Archive by Author | stacylynngittleman

How Much of the Summer Did You Spend in front of a Screen?

screen addiction is real
Brandonbrice

Brandon Solomon on his trip at a stop in Bryce Canyon National Park

All over the country this summer, you could hear a plea of GenXer parents to their Millennial children that sounded something like this:

“Get off your screen. Stop playing Angry Birds. Go outside and look at some real birds.”

Screen addiction is as real as that YouTube video of a person walking into a fountain in a shopping mall because they had their head down in their smart phone. Jane Brody, health blogger for the New York Times dedicates many posts to overuse of mobile devices. In July, PBS aired the documentary Web Junkie, which followed Chinese families taking the draconian step of sending their gaming-obsessed teens to a rehabilitation center not unlike a center for drug addiction.

In 2010, a Kaiser Family Foundation study concluded “the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.” Excessive screen time is bad for a child’s physical health and mental wellbeing. Childhood risks include obesity, a rise in blood sugar, poor posture and the inability to develop proper socialization skills. GenXers, who are the last generation to talk to their friends through a telephone lassoed to the kitchen wall with a corkscrew cord, find a chasm between themselves and their Digital Age native children wider and deeper than any other in history.

Do we let our teens Skype in their bedroom with members of the opposite sex with the door closed? How do we trust our children to independently stay on task and complete their homework on their tablets, now a mainstay school supply, when distractions are only a click away?

WEANING AWAY FROM THE SCREEN

The methods of curbing screen time vary for each family. Some have short-term experiments like kicking the habit for a solid week. Others find that observing Shabbat provides a weekly refuge from every ping and tweet from their mobile devices.

Whether they spent it in day camps or overnight camp, hiking out West or splashing in a neighborhood pool, summertime is the perfect time to rein in a child’s screen habits and think about ways to continue minimizing screen time into the fall.

Brandon Solomon, 15, of West Bloomfield says he uses technology “a lot.” The rising Bloomfield Hills High School sophomore plays video games with his friends up to four hours daily, either hanging out in person or over the Internet. During the school year, he keeps track of homework assignments on his smart phone. Calling Facebook a “bit old school,” he prefers texting and using social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to stay in touch with friends.

The day before a 35-day Tamarack Camps Western travel program that would take him and more than two dozen area Jewish teens to hike, raft and camp out in national parks like Bryce, Zion and Yellowstone, his phone broke.

“It was just as well because we weren’t allowed to take them along anyway.” Between their treks out in the wild, the teens traveled for long stretches at a time by bus. Without their phones, instead of texting to friends far away, they were better able to get to know the kids around them through old-fashioned conversation.

When they weren’t chatting, they read, looked out at the passing landscape or just slept. Now that he is back in civilization, Solomon said he learned a lot about what life can be like away from a screen.

“I realize now that playing video games is not a very productive hobby, and I’m going to try very hard to cut back on that,” Solomon said. “This coming school year, I will try to be more in touch with my friends by getting out, taking a walk and riding bikes. It would also help to be more in touch and on top of my homework.”

TOO MUCH TEXTING?

A few weeks into the trip, the teen tour stopped in St. Louis, Mo. Solomon noticed a group of local teens who texted and stared down at their smart phones screens as they shuffled down the street.

“They looked like a bunch of zombies!” Solomon said. “It made me realize: That is how I look most of the year when I have my phone.”

Indeed, teens prefer texting over talking on the phone or in person. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center study, half of children aged 12-17 send or receive 60 or more texts a day on average, and researchers at the JFK Medical Center in New York found that teenagers send an average of 34 texts from bed. Does all this texting and the abbreviations that go along with it signal the downfall of the written English language?

Kim Lifton, president of Wow Writing Workshop LLC, says not so. Lifton teaches college-bound students how to be reflective as they approach their college essay and application.

She said with training, teens have no problems creatively expressing their thoughts in their writing. Abbreviations commonly used in texting do not find their way to the essays she edits. However, if you are her student, do not text that essay to Lifton to edit. She embraces texting, but she has her limits.

As far as texting, this GenXer sees it as a communication tool just as her generation used the phone to keep in touch with her United Synagogue Youth pals in various cities across the Midwest when she was in high school.

“I remember my mom scolding me that I would never develop good communication skills because I spent so much time talking on the phone,” Lifton said. “Today, I keep up with these same USY friends on Facebook. It is the evolution of communication, but these tools must be used in moderation.”

What concerns Lifton and other professionals who work with teens is not their grammar but interacting with people in real-time. Some local therapists say that when both teens and adults are overly reliant on texting, they are just venting their feelings and frustrations and are not necessarily having a quality two-way conversation. In seeking immediacy in responses from others, teens are also having difficulty with working things out on their own.

Abby Segal, LCSW, does not always have her cell phone with her. When she sees patients — often teens coming to see her to work through anxieties associated with overuse of technology — her phone is off. According to Segal, the digital age is causing us not only to lose our ability to be present with others without distraction; we are also losing the comfort of solitude. Many of her young clients fear they feel excluded from their friends if they do not immediately answer their texts. Several have been so sleep-deprived from late-night texting or video game sessions that they overslept through their appointments.

“Young people need to use their imagination and play outside more,” Segal said. “Getting out in the neighborhood on a walk with a friend — that is the kind of communicating kids need the most.”

A NOVEL EXPERIMENT

Jen Lovy of West Bloomfield made national news on Good Morning America this summer when the show learned how in March of 2014 she and her family decided to avoid screens for an entire week. Lovy was “fed up” with the amount of time her three sons, then ages 8, 9, and 11, spent with their technology. So, they kicked the habit for a week. Doing homework, however, on a computer was OK. During the experiment, there was a snow day, plus one of her children caught a late-winter bug that left him home sick for a few days. Still, they

“Young people need to use their imagination and play outside more.” — Social worker Abby Segal

managed by building with Legos, reading and working on some crafts projects.

“One important lesson my kids learned is that they did not die of boredom,” Lovy said. “And we actually got outside to enjoy the snow.”

The unplugged week showed the Lovys just how much they normally used their screens. After the week, the kids went back to plugging in, although Lovy said she tries her best to limit nonhomework screen time to an hour.

Miriam Svidler, LLMSW of Southfi eld, who works as a counselor at the Cruz Clinic in Livonia, said it is no wonder that kids have a hard time being pried away from their games. According to Svidler, games are designed to make the brain feel good, and this is why children and teens display great irritability when they are asked to stop playing. Noting the extremely addicting nature of computer games and the constant updates on one’s social media newsfeed, Svidler advises no more than two hours a day of screen time if that screen is used for things other than homework.

“Game programmers know exactly how to design a game to make our brains feel good when we use them and bad when we are abruptly torn away from them,” Svidler said. “You need to tell the child that restricting screen time is not a punishment but a motivation to find other pursuits or to spend time with other people face to face.” Svidler advises that sometimes getting that last text from a friend can be reassuring before bedtime. But teens should not rely on texting as a main form of communication with friends.

“It is always best for a teen to have open communication with their parents,” Svidler said. “But if that one text from a good friend can help them get through the night before bedtime, that is OK, too.”

WEEKLY BREAK

Like many Jews who have become observant, Svidler knows that Shabbat, a 25-hour rest, can be the best weekly break from technology. “For 25 hours, I am able to be present and in the moment, which I have learned is hardest thing for teenagers to do,” said Svidler, who gradually became Shabbat observant through her adulthood. “Before Shabbat, if I want to be with my friends, we make a plan, pick a place, and they just have to trust that I am going to be there.”

When it comes to teaching and learning prayer, Melissa Ser, director of education at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills, said there are a multitude of apps and technology to help students young and old. But trying to fi nd that meaningful moment during religious services, she added, becomes increasingly more challenging. Too much screen time is only partly the reason.

“We do not know how to slow down,” said Ser, who takes full advantage of the time Shabbat gives her and husband, Sam, to enjoy a day of unplugged time with their three children. “The world has picked up pace so much in the last few decades, and one no longer has to search and research to fi nd answers. The art of prayer asks a person to dig down into various layers of thinking, and this is something we are not accustomed to doing anymore.”

We are Merely Freshmen

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joliefreshmanyear

On a hot sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan, an older woman, newly transplanted from Philadelphia greeted us on our hike with a friendly hello when she noticed my husband was wearing a baseball cap from the University of Pennsylvania.

We struck up a conversation. Yes, we were transplants too from back east. Yes, my husband did go to school there.  And soon, our daughter would be starting her freshman year in Philadelphia.

“She is going to love it! So much has changed there since you went to school. Some people call it the sixth borough of New York City.”

……Now, I do not know if a true Philadelphian would appreciate that comment – Philadelphia truly can stand on its own with its own identity as a full-fledged city.  Perhaps she was just trying to reassure us. That Philadelphia was great and getting better by the day. That the City of Brotherly Love would be kind to my daughter, a freshman. And kind to her parents, who are freshmen again in some ways, trying to start over another chapter with one kid out the door and on her way to adulthood.

She’s starting her first semester of classes there. The rest of her family, we are making the adjustments.

  • I have inherited a whole bunch of T-shirts, hoodie sweatshirts and athletic clothing she deemed “too high school” to be worn on a college campus.
  • We have moved her place setting and her chair away. All the more pasta at dinner time for the boys.
  • Without her to keep it closed and shout “out!” the second any of her brothers would dare to enter, my oldest son has architectural renderings of how to turn his sister’s room into a soundproof recording studio. Not really. But he wishes he could.
  • My youngest son just pines away and wonders when big sister will ever be home for a long time again.

Now, readers, I know I am not the first parent with a kid going away to college. But I never expected to transplant our family so far from our east-coast roots, only to have a kid return to the east coast. From here on in, life changes. It is not certain if she will ever live home full-time again. It is not even certain if she will return in the summers. Two years ago, we were all freshmen in Michigan. Two years ago, I really thought she was going to be a college freshman. At Michigan. 

Just hours before, the three of us – my daughter husband and I woke in a hotel room. My daughter opened the curtain and took some time to stare out at the campus sixteen stories below her. The next four years of her life could be seen from a bird’s-eye view.

At 7:30, Philadelphia was waking up as workers grabbed their coffee to go and headed out on the hot sidewalk. The city was also gearing up to welcome back all the students.

Streets were blocked off around the dorms:

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We pulled up to a loading spot where an army of kids wearing bright yellow T-shirts were there to help us. What took us about a half hour to load, they unloaded in about five minutes.

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They then whisked my daughter away through the heavily secured gateway to her dorm quadDSCN2913

Her quad is peaceful and serene, lined with Ivy-clad dormitories, benches, gardens, statues and graced with an old dorm room beset with a marble and concrete facade in a quadrangle of other old buildings graced with Ivy and a centuries-old Elm tree providing shade for studying, or just a good nap,

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Within a few hours, we had all her stuff moved up her third floor dorm room, complete with a “basement.”

Yes, her dorm room has its own basement. If you are packing up your kids for college, I highly recommend getting those squishable zip-lock bags that can vacuum seal your kid’s winter coats to the thickness of a crepe:

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See? With five of these bags I was able to squish several coats and a winter’s worth of sweaters into her “basement” – really a trunk that is stored under the bed.

After we settled her in, it was time to explore.

I had many emotions coursing through me. Pride. Happiness. Awe. Sadness. But they couldn’t match what my husband was feeling that day. See, this was his college. His memories. His old haunts and stomping grounds. He even took us into his old dorm, in the same ancient quad just a few buildings down from my daughter’s:

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I admit I have a bit of resentment. The two of them as close as they are will share these years at Penn, something I will never share. As a men’s chorus sang The Red and the Blue, I could not help feel a sense of envy, and strained in my own memory to hear verses of “On the Banks of the Old Raritan” from Rutgers. She will never go there. None of my kids will.

Still, like going to a school even older than Rutgers – Penn was founded in 1740 – you cannot help feel a sense the heritage of this place.

Hello Ben!

Hello Ben!

Even within with Penn Library exists some of our country’s most significant historical artifacts, including amazing one of only 48 printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln himself, which we had the rare opportunity to see.

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As I stood on line to glimpse at this bit of history – hastily retrieved from the archives by a librarian who did not know that the University president suggested all incoming freshmen and their parents to visit the library to see it before they parted campus – my husband beckoned me over to another treasure trove of an exhibit.

There, in a quiet corner gallery in the library’s sixth floor, was a collection on display of some original artwork and some rare original printings of Ludwig Bemelmans, most famously known for his Madeline children’s books.

A book read to my girl as she sat on my lap night after night, A book that was one of the first she had learned to read herself ….now this young woman starting college,

:

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As the afternoon wore on, it was time for us to say goodbye and for her to start her life.

As we walked her back to her dorm room one last time, I wondered what it would feel like for her, waking up for the first time pretty much by herself. She had no breakfasts in her meal plan. Who would she hang out with? What would she eat? Would she make a healthy choice at the nearest Wawa (you don’t know what Wawa is?) or would she consume complete crap? Who was going to tell her to drink the milk? To whom would she roll her eyes in response?

As I gave her my final embrace until October, I noticed a closed yet filled Nalgene water bottle laying on its side on her brand new comforter set from Bed Bath and Beyond.

An avid runner, she has left filled water bottles astray on many surfaces in my house: on the floor of the family room, on the floor of her bedroom, on her bed.

For probably the first time, I didn’t nag her about leaving things lying around.  For eighteen plus years, I have done all the nagging a mother can do that is in within the limits of legality. After all, this was her bed. In her dorm. In her new life at college.

So as I learn to let her go, I let that water bottle go.

I just wonder if she knows what setting to put the dryer on if indeed there was a leak.

Good luck, to all the freshmen out there and to all the families out there with one less being underfoot!

The Incredible Weekend Getaway of the Six Invisibilia Women

invisibilia

invisibiliaBefore summer completely slips away and before I have to hop in my car again to take my kid to his second cross-country practice of the day, I must linger in the slow pace of summer and tell you about the incredible weekend getaway of the Six Invisibilia Women.

Maybe, if you also were lucky enough, you found some time to spend on friendship this summer. Not on your job or your marriage, or your kids, but pure, unadulterated time for kindling friendship.

Somewhere between your college graduation, your first job, your first marriage and your first diaper change, your identify as a girlfriend or a Best Friend Forever starts to slip away.

By the time you find yourself in mid-life, you become something of an egg white folded into a chocolate soufflé. Sure, the chocolate souffle is delicious and satisfying. You add body and texture to the family you created: your spouse, your children. You are the glue. You are the one who finally finds the watch the husband has been searching for in a pants pocket at the bottom of the laundry hamper. You are the one who is around to schedule and chauffeur the children to every last pediatrician, dentist and emergency orthodontist appointment.

But in those efforts, you sacrifice some of the stuff that made you you, and you start to become invisible.

If you are reading this and you are a man and the breadwinner of the house, I don’t know if this feeling of losing yourself applies to you. If I am wrong, please explain why in the comment box below.

Perhaps I am waxing post-feminism here, but guys, you pretty much shape the life, and where that life happens, for your family. From my experience, if a family relocates, they are relocating for the husband’s job and not for the wife’s career. You rarely look back compared to your trailing spouse.  Outside your home, you have defined yourself and your path through your work, the reputation you have built around your career and the colleagues who know you near and far.

For the trailing spouse, however, (that would be me) you have to keep reinventing yourself with each move. You must chart a new course for yourself and you are pretty much on your own in your own reincarnation.  Friendships from different chapters of your life fall away because of time, distance and family obligations. The more moves, the stronger the trailing spouse realizes their own sense of invisibility because making friends is that much harder.

Why is it that the deeper one moves into marriage and motherhood, the less time they have for friends? The long, uninterrupted conversations with college friends and the friends of the urban tribe pre-marriage get truncated into 30 minute coffee chats here and there at best. It is no secret that making friends in mid-life is tough. A 2012 New York Times piece says that, unlike when you are in your teens and 20’s, life is no longer wide open to new experiences or explorations.

Unless you move.  When you pick up and move in your mid forties or later, however, you most likely no longer have babies or preschoolers to provide that cute entry path to new friendships. With teens and tweens, you plop down into a suburban setting where the mommy playgroups have all been played out, where all the coffee dates and walking groups have already been gelled. Your kid and your kid’s friends all have cell phones, so there is no need for the kid or the parent to call you to make social arrangements.

Everyone already has more than enough friends and connections in town. You can tell by the way they barely notice you at curriculum night or at the orthodontist or at the track meets. They’ve most likely had these same B.F.F’s since high school or college, making you feel all the more invisible. Sorry, mom of the teen and tween –  all carpools and all the PTO committees have been pre-ordained since preschool. You can be sure of that.

If you are lucky enough, like me, the invisible trailing spouse, through forces of invisibilia, finds her path to friendship.

So what’s the deal with this word invisibilia? Invisibilia is a Latin word for all the invisible things, the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.

Invisibilia is also the name of a new N.P.R. podcast I was introduced to by a friend, a new friend who generously included me in her circle of friends – who also sometimes feel invisible amongst the ladies of the PTO – on this getaway weekend Up North. (If you are unfamiliar with the term Up North, you do not live in Michigan.)

As much as I would like to talk about the podcasts – and the books – we read and talked about – this is not a post about books and podcasts. It is about friendship.

So what happens when six women who all meet much later in life find themselves a free weekend in August with no obligations to anything else but friendship? They pack up some suitcases, lots of food and drink and share the four-hour ride Up North in a very spacious minivan.  Let’s just say that by the time we got to our destination – our host’s parent’s lake house – our voices were all sore from talking.

After all, when you meet friends in your forties and up, you have a lifetime of stories to catch up on. The conversations were endless. There were no husbands, children or wifi. Cell phone reception was spotty. Therefore, old-fashioned and unfettered conversations flowed freely from topic to topic: our hometowns, how our husbands proposed, sagas on labor and parenting, and now challenges and struggles in our careers.

While we talked, we walked, cooked and ate. Some of us spent too much time cooking and were reminded by others to sit down and read their book for God’s sake! That is a friend, I tell you!

Some of us hung out in the hot tub. Some of us tried our skills in a canoe. We called out to the loons. When did we feel it was okay to show we were loony enough to call out to a loon?  Some of us even braved the uninterrupted darkness at night to find a constellation or catch a glimpse of a shooting star. We tried to contain our shrieks of joy but it is kind of hard to do when a shooting star lasts for about five seconds leaving a trail across the dark unsuburban sky.

The only thing that interrupted our conversations was the sight of a flitting fleet of hummingbirds that visited the feeder attached to the large back window. Or the call of the loons in the lake. Or times at night when there was a seemingly silent pact that we would all sit around and read.

I have not felt as close a bond to other women since college. Even though I was surrounded by all these new friends, flickers of memories of old friendships darted in and out of my mind.

I thought of one of them  when she asked us once, walking along a beach at the New Jersey Shore:  “When did we come to  a point of trusting  one another with our secrets? How did we know we were at a point in our friendship where we could be silly with each other? At what point did we know how to make each other laugh?”

Back to the present… I realize that even though I have not seen some of my college friends in years, they have not left me. There still remains this invisible tie between us. Ties built on trust and shared confidences. They have only enriched my life by coaxing me out of invisibility to take chances on new friendships.

“We Just Want To Live”

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“It is very nice that you and your other American friends care about protecting the Arctic Circle and the polar bears against global warming. And I understand you want social justice and equal rights and the right to choose for a woman. Yes, all these things are very nice and good and important. But here in Israel, the first thing we need more than anything is security for us and our children. We just want to live. We want to go to sleep at night and not worry that Iran is building a nuclear bomb to shoot at us.”

I sat in my host family’s living room. On my 2008 educator mission to Israel I stayed with Keren, a teacher, her husband, Omer,  a systems manager (or something like that), and their two young daughters.  It was in the evening and Keren was upstairs putting the girls to bed in their two-level condo in Modi’in Israel.

Next to the girls bedroom, which they shared, was another room that many in Israel had if their home was built after a certain year. In their house, It is an inner room with thick, lined walls and no windows and closes with a thick door that shuts with a crank. one thick door that when shut, 

The thing is, in Israel, space is tight. Square footage is expensive. Like, think close to Manhattan expensive.  And although Israelis are not supposed to use this room for anything else but a safety shelter, it is often used as a room. For a home office. A playroom filled with colorful toys. An extra space to store like any other American needs, all the extra stuff that comes along with living in a consumerism society.

I was visiting Israel to teach Israeli kids a little bit about what it was like to be a Jew in America. But that evening, I was the one getting a lesson on the mindset of Israelis as I sat on the white couch with a glass of precious water – no ice – my feet resting on the cold tiled floor.

It was the spring of 2008. Israel was in the wake with its military action in Lebanon and Gaza after the kidnapping of three soldiers from 2006. In the United States, elections were heating up and most of America was fed up with the way things were going under the Bush Administration. 

The economy was about to tank. 

We were five years out of Bush’s “mission accomplished” announcement, where nothing seemed to get accomplished except hundreds of our soldiers getting killed or wounded. Where were the weapons of mass destruction? When would we ever see a troop draw down from Iraq? Afghanistan? 

I was the Democratic Party’s dream voter. I stood, and still, stand for every issue on the Democratic ticket. Strict environmental regulations. Stricter gun control. Pro Choice. Fulfilling the legacy of Ted Kennedy’s call for universal health care.  

When it came to Israel, I still believed that supporting Israel was a bipartisan issue. But in 2008, there started to be a shift that if you really wanted to support Israel, voting for a Democrat is not the way to go. I had been warned by friends and certain family and now, I was getting a plea from Omer.  

Early every morning, Omer gets picked up outside his condo by a company bus to take them to the offices inside the Ben Gurion Airport. Except, that next week, after I headed back to the States, Omer would be heading out for a month of reserve duty, just as most Israeli men do, one month per year, until they are in their 50’s. 

But back to the couch. 

Omer did not belittle me for my then progressive beliefs, and said in a big country like the U.S., he could understand why people would back these issues. He did not tell me which way to vote, but told me who he hoped would win in no uncertain terms.

“I think Obama is a good man, but here in Israel, we really like McCain. We need a sheriff in the White House.”

Eight years later I have not forgotten Omer’s words. I wonder what he thinks of the United States now. Does he feel betrayal by American Jews, myself included, who vastly voted for Obama, once and even twice?

And now the Iran Nuclear agreement is up for vote in Congress. 

Below, if you care to keep on reading, is my article from this week’s Detroit Jewish News covering the Washington Institute’s David Makovsky’s speech before Detroit’s Jewish community. He offered as balanced a perspective as possible on the Iran Deal.  Although the Wall Street Journal contributing writer has written strongly against the deal, I learned later that his sponsors here asked him to give a balanced overview and not his own personal opinions.

I wonder why.

I woke to the news that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a statement today coming out against the deal.

Somewhere in Israel, I hope that this news has reached Omer, and that he is smiling with just a little bit of hope.

David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, mapped out the pros and cons of the Iran nuclear agreement to an audience of nearly 1,000 donors to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township on July 30.
Stressing the many questions that still remain on how the deal will be enforced should it be enacted, Makovsky spoke of the “atmosphere of anguish” going around Congress as it heads to a vote on the agreement.
He also emphasized the urgent need for cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence and security departments.

Detroit’s Federation is one of only eight in the nation that have come down in the first week squarely against the agreement. Noting the size of the crowd, Federation President Larry Wolfe said this is a time of “deep concern, interest and anxiety within Detroit’s Jewish community.

“The Federation of Detroit needs to take a stand, particularly with their fellow Jews in Israel who feel abandoned and isolated, especially in light that with this deal, terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah funded by Iran will be flush with cash,” Wolfe said.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the future for Jews here in Detroit, Israel and around the world.”

Professor Howard Lupovitch, director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, Wayne State University, served as moderator.

To illustrate the complexities of either being for or against the deal, Makovsky walked the audience through a hypothetical face-to-face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.

Makovsky outlined Obama’s reasoning why this is the “best possible deal” with Iran. It guarantees that Iran would be nuclear weapon-free for 15 years.
After that period, Iran could enrich uranium to weapons grade level within 12 months. Presently, Iran is three to four months away from this threshold.

The deal would also cut the number of Iran’s working centrifuges. According to Makovsky, Obama would argue that it is the best chance to move Iran into “inte grating itself into the global economy” for the general Iranian population who wants to become more Westernized.

In this imaginary exchange, Netanyahu would argue that the deal has not eliminated Iran’s nuclear threat but only managed it by acknowledging that, in 15 years, Iran will be treated like any other nation and there is nothing to stop Iran from “racing toward the bomb” when the deal expires.
Netanyahu would also ask why the U.S. and other countries involved in negotiations did not clearly outline a set of possible violations and penalties as a way of holding Iran accountable to the agreement.

Also, Netanyahu would ask how reasonable would it be to ask countries like China, Russia or France to “snap back” sanctions once they are entrenched with business dealings with Iran and are “lining their bank coffers with money from oil revenues?” Also troubling are the billions of dol lars of frozen assets that could flow back into Iran’s economy upon the agree ment’s enactment. If Iran’s top banks will have sanctions lifted against them within eight years under the deal, Makovsky said the nations involved need to develop a clear strategy of how to follow the money trail so it does not further fund terrorism in the “volcanic” Middle East.

In spite of the uncertainty, Makovsky offered hope in the fact that fractious Arab nations are moving closer to work with each other, united in their fear of a nuclear Iran. If the Arab nations can do this, so, too, should Israel and the United States, he concluded.

“My one plea is that the security and intelligence relationship between us needs to come together as soon as pos sible,” Makovsky said.

“With Israel now encircled by non state entities as governments around it break down, we cannot afford to wait until the next presidency or even another year to start collaborating. We no longer have the luxury to be angry with one another.”

Sitting on the Floor. Thinking about Jerusalem’s ashes of yesterday and tomorrow. But please not tomorrow.

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Tisha B’Av. I am well into my fast.

Now is the time of the day when the stomach really starts to grumble. Mornings of a fast are okay. That is the time when the faster says to themselves: What is eating anyway? Eating is more habitual than anything. I even made it to my garden to do some work this morning.

I am not observing an absolute fast this Tisha B’Av – literally meaning, the ninth of the month of Av. I’ve been drinking water and coffee throughout the day. But still, now that late afternoon is here, the hunger is sinking in. But I will dig in deeper. Mentally, I have not taken a fast from thinking deeply, and my troubled thoughts I allow to linger on this day, the saddest of the entire Jewish calendar.

Last year’s memories of Gaza’s war with Israel linger. Last week’s agreement with Iran, and what disasters it could hold for the future of not just Israel but the whole world, weigh heavily on my mind. As it should with yours, dear reader, however or wherever this lovely summer day finds you.

The outsider must see observers of this fast day pretty much as religious fanatics out of their mind.

Are you the average outsider? I’ll test out my theory. Check it out; Here is the crux of this day and the reason why some Jews fast and mourn today:

Over two thousand years ago, we the Jews had the Great Temple in Jerusalem.

On this day, a bit over two thousand years ago, on this very same day a few hundred years before that, not one but BOTH Great Temples were destroyed. One built by King Solomon, then another one five centuries later, built by King Herod . Both destroyed. The city of Jerusalem ransacked, on the same day.

Lots of other bad stuff happened to Jews on or around this day.

Through the centuries, some of our greatest leaders were killed in and around this date.

Through the centures Jews were expelled, from Jerusalem, from England, France and Spain, in and around on this date.

Because of that, that is why we fast. And in the days leading up to the fast, we don’t have fun in pools. Or chow down on burgers at barbecues. At the height of the summer.

So now is your turn to respond: You are in mourning in 2015, in modern times, for the destruction of a building? And the destruction happened

HOW many years ago? But that was then and this is now. That has NOTHING to do with today. Seriously, get over it! 

My I am getting dizzy now. 

I’m a religious nut, right? You’re thinking this. But the older I get, the more the messages of Tisha B’Av have to do with today.

In all honesty, I didn’t even know about Tisha B’av when I was a kid growing up in Staten Island. It was a summer holiday, and let’s just say that with an afternoon congregational Hebrew school education, it is safe to say that any Jewish commemoration that takes place in the summer is glossed over. Even not taught.

I only learned about it from friends who went to Jewish summer camp. So when my own kids went to summer camp, I decided to observe Tisha B’av.

You start the fast at synagogue sitting on the floor. Mourning brings you mentally to a lower, less comfortable place and you want to match this mood physically.  So you sit on the floor.

It is customary for the sanctuary lights to dim. Some bring flashlights or light candles to follow along in their prayer books.

Then, in a mournful melody, a leader or a group of leaders chant the entire book of Lamentations. Eicha in Hebrew.

The imagery in Lamentations is so very sad and graphic. There is no comfort. Gd has abandoned His Chosen People to be starved, stoned, burned, raped and humiliated by our worst enemies. There is no one to comfort them and no one to answer Jerusalem’s cries.

There are mothers sitting in the ashes of what were once the glorious golden-paved streets of Jerusalem. The passage of babies suckling the empty breasts of their starving mothers always gets to me. I can hear the cries of the starving in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem as the Romans attempted to starve them out from behind the walls. You can smell the burning and feel the heat.

“The tongue of the suckling cleaves to its palate for thirst. Little children beg for bread. None gives them a morsel.” 

Fast forward a few centuries. Are the images that the author of Lamentations paints in the reader’s head any different or remote than those from the ghettos of Rome? Prague? Warsaw?

The foes set upon our sanctuaries…Our steps were checked. We could not walk in our squares.

Is it any different now? As Jews are afraid to openly show their Jewish identity and safely walk in the streets  In Paris? In Brooklyn? Even Jerusalem?

And the hardest lesson to swallow from the book of Ecclesiastes, is that the Jews of Jerusalem had no one but themselves to blame for their destruction. Gd turned His face from the because of their baseless hatred and pettiness towards one another. We were punished because, according to the author, we showed no regard for priests (we had priests, not rabbis during the time of the Temple) and no respect for tradition or our elders.

And how is this different now? In an age where commitment to Jewish education falls to the bottom of priorities, upstaged by everything else from soccer to scouting? Where learning about Jewish history has been scrapped for a bare-bones Jewish education that leaves nothing more than some tutoring lessons to learn how to pronounce some transliterated gibberish for a kid’s big day on the bimah?

I am hungry now. But the hunger has not made me melodramatic. I’m speaking from true experience here. And this is going widely unreported, why I don’t understand. Are we afraid to admit that in our comfortable complacency we are failing to transmit to the next generation their rich heritage?

Ask your typical Jewish kid if they can name one Jewish leader from modern times or ancient times. Ask if they know what countries border Israel, Ask them what Hebrew letters spell basic words like Shalom, Shabbat, and even Moses, and you might get a lot of blank stares.

Will these same kids, once they get off the bimah and for the most part, exit their Jewish education and find themselves in college five years, will they know how to answer in college to cries that Israel is a pariah of a nation, an apartheid state? Who will teach them their heritage and history then?

“The mouthings and pratings of my adversaries…Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the sky.” 

And now, we are faced with Iran becoming legitimized as a playing power, as a nuclear entity, in the eyes of the world. You don’t have to read every page of this deal to know this deal is a bad one. Will the world wake up in time?

“Our doom is near our days are done – Alas our doom has come.” 

The way I see it, those words could have easily been written today.

Who’s Gonna Drive you Home, Part I: Prom

teen-prom-stats

teen-prom-stats

As I write this, my oldest child, an adult in the legal sense now at 18, is safely away at her summer job as a counselor at an overnight camp.

She will not be behind the wheel of a car, or maybe will hardly even be in a car, for the next 8 weeks. And the weeks of the summer, according to the American Automobile Association, are the deadliest for teenagers.

This is the tale of me, a mom, who went against the grain and put her foot down because she did not want her daughter or her friends to become another summer statistic.

Late to the game in the car-crazed culture of the Metro Detroit Area, my daughter got her license nearly a good two years after most teens get theirs.

I was completely fine with that. Even though sometimes I could feel my very bottom turning to mush at the amount of time I spent behind the wheel picking up and driving her to and from sports and band rehearsals.

So, come prom time, my daugher assured me that when it came to transportation to and from the prom, she and her friends – all sweet, all good and smart, and all drivers – “had this” in terms of the driving.

“Had this?” What did “Had this” mean? Was there a known limo vendor the school works with to get kids to the prom destination – which was a Downtown Detroit nightclub?  Had the school chartered some luxury busses to whisk them to and from the night of their lives? Was it included in the price of the ticket?

No. Turns out, they planned to drive themselves to prom.

Now, maybe it was the fact that I grew up in New York City, where everything is different, but no one drove themselves to prom. There was just too much risk of someone getting into an alcohol-related accident.

Plus, who among us in working-class Staten Island had their license, plus their own car, by Senior Year, let alone sophomore year? I didn’t.

It was just too easy to take the bus or the train or bum a ride from the one or two friends who had a car. (Thanks for the many rides, old friends, and you know who you are!)

And when it came to prom, it was a sure thing you were going in a limo.

Because the prom wasn’t really about being at the prom, it was about that limo. Should it be black? White? Stretch? And how many couples can we squeeze in to make it as cheap as possible?

Because the prom part of prom was not the main event. It was leaving the cheesy banquet hall of the Sheraton in Jersey, piling into the limo, which you had saved up for for about a year with your after school job or selling candy bars, and heading into New York City. To the nightclubs. And the carriage ride in Central Park.

Pity to the teens who do not grow up in the Metro area who don’t get a NYC prom.

But back to the present, in Metro Detroit.

Like many of you who have been following my blog know, I am a transplant to Metro Detroit by only two years. So, in the social circles of the high school parents, I am a complete outsider. Nope, I didn’t grow up here or go to high school here, and I didn’t move here when my kids were babies. So contact with parents for me has been all but minimal.

So  when my daughter, working so hard to fit in and not make waves and play it cool, told me that she could not ask her loosely formed group of about 22 kids all planning to leave for prom from the same house to spend ANOTHER PENNY on prom, I didn’t push it. After all, I was not familiar with many of these kids’ parents, and didn’t want to impose my views of getting a limo.

I tried to play it cool. These were good kids. Smart kids. Kids who were going to attend some of the country’s best colleges in the fall.

I was actually starting to come around to this plan when I asked the son of a friend of mine, who had already gone to his prom, how his big night was.

“Oh, it was interesting.”

Interesting? How so?

“A friend of the family offered to do us a favor and drove us to prom,” he calmly told me. “He seemed a bit out of it when he picked us up, but no one said anything. He was on his cell phone the whole drive. We got in an accident on the way to prom. We made it there alright, but we had an adult drive us and HE got in an accident.”

No Shit?!

So there you go. Is that ironic or what? So they had an adult drive them and even then they got in an accident. So who’s to say they wouldn’t be safer driving themselves.

Then again….

It would be dark when they were coming home.

And they’d be wired and tired from a night of dancing.

And excited and way distracted.

And they’d  be driving at night on unfamiliar streets and highways.

And not to mention those statistics.

So, I put my foot down. From my trusty high school directory, I looked up phone numbers and emails and expressed my plea to keep our kids safe and fork out the cash to find a driver. It didn’t have to be a fancy limo. It could be car service or an airport towncar.

I got mixed surprised responses. Each parent said they would be okay with the kids driving themselves, yet no parent said they wanted their kid to be responsible for driving.

Some parents balked at the extra expense.

Some parents got eye rolls from their children at the thought of hiring a driver.

Let ’em roll, I say. Roll the eyes at me all you want. I’ve been eyerolled. I can take it.

Another parent said they were greatly relieved that another parent had the guts to take the initiative to find a professional driver.

Prom night:

All 22 people in the prom party and their parents, were invited to a pre-prom party at the home of one of the kids. Luxury cars parked in the driveway. Original art hung on the walls. I did so appreciate the catered hors D’oeuvres and wheatgrass apple ginger shots and mini smoothies served with wedges of lime. But I could not see how these same families could not spend “another penny” on hiring drivers for peace of mind, according to my daughter.

As the pre-party went on, the parents who were in on our car, settled up.

Then another parent approached me. Her son was not a senior but an underclassman from another school, the guest of a senior. She only found out that there indeed WERE no limos, and her son would be driven to prom by a kid unknown to her. She was a wreck.

“There’s room in my daughter’s car for one more couple…” I just put it out there. She said she would gladly pay – as well as the date of the other girl’s mom. They nearly kissed my hand in gratitude.

In the end, all the kids, driven or not driven by a professional driver, all got to and from prom safe and sound.  They all looked fabulous and had a wonderful time. There was no drinking going on at the actual prom. Yet still, there was plenty of texting and chatting as the night wore on of how much drinking was going on at all the “after prom” parties. It’s a good thing most of these parties were sleepovers.

So, in the end, and keep this in mind for next year if you’ve got a rising senior – when your independence-seeking have-it-all-together-teen says “they are handling” transportation for prom, don’t let them handle it.

Step up. Be an intrusive parent. Butt in. Make calls. Hire a driver. And savor that peace of mind.

A most strange and beautiful dream on the eve of a most horrible morning

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Last night I had a dream. 

Now, I know that sounds cliché, especially on a morning such as this where the world is waking up to the horrible event in Charleston, S.C.

It has been a long time since I have posted on anything outside my feature stories. But sometimes you have a dream so vivid which juxtaposes the events of reality so much I just had to write it down so I would not forget.

I was going to investigate some old house in Detroit that was said to have been part of the underground railroad.

It was a huge old tutor styled home with a wall around it, a circular driveway with ivy-covered landscape.

I knocked on the door and a very tall slender black woman in her 50s opened it to greet me. She had a dark purple dress on with flowers on it, very old-fashioned, as a dress taken from the 1940’s. Her hair was in corn rows and then coiled into a neat bun. She wore wired spectacles. She welcomed me in with a warm smile.

I told her I wanted to learn about this house’s history with the Underground Railroad.

She said she would give me a tour of the house, but first, invited me in for Shabbat lunch.

Told you this was a strange dream. 

The house was a series of elaborately decorated rooms, all in the Victorian style. Think flowered wallpaper and intricately carved crown molding along the ceiling.

Each room was filled with people, black and white, seated around huge dining tables eating cholent (a thick stew served on Saturday afternoons) served in large silver tureens and studying Hebrew.

It was not clear if all those there were all Jewish, but they were all studying, singing, laughing and eating in complete harmony.

After a while, I approached the woman to tour the house again.

She led me up a broad staircase, and then a narrow one up to the attic.

We climbed up another ladder, and there, in a loft, were bunk beds where slaves would hide for a few nights or days on their journey to freedom to Canada. It was quite hot and the air stuffy in the attic and I imagined those who hid in that attic and how uncomfortable they must have been, hiding for their lives on their way to freedom.

I woke up this morning only to learn that a white man shot and killed nine worshippers at the Emanuel A.M.E. church, a church described by the Washington Post as a “site of struggle, resistance and change” for the past two hundred years.

The murderer sat there for an hour among his victims before he opened fire. What was going through his head in that hour? How could he not have a change of heart as he sat and listened to people studying the Bible?

Perfect Prom

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How can it be? Prom season has come and gone. My kids’ included. I’ll be writing more about that in the near future, about prom, about when to let their kids stretch their independence, and when to step in and protect when it comes to the literal roads of life, and boy is it hard to distinguish the difference. 

In the meantime, for a little while longer, let them enjoy the innocence of being a kid and read a story of how some high school kids reached out to fellow students who never dreamed about going to prom and how they had the time of their lives.

It was a pleasure to write this one in the midst of making arrangements for my own child’s prom night. It was a pleasant surprise to find out it had made it to a cover story:

Perfect Prom

Posted on June 10, 2015, 12:29 PM . Filed in Uncategorized. Tagged . Be the first to comment!

A night to cherish —for students of all abilities

Spencer Cohn of West Bloomfield had his heart set on going to his prom to seal his lasting memories of high school with a fun night out on the town. He knew just whom he wanted to ask, and with the help of a teacher and supportive friends, he had a night to remember at West Bloomfield High School’s Senior Prom, held at the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle in Detroit.

Going to prom was also a dream come true for Spencer’s mom, Melanie Cohn. Like all parents raising kids with special needs, the thing she wanted most for her son was acceptance by his peers.

“When you have a child on the autism spectrum, you always feel like your kids are on the outside,” said Melanie, who is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Farmington Hills. “When I found out there was a way that Spencer could go to prom, I was so pleased. He went and felt accepted as part of a group of friends. Isn’t that how we all want to feel?”

Six couples show their prom spirit before heading off to the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle for the big dance.

This acceptance in part came from a course offered in several area high schools called LINK. Also known as Peer-to-Peer Support, LINK is a course where general education students assist students with learning disabilities in classroom and social settings. The course’s goals include improving social, independence and/or academic skills for students with disabilities as well as helping students in the general population develop an understanding of individuals with disabilities. Students who enroll in the course may eventually pursue careers in social work, teaching or psychology.

For about three years now, through LINK, WBHS seniors with special needs have been transported to prom in their own limousine bus, thanks to a generous anonymous donor in the Jewish community.

Spencer’s prom date was Dalia Rubenstein, 16, a WBHS junior who took the LINK course this spring semester. Volunteering with those with special developmental needs comes naturally for her. Ever since she could remember, she has accompanied her mother, Shoshana Rubenstein, ACSW, to help out at JARC events for adults.

Through LINK, Dalia gained experience with learning how to more patiently interact with teens on the Autism spectrum and not to “rush to judgment” when conversations do not go exactly as planned. For example, sarcasm does not go over very well to those with very literal minds.

“You have to watch what you say, especially if you want to joke around,” Dalia said. “Sarcasm doesn’t work so you have to say exactly what you mean.”

Harry Cohn adjusts his son’s tie before he heads off to the WBHS prom.

Though their families had been friends for many years, Dalia became better acquainted with Spencer through LINK.

“People dream about going to the prom because it is the highlight of high school,” Dalia said. So, when he asked me, I said, ‘Of course, I would love to go with you!’ Since then, he hasn’t stopped smiling and talking about the prom.”

After Spencer asked Dalia, she asked a few of her friends — some were part of LINK, others were not — if they would like to go to prom with other kids with special needs. Altogether, six couples dressed up, met in the school parking lot to have their parents kvell over them and take their photographs before they boarded the limo bus to prom.

Even though he prefers wearing shorts and a T-shirt most of the time, Spencer sported a tuxedo for the occasion. He said Dalia looked “great” in her navy blue prom dress. He gave her a white corsage. At his request, Dalia gave Spencer two picture frames: one to hold a picture of them at the prom and one saved for a graduation photo.

Dalia Rubenstein and Spencer Cohn

“It was pretty fancy at the yacht club and I loved the music,” Spencer said the day after prom. “I wanted to go to prom because I knew it was going to be a great memory to have forever from my senior year of high school.”

Accompanying them on the limo bus was Janis Schiffer, a school social worker and a coordinator of the LINK program. Schiffer said that these couples going to prom together is proof positive of how LINK bridges the gap between students of all abilities.

In the end, Schiffer knew her students with special needs were in good hands with their LINK buddies at the prom. She didn’t need to be with them at all times to be their “friend.” Instead, she was present at the prom just like any other adult chaperone, hanging in the background and watching the kids having fun.

“I was overjoyed to see them all having a wonderful time,” Schiffer said. “After a while, you really couldn’t tell which of the kids had special needs and which didn’t. It is just what one would expect from prom night.”

By: Stacy Gittleman, Contributing Writer

The Future is Bright for Detroit’s Conservative Jews. Motor City Youth Group is “Chapter of the Year”

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When I taught Hebrew school and looked at the sweet yet glazed-over faces of my students, I would gently yet firmly reassure them: “KIds, please. I get it. Hebrew school may not be your thing. But don’t ever let your feelings about Hebrew school cloud your love for being Jewish. There is a better Jewish life after Hebrew school and it is youth group.”

Personally, I owe my life to United Synagogue Youth’s high school and middle school programming. Whether it was learning how to do The Time Warp or Rock Lobster at a dance, or finally mastering the WHOLE Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals) while singing it with hundreds of my closest friends, It taught me how to life Jewishly joyfully. Kudos to the Motor City Chapter of USY for winning for the second year in a row Chapter of the Year for the organization’s Central region. 

This ran in the May 21, 2015 issue of the Detroit Jewish News. Please subscribe.

Motor City USY wins honor for second year running

| Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

Recently recognized by the Central Region of United Synagogue Youth for membership growth and inter-generational religious programming such as “McKabbalat Shabbat,” members of Detroit’s chapter of United Synagogue Youth recently arrived home from their regional spring convention in Cleveland bleary-eyed yet happy to have clinched the “Chapter of the Year” award for the second year running.

Motor City USY, affectionately known as “MCUSY,” is witnessing a resurgence in membership growth and dynamic programming designed to engage and energize the youngest members of Metro Detroit’s Conservative Jewish movement.

The chapter has attracted about 65 official members in grades 6-12, and a little over 100 individuals have attended at least one USY or Kadima program in the past year, according to adviser David Lerner. Highlights of the year included a Purim limousine scavenger hunt, monthly volunteering at bingo games with adults with developmental disabilities in cooperation with JARC, and an “Iron Chef ” kosher cooking contest for students in the middle school grades.ironchef

The Conservative movement in Detroit has invested much in its youth engagement and informal education in the last several years with its Ramah Fellowship and by hiring a full-time USY adviser. For the past two years, this post was filled by David Lerner. Lerner is stepping down from his post, and this summer will begin his rabbinical studies at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.
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“I have been so inspired working with the teens and witnessing their passion and ability to form a community around Jewish life and values,” Lerner, 32, said.
“I have merely served as the facilitator and supporter to all their passion and great ideas. They have worked hard through their frustrations to create so many positive outcomes over the past two years.”

Lerner hopes the organization will choose a new adviser who has an established relationship with the organization and can continue its upward direction.

In the last two years, Lerner said he focused on growing and strengthening programming and outreach at the high school level. In coming years, he said the focus should be on growing the organization’s Kadima group for grades 6-8 and Junior Kadima for grades 3-5.

Local area Conservative rabbis also place a high value on the way USY blends social and religious aspects to get teens enthused about Judaism.
Rabbi Aaron Bergman at Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills attributes the chapter’s recent success to collaboration across all of Detroit’s Conservative synagogues and professional staff who are connected and invested in the teens.

Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield — where Lerner also worked as director of youth and young adult programming — echoed this sentiment of working together to create meaningful experiences of Jewish learning and fostering friendships for teens.

“As Conservative Jews, we are committed to developing passionate, educated young adults devoted to finding spirituality within Jewish ritual, meaning within Jewish life, and a commitment to repairing our broken world,” Starr said.
“Most of all, the teens who are part of MCUSY are exceptional leaders and, in them, I see a bright future for the Jewish people.”

Jacklawson MCUSYchapterofyear

Never Too Late

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batmitzvahadult

Adult b’nai mitzvah classes represent
a different coming of age.

Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer

A group of students sits immersed in  Torah study on a recent Wednesday  at Adat Shalom Synagogue in  Farmington Hills. Their teacher, Rabbi Rachel  Shere, guides the lesson based on carefully  selected texts that delve into the theme of  coming of age. In preparation for their b’nai  mitzvah, the students listen intently and offer  their insights about what it means to become  a full-fledged member of a community.

No one squirms, asks to go to the bathroom  or raises their hand to take a break for a drink  of water. Some sip coffee. Others have a tinge  of gray in their hair or beards.DSCN2211

Decades older than their teen counter-parts, there is a sizeable population of Jews  in the Detroit Metropolitan Area as well  as around the nation who are choosing to have a bar or bat mitzvah later in life. While  learning Hebrew and the complexities of  chanting Torah may be a bit more challeng-ing, older b’nai mitzvah students can bring a  wealth of perspective and life experiences and  a deeper appreciation for Jewish study than  their younger counterparts.

Nationwide, there has been some discus-sion in Jewish circles as to whether or not  the traditional age of becoming a bar or bat  mitzvah — 12 for girls and 13 for boys — is  outdated. Many teens and families see the  ceremony as the final day of involvement  with Jewish education, rather than as an  entry point of a fully participating adult in  Jewish communal life.

Additionally, the status  of becoming a Jewish adult and taking on  the mitzvot of Judaism is recognized with or  without a ceremony and all its extra fanfare.   The first “belated” b’nai mitzvah ceremo-nies were held at Brandeis University in the  1970s, according to MyJewishLearning.com.  Recently, Reboot, a New York City-based  organization doing outreach to unaffiliated  Jewish millennials, launched an initiative  called reBar that asks this age group to re-examine their Jewish identities and their own  Jewish coming-of-age ceremony — if they  had one at all.  If it did not have much meaning the first  time around, would they give it another try,  along Jewish learning and living, now that  they are at an age when they may be thinking about starting families?

Though reBar is  active in several U.S. cities, the initiative does  not have any activity in Detroit yet.  Whether they never had a bar or bat mitzvah, as in the case of women of older generations, Jewish converts or those looking to  recharge their Jewish identities, Jewish adults  in Detroit are dedicating themselves to study,  finding community and being recognized on  the bimah in a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony.

For those seeking adult b’nai mitzvah  instruction in Detroit, Adat Shalom and  Temple Israel of West Bloomfield have established two-year courses. The clergy take turns  teaching weekly courses in a group setting.  Subjects include basic Judaism, laws, customs  and holidays, and Jewish ethics as well as  Hebrew literacy and reading the Hebrew of  the selected Torah portion and learning Torah  trope in the final six months. Temple Emanu-El of Oak Park is planning an adult b’nai  mitzvah program in late 2015 or early 2016.

Adat Shalom’s current class is preparing for  a ceremony May 24 in time for Shavuot. The  next group of students will start classes in  January 2016; new students are welcome.  Hazzan Dan Gross teaches with his fellow clergy at Adat Shalom. He said having  an adult b’nai mitzvah ceremony timed to  Shavuot is symbolic for a group of adults  publicly demonstrating their commitment to  their Jewish identity and their role in synagogue life as well as their efforts to learn an  ancient tradition and carry it into the future.  Adults come from a wide range of religious  backgrounds. Gross said he is very appreciative of the effort students put into learning  Hebrew and chanting Torah.

“Everyone comes to class with different lev-els of reading Hebrew,” he said. “As teachers,  we have to be cognizant that everyone is at a  different pace and sensitive to the fact that, as  an adult, it may be harder to memorize the  musical motifs of the trope. But what makes  learning with adults enjoyable is that they  truly form a chavruta, a community of learn-ers who support one another.”  Continued Commitment A few of the course’s graduates have gone on  to become regular leaders of daily services or  regular Torah readers.

Allison Lee, 54, of Walled Lake, a graduate  of the 2013 Adat Shalom class, takes pride  in her newly acquired skill of chanting the  Ten Commandments. Growing up, Lee had a  minimal Jewish education and rarely attend-ed synagogue with her family. Several years  into marriage, her husband, son of a Lutheran  minister, strongly urged that she delve into  the teachings and traditions of Judaism. The  desire to raise their daughter, Lydia, as a Jew  also accelerated the rate at which she learned.

“Through the years, it was my husband  who encouraged me to explore my religion,  and little by little we would take on traditions,  like lighting Shabbat candles, having holiday  meals and keeping a kosher home.”

Lee and Lydia became fast study partners.  Both mother and daughter celebrated their  bat mitzvot within the last two years.  “I feel such pride when I chant Torah,” Lee  said. “I think, ‘Wow, I get to read the voice of  God.’”

She offers this advice to adults on the fence  about having an adult bar or bat mitzvah  ceremony:

“If you have the slightest modicum  of curiosity, go for it. You will be swept away  by the amount of knowledge and a feeling of  identity and community you will gain.”

The adult bar/bat mitzvah preparations at  Temple Israel involve weekly two-hour classes  with concentrations on Jewish study, celebrating Jewish holidays as a class and improving  Hebrew literacy. The second year focuses on  the Torah service, learning its prayers and  preparing a Torah service, according to Rabbi  Arianna Gordon. Approximately 21 students  are involved in each learning cycle.

The current group of students will have a service to  celebrate their emergence into Jewish adult-hood in October 2016.

“We have learners at all levels, including some who have recently converted to  Judaism, and then some Hebrew school dropouts who are circling back to Judaism later in  life,” Gordon said. “A lot of the classes involve  personal reflective writing on their relation-ship with God and what about this journey to  Jewish adulthood is important to them.”

Gordon said the most important aspect  she wants her adult students to gain is a creation of their own smaller Jewish community  within the larger scope of Temple Israel.

Exploring Judaism

Jim Rawlinson, 75, of West Bloomfield was  very excited to get a new tallit from his life  partner, Paula Weberman, when he celebrated his bar mitzvah in 2014. Jim, raised as  a Protestant in Vicksburgh, Mich., said  he never met a Jewish person until his  sophomore year of college.  Though he regularly attended church  as an adult, he disagreed with much of its  teachings.

With little exposure to Jews or  Judaism, reading Survival in Auschwitz by Primo  Levi had an enormous impact on him as  a high school student.

“It made me so curious to find out  who were these people the Nazis wanted  to eliminate,” Rawlinson said. “Later on,  in my 20s, the Six-Day War broke out  and it made me very upset that so many  Arab nations wanted to attack the Jews.”

He spent his professional life as a photographer and learned more about Jewish  life-cycle events after he moved to Metro  Detroit and documented Jewish weddings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations.

“I noticed at these occasions, there  was a stronger pull to family and community, a greater warmth than I had ever  encountered in the non-Jewish community,” he said.

In 2009, Rawlinson began to attend  services at Temple Israel when he  decided this would become his spiritual  “home.” As he explored the possibility of  converting, he took introductory classes  in Judaism and Hebrew.  “At a certain point, I realized I wanted  to explore Judaism from the inside  instead of being an outsider.”

He enrolled in the class, where he  felt accepted by his classmates. Alone at  night, he studied Hebrew and his Torah  reading for hours every night. And come  this year’s High Holiday season, he will  chant Torah on Yom Kippur morning.

“Becoming a bar mitzvah at this stage  of my life has been fabulous,” he said.  “I consider Temple Israel my home and  could not ever imagine living in a community where I would have to travel a  long way to get to a temple.”

Women Role Models

Doreen Millman, 81, of West Bloomfield  was one of the first women to become a  bat mitzvah at Temple Israel in the 1980s.  Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., when  girls received a minimal Jewish education  and only boys were called to the Torah,  she credits the memory of conversations  with her grandfather as an inspiration for  picking up her Jewish studies later in life  and becoming a bat mitzvah.

“He was born in a shtetl, yet he was  a very forward-thinking person who  believed girls as well as boys should have  a Jewish education,” Millman said. “I  thought I was crazy for doing it — I was  up to my elbows raising my children —  but I had a lot of encouragement to take  on this challenge.”  Milman said she enjoyed studying  Jewish history and learning how to read  Torah. Since her bat mitzvah, she has  read Torah at Temple Israel on other  occasions, including on Yom Kippur.

“I feel much more comfortable in  services now,” said Millman, who attends  a weekly Torah study group at Temple  Israel. “When I go to services on a  Shabbat morning, I can comfortably fol-low along with the Torah reading.”  Other women also expressed pride in  ownership of their Jewish learning and  becoming a bat mitzvah to serve as a role  model, and a study resource, for their  own daughters.

Shari Stein of West Bloomfield grew  up at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in  Southfield, also at a time when girls  were not called to the Torah. It was only  well into adulthood, and a few years shy  of her own daughters beginning their  bat mitzvah studies, that she decided to  become a bat mitzvah in 2006 at age 41.  She said she did it not only to deepen her  connection to her own spirituality, but  also to serve as a feminist role model of  “breaking barriers” for her children.  “[A bat mitzvah] can be much more  meaningful as an adult,” said Stein, who  admits her years of Jewish education at  Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills  equipped her with the skills to quickly  learn and chant from the Torah and  glean insights into the sacred texts.

Stein said that 10 years later, the significance of being publicly welcomed  into the Jewish community has much  meaning and carries through in her spiritual and professional life. A partner at a  Birmingham design firm, she has given  her talents to many charitable projects,  including Yad Ezra.

“Judaism is a constant process of  learning and growth, a practice of tikkun  olam and of asking yourself what, as a  Jew, can I do for my community?”  ■

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