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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This gallery contains 5 photos.
“Take a leap, and the net will appear.” “When you first fall in love, you feel like a better version of yourself. That is what travel does to me. Travel is my lover. I do not know how long the money will hold out, or if I will make any money by documenting these adventures, but for now, I am very happy.” – Carole Rosenblat
In the Sallie Mae 2013 study on how America pays for college which surveyed 1,602 families, the average family covers 32 percent of their college costs with grants and scholarships. The majority of families who received scholarships report having received them from the college (61%), although families also report receiving scholarships from community and nonprofit groups (30%), and receiving state-based scholarships (18%). In 2012, the average scholarship awarded was $6,355, the highest level over the past five years. The study also revealed that of the parents surveyed, 63% said that having a discussion about earning scholarship money was one of the most important conversations they could have with their child when preparing for college.
Read the entire article, my latest in a series of articles about financing college at road2college.com.
Next up: Private vs. Public college. How to choose? If you have a story about why you chose one over the other: (financial costs, class size, prestige) let me know.
For some us, it feels like we ourselves just graduated college.
How is it, that now we have children who are old enough to begin the college application process.
If you are a veteran college parent, or just getting started with having conversations with your teen about getting started down the path to college, I invite you read my series on the new online newsletter called road2college.
Reporter’s Notebook: Seeking expert sources (or those who learned through trial by fire) about College application process
I’ve landed a great writing project for an online newsletter called http://www.road2college.com. Yes, my blog posts may be sparse these days, but blogging has led me to real work. So, if you are a blogger and are wondering what it’s all for, if anyone is listening, keep going. Keep writing. You’ll get there!
Now, on to my neediness in finding some great sources who can speak on the biggest decision, and one of the biggest investments, a person can make, and that is choosing, and paying for – a college education.
I’m dividing my series into the following possible topics and need your expertise and stories:
- Private vs. Public education – These days, some are questioning the value of a high-priced private education and wonder if the same quality and advantages can be found for their student at a public university. At the same time, others say that private colleges offer individualized attention and career direction, better connections after graduation for securing employment, and larger endowments for scholarships and financial aid. Is the high price tag of a private university worth it? what are the pros and cons of each? For the middle class, what is the most economical: a state college, with lower tuition, or a private college with a bigger endowment and better chance to secure financial aid/scholarships, etc.
- Community college vs. Four-year institutions. To save money, there is a growing trend where students take their core requirements at a community college and then transfer them to a four-year institution. Is this easier said than done? Anyone out there who successfully transferred their credits from a community college to a four-year institution?
- Scholarships: There are so many out there that few students take advantage of. What are the best ways of finding a scholarship just for you or your student? What are the more unusual scholarships you or your child have attained?
- The role of the Safety School in the college application process – What are the benefits of applying to a school where your grades and SAT scores rise way above the average applicant to that school?
Looking forward to your wisdom and help! (and did I mention I needed this like yesterday?)
Saved for college and now there is no financial aid for you? is this absolutely true?
If you live in the same town where you’ve lived all your life, chances are you have big pool of people to pull from when, upon filling out the many forms one fills out in life, you have to list an emergency contact. There are parents, siblings, your best friend from the sixth grade who you still live near enough to make power walk dates every Wednesday morning after the kids get on the bus.
By the time I left Rochester, after living there for 14 years, I finally had two friends I could count on to list in the event of an emergency. Besides my husband.
The other night, I woke up from a dream screaming. I cannot recall the dream, which is unusual for me, but I do remember thinking that I hope I didn’t wake the kids because I screamed pretty loudly. Perhaps the nightmare was my body’s defense system kicking in, because upon being awake, I noticed a strange stabbing pain in my mid back.
At this point, I was on antibiotics for a bad bladder infection. You know, the kind that makes you feel like you have to run to the bathroom every ten minutes.
(Was that TMI? If so I apologize but this detail had to be added to frame this story and my frame of mind that night.)
I tried to relax. I tried to stretch out my back with some yoga on the floor. That did nothing. The stabbing came back and it was traveling from one side to the other.
I tried to relax some more, but the pain kept coming back. It was around 2:30 a.m. Scary thoughts kept going through my mind. Like how my grandfather, at the end of his life, needed dialysis. Was I going into kidney failure? Like how my mom has a history of kidney stones. Would kidney stones be my inheritance?
And that night, I had no one to wake and share my troubles with. Because the only person you should wake with such pains and thoughts in the middle of the night is your husband.
And my husband just left for a two-week business trip to Japan.
And I had three sleeping children who had to wake in a few hours to catch the school bus.
So, what does a transplant in an emergency situation do?
They try to diagnose themselves online. THIS is bad advice, because when you try to self diagnose online, the Internet proclaims that you may die within eight hours if you do not seek medical attention.
So, I called my new medical practice, the one that has known me all the way since … last month.
Contrast this to the OBGYN my mom went to: one doc, who delivered both my brother and I. My mom was his patient for decades until the day he retired.
A sleepy doctor called me up, listened to me list my symptoms over the phone, and told me it was not out of the realm of possibility that I might have a kidney stone, and if I did, I might soon be in excruciating pain and I needed to immediately head to the nearest Emergency Room.
“Feel better,” she said as she hung up her line and went back to sleep.
Trying to find some humor in this, I thought to the Seinfeld episode where Kramer passed a kidney stone.
Once again, my life is mirroring that of Cosmo Kramer. On a sit-com, kidney stones are hilarious. In real life, even the possibility of one is no joke.
So, at this point, I really had no choice but to drive myself, in the middle of the night, to the ER.
So here is what I did, and what I can recommend to you, if you are out there somewhere in a new city and find yourself in a similar bind:
- Go with your gut. Don’t feel stupid or think you are a hypochondriac if you think you are really in need of medical attention. When you are a new transplant, you are all you have for your family. Get help.
- Use Facebook – In the months I have moved here, indeed I have met some great people. Of course, nothing substitutes the comfort level from a lifelong friendship, but I already have a feel of who would reach out to me in a crisis. I wrote a FB message to some select new and local friends telling them of my situation. I gave them my cell phone number and that of my 16-year-old daughter and asked to please keep in touch.
- Keep using Facebook. When I was waiting for test results in the ER, I had no signal for my cell phone, but I could still use Facebook to see the flood of people who responded to my first message, who called to check in on my kids, who offered me whatever I might need. Including one of my new friends who visited me at 6:15 in the morning at the hospital. Say what you want about our addiction to social media, but in a situation like this, it gave me peace of mind.
- Teach your kids to be independent – This is something you can start doing right now. So when the time comes and you have to kiss and wake your teens at 3:30 a.m. to say “Mommy has to check in to the emergency room now, please wake yourselves up, take care of yourselves and make the bus on time,” they will give you a half-awake hug and say “Don’t worry mom, we’ve got this.” I don’t know if it was those summers at sleep-away camp, or all my years of nagging, but something worked.
- Pray. Seriously. The whole ride to the ER, I talked to God and asked Him to please watch over me and my kids. Please help me get through what ever I have to get through.
When I got to the ER, I felt like my prayers were somewhat answered. The ER was EMPTY. No one in the waiting room. I got triaged by a very nice nurse, was whisked into my own room, examined by a nurse and a doctor, had a CT and the results from my CT, all in the span of 4 hours. If you have ever been treated at an ER, you know this is neck-breaking fast.
In the end, my pain was NOT a kidney stone, but just residual pain from my bladder infection. But the doctor said I did the right thing by listening to the signals my body was giving me.
In the end, my friends here asked me why. Why didn’t I call them to take me to the ER? Why didn’t I call to have someone stay with my kids? Why? Because I know you are busy with lives of your own: kids, jobs. Because, maybe I’m not yet ready to try the strength of these limbs on these sapling friendships just planted two months ago.
In the end, I got home to see my kids out the door for school. They were dressed, brushed, fed, and packed their lunches. Their world went on without me. The sky did not fall because I wasn’t there one morning of their lives.
I hope you never have to go through the same scare I did when you are the new person in town. But know you can get through it too.
I’ve lived in New York City and in the Bay Area near Oakland and San Francisco. In my life I have walked the streets of Los Angeles, Toronto, Seattle, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
I’ve never shied away from exploring a city. You just have to know where to go and where not to go.
…can you guess?
“Have any of you ever been mugged?”
Back in the 1970’s and the early 1980’s, New York City carried a crime-ridden, grafitti and blight stricken reputation. Street crime, such as theft, murder, and yes, muggings, were at their height in the days when New York City had its own brush with near-bankruptcy.
But in those years of my childhood….none in my family was ever mugged, however many times we took the subway. I was taught from an early age the following streetwise tips:
- Always be wary my surroundings.
- On a subway platform, stand closest to the token collector booth and far away from the platform edge.
- On the street, walk like you KNOW where you’re going.
- Keep rings with stones turned in.
- Tuck necklaces in too.
- As far as purses, the most fashionable purse a woman can wear in NYC is the kind that can be worn postal style across one shoulder.
With this training in place, not much else impeded us from enjoying the city. My childhood was filled with urban memories like going to the Circus or the Ice Capades at Madison Square Garden, dining in Chinatown, the Lower East Side’s delis, or learning at the museums.
It was our city and NO we never got mugged.
Now, I live in Detroit.
Okay, I’ll ‘fess up. I guess you can’t say I live in Detroit. I’m a full-fledged suburbanite now. With the neatly cut front lawn and a fancy sign on the main road at the entrance of our “development” to prove it.
But in my heart, I’m an urbanite. I still long for the energy of the city.
One big problem here. I’m finding a hard time looking for some native Detroiters who are willing to show me around. There is too much history of bad times here. Too many suburbanites who have been victims of crime somewhere in their past.
The people here told me that I would love the suburbs. There is so much to do see, so much shopping in the suburbs. But downtown? No, they just don’t go downtown.
“I will not go downtown,” said one friend I’ve known for a while. The daughter of my neighbors back in Rochester, she is a woman who has lived in cities in China, Japan, who has ventured all over New York City. Now, she just takes her kid to the movies and the mall.
“I’m just boring here. And I’m telling you, don’t go downtown.”
I laughed into the phone. Nervously.
“No, I’m not joking. Don’t go looking to explore downtown Detroit. It is just not safe.”
Another source giving me advice about Detroit was my electrician. A life-long Detroiter, he told me the story of how his family all used to live in the city, but his grandparents’ home was broken into. His grandfather was beat up pretty bad. In his own home.
He then told me the story of how, as an older woman, Rosa Parks herself was mugged on the streets of Detroit.
“I mean, the mother of the civil rights movement! Can you imagine what thugs would mug Rosa Parks? I would not go downtown. No, Not even to the riverfront. I wouldn’t take my kids down there. Don’t go.”
Another stern warning came from the welcome wagon lady.
First, she reminisced about how once, Detroit could have been one of the richest, and one of the most beautiful cities in America. She spoke of the beautiful hotels and department stores like Hudson’s. Hudson’s where you could have your hair and nails done and your umbrella fixed while shopping for the finest fashions. And then you can dine at one of its fine restaurants.
We sat on my couch and I tried to envision what Detroit must have been like through her shared memories. As I admired the welcome basket filled with gifts like caramel chocolate popcorn and new dishtowels, she told me how her son last year was carjacked at gunpoint when he stopped to fill up at a downtown gas station.
Still, she encouraged me to at least go check out the Detroit Institute of Art. I certainly will, before the city potentially sells off its art collection to cover what they owe to their pensioners.
Some final advice from the welcome wagon lady:
“If you do go downtown, make sure you have plenty of gas. Don’t ever stop for gas below Eight Mile. And don’t stop for a red light at night. And If a cop does pull you over for running a light, be glad he did.”
This week is my husband’s final week in town. Next week begins his new beginning in Detroit but the beginning of my family’s long drawn out departure from Rochester as we yet again become transplants.
The sentence I have repeated hundreds of times to well-meaning family, friends, and acquaintances is finally here:
“Craig moves in March, I stay through June.” ‘
March is tomorrow.
As the move to Detroit moves closer, uncertainty clogs my brain and there are daily reminders that we are leaving Rochester. We know what we have here, we don’t know what we are getting there. It’s that simple.
But then my nine-year-old taught me a valuable lesson. However small, finding one certainty, one thing that will be a known each day might make this whole transplant thing a bit easier.
On a drive to school the other day, my youngest declared he did not like his current room. It was boring.
And he might be right on this one. His room was never intended to be a kids’ bedroom but a spare guest bedroom. It remains the same since we moved in 13 years ago, way before he was a glimmer in our eye.
It is beige. It is very plain.
But (AND PAY ATTENTION POTENTIAL HOME BUYERS) it is brightly lit, private, and has its own bathroom and a huge closet.
He continued to petition his case for a more exciting room in our future unknown home from the back seat.
“My room is really boring, mom, so I am excited to get a new room when we move that is NOT beige. And I want my room to be blue.”
“But there are so many kinds of blues, how will you know which one to pick?” I asked from the front seat.
“I don’t want aquamarine, or turquoise, or teal. Just original, plain blue. Like the blue in a Crayola box, the kind with only 8 crayons.”
And there you have it. One bit of certainty in this very uncertain time.
My son’s new room in our new house in our new town