OH USY

Ok everyone put your thumbs up high in the air! “Oh USY, Oh USY, for you we live for you we die! Oh USY, oh USY, for you we live for you we die! You gave us spirit, lots of luck; you even taught us how to … fool around. Oh USY, oh USY, for you we live for you we die!

Any current USYer reading this blog is not going to know that little ditty, but most of my friends sure will (and any staff out there, sorry!) Last weekend, my synagogue hosted the Hagalil USY regional Leadership Training Institute Kinus. There were about 140 high school students who came together to “do Jewish” for lack of a better term. For the kids, the weekend was about leadership and those who attended were the leaders of the region and many of the local chapters in New Jersey. But it was more than just leadership. It was about Jewish learning, prayer, friendship and fun. It was a great weekend for all involved and it really brought back a lot of my memories from when I was in USY. We had four boys stay in our house, one of whom was my nephew and one the son of one of my close friends from USY.

It was really amazing getting to see the youth of today experiencing some of the same things I did in USY and I know that I was looking at future Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish educators and just committed Jews. It made me very happy to know that there is a secure future. But then last night I saw a disturbing video on YouTube that was shown at my Synagogue board meeting.

This disturbing video brought me information of which I was totally unaware. When I was in USY, there were between 15,000 and 20,000 USYers in North America. We would have upwards of 1200 USYers at International Convention. USY Pilgrimage was bursting at the seams with participants. But now, with numbers like these, USY is in real danger of disappearing. At the same rate of by 2015 there could be 3000 USYers. There are hardly any large USY chapters with more than 60 members (there were a few in NJ when I was in USY). USY is a program that I want my children to be involved with, and if things don’t turn around, my seven year old daughter may not have much of a chance. On top of that, the Jewish community in general will suffer for the lack of USY. Many leaders in the Conservative Movement and in the general community are USY graduates.

So now that I have depressed you, what can we do about this? Those of us in Conservative Synagogues can start by doing two things (and those not in a Conservative Synagogue can do one). We can encourage our children to go to USY events! It sounds so simple, but it is not happening. Parents today seem to be very lax when it comes to pushing their children to get involved with youth programming. I see this in my Synagogue and in the general community. I understand that there are so many things vying for our children’s time. When I was in high school, there was not much for me to be involved with outside of sports and a few clubs in my school. USY filled a major gap. Today our kids are under a lot of pressure to be involved with a lot of things. I think that parents need to take a look at their priorities and what types of things in which they want their children involved. Personally I think USY would be a better choice than karate or dance if the choice needs to be made. USY helps create responsible adults and in many cases our future leaders. USY fosters a love for Judaism and Israel that is not so easy to come by these days. USY helps prepare teens for college and for life beyond. So whether you are in a Conservative Synagogue or not, I urge you to consider USY as a great program for your children (and that is not meant to put down NCSY or NFTY, if you are involved in the Orthodox movements or Reform movement, please get your children involved in those organizations!)

The second thing those of us in Conservative Synagogues can do is to open our doors to USY. When USY is having a program, stop by and see what’s happening! USYers would love to show you! Urge your congregations to sponsor USY if they do not, and to host regional events if they do. And when your Synagogue hosts a regional event, volunteer! Be there to serve a meal or to help set up a room. Open your home to USYers and have them stay in your house. These are experiences the kids will never forget and you will never forget.

We’re all in it together. USY can have a very bright future but only if WE, the members of Conservative congregations, make a commitment to USY. The kids won’t jump up and join USY on their own, they need our encouragement. And once they are there, the rest takes care of itself. I can tell you that USY was the single most important thing in my high school years. I was a shy introvert before USY and USY changed me forever. I did not just decide to go to a USY meeting; my parents encouraged me to go. I did not just go to a USY kinnus; my parents suggested that I go. Once I was there, USY got me. I became the president of my local chapter, a member of the regional board, a vice president in the region and finally a member of the USY international board. My nephew who stayed at my home this past Shabbat is following a similar path (although he was not a shy introvert!). USY makes menschen (good people) and we need to step up and ensure its continuation.

Finally here are a couple of USY promotional videos, and two of a USYers having a great time at shul!

Enjoy!

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Holiday Challah

I posted some photos of my round braided Challah last night on Facebook and it got some nice reaction so I decided to post my Challah recipe here with a few tips and tricks and some visuals to help you on your way to making beautiful Challot.

First, here is my NEVER FAIL delicious Challah recipe (based on Friday night bread machine challah from “A Treasury of Jewish Baking by Marci Goldman).

1 ¼ C warm water
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/3 C oil
3 T honey
1/3 C sugar
1 lb of bread flour
12 oz white whole wheat flour
2 t salt
1 T instant yeast

Before I get to the instructions, here are a couple of notes. First off, the most important thing I can teach anyone who wants to bake bread is WEIGH YOUR FLOUR!!!!! I cannot stress this enough. WEIGH YOUR FLOUR!!!!! The problem with flour is that it will settle quickly in its container. So if you were to sift your flour one cup will be different if you don’t sift it. However, since the air in the sifted flour weighs almost nothing, the weight of your flour will always be the same no matter if you sift or not. In general if a recipe asks for 2 cups of flour, it means sifted flour. A cup of flour should weigh about 4.5 ounces. So the best way to measure your flour is to get a good scale, put your bowl on the scale and then pour in your flour. I pour in the pound of bread flour and then add the white whole wheat until the scale shows 28 ounces of flour.

Tip number two. Crack two eggs in a bowl. Separate the third and add the yolk to the bowl and save the white. When you get three or four whites you can make yummy meringue cookies!

Tip number three. I use a quarter cup measuring cup that can be read from the top and has tablespoon marks. I fill it will oil to the rim. This is about 1/3 of a cup. Then I pour it in with the eggs. Then I add the honey to just over 3 tablespoons. The extra oil left in the measurer will help the oil pour freely into the bowl with the eggs and oil.

Tip number four. Use a bread machine!!!!!

  1. Pour the warm water into the pan of the bread machine.
  2. Add the mixture of eggs, oil and honey as above.
  3. Add 1/3 Cup of sugar.
  4. Weigh your flours in a bowl and add the salt and mix in.
  5. Carefully pour the flour mixture to the bread pan.
  6. Add the instant yeast to the top of the flour.

Set your machine on the dough cycle and let it go. When it is done, shape the challot and let them rise for up to an hour and then bake for about 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven until the bottoms are browned.

That is all there is to it. If you weigh your flour, you will not go wrong on this recipe. Did I mention that you should weigh your flour?

For a small challah, use about 1 lb of dough. Use up to 2 lbs for a really nice size challah.

To make a simple round, take your dough and roll it out into a long strand. The most important part is that the strand be even in thickness all the way. Then take one end in your hand, and wind the other end around to make you round Challah (it will look like one side of Princess Leia’s hair!!). If you wind it very tight, you will get a very nice tall Challah. If you want the Challah to be more flat, then wind loosely.

To make the round braided Challah as in my photo, the best would be to follow the following youtube video. The woman does three different challot, and the round braid in the middle one.

To add raisins to your Challah, you should roll out each section into a sheet and then cover with raisins. Then roll up the sheet to make your strand.

Enjoy!

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Three Acts of Kindness

Facebook and the blogosphere have been filled with so many negative political postings of late; I have started to wonder if Facebook is more harm than good. If everyone keeps posting about what is wrong with the world, when do we get to read about what is right with the world, or at least what can we do to make what is wrong right? I want to mention here three things that I have witnessed that shows what is right in the world. Two of these I witnessed and the other one happened to me personally.

  1. Today I was running very late for work. Yesterday I went in late on purpose and I forgot to reset my alarm clock back to its normal 5:15 am. So I woke up at 6:15 and quickly got ready and made the train about 30 minutes later than my normal train. This train turned out to be a local so I was not almost 45 minutes behind my usual schedule. The one major thing I like about commuting at 6:15 am is that the trains are usually light. I can always get a seat and when I get out in NYC, there are not many people around. Fast forward 45 minutes and you get a very different experience. I got a seat fine on the train out of Edison, but the PATH train in Newark was very full and the subways were already packed. Coming upstairs from the PATH, I found hundreds of people pushing their way through the area to get to their offices, the subways or shopping. As I made it to the end of a long narrow corridor everyone was rushing to make it across Church Street before the traffic safety workers form the World Trade Center site closed the chains (for those who do not work in this area, during rush hours there are traffic safety workers rather than traffic lights). I got across the street and they had already closed the chains. There was one person in a wheelchair trying to get across the street the other way. This man looked older and much disheveled. He was very likely homeless and had very little in this world. With the flow of the pedestrian traffic is was almost impossible to stop and go back to this person, but out of the blue, one commuter did just that. He stopped, risking being pushed to the ground by other commuters, walked back to this man, and wheeled him across the street before any problems could arise from this.

    This anonymous person did not need to do this. He gained nothing from it and probably got to work a few minutes late because of it. But he saw another fellow human being in distress and he realized that it was his responsibility to help this person. In this way he was doing his part to fulfill what we read in the Aleinu, l’taken olam b’malchut shaday, “When the world will be perfected under the reign of the Almighty.” This tiny act of kindness from one stranger to another will help to bring future redemption.

 

  1. I have not made any secret of my family’s struggle with our son’s autism. It has made many things difficult in our life and we are still learning how to lessen the struggle. The other day I reached out via email to someone I had met many years ago when I was still at Rutgers. Since then, he has become a very well-known Rabbi and a major public figure. I reached out to him because he, like I, has a son with Autism and there are many issues that my family is dealing with that I knew he had already dealt with in his life. I introduced myself and asked if he remembered me. I explained in brief our story and a little about our struggle with Jewish education, our Synagogue life and our son’s difficulties with our chosen religious lifestyle. To be honest, I really did not expect much of a response. I figured that maybe I would get a nice email back with a few sources to look up, or a contact to call and a Shanna Tova. That ended up being far from what I got. Not only did he respond, he forwarded my email to his wife and the two of them have reached out to us an offered to speak with us on the phone, or through skype to help us learn from all the struggles that they have already overcome. At that moment I felt such joy at being part of the Jewish community and knowing that, in the words of this extraordinary Rabbi’s equally extraordinary wife, “We are all in this together.”

    Like in my first example, he did not need to spend more than a moment to reply to me. In fact, he did not even need to respond, but he did and we have had multiple emails back and forth on a few different topics. It has opened a new lifeline of communication that could end up being very helpful to my family. Hillary Clinton wrote that “It takes a village.” I am finding that our village goes so far beyond my own town. I hope that this will continue to be a source of help for us.

 

  1. My third example comes from something I recently that was extremely moving. A certain person that I know has been afflicted with a disease similar to Parkinson’s disease. This is a man who is a speaker who was well-known for his fiery lectures on political topics as well as brilliant talks about Judaism and Jewish life today. When you were at one of his talks, you would never fall asleep. He kept everyone listening to his insightful words whether you agreed with him or not. Now, a year later he is very frail. Walking with a walker, a helmet on his head for protection and an aide holding his arm, he can only get from place to place with much assistance. He has trouble communicating so his days of speaking are over. I saw him listening to another speaker giving a lecture at a time and place where he was to have spoken. He sat next to his wife and children and I saw the expression on his face and how it clearly pained him to not be able to be doing what he so loved. You might think that the act of kindness that I am going to write about was done to him. In this you would be very wrong. While he was pained to be sitting in a seat listening to someone else, his wife was unable to keep her emotions in check and she cried for her husband. She could not bear the fact that her brilliant husband was not able to lecture like he always did and that his body was totally failing him. What happened next astonished me. This great man, who had every right to be angry with God and the world, comforted his wife and told her it was ok. Even as I type this I cannot fail to be moved by this. He was not thinking of himself, he was thinking of his wife and the comfort that she needed, despite the fact that he needed comfort and prayer more than most. This was perhaps the greatest example of kindness I have ever witnessed.

As we continue through the holiday season I pray that we can all find it in ourselves to add some kindness to the world like these three people did. I am starting a Facebook page that is going to ask people for one day to refrain from political posting and focus instead on postings showing off the good in the world. Please join with me on October 4th for a day without politics on Facebook. http://www.facebook.com/daywithoutpolitics

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Lancaster

I meant to write about each day on our vacation, but circumstances made it difficult. We made it home on Tuesday at about 11:30 which was a little earlier than we expected. My mother-in-law picked up lunch for us and we got all of the kids’ stuff together. I brought in all of our bags so we could add our stuff to the bag with the kids’ and that way we would only have one bag with us. I also brought in our toiletries bag to add the kids toothbrushes etc (this will be important shortly). I packed everything back in the car and off we went to Lancaster. It was actually a very pleasant drive. Avi was in the back of the car with a laptop and a movie (we have power adapters to plug into the car) and Shayna and Noam were content in the middle. Avi actually fell asleep at some point and so the ride was very quiet (YAY!)

We stopped off at the furniture store where we had bought our dining room table a number of years ago because we have a broken chair and they will fix it for us. Avi woke up at this but was still calm. Unfortunately as we moved on we got to a point where traffic was totally stopped. We were on a small road with one lane in each direction. It turns out that there was work going on and they were only letting one side through at a time. Well it seems that they let the other side through for 15 minutes or more! That really got the kids upset (and us too!) We had hoped to maybe do something in the afternoon, but by the time we got to the hotel, we were all pooped. We brought all of the bags in and then I went to put some of the toiletries in the bathroom and I noticed that the toiletries bag was not here! YIKES! All of our meds including Avi’s were back at home. UGH! So we let the kids swim in the pool and then I made some pasta for dinner. I decided that I would drive home, sleep there and bring the meds back. There is an ice cream shop next to the hotel so we took the kids there first and got them small ice creams. It seems things are cheaper in Lancaster because a single scoop here is almost three scoops at home and the same price as a single there! The kids were VERY happy. After we got back to the hotel I left and they went to sleep. My two hour trip took almost three due to heavy traffic (at 11 pm mind you) because of construction. But luckily on the way back in the morning I had no traffic.

The hotel is very nice; it is a MainStay Suties hotel which is a Choice Hotel property. We have two bedrooms and a small kitchen. No frills but it work well for a mid-week stay. We would not use a place like this for Shabbat, but for this it was fine. There are a number of Orthodox people staying here and one woman told us that she checked out the breakfast and everything was kosher! On Wednesday we went to visit the Herrs chips factory. We had bad luck this trip with driving because for quite some time of it we were behind a very slow moving truck and a 40 minute drive ended up taking almost double. The factory tour is great and you get to taste chips right off the line while they are still warm. YUM! We bought a lot of junk food, had our lunch and then drove to Hershey’s Chocolateworld. They have a ride through the “factory” that was a lot of fun and we got free chocolate at the end and a photo of all of us (a rarity, see below). We saw a few more of the things there and did some shopping in the store (of course) and even bumped into another Highland Park family! After a nice dinner in Lancaster, we went back to the hotel for much needed sleep.

Today we went to Hersheypark and met up with the Kamenses who are down here too. After MUCH drama from Avi we went on a buch of rides, had a great time in the water park area and despite MUCH drama from Avi (did I say that already) we had a fine time. I really like Hersheypark. We go to Six Flags in NJ a lot but Hershey really has a lot for everyone. The have lots of roller coasters, but they do have rides for kids who do not like the thrills (Noam), rides for kids that are little (Shayna) and rides for everyone! They have a waterpark area and even some old fashioned rides like the swings and a carousel. The food prices are lower than at Great Adventure and all in all it is fun place to be. We’ll have to go back some time.

We are now back at the hotel and the kids are asleep (I think) and we are about to be as well. All told, it was a pretty good week, but I will be glad to be home.

Our family photo.

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Avi and Shayna with a big piece of chocolate.

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Brandywine day 2

Today ended up being a nice day despite the heavy rain in the morning. We started the day with a wonderful breakfast at the Inn. They have three hot dishes each day and a buffet with cereal, fresh fruit, yogurt and other delicious selections. It started raining right around breakfast time, but we were going to a museum in the morning so we prayed that it would end for the afternoon.

After breakfast we visited the Brandywine River Museum. This is a very nice art museum which highlights late 19th and early 20th century American art. A large portion is from local artists. It turns out that the Brandywine valley has produced many well known artists; the most well known being Andrew Wyeth (and his father N.C. Wyeth). N.C. Wyeth was well known for illustrating books but his great work are his paintings, many of which are the painting versions of his illustrations. He did 17 beautiful pieces that are in the original editions of Treasure Island, and the museum owns 12 of them. His son Andrew became even more famous and there is a whole gallery devoted to him, and then another gallery devoted to his son Jaime! I am not a big art fan, but I really enjoyed this museum. If you ever find yourself in this area, you should definitely see it!

In the afternoon we went to Longwood Gardens. This amazing place was built by Pierre S. DuPont and he actually designed most of it himself! There is so much to see and do, you could spend a few days there, but we saw the highlights in a half of a day. One highlight was bumping into Mark Weinstein and Stephanie Dickstein at the water fountain display!

Tomorrow morning we go back home to have lunch with the kids, and then we all will be going to Lancaster PA (almost back where we are now!)

A rose at Longwood Gardens

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The fountain display at Longwood

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The view from our deck at the Inn

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Vacation 2012

Almost a year ago we had begun to make plans to take the kids to Disneyworld this summer. It is Marsha’s 40th birthday and she wanted to go away and stay at Disney and not have to do anything while we were there. We knew that they usually had a deal in the end of the summer for a free meal plan and she wanted to go and not have to worry about food. Unfortunately things don’t always work out the way you want, and clearly this trip was a bit out of our reach financially. So we began to think of other possibilities.

Marsha’s parent’s, seeing that we need some time away by ourselves decided for her 40th birthday to allow us to go away. The last week in August is usually when we can get away and we made plans to go away by ourselves (her parent’s would stay with the kids). So today we left for the Brandywine Valley and we are staying at a very nice little Inn called the Fairview Inn in Chadds Ford, PA. But before I get to that I need to mention yesterday. Marsha’s birthday was on Friday, and we had a little cake and celebration at Shabbat dinner. About two months ago, I began to plan a surprise party for her. I also thought it would be great if she could have a “girl’s night out” with her friends. So I contacted our friend Carla to take care of the girls night out and I would plan the party. The problem is that there was almost no time to have this party. The Sunday after her birthday (today) was when we were leaving so we could not have a party then. I decided to have the party on Shabbat afternoon. Most everyone was local and my parents and my siblings all drive on Shabbat. So I invited a bunch of people, and low and behold, one person (who shall remain nameless) asked Marsha about her birthday party that first week after I sent out the e-vite! ARGGGH! Marsha asked me about it, and I just gave her no answer.

About a week ago, Carla asked Marsha to go out on Saturday night, so Marsha got it in her head that the surprise was going to be then. Great! Now she would not suspect the party at the house. I had everyone get to the house by 12:45 and I would keep her at the Kiddush after shul until 1 pm, which was not out the ordinary. Thank God everything worked, and she was surprised (although she was a little suspicious as she got near the house). Then of course once she had this surprise, having a few of her friends at diner where Carla took her was also a surprise.

Of course her staying out until 1 am meant that I had to pack us up most of the way, but it was well worth it. Sunday morning we finished packing and got out of the house only 30 minutes later than we had hoped. On our way to the Brandywine area we stopped off near Philly to have lunch with our friend Ari. We had a great time catching up and had a wonderful lunch in of all places, a Wegman’s supermarket!

After we got to the inn, we went right out to visit Winterthur (the h is not pronounced) which was a home of one of the du Ponts. The house was converted into a museum by the last occupant, Henry Francis du Pont and he expanded the house to a 175 room museum. He had three passions in life. One was horticulture and he created an amazing natural garden on the grounds of the house. The second was dairy farming and today over 60% of the dairy cows in the US can probably trace their lineage back to his heard. The last was Americana, and the museum houses perhaps the largest collection of Americana in the US.

It was a pretty good first day to our mini-vacation and tomorrow we will see the Brandywine River Museum (an art museum that highlights the Wyeth family of artists) and Longwood gardens, a formal garden created by a different member of the du Pont family. Hopefully I will post some photos tomorrow.

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Avi is coming home today

Yesterday was a very difficult day for Marsha and me. At about 5 pm Marsha got a call from the Tikva director at ROA and she told Marsha that Avi had some more behavior issues today and that we would have to take him home at this point. Understandably, they have concerns with safety issues and they are not set up to give Avi one on one support.

At first I think I felt anger. Anger towards the camp, anger towards Avi. And then you realize that it is less anger than disappointment. We really felt that this would be a good place for Avi for the two weeks. He has moved well beyond the behaviors that he was displaying and we will work with his therapist in the next sessions to try and figure out what was going on. For now, Avi will be on a flight out of Denver later this afternoon and I will pick him up this evening in Newark. The next week will be complicated as we had planned our schedule based on him not being here, but we will get through; what other choice do we have.

Or course we (and others) are asking the question “should we have sent Avi in the first place?” Perhaps he was not ready to be away, maybe we should have tried something closer to home, etc. I honestly do not think it was a mistake. I know that Avi had some positive times at camp and he had fun. He challenged himself to do things that he never did before, and never thought he would do. The other day when the group went horseback riding, he would not participate. I knew this would happen as I knew that he had some sort of fear or dislike of horses. On Tuesday, they went on their Massa (I believe this word is from a word for test, where the trip is testing their abilities). The group went on horseback to the edge of the ranch and camped out, including cooking their own dinner and breakfast, playing games and having a campfire. Avi was allowed to go by mountain bike with one of his counselors. Well, yesterday morning he decided that he wanted to go back to base camp on horseback. They radioed back to camp and another horse was brought up for him. That was an amazing accomplishment which truly validates the use of the word Massa for these trips. So were we right in trying this? I say yes, because despite the problems, there were positives and Avi did grow for being there.

I am reminded of the line in Batman Begins (and the other Batman movies): “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” This week was another trial for Avi and for us, and although we “fell”, we will pick ourselves up and move on, and in the end be better for having fallen.

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Ramah Day 1

Avi and Marsha are safely in Colorado right now. Our friend Sue picked them up at the house yesterday at 3 pm to get them to the airport by 3:45. The flight from Newark was scheduled at 5:20 and this gave them enough time to check the bags and get some snacks. Luckily, the woman who gave Avi the airport tour the other day came and met them and ushered them through security rather quickly. Then the flight was moved to 5:35. Then it was moved to another gate. Then it was pushed to 5:55. Finally, I think they boarded at about 6:10 and sat on the plane for quite some time until it finally took off about 2 hours late! They arrived in Denver with no issues (other than it being late) got the luggage. Marsha called the hotel and to let them know they were there and needed the shuttle. She was told to call when she got the bags. She did that and then they waited 50 minutes for the shuttle! UGH!

They finally got to the hotel very late and they went to bed. The hotel is a simple motel near the airport. Certainly not someplace they would stay for a few days but fine for a night. This morning Avi called me at work and asked for help getting Marsha’s tablet on the internet. We got that working and then he and I skyped for a few minutes. It was good to see him and Marsha. The continental breakfast they promised was nothing special, so she tool Avi to a Diner across the parking lot from the hotel. Marsha said it was like the took one of those silver trailer diners from NJ and plopped it in the middle of nowhere! Avi got eggs and hot chocolate and hopefully had enough to eat to hold him through until he gets to camp.

They got the shuttle from the hotel to the airport and they went to baggage pickup #10 which is where they are supposed to meet the group. Avi called me just a few moments ago from the airport and he was the first camper there. There are other kids in various places in the airport being picked up by other counselors and they will all be together by 11:00 Denver time (1:00pm Eastern). So within the next 30 minutes, Avi should be on his way to camp! The camp will be uploading photos each night so hopefully I will have some photos of Avi to post very soon!

So in honor of Avi’s two weeks of camp in Colorado, here is a video of John Denver singing Rocky Mountain High.

Enjoy!

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Summer 2012

It has been a busy summer at the Goldwasser home and all in all it has been pretty good. The kids all finished their school year with great report cards and began camp a few days later (well in Avi’s case almost 2 weeks later). Shayna is going to RPRY Day Camp and loves it there. She is so excited this summer because she is now in one of the oldest bunks at camp. They still have a few kids going into third grade, but this may be the last summer for that, so Shayna (going into 2nd) is in the oldest group. Today they have pajama day and the oldest kids get to meet at the local kosher Dunkin Donuts instead of going right to camp. It is a big highlight of the summer and Shayna has been talking about it for weeks! The kids all get a donut and they have some fun and they are driven back to camp. She is doing so well at camp too. She is swimming without any flotation devices and is very comfortable in the water. She is definitely my little daredevil, and when she is a bit bigger I am sure she is going to want to go on all the roller coasters at Six Flags!

Noam has been going to New Horizons Day Camp at Rutgers University. He had a slow start there, perhaps because he did not know anyone. He did not go into the pool at the beginning, but we did get him to commit to at least going in for instructional swim. He is still skipping free swim. I am not sure why because he loves the pool. Perhaps he is self-conscious of the fact that he does not yet swim? That is changing though. The camp is really great. The staff are all college age or above and they really help the kids try when they are unsure. For the first couple of weeks, Noam would not go beyond level 1 of the swim curriculum. He started to warm up a bit to it and would do everything except try to float on his back. Also they could not let him move on if he insists on holding his nose. We got him a nose clip which they will allow and now he is going underwater and the other day he floated on his back. So he is in level two, and I have little doubt that he will move up from that by the end of the summer! I think that in the end, he will be a great swimmer.

Avi is also having a great summer. He has an extended school year so he is at Newmark School until Friday. Then on Wednesday, he will be leaving for Ramah Outdoor Adventure in Colorado. ROA is a specialty Ramah camp that has the kids doing more outdoor adventure type activities, like rock climbing, white water rafting and hiking. Avi will be in their inaugural Tikva program for kids with special needs. He will be in a bunk with 4 other boys all of whom are, like Avi, high functioning and either on the Autism spectrum or have ADHD. He is very excited and Marsha and I are working hard to get him all packed up to go.

A few months back I read about a program that occurred at Newark Airport for kids on the spectrum. They had a group of kids and their parents come and they gave them a tour of the airport and walked them through the security process and waiting at a gate, all the way up to entering an aircraft to learn how they board passengers. I called and to make a long story short, on Friday after Marsha picks Avi up from school, he is going to get a personal tour of the airport and go through the same program, but this will be just Avi and Marsha. I think he will learn a lot and be better prepared to have an airport experience next week.

After Avi returns Marsha and I will be getting two nights away! Marsha’s parents will stay with the kids while she and I stay at a B&B in the Brandywine area of PA. We are both looking forward to that, and after that is over, we will drive home, pick up the kids and then we will be off to the Lancaster Area for three nights, including a day at Hershey Park! I know the kids are looking forward to that.

I hope to be blogging a bit more of the next number of weeks, so stay tuned!

Enjoy!

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Wii are proud of Avi (and The Lion King)

I have probably mentioned this in the past but one of the special things they do at Avi’s school (and most therapeutic schools) is a token economy system. Each day the kids can earn up to 100 points, 50 academic and 50 behavioral. Academic points are earned based on doing your homework, listening to instructions in class and always making an attempt even if you are not sure. Behavioral points are earned by behaving well during school. The day is broken down into 10 periods and they can earn 5 academic and 5 behavioral points each period. These points can then be used to purchase prizes at the school store.

We are blessed with a school that is great at development, and the school store is filled with great items like Lego sets, video games and even video game consoles. Last year, Avi would use his points to purchase Pokémon cards and little things. This year, he decided to save up for a Wii console. In the system, the Wii costs 15,000 points, and it would take Avi pretty much all year to save up that amount. So Avi used all of his will power to save all year long and he never spent one point throughout the year. Last week, he came home with a new Wii and was also able to get an extra game with his leftover points.

Marsha and I had decided early on that we would not get any of these console video games, but given the circumstances, we felt if Avi was able to save all his points like this, he could have the Wii. I must admit I find it fun also. The only problem is that now the kids are spending too much time on the Wii! Also it is becoming a problem when two of them want to play different things. The machine came with one remote so we did purchase two more and we borrowed some games from my brother, so for the time being they have things to play and they can play together. I am hoping that once the “newness” of it wears off, it won’t be as much of a problem.

Now what does this all have to do with The Lion King? Not much really, but it took me a few days to write about the Wii that I had something else to write about. The Theater Development Fund (TDF) has been running special performances of The Lion King and Marry Poppins for families with children on the Autism Spectrum. TDF buys out the entire theater for a performance and they provide all of the ushers and staff, who are all trained to work with children and adults on the Autism Spectrum. The show is slightly modified so that the sounds are not as loud, the lights do not dim all the way and the animal puppets, which are quite large, will be in the lobby at the start so the kids can get used to them. They also have quiet spots in the lobby for kids to go if they need to leave the theater. We have tickets for the next one of these performances on Sunday, September 30. Without a performance like this, I do not know if we would ever be able to take Avi to see a Broadway show. I thank God all the time that we are living in a society that for the most part understands diversity and is willing to accept people for what they are and what they can do rather than shunning people for what they are not or what they cannot do. We still have a long way to go, and groups like TDF are helping us to get there.

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