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Has Scarsdale Lost its Vision?

penny-jar(This is an opinion piece written by Joanne Wallenstein, founder of
Consider these two quotes culled from a survey conducted by the Scarsdale Forum on the proposed renovation to the Scarsdale Library.

"That is a huge number!! I would think that we can pare down what is truly needed and what is nice to have .... I know that once you don't get all that you want, it most likely won't happen again. But it is a huge tax burden to put on the residents."

"Taxes are too high and unpredictable. Given there are at least two major projects (library and Greenacres School) I cannot support any capital improvement projects at this time."

As the community considers two large capital improvement projects I am surprised by the mindset that seems to have overtaken a good number of residents.

When these same people decided to move to Scarsdale, most factored in the local real estate taxes and ultimately decided that paying a little more was well worth the benefit. Quality schools, services and public facilities were what attracted most of us to this town to begin with. And once here, families enjoyed the children's room at the library, the pool complex, Village parks and playgrounds. Have people lost sight of why they chose Scarsdale?

The chatter I am hearing about proposed capital improvements at both the Scarsdale Library and the Greenacres School leave me wondering if the Scarsdale I know has changed or if a few critics are dominating the discussion.

First, the library: As many of you well know, a dedicated group of volunteers and professionals has spent the last few years doing a full analysis of the current library, assessing residents' needs, reviewing current and future trends and working with architects to design a library that will serve the entire community, from tots to seniors. They proposed to fund the renovation through a public/private partnership which would use both taxpayer monies and charitable donations. When the committee received pushback that the price tag was too high, they pared it back, eliminating $3 million from the proposal, and making changes that would "not gut the program." They have already spent a considerable sum in fees to do the research and create and revise the plans.

Now, the Library Board is asking the Village Board to make a decision on the project so that they can complete the private fundraising and move the project forward. Though the estimated incremental cost per household is a mere $137 per year for fifteen years, naysayers are calling the burden "huge," and the Scarsdale Forum is asking the committee to go back to the drawing board, scale back the project further, redesign the plans and weigh the costs of each design element. This is the same exercise the Library Board already performed earlier this year and they would incur even more design and professional fees in doing it again.

A similar mindset has overcome the decision to renovate or replace the Greenacres School. Though the school is too small and has widely acknowledged structural issues, neither the school administration, the school board nor residents seem willing to address them. First the superintendent declared a "pause" in the conversation and is now saying that the planned May 2017 bond referendum, which would have financed the project, is being put off indefinitely. There's denial that the school is inadequate and silence from parents, the PTA and the neighborhood association who would normally advocate for their school. What's ironic about this one, is that there would be no additional cost to taxpayers to finance the work as there is retiring debt that would be replaced with new financing. It would be tax neutral.

But that's not stopping critics from claiming that addressing the issues at the school would be too costly and would give Greenacres an unfair advantage over other elementary schools. Though the school lacks features that most of the other schools enjoy, the decision has pitted neighborhood against neighborhood.

I don't know about you – but I think we should invest in Scarsdale's resources and continue the Village's legacy of quality schools and superior services for all. In order to leave what we found here to the next generation of buyers, these same facilities need to be maintained and upgraded to today's standards.

Consider what will happen if we don't maintain Greenacres School, enlarge it or build a new school? Quickly, an overflow of students from Greenacres will populate the other elementary schools, and cause a district-wide disruption. Already, Quaker Ridge has three grades with inclusion classes, maybe because it's the largest school and has capacity. Greenacres will become the "orphan school," with subpar facilities that will undoubtedly affect home values.

And for those who think the price tag for the library is too high, think about whether $137 per year will hurt you more than you'll benefit from a state of the art facility where you can meet friends, enjoy programming, borrow books, audio tapes, films, and access media that has not yet been invented. You and your kids will use it now and when it's time to sell your home, prospective buyers will quickly realize the value of that facility.

In short, we moved here because Scarsdale had it all and we enjoyed it. We charge our elected school and village boards and professional staff with having the vision to do what's best for everyone in Scarsdale. Let's not undermine them and scare them away from doing their jobs. Don't let critics and fear mongers dominate the discussion. Protect what makes Scarsdale special by supporting improvements to our dated infrastructure.

Scarsdale Bowl Committee Seeks Nominations

DSC09018The Scarsdale Bowl Committee invites the community to nominate Scarsdale residents who would be worthy candidates for consideration as the honoree for the 2017 Scarsdale Bowl.

Nominations may be submitted to the Committee electronically on a confidential basis using the on-line form accessible on the Scarsdale Foundation website at or by emailing the Committee at

Coming to Grips with the Presidential Election Results

flagMany locals I spoke to in recent days were expecting to celebrate the election of America's first female president on Election Day. Our neighborhood leans left and some residents spent the last few weeks making phone calls for Hillary or travelling to Pennsylvania or Florida to canvass and poll watch. With pollsters predicting a Clinton victory, supporters in Scarsdale were optimistic that the former NYS Senator and Westchester resident would triumph at the polls.

And at least in Westchester County, Secretary Clinton was a big winner, taking 65% of the vote to Trump's 32%. According to the Westchester County Board of Elections website, Democrats fared well down the line, with Senator Chuck Schumer winning 71% of the vote and Congressman Eliot Engel, State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin and State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins all re-elected by wide majorities.

But as we all know by now, the vote in Westchester did not mirror the country and almost everyone we spoke to here is completely shocked by the outcome.

In an effort to come to grips with the news, we asked some local leaders and residents to comment. Here is what they shared:

State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said:amypaulin

"The election results were an upset by everyone's calculation and I admit I was extremely disappointed. However, it is time to now come together and find common ground. We live in the greatest country in the world. Throughout our history we have been successful because we respect the peaceful transfer of power. We need to wish our new president well at the start of his new term, while at same time know that we will not always agree and need to keep discussing issues and listen to each other."

Congressman Eliot Engel offered this comment: "As with any election, the American people have spoken and now it is up to us to figure out how to come together and move forward. As your Congressman, I will continue to champion policies that safe-guard women's reproductive rights, strengthen the middle-class, preserve our environment for future generations and protect the civil rights of every American. I thank the people of the 16th District for once again renewing my two-year contract by an overwhelming margin."

Rabbi Jonathan Blake of Westchester Reform Temple sent the following in an email to his congregtation:

"The election is over and the American people have voted. The results have stunned the world and revealed once and for all the deep and alarming schisms in American society.

American Jews have long expressed their patriotism through civic engagement, advocacy for social justice, and steadfast acts of Tikkun Olam. The coming weeks, months, and years will be no different. Indeed, our principled and passionate engagement in a hurting and divided America is needed now more than ever.

RabbiBlakeIn 1790, George Washington wrote a now-celebrated letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, home of the country's oldest Jewish house of worship (Touro Synagogue, 1763). In it he pledged that the "Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Westchester Reform Temple will work vigilantly to hold our American government to Washington's founding promise as we prepare for and inaugurate the Presidency of Donald J. Trump. His rhetoric on the campaign trail and his record of public opinion have exposed a willingness to indulge in hateful speech and incitement toward minorities, women, and people with disabilities. His campaign attracted the vociferous support of some of America's most hate-filled voters: citizens who openly espouse White supremacy, the embrace of violence against the vulnerable, and Anti-Semitic lies made familiar throughout centuries of discrimination against Jewish people.

Today is November 9th, which Jewish history commemorates as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass. On the night of November 9th-10th, 1938, the Nazis carried out an organized pogrom against Germany's Jews, claiming the lives of at least 91 Jews, destroying 267 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, and arresting 30,000 Jewish citizens. Our People does not forget the lessons that history teaches about what happens when hate is wedded to power."

rabbibrownThe following is a join statement from Rabbi Jeffrey Brown and Cantor Chanin Becker, of Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El.

"By definition, being part of a community means being in relationship with those who see our country and the world differently. During an election season, we understandably advocate for the candidate and worldview that most resonates with our own. Now that the election is over, our job is to come back together, as we continue to work for the good of our communities. To that end, our clergy and staff at Scarsdale Synagogue remain available for our membership to reflect on the events of this week, and to come together as a community and as a nation in the days ahead."

In an email from Cantor Becker she quoted Rabbi Zoe Klein who said,

"When God offered King Solomon anything he wished in I Kings 3:9, King Solomon asked for one thing only: "Give me a listening heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?" He didn't ask for might. He didn't ask for wealth. He didn't even ask for wisdom. He asked for a listening heart.cantorbecker

May the new Leader of the Free World be blessed with a listening heart. A heart that listens to the pain of a divided people. A heart that listens for commonalities. A heart that listens to those whose voices are tiny and soft. A heart that listens for the weeping at the margins. A heart that listens to the dreams of the poor, the hopes of the young, and the faint prayer of the dying. A heart that listens to the call of the earth and the haunting song of the sea. A heart that listens past language, dialects and differences to the very pulse of humanity. A heart that listens to the resounding message of history. A heart that listens to the spirits of our ancestors and the hum of the future. A heart that listens to you and listens to me and hears the mysterious harmonies that are so often hidden from us."

Rabbi Shira Milgrom of Congregation Kol Ami shared this: "When someone close to us dies, even with the shock and the disbelief and the grief, we begin to see with sharper focus the things that really matter to us, what is most important to us. I deeply hope that even in this time, especially in this time, that we will have greater clarity about our values - and that we promise ourselves and one another that we will be true to them, that we will find the courage to act on them."

JohnHarrisWe also asked Scarsdale resident and former chair of the New York Regional Board of the Anti Defamation League John Harris for his thoughts. Here is what he shared:

"Woke up feeling empty on so many levels ... A thoughtful, nuanced, experienced and compassionate candidate was rejected in favor of a candidate who has shown none of those qualities...

A strategy based on the grim premise that America is being "bled dry" by the "political establishment" and "global elites" actually resonated across the country...

Hoping (but having no confidence) that the intolerance of immigrants and other minorities that Trump used to energize the base gives way to a more inclusive spirit when he has to govern everyone...

Hoping that he realizes that, unchecked, his campaign message emboldens those who would deny basic civil rights to religious and ethnic minorities (and that it has already unleashed a flood of anti-Semitism against Trump's critics in the press and elsewhere)...

Hoping that he is reflective enough to know that civil liberties are fragile and that what you choose to say to get elected is very different than what you must say and do to govern a diverse country."

Former Scarsdale Trustees Richard Toder offered these reflectionstoder.jog on the election results of 2016:

"While Mr. Trump was not my choice for the Presidency, I have always tried to be an optimist about our country's future. Indeed, in the past we have had Presidents who were not originally well-thought of by a significant portion of our citizens –think Harry Truman- yet subsequently became extremely well-regarded by almost all. So I would encourage our populace to give him a chance, for if there is one thing that is clear, it is that legislative accomplishments are hard to come by in our current highly fractured political climate.

In that regard, since the Republicans will now have control of both the Executive Branch and both house of the Legislature, there will be no credible excuse for continued stalemate. As such, they will be judged by what is, or is not, accomplished, starting in January of next year."

Do you have thoughts on the election? Please share them in the comments box below -- include your first and last names.

Great Big Challah Bake Brings 500 Together at Temple Israel

Challah Bake.2More than 500 Westchester residents came together for the Great Big Challah Bake, kicking off The Shabbat Project. The event took place on Thursday, November 10, 2016, at Temple Israel Center in White Plains.

The Shabbat Project is a global, grassroots movement that brings Jews from across the world together around their shared heritage of Shabbat. Jews of all walks of life — religious, secular, and traditional; young and old; from all backgrounds — came together with the common goal of preparing for the Jewish Sabbath by baking challah.

The event was held in collaboration with UJA-Federation of New York in Westchester, the JCC of Mid-Westchester, the Westchester Jewish Council, the Shames JCC on the Hudson, UJA-Federation's Engage Jewish Service Corps, the Jewish Renaissance Experience, Young Israel of Harrison, Temple Israel Center, and Seasons.

Live screens around the room displayed instructions about kneading and braiding from Rebbetzin Faygie Bienenfeld of Young Israel of Harrison, who spoke about the traditions surrounding baking challah. While the dough was rising, the group broke out in spirited dancing to the sounds of Israeli music played by the DJ, celebrating their unity and shared heritage.

"This year, UJA has challenged us not only to build community by participating in the Challah Bake, but to transform it into a mitzvah opportunity, too," said Event Chair Nicky Ziman of Scarsdale. "With that mandate in mind, each of us will share some of our dough to make challah rolls that will go to clients of agencies that UJA-Federation supports."

The challah rolls were included in bags of food packaged the next day, Veterans Day, at the JCC of Mid-Westchester in Scarsdale. After children decorated the bags and included cards inside, they were filled and delivered to the homebound elderly through DOROT Westchester and distributed through the Bronx Jewish Community Council's food pantry. Both are UJA-Federation beneficiary agencies.

"When you're hungry, what do you do? Do you ask your mom what's to eat? Go to the fridge and see what's inside? Open the drawer to take out some goldfish or a granola bar?" Brooke Fina of Scarsdale asked the children in the room. Fina served as chair of the event with Elizabeth Brucker of Scarsdale. "I'm here to tell you that if you do any of these things, you are really, really lucky. There are many people who don't have that luxury. They might not know where they'll find their next meal. And they might not always have food in their homes."

Seventy-five bags of food were packaged for delivery to those in need locally.

User Comments, Facebook and You

usercommentsAs some of you may have noticed, Scarsdale10583 experimented with integrating with Facebook to post user comments.

We hoped that asking users to log on with Facebook would decrease anonymous comments and improve the quality of the comments we received.

However after a few months of testing we found some flaws with the Facebook integration.

First, we had no tools to moderate the commentary on the site or to manage Facebook comments. Plus, we received many complaints from readers who don't have a Facebook Page and had no intention of getting one and were therefore unable to comment. Last, apparently some Facebook comments simply disappeared and we had no way to recover them.

So we have gone back to our original comments application and will require you to include your name and street address with your comments. Please be respectful, polite and decent. Don't harass, demean or denigrate your fellow residents or those who work or volunteer for the school or the village.

We will read all comments before they are posted and will not publish any anonymous or inappropriate comments.

We value your input and hope you will comment and be constructive with your words.

If you want to contact us, email

Joanne Wallenstein for Scarsdale10583