Pick an after school activity and stick with it

[I wrote this post at the end of June, but I didn’t get around to posting it at the time. I suppose it’s fortuitous because as the year starts and parents start looking for activities for their kids, I would like to think that this will resonate more right now.]

The dance recital

My daughter (middle, green dress) in her dance recital

June 22, 2014: Last night I watched my 10-year-old daughter perform in her fifth annual dance recital and she was sensational, as were all the other dancers. Last week I watched my son playing in the championship game of his baseball league and he’s getting ready to travel to Italy to play on the Israel National baseball team.

As I sat last night and watched the girls from 12th grade bidding farewell to the dance studio where some of them had danced for 14 years, and had performed magnificently last night, one thing became clear to me: Kids must carefully choose an after-school activity when they are young and stick to it for as long as they can because it’s a precious gift that will shape and change their lives in a way that no school subject can.

As someone who is deeply involved in Israel baseball, and having been through many years of dance with my daughter, I have identified two types of participants: There are what I call the “testers”, kids who float from activity to activity each year, trying each one out like they are small dishes on a tasting menu in a restaurant. They never develop any real skill or ability. Instead of sticking with it, they give up and move onto the next activity without a thought. Sadly, often their parents encourage this flitting, and don’t see the disservice they are doing in not encouraging their children to keep going until they reach a level of expertise that the kids (and their parents) will be proud of.

baseball pitching

My son pitching on the Israel National baseball team

Then there are the “perseverers”. These are the kids who find something they enjoy and instead of just getting a taste, they joyfully gorge themselves on the entire meal and are the more fulfilled for it. These kids are opening up new worlds for themselves. Whether it’s baseball or dancing or karate or chess, these kids learn so much and blossom into human beings who exist on a level above the mundane.

I see the dancers who, even at a young age, realize that the hours and hours of extra rehearsal pay off in professional-looking shows that wow audiences. When the older dancers help the younger girls with their make-up and costumes, even though they also have to make sure they are ready for their own dances, they understand the value of leadership and become role models for the young girls to look up to. And the younger girls in turn strive to become those older, more responsible dancers.

I watch the baseball players, who have committed themselves to what started as an after school activity, coming out virtually on a daily basis to practice, to hone their skills, to become better players and to help each other succeed. They’ve developed their own community of players who understand the value of hard work, discipline, and commitment. Their coaches develop not only their sports skills but also instil in them the values of team work, responsibility and sportsmanship. This dedication not only turns them into outstanding sports-people, but it sets them up for life as conscientious young people who understand the value of hard work, commitment and being a good person.

While after school activities (unfortunately) aren’t mandatory, I feel militant about the need for every child to make this commitment because I’ve seen from up close how much value this seemingly innocuous choice can have. So pick an activity, stick with it, be the best you can be. These will be some of the best days of your lives, these memories will last forever, and you will be a better person for it.

 

Related articles:

14 Reasons Your Parents Are Lucky That You Are A DANCER!!

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I was unfriended by a (Jewish) American Journalist

A few days ago I discovered that I had been unfriended by a Facebook friend, who is also a journalist living in the US (of course I won’t mention names).

In the first week of the war, this person, who lives on the West Coast, posted a few articles that were slanted against Israel. I was surprised as I knew her from the days she lived here and she always struck me as a balanced person. The first article that made me pause was the article placing some of the blame for the killing of lone soldier Max Steinberg in the fighting in Gaza on the Birthright program. I was shocked by this awful bit of low blow journalism, but I didn’t comment.

When she posted an article that blasted Israel solely for the suffering of Gazans, and took not one line of space in her preamble to point to any wrongdoing on the part of Hamas, I decided to comment. I would cut and paste my comment but for reasons mentioned above, I no longer have to access to it, so I’ll just have to reconstruct as best I can. What I wrote, and not in a rant (but you’ll have to take my word for that), was that the parents of children in Israel who are running to the shelters with their kids every day, several times a day, are entitled to be defended, and that it’s easy when you’re in the safety and security of the West Coast of the USA to criticize Israel’s attempts to protect its innocent citizens.

A couple of weeks later, I remembered my comment and was surprised that there’d been no further comments popping up on my page in response. When I checked, I saw why – I was no longer her “friend”. The loss of this particular Facebook friend gave me no cause for a pity party. But what got my Middle Eastern goat was the fact that this person, who is an esteemed member of the press, and I would like to think supports the notion that different people have different opinions based on their particular life experience, found my personal point of view about innocent Israelis’ suffering so offensive that she couldn’t bear having me as a Facebook friend.

It’s one thing to read articles written by journalists I don’t know who are too blind, to biased or too scared to try to show both sides of the situation. But when I know the person, and know that they know what it’s like living in Israel, it turns my stomach to think that they worship at the altar of Jodi Rudoren and her ilk, hiding behind an outmoded concept of journalistic “objectivity” so they can conform to a new PC approach to Israel that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with reality.

Was she too chicken to challenge me on my opinion? Maybe it didn’t suit her to stoop down to the level of an average Israeli Joe and debate the issue with a pleb like me. Maybe she didn’t want to engage with a person who in fact supports a two-state solution and isn’t a right-winger she can so easily dismiss to herself.

Whatever the reason, this trivial action took my already shaky opinion of journalists in general (and I used to be one at one point, and I know some brilliant journalists who I will always respect) and tarnished it even further. Give me a blogger any day, who doesn’t cower behind a large organization and offers opinions that you can take or leave, but that you know are their own.

This journalist taught me one thing: Just because you’re a journalist doesn’t mean that you are incapable of putting on blinkers and being as closed minded as the next guy. The media ivory tower is clearly a lot closer to the ground than we thought, and maybe that’s just where it should be so that people know that their news often comes from fallible people.

With Facebook friends like this….

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Looking Forward

Israeli-flagMurmurs in the media are talking of a real cease fire. As an optimistic person by nature, and somewhat of a pragmatist, my mind quickly turns to all the things I am looking forward to in the days “after”.

Not having to give my kids a long, neurotic lecture before they leave the house: “Do you know where there are shelters where you’re going?”; “You know not to be wandering around anywhere too far from a shelter”; “Make sure your phone is charged”; “Be careful, be careful, be careful.”

Not having to drive in a panic from my little rural town through what we know in Israel now as “open areas”, as those are the areas into which the Iron Dome allows missiles to fall because the risk is low of hitting anything. And not having to rethink my car journeys to make sure I don’t drive through open areas I can actually avoid, and rather take the longer routes through traffic.

Not jumping every time I hear a lawnmower start or a truck drive down the street, because they sound like sirens.

Not spending endless hours glued to the TV news, hanging on every word of every commentator, and hoping for some good news for a change, that doesn’t come. And not waking up in the morning and reaching for my phone to find out if anything has changed, before I’ve had my first cup of tea.

Not feeling compelled to read every Protective Edge-related article posted on Facebook, and getting irritated with the obnoxious, inflammatory comments posted by ignorant idiots from all over the world who know nothing from nothing. And not feeling mildly jealous when I see posts from friends on Facebook in other countries who get to complain about bad service, inclement weather and annoying neighbors. I also want to be able to complain about boring shit again on Facebook.

Not rationalizing that 43 missiles fired at Israel in one day is “better” than the 60 fired the previous day.

Not feeling deeply guilty that I live in a relatively quiet area of Israel while others live in virtual hell, rushing to shelters several times a day and night.

Not looking around for signs that point to shelters in every place I go to.

Not hearing airplanes flying over my house, which is under the current safe flight path from Ben Gurion Airport, and not experiencing the irrational fear of flying in our skies these days, on top of to my existing irrational fears of flying.

Not having my thoughts unduly occupied by the Hamas, the UN, the anti-Semites worldwide, Qatar, Kerry, and the moronic celebrities who for some reason think they’re as smart as they look.

But most importantly, I truly, and from the depths of my heart, look forward to not feeling the constant dread that more of our precious soldiers are losing their lives and that more families in Israel are joining the ranks of the bereaved; and to not be holding my breath for all my friends and family whose loved ones are serving our country and risking their lives to make Israel a safer place to live in.

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From Terror to Complacency in Five Short Days

Smoke from a downed missle

Smoke from the downed missile

Some more thoughts from our war zone…

It amazes me how Israelis, especially the youngest ones, adapt so quickly to situations and normalize them so fast. Once again, while we were on the baseball field somewhere in central Israel, at 16:30 today the sirens went off. Because we are in an open area, the sound of the siren isn’t very loud. I heard it and immediately ordered the kids near me (10-11-year-olds) to move into the safe rooms near the field. None of them looked very concerned. One quickly said: “But it sounds so far away. Why do we have to go?” My response was short and to the point (to say the least), and they all got up and hustled over the bases, past the dug outs, into the safe room.

Some claimed to have heard the booms, signifying that a missile  has been intercepted by the Iron Dome (may it be blessed). Just a couple of minutes into being the the safe room, the kiddies were restless and ready to leave. These situations create a short learning curve – within hours of the first missiles being fired last week, we understood that the danger comes in the minutes after the Iron Dome intercepts the missile, because that’s when the hot metal fragments come plummeting down to earth. So once again I had to exert my motherly authority and use my “strict” voice to keep them from scuttling back to the field prematurely. The players from the older team (14-15-year-olds) rolled their eyes at me. But I stood firm.

Glad I did. When we emerged, I noticed that not too far away, there was a significant display of billowing white smoke. Then the emergency services sirens started blaring from all directions. A brother of one of the players showed up with news – a missile had in fact been shot down and its fiery remains lay smoldering in a field not too far from us.

On the way home, with my 15-year-old son and two of his team mates in the car, I got a little jumpy when I heard a song that had siren-like sounds in the background. I quickly turned off the radio to check if the sound was coming from outside the car. And more eye rolling – this time from my son. “Mom, you’re being paranoid,” he said in his droll teenage monotone, without lifting his eyes from the What’s App screen on his phone. I confess that I am a little envious of this state of youthful complacency in the face of all this terror we are enduring. Oh to be 15 again!

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From Quiet Canada to Israel Under Fire

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

Filling a secure room with sweaty baseball players

When the first missiles were fired into central Israel on Tuesday, my family and I were coming to the end of a short trip to Toronto for a family wedding. News from home, which first came in via What’s App messages to my daughter telling her that in our small town there had been an unprecedented air raid, was gut wrenching. We had just short of 24 hours to digest the awful news that no area of the country was immune to the rockets being launched from Gaza. The thought of flying into Israel, particularly into a Tel Aviv that was being targeted rather effectively for the first time, made me more than a little nervous. An online message from a friend slightly eased my fears – “You know the news is always darker from far”.

So true. In fact, the closer I got, ironically the less I feared what we were returning to. At the El Al check in counter at Toronto airport, I asked the attendant if there were a lot of cancellations. Her answer, in a heavy Russian accent: “No-one has cancelled. Very brave people.” That already made me feel better. Then I spotted a family of 6 who were clearly making aliyah, given away by a massive pile of baggage, punctuated by a large Mac computer box (no-one goes on vacation with such a piece of hardware). All I could think was this is the best and the worst time to make aliyah – the worst, well that’s obvious… missiles aren’t the greatest first impression; the best…things can only get better.

The mood on the plane did little to bring me down again. One tourist, about to spend three weeks in Israel, smiled broadly when he told a fellow passenger that the situation didn’t deter him because he likes a little action in his life. All around me, Canadian tourists were looking forward to spending time in Israel, undeterred by the less than sympathetic welcome they were surely going to get in Tel Aviv. Canadians, ey?

We landed, and Ben Gurion Airport was decorated with signs pointing the way to the air raid shelters. This was the only clue that something was amiss. Everything else was plain old normal – just the way we like to keep things as best as we can when the going gets tough. The nasty traffic on the way home was caused by our “normal” traffic accidents – five of them in total. And while the news stream was confirming many of my fears, and detailing the truly horrendous situations facing almost all residents of the South, life all around was going ahead as usual.

This morning, when the sirens went off while my son’s baseball team (that I manage) was in the middle of a pre-tournament practice game, we all quickly obeyed Homeland Security instructions and trooped off the field into the shelters. The experience of being in a small stuffy room with a team of very sweaty baseball players was far more unpalatable than the thought of missiles (no offense guys). We waited for the required 10 minutes, by which I mean an abbreviated 2 minutes, and returned to the field under the clear blue summer sky. The only hint of chaos was three tiny white puffy clouds in the distance – the last vestiges of the three missiles that had been intercepted by the Iron Dome minutes before.

One player commented that this was probably the first baseball inning ever to be ended by a missile attack. But I’m sure there were other moments in history that involved baseball and missiles. Either way, this was one moment that made me realize that hearing about an air raid from across the ocean is far more terrifying than being in one. In the midst of the chaos, I felt so much calmer. It really is less dark here than there. Still, I’ll be very happy when it’s all over and the only booms we hear at baseball are the sound of the ball cracking on the bat.

 

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Team Mom: A Really Comfortable Hat

I’ve worn many baseball hats over the past few years – IAB Secretary General, IAB board member, town coordinator, coach, umpire – but none has given me more pleasure than the most recent – Under 16 Israel National Team Mom.

Team Israel

Team Israel

We landed from our trip to the PONY Tournament in Prague at 4:00 this morning, with the silver medal trophy in tow.  After getting a little sleep, it’s now time to share the 13 reasons that this hat was a particularly comfortable one, and here they are (in alphabetical order): Adam, Assaf, David, Ely, Ethan, Hadar, Jacob, Michael, Noam, Omri, Yoav H., Yoav M. and Yotam.

These are the 13 members of the U16 Israel National team that I’m bursting with pride to be associated with. Not only are they incredible ball players with guts and determination, they’re also respectful, considerate, and courteous. I often had to remind myself that they are only 15 and 16-years-old because they’re mature beyond their years. They’ve all clearly been raised well by great parents. On the baseball field, they are committed, determined and exceptionally talented. They’ve been coached to be the best players they can be, not accept failure, push through disappointment, practice until they can’t stand any more. But their coaching doesn’t end there: They’re also coached to be the outstanding people they are; to take responsibility for themselves and their team; and to behave the way representatives of the State of Israel should when they are serving as ambassadors of our country. Bravo parents; bravo coaches!!

Being team mom isn’t a bed of roses: It involves running around from Czech supermarket to supermarket, with no local language, trying to find essentials for the team (e.g., a pot – it was Pesach); it includes being mooned by team members on a Prague highway and having no recourse whatsoever (!); it involves hearing the very gory details (including photographic evidence) of pranks the guys play on each other after the games (TMI!); it involves constantly having to nag kids to take food to the field, so they won’t starve because it’s Pesach; it involves being photo-bombed by a large group of players, while taking a post-game picture with my son; and more.

But here’s where it’s all so very worthwhile:

When the players do something great on the field and come over and make sure I saw it. (I never miss a second.)

When a player sends me a note in the middle of the tournament saying that “everything has been great and a lot has to do with you,”… instant lump in throat!

When a player says: “We need to count how many times Margo says ‘No thanks, it’s OK’.” (The boys offer to help me with so much so often that I really constantly had to say it.)

When, during an exchange of 16-year-old off-color banter, a player says to my son: “I would start cursing your mother now if she wasn’t so awesome.”…Ego explosion!

When dinners with some of the boys at Chabad, instead of being eat-and-run affairs, turn into long and interesting chats about everything and anything, and I have to remind myself again that these smart, mature kids are 15!

When every car trip ends with “thank you”s, and every effort I make is acknowledged and appreciated.

When a player, after asking a particularly stupid question in the car, reminds me how much I like him and as such, please not to put the incident forward for Kangaroo Court.

When my own son gracefully deals with the fact that Team Mom is his real mother, and doesn’t cringe at the fact.

And mainly, when they all go out there, play like superstars wearing Team Israel jerseys, support each other from the dug-out loudly and proudly; and do it all with poise and respect for the game, their opponents, their coaches and each other.

To my 13 baseball “sons”, besides your real parents, I am your biggest fan. You warm my heart. I so look forward to seeing you all take your next steps both on and off the baseball field, and to the successes you will surely achieve. To each and every one of you, thanks for being so awesome and keep it up.

See you at practice!

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An Exchange

Margo Sugarman:

A brilliant take on the Haredi protests against conscription.

Originally posted on Rabbi Pruzansky's Blog:

Earlier this week, I was contacted by an old friend who now lives in Israel, part of the Chareidi world. He sent me his thoughts, and I responded, and the exchange is reproduced below, with minor editing. I have deleted the friend’s name.   -RSP

6 Adar II 5774, March 8, 2014

Dear Steven,

Ahead of the mass gathering of Torah true Jewry scheduled to take place tomorrow in Manhattan, I’m reaching out to you, our brothers in America, to share with you the sad truth: here, in the State of Israel, Torah Jewry is subject to religious persecution.

To classify Torah students as “criminals,” subject to imprisonment, is only the latest and most absurd of anti-chareidi laws enacted recently by the government. In addition, they have  drastically cut education and welfare budgets, aiming to choke our yeshivos and schools, and even our individual religious freedoms, so prized by Americans and…

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