The first month of the school year is almost over, and with it a month that marked the Jewish High Holidays. Though the early mornings and late nights are starting to take their toll, though the unfamiliar hallways I walked through in my son’s new high school make me sometimes wish we were back in our old digs and routines in Rochester, things are going well so far in Detroit.
One part of my Rochester life I am sorely missing is my weekly routine of writing my newspaper column. Fortunately, I have picked up several writing assignments in the Detroit Jewish News.
Here is my first piece, and it’s about (what else?) being a transplant.
With the sound of the shofar, the High Holiday season signals the promise of a New Year. We pray for a sweet year of new blessings and opportunities. For the rest of Jewish Detroiters, all this “newness” will happen in the same old familiar surroundings among family and old friends you’ve known for years.
For my family of five freshly-minted Michiganders, everything about 5774 is new.
Last year, as my family prepared to celebrate Sukkot, General Motors announced it would be closing the Rochester, N.Y., research facility where my husband worked and moving his job to Pontiac. We lived in Rochester for 14 years. It was the only home our three children, ages 16, 14, and 10, had ever known.
After the shock of the news settled in and after my three children realized that no, their friends’ families in Rochester could not adopt them, it was time for us to pull together as a family. The year 5773 was a journey filled with months of living apart from my husband, long-distance house hunting in a fiery-hot Detroit suburban real estate market, researching school districts, and many long and emotional goodbyes.
Moving can be a curse. In the Book of Deuteronomy, however, the Torah challenges Jews to find the blessing within the curse.
Contrary to what many of my New Yorker friends think, moving to Detroit is not a curse. Beyond the headlines of Detroit’s bankruptcy, we are enjoying the brighter sides of Michigan culture. In the short time we have lived here, we traveled to take in the beauty “up north,” savored homegrown cherries and blueberries, and climbed the Sleeping Bear Dunes.
I am learning how to make a Michigan left, which is scarier than a New Jersey jug handle.
We even stood on the curb of Woodward to witness the ultimate show of car culture in last months’ Dream Cruise
We found the blessing in the warm reception we received throughout Detroit’s Jewish community. During a house-hunting trip that fell smack in the middle of Pesach, friends here hosted us three times for meals. Our children, also blessed with long-standing friendships forged at Camp Ramah in Canada, were invited for Shabbat meals and out to the movies to meet other new kids. These friends have acted quickly to enfold our children into their social circles even before the moving vans arrived.
While we unpacked and set up our physical home with only one kid in tow (my oldest left Rochester on a bus headed for Camp Ramah), time was ticking for the quest to find a spiritual home. Belonging to a synagogue has been and will always be a top priority to our family. Not because we have to get High Holiday tickets, or have kids who need Hebrew school or a Bar Mitzvah date. It is because here in Michigan, far away from family, we need a community.
During our “shul shopping,” we were happy to learn that we have many choices. Every congregation we visited this summer gave us warm welcomes on a level we never experienced in other communities. We were showered with greetings and given honors on the bimah within every sanctuary. Everywhere we go, people simply rave about their synagogue
One night, before going to sleep in our new home, I expressed to my husband about my worries of finding employment. He had his work. My kids had school. Once again, like many in my position who move to another town for a spouse’s job transfer, I would have to reinvent myself.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ll make the living. You go out and make us a life here.”
Wise and true were his words. While my husband worked at his office, I worked at finding doctors, pediatricians, dentists and orthodontists. I finalized details of moving out of one house and moving into another. I phoned school counselors on both sides of the move to assure the proper transfer transcripts and my kids would be signed up for the proper course work for high school. I did all I could so when they got off the bus in Detroit, sad to leave camp and even more saddened to be leaving all that was familiar, their biggest worry in their first days here would be how they were going to get through all that dirty laundry.
This year of transition has taught me many things. My kids are capable of stepping up more around the house. I can trust my husband to buy our next dream house even if I only saw it on Zillow. Most importantly, this move has reaffirmed for me the importance of keeping connected to the Jewish community. You never know where the road may take you, but our kehilah kedosha, our holy community, will always be there to take you in.
The year mark of my most recent visit to Israel quickly approaches. It was my fourth journey to the Jewish state. It won’t be my last. In fact, if I could, I’d have no hesitation to go there on the next plane.
A few things made last year’s trip during Chanukkah very special.
The first is family. Unlike my first two trips to Israel, this time I went back as a wife, a mother of three children accompanied by their grandparents, both sets. Seeing Israel’s historical and religious sites through the eyes of three generations was once-in-a-lifetime goosebumps every single minute.
Secondly, we have Israeli friends. Friends from teaching. Friends made in summer camp. These friendships deepened our connection to the land of Israel more strongly than any tourist or archeological site.
Nearly every day of our trip, friends met us for dinner or lunch in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My son reconnected with his friend, son of two rabbis, who met us for lunch after we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Friends came and met us wherever we were on tour.
They hung out with us on the beach near our hotel.
My good friend from Modi’in met up with our group not once but twice.
She’s An artist. A teacher. A true intellect. We have shared our different perspectives and deepened our understandings of what it means to be a Jew in America and what it means to be a Jew in Israel. I’ve connected with few people in my life as I have with her, though we will seldom see one another face to face. On a wintry day by Tel Aviv standards, we chatted on beach chairs with our spouses and watched our daughters play in the waves.
Or they accompanied us to the Israel museum in Jerusalem.
There are the friends we did see and the friends we couldn’t see. I spent one night on a very long phone conversation with a friend from high school now living in Modi’in. At the time, she was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. All the plans we made almost a year in advance to get together, to spend time, to celebrate Shabbat, were reduced to that one phonecall. I was thankful just to be in the same time zone as her as I listened to her talk about the hard choices and treatments that lay ahead.
Now. Now the bombs fall.
When you have friends and family in Israel, focus on anything else has been nearly impossible. Eating? Making meals? Even taking walks? Just a temporary diversion until I can get back on the computer again and check in.
I read an update from my tour guide who heard the bomb sirens and made it on time to the nearest shelter.
I read updates from people who sleep with shoes on and who get tips on how to get to sleep again after they settle into their cot in their safety room.
I read an update from my Modi’in friend, now done with chemo treatments but who must now train her daughters how to run to safety depending on where they are when the siren sounds.
I read an update from my neighbor, now visiting in Israel describing what it was like to see the Kotel plaza evacuated.
Is this any way to live a normal life? What is normal? Why must this be accepted as the status quo?
What to do? Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times, or have never been there, whether you can name dozens of Israeli friends or never met anyone from the Middle East’s only true democracy, there is something we as freedom loving Americans can do.
We can tell the world the truth. We can expose Hamas for their lies and their brainwashing. Social media can expose how Hamas truly operates as nothing more than a brain-washing hate cult that glorifies death enough to seduce its women and children into becoming human shields.
When you have Israeli friends and family, the latest flare up between Israel and her Arab neighbors is not just a news story, it’s a personal attack.
I know I’ve been posting about this nonstop if you follow me on Facebook. But please, don’t ignore Israel’s fight for hearts and minds. Their war on terror is ours. Do what you can do from far away to defend her.
Last night I went to a professional women’s networking event sponsored by the Jewish Community Federation. Local TV reporter Rachel Barnhart was the guest speaker. A young journalist with great passion and conviction, she spoke of her struggles early in her career and how proud she is to be working and covering news in the town in which she was born and raised.
Here are some things I loved learning about this homegrown reporter:
- She stands by her convictions. In high school, she was suspended because she refused to stop publishing her own underground newspaper.
- After sending in her first demo tape to land a broadcasting job, a veteran in the broadcasting business “ripped her to shreds” in an interview. Instead of getting discouraged, she was thankful for the helpful criticsm, took all suggestions into consideration and moved on.
- Later in her career, she fought a non-compete clause in her contract at Channel 8 and then landed a job at WHAM, where after a year working as a web producer, she paid her dues and was back on the air for the 6 pm newscast.
- She was the first local reporter from upstate New York to scoop the story that then-Rochester mayor would run as Lieutenant Governor with Andrew Cuomo. She picked herself and a camera crew and drove through the night to be at a press conference in the NY Metro area to be the first in the Rochester area to get the story – all on a hunch.
- Even though there are bigger media markets out there, Rachel is proud to be covering her hometown because she passionately believes in its revitalization, thank you very much!
- It is with this faith in Rochester that Rachel has built quite a local following. A journalist of the digital generation, she has harnessed the power of social networking and has 7,000 Twitter followers and counting. Including yours truly.
As a transplant, one thing Ms. Bernhart said ratttled me. On bringing in talent from those who are not from the area, she said that it makes sense for the Rochester media market to hire native Rochesterians. Who better knows the area, its people than those who grew up here? Out of town editors and writers just “don’t get” Rochester.
Perhaps this is true. Rochester is a very tightly-knit town. If you have no relations here that can be traced back one or two generations, you are pretty much an outsider. I’m not the only transplant to Rochester who has felt that it is hard to break into social and professional circles that were forged in grammar school. This is a big contrast from big cities where new people come and go and work their way in all the time. Like they do in my hometown of New York City.
Is it not my fault that I needed to go with my husband to Rochester when he landed a job here? Did we need to go where he could make a living? Where we could have money for food and clothing and to send our kids to a nice summer sleep-away-camp?
True, the initial connection my family has in Rochester is this is the place where my husband found a great job. But, this connection is often not enough for us trailing spouses.
Here is how, after 12 years of living in a town other than my hometown, I know I am almost “home” both geographically and professionally:
- I don’t get lost anymore and know the difference between 390, 590 and 490.
- I’m comfortable telling people I’m “from” Rochester when away on vacation. And when I start to say, “but I’m originally from…” I stop and let it go.
- I have grown to marvel at the clean lines of the Rochester City skyline. Sure, it’s not the New York City skyline, but it has a really cool bridge. And I personally know the civil engineer who designed it.
- My husband is home by six nearly every night. He has a 20 minute, traffic-free commute. In how many cities can you say that?
- When our friends “back home” tell us of their struggles to get their kids into the best private schools, we proudly boast about the great public schools in Rochester’s suburbs.
- I have yet to land a full-time job, but for the last two years, I have been bestowed the opportunity to meet all sorts of great interesting people through my column in the Democrat & Chronicle.
When I accepted writing this column, my editor at the time gave me some great advice: this is the chicken and waffle dinner column. It’s all about community.
This column will never win me the Pulitzer. It in no way matches the ambitions of my 22-year-old self fresh out of college. In fact, most of my journalism professors would raise their eyebrows at the stuff I write about. It’s not hard-hitting journalism. In fact, you can call it fluff, and I’d be cool with that.
However, my writing makes a difference. Greyhounds have been adopted. People have found support as they battle illnesses like cancer, Parkinson’s and Crohn’s disease because of events I’ve plugged in my column. Bikes have been donated and refurbished for the poor by local Rotary clubs and donations of food have been dropped off at area food pantries. It’s the good news column in an industry that is mostly filled with bad news.
It doesn’t really pay much monetarily. I get the payback when little old ladies stop me in synagogue or at Starbucks or in the supermarket to say how much they enjoy reading my column.
For me, that’s the time I get the feeling that I am finally home. For me, for now, that’s enough.
New Jersey is its own independent country-state, and it borders with another state – say, Pennsylvania – that has cold yet peaceful relations. On another adjacent border, let’s pretend that Delaware, is a hotbed territory for terrorist activity bent on destroying the Garden State.
You are on a chartered bus headed down from New York City to Atlantic City via the New Jersey Turnpike. You are with the guys or some girlfriends to have a little getaway to kick back for a weekend of gambling and enjoying the nightlife of and beaches of this resort town. Then, out of nowhere, your bus is ambushed by some armed terrorists who snuck in from Delaware through Pennsylvania.
They shower the bus with bullets and kill several of the passengers on board.
In defense of this bus, New Jersey military forces swoop down on the attackers and kill some of them on the spot, no question asked. But some flee across a state border, a border that is supposed to be monitored by the military of this other country to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into New Jersey. The New Jersey military pursue the fleeing terrorists and as an indirect result, some border patrol soldiers die.
Then, it is New Jersey, not the bordering state, asked to make apologies by the international community.
Does this scenario sound ridiculous? From the perspective of most Americans, of course it is. For the most part, our borders are secure and generally peaceful. And American civilians are so rarely attacked by terrorist organizations.
But Israel once again is being criticized for defending herself after tour buses headed for the resort city of Eilat were attacked by terrorists (excuse me NPR, they are not militants) from Gaza.
I first got word of these attacks through social networking: friends in Israel posted links to the news on Facebook. I listened to NPR the whole morning and not a single mention of these unprovoked attacks on civilians by a terrorist cell from Gaza that infiltrated the Israel-Sinai border Israel shares with Egypt.
Only when an Israeli airstrike into Gaza killed several members of a terrorist cell and, unfortunately, a 13-year-old boy, did NPR report the news. And, why did NPR have to use language like “Israel wasted no time retaliating” and record the sounds of people mourning for the gunmen and those killed in an Israeli airstrike at a Gaza morgue? Did NPR list the names and find relatives of Israeli victims and record their crying?
As much as I love NPR’s coverage on any other topic, such as their summer reading lists from All Books Considered, and their cooking segments with Nigella Lawson, they have boiled my blood on Israel coverage for the last time. Don’t count on my support any more.
On the other side of the word, my daughter wrote me from Camp Ramah in Canada. She said that she saw her Israeli counselors crying and comforting one another after hearing the news from Southern Israel. These Israelis were not shouting for revenge, they just hugged and consoled one another. Because no one in Israel wants violence, because any reprisal attack could involve a brother, sister, uncle, or friend who is serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Because many of these counselors themselves just got out of the army.
Though the news from Israel is horrible, I was glad that my daughter was moved by her Israeli counselors comforting one another. It will make her connection to the Jewish state that more tangible and real. She will hopefully reunite with these Israelis on our visit to Israel in December.
Because, yes, we are still going.
Some exciting news in my tiny little newspaper career. I have new towns to cover! One of them is Webster, NY. Their town motto: “Webster, where life is worth living.” Webster is 20 minutes from my house. And in the Rochester area, that may as well be another planet. So off I went last night to explore my new town, which rests on the shores of Lake Ontario.
I was invited to a mixer held by the Webster Chamber of Commerce. It was held at the town’s local branch of HSBC Bank It was hopping! Only 20 people registered in advance, but the headcount was over 60, according to the event organizer.
So many great people in one room to meet, introduce myself to and dig up new story ideas.
Until one embarrassing question came up. And it came up time and time again each time I circulated the room.
“Can I have your business card?”
“Errr, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t have a business card, but the paper is working on it!”
So, instead I came home with a stack of business cards which I will now send out my contact information, with a link to my column.
Yes, it was embarrassing, and perhaps a bit penny wise and pound foolish of the newspaper for not providing me with a business card after doing this column for over a year now. When I meet new people, unless I carry around a copy of my latest column with my mugshot on it, where is the proof that I really am who I say I am?
My editors should know how I delight in writing each column, and they know I do it for a paltry sum of money. They should know how my spine tingled just walking into a real, live newsroom when I met with my editors this week. They should know that someone from the Webster chamber said to me “heck, send me your information and I’ll cough up the $20 to make you a set of business cards.”
Even in this age of Blackberries and social networking, there is still a viable reason for carrying a business card when one is doing real networking.
So, kind businesspeople of Webster, thank you for trusting me when I said who I said I was. And I will be getting my box of those old-school business cards any day. I promise.
In the town where I live, I come across many active, vibrant senior citizens. We work out on the treadmill or the elliptical machines side by side. I peek in on their senior exercise classes and think, that’s how I want to be when – if – I reach that age. I want to be able to still walk on my own, lift a medicine ball over my head on my own.
Many of the seniors that I met at a local senior center were indeed very active. They take classes like Zumba Gold. Line Dancing. I wrote a column about senior programming that was long overdue. I stand guilty of concentrating a lot of my column on more youthful topics, like short-sided soccer and children’s theatre.
The seniors at this center who had just sat down for lunch were thrilled I was there and made me feel very welcome. Okay, they made me feel like a movie star. They were charming and friendly and had some interesting stories to share. One woman told me all about the trips she went on in Elderhostel and all the art she has seen the world over. Intrigued, I asked her more about her life. She said before she had children, she was a professor of fine arts at a local college.
Really? A lover of art, a former student of many art history classes, I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about this woman’s career. She had to be in her late seventies, so having such a profession in her time must have been ground breaking. I sat and chatted a bit more with her friends at this one table, and parted happy and satisfied that I had my story.
A day later, there was a message on my voice mail. It was the woman who I interviewed. The fine arts professor. She said that she may have bent the truth a bit about being a fine arts professor, and she was up at night worrying that I may have printed it, and please don’t print it.
Honestly, at that point I had not even started to write the piece, but I was planning on making this woman a prominent part of my story. I may have even called her to do a separate profile. So, I went through my notes and put a red line through what were untruths. I didn’t call her back.
Days later, she left another message. She was so sorry she had lied and was “worried to death” that I had printed what she said. Poor woman, I called her back to give her peace of mind.
Turns out she was a very sweet woman, she just lied. She said she had applied for an academic position at this college but was not given one. I guess that her feelings of resentment and rejection were long-lived. I told her no worries, I had not quoted her in my story after her initial message.
There are many temptations in our lives to lie, especially if we look back on our lives and wish that it had been a bit more exciting, more successful. How many times have we seen celebrities and politicians apologize for bending the truth to the media? How many times have we seen an author of a successful memoir later stand up and admit that they lied?
There has been much coverage about journalists losing sight of their ethical responsibility to report the truth. As traditional journalism disintegrates into the blogosphere, the truth becomes even more muddled. Last November, Arianna Huffington spoke at Ithaca College about the emerging crisis in mainstream media, about how the media does not cover what really happens in our communities but instead focuses on bogus stories to get ratings. She specifically referenced last fall’s “Balloon Boy” fiasco.
So here I am, writing for a traditional print newspaper, focusing my column about everyday people doing good in their towns. But if sweet little old ladies can lie to a lowly freelance reporter like me for a story about a senior citizen center, really, what hope is there for truth in journalism?