Archive | November 2011

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

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

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

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

Here is her story. Vote for her at this link

A Mom and a STEM Advocate

A Mom and a STEM Advocate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cry me a River.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 “I really just want to color, mom.”

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


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

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

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

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

I mean, good for HIM!

Pareve Pumpkin Pie

photo found on marthastewartliving website

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

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

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

But this is a story about pareve pumpkin pie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All-purpose flour, for surface

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


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

Happy Thanksgiving!

Buy Daughter Skis, Feed the Chickadees, Mendon, NY

Ever since my daughter started high school, I don’t see her that much. She doesn’t talk to me that much either. She is either in school, at practice, or up in her room studying, texting or skyping.

So, when she starts talking to me about taking on a new challenge like cross-country skiing, even though it’s a language almost foreign to me, I had better listen.

I tried to downhill ski, once.  It was in California on a weekend away with my husband’s grad school buddies.  Long ago, on a bunny hill somewhere in Lake Tahoe, Calif., I decided that strapping waxed wooden pieces to my feet and then surrenduring my body to the mercy of gravity was simply a horrible idea.

I was better suited for a flatter, more level playing field. So, the next year, I attempted cross-country skiing. I thought, how hard could it be? There are no hills to hurtle down and cause bodily injury. There are no ski lifts to try to jump on. Again, my new husband and I headed to Lake Tahoe for the weekend. It was a perfect, fresh-powdered blue-skied day to take my first five-mile trek on cross-country skis. I could run five miles at a time, so how much harder could skiing it be?

Much harder. Much.

Any ability to get my poles and my arms in rhythm with my feet in my skis completely escaped me. As soon as I would get any momentum going, I’d topple over into the snow. After falling over for about the 72nd time (I’m not exaggerating), I just sat there and wept in frustration. I took off my skis, walked back to the lodge and had a hot chocolate while the others effortlessly glided along the lakeshore.

So, when my daughter came to me with those big blue  eyes sparkling with the promise of a new challenge, I was not going to put my failure on the slopes and the trails on her. But how much was this going to cost us?

We head out to a ski swap and sale at a middle school surrounded by farmland. This is one of the biggest ski swap and sales in the area, and the gym is packed with parents like us shopping from the area’s ski retailers. Thankfully, the high school ski coach is there to teach us the lingo (Classic skis, Combi skis and boots, Poles, Bindings.) and show us what we needed to buy. We need skis that she can use for both disciplines.

No, the two disciplines are not scary downhill and frustrating cross-country, as I thought.  There are actually two disciplines of cross-country: classic and skate.  About 40 minutes, — and hundreds of dollars – later, she had what she needed to hit the trails.

On the way home, we stopped at one of our favorite places to hike, Mendon Ponds Park, where my kids have been hand feeding the chickadees since they were little. It is one thing they still like to do and each time a bird lands in their hand, I get a glimpse into the past, see the little kids my big kids once were.

My daughter brings her poles along for the 2 mile hike, just to get a feel for them. Then, out of nowhere, my daughter wants me to give them a try. I listen to her and slip my thumb in the proper hole, adjust the velcro secure around the rest of my hand. Bend my elbows just so.  And, in one final hike before the snows fall, my daughter and I take turns with the poles along the trail. Together. Side by side.

Let the Thanking Begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

A lesson in hospitality

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to write a blog post, perhaps because I’ve been a little pre-occupied. Hosting a Bar Mitzvah that includes many out of town guests becomes a four-day affair. My column, teaching and profile pieces also kept me spinning these last few weeks. So instead of my rantings, I’ll offer my son’s Bar Mitzvah speech (otherwise known as a d’var Torah – words of Torah) for this post.  I am thankful that he took direction from me during the writing process. After all, what are writing/blogging moms for?

Shabbat shalom,

It has been an honor reading from the torah today. Actually, I was kind of lucky
that my parasha is Vayera. Unlike other parts in the Torah that deal with leprosy, animal sacrifices, or the appropriate punishment for stealing an ox, Vayera offers a classic narrative of stories we all know: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham casting his handmaiden Hagar and their Child Ishmael into the wilderness;  and finally the long-awaited birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah after they showed hospitality to three visiting angels.

If anything, there was too much to write about in my parasha. But I would like to
focus on two central themes: bargaining with Gd and the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, or hospitality. These themes were repeatedly contrasted in this morning’s reading. Let’s start
withSodom and Gomorrah.

Gd calls out to Abraham on the news that He is about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. This
is one of several instances where Gd calls to Abraham, who then says: Heneini –
here I am.  The inhabitants of these two cities are said to be so evil that a kind act such as hospitality to strangers is decreed a crime. The rabbis capture just how bad
the Sodomites were with this Midrash:  The Sodomites refused to expend any of their
lavish wealth on strangers. In fact, Sodom provided only one bed for strangers;
if an unlucky traveler was too short to fit, he was stretched until he could;
if another was too tall, his legs were chopped off.

Even so, when informed of the news of the impending destruction, Abraham shows
courage and actually bargains with Gd: Finally, Abraham agreed with Gd about
the destruction when not even 10 good people could be found.  Gd was pleased that Abraham bargained for the sake of his fellow human beings, even though Gd knew there were not enough good people to save Sodom andGomorrah.

This part of the parsha taught me that one should work very hard to try finding the
good in any instance or that one can find the good in any person.

But this d’var Torah is not about the evil in the world, it’s about people doing
good for others. The main message I learned from Vayera that I can apply
throughout my life is the mitzvah of hospitality. The Talmud states that
hospitality is such a great mitzvah that it is more important to show
hospitality than it is to attend classes of study or to greet Gd in prayer.

In one point in today’s Torah reading, we find Abraham sick and old, yet he is
still waiting in front of his tent to receive guests.  In the distance, he sees three strangers
walking towards him. Suddenly, he moves into action. The text in the Torah
demonstrates how animated he became for the sake of greeting guests. He BOWS to
his guests, he RUNS into his house and SHOUTS to his wife Sarah,

“maheri shalosh s’eem kamah solet lushi, v’asi oogot.”

This translates into something along the lines of “Quick woman! We have guests, make
some cake!”

The words “run” and “quick” are repeated over and over as Abraham hurries to attend
to the strangers’ every need. He personally gets the whole family into the
catering business as they lavish their guests with an abundant feast.

This teaches me that although Abraham is weak and advanced in age, when he sees the
weary travelers, he suddenly finds energy in the mitzvah of welcoming guests
into his tent. Greeting guests to Abraham is more important than his own

In another reference to hospitality, Lot, who is
living in the town of Sodom, is also greeted by angels. He also makes haste in preparing their meal.
However, he does not involve his family, and where Abraham serves his guests at
the doorway of his tent – in view of the public eye – Lot’s
hospitality is done secretly. Still, the Sodomites show their true nature and
look to punishingLot for his good deed.

Perhaps the reason why Abraham enjoyed having so many guests is because of the things
he learned from them.

Pirkei Avot  asks: “Who is wise? He who learns from many is wise.”

As long as I can remember, my family participates in a chavurah every other Friday
night for Erev Shabbat. Everyone in the chavurah takes turn hosting the other
families, and we all pitch in bringing different parts of the meal. When it is
my family’s turn to host, for us kids, it’s not easy. It’s the end of a long
school week and we are tired. But, we are expected to help get the house ready
for our guests. There’s no time to sit around and watch “That 70’s Show.” We
have to rid the kitchen of any papers or any evidence that three busy children
live in the house. After sterilizing the kitchen, we have to find white
tablecloths, sort the silverware, and set up the glasses for Kiddush. But after
our guests arrive, the beautiful singing of Kabbalat Shabbat, plus the usual
ice cream for dessert makes all that work totally worth it.

Inviting guests into your home makes them feel special and more connected to the
community. In turn, perhaps the hospitality they were shown will inspire them
to extend hospitality to someone else.

Sometimes, guests can be close friends and family. Other times, guests can be complete

I’ve learned a lot about Israelis by having teachers from Modi’in stay with us. This past Sukkot, we
opened our sukkah not only to our guest Inbar, but the other teachers who were
visiting plus their hosts. The house was full of energy and about 30 people had
a chance to eat in our Sukkah before the rain started.

Another form of hospitality is letting someone into a group. A good example of this is when you
are in school and your math teacher asks you to split up into groups of two to
work on a project.  Kids, don’t wait for that fellow student that didn’t get put in a group to go through the humiliation of sitting alone in class. Go over and invite him or her into your group.

Another example of being shown hospitality by being included in a group I learned from my mitzvah
project. Over the past few months, I helped train dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. The tricky thing is, I don’t have a dog.


But one puppy raiser named
Becky showed me hospitality by letting me “borrow” her dog Ben during the
class. If it wasn’t for her, I would not have gotten anything out of my mitzvah
project. She and Ben wouldn’t have progressed at a more rapid pace if I wasn’t tagging
along saying things like like “how do you hold the leash?” or “Ooops, I dropped
all the treats on the floor again.”

Guiding Eyes is an all-volunteer run foundation for people who take dogs into their homes, train
them and prepare the dogs for one day serving as a companion to a blind or
disabled person.  It has been very inspiring to see how much Ben has improved in paying attention in the weeks I have worked with him.

Now that I am a Bar Mitzvah, I am honored that the entire Jewish
community is showing hospitality to me, welcoming me in as a fully participating Jewish adult.  Now, if I’m home, or in Hebrew school one afternoon and there is no minyan for mincha/ma’ariv, I can be called upon to help. This will really make me feel important and part of the community.

Vayera concludes with the Akedah, the binding of Isaac.  It’s hard to argue that Abraham was being
very hospitable when he obeyed Gd’s command and brought his son Isaac to Mount
Moriah to be sacrificed.

I find that strange, this is a man who bargains and  with Gd to save two cities full of strangers who
are really bad people but doesn’t open his mouth in defense of his son.

I think about my own life, and situations that might happen that might somehow
relate to this, for instance: if my father ever asks me to hike up a mountain
for no apparent reason, I might buy it, but that will change when I notice a saddled donkey in the driveway.

Three Friends, Three WWII and Honor Flight Veterans

Jack Hennessy’s handshake is still very strong at age
89. This enduring strength might be attributed to the rigorous training he
received decades ago as a member of the Glider Corps, a little-known part of
101st Airborne Division during World War II.

Last May, the father of four and grandfather of 10
received many firm handshakes of gratitude when he took an all-expenses-paid day
trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Honor Flight Network. Hennessy is
just one of 63,000 veterans of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars who have
taken an Honor Flight since 2005 to see the monuments built for their
sacrifices. The nonprofit organization is fighting against time to bring all
able WWII veterans on this trip.

“People were rushing up to thank me. People I didn’t
know from a pile of brooms were lining up to shake my hand. It was all very
moving,” said the Victor resident of the Legacy at the Fairways, about the
reception he received during his trip

Eight WWII veterans living at the Fairways have been on
Honor Flights, including Hennessy’s friends Bill Ryan and Ted Vangellow.

For each trip, the men were picked up in a limousine for an early morning
flight. They visited key monuments as well as Arlington National Cemetery for
the changing of the guard. They were treated to a dinner at the Washington
Hilton Hotel before their trip home.

Vangellow, who went in June 2010, said he was
overwhelmed at the recognition and appreciation he received from the public at
the monuments.

“People knew who we were because of our orange shirts. When we visited the
Iwo Jima memorial, a group of high school students sang ‘Amazing Grace’ to us.
That was a real tear-jerker,” said Vangellow, who served in the U.S. Air Force
in Europe.

Hennessy served in the 101st Airborne in a lesser-known
unit called the Glider Corps. All major invasions and operations of the war,
including the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, were heavily reliant on the
Glider Corps to fly supplies in behind enemy lines.

Hennessy said he “gets a little upset” that not many
people today know about the courageous contributions of the Glider Corps. The
paratroopers in the 101st Airborne were considered to be elite troops and
received extra compensation for their hazardous missions. The glider troops,
however, had duties just as dangerous, but got no extra pay.

(Page 2 of 2)

Hennessy enlisted in the Army in 1942 after he
graduated from Aquinas High School. He left in August 1943 for Europe, where he
helped set up camps in England in advance of the invasion of Normandy.

“The physical training to be a glider was pretty
grueling. We were up and working by 5 a.m. In the beginning, I thought it would
kill me, but I ended up in the best shape of my life.”

One exercise he remembers in particular was digging a
foxhole with his regiment. It had to have a roof strong enough to withstand the
weight of a tank driving over it.

“Our foxhole made it. The guys next to us, theirs fell
through, but they got out OK,” he said.

Though Hennessy spent many hours practicing in the gliders, he never went
into battle. However, many of his compatriots were killed in the Battle of
Normandy, as well as on the frontlines around Dusseldorf, Germany.

When the war ended in Europe in May 1945, Hennessey
spent additional months abroad studying at the American University in the
seaside resort city of Biarritz, France.

“The U.S. military took over all the town’s fancy
hotels and that’s where we slept. After sleeping for years in tents in old cots
during the war, it was heaven to lie down in a real bed with soft sheets,” said
Hennessey, who added that he loved being treated like a student and not like a

When he returned to the United States, he earned his
bachelor’s degree on the GI Bill at Syracuse University. He was 27 years old. He
met the woman who would become his wife, Veronica, and they raised four children
in the Rochester area. They were married for 58 years before she passed away in

Hennessey said although it is not like having one’s own
home, he enjoys his lifestyle at the Fairways, especially the friendship of
Ryder, Vangellow and other seniors he has met. They share meals in the dining
room, play bingo and cards, and go on trips to the Finger Lakes and Niagara

Hennessy is fighting another fight against cancer and
said that he is lucky that his daughter lives nearby in Fairport to take him to
his treatments.

As the country waits to bring home its next generation
of veterans from Iraq, the three WWII veterans also stand together in their
opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We have no business being there for so long. We have
lost too many good people,” said Hennessey.

They wish for the returning veterans an easy transition back to civilian

Stacy Gittleman is a freelance writer from

My name is transplantednorth and I blog for the trees

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

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

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

“It’s Malka”

“Who’s Malka?”

“I am. That’s my Hebrew name.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sadly, even trees don’t last forever.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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