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Sunday, December 8, 2013

WASHINGTON — Frustrated by the failure of Congress to act against gun violence, a group of clergy from New York and New Jersey is trying a new lobbying tactic — in Europe.

In a novel approach, the religious leaders fly across the Atlantic on Sunday to push European gun manufacturers, who have a roughly 25% share of the U.S. market, to apply some of the more stringent standards they already follow in their own countries to the weapons they sell in the U.S.


They want the European gunmakers, for example, to refuse to allow their weapons to be sold through unlicensed gun dealers. They also want the manufacturers to renounce political meddling in the U.S. through contributions to lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association.

Their mission is the work of the Metro Industrial Arts Foundation, better known as Metro IAF, the highly effective grass-roots organizing group that is legendary in New York for building thousands of units of affordable housing.


The outreach, timed just before the one-year anniversary of the Newtown, Conn., massacre, comes after the realization that the lobbying Congress is ineffective and only one option, said Rabbi Joel Mosbacher, of Temple Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah, N.J.

“Is the congressional approach the only one that can have an impact, and are we going to put our hopes on one of the most dysfunctional organizations in America?” said Mosbacher, whose work on gun violence also has a personal dimension — his father was shot dead in a 1999 robbery attempt.


The clergy members are seeking meetings with Austria’s Glock, Germany’s SIG Sauer and Italy’s Berretta, which dominate gun sales to police departments and government agencies in the U.S. Glock alone claims 60% of the handgun sales to U.S. police departments.

None so far has agreed to a meeting. But the group plans meetings with European Union officials, religious leaders and press to put pressure on the gunmakers.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

MAHWAY, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Frustrated by the slow pace of Congress in enacting what they believe would be stringent gun control, religious leaders are heading straight to firearms manufacturers in Europe.

As WCBS 880′s Jim Smith reported, representatives of the Metro Industrial Arts Foundation — a network of local faith and community-based organizations — hopes that during their week-long mission they can convince gun makers to only sell in the United States to licensed dealers and to stop pumping cash into the American political system, said Rabbi Joel Mosbacher of Mahway.

“We think about our obligation not to stand idly by while our neighbors bleed,” Mosbacher told Smith.
“That won’t in in itself solve the problem, but we think we’ll make a big difference on the issue of gun violence.”

The religious leaders hope to speak with officials from Glock in Austria, SIG Sauer in Germany and Berretta in Italy. They also plan to ask gun executives to invest in research and development for “smarter and safer gun technology,” Mosbacher said.

There was no word Sunday if the executives will agree to the meetings.

Mosbacher added that he would like to see police departments around the country leverage their buying power by requiring some of the changes before signing purchase orders.

“We’re looking for a different way,” Mosbacher said. “We don’t think Congress is the only one who can effect change in America.”

Westchester United’s November Leaders Gathering

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Roughly 70 people came out to Westchester United’s November Leaders Gathering.  Led by Sister Maruja Causa, and Rev Michael Tino. We heard how through our efforts to protect kindergarten, reduce gun violence, and find jobs on the Tappan Zee Bridge, Westchester United has engaged the Speaker of the Assembly, the Attorney General, The Governor and the NY Times. Not bad for an organization celebrating its two year anniversary. This progress, of course, wouldn’t have happened without Westchester United’s base of our supporters, so thanks!
We also announced that in one month, our Individual Donors Campaign has raised $11,500.

Our goal is to raise $50—70,000 which will go towards additional staff and recruitment, training, travel, and program costs associated with all our efforts.

Please sign up to give, today - you can make a secure online contributions here on our website.*

*Please note. when clicking on donate, it will take you to a paypal website for Metro IAF. That is the correct place and will be designated for Westchester United. You Can also send checks by using the address on the attached contribution form.

Finally, attached are a list of upcoming events. Upcoming Events include:

1. A tour of and training in the South Bronx (1.20)
2. fundraising training,
3. Schedule of Strategy Team Meetings and Leadership Retreat for 2014, as well as other upcoming events.

The next Strategy Team meeting will be January 16.

Please check it out and mark your calendars.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


New Tappan Zee project: Churches, activists ask, 'Where are the jobs?'

June 9, 2013 by JOHN DYER /


An association of Westchester County churches, synagogues and other community groups is warning that the $3.9 billion replacement Tappan Zee Bridge project won't deliver as many jobs as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo initially promised.

"Work is beginning, and the question remains, where are the jobs?" asked Adam Barbanel-Fried, lead organizer for Westchester United.

Last week, the nonprofit issued a news release criticizing the project as New York State Thruway officials announced that preconstruction activities for the bridge were well under way. Test borings into the river bottom, an important step before pile driving can start, for example, were completed recently.

Westchester United commissioned a November 2012 study that found the Tappan Zee replacement would create no more than 5,000 jobs if work finished, as scheduled, in five years.

"The New New York Bridge is believed to be the largest public works project in the country," the release said. "Governor Cuomo originally projected to create over 45,000 jobs. Big promises, but in the details, the promise to the community is very small."

Westchester United includes the Greater Centennial AME Zion Church in Mount Vernon, the Upper Westchester Muslim Society in Thornwood, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua and 15 other faith-based and advocacy groups. It's affiliated with the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation, a group that has advocated for a variety of issues in New York City, from affordable housing to health care. The group's website claims they were instrumental in the creation of the Mott Haven Campus of schools in the South Bronx.

Cuomo officials pushed back at the group's assertions on jobs.

"The five-year construction of the New NY Bridge will create thousands of good-paying jobs and the team is committed to hiring as many local workers as possible," said Brian Conybeare, special adviser to the governor for the bridge. "The project is just getting under way and the bulk of the hiring will not ramp up until early 2014."

Local companies were receiving contracts for a variety of services linked to the bridge, said Conybeare. He's also met with riverside deli owners, restaurateurs and others who've seen business improve as workers have descended on the region.

Last month, Empire State Development and the New York Labor Department published a study using recent data that said the bridge would create 7,700 jobs. Most of those jobs would go to workers from the Hudson Valley region, according to the study.

The study said the 45,000 figure discussed by Cuomo last year referred to "job years," a term in economics that refers to individual positions that last for a total of one year.

The president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Ross Pepe, also cast doubt on Westchester United's assertions.

"Thousands of local workers struggling to survive the recession are about to go back to work thanks to the new Tappan Zee Bridge," said Pepe in a statement. "This would not have happened without Governor Cuomo's leadership and dedication to rebuilding a vital piece of our infrastructure."

Barbanel-Fried also criticized the state's outreach efforts related to hiring for the bridge project. Cuomo's team has opened outreach centers and held numerous events to educate the public about jobs, including opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses.

Westchester United activists sought to take advantage of those outreach efforts to no avail, said Barbanel-Fried.

"They left messages on the hotline, and no message were returned," said Barbanel-Fried. "They went to the outreach offices. They weren't staffed. They didn't see opportunities to ask questions at the highly managed presentations."

Asked for a response, Cuomo officials sent Newsday a schedule of the hours for the outreach centers at 202 South Broadway Plaza, Tarrytown, and 142 Main St., Nyack.

The centers are open seven days a week, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. during weekdays and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends.

Friday, June 7, 2013
Megan Murphy

June 6, 2013 by MEGHAN E. MURPHY /


Hudson Valley faith and community groups are calling on Assembly leaders to move on a bill that would require Westchester and Rockland County school districts to provide kindergarten for students.
The groups are hoping that the bill will be voted on before the state legislative session ends in a few weeks and will be rallying next Thursday in Mount Vernon to press elected officials to act quickly.
"It's a good bill," said Assemb. Thomas Abinanti (D-Mount Pleasant), a co-sponsor of the legislation. "We've got to stop shortchanging our kids."
The seed for the bill was planted last year in Port Chester and East Ramapo, where school leaders faced with budget troubles discussed eliminating kindergarten programs to save money. The communities protested and school board members were able to find ways to keep early education intact.
The threat to kindergarten inspired Westchester United, a coalition of 19 faith and community groups, to kick off an organized lobbying effort called "No Five Year Old Left Behind." In July, more than 350 community members came together to launch the work toward ensuring kindergarten for all.
More recently, "Westchester United members have been working tirelessly to reach out and organize delegations of their congregants to meet with local Assembly members and senators -- and some beyond our county -- to express how important this issue is," said Westchester United lead organizer, Adam Barbanel-Fried.
The legislation was introduced by Assemb. Amy Paulin (D-Scarsdale) in March and was to apply to the entire state. However, during the lobbying process, Barbanel-Fried said, supporters agreed to scale back the bill to only include Westchester and Rockland school districts. There is a State Senate version of the bill that is also sitting in committee.
The legislation, which does not require full-day kindergarten, has broad support from Westchester and Rockland legislators.
Barbanel-Fried said that it's important that the bill passes this legislative session. "Who knows what's going to happen in the next year?"
Now, the group is turning the pressure toward the state's top leaders, namely Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemb. Catherine Nolan, education committee chairwoman.
Neither Nolan's office nor Silver's office returned a call for comment Thursday.
The rally next Thursday will be held at 7 p.m. at the Greater Centennial AME Zion Church in Mount Vernon. Barbanel-Fried estimated that more than 200 people will attend.


Monday, January 21, 2013
Westchester United


Community View: Kindergarten must be a priority

Written by Rev. Bruce Baker and Rabbi Jonathan Blake


Kindergarten has long been the subject of comment and debate. One educational reformer wrote, “Within the last 12 years, kindergartens have been more and more recognized, and will now undoubtedly be accepted in all civilized countries.” The year was 1876. The writer was Bertha von Marenholtz-Bulow. She wrote in appreciation of a fellow German educator, Friedrich Froebel, who pioneered the very idea of kindergarten, which means, literally, “child’s garden.” She also wrote, “At the same time, the complete carrying out of Froebel’s educational idea is far from assured”


New York state, 137 years later, is proving her point.


During the last state budget period, districts like East Ramapo and Port Chester considered cutting to half-day in order to balance their budget. What’s more, given budget forecasts, some officials spoke of the possibility of eliminating it entirely in the years to come. How is this possible? Port Chester, like many other communities with working class populations, was caught between a limited local tax base, a cap on local tax increases, and yet another cap placed by the governor himself on the amount of aid the state will provide to school districts in need. Because New York remains one of only eight states that does not require districts to offer kindergarten, school districts across the state are increasingly eying kindergarten as a place to reduce or cut entirely. We counted 13 that considered it in 2012, including East Ramapo and Port Chester. We also learned that Mount Vernon considered it a few years ago.


The fact that kindergarten is not considered a basic staple of our educational strategy comes as a surprise to most. Most of us went to kindergarten. And most assume that kindergarten is an integral part of the pivotal introductory phase of a child’s educational life.


Mandatory, secure


As Gov. Andrew Cuomo stated in his recent State of the State address, children with good quality early childhood education do demonstrably better on tests, are more likely to graduate from high school, less likely to repeat a grade, and significantly less likely to be arrested as a juvenile. He cited these facts in making a case for his ensuing proposal that the state invest in high quality, full-day pre-kindergarten for our state’s highest-need students. This is certainly a laudable goal.


Ironically, however, in some parts of our state, it is kindergarten that remains both optional and vulnerable. Kindergarten should be neither. It should be mandatory, and secure. It should be an essential and high-quality feature of our educational landscape. It should be particularly well supported in the most economically distressed communities. What good is it to require full-day Pre-K, in a high-needs district, if the following year is only half day, or eliminated entirely?


New York City and Rochester won state permission last year to mandate full-day kindergarten, joining Syracuse, which has had required kindergarten since 1993.


This trend should be extended statewide by requiring that kindergarten be seen as nothing less than essential to the educational experience for all 5-year-olds.


And the state should provide adequate funding to support it.


It is shocking that despite all the arguments, not one of the major power players engaged in debating the future of education —the Albany political establishment, the business community, the so-called for-profit and on-line learning operators, the unions, the college and university communities —has made something so basic as kindergarten a high priority.


In the same vein, these same institutions have not made the recruitment, training, and support of high-quality teachers a major priority. This process has been left loose and haphazard. Perhaps the governor’s new proposals regarding the attraction and retention of high quality teachers will attempt to address these matters. If so, we will be the first to applaud.


A state fully and maturely focused on the interests of its children, on their growth and development, on their ability to get what Lincoln called “an unfettered start, and a fair chance, in the race of life” would guarantee that every child in every part of our state could expect to enter a full-day kindergarten class headed by a well-prepared, energetic and positive teacher.


New York has yet to reach that state of maturity. It is about time that it did.


The writers are pastor of All Soul’s Presbyterian Church in Port Chester and rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, respectively. Both are strategy team members of Westchester United,, a growing network of 19 synagogues, churches, mosques and other community groups working to build a new power base of communities in Westchester County.


Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
News 12 - Westchester

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Randi Weiner, Journal News

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Fox Five Good Day New York

Wednesday, December 5, 2012
Michael Woyton, Patch

Thursday, October 25, 2012
Mike Gecan

Friday, August 3, 2012
BY CLAIRE K. RACINE, Westmore News

Despite the hot, muggy weather—and the impending thunderstorm— hundreds packed into the JFK Early Learning Center gym in Port Chester last Thursday evening, July 26 for a rally led by a county-wide action network committed to protecting and guaranteeing access to kindergarten.

The Port Chester School District considered moving to half-day kindergarten because the Port Chester schools were unable to raise enough money through property taxes for the 2012-13 budget due to the New York State Tax Levy Cap. Through concessions by the district’s three bargaining units, full-day kindergarten was reinstated, but, with the tax cap continuing for another four years at least, it is possible that half-day kindergarten could be considered again at a later date.

Eliminating kindergarten, or even just moving to a half day, is something Westchester United, a grassroots network of synagogues, churches, mosques and other community organizations in Westchester, is vehemently against.

“Our concern is that there are many things involved in education and they all cost money,” said Father Steve Schenck, pastor of Holy Rosary Church, who helped organize the rally. “Some of them we might consider cutting, but some of them we would never consider cutting, and we believe kindergarten is one of those things that should never be cut.”

Schenck was part of a similar organization for six years when he lived in Washington, D.C. and, especially now that the Port Chester School District has considered moving to half-day kindergarten, was thrilled to help found Westchester United in November 2011.

His job is to help the community, but he told the Westmore News that even if it were not, he would probably still be involved and fighting to make kindergarten a mandatory program.

“All of this is much bigger than Port Chester,” Schenck said to the crowd gathered in the gym of the former Holy Rosary School. “We want to say that in the 21st century, guaranteed access to kindergarten is one of the essential ingredients of good education which must never be cut.”

Two mothers from Port Chester also spoke about their families’ personal experience with kindergarten and how detrimental switching to half-day would be, let alone eliminating it entirely.

“I’ve lived my whole life here and I love it,” said Jessica Cruz, a single mother to three children with another on the way.

Her son Ishmael was in kindergarten last year and learned so much in the year he was there, she said.

“He learned how to read, write, color and share with his friends. The main thing he learned was how to express himself. I as a single parent and could not offer him as much as kindergarten did,” Cruz said. “When I found out they might cut kindergarten, I stood in shock and said ‘I can’t let this happen. What’s going to happen to my three-year-old?’”

Cruz said that she only wants to be able to guarantee that her three-year-old and unborn child will be able to get the same education as her other children, to be sure that they will not struggle to keep up with their fellow students.

Carolina Puga’s daughter Kimberly had a speech impediment when she entered school but was able to catch up in kindergarten.

“When she was in kindergarten, she started to learn how to read and write, how to play, how to interact with other children,” Puga said in Spanish, translated by Sister Maruja Causa from Holy Rosary Church. “That’s why I stand here with Westchester United to ask the State of New York to never again think about cutting kindergarten. No children can be left behind.”

Kindergarten is not just an issue in Port Chester or even Westchester County. It is a state-wide concern, said Heriberto Contreras, a parishioner at St. Gabriel’s Church of New Rochelle.

“This matters to me for the future of my two-year-old son Aaron and the many children in our communities,” he said.

Contreras was part of a small delegation from Westchester United and a similar group for New York City that met with Merryl Tisch, the chancellor for the Board of Regents, recently to discuss kindergarten. She suggested trying to grow Westchester United, get more organizations and people involved. Then think about circulating petitions, Contreras said.

Westchester United has also reached out to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and hopes to organize a meeting with him or his staff.

Acting as a collective to reach out is the exact purpose of Westchester United.

“This is about bringing the power of the people to the powers who run this state,” said Rabbi Jonathan Blake of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, who helped organize the event.

Kindergarten was not the only topic discussed at the rally.

Westchester United’s goal is to build a power base to generate positive social change. Another public issue they are currently focusing on is senior mobility, something that both JoAnn McGraw from The Wartburg, an adult care community in Mt. Vernon, and Sheryl Brady from Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains spoke about.

Westchester United hopes to have another rally in the fall and until then they plan on reaching out to other organizations in Westchester to see if they, too, want to join together to try and generate positive change in Westchester.

Locally, All Souls Parish, Holy Rosary Church, Corpus Christi Church and the Don Bosco Workers’ Center in Port Chester, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Rye Brook and the Council of Community Services of Port Chester, Rye Brook, and Rye Town are all member institutions.

For more information, visit

Sunday, July 29, 2012


Despite threats of tornadoes and high winds Thursday evening, 350 Westchester community members joined Westchester United to call on the state to ensure all five-year-olds have access to kindergarten.

The coalition of faith-based groups decided to hone in on kindergarten after hearing community members' concern at many local meetings. The group uses a bottom-up model to choose topics on which to advocate.

"What we started hearing throughout the county was a concern from everywhere about what's been happing to our educational system, and how frightened and worried poeple have become about cuts," said Rabbi Seth M. Limmer of Congregation B'nai Yisrael in Armonk.

More on Newsday: Hudson Valley kindergarten enrollment

Limmer became involved in building Westchester United three years ago in order to help "build an organization to unite people who cared about the social good."

Among the education cuts that resonated locally with members was a proposal in Port Chester, which ultimately did not come to fruition, to save money by eliminating the kindergarten program.

Limmer said the group is aware that there are myriad issues with the state's education system. "There are some that take a longer time to solve," Limmer said. "This is something that we think we can get done and make a real difference."

On Thursday, the group announced their goal to make kindergarten a right for every five-year-old. The leaders have met with Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who agreed to work with them, as have three senior members of the state assembly. The group is also reaching out to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

To find out more go to the Westchester United website.

Friday, July 27, 2012
Robert Heinemann

A coalition of religious, cultural and community groups gathered Thursday night in Port Chester to launch a lobbying effort to protect kindergarten programs in public schools.

The coalition, Westchester United, has been in development for a number of years now. The group held its founding assembly on Nov. 16, 2011, and has been working to unite different religious and other groups in an effort to bring a collective voice of Westchester to state government.

“We spent the last months and years building alliances between faith-based and some non-faith based public institutions,” said Rabbi Johathan Blake of Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, one of the 15 founding members. “The idea being that people in Mount Vernon, White Plains, Scarsdale, New Rochelle and all over are facing difficult issues but we have power when we unite together.”

Due to rough economic times, overcrowding and an increasingly difficult budget and the new state tax-hike cap, the Port Chester School Board had to consider all options when it looked this year at cutting corners to save money. When planning the 2012-2013 budget, the board put serious thought into eliminating the full-day Kindergarten program throughout the district.

The prospect of reverting to a half-day kindergarten program angered local residents, and the school district was able to take that cut off the table before the final budget plan was put to a vote.

“The main reason we are here tonight is to protect kindergarten,” said Blake.  “[New York] is one of the only states in the union that doesn’t have a guarantee to protect kindergarten. That’s why it’s so critical that we amass ourselves as a coalition and bring that larger voice of the people.”

New York is one of eight states in the U.S. that does not require districts to offer kindergarten. Westchester United hopes its collective voice will be heard and that lawmakers can prohibit kindergarten from ever being threatened because of year-to-year budget concers. 

“When it comes to issues that cut across town borders, socioeconomic classes and lines of age, race and faith, it takes an organization that is really a coalition of multiple organizations and people to bring power to our voices and make those voices heard by people who actually effect change.”

“I believe that your mission is critical,” said Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “It’s so refreshing and wonderful that you are bringing your strength and ideas to the table. A lot of people become uninvolved and don’t really believe they can impact change. It’s time they understood that their voice is really the voice that matters.”

The gym at Holy Rosary School on Central Avenue in Port Chester was packed with families, religious group members and other involved citizens from all over Westchester on Thursday to discuss the kindergarten issue. Membership forms were handed out with copies of the agenda in both Spanish and English. The forms included options:

  • Help work to guarantee access to Kindergarten
  • Help secure more funding for transportation for all seniors in Westchester County
  • Help build a Local Action Team
  • Help bring in new member institutions.

“We want our voices heard by the highest members of the government of the State of New York. We are hoping this message will reach the attention of governor Cuomo and that action can be taken.”

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kindergarten is not mandatory in New York State with New York City being the exception. Many parents are concerned including Jessica Cruz, mother of three, as is Adam Barbanel-Fried from the community based organization 'Westchester United.' They spoke with GDNY on Thursday.

Watch TV Report

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Westchester community leaders will meet Thursday night to launch a campaign to guarantee kindergarten in all New York school districts.

Organized by Westchester United, a network of 19 faith-based and community organizations, the meeting is billed as a gathering of about 300 community leaders at 7 p.m. at Holy Rosary Church in Port Chester.

The group will meet inside the boundaries of a school district that pondered cutting kindergarten as part of this spring's budget talks. Port Chester school officials considered saving $1.7 million with kindergarten cuts, but ultimately saved the program when two unions offered concessions.

East Ramapo School District in Rockland did cut its kindergarten to a half day for next school year.

Jessica Cruz, a Port Chester single mother of three who will speak at the event, said she's very concerned about keeping kindergarten open for her 3-year-old and other children.

"They learn more in there than what I could be able to teach them: how to socialize, how to read and write and how to express themselves," Cruz said. Her five-year-old son is entering first grade next year.

Harrison School District Superintendent Louis Wool, who leads a superintendent group calling for fewer state mandates, said he understands the perspective of parents calling for guaranteed kindergarten and would not oppose such a mandate.

But Wool also said a kindergarten mandate wouldn't solve the fiscal woes of schools.

"Anything that protects vital programs is a good thing," Wool said. "On the other hand, the impact of that shift would just exacerbate and make more obvious the difficulties of trying to budget within a tax cap."

Thursday, July 26, 2012
Randi Weiner

PORT CHESTER — A grass roots group concerned that kindergarten will soon be cut from public schools for budget reasons is holding a rally tonight to show support for the program.

Westchester United, a group made of community leaders across Westchester County, will assemble at 7 p.m. at Holy Rosary School, 18 Central Ave., to “protect and guarantee access to kindergarten.”

The group anticipates nearly 300 people will appear.

“The Port Chester school board this year seriously considered cutting back (from full) to half-day kindergarten, with the threat of eliminating it the following year,” said Adam Barbanel-Fried, the lead organizer of the group, in a news release announcing the rally. “While the board did, in the end, save it this year, the years to come remain in question. Westchester United asks: why is cutting kindergarten even an option?”

Kindergarten has inched its way onto the school budget cutting board because it is not required by New York State. Westchester United, formed in November 2011 of representatives from 19 synagogues, churches, mosques and other community organizations, wants the law changed to make kindergarten mandatory in New York as it is in other states in the union.

The rally is open to the public.

Monday, March 19, 2012

LONDON — Enveloped in a warm, glimmering haze, the Olympic Stadium looks like a vast, silvery spaceship come to unlikely rest in the working-class East End.

Friday, June 10, 2011
Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman

I once heard a lecture given by Professor Steven Goldman at Lehigh University, and he defined "belief" as something that influences our actions -- whether or not it is objectively true. For example, he says, let's say you believe it is going to rain tomorrow. What will that mean? Well, most likely, it will mean that you are going to bring an umbrella. If you believe it's going to be a downpour, you may even bring galoshes.