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Talk to the Ear: A great idea for preschoolers

This is not my original idea, but I used it in our class last year and it worked very well:

Once upon a time there were three little boys: one had the hair the color of golden straw and eyes the color of a summer sky. One had rosy cheeks and dimples. The third had skin the color of the sands of the most beautiful beach and eyes like melted chocolate.

These boys loved each other very much – like brothers. But they also fought like brothers – over sharing toys, and who wasn’t sharing toys, and who had a longer turn with the rocket ship, and so on. With each tiny injustice that the three boys subjected on each other, they felt they must inform their teachers and snitch on one another.  Though the teachers loved these little boys very much, their constant snitching was driving them BATTY!

So, one day, the teacher saw a in a magazine great idea from another, much more seasoned teacher as a cure for snitching.

The next day, she brought in an advertisement from a newspaper about hearing aids. The picture was that of an ear.

It was a hairy ear.

It was a scary ear.

But this listening ear would prove to be very useful in the classroom. Because sometimes, preschoolers just want to be validated by saying things out loud. Even to an inanimate object. And by the time they finish expressing themselves, many times, they are already on their way to independently figuring out a conflict.

The next day, at circle time, the teachers introduced the ear to the whole class. They told them that if there was a problem that didn’t involve safety, for example: if someone had a toy for too long and another friend really wanted that toy but the first friend was not giving up the toy, the offended member of the non-sharing incident could go tell the ear.

Five or ten minutes into open play time, an offense was committed: the boy with the hair the color of straw really wanted the red ball. Really.

“Go ahead, tell the ear,” his teacher said with great encouragement.

The boy slowly approached the ear, placed at child’s height on the wall of the classroom. The boy did not know just what to do at the ear. Should he put his ear to the ear? Or his mouth to the ear? Should he whisper? Or shout?

By the time the boy confessed his problem to the ear, he saw the whole thing to be so funny, so hilarious, that instead of complaining, he found himself laughing and forgot what had gotten him so mad in the first place. By that time, the ball had been abandoned by his other friend.  And the offended boy went to play with a walkie-talkie, sans batteries.

And the three boys and their teachers lived happily ever after … until it was time to once more talk to the ear.

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.

Conversations with Playground Princesses

Today in Western New York it was one of those first spring days when it felt like spring – warm spring – was really here for good. Not only was no jacket required, but you could actually venture outside and feel gentle warmth and not bitter cold on bare arms and legs.

So, as soon as all our little students arrived at school, we raced outside to the playground.

Among the chirping of the robins was the falsetto operatic voices of some of our three and four-year-old girls.  They sang as they followed each other up and down the play equipment, down the slide and through the tunnel.

I had to ask what they were playing.

“It’s Princess Day!” One of them said.

So, what is on the agenda of Princess Day?

“We stayed in bed all morning, went on an acorn hunt, scrubbed the floor, went to the ball, and then we went to sleep.”

… .. Not bad. It’s all in a day’s work for the playground princesses.

Swirls of Color or Standardized Dots? Keep Arts in Schools

What picture inspires you more.

This?

Or this?

If public school budgets continue to shave and slash away at the arts, the black and white dots of those “No Child Left Behind” standardized tests are all that will be left of our children’s public school education. Teaching to the test leaves no room for imagination, creativity, real thinking or problem solving.  What it has resulted in is burned-out stressed-out teachers and students.

This is according to an independent documentary called “Race To Nowhere” that is sparking a grassroots movement to reshape how we educate our public school students. I look forward to seeing a screening of this independent movie in Rochester, NY, at Nazareth College on April 4.  The movie screening is being sponsored in part by a private Jewish day school, Hillel Community Day School.

The film challenges parents, educators, and policy makers with this question: Are we doing right by our children? Is the pressure to succeed in standardized tests really preparing our children to become capable, inspired and motivated individuals ready to tackle college or the workforce?

When school budgets get tight, the arts are the first to get cut. In fact, schools in the Rochester area are seeking to reduce some of their arts budgets by 50 percent.

Is music, art and sculpture really that expendable?  Is painting, singing, and playing an instrument such a frivolous part of a child’s education that it should be considered a fluffy extra that can be easily eliminated from  his academic career?  

Absolutely not, according to Americans for the Arts.  Young people who consistently participate in comprehensive, sequential, and rigorous arts programs are:

  • 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
  • 3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools
  • 4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
  • 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
  • 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem*

When was the last time your child stood at an easel and held a brush full of paint? Or perhaps, in the spirit of abandoning everything for creativity’s sake, she ditched the brush and instead joyfully found herself up to her elbows in paint, as her hands and fingers glided across the paper.  

Indeed, art is messy. When was the last time you let your kid get messy at home with some paint or clay? Overheard once in  a preschool hallway: “I’m so glad they paint here at school, because at home, we don’t let him do that.”

Might as well draw a dagger through a teacher’s heart.

Video games and television are not messy. But they don’t do much to fire up the brain neurons either.

Art on the other hand unlocks creativity in children that leads to story telling, pattern recognition, and understanding other cultures. It is simply the expression of life that makes life enjoyable.  Art enables quiet kids to tell stories. Art calms and centers otherwise boisterious kids.  It is a positive way for them to control the environment around them.  A blank piece of paper or a lump of play dough can become a whole universe that they can master.

The above picture was created by a very precocious preschooler who patiently sat, cut and created a composition. Imagine what that same child can do when she gets older in an art class?

If a child is not going to be exposed to the earts in their earliest school years, then where will they get the opportunities? If arts are cut in public schools, there are private arts classes that parents can enroll their chilren in most towns and communities. But they cost money. So, cut the arts in public schools, and access to arts will only be possible to the families who can afford them.

And the rest? GThe only drawing less priveleged kids are going to do in school are the dots and circles they create on a standardized test.

I Hereby Declare February Sickie Month

Looking for tips on how to not get sick in February? Good luck!

I am sure you know the drill: Wash your hands after going to the bathroom and before eating and preparing food. Use hand sanitizer when getting to a sink is not convenient. Opt for the elbow shake or an air kiss. But there comes to a point in the winter, especially February, where if you haven’t gotten sick yet, you are just plain lucky.

Sometimes, the best way to stay healthy and build up that immune system is not to lock yourself away until spring thaw but to dance straight into the fire. In other words, you can spend a lot of time with preschoolers, like I do.

Entering the preschool classroom in February is like entering the lion cub’s den of viruses. The rhino virus comes to play with the blocks while his friends influenza and roto hang out by the toy kitchen. Streptococcus and the dreaded Conjunctivitis like to frolic in the water table.

I guess I’ve developed a sense of humour along with the immune system. Because thinking back to when I was a young parent, the germful world was a very fearful place.

I remember being so worried of my children catching something when my kids were in preschool.

“Did you hear?” I asked another mom one day during a Yoga class that was scheduled during preschool hours.   “The stomach bug is going around in class. What if my daughter gets sick?” As luck had it, I, the novice and neurotic first-time mommy, presented this question to a veteran mother-of-three mommy.  I was feeling a bit guilty because despite this worry, I still dropped Jolie off because I wanted to go to my Yoga class.

“Don’t worry,” said veteran mommy in the middle of practicing Triangle pose. “They get sick. They get better. That’s why they have immune systems.”

This was probably some of the best advice a new mom could get.  And as my kids get bigger, they get sick less often, but February is always the time they get sick. One February break, when my kids were in preschool, I cancelled nearly every playdate we made. The week was spent watching movies and reading books between doses of Advil for fever reduction and ice pops for hydration. 

One year, my lucky husband was away in California for a conference just in time for the rest of us to get the dreaded stomach bug. I spent a wild Saturday night dragging sheets from my son’s bunk beds into the snow so I can hose them off.  

I probably should NOT say this, but these episodes of illnesses seem to grow more seldom as my kids get older. So preschool parents, hang in there!

But if you are a younger family,  this is the time of the year where a preschooler’s immune system gets the most rigorous of workouts. Unfortunately, that little 3-year-old may also take their whole family down with them.  Siblings get sick. Parents have to reshuffle work commitments.

This is why I proclaim February as Sickie Month.

It is Sickie Month because it is the time in school when we see the most absences. I hear it in the lingering coughs when sick kids come back.

I see a sick day coming when the boy who usually roars like a tiger with his preschool pals loses his roar. I see a sick day coming when the girl who usually bubbles and twinkles with all the enthusiasm and glee of a little girl loses her twinkle. I’ve sat with kids as they shiver with fever and wait for their caregivers to pick them up. Now that I’m a veteran mom of three, my maternal instincts know that a dose of ibuprofen will make the child feel right as rain, though I know my school policy makes me as a teacher unable to administer any medicine.

If you have any doubts why it is necessary to have a February break, just ask a preschool teacher.

Ice Cubes in the Toilet and other Tips to make a Snow Day

Tonight, my kids will most likely go to bed wearing their pajamas inside out. The youngest will have tucked a spoon underneath his pillow.  My daughter told me that at middle school, the bets were already on at school today as to whether tomorrow would be a snow day. After all, that storm that slammed the midwest has now put Rochester in a “persistent band of lake effect snow.”  And here in Rochester, we may be getting 1-2 feet of this lake effect snow. All this snow, yet not a single weather report has used the word “storm” or “blizzard.” 

When my oldest children were very small, I feared that they would grow up without having a chance to play in the snow. Their first winters in New Jersey passed with hardly a flake.  Then, we moved to Rochester.

Moving to the snowiest metropolitan area in the lower 48 meant that we would have plenty of chances for snowball fights and snowman building. We also needed to adjust our perception of what constitutes a significant snowfall.

You see, we started our family in New Jersey, in the land of 2-inch snowfall snow days. One morning, when my daughter attended preschool at the Scotch Plains JCC, I bundled her up, along with her infant brother, to go to preschool. I traversed 2-inch snow-covered roads, only to find the building was closed.

Fast forward to a year later,  One morning, after a three-inch overnight snowfall, I actually called my daughter’s preschool – this time at the JCC of Greater Rochester – to see if it was open.

I think I heard the director silence a chuckle as she politely told me that schools here don’t close unless there is at least 18 inches of snow.

For schoolchildren and adults alike, nothing is more exciting than the possibility of a snow day.  And when I moved to Rochester, I thought that we would be having a lot of those days that are like gifts from God. Snow days are like God’s way of telling you to slow down, sleep in, stay warm, bake cookies. 

Well, the Rochester School District seems to care little about what God wants, because nary a snow day have we had since living up here in the snowbelt.

It’s been 11 years and my husband has yet to have a snow day from work. No, wait. The only “snow day” at his job had been in the summer. Why?  It wasn’t because of snow. Contrary to popular belief, it does NOT snow in Rochester in July.

It was a tree that fell on a transformer and blew the power out at his office.

So, on snowy days, my husband braves the snow. He plows himself out of the driveway in the dark of the morning, and then plows to get back in the driveway in the dark of the evening.

Rochesterians are very lucky to have the equipment it takes to fight against Old Man Winter.   Brighton tax dollars – more than half a million each year — are hard at work so in the early morning hours, I can hear the sounds of snowplows large and small clearing our roads and sidewalks.

So, before I go to bed tonight, I will check the forecast one more time. And if I hear those blessed three words “Brighton Schools Closed” on the radio tomorrow morning , I know will be too excited to go back to sleep.  

But I know school will be on tomorrow.

In spite of the spoons

and the inside-out pajamas.

and the ice cubes placed in the toilet.

Because, in reality, it’s just too early in the season to cancel school tomorrow. After all, technically, it is still Autumn.  And this is Rochester.

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.

Fall Leaves: Rake Many, Turn a Few into a Turkey

By now, in Western New York, the fall foliage has long reached its peak of yellows and reds.

  

Now, when I look up at the massive sugar maples in my neighborhood (the ones that are covered with snow in my homepage picture),  sadly the branches are mostly bare. The only color they will be covered with over the next four months or so, is white.

Wherever you are living now, I bet you are thinking: how to get rid of all the leaves? Rake them? Mulch them? Sick the leaf blower on them?

But before you rake, blow, or mow every last leaf away and before the snows fall, admire the carpets of red and yellow that lie at your feet.

Then, save a few of nature’s castoffs for craft supplies that can last the whole winter through. Here’s how:

  • First, find a preschooler to help you with this task. They are low to the ground and can teach you how to appreciate the simple, beautiful perfection that is found in one leaf that is the color of fire.
  • Then, show that preschooler a telephone book. Theirs will probably the last generation that will actually come in contact with one of these volumes of bound, thin yellow paper volumes. None of them I bet ever had a parent use them as a makeshift booster seat or a stepstool. Show them that these yellow or white clunky books were once used by people to look up numbers for plumbers or dog groomers but now come in handy for pressing leaves.
  • Next take a few of your leafy treasures and pat them dry with a paper towel, and place them between the pages of the book.
  • While the leaves are drying and pressing, read to them a wonderful book like Leaf Man, by Lois Ehlert to get inspiration as to what to do with all those pressed leaves. 

Our preschool class used leaves to represent the feathers of turkeys in our thanksgiving cards, like this:

Fall leaves are abundant - and free - and make for great crafts like this turkey

Send me your comments and pictures about what you made with your leaves.

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