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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Over the Rainbow Deep In the Heart of Texas

                   PS22 Chorus Sings Over the Rainbow at the 2011 Oscars

Thought of the Day: The video above epitomizes how dreams can come true. The story began in a school located in the Graniteville section of Staten Island NY. The student body is composed of 78% black, Hispanic & Asian students. A chorus teacher, Gregg Breinberg, who the kids call Mr. B, started streaming videos of his chorus made up of mostly 5th graders on YouTube which went viral. The power of their energy, enthusiasm (which you can see in their animated faces) & amazing voices carried them all the way to the 2011 Oscars. A new documentary "Once in a Lullaby" will premiere at the prestigious Tribecca Film Festival in NYC. Most dreams don't come true when we are in 5th grade, but practice, perseverance & passion can pay off over time. Next weekend, I will be attending a reunion at a camp, deep in the heart of Texas, where I & thousands of others had our "Over the Rainbow" lessons in believing in our dreams & our ability to make a difference in the world. Who inspired you as a child to believe in your ability to accomplish your dreams? Was it a teacher, a camp, a parent, a song that helped you keep aiming towards your dreams? I'd love to hear what gave & gives you the strength to continue dreaming as an adult.

As I prepare to go home to Texas, I have been thinking about my second home when I was a child. I lived year round in Houston. I saw a bumper sticker once which said, "You can take the girl out of Texas, but you can't take Texas out of the girl." I was not what most people think of as the typical Texan. I did not grow up on a ranch. I never rode a horse to school. My family did not own an oil well. The closest I came to any of those things was to buy a cowboy hat & tell kids I did those things as a joke, when I went to camp in NY state as a teenager. I was amazed that kids would believe me when I told them those tall tales & quickly set them straight!

I grew up in the middle of a suburban neighborhood in Houston. I have pictures of myself as a small child on a pony dressed up as a cowgirl in a photo taken by a photographer who would go house to house with the pony. Probably every child who grew up in Houston has a photo like that one. You cannot, however, grow up in Texas & not become proud to be a Texan. The history of 6 flags over Texas is rich & inspiring. I was not, however, a typical Texan. Growing up Jewish in Texas was not easy. In elementary school at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School, my family was the only Jewish family. When I was in 6th grade my best friend, Cory Stiles, told me I had ruined Christmas for her in 1st grade when I told her that Santa Clauses in department stores were not really Santa Claus. I was a good student, won the school's spelling bee contest, got lead parts in musicals, but also remember discriminatory remarks. During the year, I was different from all my classmates, I didn't go to CCD or celebrate Christmas or Easter.

In the summers, I was lucky to have a place where my "Over the Rainbow" experiences happened. At the time my home away from home was at Camp Young Judaea in Kerrville, TX (or CYJ). At CYJ, I was able to learn to believe in myself, my heritage, & my ability to make a difference in the world. Every child should have a CYJ in their lives. I remember the excitement I felt every year from the age of 8 till I was 17 & came as a counselor to camp. When the bus arrived, I would run from building to building. It was as if I was making sure it was all still there waiting for the magic to occur inside the bunks, dining room, swimming pool & assembly hall. After running around, unpacking & settling in with a new bunk with old & new friends, I also remember sharing personal stories with bunk mates. It did not take long before there were tears, laughter & bonding. It was all right to share your worries from home & then just be yourself. I excelled at everything I did at camp & tried new things. I was a leader in ways I never allowed myself back home. Somehow, the counselors & friends brought out the best in all the kids at camp. I was not the only one who felt this way at camp, we all did. There was one song that has stuck with me throughout my life called "You and I Will Change the World." We learned to respect differences, to fight for justice & to be proud that our Jewish heritage includes the responsibility to take social action. 

CYJ is now located deep in the heart of Texas, in Wimberley TX, & is celebrating it's 60th Anniversary. Alumni are doctors, lawyers, musicians, film makers, psychologists, educators & are strong supporters of the camp that helped them believe in themselves & their dreams. When one of my friends (who I met at camp when we were 8 years old) & fellow psychologist, Amelia Samet Kornfeld, zl., lost her battle with brain cancer a little over a year ago, I asked her husband what charity he would like me to feature in & support with my book in her memory. When he suggested CYJ, I was thrilled to include my "Over the Rainbow" place that did so much to strengthen my dream potential. (To purchase the book & donate 1/2 of the proceeds to CYJ click here.)

Did you have an "Over the Rainbow" place like CYJ as a child? Was it a camp, a drama club, or a chorus, like the one at PS 22?  Did you have a teacher, coach or mentor who believed in you & helped you learn to believe in your dreams? Do you have one now?  I'd love to hear about them.
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