Friday, April 30, 2010
If you are pouring in globs and globs of a plain vegetable oil, you are adding in mega fat calories that cancel out the nutritional benefits. But prepared correctly, those kugels are not only not going to be bad for you, they are going to be good for you.
First a word or two about potatoes, that much maligned vegetable. First, the glycemic content. Keep in mind that healthy individuals with no underlying medical condition that would require limiting glycemic content aren't going to get in trouble ingesting potatoes. Even those who have to chart their glycemic intake can still include a potato during the day if they plan right. Yes, a medium sized potato has a score of about 29 on the glycemic index, with 100 being the maximum to be ingested in one day for those needing to watch intake. So plan ahead.
Now, the nutritional benefits of a potato.
Serving Size 1 potato (148g/5.3 oz)
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 0
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g
Saturated Fat 0g
Trans Fat 0g
Total Carbohydrate 26g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Vitamin A 0%, Vitamin C 45%, Calcium 2%, Iron 6%, Thiamin 8%, Riboflavin 2%, Niacin 8%, Vitamin B6 10%, Folate 6%, Magnesium 6%, Zinc 2%, Phosphorous 6%, Copper 4%
*Percent Daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet
What goes into a potato kugel? Basically potatoes, eggs and spices/flavorings. If you are worried about cholesterol then use an egg substitute or use only egg whites--no loss of flavor for the kugel. The addition of some grated onion or of onion powder and/or pepper is not going to cause any health problems.
Salt has been pointed to as one of the "evils" of potato kugel. There are still a whole lot of ways to solve that problem. 1) Use less salt. 2) Use a low-sodium or no-sodium type of salt. It is the sodium that is the problem for some people, such as those with high blood pressure. I have for years being using a salt substitute for when I want salt on food and no one, that's NO ONE, has ever been able to tell the difference between that substitute and "real" salt.
Now back to that oil. What is the purpose of oil for a potato kugel? It's two-fold: to keep the mixture from sticking to the pan and to produce a nicely browned crust. To achieve that purpose it's not necessary to use huge amounts of oil. First, instead of those general vegetable oils use an oil with health benefits, such as canola, grape seed or olive. Second, instead of using poured oil straight out of the bottle, use spray oil, either from purchased cans or from a sprayer you purchase and fill with oil. A few quick sprays and your pan is coated, and those few quick sprays might, if you overspray the pan, contribute about 1/2 teaspoon of oil to the kugel. Third, heat the oiled pan in the oven before putting in the kugel mixture. This ensures that when the kugel mixture hits the hot pan it will immediately be seared, preventing sticking, preventing absorption of any further oil, and providing for a browned bottom crust. Next, smooth the top of the kugel mixture and give a couple of sprays of oil across the top. This will ensure top browning of the kugel.
It's not potato kugel that is the problem--it's preparation method. Prepare the kugel with healthy eating in mind and it's no worse for you than any other type of food product you ingest.
And while we're at it, let's remember that kugel doesn't mean potato; there are any number of other items that can be made into a kugel--sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, rice, pasta, lentils etc.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
There already is in place, in some areas of our lives, the requirement to show proper identification. In many cases that ID is a valid, current drivers licence. In other cases it is a valid, current passport. In the school where I teach, no one gets into the building unless they show a current college ID card. If you aren't a student or member of the faculty you have to have a valid drivers licence and have to sign in. Absent those items you aren't getting into the building. And you would be surprised just how many times a student has forgotten to take his/her ID along or doesn't have a drivers licence.
There are many situations where an absence of identification could cause real problems. In the past few years here in our community there were three occasions where someone collapsed on the street. In two cases the people who collapsed were walking to shul on Shabbos/yom tov and had zero identification on them. In the third case the person was out midweek for a "health" walk and was far from his home, again without identification on him. Fortunately for the men in the first two situations, they were found by someone who recognized them as being members of the same shul and could immediately find someone to identify them. In the third case the people who found the man noticed the kipah and, while they didn't know the man personally, did know that someone who was also kipah-wearing lived on the block. They got that person to come out and yes, it turns out that that kipah wearer knew who the person was, and could notify the family. And what if that person had been female instead of male? Would identification have been made quite so easily?
The Willowbrook community, while fairly large and spread out, is still insular enough that people in the neighborhood would be likely to either know someone who was injured or know where to immediately go to find someone who could identify the person. But what about in Brooklyn? The sheer number of people living in Brooklyn would preclude that kind of easy identification. And on a Shabbos or yom tov people walk all over the general area and beyond, not necessarily attending a shul close by to where they live. There are hundreds of people, thousands of people on the streets in Brooklyn on any given Shabbos, and none of them have any identification on them.
Even being inside a shul doesn't mean that you could be immediately identified. We've all heard/read of people in a shul sort of recognizing a lot of the faces in the shul but not knowing those "face's" names or where they live. And if you should just happen to pop into a shul where you've never davened before to catch a mincha or maariv?
Do your children ride bicycles? A fair number of them do. And do those kids have any sort of identification on them? Likely not. bicycle accidents and bike/car accidents are a common occurrence. Absent any ID, how would you be notified if your child was injured or needed help? One suggestion I've heard is that all bicycles should have a clearly visible name and address tag permanently attached to the bike--not a bad idea, but only if you actually go ahead and put that tag on the bike.
We in Klal might want to give some thought to what could be done on a Shabbos about identification, particularly in areas that don't have an eruv. Even in large areas with an eruv we need to consider ID. Sorry, but having Asher ben Dovid embroidered on a talis bag just won't do it. And women won't have even that form of ID on them. It's not that I'm wishing any accidents to befall members of Klal, but by definition an accident is unexpected, and lots of them happen on Shabbos or yom tov. Lots of them happen outside on the street. And yes, in some unfortunate cases, being able to identify someone immediately could make the difference between life and death. Any ideas?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The story? Apparently a two-year-old pit bull by the name of Snoopy, encarcerated since January and scheduled to be put down for having bitten a man and that man's child, has had its life saved four times now. As the rag put it, a stay of execution has been granted four times. Why? Well apparently this dog has a very effective lawyer who has been arguing that the dog's rights are being violated through an arbitrary ruling that it must be put down. Yes, you read that correctly. That dog has a lawyer, and one who is working pro bono at that. A lawyer, furthermore, who believes that all of our rights are at risk if we do not protect the weakest among us, if we do not all arise in horror at what is being done to this poor, "harmless" little pit bull. The lawyer is demanding a hearing before an administrative law judge, a hearing which has not yet been scheduled.
Words fail me. Thousands of children in NYC wake up every morning crying from hunger and that doesn't make the "important" news section of this rag. And it sure doesn't get pro bono attornies lining up to defend the rights of these kids. In fact, nothing that I consider might actually be putting our rights at risk is worthy of being reported. But a dog with a lawyer is right up there as a must-read, must-react article.
You want to know how future generations will judge us? Let's hope it won't be on what some tabloid journalistic embarrassment published as must-know news.
Note to Readers: I happen to be an animal lover and have had many pets over the years of all different types. I am NOT anti-dog.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Some of you might want to give some thought to the older members of your family and how hard it might be for them to read the small print that most seforim and books and periodicals come in. Not only are there some seforim that come in the larger print, but there are also many books and periodicals that can be gotten in large type. The gift of "sight" would make a wonderful present.
Here's another thought that can help those whose vision is not quite what it used to be. There are any number of written pieces available online, including daily newspapers and online editions of monthly magazines. Using your computer, it is quite easy to print those pieces using a much larger font size. Printing up some of those articles and stories would be a welcome gift for those vision is not quite what it used to be. And while you're sitting there at the computer anyway, how about printing up some extra copies to be dropped off at a nursing home or senior citizen center or with the elderly neighbor down the block?
And for those in shuls that have some elderly members, how about making sure that the shul has some large type seforim available for their use. As I mentioned, most people are not aware that such works are even available.
We are the people "of the book." More than time that we make that "book" available to all the members of Klal, not just those whose vision is 20/20.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Let me begin this way, not looking at Hebrew. A child born in the US and attending school here through 12th grade should, by the standards of those who are complaining about the Hebrew facility of our children, be absolutely fluent in English, speaking, reading and writing it. And nothing could be further from the truth. I'll bet that you all know at least one person and probably many more than one whose command of the English language is rudimentary or quite plebeian. Hand some of these people something a bit more complex than a Dick Meets Jane book, and they can't make heads or tails of it. Their writing is not fully functionally grammatical, and their vocabulary is elementary. Their speech is of the "Can you tell me where the bathroom is?" type. Yet others may be a step or two above the level of the first group, but not so much so that we could point to them as prime examples of English users.
There are many reasons why these people are not accomplished users of English. In some cases there is a competing language being spoken at home by the family. The students may find themselves with dual competing loyalties as to which language will take precedence. These students may not have parents who are themselves "quality" English users, so the English they hear at home, when they hear it, is very basic and sometimes broken. The parents may not be encouraging their children to develop their English skills, either because they don't care or because they don't know how to do so.
Then there is this: learning a language requires certain inborn aptitudes and skills that not every student possesses. The student may want to learn that language but may not have the aptitude to do so. In addition, we surely are all aware that not every person on earth has the same IQ as every other person. Some people are "smarter" than other people. Some people are more studious than other people. Some students will do better with one method of presentation and some students with a different presentation. And some students will not do well in a particular subject no matter how it is presented. You can expose some students to the English language all their school years and they still won't be prime English users.
There are experts in the field whose position is that total immersion is the only way to teach a language to someone, 24/7. Yet other experts chime in that total immersion can work, but it must start when a child is young, birth being the best time to begin. Language patterning begins early and if you don't catch a child before they begin their formal schooling they may never become fully fluent. Still other experts maintain that immersion is a great way to teach a language but that a student still needs an aptitude for language learning or even immersion won't work or work well.
There are lots of other reasons given as to why a particular person may not have language fluency but the ones above should suffice to make my point. Change the word English to Hebrew and the points made still apply. There are many reasons why our children, educated in yeshivas, may not be fluent in Hebrew. There is also another point to be made that applies to second language learning. Those who study a second language in a school setting are generally taught that language via reading. The main thrust seems to be understanding the words read and/or being able to translate those words into the primary language. Actually speaking the second language fluently is not key in the instructional method. Foreign language exams are part of the requirements for many graduate degrees, certainly in the PhD area. And those exams do not test fluency of usage and the ability to speak with "natives" using the language. The exams involve being given some reading passages and translating them accurately into the primary language.
So let's try and be even handed in parceling out the "blame" for why our yeshiva educated children aren't fluent speakers/users of Hebrew. The yeshivas are only one of the partners involved in language learning.
Friday, April 23, 2010
Somehow in our urban culture, pigeons have decided that parking lots were created just for their use. Find a large parking lot anywhere around the city and you will also find a flock of pigeons perambulating around it. Let's not even mention the "gifts" they leave on cars and on the asphalt. But generally, if a car is driving in that parking lot the pigeons move out of the way. They may be pigeon-cursing under their breath but they move. In this way both pigeons and people can take advantage of the lot's amenities.
The parking lot at a local Shop Rite supermarket is one of those fairly large lots. But because there are other stores surrounding the supermarket as well as access streets that don't all go the same direction, exiting the lot requires pretty much only going along one route to get out. So I pulled out of my parking spot, turned to get into the exit lane and stopped dead. An uber gathering of pigeons was covering the exit lane completely. And this group was not dispersing at the sound of a car coming. When it became clear that my only choice was going to be committing pigeon murder I tapped on my horn. This should have been guaranteed to get the pigeons moving. They didn't budge an inch. It seems that some misguided pigeon lover had spread the contents of a huge bag of oats and seeds all over that particular end of the parking lot. Those pigeons were having a picnic and nothing was going to move them.
At this point traffic was backed up behind me about 5 cars' worth. I got out of my car to let the other drivers know that I wasn't not moving on purpose. A few other drivers also got out, ready to lambaste me. And then they noticed the pigeons. Desperate measures were called for so there we were, three otherwise rational adults, yelling at the pigeons to stop being stubborn and get out of the way. After about two minutes, when no pigeon movement had taken place, we looked at each other in embarrassed silence. Not only had we agitatedly been conversing with pigeons, but the score was pigeons 100, us zip.
Help arrived in the form of a store employee wielding an oversize push broom. In short order he had pushed the pigeons and the feed over to a corner where they wouldn't block traffic. Apparently this has happened before and the store is prepared for the situation.
Yup, man truly believes that he rules the world and all that is in it. And then a volcano and a flock of pigeons puts paid to that idea.
Thursday, April 22, 2010
A few of my students are from Europe. I knew that they were going to be leaving for home a few days early before our Pesach break so they could spend time with their families. However, I expected to see them after Pesach was over. They have not yet been back in class. I received an email from one of the students yesterday (and I imagine the other student has the same excuse), and the excuse is one of those frameable ones, the kind you just couldn't make up.
"Dear Prof K,
I have not been cutting class intentionally. As you may have heard, a volcano erupted in Iceland and getting a flight back to the US has been impossible to do. I have a ticket for a flight next week although the airline won't guarantee that it will actually leave but I am hopeful that it might. It is being talked about here that yet another volcano might erupt which could make things even more difficult. Since I have nothing to do while I am waiting could you please send me any homework assignments so I don't fall behind?"
Just not an excuse you could make up. And here's wishing both students a safe trip back to New York.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Manufacturers are not stupid. They know that most people are people of habit. While they may occasionally buy a new product, they tend to stick with the tried and true that has worked for them. This is unacceptable to manufacturers, who need consumers to be constantly buying. The weapon they use? "New and Improved" emblazoned boldly across a product package.
So what makes that product new and improved? What is the actual benefit to the consumer? In some cases the only thing that has changed is the product packaging, and that is not always to a consumer's benefit. Some orange juice companies touted a new, improved, sturdier container for their orange juices. Improved? The juice in the container went from 64 ounces to 59 ounces, but the price remained the same. What was improved was the producer's bottom line.
Companies that make cleaning and grooming products are among the worst offenders when it comes to using the new and improved label on their products. From year to year the packaging of these products changes, and trust me, the packages never get larger, only smaller. Sometimes the only actual changes are the colors of the labels on the packages. Sometimes the size of the bottle/box changes. And sometimes the shape of the bottles change. One major shampoo advertised heavily that its bottles were now more user friendly because they had an indentation in the middle allowing them to be grasped easier during use. That new shape plus a cap that was 3/4 of an inch taller than the old one on a bottle that was shorter than the old one resulted in 4 ounces less of shampoo in the bottle than was there previously--and a cost that went up over $1.00 per bottle.
Reynolds aluminum foil 200 foot roll is touting its new space saving packaging. Now let me ask you: was storing that roll of foil really such a space saving problem? Forget the new packaging: I want to know what they have done to the foil inside the package. Is it still as thick as it once used to be? That the package is not going to tell you. When that foil costs 6.99 to 8.99 a package I'd rather have something tangible that reduces the price, not the packaging.
Along with new and improved you also have the word "concentrated" to deal with. If you read the label even briefly, concentrated should mean that you need to use less of the product now then you did before. Maybe. Some of these products are 2X concentrated, some 3X or 4X concentrated. Most of the manufacturers who offer concentrated products claim they are saving you money by doing so--they reduce the expense of the packaging while still giving you the same amount of product. Yeah, right.
The manufacturer of a popular detergent went the concentrated route on most of its products, and shopping for this product is now way too complicated. Side by side you have the concentrated and still a few of the non-concentrated items. So, a concentrated bottle of the detergent, offering 3X concentration. The weight on the bottle is 32 ounces. The bottle states that it gives you 32 loads of laundry (except when you actually read the bottle and find out that large or heavily soiled loads will need twice the detergent.) That should mean that the non-concentrated detergent would be 96 ounces for the same 32 loads. Now look at its 2X cousin. That bottle is 60 ounces and states it will give you 31 loads of laundry. So in the non-concentrated form that would be 120 ounces equalling 31 loads of laundry. Anyone noticing a problem? In black and white and looked at side by side you've got 31-32 loads of laundry using either 96 ounces or 120 ounces of regular detergent. The numbers don't compute. Of course they don't; if they did you might actually be able to compare the cost per ounce and see which of the products is the least expensive. And even though both the 2X and the 3X give you about the same number of regular loads, their prices aren't the same.
It shouldn't take a degree in advanced mathematics to go grocery shopping. Thanks to all those new and improved products that flood the shelves, that's where we are heading. I was sitting with a pocket calculator figuring all the costs across the various sizes offered on a paper towel product. The assistant manager of the store walked by and saw me doing my calculations. He pointed out that the best buy was a paper towel that was being offered at what he called a "spectacular" sale because of its new and improved space saving size and multiple rolls per pack. I then pointed out to him that he was wrong, dead wrong. The on sale paper towels were smaller in dimension than many other of the towels being sold and had less towels per roll than many of the others. Even with more rolls per pack they were more expensive to buy than others were. They weren't as thick as many of the others either. Even on sale they weren't a bargain. He walked off grumbling about smartaleck shoppers. Tough.
Yes, today it really must be emphasized: let the buyer be ware. Those manufacturers are not producing their products out of the goodness of their hearts. And when they tell you about new and improved? Learn how to be a skeptic.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Some people will hear a word--sort of--and can pull up that word to use later, again sort of. Some people will write a word and assume they have the correct word needed with no checking necessary--hey, spell check will catch any of their errors, right?
I've noted before that one of my students wrote that he was taking Advanced Suppository Writing--that's Advanced Expository Writing for those not familiar with the actual course. This past week my students gave me two examples yet again for why English teachers not only go grey but tear their hair out at the roots.
One student, in writing a letter of apology to a customer who encountered problems with a product, wrote the following: "Thank you for writing to us about your problems in using our wet/dry vacuum, model #69A. First, we would like to apologize for any incontinence our product caused you."
Then there was the student who was writing about popular tourist attractions in New York State. This gem appeared in his writing: "One of the most beautiful scenic wonders in New York is the upstate Viagra Falls."
I've got a whole stack of papers waiting to be marked--I can't wait to see what "gems" will be there--not.
Monday, April 19, 2010
Let's look at restaurants. Can we honestly say that we need restaurants? Perhaps we could justify the existence of restaurants if we said that kosher visitors to our city need someplace to eat when they are here. We might be able to justify the restaurants if we say that business people, particularly in Manhattan, need someplace kosher so that they can take clients out for a meal. We could even say that emergencies can arise that will prevent us from eating something at home so we need a restaurant to eat in.
But how many restaurants are needed? Long ago someone made a comment on a different posting that restaurants are part of what constitutes a thriving, vibrant community. I take exception to that statement. Walk around the Flatbush/Borough Park area of Brooklyn and you'll trip over a restaurant every third store. And they are seemingly never empty. Certainly the restaurants are thriving, but does that mean that the restaurants are contributing to the creation of a thriving community? You need to ask yourself a question: are those restaurants contributing to the community, filling a need of the community, or are they creating a need through their very existence, turning luxuries and wants into needs?
I've been asking people I know about their restaurant eating habits (and I include taking out food as well as eating in). I was fairly astounded at the answer. In a few cases the meals eaten at restaurants or from restaurants far surpassed the number of meals eaten at home. In some cases they were 50/50. Students, who get their breakfast and lunch meals (and sometimes supper) in school, may also have most or all of their supper meals and weekend meals provided by such restaurants.
This also came to light. People living in communities with mutiple restaurants eat out more than those living in communities with only one or a scant few restaurants. While those living in the communities with few restaurants may on occasion travel to use a restaurant in a community that has a multiplicity of restaurants, they do so far less often than those living in those communities with a plethora of restaurants. In other words, propinquity and a multitude of available restaurants creates/contributes to a desire to eat out.
Eating out costs money, I don't care how cheap the restaurant is. And eating out or bringing in ready made food can be a mega-budget-breaker. Yet, far too many people don't see their restaurant habits as being part of the budget. They don't see restaurants as "entertainment" or extra; they see it as a necessary part of life and it costs what it costs.
The day after Pesach I had to return to work. I had some important errands to run and I also had to take my mom back to LI from SI. There wasn't much chometz in the house, certainly not anything I could take with me to keep me going until I returned home after 11:00 pm. My day was going to be complicated for me, so yes, I planned on having a meal in a restaurant near school. I walked up the block to a pizza shop. It was jam packed with parents and their little ones and with teenagers--most schools would not be back in session until the next day. As I patiently stood on line to give in my order I couldn't help but hear what others were ordering and see what had been ordered. At two tables that had been pushed together there were two young moms and 9 young kids. Yes, with time on my hands, I tallied up what was on the tables. First, two pizza pies. I counted 5 servings of french fries. There were two full salad plates with multiple toppings. I noticed a plate with falafel balls on it. There were 14 drink bottles and cans on the table. And one of the mothers was telling the kids that they needed to finish their whole lunch if they expected to get dessert. I looked up at the price lists posted and figured out that what was on the table, not counting any dessert, ran $88.40 or about $8 per person for just the basic lunch. And what was on this table was typical of what was on almost all of the tables in the shop, some of those other meals costing even more.
Granted, I, too, was going to be eating out in this pizza shop. Perhaps this was also an unusual occurrence for the people I noticed in the shop--and more likely it wasn't. As I mentioned before, these restaurants are always crowded. Someone is eating out there regularly, a whole lot of someones. Yes, there may indeed be an occasional time where eating out may spell the difference between eating or going hungry. But there is no one who is going to be able to convince me that "occasional" equals 50% or more of meals that need to be eaten.
My experience in the pizza shop led me to ask my classes a simple question that night. Give me a number for the number of times you eat out or buy a ready made meal to take out during the week. My students include boys in yeshiva dorms, boys living in their parents' homes, boys who share an apartment with other boys, and married men. Not one student, not one, said they never eat out. The smallest number I got was 4 times a week. And, horrifying to me, the largest number I got was basically every meal eaten during the week and on Shabbos unless they were invited to someone else's home for a meal.
Do a multitude of restaurants signal a vibrant community? Not to me they don't. Far from a positive thing, I consider a multitude of restaurants to represent a danger, a wolf dressed in sheep's clothing. What they signal to me is a community whose food budgets are likely seriously out of whack and whose nutritional needs are not being met properly. They can signal that the home and home cooked food is losing its centrality for many people. They signal a running after wants, not needs. Members of such communities aren't lucky to have all those restaurants; frankly, they are suckers being pulled in so the restaurants can make money. This is one case where more is definitively less--less money in the pockets of consumers.
Note: There is a real irony in this lusting after restaurant fare. Many of those communities that have the multitude of restaurants also have homes that have been remodeled to include an up to date, modern kitchen with all the frills. You've got to wonder why, if those kitchens aren't going to get a real workout.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
There have been numerous accusations of racism against the schools for discriminating on the basis of the ashkenazi/sefardi differences. Some are up in arms that any school that claims to be "frum" could be discriminatory in such a way. The Israeli Court is now firmly in the middle of the ruckus, having levied fines against a third party based on the school problem.
Let me put in my two cents worth--why does anyone think that yeshivas are bastions of democracy, standing with open arms to welcome everyone and anyone? The two schools in Israel are not showcasing a new phenomenon. If democracy were the guiding principle for school enrollment there would be no call for the pre-admission interviews and investigation that happen before ANY child is admitted to a yeshiva. The schools in the NYC area have for years been refusing entry to some students who apply, some of those refusals based on level and type of religious observance, some of it based on home practices/conditions and some of it based on psychological/educational/social reasons.
Many yeshivas seem to view themselves as homogeneous entities, ones where all the students enrolled are exemplars of whatever philosophy/hashkafa/bent the school was established to advance. They are like factories with production lines: all "items" coming off those production lines need to be identical. The more to the right a yeshiva is, the more this statement is seen as true. Nor, as I mentioned, is the divide strictly one of hashkafah. Let a family have a "problem," or what a yeshiva sees as a problem, and they may deny admission to a child coming from that family. Let a child need educational help/accommodation or special services and that child, too, will be looking for a different school. The attitude seems to be NIMBY--not in my backyard.
Long after the public school system had in place special ed services and resource rooms and on-site providers for students with learning/physical disabilities, the yeshiva system was still hiding its head in the sand. It was first those yeshivas in the middle or more to the left which began offering special services. And even there it wasn't across the board, and still isn't. Children who need extra services may well find themselves being rejected by yeshivas that are applied to.
There's many a parent who has been told: "You/your child will be more comfortable in a different yeshiva," which is yeshiva speak for "We don't want you/your child in our yeshiva." It matters not at all that YOU have chosen a particular yeshiva for your child; what matters is if that yeshiva chooses your child to be one of its own.
So yes, I think what is going on in Israel is a shandah. But the "ideology" that is feeding the problem is hardly limited to those two schools nor to Israel. We've got it right here in the US. If you are looking for democracy in action, don't look at the yeshiva system: you won't find it there.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
But how far should freedom of speech go and under what particular circumstances? We already know that freedom of speech is not 100% guaranteed in every circumstance. You are not granted the right to yell "fire!" in a crowded movie theatre. That's prosecutable public speech. You cannot publically say you are going to murder someone so they had better watch their back. That, too, could be prosecutable. Telling public lies about someone and slandering them could land you in legal hot water.
What about public protestations of a political or religious or ideological nature? Are all such protestations protected as free speech? Many argue that it is precisely speech of this nature that is the foundation for the idea of freedom of speech. But is it and should it be protected in each and every instance?
An interesting case is heading up to the Supreme Court for adjudication. It clearly hinges on the concept of freedom of speech. In a nutshell, a distressed father is taking on a fundamentalist group over their having picketed and protested at his son's funeral, causing him severe emotional stress among other things. Many who recognize that the picketing and protesting was hurtful and could have or should have been done differently or not at that particular time and place are, nonetheless, worried that a judgement against the fundamentalist group would be sending us down the slippery slope of curtailment of freedom of speech.
Part of the case hinges on the idea of public versus private. One side is arguing that a funeral is a private affair and that the freedom to speak against the dead person is not part of the right of freedom of speech. In other cases the private/public distinction has been key. A person can hang a swastika in their living room and make any comments about it they would like. Should that person go and paint a swastika on a synogogue that is punishable as a hate crime, trumping freedom of speech.
It should be interesting to see how the Court votes on the case and what arguments they use to support their decision.
To see a copy of a news story about the case, go to http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5ikyWFurOtNk9_KCCfi6GmDi8hEtgD9F1UP301
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master - that's all."
Through the Looking Glass
I have, on various occasions, mentioned that I am sick and tired of the labeling that goes on in Klal. Why does this labeling make me go ballistic? Because basically those labels have no meaning, none whatsoever. They mean whatever someone wants them to mean at the time they are using the label, and it matters not a whit if the person to whom the label is being attached doesn't quite understand what that label means or doesn't feel they belong under that label. And give it a day or two or a week or two or a month or two and that label will miraculously expand and contract, adding new elements to its meaning and subtracting some that have been there before, or it might disappear altogether.
Dr. Mark Skousen has written extensively on the dangers of economic and political labels. Let me paraphrase his words to apply to religious matters. "The three main reasons why labels are best avoided in religious discussions/usage are: (1) Labels are often an inaccurate description of a person's or group's views. (2) Labels often become pejorative terms used in character assassination (3) Labels put people into religious boxes and keep them there, preventing individuals from objectively considering alternative opinions and changing their minds....Categorizing someone's ideas using labels is often used to avoid real thinking about actual issues....[Using labels] it is a method for throwing someone into a convenient ideological box."
Labels are a type of stereotyping, and like other stereotypes, they may have no truth to them or only some truth to them. They may not apply to all in a group being stereotypically labeled or they may actually apply to none in that group. Stereotype does not equal truth, and neither does a label. At best a stereotype is "A conventional, formulaic, and oversimplified conception, opinion, or image; a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning."
There is intention when a label is used, and that intention is not always or only rarely neutral. The way religious labels are used today it should be clear that their intent is not just strictly for the purpose of naming something so that it's easier to discuss that something. For the most part the intent is to invest the something being discussed with a type of value judgement, and for the most part when someone flying under the flag of one particular label applies a different label to someone outside of his/her own designated group, that value judgement is rarely a positive one..
If you want to see some examples of how truly ridiculous labeling has become among Jews, look at a standardized shidduch questionaire from the various shidduch groups. The number of labels available to categorize the single according to their "religion" has gone well beyond ludicrous. Other examples of ludicrous labeling vis a vis religion? Plug into any discussion about major issues confronting yiddishkeit or of concern to yiddishkeit and watch the labels multiply like rabbits. Watch how certain segments of Klal refer to other segments of Klal.
Pray tell, just what "religion" is MO Light? Or how about MO Machmir? Pray tell of what use labels may be when someone who sits and learns in Chaim Berlin or Torah VoDaas or yeshivas of that type and style will be labeled Yeshivish, but someone who sits and learns in a YU kollel is not considered Yeshivish?
Of late a new label has been floating around: Chareidi Light. Sounds to me more like a description of a mild Asian horseradish than a religious designation. We'd probably all be better off if it did apply to that horseradish. At least then there would be some actual referent the term pointed to, some neutral object.
I'm going to answer to exactly one name if someone asks me my religion: Jewish. If someone really pushes and I'm feeling benign I might tack on "religious/observant." Beyond that it's all labeling, and you realllllly don't want to take me there.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
[Note: there was no actual author credited with the following. If anyone knows who did write it, and that person is not trying to stay anonymous, please let me know.]
The following is being reported exclusively by the Torah True Times.
The Vaad Ha Tznius has just issued the following guidelines regarding laundry.It has come to our attention that many families, including those who pride themselves on following all aspects of halacha, are regularly not conforming to proper Tznius guidelines. Unbelievably, many, many families are washing men's and women's clothing together at the same time in the same washing machine. This is an unprecedented breach of Tznius.!!! How could anyone think that one is allowed to wash men's and women's undergarments at the same time in the same washing load?!!! What has our nation come to when people have fallen to such a low level? For shame!!! This practice must stop!!!!Given this we are issuing the following guidelines regarding the doing of laundry.
1. Ideally each observant home should have two washing machines and two dryers - one washing machine and one dryer should be used exclusively for men's clothing and the other washing machine and dryer should be used exclusively for women's clothing.
2. In the event that a family cannot afford to have two washing machines and two dryers, the following rules should be adhered to.
a. Under no circumstances should men's clothes be in the same machine as women's clothing. They should, of course, also be dried separately.
b. After doing a load of men's clothing, one should run the washing machine through a complete cycle without any clothes in it. Then one may wash women's clothing in this machine. The same procedure should, of course, be followed after washing a load of women's clothing, namely, run a complete cycle without any clothes in the machine. Then one may wash men's clothing in the machine.
c. After drying a load of men's clothing the dryer should be allowed to cool off completely. After this, one may use the dryer for drying women's clothes. The same applies after drying a load of women's clothing before using the dryer for men's clothing. It is not enough to let the dryer cool below Yad So Ledas Bo. The dryer must be completely cooled off.
Our forefathers lived in a land that was between two rivers - the Tigris and the Euphrates. The reason is obvious to anyone who thinks into it a bit. One river was used to wash women's clothing and the other to wash men's clothing. Surely we can continue this tradition by observing the rules stated above.We are confident that everyone who takes Yahadus seriously will abide by the guidelines stated above.
With Torah greetings, The Vaad Ha Tznius
Many of our friends and family have children who don't live in the same communities where they were brought up. In point of fact many have children living across the country, the continent and the world. No, it's not easy for them as parents and grandparents. They'd love to see the kids more often, but every get together requires a trip, not just a scooting around the corner. But the kids made the decisions to live where they do, and the parents stepped back.
The kids are living in these far flung corners for a lot of reasons. For some, the school they are attending or the yeshiva they are learning in is there. For others, the in laws may live in this place. For still others a job opportunity may have presented itself. There are some who are drawn to a particular community because it appeals to something they value, even if not necessarily what their parents value. And for yet others there has been the realization that they cannot afford to live where their parents live. There are things they would like to do and to own and they won't be able to have their own dreams come true if they stay in their parents' community.
Is there a parent reading this who does not hope that his/her child will someday be able to own a house of their own? Call home ownership a luxury if you must but it's a luxury that virtually all of us want, and which our parents want for us as well. It's an attainable luxury for lots of people, but sometimes you have to shift your focus to attain it. Sometimes you are going to have to look at the size and scale of the house you want and reduce that size. Sometimes you are going to have to look at what things cost in a particular neighborhood and honestly recognize that you can't afford that neighborhood, so you are going to have to relocate that dream house to someplace other than where you'd love it to be.
On my husband's side we have 6 married nieces and nephews. Their parents live in Midwood/Flatbush. Only one of the 6 lives in Brooklyn altogether, and he is first in the midst of buying a house now (and no, not right in the middle of all the action either) after many years of marriage. The others are spread out across NY and NJ, and no, not in Bergen County either. One niece married a Jersey boy and he didn't want to leave Jersey so there they are. But not in BC, where his parents resided. They looked at their finances, they looked at the neighborhoods available and they bought where they could afford to buy. I'm not saying this was easy on the parents, but they recognized something that other parents need to also recognize: money makes the world go round. Wanting something is not the same as getting it.
Someone over yom tov marvelled that another friend would "allow" her kids to move half way across the country. It's really more than time to remove that word "allow" from a parent's vocabulary as applied to married children. In a perfect world nothing would cost more than we could afford, and we could afford everything we want. We don't have that perfect world. Instead of encouraging our children to beggar themselves because they have to live where we live and live the lifestyle we live, we ought to be looking at reality and saying "It hurts, but my kids have to go where they can afford to live BY THEIR OWN EFFORTS." In short parents, it's time we were part of the solution, not the problem.
Just a thought: and if communities are worried about their future viability, they might give some thought to just what community practices are pricing young couples out of that community, things like yeshiva tuition and lifestyle expectations.
Monday, April 12, 2010
Yes, it was very enjoyable to sit at the table with the siblings and to catch up on what had been going on in our lives, even if only briefly. For four hours we renewed connections that had become rusty. But here's the thing; as we were all leaving there were no tearful promises that we'd all get together again very soon, no "talk to you tomorrow" in the air. Perhaps what we all recognized was that our lives had all gone in different directions and we were no longer travelers on the same road. Yes, should we find ourselves at the same rest stop at some point in the journey we'd welcome the chance to talk and reminisce, but the day-to-day elements of our journeys are no longer in tandem.
When I got home I took a look at our wedding album with a particular eye towards who was at our chasoneh that we were still in constant contact with. Aside from my mother, our siblings and my first cousins there were precisely two people who still form part of our core group. Yes, there are others who we call before a yom tov, but they aren't any longer the focus of a call on a Tuesday in July. Sad? Yes, but not debillitatingly so. There are others who have joined us on our journey along the way, some for the long haul, some for only a short distance. It's not that we have discarded our connections, but rather that a whole lot of those connections were obviously not destined to be fellow travelers for the whole trip. And there are people, met well after we got married, who are our fellow travelers, at least for now.
What brought this to mind? The daughter of an acquaintance in the neighborhood refuses to entertain any shidduchim where the young man is from out of town or wants to leave the immediate NYC area or does not have his roots buried deep in NYC. Her reason is simple: she has "best friends" living here and she has no intention of giving them up or losing them. She "knows" that she and those friends are "destined" to head through life together. In my opinion, someone ought to explain to her that there is simply no way to guarantee that that will indeed be the case. Even if they all live in NYC that doesn't mean they will remain close forever. Life changes as time goes forward. Being a couple instead of a single can change the relationship among and between friends. Moving from one part of the city to another can change the dynamics. Having children can change how you view relationships. Interests can change, priorities can change and yes, people can change.
With all the other, more important things to look for in a shidduch, keeping all your "best" friends as part of your life should not, in my opinion, be right up there in the top three requirements, at least based on my own experiences having been married for 38 years. Requiring that all current "best" friends come along for the whole journey is short sighted for the most part and also unrealistic. Go ahead, look at your address book, look at who you consider yourself close with today and then compare that to 5 years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Here's what I'll bet: some people have gotten off the train and others have gotten on. I believe that's what is called life.
Sunday, April 11, 2010
I would imagine that what is happening there is going to be, if it already isn't, a problem in most of the eastern urban centers. Where are you going to bury shaimos if you don't live where open ground is available, as it is not in the larger urban centers? Even those with their own backyards will run out of room much sooner than later.
I wouldn't mind seeing some rabbinic conference that specifically dealt with this subject in a realistic way. Klal is growing so this problem will only get bigger, not smaller, as time goes on. Should be interesting to see how Lakewood's situation resolves itself and what the rabbanim are going to say/do in response.
As the European-born child of Holocaust survivors I don't need today to remember the Holocaust--there is no day that goes by, none, that the Holocaust does not pop up in some form or another. In ordinary daily conversations with my sister and other family members the words "grandchildren," "great-grandchildren" and "grandparents" are common as we catch up on who is doing what. And yes, whenever I hear those words I think about how lucky my children and my nieces and nephews are to have that which I never had, couldn't have because of the Holocaust--grandparents. And yes, even for those of the grandparent generation who are no longer alive there is something that our children have, that I do not and will never have: the knowledge of where those grandparents are buried and the ability to visit those kvorim to pay kovod ha'meis.
But there is also this: read or tune in to any news source and what is heard on a regular basis is a denial that the Holocaust ever took place, or didn't take place the way "they" say it did. There are many, many people in the outside world who have bought into this lie in a big way, for a variety of reasons. We are now many years past the actual Holocaust and the generation that lived through it is almost gone. If we are not to let the Holocaust slip into being a faint footnote in history, then a Holocaust Remembrance Day is a necessity, perhaps not for us who intimately still have a connection to the Holocaust, but for all the others. It is a time to point out, loudly and clearly, that the Holocaust was "real" and that we won't let anyone forget that. And let's not forget that old saying: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, c"v.
If not for ourselves then for all the others out there now and for the generations to come whose connection to the Holocaust will be a far one, let's stop complaining that there is a Holocaust Remembrance Day and do some remembering instead.
Friday, April 9, 2010
Of course the sampling size is awfully small but I'm thinking that there must be some kind of strange relationship between P words going on: Pregnancy plus Pesach=male children. Those who are so worried about the inbalance in Klal between males and females just might want to do a bit of family planning involving Pesach; it's apparently a segulah for having a boy if your due date is Pesach-time. Hey, I didn't say it was logical, just that there seems to be a segulah in the making.
Note: a friend to whom I reported this seeming phenomenon was not particularly surprised but did offer an explanation. It was the male children, as reported in the Haggadah, that were targetted by the Mitzrim. Having only male children on Pesach seems to be a way of getting back at the Mitzrim, a sort of finger raised in the air.
In one short three-week period we have gone through three years' worth of seasonal cycles, having experienced fall, winter, spring and summer in swift succession. People who ran to get air conditioners on and blasting on Wednesday and Thursday awoke with their teeth chattering this morning as temperatures plummeted downwards and rainstorms pelted our already over-saturated ground. Women, who on Wednesday, in record breaking heat, discussed summer Shabbos menus, are running for their cholent pots this morning.
And it's not just New York. During the last days of Pesach Southern California near the border with Mexico got hit with an earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale. This weekend a storm coming down out of Alaska is going to drench California. One of my students left Denver Wednesday morning with snow falling steadily. By the time he arrived in NY the weather in Denver had gone up to the 60s.
Though it goes against the grain for many of us, we're starting to look at those weather forecasters with a bit more respect. Hard to admit it but their crazy predictions of highly fluctuating weather have been right. The way things have been going weather-wise it wouldn't surprise me in the least to wake up next week and see flakes of snow falling outside the window.
But the crazy weather patterns have also brought to mind the following: "Man tracht undt Gott lacht"--man tries and God laughs. We humans have the fallible idea that we are in charge of the world and that what we say goes. And then something as "simple" as the weather shows us that we are far from in charge of the world. If God, and the nature he created, want it to be 92 on April 7 and 51 on April 9 then that is what it is going to be. I was going to switch all the cold weather and hot weather clothing in the closets today. Thank you God for taking that chore off the list.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
The Rabbi is not alone in this. So many people I have spoken with over the years tell me that they were so bored in places they went to on vacation. When they mention some of these places I get perplexed. So many of them are situated in or in close proximity to some of the most beautiful of the US's nature landmarks. But somehow people don't take the time or perhaps have the interest to get back to nature.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest we lived surrounded by some of the most beautiful country on earth. My parents, both of them, were nature lovers and our family trips and vacations were spent in exploring natural wonders. My hubby and I are in sync on this as well. He would rather spend his vacation seeing "God's Country," as he calls it, than traipsing around something man built.
We are told that man was given the earth for his use and all that is in it. Seems to me that we aren't appreciative enough of the gift of that world that we were given. Even in our cities there are pockets of greenery containing some pretty incredible sights, and we tend to walk straight on by with nothing more than a cursory glance. I once had a cousin tell us that she couldn't live in Staten Island--there were too many trees and too much grass. How, she asked, did we take it day after day? Weren't we worried that a tree could fall on someone? And all those nasty insects and birds leaving droppings on our cars?
My backyard visitors have been making their first spring appearances and I'm tickled pink. The sound of birds has replaced the sound of the howling winds of the past few weeks. Crocuses are pushing up and the deciduous bushes are sprouting new buds. At times like this I fully agree with the poet who said: "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree." And I won't see a building as lovely either.
The natural world is an incredible gift given to mankind by God. How dare we turn up our noses at His gift. Saying "some day" doesn't seem any more polite either. Is it really more important that our children go on the monster roller coaster at some amusement park than to be exposed to the natural wonders of our world? So many of our kids are totally divorced from the green world that is around them. They don't know the names of the trees and bushes and wildlife and couldn't care less. They look at concrete and steel creations and ooh and aah in wonder at what man has wrought. Perhaps it's time to introduce them to the truly amazing things that God has wrought. Most of us are more than overdue for a trip into God's Country.
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Despite the work to get into Pesach I'm sad to see it go. For most of a week we had the luxury of time to sit and talk, not on the phone, not via computer, but face to face. It was a time to reconnect in a way that we are not usually given during the rest of the year. Everyone's schedules were mostly in sync and mealtimes found everyone at the table, ready to eat, but more importantly, ready to connect with all the others. No, the time was not "perfect" but it was truly satisfying.
I got to spend more than a week with my mom. Amazingly, as she and I were talking, I heard new stories, got new bits of information about the family going way back. Yes, more links that connect the past with the present and the future.
The sedorim were beautiful and have taken their place in the memory books we all have. Whatever else may happen over the years to come, no one can take these precious memories away.
Pasta is merrily bubbling away in a pot and the toaster is back in its place. Everyone is back to work as usual. And yes, I miss the slower pace of life during yom tov, I miss the camaraderie. Ah well, time to stop reminiscing and go shopping again--Shabbos is coming up and life is going on.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Question: Is it possible that a family that doesn't eat 16 dozen eggs across 12 weeks during the regular year can really use/consume that many eggs during the 8 days of Pesach?
Answer: Yes. Either that or there is a weasel living in my store room that is over dosing on eggs.
Question: If it takes 2-3 weeks to use up 5 lbs. of potatoes during the regular year how is it possible to use up 30 lbs. of potatoes during the 8 days of Pesach?
Answer: Not just possible but you'll run out of potatoes by motzoai yom tov and need to buy again for Shabbos.
Question: Are inanimate kitchen items really inanimate? If they are inanimate then how is it possible that every time I turn around the same pots and prep pans, just used and put away, are right back in the sink needing to be washed yet once again?
Answer: I know, I know, they aren't living beings capable of self-locomotion; after all, scientists say it's impossible. And we just know that scientists have all the answers. Well, let them come and observe my kitchen next Pesach. So far one pan has miraculously appeared 67 times in the sink--and we're not yet into the second days of yom tov.
Question: How is it possible for all the laundry hampers/baskets to be overflowing and yom tov is not yet over when the drawers holding our clothing are still full?
Answer: No answer that I'm happy with to this question but it brings up a different question.
Question: If I can do 3-6 loads of laundry during the course of one regular week then how is it possible to do 16 loads of laundry between motzoai yom tov and Shabbos while going back to work?
Answer: Doesn't everyone do laundry at 2:00 am?
Question: How is it possible to have served at least 18 meals so far, not to mention that everyone seems to detour through the kitchen no matter where else they are headed for and just happens to open the refrigerator or pantry cabinet, and still have refrigerators that are bursting at the seams?
Answer: Scientifically impossible (note again that science can't explain everything) but apparently food "goes forth and multiplies" when exposed to temperatures under 40 degrees.
Question: This one arose last year and I'm sure it will apply this year as well. How is it possible to take anywhere from 1-3 full days to find a place to put everything needed for Pesach (and still have a few items that float from place to place looking for a home) and yet motzoai yom tov it will take only 72 minutes to get it all packed up and put away until next year?
Answer: The promise of pasta instead of potatoes is a great inducer for everyone to pitch in and turn the kitchen back to normal.
I'm sure you all have questions of your own you are asking right about now. Ah well, no more time to look for answers. That pot has appeared back in the sink and needs washing and, for a change, there are 6-7 meals to be cooked for.
Enjoy the rest of yom tov!