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Posts Tagged ‘Boro Park’

School Bus Safety

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

I want to make it clear that this article in no way is meant to blame any of the people involved in what appears, by all accounts, to have been a tragic accident when a Brooklyn school bus killed a 4-year-old boy in Boro Park on February 17. But as a father who knows the pain of burying his own children only too well, I believe that it is important to ask if there is any room for improvement in our school bus safety procedures. 

 

       From the brief discussions I have had with people about busing, there does seem to be some larger safety issues to address. Unlike most secular neighborhoods that are serviced by relatively few buses, our communities often have school buses from dozens of schools operating in the same short time frames along the same busy streets.

 

       It is not hard to imagine the impatience of other drivers on their way to work getting stuck behind multiple buses making multiple stops on every block. This reality forces our buses to move quickly and not wait for students to arrive and be seated or exit safely. 

 

     In the last few days I have heard several parents describe regularly observing unsafe school bus practices, either in their neighborhood or during their drive to work. These include picking up children from the wrong side of a boulevard, individual school buses making multiple stops on the same block, buses leaving the bus stop area before children are seated and buses dropping off children onto snow banks.

      School bus safety standards differ by state and locality, but there are a few common sense procedures we can implement that can improve school bus safety. Students should be waiting outside when their bus arrives (even when it is cold), standing in a well-lit, safe spot on the sidewalk at least six feet away from the street.  The entire area, from the place the students stand and wait, all the way to the place where the school bus door will open should be cleared of snow and ice.  Students should wait for the bus to come to a complete stop and open its door before moving toward the street and then walk in an orderly single file line, boarding carefully.  

 

   Buses should not leave the bus stop before all students are safely seated. It is better when school buses stop on the same side of the street as the children who are boarding and exiting.  This is especially true for primary streets with traffic moving in both directions.  Buses should never pick up or drop off children from the wrong side of a boulevard.  

 

       It would be difficult to implement these standards under our current school bus models.  While I understand that implementing change often comes with unfortunate unintended consequences, the safety of our children must be our top priority. We must consider designating one safe bus-pickup and drop-off area per block to be used by all students from all schools.  The stop must have adequate room so that buses can stop and students can safety board and be seated or exit directly to the sidewalk. 

 

       Parents should take turns monitoring the bus stop to ensure that all students and bus drivers adhere to the safety procedures and that the stop remains safe regardless of the weather conditions.  We must consider combining bus routes between neighborhood schools to avoid school bus congestion.  Fewer buses and fewer bus stops can allow more time for safe pick-up and drop-off procedures. 

 

       If you see a school bus that is not following safety procedures, don’t be shy.  Call the bus company and report the bus driver.  Make sure to note the school bus company name, the school bus number, the street on which you observed the infraction and the exact time.  Keep a record of your report.  If the same driver continues to engage in unsafe procedures after multiple complaints, call and report all of the incidents, including the dates and times of the violations to your local school district and the State Highway Safety Board.

 

     It will take time and effort to enforce school bus safety standards.  Busy parents will have to take turns monitoring and cleaning bus stops, students will need to be prepared earlier, walk down the block to their designated stop and wait outside in the cold, rain and snow.  Before you ask if all this extra trouble is worth it, look at your children, give them a hug and ask yourself if there is anything in the world that is more valuable to you.  The lives you save may be your own.

 

Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed., serves on the Executive Committee of JBAC, The Jewish Board of Advocates for Children http://jewishadvocates.org.  He is also the founder of the largest Orthodox online networking group, the Frum Network on Linkedin. He welcomes comments suggestions and feedback at chaimshapiro@aol.com.

Connecting The Dots

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

I write this column during Parshas Yisro – the portion that focuses on Matan Torah -The Giving of the Torah. Paradoxically, the parshah is not entitled Matan Torah or Aseret HaDibrot – The Ten Commandments, or even Moshe Rabbeinu, who brought the commandments down from Sinai. Amazingly, the parshah is named for Yisro, the heathen priest. What did Yisro do to merit such distinction?

The first words of the parshah reveal the secret: “Vayishma Yisro – And Yisro heard.” However, what Yisro heard was audible throughout the world, so why was only he given credit for hearing the message?

The events that befell our fathers were open miracles. Only a blind man could have failed to see them; only a deaf man could have failed to hear them, and yet no one reacted. Only Yisro paid heed, came to Sinai and sought to become part of Hashem’s Covenant. There is a frightening message herein that should give us pause. If people can be blind and deaf in face of such world-shaking phenomena, how much more so can they be impervious to the daily events in their lives, laden with messages from G-d?

If they would only attune their ears, and open their eyes, they could connect the dots and elevate their lives. And when I say “people” – “they,” I mean you and me – all of us.

In past columns, I have shared stories with you that have showed Hashem’s guiding Hand in our lives. I now continue in this same vein, but this time, I focus on ordinary encounters that might easily be ignored, but nevertheless, are also messages.

For the past two weeks, my Shabbasos have been spent in Boro Park and Flatbush. I visited these two vibrant Torah communities in celebration of my granddaughter, Nechamie Gertzulin’s wedding to her very special chassan, Aryeh Botknecht. Following the joyous, beautiful aufruf in Boro Park, I walked back from shul with my family.

Walking in Boro Park on Shabbos is an exhilarating experience. Just to behold the beautiful families – fathers and mothers, zeides and bubbies dressed in their Shabbos best walking with children and grandchildren, wishing “Good Shabbos” to everyone, is nachas.

As we made our way, someone invariably greeted me with, “Good Shabbos, Rebbetzin. How nice to see you. What brings you to Boro Park? Are you giving a shiur?”

Happily, I explained that I was there for a great simcha. As we continued, we met a gracious lady who my daughter Chaya Sora introduced as one of the kind hostesses of our many guests that Shabbos.

“Rebbetzin, I owe you a debt of gratitude,” the lady now volunteered. “Some years ago, you published a letter from an almanah (widow), who wrote of her painful loneliness, and the apathy of so many people who just don’t stop to consider the feelings of a widow, living by herself, and the many challenges her situation presents. For an almanah, even attending a simcha can be complicated. How will she get there? How will she come home, etc.?

“Among the many suggestions you made, Rebbetzin, was that when sending invitations to widows, a card should be included saying, ‘We will be delighted to supply transportation to and from the chasunah. Please indicate if you need a lift.’

“I never forgot that, and I made a silent commitment that when Hashem helps me take my children under the chuppah, I will do just that. We recently had the zechus of marrying off our daughter. We printed the cards, and you can’t imagine how gratefully they were received.”

Hearing her words, it occurred to me that I should once again bring this message to our readers’ attention. Sadly, the plight of widows has not eased. Admittedly, such a gesture does not eradicate the pain of a widow who feels abandoned and alone. Nevertheless, it does tell her that people care and that very realization is comforting.

We have to appreciate that this is not only a matter of transportation, but much more. The word for widow in Hebrew is almanah, from the root “ileim,” which means “deaf and dumb” – teaching us that, very often, a widow can feel so lonely, so insecure, that she is incapable of expressing her needs for fear of being burdensome.

The following week, I was in Flatbush, celebrating sheva berachos. Again, the same pattern was repeated, “Good Shabbos, Rebbetzin, How nice to see you in Flatbush. Are you giving a shiur?”

When I explained that I was there for a great simcha – the sheva brachos of my grandchildren, one lady recalled a column I had written regarding invitations to semachos. At that time, I published a letter from someone who complained about lack of derech eretz – respect and common courtesy – with which some people treat wedding invitations.

The letter writer stated that, after she and her husband spent many weeks deliberating whom they would invite to their daughter’s wedding, they sent out their invitations. But many people did not bother to respond, or if they did send back the card, it was with just a cold “no.”

Daily, she would search her mail, but still some failed to acknowledge the invitation. As the date of the wedding approached, she called them, but even that turned out to be frustrating. More often than not, she encountered answering machines. Finally, when she did make contact, she would be given a glib response: “Oh yeah, I meant to send back the response card.”

The same letter writer complained that some responded in the affirmative, and she made costly reservations for them, but they never showed. Still others came only for the chuppah and never thought of informing the host that they weren’t staying for the seudah. They gave no thought to the expense incurred by the host or the unpleasant sight of half-empty tables.

“Since that article,” the woman confided, “I always make a point of responding promptly, indicating my intentions, and add a personal message expressing my good wishes and appreciation.”

Having these two random encounters regarding semachos, I connected the dots and decided that it was once again time to bring this matter to the attention of our readers. To be sure, there are so many problems in our tumultuous, chaotic world…. so much hurt and suffering that too often are beyond our control. But these are small gestures of derech eretz – chesed, consideration…. gestures in which we can all participate.

It requires no financial output, no great effort – just some thoughtfulness and kindness, and for a nation that has been nurtured in chesed, such consideration should come naturally.

The Arrowsmith Program: Opening Vistas of Opportunity for the Learning Disabled

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

If you are a parent, chances are that you have enjoyed reading Herman Parish’s series of children’s books based on the outrageous character, Amelia Bedelia. All decked out in her housekeeper headgear and apron, Amelia is perpetually getting into trouble at the Rogers’ home. Inevitably misconstruing her bosses’ instructions, her resulting hysterical antics never fail to entertain young and old.

After chuckling good-naturedly along with my children one day about the chickens that Amelia had “dressed” – in doll clothes, no less – instead of spicing them according to instructions in order to enhance their cooking flavor, I came to an astounding revelation. Amelia Bedelia had a blatant auditory processing difficulty! Properly diagnosed, she would have been labeled “learning disabled!”

Tucked away in the wonderful world of imagination and fiction, Amelia Bedelia’s dysfunction is charmingly amusing. For those children in the real world who struggle with learning disabilities, however, the frustrating ramifications associated with them are no laughing matter. Frightfully burdensome, these disabilities obstruct the capacity to internalize the basics of skills and facts, numbers, theories and ideas. So intensely overpowering are they, in fact, that they can jeopardize the very potential of a promising intellect and talent, as well as a child’s social and emotional well-being. In short, the challenges brought on by being learning disabled can obliterate the beautiful vision of a flourishing, prosperous future.

An Arrowsmith student at Bais Yaakov of Boro Park describes the anguish: “I did not understand always what my teacher said After my mother used to tell me to get her something, I used to go to my room and then ask myself: “Why did I come in here for? Or, what did she want again?”

Growing up in Canada in the 1970′s Barbara Arrowsmith Young knew exactly what it meant to have to contend with learning disabilities. Faced with the effects of crippling auditory processing difficulties that had continuously impeded her personal learning endeavors as a child, this gifted young woman decided she would not allow herself to become victim to her challenges. Working feverishly with the scientific premise that the brain is plastic and has the in-born ability to restructure itself, she developed an unbelievable breakthrough: a series of cognitive exercises that actually corrected the problem behind her learning disabilities. Unbeknownst to her at the time, she had unleashed what would become a virtual revolution to the silent suffering world of those struggling to learn The Arrowsmith Program!

The Arrowsmith Program:

A Young Discovery Becomes Widespread

Encouraged by her own personal triumph, Ms. Arrowsmith Young has worked and expanded on her novel program for over three decades, integrating successful solutions for many of the most common learning disorders found within students of average or above average intelligence, including dyslexia, auditory processing, auditory memory, executive function, comprehension and fine motor difficulties. Rather than providing an alternate support system that compensates for a weakness like many of the other curriculums that attempt to assist a child with learning difficulties, she has demonstrated what many would have assumed impossible. Through specific exercises that produce valid results, a child’s brain can actually transform its abilities and strengthen its capability to learn!

In The Brain That Changes Itself, Norman Dodge’s New York Times best-selling book about the theory that Arrowsmith Young utilized to reach her milestones, the program is depicted as the leading expert in learning disabilities and neuroplastic work. Reviewed graciously by the Scientific American Mind and the American Academy of Neruology, the book’s recognition of the program has elicited the approval of a distinguished audience of academics.

In a 2007 Toronto Catholic District School Board report, researchers observed students who had benefited from the Arrowsmith Program over a ten-year stretch. Documented results revealed that their rate of learning in regard to specific tasks, such as word recognition, arithmetic, reading comprehension, and reading speed, actually increased by one-and-a-half to three times their rate of learning prior to the inception of the program.

“The program is truly remarkable,” writes a 25-year Toronto Catholic District veteran schoolteacher, who has been an Arrowsmith instructor for the past ten years. “It’s giving some traditionally disadvantaged children much brighter futures. They are able to reach their potential and progress alongside their peers in the regular stream.”

The Yeshiva System Takes Heed

Not immune to the challenge of learning disabilities, Jewish day schools and yeshivas have been heartened by what they have heard about the Arrowsmith Program. To date, there are six Jewish schools all across the United States incorporating the program, including Maimonides Academy of Los Angeles, Toras Emes Academy of Miami, Yeshiva Degel HaTorah of Spring Valley, the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth as well as the Brooklyn based Beth Jacob of Boro Park and Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel – where New York City resident parents were actually reimbursed by the New York City Board of Education for their expenditures towards the Arrowsmith Program.

“When our school decided to host the program, we saw great possibilities in helping children who were not reaching their potential through traditional educational methods,” writes Rabbi Eliyahu Teitz, Associate Dean of the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, New Jersey. “We were willing to see what the program could do. In sharing the following vignettes, I am exceptionally pleased with the changes we have seen in our students in the program. Read on and imagine the pride the children feel that they really can learn and perform in school (and the relief the parents feel that there really is a program that can help their children on the path to greater learning).

“This past weekend, while walking my son to his friend’s house, I started quizzing him: 1+1, 2+2, 4+4, 8+8 etc. When he answered 16+16, I was relieved. When he answered 64+64, I was impressed. By the time we got to 1,024+1,024 I think even he realized what he had accomplished–though he won’t acknowledge that it is due to Arrowsmith, I do.

“Yehudis’s mother said that she is a completely different child now compared to when she began Arrowsmith. We see a tremendous difference in her also. Last year we could barely get her to work through 5 minutes, this year she is working through a whole period. Her coping skills and self-confidence have improved and she is finding success here.

“A teacher reported that Yossi is able to grasp the meaning of the literature they are reading and has been very insightful with his comments. This directly ties in with the Arrowsmith work that he did last year.

“A parent has also indicated to me that her daughter is reading books for enjoyment, which is something that she did not do before Arrowsmith.

“Another parent wrote: “If I can brag about my daughter – I can’t believe the wonderful changes in her. From a child who could not cope with school and life before Arrowsmith – I just spoke with her guidance counselor at school and she is getting all As and Bs on her report card.”

“As an administrator in a school that runs the Arrowsmith program, I have read many articles about Arrowsmith. I, too, was skeptical about the results being reported. I am now convinced that the Arrowsmith program can significantly change the way some students feel about themselves, how they interact with others, and how they perform in and out of school ”

As the encouraging success stories in regard to the Arrowsmith Program continue to abound and rapidly circulate, its popularity has increased double and triple-fold, prompting parents in Jewish communities where it has not yet been implemented to begin the exhilarating process of initiating the program within their very own education systems.

Bais Yaakov of Boro Park and Yeshiva Tiferes Yisroel

Parents and Students of the Arrowsmith Program Testify

Speaking with an obvious pride, the parents and students of the program share their heartwarming message of hope and inspiration. In place of the depression and anxiety so often related to learning, they tell the story of optimism and a treasured self-confidence rarely realized before. All this, credited to the cognitive programs created by Barbara Arrowsmith Young!

” At first, when I started doing much better in math class I didn’t notice it. But when I did, it felt so good, and whenever I came upon addition and subtraction equations it went so quick, now it comes to me quick. I jumped from 70 or lower to 95% on math tests ”

” And my handwriting did get better! It’s not all the way neat, but I have to say, I believe it’s better from the beginning of the year. Also, like when I’m taking notes during class and the teacher is talking fast, I’m able to write neater and faster (but don’t worry I don’t write every word that she says!) ”

” Everything that I had trouble with, now I don’t have any trouble with because I am going to Arrowsmith. I finish my test one of the first from everyone. I know the answer right away on a test that I had. When my mother or father or teacher or someone tells me to do something, I do it right away. I could remember a little better, like double sided, hole punched, stapled too ”

” In Mishnayos, my son has always had problems. He was always bright and did well in all subjects until 3rd grade when it started to get more difficult – but he still got ‘alefs’. Problems started in 4th grade with dual curriculum of Chumash and Mishnayos and he had a lot of difficulty in Mishnayos and got his first ‘gimmel’. This year he is learning Baba Kama (very complicated) but the Rebbi gives out a pre-test from which the boys study and the Rebbi takes questions for the actual test. This makes it easier for him; still a 98 is an accomplishment. I think his Arrowsmith exercises are helping his memory and ability to understand concepts previously too difficult for him ”

In Conclusion

In the make believe world of Amelia Bedelia, life’s fumbles can be momentarily fixed by baking a delicious lemon meringue pie. In the REAL world, however, quick fixes are no solution.

Illustrating its worth by first addressing a child’s weakness(es) and setting him or her on an individualized program of exercises that fortify the brain’s ability to learn, while implementing them in a three to four year program, The Arrowsmith Program has successfully achieved enduring solutions to those who once suffered from the effects of their learning disorders. In fact a child who has completed his or her individualized program can participate in a full academic curriculum with no further need for program accommodations!

But the genuine remarkable thing about the Arrowsmith Program’s method above all, is that it unlocks a child’s individual potential – the true treasure bestowed within by the Almighty, Himself.

Saving Paula Abdul

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

I confess: I live in Boro Park and I own a television. I don’t readily volunteer this information to my religious compatriots, but if anyone would ever ask, I wouldn’t lie about it, either. To me, owning a television and lying about it are on two altogether different levels, commandments-wise. But thankfully, the question has never arisen.

However, I realize now (after one of the most embarrassing faux pas of my life) that the truth eventually emerges, one way or another, and you can never really hide who you are. But in this particular instance it was I myself who unwittingly broadcast my personal deviations from my society’s norms, for one and all to know.

This is how it happened: One of my secret pleasures in life is watching American Idol. Yes, it’s kitschy, but I love it anyhow.

Perhaps it’s because I always secretly yearned to be a singer, but couldn’t inasmuch as my father wore a beard, shtreimel and peyos. Perhaps it’s because I empathize with the hopes and dreams of the contestants, the chances for redemption and the “big break” that the show represents, or perhaps it is the inevitable tales of heartbreak and loss that punctuate so many of their stories. Whatever the reason (maybe it’s just the pure entertainment and nothing deeper), I simply love the show.

I know it is unbecoming, and when I told my Chumash teacher one semester, “You know, I’m missing American Idol because of your class,” he thought I was joking. When I made a similar statement to another teacher (I attend a lot of shiurim and classes) she asked me what American Idol was. Yes, it’s incongruous for me to love American Idol so much. But I do.

For me, part of the show’s charm is the way the judges interact with the contestants and with one another. My favorite judge has always been Paula Abdul, the perfect foil for Simon Cowell, the misanthropic judge whom all America loves to hate. Where Simon is mean and dismissive, Paula is perpetually warm, loving, tender, gentle, and sincerely sorry to proffer any criticism at all to contestants who don’t make the grade.

She always has a nice word to say, and makes everyone feel loved. The first time I watched the show, I muttered to myself, “Truly, she’s a heilege neshoma” (holy soul). My ethnocentric impulses were electrified when I later discovered that she is Jewish, and a patron of Chabad in LA. That made me an even bigger fan.

So, when I heard this week that Paula was being ousted from the show, I was outraged. Does no good deed go unpunished, I fumed? The one really sweet, nice judge on the show is the one being given the boot? I couldn’t take the injustice.

As an inveterate letter to-the-editor writer, a fighter for righteousness, truth and integrity, I decided I had to do something. I could not let Paula go down without a fight. Thankfully, on a website for Paula fans, I learned that a campaign was afoot on Twitter to save her. But I had a little problem: What was Twitter, I wanted to know?

As a woman of a certain age (i.e. technologically challenged and although not entirely computer illiterate, amazingly inept), I first had to figure out what Twitter was. Then I had to employ all the brain cells that I had left to navigate my mouse to the Twitter website. There I followed a link to the “Save Paula Abdul,” campaign. And there is where I made my embarrassing mistake.

From what I understood (and apparently I understood nothing), all I had to do was to write a one-line statement about how deeply I cared about Paula, and wanted her back on the show. So I wrote “She is the nicest, sweetest, most wonderful person. Save Paul Abdul,” and I clicked the icon that winked at me, catapulting my statement into cyberspace, and to what I thought were the machers at Freemantle Media and American Idol. I was proud, I admit, that I had managed such intricate maneuvers on the computer without the usual help of my 12 year-old son. “I don’t have to be intimidated by the Internet anymore,” I thought in jubilation. “I can do this on my own!”

Boy, was I ever wrong.

In the morning, I found my e-mail box flooded with letters from concerned Orthodox cohorts from all over the world.

“I’m so sorry to hear about your friend Paula Abdul,” one wrote. “What’s wrong with her? Should we say Tehillim (Psalms)?”

Another wrote: “What an interesting name. Is she a baalas teshuva?”

A third said: “So what can we do to help save your friend? What blood type is she? Does she need bone marrow?”

Apparently, my one-line Twitter statement had not gone to anyone at American Idol but everyone in my mailbox instead, igniting worldwide concern (I have an extensive address book) among my religious peers about my unfortunate friend named Paula. From the phrase (which the Twitter Campaign had made into a slogan) “Save Paula Abdul,” everyone who received my e-mail assumed it was a medical issue that had been inflicted upon her. No one thought it was a television cancellation.

Sadly (at least for now, at least for me), this means that at this very moment devout rabbis, pious rebbetzins and former teachers from various seminaries are probably scratching their heads and asking one another in confusion, “Paula Who?” Renowned baalei and baalot chesed have most likely already embarked upon telephone campaigns to organize massive Tehillim rallies for Paula, and countless others are asking the question of the day, “Ver is dos Paula Abdul?” (Yiddish for “Who is Paula Abdul?”)

Actually, the scenarios above would be quite cheering; it would mean that no one has a clue that Paula is a television personality, and I would be safe from their censure. But what am I going to do when someone figures it out?

I’m in deep trouble with two groups: Members of my religious community who will be scandalized that I watch television; and members of my intellectual community who will be scandalized that I watch television. All the intellectuals I know who own televisions defensively mutter things about PBS, Discovery Channel and National Geographic. But American Idol? Masterpiece Theatre it definitely is not.

So, now I’ve been publicly “outed” and worst yet, by my own hand. My heartfelt, well-intentioned effort to save Paula Abdul has boomeranged bitterly. I think I’m going to need some saving myself.

Paula, I tried my best, I really did. I gave up my reputation, my credibility, and my good name to keep you on American Idol. What can I tell you? It’s in Hashem’s hands now. We can only pray.

And believe me, I’m praying, too. Praying that most of the people in my address book are members of koshernet.com or torahnet.com and can’t Google your name through the filters installed in their systems.

But I’m looking for a house out of state just in case.

Meanwhile, I hear that people are lining up in droves at Maimonides Hospital to donate blood for Paula Abdul, whoever she is. Klal Yisrael loves you, Paula.

*What are you, meshuga? You think this is my real name? I still have shidduchim to make.

Meet the Family Next Door

Sunday, June 7th, 2009

I was lucky to find a parking spot near the house. I was worried about being late, because I knew that Shmuel, the husband of the couple I was interviewing, had to leave within an hour to be on time for the mincha minyan at his local Breslav shul.

Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. Shmuel and Sara Leah Saposnick were unlike any other couple I had ever interviewed during my long career as a journalist. But in the end, I decided to treat them as I would any other interview subject – put them at ease and encourage them to tell me what was important to them. I’ll let you, the reader, judge how successful I was.

From the outside, the multi-family house where the Saposnicks live looks very much like the others on their busy Boro Park cross street. When I knocked on their apartment door, and asked to come in, I learned that Shmuel had just come home from work. He had been delayed because the B-11 city bus he takes to and from his job each day was late. I was asked to wait a few minutes at the dining room table to give Shmuel a chance to freshen up. I secretly welcomed the chance to look around and get a feel for their home, while Sara Leah was busy in the kitchen putting away the food she had just bought for Shabbos at the local supermarket.

I noted that their apartment is well kept, bright, and tastefully, if modestly, decorated and furnished. A few minutes later, Shmuel and Sara Leah came in and the interview began.

Sarah Leah immediately made it obvious that she is the conversationalist of the family. She was eager to answer my questions about her family background, how she and Shmuel met and married, and what their life together has been like.

Occasionally, I would ask Shmuel a question, but he was content to let Sara Leah do most of the talking. He preferred to sit quietly most of the time, watching and listening intently to my questions and adding occasional comments and points of information to Sara Leah’s lively narrative.

Sara Leah told me that she grew up in an Orthodox home in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, was the youngest of 5 children, and that she had been living with her father on Long Island before she married Shmuel. Her family is not chassidish, but her father’s cousin knew Shmuel and his family, who are Bobover Chassidim, from the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx.

She particularly enjoyed telling me the story of their first date, and how Shmuel took her out to Kosher Delite, which is still their favorite restaurant. By the end of their fourth date, the couple was engaged. In fact, Sara Leah made a point of telling me that Shmuel asked her to marry him twice. When I asked Shmuel whether he had to ask twice because she turned him down the first time, he said no, that she had accepted the first time, but he decided to ask her again, just to make sure. Sara Leah also recalled how nervous Shmuel was when he brought her home late that night, worried about how he would tell her father that they were engaged, but everything worked out well in the end.

For her part, Sara Leah said she never had any doubts, and feels very lucky that she is married to Shmuel. “He is the only one who has been willing to take me the way I am,” she told me. In his own quiet way, Shmuel made it clear that he feels the same way about Sara Leah, whom he described as “a good wife,” who takes good care of their home.

It was not easy to put all the necessary arrangements in place, but within six months of their engagement, Shmuel and Sara Leah were married.  It was on October 31, 1995 that they began their life together with all the help they needed.

Yes. Shmuel now age 39, and Sara Leah, 42, have developmental disabilities. Since they got married, they have been receiving residential support and supervision from HASC Center, designed to help them to live a normal and satisfying life together.

According to Dr. Chaim Wakslak, the Clinical Director of HASC Center, the fact that marriage has worked so well for Shmuel and Sara Leah does not necessarily mean that it would be appropriate for many others with developmental disabilities. He pointed out that it succeeded for this couple because they are relatively high functioning, and are physically and psychologically capable of sustaining a healthy family relationship. Also, HASC Center carefully prepared Shmuel and Sara Leah for marriage, including its halachic aspects, and continues to supply everything all the things they need in their daily lives which they cannot provide for themselves.

Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 2/13/09

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Dear Readers,

Back in September this column ran a letter written by an aggrieved Brooklyn resident who had the misfortune of losing her footing one afternoon as she walked along an avenue in Boro Park balancing a boxed pizza pie in her hands. Much to her dismay, not one pedestrian or shopkeeper had bothered to come to her aid as she took a nasty spill on the heavily traversed walking strip.

In general, reader reaction to this incident was mixed – that is to say, some were surprised and some not so surprised, based on their own personal experiences. One reader, however, had quite an axe to grind as she wrote to express her disdain and disgust with what she called “the new character of Boro Park.” (Chronicles 12-19-08) She went on to deride this borough’s residents by claiming that “the frumer the person, the greater their ‘holier than thou’ attitude, and there is no way they would stoop to a lower level to help a stranger.”

This column took such a startlingly brash condemnation to be reflective of biased thinking. Our reply read, in part – “While objectionable behavior is especially repugnant when displayed by a supposedly frum person, rudeness, disrespect and disregard for others are mannerisms of individuals, not of ethnic groups.”

A Boro Park Reader (Chronicles 1-16-09), not about to take such scathing criticism of her hometown lying down, wrote to air her own strong sentiments and to decry the critic’s “Jewish anti-Semitism.” In obvious distress over the aspersions cast on her fellow inhabitants, A Boro Park Reader called it as she sees it: “If you look for the good, you will find it! And when an episode needs to be addressed, one should certainly speak up… without enmity, and without labeling and writing off an entire community.”

The following letter, the latest in the series, is a response by the original “injured party” herself – the one who first wrote of her “unbelievable” experience “on an unexceptional summer day…” (See Chronicles 9-26-08)

Dear Boro Park Reader,

You write in your letter that if there are issues they should be addressed. Fortunately, “Chronicles of Crisis” offers us a public yet safe forum in which we are able to give voice to all sorts of issues.

I am the person who fell on the street in Boro Park, and I had originally written to vent at inconsiderate Yidden who would actually stand by and not move to assist a fellow Yid.

Though I believe it to be just happenstance that this incident occurred in Boro Park, and I agree that there are good and bad in every race, religion and neighborhood, my episode unfortunately reflected very poorly on us as a whole.

I myself was a Boro Park resident for 37 years and just recently moved to another area in Brooklyn. Here too I have encountered both types (good and not so good).

Personally, having expressed my disappointment and anger in Rachel’s Chronicles has offered me some relief; besides for venting my frustration, I can tell by the responses that have subsequently followed that it was a good move on my part. I believe that I made myself heard. And I must add (in direct response to your letter) that it is not the labeling of Boro Park people that creates Sinas Chinam (as you imply) but the behavior of the people who surrounded me at the time that I fell – and who did nothing.

A good thing to come out of this: your letter proves that people are paying attention. Thank you for writing.

Still Bruised Inside and Out

Dear Bruised,

In all fairness, all of you feel justified in your grievances. The Boro Park disparager, Disgusted but not surprised, had written to say that she finds “most of the people I encounter to be rude and completely self-absorbed.” Her letter leaves little doubt as to her intense dislike of the neighborhood she still visits “from time to time.”

In fact, her condescending frame of mind may have much to do with her unpleasant experiences. When a person feels contempt for something or someone, the object of this loathing will sense it. To put it simply, a pleasant and cheerful person will generate reaction in kind. A smile is known to beget a smile

A Boro Park reader apparently shared that thought when she advised Disgusted to “work on herself and her happiness first…”

She also came to the defense of her fellow B.P. citizens who she felt were unfairly maligned. Standing up to their critic, she steadfastly declared, ” there are hundreds of kind and wonderful people in Boro Park, Baruch Hashem.”

As for your own lingering ache “inside and out,” may I suggest that a positive attitude goes a long way toward healing any injury, and we wish you a speedy and complete physical and emotional recovery.

A good way to maintain such positivity is to recognize that there is a reason for everything that happens to us. This in no way is meant to say that anyone has the right to inflict harm on another, nor does it release anyone from the responsibility to help another in need.

“Labeling” is never a good thing; it can create ill feeling both in those being labeled as well as the ones who may be influenced by such labeling.

As for behavior that is wrong or unseemly, it always helps to bear in mind that to err is human, to forgive divine – and to admit to having erred is a vital first step in the right direction.

Hopefully, people are paying attention and will work on strengthening the middah of chesed that is an insignia of our people and without which the world would have no leg to stand on.

Thank you for writing.

First To Worst

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

The Monitor tries to warm the winter cold with one baseball-related column a year, and what better time than now, with the Super Bowl over and pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training camps next week?

Jacob Kanarek, an accountant who lives in Lakewood, New Jersey, recently wrote a book about the Mets of the mid-1970’s – a team that went from five straight winning seasons and two World Series appearances between 1969 and 1973 to being a laughingstock of a franchise by the end of the decade.

Born and raised in Boro Park, Kanarek says he was one of the few kids in his class without a television, so he spent his childhood listening to games on radio. After learning in Israel he moved on to Bais Medrash Govoha in Lakewood and married a girl from Boro Park. After several years in kollel he decided to study accounting, passed the CPA exam and opened his own practice.

The Monitor recently spoke with Kanarek about his book.

What inspired you to write From First to Worst: The New York Mets, 1973-1977?

I have very fond memories of my childhood-teenage years. I began to scour the archives of The New York Times and the Sporting News, just to reminisce. Reading the articles not only brought back memories of Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Dave Kingman, etc., but in a way transplanted me back to Boro Park of the mid-seventies. Those good feelings, combined with the fact that no author had ever focused on those seasons, gave birth to the idea of the book.

Did your passion for the Mets and baseball cause any problems as you were growing up?

I can’t say I really had any major issues growing up as a sports fan in a mainstream yeshiva environment. Whatever yeshiva I attended, there was always a significant number of other students who were also into sports. I probably took more grief from Yankee fans then from the non-followers. Every so often we would hear from a rebbe who would decry our interest in the “groibe goy vois hocked a ball mit a shtecken.”

Do you follow the Mets as closely now as you did when you were younger?

As a father of eight children, the principal of a growing accounting firm and someone who keeps two sedorim a day, I don’t have the opportunity to follow sports like I did growing up. My sports-following activities are pretty much limited to listening to games in my car on my way to night seder and back, and if it’s a good game I’ll stay in the car longer. The game has also changed significantly since my childhood and not in a positive way – greed, steroids etc.

What most stands out in your mind about the Mets of the mid-1970s?

The contrast between their great pitching and lousy hitting. For example, you could have a game against Cincinnati where the Reds would have a starting lineup of Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, George Foster, Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey, etc, or the Dodgers with Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Dusty Baker, Reggie Smith, etc., and the Mets would counter with Bruce Boisclair, Mike Vail and Roy Staiger.

Do you have a favorite Met from that era?

Jerry Koosman. Aside from being a great pitcher (whose numbers would have been a lot better if he hadn’t pitched for two seasons with an awful team behind him) he is known as a good guy – something I got to experience firsthand when he agreed to my request that he write the book’s foreword.

So what was it that caused the downfall of the Mets from a competitive team in the early ‘70s to a laughingstock just a few years later?

I think there were two people two blame for the collapse of the franchise – M. Donald Grant and Joe McDonald. Grant, the chairman of the team, essentially knew nothing about baseball and elected not to improve the Mets via free agency despite the fact that they were one of the league’s wealthier franchises. Grant felt signing high-priced free agents would promote jealously on the team, but the opposite was true. The players were not interested in playing on a non-competitive level and either requested to be traded or Grant ordered them dealt. At that point McDonald, the general manager, would do his damage by trading off the stars and not getting equal value.

Jason Maoz can be reached at jmaoz@jewishpress.com

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/first-to-worst/2009/02/04/

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