Friday, May 30, 2008

So, the Sky is Not Falling?

I'm posting the following link because it represents a practical and down to earth look at we call the "Shidduch Crisis."

Thanks to my offspring for bringing it to my attention.

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

Regarding the problems at the Agriprocessors meat facility, let me state up front that I know only what I've read in the papers or what has been discussed on the various blogs. How much is fact and how much is speculation or opinion I cannot tell you. Stories are popping up all over and the discussion has dissolved into bashing of the principals involved and their religious affiliation. Leave me out of that. I admire Lubavitch for the kiruv work it does all over the world, for actually getting out there when others either don't talk about the situation of losing Jews or talk and don't do. I have yet to travel anywhere in this known world that I could not arrange for Shabbos or kashrut thanks to Lubavitch. I know Mr. Rubashkin not at all. So what am I going to talk about?

If the following fact that has been printed is indeed correct, the Agriprocessor facility shechts 55% of the kosher meat available in the US. Also reported is that for many of the small towns and cities in the US they are the only source of kosher meat. If correct, those are facts that should cause us some thought.

What if the Agriprocessor facility had had a major fire? What if the plant had been severely damaged? What if the workers had staged a walk-out? What would the affect be on kosher meat supply in the US? There would have been less than half of the meat supply available for kosher consumers. That is not a small number. One way to look at it is that we all would have had to cut our meat consumption in half. Another way to look at it is that only less than 1 in 2 consumers would have had meat available to them.

If the "MunchaMuncha" kosher company, producing pretzel snacks, were to undergo the same problem with their production facilities, the impact on kosher consumers would be negligible. Pretzel snacks are not a major part of the kosher diet and we could do without them. Even if "MunchaMuncha" were to be the only producer of pretzel snacks we would not suffer.

Meat is not the same story. For better or for worse, we are meat eaters. It is a key component in most of our diets. The loss of access to meat would affect us negatively.

The problem as I see it is not about the kashrut of the meat coming out of Agriprocessors. It is about the supply. There were, up to a little while ago, two major kashrut agencies supervising the schechita at the plant. There are arguments arising about the ethics of certain practices taking place in the plant. I'll leave those to others. What I wonder about is how there was no concern in the frum community BEFORE this about what would happen if Agriprocessors could not deliver its products.

If meat is vital to our kosher diets, then where were the safeguards to assure that the supply would not be interrupted? Where were the people who should have asked themselves the hard questions beforehand? Did no one take a few moments to go through and think of all the possibilities that could result in the closing of the plant? Did no one do a "disaster" readiness analysis? Again, I am not going to delve into ethical considerations here, nor am I levying any accusations about kashrut. What I would like to know, however, is why we were seemingly uninformed and unprepared for the ICE raid on the plant.

Agriprocessors is a private company and it makes business decisions that are favorable to its bottom line. It is not producing kosher meat out of the goodness of its heart. It found a need and it is filling it. It sells a product. But when that product is a key component of kosher living, why weren't the leaders of Klal sufficiently interested to try and safeguard that product? It's absolutely kosher? Fine. But it's not absolutely available now, and that is not fine.

Because the plant is not working at full speed now they are not delivering the same amount of meat. Meat is still in demand, so the aggregate affect has been a raise in kosher meat prices all over. Yes, the simple law of supply and demand. When there is less supply prices go up. As consumers we are paying, both literally and figuratively, for the problems in the Agriprocessors plant. It does not matter if we did not buy their products before. Their product affects the price of the product we do buy.

So my question is this: Why did we put the majority of our eggs into one basket? Why did the "machers" of Klal, who have time to ponder so many "vital" questions, so many esoteric questions of little affect on Klal, not take the time to think about this more important question of meat supply?

Well, the "worst" has happened now and it is forcing public discussion. The question arises about if our leadership is going to step up to the plate and do something so that meat supply doesn't become a matter of maybe/maybe not in the future. Don't blather on and on, with fingers pointing in all directions. Don't let the public discussion, nor the private ones either, devolve into a pointless them versus us blame-fest. What I want to know is what is being put into place to make sure that when I go to the store to buy meat, that meat is there, and at a price that is not "above rubies."

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I've already stated my retirement from making shidduchim. There were many reasons for doing so, not the least of which was the craziness that is now a part of the dating formula.

Thanks to Brooklyn Wolf for posting "Is This The Newest Dating Craze... Don't Compliment Your Date?" It offers some excellent reasons for keeping away from the whole dating mess, for shadchanim and for daters as well.

An Update on Those Japanese Butterflies

We've all heard that saying that when a butterfly in Japan flaps its wings the affect is felt around the world. Frum Jews have their own little butterfly that is having great affect in our world.

When the Rubashkin slaughterhouse in the Midwest was raided a few weeks ago, for immigration and identity theft violations, people were wondering if that would have any affect, and when, on the cost of kosher meat.

The when is now. All the supermarkets in our area have large fresh kosher food sections as well as frozen kosher food sections. Rubashkin fresh chicken had always been available at two of them. It no longer is. In addition, all the markets carry Empire chicken. I've told you of my great buy on Empire--not going to see that again. Today, Stop and Shop, whose kosher chicken prices have always been fairly decent at $2.69 a pound for cut up fresh chicken when not on sale had that cut up fresh chicken at $3.79 a pound--yes, you read that correctly. And a package of fresh chicken pulkas--drumsticks--was an amazing $4.45 a pound. Bottom quarters--leg and thigh--were @2.99 a pound. You don't really want to see what chicken breasts were going for.

The pinch in food prices is hitting home in a big way. And I wish that darned butterfly would stop flapping its wings. Wouldn't try and use Raid on that butterfly--a raid is what got us into this trouble to begin with.

Put a Freeze on your Spending

I've posted on the usefulness of full-size freezers before, but the recent severe uptick in consumer food prices suggests another look at freezers.

Someone asked me at what point the cost of buying and running a freezer gets paid for, and is there really any savings to the consumer. Let's see. Sears Kenmore products are highly rated. They recently had an upright freezer, 22 cubic feet, on sale for $547, tax already included in this price. It's Energy Star Efficiency rated, and the cost to run is approximately $51 per year. That puts the cost of the freezer at $598 for year one of ownership. So, for that first year, how much does that freezer have to save you in order to pay for itself? Approximately $50 a month, or about $12.50 a week. That $12.50 a week is a truly doable figure, especially since having a large freezer allows you to expand your notions of what you can freeze. In the second and subsequent years of ownership the only cost is to run the freezer--$51 dollars. That's about $4.65 a month, a figure that a freezer can save you many times over.

Corn has become an expensive food to purchase. Before Pesach corn was selling at 4 small ears for $4.95. It's in season now and the stores have it at anywhere from 4 for $1.00 to 6 for $1.00. One store ran a special this morning at 12 for $1.99. The catch was that you had to buy 12 in order to get the price. What if you can't use that much corn before it starts to get below par? That's where the freezer comes in. I bought 24 ears of corn. The time for blanching the corn (necessary before freezing it) was 21 minutes for three batches of 8. The corn was medium and large in size. The mediums were packed together and the larges were broken in half, still producing a nice sized portion. Those 24 ears of corn made 8 frozen meal packages. In the freezer section of the store 4 frozen ears of corn, small, were $2.99 a package. A package of 24 tiny half-ears was $6.99, the equivalent of 12 small fresh ears for $7.00. The cost of 8 family servings of corn I froze myself? $3.98. The cost if I would have bought them from the store? $23.92. A $20.00 savings.

Still not convinced. Milk prices are going, going, gone. We happen to like a milk that is generally termed as fat free plus--it's skim milk that has been fortified so that it has the feel and taste of full-fat milk without the fat and with extra calcium and Vitamin D. The price has gone sky high. Some markets sell the Tuscan brand at between $4.29 and $4.99 a half gallon. The Skinny Cow brand sells in the range of $3.69 to 4.29 a half gallon. We're average milk drinkers here and 1 to 2 half gallons go a week easily. Even at the lowest usual price that is $7.38 in milk per week. Today the Skinny Cow was on sale at 2 for $5. I bought 8 and put them in the freezer. I have at least a month's worth of milk at a savings this month of $10 on milk alone. Not to mention not having to worry about running out of milk. And it freezes without any loss of texture or taste or nutrition.

Most supermarkets sell Empire chicken. And heavens knows it comes with enough different hechshers on it to make most people happy. A few weeks ago I was in a market that I don't usually shop in but I found myself in the vicinity of and stopped just to see what might be on special. I hit the jackpot. Food products come with "Don't Sell Past" dates on them. This is not the last date of use but the last date the store can sell the products. The last sale date for the Empire chicken in that store was for the next day, a Saturday, but I guess the manager knew that the people who buy the chicken wouldn't be in the store. First the store reduced the price to $1.69 a pound. Then they put a $2.00 off per package manager special sticker on each package. Basically, a 3-1/2 pound chicken ended up costing $3.90 for the package. The average cost before the sale for those same chickens was $8.50 to $9.00 I bought the 13 chickens available for a savings of about $75-80 dollars.

In just two weeks I saved enough on three purchases to pay for over two years of electrical usage for my freezer. And what I've mentioned are not the only things I managed to save on. Or look at it this way--I cut my food bills by $110 for this month just on these items.

Shopping smart + a freezer used right can equal savings, convenience and a way to cope with the food price blues. You might want to give freezers another look if you've "resisted" buying them before.

Oh, and the frosting on the cake today? It's BBQ season coming up and light hot dog buns were 3 for $2.19 for a package of 8 instead of $2.19 each, a savings of $4.38. The freezer is "eating" well today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some Additional Financial Reading Material

Thanks to Scraps for sending the following link to a well written article on how it's the "little" things that can make or break a person's financial health.$10-Today-Be-Out-$100K-Tomorrow

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A New Poll

A recent comment fired up my curiosity. I've put up a new poll on medical practitioners and sex. There are separate polls for male and female readers of the blog. Please scroll down below to access the polls. You may answer more than one question. In fact, there are three questions that everyone should be able to answer.

Consumer Product Anorexia

Anorexia--it's not just for people any more. Consumer products are going on diets with a vengeance, and it's affecting the financial health of humans.

Once upon a time all bags of dried beans, lentils and barley were a standard 16 ounces. Buyer beware--some of those bags look the same size but read the package--some are down to a "size" 14.

Paper cups were all 100 juice-sized cups to a package. Same box size, only now there are 80 cups.

Once upon a time juice containers were all either 32 ounces or 64 ounces. Now we have the new 59 ounce container.

Coke introduced its new bottle with a whole ad campaign about how it was easier than ever to hold and to pour. It said it was doing consumers a favor. But those new bottles contain 1/2 liter less soda at the price that 2-liter bottles used to cost. So of course they had to make 2-liter bottles cost more.

Once upon a time all packaged salads were a standard 16 ounces. Buyer beware. Fresh Express salads, some with the star K, are now a standard 12 ounces (but the bag size is the same). Dole still makes the 16 ounce bags, also some with the star K. (Interesting note here: King Kullen markets don't sell the Dole salads, only the Fresh Express. When I asked why the produce manager was honest--because when they had both people compared the two and only bought the Dole. Ironically this same market keeps putting big yellow sale signs on the Fresh Express of 2 for $6.00 and they can't understand why the packages aren't grabbed off the shelves. Perhaps because down the block the Dole is $1.99 regular price for the plain lettuce mix?)

Once upon a time cream cheese, cottage cheese and sour cream came in standard 8 ounce or 16 ounce or 24 ounce or 32 ounce containers. Read the labels. That 8 ounce sized container may only have from 5-1/2 to 6-1/2 ounces in it. The 32 ounce container may now be a size 28 ounces.

Once upon a time canned vegetables were pretty much standard--8 ounce or 16 ounce. Read those labels and weep. The can size hasn't changed but the contents have.

Shampoos have changed their bottles lately, for a good reason. There is less in the bottles than before. Head and Shoulders shampoo ads all tout the beautiful new bottle. Hello, you don't wash your hair with a bottle.

Cereal boxes are another breeding ground for anorexia. The boxes remain the same but the contents are shrinking.

Go through a market and look really carefully at what is in those packages. Manufacturers are putting in less and less. The ironic part? Some manufacturers like to point with pride that they haven't raised prices and still keep their consumers in mind. Yeah, right. $3.00 for 8 ounces or $3.00 for 6 ounces, and they think we are going to buy into their not having raised their prices? Godiva chocolates are sold by the piece and are super expensive. It seems like food and household goods product manufacturers are also buying into the idea that smaller equals better. But better for whom? Certainly not for shoppers. Anorexia on their part equals more money spent on our part.

Changing Words, Changing Attitudes

Our language shapes the way we think about things, changes the way we act. Some words bring out a positive reaction in a listener; some bring out a negative reaction. Yes, there is emotional baggage that comes with words. Which words we use when speaking and writing can predetermine the attitudes of the listeners and readers to those words.

No one likes to be considered as "cheap." Cheap has a negative connotation in our language. As the dictionary tells us, cheap is "Ungenerously or pettily reluctant to spend money." People who are cheap are also close, close-fisted, costive, hard-fisted, mean, miserly, niggard, niggardly, parsimonious, penny-pinching, penurious, petty, pinching, tight, tightfisted. No one likes being called cheap, so we don't take actions that would bring us the hated label.

But what if we were thrifty instead? The dictionary tells us that "thrifty" is "Economical, careful in the use of material resources." People who are thrifty are also canny, chary, frugal, provident, prudent, saving, sparing. Who doesn't want to be thought of as someone who is careful or prudent? Another definition of "thrifty" is "flourishing," with its synonyms of booming, boomy, prospering, prosperous, roaring, thriving. Anyone who would object to being thought of as thriving or prosperous?

When we talk about making changes that could save us money we would be better off using the word "thrifty" rather than the word "cheap." Being thrifty is something we could wear as a badge of honor; being cheap raises some negative pictures we could do without.

Yes, changing attitudes can be as simple as changing the words we use. So you see, dear readers, I'm not recommending being cheap at all; I'm recommending being prosperous by also being prudent.

One Step at a Time

If you are reading this blog then you can read. I'll assume you even read other things besides this blog. You may read newspapers and magazines and books. I'll assume you are neither blind nor deaf. And yet...

The media of all kinds are full of the problems with the American diet. They are full of information on nutrition and health. It's not only the media. The medical field is open and vocal about changes that need to be made to our diet so that we can be healthy and remain healthy. So why aren't we really listening?

One reason might be because all those pronouncements in the media are given side by side with advertisements for just the kinds of places and products that are bad for the kind of healthy eating and living that are advocated. Another reason might be the sheer overwhelming amount of information that we are bombarded with, a lot of it contradictory. Yet a third reason might be that we are creatures of habit and making radical changes is something we don't like doing.

What I am advocating now is something different. Let's call it the one-step method. I'm not asking that you suddenly and completely get rid of desires and habits that have been around for your lifetime. Instead, focus on the number one. Could you change one thing that you are in the habit of doing? I think most of us would answer "yes." Then decide that you are going to change that one thing. Below are some examples/suggestions for things that you could do to improve your nutrition and eating habits, and all you need to do right now is choose ONE.

1. Change from regular oil to canola, olive and/or grapeseed oil. You cut down on saturated fats without sacrificing taste or ingredients.

2. Substitute oil for the butter, margarine or shortening called for in a recipe. Lots of places on the Internet that will give you the equivalents.

3. If you make your own salad dressing, cut the amount of oil called for in half. You'll still get the flavor and cut down on the calories.

4. Dilute bottled salad dressings with water or vinegar by 1/4 to1/3 as a ratio. Again, the flavor is there and you've cut calories and fat (saves money too).

5. Use only half the salad dressing a bottle says is a portion size.

6. Read labels as to how much is an actual portion size and don't take more than what they say. People who pour dressing from the bottle can be using 3-5 times as much dressing as is recommended, with 3-5 times the calories. Use a measuring spoon.

7. Do you find yourself frying food many times during the week? Decide to cut down on one of those times. Even not eating something fried one less time during the week is healthier for you.

8. Do you eat out often? Do you buy take out often? Reduce your meals eaten out by one for the week. Reduce your take out food by one meal for the week. Lots of savings health wise in calories, saturated fats and additives like salt and sugar.

9. Not really a fruit and veggie person? Can't see eating all those servings they tell you you need? Start really small. First, decide to eat one green vegetable every day. Lots to choose from and maybe you won't hate them all. Green beans of all types, broccoli, spinach, dark leaved lettuces, peas, kale, cucumbers, zucchini, green peppers. Or maybe red/orange/yellow are your colors. Try carrots, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, red peppers, yellow squash, radishes, corn. Same goes with fruit. Choose only one if that's all you can handle right now, but make it one a day. I'll bet you can deal with only one apple every day, or maybe one orange or a cup of grapes. Maybe pineapple is your thing--try one portion every day.

10. Not willing to give up peanuts as a snack? Fine. Your one thing is to measure the portion size given on the package. Or maybe it is to switch from roasted/salted nuts to plain ones. Or maybe you might consider switching to a nut with more nutrients--try substituting almonds for the peanuts.

11. Can't give up pretzels? No problem. Measure a portion size and limit yourself to one portion every day. Read the label and switch your brand to a lower fat brand. Or maybe choose a salt-free brand. Or switch to a brand made with whole wheat containing more fiber.

12. Won't give up potato chips? No problem. But for every measured portion of chips that you eat, you have to pair the chips with a fruit or veggie--can't have one if you don't eat the other.

13. Declare one day during the week as fat free day and don't eat anything that day that is fried or fat laden.

14. Switch your milk to a less fatty version.

15. Can't live without peanut butter? Fine, but switch to one of the lower fat versions or to one of the natural peanut butters made without added sugar.

16. Keep only one variety of snack food in the house--just one. Choice and variety in "regular" food is important; choice of snacks should not be.

I'm sure you can find zillions of things all on your own that would be of help in living a healthier lifestyle. All you need to do right now is pick one. And when you have that one fully incorporated into your lifestyle, go and pick another one. If you are the chief "decider" in your family for what constitutes meals and snacks then make the changes for everyone you feed, or ask the family and get a concensus for which thing to change. (Just remind everyone that "none of the above" is not one of the answer choices.)

You don't go down stairs by standing at the top and jumping down a whole flight to get to the bottom. Go down one step at a time.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Drink Hearty

There's a lot of talk about getting rid of soda as a drink for health reasons. Soda is a lot of empty calories for no nutrition. "But we drink the zero calorie soda so that doesn't matter" I hear someone say. Fine. Satisfies the thirst without adding in empty calories. No nutrients either. But have you looked at the prices on those sodas that are calorie free lately? And then have you totalled up the number of bottles that a family can drink up in one week? Summer is coming and drinking is going to go up with the hotter weather.

The name brand sodas all run around $1.69 a 2-liter bottle regular price. Someone is always having a sale on these sodas, but the prices still are pretty stiff. 4 bottles for $5.00 was available in a few markets. The one market that put coke on sale for 5 for $4.00 was wiped out of soda on day one of the sale. Let's say you only drink one 2-liter bottle of soda in your house per day. Regular price that comes out to about $12.00 a week just for soda. Drink more than one bottle and the cost per week rises as well.

There are alternatives that can cost you way less while still giving you "flavored" water. Lipton tea bags were on sale all of last week and this week at 100 for $2.99. According to the label one tea bag makes one 8-ounce cup of tea. Baloney. Anyone who has ever used these tea bags knows that they make more than one 8-ounce cup of tea. They make a regularly strong 12-ounce glass with no problem. That means that one box of tea bags makes 1200 ounces of iced tea easily. That is the equivalent of 17 and 2/3 bottles of soda. Let's round that to 18. Okay, you need a sweetener. Like your tea really sweet? Two teaspoons of sugar per glass? Let's really give you a sugar high and put in three teaspoons of sugar. That's six cups of sugar for the 18 two- liter equivalent of tea. 10 cups of sugar to the bag, a bag at $1.69, that's $1.02 for sugar. Like a little lemon in your tea? Add in about $1.20 in lemon juice to flavor all those two-liter equivalents. Total cost: $5.21 for 2-1/2 weeks of ice tea. Buy a cheaper tea bag on sale and you reduce your cost. And yes, the teabags come in decaffeinated so that is not a problem. Even adding in diet sweetener instead of sugar still adds up to big savings. You need about 96 packets of the sweetener to equal the largest amount of sugar. Buy them on sale and you are only adding in about another dollar. Reduce the sugar/sweetener and you reduce the cost as well.

So, one way to save yourself some money and still drink something refreshing. (And there is all that talk about the health benefits of tea as well.) 18 2-liter bottles of non-nutritive soda at $18 to $30.60 versus $4.21 to $6.21 in the equivalent amount of iced tea. Not to mention that it is a lot easier to store 100 tea bags then it is to store 18 bottles of soda. It's also a lot easier to carry home the tea bags. You don't have to worry about losing the fizz out of the bottle either.

Someone mentioned to me that I'm "nickel and diming" too much and there is no real savings. Excuse me? Anyone else notice that those nickels and dimes turn into fat dollars and those dollars into $10 and $20 and $30 dollars?

Doctor, Lawyer, Engineering Chief

Let me state the obvious: the world we live in is highly complex. No one person can hope to understand everything in the world around us. Once upon a time the elements of daily living were fairly simple and understood by all. Take two sticks and rub together--voila! fire. The contents of a cooking pot were also fairly simple--dig up vegetables, add to pot. Catch a chicken roosting somewhere--add to pot. Find a cow, milk it and drink. Catch a disease, die.

Today's complexity exists in every single element of living. Try reading a food label today and see if you can recognize even half of what is on the label. Ditto for the labels on over the counter supplements and drugs. Or prescription drugs.

In this type of complex society the role of experts has become doubly important. We look to these experts for the understanding that we do not have ourselves. It's their job to investigate all the minutae out there and report back to us in a way we can understand. For frum Jews these experts are even more necessary. We not only need the basic information and knowledge that others do, but we need the more specific knowledge that allows us to see how things fit in with halachic observance.

A stove is not a stove today; the structure and components of that fairly simple cooking appliance have all kinds of implications for shabbos and yom tov use. Yes, a rav is going to make a ruling about how the stove can be used, or even which stove can be used. But last time I investigated, Engineering 101 is not a required subject when studying for smicha. For that psak to take place and to have any meaning that rav is going to need to consult an engineer, and a frum engineer at that--one who has some idea about how his field impacts frum observance.

Want to know about food additives? Want to know the ins and outs of keeping fully kosher today? Again, a rav gives a psak, but last time I looked Chemistry 101 and Manufacturing 101 and a whole slew of 101s is not part of getting smicha. Time to find a frum chemist, a frum biologist etc.

Have a medical issue? Are there frumkeit issues involved in it? There's that rav again, and he is going to need a whole slew of doctors to consult with. Frum doctors.

So where are we going to get all those engineers and chemists and biologists and doctors from? From where will we draw on the frum experts necessary? It was once ubiquitous that Jewish and doctor went together. Not so today. What are our frum boys and girls majoring in? Most are not going into the highly technical fields nor the scientific fields. Going to medical school or dental school is not seen by many as being a comfortable fit with learning after high school and/or during college and afterwards, nor for marrying young and beginning a family right away. Those who are looking for a boy with earning capacity want it now, not later. The cachet, for many in the frum community, has worn off of "My son the doctor." And there has always been a resistance to saying "My daughter the doctor." Attaining a PhD is also looked at this way--too much time involved in getting it, requiring too much concentration that some in the frum community want put elsewhere.

We are going to start a new world on Planet X. What types of expertise do we have to make sure are present so that our new world functions at 100%? The list of jobs and specialists would be in the hundreds today, maybe in the thousands. Certainly pharmacists and dentists and doctors and scientists of all stripes would be on the list. Now make that a new frum world on Planet X. Maybe you would get the same list from frum Jews and maybe you wouldn't. The rabbanim in charge of that new world might think to include scientists and then maybe not. Or they might say: "We'll need one doctor and one engineer and one chemist etc," not the way to get a complete picture in these fields.

Unless we encourage our best and our brightest to broaden their horizons when it comes to careers, to go outside of the business and psychology fields, we are going to cause a shortage of frum professionals in other areas needed so rabbanim can give a psak that is based on real knowledge of how things work today. And here is the funny strange part. There are still more MO young people going into the fields of science and technology then there are in the RW world. Soon enough this is going to put the RW into the position of having to go to the MO in order to paskin on any scientific or technical areas. Since they'd rather chew nails then do so, they'll give psak based on their "deep" understanding of the halacha without reference to the actual science and technology involved. And then you'll be back to fire--rub two sticks together.

Ever wonder what would have happened to the Rambam had he lived today instead of in his own time period? Would he be encouraged to become a doctor? Would he be seen as contributing something vital to Yiddishkite or would he be seen only as being "bitul Torah"? Would someone tell him that being a doctor is "bad for shidduchim"?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Bit of Fuzzy Math

For someone who is not a "math person" I find myself spending an awful lot of time crunching the numbers lately. But some of the consumer math around today makes me scratch my head and go "What?"

Navel oranges in the stores are selling for 50 cents each to $1.00 each. And yet a half gallon of national brand orange juice with a hechsher, not from concentrate, sold for 2 for $5.00 today. I looked at that container and then I looked at even the largest of those oranges. In no way was there the juice of only five oranges in that container. Not even the juice of 10 oranges would fill it up. So just what is going on when the ingredients cost more than the finished product?

Lemons of a fairly decent size were going for 50 cents each. Brand name lemonade with a hechsher was going for $1.00 for a half gallon. Again, there are way more than two lemons in the lemonade. There are way more than 10 lemons. It was cheaper to buy the ready made lemonade then to buy lemons and make it from scratch. (Just a note: the regular price of that lemonade is $2.99 a half gallon.) Saved $6.00 and I have no idea how or why the store sold the merchandise this way.

This is the kind of fuzzy math that is making shopping so difficult today. 2+2 does not always equal 4.

Five Minute Miracles

If time were something that could be bought and sold on the commodities markets it would far outpace and outperform any other commodity traded. Time is one thing that no one seems to have enough of and eagerly wants to have more of. We talk about saving time and banking time. And it is also a commodity that we squander more of than any other. We talk about losing time and wasting time and bemoan the loss.

Time is strange in its construction. We say that there are only 24 hours in a day, yet we work as if that number was not a constant. We pack into each day 39 hours worth of activity. We've managed to figure out how two things can occupy the same space at the same time. We call it multi-tasking, and it's a time multiplier. We also "buy" time so that we can do more in the same period of time. We hire others to complete jobs that would take up our time so that we can use and spend that time on other things.

Time plays hide and seek with us. We are always asking "Where did the time go?" or "Where shall I find the time?"

We think about time in "big picture" context. It's the hours that count, not the seconds. We make our wishes for extra days or extra hours, but rarely for extra minutes.

But what if a miracle occurred and we got 5 minutes we didn't think we "owned"? What if that happened a few times a week, a few times a day? What could we do with those Five Minute Miracles? "What's a few extra minutes?" some people scoff. Indeed, what are those few minutes worth?

In five minutes you could call a grandparent and say: "I was thinking about you and I wanted to say how much I love you"; you could write out 5 checks for tzedakas that are worthwhile and desperately need your input; you could remove every pen and pencil from your junk drawer that is old enough to be sold as an antique on ebay; you could call the dentist and make that appointment you have been putting off but that you really do need to make; you could make your bed and put your shoes into the closet so you stop tripping over them in the dark; you could go through a supermarket circular, note the savings and pay less when you shop even before you set foot in the store.

In five minutes you could issue an invitation for a meal to someone who would be grateful that you remembered them; you could close your eyes and clear your mind of anything but the word "relax"; you could keep an open wound from festering by saying a heartfelt "I'm sorry, I was wrong"; you could step into a voting booth and make your voice heard; you could bring the garbage cans in off the street so someone else will be able to park their car if needed; you could write a note to that teacher you had that you always thought was so great, but whom you never told; you could play a game of jacks with a little one glad of the extra company and attention.

In five minutes you could compose a note to your children's school praising them for things they are doing right; you could write a note to your children's school about ONE thing that needs changing and offer a suggestion; you could erase 400 junk emails from your email account; you could erase at least two "junk mail" thoughts from your mind's storage; you could refill your salt and pepper shakers; you could water your houseplants.

In five minutes you could read a kapitle of Tehillim; you could check the expiration dates of products on one shelf in your freezer; you could finally finish the last pages of a book you have been reading; you could do heart-healthy aerobic exercise; you could throw in a load of wash; you could finally throw out a few things you have been meaning to get rid of when you got the time; you could call an old friend that you have been meaning to call but never got around to calling; you could clean the filter on an air conditioner.

And here's a thought: in five minutes you could stop and smell the roses; you could slow down for just a few moments and appreciate what your life has brought to you.

What would you do if five free minutes suddenly presented themselves to you?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Word about Dor Yeshorim

A reader on a previous posting asked for a posting on Dor Yeshorim, the Committee for Prevention of Genetic Diseases. She is not happy with this Committee. She may not be happy with this posting either.

First, some information. Dor Yeshorim began in the 1980s. This was not, however, when the first information on genetic testing for Tay Sachs disease (and other "ethnic" genetic diseases) first came to light. Already in 1972 the Young Israel of Flatbush offered for the first time a testing day for Jews of Eastern European descent to come and find out if they were a carrier for Tay Sachs disease. My husband and I already knew a family that had two Tay Sachs children and what devastation that could bring. I was expecting a child and I was understandably nervous. I went and had the test done. The results were given to me directly and I took them to my doctor. He explained that any children I would have would not get Tay Sachs but that unless my husband were also tested and found to be negative, they could be carriers of the gene. I was thus only partially out of the woods as regards Tay Sachs; instead of worrying about myself and my children, I could worry about my children's future children.

There were rabbanim at the time who were against the Tay Sachs testing, particularly of already married people. Their worry was that couples who were both Tay Sachs carriers (necessary for the disease to manifest itself) would have in utero testing during a pregnancy and would resort to therapeutic abortions should the developing fetus be found to have Tay Sachs. There were also charges leveled that the whole testing program resembled a type of eugenics. Many rabbanim ossured having the test. And many people went and had the test anyway.

Dor Yeshorim's approach was different from the one in the 70s. They advocated testing people before they got married. In this way two carriers would not be considered a good match for marriage, given the 1 in 4 chance of having a child with Tay Sachs. They were not looking to get rid of the gene entirely (which would have gone into the area of eugenics), but only to see to it that two carriers were not matched up. They established a procedure for testing each year in the Jewish schools.

Because their intention is not to eradicate the gene, they do not tell the testees what their results are. When they receive the identifying pin numbers for two people they answer only suitable or not suitable. Not suitable means that both people carry the gene; suitable does not say whether both people are without the gene, or if one carries the gene, which person it is. Those who receive a "non suitable" will know that they carry the gene. Even if they marry to someone who is suitable, the gene will carry forward with their children.

In addition to Tay Sachs, the program now also tests for
Familial dysautonomia
Cystic fibrosis
Canavan disease
Glycogen storage disease (type 1)
Fanconi anemia (type C)
Bloom syndrome
Niemann-Pick disease
Mucolipidosis (type IV)
Gaucher's disease (only by request)

These genetic diseases all require that both parents be carriers of the gene for the disease. Dor Yeshorim does not test for genetic diseases that require only one parent to be a carrier, whether mother or father.

The only way to eliminate the diseases mentioned entirely would be to say that all those who are carriers of the gene for that disease should not have children, so the gene could not be passed on. Now you really are getting into eugenics. I do not know what percentage of Klal actually carries the gene, but given that a large number of rabbanim are in favor of the testing, and given that the incidence of Tay Sachs has gone down considerably, I would imagine that a large percentage of the Ashkenaz Eastern European descent Jews carry the gene. Are we seriously suggesting that a huge swathe of Klal refrain from having children so as to eradicate a gene that, if carried by only one parent, does no actual harm to a child? And there is this: if only one person were to be overlooked in the testing procedure, the gene would be on its way again to pass among the members of Klal. Not to mention that mutation could bring it back. Now multiply this times the number of diseases that are actually being carried genetically.

Should parents know the results for their children or should the process be kept "secret" the way it is now. There are a number of points to be made in favor of keeping the process as we have it now. The first one has to do with human nature--if parents were the keepers of the information and a shidduch was redt for their child, what safeguards are there against the parents' lying about the results? There are plenty of people who believe that 1 in 4 are "safe" enough odds to take a chance on a shidduch that they want (you have only to look at people who wager on keno and roulette to see that people don't believe the odds even when they know them.) There are people who might simply make a mistake in reading the results they are given for the multiplicity of tests now being given. There are parents who might forego the tests for their children altogether and make up a result. There are parents who, finding out that a proposed shidduch is not a suitable one, might make that knowledge public. There are those parents whose understanding of what is being tested for and why may be very rudimentary and could result in comments being made about others that are full of innuendo. It is possible that parents, knowing that their child is not a carrier, would insist on a shidduch based on the other party's also not being a carrier, and there we are in eugenics again. There are certainly other possibilities I haven't presented.

It makes sense to me that testing our children while they are in high school is a good method. The problem is for those who are not now in one of the Jewish high schools. Frankly, parents should be insisting that any person that is presented for a shidduch who has not yet had the tests needs to go and get them. I do not see any stigma attached to the testing because the results are kept quiet until information is needed. Dor Yeshorim is a neutral third party without any interest in any individual shidduch.

Until such time as science gives us another better method of dealing with the heartbreak that can arise when two carriers of a genetic disease marry and have children, Dor Yeshorim gets my vote. Until a better method can be devised, Dor Yeshorim is just fine. I, for one, do not want to go back to the "dark ages" when having children was a crap shoot and burying a two-year-old was far too common.

If someone has a better way, let them come forth and present their method for public discussion.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

...Get a Toaster Oven

I've said it before and I'm saying it again now: If you want guarantees get a toaster oven.

The question has come up on bad4shidduchim's blog about health issues and making shidduchim. Most of the commenters are younger than I am and their comments and attitudes worry me--no, let me be frank and honest; they scare me to death and they piss me off like almost nothing else. A lot of what I hear online and in the "real" world represents misinformation and disinformation. In particular, people are worried about genetic diseases. Going to the government and medical research websites which talk about genetic disease in particular can be enlightening. The following is a short excerpt from one of those sites.

Hereditary Diseases

There are about 5,000 human genetic diseases, including muscular dystrophy, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia, and Tay-Sachs disease. Genetic disease take a particularly heavy toll among the young, resulting in one-fifth of all infant mortalities, half of all miscarriages, and 80 percent of all cases of mental retardation. Genetic disease afflicts perhaps 15 percent of the general population, but if one considers diseases which are polygenic or have a strong genetic component (such as cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease), then they account for fully 75 percent of all deaths in the United States.

Although medicine was helpless for thousands of years against these ancient diseases, molecular medicine promises us new therapies and strategies in the battle against them, and possibly even cures. However, it is a battle that must be waged indefinitely, because there is a never-ending struggle between evolution (which gradually eliminates these harmful genes by natural selection) and mutations (which are constantly being replenished by random errors, cosmic rays, toxins, environmental contaminations, etc.). In each generation, a few hundred mutations occur in the DNA of each one of us. If we assume that a small percentage of these are harmful, then perhaps two or three harmful genes creep into our bodies by mutation. Thus perhaps 10 billion new harmful genes enter the human gene pool every generation. As a result, the battle against genetic disease will never end.

Yes, there are 5000 specific genetic diseases that we know of right now. In addition, genes are involved in other diseases which we do not think of as being genetic, such as cancer and Alzheimers.Those are only the genetic diseases that we know about right now. Nor does that 5000 number represent all diseases possible in a human being. There are environmental factors that influence the prevalence of disease as well. And then, as the article states, there are the constantly mutating genes that occur in all of our DNA in each generation.

Some of those diseases and medical conditions which the frum population worries about so much are not genetic in nature; some are. A few are avoidable through careful selection of marrying parties (Tay-Sachs disease for one); most aren't. Some of what we label disease could rightly be labeled as a medical condition instead, present in one person but not genetic.

Health questions have become legion in the shidduch process. Let someone have a sibling with Downs Syndrome and shidduch prospects plummet. Let someone have a parent or grandparent who has had heart disease and the prospects plummet. Hay fever? Don't advertise it--it's bad for shidduchim. Hearing loss? Don't admit it. You needed speech therapy before? Forget you had it.

Because of this "fear of the fatal," people are lying about any and all conditions that they personally may have or that may have been in their families. Medical histories are being hidden or re-written. Why? Because it's all bad for shidduchim. What's really bad for shidduchim is the fact that people are turning into liars.

Common sense is one thing--think Dror Yeshorim. But the vast majority of things that can afflict human beings are not things that we can predict with any high degree of accuracy nor assurance.

None of us were guaranteed by our Maker to be perfect, and yet we insist on that illusory perfection in those we are looking to marry. As the article states, mutations occur in the billions in each generation. You cannot possibly know what to look for or to watch out for.

The "imperfect" in Klal are redt shidduchim, by and large, only to others with such "imperfection" in their families. "Regular" people turn them down. Regular people? Do you really know what's going on in the deep recesses of your body, of your genetic code? Do you know what mutations might as I write this be taking place in your body? What makes you think that you are not the next ticking genetic time bomb? Or maybe you are going to be the next victim of environmental influences.

And if a "perfect" person who marries another "perfect" person happens to come down with some kind of medical condition or disease, does the non-afflicted partner get to ask for his/her money back? What balderdash! Be sensible, yes; insist on "genetic purity"--wasn't that the Nazi's party line?

Yes, Ribboneh Shel Olam, Your chosen people here on earth are conducting one big genetic screening test; they call it making the perfect shidduch. Yes Tate, they shame people and cause them public embarrassment in doing so. Yes Tate, they shun Your children for being as You created them. Yes Tate, some of Your children believe that You created them better than other of Your children. And please Tate, have rachamim when You show them the error of their ways, when their burden to bear arrives for them. Please Tate, be merciful in their afflictions. And please Tate, help us to see, before it is too late, the error of our thinking, the error of our ways.

Playing the Blame Game Shidduch Style

Someone commented to me that my blog has changed character from when I began blogging to now. She pointed out that I had lots of posts on shidduchim when I first started out and that I've put up none in a very long time. She would be correct, and perhaps the time has finally come to do another shidduch posting, even if not the one some of you might be expecting.

Making a shidduch today is fraught with tension. Just mentioning the word shidduch to a parent with children about to enter the parsha can bring on palpitations and gastric distress. Somehow things have gone awry in shidduch making and everyone but everyone is now playing the Shidduch Blame Game. You know the one--it's where you get points by finding the correct person to blame because soneone's 1) date didn't work out, 2) date didn't come to fruition, 3) can't get a date. Who is blamed for the problems in shidduch dating/shidduch making? Singles blame everyone but themselves. Parents blame everyone but themselves. Shadchanim blame everyone else but themselves. Schools blame everyone else but themselves. Rabbanim blame everyone but themselves. Members of the community blame everyone but themselves. Your friends blame everyone but themselves. Guess what? EVERYONE is to blame. That's right, no one escapes blameless in the Blame Game.

But a word of explanation is needed. Why do we even have the Shidduch Blame Game? Because we have another game that we play first. It's the Match Game carried to extremes. In its original version the Match Game had two players and a lot of people cheering them on from the sidelines. The Game has evolved to a multi-multi-player game. What's worse, the Game has become an amalgam, a mishmash of rules taken from lots of other games. We've added in producing a resume for players, from the Let's Find a Job Game. We've borrowed bluffing and outright lying from Poker. We've borrowed the strangest questions ever asked with no known connection to anything that matters from Trivial Pursuit. We've taken rules from everywhere and plunked them down willy nilly into a game that no one really seems to want to play, and everyone does anyway. It's surely not a fun game, for all the fun has been drained from it. And given the higher rate of shalom bayis problems and of divorce today, it's not a game where the winners are always winners either. And because we play the Match Game we also play the Shidduch Blame Game.

I, personally, am simplifying the game, if only a tiny bit. I'm removing myself as a player, at least as a shadchan. There was some family business to take care of this year, so I was not as actively involved in shadchanus as in all the past years. And I noticed something strange--I wasn't missing the "joy" of shadchanus very much. Perhaps the final straw came a few weeks ago, when I read a piece in which shadchanim were designated as "mitzvah junkies." Yes indeed, a title to be looked forward to with happiness. I'm not the only one who is leaving the game playing to others. Two friends who have been active in shidduchim for decades are also saying "I quit." When you don't recognize the game board any more, when you don't know or like the rules, when the prize to be won is not worth the effort needed to be expended, it's time to quit.

I expedited my first match when I was young and single. That couple just had the zchus to marry off a grandchild. The other 21 matches I made are all still married and doing well. I'm leaving the mad game while I'm still a winner.

Why do people become shadchanim, at least volunteer shadchanim? Lots of reasons, but mine is fairly simple. I believed that if I was busy and helped out other people to get married, someone else would also help out so that my children could get married. No one can know everyone out there and sharing the information and the job seemed sensible to me. I need to concentrate now on my own children, on my beloved niece's behalf, because things didn't go quite the way I thought they would; "someone" changed the rules mid-stream. And frankly I'm tired--tired of the endless machinations, tired of the endless maneuverings that lead nowhere, tired of the marathon phone calls with no results. I'm tired of the artificial protocol, and I'm tired of the endless finger pointing. I'll still have to play the game, at least somewhat, on behalf of my children, but the Shadchan playing piece is retiring from the fray.

To paraphrase Richard Nixon, "You won't have this shadchan to kick around any more."

No Man is an Island

Why should we care what happens to others in Klal? Why should it be our job to see to it that they remain as a member of Klal? Aren't we better off without pieces of our whole that don't want to be a part of that whole and which don't seem to add anything to the whole, at least in our valuation? Are we not strengthened when the weaker elements fall away? I don't happen to be blessed with nevius, and I surely would not want to be the one to have to decide which of my fellow Jews the world can do without.

The problem of caring about others is not limited to Jews alone but seems to be universal. Perhaps we should listen to the words of the poet John Donne.

From “Meditation XVII”
“No Man is an Island”
John Donne

No man is an Island, entire of itself;
Every man is a piece of the Continent,
a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less,
As well as if a promontory were,
As well as if a manor of thy friends
Or of thine own were;

Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in Mankind;
And therefore never send to know
For whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

The diminishing of Klal by even one neshomah dimishes us all. And Donne is right--when that death bell tolls, it tolls for all of us. Keeping Klal whole is a job for all of us, or it spells doom for all of us as well. Losing members of Klal is not "their" problem--it's "our" problem.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Read This Instead...

Gee, another set of exams to give tomorrow night, Monday's exams still being marked and a wedding late on Thursday night. Whatever shall I do with all my "free" time? Sigh. No new post for tomorrow, but I'm not leaving you without something to read and ruminate on and comment on. I think you'll find it interesting and stimulating; I know I did.

Thanks to Brooklyn Wolf for posting "Loshon Hora causes.....Science."

Go and take a look--you won't be sorry.

What's Your Color?

Marriage, unlike courtship and engagement, is when you find out what is really in that prettily wrapped box, under the tissue paper. Most married couples manage to get through the differences and compromise or agree to disagree. My husband and I are well beyond the stage of arguing about why we do things the way we do them. Except for one little thing that still raises its head from time to time: the color of milchig and fleishig items in our house.

When I went shopping as a kallah I bought things for my home to be according to my tastes and preferences. The colors I personally like were the colors that I chose for my kitchen. Enter marriage.

It still puzzles my husband why in our house red is for milchig and blue is for fleishig. As he has put it many times, "everyone" knows that red is the color of meat and that milk is blue. This last part has always stumped me. Were a student to write on a paper that milk is blue I, as the teacher, would have to wonder about said student's visual acuity. Okay, so meat is red? Well raw beef I suppose could be called red in color, but cooked beef is brown. And chicken is beige. Granted, blood is red, except when it isn't. (If fish have blood, then have you ever seen a flounder bleeding red?) And then there are those delicious fish that are red in color, such as salmon. And fish is not meat.

When I was very young our school took us on a trip to a dairy. In fact, they took us more than once. While there we got to pet the calves, but more importantly, we were given a chance to milk a cow. How many people today can say that they got up close and personal with a cow? I may not remember everything from when I was young, but I surely would have remembered if that cow would have given blue milk. A nice red hide on that cow and beautiful creamy white milk--red and white, perfect colors for milchig.

It's even stranger when you consider that my mother in law had neither red dishes and pots nor blue dishes or pots. Her colors were green and a flower pattern with pink flowers. Ever seen pink milk? Or green meat?

This has gotten complicated by the company that a few years ago started putting out color coded items for the kosher kitchen. They produce their items in three colors: blue, red and green. Each item comes with the word "meat," "dairy," or "pareve" on it. And yes, the red items are "meat," the blue items are "dairy," and the green items are "pareve." Any time that I buy one of these items I have to spend time covering the words up and putting the "correct" stickers on the cutting boards and knives.

I've eaten in a lot of homes over the years and I have seen a veritable rainbow of colors on those tables. Dishes in every hue and pattern imaginable. And yet, if you bring the conversation around to what colors designate milchig and what fleishig, you get a lot of my husband's answers coming out.

So what's your color? Are you a blue is milchigs person? Are you a blue is fleishigs person? Should it even make a difference? Please, someone prove to my husband that our house is not the exception to the rule of kosher colors.

Monday, May 19, 2008

New Site for Jewish School Information

A reminder that Moshe has put up a site for information on all Jewish schools and needs your input. You can get to the site here If you are a parent in a school or if you went to one of the schools and can get some basic information, please respond. Cost of asked tuition is one of those items that would be valuable.

Mathematics and Jewish Mathematics

I am purposefully going to be a bit oblique in this posting. I'm avoiding "naming names" as people tend to react to labels without really thinking, and thinking is what I'm after.

To my knowledge there have been no recent halachic problems with the principles of mathematics and mathematical related concepts, some of which fall into the area of science as well. Frum Jews accept that 2+2=4. The accept that 32 ounces=one quart. They accept that there are 60 minutes in an hour (more or less). They accept that 100 pennies=one dollar.

Along with the aforementioned "laws" are two others: 1) the whole is equal to the sum of its parts and 2) no part can be greater than the whole. This is where things get a little sticky in the frum world. There are those who act as if these principles are false when it comes to religion.

If the whole is equal to the sum of its parts, then there is no "whole" without all the parts. We have Klal Yisroel--let's call that our whole. There are any number of parts that make up that whole. They are not all identical but they are all parts. Because there can be no whole without ALL the parts, every part has value. Try paying for something that costs $1.00 with only 81 cents. There are some parts of Klal that are clearly not happy with this state of things. Not only do they feel that other parts of Klal have no value, but they don't seem to consider them parts of the whole at all. Some parts seem to feel that if the other parts disappeared altogether the whole would be strengthened, not diminished. Some parts seem to feel that unless all the other parts are exactly like them then those different parts cannot belong to the whole.

Some parts believe that they are "the" part of the whole, that the whole consists solely of them. They believe that they are not only "greater" than any other parts, but that they are "greater" then the whole they are considered a part of.

It is also an established principle that polar opposites only exist because of that opposition: there can be no left if there is no right. They are defined only in relationship to each other. But there is another corollary to that principle: there are an infinite number of points along a line. A line exists only as a collection of these points. Where there is left and right there must be a mid point that separates them.

For any part of Klal Yisroel to wish that something would happen to "disappear" the other parts is outrageous; I don't care if you are on the left or the right of the Klal line. Sinas chinam has no place in Klal; neither does supreme indifference.

Our government frequently talks about getting rid of pennies as a form of payment; too much trouble for such little value. The talk has never come to any real action. The general population isn't fired up about the penny problem. They may be small but they play their role, and who knows that if you get rid of the pennies now, nickels won't be next, and then dimes and then quarters and half dollars. "Let's just go to paper money and have dollar bills" is heard. There is a cost to that. Put in a dollar bill into a vending machine now and you get change coming out. Make a dollar the smallest amount of money and nothing will be able to cost less than that dollar. There will be a real price to pay for getting rid of small change.

Some people won't stop to pick up a penny lying on the ground; others will. They recognize that if you have enough pennies they can become a nickel or maybe a dime or maybe more. There are lots of pennies in Klal that get lost every year, and lots of people who don't seem to care. "Their choice" is one comment. "Not really a loss because they weren't worth much anyway" is another. Don't want to carry around that huge pocketful of change? Then make change and turn your pennies into nickels. But remember you can't do that if you don't have 5 pennies to begin with; 3 won't do. And while we are at it, let's also remember that a half dollar may be bigger in size physically but it isn't worth more than the dollar it is a part of. To make up that dollar you would need two half dollars, not one. And those half dollars may come from different mints, have been minted in different years, have different pictures on them and different wording. Yet, they, too, are both half dollars.

The change I keep in my purse may not be the same combination that others have. I'm a combination of differing coins. That should be no problem. The problem arises only when we don't remember that no matter how we divide things, it still takes 100 pennies to make a dollar. We really can't afford to lose those pennies. A whole is the sum of its parts.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Little Note to Readers

School is almost over and some of my classes are already taking exams. Final papers are pouring in and need to be read. This is the part of the term where sane people wonder why they ever went into teaching. I offer this information by way of excuse if it may seem to you that the postings are in the "doom and gloom" mode this week. Matches my mood perfectly.

Allow me to share with you this brief excerpt from a student paper that I was faced with this week and you might understand my mood. The student wrote: "Children go from being tweens into adultery, where more is expected of them." Yes, indeed.

The More Things Change...

I'm going to admit to something: I was running an experiment, a sociological one, when I put up the last posting. I knew when I put up the "New York the Center of the World...Not" post precisely what kinds of responses were going to be made--I was hoping to be proven wrong; I wasn't. Yes, I was truly giving what seems like a sensible alternative for those who are suffering financially and for those whose "desired" neighborhoods are reaching or have reached the point of not being able to accommodate anyone else. But "sensible" and Klal don't seem to want to be introduced to each other, nor is this something new, unfortunately.

We are always talking about how we have rebuilt the glory of Yiddishkeit that was Europe pre-WW II. Well, I will grant you that we have rebuilt pre-war Yiddishkeit. That was the Europe in which East was East and West was West and never the twain would meet. That was the Europe where those living in town X looked with disfavor and distrust on those living in town Y. That was the Europe where those living in area X "knew for a fact" that those living in area Y were not the "right" kind of frumkeit. That was the Europe that fostered the attitude of "My rebbe/rabbi is better than your rebbe/rabbi, my way of practicing Yiddishkeit is better than yours." That was the Europe where indifference to those from elsewhere in Europe blossomed. That was the Europe that introduced the schism of the Haskala movement. That was the Europe that, because it couldn't be unified in the good times, couldn't unify in the bad times either.

The comments here and on similar postings on other blogs show that the lessons of Europe are alive and well here. Talk about "out of town," whatever that is, and we start talking about "yenem"--about "them," as if "they" are not us and never can be. Loyalty to place supersedes loyalty to the idea of a unified Klal. I don't exempt myself from this either. But Yiddishkeit as we are still practicing it today requires us to "take sides," as if there were a war going on. And in one sense there is: the war for final supremacy as the "chosen" of Klal.

I'm not the only one to see this; we all have. Rabbis from one group frequently attack rabbis from a different group. Rabbi X says M so rabbi Y says Q. Yeshiva W looks down its nose at Yeshiva R. Town B looks askance at Town F.

We aren't one unified Klal Yisroel, but then when have we been? We are like a group of fractious children all wanting to claim the title of "Daddy's favorite." It is axiomatic for parents that they should love their children all the same. It is the children who don't manage to do that with each other.

Moving away from places like Brooklyn should not be looked at equivalent to being sent to the moon. Those are our sisters and brothers "out there." It's more than time that we started acting like a loving family. Moving out of town should be just going to live with our family. It is not, no NOT places that should be important--it should be people.

"Let them come here," I am going to hear from someone. And thus the battle will continue,
a battle where there is going to be no winner and a lot of losers.

Those Darned Joneses

I'm probably going to make some readers unhappy (what else is new) but I've been giving some thought to the financial disparity in Klal and how that seems to be affecting people.

There's a simple scale you can use to measure financial prosperity. On one end of the scale you have wealthy; on the other end you have poor. There are any number of points on the scale between these two.

In the real world goods and services cost money; how much money you have should be the determinant of how much you can purchase of those goods and services. Because we have a sliding scale of prosperity, we also need to introduce the idea of choices when it comes to purchasing goods and services. The more money you have the more choices you can make. Basically, you can't walk into a supermarket with $50 and expect to walk out with goods costing $99. You're going to have to look into your shopping wagon and choose which of the items you are going to buy, just so long as you don't exceed $50. I can just see the face on a supermarket manager's face if a customer walked over to him and said: "Give me the stuff I have in my wagon that I can't pay for because all my friends buy these things and I am entitled to buy them also."

In the frum world, as well as in the secular world, people look at all the people around them and all the things they own and the services they have. They look, and then they say: "I'm a person too and if person X has item Y I am entitled to have item Y too." Wrong. You are "entitled" to want item Y; to actually get item Y you are going to have to be able to afford it. The Declaration of Independence stated that among our inalienable rights were "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Notice that it did not say we were entitled to Happiness; it said that we are entitled to working and pursuing that happiness, whatever that should be for us. And if Happiness has a price tag attached, we have to be able to pay that price.

I don't really care if those with more money then I have own more and fancier "toys" then I do. If they have the money then let them spend it as they want to. If they want a fancier neighborhood and they can afford it, then fine. If they want designer clothing and they can afford it, then fine. If they want Viking ranges instead of GE and they can afford it, then fine. They are entitled to make their decisions just as I am entitled to make my own. But let's be careful when looking at those people.

It's not good for anyone when people play keeping up with the Joneses, play being the operative word. Either you have the money to actually "be" the Joneses or you need to retire from the competition before you get into deep financial trouble. If your happiness depends on having what the Joneses have then you had better be prepared to pursue that happiness by making the money that lets you into the game. If someone makes an elaborate chasoneh and they can afford it down to the last penny, then thank you for inviting me and isn't it nice how well the Joneses are doing that they can indulge themselves this way. But that doesn't and shouldn't obligate those who don't have the Joneses' money to make the same kind of wedding.

I've heard it mentioned on many blogs that wedding costs would go down and weddings would become less elaborate if only a g'vir would first make a simpler wedding so we would all follow them. Nonsense. Wedding costs will go down when people who can't afford what the Joneses can stop trying to pretend that they can. Costs will go down when people spend only what is in their pockets. Costs will go down when we stop applying totally artificial "standards" to things like weddings. There is no "right" way to make a wedding and no "wrong" way either.

Many years ago I had lunch at a friend's house on Shabbos. There were 6 couples at the table. The hostess served what I can only describe as the most awful side salad every to have the misfortune to be served. The ingredients and tastes in that salad were never intended by nature to be married in one dish. Being friendly enough with the hostess I asked her later why she served that particular salad. She sheepishly admitted that she was in a hurry when shopping, bought the wrong dressing and only realized erev Shabbos that she didn't have all the ingredients. She needed to serve something so she improvised. She also admitted to having filed the leftover salad--and there was plenty left over--in the garbage. What is the end of this story? The hostess in question is quite wealthy. She isn't really looking to be a style leader but people tend to look at what she buys and decide that that item is a "must have" for them. That miserable salad became something of a neighborhood "sensation" as people passed the recipe around. No one liked it, it didn't taste good and it got thrown away every where. It cost a lot to prepare and it was real "thrown out money." But if someone with money made that salad then everyone else was entitled to it as well. Jones-ism carried out to the -nth degree.

So yes, if things cost more than we can afford the answer lies with us--don't spend what you don't have. I'll be just a little bit fair here to those who overspend; it's one thing for those on a lower rung financially to be playing the game of Keeping Up With the Joneses; it's quite another thing when the Joneses insist that you play the game. There are among us those who relish the role of "trend setter." They not only enjoy spending their money lavishly but they also enjoy telling others how what they do is the "right" thing to do, the way things "should be" or "have to be" done. Please don't tell me that they don't know that there are other people with less money than they have--they didn't get rich by being that dumb. These people need to soft pedal their public pronouncements. These people really love to play Keeping up with the Joneses, because they are the Joneses and they always win. They are thankfully few, but they are very visible and very vocal.

So, a very simple solution to the financial "crisis" that afflicts many families: stop looking at what everyone else has and buy only what you have money for. If you want more, earn more. Making choices about what to spend on may be hard but that doesn't mean we don't have to do it. Recognize that there always have been and probably always will be Joneses out there with more money than you have no matter what you will do--that is their chalek in life. Getting rid of the Joneses is not the answer. Sameach b'chelko is not just words on paper. There's another saying that applies as well: "Cut your suit to suit your cloth." You can't get a 46 long suit out of a piece of cloth that will only provide for a 34 short.