Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Our Next Adventure (Just in time! May is National Foster Care Month!)

This year - the twentieth year of our marriage - we are beginning a new chapter of our adventure - Foster Care ... we don't know where it will take us - like all of the adventures that preceded this one - we are in it together.
May 1989

September 1999
30 years ago - I wrote in my 8th grade yearbook that I wanted to be a loving mother and wife and to be a Family Court lawyer - child advocate. 30 years later I am 2 of the three - though I do feel the work I have done in my professional life over the past 22 years has included being an advocate for children.

When J and I got married - we knew that we wanted 4 children - we had each come to that decision before we met each other.

Our "plan" was to have two children and to adopt two children.

We started going to information sessions about adoption when Bob was a little over a year, while I was pregnant with Belle.
December 2005

At the time our parameters were 1. any child that needed a home and 2. needed to not change the birth order of our children. Even with those parameters, we were told that it would cost $30k for each child - minimum. We thought about what that would mean. We wanted Jewish Day School for our kids, we didn't want to have 3 biological children and one adopted child. During this time, J's dad passed away and we didn't want to wait for "a good thing."

We said that maybe when our kids were older - maybe teens, we would become foster care parents...come to think of it - I'm not quite sure if I said it and J just agreed - or I just said it! Bean and Puppy followed - completing our family of "planned biological children."

December 2014
Of course, we added two 4 legged pups as well!

We went to our first foster care meeting in December of 2014, with all 4 children in tow, and learned much - including, then was not the right time.

May 2019

Fast forward 4.5 years later, we have completed our 30-hour training, completed the 60-hours worth of paperwork and we are awaiting our home study to complete our licensing process. J and I are in this together - really all of SCentral is in this together, though I know that I am leading us down this path. It means the world to have all of us together on this adventure.

I have been blessed beyond my comprehension to have the life I share with J and our children. We hope to be able to give some love, hope, and strength to at least one child while their biological parents get the tools they need to be the parent the child deserves.

Care to join us on our journey? May is National Foster Care Month do some research! 

Monday, October 8, 2018

#metoo

This is not a secret. This is something I have told more than a dozen people over the past 21 years. But it is something I have kept out of the public conversation, for many reasons…like...
a. it is a private and personal and 
b. I believed my advocating for victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) would be more effective if my story was not included. I didn’t want my story to interfere with my work and credibility as an advocate. 

Truth be told – when I first started working in the field of domestic violence – I didn’t think my story had anything to do with the work I was doing. I was going to help advocate for victims of a different type…little did I know then, what I grew to know over the tenure of my experience that the issue was power and control all along.

Friday morning, I sent a text to J letting him know I thought the time had come. 

We had mentioned this day in passing over the years – a day that I thought about often, in detail, even before we were married, before they were born. Would I tell my children? Did they need to know? How would I tell them? How would I protect them? …Could I protect them from the same thing happening to them?

So, this past Friday night, at Shabbat dinner I started the conversation…but I will come back to that. 

First – here is my story as told by me just a few weeks after the assault…I wrote it as part of a book review for a psychology class, turned in April of 1997 (this is a portion of the paper). The book – Intimate Betrayal: Understanding and responding to the trauma of acquaintance rape.

…The fact that I am twenty-one years old makes it obvious I have had many gendered moments in my life. Each and every one of these experiences and relationships created the woman I am today. I always believed I was a strong woman and made my intentions known, but one afternoon changed everything I had once believed about myself. It was one afternoon two weeks ago, the day I was "acquaintance raped." Wow, I really don't like that word, rape. I think I prefer the term sexual assault, no, I don't prefer either, but the connotations that come with each have very different meanings.
      “B” and I had been friends for nine years, [we had grown up in the same synagogue together, high school, and been members of USY together] but we had not seen each other in about a year when he [and another friend of ours] dropped in for a visit [here at AU]. He is in the Coast Guard and was stopping by before being shipped out. I was very excited to see him and spend quality time before he would disappear for the next three years, [our other friend had to leave early and “B” was going to join me for Purim services that night. I went to shower and get ready]. I can honestly say I was not prepared for [what happened next].
      I said "NO," I did. I said "“B”, please stop, don't do this, I don't want to, I don't like you in this way!" But he didn't listen. I pushed him, I tried to move away, I was afraid that he was going to hurt me more than he was already…To my "NO," he replied, "you don't mean no, you know you want to!" To the idea that I am physically not a little woman who can be thrown around and I can resist force, he was more forceful than I could have ever counterbalanced. Maybe because he had the element of surprise or maybe because he was so muscular, or maybe because he was physically hurting me. To the idea of why did I invite him to my room or why did I leave to take a shower; the only response I have is that he was my friend...a platonic friend, one who I trusted as a brother, not one I thought would betray me.
      After it was interrupted [by two of my residents that came to knock on my door] he jumped up and I left to get dressed not saying another word. When I returned he was sitting on my bed watching TV as if nothing was wrong and nothing had happened. He didn't get it, he really didn't. I left for services, as it was [Purim], and told him to leave because I no longer wanted to go out with him that night, I had changed my mind. I didn't report it for two days.
      You see I'm one of the educated ones, I'm not the woman who didn't know what it was, or what to call it. I've taken the classes, I've seen the news, and I've even written the papers and given the talks.  [I’m an RA and a psychology major]. I've advised women on their options and even encouraged them to press charges, but when the tables were turned, I didn't follow through. What they forget to tell us as educators is that you really don't know how the woman is feeling until you are in her position. You can know all the "right" things to do and choose none of them; it is such a hard decision to make.
      How was I supposed to press charges, that would entail people needing to know, telling what happened, and have all those questions asked. You know the ones like: Why was he in your room? Why were you in a robe? Why didn't you do anything more when he started making advances?. How could I press charges when [one of my closest friends who is his best friend said to me, “I believe you, I believe he is capable of this, but if you press charges – I can’t support you.”] Besides, how could I go home again and face "our" circle of friends? Not to mention the fact that he didn't [seem to] realize that he did anything wrong. 
      All in all, I was a lucky one, I got to pick the police officer I wanted to give my statement to because [as an RA] I knew him and trusted him; I couldn’t have done it any other way. It was so degrading even to have a friend (University Police officer) ask me those questions, imagine a stranger, I know I wouldn’t have done it…[I only did it so he could be barred from campus]

I know the date, not because I remember the date on the English calendar, it is because it happened on the eve of the Jewish holiday Purim and years later I went back and looked it up. I remember I left AU and went to meet my friend Josh at the GW Hillel for services – I don’t remember how I got there…I don’t remember anything about the service, who else was there…I do remember the room, and I remember feeling safe with my friend Josh. I haven’t celebrated Purim since.

Back to this past Friday night… we finished the brachot (prayers) including blessing each one of our children and Jason singing me Eyshet Chayil (Woman of Valor), Kiddush and Motzi over the challah. I started saying something to the effect of, with all that has been in the news, and the power and honesty of Dr. Blasey Ford, and in light of all the work I have done on behalf of victims, Aba and I agree that it is time for me to let you know that I was sexually assaulted in college.

I don’t know what I expected their responses to be…I don’t think I had an expectation – but what did happen I did not expect. Our oldest son said, “did you seriously think we didn’t know that?”  I looked at him inquisitively, to which he responded – I assumed from all the work you do. Next came our younger daughter – who jumped out of her chair and said…”did it happen on Purim and that’s why you don’t do Purim? I’ve had this theory for so long!” …our older daughter reprimanded her with a sarcastic jab, “it is not the time” – and then said, “yeah, but we knew.” Our youngest son, yet to become a bar mitzvah was taking it all in.

I let them know that I had done a lot of personal work to get to where I am today, and that Jason had been an amazing support and partner. I did know him when the assault occurred, we didn’t become close friends till later and didn’t start dating till almost a year after that. I told them that it was important to me that they feel comfortable asking questions, and that both Jason and I would be available to answer anything they wanted to know. The first one that was asked is if they knew this person. I was able to answer that question definitively – “no!” you have never met him.   

Our kids have handled life’s challenges with humility, humor, sarcasm and grace, just the way we hoped they would. Their handling of this was no different – we are able to talk, shed a tear, smile, joke and support each other with what is a difficult topic of conversation.

What I didn’t tell my children, (but I am sure from all the conversations we have had over the years they assume) that assault, the one I assume he doesn’t remember, has affected every aspect of my life. From choosing when to go home to NY for a visit, how to handle panic attacks, how to manage anxiety, who I trust, how to be intimate, who I choose to be friends with. It is something I live with every day in some way. But again, even 21 years later, I still believe I was one of the lucky ones.

I ended the above-mentioned paper was with the following line –

Recovery is important, and as seen through the book and through studies, "living well is the best revenge."

I don’t know if I believed it to be true then…or even now… what I do know, is I have had the great privilege of living well.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Strength to strength

Dear JCADA Family,

It is with many emotions that I offer my resignation.

We find ourselves at a crossroads--at a time we can evolve. I know the role I have played guiding and nurturing JCADA into what it has become. One of the greatest challenges of leadership is knowing when to pass the baton and allow an organization to grow under the gaze of fresh eyes. After much reflection, I believe that time is now.

Together, we have built an organization that is not only central to our community, but more importantly, one that has saved countless lives -- among them our neighbors, our friends, and our family.

I look back on the past 10 years with great pride.

Together, we grew from assisting with case management for a handful of abuse victims to providing direct clinical services to almost 1000 victims of gender and power based violence.

We created a legal program that grew far above and beyond what anyone had imagined.

We grew from educating dozens of Rabbis as to what domestic abuse looked like, to educating thousands of community members and multi-faith clergy about gender based violence and how to respond.

We grew from an organization fighting to get into a few schools, to sought-after provider of healthy relationship programming in the DMV, and official educational content provider for Montgomery County’s Choose Respect.

I am humbled to have had the opportunity to serve as JCADA’s executive director this past decade and I thank you. I am confident that I am leaving JCADA firmly in capable hands.

May JCADA and all those we serve continue to go from strength to strength.



Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Grandma's Eulogies

As we get ready to take a break for Shabbat - I share with you six of the eulogies given at Grandma Ada's Funeral....**

Thank you all for your supportive, kind and caring words and stories about Grandma Ada.

Grandma choreographed her own funeral. Giving each of us something to say and/or sing...and offering anyone the opportunity to speak...if others wanted to listen.

**after Shabbat I will add the additional parts of the "program" - her words, not ours!

Ada Young Eulogy by, Elissa

Ada Young Eulogy by, Jason

Ada Young Eulogy by, Jacob

Ada Young Eulogy by, Ellie

Ada Young Eulogy by, Eric

Ada Young Eulogy by, Douglas

Ada Young - Letter to Mom, by Dona



Grandma, Love your Lissy Pooh



Why is this so hard to write? I think because I don’t want to…because I never thought I would have to. G was supposed to be here forever…we thought she would be here forever. Everything I do traces back to Grandma. Starting with my morning coffee. You see, when we lived with Grandma and Grandpa – she and I would spend the morning together getting ready. She would put a piece of bread in the toaster oven with a slice of muenster cheese… and pour us each a cup of coffee – me with this much coffee and this much milk – her with this much coffee and this much milk…and each with two saccharine. I pretty much still drink my coffee the same way.

We would spend time waiting for my mom to get home from work…and as each car passed by in front of 10205 63rd Road that was not my mommy’s car – and there were many cars passing by 10205 63rd Road – she would say, “that’s not mommy’s car…” until it was.

We could cuddle in bed and talk for hours – but once we got up the bed had to be made…with hospital corners and then you couldn’t mess with it, the pillows were on just so. Nothing was off limits in Grandma’s house…except touching the mirror – that was a nu nu nu. Or the walls for that matter…they would leave marks.

Everything was a learning experience, a game and a treat – no matter what it was. I remember a time that we were in Wallingford. She took Joshy, Dena and I on a walk, and as we walked she was trying to teach Josh and Dena their address – or maybe just try to remember it for herself so we didn’t get lost – and as we walked she sang: “210 Plushmill Road, Wallingford Pennsylvania, I don’t know the zip code…” What child knows their Aunt and Uncle’s address off the top of their heads? I did…and because of the story, so do my children!

Grandma was one of the most empathetic people I know. She felt everything we felt. When we were happy, she was thrilled and had the best clap – lifting her head up and saying OH MY GOD with a squeal. And when we were sad, she would say: “don’t cry, my shainkin – you’re going to make me cry,” and she did.

Grandma Ada knew no stranger. She would start a conversation while in line with the person next to her or with someone walking on the boardwalk. I know, children – I do the same thing, but I come by it honestly. Grandpa Jay and she traveled the world together – and made amazing connections and friendships along the way. They traveled on group bus trips and came home with pen-pals and photos of people of all ages – 30 years younger, and 30 years older – and kept in touch in a time before the internet or Facebook made it easy. They would go on cruises, and loved getting seated with other people – people they would become fast friends with. When I was a bit older I asked them why, and they said it made it more fun to meet interesting people.

But it wasn’t just the random people on trips. What I think we each knew, but didn’t get until the past 48 hours, is how much each and every one of our friends thought of G as their Mom/Grandma. The outpouring from people near and far has been tremendous. They are sharing stories about their relationship with G – ones where she made them feel as though they were her family.

Family. Our family. I didn’t get that we were so different. I just assumed all were like us. Family was most important. Grandma’s seemed to breathe in our CO2 as we breathed in her love as our oxygen. She wanted her family close – physically close, yes, but more importantly emotionally. No one should sleep at a hotel; we all sleep together in the house. There is enough room on the floor and in beds; it isn’t a problem. I used to think it was about money – not to spend the money on a hotel –but you see, I think she knew – by having us “live” together for that short time, we learned more about each other as individuals and as a family. Our idiosyncrasies, our weaknesses and our strengths…and how we are better together than as individuals. It is no coincidence that the 9 of us fight like siblings. We were raised as siblings, not cousins. Each of our parents could reprimand us or praise us like our parents, for better or worse. In the long run – it has proven for the better.

But Grandma and Grandpa created the opportunities for these spaces to exist. Whether it was the trips to the Raleigh hotel in the Catskills/South Fallsburg, Israel, Florida or our family cruises – they made it possible for us to be together and live together, even for a short time, like siblings.

Grandma never failed to tell us how she felt about us, our decisions, our choices…but she never failed to tell us how much she loved us. And that we were her favorite (Shhh, don’t tell anyone!). We were each her favorite.

And when she became a Great Grandma, she finally got the name she had always wanted: Bubbie. See, G was blessed with good genes. Both of her parents lived into their nineties, and Elan, Sheri, Ron, Josh, Dena, Lauren, Evan, Doug, and I were all fortunate enough to have had our great-grandma still living when we were born. We called her Bubbie because that is what our parents did. So to us, G was Grandma Ada until 2001. Jacob, followed by Lior, Liad, Yael, Daniele, Adina, Yuval, Aiden, Eden, Amit, Ariel, Dalia and Jonah – that is 13 if you lost count – called her Bubbie…and all loved their Bubbie dearly.

Love: love is something she was generous with – as she was with everything. We have been so blessed to have had her with us, so close – whether in physical distance or through technology at the push of a button.

Her children, my mom Dona and dad Eric, Uncle Russel and Aunt Judy, and Aunt Marcia, responded to her every need and wish – she even sometimes let them think that their say mattered in the decision. But they learned from the best. Grandma taught her children by example…and we will follow in their footsteps.

But as you couldn’t sway her to do anything she didn’t want to – well, maybe I could, but the rest of you couldn’t – she decided, on what would have been on Grandpa Jay’s 95th birthday, to join the love of her life in olam ha-bah.

None of us really knows what we are going to do without her. I think many us of feel we lost our best friend. I know I did. Who are we going to pick up the phone to tell what exciting news we have? Who are we going to call to complain about someone in the family? Who are we going to pick up the phone to cry with? The answer is each other. That is how she planned it. We are to call each other. Our matriarch helped us build these relationships for the past 70+ years – and it is our job to fulfill her wishes and allow her legacy to be passed on through us.


Grandma Ada, Love Jason

My name is Jason Schwartz. I’m married to Ada’s granddaughter Elissa, and the proud father of four of Ada’s thirteen great-grandchildren.

I have also earned a reputation as the family fanatic, so not to disappoint, I will share some words of Torah that truly speak to the way Grandma Ada lived her life. From

Pirkei Avot:
10. [Rabbi Yochanan] said to them: Go and see which is the best trait for a person to acquire. Said Rabbi Eliezer: A good eye. Said Rabbi Joshua: A good friend. Said Rabbi Yossei: A good neighbor. Said Rabbi Shimon: To see what is born [out of ones actions]. Said Rabbi Elazar: A good heart. Said He to them: I prefer the words of Elazar ben Arach to yours, for his words include all of yours.
I’m going to talk about Grandma Ada’s heart.

I will always remember the first time I met Grandma Ada. Lis and I weren’t even officially dating yet, but I went with her to Plainview to join her family for some holiday or other. I probably said something like “hello, I’m Jason,” and she replied, “I’m Grandma Ada.” And just like that - she was my grandma, whether I liked it or not. Now I do remember putting up some resistance to this appellation at first - after all, what would my own grandmother think if I went around calling other women “grandma?”

What I didn’t know then is that Ada Young’s family isn’t like other families. You don’t marry into this family and then remain an outsider, spending years trying to earn a place. Once you’re in, you’re in all the way. Like it or not. So, while Grandma Ada may not have always had the most open mind, she had the most open heart of anyone I’ve ever known. Lots of room in there for everyone - even our two big fluffy dogs, who she was always happy to have come and stay with her when we visited. So despite that initial reluctance I might have had when first meeting her, I’m proud to call Ada my grandma. Ada’s children are my mom and my aunt and my uncle. Her grandchildren are my brother, my sister and my cousins.

Grandma Ada was really good sport. I used to tease her mercilessly, which I thought was only fair, because she used to beat the pants off me at Rummikub, with equal savagery. I’m afraid I’ve gotten my kids on board too, as we have enjoyed needling Grandma Ada over the years about the many times she discovered, for the first time, that Uncle Russ is allergic to apples, or that charoset can be purchased in a jar. Or about all of the variations she came up with for her favorite part of the Passover seder - say it with me now - “two are the tablets that Moshe brought!”

Grandma Ada was known for many things: Love and affection for family and friends, devotion to her husband, fantastic cooking and baking, stubbornness, storytelling, love of travel, a sweet tooth, Yiddish, a little off-color language, Jewish values, and... opinions. No, you did not have to work hard to pry an opinion out of Grandma Ada. Whatever she thought of what you were doing, she felt it was important to tell you. Now granted, it was sometimes a challenge helping her to understand that telling loved ones exactly what you think of their choices and their behavior may not be the best way to inspire change. But you can be sure that whatever the criticism, whatever the praise, it came from a place of love, fierce pride, and her desire to see each and every one of her family members -- all of us family members -- succeed, be happy, and be menschen - decent people.

What I will remember most about Grandma Ada is her zest for life. She cried easily, and laughed even more easily. No matter what obstacles nature and age put in her path, she always found a way to live life to the fullest, and share it with the people who mattered most. From joining the band and playing the bongos at Beth’s wedding, to playing the slot machines every chance she got, to coming on a cruise with 27 family members at the age of 89.5, to always having some fruit jells and marshmallow twists in the freezer, to dancing with her family at the end of two Passover seders less than two months ago.

We are so lucky to have had Grandma Ada in our lives. What our great sages have tried to teach us in words, she demonstrated in her deeds, each and every day she lived her life: The best trait for a person to acquire is a good heart. Zichronah Li-vrachah - may her memory be for a blessing, always.

Bubbie, Love Jacob

Bubbie,

For 92 years you filled the world with your endless kindness and light. Throughout my life have been inspired by you. You weren't just my great-grandmother - you juggled quite a few roles.

Firstly, you were the Queen. Your strong opinions were expressed with confidence and pride. If you wanted to share what you were thinking you let everyone know. If you wanted to do something then you were going to do it. I aspire to exhibit the strength and leadership that you have shown time and time again. G, our family was royalty with you on the throne.

Secondly, you were a teacher. You taught me how to play countless board games so we could spend our time together on holiday afternoons. You taught me that I should be proud of my religion and my family. You taught me that the secret to longevity is a diet consisting of mostly peanut m&ms and Coca Cola. You taught me that nothing is more precious than family. Your teachings have shaped my very identity and your loving words and selfless actions have shaped the individual I am today.

Most importantly, you were family. Together we created countless memories, from having early morning breakfasts with me on holidays to mercilessly annihilating me in Rummikub - from your beautiful renditions of Passover tunes to your 90th birthday cruise.

Your family was much bigger than your 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 13 great grandchildren. You had a special gift for making people feel loved and accepted, and in that way you extended your family. Everyone who met you was drawn in by your warmth and humor.

Even in your later years in assisted living you were able to bring joy to so many. You quickly became the most popular resident in the place. Your energy was so magnetic that your aides would come to visit you on their free time. The boundless joy experienced by all in your presence was matched only by your capacity to love. You touched the hearts of so many people in so many ways. Your legacy lives on in our memories like an eternal flame.

Today I buried you Bubbie, but I will never forget you until the day I am buried myself.