Sunday, August 31, 2008

Haveil Havalim #180

Haveil Havalim #180: The Alyn Edition is up at

A very organized edition with some fine reading. Kudos to Gila at My Shrapnel for hosting.

Too Hot to Handle

Fire and the frum community have been closely related in too many cases. Ditto for burns from hot appliances used for Shabbos and Yom Tov. I found a really informative website made just for Jewish people, dealing with fire prevention and burn prevention. The organization responsible for the website is based in Baltimore, and they've done a great service for members of the Jewish community everywhere.

The name of the site is Maccabee Aish Jewish Fire Prevention. The url is There is also a toll free phone number: 877-585-1226. There are special sections on the site for children, parents and teachers. The aims of this organization are as follows: "Maccabee Aish is committed to encourage fire safety and fire prevention, and to provide educational programs for the Jewish community to help reduce personal injury, property damage, and loss of life resulting from increased fire exposure due to frequent participation in rituals that involve fire...Maccabee Aish was founded to reduce the fire and burn risk that the Jewish community faces by addressing the unique fire safety and prevention needs of this special population."

With the calendar year of holidays beginning again quite soon, holidays where the opportunity for fire and burns to happen is magnified, a look at this site's offerings and tips would be time very well spent.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Credit Meltdown & Practical Solutions--An OU Presentation

Thanks to SL at Orthonomics for the tip about this. The OU is sponsoring an online workshop that has relevance to the financial problems that have been besetting some members of Klal.

Credit Meltdown & Practical Solutions
Please click the link watch the OU Job Board’s Credit Meltdown & Practical Solutions.
Live Video
Broadcast Career Workshop
September 22, 2008
1:30-3:30 PM (EDST)

You need to register to see the live presentation. To Register go to scroll down and the registration link is there.

Link to Literature

The following is a link to yet another great online site for literature. The full text of each literary work is available at the site.

According to the site "We offer a large collection of classic books, plays, and short stories by authors such as Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare and many others. You can read, search and even add your own annotations to any of the classic books. A selection of author biographies and portraits are also made available. All functions of this site are free to use although some functions require free registration.
Our collection of classic stories currently contains 3464 works of literature (including 1998 short stories) by 343 authors."

The site is searchable by author or by title.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

An Additional Word About Urns

In the comments on the urn posting preceding this one a few people mentioned the type of urn that was known in my youth as a samovar. Today these urns are electric but they share with their ancestor the pour spout near the bottom of the urn.

There are a few safety issues with these types of urns, UL certification or not. The pour spout, being low down on the pot, is easily accessible to "short" people--children. There is no way to lock this pour spout, as there is on the pots with the push tops. Therefore, it is imperative that urns of this type not be left near the edge of a table or counter top. Also, if you push too hard on the pour handle, particularly if the urn is not completely full, it can cause the urn to tilt forward. The "taller" the urn in relationship to its base width, the more danger of this happening. Some of these types of urns are way older models, perhaps being hand me downs from parents, and many people have the "custom" of covering these urns with towels to make sure that the heat stays in. Not only is there a danger of the material's catching on fire, but when the towel is unwrapped there is also the real danger of tippage as the towel catches on the urn. Checking a whole bunch of specs on these types of urns brought to light that some of them are not certified to run for more than 2-4 hours at a time. Some do not automatically turn off if there is no water left in the pot.

Additionally, the covers on these types of urns represent a problem. Many of them have no mechanism to lock the cover onto the urn. Any sudden movement or tilting of the urn can cause hot water to spill out on the user. Some have a twist top lock which can be jarred loose if the urn is overturned. A few, mostly the very expensive models, have a locking mechanism that folds down under the side handles and will keep the cover on the urn should the urn be overturned.

It seems that only the really expensive urns of this type have all the safety features necessary on them. But I saw not one where the pour spout could be locked. If you have young children or frail older adults in your family I wouldn't recommend this type of urn unless it's put somewhere truly safe and care is taken in using it. And as with all urns, it's imperative to make sure that the cord stays well behind the urn.

Why harp on urns? There has not been one single year that the regional NY burn centers have not had to treat victims of hot water urn scalding. Yes, they are a convenience, but a convenience that can turn deadly if you don't exercise care when using them. A number of years ago we had personal experience with this when a friend from Brooklyn's two year old pulled over an urn using the pour spout, burning himself extensively. No convenience was worth the agonizing months they spent with this child in a burn center

The Urns are still among Us

Someone seriously needs to spend some time coming up with a better design for Shabbos hot water urns. Those flat, round pieces to push on the top to dispense the hot water will take only so many "pushings" and then the urn gives up the ghost. Since we use our urn all week long we seem to end up replacing the urn on a 1-2 year basis. Yesterday was a replacement day.

I was in Flatbush and stopped into a major purveyor on Coney Island Avenue. And, as I blogged about before many months ago, I found that nothing had changed with the urns they carry. Oh, the price was good, and two were on sale. But none of the urns had the UL approval. Out I walked empty handed. There are urns with the UL approval and I have no idea why such a major store in the heart of Flatbush should not carry even one of them.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the UL is the Underwriters Laboratory. What do they do? "UL is the trusted source across the globe for product compliance. Benefiting a range of customers - from manufacturers and retailers to consumers and regulating bodies - we've tested products for public safety for more than a century." Their website is a very informative one and is searchable so you can check on any products, particularly electronic ones, that you are considering buying.

The strange part is that the salesperson tried to convince me that since the urn was manufactured overseas it did not require a UL certification and it couldn't get one. The urn I have with UL certification is also made overseas. And the UL tests globally.

When a product mixes water with electricity and may be left on for 1-3 days at a time or more why would we want to be the guinea pigs to see if it will perform safely?

There's a little postscript to this story. I walked into the store looking frum but definitely not Brooklyn frum--red striped top, denim skirt and denim hat. One of the other sales people asked my salesperson "Vos vill zie?" What does she want? When my salesperson answered the other person said "An Amerikanerishen mishegas. Inzereh lie koynim veisen nisht fin UL and darfen is nisht oychet." An American crazy-ism. Our type of customers don't know about UL and don't need it either. Nice to know that the store that is more than ready to take your money has decided you don't need the protection of a safety inspection.

Time to send my hubby to the only store in Boro Park where we found UL tested Shabbos urns. Just so you should know, however, the store charges about twice the price for these urns as the non-certified urns because, as the salesperson put it to my hubby the last time, you pay extra for the better "hechsher."

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Mentchlichkeit and Household Help

A recent posting on Orthonomics dealt with household cleaning help. I made a comment there which got me thinking a bit further, resulting in this posting.

There seem to be only two points of view about cleaning help--either you love the idea or you hate it. Those who love it have various reasons for doing so; those who hate it also have various reasons. But when you look at the reasons of those who hate cleaning help, there are some common complaints that arise. One, the help steals from the house. Two, the help does not do a good job. Three, the help does not speak English. Four, the house never actually seems to get clean. You probably have a good idea of what the other complaints might be.

Let me start this way. You get a new job. The pay is only so-so and there are no benefits. Every day you are rotated to a different location within the company. You deal with a different boss each day. The equipment and supplies in each of your offices are different from the other offices. In some of the offices there is insufficient equipment and supplies to do the job correctly. One day you may be using Word 98 while being expected to turn out perfect documents. Another day you are faced with XP. One of your offices may still be using old fashioned rexograph machines while another of your offices may be using state of the art digital equipment. One of your bosses may not believe in coffee breaks and considers that 37 seconds is enough time to gulp down lunch, a lunch that you need to provide. Another boss may provide coffee. A third may only provide water. In one office the clutter you find when you arrive to go to work may seriously get in the way of your actual duties. You spend so much time just straightening things up that you cannot finish what you need to do. Another one of your bosses always has "little" extras for you to accomplish in addition to your regular job, and always to be pushed in to the same working day. One of your bosses is the highly suspicious kind and is always counting the paperclips after you've neatened up the desk. If a clip is missing, you must have filched it. By the way, this particular boss is usually the one in an office area that is cluttered and where nothing is ever put away in its right place to begin with.

How happy would you be with the job above? Would you be the perfect employee, immediately adjusting to each new situation? Just how much work would YOU get done under the circumstances listed? The women who clean homes for a living are faced with the above and worse on a weekly basis. Every day they are in a different home with a different "boss." Some of those bosses are suspicious and resentful; some are not. Some of the bosses are organized and some are not. Some of the bosses expect miracles from their cleaning help, miracles they, themselves, are incapable of producing in the time period allotted. Some of the bosses are helpful and some are not. Some of the bosses assume that adding extra jobs does not equate to adding extra pay, the assumption being that the worker will work faster to get everything done. Some of these bosses are so chintzy that they can make a penny squeal in pain as it gets pinched. Some of these bosses have open contempt on their faces as they look at their cleaning help.

For the past 16 years I have had steady cleaning help in the house. That help has consisted of only 2 women. Thanks to my schedule I am often not there for long periods of time when my cleaning help is in the house. In those 16 years I have never had anything stolen from me; quite the opposite in fact. My help managed to find an earring I was sure I had lost forever. Whether I am physcially present or not in my home my cleaning help does what she was hired for.

I make no claims to being the world's best boss, but I do follow two precepts that my mother gave to me. The first is that bad bosses make for bad employees. I make sure that equipment is in good working order and that I have shown my help precisely how to use that equipment. I make sure that supplies are available. I make sure that what I want done can be done given the time period available for doing it. If I need or want extra work I make sure to discuss it to see if that will work out time-wise with my help, and then I pay for that extra work. No, my help's main language is not English, so I have made it my business to improve her vocabulary and understanding of English. I say "please" and "thank you" when making requests. My present help doesn't like to take out the time to sit and eat a full lunch, although I have offered it. But she likes to have a coffee or something cold to drink and a nosh to go with it, and I gladly provide this. It's the mentchliche thing to do.

When I go on vacation my cleaning help gets her regular pay as her "vacation money." When it comes to the winter holiday season she gets more than a week's pay as a gift. She has two young children and I buy books/toys for them as well. She brings me coupons for items she has seen I use in my house, and I give her the coupons for the non-kosher items I don't use. When it comes before Pesach and other holidays I ask for extra time and extra days and I get them, because she likes working in my home. Having established a schedule of what gets done when with her I don't follow her around with a magnifying glass and I don't hover.

In no way, shape or form can one person working for 6 hours clean an entire house in every possible way. And she certainly can't do this if the house is a true mess when she arrives. Removing clutter actually takes more time than cleaning does. I do plenty of cleaning and straightening up all week; otherwise my cleaning help would be thrown out money. Some jobs are hers, some are mine. I do not ask my help to do the impossible and the improbable.

We are three friends who share this cleaning help. There was a fourth but our help quit working for her. This person took the hourly rate our help gets and divided it by 60. If she worked 11 minutes more than the 6 hours she came for, this person paid her 11 minutes of extra money. Penny wise and pound foolish comes to mind. You don't nickel and dime someone who is providing a service you need/want.

And that brings me to the second precept my mother gave me. My mother grew up in a wealthy home in Europe and there were maids, plural. My grandparents owned a hotel and restaurant. Early in the morning my grandmother and great grandmother would already have put up the huge pans of chicken to roast for the midday meal. They would have baked fresh rolls. It was considered a meichel to dip one of those fresh rolls into the roasting pan juices. Family members fought for the privilege. Imagine their surprise when my great grandmother dipped two of those rolls into the juices, placed them on a plate, took the kitchen maid by the hand and sat her down at the table to eat. As my great grandmother put it "Ess, ess mein kindt. Ich darf dich far mir." Eat my child. I need you for me.

I never forget that my cleaning help is doing just that--she is helping me. And if I didn't have her, what she does would be left for me to do. Her work allows me the time to do other things I have to do/want to do. Her work saves my strength. I don't just barely tolerate her presence in my home; I welcome her into it.

Others have remonstrated with me that I'm "spoiling" my cleaning help. These women should be grateful that they are being "allowed" to clean our houses. I wonder just how many hours of school these commenters slept through. I wonder just what kinds of homes they came from that human decency and mentchlichkeit applies only to those exactly like them.

This all boils down to some simple ideas. Good help is made not born. Good bosses make good help. Acting with respect and decency is a requirement no matter to whom. Frankly, with only rare exceptions, when I hear stories that begin with "my cleaning help is awful" I wonder about the speakers, not the cleaning help.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Paper Dolls

When I was little, playing with paper dolls was all the rage. Particularly popular were the books with blank body outlines and loads of body parts and accessories so you could customize your doll any way you wanted. You could also customize the doll and accessories using crayons. Not one of us had the exact same doll in our collections. You could also use your imagination and paste onto the doll anything you wanted. One friend made a hula skirt for her doll by painstakingly pasting on blades of grass. She also used foil and wire to give that same doll a space cadet hat. Another friend couldn't decide between blue or brown eyes so her doll had one eye of each color. Some of the dolls were imaginative as all get out.

Today, those starting out in the shidduch parshah, and even some already well entrenched in it, are playing a different version of paper dolls. Instead of crayons and bits of grass, these singles are building paper dolls using pens, words and paper. They spend even more time then I did as a child in creating the most detailed and perfect paper dolls that they can. There is no detail too small to include. They build elaborate histories for their paper dolls, going back many generations to establish the "right" families for their dolls. They know exactly how their paper dolls should think and act. And then these singles go out on a date.

And these doll makers are faced with a real dilemma: real people don't act and think like paper dolls do. They stare at their perfect paper dolls and then look at the breathing human being in front of them and shake their heads in dismay. And they say "next," hoping that the next date will be the perfect clone of their cherished paper dolls.

Here's where my generation differs greatly from today's generation: we knew that our paper dolls were playthings and nothing more than that. We had no expectations that our paper creations were suddenly going to appear in front of us in the flesh. We knew that the make believe worlds we created for our dolls were just that: make believe. And when we got ready for marriage we put our paper dolls away with our other "childish" pursuits and began dating. And we dated mostly without any paper in evidence.

And date by date we began to build a mental and emotional picture of what type of person might make us happy. We observed, we talked, we asked questions, we thought long and hard. And one day our eyes suddenly opened widely, our mouths dropped open and our hearts raced as we realized that standing in front of us was "HIM" or "HER," the "ONE!" We didn't follow exactly cut patterns to get to that point either. We let experience be our teacher and guide.

I dated in the chaotic 60's, and if ever a time period would have lent itself to making crazy decisions, that would have been it. And yet, my generation has far fewer divorces then the generations that followed mine. And maybe one reason for that is that my generation didn't play with paper dolls when it came to getting married. We dated first and decided on what would make us happy based on real life, not some pen and paper fiction. Dating was fun and full of possibilities, not something akin to getting a root canal without Novocaine.

Paper dolls. It's one of the reasons I don't do much by way of making shidduchim any more. Singles arrive with their perfect paper dolls in hand, put them in front of me and say "I want that." And yes, some of those singles get what they believe to be the living incarnation of their paper dolls. And for far too many of them marriage to those "living dolls" turns out to be like a staple saying of my childhood: those marriages are like pie crust promises--easily made and easily broken.

You want to get married? Then it's time to put childhood behind you along with the toys of childhood. Paper dolls should have no place in the adult world of dating, and certainly not in the adult world of marriage.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A New Blog

A while back I posted about the tendency to ignore or hide problems in the frum community. I've been in conversation with others about setting up a site to provide contact information for organizations and individuals within the various frum communities that deal with some of the problems that exist, even though there is a resistance to admitting that the problems exist.

To expedite matters I have set up a new blog whose sole purpose will be an informational one. On it, through utilizing the labels section as a search tool, will be posted contact information for organizations, both local and national, that deal with a wide variety of problems that people might be facing. Individual practitioners with expertise in these areas will also be listed. Some of this information will be to general organizations and associations that deal with specific problems, and some will be to Jewish organizations dealing with specific problems.

While much of the information will be New York-based, there will also be search labels for communities outside of the New York City area.

I'm asking for your help here. If you know of an organization or individual involved with a particular problem, please send me all the contact information--names, addresses, phone numbers, urls for a direct link to their online sites. Please state what particular problems are dealt with so that I can cross reference items. Please send this information to or post as a comment under a particular problem posting and I'll import the info to where it needs to be.

In addition, please let me know what specific/general problems you feel should be listed on this new blog.

Right now the new blog has very little contact information posted. Mostly the skeleton is up. The name of the blog will be I'm counting on all of you out there to make this blog a successful one as an information source. I'll be doing my share, and I hope that you will contribute as well. The only way this will work is as a collaborative effort. Please help. And please, list the blog under your blog listings. If you don't have a blog yourself, please suggest to other blog masters that they link to the blog.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The J-Bloggers Convention

All in all the first J-bloggers convention was an interesting experience. But I do have one suggestion for the organizers for the next convention. Blogging is an online activity. The majority of those "attending" the convention were doing so online. There needs to be some thought given as to how those of us not physically in Israel can be included in some way during the next convention.

One suggestion--have someone include questions we might be asking in the chat room. Another suggestion--have all the panelists come in to the chat room and talk to us as well. Yet another suggestion--have a monitor up in the actual convention room showing the chat in the chat room and allowing the physically there participants to respond to us as well.

J-bloggers are hardly silent voices and I have a feeling that many of us were itching for a way to participate other than just watching.

Playing Jewish Geography

Shidduch making is proving to be impossible to avoid. There I was, in the hustle and bustle of Las Vegas, when I spotted what could only be another frum woman sitting down next to me. And in what seemed to be less than a second we established where we were both from and who we knew in common, despite being from two different parts of the country. And then she said that one of the women we both knew was looking for a shidduch for an older daughter. And a name popped into my mind, someone from yet a third part of the country. She whipped out her cellphone, I whipped out mine and to the shock of both of us the boy said yes and so did the girl, based on nothing more than what we could tell them standing "al achas regel" in the middle of a casino.

It was an absolutely refreshing shidduch to red. No one asked me to do the kind of research better suited for selecting a presidential candidate. No one required 477 references. As the mother of the girl said: "They'll meet, they'll decide." If this ever becomes a shidduch someone is going to have to point out who the choson and kallah are to me. I love it.

Where is this shidduch going? Beats me. This couple, in their late 20s, decided that speaking directly to each other is perfectly fine.

If all shidduch making were as uncomplicated as this one was I might consider going back to being a more active shadchan. So please, tell me again why shidduch making in New York requires more investigation and work than the merger of two international giants of commerce and industry?

There is a postscript to this posting. The couple has already gone out and apparently a second date is in the offing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Changing Shidduch Making--Removing "Gaivoh"

If one more time, just one, I hear the word "deserve" tacked on to a shidduch request I am going to go screaming into the night.

Shidduchim are not, I repeat not, about what we believe we "deserve" to get. A basic tenet of our religion is that Hashem is mezaveg zevugim. Our future shidduch, therefore, is about what Hashem has decided is right for us. Our job, in trying to find our zivug, is to try and figure out what Hashem had in mind for us, what He thought we would "deserve." Hashem, having made us, understands completely our failings and our good points. He understands our "human-ness." It is we who do not understand this.

Human beings are not perfect, although we are always supposed to be striving to perfect ourselves. In quieter moments of self-reflection we even admit this to ourselves. Why, then, are we always looking for perfection in others? What have we done to "earn" this perfection, to "deserve" this perfection?

Parents are perhaps more guilty of the "deserve" syndrome then singles are, but plenty of singles suffer from it as well. Shidduchim are not about deserving anything. Now, as a parent, I can actually sympathize with the idea of believing your child deserves the best of everything that is available. But as a parent I have also come to see that it is not about believing this, and acting as if this is "what is coming to you," but of hoping that good things will come. The difference between "hoping" and "believing" manifests itself in the attitudes and behavior that are seen in shidduch making.

Okay, so the first change that needs to be made in the language of shidduchim is changing "expect" or "deserve" to "hope." Then "hope" needs to be changed to "Wouldn't it be nice if..." What next?

We need to stop looking at the shidduchim that other people have made, at least as long as we aren't really seeing everything. We see our friend with the "tall" boy, we see our other friend with the "cute" boy, we see another friend with the "bright" boy and so on. So we look at all the characteristics of our friends' chosonim, decide we "deserve" this just as much, if not more, as they, and put all the characteristics into the one person we want. We piece together the perfect mate, and then get upset all outside of reason when a shadchan or friend does not deliver this person to us.

And then we get insulted. "How dare anyone present this shidduch to me!" "Is that what they think of me?" Or this comment which I saw on another shidduch blog: "I'm too young to have to settle." Excuse me? Let me repeat this once again: no one, but no one knows who their bashert is until they meet him/her. No one knows with any certainty just what characteristics and midos that person will have. It is our job to try and figure out what we "need" in a shidduch, never mind what we want, and to try and see if those needs will be met by someone we have been introduced to. And if things don't seem to be working out the way we hoped, it is our job to adjust our needs to coincide with reality. And the only way to get on with this job is to "drop the gaivoh."

"Gaivoh" leads to unrealistic expectations, to decisions made out of pique rather than reality. "Gaivoh" allows us the fiction that we are more perfect then we really are. "Gaivoh" allows us to stand in judgement of others in a truly negative sense rather than attempting a rational, logical evaluation. "Gaivoh" says "I deserve." "Gaivoh" clouds our vision of who we really are and who other people really are. "Gaivoh" poisons a possible shidduch before it can ever be red.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


As children, many of us played a game that I used to call telephone/telegraph. We all sat in a circle. One person whispered something to the person sitting next to him/her. That person whispered what he had heard to the person sitting on the other side of him/her. And so it would go until the message had gone round the entire circle. You know what? The original message rarely got to the last person in its original form. The more complex or difficult the original message, the less likely that it would survive intact. Even simple messages were sometimes garbled.

Now let's look at the following:

Police today raided the premises of _______________. Working on an anonymous tip they were told that_____________was dealing in pirated copies of____________. The police allege that this pirating has been going on for the past ten years. The principals of___________are Joe Brown, Antonio Rodriguez and Aaron Schvartz. Mr. Schvartz, an Orthodox Jew, said:___________.

What's the first key word in this "news report"? ALLEGE. To allege is to assert without or before proof. Something is alleged until there is proof that it is true or false. "Alleged" does not mean that what you are reading is factual. And yet, for many people who only skim or partially read or hear a news story or other kind of story, allege is the word that disappears in the retelling. As "news" travels from place to place, from person to person, it becomes one large game of telephone/telegraph. Nothing is alleged; everything is true.

Another phrase in that report that gets garbled is anonymous tip. Tell me, if you got an anonymous tip to put all your money into a particular stock because it is going to take off like a rocket to Mars, would you do it? Wouldn't you want to know who was saying this? With rare exception, when I see anonymous I see unsubstantiated and uncorroborated things being said. However, in the news version of telephone/telegraph, anonymous somehow morphs into "trusted expert" and the like.

But there is one word in the report that everyone is going to remember and no one will garble: "orthodox Jew." Yup, that designation will travel with the story wherever it goes. For some people that designation will become the story; it won't be important what was done or if anything was done, but whatever it is or isn't was committed by an Orthodox Jew. In the sample report above, there are three people who are principals of the firm, yet only one is identified more specifically, and that identification is "Orthodox Jew." Let none of us kid ourselves. We stand out from the crowd because of the way we dress--and hopefully the way we speak and act-- and once we have been identified, certain suppositions are going to be made about us.

I once had occasion to meet a rather well known journalist at a professional convocation. The weather had already turned fairly warm and there I was in a long skirt and a long sleeved top. As we introduced ourselves he came straight out and asked me "Orthodox Jew?" Occasionally I've been known to think fast on my feet and I answered "No, bad legs and a case of eczema. But why would you ask?" He was kind of taken aback at the question. He hemmed and hawed and basically answered that he likes to know whom he is dealing with. I asked if he would have asked the same religion question to anyone else in our group. More hemming and hawing and no answer really forthcoming. I pushed him a little and asked him what he would have said had I been wearing a cross around my neck. Would he have asked me if I was a practicing Catholic? I then pointed out to him that pre-judging based on what you think you know, based on a stereotype, is a violation of basic journalistic principles. Journalists are supposed to deal in facts, not suppositions. And then I asked him this: "And if I were Orthodox Jewish, what would that tell you about me? How would that knowledge help you at this particular conference?" He disengaged from the conversation with speediness. I really don't think he wanted his preconceptions and personal biases challenged that day.

By the time the report above goes the telephone/telegraph route we are going to be reading/hearing a story about Aaron Schvartz, an ultra Orthodox Jew, who has been pirating_______for 17 years, making millions of dollars on which no taxes were paid, and who was finally caught through solid investigation and proof on the part of the police. A good dose of skepticism is a useful tool to have when reading/hearing "news reports," particularly when they in some way concern orthodox Jews, or the State of Israel. As I have said before, just because it gets printed doesn't mean it's so. Sad, isn't it?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

We Pause for a Station Break...

The K family is heading out on vacation now that it's after Tisha B'Av, a vacation that isn't going to include any laptops or Internet access. I hope that you all have a great week, and a healthy one. I'd tell you all that I'm going to miss you something fierce, but I'm vacationing without any kids or other family except for hubby and frankly, I am not going to think about NY or anything or anyone else for at least a week. Those who are married with children should understand that perfectly.

So no, there won't be any new postings until after the 19th. Perhaps some of you might take a look at the reading lists I've posted and find something there to read to make up for no reading matter here (said tongue in cheek).

See you next week. And I leave you with that age-old piece of wisdom--While I'm gone don't do anything I wouldn't do. Trust me, this gives you plenty of leeway for activities to fill the week.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Supporting a Son in Law

We seem to think that the idea of supporting a son in law is one that came into being here in the US in fairly recent times; it didn't. There were instances when sons in law were supported in Europe--few and far between but there. In general the marriages in Europe did not take place until the boys had already served their army time and/or had already trained for a profession. A married man was supposed to support his own family (now there is a custom out of Europe that more people should be adopting!)

There arose an idiom used when a boy was being supported: "Halten off kest." Now here is where a more intimate knowledge of Yiddish can help in understanding what was meant by this. There is the Yiddish word "Kost," parallel to the English word "cost." So the idiom would seem to be saying that whoever was doing the supporting bore the cost of that support. (Note: some people who use this idiom today change it to "kost" because they don't know what the idiom was originally and "cost" seems to make more sense to them.) But it is not "kost" that is used in the idiom but "kest." Kest is the Yiddish version of the word "kastienen," meaning "chestnuts." So the phrase literally means that someone was supported on chestnuts. It would relate to our English saying about something "costing only peanuts." Think minimum outlay.

Families that were held "off kest" were not supported, for the most part, in separate domiciles. They got a room in the wife's parents' house. If they were lucky it really was a separate room; if not, a blanket hung down the middle of a room created two rooms, and the young couple got one half. That couple ate whatever was or wasn't cooking in the family pots. They were expected to pitch in and help. And here is the kicker: it was for a very limited time only--a year or two. Even those couples who were not living with her parents were not living in the lap of luxury.

I wonder how different things would be today if all the sons in law being supported were to be supported in the good old fashioned way of "halten off kest"? How many would be content to live in one room in their in law's house, following the house rules and regulations? How many would do without the separate cars, homes and vacations?

Perhaps the answer to the problems faced by many a set of parents of daughters who are married but still not off the dole would be to actually follow "minhag Europe" and go back to "halten off kest."

Reading at the Click of a Mouse

So it's 7:17 PM, it's pouring rain and your dearest child (or perhaps you, yourself) suddenly remembers that a book report or paper is due tomorrow or the next day, and you still don't have the book. The library is closed. You could bundle everyone up and try to make it to a bookstore. Or you could decide to let your fingers do the walking.

The Alex Catalogue of Electronic Texts is a collection of about 14,000 works in the public domain available online. It is searchable by title or by author.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Not a Happy Coincidence

I post about the problems with the "perfect people syndrome" and with the failure to recognize that alcohol and drug abuse are problems in the frum community and the following article comes to light. Although the article states that the problem is particularly severe in the chasidic communities, none of the other communities has any right to pat themselves on the back and say that they are better.

Thanks to jewinmyheart commenting on Orthonomics for the link.

The Foibles of English

I don't really need a birthday to tell me I'm getting older. Sometimes all I have to do is listen to a conversation between someone much younger than I am and someone of my age or older.
We were in the bakery and someone's son was all excited about a new laptop he had seen. He was extolling to his mother all the fabulous features the laptop had and how it would make life so much easier and more productive for him if his parents would only buy it for him. The arguments were all made and then his mother countered with "Yes, but does it do windows?" The young man looked at his mother more than a little puzzled. "Of course it does Windows ma. It has the latest version!"

I was convulsed with laughter as were a few others there with a foot in both age/knowledge camps; unfortunately, neither mother nor son could understand what I found so amusing. And people think there is nothing funny about English.

For those who need the explanation, it used to be a pretty stock answer many years ago that when someone was extolling some strange new technological invention the listener would ask: "Yes, but does it do windows?" meaning is there really some practical value to this thing.

A Wish

May we all have a gutten Shabbos and an easy fast. And may we all be zocheh, in health, to be wishing each other the same next year.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Microscopic has turned us Myopic

A hat tip to Wolf bringing this to mind.

Years ago, when I was working as a national advisor for NCSY, I became very frustrated by a particular question I got from someone attending one of the regional conventions. The question, about frumkeit, equated to someone's looking at the Bayeaux Tapestries and asking why, in Tapestry 11, 37.8896 inches in from the right hand side and 59.3962 inches down from the top edge, one stitch may be a slightly lighter blue then the stitches next to it. The assistant director at the time gave me an interesting answer. He said: "Gantz Yiddishkeit shteit off a hure"--all Yiddishkeit stands on a single strand of hair.

There are three ways to look at that statement. The first way is to say that frumkeit is very fragile, as a single strand of hair is very fragile. Our grasp of yiddishkeit needs to be seen as constantly in danger, balancing as it does on that single strand. So every strand is important. We cannot afford to overlook even one single strand.

Another way to look at it is that you can do all kinds of things to a hair--you can dye it, cut it, twist it, pin it up, curl it, cream it, spray it and anything else you can think of, but you haven't done anything to the basic construction of that hair--it is still a hair no matter what you attempt. The strength of that hair is that it never "forgets" not matter what is done to it that it is a hair. You can even try and get rid of all the hairs by shaving the head, and in the end they all grow back as hairs. Like a hair, Yiddishkeit, no matter what has been done to it, will always keep its basic nature.

A third way to look at the phrase is the one that the Director favored. He said that we sometimes get so very bogged down in the extreme minutiae of a problem that we literally fail to see the forest for the trees. Some people see a "body" in need of healing or perhaps fine tuning, and immediately go looking for one hair to cure. And, as the director pointed out to me, hairs can remain on the head even after they are "dead."

Why this story right now? The post by Wolf references an article in which the writer is narrowly focusing on the habit of some women to use their maiden surnames after their marriage. And he makes the point that this is a causative factor for all kinds of ills in marriage, including the high divorce rate. Frankly, I think this is analogous to saying that one dead hair on the head causes typhus, cancer or strokes.

During the Great Plagues in Europe people were coming up with all kinds of reasons for why the Plagues were decimating the population. Some were so fanciful as to have no possible logical relationship to the Plagues. And while the people debated the impossible and the improbable, they failed to notice the dead rats among them. The article that Wolf posted about reminds me of this. The writer is off in the realm of fancy while dead rats are piling up around his feet.

Yes, there are some problems in the frum communities that affect Yiddishkeit, and no, they aren't going to be all that easy to fix. But we are never going to fix them if we devote our resources and energy to one dead hair. Far too many of the articles written as of late, and far too many of the chumras adopted, are trying to fix problems one strand of hair at a time.

A Very Merry Unbirthday

Any of you who have birthdays that fall out around Tishe ba'Av should be able to sympathize with me about the "unfairness" of it all. My first major taanis that I had to fast on came out on my twelfth birthday--nary a cake in sight.

This year my birthday is one of those truly unique configurations of numbers--08/08/08. And it's also two days before the fast. My mother has three "official" birthdays (a long story) so one will for sure not be during the nine days, and she always gets a celebration that way. I'm considering opting for my mother's method and choosing a day somewhere in the calendar where there won't be a period of mourning, where there won't be a taanis or a chag, where there won't be a national holiday. I have to add in that it won't be midterm or finals time, won't be tax time and won't conflict with anyone elses birthday in the family. I'm not sure I'm going to find such a day.

I guess I'm just going to have to resign myself to the fact that tomorrow is going to be my unbirthday and next week I'll get to celebrate.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

A Chance for Introspection

I was hunting around for some suitably serious topics, ones that would match my mood during the nine days. No earth shattering subjects presented themselves, but I did happen to think about the following.

So much of blogging is about what goes on in the outside world. We spend a lot of time looking at communal habits, and there is nothing wrong with that. We are, after all, members of the community and what others do can affect us. But my thoughts this week are turning in rather than out.

I start every summer with a "to do" list of things I need/want to get done. I make that list very official looking, all typed up with headings and estimated timetables for completion. I'm somehow very gung ho in the first few days after I compile the list; I like seeing the Xs after the completed items. But a week or two into the summer my enthusiasm starts flagging.

"Did I really think that I could do all of this in only two months," I think. I start making excuses about why I'm not going to do some of the things on the list, or why I'll mark them as a maybe. Some of those excuses are legitimate; just because I've put things on a list doesn't mean that other things won't arise that will take precedence. Some of the things on that list have been there for so many summers already that I don't know why I'm still bothering with including them; maybe because hope springs eternal. Maybe this is the summer I'll actually do them. Or maybe not.

Sometimes I beat myself up about that list. "I must be the world's laziest person," I yell at myself. "Anyone else could have finished all this in a snap," I chastise myself. And then sometimes, like this week, I look at myself openly and honestly and ask: "Who was I kidding with this list?"

We're all of us like that sometimes. We set ourselves goals, worthwhile goals, without any recognition of our limitations. We pack too much to do into a time period and then are angry at ourselves, or disappointed sometimes, if we don't get everything done. Sometimes we are doing this to ourselves; other times we are trying to meet other people's expectations of what we should be doing. Either way, we may be setting ourselves up for failure.

A lot of my regular activities come to a halt during the nine days and I find it a good time to take stock of myself. Yes, it's a time to chide myself a little bit about having put off a few things that really must get done, and done this summer. And I also begin to forgive myself for being human, for taking on more than could be done in two months. I allow that I had good intentions but poor foresight. I look at what I did instead of the things I didn't do that are still on the list and assure myself that those things were worthwhile too.

What are you mad at yourself about right now? What would it take to forgive yourself? This week I'm going to take that original list and revise it. This time I'm going to be realistic about what I'm really going to accomplish in what remains of the summer. I'm going to forgive myself for being human and go on from there.

This week I'm going to cut back on posting because even a little introspection shows me that I can't be upstairs sorting picture albums while I'm downstairs posting. And I want to sort those albums.

I hope that all of you readers might be inspired to spend some time with yourselves, asking yourselves the questions of what do you really want to do, really need to do, and figuring out how to make that possible. Now if you all will excuse me, I've a list that needs shredding.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Pre-fast Conundrum

Other years the question of what to eat for the pre-fast meal is a settled one: it has to be dairy. This year there are two options available: meat or dairy. But because it is Shabbos you are also limited as to what foods you can eat, since you can't cook something fresh. So far most of my family is leaning towards having cold cut sandwiches. Yet, when I think about it, it seems very weird to be going into a fast on turkey roll and corned beef. On the other hand, dairy sandwiches don't seem like they would have enough protein/carb staying power to get you through the fast.

Any suggestions?

To test or not to test, and what are the questions?

A member of a professional group that I belong to sent me the following. His university was trying to determine some facts about testing. They wanted to know, among other things, whether there was more of a chance that students would get the right answer on a multiple choice test or on a straight question and answer test. They also wanted to know about the efficacy of having "None of the above" or "All of the above" as answer choices.

They gave multiple tests to students registered in spring term classes. One test they gave to 11 classes had "None of the above" as the correct answer to all the questions. The percentage of students choosing this answer? 39% A different test they gave had "All of the above" as the answer to all of the questions. The percentage of students choosing this answer? 14% On a different test they omitted the "all" and "none" choices, but all the correct answers were the first choice in the list of possible answers. Percentage of students getting the right answer? 29%.

When students were told that the test they were going to take was not going to be multiple choice but a question and written answer format they did better, given the same subject matter. The percentage of those answering the questions correctly? 83%. One reason the instructors believe for the higher marks on the written test is that students know they won't have a crutch during the exam so they actually study for the test. On a multiple choice test they figure they can play the percentages and get some questions correct just by guessing.

We've always believed that if students had the right answer in front of them, on a multiple choice test, they would do better on the test. Clearly there are other factors involved.

Instructors in this university are now being advised to make their tests, whenever possible, tests where students have to write in the answer rather than pick from a list.

Just as a little aside. One of the instructors maintained that students taking multiple choice tests don't always read the questions closely. To prove his point he included the following question on a biology exam:

Question: Sex was invented in

a. 1389 bce
b. 1157 ce
c. 1392 ce
d. 1501 ce
e. None of the above

The percentage of students who picked "None of the above"? 28%. No one left the question unanswered.

Monday, August 4, 2008

JACS--a Source for Help

As a followup on the mention of JACS in the recent Newsweek Magazine article, I offer its contact information below. Everyone should go to the site and read across all their offerings. A real education, even for those of us who already believed that a problem existed that was not being given wider discussion in the frum community and wider Jewish community.

I found of interest all the different places where JACS meetings are held around the country. I noted where meetings were held, some a surprise to me, and where they weren't available--no surprise there (nothing in Lakewood for instance).

They also will go into schools and give programs/workshops on alcohol and substance addiction. I'm throwing this out for those of you active in your children's yeshivas that maybe we need to push for every yeshiva high school to have such a program as part of the curriculum.

And perhaps we could also make sure that each Rav of our various shuls should have this contact information. And yes, maybe the contact information should be posted in the various mikvehs, or on shul bulletin boards.

This quote, from the site, was particularly heart wrenching. "I'm the mother of a recovering alcoholic who sought help years ago from members of the rabbinate, who vehemently denied that there were Jewish alcoholics. She was fortunate that she found Alcoholics Anonymous and the help she needed. However, I'm saddened that she has turned from Judaism and found solace in another faith... Perhaps there is something more to do."

120 West 57th Street · New York, NY 10019
Phone: (212) 397-4197 · Fax: (212) 399-3525

Newsweek talks about Alcohol and Jews

Thanks to Ilanadavita for the heads up on a timely article in Newsweek Magazine about Jews and drinking. It is particularly welcome because it mentions in it a program for Jews suffering from alcohol and other addictions, called JACS.

Something for Everyone

I took a trip to a bookstore to pick up a book I had ordered for school. The line was super long at the service desk so I spent a few minutes browsing. One section is called "Self Help and How To." The titles alone of the works in this section were a strange adventure in reading. Some brought an immediate laugh--the work whose subtitle was "raising kids for fun and profit" (kids are a debit/debt experience no matter how you raise them.) Others left me a bit puzzled as to why they had been written--"Bag "EM and Tag "EM: a deer hunter's how-to book and recipes too! A light-hearted book as macho as tire-kickin' and bar-fightin'." Try as I might, I couldn't visualize the type of person whom this book might appeal to actually sitting down and reading it. But it was a perfect pair for the book right next to it: "Now, Whadda We Do with This Dead Deer Cookbook and How-to Book." It's comforting to know that if I should ever stumble across a dead deer there is a book that will tell me in excruciating detail what I could do with it.

Then there was "The Soul of a Hustla: The Ultimate How-to-Book for Using Your Mind to Make a Fortune" by Ata Gonzalez. I'm sure I missed the author's point, but wouldn't knowing how to spell also be an advantage in making a fortune?

Want to get ahead in your job? There's "Cut out Make-Work in Your Job: The how-to Book of Goldbricking" by Calvin A. Slacker. And I'll eat my very large collection of hats if that is actually the author's real name. What are the chances of a slacker teaching others how to become slackers?

Right up there on the best seller list of how to books is "How To Fart Like a Lady and 39 Other Ideas for How To Books and Articles We Wish Someone Would Write." I'm sure the authors' mother is so proud of her daughters for their literary output. Can you just see her in conversation with her neighbors? "My daughters had a book published!" "That's great! What's it called?" Dead silence.

Then there was "The Complete How-To Book of Indiancraft: 68 Projects for Authentic Indian Articles." I would have thought that you would need to be an authentic Indian for this to work, but what do I know.

A candidate for "This reallly needed a different title" is "The Human Touch Performance Appraisal" (How-to Books Series). Any number of possibilities that this book could be about, none of them discussible on a family oriented blog.

In the something for everyone category there was "Finding the Magic: A History Book, How-To-Book, Philosophy Book, and most of all a Love Story." If the author can't figure out what the book is really about, why should I bother?

This next book actually had some possibilities for reading--"The Complete Idiot's Guide for Dummies: A How-to Book on Dumbing Down" by Dolt, Waldman, Coffey, Dullard and Dan Quail. A book on dumbing down authored by people named dolt and dullard, not to mention ex-Vice President Quail, surely the penultimate dummy? What's not to love? From a synopsis of the book: "A complete how-to guide for anyone who's aspiring to the asinine, The Complete Idiot's Guide for Dummies (along with its miniature, abridged, companion edition) puts you right on the cutting edge of imbecility." And they say there isn't a book for everyone.

For those looking for a fun, new hobby there is the " Avocado Pit Grower's Indoor how-to-Book" and its companion title "Citrus Seed Grower's Indoor how-to Book." The titles speak for themselves.

Apparently there are deeply held, burning interests out there that I have never been aware of. Otherwise, how could I explain "High Profile: A how to Book for Building, Belaying, and Use of Indoor Climbing Walls and Selected Ropes Course Elements." That perfect decorating touch for your living room.

So complex it needed a revised edition, there is the "How to Book of Shuffleboard Revised."

For those aspiring to exalted wifedom, there is "How to be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking." According to the publisher "this book by one of Britain's most recognized culinary personalities understands our anxieties, feeds our fantasies." Go ahead, persuade me that you have ever been inspired to fantasy by a cookbook.

I did find a how to book that did what it said it would do: "Awaken the giant within : how to take immediate control of your mental, emotional, physical & financial destiny." I immediately physically removed myself from in front of the book, saved myself a whole load of money I can use elsewhere by not buying the book, mentally congratulated myself on being too smart to spend money on this book and thus emotionally felt a lot better that I hadn't been suckered in.

There's even something for those looking to cash in on the "how to" craze: "Writing Successful Self-Help and how-to Books."

I'm 100% in favor of free speech and the right of people to express themselves. That doesn't mean that I am not sometimes puzzled at just what people have a burning need to say and publish.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Haveil Havalim

Looking for some reading to wile away the hours with? Lots of good selections.

Haveil Havalim #176 - The Dirty Laundry Edition

Another Word About Alcohol--not my words

Perhaps some of you wondered why I would make an announcement about Adar when it is barely August. Some of you may have just nodded your heads, and murmured "okay, she's ranting about alcohol yet again." Just another woman who doesn't "get it." Back at Purim time I pointedly told the mothers out there that they need to get active about this problem. The men aren't "solving" it so it's time for the women to take the lead. The following illustrates why that is going to be necessary.

SL on Orthonomics has the link to an editorial that appeared on the 31st in the 5 Towns Jewish Times. The editor makes a few good points and then blows away any good he possibly could have done in his last paragraph. And it's that last paragraph I'm asking you to read and weep at. What would have happened had the man's wife not have been there? Anyone want to make bets about the purchase?

Friday, August 1, 2008

Adar in August

This is an open call to all bloggers and readers to become part of the solution to the lack of any truly open information about the problems that beset Jews.

No one has their mind on Purim right now. But I'd like you to think about Purim and Adar anyway. As I posted before, alcoholism, binge drinking and other related problems with alcohol usage are far too visible to be ignored. What I am proposing is that we make Adar Alcohol Awareness Month.

I'm asking all bloggers, regardless of the type of blog that they have, to promise that during Adar they will post at least once on alcoholism and related alcohol problems. I'd like to see some postings listing the warning signs of alcoholism. I'd like to see facts and figures. I'd like to see some real discussion.

And readers without blogs? You can help as well. Notify everyone you know that Adar is Alcohol Awareness Month. Send letters to organizations and let them know that the blogosphere will be pushing this issue in Adar and you'd like them to participate by printing articles in their newsletters.

If you are reading this and agree that it is a good idea, then please publicize it all over the Jblogosphere. Maybe together we can make a dent in the alcohol problems that exist, even if we don't like to think they do.

Why begin this early? Why not? It's going to take time to get the word out and there is no time like the present. Adar in August? Not weirder then a lot of other things we do. And yes, I will keep reminding you about this as we move on to Adar.