Visiting Brooklyn During the Pandemic

Last Friday, my son got married in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful wedding, but as Arlo Guthrie might say, that is not what I came here to talk about. Being in Brooklyn from Thursday afternoon until Friday afternoon was very unnerving, because of COVID-19.

We drove down on Thursday. It was the longest car ride we have taken since some time in February. We parked the car in a garage about three blocks away from our hotel. Walking on the streets of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, we saw everything. There were a lot of people, many more than we have seen during the five months of the pandemic. Some were wearing masks, but some were not. It wasn’t very easy to keep six feet of social distance on city sidewalks.

The hotel, itself, felt safe; we didn’t really see many people. Thursday, we met my two sons and my daughter-in-law for dinner. Again, we had to walk on sidewalks with lots of people, masked and unmasked. We ate outside and tried to keep on our masks when we weren’t eating.

Friday morning, we walked toa bakery to get something to eat for breakfast. The store did have social distancing measures in place. Only one patron was allowed in at a time and the line outside was spaced six feet apart.

These experiences of the pandemic in a big city made me realize how fortunate I have been to sit out the pandemic in Western Massachusetts. We have not eaten at a restaurant at home; we have just gotten takeout. We can walk at home not wearing masks and often we don’t see anyone else.

Being in Brooklyn made me realize the enormity of COVID-19 and the fear and anxiety I have lived with for over five months. I do not want to get sick and I do not want anyone I love to get the virus either. I wish no one else would ever get sick from Corona. My heart goes out to anyone who has gotten the virus and all the families affected by the disease.

Kamala Harris and Black Sororities

Kamala Harris is the presumptive Democratic vice presidential nominee[. The first African American and South Asian American nominee of a major political party, Harris is a graduate of Howard University, a historically black university, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, the oldest African American sorority in the country.

Here is an article about AKA today and Kamala Harris.

In one of one chapters of my book on faculty wives, I discussed the founding of AKA, at Howard in 1908.

Here is an excerpt:

Lucy Diggs Slowe was the first Dean of Women at Howard University from 1922 to 1937. Although she was not a faculty wife, Slowe’s involvement in national organizations connected her to that first generation of nationally involved African- American wives. Slowe was a graduate of Howard and in 1908 one of the founders of the first national Black sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha.

Norma Boyd, a 1910 graduate of Howard was also a founding member of AKA. Boyd, a native of Washington, D.C. attended Armstrong High School and then went on to attend college at Howard in 1906. She described Washington as “the intellectual center for Negroes in the United States. Mrs. Mary Church Terrell was on the Board of Education. When I was a child about ten years old, I decided I wanted to be like Mary Church Terrell.”

Boyd was a sophomore when the senior students including Lucy Slowe founded the sorority. She described how she became involved. “You see, this the oldest colored sorority. … The very first. So, they decided to have a sorority but who was going to carry it on after they left. There were seven girls in my class – six or seven – and they asked us to come in. Now you were expected to have scholarship and the idea of service to be a member. So, they asked us to come in and we did. They called us founders because, although it was not our idea, we were in on the ground floor. It was not incorporated until 1913 and then I was one of the incorporators”

Although Alpha Kappa Alpha was a sorority based at Howard, it was unusual because it had graduate members. Because many of the African American sororities had adult members, they functioned more like the national club associations. Like NACW, the Tuskegee Woman’s Club and the Atlanta Union, AKA also had a social activist agenda. The organization pursued projects in health care and sponsored fellowships.

By the time Slowe became Dean of Women Students at Howard, there were three sororities, AKA, Delta Sigma Theta, and Zeta Phi Beta. Delta Sigma Theta grew out of AKA due to a desire for some members in the early years to expand beyond Howard. Five female students founded Zeta Phi Beta in 1920. These organizations still exist. Most of the prominent Afro-American women of the mid and late twentieth century belonged to one of these sororities.

©AmyMittelman 2020

 

Skating Camp 2020

Last Friday through Sunday, I attended a virtual skating camp, hosted by Scott Hamilton and Kori Ade. I was a little apprehensive before it started since I didn’t know if I would be able to keep up with all the planned physical activity.

Several years ago, I attended a weekend skating camp in Cromwell CT. That camp mixed on-ice teaching with off-ice training. Last weekend’s camp was obviously all off-ice. The training sessions alternated with webinars on different topics.

Friday began with a welcome talk from Scott and Kori, mostly Scott. Scott Hamilton is a skating legend who has given so much to the sport. It was really thrilling and very entertaining to listen to his anecdotes.

Max Aaron gave the other standout talk. His topic was “Competitive Mindset”. He stressed having rituals to help you get through a competitive program. Max also talked about thinking through what your response to different situations that can occur at a competition will be. He said he even found out, through Google, what the event rink looked like a month ahead of time so he could familiarize himself with the setting.

I have only competed once. I essentially had a panic attack and didn’t really perform my program. It was definitely a learning experience. Reflecting on Max’s talk, I realize I can plan, ahead of  time, what I will say and do to calm my nerves and get oxygen to my jelly legs so I can really feel the ice. Hopefully my next competitive experience, if I ever have one, will  have a better outcome.

Every day at the camp we did between 2 and 3 hours of exercise. It was a lot and I was very sore. I haven’t skated since March 11th. It is possible that I could start skating September 8th, but I have to decide if I think it is safe, given COVID.  I was definitely out of my comfort zone during skating camp. My plan, going forward, is to do the camp exercises for the month I have until I start skating. I will let you know how it goes.

 

Retreat

Last week I attended a virtual four day Jewish Women’s silent retreat. It was sponsored by Awakened Heart Project and Or HaLev. The  leaders were Sheila Katz, Rebecca Schisler and Rabbi Batsheva Meiri. Paige Lincenberg was the retreat manager.

Because it was a mindfulness retreat, there were many opportunities for meditation throughout the day. You can do a formal mindful practice in a variety of postures including walking, sitting, lying down and standing. Yoga can also be a mindful activity. The last day of the retreat, Rebecca led us in a practice, The Five Rhythms, which is contemplative dance. I really enjoyed that.

During the retreat I mostly sat which I found difficult. When one of the leaders guided us and we were all sitting together (via Zoom), I could calm my mind for a more extended period of time. It was harder to sit by myself without any guidance. Now that I am “home”, I am trying to sit for thirty minutes, first thing in the morning.

Overall, the retreat made me want to be more mindful and less reactive in my relationships and in how I lead my life. One of the most liberating  and revelatory aspects of the retreat was how it felt to not look at my phone or anywhere on the Internet, except for Zoom for four full days. It was a tremendous relief to not have to deal with email for that period of time.

The sense of relief and ease I experienced not being connected to my phone, the Web or social media has made me rethink my relationship to those platforms. For the first time in over three years, this past month I did not tweet every day. You won’t be surprised to learn the world didn’t fall apart.

Connected to cutting the cord is another aspect of the retreat I am trying to bring into my daily life. A meal should just be a meal without any multitasking, looking up things  on the internet or reading  things on the phone. Eating silently is actually a lovely way to concentrate. I enjoyed the silence of the retreat and I hope to have more quiet, peaceful time in my day.

My favorite parts of the retreat were the ones with Jewish content. Every morning at 9:30, there was a chanting service which was a beautiful blend of traditional Jewish ritual and contemplative practice. Wednesday night into Thursday was the Jewish holiday Tisha B’Av, the low point of the Jewish year. It commemorates the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Second Temple. Over the years, the holiday has also become associated with other Jewish tragedies including the Holocaust.

To observe Tisha B’Av, we chant from Lamentations, one of the books of the Jewish bible. Rabbi Batsheva led the service and Paige, who is a rabbinical student, chanted. Her chanting was beautiful and deeply soulful. I had never really read Lamentations before. It is a raw expression of acute pain and sorrow. The complete bewilderment of the Jewish people about what would come next following the tragedy evoked in me the feeling I have about the pandemic and the situation our country is in.

Observing Jewish rituals throughout the retreat made me grateful that I am a Jew. I came away with a commitment to be more Jewish, which feels like a funny thing to say. The retreat ended on Thursday; I was really excited that the next evening was Shabbat. Built into the Jewish religion is a time every week to be more contemplative and peaceful. Attending a four day silent retreat was a very powerful experience; the power is actually increasing as I process and live with the experience.