Category Archives: Family
The newspaper headlines send shivers down the backs of everyday Americans hoping for a break from this wicked economy. Not bad enough that unemployment is still high, that home prices are rising, and that good people still cannot break out of their slumps and meet the challenges for themselves and their families living basic lives. The New York Times ran an article last week by William Neuman, “Food Prices Likely to Start Ticking Up“, where economists and United States Department of Agriculture statisticians in unison claim that inflation and conditions will certainly drive food back up again, that ranchers, having culled their herds to meet the previously declining demand will now raise fees to accommodate the need, and that groceries will now trend back upward with prices.
This comes without any real headway in the homes and wallets of Middle Americans, who had been plagued with job loss, unmanageable debt and even the loss of homes. The same day the paper ran the article on food, it ran another one on the Obama Administration’s dire recognition – or admission – that the national deficit will in-fact, be $2 trillion more than they were presuming while politicking, “Estimate for 10-Year Deficit Raised to $9 Trillion.” Whether one voted for Obama or McCain matters less right now than the sheer fact that Americans are facing more difficult times to come. At the heart of the woes will be food and need; when people are hungry, it is hard to concentrate on everything else. Faith, family and sometimes ethics can be cast aside by otherwise enlightened masses foraging for morsels to feed their children and themselves. When it comes down to it, one can only wonder where the help lies and what can be done.
In a perfect world, easy answers would come in the form of collective will, building toward a solution. Instead, food companies, grocery stores and distributors seem more interested in relying on basic human need to push the margins of their ledger books. It is not inherently bad, as the economy moves when money is spent, manufacturing is brisk and people are at work. Yet, it is easier to acquiesce to the trends when it is an automobile or an iPod that is being built; Items that fill a void or want, not a necessity of need. Food ought to be treated different than that, at least basic sustenance. In the book of the 8th-century BC Judean prophet Isaiah we are told that if we offer ourselves on “behalf of the hungry and answer the needs of the oppressed, then your light will shine in the darkness, and your night will become bright as day.” Is there no more noble calling then making certain those who need food are fed, and in doing so, playing a role in repairing the world?
The solution is clear and very real, as we have people and organizations committed to doing just that; feeding those searching for the hand up. On the porch steps of a simple house in Monroe, Georgia some 15 years ago, a simple pastor presumed large, and believed that if people in his small mill town where opportunity was scarce and hope was in even shorter supply, were fed, they could rise above the economic and social adversities and rebuild faithfully and proud. Pastor Joseph Wingo fed 34 families by buying food in bulk, coupon shopping and seeking the close-out deals, and tried to give it away; yet, he was bewildered when no one came that first day. He talks of pride by saying that there is good pride and bad, the good being the reason we shower and groom ourselves, and the bad being too proud to take a hand up when offered.
Wingo tallied up his cost on the food and placed a nominal charge on the packages he assembled to make it affordable. He sold the 34 boxes and the people returned for more. The coop that now operates in 44 states and in over 5000 communities, Angel Food Ministries, was born. Wingo even had money left over to donate back to the churches that helped bring people to his porch. Offering proteins and nutrition for a price people could afford and returning what has amounted to $25 million over 15 years so far, has proven to be the system that works in any economy, and one that is needed in a fragile economy.
This coop concept takes nothing from anyone, offers a useful benefit and returns benevolence into thousands of communities, and it generates income enough to employ about 300 people. It would seem that there is a partial solution for people to manage through these times. Food prices do not need to rise, nor does the rising deficit mean that people cannot access the basics. When we read the news tomorrow, maybe a model as this one could lead the headlines.
Getting over writer’s block seems to harder than I anticipated. The things that usually inspire me have been languishing in my head, and the events around us all do not generate the excitement I would hope for. Whether it is Swine Flu, Chrysler‘s imminent failure, GM’s collapse, Somali pirates or my Labrador Jessie living a comfortable and lazy life as she yawns and stretches and closes her eyes again, I seem to feel that committing thoughts to words right now is just a burden I don’t want.
Today is my son’s 11th birthday, and that is something I will take joy and excitement in. Watching him grow, watching all three grow, in fact, has been the best part of my adult life. When you see your own contributions to their evolution take shape, it should inspire the best in all of us. Tonight, we will take Noah out to dinner with a small group of family and friends. He doesn’t want a party for everyone, but a small group of those he cares about.
Come to think of it, all of our kids are like that. My oldest turns 16 in June, but doesn’t want a blown-up sweet sixteen celebration. Considering what it could cost and could entail, I ought to be grateful, and trust me, I am.
He will get a nice watch that he saw me wear and decided he wanted it. It’s a thin winding watch with a black strap, white face and pretty display. Lately, Noah has been taking more pride in his appearance, donning a pinstriped suit to synagogue. This week, he put on a crisp blue shirt and yellow tie and asked that I dry clean his shirts now. He said the home wash doesn’t leave him looking as he wishes. That’s my boy. When I saw his ensemble, I too wore a pinstriped suit, blue shirt and yellow tie to shul. I never thought of dressing my kids alike, or dressing like my kids. I usually find that whole situation plain goofy. I caved, it was cute. He was all smiles too.
Our middle child is heading to Israel on Mother’s Day with her class for their senior trip. This was such a memorable event for our eldest, she learned a love for Israel though exploration, study, prayer, camaraderie and just breathing the Mediterranean air. When we learned that the economy and Madoff’s thievery caused parents to withhold funding, hence canceling the trip – replaced by a visit to Pennsylvania and a theme park – we decided to try and raise the funds ourselves. This is a once in a lifetime experience, and quite selfishly, we didn’t want Talia to be the only of the three to lose out, assuming that in coming years it will be restored with ease and our 11 year old would go as is the normal routine.
Well, the school needed $25 thousand, we raised less than ten. It isn’t easy to do this at this time. We are funding the rest. It’s part of our tithe for the year. I guess our other charities are on hold, but I am so happy she will have this chance. As far as Israel, this will not be her first rodeo; yet the experience school offers: priceless. She leaves on Mother’s Day and returns on the day I turn 40. I think I hear “Sunrise, Sunset” playing in my head now.
I guess that’s all for now. I have to work, Jessie moved from the floor to the couch and the Swine Flu and the imminent death of the Trans Am seem to be the news of the day. It reminds me of a good time and disappointment too.
My uncle taught me to drive on a yellow 1975 Firebird S/E with the hood scoops and a fire stripe across the car. It had the 455 V8, a white interior, honeycomb rims, it was fast, sweet and the coolest car I had ever driven (by the time I was seven. I have since driven cooler cars…). It was supposed to be my car when I got my license ten years later, but the car didn’t make it to my 17th. It was gone a year earlier. My first car was a yellow 1972 Ford LTD. Not quite the same. My uncle later “upgraded” me to a white 1980 Buick Skylark, but it made me long for the Ford. From that Skylark I went to the 1982 Dodge Challenger, then we upgraded to the first Ford Taurus 5 Speed called the MT-5, a 1987 to be exact. Loving the five speed, but hating the underpowered 4 cylinder, we sold Boris the Taurus to our friends and picked up a very sweet 1990 Ford SHO in metallic red. We ended selling that to our friends who’s exact car was destroyed in the 1999 Seward Park Housing garage collapse. We had kids and the trunk was too small. We replaced it with a 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer Woody. In retrospect, we have had a pretty eclectic collection of cars through the ages. These days we opt for new cars that tend to be more reliable. Choices…
April 28th, 2015 –
I need to update this piece. I wrote it on my son’s 11th birthday and he just turned 17 and got his drivers license, To add to my own sense of having been deprived as child, he starts his driving days in a 2011 Ford Fusion AWD with a pretty cool sporty interior.
My ladies share a 2011 Buick Lacrosse SEL, and Debbie and I share a 2015 Taurus SHO and a 2013 Lincoln MKT. Throughout the 2000s we owned a 1998 and 2001 Ford Expedition. We traded to a smaller car in the 2004 Honda Pilot. Then we drove the now out of business 2007 Saturn Outlook. Then we took a 2010 Lincoln MKT. When we moved, we took on a 2012 Taurus SHO which we traded for the newest one, and a MKT as well.
My 21 year girl is engaged and my 19 year old is smart as hell.
So that’s it for now. Hi Ho, Hi Ho.
Getting up at two in the morning to head to work is never fun, of that I am certain. Yet, this morning in Bakersfield, California, could not have been more fun, more interesting or even more meaningful.
We flew in late from Georgia, and landed at about six thirty Pacific time, having first worked all morning on the East Coast. First to dinner, than to an early bed in order to rise and be at the host site parking lot by three to meet the two tractor trailers from National Carriers, Angel Food Ministries‘ official carrier for this month’s 560 thousand boxes of food relief we just distributed. What made this trip so important to us – Pastor Joe Wingo and the Ministry Development team – was that this host site in Bakersfield has risen from an obscure new entry in a state with yet a relatively low saturation for Angel Food, to the single largest host site distribution point in America. Bakersfield Compassion Christian Center and its Pastor, Martha Johnson, began with AFM in November 2008 with an impressive opener of 304 boxes to the even more impressive 2858 boxes we handed out today.
With almost seamless precision, the cold and dark parking lot of the Center transformed before us. From a cosmic empty space with just two giant rigs lit with small running lights illuminating the area like a far off runway in the blackened distance of a clear sky, idling gently in the chilly California wind, into a professionally run open-aired warehouse where every item has its place, ready for the vast undertaking about to commence.
A small group of volunteers began maneuvering a donated forklift, easily taking every palette off the rigs and placing them around the edges of the lot, marked by tables with tags identifying the food items designated for the space. Within 90 minutes, both trucks were empty; the dry goods first, followed by the refrigerated items on the second semi. Now we just had to wait. The night sky was still deep, the stars shone bright and my two daughters, accompanying me for this distribution visit, stared out in wonder at the terrific sky, convinced that this is something they don’t usually experience looking up above our New York City skyline. We waited a while, and then, much like at the end of Field of Dreams, as the headlights appeared to spiral down the path to the plowed cornfield, people started to come.
As the sun rose, and the California night ebbed, bowing to the hot sun Southern California is known and loved for, the parking lot started looking like a day at a bustling street festival. A staging area was set with speakers and a sound system playing light fare gospel, tent areas were set with seats to protect those who sought it from the sun. A line was formed in the most orderly fashion that eventually wrapped around the block, while the most patient people waited to start collecting their Angel Food. The Christian Center set this up in a way worthy of duplication. The registration table in the center met the recipients, signed them in and a band of high school football players, the team coach and other students wearing orange vests acted as runners, and used grocery shopping carts to help collect the morning catch for every one of the seemingly unwearied.
There was prayer, music, coffee, cake, muffins and later, barbecue. There was media, and there was cheer and camaraderie. There were church goers, non-believers, whites, blacks, Asians, Latinos, families, singles, seniors, young, straight and gay alike, and there was the spirit of America on that block, in the parking lot. It was a beautiful thing to see, as Angel Food Ministries stood over this blessed event as an organization that did not merely provide food relief, but as one that provided a reason to come out and spend a day volunteering and helping, talking among friends, playing and singing and eating. It hit me with great smile, as I read a biased news story out of York, Pennsylvania, these so called journalists don’t want to get it, but these people before me do. Angel Food Ministries is about community, family and building bridges. It about feeding people, but it is also about people helping people, and people wanting to help others and feel good about it. It is about America at its best.
Looking at the simplest form of the business model, Sam Walton, of Wal-Mart fame became a multi billionaire and was revered, and still remembered, as a shrewd businessman. People may fault him for presumed contributions to the erosion of domestic trade, wage and benefit abuse of low income and even migrant workers, but no one attacked the wealth he amassed doing it. Arguably, Wal-Marts are exactly what destroyed communities as they moved in and wiped out the small business, chased families into poverty, and drove others away from small town America seeking elusive city jobs.
Pastor Joe Wingo, on the other hand, built a model that performs the very opposite of that. It makes people want to work for people, it builds neighborhoods and solidifies neighbors as friends, it brings people to houses of worship to pick up their food with the hope that some dynamic pastors, preachers or rabbis can convince them to come in for a service. It grows communities, plants churches and develops enduring relationships in towns and cities across America. Yet, for that insight and hard work, he has been vilified in jealous circles for making a salary. Mind you, it pales in comparison to wages earned by big corporation CEOs, and even the salaries of some of the large national non profit organizations that do little more than beg for money, simply to redistribute a portion back to people and initiatives for which each is set to do. Still, Joe Wingo’s salary and CEO of a $140 million organization that feeds hundreds of thousands without seeking donations, develops community minded programs, returns millions into local communities, and gives people hope in an era where hope seems to fade, is a source for contention.
As Pastor Joe walked around and greeted the eager people, he was received as a celebrity. A woman broke down and cried to him, saying that she was seeking a way to give back, and Angel Food was the answer to her prayers. Children shook his hand, silver foxes hugged our charming CEO, and the California Senate Majority Leader prepared a special award and proclamation for Joe and Linda Wingo. Apparently they are doing something right, and as long as the people who rely on this food for their well being are pleased, perhaps the naysayers should not matter. Pastor Wingo spoke to ABC television about his vision and the need for food, and we were handed food for the plane ride home.
Little Pink Houses lined the streets around the church where we were this morning, and all I could think of was John Mellencamp’s song. Joe Wingo and Angel Food Ministries is the best of America, and helps ensure that the best in Americans come out with every order taken and every distribution made. Ain’t that America? We saw the America that I believe in, that we need to see more of and that my kids know they haven’t seen up close quite like this today.
In synagogue today, my rabbi took the occasion of his weekly sermon to talk about the weekly Torah portion of Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23). While all of the Ten Commandments were indeed discussed, he paid close attention to the part about honoring ones parents. Very poignantly, I recall, he said that it is a commandment that carries the benefit of long life should one adhere properly; in his opinion, rendering it both, important and very hard to do. I know that to be awfully true. However, my rabbi framed the difficulties of that honor with age, and the burdens that an infirmed and immobile parent can have on children in the prime of their lives. While true too, it didn’t really speak to the very disparate issues of parents who have not truly fulfilled their roles as such, and thus, in a modern sense, may not merit the blind courtesy the Torah seems to require.
Not trying to disparage anyone, or use this forum as a patent setting for airing dirty laundry, but I am guilty of violating the very basic act of the commandment of Kibud Av V’aim (honoring your mother and father). Neither is infirmed or ill in the physical sense, but also, neither have been, in my father’s own words, conventional parents (or parents at all) or the role models I would have hoped my children would have. It saddens me, it is hard to say, but it is the truth as I see it. In recent months, my mother has been trying harder and tries to see our children at least once a week. My father, who is a pulpit rabbi about 20 miles from our home, seems to have more classes, weddings, funerals and Bris celebrations to attend than days in a week and time; and our kids saw him last perhaps one year ago.
During the course of my rabbi’s speech, he acknowledged the 200th year anniversary of the birth of President Abraham Lincoln as a father of the country we live in, and our need to honor such parents as well. He then compared that to the 100th birthday of a scion in my synagogue and neighborhood, a founding father of the synagogue, and welcomed us all to this gentleman’s home to pay tribute to him, his birthday, his accomplishments for the community and family and just for being a long time friend of everyone’s.
This Centenarian, who still comes to synagogue when he can, and offers to help out when he does, must have truly been a devotee of the Fifth Commandment. What struck me, though, is that he was also a close friend, as I recall, of my mother’s parents, my dear bubby and zaidy, who were taken from me so young. In 1980, at the age of 72, Sam Schneider passed, and in 1983, at 63, Gertie Schneider passed – just a short while after my bar mitzvah.
The saddest feelings I have are their deaths, as those two were the parents to honor and the great grandparents our children should have known. It is through them that I learned the value of life, giving and honor, and it is through them that I felt security and comfort in what was a hard childhood for me and my siblings. While my rabbi was talking about honoring ones parents and the life of our Centenarian friend, I began to fathom notions I never truly focused on. You cannot make sense, or pretend to anyway, of divinely made decisions. If you believe and have faith, you just take it on faith; yet all that came to my mind was that neither of my grandparents may have honored their parents too well, for their lives were not extended. My grandfather would have turned 100 last year and my grandmother was to be 89. That would have been nice.
As the thoughts of them being less than perfect with their own parents ran through my head, I had to fast dispel those. It just isn’t what I want to believe. I then thought that if there is indeed a master plan for us all, reward and punishment, both here and in an afterlife, then perhaps their fate was such to be spared seeing the fruits of their life’s toils turn out as they had; yet I think their untimely deaths contributed to the chaos that beleaguered their own four children. Not to get too far into it, but of the four, one since passed on, they share very strained relationships with one another and arguably no relationship at all.
I then think that they do have five grandchildren and would have had ten great grandchildren with whom they could take pride.
So the sermon made me think and tear up, and still wonder why. As I wish Mr. Rosner a happy 100th birthday, I ask him if he remembers my grandparents. He always smiles and tells me that they were some of the best people he had known.
Traveling for my new job has become somewhat of a routine – for me. Out three to four days, home the rest. That takes a toll. While not little anymore, the kids need dinner, help with their homework and, even though they get wrapped up on their phones, text messaging their friends, and multitasking on their computers, they just like knowing their dad is just in the other room. Resilient as they are, it affects them. Even more, and shockingly not as readily recognized by me, it takes a toll on my dear wife.
Rationally knowing that I get to go out believing that our home is being cared for, I think at times I take that for granted. The dog needs walking, and the early morning and late night have been mine for so long; it is hers while I’m gone. The house needs tidying, the laundry needs washing, the shopping needs to be done and a host of so much else. Not to say that I do these tasks regularly, but my being home or on the way home allows these chores to be done with the comfort that a parent is around tending to our family.
With all that it takes to run a household, I suppose the years of being directly in it and having so much done around me have made me somewhat inadvertently insensitive to the daily grind. It is both, a labor of love and one of necessity, and she does it tirelessly. Yet, tireless is not the right word, because it does take its toll emotionally. In a talk the other night, after packing for my next trip, my heart fell and I found myself lacking the words to comfort. I consider myself astute and generally savvy, but I admit there are times that I am caught speechless and dense.
It isn’t so much that I am out so much, and isn’t that the weight of keeping our home running clean and strong. It is simpler. Although we talk everyday and usually again before we go to bed, albeit miles apart, I have yet to just say “thank you” and acknowledged that it is her very work, devotion and strength that allows me to do what I do, that I enjoy so much. The shame is that there is nothing I could say; she is right, and the words after being told that I neglect to say it, just wouldn’t seem genuine. I mean it, and know it, but just saying it – once in a while – would make such a difference.
We learn that words are so powerful; they have the force to help as well as to harm. I have made a career and a decent living on words, spoken and written, and when my wife tasks me with not bringing my work home with me, I don’t believe this is what she intended. With little else to say, but offer a sheepish apology, I sleep restless until my alarm sounds me at 5:30 AM. When people say that traveling for work is hell, they are onto something; yet, what is usually said selfishly about traveler might be applied to those left behind. As I wrote, I found my routine. I have a relatively fine time living out of my suitcase and loving the work and my workplace. Our kids are older, and we talk daily and trade Instant Messages from every port of technology we all have – it’s not great, but it is ok. My wife, however, who bears the brunt of essentially single parenthood, keeps it all going and makes it such that it all seems seamless and easy.
Appreciation is often best demonstrated by simple things. Flowers smell nice, but eventually they droop and get thrown out. Jewelry looks nice, but usually becomes an heirloom; worn on occasion and filling the jewelry box waiting for one of the kids to have an occasion to wear it out to one of their special moments. Simply saying it is more priceless and timeless than buying it, and is sometimes exactly what is needed.
Thank you for taking care of us every day with dedication and love! I know it isn’t easy, but you make it seem so and you always have.
I was sitting at a service tonight listening to a dear friend Linda talk passionately about the importance of tough love for our children. Listening to her personal story of her own kids, her nephew, and how raising them to be the decent men they are today wasn’t always an easy trip, I reflected on my own upbringing, and the contrasting way my wife and I raise our children. She said that her mother would have not appreciated the kinds and amounts of holiday gifts Linda gives her kids. Wisely, she said that the fear is that you give so much, than one day you find you are no longer able to give anymore, and your children get upset; “what have you done for me lately?” Linda recalled a conversation with her 18 month old who blurted out, “that’s not fair“, upon hearing the word “no”. I laughed, because I used to say that. She remembered thinking, “that’s not fair, what do you know about fair, you’re 18 months old?” I say that to my kids.
While traveling for work, I try to spend even more time with my kids over the phone. After I left the service, my son called me to ask me how to load songs onto his PSP from his computer. I asked why he just doesn’t use his Ipod, and he said that he just wants to – At this point I just have to laugh at myself. When I told him that he’d be better waiting until I got home, he said, “that’s not fair,” and I said, “what about having your own computer, your own Ipod and your own PSP is not fair.” It struck me then, Linda was right. What are we teaching our kids today?
I didn’t grow up with the ’70s and ’80s equivalent of Ipods and Computers. I got a Sony Walkman for my 11th birthday after a few relatives pooled their gifts together, and the Atari 2600, used after all of my friends dumped theirs for the Atari 5200; good thing some were also dumping their Asteroids and Space Invaders cartridges. Hey, I didn’t even have Pong when it seemed everyone else did. So now, to make up for lost time and, materialistically, lost opportunity, I never want them to want. That, in of itself, isn’t so bad. However, our children don’t need to get everything they want when they want it. It takes the fun, the surprise and the genuine happiness out of it. I know it, but still, like an addict, I can’t stop.
Thankfully, together, my wife and I have raised them to be mindful, respectful and for the most part, appreciative, yet a little uncertainty, a lot of hope and genuine joy certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Today, too many kids are raised with an unhealthy sense of entitlement and expectation that is derived from a very different set of financial circumstances than my childhood, and relatively greater than the difference between my parents’ childhood and mine. Since the 1990s through the second half of 2008, it seemed easier to make money than it was for my parents back then, and I suspect that many in my generation share the same experience. Finances, guilt, I suppose, and an flawed need to make up for whatever we think we missed out on when we were younger are the driving forces.
With that, I recall Linda’s story about a high school friend who died in a car accident, after this friend’s mother said, “no”, you aren’t taking the car. “No” seemed damning to the 15 year old at the time, yet “no” was the one word to be heeded that night; it certainly wasn’t a bad word.
What we teach our kids about life is essential to how they turn out as adults. To let them have what they want, do what they want, and expect it all to keep coming, potentially sets them up for the harsh fall the that we hope never comes. We have to be stronger; I have to be stronger.
After spending 45 minutes on the phone trying to walk him through this project, I told him that he could either wait for me to come home or risk damaging his PSP, as I did not know the process without reading the instructions or seeing it happen live on the computer. Reluctantly, he relented. I wished him a good-night and he said, “thank you for trying, I love you.”