Suddenly in Jewish Westchester, land of spacious homes and ample backyards, nothing seems to fit.
Westchesterís Jews, once limited by upper-crust restrictions, are experiencing a 40-percent population surge in the past 10 years, only to find that their infrastructure of schools and shuls now seems too small, tight around the seams.
For 12 years, Diane Thurer of Dix Hills has been filling boxes with school supplies and holiday treats for a poor family in Mississippi she has never met but which expresses its gratitude through letters.
"It really is a commitment, but you do bring sunshine into that family's home," said Thurer of the national Box Project. "You really get back more than you give."
Now a Jewish group wants to replicate that effort in behalf of the Jewish poor in Suffolk County. If successful, there are plans to extend the project to Nassau.
Nicole Simon, a 10th-grader at the Solomon Schechter High School in Hicksville, was shocked and hurt recently when she boarded the school bus and a seventh-grader called her a "nigger."
"I didn't know what to do," said the West Hempstead student. "The older kids on the bus had told him that to be cool at high school it was cool to say nigger. I was never called a nigger before. I was appalled."
Saying the last 18 months have been one of the "saddest chapters in our country's history," the executive vice president of UJA-Federation detailed his organization's struggle to deal with the impact of welfare reform.
"I can report to you the panic that ensued" as legal immigrants here more than five years realized they would lose Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid and food stamps, Stephen Solender told a recent UJA-Federation-sponsored legislative breakfast.
In a synagogue library in northern Westchester, a dozen senior citizens sit around a long table discussing current events. In a temple conference room on the Upper West Side, a young family talks about the tensions raised by a child’s serious illness. In the meeting room of a Long Island JCC, a group of recent widows share photographs and memories of their late husbands.
People who once quietly murmured about the tuition crisis are now shouting. Many who once casually flirted with the idea of putting their children in public school are filling out the paperwork.
In the best economic times it was difficult for Jewish families to find $30,000-$40,000 to educate their kids Jewishly full-time. Now it’s become the Herculean task that some are staring to see as Sisyphean.
“Yeah, I can be myself here in this small town. And people let me be just what I want to be”
– John Cougar Mellencamp
For those who want their kids to emulate their own lifestyles and traditions, there are few considerations more crucial than where they grow up - the physical environment in which they live, the sense of community there and the people with whom they surround themselves.