Over 25 years ago, when I was a student reporter at the Daily Targum at Rutgers University, I wrote a story on how students and campus officials reacted to a spate of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti that cropped up all over campus in the winter of 1990. The article rests in a dusty portfolio somewhere in my basement.
It’s still all out there. The cowardice too. The kind of cowardice that makes a person go into the dorm suite at the University of Minnesota and draw a swastika and a concentration scene on the white board outside a Jewish student’s bedroom. The student – a 3G Holocaust survivor.
With the current person running the White House, I fear it will only get worse.
Here is my current story in this week’s Detroit Jewish News.
Following last week’s rash of antiSemitic incidents on two Michigan college campuses, including emails rigged to look like they originated from a University of Michigan computer science professor and a Valentine’s Day card delivered at a Central Michigan University event featuring the image of Adolf Hitler, administrators, students and several Jewish organizations are standing up against the hatred.
Campus Hillels continue to offer support to those disturbed by the incidents as well as programs that engage Jewish students and encourage dialogue with the wider student body.
At U-M, the FBI, along with campus police, continue to work to uncover the distributor of the emails. Though their origin is not clear, they read as if they came from Professor Dr. Alex Halderman.
The messages, sent to Computer Science and Engineering students on Feb. 7, read:
“Hi (N-word), I just wanted to say that I plan to kill all of you. White power! The KKK has returned!!!”
An email addressed to Jewish people read:
“I just wanted to say the SS will rise again and kill all your filthy souls. Die in a pit of eternal fire! … Heil Trump!”
University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said the emails were sent from a “spoofed” account attributed to Halderman. Unlike a hacked email where someone gains control of an email account, a spoofed email is a forgery designed to look like it came from out of the country.
“These messages were spoofed,” Halderman wrote in a statement on the U-M website.
“I did not send them, and I don’t know who did. As I teach in my computer security classes, it takes very little technical sophistication to forge the sender’s address in an email.”
In fact, computer science and engineering student Daniel Chandross, 20, of West Bloomfield, who received the spoofed email, said he and fellow students figured out in 15 minutes that the email was a fake.
In a Feb. 8 statement to U-M Hillel students, parents, alumni and donors, Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames said Hillel is working with the FBI and U-M authorities regarding the next steps to take and are being kept informed of any developments in the investigation. “The messages sent to our students were deeply disturbing and upsetting to our Jewish community,” Shames’ statement said. “It is important we come together in this moment to show this kind of hate will not be tolerated. Hate has no place on our campus. We will not be defined by these hateful messages but rather by the way we come together in response to them, showing our support for one another. We stand with all students and faculty impacted by these emails, and will continue to seek ways to offer support and unite as a campus community.”
The leaders of the U-M Central Student Government in a written statement also expressed disturbance at the “overtly racist, anti-Black and antiSemitic” emails and stressed “they have no place on this campus.” “An offense against any member of this university is an offense against all,” the CSG statement read. “Even if you are not a member of a targeted group, it is still your place, today and every day, to stand against injustice and fight discrimination. To our Black and Jewish friends, classmates and peers: You matter, and you belong here.”
On Sunday, the Detroit FBI field office stated, in part: “If, in the course of investigation, information is developed suggesting a federal violation of law, the FBI will coordinate with the United States Attorney’s Office to identify the best course of action toward prosecution.”
At Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, another hate incident took place, this time involving a Valentine’s Day card distributed at a Feb. 9 College Republicans event with a message containing a photo of Adolf Hitler that read:
“My love 4 u burns like 6,000 Jews.”
A statement on CMU Hillel’s Facebook page and website as well as the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan site said they are “deeply concerned and disappointed students would use anti-Semitic rhetoric and references to the Holocaust in a joking manner. We find these references to trivialize an incredibly dark period in history when more than 6 million Jews perished.”
The College Republicans apologized for the incident, saying they were not aware someone had slipped such a note into one the Valentine’s Day candy bags they were giving out. According to the Associated Press, school leaders Feb. 10 said the woman responsible for distributing the card was not a CMU student and admitted her “misguided action.” CMU said members of the student group “were unaware of the card when distributing the party gift bag containing it.” ADL Detroit Regional Director Heidi Budaj said, “The message conveyed in this Valentine’s Day bag is outrageous and deeply offensive. This anti-Semitic distribution not only affects the campus community, but also trivializes the horror that Holocaust victims and their families have experienced.” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon
According to the Associated Press, school leaders Feb. 10 said the woman responsible for distributing the card was not a CMU student and admitted her “misguided action.” CMU said members of the student group “were unaware of the card when distributing the party gift bag containing it.”
ADL Detroit Regional Director Heidi Budaj said, “The message conveyed in this Valentine’s Day bag is outrageous and deeply offensive. This anti-Semitic distribution not only affects the campus community, but also trivializes the horror that Holocaust victims and their families have experienced.” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wisenthal Center (SWC) in Los Angeles harshly criticized the CMU incident and said universities do not go far enough in their reactions when such incidents arise on campus.
In an interview, Cooper said he was not satisfied the woman responsible for creating the card at CMU was not named by the university and still wanted to know who within the student organization invited her to the event.
“It is very nice the club apologized, but they still owe the community full disclosure as to how this vile incident happened,” Cooper said. “At the minimum, it is time to begin to name and shame such cowards.”
Cooper said harsher consequences for perpetrators of anti-Semitism and better protections for Jewish students cannot be implemented at colleges and universities because there is no legal definition of antiSemitism. According to Cooper, the SWC is working with other groups to pass legislation in Congress to sharpen discrimination and hate acts aimed at Jews. Late last November, the bipartisan Anti-Semitism Awareness Act was introduced to Congress and, in December, passed unanimously in the U.S. Senate. In response to the rising hate acts against Jewish students, the SWC in 2014 developed a mobile app called “combathateU” to help Jewish students and other supporters of Israel deal with hate, bias, anti-Semitism and extreme anti-Israel harassment on campus. Submissions to the app are answered within 24 hours so the SWC can elicit additional information and suggest possible solutions.
On both campuses, Jewish students reacted to the events with shock and confusion, but also continued to engage Jewish students as well as non-Jewish students in inclusive programming to pave the way to dialogue and understanding.
Chandross, a U-M sophomore, said he was “surprised and confused” when the email landed in his inbox. But he and fellow computer science majors who received the same email learned quickly from the email’s metadata it was a fake.
“We’re all pretty much reacting in the same way,” Chandross said. “Some people are bigots and you just can’t let it phase you. It’s just not a way to move forward.”
U-M junior Mara Cranis, 20, of West Bloomfield, who has a leadership position at U-M Hillel, said that since September, there has been an increase in antiSemitism on campus.
The day after the email, she and other students and professional Hillel leaders were on hand at the Hillel building to serve as a support source for students. The organization also went ahead with its already-scheduled Jewish Engineering Students Associated Shabbat and extended the invitation to the National Society of Black Engineers.
Hillel at CMU President Hadley Platek, 21, of Woodhaven was preparing a Tu b’Shevat “unplugged” Shabbat event when she received a text from a friend containing the photograph of the offensive card. In response, she and other concerned students quickly assembled an anti-hate rally attracting approximately 60 students, where she shared her dismay about the card as well as her experience of visiting Yad Vashem on her recent Birthright trip to Israel.
“Many of my friends were shocked that something like this could happen at our campus,” Platek said. “I know that in stressful times people use humor to cope, but I don’t know how people can think this is funny. There was a clear lack of judgment from the person who created this.”
Platek, a senior, said this was the first time she could recall something of this nature happening at CMU and that, in general, she said there has been a “great coming together” against hatred and racism toward minorities, especially since the Trump administration’s temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. “Our campus [student body] is very good about inclusion, coming together to make things better.” •
I hope you never have to write a memorial speech for a friend. I hope that by the time you lose a friend in life, you are too old to stand, your mind too weathered with old age to focus, your voice too weak to make a sound.
But that’s not the case when you lose a friend when they are young.
It hurts. But writing for a writer is a healing salve. Thank you, Peter, for asking.
The first time I truly understood the courageous character of our beloved Amy was during a telephone conversation I had with her in the fall of 2011. I was a newspaper reporter writing about Rochester New York’s upcoming annual Ovarian Cancer walk. Amy, as she did many times in her short but brilliant life, offered to share her story publicly and candidly to put a face on the statistics.
Unfortunately, my call caught her driving home from a friend’s wake. Her friend had just died from ovarian cancer.
Deadline or not, I was afraid that the timing of this interview was insensitive on my part. So I gave Amy an out. I apologized for reaching her at such a sad time. But instead of not wanting to be interviewed, she did just the opposite. “No, I want to talk to you. My friend was so strong, such an inspiration to all of us. Any time a treatment was not responding, she refused to get down and would instead say to her doctors, what else can we try? What’s next?”
Does this sound like someone we all knew and loved?
Amy truly lived during the fight of her life. Just as she connected to life here in her new community in Michigan, Amy, with her feisty wit and that warm win-you-over in a heartbeat smile, was a vibrant presence back in Rochester.
She worked for over 20 years in real estate as an apartment rental specialist and served on many leadership positions in the community and at our synagogue back in Rochester, NY.
What truly drew us together was my second understanding of Amy’s courage to embrace life’s changes while she faced the realities of her cancer. On a sunny October day in 2012, not unlike the one we had today, General Motors threw us all for a loop. It announced the closure of its Rochester-based research facility where both our husbands worked and the relocation of their jobs to Michigan.
I’ve moved around a lot. But Rochester was the only home Amy ever knew. That’s the town where her entire support network existed: family, friends, co-workers, doctors and other healthcare providers. Moving away from everything familiar when you have cancer must have taken immense bravery.
During the moving process, we became comrades in relocation . We scoped out Detroit together on week-long house hunting trips. Back in Rochester, we met for walks and early breakfasts to discuss the move process, how we were staging our Rochester homes for buyers and how our kids were handling goodbyes with their friends.
We shared the frustration of long-distance house hunting, in a post-foreclosure Detroit housing market and shared with each other listings we found on Zillow.
Once we found our houses, together we began to make them feel like home. Craig and I went to Amy and Peter’s house to hang up their front door mezuzah. Then, Amy and Peter came to our house before our furniture had even arrived to hang out on the rug in our family room, have a drink and play a cut-throat game of SET.
Amy, with her meticulous taste and her zest for shopping, went on to quickly decorate with a color wheel of paint samples to repaint the bedrooms upstairs, and wall hangings and picture frames with blank spots marked “reserved” for the main floor downstairs. It was as if she knew that time was not on her side, and she wanted to create the homiest home for Peter and Ben while her energies were still high.
As time went on, both of us gradually started making our individual paths. Though we joined different synagogues and our kids were in different school districts, we still found time to make new memories in our new town. I was amazed how quickly Amy plugged into life here, from her involvement and leadership in the PTO at Sheiko, her volunteer work for Blessings in a Backpack, and here at Beth Ahm, Amy quickly made an Army of friends. The next thing I knew it was Amy who was calling my kids to get them involved with planning the community-wide Purim carnivals.
Amy and I would talk on the phone. A lot. For a very long time. I cherished our lingering conversations because I knew there may be a time when I would no longer get to chat with my friend Amy.
Most of the time, we’d talk about our kids. School. The latest Groupon she scored. How we hated going food shopping here because once you shop at Wegmans, no other grocery store would do. Completely normal conversations between girlfriends.
On the occasion, and only when SHE wanted to bring it up, our chats were dotted with tumors that were either holding or shrinking. The date of an upcoming scan. When we needed to arrange to drive her to her next doctors visit or chemo treatment.
And then, we’d get on to talking about making social plans for date nights, either as couples or with the family.
You see, the Gittlemans and Harveys are forever connected by a few dates. Peter and Amy’s wedding anniversary is on my birthday. And Amy and my daughter shared a birthday on December 17. So, we celebrated on family date nights in search of a good Italian restaurant. Couple date nights where the four of us never got our meal served at the Bath City Bistro before seeing Howie Mandel. We waited two hours for their anniversary dinner that never came. Always the fighter, Amy made sure we did not pay a penny for our un-meal, not even for our drinks.
Then one winter we went to go see Amy’s boyfriend, STING, play at the Auburn Palace. The next morning, we met up to walk at the JCC and continued to swoon over her boyfriend’s performance.
But perhaps my favorite memory of our friendship was in the summer of 2014 when Amy and I took a girls’ road trip back to Rochester.
Anyone who has taken a long ride on the highway with Amy behind the wheel knows this. She had a lead foot.
We took her minivan. She insisted – repeatedly – on driving the whole way up and over Canada. For our listening pleasure, I brought along an audio book I thought she might like: “Confessions of a Shopoholic” We also talked about our plans for the weekend and hoped that on the way back, a minivan loaded with grocery bags from Wegmans would not arouse suspicions from the Border Guards.
For one sweet summer road trip, we talked about anything but the Teal elephant in the car. We never talked about her cancer.
On the drive back on Monday morning, we got caught in some traffic snarls around Toronto. Amy was only worried about not getting home in time to get Ben off the bus. So her leaded foot got even heavier.
Now, I am a nervous driver. So every time Amy rode up behind a car in the left lane a wee bit out of my comfort zone, my right foot instinctively slammed down on the floor.
Coolly and calmly, Amy glanced at me and said: “I’m afraid to tell you this, Mrs. Gittleman, but you do not have a brake pedal on your side of the car,”
In an attempt to convince her to drive more slowly, I tried to come up with some solutions.
“Can’t Ben go to a neighbor?”
“No, I get him off the bus.”
“Can he even wait 5-10 minutes outside in case we are late?”
“Nope I get him off the bus.”
It was then I realized just how devoted, how strong and how fierce Amy’s love was for you, Ben.
Because, as long as she was around on this earth, as long as she had the strength, your mom was going to be sure SHE was the one to be the one to see you off that schoolbus at the end of the day.
I never knew a woman so dedicated to raising and nurturing a child as Amy. Ben, she was so involved at your school, and in this synagogue where she and your dad did and will continue to raise you to be the mensch that you are and will continue to become.
Social workers at Karmanos told me that above Amy’s being an inspirational role model to other young cancer patients, they never met a woman who spoke so lovingly about her husband and son. Always with a smile. As sick as she felt, they said, Amy made sure to always advocate for Ben: preparing him for the future, Ben made it to his art therapy classes, and right after, Amy whisked him off to Karate.
Ben and Peter, I know nothing can replace Amy’s love, the clear blue of her eyes and her sweet voice. All the arms in the world cannot replace the loving embrace of her arms, but I do hope that you can feel us embrace you, not only tonight, but in the months and years to come.
On the morning that Amy died, the rain fell and it seemed that it would never stop. Just like that song Fragile, by Sting “On and on the rain did fall, like tears from a star, like tears from a star.”
Though we cry now, Peter and Ben, please know your friends and family who gathered here promise to stand with you, to give you all our love and support at this difficult time.
May you be comforted by the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
What is your wish/prayer for the Birthday of the World? How will you put it into action? A Rosh Hashanah press inquiry
Hayom Harat Olam – Today the world stands at birth
If Rosh Hashanah is the World’s birthday, then what do you wish for it?
Can you help me out?
I am sleuthing for good sources for another feature on a tight deadline (September 15) for the High Holiday issue of the Detroit Jewish News. And, if you help me out and write to me about your wish, in turn, you are helping yourself focus on the meaning of the High Holidays:
Kids and adults: What is your special individual hope, prayer or wish for this world?
And, what, in the New Year, will you to do to work towards making that wish come true? Will you volunteer? Tutor a child? Check in on an elderly neighbor? Collect food and water for the hungry? Start a whole new organization for your favorite cause?
According to Genesis, when God created the world, God knew it would be incomplete. Imperfect. That’s why he created us: humans, to enter into a partnership with Him to keep the earth and repair it.
These days, the Earth – from the global to the most local levels, needs lots of healing. From the broken schools in Detroit where only 47 percent of adults are functionally literate to our polarized and ugly presidential election cycle.
From the fires in California, floods in Louisana and Zika in Florida.
Genocide in Syria and Iraq.
In the Jewish world, we face growing anti-Semitism from the college campus to a global level as the world grapples with growing radical Islam.
Indeed, the problems are overwhelming.
Are we truly up to the task of being God’s partner in a time like this?
But we must. Today’s problems provide us with plenty of food for thought as we approach the month of Elul and we prepare spiritually for the Jewish New Year of 5777
How can we as one individual live up to the task of being God’s partner in a time like this? But we must. Today’s problems provide us with plenty of food for thought as we approach the month of Elul and we prepare spiritually for the Jewish New Year of 5777?
So, let us, you, Jewish Detroit, and I, start this conversation together.
Ask yourself and ask your children: What do you hope/wish/pray for this Rosh Hashanah for the world’s birthday wish?
And, how will you plan to fulfill this wish? Leave me a reply in the comments, 100 words or less, and your contact information. If I select it, I will let you know and will need a photograph of you for publication in the DJN.
Email me at email@example.com or leave me a reply in the comments, 100 words or less, and your contact information. If I select it, I will let you know and will need a photograph of you for publication in the DJN.
And, if you choose to act on your wish, as prayers should lead to action, I will feature you and your social action cause further this new Jewish year as a mensch of the month.
I look forward to reading, and writing about, your birthday wishes for the world.
Another school year is off to a running start. Let us make a New Years Resolution of keeping our Jewish kids connected to their Judaism beyond Hebrew School and their coming of age Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony.
For me, Hebrew school is where I learned, but Jewish Youth group is where it all came into play. And meet my partner for life, there’s that too.
So, find ways to get your kids involved – whether it be USY, NFTY, BBYO or NCSY. These are the ties that bind for life. It was a pleasure to speak to so many committed young staff committed to nurturing our Jewish youth.
Jake Provizer of Farmington Hills remembers being “anti” Hebrew school. After his bar mitzvah at Temple Israel, the incoming Michigan State University freshman begrudgingly attended Monday night school. It was not until he found himself encircled by his newest friends during Havdalah at his first NFTY convention in Chicago that he felt his Jewish identity taking hold.
“I was in the eighth grade, and it was my first youth group experience,” recalled Provizer over a phone interview from Camp George in Canada, where he is spending his second summer as a counselor. “Then and there, I realized there was no place I would rather be. I went to every NFTY event all through high school. Involvement with Jewish youth is the best way to build your Jewish identity while you pick up the skills to become an independent adult.”
There are about 4,400 Jewish teenagersin Metro Detroit, but only about 1,000 — or 25 percent — think like Provizer and are active in Jewish living. The rest of this age group, though they value things like Jewish holidays and being with Jewish friends, are pulled in different directions in a post-religious society that values secular pursuits as they look to build their college application portfolio.
As teen free time dwindles, Jewish youth programming needs to be more meaningful to fulfill the teens’ social action desires as well as their need to socialize in a realm outside of social media.
The above findings are from a 2014 study conducted by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit’s Task Force on Jewish Engagement. Recognizing that a robust Jewish community can only continue by nurturing the next generation, Detroit is leading the nation in financial commitment to Jewish teen engagement with its Teen Network Weavers (TNW) initiative. The TNW term was coined by Rabbis Jen Lader and Josh Bennett of Temple Israel.
“It is crucial that we re-invest in our teens to connect them to their rich heritage that can offer so much guidance as they navigate their way through the many modern challenges they face,” said Jeffrey Lasday of Federation’s Education Department.“Success to us at the end of this second year will look like 90 percent of Detroit’s Jewish teens participating in at least one Jewish youth program.”
The three weavers function at the highest community level instead of the individual congregation level as they are guided by a Teen Network Weaver administrator on Federation’s staff. The initiative strives to keep Jewish teens in the fold by meeting them where they are — both literally and spiritually.
Heading up the TNW team is Barrett Harr, Federation’s coordinator of Jewish teen engagement. Harr moved here from Texas after 15 years of congregational Jewish youth fieldwork and this spring completed the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.The weavers’ jobs demand a much more proactive expertise than their part-time counterparts of previous generations. TNWs have backgrounds in social work and teen crisis management as well as a depth of knowledge of Judaism.
“Somewhere along the line, society has lost that village where every adult in the neighborhood looked out for one another’s children,” Harr said. “The Federation is determined to nurture more Jewish teens and we, as Jewish youth professionals, are blessed to have such a financial commitment from this community.”
Shortly after she graduated college, Jacki Honing, 26, found herself at a dinner meeting with a potential employer on a Friday night.
“As a 20-something, I realized I had some choices to make: Do I opt for the corporate life, or do I want to work in the Jewish world?” said the Las Vegas native who moved to Detroit for the weaver job in January and works with teens in the Conservative movement.
She dropped her corporate ambitions and committed her professional pursuits to the Jewish community. Honig channels her memories attending Jewish preschool, day school and socializing in United Synagogue Youth and Camp Ramah as she mentors teens making personal choices of how to live more Jewishly. Well-versed in the teen mindset, she takes a “one-size-does-not-fit-all” strategy for finding just the right opportunity to spark a teen’s interest in Judaism.
“We realize that what may work for one teen will not work for another,” Honig said. “We are not proprietary to the particular youth groups we represent. What is most important is making these teens realize they are the future of our community by nurturing and mentoring them now. Then, when they are adults, they will want to give back, not only to the Jewish community, but to Detroit as a whole.”
“Without her, who knows whereMCUSY would be, and I’m so fortunate I got to work with her this past year as MCUSY co-president,” said Bloomberg, who has held leadership roles locally and regionally. “USY has been an essential part of my high school experience. USY has taught me valuable leadership skills, and has introduced me to a plethora of friends I consider family. It has also given me the opportunity to further my Jewish education. I’ve had the opportunity to lead programs regarding lessons in the Torah as well as lead part of Shabbat services at every regional convention.”Allison Bloomberg, 17, of Farming-ton Hills, who will be a senior this year at Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield, said Honig has been “a huge help” in supporting MCUSY (Motor City USY) during a transitional phase and helped keep the Conservative-based chapter growing in the right direction.
Programs like this over the last year have attracted a core group of 10 kids, plus 35-40 others who have attended at least one program over the year. Other successful programs last year included Havdalah at the William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse in Detroit with TBE’s Rabbi Mark Miller.Joseph Unger, the only native Detroiter of the weavers, works as the youth adviser at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. Much of the NFTY programming at TBE focuses on social justice and volunteering, such as monthly trips to soup kitchens or other work coordinated by Repair the World Detroit.
At 25, Unger likes to be honest with the teens, telling them he wishes he had taken his own religious schooling more seriously. He did get involved with Michigan State University Hillel and traveled with the group on a life-changing Birthright Israel trip.
“That trip really made me think more about Judaism and how I wanted to give back to my community,” he said.
Building Israel Ties
If Ethan Bennett, TNW for Temple Israel, had his way, he would make sure each teen understands the connection to the Jewish homeland — not during Friday evening services, but by taking them on a hike into the Negev Desert and then studying a text that sources the very trail where they had just walked.
Bennett tries to do the next best thing by facilitating informal Thursday night programs at Temple Israel where teens can learn and discuss topics pertaining to Israel.
“Israel has shaped who I am and it is an important part of my work,” Bennett said. “Today’s Jewish teens need resources to define their own relationship with Israel. When they get to college they will be challenged, and that is OK. But they need to be prepared.”A native of St. Louis, Mo., Bennett was active in NFTY and spent a gap year in Israel, where he bolstered his skills in working with Jewish teens. He also finished his studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he studied Hebrew and Arabic and worked on youth partnership programs between Arab and Jewish teens in Israel.
Bennett finds his job as a weaver very fulfilling and says he is very grateful for the wide support he and his cohorts are receiving.
He began his position in October 2015 after working with Jewish teens throughout the country. However, he said he has never seen the devotion and commitment of a community for teen outreach as he has witnessed in Detroit.
“It is rare a community invests so much in its youth advisers and allows us to have so much influence in the community,” he said. “We have been given license to take our ideas and passions and run with them.”
My first short-lived job out of college I worked for a small weekly newspaper in a rural county in New Jersey. So rural that the grounds for the county fair, complete with livestock competitions with pigs and cows, was right out the back door of the newsroom.
That weekend, the staff worked a booth to promote the paper and increase circulation. I was in charge of blowing up helium balloons and handing them out to children who stopped by to visit.
With each child I gave a balloon, parents were sure to ask that child in a prodding manner:
“What do you say?”
It seems the thing you teach your kid to say, that kindest phrase, cannot be said enough in life.
Just saying thank you. Showing gratitude for every experience, some good, some not so good, but recognizing that each moment teaches and shapes you.
In addition to nurturing this practice in our children, for saying thank you for getting material things when they are younger, we hope that as our kids grow into adults, they keep saying it for the intangible things too.
So there I was, out at the Crofoot, a nightclub in Pontiac, Mich., trying to make eye contact with my 17-year-old son as he opened for touring folk-rock bands The Mountain Babies and The Cactus Blossoms, mouthing the words:
WHAT DO YOU SAY?
Now, I am not saying that he did not say thank you to his audience, or to the headlining band. But you just can’t say it enough.
This is the summer that my 17-year old son, soon to be a high school senior, truly hustled to get out his music as a solo guitarist and songwriter. The band that he and his mates tried so hard to get off the ground during sophomore and junior year never took off. There were too many conflicts. Too many SAT prep classes and cross-country meets. Too many mothers filling up weekends with family obligations.
This summer, he did not get a job at Kroger, or Old Navy, or a summer day camp. It was not from a lack of trying.
What he did get were a few paid gigs.
So I just want to say, thank you.
Thank you to the Teen Council of Detroit and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit for fostering creativity through your rap and songwriting workshops, your uncensored teen Open Mike nights.
Thank you to the Farmington Civic Theater for letting my son busk (yes, this is a verb that you learn when you know a starving up and coming musician) on a couple of Friday nights for dollar bills and pocket change, and a free drink and two movie tickets.
Thank you to Goldfish Tea in Royal Oak and all the tea sipping folks there who listened and cheered for my son on open mike nights.
Thank you to The Hopcat who, though he was underage, let my son open up your open mike night a little early at your upstairs bar before he had to get thrown out. And, of course, thank you for Crack Fries.
And all along the way, I am thankful for the friends here, people I did not have in my life only three short years ago since moving to Detroit, who not only have come out to hear him play, but who ask me when he is playing next.
So, my son, I know you are never more comfortable than when you are up on stage playing, but when you are up there, you know what to say, and you cannot say it enough. Plug the band for whom you are opening. Give praise to your audience. You just cannot do it enough.
While I’m at it, I would be humbly thankful if you check out my son’s music here.
Next time a Detroit-area mohel is called upon by the Jewish community in Windsor, Ontario, to conduct a ritual circumcision, he may want to consider attaining a work permit from the Canadian Department of Immigration. Or, hire a good international labor lawyer.
Without the right credentials, he might get turned around at the border.
That was what Dr. Craig Singer of Bloomfield Hills, a board-certified dermatologist, pediatrician and mohel, encountered at the Windsor Tunnel crossing on Thursday, May 19, as he traveled to perform a circumcision for a family in Windsor.
Unfortunately, once he stated his purpose for visiting Canada, he was further questioned by immigration officials who denied him entry into the country because he did not present any work permit or Canadian credentials to perform a circumcision in Canada.
While there have been the occasional delays, clergy on both sides of the border — and as far away as Vancouver, British Columbia — agree this is the first time they can recall that an American mohel was denied entry into Canada.
Canadian immigration officials told Singer, who received his mohel certification through Hebrew Union College, that the circumcision was medically surgical in nature and if he ever attempted to perform a bris in Canada again, he would be “reprimanded and possibly prosecuted.”
A central rite of identity for Jewish males, the ritual circumcision, barring any serious health concerns, occurs on a baby boy’s eighth day of life and takes precedence over any other holiday or occasion in a Jewish community, including a funeral, Shabbat or Yom Kippur.
“Windsor does not have a mohel and, therefore, we rely on our nearest town over the river — Detroit — to bring in a mohel to conduct a brit milah,” said Rabbi Sholom Galperin, head of Windsor Chabad for seven years. “Having access to a mohel is essential for any Jewish community to be able to bring a baby Jewish boy on the eighth day of his life into the covenant made between Abraham and God.”
Singer says he had talked with the family about plans for the bris several months ago as well as a few days prior to the brit milah.
While detained at the border, poor cellular service prevented him from calling the family. When he asked to make the call or have the officer call the family, the officer refused.
At press time, the JN was unable to make contact with the family to see how the issue was resolved.
In the 15 years Singer has been a mohel, he has made many one-day trips to Windsor to perform circumcisions. Mohalim such as father-and-son rabbis Avraham and Ezra Cohen of Southfield for decades have also crossed the border to perform the ritual for nearly 40 years with little incident.
Border Service Response
A general statement released by the Southern Ontario Region of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) about the incident read:
“Every person seeking entry into Canada must demonstrate that they meet the requirements to enter the country.
“Admissibility of all travelers seeking to enter Canada is considered on a case-by-case basis, and based on the specific facts presented by the applicant in each case at the time of entry.
“The onus is on the traveler to understand and meet the entry requirements.
“A temporary foreign worker seeking entry to Canada may require a work permit.”
The CBSA also pointed to its online guidelines for Refugees and Citizenship/Canada Temporary Foreign Workers. There, in a paragraph especially deemed for temporary clergy (R186), the regulations state that a foreigner is permitted to work in Canada without a work permit as clergy defined as a person who is “responsible for assisting a congregation or group in the achievement of its spiritual goals and whose main duties are to preach doctrine, perform functions related to gatherings of the congregation or group or provide spiritual counseling.”
Still, the CBSA did not offer a clear explanation as to why Singer was turned away, nor did they explain why the immigration officer would threaten to prosecute Singer if he returned to Canada to perform a bris.
“The immigration officer asked me if I knew of any Canadian legislation that would permit me to enter the country to perform this ‘surgery,”” Singer said. “I explained this is not surgery, but rather a religious rite, and I told him there are religious freedom laws protecting and enabling Canadian citizens to fulfill their religious beliefs.”
While still widely practiced in Canada, views on circumcision — ritual or medical — seem to be shifting out of favor.
In 2015, the Canadian Pediatric Society released a statement reaffirming its recommendation against the routine circumcision of newborn males but also maintained that families need to make the best decision for their children based on family, religious and cultural beliefs.
Canadian clergy maintain that Canada holds religious freedom in the highest regard and that this matter, however unfortunate, is more about who is allowed to work in Canada and less about infringement on religious practices. And that all comes down to the whim of the immigration officer on duty.
Rabbi Don Pacht, head of school of the Vancouver Hebrew Academy in Vancouver, B.C., who has practiced as a certified mohel in both countries for 17 years, said there is no official governmental certification in either Canada or the U.S. for mohalim. They train either under doctors or rabbis, and their training is not regulated by any government.
Finding a mohel in the wider Jewish community in North America is a practice based on references and trust. Pacht speculated Singer’s being a medical doctor is what may have been the determining factor for the immigration officer’s denial of entry.
“Canada is very liberal in regard to protecting religious rights, perhaps even more so than the United States,” said Pacht, who holds dual citizenship. “As an American, however, you cannot practice medicine or surgical procedures in Canada without proper documentation; and this immigration official perhaps deemed a circumcision, even though ritual, as surgery.”
Singer said he will be hesitant to return to Canada if asked to perform a bris. And if he does, he said he might have to “hire a good labor lawyer” to work through the wording of Canada’s labor laws for foreign clergy.
He remained remorseful for the family waiting for him to welcome their baby officially into the Jewish community.
“A beautiful lifecycle event was completely soured for this family,” Singer said. “I was wearing a kippah as I went through customs. I could have just said I was visiting a friend in Canada, but with a carrying case containing circumcision surgical equipment in my trunk, I wanted to be completely honest.”
By Stacy Gittleman | Contributing Writer
If you are like me and you comment a lot – I mean a lot – to refute false claims and narratives that are piled upon Israel – you may have felt the virtual masking tape gag your mouth as I did by Jewish Voice for Peace.
In an effort to increase its membership and its own voice, #JewishVoiceforPeace recently cleansed its Facebook page of any facts that counter their lies.
It wasn’t enough to be called a Hasabra troll, with people spewing lies that I get paid to Stand Up for Israel online.
It wasn’t enough to be called stupid, racist, ignorant, bigotted and a hateful Zionist pig by the self-righteous over at Jewish Voice for Peace
But about a month ago, JVP completely shut down my account. They blocked me from commenting. From “liking” their page. From sending private messages to their admins. And from what it appears, all the others who tried to refute the lies and anyone else who tried to address false claims of JVP’s posts, their tireless garbage of calling Zionists oppressors and occupiers anyone whose comments did not fall in line with their twisted way of seeing Israel, was also blocked from commenting.
The last post I was ever able to make on JVP’s Facebook page was a post on May 11 where, in a sympathetic nod to the fate of teen terrorist Ahmed Manasra as he faces 20 years in prison. They showed the video of Mansra, 13 at the time, lying bleeding in the street of the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood while people cursed at him. Jewish Voice for Peace in the post called for the release of the poor Palestinian
What the post failed to do – as do many who tell only half-truths about the Arab/Israeli conflict – was to pull back the lens.
JVP failed to mention that back in October, this kid, along with his big cousin, went on a Jew hunt, taking knives from their mom’s kitchen to go stab some Jews to bring some dignity to their people.
What the post failed to do was to show the security video of Manasra and his cousin, who was shot dead, running through the streets stabbing Jews, including a 12-year-old boy on his bicycle who lost so much blood he had to be put into a medically induced coma to survive.
So, I posted the video.
Shortly afterward, I was blocked from commenting anywhere ever again on JVP’s Facebook page.
But that’s okay.
I am old. Old enough to remember a time of activism long before the invention of social media.
It’s called phone calls.
I remember as a kid making phone calls to “Let my People Go” to the Soviet Consulate. I remember marching in Soviet Jewry rallies.
Look what we accomplished.
I told you, I’m old.
This week, after watching their Facebook page put up post after post of lies and distortions, I called up their office in Oakland, Calif. at (510) 465–1777
I expressed my dismay and disappointment that JVP has decided to censor all dissenting viewpoints that counter theirs on their Facebook page. I asked the woman why that was and she said they take off comments that are hateful, violent and abusive.
I guess being hateful and violent and abusive against Zionists is perfectly fine.
All I did was post facts.
Facts that do not mesh with the Palestinian narrative. Because a narrative is not history.
Unsafe space facts.
And as I talked, I realized what I wanted to say, and it was not as much as what I wanted to say was what I wanted to ask.
What was the thing that JVP hates most of all?
So I asked: Do you know what the Hebrew word Tziyon means?
She replied: No, I don’t.
It means Zionism. Do you know what Zionism translates into, I am talking about the meaning of the word?
No I really don’t.
And I explained. It means excellence. It means treating others with excellence and living up to standards of excellence. It means that Jewish people have the right to live independently in their ancient homeland.
She then said: We have different interpretations of what it means to live in a homeland.
I then questioned her about JVP’s stance on a two-state solution. She said that JVP does not believe in a two-state solution, that all people should share the land with freedom and dignity and that the apartheid occupation had to end.
I said there is already a two state solution. It is called Jordan.
She said she found that remark very insulting.
I said, you may be insulted but it is a fact.
I questioned her more.
She did not know anything about the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
Or the San Remo Conference of 1920.
She did not know that half of the land of the British Mandate of Palestine that was meant to be set aside for the Jewish state was used to create the country of Jordan the same year that the State of Israel was created.
She told me that she and I held different interpretations of history.
I’m thinking, this is not an interpretation. These are historical dates. Facts.
It was when I corrected her claims that Israel is an apartheid state and I mentioned that 1.5 Million Muslim Arabs live in Israel with full rights, she said she and I had a different interpretation of rights, and she would need to end this conversation.
And there you have it.
Because JVP does not want to bother with history.
Or the truth.
But that is where we come in and that is where we, Jews, have gone oh so wrong. If the folks at JVP truly are Jewish, they are the Jews are are the product of a weak Jewish education that dismisses learning history at the price of convenience and reduced hours of instruction.
So, call JVP. If you’ve been blocked. Find a post you strongly disagree with them. And now that they’ve blocked you, just call and tell them what you were going to write.
Just do it with civility. And you had better come knowing your stuff.
Because they certainly don’t.
If you are a seder leader, you work a tough crowd.
Just as the Children of Israel complained in the desert to Moses, all gathered at the seder table will level their pre-meal kvetching at you.
Fear not. The Passover seder is the ultimate multi-sensory teaching tool that asks each of us to think of ourselves as going on a journey and leaving Egypt and slavery behind for freedom in the Promised Land. Long before any educational theorist came up with the idea of teaching to multiple intelligences, the Hagaddah text clearly states that all who participate in a seder must feel as they themselves experienced the bitterness of slavery and the sweetness of redemption.
“From sports to music fans, you’ve got to know your audience,” said Jeff Lasday, director of Alliance for Jewish Education. Lasday has led family seders for the past 30 years. When Passover falls during the annual NCAA basketball tournament, Lasday emails his family in advance a Jewish-themed “bracket” of favorite Passover foods, Jewish traditions and Jewish heroes. Before the seder, he compiles the results and intersperses reports between different parts of the Hagaddah.
STEP AWAY FROM THE SEDER TABLE
In the 2005 Passover comedy, When Do We Eat?, a dysfunctional Jewish family celebrates Passover in a Bedouin tent pitched on a suburbanite Long Island lawn. Though it is not necessary to go through such lengths, setting the stage visually will get your seder guests in the right frame of mind for the evening. At the beginning of the seder, don’t even bother with the table. For one seder, I brought the whole family into the tiny front storage area of my parent’s basement. This subterranean start symbolized that we were about to go on a journey and the dark basement represented just how low we felt during slavery and how we were about to rise to freedom. Amy Newman, director of leadership development for the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, suggests hanging blue cellophane from doorways to simulate the parting of the Red Sea. She also recommends giving permission for kids to draw on the dining room walls — covered carefully with butcher paper — to depict scenes from the Haggadah. “The more experiential you can make your seder, the more meaning it will have for your guests, no matter their age,” Newman said.
YES, YOU CAN EAT
Nibbling is permitted during the first half of the seder after reciting the blessing for karpas (green vegetable, often parsley). Pass around bowls of dried fruits and nuts, even crudites with guacamole to stave off hunger during the seder.
Prior to the seder, get them invested by asking them to think about their own interpretation of slavery, freedom or plagues. Newman also suggests providing older kids and young adults with a lunch bag filled with different items to be used during the Maggid section of the Haggadah to tell the Passover story. From food insecurity to the environment to human trafficking, teens and young adults are passionate about causes. The internet provides great supplementary Haggadah readings that can spark conversations on all of these topics to bring the messages of the holiday into a contemporary light. When it comes to including a discussion about Israel, organizations from AIPAC to J Street publish Haggadah supplements. For example, last year, a friend of my niece joined the IDF as a Lone Soldier. I was able to find a Hagaddah reading online that offered short profiles of Lone Soldiers and what it meant to them to serve in the Israeli army.
SONGS OF FREEDOM, REDEMPTION
My earliest Passover memories are steeped in song. Growing up at my no-nonsense Hebrew school, teachers taught us how to lead the seder by singing our way through the Haggadah. The more singing and music you add to your seder, the more enjoyable it will be for all guests. My husband’s own “Passover Rappin” YouTube video has not gone viral like those of the Maccabeats, but in our family, it has become a seder standard. If you are fortunate to have Jewish preschoolers coming to your seder, your evening will ring with the wonderful songs they learn. For older guests, if you want to divert a bit from the traditional Haggadah text but still stay on topic, Newman suggests having a sing-down. How many songs can those around the table think of about slavery, freedom, spring or redemption?
My grandmother used to tell me stories of being shushed at the seder table as a child while a bearded elder quickly mumbled through the whole Haggadah. As time went on, American Jews started to read from the Maxwell House Haggadah in a round-robin fashion, but they were still bored with the formal English and cumbersome sentences. One year, my brother-in-law proclaimed, “This is awful. Why do we use the same boring Haggadah with these ‘thines and thous’ year after year?” Before the next Passover came around, I researched and found other Haggadot, such as A Family Haggadah (Kar Ben Copies) and A Different Night by Noam Zion. Do not be afraid to cull different passages from different Haggadot. But when all is said and done, don’t permanently retire your Maxwell House Haggadot. As corny as it is, my kids and their cousins still love to use them to read Hallel: “Thine yea thine, thine only thine” … verse after verse late into the night. There are many new traditions to enhance your seder, but sometimes the old standbys are the ones that truly create family seder memories.*
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As they exchange their vows and listen to the reading of a ketubah, sheltering them above their heads are customized canopies woven together from heirloom wedding gowns, a greatgrandfather’s tallit or even the cloth napkin from the restaurant where the proposal took place. Understanding the significance and holiness of this moment as the beginning of a new marriage and family, today’s couples seek to bring more personalization into the design of their one-of-a-kind chuppot.