Making a big difference on a smaller scale

Students at Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy nosh on freshly prepared veggies for lunch – and the school even highlights a different vegetable or fruit each month. November, for example, is broccoli month.

By Ellen Futterman, Editor

We’ve gotten a little jiggy at the Jewish Light this week, talking about Thanksgiving and how it’s a favorite holiday for many of us. In today’s editorial, the boss calls it a holiday of faith, family and friends. I agree, though I’d add another “f” to the list: food-as in lots of it.

What it should not be is a holiday of finance or finagling. It seems so anti-Thanksgiving to have to work in retail that day or to be plotting shopping strategy at the dinner table, readying one’s self for when stores open at 9 that night (or worse, yielding to the temptation to go to stores like Old Navy, which open at 9 a.m. Thanksgiving Day). Seems like that would cut into our time to lay around kvetching about how much we ate for goodness sake, which is an age-old tradition at our family Thanksgiving.

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Usually, we don’t use this column to dispense advice or garner backing for causes mostly because we’re more often in a position to seek out other’s wisdom. But we suggest rejecting the whole Black Friday marketing machine and instead support both Small Business Saturday, which takes place this Saturday, Nov. 26 as well as Buy Israel Week, which runs from Monday, Nov. 28 through Sunday, Dec. 4 (see page 1 for details).

While both are also the result of major marketing efforts, the underlying concept seems more supportive. Buy Israel allows us to get behind Israeli businesses and purchase products made in the Jewish State (go to buyisraelweek.com for more details). Small Business Saturday encourages us to shop at unique, locally owned businesses instead of chain stores and large-scale malls. In fact, if you are an American Express cardholder, you can sign up to receive $25 back if you support small businesses on Saturday. When you register your AmEx card, type in your zip code and a list of stores, restaurants and other businesses that qualify will appear.

Remember that when we Buy Israel and Shop Small, the impact can be huge.

Where does pizza grow?

Speaking of causes, where do you stand on the pizza as a vegetable controversy?

For those unfamiliar, school lunches that are subsidized by the United States government are required to have a certain minimum of vegetables. Pizza that has at least two tablespoons of tomato paste meets that requirement. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently sought to up the tomato paste requirement to a half-cup, and it also wanted a limit on starchy vegetables such as corn, peas and potatoes, but Congress voted against these recommendations. So it still stands-pizza with two tablespoons of tomato paste is considered a vegetable, though the weird thing is that I always thought tomato was a fruit.

In any case, perhaps Congress-especially Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee who said the changes would “prevent overly burdensome and costly regulations and . . . to provide greater flexibility for local school districts to improve the nutritional quality of meals”-should check out the lunches at Saul Mirowitz Day School – Reform Jewish Academy.

Each month at RJA, Chef Monica Watson highlights a different vegetable or fruit in preparing lunches for the school. September was apples and October, pumpkin. November is broccoli month, which means featured dishes on the lunch menu include broccoli cheese soup, steamed broccoli, broccoli pasta salad and broccoli cheese baked potatoes, to name a few.

It’s the rare kid who likes broccoli, you might say. And you’d probably be right. But what adds to the uniqueness-and success -of this program is that the children actually plant the broccoli, and many other vegetables and fruits, from seeds and tend to them as they grow until they are ready to harvest. In doing so, they also learn the importance of good nutrition.

“The kids plant the seeds in January and then grow them under lights until they are ready to be transplanted in the spring,” explained Patty Bloom, director of admissions at RJA. This spring, children at RJA will transplant their crops at a new garden at the Solomon Schechter Day School since the two schools will merge at the start of the 2012-13 school year. Students at SSDS will also plant seeds in January and join the RJA youngsters in transplanting them this spring so that the garden will truly be a joint effort.

For her part, Chef Monica always prepares extra of the featured fruit or vegetable, and distributes small samples for all the children to try.

“I’m proud of my school. They would never short-change our health,” said RJA fifth-grader Eliza Hurwitz. “Two tablespoons of tomato paste is not worthy of being called a vegetable. Even if a school serves pizza, they should serve carrots with hummus or broccoli or zucchini on the side. That’s what our  school would do.”

Goodbye to Miss Bowers

Jewish Light reader Sheilah Cohen, University City High School Class of 1958, wanted us to notify fellow classmates that beloved English teacher Wanda Bowers has passed away. Cohen asked if we would include the following tribute to Miss Bowers, written by Marilyn Levin Brown. We were glad to oblige.

“A few years ago, I received a typically abrupt phone call that started this way: 
’Marilyn, I want you to promise me that no one will write about me when I die.’ 
I replied that I had no such power but that I would never write a gushing, sentimental tribute to her.

“This morning, November 18, at the age of 103, Miss Bowers died. I will merely say that she was the most outstanding teacher I have ever known. It’s that simple. And yet for those of you who saw only her stern exterior that served her goals quite well, I add that there was a great deal more to her. . .Her humor, her love of jazz and dance, her not-entirely-secret fund of favorite profanities, along with her well-known love of hats (especially black ones), all contributed to her unique personality. She set high standards and she demanded high performance, but more importantly, she set and met them in her work and in her private life. I don’t know if there is an afterlife, but if there is and if communication (is) possible, I fully anticipate being scolded royally for writing about her at all. I can deal with that.”