What Does Neglect in Suburbia Look Like?

This is based on a true story. Names have been changed. help

 

“Mom, Jonah really likes coming over for dinner.”

Elias told me on a dark winter night early last January.

A year had passed, and so had another high school musical season. This time, my son was now in high school and Jonah, a senior, had been in another musical together and were now at the beginning of forensics season.

No, we’re not talking CSI-styled forensics. No, this was not about a bunch of high school kids investigating the scene of a crime.  Forensics, when taken from its original Latin,  forensis means ‘in open court, public’, from forum. Say forensics to any high school kid in the midwest, and they know it’s all about speaking, oratory and acting competitions that take place in the winter and spring months.

More on forensics later.

Back to the kitchen we go.

So, I was in the kitchen making dinner. Dark and cold and snowy outside.  School had been in full swing now for a few weeks after a two-week Christmas/winter break.

Jonah was now living with another family in the school district, who had traveled without him over winter break, which meant that Jonah spent a lot of time during that break alone.

Alone was a thing that Jonah had grown accustomed to, since about the age of nine.

But after having him over for several family dinners with not only my youngest but my son and daughter home on college break, including his first Shabbat dinner with homemade chicken soup and challah, and another special birthday dinner for my husband, I think he started to realize what he had been missing out on all these years.

Outside of hanging around the kitchen table, I was getting to know Jonah through various outings, like the time over MLK weekend when my son and I went out with him to see a movie and go for dinner at the nearby mega mall.

“Mom, Jonah said before he came over here for dinner, he never really had a home cooked meal.”

To this day, I cannot wrap my brain around that sentence.

To me. food, especially prepared my grandmothers and mothers and aunts (and YES I know there are men and uncles and dads who cook, but not in my family) and then eating that food as a family, is the foundation of loving family bonds and relationships.

An absence of that, that was the first real sign to me of the extent of Jonah’s neglect.

Over time, I learned that when he lived with his mother, who was a substance abuser, Jonah and his brother had mostly survived on eating cereal for dinner. Or a can of tuna.  Or PB & J sandwiches.Or hot dogs.

To this day, if offered a hot dog, he’d politely turn it down for something else.

Over time, I learned  Jonah lived with his father full time because of his mother’s substance abuse. Jonah said his father expected him to cook dinner.

Nothing wrong with that in different situations.

I started cooking in middle school for my family when my mom went back to work, but only after years of learning by mom and grandma’s side, and mom would prep meals more than halfway and leave me copious notes on the kitchen table when I got home from school. And, considering how broken Jonah’s family situation was, some home cooked meals provided by his dad could have provided that nurturing he needed.

Basic rule: If you are a parent, it’s your job to provide meals for your kid. Leaving raw meat in the fridge and expecting your kid to cook it doesn’t cut it.

Worse yet, according to the story, his dad would leave him and take off for the weekend or the week with his new girlfriend, without leaving a contact number or a family member to look after him. Was his big brother still around at this point? I cannot remember the timeline just right.

So, from the getgo, Jonah said he prided himself on being a “DIY” kind of guy. He had basically raised and cared for himself. Since around age 9 or 10.

And somewhere in this timeline, he had made calls to Child Protective Services, both at his mother’s and father’s homes. But upon inspection of his father’s home, located in a nice, upper middle class subdivision cul de sac with food in the fridge and pantry, CPS found nothing to be wrong.

 

What does neglect look like to peers in the halls of an upper middle class high school?

It might be hard to detect. Jonah was always nicely dressed with the clothes he had purchased with his own money working two jobs. He had saved every receipt in hopes of getting this money back somehow.. from someone or some lawsuit?

… Maybe his shoes were worn, because he’d been wearing them since the seventh grade. But other than that, he always was nicely dressed.

But when it comes to one’s health, friends of the neglected may start to notice, especially when these friends compete with you in forensics. Jonah may not have had family bonds, but his friends became his family.

The multiple team rehearsed after school every day. I realize it now that my son’s team practiced maybe more than most because Jonah was the director. In his chaotic teen years, perhaps he felt this was the one place he could be in complete control of every scene block, every plot twist.

Indeed, during the season, multiple team members often make each other the center of their lives, with all the teen drama, for the duration of forensics season, which runs from late December auditions until the end of April with state finals.

When multiples spend most of their free time together after school rehearsing, all day on Saturdays and sometimes, sleep overs and parties on Saturday nights and then of course, brunch on Sundays, someone is bound to get sick. And if one gets sick, the rest are bound to catch it.

A few years back, when Jonah had a hacking cough and fever and his dad had instructed to pray it away, a forensics teammate was so worried about him that she pleaded her mother to drop off some OTC cough medicine at his house.

And she did. Only to get called into the office that week by his father and counselor for a rash scolding. The father telling the mother to stay out of his business.

Flash forward to the winter of 2018. It was a particularly deadly strain of influenza was going around if you can recall.

Perfectly healthy, young people being struck horribly ill, or even dying from it.

Health care professionals urging all to get their flu shots.

Since turning 18 and living independently from his father, Jonah had figured out a lot for himself. Even FAFSA! (We’ll get to that in another post).

One thing he didn’t have access to, and didn’t have time to figure it out, was access to healthcare.

Since his estrangement from his dad, he had no health insurance. Not like his dad took him to doctors. Or believed in keeping up with immunizations.

One night last winter, Jonah came to sleep over. He was coughing pretty badly.

I felt his forehead. It was pretty hot. But he refused to take any medication, not even Advil.

“As it is,” he shrugged it off with a laugh, “My family has very strong immune systems, and we just fight it off, whatever it is, and we eventually get better.”

I expressed my concern and his need to see his pediatrician right away.

“You can’t afford to wait it out, Jonah, this could get very bad. You have to get better and see your doctor, they’ll give you a flu shot.”

Problem is, he told me, he had no doctor, and no access to healthcare.

To this I just shook my head.

It was very generous and kind of the family who took him in, considering they hardly knew him or his family situation. But, did it not trouble them that he had no access to healthcare?

How could they let him use their car, but not care if he has health insurance? Was he under their auto insurance policy?

I mean, what if he got in a car accident?

What if he needed an emergency appendectomy?

What if his cough is bronchitis or pneumonia and he just needs an anti-biotic?

What if, and who even knows if his immunizations are up to date?

What if… and what if… other horrible scenarios played out in my mind. I am a Jewish mother, after all.

So, at that point,  on a cold January Saturday night, what could I do?

The night went on and Jonah’s cough got worse. Finally, Elias came up from where they were crashing in the basement and said Jonah needed some relief.

Mr. DIY gave in to my maternal suggestion.  I think I gave him some OTC cough suppressant. Or NyQuil. Or something.

To cut the fever and the cough.  To make it better.

All this time, I just wanted to make him better. 

The next morning, I sent him back to where he was staying with two quarts of my homemade chicken soup.

Because at that point, before he lived under my roof, that really was all I could do.

So what is the difference between a kid who is cared for and not cared for in the suburbs?

The difference is, the other kids have parents or even a loving guardian to take care of them if they got sick.

The other kids had doctors.

And Jonah at 18 had no living memory of seeing a doctor. Ever.

That’s neglect.

Next up: Some statistics on LGBT youth

Rember The Orphan At Your Gates

help Learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; Aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; Isaiah 1:17

Even now, I remind myself of this quote from the Tanach.

All my life, I have been propelled by my Jewish values and teachings.

I have been an active member of several synagogues, from childhood to adulthood.

I’ve been to Israel four times.

I have taught Jewish kids from preschool to high school.

Together with my husband (with whose support, none of this year would have happened), we have raised three children seeped in a loving Jewish home.

But 2018, the year a non-Jewish kid found his way to our family, was the year I felt I lived most closely to living the mitzvot of the Torah.

Hospitality.

Saving a Life.

Fighting for Justice.

Remembering the orphan, the stranger at your gates.

All five of us, starting with my youngest son, we all had our part in helping and guiding this young man as he made the big leap from high school to college.

But this is not his story.

I will not go into the details of his abuse and neglect, I myself don’t even know the extent of it.

That is his to tell, when and if he ever chooses to tell it.

This is the story of how, for a brief period of time, his life intersected with the lives of my family and the extended community, most of the big players from the Jewish community that rushed to support him.

Though he and I do not agree on everything at the moment, and it is hard to say if this is the end of our story or not, what we do agree on is that this is a story that should be told.

So, if you happen to be that kid who feels in danger at home, or who has been rejected or disowned or abused by a parent because of your gender or sexual identity, maybe the story I will unfold here in this post and subsequent posts will give you some hope.

That it does get better.

That there is a way out, onward and upward to college and a better life.

That, though you may feel you live in isolation now, there are people who care and will advocate and fight for you,

will house you and provide love and nourishment for you, and will guide you to the best of their abilities as long as you want it.

Even if your own family will not.

And if you are a teacher, school administrator, a youth advisor, clergy and you suspect abuse or neglect, you are mandated to report. You are mandated to advocate for that child and not turn them back to the hands of their alleged abuser. You are mandated to report upon penalty of fines and even imprisonment.

That if a kid walks into a counseling office and says, I think I’m in danger of becoming homeless because my father is going to kick me out when I turn 18, you don’t just say to him, okay, here is some paperwork to fill out.

This is a tale that demonstrates that parental abuse and neglect are not exclusive to socioeconomic boundaries.

That there are kids who are living scared and neglected even in the most leafy of suburbs.

For nine, nearly 10 months, I tried.

This is not his story.

This is my story of how I tried.

 

 

The Roles We Play

All what I am going to tell you in this post and consequential posts is true. Or based on the truth.

At least that is what he told me.

Only the names are made up. 

……It’s early February and that means another season of the community theater company I volunteer with is in the books.

I was in musicals and student theater competitions in high school. The memories I had from being in shows, even just being in ensemble, were some of the best of my life.

So when my youngest came home in the fifth grade to be part of a community theater production of Fiddler on the Roof, how was I to say no?

Newly transplanted (I used to write about being a transplant a LOT), we knew next to no one in our new suburbia. So getting involved with a community theater production run out of our town’s rec department that encouraged kids to be in shows with their parents seemed like the perfect way to meet people.

Community theater led my son to the middle school and the high school stage.

It led me back to the stage too, in roles like a pick-a-little lady in The Music Man and a dead nurse in Addams Family and Mrs. Teevee in Willy Wonka.

And the stage also led Jonah to my family.

The first time I saw my “fourth child” he was on stage.

It’s now surreal that I ever thought of him that way. As my fourth child.

We – my son, older son and oldest daughter, did not know him. Only of him.

Tall and gaunt, with dark eyes and cheekbones that most thespians had to find the most skilled makeup artist to contour in, he played the part of the Bishop in Les Miserables.

Now, he didn’t have the biggest part, and I thought I knew all the boys in our high school who were the theater kids, but this kid seemed to have come out of nowhere.

He gave a standout performance with a deep, sweet baritone voice and later on in the play, he’d be one of the barricade boys that passionately fought and died for the cause.

Little did anyone know that off stage, he was fighting his own battles.

But after the show, kids did start to hear.

That he had no mom.

That he barely had a dad.

Because dad said no son of his could be gay and he had to find another place to live upon turning 18.

And until then, he could pay his own way, including paying for food, clothing and yes college admission fees too.

So, the Bishop worked two jobs. The role of a babysitter and the role of a waiter on top of playing the role of a high school junior.

Back then, in November of 2016, I didn’t realize the role I would come to play in this teen’s life.

In a year’s span, I would come to play to Jonah the role of the mom of a good friend and soon the role of an adult he could trust. Later, I played the role of an advocate and a full-on Sandra Bullock The Blind Side grizzly bear mama.

And later than that, and even though it may have caused pain and confusion, I played the role of mom. Or .. .like a mom.

My role as mom, what he wanted, what I wanted for him, eventually got us both into some trouble.

But in between all that, there were some happy memories and laughs.

I try to hold onto them the most.

One night, over a family dinner, discussions led to as they always did, musical theater. My son Elias and Jonah were listing their favorite musicals and what roles they would love to play most.

I am not sure if by this time he had already moved in yet, but in the winter of 2017, he had started coming around the house a lot for dinner.

He had already been kicked out (or left?) his father’s house and was living with another family of a student he hardly knew. They took him in and treated him more like an exchange student.

They did not get involved. But they let him use the extra car.

For my son, it would be the lead in Catch Me if You Can. Don’t ask me what the male lead’s name is, that’s a job for my son.

Jonah wanted most of all to play Link from Hairspray.

“Oh I could totally see you in that role,” I said, readying at the stove with a pot full of pasta.

Two teen boys at home meant for a LOT of pasta.

“Um, I don’t know,”my son said into his pasta dish., “I mean, Link is attracted to…”

“–Yeah so what,” Jonah beat my thoughts to the punch. “As an actor when I get on stage I can become ANYONE. I mean, come on… I played a BISHOP!”

We all laughed at that one. The irony of it.

So, for a while, I played the role of the stand-in mom.

And now?

For  reasons that will later be revealed, be it partially his fault or partially mine or no one’s fault at all. I play the part of a stranger.

But writng about it helps. Helps the pain.

I just wish the kid would have stuck to theater.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s been nearly a year since I’ve blogged. Here’s why.

Hello?

Is anyone still out there?

Do I still have any readers left?

Well, if all my readers and followers have dropped away, I cannot blame them.

Why would anyone follow a blogger who, well, has not posted in nearly a year and her last post, written the day after the Parkland Shooting, was, well, so dreadfully dark?

If you are still out there, dear faithful readers, it’s been quite the year in my household.

And for me.

My paid writng gigs have landed me lots of great stories.

I wrote about Detroit’s March for Our Lives.

I’ve been writing about, and continue to write about, unfortunately, anti-Semitism.

But that was not the biggest thing that happened.

Not even having ACL reconstruction surgery was the biggest thing that happened.

Here is a photo of me sunning myself, full metal brace and all, in July.

meacl.jpg

Yay that was fun.

But if I wrote about the biggest thing that happened to me in 2018, it would seep out of the confines of a humble blog post and become..

I don’t know…

A novel?

A cautionary tale?

So, readers, I’m asking you, and if I change the names to protect the innocent…

Would you want to hear how I tried to save a life this year?

A life that was so previously broken that by the time I got to it there was little I could do?

Even though I spent the better part of 2018 making it better?

Even though I think I may have done more harm than good, for he and I both, now looking back?

Dare I write something so personal, and something that does not yet have an ending because right now it is not very happy and I so want it in my bones a happy ending?

I see it has been so long since I’ve posted that even privacy and sharing settings have changed and I cannot share this on Facebook.

That may be a good thing.

So that means that only YOU, my true followers, my subscribers, can read this.

So, tell me if you are intersested, and I will start sharing this story.

And thanks. And I hope you’ve missed me.

I’ve missed writing in my own voice.

I think it’s time I returned to it.

Dear High School Attendance Line

Hello, this is the mother of ***********, a freshman at **HS.

****** will not be coming into school today.

Yesterday he complained of a stomach ache and had no appetite. I felt his forehead and the back of his neck with a brush of my lips, just as I have been doing for him for the past 14 years since he has been on this earth, backed by my overall 21 years of experience I have been a mother thanks to his big brother and sister. My husband declares I have never tested a forehead or back of the neck that was not burning with fever.

But in any case, I think he had a slight fever last night and this morning, indicated by his grogginess, his continued lack of energy and that he …kind of.. threw up this morning.

I am sure the vomiting was more due to his acid reflux than any one of the viruses floating around your high school, but still I am going to keep him home today.

He will return to school tomorrow.

That’s the message I left on my kids high school attendance line this morning.

But it was only half-true.

Want to know what I really wanted to say?

I am keeping my son home because he might be sick. But he has been sicker than this and he’s gone to school.

The real reason I kept him home today is because what happened in a high school in Florida yesterday.

And what happened at a high school in Kentucky last week.

And in schools in New York, Minnesota, Los Angeles and Maryland.

And what happens every 60 hours on average that has become the norm.

Another school shooting.

I am keeping him home because I do not think the fact that you have to get buzzed in and sign in to your school is going to prevent someone with an assault rifle from coming in and shooting up my son’s school.

I am not comforted by the woman who smiles at me as I sign my name into a notebook.

I am not comforted that, yes, you have to get buzzed into the building between the hours of 7 and 2:30 but after that, during after school activities, pretty much anyone can walk in.

I kept him home because politicians bought by 2nd Amendment Rights fanatics the like of the NRA think thoughts and prayers and NOT passing legislation to preserve MY kid’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are part of their job description.

I kept him home because my state, the state of Michigan, has some of the most lax gun controls in the country. Because the state is a popular grounds for hunting, the Michigan law on guns is very lax in regards to rifles and shotguns. A permit is not required to purchase or carry such firearms, and there is no gun license or registration required as well.

I kept him home because it really just seems like it’s only a matter of time before it happens in the town where no one could ever imagine something so horrible happening because nothing ever happens here.

I kept him home because of fear of copycat crimes.

I kept him home because there seems to be no end in sight to this madness of inaction by our government.

I kept him home because my son’s brand new high school, with its corporate open air feel and modular classroom layout, has mostly glass walls and not many places to hide from a shooter.

So, he won’t get the perfect attendance award at graduation.

Today, we made waffles and he read me a few chapters of his Global History textbook. We discussed Locke, Rousseau and the difference between mercantilism and laissez faire economic systems.

He found his homework assignments for the day and submitted them on Google Classroom (I think. I hope.)

And he was fine. Bored, missing his friends a bit, but as it turns out, he was not sick at all.

So, tomorrow, he will be back at school. Even though the kids at the high school in Parkland, Fla. will not. And some of them will never be going back.

And like most parents in America, I will be glad and thankful to see him at the end of the day. students

A Rosh Hashanah message to parents of Jewish babies from a parent of Jewish Adults: Do Jewish all year long.

For my daughter’s very first Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, we dressed her up in a frilly, off white outfit complete with a pill-box hat. I think it also had a fuzzy white boa. We found a matching pair of white framed cat-eyed sunglasses and she popped them on willingly for a pre-shul photo shoot.

It was hilarious.

I’ll spare posting a photo because she is a cool 20something now donning a black trench coat and Doc Martin combat boots through the streets of London and has a reputation.

You’ll just have to use your imagination.

On her second Rosh Hashanah, at the start of the Torah service, she screamed with joy

“Mommy, look, IT’S THE TORAHS!”

We were asked promptly by the usher to remove my enthusiastic Jewish toddler from the sanctuary. But that is a different topic that you can read about in other blogs.

This post is for YOU. The 20 or 30 something Jew, Jew of Choice or someone married to a Jew who is raising a very small child in the Jewish faith.

Don’t mean to scream, but stick with me here. Let me continue.

When the daughter was slightly older and was attending a Jewish preschool, I took her brother, about  2 1/2, on a shopping outing at Michael’s. It was springtime and the aisles were cluttered with those big, faux pottery urns.

“Mommy,” my baby duly noted from his vantage point in the shopping cart seat.

“They got really big Kiddush Cups”

Next, the youngest came along.

He was about 22 months and we were celebrating my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary on a cruise.

It was Tuesday night.

Formal night on the boat. Everyone was dressed up in tuxedos and gowns and other formal fashions. And in true cruse fashion, everyone was crowding outside the Starlight dining room, cattle-call style, for the doors to open. Because they had not eaten in 30 minutes at least.

All of a sudden, my 22 month old, in my arms dressed up in an instant-cute 3 piece suit of his own, yells at the top of his lungs.

GOOD SHABBOS!

It was a Tuesday, remember? But seeing people dressed up, to this almost 2 year old, it had to be Shabbos.

Funny thing is, a woman in her 60’s in a floor length black sparkly gown turned around and said Good Shabbos right back.

She was from Dix Hills. She knew my in-laws.

So now, it is many years later. That babe in my arms is a high school freshman. His brother is a freshman in college and his big sister is spending a semester abroad in London.

So where am I going with this?

During his freshman parent/student orientation, there were separate schedules for parents and students and I had not seen my son in a few hours.

Where did I catch up with him? At the student activities fair. He was checking out the Chabad table.

My son after a week of school told me he switched around his classes because one ran too late on Fridays and he did not want to miss out on Shabbat dinner and services. He’s toggling between Hillel and Chabad.

He may not get to services on both days of Rosh Hashanah, but he sought them out, knows where and when they are and it will be up to him to set his priorities.

He had a chance to perform in a pit for a show and get paid, but it takes place on Erev Yom Kippur, so he turned down the gig.

My daughter had to scramble to figure out her Rosh Hashana plans only days after landing at Heathrow to start her semester at University College of London. The “mandatory” orientation day and first day to pick classes? The first day of Rosh Hashanah.

She panicked. Does she miss orientation, a mandatory orientation, to find a place for services? Or does she go and try to catch up with services later?

These are adult choices. Jewish adult choices every Jewish adult must make in a world that does not make concessions or conveniences around the holiest days of our calendar.

This morning she emails me. She found another Jewish girl on her floor with English relatives and would be spending part of Rosh Hashanah.

And the university, in an email, in true English spelling, stated:

“We are aware that tomorrow is a Jewish holiday and that some of you may not be able to attend the above meetings. Please do let us know if you are unable to attend and we will organise an alternative meeting to catch you up.”

So, really, Jewish parents, where am I going with this?

Because this post is not just about me. It is about you and the Jewish community that is seemingly hanging on by a thread outside Israel.

Do Jewish.

Every day.

Just a little bit.

Get Jewish Books from the PJ Library   Read them with your kids, if just 10 minutes a day.

Make Shabbat. Even if it is only challah and grape juice on a Friday night followed by pizza or take out.

Please, for the love of Gd, make Jewish learning a priority. Take them to Hebrew school when Hebrew school is in session.

And bring them, if only once a month, to Shabbat Services in the years before they become a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.  Bring them when they are unruly babies and toddlers. Let them climb up around the bima. Let them hear the melodies.  Shlep them into the sanctuary and if they whine too much or cry, take them out and then take them in again when they are calm and keep doing it! To hell with what the old people say and complain. Synagogue is not supposed to be a quiet tomb.

Because little Jewish moments every day, over months and years, stick.

Then, when you are an old(er) Jewish parent like me, you get to watch your own kids make those hard choices for the sake of being and doing Jewish come Rosh Hashanah.

I wish you all a Sweet, Good New Year and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Shana Tovah.

 

 

 

Sometimes, it takes a few Irishmen to remind you that America has always been Great

I am usually sad when the calendar turns to September, marking summer’s end and another busy school year.

Not this time.

That’s because I had U2 tickets for their September 3 concert in Detroit, their kick-off to their second  American leg of the Joshua Tree tour.

There was lots of great music offerings going on in Detroit this summer. Free offerings. It started with a free Aretha Franklin concert – perhaps one of her last – in June and capped off with Jazz legends like Herbie Hancock and newcomers like Kamasi Washington playing for free at Detroit’s prestigious Labor Day Jazz Festival.

That’s where my oldest son was hanging out last night. He is now in college, studying jazz performance. Because of him, I have deepened my love and appreciation for jazz.

Still, jazz is work. When I listen to jazz music, I work hard at understanding the back and forth of musicians talking to each other through their instruments, finding the structures and the scales and chord progressions in seemingly unstructured improvisations. Who is comping for who and knowing when to clap when one solo blends into the next.

See?

Work.

Not so much effort is required of me to enjoy – no – to be enraptured – by U2.

For us Gen Xers, it’s as natural as taking in a breath. As effortless as an old friend.

Sitting up in section 320 in Ford Field last night, my 20-year-old daughter seemed a bit bewildered, maybe embarrassed at me screaming and declaring my undying love for Bono at the top of my lungs several times at last night’s concert.

Mom!  She retorted, as if she wanted to inform me:  dad is standing RIGHT next to you! 

I reminded her I had been wanting to see this concert since I was her age.

30 years I’ve been waiting to scream my head off at a U2 concert.

I’d spent 20 of those years parenting someone.

So, yes, if only for a few hours, mama channeled her inner 20-year-old.

And every memory of my listening to U2 for some 30 years, and the people in those memories, were with me.

From hearing a boy singing an unaccompanied “Sunday Bloody Sunday” as he auditioned for a play back in high school. You were with me.

Biking along the beach in Staten Island for miles and miles, to rest in the sun on a boardwalk bench as we listened to the entirety of Under a Blood Red Sky  on cassette. Side one flipped to side two. Sharing earbuds plugged into a single SONY Walkman.  You were with me.

To listening to Joshua Tree on my stereo late at night alone in my room, or at a party in college, and debating whether Bono and the like had sold out with this commercially successful record compared to their older stuff on October or War Yes,  you were with me too.

So after 30 years, and then waiting nearly an hour after a great opening set from Beck, the first drum beats of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” pounded out, and everyone was on their feet, and the end of the wait was all the sweeter.

Now, I know that at U2 concerts, Bono usually has some kind of theme. A message.

This one was all about America. U2’s love and pride in America.

As of late, I am not too keen about singing the praises of America.

I have endured the past seven months in a semi fog.

As each day dawns, I dread what buffoonery the current White House administration will dish up next to shock and embarrass us, all the while providing a smokescreen for Congress, which is fulfilling its promises of gutting regulations that protect our air. Water. Earth. Workers. Women. Minorities. A dismantling of democracy as we know it.

For seven months, I have hung my American flag upside down on my front doorway as a symbol of our nation’s deep distress. I am a journalist, after all. A declared enemy of the people.

But over and over again, Bono spoke for himself and the rest of his band mates –  The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. – as they declared that America is their second home, and how thankful they are to America to opening their doors to millions of Irish and their descendants.

Over and time again, he reminded the audience of mostly Gen Xers (and some of their kids) that America is great because it is known for championing and giving – and not taking away – freedom.

He praised Detroit. This first city stop on their second American leg of the JT tour.

Bono described the Motor City as “city of invention, city of reinvention. A city of history … city of the future.”

Indeed, Detroit is reblooming all around us since we moved here in 2013.  This new energy is visible and tangible with every new shop and restaurant cropping up around downtown and midtown. On our way to Ford Field, we passed several about-to-open bars and restaurants, an urban garden teeming with flowers and vegetables,  old buildings covered in scaffolding soon to be open to residential and commercial real estate.

Helping U2 visually drive home the message of what is good and beautiful about America and Americana was a giant  200-foot-long, 43-foot-tall video screen, featuring 1,700 gold-painted panels and a silhouette of the tree famously pictured on the album sleeve.

During the 2-hour performance, as the band performed the Joshua Tree from side A to side B, the scenes changed from song to song.

An open road into a desert ambled as the backdrop to the album’s first song “Where the Streets Have No Name” Then desert transitioned into mountain and into Joshua Tree National Park, where my oldest turned to me and said “this makes you want to go out and take a road trip into the open spaces of the West.”

A small-town brass band filling in the instrumental accompaniments to “Red Hill Town.”

An all American girl wearing the most faded American blue jeans clad a stars and stripes bikini top and swung  a lasso.

A native American woman danced.

Another woman painted an American flag on the side of an old barn.

A moon shone above a prairie night in “One Tree Hill.”

As the band performed “In the Name of Love,” the text of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech scrolled on the enormous screen. Words like truth, freedom and love were extracted from the sentences and danced independently.

Before last night, I had not known that before he delivered it in Washington, D.C.,  he first spoke those historic words in Detroit.

Had you had closed with “Vertigo” as your final encore song, with all the jumping and the red and black op-art swirling on the screen and the flash of white-hot lights, it would have been enough.

But no. You gave one more because you needed to end with a somber yet hopeful message.

And that message, in this country that feels at times is ripping apart, was “One.”‘

That in the darkness of Charlottesville and the fury of Harvey, there is a silver light. A light of the fact that we are one. And we must carry each other. “”

One love, one blood
One life, you got to do what you should
One life with each other
Sisters, brothers

One life, but we’re not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other
One
One

Left or right, we have to come back to a point to realize we are United, not Divided States. America is more than our current leadership.

And last night 50,000 Americans were reminded of all that still can be good, that the greatness has never left this nation, by four Irish musicians.

That’s why, a U2 concert is just what every American needs right now.  Catch them if you can.

To hell with the ticket price.

 

 

 

 

Let their People Stay: Detroit Jews Respond with Support for Chaldean detainees

As Jews, we’ve seen this before. 

We have been singled out. Persecuted. At the threshold of sanctuary, we have been sent back to the hands of our oppressors only to be murdered.

We have been strangers and therefore are commanded to remember the stranger who sit at our gates. 

Only, in Detroit, Iraqi Chaldean nationals are not strangers to us. They are our neighbors whose kids are classmates to our kids. They are the business owners, the cashiers who happily greet us at the check out lines at the supermarket and drug store. Over the decades, the Jewish and Chaldean communities have built bridges with interfaith programs and projects. 

It was only natural then that so many in the Jewish community responded to the news that 114 from this community are being detained for possible deportation back to Iraq – a place that is now foreign to these people – with anguish, legal counsel and moral support.  We stand with them because we know what happens with silence. 

Here is my coverage of the Jewish response to the roundup of our Chaldean neighbors in the June 29 issue of the Detroit Jewish News. 

When news broke on June 11 of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) roundup of 114 Iraqi Christian immigrants with fears of deportation, the phones at the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC lit up. Executive Director David Kurzmann said his agency received fearful calls from rabbis and other leaders in the Jewish community asking what they could do to help.

“As soon as the arrests happened, we received dozens of phone calls asking how to support our Chaldean neighbors,” Kurzmann said during a phone interview and again reiterated at a June 21 anti-deportation rally held outside the U.S. District Court Clerk’s office in Detroit.

“As Jews, it is very distressing to hear about this,” he said. “We recently commemorated the anniversary of the return of the St. Louis to [Europe], where Jews seeking refuge in this country were turned away and sent back to their deaths. The U.S. risks repeating this same dark mistake. The Jewish community knows the tragic consequences of shutting down pathways to safety for people in harm’s way. We must not let this happen again. ‘Never Again’ is as applicable today as it has ever been.”

On June 21, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith listened to a class-action lawsuit filed by area attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union designed to postpone deportations to Iraq, where Christians have faced brutal persecution, torture and death in recent years because of the rise of ISIS. Goldsmith concluded the detainees would not be deported to Iraq until at least June 28.

David Kurzmann

Inside and outside the courthouse, and in the days leading up to the filing of the lawsuit, Jews and other ethnic minority groups reached out to the Chaldeans with legal, moral and social support. But until the deportation ruling is appealed or reversed with reopening of individual cases, the fate of the detainees is grim.

Still, leaders in the Chaldean community are holding out hope their loved ones, now being held in a detention center in Youngstown, Ohio, will be released and expressed appreciation for the support of other minority communities.

“There is no community like the Jewish community,” said Martin Manna, Chaldean Chamber of Commerce president. Since the arrests, Manna has received many calls of concern and support. Rabbis have phoned in asking how their congregants can help. The Chamber retained the legal services of former Sen. Carl Levin, now with Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP.

“You would have thought it was his own child in danger of being deported from the way [Levin] responded so quickly,” said Manna, adding that Levin worked with other attorneys and the ACLU to file the lawsuit with the federal court to postpone deportations.

Temple Israel Rabbi Paul Yedwab, one of several local rabbis who reached out to Manna with support, said he cannot understand why the Chaldean population is being targeted.

“Our own government officially recognizes there is a genocide right now being committed against Iraqi Christians, so how can we possibly send them back?” Yedwab asked.

As a congregation, Temple Israel informed members about the situation and encouraged them to attend the June 16 and 21 rallies. Also, “hoards” of congregants are on standby offering to volunteer in any way they can to show their support for the families affected by the arrests.

“While we are coordinating closely with the JCRC/AJC and many of our members have offered up pro bono legal services, there is a bit of a feeling of helplessness. This truly lies in the fate of the legal system,” Yedwab said.

Legal Support

Bradley Maze, a lawyer at George P. Mann and Associates in Farmington Hills, is representing five of the detainees and is hearing from other Chaldeans fearful of being detained in the future. Maze said he is working to file motions of appeal to reopen their individual cases to delay or reverse their order for deportation.

“My clients have served their time for minor crimes they committed decades ago,” Maze said. “They are now completely rehabilitated and contributing members of society with jobs and families. They check in with immigration officers every six months like they are supposed to, some even within the last few weeks. If they are sent back to Iraq, the Iraqi government cannot guarantee their protection as Christians, and my clients fear torture or worse by ISIS.”

Maze noted the irony that many involved in the class-action lawsuit — from Michigan ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss who filed the lawsuit to attorney Margo Schlanger, former civil rights chief in the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama Administration, to Judge Goldsmith — are all Jewish.

“The notion of people being taken from their homes in front of their families and thrown on a bus conjures up scary images for Jews,” said Maze, who has practiced immigration law for a decade, six of those years working as an immigration attorney assisting refugees at Freedom House. “The ethos of helping the refugee is part of the Jewish family legacy. It is Jewish tradition.”

Robert and Gail Katz of West Bloomfield

Though the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center did not directly represent any of the 114 Iraqi detainees, Ruby Robinson, MIRC supervising attorney, said his organization provides guidance on court filing procedures and processes to parties filing immigration lawsuits, including the lawsuit filed last Wednesday by the ACLU designed to postpone the deportations.

“All of the detainees entered the U.S. lawfully but committed a crime before they were eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship,” Robinson said. “For 20 or 30 years, they served time for their crimes and have since lived their lives, starting jobs and families and checking in with immigration officers like they were supposed to. Because things have gotten so bad in Iraq, many of them didn’t think anything like this could ever happen. Now, all we can do is assist their attorneys to figure out the best strategy of what can be legally done to postpone deportation.”

Moral Support

While some in the Jewish community offered their legal services, others have offered moral support by attending impromptu rallies, such as the one held outside the court where a diverse crowd stood in solidarity with Chaldean Christians, who waved American flags and bore red crosses expressing their anguish of the thought of their loved ones facing possible persecution if deported to Iraq. They spoke directly on the podium or listened to the distress of family members who fear they will never see their loved ones again.

Martin Manna, executive director of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, with Deavin Konja of Franklin, who came to support his uncle Najah Dawood Konja of Clawson, who is being detained even though he won an appeal with a federal court to open his case two days before he was picked up and detained Sunday morning.

Iraqi American Deavin Konja of Franklin came to support his uncle Najah Dawood Konja of Clawson, who is being detained even though he won an appeal with a federal court to open his case two days before he was picked up and detained June 11.

“By that Monday morning, we filed for his release; it was ignored completely and has been ignored ever since,” Konja said. “He served time for his crime he committed over 30 years ago. He was one of the few that should have been immediately released because of the federal appeal on his case. We know our attorneys are doing everything possible.”

Lori Lutz of Bloomfield township came to the rally with Detroit Jews for Justice and held up a sign bearing a quote from Exodus about the commandment to “remember the stranger.”

“Today, this is too reminiscent of rounding up groups of people throughout our history and deportation, not letting them stay in a safe place and possibly sending them back to a place of real danger,” Lutz said. “As Jews, we have seen this before and we cannot let it happen again.”

STACY GITTLEMAN

Stacy Gittleman
Contributing Writer/Photographer

 

 

 

Why Deportation?

Chaldeans, including several who spoke at the anti-deportation rally, said they campaigned and voted for Trump because of his campaign promises to protect Christians in the Middle East.

Yet the recent sweep of arrests of Iraqi nationals in Michigan is the result of a revised executive order on the initial January executive order banning entry from seven Muslim majority countries into the United States, including Iraq.

After quiet negotiations, the U.S. and Iraq negotiated a new policy that removed Iraq from one of the banned countries and also eliminated the priority of allowing Christians and other religious minorities over Muslims, according to the Washington Post.

U.S. law states that any non-citizen, including legal residents, who commits an “aggravated felony” under U.S. immigration law — a term that includes serious crimes as well as many nonviolent offenses and misdemeanors — is deportable, the Washington Post story stated. An example of a nonviolent crime could be drug trafficking or possession of marijuana. However, for the past several decades, immigration officials and federal judges have been slow to carry out deportations or completely stopped deporting Iraqi nationals because the situation on the ground was deemed too dangerous and the deportees would be put in harm’s way.

The Iraqis who face deportation do not have visas to live in the United States. Many of them lost their green cards because they were convicted of crimes. Because of their past criminal record, they are targeted by President Trump for deportation regardless of their nationality, the Washington Post story said.

Nationwide, there are approximately 1,400 Iraqi nationals in the U.S. who have final orders of removal.

Detroit Jewish Community Comes to Aid of Syrian Refugees Near and Far

I do believe it is true. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. In this time of devisiveness, it is good to know there are many who are coming to the aid of families from Syria who have fled their country because of the brutal civil war.

Here is my cover story on how Jews in Detroit are bringing awareness to the plight of the refugees and helping them settle into their new life.

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Post a photo of your Front Door Mezuzzah: A social Media Experiment

I am beyond fed up.

Really, I have had it.

There has been a LOT of anti-Semitic (it doesn’t sound harsh enough, so let’s just say it for what it is: Jew hating) incidents in the last several months.

Bomb threats called into JCCs and Jewish Day Schools. Yes, they were called in by a Jewish teen sitting in his room in Israel, but they were and still should be dealt with as a hate crime.

Desecration of cemetery headstones in Jewish cemeteries in several cities.  In fact, the headstone of a great grandfather of one of my daughter’s friend was vandalized in Rochester, NY.

Hate emails going out to Jewish students at the University of Michigan. My friends’ son was the recipient of one of them.

And now, a former colleague of mine posts that his front door mezuzzah, which belonged to his wife’s grandmother, was ripped off from the door of his apartment in an inside hallway in a security enclosed building.

The Mezuzzah. Let’s explain to you – and if you are a warped hate mongering ignoramous who knows nothing about Judaism, let’s get you Hebrew Schooled, shall we?

I am no Hebrew scholar, and I don’t know if there is a direct translation to English, but a mezuzzah is a piece of parchment paper where, written in hand by a scribe, is the Shema – the Jewish affirmation calling all of Israel to listen and understand that there is only One Gd and this Gd commanded us to post this prayer into all our door posts and teach it dilligently to our children. There are three paragraphs rolled neatly into a tiny scroll, that is the mezuzzah:

 “And you shall inscribe them on the doorposts (mezuzot) of our house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:9, 11:20). What is to be inscribed? Divine instruction is very clear: “The words that I shall tell you this day”: that you shall love your God, believe only in Him, keep His commandments, and pass all of this on to your children.”

So, listen up, haters, you mess with a Mezuzzah, you mess with Gd.

The mezuzzah encasement, artistically, is open to many interpretations. Some are simple, some are more ornate. But they clearly mark and distinguish that in that dwelling dwells a Jew.

You may, in old apartments in Brooklyn, that once had a lot of Jewish tenants, see the slanted remnant, now covered in layers of paint. My African American neighbors who lived across the street from me in Rochester still had a mezzuzah on their front door, left by the previous Jewish owners of the house. I asked them why they never took it down. They said, they felt protected by it.

Indeed, some interpret the mezuzzzah they post to one’s doors as a sign of protection. Often, the Hebrew Letters, Shin Dalet and Yud – spelling Shaddai, a name for Gd, is translated to “Protector” or Guardian.

It is customary, when one Jewish family sells their house to another Jewish family, to leave their mezzuzot behind, or at least one as a symbolic gesture.

Though, in Nazi occupied Europe, Jews started taking them down for fear they would be turned in. Sadly, in Europe today, Jews are thinking twice before affixing this quintessential symbol of a Jewish home to their doors.

But this isn’t Nazi Germany or 2017 Europe.

This is America. And I’m not taking my mezuzzah down.

Here is my front door Mezuzzah. 20170415_232756.jpg

It was given to us as a wedding present nearly 24 years ago by a college friend. From the day we got it, my husband and I decided it would be our front door mezuzzah, and it has held this status for four different homes now.  And there it will stay. We are not moving or removing it for anyone.

In addition to our front door, every doorpost in our home, except for the bathroom doors, have a mezuzzah attached.

Most were gifts and I can remember each person who gave us each of our mezzuzot.

So, here is the social media experiment:

In solidarity with my friend’s mezzuzah which was just vandalized, let’s show the haters we are not afraid.

Please email me photo of your front door mezuzzah to stacy.gittleman@yahoo.com. And please share this widely with your friends, family and community.

Let us bring light into this dark world.

Thank you.

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