A Man with a Map. A Woman with a Bottle. Couple work for Rwanda’s Future.
Sometimes, the constraints of print media causes editors and writers to make painful cuts to stories. I had a wonderful conversation with Ann Vodacek, my Brighton neighbor and wife of RIT professor Tony Vodacek about a simple solution that is being used to solve a pervasive problem in Rwanda – using plain water bottles to help purify drinking water with the power of the sun. For space sake, it had to be cut from the print version of my story in the Democrat & Chronicle. I thank both the Vodaceks for all their help with this piece and wish them luck as their work with Rwanda evolves.
Here is the full version of the story.
Tony Vodacek knows his way around a map.
The Brighton resident grew up in Wisconsin and spent summers navigating state and national parks on family camping trips. His wife, Ann Vodacek, describes him as a person who possesses a built-in global positioning system that comes in handy when taking family vacations with their three children in the Adirondacks.
While some people find going to new places disorienting, just hand Vodacek, a Rochester Institute of Technology associate professor, a map and he can locate his destination “in seconds.”
“I never have to ask for directions,” he said.
Throughout his life, Vodacek had an intense interest in maps and the information they reveal. This passion led him to a career in a field called remote sensing, which is the science of obtaining information about geographical areas from a distance, typically from aircraft or satellites.
Vodacek likes to keep and display maps that directly relate to his work. Posted on the door of his office at the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science at RIT is a relief map of the tiny African country of Rwanda. There are also photos from his last visit and labels from bags of coffee that represent one of Rwanda’s chief exports.
Vodacek’s friendship with former Brighton resident and RIT astrophysics professor Manasse Mbonye has evolved into a partnership between American and Rwandan academics who seek to advance this African country by providing its people with the knowledge to grow an information infrastructure and ultimately improve the way the water and land are used to create a stable economy.
Mbonye arrived in America as a Rwandan refugee child in the 1960s. After decades of living in America, he returned to Rwanda this year to accept a position as director of academics at the National University of Rwanda.
During his five visits to Rwanda — his most recent trek took place earlier this year — Vodacek met with Mbonye and many government dignitaries, and listened to their visionary optimism for Rwanda. The Rwandan people are trying to reconcile with their recent past and seek to advance this landlocked country with few natural resources by boosting its technology infrastructure and agricultural practices.
“Rwanda is striving to become self-reliant. It no longer wishes to be sustained by institutions like the World Bank. Mbonye said there is no other way for Rwanda (to succeed) except through education. The alternative to this is a dark path that has already been traversed,” said Vodacek, referring to the genocide in the mid-1990s where tribal divisions led to the deaths of nearly 1 million Rwandans.
Now, Vodacek is leading a multi-disciplinary international team of scientists and graduate students — backed with a $350,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation — on a two-year survey of the Lake Kivu system in Rwanda to collect scientific measurements to learn how human activity is threatening biodiversity. Vodacek and his graduate students will study satellite data collected over 40 years to unlock the story of this lake that rests among volcanoes and a mountain gorilla reserve, a lake that one day might erupt from volcanic activity to cause a natural disaster.
“Just like meteorologists use satellite data to forecast weather changes, I use remote sensing to forecast environmental changes,” said Vodacek.
If Rwanda is going to be a technologically advanced country, it is going to need more power. This power can be found at the bottom of Lake Kivu. The lake’s depth is 1,574 feet with fresh water above and saltier, denser water resting on the bottom. The saltwater and sediment at the bottom of the lake trap large reserves of carbon dioxide and methane, sort of the way gas is trapped in an uncorked champagne bottle. For now, the waters are calm. But according to geological studies taken from layers of lake sediment, the lake is overdue for a phenomenon called “turning over.”
Geological studies have found that about every 1,000 years, underwater disruptions in the bottom of Lake Kivu — such as a volcano or an earthquake — caused the denser, gas-laden waters to rise to the surface and release large amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the valley.
Those releases can be deadly. Vodacek pointed to an incident in Cameroon, where in 1986, a plume of carbon dioxide escaped from Lake Nios and suffocated 1,500 people while they slept.
If such a disruption would happen now, two million people living in the area would be at risk of suffocation. Possibly adding to the mix of disruption to the water is human activity like farming and deforestation. It is here where Vodacek’s research will be applied to see if human intervention might be another reason why gas pressure builds at the bottom of the lake.
Another man-made event that was evident in satellite images was the 1994 genocide. Photographs from space showed forested land in Rwanda that had nearly disappeared as fires were started and displaced people cut down wood for fuel during and after the genocide.
Whether or not human intervention will cause Lake Kivu to release noxious gasses, Vodacek did not need a satellite image to see evidence of deforestation around the lake due to farming practices and the burning of forests during Rwanda’s civil war.
As Vodacek drove along the shores of Lake Kivu, it was also easy to see just how hard it is to farm in a country that hardly has any flat land.
“People are trying to scratch out a living as subsistence farmers on deforested mountains. It looked like some of the farmland was nearly vertical in some areas,” observed Vodacek.
After decades of losing trees, the Rwandan government is studying ways to reforest its land. Remote sensing can help the country explore its options as it weighs the needs of growing food on farmed land versus protecting land and water quality by replanting trees. Should reforestation be widespread and allow for intermittent areas of farmland, or should some tracts of land be densely developed leaving other parts to turn over back to nature? Remote sensing over time can help study these scenarios and answer these questions.
“I’m excited to see what patterns and changes that will come about as Rwanda moves to reforest its land. This is all a very long term experiment and we are only at the beginning of it,” said Vodacek.
In any case, planting more native trees can only improve the quality of the water in Lake Kivu. Deforestation coupled with farming causes soil erosion, nutrient depletion and water runoff into the lake. These practices make for poor drinking water quality leading to water borne diseases especially among Rwandan’s children. It is this issue that has caught the attention of Vodacek’s wife, Ann.
A social worker by trade, Ann is in the beginning phases of working with Rwandans she has met through her husband’s work to improve drinking water by a method called Solar Water Disinfection, or SODIS. Used successfully in other countries like Kenya and India, it is a method as simple as killing harmful bacteria in drinking water by filling up plastic water bottles and leaving them to sit in the sun for six hours.
It’s that simple. The hard part, according to Ann, is gaining the trust and changing the habits of rural villagers.
Ann listened to the frustrations of a young Rwandan doctor who spent time in the United States to complete his residency.
“Rwandans who are studying medicine are trying to go back to their villages and teach mothers that it is not normal for children to suffer from swollen bellies or diarrhea. But it is going to take trust and some education for villagers to change this way of thinking,” said Ann. Improved health among Rwandan villagers can only lead to overall quality of life for the whole country, she added.
With friends like NPR and Egypt, who needs enemies?
New Jersey is its own independent country-state, and it borders with another state – say, Pennsylvania – that has cold yet peaceful relations. On another adjacent border, let’s pretend that Delaware, is a hotbed territory for terrorist activity bent on destroying the Garden State.
You are on a chartered bus headed down from New York City to Atlantic City via the New Jersey Turnpike. You are with the guys or some girlfriends to have a little getaway to kick back for a weekend of gambling and enjoying the nightlife of and beaches of this resort town. Then, out of nowhere, your bus is ambushed by some armed terrorists who snuck in from Delaware through Pennsylvania.
They shower the bus with bullets and kill several of the passengers on board.
In defense of this bus, New Jersey military forces swoop down on the attackers and kill some of them on the spot, no question asked. But some flee across a state border, a border that is supposed to be monitored by the military of this other country to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into New Jersey. The New Jersey military pursue the fleeing terrorists and as an indirect result, some border patrol soldiers die.
Then, it is New Jersey, not the bordering state, asked to make apologies by the international community.
Does this scenario sound ridiculous? From the perspective of most Americans, of course it is. For the most part, our borders are secure and generally peaceful. And American civilians are so rarely attacked by terrorist organizations.
But Israel once again is being criticized for defending herself after tour buses headed for the resort city of Eilat were attacked by terrorists (excuse me NPR, they are not militants) from Gaza.
I first got word of these attacks through social networking: friends in Israel posted links to the news on Facebook. I listened to NPR the whole morning and not a single mention of these unprovoked attacks on civilians by a terrorist cell from Gaza that infiltrated the Israel-Sinai border Israel shares with Egypt.
Only when an Israeli airstrike into Gaza killed several members of a terrorist cell and, unfortunately, a 13-year-old boy, did NPR report the news. And, why did NPR have to use language like “Israel wasted no time retaliating” and record the sounds of people mourning for the gunmen and those killed in an Israeli airstrike at a Gaza morgue? Did NPR list the names and find relatives of Israeli victims and record their crying?
As much as I love NPR’s coverage on any other topic, such as their summer reading lists from All Books Considered, and their cooking segments with Nigella Lawson, they have boiled my blood on Israel coverage for the last time. Don’t count on my support any more.
On the other side of the word, my daughter wrote me from Camp Ramah in Canada. She said that she saw her Israeli counselors crying and comforting one another after hearing the news from Southern Israel. These Israelis were not shouting for revenge, they just hugged and consoled one another. Because no one in Israel wants violence, because any reprisal attack could involve a brother, sister, uncle, or friend who is serving in the Israeli Defense Forces. Because many of these counselors themselves just got out of the army.
Though the news from Israel is horrible, I was glad that my daughter was moved by her Israeli counselors comforting one another. It will make her connection to the Jewish state that more tangible and real. She will hopefully reunite with these Israelis on our visit to Israel in December.
Because, yes, we are still going.
The Hunt for my next Human – Interest Story, that is….
This summer and hopefully for many months to follow, my editors have given me a new challenge – find interesting people to profile in the ROC East Towns of Pittsford, Victor, and Webster. Find people with a unique way of making a living or those who possess a hobby, craft, talent, or story in their past that sets them apart. And make the idea photogenic, and coordinate your source’s schedule with a staff photographer; because photographers have to make a living too.
Come on people, I know you’re out there.
How do I know this? Because within one walking block of my house, I have found interesting people that would make incredible subjects for profile stories. Artists. Gardeners. Mysterious Xylophone players. People who used to live in Nepal. But I only know these facts about my fabulous neighbors is because they are my neighbors.
And if all these people inhabit just one small block of Rochester’s eastern towns, then just imagine who else could be out there – other fabulous people with hobbies, businesses, causes, or talents that really make them stand out.
So, if you know of any such people and they are your Pittsford, Victor or Webster neighbors, won’t you please ask them if they might like to be possibly featured in the Our Towns section of the Democrat & Chronicle? If they are a budding entrepreneur, artist, musician, this could only be a win-win situation.
If not, I just might show up in a suburban development near you, walking the sidewalkless streets wearing a placard that says “Got Story?”
Community through a Cookbook: my Speech Before Hadassah
The other night, I was the featured speaker at the Installation Dinner of the Rochester, NY chapter of Hadassah. For those of you who wanted to know what I spoke about, here it is, all 20 spoken minutes of it, though changed slightly as I had some visual cues for some of the jokes. And some of the jokes, well, it’s a Hadassah thing, so you may not understand. Also, if you are not up on the Jewish faith, there is a LOT of jargon that you may not get, so if you want to skip this post, I will understand. But it was an honor to speak and a great evening I’ll remember for a long time.
Hadassah is an organization known throughout the world for promoting Zionism and Israel, supporting advances in medicine, and advocating Jewish education. Any art lover the world over surely knows about the Marc Chagall stained glass windows that grace the chapel in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital.
But, when I think of the Rochester chapter of Hadassah, the Rochester Hadassah Cookbook immediately comes to mind.
I have to tell you, I got this cookbook by way of Berkeley California. I had just become engaged to my husband, Craig. He was in graduate school. I was – uummmmm, hanging out and enjoying the California scene!
We got the Rochester Hadassah cookbook as an engagement present by way of a grad school friend of Craig’s named Mike. Mike was born and raised in Rochester. Mike came back to California after a trip back East and presented us with this book as an engagement gift from his mother.
And I said “Oh, Rochester. That’s somewhere upstate, like near Poughkeepsie!”
At that point in my life, I had no connection to Rochester outside of this cookbook. Rochester was the furthest thing from my mind. We were living in California but that was temporary for us East Coasters. Craig would finish his PhD, and then we were moving back to New York City, center of the universe!
We did move back to New York City. Well, New Jersey actually. Craig found a job in the suburbs and I also found one – in Manhattan. Complete with a three-hour round trip commute on New Jersey Transit!
I landed this great job at a growing high-tech public relations firm. It was a time when they couldn’t find people fast enough to perform quality account work for the burgeoning, brand-new high-tech industry. Ah, I miss the 90’s!
My boss was a stunning, statuesque blonde woman of 35. She had the corner office of our Park Avenue suite. To the north, her view faced uptown to Grand Central Station. To the West, she overlooked Park Avenue. She loved living the life of a single Manhattanite PR executive. However, she would tell us many times that her parents in Florida wished she would marry and give them grandchildren already. When she visited them, she instructed us to call her often on her cell phone, so her parents would see how important she was back at the office.
Sitting in my cube as a lowly – NO rising – account executive, I would imagine what it would be like to live that kind of life. Most of my co-workers were in their 20’s and single. Half their salary went to paying rent.
The other half – alcohol.
At 28, I was already the old married lady of the office, and Craig and I were starting our family.
After a few years and two kids later, we moved up to Rochester for Craig’s employment. It was then I learned that Rochester is waaaay further upstate than Poughkeepsie.
My company back in New York City still wanted me. They even offered to set up a virtual home office. But, reality set in. I was staring down at our first long Rochester winter with a one year-old and a three year-old as my only companions. I didn’t know a soul in town. Virtual office or not, I realized that building my social network here for my family would be more important than racking up more media hits for IBM. So, I politely said thanks but no thanks, and became a stay-at-home full time mom.
Stay-at-home moms rarely stay at home, as you know. Those first few years here, I spent most of my time at Wegmans, the Strong Museum of Play, and the JCC. When you’re the new mommy in town, people are very interested in getting to know you. I realized that the Jewish moms I was meeting were fulfilling the mitzvah to welcome new Jews into the community. We were invited as a family for Shabbat dinners on Friday nights and, during the week, playdates for the kids and I. I’ve heard that this courtship is called “mommy dating.”
More than a few times, I would eat something prepared by a prospective mommy friend and say,
“WOW, this is great, where did you get this recipe?”
And one woman after the next would reply, “I made it from the Rochester Hadassah cook book!”
And I would reply, “OHHHH, I have that cookbook, I’ve had it for YEARS! I think I’ll start using it now.”
The JCC opened up to me a network of great women who believed in giving their kids a Jewish education in early childhood. I’m now over the rainbow from my own kids’ preschool years and teach preschool myself. I am in forever debt to people like Tzippy Kleinberg, Andrea Paprocki and Emily Fishman at the JCC and later, Randi Fox Tabb at Keshet preschool for planting the very first seeds of Jewish knowledge for my kids. Now that I’m a preschool teacher, I see the appreciation parents show when their little ones come home singing “Shabbat Shalom – Hey” or say a bracha every time they put a cookie in their little mouths.
Becoming a new parent can be the road back to Jewish observances. In fact, a 2002 study by the Jewish Early Childhood Education Partnership described Jewish preschools as the Gateways to Jewish Life. The time to get young families rooted back into Jewish community life is when their children are between the ages of birth and three years of age.
I remember when my son Nathan was in his first year of preschool at the JCC. I had an “aha” moment – a moment you knew that the Jewish foundations you lay for your child are really sinking in – in all places but at Michael’s.
Nathan was just 2 ½. I picked him up at the J and we went schmoozing at Michael’s. From his seat in the shopping cart, he spied one of these big fake terra cotta gardening urns.
“Mommy” he said, in an angelic voice that only two and one half year olds have “They have a really big – Kiddush cup!”
By the way, Nathan is now well into his Torah studies as he becomes a Bar Mitzvah this November.
In addition to giving my children a Jewish education in their earliest years, being a stay-at-home mom afforded me the time to continue my own learning. When living in New Jersey, I admired women who could get up and read Torah on Saturday mornings or who were involved with other aspects of Jewish communal life. But my three- hour round trip commute into the city left time for little else during the week.
Why did I decide to learn to read Torah later in life? I have to confess, it’s the rush. I have to get my adrenaline rush somewhere. For one thing, I hate roller coasters. The only time I rode one was on a dare from Craig on the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. Craig jokingly said he would not marry me unless I rode the famed Big Dipper, a classic, rickety wooden roller coaster. As expected, I hated every second of that 60-second ride. But I guess it was a religious experience because I kept praying aloud to God to please get me off!
So, if I want to get my heart pumping, I sign up for a Torah reading.
I encourage more Jewish women to also get on this thrill ride. And don’t think, “I can’t do it because I didn’t grow up reading Torah,” because neither did I!
Growing up within my very Conservative synagogue in Staten Island, New York, boys preparing for their Bar Mitzvah were required to attend services on Saturday morning. Girls were required to go on Friday night. Girls would chant their Haftarah on Friday night and boys would be called to the Torah on Saturday morning. It was never questioned or debated if girls should have a larger role. That’s how it was.
We were taught that after our B’nei Mitzvot, boys were still required to go to shul but girls didn’t have to. Our rabbis, all Orthodox, said that girls were more spiritual by nature, thus relieving them of the obligation to attend services. They said if men were not required to go to shul, they would never go.
It’s true. Spirituality did come naturally to me. Each Friday night, I followed along with all of the melodies of Kabalat Shabbat. I never thought about the fact that after my Bat Mitzvah, I would not be asked to join a minyan if they needed a tenth, because I was not a man. I would not be asked to read from the Torah or participate in services. It made me feel as though I didn’t count, and on a certain level, as a Jewish woman, I didn’t.
That summer, my parents took our family to Israel, where I was to have a Bat Mitzvah ceremony at the Kotel! Imagine that! In my 13-year-old mind, I envisioned me chanting my Haftarah, the Kotel behind me, and all of Jerusalem listening!
Well, my actual “Bat Mitzvah” ceremony went something like this: I stood in a white blouse and a flowery skirt outside of the Kotel Plaza. I really did have a copy of my haftarah to chant. But a rabbi in a black hat from some agency handed me a siddur, and asked me to read the Shma in English.
“But, I have my Haftarah! And I can chant the Sh’ma in Hebrew,”
“That’s not necessary. You are a girl. Just read it in English.”
Tova Hartman, a lecturer in the department of gender studies and education in Bar Ilan University wrote in her book, Feminism Encounters Traditional Judaism, that living in Israel, she “knew there is no recipe or a structure on how to join Orthodoxy with feminism. In her own life, in order to give her daughters a model of religion she could live with, she had to form her own shul with a group of like-minded people, even if that meant she had to leave certain loyalties behind.”
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do have great respect for Orthodox Judaism. I admire their commitment to observing Shabbat, the hospitality they extend to guests on Saturday afternoons for lunch, and their dedication to a Jewish day school education.
I can also understand the values that Orthodoxy places on mothers as the first Jewish educators in a child’s life by being charged with creating a Jewish home. But even Blu Greenberg, author of How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, commented in her book On Women and Judaism that “leaders of Orthodox halacha (law) must recognize that the general effect of exempting women from prayer conditions them to a negative or indifferent attitude toward prayer altogether.”
My feminist notions aside, when I became a mother, I appreciated why it is that women are not obligated to participate in time-bound mitzvot which could interfere with their tasks of mothering. But what I cannot accept is where “not obligated” evolved into “not allowed.”
My horizons on the role of women in synagogue life expanded when I moved out to California. Aside from daring me to ride roller coasters, Craig encouraged and taught me how to lead kabbalat shabbat at the Hillel at Cal Berkeley. There, the rabbi was a woman. For the first time, I heard the matriarchs mentioned next to the patriarchs in the chanting of the Amidah. Women lead services, had aliyot, and read from the Torah. This was so common, in fact, that once, a non-Jew came to our services and quietly asked, “Are men allowed to read from the Torah?”
I learned how to read Torah at age 37 thanks to a six-week adult education class led by Chazzan Martin Leubitz at Temple Beth El. On the first day of class, Chazan Leubitz informed us all that he had signed us up to read Torah in six week. That would be our final exam.
For me, I have come to realize that learning Torah is not an exercise in perfection, rather an act of participation and performing the mitzvah of studying Torah as a full-fledged member of the Jewish community.
Connections in the Jewish community, actually, would you believe a conversation in the women’s locker room at the JCC – led me to landing my column at the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle. Writing this column has been a return to my first love of newspaper writing. It has also given me a reason to set up a home office, with a corner office in my kitchen. To the south of my lavish two square-foot corner office – I have an excellent view of the piles of laundry that pile up in my family room. To the East, there are dishes in the sink and groceries to put away. Directly before me is my blank computer screen, which I must fill with 600 well written words every week.
Writing my column is like riding a bicycle up and down a series of hills. All year long. On deadline day, I pedal the hardest. I do a lot of the writing – as I did this speech, in my head, long before I sit down to my computer. I think about it at red lights, on walks, on line at Wegman’s. Writing takes a lot of rewriting, moving paragraphs around, weaving and reweaving them until every word fits into place.
It’s like that feeling you get when you untangle a necklace.
Then, I hit send. And I can finally coast downhill, for about a day. I finally pick myself up from my cushy corner office to the mundane never-ending tasks of laundry and dishes. I also take some time to get in a workout. A shabasana, the restive pose at the end of my Wednesday night yoga classes, are divine and well deserved after hitting send on my column.
Then, the search continues again. Because most of my connections are in the Jewish community, lots of people pitch me with Jewish story ideas. But, I’ve had to gently turn a lot of them away. When it comes to my personal identity, I am a Jewish American. But for the sake of the wider audience of the Democrat & Chronicle.
I’m not a Jewish reporter, I’m a reporter who is Jewish.
Between the lines of my column, however, Jewish themes can still be found. A day devoted to cleaning up our parks or collecting unwanted pharmaceuticals – those are the values of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. Events that speak on helping care for our seniors or events at a senior center? That is Gimilut Hasadim – acts of kindness.
So I try not to comment or cover too many events or issues that impact the Jewish community.
Except for the recent incident where some teens were caught and charged with the hate crime of burning a swastika in Brighton. On the night before Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Rememberence Day. I had to speak out on that.
After a lot of back and forth with my editors, who questioned if such a heavy topic was the right fit for the Our Towns section, they agreed to keep my words. I thank them immensely for hearing me through on this. As I stated in last week’s column, I love covering the good in our communities. There is so much bad news in our world and I’m honored to be able to bring to readers news on events where they can participate and help out their community. But suddenly, this columnist who is Jewish became a Jewish columnist and I had to speak out. Because, what do we mean, when we are saying “Never Again?”
You have to remember that when the news broke, our community was immersed in daylong Yom Hashoah observances. Included in this was a community wide program for teens: a staging of the play “What Will You Tell Your Children” written by Rochester native Jessie Atkin upon her return from a Journey for Jewish identity trip in 2005, where Jewish teens from the United States and Israel spend time together here, visiting concentration camps in Poland, and finally in Israel. I’d like to thank Jodi Beckwith for directing the play and to our Jewish education leaders for bringing the event to our children.
And how was this play received by our teens, many who never experienced anti-Semitism first hand? To give you an idea – there were about 250 kids in the room to watch the 90 minute performance. Suzie Lyons, the director of Education at Temple Brith Kodesh, noted that only 11 kids got up the whole time to use the bathroom
Have you ever been on the receiving end of hearing a racial or religious joke? Usually, the joker defends his joke by saying – it’s okay, some of my best friends are: Black or Jewish, Chinese, you fill in the ethnic group.
On a positive note, I want to bring to your attention the overwhelming response of coming together in the Jewish and wider community. The morning after the swastika was burned, the Home Acres neighborhood had a vigil attended by Brighton Town Supervisor Sandra Frankel who called it a despicable act. In last week’s editorial page, the hate crime received a “thumbs down” by the D&C. There were several letters to the editor – one jointly written by leaders in the Christian and Muslim communities – condemning the act.
Our Jewish youth, many who know this boy, a student at Brighton High School, are struggling. They are searching for a rationalization why he may have done this, they think – there must be a reason, There’s got to be a reasonable answer.
Seventeen is an extremely vulnerable age where friendships run thick and rule supreme. And the apparent betrayal of a friend at age 17 is painful to accept. I’m sorry, but I don’t think that this young man was considering the feelings the Jewish kids he knew when he allegedly planned to burn a swastika. Or maybe he just thought it would be okay to do this as a joke, because after all, some of his best friends were Jewish!
Both boys have pled not guilty which means that they will have another hearing in town court on May 25. This leaves us with many questions. Was this an isolated event or should we fear a wave of similar copy cat crimes? Did these boys really understand the gravity of the timing of their act or do they truly comprehend what horrors were committed under the symbol of the swastika? And if they didn’t, where are we going wrong, in our school system, in our discussions at home, that we are not telling our youth enough about that very dark chapter in human history.
To leave you on a positive note about this, I want to tell you about the group of seventh graders I had the pleasure of teaching this year at Temple Brith Kodesh. They were absolutely dreamy, I mean it! While they are not exactly enthralled about learning about the minutia of the Hebrew language, the topic of carrying on Jewish identity, especially as they face post Bne’ Mitzvah life, keeps them engaged. On the Macro level, they have a very strong sense of who they are as Jews. After the swastika incident, the debate arose in my class whether middle school trips to Washington D.C. should include a mandatory visit to the US Holocaust memorial. Some students, in light of what just happened, thought it should be a priority to visit the museum for all students – Jewish and non-Jewish. Others thought that the serious theme of this museum would overshadow what may be the first time a young student visits our nation’s capital. But it was good to see my seventh graders debating and discussing, trying to work it out. And again, not one of my students asked to leave the class to go to the bathroom, can you imagine?
So, my advice to you tonight? I guess it is to maintain a focus in your life on Jewish education, from the earliest years of our children and well into our own adulthood. While raising a family, keep a hand in your own profession, however small, and as much as your family and your own sanity can handle. Mothering is the best job of all. But don’t disappear, don’t let your own individuality get folded and lost into the lives of your husband and children, just as egg whites get folded into the batter of a Passover Sponge Cake, which a recipe can be found within the pages of the Rochester Hadassah Cookbook. Thank you for listening.
Did you see any U.S. news coverage on the massacre in Israel?
I know it’s been a busy news week.
In Japan, an earthquake, tsunami and now a possible nuclear meltdown. I know that newsrooms are shrinking and international news bureaus are disappearing. But, still there was time and a news hole big enough to give coverage to March Madness, the unrest in Libya and a story on NPR of a man who returned to Calcutta to take care of his aging mother.
But what about covering the murders of five Israeli family members, including three small children who were murdered in their sleep? Nothing.
There only seems to be a need to cover Israel in the media when Israel faces worldwide condemnation for building an apartment building in Jerusalem. And the coverage of this apparent terrorist attack? Nothing. And the worldwide reaction? Silence. Why is this?
Here is a photo the surviving members of this family wanted the world to see. It is a brutal photo.
I was listening to the news and not one second of coverage was devoted to this story. Not on CNN. Or NPR. Not that I heard. Correct me if I am wrong, but did any American news outlet pick up this story?
I’ve been a newsaper columnist for over a year. Can you please spring for some business cards?
Some exciting news in my tiny little newspaper career. I have new towns to cover! One of them is Webster, NY. Their town motto: “Webster, where life is worth living.” Webster is 20 minutes from my house. And in the Rochester area, that may as well be another planet. So off I went last night to explore my new town, which rests on the shores of Lake Ontario.
I was invited to a mixer held by the Webster Chamber of Commerce. It was held at the town’s local branch of HSBC Bank It was hopping! Only 20 people registered in advance, but the headcount was over 60, according to the event organizer.
So many great people in one room to meet, introduce myself to and dig up new story ideas.
Until one embarrassing question came up. And it came up time and time again each time I circulated the room.
“Can I have your business card?”
“Errr, well, to tell you the truth, I don’t have a business card, but the paper is working on it!”
So, instead I came home with a stack of business cards which I will now send out my contact information, with a link to my column.
Yes, it was embarrassing, and perhaps a bit penny wise and pound foolish of the newspaper for not providing me with a business card after doing this column for over a year now. When I meet new people, unless I carry around a copy of my latest column with my mugshot on it, where is the proof that I really am who I say I am?
My editors should know how I delight in writing each column, and they know I do it for a paltry sum of money. They should know how my spine tingled just walking into a real, live newsroom when I met with my editors this week. They should know that someone from the Webster chamber said to me “heck, send me your information and I’ll cough up the $20 to make you a set of business cards.”
Even in this age of Blackberries and social networking, there is still a viable reason for carrying a business card when one is doing real networking.
So, kind businesspeople of Webster, thank you for trusting me when I said who I said I was. And I will be getting my box of those old-school business cards any day. I promise.
Please don’t Bend the Truth – aka LIE – To Reporters
In the town where I live, I come across many active, vibrant senior citizens. We work out on the treadmill or the elliptical machines side by side. I peek in on their senior exercise classes and think, that’s how I want to be when – if – I reach that age. I want to be able to still walk on my own, lift a medicine ball over my head on my own.
Many of the seniors that I met at a local senior center were indeed very active. They take classes like Zumba Gold. Line Dancing. I wrote a column about senior programming that was long overdue. I stand guilty of concentrating a lot of my column on more youthful topics, like short-sided soccer and children’s theatre.
The seniors at this center who had just sat down for lunch were thrilled I was there and made me feel very welcome. Okay, they made me feel like a movie star. They were charming and friendly and had some interesting stories to share. One woman told me all about the trips she went on in Elderhostel and all the art she has seen the world over. Intrigued, I asked her more about her life. She said before she had children, she was a professor of fine arts at a local college.
Really? A lover of art, a former student of many art history classes, I was intrigued. I wanted to know more about this woman’s career. She had to be in her late seventies, so having such a profession in her time must have been ground breaking. I sat and chatted a bit more with her friends at this one table, and parted happy and satisfied that I had my story.
A day later, there was a message on my voice mail. It was the woman who I interviewed. The fine arts professor. She said that she may have bent the truth a bit about being a fine arts professor, and she was up at night worrying that I may have printed it, and please don’t print it.
Honestly, at that point I had not even started to write the piece, but I was planning on making this woman a prominent part of my story. I may have even called her to do a separate profile. So, I went through my notes and put a red line through what were untruths. I didn’t call her back.
Days later, she left another message. She was so sorry she had lied and was “worried to death” that I had printed what she said. Poor woman, I called her back to give her peace of mind.
Turns out she was a very sweet woman, she just lied. She said she had applied for an academic position at this college but was not given one. I guess that her feelings of resentment and rejection were long-lived. I told her no worries, I had not quoted her in my story after her initial message.
There are many temptations in our lives to lie, especially if we look back on our lives and wish that it had been a bit more exciting, more successful. How many times have we seen celebrities and politicians apologize for bending the truth to the media? How many times have we seen an author of a successful memoir later stand up and admit that they lied?
There has been much coverage about journalists losing sight of their ethical responsibility to report the truth. As traditional journalism disintegrates into the blogosphere, the truth becomes even more muddled. Last November, Arianna Huffington spoke at Ithaca College about the emerging crisis in mainstream media, about how the media does not cover what really happens in our communities but instead focuses on bogus stories to get ratings. She specifically referenced last fall’s “Balloon Boy” fiasco.
So here I am, writing for a traditional print newspaper, focusing my column about everyday people doing good in their towns. But if sweet little old ladies can lie to a lowly freelance reporter like me for a story about a senior citizen center, really, what hope is there for truth in journalism?