Tag Archive | Postaday2011

Pride, and Shame, in Israel

jolieshofar

When I return to the United States, I promise to create individual blog posts about the many aspects of our Israel trip, but there is an underlying vibe in Israeli society today that is making news that I cannot go on any longer without mentioning.

Let me preface all this by saying how overall, I have absolute love for my (that’s MY) spiritual homeland. It is ancient. It is wi-fi’d high tech and hydrophonic modern.  Every rock and stone tells a history of the Jewish people and the other civilizations that have come and gone here. I am not a tourist here, though I am living in hotels out of my suitcase. I can get by somewhat with my Hebrew. My kids and I have friends here. Though I am here right now I am already longing to come back again, and wonder how long will that be, and when will I ever be able to stay here for more than 10 or 14 days at a time?

I take pride that my children are walking through their history. More than any mid-afternoon Hebrew school class can offer, they have all week been immersed in hearing people speak Hebrew all around them, witnessing the miracle of chanukkah in the land that chanukkah happened, walking through the tunnels the Maccabees forged to reclaim and rededicate the temple.

How can I not be proud when I witness how much Israel has changed since my last visits? In 1967, most of Jerusalem’s old city, reclaimed from Jordan, lay in ruins. Now: synagogues have been rebuilt. Archeologic wonders like the excavations revealing access to all the length of the Western Wall of the Great Temple and then the Davidson Archeological Center giving access to all visitors the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount; the fact that my daughter blew her new Shofar in the very place that the Kohanim priests blew their horns to mark the end of Shabbat at Sundown on Saturday night:

The pride of how Israel has preserved artifacts of not only its own ancient peoples but of the cultures of Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, Byzantines, and so many that tried to conquer and occupy Jerusalem. You want to see ancient sites? Greek? Roman? Byzantine? Come to Israel, it’s a historian’s one stop shopping place.

And then the pride of being at the Kotel on Friday night with thousands of Jews celebrating Shabbat and Chanukkah, blessing my children at Judaism’s holiest spot, how could I not feel pride at what Israel and the Jewish people have accomplished?

But then….

I was first very disturbed that first night at the Kotel. As Shabbat descended, men and women gathered to pray on their respective sides of the Kotel. And, like most times at the Kotel, I noticed women standing on chairs, looking over the mechitza, or separation wall, to wave to husbands, sons…

Then, a man came over to them. Shouted to them “Modesty, Modesty!” Get down! Get out of here!”

Slapping their hands. Slapping them. Shooing them away like they were children. Is this how a Torah Jew is supposed to treat the mothers and Daughters of Israel?

Then, more news reports.

  •  Haredi men saying that women may not walk on the same sidewalks as men in certain towns like Ben Shemesh.
  • Haredi men spitting on a seven year old girl and calling her a prostitute because she was not dressed modestly enough in their eyes (the girl was orthodox and she was wearing a long sleeved blouse and a knee length skirt.)

We spend the last two nights at Kibbutz Halavi. A beautiful Kibbutz, a beautiful hotel. But many of the guests were ultra Orthodox Jews. Would it be too much for these, our fellow Jewish bretheren, to return a smile when I gave it to them, to even ask where we were from and make some small chat? Have they forgotten the mitzvah of greeting people with a cheerful disposition? Have they fogotten in their zealousness of making sure that every piece of lettuce and every cut of meat is under the correct hekshcer (kosher certification) that every Jew is responsible for one another and the meaning of Kibbutz is to gather together?

Have they forgotten the words, Henei Matov U Ma Naim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad  – How wonderful it is to gather and sit and be together like brothers?

The direction of religious extremism in Israel is the wrong direction.

The email in the Wall

I’ve been making final arrangements for my son to have his Bar Mitzvah at the “Masorti Kotel,” a part of the Kotel off to the side of the main Kotel Plaza that is known as Robinson’s Arch. This is the designated spot in the Kotel Plaza that allows for a mixed prayer group of men and women.

How do I know the final arrangements are official? The rabbi of whom I am in correspondence with in Jerusalem cc’ed his email to “hakotel.” Yes, the Holiest spot to Judaism in the world was kept in the loop that my son will be called to the Torah in Jerusalem. Now it’s really official.

There is no way of documenting in words what emotions my family will be experiencing when my son, his brother and sister, parents and both sets of grandparents along with friends and a few surprise guests will come to Robinson’s arch to pray in honor of Nathan’s Bar Mitzvah. We’ve been planning this moment since around his birth.

But this story goes back perhaps even farther, it’s a story of the power of prayer and placing a note in the Western Wall, and how Gd answers these notes in Gd’s own time.

Once upon a time, a boy and a girl met one summer  at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires. They met through mutual friends on a cracked tennis court. The girl kept missing every shot, and the boy didn’t seem to mind chasing all these balls and retrieving them for her.

The boy really liked the girl. Loved the girl. But the girl just wanted to be friends.

That winter, the boy visited Israel with his family. They visited the Kotel, or the Western Wall. The holiest place in all of Judaism where Jews for centuries pour out their hearts in prayer for a united Jerusalem, for a rebuilt Jerusalem. The boy wrote a note to Gd asking that the girl would one day fall in love with him, his family would be blessed with health, and (a bit of a more material and earthly ask), that he would make it into the Engineering program at MIT.

Within a month of writing that note, the girl  (who would be me) turned him down when asked to prom. Within a month, the boy’s sister became seriously ill with meningitis and lapsed into a coma. And, the rejection letter from MIT showed up soon after that.

That boy felt like he was truly being punished by the Divine.

Not to worry. Gd answers prayers. Just not in the instant we would like them to be granted.

The sister of the boy recovered and thrived,  went to MIT and went on to finish an MBA at Columbia University, has a tri-athlete husband and four beautiful children, and a thriving cupcake business!

Nine years later the girl that turned down the boy for prom came around and they were married before 247 guests!

The boy in the story is my husband. Whenever we are having an argument, or whenever my husband is getting on my nerves like when he doesn’t like the way I load the dishwasher, I think back to his note in the Kotel, realize that our  marriage is meant to be by Gd, so I let it slide.

Now, I’m going back to the Kotel again, the fourth time in my life. No two trips to Israel or the Kotel are ever the same. Each time you go there, you are a different person perhaps at a different phase in your life. So, I’m going not only with my family, but I will also be going as a messenger taking along the notes my students wrote to place in the Kotel.

Most of them.

As my students started their note writing, they had many questions: How will Gd know it’s me? What should I write? How long does it have to be? Can I ask for anything…. anything? Is this a wish, or is this a prayer? And, will it come true, what I ask? How do they keep all the notes from falling out of the cracks?” …. and so on.

I guess this is a lesson to myself that it is hard for a child to know exactly how to compose a prayer of one’s own to be placed in such a holy place when one has only an abstract concept of the place itself. These students have only the most fledgling connections with Israel, let alone an understanding of the emotional impact that a united Jerusalem, and access to Judaism’s holiest site, has on the Jewish psyche. But they did their best, and I answered their questions as best as I could.

A note in the Kotel can express thanks to Gd for the health of family and friends. A note to the Kotel can ask to heal broken friendships or relationships. A note  to the Kotel can ask to be provided for, and to never know hunger but one should not ask for “Lots of Money and an iPhone.” A note to the Kotel can ask for world peace and haters of peace, for their plans to be destroyed. But a note should never ask for the death of your enemies, let alone a family member. Gd is not your hitman. These notes will not be placed, nor do they deserve a place in such a holy place.

The Netnanny Diaries, or How to Keep your Teens Safe Online

if you don't want to disable your computer, DO NOT buy this product

This time of year, Americans everywhere are shopping and carefully wrapping gifts picked out for those special someones in our lives.  Odds are, if that special someone is a teenager, that Christmas or Chanukkah gift, I’m talking the big-ticket item, will come with a screen.

Last year, my husband and I bit the bullet and begrudgingly gave our adolescent children a laptop. We rationalized that the laptop was a necessity for homework. Our children get assignments that have to be completed at online websites like Pearson’s Successnet.  We further rationalized that the children would want to send the occasional email to a friend.  Furthermore, we told our children the laptop was to be used in a common room like the kitchen.

But, laptops being what they are, and teens being who they are, my kids inevitably used their gift to chat with friends in the privacy of their rooms behind closed doors.

There are many pros and cons to this virtual social life. Through Facebook and Skype, my kids share their daily minutia with faraway friends without running up my phone bill. They will never know what it was like to have to wait until late at night for the phone rates to go down to place that long distance call.

Just one generation ago, having a phone line in one’s own room caused concerns for parents.  Remember hiding under the covers with the phone?

Now, the Internet is the place where parents of teens feel like they are losing control. Will they become vulnerable to online bullying if they are not savvy to the nuances of social networking? Will one wrong click result in viewing inappropriate web content?

In a last-gasp effort to maintain some control of my kids’ online activities, I hired Netnanny.  This is a content monitoring software program that allows parents to use customizable filters to monitor where kids can go online.

  •  parents can customize the program as they wish to limit or completely block sites containing violence, sexual or hateful language or images
  • Parents can limit or completely block websites to games or sites that support online gambling
  • parents can monitor posts or conversations on social networking sites like Faceboook
  • Parents can also use Netnanny to put limits on Internet time. You can set how many hours a child can use the Internet, and what times of day these hours are to take place. If you don’t want your kids on the Internet after 10 on a school night, Netnanny shuts off Internet capabilities after 10 p.m.

Sounds great, right? Perhaps there are parents who use this program with success. However, our situation wrote itself out like a bad reality TV show that could have been called “Netnannies Gone Wild.”

My daughter’s Netnanny woes:

  • One day, she wanted to go online to search for ski equipment on Dicks  Sporting Goods’ website.  Netnanny blocked her because the retailer also sold guns for hunting. Reason for blocking: possible violent content.
  • When she wanted to do some online window shopping for some bathing suits on Landsend.com, Netnanny again pulled her back by the apron strings. This time: risqué sexual content.  On Land’s End. Sure.
  • When she needed to research a paper for social studies about racism, she could not enter certain sites because they contained “hateful language.” or images of swastikas.
  • Finally, Netnanny blocked my daughter from Skyping with a friend in Israel. Perhaps the program detected a Middle Eastern ISP address and determined it was thwarting some kind of terror plot.

I did find Netnanny’s monitoring reports useful in terms of tracking what she and her Facebook friends were chatting about. However, Netnanny was a bit too overprotective when she deemed that “Hiya Hon, Luv ya” written by one of her BFFs was considered sexually explicit language.

My son had his own woes with Miss Netnanny

  • He could play no games on miniclips.com. Wait, that was my intention. Miniclips always spread viruses on my computer and I find these games to be a complete waste of time.
  • But, in an attempt to play an innocent game of solitaire, my son was blocked. Why? The game involved the use of cards: potential for online gambling. In my defense, I did block video games, but barring a game of solitaire was going a bit too far.
  • My son is an avid guitar player. Often, he looks guitar tabs up to play the latest song he hears on the radio. But Netnanny blocked guitar tab websites. The reason: Music and entertainment, may have explicit language.

After a few months, Netnanny disabled and corrupted all of the laptop’s Internet capabilities. I needed outside help and turned to Microworx, a Brighton information technology company that specializes in computer troubleshooting.

It took several days and about $200 to free my computer from Netnanny’s clutches. When I called the company to ask for a refund, Content Watch, the maker of Netnanny, refused because the software’s warranty had expired. In the end, there is no substitute for giving your teens a good lesson in common sense, social networking etiquette and harsh warnings about not trying to search for anything illicit before you let them go online.

Excuse me, Content Watch, if I was not a fortune teller and could not predict your crappy software would cause my computer such problems.

In the end, we fired Netnanny.  In the New Year, and the years to come, raising teens will come with many challenges. Now, it is navigating the information superhighway. Soon, it will be learning to drive on a real highway.

The best I can do is to offer my guidance and always let them know that if they need me, I will always be on the other side of that closed door.

Am I a Bad Jew? An open letter to Benjamin Netanyahu

christmaschanukkah

Dear Bibi,

I am writing to you somewhere within the American diaspora. In a few weeks, my husband and I will be taking our children and our parents on our first family trip to Israel. When we get there, I hope that the Israelis we meet there don’t think that we are devoid of any Judaism or Jewish life back in evil America.

Let me explain. I just viewed some commercials made by the Israeli government warning them of the risk of assimilation, of losing their Jewish identity if they move to and remain in America. The Jewish Federations of America, along with most American Jews, took offense.

A lot of controversy has been stirred by this  ad campaign trying to lure Israelis living in America to come back home to Israel if they want their own children to remain Jewish.

To those of you not familiar with it, here is an example of such an ad. Basically, an Israeli grandma and Grandpa in Israel are skyping with their family in America. The grandparents, seated in a living room with a lit Chanukkiah (candles for chanukkah, it’s NOT a menorah)  in the background, ask their granddaughter what holiday she is celebrating. She joyfully shouts (to her parents’ dismay) “Christmas!”

(this ad has been removed as I write this post)

Here is what I know, good and bad, about Jewish life in America and Jewish life in Israel.

  • Israel, you have no better friends in the world than the Jews of America.
  • I am involved with the Partnership2Gether program in my city. Each time we are visited by our Israeli counterparts, friendships are forged and dialogues begin about Jewish identity on both sides of the sea.
  • The Israelis making their first visit to America greatly admire how hard American Jews have to work to maintain our Jewish ties. Yes, we are pulled in many directions trying to balance secular commitments with the religious. But yes, we enjoy the freedom we have of making our own choices.
  • The Israelis who came here greatly admire the role of women in synagogue life. Some of them for the first time saw women serving as rabbis. Some of them for the first time had the honor of being called to the Torah for an aliyah.
  • Israelis who visited America expressed their disgust with extremist religious strains that take an “all or nothing” approach to observing mitzvot to the point that rather than trying to observe Judaism to their own comfort level, they have abandoned any Jewish practice at all.
  • Yes, some of my middle-school aged Hebrew school students are from intermarriages. And many of them struggle with their identity, especially in December. But we have to respect that non-Jewish parents who love their children made the hard choice and the sacrifice to raise their child in a religion that is not their own. It is a choice they believe in and many try to learn about Judaism right along with their children.
  • My students ask if they are a “bad Jew” if their family doesn’t light Shabbat candles every Friday night. They ask if they are a bad Jew if they help their non-Jewish parent set up Christmas lights. What can I possibly tell them? I can’t. All I can teach them are the tools and the mechanics of Hebrew language and the religion. It is up to the individual parents and families to apply or not apply, these teachings in the privacy of their homes.
  • Am I a bad Jew if I find myself this time of year humming a Christmas tune? Not really, as Christmas permeates every facet of American culture between October 31 and December 25. For impressionable Jewish American children, it is all the more impossible to ignore. I teach my students and my own children that it is okay to admire the lights and decorations, but know it is not our holiday.

Bibi, I’ll be in Israel all of Chanukkah. Why don’t fly over to the states and spend your Chanukkah  in America and see how hard Jewish Americans work to say “no, Christmas is not our holiday. In spite of being a minority, we choose to worship our God and practice our religion the way we choose.”

Isn’t that after all the message of Chanukkah?

I’m routing for this Science Mom: Vote for her today!

Every now and again, I get a story idea in my inbox that just cannot wait a week until it is published in my column. In our age of overtesting our children to the point of desparation where they even cheat on college entrance examinations, here is a story of Melissa Gertner.

Melissa is a mom who was inspired by her son’s curiosity to solve problems by tinkering with old machine parts in his basement to start an after school club called FIRST LEGO® League  that lights the spark of science and technology in tween and teen-aged kids in Victor, NY.

She is competing for a scholarship to win $10,000 for the  Victor school district to continue and grow the LEGO program for years to come in Victor.

Here is her story. Vote for her at this link

A Mom and a STEM Advocate

A Mom and a STEM Advocate

I never liked science. Or math. Technology scares me. So, you must wonder, how could I have helped connect others to science, technology, engineering and math? I am not a teacher. Or an engineer. I can barely balance my checkbook. Still you wonder…

The answer is simple. I am a mom and an advocate. My son is endlessly curious and creative. He is always inventing things in the basement, taking machines apart to see how they work, reading about the way our world works, drawing his plans, bringing them to life, making a mess, starting all over again. Every day. All day. And he inspires me. To provide opportunities for him and others like him to find their very special and immensely valuable place our world.

So, two and a half years ago, with the guidance of the Victor Intermediate School, another devoted mom and I started the Victor Intermediate School FIRST LEGO League (VIS FLL) Club, a 3 year after-school pilot program designed to capture students’ interest in science, technology and engineering. The program offers hands-on real–world learning experiences that reach beyond the traditional classroom.

In our first year, we served 26 4th graders in a non-competitive format. In 2010, we took six teams of 43 4th and 5th graders to qualifiers. Three of those teams advanced to the Regional Championship. This year we will serve 80 students, including six teams of 5th and 6th graders attending the qualifiers in November and six teams of 4th and 5th graders participating in a non-competitive season starting in January 2012.

How did I find my way to this program you ask. Well, three years ago, I had the privilege of coaching my son’s Jr. FIRST LEGO® League team. Little did I know, I had embarked upon the journey of a lifetime. Somewhere along the way, perhaps when I saw the pride in the faces of my son and his teammates at their show and share event or the incredible ideas they generated or the solutions these 8 year olds developed, I was hooked and committed to providing a continuum of science and engineering opportunities to as many students as I could possibly embrace.

Since that time, I have coached his FLL team for two more consecutive years, been a co-coordinator for the club in the off-season and am currently the coordinator of the VIS FLL Club. I have also actively helped other teams get started in our region by sharing information, resources and encouragement.

I continue to be inspired by the imagination, ideas, teamwork and passion these kids generate. Not only do our students participate in community events and competitions, they also mentor local students and others throughout our region, and spread the word about how exciting science and engineering can be. As much as I am helping to connect all these kids with science, technology and engineering experiences, they are the true connectors, connecting me with the best of myself and the best of themselves with our world.

How Not to do your kid’s elementary school take-home project

xcountrylast 018

My son came home at the beginning of November with his first serious take home project in his academic career. To thoroughly research and display a natural landform.

Cry me a River.

If you have elementary school-aged children, you have been presented with the following scenario:

Your child comes home with a project assignment. They must research a topic and then display their findings in a creative way. Suggestions included making a diorama, a puppet show, a video dramatization. The project instructions come with a rubric so the child knows just what the teacher will be looking for in the research, delivery of facts and visual presentation before giving the grade.

In true tradition of thinking in terms of our achievement and perfection driven culture, as demonstrated in the film Race To Nowhere, I initially got it into my head that this was not my third grader’s project, but it was mine. It would have to be mine if I was to make sure my son got the highest grade possible. I couldn’t just let my eight year old go it on his own, could I? Because  other parents in my highly competitive school district wouldn’t just hand off their kids project, would they? If I let him do this on his own, would I seem neglectful? Would I come off as apathetic mom in a tiger mom school district?

 Right away, I approached the project - Rivers –  like the 40something I am and not like the eight-year-0ld child that my child is. As far as the research, I would visit three different library branches to take out every children’s nonfiction book on rivers in publication.

The research went well and with much enthusiasm, my son, with some direction, came up with vocabulary flashcards with river terminology like “mouth” and “source” and “delta”. He also created about six flashcards with facts on the world’s longest rivers and New York State rivers. To top it off, he wrote the flashcards showing off his latest 3rd Grade skill: using cursive letters!

Next came the all-important presentation of Rivers. Should we create a video? I had the FlipCam ready. We could go off to the Genesee River with the University of Rochester in the background  …..we could script a newscast and dress him in outdoorsman clothing….what would he say? … Or, we can go in the über diorama direction. It would have to include mixed media like clay and pebbles for the river embankments and shiny cellophane for the river. And, some parts of it should be relief sculpture and for artistry’s sake, there must be perspective and depth to show a river’s origins far away and its mouth up close…

All these ideas were shot down during the design conceptualization meeting with my son.

 “I really just want to color, mom.”

Really? Just Color? Would there be an initial sketch? How would a sense of scale and perspective be achieved?

“MOM! I DON’T WANT TO MAKE A SCULPTURE OR A DRAFT. I’M JUST GOING TO COLOR! IT’S MY PROJECT, OKAY?”

The more suggestions I made, the madder he became until he started to cry.

Remember, this was supposed to be an enjoyable project to be completed at home.

So I backed off. And this is what he created: 

Three days later, he came home with his final grade: Outstanding. Well, good for us.

I mean, good for HIM!

Pareve Pumpkin Pie

photo found on marthastewartliving website

photo found on marthastewartliving website

Everyone in my nuclear family loves LOVES pumpkin pie. And for only the second time in 12 years, my pumpkin-pie eating little family of five will not be going over the NY Thruway and through any tunnels or bridges to New York City. Nope, as much as we love seeing the family and sitting in 10 hours of traffic, this year, we are staying put.

When you are Transplantednorth, there are some disadvantages of being a nuclear family in a town where it seems you are surrounded by friends who all have extended family in town. Come holidays like Thanksgiving, you once again become the disappearing transplant.

I’m not complaining, really. This was my choice to stay “home.” But can a place be home where there are no extended family within 300 miles? The rest of the year, Rochester indeed feels like home. Come holidays, without aunts, uncles cousins and grandparents around, it can feel like how the Ingalls family must have felt on the wild, windblown frontier.

But this is a story about pareve pumpkin pie.

One small advantage of staying put (okay my kids will think a big advantage) is that at our Thanksgiving table, we’ll have pumpkin pie.

As much as she has tried to like it, my mom does not like anything pumpkin. My kids, however,  can’t get enough of the orange stuff. I put it in breads, waffles and pancakes. I even made a pumpkin challah just so I can make pumpkin challah stuffing.

But, most of you know that pumpkin pie calls for milk, cream, condensed milk, or some other dairy ingredient. This poses a challenge to Jewish families like ours who observe the dietary laws of keeping kosher.

There are ways to get around the dairy dilemma by finding pareve ingredients.

What is pareve? Not many know. It is so esoteric, the word does not appear in the WordPress spellcheck.

It’s a term meaning food that is neither meat or dairy. It’s neutral. Like Switzerland. Does it taste as creamy and delicious as real cream? No. But, I’d rather have an imitation dairy dessert any day than serving a Tofurky at my Thanksgiving feast!

Here is the recipe. I based it on a recipe used from Martha Stewart Living, I just replaced the dairy ingredients with some stuff called Coffee Rich, found in the frozen section of most grocery stores. For those of you in upstate New York, I found this chemical-laden substance at Tops, and not Wegmans this year. But I still love you, Wegmans.

All-purpose flour, for surface

  • Pate Brisee for Traditional Pumpkin Pie
  •                                         1 can (15 ounces) solid-pack pumpkin
  •                                         3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  •                                         1 tablespoon cornstarch
  •                                         1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
  •                                         3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  •                                         3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  •                                         1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  •                                         1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  •                                         3 large eggs
  •                                       1 Cup Pareve Nondairy Creamer, like Coffee Rich
  •                                         Ground cloves
  •                                         Whipped cream, for serving

Directions

  1.                                         Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll pate brisee disk 1/8 inch thick, then cut into a 16-inch circle. Fit circle into a 9-inch deep-dish pie dish, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Fold edges under.
  2.                                         Shape large, loose half circles at edge of dough, then fold into a wavelike pattern to create a fluted edge. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Freeze for 15 minutes.
  3.                                         Cut a circle of parchment, at least 16 inches wide, and fit into pie shell. Fill with pie weights or dried beans.  – Buy a premade Pareve piecrust. Bake until edges of crust begin to turn gold, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool.
  4.  Meanwhile, whisk pumpkin, sugar, cornstarch, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla, eggs, creamer, and a pinch of cloves in a large bowl.
  5.   Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Transfer pie dish to a rimmed baking sheet, and pour pumpkin mixture into cooled crust. Bake until center is set but still a bit wobbly, 50 to 55 minutes. (If crust browns too quickly, tent edges with a strip of foil folded in half lengthwise.) Let cool in pie dish on a wire rack. Refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours (preferably overnight.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Let the Thanking Begin

3×5 Folded Card
View the entire collection of cards.

How much do I have to be thankful for as we approach Thanskgiving week, the week after my son’s Bar Mitzvah? First, I’m thankful for my husband for creating an excel spreadsheet to track it all, among other things.

After weeks of not sleeping well, with millions of details running around in my head, I gave my permission this week to sleep in a bit. To become somewhat of a slacker. To laze in bed after the kids went off to school to read. To read chapters in The Hunger Games, a book my kids have been begging me to finish already after starting it two months ago. To read A Legacy of Madness, a memoir written by a college friend and forever mentor, who edited nearly everything I wrote at the college paper at Rutgers.

In this way, I made a little room to thank myself for getting through a blessed and wonderful weekend that was Nathan’s Bar Mitzvah.

Next week is Thankgiving, where we will thank everyone else.

  • For friends and family for driving north and south, for flying  east, to be with us in Rochester.
  • For friends, who helped us prepare the gift bags for our out of town guests.
  • For friends who are more like sisters who helped serve dinner on Friday night.
  • For friends and family who read Torah, who learned an aliyah or took a reading during the service.
  • For nieces and nephews who gave out candy, and then ate the candy, after we showered Nathan with sweets.
  • For our synagogue’s rabbis, chazzan and teachers, for preparing my son with all he needed to know as he became a Bar Mitzvah
  • My mother-in-law for knitting almost 100 kippot in Mets colors for the Saturday morning service
  • Mom, for making cookies and her famous mandelbrodt for the sunday brunch, and friends for making the eggs, fruit salad, cake, that everyone wants the recipes
  • The staff at the JCC for putting on a seamless party

Now that Nathan is a man (see above), it will be his turn to say thank you all for making his day so meaningful. And he’s going to thank you the old fashioned way, with a card to soon be apppearing in your mailbox.

Happy Thanksgiving!

My name is transplantednorth and I blog for the trees

The other morning I phoned my sister-in-law in northern New Jersey.  I needed to know her Hebrew name for  an honor she was receiving for the morning service at my son’s Bar Mitzvah, now only days away.

Now, I should have known this, and certainly my husband should have known his sister’s Hebrew name, but we didn’t.

I called her cell phone a few days ago after 8:45 in the morning. With four kids in school, she had to be up. She is always on the go.  Instead, a very groggy voice answered.

“It’s Malka”

“Who’s Malka?”

“I am. That’s my Hebrew name.”

Oh, of course, that’s why I was calling. But why did she sound so tired?

“Why arent’ you up? Don’t you have kids to get to school?” Fool that I was, with the glorious November day outside, and the fact that Western New York again survived the latest storm to hit the east coast unscathed, I was not thinking about how  bad things were back in the NYC/NJ Metro area. The now-dubbed Halloween snowstorm had turned the streets of parts of New Jersey into what looked like a war zone. With downed trees and downed power lines, it was even too dangerous to go trick-or-treating.

“I’m sleeping at a friend’s house. We have no power and no heat.”

She sounded so sad. She still had no power after two days. The kids had no school for two days straight. But the one thing that seemed to make her the saddest was:

“You should see my block. We lost so many big, beautiful trees.”

It takes decades for a tree to really mature. I know because I live on a street with huge Sugar Maples that look like this:

In the winter, when the snow is wet and heavy enough to put a coat of sugar on every last branch and twig, my street looks like this:

Sadly, even trees don’t last forever.

The snow-laden trees above were planted because  they were fast-growing trees for Rochester’s first suburban development.  They are now almost 90 years old.

Trees planted closely to houses are dangerous when they age and begin to rot from the inside out. Last weekend, our neighbors took down one of these trees. The bottom trunk was this big:

This tree saw 90 years of changes of seasons, survived ice storms and blizzards. It saw generations of school children off on their first day of school. It was a home to birds and squirrels who played in its branches. But it lived out its days and succumbed to “crotch rot” of all things. Now, where its branches once stretched out, there is a whole punched into the sky where it once stood.

When snows fall heavy before the leaves drop, trees come down before they get a chance to live out their days. Back in New York City, Central Park lost 1,000 trees; trees that were just beginning to peak in their fall splendor of color.  Trees that were planted generations ago so that we may enjoy them.

The other week, my son got a gift from a relative in honor of his Bar Mitzvah. In the true Jewish tradition, a ring of trees had been planted in his name in Israel. It’s a good thing we are headed there this winter to water them!

Now after this devistating storm that cancelled trick-or-treating and felled countless trees close to home, it seems like New York City needs new trees just as much as the land of milk and honey. The Central Park Conservancy is now asking for donations to restore its tree population.

Do you have a favorite tree? How would you feel if it were destroyed or it had to come down?  Or, did you lose a tree to the Halloween storm? If so, I am sorry for your loss. Why don’t you write about it here?

Speak trippingly on the tongue – the complete works of Shakespeare in 90 minutes at Pittsford Mendon HS

SMshakespeare

Make use of
time, let not advantage slip.

William Shakespeare

As a columnist who has to write ahead, I am always thinking two weeks into the future. But, in the whirlgig of time, I was not in time on writing an advance for a great high school play taking place this weekend. But this sounds too auspicious of an event, and I had too good a time looking up Shakespeare quotes not to share. Thanks to all my friends on Facebook who fed me with witty Shakespearean quotes and sources for this post:

The Sutherland High School players present a fall comedy, The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged. This parody incorporates all the plays written by William Shakespeare into one show and will be on the SHS stage October 27, 28, and 29 at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets are available at the door for $10 each.

“This is different from anything I’ve ever done before,” said Colin Perinello, a senior who will major in musical theatre next fall at a college to be determined.

“In one sentence, I have to use a high falsetto voice when I say Juliet’s line, then have to drop to a deeper voice in a Scottish accent when I am the narrator. Sometimes, I mix up my voices and roles, so what comes out is a twisted Juliet with a Scottish accent. Let’s just say it is a very humourous outcome,” he said.

In our world of 140 character tweets, it’s refreshing to know that there are still high school kids out there who will put on puffy shirts, tights and kilts and learn the poetry of Shakespeare.  But, in this age of short attention-span theatre, this play indeed makes “use of time” to “let not advantage slip” as snippets of all 37 Shakespearean plays are squeezed into this upcoming 90 minute performance.

This weekend, I’m planning on seeing the movie Anonymous, a movie with a premise that Shakespeare never wrote a word. Shakespeare: was he or wasn’t he? But in the end, does it matter?

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