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It’s New to Me: A night out at Detroit’s Fox Theatre

I need to get out more often. And by that, I don’t mean dinner at the Outback and a movie at the local suburban multiplex.

I am going to put this blog post into a new I-know-you’ve-lived-here-all-your-life-but-ya’ll-it’s-all-new-to-me category. Because, I know all of you Detroiters know all about the Fox Theatre like I know about Radio City Music Hall (but hey, real New Yorkers  know a trip to Radio City is just for TOURISTS).

But for me – the New Yawker newbie, a babe in the urban D woods –  I am loving discovering my new city.

Last night, I had my first nighttime visit into Downtown Detroit. We were invited out by the same very interesting new friends (the ones who press their own apple cider) to a benefit to support the Jewish Association for Residential Care.  The featured act: The Rascals.

You know, the Rascals:

My husband and I still don’t know how to get around downtown. ( I really don’t understand how to traverse a metropolis  without a subway system.) They offered to drive. We happily accepted the ride.

Driving down highway 10 at night to downtown Detroit, you really get an understanding of just how blighted some sections have become. As you leave suburbia for downtown, the highway submerges, and what’s left of neighborhoods peek out from concrete walls that rise to the right and the left. Every now and again you get a glimpse of houses. Completely dark. What’s left of houses. What’s left of churches. And stores. And housing projects. Empty shells. Dark and lonely.

And then, reaching downtown, the lights, and life, emerges again.  If just for a dozen or so square blocks that house the city’s businesses, theaters Detroit nightlife post baseball season is still trying to go on.

Though Comerica Park now stands quiet, it is lit up. Giant stone tigers roar into a post-season sky and roar into a mostly vacant parking lot. I make nice to them and promise I will come cheer for the Tigers (because they don’t play against the NY Mets) come the spring.

credit: DetroitDerek Photography

Across the street stands the glorious  Fox Theatre:

20131114_190536Built in the grand style of the 1920’s, when auto manufacturing was in high swing, it has a 3,600 square foot lobby and a grand auditorium that seats 5,000. And every square inch drips with restored opulence snatched from the mouths of the Blight and Decay demons that caused many of Detroit’s architectural treasures to crumble or lay in waste.

Though I wasn’t that excited to see this 60’s band, it was the venue itself – plus a fundraiser supporting independent lifestyles for adults with disabilities –  that made me plunk down the cash for the tickets.

“I bet you have been craving for a night like this in the city,” my friend said as we crossed Woodward – a main thoroughfare in Detroit that is far wider than any avenue in Manhattan.  Outside the theatre, a small crowd gathered and a ragged group of street musicians played and asked for change.

Oh yeah, I miss going out into a city for some nightlife. I miss packed sidewalks and even further packed subway cars.  Even little Rochester had some hopping areas, some beautiful theaters, jazz spots and restaurants for entertainment.

I stepped inside the lobby.  I knew I had to make my way to will call to get our tickets. I knew I should have been more friendly and engaged in conversation  with new friends in the community who made their way over to say hi. But they had already been in the Fox theatre. They had lived here most of their lives. This was all new to me.  And I was having trouble keeping my jaw from hanging to the floor:

The grandeur of the Fox Theater lobby made me happy and sad all at once. Happy that this gem has been restored and saved from blight and stands as a reminder of what Detroit could be again. Sad to think of all the other architectural treasures of the city – other theatres, the Central Train Station, hotels, schools, mansions, homes – that just lay in waste, I thought of the Heidelberg Art project that arsonists just burned to the ground. Again. Before I got to set eyes on it.

We spent the night listening to the Rascals play with new friends and some JARC residents, who quickly befriended us and were happy to sing and dance the evening away, even though I thought the Rascals depended very much upon their multimedia show than pandering to the crowd:

After the show, the city was dark. No bars open. No restaurants to spend our money in. Just a few lingering panhandlers and straggling musicians. So, back to suburbia we went for a late night bite to eat.

We really wanted to spend more money downtown. But there was nowhere open to spend it.

This is not the city that Never Sleeps. Not even by a long shot.

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My Sandy Project for Staten Island

IMG_0764[1]Kids love their stuff. Their toys, their blankies, books and games.

Imagine being a kid, who, on top of losing all your favorite stuff, you’ve lost your home too.

Imagine being a mom trying to cope with all that loss. And at the same time, trying to get through all that red tape of  filing claims with insurance companies and FEMA.

A few small things, delivered from up north,  just might brighten your day. Even if it’s just a new bottle of berry red nail polish.

A few weeks ago, Susan Bernstein, Director of Education for Temple Beth El in Rochester, told me she had been in touch with an old friend in Staten Island. That friend, David Sorkin, happens to be Director of the Bernikow Jewish Community Center in Staten Island.

The two are collecting “stuff” –  books, toys, crafts, games, and other small luxuries – for those who have lost everything on Staten Island.  The “stuff” will be distributed to hundreds of clients of the JCC now living in shelters throughout Staten Island. These families, some of them living on the brink of poverty even before the storm, just need some sense of normalcy. It’s not much. Toys, books and beauty products may be just a small diversion as these families grapple with long-term struggle of rebuilding their lives and homes.

The only challenge – Rochester and Staten Island are about 350 miles apart.

Susan then asked my husband and I if we had room in our car to drive the donations to Staten Island.

Now, packing a family of five for a car trip is no small task. The family SUV will be crammed with suitcases, bookbags, snacks for the road, and don’t forget my son’s guitar. Then,  there are those growing bodies that used to fit so compactly in an infant seat. Those ever-growing lanky teen and tween legs have taken up the room we once used to stow away all the extras.

No, I have no room in my car. But I’ll happily take all the stuff anyway. Happily.

There is all the room in my heart for my ravished hometown, Staten Island. I have seen the photos and have been following any speck of news from my hometown.

I can’t wait to go home. I know that seeing the devastation with my own eyes is going to be really hard.

In my phone conversation with Sorkin, he asked me to imagine a 4-foot storm surge reaching all the way up to Hylan Blvd. My brain just can’t process. All those businesses, many of them still not up and running.

Since Sandy hit, all I have wanted to do was go home and help.

So, I thank Susan for getting this project started with the JCC of Staten Island. I thank my rabbi, Sara Friedson-King, for letting me make an appeal to the congregation during Shabbat morning services. And I thank my Temple Beth El family for all the donations that will truly make someone’s day a bit brighter.

So far, in addition to the donations in the above photo, there is also an entire barrel of donations waiting for me at synagogue.

I’m putting a hitch on the family car. Renting a U-Haul. Where there is a will there is a way.

Staten Island, don’t worry, I’m coming home to help.

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!

and that

was that.

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.

Feeling out of my League in the Company of Great Jewish Women

I’m going to start by saying this, bluntly:  If I was making money — real money — it would be good for the Jews. 

What I do now – educate the next generation of the Jewish community – is still good for the Jews. But, to be honest, it is still not as appreciated as a donation of the green stuff. I couldn’t help feel it this week when I attended a community fundraiser.

Now, I don’t play the lottery, I don’t gamble and I don’t believe in any get-rich-quick schemes. But, oh, if I were a rich girl, I would be so good at it. I would give a good part of it away.

But I’m not, and I can safely bet that with my liberal arts degree and my inability to get a career in public relations back on track after a decade raising our three children, I never will be. 

I am happily, yet vastly, underemployed. I work three jobs: two in Jewish education, one in my originally intended field of journalism. And, waking up to the news this morning on National Public Radio, that companies are no longer hiring the long-term unemployed or underemployed, it looks like this will be my status for some time to come, if maybe for good. 

I guess that, being a graduate of Rutgers University’s Douglas College, I was supposed to be a liberated, financially independent woman by now. I still feel I must make my own money. 

My dear husband constantly reminds me that what I do – teaching the Aleph Bet and all the holidays and traditions to Jewish children – is an invaluable service to my community. He also reminds me that without me to raise our children full-time, his career could never have ascended to what it is now.

Even so, I can’t help but look at my own net worth. If not for my husband’s income, my three jobs wouldn’t even put me at the poverty line.

This post may seem controversial to some and may get me in a bit of trouble. And I do so appreciate the power of women’s philanthropy and the generosity of the many women in my community who are of means, who are generous and who can wear the pins to show it.

But, I am sure I can speak for my fellow Jewish educators, and especially Jewish early childhood educators, our contributions, if you had to value them in the form of a monetary gift to the Jewish community,  are vastly overlooked.

According to the Jewish Early Childhood Early Education Initiative, today’s Jewish preschools are more than places that care for young children during the day – they are becoming centers to engage and re-engage children and their families in Jewish communal life.  Attracting and retaining educators to the field is critical. But, it is highly unlikely to attract and retain the best and the brightest with the current compensation packages. Early care and education has not been acknowledged as a part of the larger educational system in the United States. As such, early childhood teachers and caregivers are among the lowest-paying of all occupations (Barnett 2003).

But, meanwhile, back at the fundraiser… there I was, in the company of almost 300 women at my community’s major fundraiser for Jewish Women’s Philanthropy.   I have greatly benefitted from being actively involved in my Jewish community.  I have co-chaired committees. learned about event planning and the power of women’s philanthropy. 

In 2006 I received my community’s young leadership award from the Jewish Federation. I have attended the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, thanks to my federation.  And for my work teaching older children in afternoon religious school, I was sent on a Jewish educator’s trip to Israel thanks to the Jewish Federation. The Jewish community, on a macro level, does its best to make Jewish educators feel valued.

And yet, I felt I could barely keep up in the chit-chat at the table. I had not been to Amalfi Coast, had not sent my kids on a leadership program to Austrailia. I couldn’t seem to make myself say, “wow, that must be expensive,” or “that is out of our budget, I’m afraid.”

Okay, I get it. It was a fundraiser and the point was to raise funds.  But, as I looked around the room, at the diamonds and all the bling-bling, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What am I doing here?”

Many women attending the event, by way of their husband’s occupation or their own professions, were significant donors. If the message of the evening was being powerful through donating one’s own money or a woman making a gift in their own name, presumably with their own money, the message of the evening left me feeling, well, powerless.

I enjoy going to these events because you get to hear from powerful Jewish women – news commentators, columnists, brilliant comedians, prominent Rebbetzins, (rabbi’s wives.) In past years they taught me how we need to teach Israeli culture to our children to make them feel connected to Israel. That if you shed a tear while you are praying you are doing it the right way. That, although children may show resistance to Hebrew school, parents must stand firm and make sure their child receives a Jewish education.

Each year, I left inspired, given tools to further my Jewish involvement.

And this year? There was no mention of parenting Jewish kids.  Israel — not even the singing of the Hatikva — was hardly mentioned – except a five day trip to the Jewish State this spring at a cost that is most likely out of my league as well.

The take away I got, and which I think other women felt of the speaker’s underlying message – is that if one marries a rich investment banker — you too can give millions away to the causes you care about.

As a Jewish educator who is not married to an investment banker, I’m sorry, ma’am, there was not much I could take away from your lesson. So, I will keep doing what I have been doing, for now, which is to make big gifts through every Hebrew word I teach, and every Jewish song I sing in the classroom.

For whatever it’s worth.

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