Saturday, November 22, 2014

Chapter 2

Chapter 2        Bessie

 (Chapter 1

Five days a week Bessie’s routine included making her own home spic and span before leaving for Mrs. Marjorie and Dr. Fred’s house. Once in a while she worked for them on a Saturday when they needed her to babysit Hal and V. Sundays, however, were off limits. Even when Mrs. Marjorie called in a fast and frantic voice, like she did yesterday, she’d stick to her guns and say, “God called first, off to church. See you Monday morning.”

A chirp curled up from Bessie’s throat whenever she spoke her tiny lies. She wasn’t off to church. She was praying her own Sunday way by reading piles of magazines and soaking in a hot tub with Calgon—just taking her away.

She lived alone in a narrow row house with a big floppy lilac tree on 4908 Baltimore Avenue West Philadelphia. Bessie planted the tree when Loretta was three, the year Whitey took the 44 bus to work and never got on the return bus. Maybe he got killed, or just kept taking buses until he passed the city line, passed the big suburban stone houses, then made it clear cross to a place where there wasn’t any work to be done, where no old woman complained about her back, and no baby girl cried. Bessie thought maybe Whitey lived in a cabin on a mountain with a river and lots of fish, and a Spirit cleaned the fish for him, fried them, and then scrubbed the pan. God, she didn’t imagine, did that kind of work, but could have, in all His mercy, sent a Spirit to do that for Whitey.

 “Life keeps on no matter the comings and goings of any man,” Bessie had said to her daughter encouraging her to stop that crying and help dig the hole for the lilac tree.

Now, since her mother had died, and Loretta, was in New York City enrolled in business school, she had only one bed to make before heading out to work. In eleven months, Loretta would be getting a job in a lawyer’s office as a stenographer. She’d go to work in high heels, a patent leather belt and a gold pin with big colored stones on her lapel. Women didn’t wear gloves or hats anymore unless they were headed to church, but Bessie imagined Loretta dressed for work with those matching accessories. She warned Loretta about her hair.
“No lawyer with a fancy office is going to hire you if you look like you’re going to raise your fist  for ‘Black Power.’ Bessie thought the afro that young woman were wearing was a ticket to trouble. “You have to buy the new hair relaxers by Johnson and Johnson. I saw in Ebony Magazine they don’t have lye so your hair won’t be getting thin like mine.”

Bessie shook out her blanket in search of the other side of the bed. With no one standing across from her to help it lay flat in one toss, she went back and forth until she got the bed just right.
A few men had come in and out of her row house, in and out of her her double bed, since Whitey. She was only thirty-five, but someone who didn’t know her would have guessed that she had ten more years on her. She didn’t have the time to be looking for a man. And not too many men come looking for a woman whose hands smell like bleach and feel like a scrub  brush.

Before, shutting her bedroom door, Bessie straightened the two portraits of real men hanging over her bed. The late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the late President John F. Kennedy watched over her nights' sleep.

 If it hadn't been for them, Loretta would be putting on a yellow uniform with an apron like she did every morning heading out to clean up rich people’s shit. 

Most men, according to Bessie, were too pumped up by their mamas’ praise. “You are so wonderful,” boys are told for just for taking a dump and wiping their own ass. Little boys grow up to be bigger boys wearing men’s shoes expecting women to treat them like the Christ child himself serving up compliments, cold beers, and clean underwear. And when you are bending over to pick up their newspapers they want to lift your skirt and bang you hard till they are satisfied without a care for what you might be needing. Bessie buttoned up her fall red coat, turned the key on the top and bottom locks, walked past the lilac tree, and stood in the fall breeze with the other women waiting to cross the city line on the 44 bus.

Marjorie’s brown Continental was third in line behind the other big cars in the parking lot of the Chinese restaurant Chopsticks. The women were waiting to pick up their “girl.” Most girls came two days a week. Bessie came Monday through Friday.

“I really needed you yesterday Bessie,” scolded Marjorie. Marjorie cracked her window and took a big inhale of a Virginia slim tucked into the black cigarette holder while she waited her turn to drive down Montgomery Avenue through Wynnewood, past Bala Cynwyd and down toward Bryn Mawr. The Welsh had been the earliest settlers in these tree lined acres, leaving behind names  names that could only be pronounced by people in the know.  The 44 bus didn’t go as far as Bryn Mawr. 

“Sorry,” Bessie couldn’t help that little laugh from curling up her throat, “Church and all.” It’s not that Bessie never went to church. She’d been baptized in a river as a girl.

She could rise to her feet from listening to Pastor Moore preach at Mt Olive Baptist. He was the one who baptized Loretta, a giant in the ministry, a teacher extraordinaire preaching the Word so you could witness God  move in the congregation. By time most Sundays came, Bessie needed her feet soaking in a tub more than Pastor Moore’s message of judgment and even his promises of hope.

“We had a dinner party Saturday night.” Marjorie said as she pulled her coat tight covering up her terry cloth pink bathrobe. She inhaled again and announced like she was saying "Hal has baseball practice after school," that  “Dr. Fred and I are leaving on a trip tomorrow. You won’t have to come after today for two weeks. The children will be at my mother’s.”

Two weeks of not working meant not making one hundred and sixty dollars. Loretta’s rent would be due. Bessie counted in her head how short she'd be. Loretta wouldn't like it if her rent check was late.

“I can come and dust, water the plants. The curtains could use some ironing,” Bessie tried. "I could get up in your studio and give a good going over." Marjorie shot her an eyebrow, Bessie was not permitted in the attic that space was just  for Marjorie. The children didn't go up there either.

“Won’t be necessary. Take a vacation too, Bessie. It's always good to restart your engine.”

Coming up the driveway of the house, Marjorie pushed the electric garage door opener. Bessie was amazed every morning how Marjorie managed getting that car into the garage with barely any room on each side, but she did most days without a scratch.

Just as promised the kitchen and dinning room were a mess. There was enough food left out on the counter to feed a whole family and instead she'd have to throw all that meat down the garbage disposal. 
Marjorie threw her coat on the white silk sofa in the living room and headed up to the attic to paint. She didn’t come down all day while Bessie scoured the pans with brillo, washed and ironed the tablecloth, and polished the banister with brass-o. In a few hours the kitchen and dining room looked as if there had been no party Saturday night.

It was the bedroom that was the real challenge. Miss Marjorie’s bottle of Interlude was broken on the rug. Glass was scattered across the floor and the perfume had soaked into the powder blue shag rug. A martini glass was broken at the other end next to Dr. Fred's  armoire.  This one must have been a real doozy. Dr. Fred was prone to slamming doors as was his right. He did his fair share of "go to hell" but Bessie never saw things flying across a room. Mrs. Marjorie was more like a sulking cat when she got mad. Who  did the throwing?  She windexed the powder blue wall to get rid of the streaks of liquid that had left their mark.

Bessie picked up the broken pieces of glass carefully in her hands. The Hoover upright vacuum got the rest. She made a baking powder paste to soak up the perfume. Her mother had taught her how to use baking powder to clean up almost everything. It even takes the bite out of a bee sting.

Dr. Fred had already started packing. He was a real man, Bessie thought. Not in the same way as Dr. King or President Kennedy. It's not like he is undoing the  injustices of her world. But, he always has time to talk. He is a healer and that's what God wants, healers. He'd never walk out and leave Mrs. Marjorie alone to raise the children. Dr. Fred would never get on the 44 bus without making sure to buy a return ticket. 

In his leather suitcase that had double G initials, Dr. Fred  had packed two bathing suits and beach shoes. His tuxedo and white dinner jacket were already in the suit bag. They must be going somewhere warm and formal Bessie ventured.  Florida? A cruise? Europe maybe? Once Dr. Fred had told her all about their trip to Rome, Italy with beautiful sculptures and the best food. Loretta might get to Rome one day. 

When Hal and V came from school the house was ordered. She hung up their book bags and gave them oreo cookies and milk. Just like she did when Loretta was young, she sat them down to do homework before they were allowed to watch the television. V was the smart one. She finished off her assignments without asking for any help. V had red hair like her mother but they didn't seem to have much more in common. Every one of V's greetings had a smile attached to it. Bessie could imagine V as a healer like her dad. She could grow up and go to nursing school so she wouldnt have to worry about the comings and goings of any man.

 Hal needed Bessie's for homework help. Poor kid couldn't keep his multiplication tables straight. Bessie had made him a big chart and put it up on his closet door. No one was telling him he was so wonderful. So Bessie did even when he missed 7X8, 8X8, and 9X8.

Marjorie, still in her terry cloth bathrobe, came down stairs at 5 ready to drive Bessie back to the 44 bus, then head out to pick up Fred. The best you could say about Marjorie's efforts that day would be a disaster. She had been experimenting with a kind of portrait that blurred the line between faces and windows. Experimenting with abstract and realistic approaches Marjorie thought she could convey in an original way, what Goya had done with his masterful, but traditional, strokes-a portrait as a window to a life story. At the end of the day there was no life and no story on her canvas. 

Her thoughts were stuck on Saturday night. She hand't meant to sound so jealous. She totally got  that Fred and Irv spend lots of time together because of their work. But there was a time when Fred turned to her about important things; like buying paintings for the office collection.

They all had  a laugh about the kiss. As Irv had explained, they were trying to figure out how two of their teenage patients managed to come in with their braces locked. It was the fight after Irv and Evelyn had left that had turned things upside down. Fred had screamed at her like a child, actually calling her a "spoiled brat."  And sometimes she felt that way, like when Fred handed her the weekly allowance for the house expenses. Or when he was in deep conversation with Irv, as if she weren't even at the table. Or when Fred told her to be ready in 48 hours. They were going on a trip. He was trying to make up, but really he could have asked.

Marjorie walked into the kitchen with paint smeared on her sleeves. Some baking powder might get that out, thought Bessie.  Whitey had gotten his name from paint. He was as black as any man she ever saw, but because he always came round with white paint all over him from his odd jobs, folks just got to calling him Whitey. What could you call Mrs. Marjorie? Rainbow didn't seem to fit. Colored? Bessie got a good tickle out of that.

 Counting out an extra ten dollars, Marjorie pushed the bills into Bessie’s hand. “Sorry things were such a mess. I’ll call you when we come back from our trip. You take some vacation too.”

“Maybe I’ll go visit Loretta, I’ve been wanting to do that,” Bessie said buttoning up her red fall coat, a little chirp came up her throat.

“Sounds good,” Marjorie said. It was no surprise to Bessie that Marjorie didn’t know who Loretta was.

Friday, November 21, 2014

A request from the grieving widows

Below is a letter from the Levin, Goldberg, Kupinksy, and Twersky families

(trans. Rabbi Pini Dunner, Young Israel of North Beverly Hills)

A request from the grieving widows and families:

From the depth of our broken hearts and with tears over the murder of the holy victims, the heads of our families, we turn to our brothers and sisters, every Jew, wherever you are, and request that we all join together as one, to bring heavenly mercy upon us. Therefore, let us accept upon ourselves to increase our love and brotherhood with each other, between each of us, between different groups, and between different communities.

We request that each person endeavors this Friday afternoon before Shabbat Parshat Toldot to sanctify this Shabbat (Erev Rosh Chodesh Kislev) as a day of causeless love, a day on which we all refrain from talking about our differences and grievances against others, and refrain from any slander or evil gossip.

Through this may there be a great merit for the souls of the fathers of our families who were slaughtered for the sanctity of God.

May God look down from above, and see our grief, and wipe away our tears, and proclaim ‘enough with the suffering!’, and may we merit to see the arrival of the Messiah, may it happen speedily in our days, Amen.

Chaya Levin, and family
Brayna Goldberg, and family
Yakova Kupinsky, and family
Basha Twersky, and family

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Educators' shared lament

No surprise:
Yesterday, I spent the morning with 10 Jewish educators exploring Whole Person learning.

Whole Person Learning is a framework used by hundreds of educators in part time settings that works on the  If-then premise:

IF we want our children to live Judaism-- not just "learn about it"
       THEN we have to attend to the whole person.

Attending to the whole person includes enabling:

1. Rich Content-Knowledge

2. Opportunity to enact learning-Doing/living

3. Opportunity to reflect and make learning meaningful/your own-Values and Beliefs

4. Caring/role model/peer/familial relationships-Belonging

When educators use this whole person approach they see the necessity to expand learning and experience beyond the walls of the classroom.

Deep and caring relationships, for example, are developed when celebrating in real time and in real settings in a way the container of the classroom just can't convey.

The ten educators in my workshop  totally agreed  about the need to move learning from book to life. One seasoned educator said:
"We want a living Judaism. I get students to read, but I'm not sure I help them find meaning or relevance. Some do, but too many students don't  bring it to their lives."

Following are just four items from their long list of reasons why they said learning doesn't move to life:

1. We don't have time to relationships (beyond the classroom..we once had seniors come but it didn't work), enable reflection, we have to cover the content

2. Children like learning/praying until they are in third grade, then we they are not interested...I think we do too much

3. Parents are not on the same page ..they send their children here but don't support it by how they live

4. I loved Hebrew and Israel, but the children today don't care, not relevant

I've heard this list and more before from educators in part-time Jewish educational settings.


The one thing that was surprising: All ten educators worked in Day Schools.

I'm used to this as the educators' lament in part-time settings:
If we only had more time, more parental support and more resource.

 "The story that is out there,"  as a Jewish leader recently told me, is that "Day Schools have this all covered and congregations don't."


I had introduced myself to the educators

"I live in another universe. We have a challenge in part time education to bring Jewish learning to life. I developed This Whole Person Learning framework when I was trying to find a way to talk to educators about meaning making. Learning doesn't count if it isn't meaningful. But over time, used by hundred of educators, I see the Whole Person Learning Approach is a way to think about a child's whole life and how Judaism speaks to that."

 I learned I'm not from another universe.

Before my workshop started, three ten-year old girls greeted me in the hall to show me where my session was being held.

"Thank you for giving up your day off," I said to the shortest with her hair a bit askew, "You could have been home watching TV or something, but you are helping."

"I'm so tired," she said, "I'll watch TV all the rest of the day. I don't sleep very well. I get up at 1 and 4 almost every night."

The dark haired girl with the pony tail said, "Me too. I never sleep through in the night."

In just a few minutes I could hear an opportunity for Jewish learning for real life.
 Do educators take/have the time to hear what is happening in the children's lives?
 What are children's questions and needs?
In what ways does Judaism help these young children find meaning, relevance?
What relationships, what content, what opportunity to reflect and what lived action could speak to ten year old's who can't sleep?

I shared with the educators the notion of children saying Shema and Hashkeveniu at bedtime and talking to G-d about their questions, and worries and hopes.

"I don't think that would work," an educator in the session said.

So I have to ask: What's the opportunity for Day Schools and Part-time settings to move out of  self imposed separate universes and share our questions and learning? Suggestions?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Ocean is Mine: Chapter 1

The Ocean is Mine
This is the story of a woman, living almost long enough to fulfill the feminist promise “You can have it all.”
                      Chapter One

 Wellington, titled Duke, Prince, Marquess, Earl, Viscount, Baron, and Prime Minister all in one lifetime, might have been born to privilege, but used personal alchemy to shape greatness in himself and in those beneath him. Marjorie, studying his portrait, was sure Wellington’s dark eyebrow had risen high into his forehead when judging the men under his command.  “Though they were the scum of the earth,” he had announced after reviewing the troops, “it is really wonderful that we should have made them to the fine fellows they are." Clearly, Marjorie thought, this grand man with a soldier’s posture, and a pink sash across his chest, had more going for him than pedigree in order to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo.

Last Thursday, Marjorie snuck away, taking the train from 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, to the National Gallery in Washington D.C where Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington hung on loan from London. She had stood an especially long time in front of the painting, taking note of the contrasting strokes of light and dark that caused the Duke of Wellington’s flesh above his brow to demand her stillness.

Lead white paint had been reported as one possible source of Goya’s madness. The portrait proved sanity was a small price to pay for greatness. The titanium white sold today promised artists a poison-free product that couldn’t, regardless of technique, leap off a canvas in such a powerful way. The University of Pennsylvania had taught her the words of Wellington, but it was Goya who gave Arthur Wellesley, first Duke of Wellington a voice. Her runaway hours studying the craft of her artistic ancestors had left her thinking about using lead paint.  It would be worth it.

The plan was to see as many paintings as she could, while still making it back in time to pick Fred up at his office by 6:15. Really she had it all organized, 3.5 hours of travel in each direction and one hour at the museum. Marjorie had parked her brown Lincoln Continental in the lot right next to the station to avoid any complications. If it hadn’t been for Goya’s spell, her plan would have worked.

Fred had to call a cab after a long day, and was screaming even before the door closed behind her.
Yes, she knew what time it was. And, yes, she appreciated that Bessie had stayed late to put the children to bed. It wouldn’t happen again. She had gone to get her hair done, it’s not easy keeping this red looking so natural the way he likes, the salon had run late, and then the car, that huge car that was too big for her to manage anyway, had broken down. There wasn’t a phone booth, gas station or person in sight, and she had to wait, wait for a stranger, a hippie, with a beard,  beads and a guitar. By the time she was describing the beads' colors, Fred had slammed the door to his den. She never got to show him the heel of her shoe that she had broken off to explain why she couldn’t walk for help. The shoemaker, Tom, had made that easy repair for her in the past.

Now, with her hair in curlers, she minced shallots at the kitchen sink overlooking the swimming pool they’d soon be covering for the winter. Irv and Evelyn were coming for dinner and this recipe was a way to say sorry to Fred for her tardiness last week. He deserved better. He devoted his time to work and making things right for her and the children. The least she could do was pick him up on time.

Tuna casserole and a jello-mold were not going to cut it tonight. At the last couples’ dinner party Evelyn had served a cream of cucumber soup, Coquilles Saint-Jacques a la creole, and a meringue concoction for dessert, Le Vacherin. Evelyn had taken an actual real-life-in-person class with Julia Child. Marjorie had wanted to vomit from the richness and the pretense. Fred, on the other hand, went out and bought Child’s The French Chef Cookbook, “illustrated with photographs from the most widely attended cooking course ever given in America.”

Leafing through the cookbook Marjorie had landed on Veau Sylvie-named by Child as Veal for a King. This veal split lengthwise, stuffed with slices of ham and cheese, then re-formed and tied would be perfect for Fred. Why would a meal for a king so closely resemble being hung and quartered--tied and split?  Eat it as a threat to your subjects? Or do you eat it to overcome the fear of what your subjects would do to you, after all in Veau Sylvie you were re-tied before baked.

Fred had insisted on Corinthian columns to frame the entrance of the house they had built five years ago on a two-acre lot that was once the orchard of the estate owned by the Campbell Soup family. The orchard of an actual estate was royalty in this Main Line suburb.

Fred’s dental practice made the wishes of poor boy who grew up to make over 100,000 dollars a year possible, so the architect carried them out.  Four pillars lined the entry to their house. “I’d like a studio,” she had said to the architect. Before the blueprints were complete she had space in the attic, with skylights to bring in natural light, a space away from noise and distraction, enabling Marjorie to explore, when other demands didn’t get in the way, the unending combinations of her palette.

She had started to write her grocery list for the veal when the pages of the cookbook flipped to a different recipe. The evening would be coming down in rank. Tonight she’d be serving not for a king but for the Duke-Beef Wellington. Marjorie smiled at the chance to continue thinking about the whites, and light Goya had used to enliven the Duke and reveal the psychology of the man behind the uniform.

She read out loud “This is a mushroom duxelles with wine and fois gras which bakes around the meat.” She had been around Fred enough to know what fois gras was, but she hadn’t a clue to what a duxelles was. Following instructions with the accompanying photographs and “tips from Julia” would make the night a success.

Irv and Evelyn would arrive 7:30 exactly. Irv, already balding at the back of his head, shared the dental practice with Fred and exhibited a meticulousness she learned was common among oral surgeons. With the children at her parents for the night, she had enough time to cook the beef and make the pastry shell, top and bottom. She had already done 20-25 minutes in the middle level pre-heated 425 degree oven. She lowered the thermostat to 375 degrees and baked the beef another 20-25 minutes. Julia cautioned to use a, “a meat thermometer reading of 137 degrees for rare beef.” The celery braised.

Marjorie’s make-up was on, her nails done. The top layer of pastry that would swaddle the beef had chilled in the refrigerator for two hours. She had rolled it into a 16x10-inch rectangle. From the bottom section she cut a three-inch strip to decorate the top of the pastry. She had placed the large rectangle flat on a baking sheet lined with wax paper, then covered it with wax paper, and a damp towel. Once placed in the refrigerator, Marjorie had cut the long strip into a fleur de lis to freeze for the top of the pastry. Julia had suggested cutting them into leaves. Marjorie took creative license.

She’d dress by 6:45 so the Beef Wellington would be assembled and in the oven for its last roasting at 7:15. Fred was skeptical. Bessie would have stayed and made it all run smoothly. Marjorie wouldn’t hear of it. Bessie needed a night off. She could do it quite well herself. For insurance, Fred smeared pate on toasted crackers and filled the Belgian endive with softened camembert.

In front of the mirror of her dressing room, Marjorie teased her hair going for a natural and full look that she held together with Hidden Magic hairspray. She slipped into a black lace push up bra that returned her breasts to the size they were before babies and put on her black lace jump suit showing off her figure.  Two children had not stolen her waistline. Evelyn had to squeeze herself into a girdle, the bulge above the girdle line always showed through her clothes revealing a truth that no reinforced front tummy panel could hide. Marjorie imagined Evelyn pushing into the girdle much like trying to put paint back in a tube.

She was au natural with black lace undies being the only thing between her and the pantsuit. Behind her ears she dabbed Interlude perfume. “You’ll get stains on your skin if you keep doing that,” warned Fred. He might be right. Her habit continued anyway. Marjorie returned the perfume bottle to her dresser and read, “like love must be experienced.”

The house smelled like a fantasy. Perfume, beef and pastry floated through the rooms. Gold hoop earrings finished the look. Fred organized the liquors and mixers, putting cherries for Manhattans and olives and onions for the gin in Lalique crystal bowls he had brought back from his last dental conference he and Irv had attended.

“I’m running only a little late. I have it Fred. I’m assembling the pastry and voila it will be ready.” The swinging doors to the kitchen muffled her last words.

Fred welcomed Irv and Evelyn into the family room. “Drinks? Can you handle a double Evelyn?”
“Not this early, Fred, give me a chance.”

“Hey what are you trying to do to my gal here? Doesn’t she look wonderful? Give him a twirl dear show Fred your new look. Halston, what do you think Fred? Only the best for my gal.”

“House smells delicious,” Evelyn said sipping her Manhattan. “I think Marjorie is going to out do me tonight.”

“She does try Evelyn. But this is not really her thing. Liver and onions I’m sure would be delicious but she’s gone a bit overboard tonight and we may just have to stave off hunger with the pate.”

They settled into the leather couches accented with soft orange and green throw pillows talking about the children and their private school tuition. For the Thanksgiving Day parade, they could all go together, and if the weather were harsh they could watch from the windows of their office on the 19th floor.

With no sounds from the kitchen Fred suggested Evelyn take a drink to Marjorie. It would be quite a while before she was finished he assured Evelyn, and although she’d never ask for help, a little company would be appreciated.

To her surprise, Evelyn found Marjorie with a streak of flour in her hair holding  the most perfectly,just lightly browned Beef Wellington toped with fleur de lis setting in a mushroom jus ready to be served.

More to Evelyn and Marjorie’s surprise when they returned within minutes to the family room, was seeing Fred with a Manhattan in hand, and Irv with a martini, bent over a small coffee table, kissing lip to lip.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Life in Decades

Happy Birthday to me. Celebrating the decades.

1950's the world was pink and purple. My white eye-lit bedroom curtains scared me when the wind moved them in the night. Purple walls framed the room filled with dolls and a little tea set.  Girls were supposed to be good and sweet.  My mother wore dresses, my father had a leather briefcase with his initials DIG, and every night dinner was served.

1960's the world grew fringe. My imagination switched from being a beatnik in black tights and a turtleneck smoking a powdered cigarette to being a long-haired hippie in a fringe suede vest,  waving peace signs. We stopped tucking heads awaiting the BOMB. Instead we watched the nightly news' body counts. War was bad. I didn't understand the difference between North and South Vietnam, but got the message "What if you gave a war and no one showed up." I wore the Jewish star I got for my bat mitzvah. My curls shook on the bimah cause I couldn't read a word of Hebrew--figured out how to memorize not read.

1970's  Drugs and new power were still raging. You could buy a quelude for 75 cents in the halls of the high school. We regularly stood on the Lower Merion High School sidewalk because someone called in a bomb threat. Manicured lawns of suburbia contrasted with the detonation of our systems.  Nixon and trust were purged.   "What do you mean you don't smoke grass?" asked Amy with long dark curly hair and tattered jeans. I wasn't quite fitting in.  Toward the end of the decade, I betrayed the cause of women. I married.
Jay and I stood under the hupah in the same synagogue where I was confirmed. We were powerful and the world was ahead. We'd never make the mistakes of the last generation. I hated seeing couples stand together in silence. "I'll always have something to say," I told Jay.

1980's More betrayal to the revolution. I had children.
 I confess, I have no recollection of the events of the decade other than big hair and big shoulder pads.

 Four children starting in 1980-1990, working and completing two masters degrees left me in a sleep deprived always nursing or pregnant state. On a good day I knew which shoe belonged to which son. "You could eat off of my mother's floor it was so clean," I had said, "You can eat off of mine too," I noted, "there is so much food." Shabbat came into our lives because the boys went to the JCC pre school. Thirty minutes of semi-order once a week.

1990's Again, the world was about to end. Planes were regularly hijacked.  Computers had wormed their way into our lives and there were worms and viruses that would destroy us when the clock turned from 1999 to 2000. Stock up, back up, or else. The night passed quietly while I continued to work hard fulfilling the mantra of the 60's and 70's "hey woman you can have it all." I tried to be wife, mother and work. I dropped and missed yet slogged foot in front of the other, no questioning, just do it.  Shabbat family dinner and watching the Simpsons on Sundays marked the rhythm of our lives.

2000-2010 The safe pass on Jan 1, 2000 was returned with the slam of 9/11. The towers went flat, the world went flat and our universe on 24-7 news alert of terrorism, economic crashes and the melting of the ice caps has been trembling ever since. Big mobile phones have been replaced with children to the elderly talking on flip phones. Our children stepped out of what we thought was the "right" suburban circle to nourish them into the world to make it better and different. They wanted to create their own revolutions.

2010-Less talking-more texting. The world is very thin, we watch Bravo bounty yet we want to be thinner and richer.  The bombs are still waiting to fall accompanied by ebola, terrorists, and planes shot from the sky.

My floor is a little cleaner.

My husband I have quiet time. It is ok, I've learned, to have silence. Travel time to remember why and how to love is a great reward for the business of the past decades.

I work a lot. I'm learning to play more.
Our children/grandchildren came for Sundaes on Sunday to celebrate my birthday.

I wake with three things on my lips:
Shema Yisrael-Know before whom I stand
Modah Anee--grateful for the abundance I have
My work-- to help grow whole children in a very broken world

And when I grow up, if the tumultuous decades or two, if the future allows, I want to be a writer and a better wife, mother, friend, sister....

Cousin Ruth called on my birthday, "Remember," she said, "life is what you make it."
Well, yes, Cousin Ruth, I'm trying and I've learned sometimes girls are sweet and good, and sometimes we are bitchy and bad.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Classroomless Class

This week TIME magazine featured the Paperless Classroom. Students equipped with ipads don't need paper to write, or books to read. A click and a stylus makes learning magic. As much as I appreciate the trees that will be saved from this innovation, it is an innovation barking up the wrong tree. Paperless is not the answer. What we need is a Classroomless Class.

I recently visited a  progressive elementary school. Every 20 minutes the children had another assignment. I left there thinking if I had to spend 7 hours a day following the rules and confined to schedules like that I'd run away from home. What was the difference between the regiment the students were experiencing and Orange is the New Black? That confining feeling, someone watching your every move, trying to sneak a chat with a friend and making sure to follow orders  or be punished made me want to pack a bag and run!

I am recommending we forbid learning within the walls of the classroom. No more children staring at cinder block walls. Hard cold chairs in rows even set up in circles are to be banned. Pealing posters and florescent lighting x'd out. The schedule and the rules of every 20 minutes, listen and now do this activity sheet quarantined.

In my work in NY we've created learning to spur teacher skill and imagination. Most successful experiences  have been:
1. In a shopping mall-what does Jewish tradition say about buying?
2. In a restaurant-Torah learning and values go hand in hand with a meal.
3. At the NYC High line-blessings said and understood when seeing true wonder.
4. At the art museum-where color and text and soul enliven
5. In homes-where we got to know each others stories

We could have done anyone of these lessons  in a classroom. Dance, music and drawing could have trumped the pen and pencil fill out the worksheet activity. But no amount of dance or story telling, no amount of apps and programs could have made the lessons more memorable.

 Jewish learning that is memorable and  goes to real life is not for a classroom--as Dr. Jeff Kress says, "Judaism is not a subject to be learned ABOUT." Living Jewish resulting from learning Jewish takes place in mall, the restaurant, the garden path and the museum..when we wake, when we walk and when go to bed at night. I have this idea on very high authority.

What would it take for us to foster Jewish learning for children and their families that take place where they are, not where the cinder block is?

 I asked my students at HUC while sitting on the roof  smelling limes to awaken the soul (Jewish teaching says smell is for the soul-whereas food is for the body). I asked them to write questions they have been pondering since the holidays. They said things like: How can I be authentic while living up to people's expectations; how do I show love when I'm stressed by my days?

These are the kinds of questions our learners hold. And they can't be addressed within
cinderblock walls if we want to penetrate the amount of "stuff" that comes to learners.

The Classroomless Class speaks to the real life questions people are wondering about-and in the spaces that amplify not confine learning by roster and cinder block.

What are the tools of The Classroomless Class?
*Really knowing the learner..their interests and needs
*Family desire
*Apps at the ready
*Personal follow up beyond what an ipad can do
*A chevra-no kid can believe she is an island
*Some mentoring

 Could you imagine The Classroomless Class?

The Classroomless Class could be a tree that grows in Brooklyn...
Manhattan, Westchester, Long Island and wherever our learners walk.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Forgiving: I'm a little Off

Red leaves on the  trees signal it is  time for Sukkot. But, since I was on vacation between Rosh hashanah and Yom Kippur, I find I'm spiritually a little off. I did throw a galette, a flat rock, into the ocean along with hundreds of Jews from Nice, France for tashlich.  The rabbi who gave a Rosh Hashanah sermon in English, Yiddish and French invited us to join the 1500 Jews of Nice who gather for Tashlich, to throw their sins into the Cote d'Azur regardless of their yearly degree of practice. The police were there too, yet  no one seemed afraid to share such an outward expression of their Jewishness. I wast most afraid for the women wearing high heeled shoes on the rocky beach-no sand, just rocks.

 Now, back on the Amtrak train, I'm pondering the ideas of last week's holy days: Forgiveness. Giving it, not asking for it.

 Asking for is a  lot easier. I even have the simple steps on a refrigerator magnet in my kitchen. 1. Recognize you did a wrong; 2. Say your sorry; 3. Ask for forgiveness; 4. Do an act to repair the wrong; 5. when presented with  the same situation, act differently.

I ask you: What are the steps of giving forgiveness?

I've struggled with this trait-virtue- action of forgiving my whole life. At my more seasoned age, I'm better at it than in my youth. I could hold on to hurt and anger for days, weeks, months and, yes, even years.  Something about being right and the other person being wrong seemed to warrant sustained anger. Being genuinely hurt, and even deeply wounded seemed according to my logic of heart and mind to justify judgment and anger.

My son, the rabbi in training, gave a sermon this year on giving forgiveness.He quoted Mandela: Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting  for it to kill your enemy.  I get it, the anger, the judgment only hurts me. And I know over time I've learned to let go, release, disregard, ignore, and move on.

"What is the difference," I asked two of my sons, "between full throated forgiveness and just moving on?"  They both agreed that you can still feel a hurt, and forgive. You can forgive and remain changed by the experience they said. You can forgive even if the other person hasn't done the steps of teshuva.

"Do you need to understand, the other person's in Mussar, do you have to hold their experience?" Do you need to understand your own part and what you are responsible for?"

I'm still pondering and would ask for your insight.
What is full throated forgiveness?
What are the steps? Help me so I can better throw away the stones, not the ones from the beach, but the ones that linger in my heart.