Friday, January 27, 2012

I am flexible...

I started my career in the fashion and retail industries (In 1982). I started in retail sales.  I became a buyer.  I then did visual merchandising management (presentation of merchandise through displays (interior and window) and the arrangement of the merchandise).  I have designed, produced and sold my own creations:  costume jewelry and 3D collages made from beads, buttons, bows, rhinestones, watch parts, charms and the like.  I  was a partner in a cottage industry – we designed, produced and sold a modular line of women’s knitwear  -- I was in charge of marketing and sales, and my partner did design and production.  I had my own business in which I designed, produced and installed major seasonal and holiday themes for shopping centers and malls. An offshoot of this was that I also did events production and management, fashion shows, pageants, and the like.  When I hurt my back in 1996, I took a job as a merchandising manager for Lee Jeans (wholesale side now) and Gloria Vanderbilt.  It was easy work for me. While I was doing that, I purchased my first computer system and taught myself how to use computers, how to use Microsoft Office (word, outlook, excel, access, publisher, and powerpoint), I taught myself how to use the internet, and then I taught myself how to set up and design webpages (using HTML, CSS, and Javascript).   I got a job as a content manager editor for an online Jewish singles website, and then I became a content manager for an online fashion website (to the trade).  The dot com bubble burst and I was out of work for about a year and a half.  Then I began working for Bnei Akiva of the US and Canada as the registrar for their Mach Hach B’Aretz program – it was there that I cut my teeth learning about nonprofits.  I stayed there for five years.  I then went to work for American Friends of Shalva and that is where I learned all about fundraising.  When I moved to Baltimore I went to work for the Jewish Museum of Baltimore and learned how to write grants (literally by the seat of my pants!).  All that has brought me to where I am now!  I am doing a bit of grant writing and some nonprofit consulting….

Monday, January 23, 2012

From my files

The other day I was going through my files, looking for information pertaining to some contact information I could not locate.  In so doing, I had to browse through many of the old files pertaining to the death of my husband including all the many "letters" I wrote and never sent.  Below is a revised "letter".  The changes I made to it have to do with tense -- at the time I wrote it, it was written in the present tense.  I have simply changed all that to the past tense, since all this is now in the past.  But it is one of my "finer" letters, detailing  what I was going through, what I went through, and its impact on me.  I am posting it here for posterity...


After the death of my late husband in January 2009, I was reeling – with all the emotions attendant to losing my husband – and will all the issues I had to contend with.

My first order of business had been to get organized – no mean feat – as I still had to continue to work full time. At the same time I tried to make my life as ‘normal’ as possible and to keep my relationship with Barry’s family – his daughters, his parents and his sisters.

Two weeks after Barry died, my daughter gave birth to her first child, and my first grandson. I went to Israel, where she lived, for the bris of my grandson but stayed only for three days.  I barely remember that visit, I was still in a grief and shock induced fog.  While I was still sitting shiva I was offered the opportunity for a new job and I took it.  I took it despite knowing that it was not a good idea to undertake large changes to one’s life after an unchosen and life altering event such as the loss of a spouse.   I felt I had no choice:  I knew that the new job about doubled my the job I had at the time, and I also knew that I was going to NEED the additional income.  It was a risk I felt I had to take.

I had to meet with a number of attorneys – for the estate, for the wrongful death lawsuit that I had hoped to file, but which, in the end I was unable to file – no attorney would take the case as there was little to no forensic evidence to prove any wrongdoing in the death of my husband.   I had to meet with accountants, a psychiatrist, and a grief counselor. Most of this continued for the better part of the next two and half years!

It took nearly two months for the life insurance money to arrive – and during those two months I had to figure out how to deal with the mortgage and home equity loan. I learned later that my name had somehow been removed from the deed to the house and thus I really should have had zero obligations to either the mortgage or the HELOC.  In the end, I was released of the responsibility.  However, upon the bad advice of my attorney, I continued to pay the mortgage and heloc for the entire year of 2009!  It was lost money in the end! He thought I would get it back in negotiations with the substitute administrator of the estate.  He thought wrong!

Every day, I came home to an empty house, and a pile of mail – from creditors, doctors, letters from the insurance company, from the accountants, the lawyers, etc. After a full day of work, I then spent more time working at home on making sense of everything, scanning, and filing and emailing and making sure the bills were paid.    Every day, I checked my budget, and checked my bank account and looked to see if there was yet something else I may not have thought of that I have to take care of. I cut out all non necessities – and, even doing that, I still had a financial burden meant to be shouldered by a larger income (the combined incomes of myself and Barry). The total expenses I faced per year were greater than my gross income.  I had no choice but to dip into some of the life insurance money to help me stay afloat. 

Had Barry taken care of things as he should have, I too would have been in better shape—there should have been at least 350k in life insurance for me and Chloe, and 375k for his daughters. There should have been a will.  But this was not the case, and so I tried to make the best of a bad situation. 

After Pesach 2009 I received a call from Barry’s mother.  She demanded that I give the life insurance money to her granddaughters.  I tried to explain to her why I could not do that.  I was in a very precarious situation financially and was extremely unsure of where I stood legally with regard to everything else- the estate, the retirement accounts, etc.  I also simply had not even had time to catch my breath, and to feel normal. I was being hounded by everyone – doctors, lawyers, creditors, banks, and then, my in-laws.   I was under the care of a psychiatrist and a grief counselor. I was on medication to help me deal with the anxiety produced by this state of affairs. His mother refused to understand my position, called me immoral and unethical and then went on to tell me that, “by the way, everyone is coming to us for Shavuot”.  It was very clear to me that she was telling me “and you are not welcome”.   It was a very painful moment in my life.

On top of losing the one person who made me feel cared for and loved, my husband, I also lost those I had considered to be my family.  Barry’s mother was truly stunning in her cruelty, with her remarks about the family’s Shavuot plans. She should be very proud of herself. She was determined to hurt me, and she was successful. I applaud her cruelty.

I gave each of Barry’s daughters the sum of $1800 (for a total of $7200).  It was both a gift and a good faith portion of the life insurance – good faith that I will take care of them as best as I am able – once I was able to ascertain exactly where I stood with regard to the estate and retirement funds.

I was truly sorry for Barry’s parent’s loss – no parent should ever have to bury a child – and while it is not for me to say who has a greater loss than another - I am the one who has had to bear the brunt of it far more than anyone else. After all, I am the one who came home to an empty house every night and I am the one who had to deal with the detritus of his life and of his death.  I am the one who was homeless every Shabbat and every Chag and went from one person’s home to another so I should not sit and eat alone.   Barry’s family certainly did nothing to alleviate that for me. Not once did any member of Barry’s family reach out to me to ask me how I am managing, to invite me to their Shabbat table, to be with the family as a member of the family. NOT ONCE.  (My sister in law Karen did, but belatedly, when she came around to the understanding that I was being treated very shabbily by Barry’s ex-wife, his daughters, and my in-laws.)

I am also the one who made Barry happy in the last nine plus years of his life. I gave him the life he wanted – with the Shabbatot, with the family, enabling him to sit and learn so he could receive semicha. I was the one to whom he turned when he came home after being beaten down by his nasty boss at IDT. I was the one to whom he turned when he could not win an argument with his ex wife. I was the one to whom he turned in the middle of the night when he woke with night fears or with leg cramps. I was the one to whom he cried when he felt that his parents did not think he was “good enough”.  I was the one with whom he shared his elation at working for IBM and at how well he was treated there. I also was the one he turned to when he felt that his daughters did not love him, or even respect him.  As they each “came of age” and were no longer obligated by the terms of the divorce child custody arrangement to spend half their time with us, they no longer came to us – EVER.  Barry was VERY hurt by this.  Once in a blue moon one or the other of them would deign to give him 15 minutes of their time over a cup of coffee at the Lazy Bean CafĂ© (which, btw, was where he fell and died, on his way to meet two of them for the aforementioned 15 minutes of grudgingly given “quality time”).

Barry had been my rock, my support, my strength, he was the one to whom I turned. We had a wonderful marriage and were very much in love. In the last several months of his life he was the happiest he had ever been.  Barry gave me so much, and one of the things he gave me was a beautiful family. However, that was simply an illusion – I learned after his death that his “beautiful family” was not so beautiful after all, and it certainly was not “mine”.  They did not love me as much as I had loved them. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Fodder for laughter, after the fact...

I was reading some one else's aliyah post and for some reason it put me in mind of one of the sillier experiences I had in the process of preparing for my aliyah. When one is planning aliyah there are myriad details that one must take care of.  One of those details is to provide for the reading pleasure of the Jewish Agency a letter written by a Rabbi attesting to one's Jewish identity.

I am fortunate to have as a "friend of the family" a somewhat illustrious Rabbi -- Rabbi Berel Wein.  It was from him that I requested such a letter.  He willingly agreed and wrote and sent me a letter, written in Hebrew, attesting to his knowledge of me, my family, and my Jewish identity.  That letter was written on letterhead from his organization, The Destiny Foundation.  I showed the letter to the Jewish Agency rep who was interviewing me for acceptance for aliyah and she told me that it must be on "synagogue letterhead".  I was incredulous.  This was Rabbi Berel Wein! This was his Foundation!  Nope - not good enough!

I again contacted Rabbi Wein, explained to him what the Jewish Agency had asked.  Again, he willingly wrote me a letter. Actually, this time he wrote TWO letters.  One was on letterhead from Beit Knesset HaNasi which is his shul in Jerusalem, Israel. The other was on letterhead from Bais Torah of Monsey, which had been his shul in Monsey, NY.  Both letters were written in Hebrew.

I showed both letters to the Jewish Agency rep.  This time she said the letters were no good because he wrote that both my parents were Jewish.  She told me that the letter should state that my MOTHER is Jewish!   Absurd!

With some embarrassment, I again asked Rabbi Wein for a new letter, explaining why his two letters were not sufficient.  Rabbi Wein is a paragon of patience. He said not a word but simply rewrote BOTH letters to comply with this latest request.

Again, I showed both these new letters to the Jewish Agency rep.  I waited with bated breath for the verdict:  "mekubal!".  She accepted these letters!  B"H!  

I look at this simply as fodder for laughter after the fact...

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Words I cherish...

My late husband had written these words just several weeks before his untimely death.  I find this to be so validating in light of all the crap I had to suffer through subsequent to his death.

"We're picking up so much debt paying for your sister's schools that we probably won’t be able to go on aliyah until we retire, IF we will be able to retire.  Rachel's a great wife, and people don't even realize it, but I do.  Her only real daughter lives in Israel and she hasn’t complained to me that we are taking these loans for your sister's schools that in our mind now precludes us from going on aliyah and her being with her daughter and me with my other kids."