Reflections on Elie Wiesel
- Category: People
- Published on 05 July 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our life will be filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs. –Elie Wiesel
Elie Wiesel passed away on July 2, 2016. Rabbi Brown of Scarsdale Synagogue wrote the following about Wiesel which he shared with his congregants on July 4:
Greetings. I hope your Fourth of July has been meaningful... I trust, by now, that you have heard that Elie Wiesel, the noted author, scholar and activist, died this weekend. May his name live on to be for a blessing.
There is something poignant about noting his passing on this Fourth of July. His story, more than most, reminds us how preciously blessed we are to live in a country that enables us to be free. Let us never take that freedom for granted.
Wiesel is not our most important Jewish philosophical response to modern anti-Semitism. Theodor Herzl's writing (The Jewish State and Altneuland) - predating Wiesel and the Holocaust by forty years - grapples with the enduring discrimination of the Jewish People, and suggests that the founding of a Jewish State is a solution to it. And we have someone like Simon Wiesenthal (in The Sunflower) who raises the impossible question of forgiveness as it relates to the Holocaust itself.
Wiesel's genius was in his ability to bring his own personal story - and our people's collective story - to the people of the world. Because of his voice...how he used it in his own writing, and in the lectures and speeches that he delivered for decades...those inside and outside of the Jewish community were able to hear him, and listen to him, and learn from him.
No one in the (Jewish) world I grew up in ever mentioned Theodor Herzl or Simon Wiesenthal to me. I had a vague memory of a Holocaust survivor or two who spoke at my synagogue when I was younger. But the Holocaust was something inchoate and distant from me, until the Literature faculty of my mostly-non-Jewish high school in South Jersey had me read Wiesel's Night.
Suddenly - in the space of time that it took me to absorb his shocking and disturbing and heart-wrenching narrative - I had a new understanding of what it meant to be Jewish and what it meant to be human. Everything changed for me because of Wiesel, his story, and his book.
Because of his life's work, we have a sharper understanding of our past. And because of his life's work, we have a sharper understanding of our future, and the sense of responsibility that is an inherent Jewish part of living in a post-Holocaust world.
Officially, I want to encourage you to read Night if you haven't done so yet.
Beyond that: check out these two links that I hope you'll take a few minutes to explore to get a sense of Wiesel's unique and important voice:
In 2006, Oprah Winfrey chose Night as one of her Book Club's official selections. (There is no doubt that millions of new readers who might never have encountered Wiesel and the Holocaust did so because of Oprah's selection.) Click here for a brief video of the visit that Oprah made that year to tour Auschwitz with Wiesel.
In 2008, Wiesel participated in the public radio essay series "This I Believe." Click here for the full text and audio of his important reflection.
With gratitude for this festive day in which we celebrate our Freedom and Independence,
Rabbi Jeffrey Brown
STEP Celebrates DonTavius Holmes
- Category: People
- Published on 27 June 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
The STEP Board (Student Transfer Education Plan) celebrated a successful two years for DonTavius Holmes in Scarsdale at the home of Lisa Rodman on June 23, the eve of the Scarsdale High School Graduation. By all accounts, DonTavius had a positive experience in Scarsdale and enriched the lives of everyone who got to know him. He was hosted by the Klein family of Heathcote Road and enjoyed the friendship of their son Josh Klein who is also a member of the class of 2016. Host mom Bettina Klein said that DonTavius fit right into the family and that as parents, they demanded the same high standards from him that they expected from their own children. To learn more about the STEP program, click here.
DonTavius embraced all that Scarsdale had to offer – playing basketball and football and holding a job at the Scarsdale Congregational Church. When the basketball team travelled to Gainesville, Florida, Coach Scagnelli invited him to come along. DonTavius said his time here was a "great experience" and that his "many moms" on the STEP Board who supported him here. He thanked Dean Michael Gibbs, and teachers Robert Draper, Tom Maguire, Rashid Silvera, Stephen Mounkhall and Elise D'Ammora and all his friends in the Dale.
His mom Angelesa and sister Diamond came up to New York for the graduation and posed proudly for photos with DonTavius who will attend Oxford College in Atlanta in the fall.
Here is the toast given by STEP Co-Chair Nan Berke to DonTavius at the celebration:
DonTavius, it has been an incredible pleasure having you be a part of STEP these past two years. As I've said to you many times before, we are all so proud of you and all that you have accomplished. You had a lot of help along the way, so I want to start by acknowledging those who were key to your success:
Thank you to the Kleins for being a great host family. You taught DT so much, took good care of him and were incredibly generous with our time and in sharing your home with him. As someone who was in your shoes just a year ago, I know how bittersweet this experience must be for you. Although hosting is not for the feint of heart, I'm betting you got just as much from this experience as you put into it.
Thank you for taking the leap of faith and saying 'yes' to hosting a STEP student.
To Collegistics and Lisa and Lillian in particular, thank you for all you did for helping our young man get into the college of his dreams. During the thick of it, DT it seemed as if you might have perceived them as being a bit of an annoyance, pestering you to do a huge amount of work. But guess what? These women really know their stuff and got you to where you want to be.
The same can be said about Susan Groner who helped you with your scholarship applications. She is such a nice person, she just plugged away at getting DT money whether he was involved or not. We know you were watching DT, and see now that it takes a lot of patience and methodical grunt work to work through the college process and getting college funded. What you've learned from Lisa, Lillian and Susan will stand you in good stead throughout your life.
Julie and all the Stonbergs, thank you for being DT's home away from home away from home buddy family. You took him to Nashville to see Vanderbilt and to Florida to see an ocean. He clearly loves being with you all and made this experience much more comfortable for him.
A thank you to Dean Gibbs for being the awesome dean that you are and to SHS for generously agreeing to enroll DT and educate him so well. Thanks to the STEP Presidents, Valerie, Debra and myself here while DT was in Scarsdale and to the STEP Board for all you did for the Kleins and for DT, and finally, thanks to Angelesa and Diamond for sharing your son and brother with us.
DonTavius you have an irrepressible charm and a bigger than life personality. I believe this year's senior class has 384 students and my guess is close to 100% of the class knows or loves you to varying degrees. Younger kids are drawn to our Mufasa too.
You are just fun to be around. These past two years you've grown and matured immensely. You're willing to let the little things slide now. You follow through and work hard.
You are an athlete devoted to your teams and someone who bonded strongly with his coaches. Sports can teach you a lot about life, and I think you learned that very well.
You excelled academically while in Scarsdale. Could you have worked a bit harder at times? ...Maybe. Hopefully you have been saving the full throttle academic setting for college.
Several times you've said that life in Memphis is like a crab pot and everyone is trying desperately to crawl up the sides of the pot and get out. Well, DT, you are out of the pot. Wherever you go, who ever you become, we all have the greatest confidence you will be a huge success and do exciting things.
Emily Hirsch Celebrates her 99th Birthday
- Category: People
- Published on 16 June 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Emily Hirsch of Scarsdale's Candy 'n Cards celebrated her 99th birthday on June 16. The day began with a birthday party at Lange's of Scarsdale with a birthday cake and personalized balloons. Her son, grandchildren and even a 16 month-old great grandchild were there – along with other well-wishers. Later on, Hirsch was interviewed at her store by News12.
We asked her to tell us the secret to her longevity and here is her advice:
- Get up everyday and go about your business
- Be happy
- Hopefully have good genes
Emily has been running her store on Spencer Place for 49 years and is one of Scarsdale's favorite retailers. The store has a wonderful collection of cards, candy and gifts with the bonus of Emily behind the counter to greet you.
Happy Birthday Emily! Wishing you a century of happiness in Scarsdale.
Scarsdale Speech and Debate Team Excels at National Championship in Salt Lake City
- Category: People
- Published on 21 June 2016
- Written by Joanne Wallenstein
Scarsdale students set new records at the NSDA National High School Speech and Debate Championship tournament in Salt Lake City from June 12-17. The tournament brought together over 5,000 of the top speech and debate students representing high schools from all fifty states, as well as some international students. Students must pre-qualify to participate in the championship. Scarsdale High School sent a squad of seven students to represent the Hudson Valley region in the tournament. It was a record setting event for Scarsdale in several aspects.
First, Scarsdale High School senior Justin Cooper, a two-time NY state champion, became the first Scarsdale student to reach the final round at nationals since 2011. He also is the first student in Scarsdale history to reach the final round in his event (original oratory). After 13 rounds of competition and from a pool of 256 elite competitors, Cooper placed third in the nation in original oratory (winning a trophy and a $750 college scholarship). He also garnered first place in the final round of competition, winning the President's Bowl award and a $250 scholarship. Cooper finished his career at Scarsdale High School as the "winningest" speech and debate student in Scarsdale history, surpassing the former record-holder by nearly 800 NSDA points (points are accumulated during a student's high school career and are awarded based on success at tournaments).
In addition, Scarsdale won a "School of Excellence" award for the first time ever. This award is given to the top 20 schools in total speech points at the national tournament. Two Scarsdale students, juniors Zach Kapner and Keshav Rastogi, were quarterfinalists in extemporaneous speaking (top 30), and senior Daniel Altabet was an octofinalist in original oratory (top 60). Their tournament points, along with Cooper's, combined for the team award. In addition, sophomore Arjun Ravi was a semifinalist in extemp commentary, and sophomores Zoe Landless and Ismail Ameen represented Scarsdale High School as well. Coach Joe Vaughan accompanied the team for the competition.
Larry Brown: A Teacher to Remember
- Category: People
- Published on 07 June 2016
- Written by Kara Elcik
Scarsdale students and staff were saddened to hear their beloved history teacher, Larry Brown, will be retiring this year after 14 years of teaching at SHS. Students who were in Mr. Brown's classes, consider themselves lucky to have spent the year enjoying his humor and kind personality. "Mr. Brown has the ability to make any subject he taught fun and exciting", stated Steven Berke, one of Brown's students.
Brown has spent his entire teaching career at Scarsdale High School. In fact, he never applied or interviewed at any other school. Brown explained his path to teaching, "I had sold my interest in a business. I was in my late 40's and my wife looked at me and said you're not staying home. Then the next day I went and signed up at Manhattanville to get my certification to teach. I ended up substituting here before I was even certified and while I was here, Mr. Harrison asked me if I wanted to do my student teaching here, under his guidance. A job opened while I was here student teaching which I filled for the rest of the year and when it opened permanently I applied". The SHS community feels lucky that Brown started and ended his teaching career here.
When I asked Larry if he thought that he would like teaching when he first started, he explained to me that he tried to have no expectations and kept an open mind about starting his new career. Brown explained that since he had already been working for 25 years before starting to teach, he was accustomed to the stress of work and did not have trouble with the pace of SHS. "I was certainly satisfied with teaching because you can't help but love the kids in this building. This is the beauty of teaching at Scarsdale. Your colleagues are unbelievable professional and wonderful to be around. The administration is incredibly helpful. The driving force; the beauty of teaching in this building are kids. These kids are remarkable to be around." After a few years of working at SHS Brown was offered an administrative position. "If I wanted to be in the admin world I would have never left business. I was running things, and then I wanted to be with the kids. I did not want to do anything that took me away from being in a classroom with kids". This sentiment displays Brown's outlook and personality as a teacher. Brown looks to make true connections with his students in and out of the classroom.
Mr. Brown plans on continuing his connections with his past and current students even after retirement. When I asked Larry about his plans after retirement, he told me about a charitable organization he is in the process of creating that involves past graduates from SHS. "I am looking to put together a community service organization that will connect with graduates from this building that now live in the area. I started that process of putting together a large network of kids who are graduates of Scarsdale who want to do community service but they don't have the time to organize it". Along with working on community service, Brown said he is involved in a couple business opportunities that will keep him occupied after retirement.
Mr. Brown finds it rewarding to watch students grow over the course of their four years at SHS. "You could tell the freshmen that Thomas Jefferson was black and they would compliantly write it in their notebook and make sure that they share that with you on the next test. And you could tell a senior that the sun is out on a bright day and they will fight with you for 49 minutes. That has been true from my beginning at Scarsdale High School through today. And I love both parts of that, watching the remarkable evolution that kids go through in this building over four years." Mr. Brown also noted that he has stayed in touch with many students who have already graduated. "Watching kids now who I had as juniors and seniors that are out of the building now is amazing. I am having dinner tonight with a student who graduated four years ago. Kids who weave their way through this community are incredible kids. I will be crying at graduation. I will be wearing sunglasses because I will be crying."
Sam Fisch, an SHS graduate who is close to Mr. Brown explained Brown's impact on his life,"Mr.Brown is in my books for being one of the most influential people that I have crossed paths with. He embraccs qualities that most of us can only wish to acquire in our life. As a teacher he attempts to influence those qualities onto his students. Larry pushes his students inside and outside of the classroom to go beyond what they think they can do. By, far, Brown was and still is the funniest, sincerest and most lovable guy I know."
Mr. Brown's emotional attachment to his students has made him an impactful teacher at Scarsdale High School and he will truly be missed.