I hate ends.
I don’t like when books, or series of books, end.
Ask my kids about this.
Just last week, after years of them prodding, teasing, begging and bribing me, and even going through lengths like borrowing books on CD from their school libraries. I finally, finally finished the entire Harry Potter series.
I don’t even like to eat the ends of a loaf of bread.
Even when it comes to one of my favorite activities in the world – dancing – I prefer not stay for the last dance. Call it a Cinderella syndrome, but I hate when the music ends. I leave about 10 minutes each week before the session wraps up. As the music lingers in my head while I start up the car in the parking lot, I envision my folk dancing friends dancing on into the night, so the dance is never over.
But end it did, for me, at least in Rochester.
I have been taking Israeli Folk Dancing on Sunday nights at the Rochester Jewish Community Center for about 10 years now. When I first started I knew nothing about Israeli Folk Dancing outside of Hava Nagilah. Seriously.
But Israeli Folk Dancing is not your Bar Mitzvah Havah Nagilah. Blending music with Greek, Latin, Middle Eastern and the random Irish (yes IRISH) influences, Israeli Folk Dancing has something for everyone. At every age.
And you don’t have to be Jewish to do it. There are Israeli Folk Dance sessions held the world over, including places like Tokyo and Beijing.
At first, Israeli Folk Dancing can be frustrating. All these people whirling and jumping around you are having all this fun and really know what they are doing. And the beginner, well, the beginner fumbles. And watches.
Week after week I went. I made sure I got there for the beginner hour. I watched feet. I danced on the outside of the circle not to get in the way of the experts. Then, with increased confidence that I would not crash or trip anyone (or myself) I moved in. I’m grateful for great guidance from the teacher to long timers who called out steps for me.
I have gone from stumbling through each dance, to learning the steps, to a point where I’ve actually become pretty good! Good enough to call the steps to newcomers who give it a try. Good enough to teach it to children in area Hebrew schools and camps.
Here are reasons why dance, any dance, but particularly Israeli Folk Dancing is good for you:
- It’s a great cardio workout. Dancing burns on an average of 375 calories per hour.
- IFD is also great for your brain. Each dance is a sequence of choreographed steps. All this memorization improves brain function, especially for some of us who are, emmm, getting up there in age. It takes about six lessons and going on a consistent basis to get the basic steps down. Before you know it, your feet are moving to each familiar dance without even giving it much thought, which comes to the next benefit….
- Israeli Folk Dancing is a great social outlet. While your feet are moving, catch up in conversation with friends old and new.
- If you are Jewish, or simply have a love for Israel, IFD connects your feet and ears to the Holy Land. During Israel’s peaceful times, dancing to the latest Israeli dance is a dance of celebration. In times of war or terror, the dance becomes one of solidarity.
And now, now that I am leaving town, the JCC of Greater Rochester offers Israeli Folk Dancing FREE to members, $6 per week for non members.
Last Sunday was my very last dance session, for now, with my dear friends from Israeli Folk Dance in Rochester. It was a big part of my life and brought me happiness each Sunday night.
And last Sunday, I managed to make myself stay for the very last dance:
Do you dance regularly? What does it bring to your life? Leave a comment below, and don’ t ever stop dancing.
A few weeks back, I wrote the first part of helping out back in Staten Island
I called it Part I which means, of course, there will be at least a sequel.
Well, it’s been a rough few weeks healthwise in our household so my apologies for the hold up on Part II.
It turns out that my synagogue’s education director in Rochester is childhood friends with David Sorkin, the executive director of the JCC in Staten Island. Our synagogue was collecting donations for Sandy victims in Staten Island. Their only problem: how were they going to deliver the goods?
So, in addition to helping out the fine volunteers at Guyon Rescue, with the help of my husband’s colleagues at General Motors, we borrowed the biggest Suburban you’d ever lay your eyes on and filled it with the gently used and new toys, books, art supplies and toiletries to be distributed through the Bernikow Jewish Community Center of Staten Island.
When I returned home to Rochester, Temple Beth El received the following letter from the JCC in thanks for our donation:
Dear Families of Temple Beth El,
Thank you very much for the toys, books, games and gifts that you collected for the children of our community who have suffered great losses from Hurricane Sandy. Also, special thanks to Stacy Gittleman and family for delivering supplies to the JCC.
As fate would have it, we received a call on Monday morning from a day care center that experienced damage from the storm and they were seeking replacement supplies. In addition, we sent some of the supplies to one of the shelters that are housing families. They were setting up a play room for the children, and your donations helped to create a warm and welcoming space in an otherwise bare and sterile environment. Some of these same children received the cards that were made by the children at your school.
Most of all, we must tell you that your acts of kindness will be remembered by all involved long after these families return to their homes and their lives get back to normal. …..
Thank you again to all my Rochester friends, neighbors and congregants who filled bins and my garage with donations that we brought down to Staten Island. I just wanted to share this letter with you to know how much it was appreciated.
Imagine being a kid, who, on top of losing all your favorite stuff, you’ve lost your home too.
Imagine being a mom trying to cope with all that loss. And at the same time, trying to get through all that red tape of filing claims with insurance companies and FEMA.
A few small things, delivered from up north, just might brighten your day. Even if it’s just a new bottle of berry red nail polish.
A few weeks ago, Susan Bernstein, Director of Education for Temple Beth El in Rochester, told me she had been in touch with an old friend in Staten Island. That friend, David Sorkin, happens to be Director of the Bernikow Jewish Community Center in Staten Island.
The two are collecting “stuff” – books, toys, crafts, games, and other small luxuries – for those who have lost everything on Staten Island. The “stuff” will be distributed to hundreds of clients of the JCC now living in shelters throughout Staten Island. These families, some of them living on the brink of poverty even before the storm, just need some sense of normalcy. It’s not much. Toys, books and beauty products may be just a small diversion as these families grapple with long-term struggle of rebuilding their lives and homes.
The only challenge – Rochester and Staten Island are about 350 miles apart.
Susan then asked my husband and I if we had room in our car to drive the donations to Staten Island.
Now, packing a family of five for a car trip is no small task. The family SUV will be crammed with suitcases, bookbags, snacks for the road, and don’t forget my son’s guitar. Then, there are those growing bodies that used to fit so compactly in an infant seat. Those ever-growing lanky teen and tween legs have taken up the room we once used to stow away all the extras.
No, I have no room in my car. But I’ll happily take all the stuff anyway. Happily.
There is all the room in my heart for my ravished hometown, Staten Island. I have seen the photos and have been following any speck of news from my hometown.
I can’t wait to go home. I know that seeing the devastation with my own eyes is going to be really hard.
In my phone conversation with Sorkin, he asked me to imagine a 4-foot storm surge reaching all the way up to Hylan Blvd. My brain just can’t process. All those businesses, many of them still not up and running.
Since Sandy hit, all I have wanted to do was go home and help.
So, I thank Susan for getting this project started with the JCC of Staten Island. I thank my rabbi, Sara Friedson-King, for letting me make an appeal to the congregation during Shabbat morning services. And I thank my Temple Beth El family for all the donations that will truly make someone’s day a bit brighter.
So far, in addition to the donations in the above photo, there is also an entire barrel of donations waiting for me at synagogue.
I’m putting a hitch on the family car. Renting a U-Haul. Where there is a will there is a way.
Staten Island, don’t worry, I’m coming home to help.
Now that December is here, this post about wrapping things up in my little spot in the Brighton Community Garden is way overdue. But I must write this final post as a conclusion to the unforgettable experience it has been digging, weeding, watering and reaping alongside my fellow Brighton neighbors.
My neighbors and I have shared watering and weeding responsibilities through a hot dry summer. Our tomato patches bursting with more than one family could possibly consume, we’ve traded beefsteaks for exotic varieties such as the green-striped zebra or tiny yellow jelly bean.
Sue Gardiner-Smith, the manager of the garden, made sure that we kept up with our commitments to clear the common paths of weeds and not let our own plots get too overgrown (that meant taming my wild pumpkin vines!) In return, she gave me carte blanche to take as much Swiss Chard as I could cut from her never-ending crop of the green leafy stuff.
My garden experience ended on Veteran’s Day. The kids had the day off. First, we paid a visit to the brand new Veteran’s Memorial sculpture, just next door to the garden:
Then, we got to work. We pulled out the last of the vegetation, blackened and dead as a result of a hard killing frost that descended over Rochester a night or two before:
We pulled up the fencing and the poles ( the boys had to have a stick fight with them atop the compost heap, of course):
Harvested our last pumpkins and carrots, and finally, chopped down the remains of that sunflower that grew to be about 10 feet tall.
Putting this garden to bed would be the first of many lasts for me in Rochester.
Like clearing out this garden, I’m literally pulling up my roots again. Rochester may not be my hometown, but it is for my kids.
When I cleared the last weeds with my kids, I knew I would never garden here again.
I would not be putting down my $25 deposit to renew my lease on this 10′x10′ piece of land that gave me so much delight. Next spring, this plot will be cared by someone else.
Next spring, I’ll be well on my way to finding our next home, and hopefully our next garden somewhere in Michigan.
When people ask me where I send my kids to camp, I tell them I send them to Camp Ramah.
Now, when you live in a town where traveling even 30 minutes to get somewhere seems like traveling to another planet (and I'm guilty of this as well), they then reply, Oh, the Camp Ramah in Toronto.
And then I say, "Nooo, it's actually two and a half hours further.
The year mark of my most recent visit to Israel quickly approaches. It was my fourth journey to the Jewish state. It won’t be my last. In fact, if I could, I’d have no hesitation to go there on the next plane.
A few things made last year’s trip during Chanukkah very special.
The first is family. Unlike my first two trips to Israel, this time I went back as a wife, a mother of three children accompanied by their grandparents, both sets. Seeing Israel’s historical and religious sites through the eyes of three generations was once-in-a-lifetime goosebumps every single minute.
Secondly, we have Israeli friends. Friends from teaching. Friends made in summer camp. These friendships deepened our connection to the land of Israel more strongly than any tourist or archeological site.
Nearly every day of our trip, friends met us for dinner or lunch in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. My son reconnected with his friend, son of two rabbis, who met us for lunch after we celebrated my son’s Bar Mitzvah.
Friends came and met us wherever we were on tour.
They hung out with us on the beach near our hotel.
My good friend from Modi’in met up with our group not once but twice.
She’s An artist. A teacher. A true intellect. We have shared our different perspectives and deepened our understandings of what it means to be a Jew in America and what it means to be a Jew in Israel. I’ve connected with few people in my life as I have with her, though we will seldom see one another face to face. On a wintry day by Tel Aviv standards, we chatted on beach chairs with our spouses and watched our daughters play in the waves.
Or they accompanied us to the Israel museum in Jerusalem.
There are the friends we did see and the friends we couldn’t see. I spent one night on a very long phone conversation with a friend from high school now living in Modi’in. At the time, she was newly diagnosed with breast cancer. All the plans we made almost a year in advance to get together, to spend time, to celebrate Shabbat, were reduced to that one phonecall. I was thankful just to be in the same time zone as her as I listened to her talk about the hard choices and treatments that lay ahead.
Now. Now the bombs fall.
When you have friends and family in Israel, focus on anything else has been nearly impossible. Eating? Making meals? Even taking walks? Just a temporary diversion until I can get back on the computer again and check in.
I read an update from my tour guide who heard the bomb sirens and made it on time to the nearest shelter.
I read updates from people who sleep with shoes on and who get tips on how to get to sleep again after they settle into their cot in their safety room.
I read an update from my Modi’in friend, now done with chemo treatments but who must now train her daughters how to run to safety depending on where they are when the siren sounds.
I read an update from my neighbor, now visiting in Israel describing what it was like to see the Kotel plaza evacuated.
Is this any way to live a normal life? What is normal? Why must this be accepted as the status quo?
What to do? Whether you’ve been to Israel a dozen times, or have never been there, whether you can name dozens of Israeli friends or never met anyone from the Middle East’s only true democracy, there is something we as freedom loving Americans can do.
We can tell the world the truth. We can expose Hamas for their lies and their brainwashing. Social media can expose how Hamas truly operates as nothing more than a brain-washing hate cult that glorifies death enough to seduce its women and children into becoming human shields.
When you have Israeli friends and family, the latest flare up between Israel and her Arab neighbors is not just a news story, it’s a personal attack.
I know I’ve been posting about this nonstop if you follow me on Facebook. But please, don’t ignore Israel’s fight for hearts and minds. Their war on terror is ours. Do what you can do from far away to defend her.
For the first time in your life, your parents are away. They leave their home, the home they raised you and taught you right from wrong, in your trusted care while they take a long overdue romantic vacation for just the two of them.
You know where this is going.
The Party. It’s the right of passage for every American Teen. At least it seems that way in the movies. As the weather warms up, think of all those teen movies that ended in a springtime house party bash. Some that come to mind just from my generation include Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, and later, Mean Girls
When I was growing up on Staten Island, it was rare to find a house that was not an attached townhouse. For those of you in suburbia, this means a house that shares at least one common wall with one neighbor. Or maybe your house was flanked by townhouses on both sides. The walls that separated one home from another were exceedingly thin and provided no sound proofing.
How thin? We could say “God Bless You!” when we heard our neighbors sneeze. When there was a birthday party, a family fight, or when their coo-coo clock went off at all hours of the night, you heard that too.
So, the first time – the only time – I had a party the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I did the right thing. I let my neighbors know that I was going to have a few friends over. Just a few. And, we might get a little loud. And, would they mind if we put some beer bottles in their trash the next day?
My neighbor, Dom, a man in his late 60′s who played Frank Sinatra on his backyard transistor radio all summer and who introduced me to my first grilled Italian pepper, said it wouldn’t be a problem.
I was a good kid. Really I was. Still am. Even though my teen daughter now views me as irresponsible because I caught mono in my sophomore year of college after a weekend of parties. So, when planning my first keg party, no I was not of age, but my friends and I were all right at the cusp. We were all turning 20 that year. That’s why we had the party, it was for a friend, a girl who received all honors in high school and was studying economics at SUNY Binghamton. She was turning 20 that weekend. We did the responsible thing by asking my friends’ of-age boyfriend to buy the beer.
My underage friends and I were responsible for hiring the DJ. He charged $75 for the night and three of us each chipped in $25. We cleared a spot in my basement where he could set up and play. We didn’t want to set up outside because again, I was trying to be considerate of my neighbors.
More importantly, I was trying not to get caught and get in the worst trouble of my short 19-year-old life.
The party was a success! It was a beautiful night and we would have gone swimming in the pool if there weren’t so many damned mosquitos. (Another thing about Staten Island. No matter how small the backyard, everyone managed to have a pool. It may have been an above-ground pool, but it was wet and cold in the hot New York City summer, that is what mattered most). I remember dancing and lots of kids coming, most invited, some, who barely spoke to me in high school but oh look who’s having a party and decided now they wanted to be my friends.
My friends had their boyfriends with them. A friend of mine became a friend with benefits.
Most importantly, no one got too drunk and no one got hurt. And, my considerate party goers didn’t stay or make noise too too late into the night and my college roommate even mopped the kitchen and bathroom floors when it was all over.
Only one household possession was broken as a result of the party. The kitchen clock came crashing down. That was because one of those previously mentioned mosquitos got in and my brother tried to kill it when it landed on the clock.
Now, my parents are very wise. Later, they told me that they had their suspicions that I had a party whether or not they found a letter on computer print-out paper (the kind that came in a stack with holes on the sides to feed it into the printer. Remember, this was the late 80′s). The letter was written by my brother, an impressionable teenager at the time who had just written a letter to his friend that “my sister had a wild crazy party at our house and there was beer and everything!”
Yes, that was a very dark week in the Cooper household. My parents felt betrayed by me and my good girl friends that never got in any trouble in high school. There were tears of guilt and apology later that week in my parents’ living room among all the guilty. But I’m 43 now and I’m not grounded anymore and I still love my brother.
So, why do I bring this up now?
Now, after 20 years of being away, it is my parents who are the retired empty nesters living on the other side of the wall from a family with three teenagers. Last weekend, the parents of these teenagers went away for a vacation. Last weekend, it was my parents who were the couple who could not get to sleep because of a teen house party that went deep into the night.
The next night, my parents pulled into their driveway after spending the evening with friends and were greeted by all three of the kids next-door. With a big plate of home-baked, shamrock-shaped cookies.
“We baked these for you. We are SO sorry that we made so much noise and kept you up all night,” mom told me over the phone, and we laughed as she described how this girl pleaded for forgiveness.
Sure, they were sorry about the noise. But they were more worried about getting potentially ratted out to their parents. That was the main reason for the cookies.
At this, my mom took the cookies and laughed. “No problem. Been there. Done that.”
So, Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone. And keep the music down after 1 a.m., will ya?”
To anyone reading this who lives in a BIG metro area like Los Angeles, New York City, Toronto…. let me ask you this:
If you are invited to a wedding/Bar Mitzvah/christening/fill-in-the-blank life occasion across town with a religious service in the morning and party at night,do you get a hotel room for the weekend?
I didn’t think so.
If you are the planner of a big life event occasion and invite many out-of-town guests, do you pull out all the stops in providing them with extra special treatment: (reserve a block of hotel rooms, extra dinners and brunches, goodie bags in their hotel rooms)?
Of course you do, they are the out-of-towners!
This past weekend, my whole family was invited to the Bat Mitzvah of a friend my son made in Camp Ramah. My daughter is friends with the girl’s sister, and our two families have developed this great Camp Ramah connection over the years. We were very honored to be invited to this happy occasion as a family. There are too many sad occasions in life that we juggle our lives to attend,so why not do a little schlepping for the happy ones?
As a kid growing up in Staten Island, I remember going to weddings and bar mitzvahs, and later on youth group dances “out on the Island” – in this case Long Island. My dad had a special name for this stretch of suburbia that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It didn’t matter where your destination was on the Island. Any trip from SI to LI was to a place called “all the way out” on the Island.
I remember the traffic as we traveled and my dads angry muttering at the wheel. There was traffic on the Belt. The BQE. The LIE. And the GCP. (If you don’t know what these stand for, you are not from NYC.) It would take what seemed hours to get anywhere. And still does.
In reality, the distance in miles was only 40 miles or so, but it was the traffic that made the journey take hours. But never did my parents think about getting a hotel room or consider staying overnight. Because LI was still considered “in town.” I remember drowsy drives back to the other island, Staten Island, when my brother and I would fall asleep in the back in our party clothes, my parents singing doo-wop oldies tunes to their heart’s content in the front seat.
Drive over an hour in the New York Metro Area, you are still in the New York Metro area.
Drive over an hour in Rochester, you are in Buffalo
So, at the beginning of the weekend, when we parted with friends at a Friday night dinner and announced to our Rochester friends we were headed to Buffalo for a Bat Mitzvah, they actually said to us “Have a nice trip!”
When you are transplantednorth, traveling an hour to go for a visit is nothing. Staying at a hotel overnight was out of the question.But the question remained, how were we going to pull this day off?
The day came with logistical challenges. We left our house very early Saturday morning to get to the synagogue in Buffalo**. We had to pack two extra sets of clothes for each family member, one casual outfit for hanging around the hotel, and then more formal attire for the evening party. Plus bathing suits because the kids were invited to swim in the hotel pool, so that meant toiletries too, but where to shower?
When we got to Buffalo, we sat through a very nice warm service and at the luncheon reception, known as the kiddush, we made fast friends with several couples who all were from out-of-town to bring their children, also campers, to celebrate their friends’ Bat Mitzvah. I told them we were “from” Rochester, but as conversations went on, our native accents revealed themselves.
As we relaxed that afternoon in the hotel lobby, one of the dads spoke up and asked my husband and I: “You didn’t grow up in Rochester, did you? Where are you really from?”
That night, after eating and dancing to the sounds provided by a DJ company called the Bar Mitzvah Boys – who are from Rochester – we didn’t get home until 1 a.m. For my husband and I, it was now our turn to stay awake and sing while the kids slept in the back all the way home.
**Yes, we drive on Shabbat. Conservative Judaism has a decree that allows one to drive if it is to worship at a synagogue. There was some irony to all this, because once we arrived in Buffalo, we had nowhere to go and nothing to do but read and chat with some real “out-of-town” guests who invited us to spend the afternoon at their hotel. So, we did drive, but in the end had a very relaxing Shabbat.
So, over the February break, I got myself an overdue haircut. And over break, my husband of almost 18 years snapped a photo of me, and this does not happen often, because I’m usually the one behind the lens. And so what if I am wearing safety glasses, I finally got in a photo!
I liked this shot so much it’s my new Facebook profile picture. Which raised several questions from my funny Facebook friends. Actually, they were my friends long LONG before Facebook ever existed. I’m talking about my college newspaper friends, the original social networkers. We IM’ed one another on our ancient Video Display Terminals across the newspaper office long before the kids today were texting. Long before they were even born!
And, over the years we have reconnected over Facebook, they have historically left the most hysterical, laugh out loud (oh, I mean LOL) comments and status updates.
One asked: Is that a glove box?
Another: Ummm, Stace – are you getting a mammogram here?
No. Nope. Both wrong. Look at me in that photo. I’m smiling. Happy. Usually, when we women get our mammograms, it is something we don’t want to photograph. Because we are not smiling. We are usually grimacing in anticipation of the squish. And, I would be wearing a hospital gown and not a nice red sweater.
So, really, what am I doing?
I am taking a sandblasting workshop at the Corning Museum of Glass.
Corning, NY is located just 90 minutes from Rochester. Not only is it a great visual museum that showcases the art and science of glass, the museum also offers great hands-on workshops in glass flower making, glass bead jewelry making, and sand blasting.
Sandblasting, according to the workshop listing, is the process of removing glass or imparting a matte finish by bombardment with fine grains of sand that are propelled by compressed air.
It sounds very violent, but it’s not and is actually lots of fun.
First, we covered our glass with either stickers or masking tape to create a design.
My daughter was making some asymetrical design with her tape, I just couldn’t figure it out:
We then brought them over to a sandblasting machine, where the glass object is inserted, and then with a foot pedal and a hose, we blast our piece with a strong plume of sand:
And now, we have the following creations to keep forever, or at least, until they drop on my tiled kitchen floor: