned tour guide had seen them.

Archeological eurekas like this are happening all over Israel – in Akko, in Beit Shean, in the Old City in Jerusalem. Israeli archeologists are not just interested in uncovering Israel’s Hebrew and Jewish past, but the history of every empire that conquered and then crumbled here through the ages.

Greek, Roman, Ottoman, Crusader.  No matter the era, Israel makes sure to preserve the artifacts of every past civilization that stood on her soil.

At the same time, Israel struggles to make sure that its flag and its people will be conquered no more.

Archeological discoveries, medical advances in cancer and heart disease research, the boom of Israeli high-tech startup companies — this is what is possible in an Israel with defensible borders.

I’ve been home in Rochester for six weeks. Last night, I listened with about 200 others to a presentation about the news in the Middle East given by Israeli professor, think tank advisor, and political commentator Dr. Reuven Hazan sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester.

Considering the ever changing situation in this part of the world, we wondered where he could possibly start. Consider the week’s Middle East headlines.

  • More rioting in Syria as the Syrian government massacres its own citizens, even those lying already wounded in a hospital; US and Britain remove diplomats;
  • US Citizens arrested and detained in Egypt;
  • The Palestinian Authority and Hamas vow to form a reconciliation government;
  • Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei endorsed a new doctrine explaining why it would be ‘legally and morally justified’ to commit genocide and wipe Israel off the map.

Within all this turmoil, Dr. Hazan tried to focus on the positive, internal news of Israel. Within the chaotic Arab Spring, surrounded by 21 Arab Nations, Israel is the calm eye of the storm.

  • The current Israeli government has been stable since 2009.
  • Israelis, who once held security and preventing terrorist attacks as their top priority, are now acting more like their American counterparts in the Occupy Wall Street movement. They want fair housing prices and an even distribution of wealth, just like the 99 percent here do.
  •  Never before in the history of Israel have the hawks of the Likud party and the doves of the Labor party danced so closely together. They understand that in the 21st Century, land that was always held in regard as a buffer zone for national security against wars fought with soldiers and tanks can no longer keep Israel safe in wars fought with long range SCUD or nuclear missiles.

But still, the need for defensible borders will always remain. Israel is a skinny country. In a weight obsessed world, Israel can’t afford to lose its girth.

To illustrate just how skinny Israel is at its narrowest pre-1967 borders, Hazan explained just how skinny Israel’s narrowest point (9.3 mi) really is: If you poured yourself a cup of coffee for work by the coast and your commute was at the other side of  this 9-mile drive, your coffee would still be piping hot.

So, within these borders, Israel watches the developments of its neighbors embroiled in its Arab Spring, and she is very scared.

The border between Egypt and Israel is once again active. Money that could be spent on social issues is instead being used to bolster security. A gas pipeline supplying Israel with fuel from Egypt, as part of the Israel/Egypt peace agreement, has been blown up and disrupted no more than five times in the last six months, evidence that the rioters of the new Egypt want no ties with Israel.

Jordan, another bordering country that has received life giving water and agricultural technology from Israel as a result of peace agreements, cannot control the throngs of people in the streets that recently greeted and cheered a visiting leader of Hamas.

Finally, when questioned about Iran, Dr. Hazan sternly warned us that time with Iran is running out.

An attack on Iran to stop a nuclear genocide would be most successful if Israel could depend on the US for military action.  But if necessary, Israel will go it alone. Will the world condemn Israel if it strikes Iran? Sure. But, Israel would rather be condemned and stay in existence than be wiped out and be the world’s darling.

As I listened to those words, I thought back to that moment of overlooking King Herod’s pool. In the face of extinction, Israel is continually digging up its ancient past and busy building its high-tech present, all the while threatened by Iran for its existential future. No matter what  sacrifices it makes for peace, no matter how much land it gives back,  its sunny coastline with its mosaic tiled floor may very well be the Jewish state’s only peaceful border.

Strike a Pose Just Like A Prayer: Will you Pray this Superbowl Sunday?

Madonna the singer who asked us to “strike a pose” in Vogue, the one who claims to study Kabbalah, will perform the halftime show for Superbowl Sunday.

The other day in my mid-week afternoon Hebrew school class, one boy, after feeling triumphant for correctly reading and translating some Hebrew vocabulary on the whiteboard, struck a kneeling pose ala Denver Broncos Quarterback Tim Tebow.

It seems like spirituality and sports are teaming up more and more. Which I find ironic, because inside houses of worship, my synagogue included, worshippers are becoming more sparse with each passing year. One main reason?  Attending religious services on a Saturday or Sunday morning is going head-to-head with scheduled team sports.

I know Tebowing is all the rage these days.  Blogger Keith Brown had a recent post showing people Tebowing around the world.  Tebowing at the Wall of China. And at the Vatican. And the Western Wall in Jerusalem! Getting down on one knee is hardly striking a Jewish pose of prayer. For one to really strike a pose of piety in Judaism, one needs to look like this:

Yes, it takes a bit longer to put on Tefilin than kneel on one knee.

So, is it okay to pray for one’s team? Does God really care who wins?

In today’s article in New York Blueprint, a website that chronicles events and happenings in the New York Jewish community, rabbis sounded off on the issue of praying for a sports team. While some said that any prayer is important if it is for something you believe in, other rabbis said prayer should be saved for something that has a real consequence.

Many churches and synagogues will open their doors this weekend not only for services, but for people to gather and watch the game. Perhaps, any draw that brings people into a house of worship may ease the way for that sports fan to renew their involvement with their congregation.

Aside from praying for one’s team to win, let’s pick some real reasons to pray:

Let’s pray that no players sustain concussions, broken bones, or life-threatening injuries on the field.

Let’s pray that everyone coming home from a Superbowl Party drives home sober.

For me, my world will keep spinning no matter which team wins. Instead, I will pray for several of my friends, all moms of young children, who are battling cancer.

I will also pray for the safety, and mere existence, of Israel.

I had a troubled sleep last night after watching the news that, fearing for its own existence, Israel is gearing up for a military strike against Iran this spring. They fear it might be too late to stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.

Israel, staring down into the abyss of another Holocaust,  is tired of waiting for sanctions to work. Israel cannot wait for the world to act.

So, I will be praying that somehow, a peaceful intervention will put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions for good; and that no nation will have the capacity – or the will – to wish to wipe another country “off the map.”

My Husband’s Superbowl Sunday Dream

mancave

It’s hard to be a Giant fan in the land of the  Buffalo Bills.

Since my husband’s job transplanted us north, even though we still are in New York State (I think) we quickly realized that when it comes to sports teams, we were no longer in the New York City Metro area. Up in Western New York, no matter how badly they perform season after season, this is Buffalo Bills territory.

The Buffalo Bills have trained in Rochester in the summertime for about 12 years now. There are shuttle busses that transport thousands of adoring Bills fans from a local shopping mall to St. John Fisher College. Outside of the LPGA tournament, and Little League it’s perhaps the biggest sporting event in Rochester.

If you are a New York Giant fan (well, actually they *do* play in New Jersey), you have to keep rather quiet about it up here. You don’t hang out a Giant flag as many here hang out a Buffalo Bills Flag. You also don’t go around wearing Giants apparel.

Not even on an infant child.

When our third child was born, a longtime bachelor family friend from “downstate” bestowed upon him an Eli Manning fleece onsie.

When I took my baby out of the house dressed in it one day to pick up my older son at his elementary school, my son’s occupational therapist saw us waiting in the hall.

Obviously a Bills fan, instead of the usual cooing that one does at the sight of an adorable baby, she rudely asked me,

“Why would you dress him in THAT?!”

Up here, I get the buzz that most Rochesterians this Sunday will be rooting for the New England Patriots. This seems to be the consensus among my 6th and 7th grade students.  Because I think it’s the culture in Western New York that any team playing against the Giants is the team to root for.

Superbowl Sunday for my husband is a rather  lonely day. He works hard all week with other  transplants from even farther away: India, China, Europe. Not big Superbowl watchers in that engineering crowd. So, he really doesn’t have any friends up here. Not once in twelve years has he been asked to another man’s man cave for the Big Game. He doesn’t even need a man cave, he just needs a completely hetero man friend for a Superbowl date.

So, I’m looking for a date. For my husband. For Superbowl Sunday. You  must be a NY Giants Fan. Must have an understanding of the game that exceeds that of his wife (that’s me, and anyone, including my daughter, knows more about football than me).

I asked him what his dream Superbowl Sunday would look like. Who would be there? First he said he would watch it with his dad. And our brother-in-law Kenny. (What about my dad? He’s a Giant Fan too??) And our crazy hi-fivin’ nephews Addison, Barrett, and Jeremy. And all his buddies from his grad school days  at Cal Berkeley. They would sit in a newly made man cave, the one we will someday create in our basement with a big screen, speakers, a huge leather couch and a shaggy rug. Right now, that basement is a messy craft room.

They would scream things at the huge flat screen, like:

“I CAN’T BELIEVE THEY HELD HIM AT FIRST DOWN! “

and ….

“INTERCEPTION” and “HOLDING!!”

I think that’s what they yell. I don’t understand football. So help me out with some things guys  scream at a TV watching football. I didn’t research that one all the way.

And for food, well I can do that. I’m making him hot dogs and wings and getting him a huge bag of chips and salsa. And some Tums for dessert.

And of course, the Giants will pull off a stunning victory. That, my friends will be no dream.

GO GIANTS!!!!!!!!

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