A Jew in Florence

OyMG- Florence Synagogue

Standing very tall and clear in the city scape of Florence is the large green dome. Yes, you heard me. I’m not talking about Il Duomo you traditionally think of when it comes to Florence, but rather the Great Synagogue, built in 1874-1882, by the Jewish Community of Florence.  The Jews of Florence are one of the oldest continuous communities in Europe. Jews first settled in Florence, the capital of Tuscany, in the early 1400s, when the Medici family asked Jewish families to move from Rome to serve as money lenders in Florence. Jews also moved from Spain to Italy during the Expulsion. However, when Cosimo de Medici took power in Florence in the 1570s, the protections Jews had enjoyed for over 100 years vanished and they were forced to move into a ghetto in the city center, I learned on my tour of the Great Synagogue that over 400 families lived in this small ghetto until the mid-1800s. Jews had to pay the gatekeepers each day to open and close the gate to go to work outside the ghetto walls. The community was allowed to have synagogues, schools, kosher markets, and more. In 1799, the Jews were emancipated by Napoleonic forces. The people of Florence saw their Jewish ghetto as a disgrace to their beautiful, new Republic and destroyed it in 1848. This is why Florence is one of few European cities without an old Jewish quarter. When you travel to Florence today, a large open plaza, La Republica, stands where the ghetto once stood filled day and night with locals and tourists enjoying gelato, a carousel, and even a farmers market on the weekend. The Jewish community of Florence decided when they built their synagogue that they wanted to be far from their unhappy memories in the Jewish ghetto. And they wanted to build a dome, like the famous Il Duomo, but a dome that was very different from this famous dome. David Levi, a wealthy member of the community, left his entire estate to build the synagogue. While Jews had had places to worship in their ghetto, they had never had a great large temple, as the tour guide described in, in which to pray before. The Great Synagogue of Florence is built in the Moorish style and grounded in the Sephardic traditions of this community. I don’t have pictures, as they aren’t allowed on the tour. The dome was once copper, but has faded to the beautiful green color it is today. During recent renovations, the community chose to leave it the iconic green color it has become. The Torah scrolls of the synagogue were saved during World War II, hidden in the hills of Tuscany. The Nazis were surprised to find the Aron Hakodesh empty upon their arrival to Florence in 1943. But, the scrolls had already been hidden. The Nazis used the Great Synagogue for motorcycle and artillery storage during the war. They simply removed the benches used for praying and did not destroy the synagogue. However, the art of destroyed. When the Nazis left Florence, they booby trapped the Synagogue with bombs. Resistance fighters, with the help of arriving British and American forces, were able to save the synagogue from all but two of the bombs. In 1966, the Arno River flooded, destroying...

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Toxic Friends

OyMG - Teen Bullying

We probably have all had them at some point in our lives-Toxic friends that is. They literally suck the life out of you, making you feel “less than” you should feel. They seem to cheer when something bad happens to you. Toxic friends dump you for better plans. You may feel obligated to hang out with this person, even when you don’t want to. And when you do hang out with this person, you may wind up feeling bad about yourself, ugh! It is like a poison, a toxic friend. But, what can you do to get away? Once and for all! The first thing you have to realize it that it is a toxic friendship, that is isn’t healthy and it may be time to get out of the friendship. And I am not condoning any kind of massive blow up fight here. Just, step away quietly from the friendship. Call less. Make plans less. Slowly, you may find that your friend is calling you less (let’s hope, right!) But, what if she/he confronts you about your backing off from the relationship. How about, “we need to take a break for awhile?” Sounds like a break up, because it...

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Keeping Up Your Guard on the Internet

Social Media Logos

I was working with a teen recently and she told me about how someone’s mom was bothering her on Facebook. Saying mean things and what not. No one should bother you on the internet, you know. Let alone, someone’s mom! There are laws about this now and you shouldn’t put up with cyber-bullying. Time and time again I’m shocked that basic internet safety isn’t taught in schools. (At least this is what my clients tell me). And I know what you are thinking. You know how to stay safe on the internet. Don’t tell anyone your address or phone number. Yes, yes, but there is so much more! The pictures and art work you post on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr will perhaps be online forever. College and graduate school admissions officers may take a look at what you are up to (or were up to). And future employers will too. It seems so far away, I realize, to imagine yourself at a job. BUT, that picture of yourself with your eyes glazed over at your neighbor’s post prom party does not belong on the internet. And if someone tags you, remove it. Better safe than sorry, right? Don’t let people know in any way, through pictures, posts, or hints, that you are out of town or will be out of town at any point. A friend of mine tells me this is paranoia, but I see it as basic safety. Why would you tell complete strangers your whereabouts? Heading off on Senior Spring Break? Wait until after your return to let everyone know about it.   Revealing too much personal information is one of the biggest issues with internet safety. And this can become really risky when talking to “friends “online.  Listen, I am not one to knock the people you meet online. I recognize that there is something that feels great about making connections with others in a place that feels safe, like the internet. However, keep your guard up. What do you know about your internet friends that can be confirmed? What would you do if they asked to meet you? I hear teens tell me all the time that they are convinced someone else is a teen based on the way the person chats online. But it is easy to fool people with language and slang and references to pop culture and what not, so you need to be careful.   The internet, in all its vastness and greatness, can be a dangerous place, so keep your guard...

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Turn off the TV

OyMG - Turn Off the TV

I remember it like it was yesterday. It was an early fall morning and I was up early, waiting for my friend and his girlfriend to arrive after a long road trip. He called from his cell phone minutes before his arrival. “Turn on the TV,” he said. It was September 11, 2001.  After that call, I didn’t turn my TV off for several days. I was glued to the TV night and day and though I found no comfort in the images, I simply couldn’t turn it off. Like many, I experienced sleep issues, cried for friends who were blocks from the buildings that day, and simply couldn’t fathom how the world would move forward. It was all just too much for my 22 year old self to handle.  After the tragedy in Connecticut this past week, I’ve made a conscious effort to stay off the internet and leave my TV off, except for movies and hour long shows on cable. And today, this tragedy hit me like a ton of bricks. I was at the gym. I was on my favorite machine doing my cardio thing, listening to music. I didn’t even have my headphones plugged in to the TV monitors. But the images of the tragedy were everywhere-eight TVs to be exact. The pictures of those who perished on Friday, psychologists telling parents what to tell their kids, and even ESPN aired the story discussing the NFL’s response yesterday in moments of silence. An acquaintance walked up to me with tears in her eyes telling me how sad she was to drop her young child at school today. It was all too much for me. Big fat tears streamed down my face. Right there at the gym. There are many ways to grieve for those lost in this tragedy: pray, get involved in your community, talk and process through this, and hug your friends and family. But watching and re-watching, reading and pouring through images on the internet is not the way to cope in the face of this tragedy. In fact, for some of us, this is a way to traumatize ourselves and make our recovery harder. Healing is a hard process. Take a step back and think about how you have handled grief in the past. What has been helpful for you? What would you like to do now to manage through this? Get help if you need it. And please, take a step back and turn off the...

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Live in The Now

OyMG - Winter

Ahhhh, Winter Break! That long week you’ve been waiting for since mid-August when school started. Your finals are likely behind you and it is time to RELAX. Or is it? For some, Winter Break can create a whole bunch of stressors in your life: lots of family outings, older siblings home from college for 4+ weeks, boredom in being away from the school, friends, and dare I say the routine of school (ouch!). What do you want to get from your winter break? Endless nights of fun? Days of sleeping in? Pancake breakfasts with Mom and Dad? Time alone? Whatever your heart desires let it be known to those around you. Kindly share your thoughts and encourage your family, even your parents, to let you know what their expectations are. Perhaps they’ve created an endless calendar of events and you want just one day of unplanned, spontaneous fun. Your parents can’t read your mind. Your friends can’t read your mind. Let them know. While tweeting about your desires or texting about it may be the simple answer here, I encourage you to use actual, spoken words at least one week in advance of the break (and it is coming up fast!) For my winter break, I’ve decided to take a break from Facebook. My husband tells me I’m spending too much time on it and perhaps he’s right. I’m going to deactivate for the duration of the break and to be honest with you I’m looking forward to it. I hope it gives me a little time to reflect upon the year that is about to end, the year to come, and most importantly to just be. Be with my kids, my husband, myself. I may be writing blogs in my mind (we’ll see) but hopefully it’ll be a bit of a respite for my mind as well. There are great things to come in 2013, but for right now, I’m looking forwarding to the right...

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Queen Bees & Wannabes

OyMG - Queen Bees and Wannabes

At the advice of my pal and middle school principal, Andrew, I recently read Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. This book is an insight into the social world of teenage girls and boys. And it completely freaked me out!  The book details the daily social grind of being a teenage girl, which includes worrying about what you say and what you wear. Everything from the pain of being left out of your clique to not being invited to an invitation only party in sixth grade is detailed in this book. Why did it leave me so freaked out? I actually had to put the book down 100 pages in on a flight to a bat-mitzvah. And then I spent the entire bat-mitzvah weekend analyzing the social interactions of the teenagers I was surrounded by. ANXIETY. Reading this book had literally transported me back to my junior high and high school years and left me panicked. Now, of course, we can analyze my need to manage this anxiety. But, my friend’s advice to read this book was spot on. The book allowed me further insight into the lives of people I work with every day and the world in which they live. I can only hope I provide them respite from this savage world. Parents-this is a must read. I don’t agree with everything written in it. But, the book succeeds in reminding parents what daily life of a teenager can be like. And it provides helpful tools for speaking to your teens about important issues like how they dress, how they treat others, and how they handle difficult social situations.  Wiseman wisely identifies “landmines” where she clearly points out terminology to avoid using with your teenager with practical solutions to issues. I have already changed some of the terms I use after reading this book like saying “people in your grade” versus “people your age.” I encourage you to read the practical advice provided, with your eyes wide open, and at least stay open minded to the message of the book: Teenage life is hard and teens depend on their parents to be open minded, listen, and most importantly, be present in their...

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