Islamic society grows in central Jersey

BY CHRIS STURGIS

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES
Published June 28, 2009

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — Dalya Youssef wants her son, Yousuf Abdelfatah, to feel more confident about practicing the Islamic faith than she did when she attended public schools.

The Franklin Township mother, who is also a lawyer, remembered feeling timid about doing her midday prayer ritual in school when she was growing up in Monroe Township.

She said she didn’t begin the Muslim practice of covering her hair with a headscarf known as a hajib until her freshman year in college. The practice of covering oneself usually begins at puberty.

“I delayed it because I didn’t have enough confidence,” she said.

Therefore, she and her husband sent their son to Noor-Ul-Iman School on the South Brunswick campus of the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey, which has a full-time parochial school covering pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. Enrollment at the Route 1 school was 480 last year and is expected to top 500 in September.

Now Youssef’s son prays alongside his classmates, not in isolation, as she did.

“Plus, I think he gets an excellent education,” she said.

Earlier this month, the society broke ground on $5 million of infrastructure improvements to be followed by the building of a new, two-story 70,000-square-foot school, which will have the library, auditorium and gymnasium the school now lacks.

More critical, though, is that the license from South Brunswick to use modular buildings for the school expires in December, said Islamic Society president Aly Aziz.

“We have to show the township we are working on permanent facilities,” he said.

The infrastructure, consisting of water lines, electrical cables, a detention basin, new street entrances, a 600-car parking lot, and a concrete platform for the school building, is literally laying the groundwork for a much broader expansion plan that will take years to construct, he said.

South Brunswick has approved a master plan for a new mosque and an income-generating office building on the 16-acre campus. Four Rutgers University graduates seeking a sense of belonging founded the society 40 years ago.

“I’m pretty excited about it,” Youssef said. “I would love to see my son have a real high school with all the facilities.”

Another mother, Heba Macksoud, said she sent her twin daughters, Jenna and Jada, age 7, to the society’s preschool, but has since put them in public school. They come to the Islamic society for weekend religious education classes, she said.

Macksoud, a former vice president of marketing at MTV, said she loved the school’s attentive atmosphere, but hated paying tuition for substandard facilities.

“It’s a huge investment,” she said. “I’d rather save the money for college.”

Macksoud, a native New Yorker who first came to the Islamic Center at age 8, said the new school shows the Islamic community can sustain a parochial school system like other religions.

“We will soon have something that my kids can be proud of that is beautiful and institutional, rather than something slapped together from trailers,” she said.

School principal Janet Nazif said the new school will be more spacious and comfortable for students and staff. The essence of the program won’t change because it is the dedication of the teachers and the parents who support their efforts.

She started as a teacher with the school founded 16 years ago. There were only 27 students in pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade. The school expanded by a couple of grades per year, until six years ago when the first class of high school seniors graduated.

“When it started, there were a lot of naysayers, who said we wouldn’t be able to help these children succeed, but they have been proven wrong,” she said.

All of the high school graduates have been accepted to college, including some Ivy League institutions, she said.

There are 220 Islamic schools in the U.S., including 17 in New Jersey, according to the Islamic Schools League of America based in Falls Church, Va.

The schools are growing the fastest in areas with large Muslim populations, including New York State, Michigan and Washington, D.C., according to the organization, which formed 11 years ago to help new schools benefit from the experience of established institutions.

Yet, as the Muslim community gains prominence in American society, members say they are unfairly associated with Middle Eastern terrorism.

Macksoud said terrorism comes from uneducated, unemployed youth who can be convinced the U.S. is the source of their misery.

By contrast, the Islamic Society of Central New Jersey comprises well-educated professionals with successful careers, she said, noting her pride that the society donated statutes to adorn the entrance to the South Brunswick Public Library.

“It shows that we love our community and want to get involved every which way,” she said.

The society includes immigrants from 20 nations around the globe and first-generation Americans like herself.

Aziz said the diverse 2,000-member society counters prejudice by issuing statements condemning terrorist acts.

He said Islam is at its essence a peaceful religion. Muslims greet each other with the words, “Assalamo Alikom” meaning “Peace be upon you.”

The response is to say it in reverse, “Alikom Assalamo.”

“We do not consider (terrorists) Muslims because Islam is a religion of peace,” Aziz said.

This article originally appeared in the Times of Trenton (NJ) on June 28, 2009 and was posted on the affiliated website, NJ.com.

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Title Florida shines if you want your own home
Media Site: http://www.tampabay.comTitle Florida shines if you want your own home
Media Site: http://www.tampabay.com
Co-Cities: Tampa and Jacksonville, FL
Primary URL: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2014/best-places-homeownership/
By Christina Sturgis
Florida cities are very well represented on Nerd Wallet’s list of best metros for homeownership. Ocala and Naples are on the list of small metros; the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area is on the li
medium-sized metros and Jacksonville is on the list of large metros.
Nerd Wallet’s criteria are a high rate of homeownership, a high median income and a low cost of living. The Sunshine State’s median income, $47,309 is lower than the U.S. median of $53,046, which usually helps it in state-to-state comparisons. The cost of living is lower, too. For example, Ocala and Tampa have an equal cost of living of 88 on a scale with 100 as the U.S. average. Tampa’s housing index is 60 and Ocala’s is 59 on that same scale.
It is not surprising that Florida cities pop up on the 30 city list divided into three tiers. Florida’s homeownership rate is 68.1 percent, a bit higher than the 65.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Naples (79.4 percent) and Palm Bay (75.2 percent) and Titusville (68.3 percent) all exceed the U.S. rate. Tampa (51.7 percent), Ocala (51.9 percent) and Melbourne (62.3 percent.) are below the national average.
Nerd Wallet theorizes that a high rate of homeownership means there is an inventory of homes for sale and more opportunity to become a homeowner than in a more competitive market. Tampa’s coastal location may present a more desirable quality of life that makes homeownership a more competitive endeavor. That doesn’t mean central Florida doesn’t emphasize its assets; Ocala, for example, has a more inland location, but is betting the stables of the horse racing industry and myriad outdoor adventures will draw residents.
Jacksonville, also a coastal city, is not only touting sports, blues and country music, but invites the public to take advantage of fine medical and meeting facilities. Title Florida shines if you want your own home
Media Site: http://www.tampabay.com
Co-Cities: Tampa and Jacksonville, FL
Primary URL: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2014/best-places-homeownership/
By Christina Sturgis
Florida cities are very well represented on Nerd Wallet’s list of best metros for homeownership. Ocala and Naples are on the list of small metros; the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area is on the li
medium-sized metros and Jacksonville is on the list of large metros.
Nerd Wallet’s criteria are a high rate of homeownership, a high median income and a low cost of living. The Sunshine State’s median income, $47,309 is lower than the U.S. median of $53,046, which usually helps it in state-to-state comparisons. The cost of living is lower, too. For example, Ocala and Tampa have an equal cost of living of 88 on a scale with 100 as the U.S. average. Tampa’s housing index is 60 and Ocala’s is 59 on that same scale.
It is not surprising that Florida cities pop up on the 30 city list divided into three tiers. Florida’s homeownership rate is 68.1 percent, a bit higher than the 65.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Naples (79.4 percent) and Palm Bay (75.2 percent) and Titusville (68.3 percent) all exceed the U.S. rate. Tampa (51.7 percent), Ocala (51.9 percent) and Melbourne (62.3 percent.) are below the national average.
Nerd Wallet theorizes that a high rate of homeownership means there is an inventory of homes for sale and more opportunity to become a homeowner than in a more competitive market. Tampa’s coastal location may present a more desirable quality of life that makes homeownership a more competitive endeavor. That doesn’t mean central Florida doesn’t emphasize its assets; Ocala, for example, has a more inland location, but is betting the stables of the horse racing industry and myriad outdoor adventures will draw residents.
Jacksonville, also a coastal city, is not only touting sports, blues and country music, but invites the public to take advantage of fine medical and meeting facilities.

Co-Cities: Tampa and Jacksonville, FL
Primary URL: http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/2014/best-places-homeownership/
By Christina Sturgis
Florida cities are very well represented on Nerd Wallet’s list of best metros for homeownership. Ocala and Naples are on the list of small metros; the Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area is on the li
medium-sized metros and Jacksonville is on the list of large metros.
Nerd Wallet’s criteria are a high rate of homeownership, a high median income and a low cost of living. The Sunshine State’s median income, $47,309 is lower than the U.S. median of $53,046, which usually helps it in state-to-state comparisons. The cost of living is lower, too. For example, Ocala and Tampa have an equal cost of living of 88 on a scale with 100 as the U.S. average. Tampa’s housing index is 60 and Ocala’s is 59 on that same scale.
It is not surprising that Florida cities pop up on the 30 city list divided into three tiers. Florida’s homeownership rate is 68.1 percent, a bit higher than the 65.5 percent for the nation as a whole. Naples (79.4 percent) and Palm Bay (75.2 percent) and Titusville (68.3 percent) all exceed the U.S. rate. Tampa (51.7 percent), Ocala (51.9 percent) and Melbourne (62.3 percent.) are below the national average.
Nerd Wallet theorizes that a high rate of homeownership means there is an inventory of homes for sale and more opportunity to become a homeowner than in a more competitive market. Tampa’s coastal location may present a more desirable quality of life that makes homeownership a more competitive endeavor. That doesn’t mean central Florida doesn’t emphasize its assets; Ocala, for example, has a more inland location, but is betting the stables of the horse racing industry and myriad outdoor adventures will draw residents.
Jacksonville, also a coastal city, is not only touting sports, blues and country music, but invites the public to take advantage of fine medical and meeting facilities.

He ain’t heavy

He ain’t heavy

Benny and Lincoln decided today would be the day they mocked Melvin, who is severely disabled and does not speak, except for some vocalizing. Benny and Lincoln giggled and repeated his utterances in a tone that was disrespectful. Melvin, who is big and strong and roughly as big as two of Lincoln and three of Benny, shifted about in his chair as though he understand he was being picked on. But he withstood the insult gracefully and did not lash out.

I wish Benny and Lincoln could take a brotherly interest in shielding Melvin from the cruelty of the world. Perhaps they feel Melvin’s very presence stigmatizes them. Yet, he could use a friend and they could be friend and thereby weave their own sorry behinds into the social fabric in a more meaningful way. Perhaps that is a lot to expect from teenagers.

Gigi has a radiant spirit

As pilot of the inter-planetary academy shuttle, I sometimes have my passenger list updated, meaning I need to find the safest and most efficient way to reach a different pod at the appointed hour. I was apprehensive about picking up Gigi because I feared she would be another complicated adolescent on a crowded one-way space duct. Those complicated kids know they can’t refuse academy attendance but they can dawdle until the shuttle leaves without them and then attempt to shift the blame for poor attendance on me.

I felt pangs of guilt when I saw Gigi’s mom guiding her out to the shuttle. They walked together like one creature with four legs, the mom using each of her legs to guide the disabled and stiffened legs of her child. Step, by step by step they crossed in front of the shuttle to the entrance in what appeared to be a slow and painful dance. When I opened the portal for Gigi to enter, I was awestruck by the serenity of her smile. If it had taken me that long and that much effort to travel such a brief distance I would have been scowling, not beaming.

Her mom chatted with me and Lieutenant Velma as Gigi made her way ever so slowly up the steps of the shuttle. Her muscles were so uncooperative that her speech was hard to understand, yet she chatted with me the whole way to the academy. I should probably tell you I am wary of my own tendency to daydream and what a threat that is to my continued employment so I talk my way through the run in the hope that doing so will keep me grounded, so to speak.

Benny takes a galactic powder

Benny hopped off the spaceship one stop after he got on, making useless all my effort to manuever the ship around the planets keeping him out of the paths of intersteller traffic. The signs of trouble surfaced at the boy’s pod, when his mom came out and asked the ship to wait — holding up her index finger in the universal sign for “wait one minute.”

She went back inside to holler at Benny to hurry. She returned the garbage-strewn curb of her pod to speak with me. She said Benny is seriously troubled and she apologized for his behavior. I told her I appreciated that. She told me he was looking around for a math book he needed at the academy.

Pale, skinny Benny boarded the ship, his protective suit falling down either in youthful rebellion or lack of body mass. He was especially restless and did not fasten traveling gear. At the next stop when Other Boy got on, Benny scrambled up to the air lock and hopped out. I was glad, because I didn’t like all of his crazy energy on my ship while I’m trying to navigate the universe.

Velma, my lieutenant, said Benny was not running around at the back of his pod looking for equipment to bring to the academy. He was unlocking the alternative exit so he could get re-enter after exiting my ship, she theorized. He needed to board my ship so his mother would think he was attending the academy.

“Velma,” I said, “You know how they think.”

“I certainly do,” she said.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Benny. He left his papers on the ship one day and I saw he was studying algebra: multiplying polynomials. Somebody thinks Benny is smart enough to solve these puzzles. Yet, a smart boy like that hates his place in the academy.

Another thing about Benny stuck in my mind. He often got himself in trouble playing court jester to a bigger boy, like maybe he wanted protection from a bully.

March 8, 2014 Confined-space work environment

I don’t know how the girl with the single-tooth grin got the name Parcheesi but that was indeed the name on my list. “Parcheesi,” I thought, would probably be joining  us along with Monopoly and perhaps Chess-ter. Ha, ha.

Parcheesi had a sense of self. She walked slowly toward the kindergarten as if she need not hurry; she expected everyone to wait. I narrowed my eyes in an attempt to get her to step lively, but she continued to dawdle, fussing with the strap of her pocketbook. She looked lazily toward the other children heading toward other rooms and said her good-byes. Parcheesi was like a little politician who wanted to spread a little love to everyone so as to be remembered at election time.

I knew the confrontation was coming. Parcheesi rankled the nerves of my assistant, Velma Dean, a hard-working woman from the midwest who could not abide naughty children. She was well aware that the kids were the kings and people like us, the staff could easily lose our jobs by disciplining our charges in an unwise manner.

Velma had little education in accredited schools or universities, but a lot of learning at the school of hard knocks.

Yet, Parcheesi liked to stir things up, particularly with Craig, a manipulator and sociopath for sure, and Eldon, a sweet, sincere unguarded soul who often left the kindergarten in tears.

why we moon

Figuring. Shit. Out.

When my sister Lucy and I were little, around 6 and 3 or thereabouts, we used to moon people. I have no idea where the inspiration for this came from, but we got it from somewhere (this was, after all, the late 1960s), and we exercised this vaguely inspired right to moon on our front lawn in New Preston, Conn., for all the world to see. Or maybe not all the world; maybe just passing cars.

At the time I never wondered what the drivers and passengers of these vehicles might have thought, tooling around Lake Waramaug on their leisurely summer drives, approaching this fairly standard-looking white colonial with its fairly standard-looking lawn. Or it might have been standard-looking, had my parents mowed the bottom half of it — they kept the grass high to prevent their darling children from rolling their tricycles into the road, so it looked perpetually…

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