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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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The Power Of Singing

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At Beth El Shabbaton, Joey Weisenberg will empower guests to unlock their musical and spiritual potential.

(originally published in the Detroit Jewish News)

To harness the community-building power of singing, Temple Beth El of Bloomfield Township welcomes the young and the young at heart to lend voices both harmonious and imperfect to a Shabbaton featuring renowned musician Joey Weisenberg. The uplifting event will be Feb. 26-27 at the Bethel Community Transformation Center (BCTC), 8801 Woodward Ave., the former home of Temple Beth El in Detroit.

Weisenberg, 34, the creative director of the New York-based Hadar Center for Communal Jewish Music and author of Building Singing Communities, will introduce melodies and methods of singing that blend Old World Chassidic niggunim with old-time American flair.

Working in the context of Renewal Judaism, Weisenberg has worked for the past decade to empower communities around the world to unlock their musical and spiritual potential, and to make music a lasting and joy-filled force in shul and in Jewish life. Now residing in Philadelphia with his wife and four young children, Weisenberg grew up in Milwaukee in a family with Midwestern roots that trace back to before the Civil War.

His parents were both trained musicians, and he grew up listening to classical piano from his mother as well as classical flamenco guitar from his father. Raised in a multi-generational traditional Jewish home, he remembers going to Shabbat services with his grandfather in nine different synagogues that spanned the spectrum of Jewish observance.

“My grandfather taught me there is something to be taken and learned from every denomination of Judaism,” said Weisenberg, who ditched a pre-med program at Columbia University to pursue the life of a professional musician, composer and teacher. “Above all, people connect to music because it does not speak in dogma but instead speaks in the language of the soul. [Singing] is the way we all become a collective heart, and we all become strings of David’s Harp in harmony.”

 

 

BRINGING PEOPLE TOGETHER

Weisenberg’s musical career started with playing guitar as a studio recording session artist and then touring the country and parts of the globe with musicians playing Brazilian samba, American blues and Klezmer.

After a while, he wanted to see what would happen if he moved the singing and playing music offstage to be where the people are, and to bring the audience into joining in with song. As he travels around the country teaching Jewish communities how to energize prayer through singing, including pockets of Jews in Alaska, Weisenberg wants to dislodge the notion that music and singing is just for kids.

“Some of the best teachers I have learned music with are two and three generations older than me,” Weisenberg said.

Rachel Rudman, 28, Temple Beth El program director, says the Shabbaton, the first of its kind in Detroit, is a way to “create bridges between suburban synagogues and younger, urban Jews.”

She said hosting the Shabbaton in the historic Beth El building enables TBE to reach out to millennial Jews seeking a neutral space to practice a highly spirited form of Jewish prayer. Weisenberg can deliver just the thing, she said.

“I have had several opportunities in my life to learn from and sing with Joey,” said Rudman, who recently returned to her native Detroit in 2014 after living in New York.

“When services are conducted in a tight circle and everyone is looking at each other and investing their voice in the prayer, you feel the energy coming from the people next to you. It really becomes a spiritual experience.”

The Shabbaton will begin with Kabbalat Shabbat services at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and finish with Havdalah, plus an extended song session on Saturday evening. Participants are welcome to bring sleeping bags and air mattresses to spend the evening. Services on Friday and Saturday will be a cappella style, but Havdalah and beyond will include drumming and strumming of guitars so participants are welcome to bring their instruments as well as their voices.

Cost is $36 for the entire Shabbaton or $20 per day and includes homecooked vegan meals and lodging at BCTC. For more information, contact Rachel Rudman at rrudman@tbeonline. org or (248) 325-9706. *

 

 

Justice Justice you Can Pursue, through PeerCorps

This winter, the headlines have been filled with two bleak stories coming out of Michigan: The Flint water crisis and the crisis in Detroit Public Schools.

At the center of both stories, the ones hurt the most are kids. Our kids.

In the sick-outs of Detroit, teachers have rightly refused to teach in buildings with overcrowded classrooms, schools that have no heat, or mold, or infested with rodents.  They are doing this not for selfishness but they believe that their students deserve better.

This winter,  Michigan made international news because of Flint.  There is now confirmation that state workers purchased gallon after gallon of purified water to drink iin their offices as recently as January 2015 as they assured Flint residents that the water coming out of their own tap was safe to drink.  It is a pretty safe bet that every child in Flint will have some degree of lead poisoning – poisoining that will forever alter their ability to learn and develop normally.

These two stories scream out injustice towards the poorest and powerless population in our state: black kids and their families.

Is it any wonder that we then hear the cries of injustice and the charges of systematic environmental racism? It is hard to turn a blind eye or ear to injustices put upon our children.

You may say: “Wait a minute, not my kid. Those are someone else’s kids. We live somewhere with great schools and wouldn’t you know it,  but we can actually drink and brush our teeth and bathe with the water coming out of our tap.”

But these kids indeed are our kids. They live right up the road in the same state.

This year, my suburban kid is getting ready for his Bar Mitzvah. His Torah reading has one of the most significant lines in the whole Torah: Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof – Justice, Justice you shall pursue.

Justice. So important it had to be said not once but twice. How do you pursue it? How can one person, one kid, living in a nice suburban cul de sac world, face down injustices that have gone on for decades? What can really one person do?

Sitting pretty here in suburban Detroit, it is pretty easy get comfortable in our isolation, our separateness or “otherness” from those living in our urban cores. I have come to know something after living in the Detroit ‘burbs for almost three years: the disconnect between urban and suburban, between the haves and have nots is palpable.

Sitting pretty here in suburbia can make one feel powerless to turn the injustices around.  And downright angry. But sitting around will do nothing. We may not be able to solve everything, but we have to contribute and try something.

There are bridges we can build, and one, in fact, is built right in with PeerCorps Detroit.  PeerCorps is a year-long mentorship program inviting Jewish teens, b’nai mitzvah students and their families from all denominations to build deep relationships with one another and perform community-based work in Detroit.

Last year, my son participated in one Track  of Peer Corps’ community building work in Detroit. Every other week, he would trek with a van full of other middle schoolers and their high-school aged mentors to the James and Grace Lee Boggs School in Detroit. There, he helped out with the younger kids in after-school care, played with them, read to them and most of all, got to know different kids in a different part of the city and to realize they all like to do the same things together.

This year, as he studies for his Bar Mitzvah reading which concentrates on pursuing justice, he will be tutoring elementary-age kids with Mission:City.

These are just two areas in where Peer Corps is building bridges into Detroit and doing what we can to let people living in the city know that someone cares and, however seemingly small a step we are making, we are trying to make it a step in the right direction.

To learn more about Peer Corps, come to Gesher Day at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue on Sunday, Feb. 28 to find out here how you and your middle-schooler can be a bridge between urban and suburban Detroit.

 

 

Sitting on the Floor. Thinking about Jerusalem’s ashes of yesterday and tomorrow. But please not tomorrow.

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ        (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

An Ultra-orthodox Jewish man puts his head in his hands, inside a synagogue that was attacked by two Palestinians earlier in the morning in the ultra-Orthodox Har Nof neighbourhood in Jerusalem on November 18, 2014. Two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers burst into a Jerusalem synagogue and killed four Israelis before being shot dead in the bloodiest attack in the city in years. AFP PHOTO/ JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is Tisha B’Av. I am well into my fast.

Now is the time of the day when the stomach really starts to grumble. Mornings of a fast are okay. That is the time when the faster says to themselves: What is eating anyway? Eating is more habitual than anything. I even made it to my garden to do some work this morning.

I am not observing an absolute fast this Tisha B’Av – literally meaning, the ninth of the month of Av. I’ve been drinking water and coffee throughout the day. But still, now that late afternoon is here, the hunger is sinking in. But I will dig in deeper. Mentally, I have not taken a fast from thinking deeply, and my troubled thoughts I allow to linger on this day, the saddest of the entire Jewish calendar.

Last year’s memories of Gaza’s war with Israel linger. Last week’s agreement with Iran, and what disasters it could hold for the future of not just Israel but the whole world, weigh heavily on my mind. As it should with yours, dear reader, however or wherever this lovely summer day finds you.

The outsider must see observers of this fast day pretty much as religious fanatics out of their mind.

Are you the average outsider? I’ll test out my theory. Check it out; Here is the crux of this day and the reason why some Jews fast and mourn today:

Over two thousand years ago, we the Jews had the Great Temple in Jerusalem.

On this day, a bit over two thousand years ago, on this very same day a few hundred years before that, not one but BOTH Great Temples were destroyed. One built by King Solomon, then another one five centuries later, built by King Herod . Both destroyed. The city of Jerusalem ransacked, on the same day.

Lots of other bad stuff happened to Jews on or around this day.

Through the centuries, some of our greatest leaders were killed in and around this date.

Through the centures Jews were expelled, from Jerusalem, from England, France and Spain, in and around on this date.

Because of that, that is why we fast. And in the days leading up to the fast, we don’t have fun in pools. Or chow down on burgers at barbecues. At the height of the summer.

So now is your turn to respond: You are in mourning in 2015, in modern times, for the destruction of a building? And the destruction happened

HOW many years ago? But that was then and this is now. That has NOTHING to do with today. Seriously, get over it! 

My I am getting dizzy now. 

I’m a religious nut, right? You’re thinking this. But the older I get, the more the messages of Tisha B’Av have to do with today.

In all honesty, I didn’t even know about Tisha B’av when I was a kid growing up in Staten Island. It was a summer holiday, and let’s just say that with an afternoon congregational Hebrew school education, it is safe to say that any Jewish commemoration that takes place in the summer is glossed over. Even not taught.

I only learned about it from friends who went to Jewish summer camp. So when my own kids went to summer camp, I decided to observe Tisha B’av.

You start the fast at synagogue sitting on the floor. Mourning brings you mentally to a lower, less comfortable place and you want to match this mood physically.  So you sit on the floor.

It is customary for the sanctuary lights to dim. Some bring flashlights or light candles to follow along in their prayer books.

Then, in a mournful melody, a leader or a group of leaders chant the entire book of Lamentations. Eicha in Hebrew.

The imagery in Lamentations is so very sad and graphic. There is no comfort. Gd has abandoned His Chosen People to be starved, stoned, burned, raped and humiliated by our worst enemies. There is no one to comfort them and no one to answer Jerusalem’s cries.

There are mothers sitting in the ashes of what were once the glorious golden-paved streets of Jerusalem. The passage of babies suckling the empty breasts of their starving mothers always gets to me. I can hear the cries of the starving in the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem as the Romans attempted to starve them out from behind the walls. You can smell the burning and feel the heat.

“The tongue of the suckling cleaves to its palate for thirst. Little children beg for bread. None gives them a morsel.” 

Fast forward a few centuries. Are the images that the author of Lamentations paints in the reader’s head any different or remote than those from the ghettos of Rome? Prague? Warsaw?

The foes set upon our sanctuaries…Our steps were checked. We could not walk in our squares.

Is it any different now? As Jews are afraid to openly show their Jewish identity and safely walk in the streets  In Paris? In Brooklyn? Even Jerusalem?

And the hardest lesson to swallow from the book of Ecclesiastes, is that the Jews of Jerusalem had no one but themselves to blame for their destruction. Gd turned His face from the because of their baseless hatred and pettiness towards one another. We were punished because, according to the author, we showed no regard for priests (we had priests, not rabbis during the time of the Temple) and no respect for tradition or our elders.

And how is this different now? In an age where commitment to Jewish education falls to the bottom of priorities, upstaged by everything else from soccer to scouting? Where learning about Jewish history has been scrapped for a bare-bones Jewish education that leaves nothing more than some tutoring lessons to learn how to pronounce some transliterated gibberish for a kid’s big day on the bimah?

I am hungry now. But the hunger has not made me melodramatic. I’m speaking from true experience here. And this is going widely unreported, why I don’t understand. Are we afraid to admit that in our comfortable complacency we are failing to transmit to the next generation their rich heritage?

Ask your typical Jewish kid if they can name one Jewish leader from modern times or ancient times. Ask if they know what countries border Israel, Ask them what Hebrew letters spell basic words like Shalom, Shabbat, and even Moses, and you might get a lot of blank stares.

Will these same kids, once they get off the bimah and for the most part, exit their Jewish education and find themselves in college five years, will they know how to answer in college to cries that Israel is a pariah of a nation, an apartheid state? Who will teach them their heritage and history then?

“The mouthings and pratings of my adversaries…Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles in the sky.” 

And now, we are faced with Iran becoming legitimized as a playing power, as a nuclear entity, in the eyes of the world. You don’t have to read every page of this deal to know this deal is a bad one. Will the world wake up in time?

“Our doom is near our days are done – Alas our doom has come.” 

The way I see it, those words could have easily been written today.

Perfect Prom

How can it be? Prom season has come and gone. My kids’ included. I’ll be writing more about that in the near future, about prom, about when to let their kids stretch their independence, and when to step in and protect when it comes to the literal roads of life, and boy is it hard to distinguish the difference. 

In the meantime, for a little while longer, let them enjoy the innocence of being a kid and read a story of how some high school kids reached out to fellow students who never dreamed about going to prom and how they had the time of their lives.

It was a pleasure to write this one in the midst of making arrangements for my own child’s prom night. It was a pleasant surprise to find out it had made it to a cover story:

Perfect Prom

Posted on June 10, 2015, 12:29 PM . Filed in Uncategorized. Tagged . Be the first to comment!

A night to cherish —for students of all abilities

Spencer Cohn of West Bloomfield had his heart set on going to his prom to seal his lasting memories of high school with a fun night out on the town. He knew just whom he wanted to ask, and with the help of a teacher and supportive friends, he had a night to remember at West Bloomfield High School’s Senior Prom, held at the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle in Detroit.

Going to prom was also a dream come true for Spencer’s mom, Melanie Cohn. Like all parents raising kids with special needs, the thing she wanted most for her son was acceptance by his peers.

“When you have a child on the autism spectrum, you always feel like your kids are on the outside,” said Melanie, who is a psychotherapist with a private practice in Farmington Hills. “When I found out there was a way that Spencer could go to prom, I was so pleased. He went and felt accepted as part of a group of friends. Isn’t that how we all want to feel?”

Six couples show their prom spirit before heading off to the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle for the big dance.

This acceptance in part came from a course offered in several area high schools called LINK. Also known as Peer-to-Peer Support, LINK is a course where general education students assist students with learning disabilities in classroom and social settings. The course’s goals include improving social, independence and/or academic skills for students with disabilities as well as helping students in the general population develop an understanding of individuals with disabilities. Students who enroll in the course may eventually pursue careers in social work, teaching or psychology.

For about three years now, through LINK, WBHS seniors with special needs have been transported to prom in their own limousine bus, thanks to a generous anonymous donor in the Jewish community.

Spencer’s prom date was Dalia Rubenstein, 16, a WBHS junior who took the LINK course this spring semester. Volunteering with those with special developmental needs comes naturally for her. Ever since she could remember, she has accompanied her mother, Shoshana Rubenstein, ACSW, to help out at JARC events for adults.

Through LINK, Dalia gained experience with learning how to more patiently interact with teens on the Autism spectrum and not to “rush to judgment” when conversations do not go exactly as planned. For example, sarcasm does not go over very well to those with very literal minds.

“You have to watch what you say, especially if you want to joke around,” Dalia said. “Sarcasm doesn’t work so you have to say exactly what you mean.”

Harry Cohn adjusts his son’s tie before he heads off to the WBHS prom.

Though their families had been friends for many years, Dalia became better acquainted with Spencer through LINK.

“People dream about going to the prom because it is the highlight of high school,” Dalia said. So, when he asked me, I said, ‘Of course, I would love to go with you!’ Since then, he hasn’t stopped smiling and talking about the prom.”

After Spencer asked Dalia, she asked a few of her friends — some were part of LINK, others were not — if they would like to go to prom with other kids with special needs. Altogether, six couples dressed up, met in the school parking lot to have their parents kvell over them and take their photographs before they boarded the limo bus to prom.

Even though he prefers wearing shorts and a T-shirt most of the time, Spencer sported a tuxedo for the occasion. He said Dalia looked “great” in her navy blue prom dress. He gave her a white corsage. At his request, Dalia gave Spencer two picture frames: one to hold a picture of them at the prom and one saved for a graduation photo.

Dalia Rubenstein and Spencer Cohn

“It was pretty fancy at the yacht club and I loved the music,” Spencer said the day after prom. “I wanted to go to prom because I knew it was going to be a great memory to have forever from my senior year of high school.”

Accompanying them on the limo bus was Janis Schiffer, a school social worker and a coordinator of the LINK program. Schiffer said that these couples going to prom together is proof positive of how LINK bridges the gap between students of all abilities.

In the end, Schiffer knew her students with special needs were in good hands with their LINK buddies at the prom. She didn’t need to be with them at all times to be their “friend.” Instead, she was present at the prom just like any other adult chaperone, hanging in the background and watching the kids having fun.

“I was overjoyed to see them all having a wonderful time,” Schiffer said. “After a while, you really couldn’t tell which of the kids had special needs and which didn’t. It is just what one would expect from prom night.”

By: Stacy Gittleman, Contributing Writer

West Hills Middle Schooler is all Smiles about helping Special Needs Children

lindseyWith an astute understanding of the power of delivering a smile, Lindsey Zousmer, a fifth-grader at West Hills Middle School, has got “magic” to do for disabled children receiving physical therapy at local hospitals.

Last month, she started a community service project called “Projects 4 Smiles” and is asking other kids her age to create small craft projects, such as bookmarks, bracelets or pins to give as gifts of encouragement.

To kick off Project 4 Smiles, Zousmer invited WHMS classmates in the fourth and fifth grades to come to school on Jan. 16 wearing funny hats and donating a dollar for supplies. Commun ity members may also donate any extra craft supplies they may have at home: decorative duct tape, buttons, extra scrapbooking supplies, glitter, beads, glue, markers, cardstock or string will do the trick. Drop off these supplies at the office at West Hills Middle School, 2601 Lone Pine Road in West Bloomfield, where a special Project 4 Smiles box has been set aside.

The idea came to Zousmer after shadowing her mother Stacy Agree Zousmer, a pediatric physical therapist, at work at Beaumont Hospitals on days she had no school. It was there that she watched children with disabilities struggle to accomplish simple tasks that most children her age can do with ease.

“My mom explained to me how some of these kids can be very successful even with the disabilities and/or the conditions they have,” Lindsey wrote in a letter to the entire West Hills Middle School community. “We want to encourage them and make them aware that they are just as capable as we are.”

Ultimately, she wants to collect enough crafted gifts and then video or photograph the expression of joy on the children’s faces to show her classmates back at school “just how happy they can make others when they give a small gift.”

The project is a product of Bloomfield Schools’ Primary Years Programme (PYP), which engages children in the district’s primary grades to be socially aware and responsible through action. Kathy Janelle, the district’s PYP coordinator, explained “education must extend beyond the intellectual to include not only socially responsible attitudes, but also thoughtful and appropriate action.”

Stacy Agree Zousmer saw how important it was for her own children to meet her patients and also to volunteer at the Friendship Circle.

Lindsey’s family extends many generations in Detroit. She is a descendant of the founders of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, who established the congregation on the principles of social consciousness.  She attends religious school at Temple Israel, where she learned about the Jewish obligation to help those in need through g’milut chasadim, acts of loving kindness. In her letter, she said her mom serves as her biggest example for caring for others.

“Not only is Lindsey a natural caretaker, but she also finds common interests with these kids because they are her peers,” her mom says. “She loves to help them realize their potential and feel good about themselves. At the young age of 10, Lindsey is truly beginning to understand what it means to pay it forward.”

The things I’ve learned from Community Theater

mmcastWordlessly, a bearded man dressed completely in black pointed at me and gave me directions.

“Hold this.” He whispered, shoving a clump of black curtain into my hand.

“When Frumma Sarah finishes singing, open the curtain from here very quickly so we can wheel her backstage,” the man in black ordered. “This will be your job at every performance.”

And just like that, I had my first job in community theater. While my son was doing his thing onstage being a shtetl boy, I had my part backstage helping Fume Sarah get offstage. And I did my job proudly, all the while pantomiming Frumma Sarah’s motions and words, with another stagehand who I had not met until that final tech dress rehearsal, every night I was not in the audience watching my son with pride.

I was a suburban mom. This other stagehand was a young woman at most in her 20’s. We had never met before that night, but though “The Dream,” we had an instant connection. And at that moment, I realized: I am not a soccer mom. I am a stage mom!

That was last year, the year my son came home buzzing about how he wanted to audition for Fiddler on The Roof with a local community theater group. He heard about it from a poster hung up at his new school. I drove him to every rehearsal and instead of dropping off and running home or going for coffee, I hung around.

This year, I was asked to serve on the board, and perform on stage, as a member of a long-standing mainly volunteer community theater group in the Detroit Metro Area.

As a transplant, getting involved in community theater has proven the best way for me to plug into a community. Now that the curtain has closed on our most recent production, here is a few things community theater has taught this newbie:

You cannot produce any old show you want – Planning to produce a show in community begins nearly a year before opening curtain. Music Theater International has strict licensing guidelines and a catalog of shows available for community theater production that is regularly updated. Nothing running on Broadway, or that is a Broadway national tour, can be produced. And licensing rights for some musicals, especially the Disney genre, are extremely costly. Being that our company is geared to be a family, multi-generational theater company also restricts our choices. Hair and R.E.N.T. are definitely no-nos.

 Everyone counts: To the untrained eye, a theatergoer might think that the female lead with the canary-like voice or the dancer with the highest kicks or the tenor with the sweetest crooning is the most important facet of a musical theater production. But the ones you see on the stage, we are just mere puppets. It is everyone else: the sound engineer who follows the script line by line during every performance, whose fingers fly across the soundboard making sure your mike is hot only when it needs to be,  the stage manager and their fearless tech crew who wheel stage sets around 180 degrees or pull the grand curtain open and shut within seconds, they are the backbone of any good production. As is the props master, whom months before opening curtain thought of every detail, and where it needs to be when not on stage, who matters. As is the costumer who hunts around at thrift stores and begs borrows and steals if she has to just the right costume from other community theater groups, who is up late at night sewing and resewing hemlines and taking in trousers, that’s who matters in a show. Not to mention (and OF COURSE they need mention!) the multi-piece orchestra that plays at your feet from the pit, whose musicians will even throw in their own laughter if a joke onstage falls flat. I don’t understand why they can’t join us on stage for a bow each night.

You gain an insane appreciation for people who actually want to do musical theater for a living  – As much as I loved being in a performance, towards closing night I was wiped. How do people do this and keep it fresh, some for 3,000 performances in a row? Maybe it is because most of our company is slightly older than professional Broadway stars. But Broadway stars, for eight performances a week, have to give it all to their audience, even when they may not have it all that night. Even if they are under the weather. Or had a fight with their boyfriend. One night, while driving to rehearsal, I heard Seth Rudetsky on the XM Broadway Channel interview an actor who passed a KIDNEY STONE on stage while he played Horton in Seussical the Musical. After all, the show must go on, and the paying audience does not care if you are passing a kidney stone. When you need to be on stage, you must be on stage. Even if you have to pass a kidney stone. Or even pee. Yes, perhaps of all the things I learned about being on stage is that performers do not get to use the bathroom any old zany time they want to. For thousands of performances. Yet, they have to keep themselves hydrated? How is that all supposed to even out?

Hair and Makeup – This again speaks to the immense appreciation I have gained for professional actors, because this business is way too high maintenance for me, an otherwise hermit-like writer, when it comes to tending to hair and makeup prep that is worthy of the stage. To get myself ready for performances, I spent hours watching Youtube videos on how to create the perfect Gibson Girl updo from the Edwardian era. I found videos on proper contouring and learned how to apply blush not to my cheekbones but underneath.  The first time I tried to apply my makeup, I looked more like a Geisha girl than someone who lived in River City, Iowa, but thanks to our volunteer makeup artist, a woman in her 40s who is also a national champion figure skater (!!), I got it looking just right.

Community Theater is not high school theater – You know where my favorite place in the theater is? Not on stage, under those hot bright lights, but deep backstage. Where the darkness is lit only by a string of lights. Where the smell of sawed wood and paint lingers in the air.  Where you can find random things like an old stove or a stripped down Chevy Convertible from shows past. Graffiti that says things like “Best Cast Ever Guys and Dolls ’86” Because if only for a second, I can pretend I am backstage in my own high school. But this is not high school theater, even if this may have been the high school of others for many decades. It wasn’t mine. And as a transplant, few, if any of the audience members knew me, let alone knew me from high school. I also got that lonely transplanted feeling after performances, watching my fellow cast mates surrounded by adoring family and friends, awkwardly balancing bunches of flower and candy in their arms while they posed for a picture. When you are a transplant, this post-performance shower of adoration can feel a bit thin.

*sigh*

But this post is not about being a transplant. It is about showbiz! So let’s move on:

Breath Support, Personal amplifier – Just as a choreographer tells a dancer how to move their body, a great vocal director will tell you how to move your lips, teeth, tongue in such a way that you would believe that you never knew how to move your lips, teeth,  tongue and even the roof of your mouth (did you know you can move the ROOF of your mouth?) before he taught you. Every note has choreography and a dynamic, and a good musical director will get this out of you if he has to beat it out of you to make sure you are sounding like a well-supported ensemble, a chorus capable of producing that building wall of sound. You might think that singing in the shower or singing in your car is singing, until you have taken actual formal instruction from a musical director. There really is a difference.

Community Theater truly is a community– My son discovered something that I learned this year. Yes, the cast and crew become like family. After all, in the intensive weeks leading up to opening curtain, you will see them more than your actual family. They are there for you – totally there – to celebrate your birthday, to say a community prayer of healing if you have a loved one in the hospital, to root for you if you are waiting on that job offer after months of unemployment. They are there for you to change you out of one costume and into another in under 90 seconds. Or loan you a favorite antique hatpin to keep your hat from flopping over your face, because, really, who owns hat pins in this century? They are there for you to hold your hand and wipe away a tear when it all becomes too overwhelming. And, if your cast is lucky enough to contain some medical professionals, they will do what they have to do to keep you healthy for those crucial last rehearsals leading up to opening night. Believe me. A month after closing curtain, and I am going through deep withdrawal missing my theater family. I cannot wait to do it all again next year!

The Play’s the Thing: Bloomfield Players Music Man runs January 23-31

The Music Man, being performed Jan. 23-31 at Bloomfield Hills High School. For details on performance times and ticket sales, go to http://www.bloomfieldplayers.org or call Call 248-433-0885, M-F, 8am-4pm.

Got a Sweet Tooth and a Big Heart: Attend Camp Mak-A-Dream Benefit Oct 16 at the Somerset Collection

image 8Was honored to write this piece that appeared in the October 9, 2014 issue of the Detroit Jewish News. I hope I did right by the young lady featured in this story, who, attended Camp Mak-A-Dream for three summers. Catherine is now a student at Arizona State. who has become a champion for speaking out and speaking for coping with living with brain cancer. 

 

When Catherine Blotner of West Bloomfield was 17, she underwent a risky brain surgery procedure to remove a benign yet deep and invasive brain tumor that for years was causing seizures and threatened her vision and hearing. The doctors said the surgery could cause permanent speech and cognitive loss, and even the loss of her ability to walk.

Now, Blotner is 19 and a student at Arizona State University studying family and human development.  Not only did she keep her ability to speak, she is a blogger and founder of #btsm (brain tumor social media), a monthly Twitter chat open to anyone seeking resources on treating brain tumors.  Neurologists and healthcare professionals seek her out for speaking engagements and conferences focused on people coping with brain illnesses. On the back of her business card: her twitter handle – @cblotner, plus a photo of an MRI of her brain.

Her mother, Ann Blotner, attributes her daughter’s confidence, coping strength, and leadership qualities in part to the summers she spent as a camper at Camp Mak-A-Dream –  a free camp under the big skies of Montana for children and young  adults with cancer.  She has been both a camper and a counselor there, including the weeks leading up to her life- altering surgery.

“Through Camp Mak-a-Dream, Catherine has become confident and connected into a supportive network of healthcare professionals as well as a peer group who are going through similar health challenges that have changed their lives,” said Ann.

The Michigan Chapter of FRIENDS OF CAMP MAK-A-DREAM hosts its “sweet” 16th annual   “Cookies n’ Dreams” fundraiser 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16 at the Somerset Collection in Troy. Food, beverages, entertainment and activities for all ages will be provided throughout the evening.  Admission for adults is $60; children under 17 pay their age and children 3 and under are free. For more information go to Camp Mak-A-Dream

According to Peter Grimes, the organization’s executive director, the long-standing event has attracted “eager sponsors” and area bakers donating hundreds of cookies as well as their confectionary time and expertise to the family-friendly event.  The bake-off expects to draw 600 attendees and raise at least $130,000. Funds raised in Michigan pay for the camping and transportation costs for 70 children from Michigan. Grimes added that former campers like Blotner come back to volunteer as young adults and offer support to the campers through talks and workshops.

The camp was founded by Sylvia and the late Harry Granader of Beverly Hills, Mich. Granader owned several McDonald’s restaurants and founded several Michigan-area Ronald McDonald houses. He donated 87 acres of Montana ranch land to build a camp especially created for children and young adults facing life-threatening diseases such as cancer and brain tumors. The camp welcomed its first campers in 1995. Since then it has hosted more than 6000 children and young adults, offering typical camping activities such as swimming, a ropes course, archery, hiking, arts & crafts as well as a state of the art medical center, staff and volunteers to allow the campers to get cancer treatment while they are at camp.

 

Hadar Granader of Bloomfield Hills wishes to carry on his brother’s legacy of granting sick children a summer out in nature where “no child will feel embarrassed or laughed at because of their illness.”

“Life is especially hard for kids with cancer because they become cut off from everyday life and healthy kids have a hard time relating to them,” Granader said. “At Camp-Mak-a-Dream, children with cancer get to bond and share memories and friendships that help sustain them long after the summer is over.”

For You: I will believe in what you cannot see. I believe in Unicorns

annaschwalbIt has been an awful time, in a time that should feel like a time to be happy: The Jewish New Year and all the possible bounty it can hold. 

This is in memory of a child of my friends. A child who even Gd seemed to cry as the heavens opened up with pouring rain to match the tears inside during the funeral. 

This Obituary for Anna appeared in this week’s Detroit Jewish News. May her memory be for a blessing. May she always be a reminder to us adults of innocence, and may we try to hold onto that innocence and joy and wonder, even as sometimes cynical adults.

 May her family know that, though we cannot diminish their deep sorrow, we can bear some of it, if just a tiny bit, for them, and we have strong arms to help them through the weeks and months ahead. 

Anna Hendren Schwalb, five, of Ann Arbor, died October 1, 2014 as a result of injuries suffered when she was struck by a car Friday, Sept. 26, while walking home from a family Rosh Hashanah celebration.
She was the beloved daughter of Dr. Jason Schwalb and Dr. Samantha Hendren and cherished sister of Jessica Hendren Schwalb and Joseph Hendren Schwalb.

 

She is also survived by loving grandparents Carla Page and Robert Hendren; Rabbi J. Fredric Schwalb and Joanne Landau, and Ellen Kahne; great grandparent Sam F. Mineo; and aunts and uncles Christopher and Melinda Hendren, Micah and Katie Schwalb, Benjamin, Amit and Zhenya Schwalb. She is also survived by many loving great aunts, great uncles and cousins. She was also loved and cared for by her devoted nanny, Christina Linguidi.

 

The family would like to express their gratitude for the world-class care provided by the medical team at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor

 

The funeral was held 10 a.m. Friday, October 3 at Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor and attended by hundreds of mourners, followed by a private burial.

 

Anna’s golden curls and wide smile brightened every room she entered. She loved to sing and lead songs at her preschool at the Jewish community center of Ann Arbor.  She was a happy participant at Tot Shabbat services at the Beth Israel Congregation in Ann Arbor.  This fall, she happily adjusted to kindergarten at the Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor. She always made sure everyone was included in playgroups. She loved her friends and upon returning from school, created paintings and drawings for her friends and family.  Annie used to say that when she grew up, she wanted to be a nanny or a teacher. She loved purple and believed in unicorns.

Donations in Anna’s memory may be sent to the Hebrew Day School of Greater Ann Arbor by visiting the school website at http://www.hdsaa.org/site/giving or mail a check to Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor; 2937 Birch Hollow Drive; Ann Arbor, MI 48108 or call (734) 971-4633.

 

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