Thursday, July 31, 2008

Using the Internet

Key in all the discussions about "banning" the Internet is that it is a vast storehouse of information and that much of that information "past nit" for frum Jews. For some people they imagine that by merely getting on the Internet one will be exposed to all kinds of things that one shouldn't be exposed to.

Key to those comments is that most people, yes even those who consider themselves Internet savvy, don't know how to use the Internet as a research tool. I give you an item to research. What's the first thing you are going to do? If you are like the vast majority of people, you will head straight for Google or Yahoo. You will type in your search term. And you will choose something from the first articles on the first page that comes up. A very, very few people will go to the second screen. Sigh.

I teach Internet research in my courses. Let me give you a little bit of information that might broaden your research horizons. If you are really a newby to Internet research, go to http://www.e-clarity.us/research/resources.htm They offer information and links to help in Internet researching.

On that listing is http://www.clusty.com/ This is one of the finest meta search engines available. It's clustered search results are a time saving tool for the researcher, as are its top sources. (Was known as vivisimo before)

Want to know about search engines and all the possibilities? Go to http://www.searchenginewatch.com/ They not only list all the search engines available world wide but rank them, discuss them and in general give you some great research information.

If the information you are looking for is something that our government is interested in--and our government is interested in just about everything--go to http://www.firstgov.gov/ This is an entrance portal to the databases maintained by the US government and is searchable.

Interested in knowing a lot about places outside of the US? http://www.ciahandbook.gov/

Do you have a library card? At least in NYC if you do, using your bar code from your library card, you can access online zillions of pieces of information contained in the library.

Keep this fact in mind: only about up to 40% of the information available on the Internet will be found on the biggest/best of the general search engines. Using a meta search engine will increase the amount of information, as meta search engines search search engines. Still, there is a lot of information you will never see or get to--what is called the "hidden" web-- unless you learn more about how to use the tool we call the Internet.

Better living through better research.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Kids, Jokes and Groans


Humor is definitely culturally determined, and age is part of the equation. Perhaps the three weeks is not the ideal time to tell jokes, but that depends on the jokes. The things that children find funny can cause groans of pain in adults. A friend, who is presently entertaining all her out of town grandchildren for a month, decided to let them send me their favorite jokes to keep them busy. I think the reasoning was that if she had to suffer then I could suffer right along side her. Well, if I had to suffer I'm going to let you suffer along with me.

What color is a burp?
Burple!

Sara: Where's a cow's favorite place to go?
Ben: Where?
Sara: The moovies, of course!

What is snake's favorite subject?
Hiss - tory!

Why did the chicken cross the playground?
To get to the other slide.

Where do Rabbits learn to fly?
In the Hare Force

What is the easiest way to count a herd of cattle ?
Use a cowculator.

What do witches put on their hair?
Scare spray.

Why did the lion spit out the clown?
Because it tasted funny.

What are the 4 days of the week that begin with the letter T?
Thursday, Tuesday, tomorrow, today.

And my favorite one out of the bunch.....

What kind of lights did Noach use on the ark?
Flood lights.

Actually, I think these jokes could serve a practical purpose. Tell them to your children. If they laugh, they are not yet old enough to be making any life decisions on their own. If they groan, they just might make be heading into maturity.

The Generational Divide

A conversation that took place between myself and someone in the generation before mine.

Other: What are you finding to do with yourself if you're not working in the summer?

ProfK: I am working. I'm teaching a few students online.

Other: (long pause) What are they standing on line for?

ProfK: (longer pause) I also have a blog now so that takes up some time.

Other: You always were crazy for pets. What does this one eat? No bugs I hope. Do the kids help to take care of it or does it all fall on you?

This conversation reminds me of another one held many decades ago. My husband has been working in computers since the 60s. When I got engaged someone asked me what my choson did. I said "He's in computers." The questioner answered, "Takeh, I've heard they were very big, but if he works in one they must be huge. Is it dangerous?"

I now understand why so many people talk about the weather when they get together with other people. It seems to be the one area that has not changed so radically that a generational divide can be seen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hot, hotter, hottest

Okay, I admit I am very sensitive to the nuances of language. I can see multiple meanings in some statements that sometimes other people don't necessarily see. What do you expect from an English professor? But I really, truly need some help in understanding something that puzzles me no end.

Today someone sent me an email in which they suggested that I switch my email accounts to gmail. I'm going to be asking that person why they believe I should do so. But this person is not the first to make the suggestion; it's happened about 5 times in the past half year. And today's suggestion replayed in my mind a previous conversation about email. One of those who made the suggestion explained his reasons for why I should do so.

He: You know prof it's really not a nice thing to have that name on the email.

Me: What name?

He: Ummm, you know, hotmail.

Me: Why?

He: It's sort of putting a prost name to something that doesn't need one. I know you don't have anything prost on your email but some people could get the wrong idea. And gmail sounds much nicer, sort of like G movies that are okay for kids.

Now if my accounts were with hotmale.com I could understand the problem. So unless someone has never seen the word spelled out I suppose they could wonder at someone's saying "I get my email at hotmale." But let's assume that we are dealing with reasonably intelligent people (a big assumption) and they know that it is hotmail. Then it must be the word "hot" that is causing the problem. And now it's my turn to wonder just where these people's minds are wandering to. So, Brad Pitt is hot and my email address is hot, or even a hotmale, and so it's verboten? Please, someone tell me the temperature of the water these people use for their coffee in the morning? And how do they verbalize extreme heat? And what, I wonder, do they make of the weather reports that routinely have been describing our weather as "hot and steamy"? Hardly a G-rated weather forecast. And heaven forfend that these people ever hear about hot rods. I can only imagine what that would bring to mind.

And what, I wonder, would those who are offended by hotmail and who believe that gmail sounds "nicer" say about G-strings and G-men?

Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to perceive.

Community Services--One Possible Solution to the Problem

I've been giving some more thought to my posting on perfect people. ALN commented that it is time to get going and do something about the problem of "problems."

Okay, how about this? One step that could be taken is an Internet website--let's call it Jewish Community Services as a working title--that would have an alphabetical listing by "problem" category. Under each category would be names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for any Jewish organization/institution/individual who offers help for that problem. There would also be listings for non-Jewish organizations that also help with that problem. There would be web links to sites offering solid information on the problem.

What would be needed is someone to offer to sponsor the website. And then we would need some computer savvy people to put up the site and make sure that is was fully searchable.

We would need a group to publicize the site, making sure that all shuls/schools/organizations got the url for the site and asking that they list that url on their own sites. We would need the OU, the Young Israel, the Agudah to publish the site url in their publications.

We would need to get the Jewish blogosphere to make sure that the url for the site appeared on every blog.

We would need fliers to be posted in every shul, grocery, restaurant, mikveh and place that Jews gather giving the specifics of the site. We would need the Jewish newspapers to post a public service announcement that the site was available.

I'm not underestimating that this would take a lot of work, but it's work that is dividable and shareable. And I also recognize that there are huge numbers of people not using the Internet, some for religious reasons, some for financial reasons and some for reasons of age and lack of knowledge of computers. That's what printers are for. Downloaded, printed lists could be sent out to those areas not likely to have Internet access, whatever the reason.

But, you guessed it, the first thing that needs to be done is that "little" thing of getting someone or many someones to sponsor the site so it can exist.

So, what do you think?

Another Great Find for Children's Literature

Another wonderful site for parents and children who are looking for "good" books. The site is produced by teachers and I, personally, like their choices. Many come from the NEA suggested reading lists. Note: Some of the books are duplicates of books you have been seeing on some of the other postings I've done of reading lists. When lots of different lists seem to be recommending a book, that speaks well for the book. Well worth a visit. http://www.teachersfirst.com/100books.cfm

Another excellent aspect of the site is that you can search for books by grade level--see http://www.teachersfirst.com/read-sel.cfm

The Children's Book Council

If you are looking for children's books that are a bit more contemporary than many of those on the other lists I've posted, you might want to take a look at the lists available at the Children's Book Council site. http://www.cbcbooks.org/readinglists/ Keep in mind that contemporary works may touch on subject matter that you may want to vet for your children.

They state their mission as follows:

About CBC: Mission Statement
The Children's Book Council, Inc. is the nonprofit trade association of publishers and packagers of trade books and related materials for children and young adults.
The goals of the Children's Book Council are:
• to make the reading and enjoyment of children's books an essential part of America's educational and social goals;
• to enhance public perception of the importance of reading by disseminating information about books and related materials for young people and information about children's book publishing; and
• to create materials to support literacy and reading encouragement programs and to encourage the annual observance of National Children's Book Week and Young People's Poetry Week.

Monday, July 28, 2008

We, the Perfect People

Given the attitudes prevalent in the frum communities 40 years and more ago, we've come a long way as regards admitting that there might, just might be problems that face Klal, some of which aren't "pretty" and that aren't easy to discuss. And yet, we are nowhere close to being where we should be. What problems am I referring to specifically? Among them, sexual abuse of minors, physical and emotional abuse within families, substance abuse, mental and emotional maladies, physical and educational disabilities, medical conditions etc.

Why are we so reticent to discuss these problems, to admit that they exist within Klal, to come up with clear cut solutions to the problems? (Just a note: some of us cannot even verbalize the words indicating a problem. Plenty of people who will not say "cancer," calling it instead "yeneh machlah.") One answer that is all too common was given to me years ago when I first went to register my children in a local Bais Yaakov school. I asked why the school had no psychological testing pre-admission and why the school had no resource room. The answer? "Alleh Yiddishe Kinderlach are perfect." Say what?

Yup, that's us, the perfect people. We aren't prone to any of the problems that exist in the outside world. Somehow we are genetically structured such that we can't possibly have any problems.

Another answer that is given is the old "let's not wash our dirty linen in public" line. The problem with that approach is that the "dirty linen" never gets washed at all, and it sits and stinks and festers.

Another answer I've heard is the one about its being ossur to embarrass people in public. Let me see if I am getting this correct. A man beats his wife and children and we are worried about publicly embarrassing him? A child suffers the pain of sexual abuse by a family member or school authority and we tell him/her to keep a lid on it because someone might get embarrassed?

Someone has a physical/mental/emotional/learning disability and our prime concern is about embarrassment? Just whose embarrassment are we talking about here--theirs or ours? Why is getting help equated with embarrassment? Shouldn't the goal be accomodation? Or facilitation?

A little note: do you have any idea of how many special ed teachers Touro and all the other programs under frum auspices graduate a year?! Just where is it and who is it that these teachers are going to be teaching when no frum kids have problems and frum schools really, really don't like having special ed programs?


And then there is the old standby: having problems is bad for shidduchim. So getting help when a problem arises and perhaps solving that problem is a bad thing, but hiding the problem, lying about it, is a wonderful thing for shidduchim, particularly when the problem openly surfaces after a marriage takes place? What kind of a cockeyed world do we live in where someone with a hearing loss is told not to get a hearing aid because it's visible, and that would be bad for shidduchim? What kind of perverted logic says don't wear your glasses while dating because it's bad for shidduchim? Perhaps not recognizing your choson/kallah under the chupah might be a bigger problem?

Here are some facts, unpalatable as they may be. There are sexual predators in Klal. There are abusive parents and spouses in Klal. There are drunkards in Klal. There are drug abusers in Klal.
And yes, there are people with physical, mental and emotional disabilities in Klal. Pretending that these people don't exist doesn't magically make us all perfect.

We still lag behind the general public in providing opportunities for those among us who have physical/mental/emotional disabilities. Yeshivas today have a unique way of dealing with these problems: they refuse admission to students who manifest any of the problems. Might as well put the Jewish version of NIMBY in the Yinglish dictionary--NIMBM, not in my bais medrash. I heard one school administrator make a public statement that his yeshiva was simply not set up to handle such "problems." Well sir, why not? Dyslexia is not typhus, and you don't really need to worry about anyone else catching it. Speech, hearing and vision problems are likewise not diseases that are catching.

As for those truly sick people who prey upon the vulnerable members of Klal among us and commit heinous acts, I have nothing but contempt. As far as I am concerned, throw the book at them, throw every book at them, hell, throw anything you can find at them and put them away where they cannot harm us any longer. And that goes for their "protectors" as well. And let's get our priorities straight--it is the victim who deserves our concern, not the victimizer.

Were we living in a world where there was no research and knowledge of and no help available for the many problems that can beset people, I might better understand the reticence to talk about the problems. But that is not the case. Knowledge is available, so help should be available. Not taking advantage of that knowledge and that available help becomes foolish to the n-th degree.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

You need a reason to be thankful that you are frum?

I don't think you're going to guess where this posting is going from the title, but hey, it's early in the morning and I needed to get your attention somehow.

Our local paper has a regular daily feature entitled "Today in History." They give you all kinds of historical facts that you may never have known or certainly forgotten by now. July 24 was an interesting date in history. Did you know that in 1929, on this date, President Hoover proclaimed the Kellogg-Briand Pact, which renounced war as an instrument of foreign policy? Strange--does the Bush Administration know about this? In 1866, Tennessee became the first state to be readmitted to the Union after the Civil War, thus beginning the healing of the great breach.

But what prompted this posting is a section of the "Today in History" feature that is called "Today's Birthdays." Of the 16 people chosen to be important enough to have their birthdays mentioned, 15 are actors, directors or singers; the sixteenth person is one Mark Racicot. Know who he is? Come on, give a guess. Give up? He is the former Republican national chairman. All 16 people are still among the living.

Okay, someone tell me why, with the plethora of people, living and dead, who have made great contributions to this country, the only people deemed important enough to have their birthdays noted are basically "Hollywood-ites"? What does that say about the people we venerate in this country? What does this say about us?

Whatever else we do or don't say about the frum Jewish world, we basically have our priorities straight. Those whose birth dates or death dates we remember are/were people of substance, people who contributed to the Jewish nation in some real and fundamental way. Many are/were noted scholars. Many are/were leaders of our people in the finest sense of that word. And many are/were people whose knowledge and skills added not only to the frum world but to the world in general. Frum "heroes" aren't the darlings of the tabloid trade.

Some of our American youngsters would not be able to locate Paris, France on a map, but they sure know who Paris Hilton is. That is a sad postscript on American education and American values. At least when it comes to the "heroes" we frum Jews venerate, they are something more than a (maybe) pretty face or a buff body. It's nice to know we are doing something right.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Food for Thought

The world is full of happenings whose outcomes are not certain, some more important than others. History, as reported in the future, will be the judge of how correct we were in our actions, how important some of today's events really turned out to be. But what is history?

"History. n. An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools"--From "The Cynic's Word Book by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some Recommended Books for Reading--Part #3

The list that follows is titled as "Classical Literature for Teenagers" but could just as easily be titled "Classical Literature for Adults." Books on this list are what present a problem for many yeshiva high schools. There are men and women in many of these works, as opposed to little girls and boys. Some, such as the Austen works, are not permitted in some high schools because they are romances. Some day I'm going to gather all high school personnel together and hopefully drum into their heads the difference between a romance and a "Literary Romance." Yes, some of the subject matter/content may present a difficulty for some parents: When in doubt, check it out. There are dozens of book reviews on line that can give you an idea of whether you want your child reading a book or not. Also, this list includes novels, plays, poetry collections and short story collections. Again, some of these works may be appropriate for younger readers; as a parent, you be the judge.

Undoubtedly I have left off this list someone's favorite work, so let me repeat: this listing is not exhaustive, but a good place to start.

Disclaimer: Parents are advised that the subject matter of some these works may present problems for individual parents.



Classic Literature for Teenagers - Grades 9 through 12 (approximation)

Agee, James --A Death in the Family
Anderson, Sherwood --Winesburg, Ohio
Austen, Jane --Emma, Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility
Baldwin, James --Go Tell It on the Mountain
Balzac, Honore de --Pere Goriot
Beckett, Samuel --Waiting for Godot
Bolt, Robert-- Man for All Seasons
Bronte, Charlotte --Jane Eyre
Bronte, Emily --Wuthering Heights
Browning, Robert --Selected Poems
Browning, Elizabeth Barrett--Selected Poems
Buck, Pearl --The Good Earth
Butler, Samuel --The Way of All Flesh
Camus, Albert --The Plague, The Stranger
Cather, Willa --Death Comes for the Archbishop, My Antonia
Cervantes, Miguel --Don Quixote
Chaucer, Geoffrey --The Canterbury Tales
Chekhov, Anton --The Cherry Orchard
Chopin, Kate --The Awakening (Parental guidance suggested)
Collins, Wilkie --The Moonstone
Conrad, Joseph --Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, The Secret Sharer, Victory
Crane, Stephen --The Red Badge of Courage
Dante --The Divine Comedy
Dickens, Charles --Bleak House,David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Hard Times, Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities
Dickinson, Emily --Poems
Dinesen, Isak --Out of Africa
Dostoevski, Fyodor --Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment
Dreiser, Theodore --An American Tragedy,Sister Carrie
Eliot, George --Adam Bede, Middlemarch, Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner
Eliot, T.S. --Murder in the Cathedral
Ellison, Ralph --Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo --Essays
Faulkner, William --Absalom, Absalom! As I Lay Dying, Intruder in the Dust, Light in August, The Sound and the Fury
Fitzgerald, F. Scott --The Great Gatsby,Tender Is the Night
Flaubert, Gustave --Madame Bovary
Forster, E.M. --A Passage to India,A Room with a View
Franklin, Benjamin --The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
Galsworthy, John --The Forsyte Saga
Golding, William --Lord of the Flies
Goldsmith, Oliver --She Stoops to Conquer
Graves, Robert --I, Claudius
Greene, Graham --The Heart of the Matter,The Power and the Glory
Hamilton, Edith --Mythology
Hardy, Thomas --Far From the Madding Crowd, Jude the Obscure, The Mayor of Casterbridge, The Return of the Native, Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Hawthorne, Nathaniel --The House of the Seven Gables,The Scarlet Letter
Hemingway, Ernest-- A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises
Henry, O. --Stories
Hersey, John --A Single Pebble
Hesse, Hermann --Demian, Siddhartha, Steppenwolf
Homer --The Iliad The Odyssey
Hughes, Langston --Poems
Hugo, Victor --Les Miserables
Huxley, Aldous --Brave New World
Ibsen, Henrik --A Doll's House,An Enemy of the People, Ghosts, Hedda Gabler, The Master Builder, The Wild Duck
James, Henry --The American, Daisy Miller, Portrait of a Lady, The Turn of the Screw
Joyce, James --Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man,Dubliners
Kafka, Franz --The Castle, Metamorphosis, The Trial
Keats, John --Poems
Kerouac, Jack --On the Road
Koestler, Arthur --Darkness at Noon
Lawrence, Jerome and Robert E. Lee --Inherit the Wind
Lewis, Sinclair --Arrowsmith, Babbitt, Main Street
Llewellyn, Richard --How Green Was My Valley
Machiavelli --The Prince
MacLeish, Archibald --J.B.
Mann, Thomas --Buddenbrooks, The Magic Mountain
Marlowe, Christopher --Dr. Faustus
Maugham, Somerset --Of Human Bondage
McCullers, Carson --The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Melville, Herman --Billy Budd, Moby-Dick, Typee
Miller, Arthur --The Crucible,Death of a Salesman
Monsarrat, Nicholas --The Cruel Sea
O'Neill, Eugene The Emperor Jones, A Long Day's Journey into Night, Mourning Becomes Electra
Orwell, George-- Animal Farm,1984
Pasternak, Boris --Doctor Zhivago
Poe, Edgar Allan --Short stories
Remarque, Erich --All Quiet on the Western Front
Rolvaag, O.E. --Giants in the Earth
Rostand, Edmond --Cyrano de Bergerac
Saki--Collected stories ("The Storyteller is great")
Sandburg, Carl --Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years ,Abraham Lincoln: The War Years
Saroyan, William --The Human Comedy
Sayers, Dorothy --The Nine Tailors
Shakespeare, William --Plays and sonnets
Shaw, George Bernard-- Arms and the Man, Major Barbara, Pygmalion, Saint Joan
Sheridan, Richard B. --The School for Scandal
Shute, Nevil --On the Beach
Sinclair, Upton --The Jungle
Sophocles --Antigone,Oedipus Rex
Steinbeck, John --East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, Travels with Charlie
Stowe, Harriet Beecher --Uncle Tom's Cabin
Swift, Jonathan --Gulliver's Travels
Thackeray, William M. --Vanity Fair
Thoreau, Henry David --Walden
Tolstoy, Leo --Anna Karenina,War and Peace
Trollope, Anthony --Barchester Towers
Turgenev, Ivan --Fathers and Sons
Twain, Mark --Pudd'nhead Wilson (And everything else he wrote)
Updike, John --Rabbit Run
Vergil --The Aeneid
Voltaire --Candide
Warren, Robert Penn --All the King's Men
Waugh, Evelyn --Brideshead Revisited,A Handful of Dust
Wharton, Edith --Age of Innocence
White, T.H. --The Once and Future King ,The Sword in the Stone
Wilde, Oscar --The Importance of Being Earnest, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Wilder, Thornton --Our Town
Williams, Tennessee --The Glass Menagerie,A Streetcar Named Desire (parental discretion advised)
Wolfe, Thomas --Look Homeward, Angel
Woolf, Virginia --Mrs. Dalloway, To the Lighthouse
Wouk, Herman --The Caine Mutiny
Wright, Richard --Black Boy,Native Son

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Making Sense of Tzedaka Giving

Frum Jews are charitable people. We are told to give tzedaka and we do. That's the simple, easy part. The hard part comes in deciding who/what will get how much of our tzedaka dollars. Prioritizing where our tzedaka money will go causes a lot of confused people.

There are any number of works that talk about tzedaka giving. One that sets things out in a fairly clear fashion is Priorities in Giving by Rabbi Moshe Goldberger. It's available in Jewish bookstores as well as directly from the tzedaka organization that sponsored the printing of the work-- http://www.nachas.org/

But reading about tzedaka giving is only the first step. Next comes actually parcelling out your money to various organizations. How much do you estimate you will have to give away this year? Now, how are you going to divide that money over the course of the year? There are certain times of the year where feeding people becomes even more critical than other times of the year. There are occasions, such as a yahrtzeit and yizkor where it is traditional to be m'nader tzedaka. You need to allow for these times. What will you give weekly, monthly, yearly? How will you account for emergency fund raising campaigns?

Then there is choosing which specific organizations to give to. Sad fact, but all tzedaka organizations are not created equal. There are good hearted people who start organizations at the drop of a hat because they sincerely want to help, but the organizations they head are not run efficiently, and huge sums of money are wasted on overhead instead of for the purpose the funds were given for. There is also a lot of duplication of different types of tzedaka organizations, and that duplication means less money going towards a project and more towards overhead.

One question always comes up when you discuss tzedaka. Is it better to give more to fewer places or to give less but to more places? Should your money stay in your community or should you divide those funds between your community and other places? I once heard someone give a drasha on tzedaka who called this the "im ain ani li mi li" quandry of tzedaka giving. Is supporting only your local organizations a type of selfishness or not? For the last few years we have been allocating about 1/2 of our tzedaka money for "local" tzedaka giving and about 1/2 that goes out of the neighborhood and out of country. That seems to be working out well for us, but everyone needs to come to their own decision.

But like every other "budgeting" area, some thought and study needs to go into how to give tzedaka, to whom, when, where and how much. And like other budgeting areas, who gets what is going to be idiosyncratic. There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to allocating tzedaka funds. We give tzedaka using our hearts, but we also need to use our heads.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Sigh for the good old Days

I am not anti-technology, just picky about which technology I consider necessary for myself. I hate cellphones. I once posted about how users of those cellphones make a nuisance of themselves in public. For myself, I don't need to be accessible 24/7 at the touch of a few buttons--I'm entitled to time that is phone call free. And yet...

Where have all the payphones gone? It used to be that there was a payphone on every street corner, in every large store. No more. The other day I forgot my cellphone charging on the kitchen table--what else is new--and found myself having to make a call home. I searched the store I was in for a payphone--not a one. I searched the rest of the strip mall--not a one. I offered to pay the person behind the customer service desk to make a call but it was no go. I ended up having to drive home to get the information I needed. My kids pointed out to me that having the cellphone is no good if I don't carry it with me. So I dutifully put the phone into my purse, where it promptly got buried.

Today I needed to make a phone call again while away from home. "Aha!" I thought. I have my cell phone with me. Unfortunately, it was flashing "battery needs charging" and died before I could make my call. And no, not a public phone booth in sight. Couldn't we have some kind of happy compromise? I cannot be the only person on the face of the earth who is "cell phone challenged." Off with the old and on with the new doesn't take into consideration that some of us were perfectly happy with the old.

My cell phone is now back charging on the kitchen table. Want to bet I forget to unplug it and take it with me? Maybe some of those electronics geniuses could spend some of their time inventing a battery for those cell phones that doesn't need to be charged more than once a month. I think even I could handle that.

But I'm Paying good Money for This!

The issue of sleep away camp for kids has gotten a lot of airtime, here and on other blogs. Camp is not exactly a cheap thing to pay for. Some people feel pressured to send their kids to camp while others simply feel that it is a great way for kids to enjoy their summer break. But what do the kids say and think?

Years back campers were not allowed to make phone calls home; communication was handled by letters. Counselors had the unenviable task of making sure that campers actually sent letters to their parents. Today, while you still might get a few letters, phoning home is becoming common. And what is the text of those letters and calls? Herewith some common elements gathered from friends.

"I hate camp! Why did you force me to come here!"

"I sure hope you didn't pay a lot for this place. It's not worth anything!"

"The food stinks! I'm not eating again until I get home!"

"Bring some real food on visiting day. They don't feed us here!"

"I hate my counselor/junior counselor! You wouldn't believe the crazy things he/she makes us do!"

"I hate my bunk! They are all against me!"

"I hate___________! Crazy people like_________belong locked up!"

"I finished my canteen money this week. What am I going to do for the next seven weeks?!"

"They served Tuesday surprise again for dinner. I'm not eating anything I can't recognize!"

"Don't worry mom/dad. The camp nurse says I'm not really contagious and it should be all gone by next week."

"Not to worry mom, but the doctor wants to know if I have ever had a vaccination against malaria."

"I forgot to give the camp nurse my______to refrigerate. It's okay though. I'm still taking it because our bunks are as cold as a freezer at night."

"Hey, the good news is that it isn't really broken, just a bad sprain."

"Did you know that bats are really smooth and soft when you pet them?"

"I still throw up on roller coasters."

"Send more shabbos shirts immediately. They somehow got into the wrong part of my laundry and now they are all red/green/yellowish."

(Sent the 4th week of camp) "Are you sure you packed more then two pairs of underwear? I can't find the rest."

"I lost my sneakers during our nature walk yesterday. Please send another pair."

"Did you know that you can use your toothbrush to scrub dirt off your shabbos shoes? Cool thing to know."

"________in my bunk taught us all how to make ourselves barf whenever we want to. Please send up a few cans of Lysol spray because the bunk doesn't smell too good."

"I thought you told me that ________ was a word that no Jewish person should ever use. Funny, you hear it all the time around here."

And one of my all time favorites, sent by a teenage girl who discovered that there is one plug in the bathroom to be used by 22 girls with hair blowers--

"Not to worry, by the time you read this I'll be dead. PS: tell Chaim that he can have my bedroom."

Good Advice Then, Still Good Advice Now

In Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Polonius comes to bid farewell to his son Laertes, who is going off to university in France. The following are his final words of advice to his son. A lot in here that we need to be reminded of from time to time.


Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;

But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade.

Beware Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!


(Act I, scene iii)

Monday, July 21, 2008

How Long does Parenting last for?

Thanks to Lion of Zion for getting me thinking about this topic again. There's been some discussion on the blogosphere about the competition for being the chief influence in our children's lives. Many people have commented that schools and rabbeim believe that they should be primary in a child's life. There have been many examples given of how schools "put down" parents in front of children. How did things get to this point?

How much actual time do parents get to spend with their children? The question is not inane because I believe that time is an important factor in the school versus parents tug of war. I believe that it is even more of a factor when discussing boys.

Your little one is going to leave home by 7:30 in the morning to make minyan. He will eat breakfast in school and lunch too. Sometimes he will even eat dinner in school. He will start out spending eight hours a day in school, 6 days a week, and then those hours will creep up until he is spending 11 or 12 hours a day in school. Let's give that child 8 hours of sleep. Let's give the child one hour a day for bathing and dressing and other routine matters. So, how much time is that child spending with his parents? Precious little really. But at least he is at home every day so that parents can try and take an "emotional" temperature. They can notice and respond to things that need encouraging and things that don't. They can talk to their son on the spot and face to face. And there is Shabbos together. Shabbos, where boys and their families can continue to strengthen the bond that makes them family. Shabbos, where a boy learns what his father's minhagim are so that he, too, can carry them into the future.

And then school ends and the boys are hustled up to sleep away camp a scant one week later. Two months of being away from home. And when they come home towards the end of August? One scant week and school starts again.

And then they go to high school, and for many parents their sons become someone they miss and someone they don't see very often. Yeshivas have been pushing for many years, and being successful, in getting high school boys to dorm in the yeshiva. They give parents all kinds of wonderful reasons for this--the boys learn better, they concentrate better etc. But what it boils down to is a type of redundancy for parents. They see their sons only occasionally. Parenting, however much is actually taking place, is being done by strangers. And in the competition between yeshivas and parents the score is yeshivas 10--Parents 0.

Is it their rebbis who live in the dorms with the boys and are available yomom v'loyloh when a boy needs the right someone to talk to or confide in? Of course not. The dorms are supervised by dorm counselors, usually just older bochrim in the yeshiva. The boys are surrounded by other boys just like them--not yet adults, not yet fully formed and yet away from home. A case of the blind leading the deaf and dumb. This is who is doing the "parenting" for your teenage boys? Why?

I posted on the problems of dormitories when it comes to shidduchim--Yeshiva dormitories and the Shidduch Process--a Match not made in Heaven.http://conversationsinklal.blogspot.com/2007/09/yeshiva-dormitories-and-shidduch.html But the problems I discuss in that posting extend well beyond the area of shidduchim.

You want to know why the tug of war between schools and parents is possible? Look at how much time is "given" to parents to be with their children and how much time is given to a school and you get a lot of the reason.

It seems like the only thing being left to parents is to open their wallets and pay, pay, pay. And where is that money going to go? The schools have already told your sons; no need for you to worry yourself about that. Just don't consider retiring any time soon.

Oh, there is one other thing that will be left to parents: if your son does something wrong, it will be blamed on the parents and family, never on those who are actually "raising" the boys in the dorms and yeshivas. When it comes to a child's actions there is a peculiar good cop/bad cop attitude taken, and parents are never the good cops. When something is "broken" you are suddenly back in demand, and it's your job to fix it.

The situation is only marginally better with our daughters. They are at least home, for the most part, during high school. This does not mean that the girls schools are not doing a lot of "parenting" during the hours they have your daughters. And then you send them to Israel to seminary.

There has been a lot of discussion about working mothers of young children. Those who are in favor of these mothers staying at home point out that someone else is raising their children, someone else is making the day to day decisions that impact on the children. I might point out that when we extend a school day to the length it is now, and a school week to the length it is now, that we are putting ourselves into a similar situation to those working mothers: someone else is raising our children, or at least purporting to. This applies to dormitories as well. And if you don't think that a nanny is doing an adequate job with your toddler, just what kind of a job is the school doing with your older child? I bet you would fire any nanny who told your child that she is more important than you are, that more kovod is coming to her than to you. Fired any yeshivas lately?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Bathroom is for Other Things too

I was teaching in a comprehensive immersion program for ESL students. Although we were in class 30 hours a week there needed to be language learning taking place outside of school as well. The following was one of my recommendations and it works well also for non-ESL people who would like to improve their vocabulary.

We human beings spend an awful lot of time in the bathroom. Let's not "waste" all of it. If you are brushing your teeth the recommended number of times a day and for the recommended amount of time, then you have a perfect vocabulary learning situation. Make up a small index card with new words on them that you feel you should know or that would be beneficial to know. (Plenty of word lists on the Internet that "educated" people are supposed to know. Try the GRE word lists or the PSAT word lists or the SAT word lists.) Put on the definition, an example of how the word is used and any synonyms or antonyms the dictionary gives you. Tape that card to the side of your bathroom mirror. Instead of staring at yourself while brushing, memorize some vocabulary. Leave each card up for a day or two if you need to. Then put up another card. If you are a "fast" learner, tape up two cards.

In addition, try to find situations where you can use that new word on the day you are learning it. Linguistic wisdom holds that if you use a word 5 times it is yours for life. Drop the word into conversation at the family dinner table. See how many places you can locate that word in the printed material that you read each day.

Learning is not limited to the schoolroom. Even the lowly bathroom can be an educational tool.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And a Good Time was had by All

Where there is a frum wedding there will also be sheva brochos. We are blessed to have a large family at this point and many friends, and weddings and sheva brochos come in abundance. This week I was at one of the nicest sheva brochos I have been to in ages. What made it so nice?

There wasn't a pretentious bone in the body of this sheva brochos. This sheva brochos was not about impressing anyone nor was it about shouting out "I cost a lot of money!" A friend in the neighborhood married off her son, her last child to be married. A group of us, all really old friends, made the sheva brochos. There were no strangers at the sheva brochos (the panim chodoshim were two people who had been in Israel the night of the wedding.) We were all happy to see each other and catch up on what was going on in our lives. What's more, we all knew the choson quite well and had met the kallah on more than one occasion. For everyone present there was no feeling of awkwardness, no reason to feel that a conversation might exclude someone, no necessity for general social chit chat.

An organization in our neighborhood has a training room in its building. It's large enough for the size olam we were going to be (35 were invited). We set up the tables, purchased the paper goods, set the tables and set out the food buffet style--no waiters necessary. Two of the couples' sons, friendly with the choson, helped out with the setting up. Nope, no fancy centerpieces. We ordered the food from a kosher Chinese restaurant across the bridge in NJ--enough for all to eat how much they wanted and not so much as to have food to go to waste. There was room for the men to daven mincha when they arrived and maariv after the meal while still giving the women somewhere to be. We got up and served ourselves, and anyone who wanted seconds was free to go get them. The speeches were spot on and everyone in the room knew the "in" jokes. And then everyone helped to clear off the tables and put the room in order, men and women.

The cost of these sheva brochos? We were 8 couples who each gave $40. That's right, $40. For $320 we covered the expenses for the 29 people present. 6 people ended up with a conflict for that night and didn't make it, but there was food enough that they, too, would not have gone hungry. The extra left over? We packaged it up for the choson and kallah for their freezer. They were both ecstatic to have something they both like ready for them for after the week of sheva brochos.

Someone tell me again about gargantuan sheva brochos to which "everyone" must be invited. Tell me again about how a sheva brochos must have fancy decorations, fancier food and plates presented oh so artfully decorated. Tell me again about how you don't invite people for a meal and then make them serve themselves and then clean up. You should all be zocheh to the type of sheva brochos this was: a true celebration of the marriage of the child of one of our own. And yes, a good time was had by all.

American Folk Tales

Growing up, the characters of Paul Bunyon, Pecos Bill and Davey Crockett were as real to my generation as any of the people whose names made the newspapers--probably more familiar, too. American folk tales also make good reading for children.

The following is an excellent site for online American folk tales. It's very well organized and there is lots and lots there to keep your children busy. And for any teachers reading: the site also presents some lesson plans.

http://www.americanfolklore.net/


The webmaster of this site is an author as well. Information below.

"Sandy E. Schlosser is the author of the "Spooky" series by Globe Pequot Press, which includes Spooky New England, Spooky South, Spooky Southwest, Spooky New York, Spooky California, Spooky New Jersey and Spooky Pennsylvania, Spooky Michigan, Spooky Maryland, Spooky Canada and Spooky Campfire Tales."

"Sandy is the webmaster and writer of an award-winning, internationally-known web site called American Folklore (http://www.americanfolklore.net) that features retellings of folktales from each state. This site was created as part of a graduate study at Rutgers the State University of New Jersey in October 1997 and is used daily by teachers throughout the world in lesson plans for students of all levels. Stories from the site have also been used in college text books and in Masters level programs."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Because it's in Print doesn't make it so

Take a little mental journey with me right now. On that journey you are going to read a popular magazine, let's say People Magazine. In the magazine you are going to read a story about a young Catholic girl named Maria. Maria's family, going back to her grandparents, weren't religious Catholics, but Maria's mother hooked up somehow with one of the more stringent Catholic sects and became religious, very religious. She got married to a man from this sect and she had children with him. Maria is not happy with the stringency of the sect but goes along with it to the point of marrying herself within the sect and having a child. And then she decides that she has had enough and leaves her husband and child and goes off to find herself.

In the process of finding herself she hooks up with some dubious characters, tries drugs and in general acts like a flower child of the 60s. Her sect of Catholicism does not believe in education for women so she doesn't have even a high school diploma. She needs to support herself, considers that maybe she wants to be an actress, and looks for work in the meantime as a waitress. She has no particular skills for that job either. But there is one constant: Maria wants her daughter with her and away from the sect that ruined her life for her. She files for divorce and she files a suit to gain custody of her little daughter. The divorce is going to be a messy one, as many are.

Are you with me so far? So then, when do you think about the story so far? Do you believe every detail that the magazine presented? Sure you don't. You know that the magazine in question has no prior policy of being fair and balanced. You know that they like to publish sensationalist stories. You know that they have an anti-religious Catholic bent. And what about Maria? Well, you feel sorry for her. She is truly a "lost" child. Only she is not a child--she's a woman with a 4-year old daughter. And you look at the lifestyle she is living and in that part of your mind that has fairness in it you worry about that little girl. How is Maria ever going to take care of her? What will Maria offer her daughter, besides loving her?

And then you start wondering about how the magazine got the story of Maria. It's not just a little blurb buried in the back of the magazine; it's a full article and liberally illustrated with photographs of Maria. There's a photo of Maria putting on pantyhose in her car prior to going to visit with her daughter, upper thighs fully exposed. Did someone put a knife to her head to get that photo? Someone had to tip off the magazine that Maria existed. Someone took that story to the magazine and they ran with it.

Now if you were an indigent mother involved in a messy divorce and custody proceeding what would you do to sway the judge to rule in your favor? Well, you might try to get publicity for yourself and your plight. You might try to paint your former community in the worst possible light. You might try to get the world to pity you. And you might head straight for People Magazine or one like it.

Do we know if anything in the story of Maria is true or not? No, we do not; after all, the writer and the photographer are not reporting news, with any responsibility to present all sides of the story, or even the whole story. Of course, we, too, like Maria, have a very negative view of the sect that Maria ran away from. It's not a life we would want and we can't understand how anyone else would want it either. We've never actually stepped foot in the small town where Maria used to live, but we know all the hearsay stories that have circulated. Yes, there are some few facts woven into the story, and a few of them don't show some of the happenings of that sect in a good light. There is a self-formed Committee on Community Behavior that is using strong-arm tactics. Maria never actually had a run in with that Committee, according to the story, but you can feel her fear that she might.

But here is the thing--Maria is not really all that sympathetic a character to me. She runs away to find herself, to have a better life. Where is the story of her battling to get her GED so she can make something of herself? Where is the story of her finding and getting training for a job to support herself and her young daughter? Where is the report of seeing a therapist? Where is the reporting of the plans she has made of how to take care of that young daughter if she wins the custody battle?

Now what if we changed our story just a little. What if we made Maria into Gitty. What if instead of Catholicism Gitty was from Satmar? Would that change the story in any real, fundamental way? If Maria the hippie-wanna-be didn't elicit 100% sympathy then why would Gitty the hippie-wanna-be do so?

Serandez, the Wolf and Trepenwitz all reported about Gitty's story as presented by New York Magazine. There is real anger that New York Magazine wrote the piece on Gitty the way they did. There is real concern about Gitty. Yes, I think that New York Magazine sensationalized the piece, but then that is what they do with most of their pieces. Yes, I too have concern for Gitty. But here's the thing, the one I am most concerned about is a little four year old girl, Esther Miriam. I make no claims for knowing anything other than what was reported about the particulars of Gitty's case. Based on what is in that article, I, as a mother, would not award custody to Gitty. Gitty has by no means "found" herself yet, and to take along a small child on that trip seems to me to be an injustice to the child.

We should also keep this in mind: if Satmar is dangerous for Gitty's child then why is it not dangerous for every child living there? We've had lots of other experiences with "cult" groups where children have been removed from the cult en masse because of the danger to that group of children. The last case that our government did this to didn't turn out so well; the children were returned to their parents with, I believe, only two exceptions. Are we really claiming that Satmar is dangerous for children in general? Based on what possible evidence or facts?

Gitty's is a sad story, at least what we think we know of it. But Esther Miriam is being used as a bone between two warring dogs. Perhaps we need to temper our response to the New York Magazine story until there are some real facts in evidence. And perhaps we need to refocus our attention to the one person in all of this who really has no choice about what the outcome will be, who can't get her story out there for us to read: Esther Miriam.

If you were the judge in this case, based only on what was printed in the story, how would you rule to be in the best interests of the child? Would you rule for the father? The mother? A foster placement? What would be your decision if Esther Miriam's life was in your hands?

Just a little note: Gitty's underpants play a part in this story. I have no doubt that the New Yorker's readers gobbled up that part. And how it shows up Satmar to the rest of the world cannot be in doubt either. Anyone here who wants to disabuse the goyish world of the incorrect information that they now have? Anyone want to explain the halachas of niddah and the idea that a competent Rav needs to be consulted when there is a real question? Anyone want to mention that this practice is hardly limited to Satmar?

Quality of Life

When you discuss budgetting and expenditures and the economics of living you are going to run into the issue of quality of life. Many of the disagreements on previous postings have centered not around actual dollars and cents but around the idea of the "worth" of the items under discussion. And that is where the problem lies.

Quality of life is not a clearly definable item. It is highly subjective. It deals with wants and needs, items that are themselves highly subjective. And quality of life functions in more than just the realm of the individual; it also functions in the realm of the community, of the many communities that one may be a part of.

For the truly starving person, anything that will assuage hunger pains is edible, from grubs and bugs to rotting potato peels and brackish water. When you get beyond that basic subsistence level you start being faced with choices. And where there is choice there is also quality of life. For one person anything less than meat every night of the week reduces their chosen quality of life; for another it could be not having fresh strawberries/blueberries/raspberries whenever they want them. We are all very quick to point out grocery shopping is an area where people could save a lot of money and cut down on their expenses, and yes, becoming a smart shopper can help you to do so. But any budget that does not take into consideration quality of life issues is doomed to fail. Ignore quality of life and you could end up like the man who went on one of those strange deprivation diets so popular today. Someone asked him how he was doing on the diet. He answered: "They tell me I'm going to live longer this way, but what am I living longer for?"

I basically make iced tea for a flavored drink during the week. I do, however, buy sodas for Shabbos and yom tov and company. And I happen to like, even if in small quantities, a cranberry/raspberry bottled juice that is very pricey. I buy the soda and I buy the juice because they make us happy. I save on other items where no one cares much. (Note: I buy the soda on sale and stock up. Coke today at one market for 69 cents a 2-liter bottle.) Every family has its likes and dislikes and catering to those tastes is a quality of life issue. And it isn't only about food. Substitute clothing or trips or housing or any other items and the same ideas apply.

Community quality of life issues are more complex. There is a mikveh a 1/2 hour drive from your community, not a long trip relatively speaking. However, your community may decide that not having a mikveh immediately locally lessens the quality of life for the community. They may decide to build that mikveh--and they aren't cheap to build--because they want it and because they feel that want is more of a need. At the same time one of the local shuls may need to build some classrooms onto the shul building for children's groups and a program for those first coming into frumkeit. Now you have two communities that you belong to--the smaller member of that shul community and the larger geographical community--that may have conflicting quality of life issues, conflicting wants and needs. If everyone were to split their tzedaka money in half neither the shul addition nor the mikveh might be built. Sometimes you may need to choose one quality of life issue over another, may need to postpone one until after another is finished. And sometimes you can't. Sometimes you "need" both items and you will have to find someplace else to cut down on expenses so you can have those two needs. And you, as an individual, as a family, just might feel some resentment that community quality of life trumps your personal quality of life sometimes, particularly when it happens very frequently.

There is a problem, however, when community quality of life issues become institutionalized and do so without the consent of the "governed." Summer sleep away camp is one such item. For those who want them, who believe that they add to their quality of life, and can afford them, who are any of us to say no? For those who want them but cannot afford them, then choices may need to be made; what will you give up that is not as important to you so that you can have sleep away camp for your kids? For those who want them, can't afford them and have nothing else to exchange to get them, well, no one ever said that you can have everything you want in life--a tough but necessary lesson to learn. HOWEVER, when a community institutionalizes sleep away camp as a community quality of life issue, as a need rather than a want, then the parents who have to provide that money are left in a bad position. Don't discount community pressure as a real factor in making decisions. When yeshivas tell you that your children (boys in particular) "must" go to camp they are putting you between a rock and a hard place. Some parents see this as gambling with their children's future. As individuals they see themselves having to give in because one person against 10,000 isn't fair odds.

When a school says "you must do X,Y and Z to stay in our school" then one parent saying no makes no dent in the school's power to dictate. One parent is a drop in the bucket. Two or three may not be any better. You are expendable to the school. But 30 parents? 50? 100? You are talking real numbers now. The question, as any poker player will tell you, is what are you going to do if the school calls your bluff? Be prepared to ante up and go "all in." The school will have one of two choices: they can call your bluff, in which case you parents need to be prepared to carry out any "threats" of removing your children, or they can fold, and you win. Of course, they could choose a third alternative; they could offer a compromise. But unless individual parents start banding together so that they have numbers on their side then community quality of life issues that conflict with your own issues are never going to be resolved.

Back when I was single we had an acronym that was used--NATO--no action, talk only. Never mind how it was applied then; it can be applied now when people complain about something, no matter how justified, but do nothing towards solving the problem. And for me, that is a personal quality of life issue.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

An English PUNdit

For those who appreciate the strange things we sometimes say when we speak and write I found the following site that might give you a lift.

http://www.innocentenglish.com/

Just as a sample, here are the top ten best puns of all time:

1. A three legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to the bar and announces: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

2. A small boy swallowed some coins and was taken to a hospital. When his grandmother telephoned to ask how he was a nurse said ‘No change yet’.

3. The butcher backed up into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.

4. What’s the definition of a will? (It’s a dead giveaway).

5. She used to have a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but she broke it off.

6. Show me a piano falling down a mineshaft and I’ll show you A-flat minor.

7. I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.

8. Two silk worms had a race. They ended up in a tie.

9. A scientist doing a large experiment with liquid chemicals was trying to solve a problem when he fell in and became part of the solution.

10. Did you hear about the guy who emailed ten puns to friends, in the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh? Unfortunately, no pun in ten did.

Foibles of English Writers


There is sometimes a huge difference between what we think we said or wrote and what we may have actually written or spoken. The following are a good reason for insisting on proofreading.

Did I read that sign right?TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW

In a Laundromat:AUTOMATIC WASHING MACHINES: PLEASE REMOVE ALL YOUR CLOTHES WHEN THE LIGHT GOES OUT

In a London department store:BARGAIN BASEMENT UPSTAIRS

In an office:WOULD THE PERSON WHO TOOK THE STEP LADDER YESTERDAY PLEASE BRING IT BACK OR FURTHER STEPS WILL BE TAKEN

In an office:AFTER TEA BREAK STAFF SHOULD EMPTY THE TEAPOT AND STAND UPSIDE DOWN ON THE DRAINING BOARD

Outside a secondhand shop:WE EXCHANGE ANYTHING - BICYCLES, WASHING MACHINES, ETC. WHY NOT BRING YOUR WIFE ALONG AND GET A WONDERFUL BARGAIN?

Notice in health food shop window:CLOSED DUE TO ILLNESS

Spotted in a safari park:(I sure hope so)ELEPHANTS PLEASE STAY IN YOUR CAR

Seen during a conference:FOR ANYONE WHO HAS CHILDREN AND DOESN'T KNOW IT, THERE IS A DAY CARE ON THE 1ST FLOOR

Notice in a farmer's field:THE FARMER ALLOWS WALKERS TO CROSS THE FIELD FOR FREE, BUT THE BULL CHARGES.

Message on a leaflet:IF YOU CANNOT READ, THIS LEAFLET WILL TELL YOU HOW TO GET LESSONS

On a repair shop door:WE CAN REPAIR ANYTHING. (PLEASE KNOCK HARD ON THE DOOR - THE BELL DOESN'T WORK)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Wall Street Journal take on Shidduchim

An interesting article on shidduchim that first appeared in the Wall Street Journal of all places is up at Serandez, entitled "Ugly in Print." Worth a read.

http://serandez.blogspot.com/

Some Recommended Books for Reading--Part #2

Again, most of these books come from the National Endowment for the Humanities list of classical children's literature. And again, some of these books may be suitable for younger/older readers then the grades recommended (The Bradbury books, for instance). There are also a few repetitions from others of my lists; as I said before, some of these books are appropriate across a wide group of readers.

DISCLAIMER: Parents will need to use their discretion as to subject matter suitability for their children.


Classic children's Literature - Grades 7 and 8,Middle school and junior high.
Alcott, Louisa May--Little Women, Little Men
Bagnold, Enid-- National Velvet
Blackmore, Richard D.-- Lorna Doone
Boulle, Pierre-- The Bridge over the River Kwai
Bradbury, Ray-- Dandelion Wine, Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, Martian Chronicles
Buchan, John-- The Thirty-Nine Steps
Bunyan, John-- The Pilgrim's Progress
Carroll, Lewis-- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass
Clark, Walter-- The Ox-Bow Incident
Cooper, James Fenimore-- The Deerslayer, The Last of the Mohicans
Curie, Eve-- Madame Curie: A Biography
Dahl, Roald--Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (and others)
Dana, Richard Henry-- Two Years before the Mast
Day, Clarence-- Life with Father
Defoe, Daniel-- Robinson Crusoe
Dickens, Charles-- A Tale of Two Cities
Douglas, Lloyd C.-- The Robe
Doyle, Arthur Conan-- Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Dumas, Alexander-- The Count of Monte Christo, The Three Musketeers
Du Maurier, Daphne-- Rebecca
Edmonds, Walter D. --Drums along the Mohawk
Ferber, Edna-- Cimarron
Forbes, Esther-- Johnny Tremain
Forester, C.S.-- The African Queen,The Hornblower series
Frank, Anne-- Diary of a Young Girl
Frost, Robert-- Poems
Gallico, Paul-- The Snow Goose
Gunther, John-- Death Be Not Proud
Guthrie, A.B.-- The Big Sky
Haggard, H. Rider-- King Solomon's Mines
Hansberry, Lorraine-- Raisin in the Sun
Hemingway, Ernest-- The Old Man and the Sea
Hersey, John-- A Bell for Adano, Hiroshima, The Wall
Heyerdahl, Thor-- Kon-Tiki
Hilton, James-- Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Lost Horizon
Hudson, W.H. --Green Mansions
Hughes, Richard-- A High Wind in Jamaica
Hugo, Victor-- The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Irving, Washington-- The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Keller, Helen-- Story of My Life
Kennedy, John F.-- Profiles in Courage
Kipling, Rudyard-- Kim
Knowles, John-- A Separate Peace
Lee, Harper-- To Kill a Mockingbird
London, Jack-- The Sea Wolf
Lord, Walter-- A Night to Remember
Malory, Sir Thomas --Le Morte d'Arthur
Maxwell, Gavin-- Ring of Bright Water
McCullers, Carson-- Member of the Wedding
Michener, James-- The Bridges at Toko-Ri
Mitchell, Margaret-- Gone with the Wind
Nordhoff, Charles and J.N. Hall-- Mutiny on the Bounty
O'Dell, Scott --Island of the Blue Dolphins
Orczy, Baroness Emma-- The Scarlet Pimpernel
Paton, Alan-- Cry, the Beloved Country
Pyle, Howard-- Men of Iron
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan-- The Yearling
Renault, Mary-- The King Must Die
Roberts, Kenneth-- Northwest Passage
Saint-Exupery, Antoine de-- The Little Prince, Wind, Sand and Stars
Saki-- Collected Stories
Schaefer, Jack-- Shane
Scott, Sir Walter-- Ivanhoe
Shelley, Mary-- Frankenstein
Smith, Betty-- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Steinbeck, John-- The Pearl, Tortilla Flat
Stevenson, Robert Louis-- The Black Arrow, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Stoker, Bram --Dracula
Thurber, James-- The Thurber Carnival
Tolkien, J.R.R.-- The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
Twain, Mark--The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Innocents Abroad, Life on the Mississippi ,The Prince and the Pauper
Verne, Jules-- Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Mysterious Island, 20,000 Leagues under the Sea
Wallace, Lewis-- Ben-Hur
Washington, Booker T.-- Up from Slavery
Wells, H.G.-- The Time Machine, War of the Worlds
Wharton, Edith-- Ethan Frome
White, Terrance Hanbury--The Once and Future King
Wilder, Thornton-- The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Wister, Owen-- The Virginian
Yates, Elizabeth-- Amos Fortune, Free Man

Monday, July 14, 2008

I Can't Afford to be Frum

Why do some Jews fall off the derech or choose not to get on the derech to begin with? I'm sure there are many reasons but I'd like to look at one: money.

What does it cost to be frum? A whole lot. Frum Jews don't live in "bad" neighborhoods. And "good" neighborhoods cost more to rent in and to buy in. Larger urban centers, NY in particular, cost even more. But that is just for basic housing. Then you get into the area of the housing competition market--you know the one: person A remodels a kitchen/bathroom using appliances and fixtures from manufacturers X,Y and Z and suddenly everyone is on a remodeling binge.

Outfitting a kosher home costs more. Assume dairy and meat copies for kitchen ware and eating ware. Even if you use disposables for one set, disposables cost money.

Frum Jews send their kids to yeshivas instead of to public school. And yeshiva tuitions have risen and risen and risen. Let's call them what they are--private schools. And private schools are pricey. We also have our own version of graduate education--kollel for the boys and seminary for the girls. In many cases this is in addition to college and secular graduate school.

Kosher food costs more than non-kosher food does. Add on a hechsher and you change the price. And frum Jews have more occasions where "better" types of food play a role. There are at least 2 Shabbos meals every week, and peanut butter is not on the menu. There are multiple holidays during the year. There are brissim and bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs and engagements and aufrufs and weddings and sheva brochos. For some there are yearly yahrzeit kiddushim. Every shul has a yearly dinner, as do all the schools and many of the organizations. Now add in a siyum here and there.

Clothing can cost more if you are frum. If you have neither time nor inclination then you have to shop where a "kosher" selection is all that is available. Given today's style for women you are going to spend double what someone not frum is spending. Frum ladies don't wear those sleeveless tank tops that are around unless paired with a high-necked, long-sleeved top--two tops instead of one. Add in that many frum Jews develop "designer genes" and you have huge clothing bills.

Head coverings for both men and women are pricey--again, see the note above on "designer genes."

Items mandated for use by frum Jews add to the money list. First, mezuzot and their parshiot. Shatnes testing and buying only non-shatnes items. Lulavim and esrogim. Chanukah menoras and the oil/candles to burn in them. Tallisim and tefillin and tzitzis. Shabbos lachter and bechers. Blechs and cholent pots and hot water urns. Matza on Pesach and counter covers.

Larger families equal larger cars equals more paid in gas, insurance and other car expenses. Now double the number of cars, or maybe triple them. Uh huh, you live near good public transportation. So, do you still own a car? Thought so.

Frum Jews have more "life" events than non-Jews do. We start with a shalom zachor and work our way up from there.

Frum Jews have many more organizations that look to them for financial support than non Jews do. In addition to the general secular charities that some give to--like hospitals or cancer organizations--we have numerous tzedaka and chesed organizations that need supporting. The idea of "hachnosas kallah" is not institutionalized in the outside world the way it is in the frum world.

And like those in the secular world, we have our own love affairs with today's technology. Cell phones, computers, printers, Ipods, Blackberries--we're hardly behind in purchasing these. Plenty of CDs out there targeted to the frum olam as well. Nor are we behind in spending on "old" technologies. Outsiders call us "The People of the Book." They're not wrong. Buying seforim is a common occurrence. And then there are the plethora of English language books put out by the various Jewish presses and publishing houses. And hey, some of us also buy "secular" books.

Frum Jews like to take vacations just as much as non-Jewish people do. Only ours cost more. We can only travel on certain days and during certain time periods in the year. We need to have kosher food available to us. We need shuls for minyan. We "need" to visit Israel. When family is spread out we travel out of town for simchas and to keep in touch.

The percentage of frum parents who send their children to sleep away camp puts us at the top of the list of those sending to camp. As a percentage of population, frum Jews have the most children in camp. And frum sleep away camps are pricey.

Make a simcha if you are frum and $$$ signs appear like magic.

Health insurance costs frum Jews more--the larger your family, the more you will pay in insurance, and frum Jews generally don't have small families. Some frum families have 5+ children in them, some way more.

There's lots more that adds to the cost of being frum. Now imagine that you are someone who is taking an interest in becoming frum. Imagine that someone is being m'karev that person. And somehow the conversation is going to come around to money--it always does. Now imagine that person shaking their head in perplexity and uttering the words "I can't afford to be frum." Funny, a lot of the conversations in the already frum community seem to center around just that statement.

So, are we just going to continue to complain and complain about the high cost of being frum, or is there something we can do about it? Cutting back and cutting out are certainly options. Perhaps we need to adopt the slogan of a different campaign--the one that says "Just say no."