Sunday, September 28, 2008

An Apple a Day...

If you are looking for an apple dish for yom tov that is a little bit different the following apple kugel recipe might do the trick for you.

Apple Kugel Recipe


One box unflavored couscous, whole grain preferable
5 large apples
scant ½ cup splenda, or equivalent in sugar or honey
apple pie spice
Vanilla extract
One cup of egg whites


Prepare couscous according to package directions, omitting oil and salt.

Peel and core the apples.

Place four apples in chunks in the bowl of a food processor. Process until coarsely chopped.

Into bowl of processor add Splenda, ½ teaspoon cinnamon and ½ teaspoon apple pie spice. Add in one tablespoon of vanilla extract. Pulse a few times to mix spices into apples.

Add half the prepared couscous mixture to the processor bowl.

Pour in half the egg whites into the processor bowl.

Process until fairly smooth. Place in a mixing bowl.

Place the remaining egg whites and couscous into the food processor. Process until smooth. Add to the mixture in the mixing bowl.

Take the remaining apple and process only into large chunks. Add to the mixture in the bowl.

Mix the mixture in the bowl so that both batches are completely incorporated. If mixture should be too stiff, add ¼ cup egg whites.

Spray a baking pan—two 8x8x2 square pans or one 8-16x1 pan or one 9x13x2 pan.

Place the kugel mixture into the pan making sure the mixture is evenly distributed and that the top is smoothed out.

Lightly oil spray the top of the kugel.

Place in an oven at 350 for one hour, until lightly browned on top and firm to the touch.

Note: This can be served hot or cold. It also freezes well.
Note: You can add a handful of golden raisins along with the large chunks of apple if your family likes them.
Note: You may need to adjust the Splenda according to your taste and also on whether you are using sweet or sour apples.
Note: If you don’t want to use Splenda, sugar or honey may be substituted

Haveil Havalim #184

If you need a break to just sit and have a coffee during the preparations for yom tov, reading matter is at hand. An interesting mix of articles from the J-blogosphere.

Not Pretending to be Superwoman

Because of the schedule of the yomim tovim I'm not going to be posting with anything near the frequency I usually do. You can't serve a blog posting for dinner. Having said that, the itchy compulsion to be at my keyboard is sure to strike at least a few times. Just being polite and letting you know that it will be hit or miss over the next few weeks.

Shana Tovah

May we all be zocheh,
In the year that starts tomorrow,
To see much of simcha,
And none at all of sorrow.

May our health be excellent,
Our troubles none or few,
May our footsteps follow confidently,
On the derech of the Jew.

May sinah find itself unused--
Please let it slink away.
Let achdus be our tool instead
For each and every day.

May seichel be our companion
To guide us on our way.
Let not evil inclinations
Hold us in their sway.

May the blessings of Hashem rain down upon us
For ourselves and our families too.
These are only the tip of the iceberg
Of the good that I wish for you.

So, to all my readers, a Shana Tovah U'mesukah

Friday, September 26, 2008

As They Say

It's apparently my morning to be living by old sayings.

Keyspan finally arrived way late last night and, thankfully, passed our plumber's repairs. So now it's time for me to be "cooking with gas," "getting myself into gear," and "making hay while the sun shines," although the skies are grey and it's "pouring cats and dogs" in NY. So I'm off to shop (having been stuck in the house all day yesterday) or I'll be "behind the eight ball" which will get me "called on the carpet" and having to "face the music."

A shabbat shalom to all.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Inanimate Objects Strike Again

Clearly my mind must have been preoccupied with a lot this week because not even once did it entertain a single thought about what could go wrong before yom tov. My lists were all prepared, I had my schedule of what to do drawn up, and I was even going to have time for a leisurely bath at some point. Sigh.

A few weeks ago National Grid (the new name for Keyspan) called to schedule a regular inspection visit. Apparently they are required by law to inspect the boxes and plumbing connections and heating connections every 20 years or so. Of course they have never done so up to now. So the inspector was here this morning. And he found a small gas leak. And he locked the meter and turned off the gas. So now I have no gas, no hot water and, of course, no stove, no dryer and no heating system. The plumber is here even as I am typing this replacing the pipes. [Note to yeshiva bochrim looking to make a lot of money: become a plumber. Said plumber was here for all of 15 minutes at a charge of $280.] If only that were the end of it. National Grid has to come back and do the inspection again and relight all the pilots on all the gas appliances.. And that is where the problem starts. As the inspector put it "we are really busy right now. Maybe we can get there on Monday."

As soon as the plumber is finished I'll be on the phone with the National Grid office attempting to beg for rachmonos and trying to explain shabbos and yom tov to them. If talking doesn't help then I hope they are susceptible to hysterically crying women. Because if they don't get here today then I'm going to find out if it is possible to cook Shabbos and yom tov using only a microwave oven.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it again now: inanimate objects are not all that inanimate and they most certainly and definitely know when a yom tov is coming. Couldn't they just give me a little break and let ME decide which of them is going to go on the blink?

Update: In the serve and volley with National Grid they are so far up to getting here sometime tomorrow maybe. And I have now been 17 minutes and 43 seconds on hold waiting to speak to a supervisor. News flash: the supervisor is not picking up her line. They are now passing me up the line to her supervisor. Second news flash: The second supervisor, a clear spawn of satan, started to give me all kinds of grief. No time for tears and more than time for a bit of nastiness. In the end he puts through an order for a technician to come out today. But here is the real kicker: there is no guarantee that the techie will actually come today. And if he doesn't then I have to call back tomorrow morning to put in another order for a techie to come out, and there is no guarantee that he will come tomorrow either. I thought the gas company was a public service utility. I really wish they would remember that "service" part.

Tashlich--Tailor Made for a Consumer Society

Thanks to one of my offspiring for sending this to me. It lends new meaning to having a choice. (And thanks to the unknown author)

Taking a few crumbs to Tashlich from whatever old bread is in the house lacks subtlety, nuance and religious sensitivity. I would suggest that we can do better.

For ordinary sins - White Bread
For exotic sins - French Bread
For particularly dark sins - Pumpernickel
For complex sins - Multi-grain
For twisted sins - Pretzels
For tasteless sins - Rice Cakes
For sins of indecision - Waffles
For sins committed in haste - Matzah
For sins committed in less than eighteen minutes - Shmurah Matzah
For sins of chutzpah - Fresh Bread
For substance abuse/marijuana - Stoned Wheat
For substance abuse/heavy drugs - Poppy Seed
For arson - Toast
For timidity - Milk Toast
For high-handedness - Napoleons
For being sulky - Sourdough
For silliness - Nut Bread
For not giving full value - Short bread
For jingoism - Yankee Doodles
For telling bad jokes - Corn Bread
For being money-hungry - Enriched Bread or Raw Dough
For telling small lies - Fudge
For war-mongering - Kaiser Rolls
For racism - Crackers
For sophisticated racism - Ritz Crackers
For being holier-than-thou - Bagels
For unfairly up-braiding others - Challah
For provocative dressing - Wonton Wrappers
For snobbery - Upper Crusts
For indecent photography - Cheese Cake
For trashing the environment - Dumplings
For the sin of laziness - Any Very Long Loaf
For being hyper-critical - Pan Cakes
For political skullduggery - Bismarcks
For over-eating - Stuffing Bread or Bulkie Rolls
For gambling - Fortune Cookies
For pride - Puff Pastry
For cheating - Bread made with Nutrasweet and Olestra
For being snappish - Ginger Bread
For dropping in without calling beforehand - Popovers
For trying to improve everyone within sight -Angel Food Cake
For being up-tight and irritable - High Fiber or Bran Muffins
For sycophancy - Brownies
For rearing children incompetently - Raisin Bread
For causing injury or damage to others - Tortes
For hardening our hearts - Jelly doughnuts
For abrasiveness - Grits
For recurring slip ups - Banana Bread
For davening off tune - Flat Bread
For impetuosity - Quick Bread
For silliness - Nut Bread
For risking one's life unnecessarily - Hero Bread
For auto theft - Caraway
For excessive use of irony - Rye Bread
For larceny (especially of copyright material) - Stollenetc.,etc.

(I was inspired to add two of my own)
For those who were tough on their neighbors/family/friends--hard rolls
For those who are always asking others for money--Raisin bread.

Remember, you don't have to show your crumbs to anyone. For those who require a wide selection of crumbs, an attempt will be made to have pre-packaged Tashlich Mix available in three grades (Tashlich Lite, Medium and Industrial Strength) at your local Jewish bookstore.

On Not Believing Everything You Read

With all the zillions of pieces of information floating around "out there" at any given time it's a wonder that any facts and details every get reported straight. Case in point is one of those "pass it on" emails that I just got. The writer has the perfect solution to the AIG bailout problem: instead of giving the money to AIG, use that money to give a rebate to the American people.

The writer estimates that there are about 200,000,000 bonafide US citizens eighteen years of age and older. His suggestion is to divide that 85 billion going to AIG among the 200 million people instead. Early on in the article he gives as his figure that every one of those citizens will get $425,000.00 each. The rest of the article goes on to give his rationale for using the money this way.

The person I got this from forwarded it to about two dozen people. She was one of about two dozen people to whom it was forwarded to begin with. Heaven only knows how many people have already gotten a copy of this. And I shudder to think just how many people have read this article and agreed completely with the writer's sentiments. I shudder to think how many people are going to come away from this article thinking that the government is cheating us out of a whole load of money that should be ours.

Maybe it was all those zeros that confused the writer; it's clear from the article that it wasn't just a one time typo. But just in case you are wondering and aren't about to do the math yourself, 200,000,000 times 425,000.00 is 85 TRILLION dollars, not 85 billion dollars. And thus it is that misinformation is passed along and multiplies as it travels along the Internet.

Just as a suggestion for the future: read those "pass alongs" carefully before you hit "forward." And maybe keep in mind that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

You Really Have to Wonder

I've long held that "bureaucratic commonsense" is an oxymoron, yet I am still amazed when I come across examples that support my position.

I had to run out and pick up something today from an area of the Island I have not driven through before. Now just because I had not been there before, I did not automatically assume that the rules and regulations governing that area would be different from the rules and regulations governing the rest of the Island; common sense told me that I needed to behave in this new area just as I would behave in all the other areas of the Island. So I am driving down a street and I spy a big sign saying "Stop ahead." That sign kind of puzzled me. Why announce a stop sign is coming? Why would I treat a stop sign in this area any differently then I would in all the other parts of the Island?

As I got close to the intersection I looked and looked and couldn't see the stop sign. When the front of my car was even with the curb at the intersection a sudden burst of wind moved the branches of a tree sitting right on the corner. And there, flush against the tree with the top hidden by the tree's branches, was the stop sign. Had the wind not moved the branches it would have been impossible to see the sign.

Someone in one of our city bureaucracies had to have fielded a complaint that the stop sign on this particular corner was not visible. So what would have been the logical thing to do? At the least, trim the branches so that the sign was visible. Or perhaps move the sign so it would be in front of the branches rather than under them. But no, someone went to the trouble and expense of ordering a second sign saying "stop ahead" and sending a crew out to put that sign into position.

This reminded me of the last time I had seen one of those "stop ahead" signs. We were driving through the desert from Nevada to California. Absolutely flat territory with 100% visibility for miles in every direction. And no one on the road but us either. And then we spotted the "stop ahead" sign. A few hundred yards from the sign there was a small, country road that accessed the highway, but only on one side, not cutting completely across the highway. There was no chance that anyone driving on that highway could have missed a car on that little road--none, zero, zip. Yet, there was that sign announcing that a stop sign was coming up. Furthermore, the announcement sign was so close to the actual stop sign that any car going at posted highway speed could not have slowed down their car sufficiently to stop at the stop sign.

Yes indeed, our tax dollars at work.

Are You Registered Yet?

I try to avoid discussions of politics whenever possible. Nothing seems to polarize people more. But civics is a different story.

We live here in the US in a representative Democracy. The idea is "of the people, by the people, for the people." And it works, perhaps not as perfectly as we might personally want it to, but it works. But an awful lot of people read that phrase a little too quickly and miss the "by" part. Part of "by" is going out and voting when an election comes around.

What you hear an awful lot of, whether for this upcoming election or elections in the past, is "but I have no one to vote for! I don't like any of the candidates!" Okay, that may indeed be true--I know I have felt that way many a time--but here is the thing: someone is going to get elected whether you like the choices or not. Sometimes it may be about getting the best of the worst. Sometimes it may also be making sure one particular candidate does not get elected, even if you aren't "in love" with his/her opponent. And it's also about sending a message to those who run and those who get elected. That message says we cared enough to vote, and if we don't like what we are seeing while you are in office, we can vote again and get rid of you. It says you got elected "by" the people and now you had better be working "for" the people.

National elections are coming up in November. If you are not yet registered to vote then please, please get registered. And when the time comes go out and vote. Do you have children who are old enough to vote? Make sure they get registered as well. Participatory government is a real privilege--ask those in countries where the citizenry does not have this privilege.

If you don't like the direction that things are going in, and you don't vote in elections, then you have no one to blame but yourself. Yup, it's the person staring back at you in the mirror who shares in the blame.

To find out how to register to vote in New York City, go to

For New York State, go to and follow the link for registration.

For New Jersey go to

For other states type the abbreviation for your state followed by dot gov. When the state site comes up type in "voter registration" in the search box and then follow the link.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's Not All Doom and Gloom

My recent posting on the greying of Klal pointed out that some tough financial decisions need to be made about how monies are going to be expended now to prepare ourselves for what is coming down the road. I stand by the fact that any financial discussions need to include the seniors among us. But we, and I include myself in that group, look at that aging population as a problem to be dealt with rather than seeing something amazing: we are living longer! (See note below)

Amazingly enough the word "retirement" no longer means permanent retirement ie. death. Where once the bulk of a person's life was the time period of work, with only a few years perhaps to do something else, we can now look forward to a life after work. We are going to need to come up with a different term to describe accurately that period that comes after 65 or thereabouts. Calling those years the "retirement years" inaccurately describes what those years might be about. Retirement from work does not mean retirement from life. For now I'd like to call those years after 65 the Possibility Decades.

What would/could you do if you no longer had your job as the organizing factor in your life? What delayed dreams and visions might suddenly seem possible? Some have said that they would travel extensively, finally seeing up close and personal the wonders of the world they live in. Many others talk about finally having the unfettered time to volunteer, whether for charitable organizations or community improvement groups or self-help programs. Others talk about finally getting the chance to get the advanced education they couldn't/didn't get when they were younger. There are as many dreams as there are people who are finally getting a chance to make them come true. And the wonderful part is that those dreams are going to have a chance to move out of the realm of the mind and into the realm of the real.

From a frum perspective the Possibility Decades offer some real benefits. People with experience and skills involved in the organizations of Klal, bringing with them a perspective that only age and living can give you. Overhead slashed to the bare bones for tzedaka organizations as our seniors take on the the jobs we are paying for now, as they tackle the reorganization of tzedakas that desperately need that reorganization. Yeshivas full to the brim with men who finally have the time to sit down and learn. What chidushim might they come up with to the benefit of Klal? Perhaps volunteers in our children's schools as tutors or office help or anywhere they can lend assistance? Imagine a group of retired accountants and financial specialists if they were let loose on solving the fiduciary problems of many of Klal's institutions. Babbi's who can cook and run a household paired with new kallahs, teaching them the basics. Zaydie's with household repair skills passing on their knowledge to new chasonim who need that knowledge. The possibilities are myriad.

But if we are to see the Possibility Decades come to fruition we first have to accept that those decades are a reality, that they are coming and that our seniors are more than entitled to them. We need to stop looking at our seniors as being only mere adjuncts to the generations that followed them, as someone whose only job is to serve the young in the ways that the young want. We need to look at our seniors as separate but equal to all the other generations. And yes, we need to recognize that those seniors are going to have financial needs and have to put away money to meet those needs. The younger generations are going to have to learn to be self-sustaining and self-supporting.

We need to understand the truth of that old saying: "Just because there is snow on the roof doesn't mean that there is no fire in the furnace." Our seniors still have many years of life left to live, and they should be allowed to live them on their own terms, not ours.

Note: The number of people living longer today is growing by leaps and bounds. As of September 20, 2008 there were 79 validated super centenarians living across the globe, 70 females and 9 males, between the ages of 110 and 115. The number of centenarians, those reaching 100 years of age exceeded 150,000 for the first time on April 11, 2008.

So, is This Jewish Music?

You would have had to have been living in a cave somewhere in Antarctica to miss the discussion of late about Jewish music and what shall constitute it. I'm not editorializing about the topic right now, but when I received the following link I admit to wondering just how this would fit into the new "guidelines."

The musical excerpt below is from a Chabad telethon and if you don't just listen to the music but follow the streaming donation count as the singing takes place you'll see that some people "voted" with their pocket books as to the Jewishness of the music when listening to the song.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? Not to go to the Dentist

Lion made a comment asking if I could please find something in a lighter vein to write about. My last "light" piece involved a chicken--me--and going to the dentist. I am in no way, shape or form going near the dentist again for a long time, but speaking of chickens....just for you Lion. And illustrates perfectly that old saw about being careful of what you wish for--you just might get it.

So why DID that chicken cross the road? The famous and infamous enlighten us.

Immanuel Kant : The chicken, being an autonomous being, chose to cross the road of his own free will.

Albert Camus: It doesn't matter; the chicken's actions have no meaning except to him.

RALPH NADER : Chickens are misled into believing there is a road by the evil tiremakers. Chickens aren't ignorant, but our society pays tiremakers to create the need for these roads and then lures chickens into believing there is an advantage to crossing them. Down with the roads, up with chickens.

Karl Marx : It was a historical inevitability.

Pat Buchanan : To steal a job from a decent, hardworking American.

Bill Gates : I have just released the new Chicken 2000, which will both cross roads AND balance your checkbook, although dividing 3 by 2 will get you 1.4999999999.

Microsoft Chicken (TM) : It's already on both sides of the road. And it just bought the road.

Carl Jung : The confluence of events in the cultural gestalt necessitated that individual chickens cross roads at this historical juncture, and therefore synchronicitously brought such occurrences into being.

Hamlet : Because 'tis better to suffer in the mind the slings and arrows of outrageous road maintenance than to take arms against a sea of on coming vehicles...

Machiavelli : So that its subjects will view it with admiration, as a chicken which has the daring and courage to boldly cross the road, but also with fear, for whom among them has the strength to contend with such a paragon of avian virtue? In such a manner is the princely chicken's dominion maintained.

Sigmund Freud : The chicken obviously was female and obviously interpreted the pole on which the crosswalk sign was mounted as a phallic symbol of which she was envious, selbstverstaendlich

Martin Luther King : It had a dream.

Timothy Leary : Because that's the only kind of trip the Establishment would let it take.

Dr. Seuss : Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes! The chicken crossed the road, but why it crossed it, I've not been told!

Robert Frost : To reach the sidewalk less travelled by.

Grandpa : In my day, we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Someone told us that the chicken had crossed the road, and that was good enough for us.

Albert Einstein: Whether the chicken crossed the road or the road moved beneath the chicken depends upon your frame of reference.

Jerry Falwell: Because the chicken was gay! Isn't it obvious? Can't you people see the plain truth in front of your face? The chicken was going to the "other side." That's what "they" call it: the "other side." Yes, my friends, that chicken is gay. And, if you eat that chicken, you will become gay too. I say we boycott all chickens until we sort out this abomination that the liberal media whitewashes with seemingly harmless phrases like "the other side." That chicken should not be free to cross the road. It's as plain and simple as that.

CAPTAIN JAMES T. KIRK:To boldly go where no chicken has gone before.

James Cagney: It crossed twice. The dirty double-crosser.

And for those who haven't groaned enough yet, or who really, really are avoiding work today, may I present that absolute necessity of necessities for those who truly wish to understand chickens.

Astrological Chickens
Zodiacal Influence on Chicken Crossing Behaviour
LEO (July 20 to August 22): Leo chickens are majestic and proud with personalities that need to shine, and greet opportunities with fervor and vitality. They always need to be in charge. They will cross the road with great enthusiasm for the opportunity to escape a normal, humdrum existence.
VIRGO (August 23 to September 22): Virgos are practical and adaptable. They have a strong desire to succeed, are very discriminating and tend to be critical of others. They strive for perfection. They are very poultriatarian and will usually cross for the good of other chickens and because it is the proper or correct thing to do.
LIBRA (September 23 to October 22): Libra chickens are thoughtful and sensitive, and are always seeking balance and harmony. They need the respect and love of other chickens more than any other group. They think carefully before making any decision. Libra chickens are prone to stop in the middle of the road to try to decide which way to go, making the crossing a considerable risk to themselves and others.
SCORPIO (October 23 to November 21): Scorpios have a depth and intensity of their emotions that gives them a strong inner power. They are creatures of passion whose focused desires assist them in achieving their aims. They can be ruthlessly self-critical in their quest for truth. They are uncompromising, and stick to any commitment they have made. They cross because they promised to do so.
SAGITTARIUS (November 23 to December 21): These chickens are restless and visionary. They love to explore new horizons and see life as a journey full of adventure. They greet every new experience with a warm heart, a ready smile and an open mind. They cross the road because of a passion to see more of the world and a spirit which longs to be free.
CAPRICORN (December 22 to January 19): Capricorns are very ambitious and are always striving to reach the top of the coop. They are tenacious in planning every step to achieve their goals, and leave themselves little time to relax before looking for new peaks to climb. They cross because they must to achieve the success they feel should be theirs.
AQUARIUS (January 20 to February 18): Chickens born under the sign of Aquarius are strong independent spirits longing to break free from traditional conventions and restrictions and the status quo. They are innovative and idealistic always replacing old outdated thinking with fresh perspectives. They are strongly driven to oppose social injustice and oppression. They are always experimenting to discover their own identity. They will cross because it is forbidden to do so and by doing so it will be easier for others to do so in the future.
PISCES (February 19 to March 20): Pisces chickens are dreamy and sensitive. They are blessed with deep intuition and a wealth of emotion. Pisces are romantic, creative and full of love with a potential for great happiness and lasting joy. Their imagination is so strong that it frequently merges with fantasy. They usually cross because they had a vision telling them that this is the means to the happiness they are striving to achieve.
ARIES (March 21 to April 19): Chickens born under the sign of Aries are natural leaders possessing a pioneering determined spirit, who wish to make their mark on the world. They cross the road to assert themselves and seek action, daring and adventure.
TAURUS (April 20 to May 20): Taurus chickens are strong willed and have a down to earth attitude toward life. They are overly interested in material things and have a real need for security. They feel unsettled unless comfortable. They will cross only if there is more security on the other side or to obtain material possessions.
GEMINI (May 21 to June 20): They are highly restless and are always seeking a wide variety of contrasting experiences. They cross because they are curious and to avoid the boredom of their mundane existence.
CANCER (June 21 to July 22): While having a tough shell-like exterior, Cancer chickens are very sensitive and vulnerable. They have very delicate emotions, and are always attuned to their environment and the feelings of those around them. They have a constant and urgent need to feel safe and always act defensively. They will only cross the road when there is danger to themselves or others on this side.

You Think Tuition is Costly?

Today seems to be "Consider the Elders" day for posting purposes. My first post of the day pointed out that any discussion of the financial arrangements of Klal has to discuss the costs that are going to be incurred by the older generations. Consider some of the costs mentioned below:

"On average, U.S. nursing homes now charge $54,900 a year, and this could reach as high as $190,000 by 2030, when the last of the boomers reach age 65."

"The five costliest areas are Alaska, New York City, Connecticut, New York state, and Washington DC, with costs ranging from $88,000 to $106,500 per year, according to a new study by GE Long Term Care Insurance."

"“Nursing-home costs have been rising 5 percent or more a year, outpacing inflation,” said Herb Perone, spokesman for the American Council of Life Insurers."

"The American Council of Life Insurers estimates that one out of every three men who live beyond 65 will require nursing-home care, compared to one out of two women. Medicare will only cover short periods of nursing-home care after a hospital stay, for example, if a patient needs therapy to recover from an accident."

"Financial planners are now urging more Americans, especially those in their 50s,- to take a hard look at their financial situation and determine if taking out long-term care insurance should be part of their overall retirement-planning strategy."

Average Cost of Care for New York Long Term Care Nursing Homes, New York Home Health Care, & New York Assisted Living Facilities for 2007
The table below shows the average New York long term care costs in three different types of long term care facilities: home health care, assisted living facilities, and New York nursing home facilities. People usually use more than one form of long term care. Actual costs for future years will be substantially higher due to inflation.

Costs of Long Term Care in New York, NY
Annual Costs

New York Home Health Care(avg hourly rate)
$ 17.82
$ 23,166.00 *

New York Assisted Living(avg monthly rate)
$ 3,696.66
$ 44,359.92

New York Nursing Home(avg daily rate)
$ 269.00
$ 98,185.00
(*The New York Home Health Care costs have been computed using the defaults of 5 hours per visit and 5 visits per week depicting a typical scenario.)

Note: 24/7 in-home care costs substantially more than the 25 hour per week costs that are shown here.

Note: Residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes who require that medications be administered and/or monitored by someone other than the resident can charge residents a nurse administrator fee running anywhere from $400 per week to $100 per day in addition to the regular charge for residence.

Note: Medicaid does not cover long term care, nor does it cover hospice care. The charge for a long term care policy can start in the $6000 per person, per year range for someone in their 50s and will go substantially higher as you get older. My mother, in her 80s, pays about $12,000 for this policy per year.

The costs above are a per person cost. Should a couple need such care, well you do the math. Even if, as many who track the expenses involved in this type of care say, the average stay in a nursing home or assisted living facility runs from 2-6 years you are talking $88,000 to $1,200,000 for that time period, depending on the age of the person and the projected rise in costs. Double the costs for two people.

I was not kidding around when I said that Klal has some serious discussing to do about financial issues that aren't about tuition costs.

Ad Mayoh V'Esrim

When we wish someone long life we add on ad mayoh v'esrim shanim--until 120 years. I don't know how we came to include this phrase or when but I do know that it was around in the time of my great grandmother in Europe in the late 1800s. But in my great grandmother's time the wish was rarely if ever granted. The majority of people in that time period were lucky to make it to the 50s or 60s of life.

Fast forward to today. Life expectancy for a woman in the US is 88 years of age, for a man 86 years of age. B'H we are living longer. But this older life expectancy is not without its problems. You see little, if anything, written about the aging members of Klal, and yet I believe that it is precisely these older generations that are key in many of the discussions we are having about the issues facing us, particularly the financial discussions.

Many, perhaps most of my generation, the children of the Holocaust survivor generation, did not have any grandparents when we were growing up; it was just us and our parents. Parents had just two things to focus on: themselves and their children. And then there is my generation. Many of us lost a parent early on in our lives; the inhuman stresses they endured during the war weakened many of them and left them with medical conditions that killed them relatively early. My father died shortly before my 30th birthday. My father in law died when my husband was 37. Many of our friends and acquaintances were in the same position. Today there are few left from that Holocaust generation. I scanned my phone book and of 27 couples who are either cousins or close friends, there are only 7 parents still living. My generation, unlike my parents' generation, are having to deal with the issue of aging parents, but in a very limited fashion. Still, at least some of us are having to balance aging parents, our needs and the needs of our children and grandchildren.

Now to my children's generation. They are juggling even more balls then my generation is. Some of them still have grandparents, people who are elderly and with many of the problems that can beset a person as they reach the truly older years. Their own parents are no longer youngsters. Many of their parents have reached retirement age and beyond and the others are getting close to it. Many have already had health issues of the type typical to an older population. This younger generation is also raising families, with all that entails today. They are having to deal with four generations living at the same time.

And then there is the generation after my children's generation. Some of the members of this generation are themselves close to marriageable age and becoming parents. It is quite conceivable that yet another generation will come into existence well before any of the generations before it are completely gone. If my first cousin's children follow in the footsteps of their parents then my cousin will be a great grandfather before he ever turns 65. And his dad is still living.

So what's the problem?, you ask. Time, money and community resources are not infinite. How these resources should be allocated needs to be thought of carefully. And in allocating those resources attention needs to be paid to the concerns, both now and in the future, of ALL the generations that are living.

Those of you who are in my children's generation are highly concerned with the cost of yeshiva tuition, and yes it impacts you tremendously. And one answer to this tuition "crisis," on the part of schools and on the part of parents, has been to ask grandparents for help in meeting tuition expenses, as well as helping out with buying homes etc. This is a shortsighted solution to the problem of tuition and "making it" in today's world. Let's not even mention that there are some in my children's generation who are being totally supported by their parents.

What is worse, the financial pressures on my children's generation has spawned talk about how retirement is not a Jewish concept (see my posting on this topic Such talk can only arise when another generation is counting on the generation before it to keep it afloat. We all hope for perfect good health for all the years we live. It's not the reality. As people hit their 60s they begin to experience health issues, some of a lesser nature, some of a major nature. Their physical strength begins to wane. And at a time in their life when they should be free to concentrate on themselves, on taking care of themselves, they can't, because they are still engaged in the "young persons" activities of supporting families. What is truly worse, money that should have been put away towards the time when they are older is being spent instead on children and grandchildren. Many of those heading into their 60s or older have exhausted their savings already, with nothing left for the future years; some are in debt, a debt they will not be able to repay.

The time is going to come when my generation retires, no matter how some may wish it won't happen. And if you think Klal has financial problems now you haven't seen anything yet like what may be coming down the road. Some in my generation are going to be just fine financially; a whole lot are not going to be so fine. If you think that having Social Security payments is all you need to live when you get older, you need some re-education (always supposing that Social Security manages to stay alive, never mind healthy, for the next few decades.) And there are going to be members of my generation who, at retirement, are going to be forced to choose: having sufficient money to take care of all their older needs, including possible specialized care in the years to come, or offering support money to their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. What are yeshivas going to do when my generation no longer can be counted on to pour money into the educational system, even if indirectly? What will community organizations do when the Boomers have to look at themselves instead of helping out others?

How prepared are some of you, the generations younger than I am, to take on the time and expenses of caring for aging parents, lots of aging parents, while trying to take care of yourself, your children and your grandchildren at the same time? The baby boomer generation is huge in number; what has been done to prepare for when that generation becomes zekanim? In the not too distant future services and institutions and programs for the elderly of Klal are going to be competing head to head with yeshivot for the dollars of Klal. C'v that we should ever be put into the position of having to say either/or--either we can take care of our children or we can take care of the elderly. But if we are not to come to that position then our conversations today about yeshiva tuition, about the cost of educating our children, about camps and about all the concerns of the younger people among us has to include a discussion of what we are going to need for the future years vis a vis our older people. Hard decisions are going to have to be made about whether Klal can afford to maintain all the customs and practices of living that it has become accustomed to.

Let me leave you with this to think about. A friend is grappling with a huge problem right now. Her elderly mother required institutional care for 8 months. That care ran $22,000 per MONTH, not covered by medicaid, nor completely covered by supplemental insurance, including non-covered medical care. She now requires 24/7 live-in care in her apartment, in addition to other non-covered services. Her savings of a lifetime are depleted right now. Her daughter has been spending plenty of her own money in helping out her mom. Two of their kids are fully self-supporting, but the yeshiva their children go to is hurting for money and raising tuition to the breaking point, so they give money there. Thelr third child lives in Israel and is not fully self supporting. Money gets funneled there too. And this friend and her husband are both 65. They are fairly well-to-do people but a few weeks ago the wife made the comment "I'm glad people think that we print money in our basement. I don't see how we can keep up this way." I don't see how either. And then think of those who aren't "well-to-do." And that thought is chillingly scary, because this scenario is going to become way more common and very soon.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just When I Think I've Heard It All

There seems to be no such thing as getting completely out of the shidduch redding business. I'm not actively looking for "new customers" but there are still some of my "old" ones I'm still keeping in mind. But two shidduch incidences that happened this week and weekend lead me to wonder yet again about why sane people volunteer to red shidduchim.

#1: A friend with whom I used to actively brainstorm for shidduchim called me up all excitedly because she found a man for a woman I've been working with for some time. He sounded absolutely perfect. He didn't care that she was in her 30s, he wasn't particularly makpid on "great" looks, he wasn't looking for a size 2. "All" he wanted was a woman who was going to want to live in Israel, who was educated and had a profession that would translate over to working in Israel, and who was sincere in her frumkeit, and he didn't spell that out in ten million words either. I quickly double checked that the woman was still available and gave my friend the go ahead to red the shidduch to the man. Sigh. My non-fussy man turned down the shidduch. Why? Because he didn't like the woman's name--he wanted a wife with a Hebrew first name, not a Yiddish name.

#2: Man who is in early 40s and woman in mid 30s. Shidduch is red through one of the shadchanim on one of the frum online sites. Man agrees to call the woman. His shidduch bio states he is 5'10" tall. Woman is 5'8" plus. During the first phone call he tells her "I'm 5'10" so don't wear high heels on the date." Sigh. Then the man, a resident of Brooklyn who is going to be taking the woman out in Brooklyn, basically tells her to plan the date and then let him know so he can say yes or no. The woman is not happy but she agrees to this date anyway. The date was supposed to be today, Sunday. Last night at 11:00 PM the man calls the woman and tells her "I've been giving it some thought and I don't think we should go out," cancels the date and hangs up.

Please, somebody, anybody, if you know of some people (okay, males in this case) whose objections and actions are similar to those mentioned above, could you be a good friend/neighbor/relative and tell them that it is not a dearth of "good" women that may be keeping them from getting married?

Haveil Havalim #183

The latest edition is up and available here:
Haveil Havalim #183

Please note: an email from a reader took me to task for linking to Haveil Havalim, claiming that he/she (no identification possible) was terribly offended by a few of the articles he/she found there. First, a roundup, like a newspaper, makes no stated promise that no reader will find anything of an objectionable nature to him or her. Two, I also make no claims of that nature. Go there, if you wish to, and read what you wish to. De gustibus non disputandum est--you can't argue taste.

Is Change Always for the Better? You Decide.

The following was sent to me via email. As the sender commented, it is both sad and funny when you look at some of the changes that have taken place from 1957 to 2007. I have my reservations on some of these: in some cases I don't feel the 1957 attitude was any more correct than the 2007 attitude and vice versa; in some cases the change was for the better; in other cases I feel the change was for the worse. So, what do you think?

SCHOOL -- 1957 vs. 2007

Scenario: Jack goes quail hunting before school, pulls into school parking lot with shotgun in gun rack.

1957 - Vice Principal comes over, looks at Jack's shotgun, goes to his car and gets his shotgun to show Jack.

2007 - School goes into lock down, FBI called, Jack hauled off to jail and never sees his truck or gun again. Counselors called in for traumatized students and teachers.

Scenario: Johnny and Mark get into a fistfight after school.

1957 - Crowd gathers. Mark wins. Johnny and Mark shake hands and end up buddies.

2007 - Police called, SWAT team arrives, arrests Johnny and Mark. Charge them with assault, both expelled even though Johnny started it.

Scenario: Jeffrey won't be still in class, disrupts other students.

1957 - Jeffrey sent to office and given a good paddling by the Principal. Returns to class, sits still and does not disrupt class again.

2007 - Jeffrey given huge doses of Ritalin. Becomes a zombie. Tested for ADD. School gets extra money from state because Jeffrey has a disability.

Scenario: Billy breaks a window in his neighbor's car and his Dad gives him a whipping with his belt.

1957 - Billy is more careful next time, grows up normal, goes to college, and becomes a successful businessman.

2007 - Billy's dad is arrested for child abuse. Billy removed to foster care and joins a gang. State psychologist tells Billy's sister that she remembers being abused herself and their dad goes to prison. Billy's mom has affair with psychologist.

Scenario: Mark gets a headache and takes some aspirin to school.

1957 - Mark shares aspirin with Principal out on the smoking dock.

2007 - Police called, Mark expelled from school for drug violations. Car searched for drugs and weapons.

Scenario: Pedro fails high school English.

1957 - Pedro goes to summer school, passes English, goes to college.

2007 - Pedro's cause is taken up by state. Newspaper articles appear nationally explaining that teaching English as a requirement for graduation is racist. ACLU files class action lawsuit against state school system and Pedro's English teacher. English banned from core curriculum. Pedro given diploma anyway but ends up mowing lawns for a living because he cannot speak English.

Scenario: Johnny takes apart leftover firecrackers from 4th of July, puts them in a model airplane paint bottle, blows up a red ant bed.

1957 - Ants die.

2007- BATF, Homeland Security, FBI called. Johnny charged with domestic terrorism, FBI investigates parents, siblings removed from home, computers confiscated, Johnny's Dad goes on a terror watch list and is never allowed to fly again.

Scenario: Johnny falls while running during recess and scrapes his knee. He is found crying by his teacher, Mary. Mary hugs him to comfort him.

1957 - In a short time, Johnny feels better and goes on playing.

2007 - Mary is accused of being a sexual predator and loses her job. She faces 3 years in State Prison. Johnny undergoes 5 years of therapy.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Some Practical Advice on the Sexual Abuse Problem

A hat tip to Ezzie for alerting me to this article.

Written by the CEO Mandel of Ohel and by Dr. David Pelcovitz, it's a must read for anyone who cares about the child abuse in our communities.

OU Seminar Reminder

Just a reminder that the OU online seminar on finances that I mentioned previously will be this upcoming Monday, Sept. 22. For information on how to register please go to

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Call to Action Regarding the Child Abuse Issue

Thanks to Wolf for exhibiting the kind of activism that is far too often absent in our communities. I'm a firm believer that letters do have effect, but only if you actually send them. Please go to his site, address below, read the article (Open Letter to the Editors of the Jewish Press), and respond as Wolf has asked us to.

Note: Many other bloggers are involved in this push as well, such as Ezzie at Serandez. If I've missed giving you credit, please accept my apologies now, and a public thanks for your efforts.

Hitting the Nail on the Head

I used to be mystified by all the things that people could find to talk about about other people. I'm no longer mystified but I sure am bemused. Let's take fingernails. Fingernails? you ask. Why should anyone be talking about anyone else's fingernails? Beats me, but they do.

On b4s's blog she was discussing (okay, discussing is a little mild for the sarcasm present) a book on dating advice in which a weekly manicure, polish and making sure your nails are up to the second viewable is a must. Huh? Are there really that many people--think males--out there with fingernail fetishes? Apparently so, based on that book. Funny, but from my own experience I wouldn't have placed fingernails right up there at the top of the list of items that men consider the "must haves" for viewing on a female.

I won't bore you with all the details, but for most of my life I have simply been unable to grow a presentable set of nails. While single I kept them short and clean and that was it. Amazingly enough, I managed to get married and stay married. Nothing changed during all my married years until this past summer. Suddenly, in my "golden" years, my nails were growing out strong and long. I think I let them grow out just out of curiosity as to how you handle basic living tasks with a set of talons. Apparently just fine. So yes, I invested in a bit of pale polish and off I went into the world.

A few people have found some practical uses for these new nails of mine, like being able to easily lift off those tiny sticky labels that come on packages. But for the most part people have made those "private" comments that are said just a little too loudly to be all that private. And yes, some of them have been male, surprising the dickens out of me. Like what? "Does her husband know just how much those fake nails cost?" "Lucky her to have time to go get a manicure every week. My wife is too busy to do that." And this comment in class, between two boys as I was passing out papers. "Real? No, they are made out of plastic and they glue them on. Our women don't use them." (I just might add this as an aside. If males are putting together manicure and money then a girl with polished nails on a date just might be giving off vibes she doesn't really want to--you know, "I have polished nails and that's high maintenance so I'm high maintenance."

How the nails are going to stand up to the rigor of yom tov making I have yet to find out. But I still have trouble with the idea that my nails are going to be a topic of conversation. I've put up a bunch of reading lists over the summer, but if anyone is really so bored that they need to discuss someone's fingernails, I could always post lots more book lists. Or I could always borrow a sentiment from the younger generations around--"Please, get a life!"

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Cheaters never prosper, Cheaters never win.

If I sat down to write a posting on all the different ways that people cheat in life, I'd be here long past the alloted number of years we get for living. There is no area of life that someone, somewhere, at some time has not cheated at. It matters not at all if we use some synonym for cheat that sounds better: it's still cheating.

At a long ago teacher's meeting someone said that people feel about cheating this way: it only becomes cheating if you get caught.Talk about a self-serving attitude. And yet that attitude is seen all over. When a member of one of the frum communities had his cheating exposed and had to serve jail time for it, the comments were mostly along the line of "What a dummy! How did he let himself get caught?!" Not one comment about how wrong what he did was.

Cheating, and its closely allied cousin lying, happen even when there seems to be no advantage to the cheating. It certainly happens where people see an advantage in it.

Years ago the price tags on clothing were attached using safety pins. And routinely people would switch the tags from one piece of clothing to another, to get a cheaper price. Stores finally figured out what was happening and now attach the tags with plastic fasteners that can't be switched. Various fresh foods in the supermarket have small tags with their produce codes on them. And routinely you see people switching the tags from the less expensive produce to the more expensive produce. You check your register tape coming out of the supermarket. There is plenty of screaming if the store charged you more than the stated price of an item. How many people go back and tell the checkout person that they charged too little, and pay the difference?

Cheating on income taxes goes on to such a degree that it would take an encyclopedia to write about it. Cheating insurance companies is rampant. A doctor/dentist puts in a procedure that the company will pay for at a higher rate to get what he wanted for the less expensive procedure that he actually performed. And patients concur in this because it ends up costing them less out of pocket.

Spousal cheating of all types goes on all the time, and yes, in the frum communities as well. "What they don't know doesn't hurt them" seems to be the catch phrase. Summer is a particularly fruitful time for this type of cheating, particularly in the NY area, as many families go up to the mountains for the summer. Wife in the mountains, husband in the city: a formula that could spell disaster as far as cheating goes.

And then there is cheating in school, an area that affects me personally. Just how stupid do my students think I am? I, and many other instructors, now give unannounced quizzes and in-class writing to get samples of how the students are "really" doing. When a student who can't spell his/her own name correctly in class suddenly turns in a home-written essay worthy of an Alexander Pope, am I supposed to be impressed? (And just a little note to parents who "help" their kids with their homework: you might try writing in the tone and vocabulary level of your student. When a fourth grader turns in an essay with "vociferous" and words of that nature in it, the red flags go up.)

Something that I wrote while in graduate school was archived by the University and was available in the library. For purposes of the article I used my first name initial, maiden and married last name. It was on the article. Imagine my surprise when a student in one of my classes turned in a paper to me in which my own words were used, but not given credit. I turned back the paper to the student as an "F" with plagiarism as the reason. The reply? "Prove it." So we went to the University Committee that handled this type of complaint and the committee let the student speak first. Said student complained that I couldn't recognize solid scholarship when I saw it. Said student said that I was unfair to students who could think. When it was my turn to speak, I took out the archived copy of my paper and the copy I had made of the student's paper. I pointed out to the committee where the plagiarized material was. The student obviously lost, but I wish I could be a little less cynical in hoping that he learned something other than taking more care in which authors he cribs from.

When children see adults taking what those adults call a "little shortcut" then why should we be surprised that they cheat in school? As far as the kids are concerned, cheaters always prosper, cheaters always win. I know of no parents who have specifically told their children that cheating is permissible, that cheating is acceptable. But the kids are very quick to pick up on the "Do as I say, not as I do" actions around them. Calling it "fudging" doesn't make it a sweeter thing.

In this time period, coming up to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, mayhap a bit more thinking about cheating and how it erodes our spiritual well-being is in order.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road? To Avoid the Dentist

Avoidance behavior is a fairly common human trait; what we don't like to do or what we don't want to do we try to avoid with everything that is in us. I won't say that I never go to the dentist voluntarily; when nothing is wrong I make appointments for a cleaning and check up with no problem (okay, I'm not thrilled but I do it). But let there be a twinge anywhere in my mouth and I suddenly am so booked solid with projects that I couldn't possibly see the dentist for at least the next decade.

Unfortunately--or fortunately--for me, our dentist is the son-in-law of my hubby's best friend, and is also a neighbor of ours. Let me even tell my husband that I think I might be getting a toothache and he's on the phone to the dentist's wife, who calls me and tells me that she has made me an appointment and I had better be there. And so today I am heading for the dentist, willing or not. And the dentist knows and I know that the tooth that he has been trying to stabilize and save is going to "die" today. Pull a tooth? I'd rather deliver a ten pound baby without drugs.

I am reminded of that old saying: "We who are about to die salute you." I have spent some precious moments wondering if there is some way to summon up a rainstorm strong enough to close the bridge so that I can't leave the Island. Forget it--nothing is going to save me from this trip. Strange, I always consider myself as a strong person, one who isn't afraid to tackle the hard things, who isn't afraid of anything that life can throw at me. And then you mention the word dentist and I find myself becoming Chicken Little in the flesh.

I have to leave soon and I didn't want to leave without telling all you readers how much I have appreciated your coming here and "talking" with me. I plan on continuing my blogging. But I'm also going to the dentist today and who knows what turn life will take. I am talking, after all, about a man who approaches me with a hypodermic needle in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other, all the while telling me "This won't hurt a bit."

And yet Another Site for Children's Literature

The site below, compiled by a reviewer at The Horn Book Magazine, offers an excellent selection of books and stories for children, from the youngest reader to the mature teen. What distinguishes it from other lists I have posted is that each book is reviewed with a brief synopsis of the work. Each selection is also marked as to the age/type of reader it is suitable for. Now that school is once more upon us, can book reports be far behind? You just might find something on this list.

Children's Classics: A Booklist for Parents

Monday, September 15, 2008

Deck the Halls

At a recent upsherin a cousin, who is making a wedding in a few months, was talking about the halls and their prices. If my mind was boggled when thinking about Jewish wedding costs before, it's whatever is above boggled now.

There seems to be an assumption that if a hall is in Brooklyn then it falls in the "very cheap" category, and if a hall is used by chassidim it definitely falls in that category. Time to take the blinkers off. A very popular Williamsburg hall that has the reputation for "being cheap" is sure not cheap. Let's call it "BB" (close enough in the alphabet). The charge for the hall comes out to $120 per couple, with a 400 and something minimum for the number of people. Say what? And then there is that hall in the Flatbush area, the one that sounds like chink or hink. Their charge, including the service fee, is $77 per couple, but there is a 520 person minimum.
The charges above are for the hall, service fee and a set menu meal alone. They do not include anything else. Liquor is a separate charge. Forget about photographers, flowers and bands and the rest. In the first hall the charge to walk in is approximately $24,600. In the second hall the charge to walk in is $20,020. And keep in mind the person minimum. You don't have to have that many people at your wedding but you'll pay that minimum regardless of how few people you have. If you "only" invite 400 people to the second hall you are still paying the $20,020 but your actual cost per couple to you is now $100 per couple.

Compare this to a more expensive hall whose minimum is 100 people. At $150 per couple, 320 people will "only" cost you $24,000, around the same price as the first cheaper hall above.

The cousin who shared the figures that were quoted to her said that you might as well invite the 520 people, since you were paying for them anyway. Youch. Makes me wonder if the halls are not in collusion with the other wedding service suppliers. Go from 400 to 520 people and you are adding 12 more floral centerpieces, 120 more bentchers, at least 60 more invitations plus their postage etc. The devil is in the details.

Anyone rob a good bank lately? I've been calling all year for a change in the way that weddings are made in the frum community. Given the figures above--and these are supposed to be cheap halls--I'd say that we have passed beyond the point of just talking about the high cost of a chasuneh and have reached the point of actually doing something about it.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Havel Havelim #182

The latest Havel Havelim is up at

Plenty of interesting postings to spend some time with today.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Sexual Abuse and Denial in the Community

I have debated long and hard about this posting and whether it was ever going to see the light of day. But recent events, the Hikind/Twerski news, have lead me to overcome any fears about posting.

Today sexual abuse of minors by those in authority over those minors is a well known fact. It happens in the outside world and we know, without any doubts, that it happens in the frum community as well. The media of all types have alerted to this. There is no adult living in the US and elsewhere that has not heard of sexual abuse of a minor. Children are routinely warned not just to not talk to strangers but also about what is appropriate behavior on the part of adults around those kids. Children are taught to know that touching in the "bathing suit" areas is not acceptable.

But nothing has been done in the frum community to address this problem nor to bring those abusers to justice. The criminals are more choshuv to those in positions of authority then the young victims are. Handling the matter internally for these authority figures means shuffling the criminals from one school to a different school, from one city to another city. They sigh in relief when the problem goes NIMBY--not in my backyard. And they sternly warn the families and concerned other people that taking the police/court route is a no-no.

I'd like to vomit all over those who talk of bringing the problem into the open as being a "chillul Hashem." The real chillul Hashem is what these people are doing to our young, precious children. As a mother I can understand why Rabbi Dr. Twerski was scared for his family and resigned from Dov Hikind's commission. But we do have an option of how to deal with this problem since our leaders have shown they are not willing to do so.

I am not a violent person by nature, nor do I come from a violent family. I believe in the rule of law and justice. That being said, I also believe in "midoh k'neged midoh." I believe that there are times and situations where it is the fool who does not answer force with force.

When I was a child the shamas of our shul was a holocaust survivor. He and his wife were a bit older than my parents and were childless. They always seemed to dote on the children in the shul. He was also the candyman in shul so where he went the children would follow. One yom tov morning when I was 6 I went with two friends to play in the social hall in the basement of the shul. Mr. M was there and we ran over to ask for a piece of candy. It was something that every child in the shul had done before. Please keep in mind that when I was 6 no one but no one was discussing child abuse. No one was warning children about inappropriate sexual behavior on the part of adults towards children. You never saw or heard news of this in the media. Had you said "child abuse" to someone they would have asked you what that meant. So my friends got their piece of candy and then it was my turn. And this fiend cloaked in piety said that he had something even better for me then candy and if I was a "good girl" and did what he wanted that I would get two pieces of candy. And then he exposed himself to me. And my guardian angel prompted me to say no and to run and join my friends upstairs.

I cannot at this point in time recount exactly how I was feeling after this. I do know that it was unexpected and that my parents had never discussed this with me--no parents were discussing this back then. And I didn't run to my mom to tell her about it either. But it clearly must have been puzzling me. We were sleeping over at my aunt's house that night and after the seder was over I wasn't falling asleep all that readily. My mom came over to me to tell me to go to sleep already and out of nowhere I said to my mom "Mr. M showed me his____in shul today." My mom carefully asked if that was all he had done, just shown it to me. When I answered "yes," she tucked me in and that was the end of the discussion, at least as far as I was concerned. But in the dining room I could hear the angry voices of my parents and my aunt and uncle and I was concerned that they were having a fight. Little did I know.

There were no legal precedents to follow and no earnest community leaders to consult. My dad and my uncle took care of the problem like the horrified and enraged parents they were: they went to Mr. M's house and beat the crap out of him. They warned him that he had better find a new job. They told him they would be watching every breath he took. And when the shul moved that year Mr. M was no longer the shamas. Until the move he no longer had candy in his pocket and no longer was anywhere that the kids were.

I first found out what had transpired years later, when I was far more adult and when talking about these things perhaps came a little bit easier for my mom. I was one of the lucky ones--there were no lasting affects because of what Mr. M did. Society had not made this an everyday issue to scare kids with. But what did remain with me ad hayom is that my dad and my uncle were the best parent and uncle in the world, because whatever would happen to me they would protect me. I didn't have to fear monsters because they had my back.

Our leaders are impotent? They refuse to deal with the reality in front of them? They reply to those who would deal with this reality with threats? Then gentlemen what are you waiting for? Those are YOUR children these depraved pieces of dreck are abusing. They are all of our children. It's not the right way to handle things, it's not the frum way, it's not the halachic way you say? And is doing nothing while our children suffer any more frum or any more halachic? I have always said and fully believe that I would take a bullet in protecting my children. So what about you guys out there--would you throw a punch to protect your child?

And here is what else I bet will be the outcome if just one parent and his family or friends paid a "visit" to one of these monsters: the news would get out, even if whispered secretly in dark corners. And these monsters would know that their free reign of terror was going to be toppled. And our leaders just might have to finally do the right thing, to bring this out in the open and finally condemn these people for what they are.

My father never brought up this incident with me. It was not something a father would talk to his daughter about back then. My father is no longer living but I would still like to thank him now. I had a perfectly normal childhood and grew to be a perfectly healthy, normal adult because that one incident was just that: a one-time occurrence that did not haunt the rest of my life. He saw to that. Violent behavior? Is it violent to crush the serpent that strikes you, or to stomp out the vermin that threaten you? In this particular case and given that our leadership are sniveling cowards, then no, it's not violent: it's the only response that has been left to us.

A 9/11 Posting

Much of what will be in the media today will be recaps of the events of 9/11. There will be memorials for those who died. I'd like to do a 9/11 posting of a different nature, one that deals with the living.

There's an old English saying: "Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today." Certainly the events of 9/11 underlined the fragility of human existence. I'm sure there are many among the families of the dead who beat themselves up with the "if onlys." "If only we had not put off doing/saying/going."

It is still a good few weeks until Rosh Hashanah. Some people are first going to start thinking about yom tov preparations in the week before it begins. There is one preparation, however, that I would like everyone to start, and start now. Among your acquaintances, among your neighbors, among those in your shul or social circles are those for whom yom tov equates to being alone. They are, some of them, singles who live far from their families and who will not be able to make it home for yom tov. They are the widowed with no family nearby. They are the elderly. Now is the time to call and invite these people for a meal or two or all for yom tov. Don't wait for them to call you--hachnosis orchim says you do the inviting, you do the welcoming.

No one should have to be scrounging around for someplace to be for yom tov. Guests should not be looked at as a burden but as a chance to show our good sides, to openly and happily participate in the mitzvah of hachnosis orchim. And yes, my money and my mouth are in the same place--I do what I'm asking you all to do. A young woman who has been my regular guest for yom tov for years is coming this year for the last time. She has become a member of our family and we are going to miss her, but her absence will be because she is getting married in a few months. And there will be others at our table as well, others who will enhance our yom tov through their presence, others whose presence reminds us that we are not the only people in the world.

Please, if you do no other yom tov preparation this week, then at least give a thought to who you might invite, whose yom tov you might make more "light filled." Let's truly make 9/11 a day for the living. Call someone now and ask them to share your yom tov.

A little addendum off the topic: the young woman I mentioned above is one of three roommates, all three of whom have become engaged recently. I mention this because all three are women in their mid 30's. For those of you having trouble finding or keeping your bitochon that there is indeed a person out there for you, please use these women to strengthen yourself. They didn't lose heart, they kept their bitochon and they are all three now going to be zocheh to build a bais ne'eman b'yisroel. In this new year that is coming up may all you singles be zocheh to find your zivug.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

"Bessereh Mentchen"

Like English, Yiddish also has idioms and the idea of connotation. One such idiom is "Bessereh Mentchen." Translated word by word it would mean "better people." But idioms do not get their meaning this way; an idiom is not just the sum of the meanings of its individual words. An idiom has a separate meaning. Connotation tells us whether or not a word or idiom has a positive or negative usage. Thanks to its negative connotation, "Bessereh mentchen" is no compliment to whomever is being so designated.

Bessereh mentchen believe they are better than other people without having any basis for this belief, at least no rational belief. Bessereh mentchen believe that the world owes them something just because they are in it. Bessereh mentchen believe that something they own, have or do places them above the rest of us. Bessereh mentchen have a sense of entitlement with no basis in fact. Bessereh mentchen don't believe they have to follow the rules that the rest of us do. Bessereh mentchen suffer from the Prince and Princess Syndrome; they are royalty and the rest of us were put on the earth to cater to their every whim, to smooth the pathways of life for them. In short the idiom "Bessereh Mentchen" means the opposite of what its individual words mean: bessereh mentchen, far from being better than others, only believe they are better, with little basis in fact.

Bessereh mentchen don't like to get their hands dirty with "real" labor; that's what the rest of us are for. Bessereh mentchen delegate to others as if by natural right. Bessereh mentchen complain a lot and point out where things need improving, but they rarely if ever pitch in and help.

Klal Yisroel is just chock full of bessereh mentchen. For the last few years we have seen this syndrome playing out in the "my hashkafah is better than your hashkafah and why are you still living?" arena. "Oh we don't eat hechsher X but only hechsher Y" said with a smug look aimed at the hearer is bessereh mentchen in action. Bessereh mentchen approach you and tell you oh so earnestly: "Oh ProfK, you haven't heard? You don't know? "We" no longer do/say/wear/believe X." Sometimes bessereh mentchen come in disguise: they wear the mantle of real caring and consideration for other people, but their message is still "I'm right, you're wrong, and you need to follow my lead because I said so." Other times bessereh mentchen simply sniff in disdain and refuse to have anything to do with anyone not just like them. Kiruv work and supporting kiruv programs? "Why bother?" is the answer of bessereh mentchen. Bessereh mentchen suffer from the "perfect people syndrome" with no idea of just how infected they are.

I try to avoid having to deal with bessereh mentchen in general, but it is getting harder and harder to do so as more and more people start to enter the bessereh mentchen realm. I'm no longer as active in shidduchim as I once was, because bessereh mentchen and their unrealistic expectations have taken much of the joy out of redding a shidduch. I never bought into the mentality of "I have more money then you do so I'm better, nah nah nah kish kish," but it's getting to be impossible to avoid those who believe in it. And I'm really floored by the "I know more Gemorah then you do, so there" bessereh mentchen.

It's Elul now, and if we want to improve ourselves and become better than we are right now, then we need to stop being bessereh mentchen, and need to stop letting bessereh mentchen affect us in so many ways. Bessereh mentchen is playing the game of one-up-manship to the n-th degree. The only One who should matter is way up there. It's way past time to be more concerned about what God thinks then what bessereh mentchen think.