Wednesday, June 30, 2010
I'm starting off the list with the offerings below. As you give me other designations I'll add them to the list.
LWMO--left wing modern orthodox
RWMO--right wing modern orthodox
MOM--modern orthodox machmir
YUMO--Yeshiva University modern orthodox
YI--Young Israel type
BA--Bnai Akiva type
FFB--frum from birth
BTFB--born into baal teshuva family and frum from birth
OOTF--out of town frum
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
We ended up with three boxes of shaimos. About one carton's worth of the books were still in good condition and useable, and we found a place to give them to. The other two boxes are not useable by anyone and have to go to shaimos. And we've discovered just how much that is going to cost and are floored. One organization quoted us $5 per sefer in the boxes. Oh yeah, and they considered those bentchers you get at weddings as one sefer. 33 bentchers equals $165?! Another place gave us a "bargain" rate and would only charge $50 per box no matter how many seforim are in the box.
When we were in the process of making over our backyard we buried our shaimos ourselves. Unfortunately there's no place to dig up right now, certainly not for two boxes worth of seforim. So, anyone have an idea of where we can take these boxes that won't cost $100 at a minimum? Are there any other options regarding shaimos?
Posting Addition: For a discussion of what shaimos is and how it should be removed, see http://www.shaimos.org/guidelines.htm According to what I read on the site, articles discussing Torah that are printed in the various English language newspapers should be cut out of the newspapers before you dispose of them, and these articles are also considered as shaimos. Remind me that I'm not buying any of these newspapers any more.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Modern mankind has progressed far beyond anything our ancestors were capable of even dreaming of. Our discoveries and inventions allow us to do anything we want to do. In humankind's mind, we have mastered the world we live in. Uh huh.
Which is why on June 23, 2010, Twitter was burning up the lines with reports about an earthquake extending from north of Toronto into the NJ/NYC area. And then some of the blogs began reporting as well. The reports poured in about buildings shaking, about items moving and falling, about a world gone a bit topsy-turvy, at least in our thinking. There were a few people who questioned why, in this age of scientific know-how and superiority, we didn't have better earthquake prediction equipment, why we didn't have a way to control those quakes; their assumption was that we can control nature, so why aren't we doing so.
Just to set the record straight, thinking that we can control nature is a huge mistake. We are mislead by some of what we have been able to do. We've learned to build dikes to hold back water in low lying areas, and they work except when they don't work. We've learned to control the flow of our rivers and waterways, except when we can't. We've learned to cool ourselves in the summer and provide heat in the winter, except when a stray bolt of lightening or a winter storm arrives and knocks out our power systems.
How arrogant of mankind to believe that we are far above nature. We may have been given the earth for our use, but make no mistake that God is still in charge--the ways of Nature are His to decide, not ours. Let us heed the lesson of that earthquake well: we only think we are in charge of the world--the evidence doesn't bear out those thoughts.
It always puzzled me that we have brochas to say when seeing lightening and hearing thunder but none to say for going through things like earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes (other than, perhaps, bentching gomel). When I've had experience of some these natural occurrences I always say a heartfelt "Thank you God for keeping me safe." God offers us periodic examples to let us know that we may be god-like in our minds, but the reality is that we are still humans and God still runs the world.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
In addition to teaching I also do freelance editing/writing work. I had a meeting with a possible client about giving a short series of workshops on the basics of business communication. I knew ahead of time that the person I was meeting with was frum and that the firm's employees are also frum. I spent some long minutes staring into the contents of my closet in deciding what to wear to this business meeting. Obviously "business" dress was going to be required but whose notion of business dress? The weather wasn't making things any easier for me--it was hot, mega humid and with storms expected. In no way, shape or form was I going to get into a black suit and a full sheitle, although I suspected that was what the female employees would be wearing, or some variation thereof.
In the end I settled on hose, and a very nice two-piece long-skirted outfit in the colors of teal blue, raspberry and white. Yeah, I know guys, your eyeballs are turning up in your head. Bear with me. Instead of a sheitle I opted for a hat, which is way less heat inducing than a full sheitle. Yes, the hat was not just a baseball type of cap but a "real" hat. Yes mom, I remembered the lipstick if nothing else.
During my meeting with the client I could see him look very puzzled. Finally he told me that I was something of a puzzle to him. And then he said the words I reallllly hate to hear: "What are you?" I bit my tongue on the words "I'm female" because I so knew that was not what he was asking. He had been told by the person who recommended my that I'm frum and it was obvious that he was having some troubles putting that "frum" together with the way I was attired. What he wanted to know was what kind of frum am I.
I had already figured out this this person was 1)not going to hire me based on the money being charged for the seminars, 2)was not going to hire me based on how many more hours were going to be needed to "give them some English" as the interviewer mentioned about the employees, and 3)it had now become obvious that I wasn't going to get hired because I visually represented the "wrong" branch of observance.
I packed up my materials preparing to leave, but I did warn the interviewer that he had wandered into illegal territory with his question, that asking about religion was an EEOC violation. When his eyebrows formed a questionmark, I realized he had no idea what the EEOC was. No, I'm not filing an EEOC complaint. It was my choice not to take this job and I'm not looking to punish anyone. But somewhere down the road this company, and others like it, are looking at real problems unless they get their heads out of the ground they are buried in and become familiar with workplace practices and regulations that the government approves and disapproves of. Strangely enough, or perhaps not so strangely, those seminars I might have given to this company would have covered the basics of what an interviewer can and cannot ask at a job interview.
Their loss, in more ways than one.
Friday, June 25, 2010
Someone has come up with a line of "super modest" (you decide after you view them) bathing suits for frum women, including pregnant women. You know, bathing suits with 3/4 sleeves, long skirts etc.. I won't mention the uber bright colors on some of those suits, or the form fitting material. I won't mention how those suits, being so completely different from other bathing suits out there, are going to draw the eye of everyone in the vicinity. I won't talk about how everyone in the vicinity is going to be talking about the wearer. I will mention that the designer's intent, as she states it on her site, is that frum women can now go to a beach, lake, pool, or water park and enjoy the water while being tsniusdikly dressed. We are talking public beaches here, open to everyone. So Rochel is going to be wearing her tsnius bathing suit and everyone else she sees will be wearing just what?! Last I noticed those for whom this type of bathing suit would appeal aren't the type to be on a public beach or in a mixed swimming pool or dipping into a lake or using the swim facilities at a water park.
Oh yes, these bathing suits are also available for children. Perhaps one of my favorites is the suit made to look like denim. This is a denim-look bathing suit for people who won't wear denim skirts because they aren't "frum" enough? Yup, Klal has it all--we go from the sublime to the ridiculous in the blink of an eye.
Note: If you want to see the circle turning on bathing suit styles for women, go to http://www.victoriana.com/library/Beach/FashionableBathingSuits.htm
Thursday, June 24, 2010
What I teach is 100% congruent with Jewish philosophy. We are taught that we must give credit to the source of any ideas or information about which we are writing/speaking. We don't hide behind a nebulous "they" but name names. Just peruse our writings and see the multiple examples that begin "In the name of ______ it is said" or "_______said," or _____ and ____ said."
Why this posting now? There is apparently a bit of a brouhaha about a letter printed in one of the Anglo-Jewish papers. The writer states that he conferred with daas Torah, that he conferred with gedolei Yisroel, and that the people he conferred with are 100% in agreement with him. He states that the rabbanim of the area in question are also all in agreement with his position. What he doesn't do is name names. This leaves the reader of the letter with some problems. If a gadol, if a rabbi is in 100% agreement then why aren't the names of these gedolim and rabbanim stated? Surely an argument would get stronger when respected names are listed as being of the same opinion as the letter writer? You can't offer as support for your position that others also hold that position without naming who these people are. There is no way to verify what the truth is without some black and white facts.
Were a scientist employed by a known research laboratory to offer up a statement that X is absolutely not the correct approach/view about phenomenon Y, and were that scientist to offer up as corroboration the statement "I have conferred with known greats in this field and with others who are also researchers and they support my opinion," he/she would be the laughingstock of the scientific world if no names were mentioned. What scientists and what are their credentials? Un-named scientists just don't make it as expert opinion.
So, why do we accept less in areas that affect us as observant Jews? Daas Torah says? Do we have only one learned person in all of Klal? Is there only one posek whose word is taken above all others? According to whom? It is poorly crafted writing/argument to leave out the names of those who supposedly have given their imprimature to an idea. Who is that masked man behind the mask of "Daas Torah"?
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Apparently no one told this plant that there were limitations to how big it could grow. Once its roots were established it started to grow, and grow, and grow. This supposed two-foot tall plant is at five feet and still shooting up. It has overgrown the space allotted to it and is spreading into the areas where other plants are growing. It is overshadowing the lower growing plants and blocking the sun from reaching them. It is now in competition with the other plantings, making those plantings decidedly grumpy.
My choices were really simple ones. I could yank the plant out altogether, since it wasn't behaving as expected and I'd never know just what it might do next. I could take out the pruning shears and cut it down to a way smaller size. Of course, I'd have to do that trimming on a constant basis if I wanted to keep the plant under control, and it would continue to push to grow that way it wanted to. Or, I could take that plant and transplant it to another spot in the garden, one where it could grow the way it apparently has been destined to grow, but where it wouldn't cause problems for its neighboring plants, and where they would not cause problems for it.
Try as I might, I couldn't find just the right spot to transplant that plant to. I didn't want to throw it out because it had some really beautiful aspects to it. It might be a pain in the spring and summer, but its fall and winter foliage is a stunning color of red, and even when the leaves fall off there remain beautiful bright red berries that lend welcome color to a dreary winter landscape. So, my only remaining choice was to prune it down to a manageable size in the spot where it is already planted. How well it is going to take to that pruning has yet to be seen. It could be that it will appreciate the "haircut," or it may sit and sulk and refuse to cooperate any longer.
It occurred to me that that plant is a good metaphor for so many other aspects of our lives. Sometimes we find ourselves planted in communities where we don't fit in comfortably. Sometimes we prune ourselves to fit in with the community, but that pruning isn't the most beneficial thing for us and we never thrive the way we were meant to. Sometimes we have to move ourselves to a spot where we will do better. Yes, sometimes there is simply no other place for us available and we have no choice but to accede to the wishes of the gardener and the other plants. And yes, sometimes we look at it as just too much trouble to have to go through the effort to dig ourselves up and replant ourselves some place else, even if that move would be to our benefit.
When the garden gets crowded, when there are too many different types of plants in one space all competing for the same nutrients, when there are too many plants for any of them to grow to their fullest and become the plants they could be, it's time to look at ALL of the options and choose what is best for that plant, even if the decision is difficult. And yes, that should apply to human beings as well. As long as they take their roots with them, most plants can grow in a variety of settings and places.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Last time I checked, members of the frum community are still what is considered as human beings. Human beings have eyes. Eyes can see. And the evidence seen with those eyes still has effect in the process of choosing a mate, no matter how much "they" would wish it wasn't so.
Let me try this a different way. So far no rabbanim have banned food decorating or presentation. Why? I can hand someone an opened can of undrained tuna or I can dump a can of tuna on a plate and serve it or I can mix it up into a tuna salad and serve it or I can arrange that tuna salad on a plate, add a few shavings of carrot, a slice of tomato and a rosette or two made from radishes and serve it. I can serve that tuna on a flimsy white paper plate or on a clear plastic plate or on a vintage Rosenthal china plate. I can put those plates on the plain kitchen counter, or serve them at a table covered in an orange plastic tablecloth or serve them on an embroidered Belgian lace tablecloth. I can add a plastic bucket holding a few daisies to the table, or a glass holding a few chrysanthemums or a crystal vase holding an array of roses. No matter what I do in presenting a meal it doesn't obviate the fact that tuna fish is being served. And no one is going to be able to claim that the meal doesn't consist of tuna fish no matter how many and what type of accouterments are used. However, I believe that most people are going to be affected by the presentation of that tuna fish. Some may prefer a simpler, uncluttered presentation. Some may prefer a presentation with a bit of embellishment. Some may prefer an elaborate presentation. We eat first with our eyes, and if something doesn't appeal to us visually we aren't going to touch it.
And then there is this: for some people it won't matter how you dress up the plate or table because they are not going to eat tuna fish, full stop. You can tout the health benefits of that tuna until your voice is hoarse. You can rhapsodize about Omega 3 fish oil all you want. No matter how you try to intellectualize your approach the end result will be the same: no tuna eaten.
As long as vision is part of being a human being you are going to have personal preferences as to what is seen. One person's handsome is going to be another person's bleccchh. Height, weight, hair color (or absence or presence), eye color, clothing choice all effect the choices we make about the people we date and the people we eventually marry. We all have our own personal definitions of what constitutes handsome or beautiful or pretty, come to based on a lot of things unique to ourselves. My family is mostly light haired, light eyed and tall. I grew up loving my family. I thought that they were all gorgeous, or at least that's where I developed my definition of what gorgeous is. No, I didn't tell my friends while I was dating that I was looking only for a tall, light-haired, light-eyed boy. But yes, my "ideal" did look that way. And quite strangely enough (or not so strangely), my hubby is ultra tall, blond and blue eyed.
No, a marriage should NOT be based only on looks, nor will "good" looks keep a marriage going strong all on their own. But anyone who thinks that looks don't play a role in getting to the point of marriage is being naive. You are NOT going to be able to legislate out looks as part of the dating process. You might, just might, be able to expand someone's preferences in that area, but you are never going to be able to remove the physical altogether, at least not as long as humans have eyes. And I don't see that changing any time soon.
Monday, June 21, 2010
During the seminar participants were not given credit cards or checkbooks to use during some of the participation exercises; they were given play money in ones, fives, tens and twenties. The seminar leader mentioned that some studies have shown that people who handle actual money when making purchases feel more connected to the money and look at those purchases with more attention.
I also found of interest an exercise that was done that was called the empty wagon syndrome. Apparently some people feel they are getting their money's worth only if they see a full wagon. Wagons with only a few items in them are seen as too meagre. During the seminar participants were shown three shopping wagons. One wagon had relatively few items in it--perhaps only 1/8 to 1/4 full. The second wagon was about 1/2 full. The third wagon was full to the brim. First, the participants were asked to rate the wagons on a scale of satisfaction--how pleasing did they look to the participants. With only 2 exceptions out of some 50 participants, the full wagon was given the highest marks for being pleasing and the least full wagon was given the lowest marks. Then the participants were asked to state which wagon was worth more than the others. Here all the participants picked the wagon that was most filled. [Interesting note: the cost of the items in the wagons was not mentioned, only the fullness of the wagons. The seminar leader mentioned in the article that this could be one of the reasons why people tend to overspend in the market. If there are too few items in their wagons they are somehow sure they have not done enough shopping and look for other items to put in until the wagon "looks right."]
What was in those wagons? The least full wagon contained a variety of fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen. It contained spice bottles and ketchup and mustard. The fullest wagon contained drink mixes, soda bottles, pretzels, potato chips and a variety of jarred and canned nuts. It contained boxes of crackers and cookies and jars of dips.
Some interesting food for thought in the article. There's an old saying: "stop eating with your eyes." Simple pshat: we see and therefore want more than what is necessary for health and nutrition and satiation. More is better, at least visually. Apply that to grocery shopping (or a whole lot of other types of shopping) and what we get is that empty cart syndrome: we're only fully satisfied if the cart is full, never mind what that might cost us.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Thanks to Rena for giving this link in her comment--take the time and scroll the pages and pages of the questionnaire if you want to know why people are complaining about how "in depth" and frankly ridiculous these questionnaires are: http://torahonline.weebly.com/uploads/1/7/3/8/1738613/shidduch_questionnaire_chessed_veemet_5770.pdfhttp://www.ou.org/pdf/Personal%20Profile2.pdf
Friday, June 18, 2010
I mentioned that there was a cultural literacy gap that was widening every day. In class I happened to use the phrase "You're not in Kansas anymore" about a phenomenon a student was describing. There were blank looks on all but one face in the class. Someone even volunteered that that particular student was from Queens, not Kansas. My cousin said that he, too, had used that phrase in a business meeting and only those above a certain age had caught the referent. It got us to wondering about just how many of the cultural referents we grew up with are now unknown to the younger generations. It seems like the different generations are speaking different languages, and meaning sometimes gets muddled. Laughingly my cousin said that there was a good reason for this sometimes disconnect--"It's because we aren't in Kansas anymore!" Yup, and I feel like I've definitely fallen down that rabbit hole.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
They're Rioting in Africa (The Merry Minuet)
There are days in my life when everything is dreary
I grow pessimistic, sad and world weary.
But when I'm tearful and fearfully upset
I always sing this merry little minuet:
They're rioting in Africa
They're starving in Spain
There's hurricanes in Florida
And Texas needs rain.
The whole world is festering
With unhappy souls
The French hate the Germans,
The Germans hate the Poles
Italians hate Yugoslavs
South Africans hate the Dutch
And I don't like anybody very much
But we can be grateful
And thankful and proud
That man's been endowed
With a mushroom shaped cloud
And we know for certain
That some happy day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away
They're rioting in Africa
There's strife in Iran
What nature doesn't do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.-----------------------------------------------------------------Alley Music Corp. and Trio Music co., Inc.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A group of us. all married for well over 30 or 40 years, were together and started discussing this situation. The general consensus was that if we had had to fill out the dossiers required today and go through all the checking out to the extent that it is done today, probably none of us or very, very few of us would be married to our current spouses, because nothing would have happened beyond the questionnaire stage.
When I got home I started thinking about that and decided to do an informal study of the married people we know. Given the "facts" that everyone requires today, would these couples have been seen as potential spouses? And the answer was a resounding "NO!" One woman, who I knew when she was young and single, had some definite ideas about the type of guy that would make her happy for ever and ever. She was never, never, never going to marry a man who wasn't doing X and who didn't enjoy doing Y. And if he wasn't uber tall he wasn't going to walk into her house. And then one day, while planning sheva brochas for a mutal friend, she met the choson's best friend and the rest is a 27-year old history.
Couple after couple I went down the list, and couple after couple I found myself scratching my head. According to today's standards, these couples should not have wanted to be married to each other, should never have gone out, and certainly should never have made it to multiple decades of solid marriage.
So, if they didn't use those questionnaires then how did all these couples meet? Sure, some of them were fixed up by other people who thought they might be a good match (and based on what criteria nobody knows) but a whole lot of them simply met on their own. They were together somewhere--school, a simcha, a social event--started talking, decided to go out on a "formal" date, and the rest is history.
When a tool for societal organization is as widespread as today's questionnaires are, then it behooves us to ask if that tool is 1)the best tool available and 2)does that tool produce the greatest good for the greatest number of people. If less dates are coming about and if the divorce rate and sholom bayis issues are high for those couples that do manage to get married shouldn't we be reexamining the tools of matchmaking? Apparently knowing that a person's great-great-great-grandmother was makpid on cholov yisroel and that someone is considered rightish leaning centrist modern orthodox machmir light is proving insufficient to bring marriages to fruition and keep them going.
I took one of those lengthy questionnaires and tried filling it out based on what my situation was when I was dating. I also filled in the answers that would have applied to my husband. And there it was in black and white: my hubby and I were not compatible and would not be considered a match. And yet, here we are, 38-1/2 years married. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding, not in the questionnaire.
Bottom line? The answer is not to make those questionnaires longer and longer, more detailed and full of "facts." The answer is to look for a better tool and a better way of making shidduchim. Thank you God for being my shadchan--I truly couldn't have made it without you, and certainly not if my family and I had had to rely on those questionnaires.
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
A pox on Beau Brummel for deciding that black was the most elegant of colors to wear for men in England, particularly for evening wear. At least those Polish noblemen so many members of Klal still insist on emulating in their love of black were from a country that is not reknowned for its hot climate. Wearing black in the winter in cold weather areas made sense--the fabric color absorbed whatever heat was available from the sun and added a bit to the comfort of those exposed to the bitter winter weather. Of course, if the weather turned hot they broiled like burgers on a grill.
Now fast forward to the year 2010. Find yourself a seat on Avenue J in Brooklyn--or any of the other avenues in the Williamsburg/Boro Park/Midwood area--and do some people watching. Watch all the women walk by and be able to tell immediately, even if you can only see these women from the waist down, who the frummies are. The lst two weeks we've had some bitter hot and humid weather. What were these women (and I include females of all ages under this title) wearing? Black ballerina flats, about 3/4 of them in black tights, black skirts and basically black tops, with perhaps a touch of grey or ivory here and there. I guess the frum Jews in these areas must be physical anomalies in that their normal body temperatures must be super low and they require heat absorbant clothing to help maintain minimum body temperature.
A local group that organizes hikes in various areas here in the Northeast portion of the States has a section in one of its pamphlets that talks about proper hiking clothing. In addition to describing the type of clothing and shoes that should be worn for absolute comfort and safety they also mention that during hot periods hikers should wear light colored clothing and during cold periods hikers should wear dark clothing.
Yes, sometimes clothing is about what is in style. Yes, sometimes clothing is also about what meets our standards of modesty. But what should also be included is that clothing is an adjunct to our natural heating/air conditioning systems. If you're going to be wearing long sleeves and high necks and long skirts and stockings keep away from the dark colors! You're a walking/talking sweat bath if you don't. And no, enclosed summer gatherings that are a welter of black don't please the nose. [And please, if you've bought into the hype that Madison Avenue is pushing about deodorants protecting you all day, just keep in mind that they aren't visualizing frummie clothing styles worn in 90 degree weather with high humidity and dancing up a storm at a simcha or two.]
You truly want to emulate our avos and imahos--get off the black bandwagon.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
I love hearing about good news and simchas among family members and friends. Yes, I love celebrating together with these people. But there are some costs to this celebrating that we somehow push to the side.
First cost? Time and travel. Family and friends live all over the general NYC area and getting to a simcha or a sad occasion is not a matter of walking down the block. These events happen midweek and on weekends and the time settled on for beginning and ending takes into consideration the needs of the person whose occasion it is, not the needs of the guests. We're going to spend hours and hours this month traveling all over the NY/NJ area. Let's not even mention here what this is going to take in gas and tolls and wear and tear on the cars and the drivers.
Second cost? Downtime. After working a full day most people don't consider it relaxing to have to race home, change clothes and spend 3-5 hours at someone else's table and then have to commute the long distance home. Weekends during the rest of the year can pretty much be counted on for taking care of what you can't take care of during the work week or are for getting in a little relaxation before the work week begins again. Know enough people and you are going to find that June contains NO downtime and lots of exhaustion.
Third cost? Money. Our etiquette gurus are quick to point out that a gift should never be expected, while at the same time they preach that there are certain occasions/situations where a gift is basically mandatory. Know many people who attend a wedding or bar mitzvah/bas mitzvah and give nothing as a gift? Know many people who go to a birthday party or anniversary celebration and bring nothing as a gift? While there are people who will go to a bris and not give a gift for the newborn, do you know many aunts and uncles/grandparents of that newborn who do not give a gift? Bringing gifts to an engagement party has also become common place.
Just for "fun" I tallied up what the expenses are going to be this June for all the various simchas and occasions we already know about. Then I threw in a few dollars for those occasions that are going to possibly come up in the rest of June that we don't know about yet. I added up gas and tolls and gift expenses. I looked at the number of hours we won't be home, including travel time and time at the simcha. Even with holding costs down, even with not attending everything we are invited to, this month is going to cost mega bucks in the "extra expenses" department. And we don't have small children so I don't have to add in expenses for baby sitters for all these occasions. I already know these occasions are going to happen and I budget for them, but what about those who don't include a specific budget item for these things? (Lots and lots of people who don't.)
Far from dreading the Three Weeks, I'm going to welcome them with wide open arms and a sigh of relief. And my checkbook will breathe easier as well. We may not like thinking about it, but having family and friends has a cost that comes with them, a cost that a lot of people don't think about and don't plan for. If you are looking for budget breakers look no further than June and its attendant simchas. (Actually, look at simchas all year round and the total can be really shocking.)
And if you are playing keeping up with the Shwartzes when it comes to gift giving? As they say in Brooklyn: "fahgeddaboutit."
Thursday, June 10, 2010
The Jewish calendar is a benign one for balabustas--the next major holiday won't come until September. We've got a month until the three weeks begin. There's no frenetic activity required right now. Even on the secular calendar July 4th is not around the corner.
Here in NY even the weather has decided to take a small break from the rush it was in to bring in summer with a bang. Temperatures were beautiful this week, making it a time to just get out of the house and take a walk and commune with nature.
Politics never takes a vacation, but even in this arena things have been fairly quiet this week. There has been no major scandal, in Klal or outside of it. Even most of the blogs have slowed their pace. It seems as if there is nothing which MUST be talked about right this minute. (Obvious exception is the ongoing question of yeshiva tuition, but that's more akin to having a bad allergy--even when you think you have it under control it's always right there under the surface, waiting to erupt if given the slightest encouragement.)
I'm enjoying this slight lull in the storm of life. I ripped up my to do list with the exception of cooking meals and preparing for Shabbos--everything else is just going to have to wait while I take a deep breath and appreciate what I have right now. I watch the chipmunks playing tag outside my office door and think to myself "I can do that--I can relax and be laid back for a few days." Now all I have to do is to remember how.
This week is a treasure that I'm going to savor while it's here. The memory that things can sometimes be just fine is what gets me and a lot of others through the frenetic pace of the rest of the year. Whatever you are doing and wherever you are I hope that you, too, are savoring that all too short time before summer comes roaring in.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
And then there is the yeshiva system. For purposes of this posting I will assume the following: the frum community does not believe that yeshiva education is optional for frum kids. The frum community does not consider yeshivas as private schools in the sense that private schools are personal choices, optional choices made by parents on a case by case basis for their children. The frum community thinks of the yeshiva system as parallel to the public school system. All children in the US are required to get an education by law, ergo you have the public school system. Much of frum thought says the same thing; all frum kids are required to get a dual education, ergo the yeshiva/day school system.
So, we have the yeshiva/day school system paralleling the public school system. Only the parallel is not exact. In a public school system those having more money and living in more expensive housing are kicking in more towards the expenses of the school system than those who have less money and/or less expensive housing. No one tells those parents paying the least in real estate taxes that they have to pay the same as those who have larger houses just because the kids go to the same schools. And here is another difference between the two systems: all housing in a district pays real estate taxes that are used for education, regardless of whether or not the homeowner has children in the system.
And then there is yeshiva tuition. Unlike real estate taxes, yeshiva tuition is the same for all children attending the school. Some yeshiva/day school families have larger financial "homes" and some have smaller ones; yet, they both are charged the same "real estate" taxes. Those who cannot pay the higher taxes do have an option: apply for tuition assistance or scholarships and/or go into debt to pay the charges. Furthermore, there is an attitude by many towards those families that need the tuition assistance that they are somehow trying to con the system, that they should be grateful that the wealthier families are willing to take up the burden that these tuition assistance families place on a school. The result in many cases is a lot of loshon horah and kinoh. (And yes, there is an attitude by many that if you cannot afford the "real estate taxes" in a community, don't move in there.)
So what is one answer? Like real estate taxes levied by the government, tuition costs should NOT be identical right from the get go. If a person's financial "house" is only $100K or $150K, why is that person being charged the same amount of "tax" as someone whose financial "house" is $300K or $500K? In other words, schools should not be talking about tuition but about tuitions. Make X and your tuition is X. Make Y and your tuition is Y. Make Z and your tuition is Z.
Then there is this. Tuition bills are screwy, to say the least. Tuition is broken down into multiple parts and includes some items that ought not to be there. Our shul has a yearly dinner. Attendance and the subsequent donation are optional. Schools also have yearly dinners, but the cost is included under tuition and all parents have to pay it, whether or not they go to the dinner. Why? It's a fundraising affair, not an educational program for the children in the school. If you're going to raise funds, go after the people who have the money to donate. Making the dinner part of tuition is forced tzedaka. The same for mandatory building funds being included under tuition. Again, this is fundraising and should target those with the funds to donate, not be a mandatory part of tuition.
A lot of what appears or is hidden within a yeshiva tuition bill is not a direct expense of educating the children in the school. Do you really think that a whole bunch of third graders are rioting in the halls because they want a mega building with marble floors? Do you really think that under educational benefits that the school should be giving to our students the lease on the Principal's car should be considered? Those things are truly extras, and extras should be funded through fundraising--if you get the donations to cover the wanted expenditure then fine. If not, you don't spend the money and assume that you can recoup it via tuition. And when it comes to these types of expenditures the rule should be simple: if you have the money and/or pledges that will allow you to spend on X then you can buy X. If you don't have the money then you have to wait until you do to spend on X. The first expenses that have to be considered should be only those for direct education of the students. Anything after that is gravy and should fall outside the category of tuition.
So yes, one thing that needs fixing and needs fixing now is how we "tax" and bill the parents in the yeshiva system. Concurrent with that is that we need to fix how funds are allocated in the yeshiva budget. First, educate the kids. After that MAYBE there might be money for other things.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
It is the nature of the Internet that the communication that takes place on it is verbal in nature. We "talk" to each other via our writings. And yes, there is an awful lot of that talking going on. Even face to face encounters are verbal ones--we talk to each other. Both online and in the real world you cannot help but listen to/participate in the talk about the problems that are facing Klal. We have a tuition crisis, we have a shidduch crisis, we have a chumrah crisis, and on and on. We decry what is going on, and yes, I'm one of those decriers as well. Yes, the talking needs to be there. It is through discussing problems, through delineating the parameters of those problems, that possible solutions can come about. But here's the thing--we have been talking about some of those problems for what seems like forever. What has not been done is the taking of any action, or taking such poorly thought out action that the effect of that action is nil. So what is the result of all that talk? So far, virtually nothing. Why?
Well, one reason is fear. Yes, fear. Many are afraid that any action they take, even if warranted, will have repercussions on them and on their families. At best you'll be called a trouble maker, and who wants that label? And yup, they might just label you an apikores or soneh Yisroel. Your social life might suffer. And for sure "they" are going to tell you that it's going to be bad for shidduchim for your kids. So we continue to suffer, not in silence with each other, but without doing something about the pain that afflicts us.
I remember once getting a rather nasty splinter embedded deep in my finger. Almost immediately the area around that splinter swelled up. It was hard to use my hand with the splinter in place. I tried some home remedies first, hoping it would pop up and out, but when those didn't work I finally went to the doctor to have it removed. This was no longer a problem I could handle by myself and I was going to need some help from others. He told me that first he was going to have to pop the blister and remove the pus. Oh yuk. But that was only step one and is analogous to all the talking we do about the problems facing us. He warned me that popping the blister was not going to solve my problem. He could drain the blister today but it would be full again tomorrow. The only permanent fix was to take out the splinter. Because the splinter was so deeply embedded this was not going to be a simple job. There was going to be some cutting of skin and underlying tissue involved and yes, some pain as well.
Well, I didn't really have a choice at that point. That splinter was only going to keep on giving me problems if I left it in. So I bit the bullet and he prepared to cut the splinter out. There was no way to get the splinter out in one piece. The doctor ended up having to remove each fragment of the splinter one piece at a time. No, it wasn't fun and yes there was pain. And no, the pain did not go completely away as soon as the splinter was out. Where the splinter had been there remained a sore spot and it was going to take a while for new , healthy skin to grow into place. But here's the thing--that healthy skin did grow and the finger was perfectly fine. But it took some pain and time for that to happen. And that is akin to the actions that we try to avoid to solve our problems.
Not taking on the problems head on doesn't mean they will miraculously go away on their own. Yes, there is some pain involved in removing those "splinters" that are making life uncomfortable for some in Klal, but you need to ask yourself the hard question: is it better to go through life with a splinter embedded that is always flaring up or to face some pain in removing it and letting it heal?
What remains is for people to ask themselves the following: Is the pain of tuition, for example, something that's like a little ache that's annoying but it can be lived with, or is that pain like that deeply embedded splinter, bad now and getting worse? If it's like that splinter then we're going to have to bite the bullet and take it out, even if it comes out in small pieces, one at a time.
Monday, June 7, 2010
Not everyone knows how to cook? That's not a terminal condition, nor is it one about which something can't be done. And then the term "cooking" needs to be defined. Are we talking here about any and all dishes that one could wish for and that would gladden the heart and stomach? No, it is quite possible that not all people know how to cook on the upper levels of cooking. But if we define cooking to mean the preparation of food that can be eaten, then there is virtually no one living who can't be taught how to cook. Do we think of a three-year-old as being capable of cooking? We can, if by cooking we mean pouring milk over cereal, or spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread, or unwrapping a slice of cheese and placing it on bread. And if a three-year-old can do it, an adult can surely do it.
I spent some time timing myself as I was cooking various meals to be served to my family for weeknight suppers. The average length of preparation time for a midweek supper? 7 minutes. When a food like chicken is involved which requires longer cooking time in the oven, that does not count as actual time the cook is involved. During the 45 minutes the chicken is ensconced in the oven I am not sitting there talking to it and watching it go from raw to cooked. I can be busy elsewhere doing things I have to do or want to do. It takes longer to get into the car, drive to a restaurant, park, go in, possibly wait on line, finally be seated and place an order and then finally get served. (And this is not counting the return trip home.) What fell into this seven-minute category? Broiled and baked/roasted chicken or fish including any spices or toppings to be used, vegetables to be steamed, potatoes to be baked, putting up the water for rice or pasta to be cooked, draining said rice and pasta and pairing it up with a topping or sauce. Yes, somewhere in the a.m. I took an additional 13 seconds to go to the freezer and take out food to be defrosted for that night's supper and to put it in the fridge.
Cooking something that requires more than 7 minutes of prep time? Let's make it 20 minutes. That's still shorter than that round trip for the restaurant. In addition, if you are making something that is time-intensive, the smart cook doubles or triples the recipe: one for now, and two to pop into the freezer for two meals at some later time that will only "cost" the cook the 13 seconds to take out of the freezer and pop into the oven. Divide those three meals into the 20 minute prep time and you're back to seven minutes per meal to prepare.
Now to clean up. First of all, are we talking about families here? If we are, the cleanup time should be divided by the number of people who were sitting and eating that meal. Everyone ate? Everyone helps to clean up. Even very young children can carry a plate to the sink. Even very young children can carry items to be put into the fridge. Mom does not equate to maid in the English language. Washing dishes? A whole lot of people have electronic dishwashers, and loading those dishwashers is not an evening's activity. Washing by hand? Go ahead, set a timer and see just how much time that takes--not.
There's also this: that prep/clean up time is not considered by some as time that can be spent "bonding" with our children. Say what? Of course it can be considered bonding time. A parent spending time helping children to learn life skills is not bonding time? Talking while cleaning up or doing dishes is not bonding time? Giving our children a sense that they are important, contributing members of the family is not bonding time?
I will grant you that there are some times when it is simply not possible to get a meal on the table, and eating out or bringing in may be necessary. But not knowing how to cook is a paltry excuse at best; it's rationalizing rather than real. You don't know how to cook? No problem. Make an appointment to see me and in less than two hours I'll give you enough of the basics so that you will never be able to make that statement again. (And I'm more than willing to bet that G6 could give you those same lessons as well.) Nope, I'm not going to teach you how to pull strudel dough during those two hours, nor how to make challah. I'm not going to teach you the intricacies of making homemade sushi, although I might. But you will surely get more than enough to never again be able to say "I can't cook."
Let's at least be honest here and say what we really mean: it's not that some people can't cook--it's that they don't want to cook, a wholly different thing.
Friday, June 4, 2010
Just a wry observance--Memorial Day and National Doughnut Day both fall in the same week. Which one do you suppose more people will have observed?
Thursday, June 3, 2010
As I was heading towards the cleaning section I noticed a small group that seemed to be congregating at the end of an aisle further down the store. I admit, curiosity got the best of me and I steered my cart in that direction. I think I kind of figured that somebody must be giving a demonstration of some new product or giving out free samples of something. Besides, the store was blessedly cool and I wasn't all that anxious to head back out into the stifling heat and humidity.
So what was going on? Face to face back and forthing of the political kind. Apparently two people had started out talking about the horrible coverage that we get in our news media about events of importance around the world, and things escalated from there. What was really interesting to me was that things didn't digress to a Democrat versus Republican brangle: the basic gist was that both sides have a lot that is wrong with them but that shouldn't be the focus of conversation. And what was really super interesting was that the flotilla events of this week came in for a lot of discussion. And here was a real shocker: everyone involved in this conversation--and people came and went for about 1/2 hour or so-- believed that Israel was right and the rest of the world is populated by a bunch of morons. Almost everyone referenced the poor job the general media did in presenting the true facts of the events that happened. In fact, everyone mentioned that the general media had outright lied in defense of their own warped agenda.
So, was this a gathering of Jews? Not hardly. SI has a huge Catholic population and some of those in the group were obviously Catholic, evidenced by the crosses being worn openly as necklaces. A few, judging by accents and/or racial characteristics, were certainly not Jewish. In point of fact there were only two Jews in the whole bunch. But there was one interesting demographic that united us, diverse as we may have been otherwise: we were all clearly over the age of 50, and some way over the age of 50.
And yes, it was inevitable that what would come up was the lack of "physical" activism present today. We all of us had had experience of the type of activism seen in the 60s and 70s and we all agreed that the situation today was no less ripe for that activism than the situations we had experienced way back when. But no, it's not happening. But yes, we had an echo of that activism that surfaced even if for only a few of us. We began sharing what we knew and where we could go to get better/truer information that we had been getting so far. There was an exchange of Internet urls to sites that information could be gotten at, that videos could be viewed at. And there was also a determination to send mail and make phone calls to elected/government officials stating our feelings about who was right and who was wrong vis a vis the flotilla incident. And yes, someone with a blackberry kindly read out addresses and phone numbers and urls for our elected reps.
Here's what I believe is going to be the result of the King Kullen Koffee Klatch. Those people who were physically there are going to do just what they said they would do: they are going to write/call elected representatives and the White House. They are going to send letters to the various media that skewed coverage to something representing a bad science fiction story. They are even going to talk to others they know and ask them to also write and call. Maybe they'll get a whole bunch of people to do so and maybe they won't. But the key point is that they will have put out an effort, they will have tried, they will have been active rather than passive. I suggested that perhaps they might want to write to the Israeli government telling them that they support the government's actions. And yes, right away the correct names and addresses were proffered.
Will any of this make a difference? Well, a difference for whom, and what do you call a difference? Yes, if by writing and calling they can put paid to the false idea that "everyone" feels just as the media and various governments tell them to feel. Yes, if even one person responsible for disseminating partial truths and whole-cloth lies gets a bit nervous that he/she might have their manipulations outed. Yes, if others who have remained silent will finally raise their voices, even if for a moment, because they were encouraged by seeing others doing so as well. Yes, if someone sitting down to dinner tonight can justifiably say to themselves that they got the ''by the people" part right today. Yes, if apathy can be kept at bay, even for only a little bit and for a few people.
I finished my calls and wrote my letters and emails before writing this posting. I'm not a fool and never have been. I don't think that my action today will have major impact on the events transpiring even as I write. I'm not going to change the minds of millions just because I refuse to buy the garbage being peddled. But what if just one other person sees the truth? What if one other person is encouraged to put their mouth and hands where their feelings are leading them? And what if that person should have the same effect on someone else?
It was obvious from listening to those in the conversation today that some had been real rabble rousers in their younger years. And just as obvious, from the comments we were making, was that we were no longer up to spending nights camped out in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza or outside the various embassies and government buildings--ours and others'. And just as obvious was the yearning that flitted across a whole lot of our faces that we wished we were up to just that kind of activism. Yes, what I wouldn't give to at least one more time be part of a crowd of thousands, out in protest either for something or against it. What I wouldn't give for just one more night spent sitting on hard concrete, gathered together with others, with only the sky as a blanket, who know that numbers count, and visible numbers count more. Yes, what I wouldn't give to once again hear voices raised out there in a chant of "We shall overcome."
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
A lot of the video footage posted there you won't see on any of the regular news sources because telling the truth, the WHOLE truth, and nothing but the truth doesn't fit in with their pre-determined agenda regarding Israel.
And for a well written take, please see Wesley Pruden's article here http://jewishworldreview.com/cols/pruden060110.php3
In pre-war Europe most people never left the area where they were born and raised. There were no expectations of the "Go West Young Man" variety. An occasional yeshiva bochur (and there weren't quite as many of those as we have been lead to believe) might choose to settle in the area where his yeshiva was. If there was an imbalance of available men and women for shidduchim the women might marry out of their home community, although usually not all that far away from it. It was fairly unusual to have more than three generations living at the same time, and even many of that first generation were not alive throughout the lifetime of the following two generations. As one generation passed on the next generations moved into their living quarters. Yes, there was some expansion in some places, but nowhere near what we would call rampant growth. In many, many cases you would find more than one generation living together under one roof. Marriage did not necessarily mean that you left home and moved into your own place.
Now fast forward to the US. When Jews began arriving to the US they did not all gravitate to exactly the same point on the map. Depending on their point of entry, many would find themselves in the NYC area and many did not. It is not just an accident that the oldest shul in the US in continuous use since its inception is located in Charleston, South Carolina. The Jews went everywhere they could find a place to live.
The Lower East Side of Manhattan was a prime target for many immigrants. For one thing, the tenement housing available was all they could afford, and sometimes even there multiple family groups shared one apartment because money was tight. There was also the sense of community found in this area. Kosher shopping was there, shuls were there, mikvaot were there and eventually yeshivas and schools were there. German immigrants moved to Washington Heights and established a home community there.
Eventually many of the immigrants began migrating to other parts of the city. There were once frum communities in Red Hook and Brownsville, Brooklyn, communities that don't exist today. Canarsie was once a bustling frum area--not so today. Crown Heights also became a choice for some immigrant families, and no, I'm not referring to Lubavitch. Some immigrants headed into the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. The Boro Park section of Brooklyn was fairly much populated by people from far earlier migrations who were already established and able to buy houses for themselves or rent "better" apartments than available in the Lower East Side or Williamsburg. The same could be said about the small community that existed in Midwood. Many an immigrant who found themselves in Williamsburg or the Lower East Side migrated to Boro Park because they wanted a better standard of living, they wanted out of the crowded conditions found elsewhere. And in the late 60s/early 70s, as the character of Boro Park was starting to change, lots of younger couples started moving into Midwood/Flatbush because they didn't want what Boro Park was becoming.
Well guess what? Whatever Midwood/Flatbush may have been like in those late 60s/early 70s it's not like that today. Back then Midwood was an MO area with only small dots of those to the far right. Today the MO find themselves in the minority, not the majority. Schools that were major presences in the community have disappeared.
Then there is this. When Jews move into a community and establish stable, thriving communities there, the prices of housing go up. Sure, that's great for those who bought on the low end and can now realize a huge profit, but what about young couples just starting out now? The children of those living in these communities cannot, for the most part, afford to rent or to buy in the same communities where their parents live. So they look elsewhere to new or newer communities where prices are more in keeping with their income. And what do you suppose happens to those older, well established, thriving communities when they cannot attract enough younger families? They hit a downward spiral. Yeshivas in a community require that when the eighth grade graduates there is at least an equal number of students coming in to kindergarten/first grade. If younger couples are not moving in in sufficient numbers to keep populating the yeshivas, they aren't going to stay viable. This past year there were already many empty seats in the elementary schools of the Mir and Chaim Berlin and Torah VoDaas as younger families who would have been their "customers" have moved down to the Lakewood area which is, at least for now, cheaper than Midwood.
Someone questioned on my posting of the advertisement from the Young Israel of Plainview why the community there would refer to itself as thriving and yet be offering financial incentives to younger married couples with children to move there. The answer is fairly simple: they are thriving now but in order to stay thriving and be thriving in the future they MUST have younger couples moving in. Otherwise they have a built in "expiration date," as do many older communities.
My own home community of Willowbrook is doing a lot of talking about how to attract younger families to what is not a bargain basement housing area (although rentals and sales are cheaper than in most of the frum populated areas of Brooklyn and Queens). When a house owned by frum members of the community sells here the first question is did a frum young couple buy it? And no, that is not always the case. Unless replacement numbers remain parallel to the numbers of those leaving a community, there is trouble coming down the road. And it's not just our community--it's all frum communities that need to take heed of this.
I fully well believe, based on past events, that the frum communities of 25 to 50 years from now will not necessarily reflect the frum communities of today. Those who believe that the frum communities in existence now are here to stay forever need to remember that old saying: those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it. And sometimes, as we have seen in the past, even studying that past history doesn't mean we are going to avoid events.