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Archive for the ‘the world we live in’ Category

bus, school bus, children, school childrenLike the rest of the world, I’ve been grieving for the loss of life in Newtown. Like the rest of the world, I’m sad, angry and frustrated beyond words. I have shed tears for the sweet children and heroic adults who were exterminated in a brief barrage of a semi-automatic weapon: a weapon that should never, ever be available to any citizen.

Seven year-old children and the teachers who nurtured them were obliterated. It doesn’t seem possible, this horrifying nightmare. It happened in Newtown. It could have happened anywhere.

The untold anguish of the parents, families and members of the Newtown community is impossible for me to fully know. If my sorrow is so deep, how excruciating is their pain? What gives them the courage to go on?  I think about them and their lives which have been irrevocably and horribly savaged. And what about children everywhere, even beyond Newtown, whose innocence is shattered and whose fears may not easily be quelled?

Glued to CNN, I am flabbergasted by the facts and statistics I have learned.

I mourned the tragedies at Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and others. I bemoaned our violent society, worried about copycat shootings in the aftermath, shared outrage with my family and friends. In the end, however, we resigned ourselves to the fact that nothing would change. The NRA was way too powerful and politicians were way too meek.

Like most of the rest of the world, I did little outside of talking about it. Yes, I hugged my children tighter. That made me feel better, but did nothing to address the larger issue of gun violence, which is something that affects us all.

This time, things are different.

Some are saying that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School has turned the tide of public opinion. I vow that it has awakened something in me. No longer will I passively sit by and accept this impenetrable culture of gun worship. I no longer feel impotent and unnoticed.

With public outrage at its zenith, with strength in numbers, now is the time to make our voices heard. My fellow blogger, Sharon Hodor Greenthal, has provided ways you can help in this post.

I am making phone calls and writing letters to my legislators and imploring them to support new legislation on gun control. I will add my voice to the growing chorus of mothers, fathers and families who will not stand for this anymore.

When evil shadows good, it is our responsibility to make our world right again. It must happen now.

Will you please join me?

More reading on this topic from bloggers:

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Sandy. What comes to mind? That mellow summer song by the Jersey boy himself, Bruce Springsteen?

Not now.

We got walloped by Hurricane Sandy, or Frankenstorm, as she will always be known.

Here in Pennsylvania, we’ve got downed trees and power lines everywhere, and my home has been without power for over 36 hours. We’re looking at a possible week to get it back. It’s not fun living in a cold, dark house with no food, but we’re among the lucky ones whose homes are intact.

I’ve written often about the Jersey shore community that has been our home away from home for many years and is so dear to me and my family. Here in the Philly area, you go “down the shore” in the summer, and that’s just what you do, whether it’s for a day or a week or the whole summer. The Jersey shore is our mecca. Our heart.

It gives me chills to think about the last weekend we were there. It was so hard to say the final goodbye; I wrote about it here. Did I have some kind of weird premonition that this would be the last time?

Although we won’t be able to see the damage first-hand for about a week, the photos of Long Beach Island on the news pretty much tell the story.

Please keep my island and the people who live there in your thoughts and prayers. I took these photos last summer of my beautiful Long Beach Island.

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I opened my prayerbook yesterday on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, with the pale morning sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows and the white-robed rabbi and cantor solemnly approaching the bima.

The cantor sang the opening hymn and the rabbi stood ready to begin the Yom Kippur service.

“Good Yontov (Happy New Year),” he welcomed us congregants. “Please turn to page 285. But before we begin, let me call your attention to the iPad next to me.” He gestured to his right.

“I’d like to welcome Blah Blah who is spending a semester in Chile and joining us via Skype for our service this morning. Hi Blah Blah, and Happy New Year.”

Huh. Pretttyyy cool. I instantly recalled an article I read about a Rosh Hashanah service in Florida just 10 days earlier, during which the rabbi encouraged her young congregants to feel free to text. Pray, write, text, the rabbi had told them. You can read about that service here.

But back to me. After delivering the sermon, our rabbi mentioned that the information could be found on his podcast page. Cool thing number two.

As a tech and social media enthusiast, I am gratified to see this trend. I do believe there is a place for social media in many facets of modern life, including religious venues. And although yesterday I would not have felt comfortable pulling out my brand new iPhone5 (which, by the way, was practically burning a hole in my purse), I foresee a day when conversations taking place on the back channel (Twitter chatter that happens while someone is at the front of the room presenting) will be accepted as a valuable complement to the conversation. Far from being disrespectful, it can add another dimension to the experience, and instead of a speaker talking at the audience, he or she can facilitate a discussion in which many voices can be heard.

Social media not only connects us and makes our world smaller, it also provides unique opportunities for learning and growth. Perhaps someday we will no longer be told to “please silence your cellphones.”

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In the end, it is the sky that day that haunts me. A sky so purely, brilliantly, heartbreakingly blue. Cloudless. Endless.

I have a tendency to gaze at the sky, finding such beauty in this marvel of nature. Driving to work that day, I remember the intense blueness. And then, driving home mid-morning in a surreal reverse traffic jam, blinked at the brightness, the sun climbing higher, my panic rising as I drove to my children’s school.

My husband and I arrived home at the same time. We had left on a bad note that morning. A silly argument, who knows what it was. Now we gripped each other. Held tight.

We turned on the television, not believing our eyes. In that brilliant sky, flames, smoke, terror. Crumbling buildings. It was hours until we heard, thank God, that family members who worked at the Towers were safe.

Today, and every September 11, I will remember. The innocent lives that were lost. Children who were now parentless. Our lives changing forever.

And that impossibly blue sky.

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I am hanging out with all.things.fadra today on Stream of Consciousness Sunday.

#SOCsundayYesterday’s headlines in The Philadelphia Inquirer trumpeted some powerful words in very large type:

“Final Bells for 49”

Today’s headline:

“Grief and Anger”

What does that mean? In a nutshell, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia announced the closing of four high schools and closing and/or merging 45 elementary schools when the school year ends this June.

Citing drastically shrinking enrolments and escalating costs, the archdiocese said that this decision could save as much as $10 million a year. The announcement has caused palpable waves of despair.

The news coverage has been huge. Pages in the print and digital media have covered the impact on students, families, teachers, neighborhood. Not to mention proud alumni of these schools.

The Inquirer quoted teachers as lamenting “this is like a death.” Students of all ages have been photographed hugging and weeping. Parents are shell-shocked. You can just read their minds. How can this be happening?

I am not Catholic and was a public school kid myself. But it is not hard to understand the impact on families with the loss of these schools which, along with the parish church, served as the backbone of many neighborhoods. Anyone can relate to the helplessness of not being in charge of your own destiny. You have an expectation that your life will play out as planned, give or take some detours along the way. Education is one of those things that seems pretty well-scripted. It can be what you want, pretty much.

Eventually the dust will settle, the shock will settle into resignation. Students will be rerouted to other schools and make new friends. Life will go on. But the conviction that some things are forever will be shaken to its core.

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Sundown tonight marks the beginning of the holiest 24 hours on the Jewish calendar. The evening service, known as Kol Nidre, ushers in Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, a somber period of fasting, reflection and repentance, which lasts until sundown tomorrow night.

According to Jewish belief, God inscribes each person’s fate for the coming year into the Book of Life on Rosh Hashanah and waits until Yom Kippur to seal the verdict. We take a frank look at mistakes we have made in the past year, and what we can do to right those wrongs. We consider ways to become a better person.

This day of introspection and prayer is preceded by a hearty evening meal of challah, brisket or chicken, noodle kugel or other calorie-laden Jewish dishes that purport to stave off the hunger pangs tomorrow (note: it doesn’t work). After our bellies are stuffed with apple cake and rugelach, we will stagger from the table and leave for synagogue.

But … wait a minute. Isn’t there a baseball game tonight? The Very Important Game 5 of the National League Division Series between our beloved Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals?

Oy.

This is a perfect example of religious beliefs and modern culture colliding in a most inconvenient way.

This dilemma has presented itself in the past, perhaps most famously in the case of Sandy Koufax. Jewish people are fond of recalling the decision of the legendary Brooklyn/ L.A. Dodgers pitcher who declined to pitch Game One of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. A mensch (good person), say the Chosen People with pride. Really? question those for whom baseball IS a religion.

My friends, unlike the ancient scribes who pondered these things for a living, I do not have the answer. Nor will I judge you one way or the other, whatever your decision may be. I will leave you with a joke published in The Philadelphia Inquirer this morning:

A guy calls his rabbi and says, “Rabbi? I have a problem. I have tickets to the Phillies-St. Louis game and it’s Yom Kippur. What should I do?”

“No problem,” says the rabbi. “You can record it.”

“Oh!” the guy cries. “That’s great! I didn’t know you could record Kol Nidre!”

Shana Tova, and may all of you, no matter what your faith, be inscribed in the Book of Life.

And go Phillies!

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The lyrics of Simon and Garfunkel’s tune have haunted me this morning, especially these:

Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

With the news (read the New York Times article here) that Reading, Pa. is now the most poverty-stricken city in the United States, I am overwhelmed with sadness for my hometown, a place that seemed so idyllic as I grew up.

I had the best childhood, the kind every kid should have, filled with opportunity and fearlessness and life lessons that prepared me for adulthood. The children of Reading now have little hope of living the life I have led.

As a child, I had dreams that had every likelihood of being fulfilled. Today, the children of Reading don’t dare to dream, or hope. If current trends continue, only 63% of them will graduate from high school. Just 8% will get a college degree. Too many of them will have babies way too soon, and the downward spiraling continues.

On summer nights I was lulled to sleep by the sound of cicadas. The children of Reading are awakened by gunfire or other forms of violence.  Because with poverty comes desperation and lawlessness.

What happened to Reading? The factories left. The outlets left. The young people left. The minority population surged, along with it the rates of unemployment, crime and drop-outs from high school.

My high school friends and I have remained close, with treasured memories we love to share. We never miss a reunion, our most recent one having taken place just last month. We often comment on how well our classmates have fared. So many have gone on to have thriving careers, successful relationships, truly rewarding lives. We came from different backgrounds, but our parents and teachers gave us the gift of believing that the world was ours for the taking.

The children of Reading will not look back on their high school years the way we do, if in fact they last in school that long.

Reading, my little town, I weep for you.

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I was up earlier than usual that day, feeling reasonably peppy and up for some exercise. Hurriedly finishing my first cup of coffee, I laced up my sneakers, zipped my hoodie and headed outside for a run. It was pitch black and the sky was studded with twinkling stars. I inhaled the crisp September air and started to compile my mental checklist of what was on tap for this Tuesday, September 11. Drop off the kids a few minutes early, I reminded myself. Gotta get to work in time for an 8:30 meeting.

The streets were quiet, most houses dark with slumber. I jogged up and down the hills of my neighborhood to the beat of Bruce Springsteen in my headphones. As the sun began to rise, I reached the last leg and chugged toward home. My neighbor’s son stood on the corner waiting for the school bus. “Hey Ben!” I called out to him. He waved.

Aren’t we all reliving that day, September 11, 2001, and don’t we remember every tiny detail? The day that began like any other. A normal Tuesday morning, distinguished perhaps by the vivid blue sky. Normalcy turned into something too awful to have ever imagined. The disbelief that a plane, no, four planes, could be used to attack our country. The confusion, panic, not knowing if my city, Philadelphia, was next to be attacked. The surreality of a traffic jam in mid-morning as office buildings emptied with horrified Americans desperate to get home, to pick up their kids, be with their families. Looking up at that cloudless sky, so deeply blue, now devoid of planes. Glued to the TV, unable to do much of anything else, except cry.

I was in the midst of that 8:30 meeting. A colleague sat in my office. We heard a commotion out by the secretaries’ station. Someone had called with the news. Dumbfounded, we all rushed into a conference room and turned on the television, just in time to see the second plane crash into the south tower of the World Trade Center. Life changed forever for all of us that instant.

Today, ten years later, we remember this achingly sad day. Our country’s pain has not dulled, not really. That terrible day is so fresh in our memory, could ten years really have elapsed since then?

We grieve for the innocent men, women and children who lost their lives that day. We grieve for the families whose suffering will never end, the children who are growing up without the love of a parent, the parents whose children never came home.

We will never forget. Not ten years later. Not ever.

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I’ve been harboring a secret that is bursting to get out. What I am about to tell you may change your mind about me. You might think I’m, well, shallow.

Deep breath.

I stand before you and shamefully admit to an addiction.

No, it’s not drinking. I assure you that I am a one-glass-of-wine kind of girl. Nor is it drugs. Are you kidding? I can’t even take a Tylenol PM without getting woozy.

My nasty habit is … dum da dum … reality TV.

I can trace my addiction back several years when, absently channel surfing one evening, I came across something called Jon and Kate Plus 8. With index finger poised to move on to the next channel, I stopped in mid click. Whoa! How adorable were those kids? Would you look at that, eight of them! I guiltily settled in for what felt like legal voyeurism, intrigued by control freak Kate, impassive Jon and the chaotic day in, day out with their lively brood.

I was hooked. I got to know each little tyke by name (the two twins, Mady and Kara, should have their own show). Like a doting grandmother, I oohed and aahed when Kate dressed them in identical outfits. I loved the little day trips they took — to the zoo, to a Phillies game, or simply the grocery store. Even the potty training episodes brought a knowing smile to my face.

Then came Keeping Up With the Kardashians, a Hollywood fractured fairy tale featuring whiny, raven-haired, olive-skinned princesses with fancy cars and an eponymous boutique, a bossy loudmouth mom and faded Olympics superstar stepdad Bruce Jenner. Their lifestyle fascinated me, as did the absence of any discernible talent on the part of the princesses.

Next were the Girls Next Door, starring Kendra, Holly and Bridget, with Hugh Hefner making an occasional pajama-clad appearance. I ignored the creepiness and happily followed the crazy exploits of the girls until Kendra decided that 20-somethings and 80-somethings don’t really have all that much in common and left the Mansion for younger football-playing Hank.

So of course I had to watch Dancing with the Stars since Kendra was in it and, although she was eliminated in just a few weeks, I got completely swept up in the drama with Kirstie and Max (were they an item off-screen, do you think?) and the amazing dancing of Chelsea and Mark. The addiction got worse.

Before long I was sucked into The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Can true love spring from a reality show? I wondered. Ali and Roberto found their way, but sadly, like the withering petals on the final rose, romance died for Emily and Brad as soon as the season ended. The next season featured Ashley, a Penn dental student and Brad reject, now searching for another Mr. Right. And she found him in J.P., the studly construction manager from Long Island, leaving second-place Ben at the altar. Poor Ben.

Perhaps most achingly poignant is Ryan and Tatum: The O’Neals. After years of estrangement and bitterness, this father and  daughter have resolved to give their relationship one final chance. In stark and rather uncomfortable sessions with their psychiatrists, we watch them peel back layer after layer of resentment to try to uncover the familial love that existed long ago. I find it hard to watch, but hard to turn away.

Maybe it’s because I am secure in my reassuringly humdrum life that I can peek into these other worlds with fascination but not jealousy. I liken these forays to the thrill a sociologist must get when embarking on an anthropological dig, exploring unusual customs in a native habitat.

Life under a microscope must be lucrative, and fame must be irresistible, but I will contentedly remain perched on the outside looking in. And enjoy every minute. But that’s between you and me.

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