Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Running Blood

Once again streets in the world ran with blood as the insanity of madmen unleashed itself in violence. My heart cries for all the victims in Mumbai. And it yells and screams in pain for the Jewish blood shed there.

Those weren't Chabadniks or Israelis or any other "Political" term who died--they were Jews, full stop. And perhaps the Jewish world could stop its brangling for just a few moments of silence to recognize that innocents were slaughtered for no other reason but the religion they practice.

Among those confirmed to have been murdered are:

Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg
Rivka Holtzberg
Rabbi Leibish Teitlebaum
Bentzion Chroman
Yohevet Orpaz

May their families be comforted among the mourners of Zion, and may their families be protected from any further tzar. And please God, may we see an end to the senseless violence and the cold blooded murder. And please God, watch over the yesomim whose
loss of their parents presents a wound that may never heal.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Questions of the Day--#3

Who was the only bachelor president?

Was the Bubonic Plague caused by a virus or by a bacterium?

Is a zebra white with black stripes or black with white stripes?

What is the telephone area code for a cruise ship in the Atlantic Ocean?

What is the average number of tornadoes that occur in the US each year?

Someone has hurled a contumely at me. What have they done?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Black Friday? Not Here

Merchants all over the city are hoping that shoppers today will put their balance sheets firmly in the black. I do so hope that they weren't counting on me to help them do that.

I can think of many reasons for getting up early in the morning, early being in the 6:00 am and later range. Going shopping is not one of those things. As to getting up well before 6:00 am or even 4:00 am to already be on line when the stores open at super early hours, not going to happen. Traffic on Thanksgiving was bumper to bumper and moving at less than a snail's pace; today will make yesterday look like a walk in the park.

I looked at all the circulars that arrived on Wednesday touting today's special offerings and blockbuster prices. Frankly, I wasn't impressed. Nothing in them was tempting enough for me to brave the insane traffic or pushy crowds. When I read that the SI Mall has ambulances standing by in the parking lots in case someone in the crowd gets overwhelmed I figure the Mall is a good place not to be.

If you are one of those people who believe that braving the malls on Black Friday is good aerobic exercise, well, good luck to you.

Update Note: Two of my kids did decide to brave black Friday crowds in SI. What they both basically reported is that stores were far from packed and--gasp!--parking was available in the lots. This doesn't bode well for the upcoming retail season. The malls in the Long Island area appeared to be doing better, at least as far as my niece could judge from the lack of parking spots already at 5:30 in the morning. Lots of stores in the smaller malls here did not open extra early but kept to their 10:00 am opening hours.

I know it's not a good thing for those with things to sell, but it appears that people, at least in my neck of the woods, are not spending just to be spending, or at least the "conspicuous" part of consumption has been toned down. A "bad" thing for one group of people; a "good" thing for another.

Unexpected Guests

Our backyard has been heading rapidly into winter sleep mode. The trees in the woods backing the yard have lost almost all their leaves, thrusting their stark brown silhouettes upwards into the sky. Of the plants that pop up to visit only during the warmer months, there is no sign that they ever were here. Even the needles of the evergreen conifers have taken on a duller hue. There are bare spots all over where once there was vibrant color. Even the grass has faded.

And yet... Just now we had unexpected guests, guests who popped in for a Thanksgiving meal. A nesting pair of cardinals is busy out in the grass eating course after course. The blazing red of the male lends a welcome spot of color in what is becoming a beige and brown landscape. They are fascinating to watch. They have been moving systematically from one side of the yard to the other, covering the territory inch by inch. Here and there they stop to toss a leaf aside to see what morsels may be hiding underneath. There's a small puddle to one side of the yard and every so often they hop over to take a drink before returning to the rest of their meal.

It's easy to chart their progress; all I need do is look for the male's bright plummage. Strange, in the animal world it is the male that needs to deck himself out in eye catching "clothing." It's the male who needs to strut to catch the female's eye.

They've fully crossed the yard from one side to the other and are now working their way back across the yard picking up any missed goodies along the way. They seem to be working on the proposition "Waste not, want not."

It's late in the season for the cardinals to be here but I'm thankful that they decided to drop in and make us their "restaurant" of choice. They are the kinds of guests I always enjoy. They eat whatever is out on the table, they don't pick at their food and they go back for seconds. They clearly enjoy each other's company, and if they have any personal problems they have clearly left them behind as they join us. Whatever the reason they have graced us with their presence, they are more than welcome here. Come back any time!

A New Kind of Gene Therapy

Every day scientists are discovering more and more about our genetic structure and how it functions. Some of the things they discover have immediate application in human life and some don't. Some of the discoveries point us towards new directions of thought. Some of the discoveries contradict previous discoveries or point out where previous thought was wrong.

Long ago, scientists of all stripes brought to light that we all have a specialized gene: the I gene. One of the jobs of the I gene is differentiating one unique individual from another. The I gene also plays a part in brain and thinking processes. We see this gene at work when it manifests itself in statements like "I want...," "I don't want...," "I need...," "I don't need...," "I'm not going to do...," "I'm going to do...."

Some people, however, have been working under an erroneous assumption: they believe that the I gene can ONLY work when attached to the U gene. In fact, some of these people believe that the U gene can be easily substituted for the I gene, and that there are many benefits when such a substitution is made. These are the people who frequently shout "U do it...," "U fix it...," "U give me...," "U take care of it...."

Here is the thing, though. By itself, the U gene may or may not work for the benefit of the I gene. Like all genes, the U gene considers its own survival as manifest. Given a choice of survival or death, of health or illness, of convenience or inconvenience, the U gene will opt to protect itself first. I genes that insist on transferring their functions to these U genes may find themselves in deep trouble: the U genes don't always cooperate.

The only time that the I gene/U gene dichotomy can be guaranteed to work for the benefit of both genes is when they undergo gene fusion, resulting in a new gene--the US gene, sometimes also known as the WE gene. In this type of fusion both genes must be joined in tandem for the work of the two individual genes to be completed. Both genes must contribute.

Scientists caution us, however, about becoming too reliant on that I/U fusion. Sometimes the WE/US gene combination is the only thing that will work to guarantee our further existence. And yes, there are a few instances where only a U gene can get the job done. But these scientists warn us that I genes that cannot function independently, that always pass on what is their job to another gene, become the weak or missing link. They caution us that before there can be a WE/US gene combination there has to be a strong I gene. And sometimes the only gene that can effect positive change is the I gene working alone.

Before we blithely look at a job to be done and say "U do it," we need to honestly and openly analyze whether or not the job requires I, U or WE/US. A healthy, functioning body needs all three types of genes to be present and in top working order. The body of Klal has for too long been in genetic imbalance. The I's are too few, the U's are being overworked and the WE/US genes are being spliced into peculiar combinations. I believe that a healthy dose of gene therapy could cure a lot of the maladies that afflict us.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Some Owed Hakoras Hatov

The students I teach have sometimes come in for some rather stringent remarks here. Yes, there are some areas that they could definitely use improvement in. But I realized tonight that there are also some things that I have gotten recently from my students that I could not/would not get from students in a secular college setting.

The last few weeks have been something of a strategic nightmare for me. My mom had emergency surgery and is now in a rehab facility, and I had to take a night off from work. As if that were not enough I came down with pneumonia and was out of work for a week. The after affects are still lingering on. There were other issues that popped up unbidden relating to health, home, work and family. And then there was "regular" life that galloped along at a frantic pace.

I don't share every detail of my personal life with my students but when they asked why I had been absent I told them briefly. And that is where they showed me that some things they had learned/been taught have taken root and grown beautifully. Every student who asked and was told that my mother was ill offered a "refuah sh'laimoh." And it wasn't just the first night. Some asked for her Hebrew name so that they could daven for her complete recovery.There are still students who walk into class and ask how my mom is feeling. One student took it upon himself to go to the home and visit with my mom She was not in her room so he stayed for a few minutes and visited with others who were on her floor, asking if he could bring someone a hot drink or get something for them. Another student was perceptive enough to ask how I was holding out through all of this.

And yes, my voice still gets strained from talking 6 hours straight, so thank you for the students who ask if I'm doing okay, who profer a sucking candy, and thanks to the students who got me a drink of water and who asked if they could go out and get me a tea or coffee.

And yes, thank you to the students who leave class on Wednesday night and who also leave wishing me a gutten Shabbos. And thanks to the students who send me email messages and queries on a Thursday or Friday and always sign those emails with "have a good Shabbos."

The students I taught/teach in secular colleges are also nice people, but their concerns end at the classroom door. What I do outside of class, what is going on in my life outside of class, well, that is my private life and not a topic that requires action on their part. But for my students in my "frum" college, well, they've shown me that the midos they were taught weren't just put into their memory banks and forgotten about. And for that I thank them, and publicly. Yes, they really are good people who practice what has been preached to them.

And yes, fellas, I appreciate your concern that I may be overtaxing myself, but the assignment is still due next Monday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Who is that Man?

My mom is spending some time in a rehab facility in Brooklyn. The name of this facility is the Haym Salomon Home for Nursing and Rehabilitation. I got a few light moments listening to some people in the lobby who were discussing this name. One person guessed that the home must have been built by the Sefardi community in Brooklyn since the name sounds sort of Sefardic. Another woman answered that she didn't think so. She vaguely remembered hearing when she was younger about a man by that name from the Washington Heights Breuer's community, although she couldn't figure out why he would build a facility in Brooklyn. Everyone was trying to guess for whom the building was named, but no one knew. There is no plaque that I have ever spotted giving any information about him.

Okay, this is another of those trivial pursuit-type questions I've been posting as of late. Who was Haym Salomon? For those who don't know, I think the answer may surprise you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Planning for the Future--Part #2--The Role of the Synagogue

Synagogues come in all sizes and permutations. Nonetheless, what all of them share, or should share, is that they are communal structures: they are there to serve the community. So, what does it mean for a shul to serve a community?

Obviously, a shul is a place for people to come to daven. But is that all? Well, it should be a place where people come to learn as well. Okay, so what kind of learning did you have in mind? Well, you know, Torah learning, shiurim--that kind of stuff. So that's it? Well there is also tzedaka collecting that goes on for worthy causes. Uh huh. And you can make a simcha in a shul too! And?

A whole lot of shuls are doing nothing but offering very basic services to those who daven there. If asked a question the rav of the shul may give an answer, or may send you to where you might get an answer. But these shuls could be doing more, so much more to actually serve the communities they are supposed to serve.

There are some shuls out there which are already "multi-functioning." In addition to the basic services they may offer talmud Torah classes. Some may offer nursery school classes. Some have a mikveh on premises. Some of these shuls are politically active, legislating for services for their community. Still not enough.

I mentioned in Part #1 that there are certain documents that we all should have regarding health care and death arrangements. If the shuls want to serve their membership in a responsible way let them sponsor someone to come down and speak to the shul membership about these documents. Let them have the blank documents available. Let the rav speak about what a halachic will is and why we should have one.

Let shuls sponsor symposia on budgeting and on money management when times are hard. Let shuls sponsor speakers who will talk about retirement and what will be needed by those retiring. Let shuls sponsor symposia on elder care and what the options are.

And let shuls and the communities they service take on the responsibility for those in those shuls and communities who have no one when disaster strikes. Mrs. X has been a member of a shul for years. Her husband is no longer living. Perhaps she has children but maybe not. Maybe those children don't live near Mrs. X. Maybe Mrs. X still has siblings and maybe not. But what we do know is that Mrs. X lives alone. And on Shabbos Mrs. X doesn't come to shul. Is she away? Is she ill? How would anyone in the community know that? Shuls could be utilized to be a neighborhood watch. Our local Ezras Achim has a call program for elderly community members who live alone. Every day someone calls just to say hello and make sure things are okay. And if there is no answer the person calling keeps trying until the phone is answered. And if it's not answered a volunteer goes to check why. Shuls could certainly do this for their membership. Or how about a shul's organizing it so that no single members, regardless of age, find themselves alone every Shabbos, eating a solitary meal?

And if Mrs. X or Mr. Y should happen to fall ill and this does become known, then does anyone know who to contact and notify that this is the case? And what if there is no one to contact? Shall that person be stuck in a hospital with no one to visit and no one to legislate for care?And c"v if there is a death of one of these elderly people? Does anyone know what arrangements have been made and, again, who to contact? Every shul member should have an emergency notification card filed with the shul.

Shul's are the logical place to get information about life cycle events. They are the logical entities to be monitors that all is well for their members. Shuls are the logical place to be the repository of what to do and who to contact in case of emergencies on the parts of the membership.

Let's have shuls act more like concerned family members then like strangers.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Haveil Havalim #192

Haveil Havalim #192--the Thanks and Giving Edition is available at the link below.

Questions of the Day--#2

What parts of their bodies do crickets use to hear with?

Where were Arabic numerals invented?

What U.S. state was home to the first installed parking meter?

What is the only bird that can fly backwards?

Someone offers you the product of the Bombyx mori. What will you do with it?

Which continent produces the most chocolate?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Questions of the Day--#1

A commenter on one of yesterday's postings asked me what types of questions I give my students to research. She also asked if they were only English related. No, they do not all have to do specifically with English; in fact most don't.

I've got fairly eclectic interests and a huge and widely diverse library in my home. I also tend to haunt the public library. And yes, I spend a lot of time doing research online as well. I make up the questions I have the students answer based on my informational voyages. I'm going to share some of those questions, just in case any of you are hankering for something to do. Please keep in mind that, as I warn my students, some of the answers to the questions are not straightforward. So, on to today's questions.

What criteria must be met for a snowstorm to be rightfully called a blizzard?

If the mayor of New York should die, who would become mayor?

Which former President was later elected to Congress?

From where were the earliest Jewish immigrants to North America?

What two individually lethal elements from the Periodic Table combine to improve the taste of food?

Of Tortellini and Pagannini, the one associated with cuisine?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Okay Class, this is a Book

There is an old Yiddish saying: "Az muh leibt derleibt min"--If you live long enough you live through everything/see everything. Last night in school I had one of those "living through" moments.

I teach a unit on Research/Internet research to my classes. Yes, most of them can do a rudimentary search of the Internet, but not all of them. In concert with the whole world out there, if you tell them to research something they tend to head directly to Google or Yahoo, read the first page or maybe even the second page and that constitutes their search. I hopefully expose them to other venues and approaches. As part of the unit I give the students questions they have to research and I take them down to our library and computer labs to supervise their search and serve as a trouble shooter when needed.

Last night was our in-library research period. Unfortunately, twelve minutes before class was due to start our school Internet connection went going, going, gone. I'm fairly sure that my students were overjoyed; after all, without the Internet how were they going to do any research. Clearly class would have to be cancelled. I began by pointing out that we were in a library--you know, a place with books in it. And for many of the questions the sources for the answers were sitting right there on the shelves. You should have seen their faces. "You want us to look in a book?!" was frequently heard.

For the two librarians and I the hour that followed was one filled with more than a trace of irony, not to mention more than a little hilarity. Faced with books some of my students were suddenly "overwhelmed" with how they were to find all the answers they needed. One student came to me with one of his questions and asked what type of book he could find the answer in. I answered "an encyclopedia" and pointed him to the reference section of the library. Less than a minute later he called out to me "How do you use this thing?" So in November of 2008 I found myself explaining what an index and alphabetical order was. I found myself pointing out to more than one student where in a book they could find the publication and copyright material. I found myself explaining what an atlas was and how you could find information in it. And yes, I even had to explain a print dictionary to one student. I had more than a few students grousing that doing research this way was so old fashioned. That's when I found myself pointing out that much of the material on the Internet is there because there is actual printed material that came first.

One student came to me rather excitedly after only about 1/2 hour of class had elapsed. He had already answered 9 out of the 10 questions he was researching, and all out of one source: an encyclopedia. He was so excited.

For those of us of a certain age it is sometimes easy to forget that our younger generations are growing up in a world that is different substantially from the one we grew up in. Which of us did not have a printed dictionary in our possession growing up? I'd say that less than half of my students own such a dictionary. I mentioned to one of the librarians that today gives new meaning to cuddling up with an apple and a book; for some of my students that is cuddling up with an Apple and an e-book.

But I did notice one thing last night; when introduced to the wonders of the printed page most of them caught right on and figured out how to use the books. Nonetheless, it was a strange night as new and old came together. Fairness makes me add that a few of the students were right at home in the library and had no trouble using this "old" technology. And at least one student shared my mirth at some of the comments and queries that were forthcoming.

Yup, if you live long enough you see everything.

Note: I'm also posting a piece by Heathorn dealing with just this subject that some of you might enjoy reading.

Learn with BOOK

- R. J. Heathorn
First printed in "Punch Magazine" May 9, 1962.

A new aid to rapid - almost magical - learning has made its appearance.
Indications are that if it catches on all the electronic gadgets will be
so much junk.

The new device is known as Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge. The
makers generally call it by its initials, BOOK.

Many advantages are claimed over the old-style learning and teaching
aids on which most people are brought up nowadays. It has no wires, no
electric circuit to break down, No connection is needed to an
electricity power point. It is made entirely without mechanical parts to
go wrong or need replacement.

Anyone can use BOOK, even children, and it fits comfortably into the
hands. It can be conveniently used sitting in an armchair by the fire.
How does this revolutionary, unbelievably easy invention work? Basically
BOOK consists only of a large number of paper sheets. These may run to
hundreds where BOOK covers a lengthy programme of information. Each
sheet bears a number in sequence so that the sheets cannot be used in
the wrong order.

To make it even easier for the user to keep the sheets in the proper
order they are held firmly in place by a special locking device called a

Each sheet of paper presents the user with an information sequence in
the form of symbols, which he absorbs optically for automatic
registration on the brain. When one sheet has been assimilated a flick
of the finger turns it over and further information is found on the
other side.

By using both sides of each sheet in this way a great economy is
effected, thus reducing both the size and cost of BOOK. No buttons need
to be pressed to move from one sheet to another, to open or close BOOK,
or to start it working.

BOOK may be taken up at any time and used by merely opening it.
Instantly it it ready for use. Nothing has to be connected or switched
on. The user may turn at will to any sheet, going backwards or forwards
as he pleases. A sheet is provided near the beginning as a location
finder for any required information sequence.

A small accessory, available at trifling extra cost, is the BOOKmark.
This enables the user to pick up his programme where he left off on the
previous learning session. BOOKmark is versatile and may be used in any

The initial cost varies with the size and subject matter. Already a vast
range of BOOKs is available, covering every conceivable subject and
adjusted to different levels of aptitude. One BOOK, small enough to be
held in the hands, may contain an entire learning schedule.

Once purchased, BOOK requires no further upkeep cost; no batteries or
wires are needed, since the motive power, thanks to an ingenious device
patented by the makers, is supplied by the brain of the user.

BOOKs may be stored on handy shelves and for ease of reference the
programme schedule is normally indicated on the back of the binding.
Altogether the Built-in Orderly Organized Knowledge seems to have great
advantages with no drawbacks. We predict a big future for it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Planning for the Future--Part #1

We do a lot of planning for the future, but mostly we plan for the things we hope will come to fruition. Far too many people don't plan for when things might go wrong. The following suggestions are for some practical things that we all should be giving some thought to now, before we actually find ourselves with problems.


Everyone of legal age should have a will. The will allows you to make decisions about how things will be taken care of in case you are not here to do them. Parents of young children don't want to think about wills because who expects parents to die young. Yes, well reality says that planning on dying and dying are two different things. The first time my husband and I were going to take a trip out of NY after we had our children was when we made out our first wills. We were getting on an airplane. We were certainly hoping to come back. But what if that had not been the case? Who would have been the legal guardians for our children? Who would have assumed control of their finances? Who would have even known what those finances were? Our wills, made after much discussion between us, represented what we wanted for our children and how that should come about. And yes, they stipulated where we wanted to be buried as well.

Wills need to be updated at various points in your life. What may have applied 10 years ago may not apply now. We no longer have little children. One of the administrators for our first will is no longer living. In short, a will should reflect the here and now.

Halachic Wills:
There are halachic considerations that come into affect when you are making a will. See a rav for any wording that needs to be there for a will to be halachically valid.

Living Wills:
A living will comes into play for any time period where you are still living but unable to make decisions for yourself. It stipulates what type of emergency care you do or do not want. It discusses whether you do or do not want certain types of treatments. It lets you have a say in your care even when your physical voice may be muted.

Health Care Proxies:
All legal adults should have a health care proxy. This is a document that stipulates who can make medical decisions for you if you are not able to do so yourself. It allows your chosen representative to see your medical information, something that remains private even from a spouse, child or sibling unless there is written permission for them to be involved. This document goes hand in hand with a living will. The will lets your health proxy know your wishes and guarantees that your wishes will be followed by that person.

Such a warm, cuddly thing to discuss on a November morning. Do you wish to be buried where you now live? Do you wish to be buried in Israel? Where in Israel? Just be aware that if you are married you may find that your answers to "where should I be buried?" may be different, and may require some negotiation. My in laws are both buried in Israel as is my father; however, they are buried in two different cemeteries in two different cities. Presumably a husband and wife want to be buried close to each other. So, whose parents should they also be buried close to? Negotiating this issue can give you a graduate level degree in marital compromise.

Burial Expenses:
Funerals aren't cheap, and neither are burial plots. If you opt for Israel you should keep in mind that the expenses for burial are from $15,000 to $25,000 per plot. And the price keeps going up. If you stipulate burial in Israel in your will, have you also stipulated how to fund that burial? At a certain point burial expenses becomes part of the ongoing budget allotments.

Now comes an even harder thing to do. You need to find out if your parents or grandparents have done the kind of planning mentioned above, and if they haven't, you need to cajole, push and prod them into taking care of things now, not tomorrow. Planning for catastrophic illness or death is not morbid and nor is it, as a friend who simply could not deal with the thought said, an "ayin horah." What it is is a mature approach to items that are coming down the road someday, although we hope far, far into the future.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Institutionalization of Personal Choice

Frum Jews have always been governed by laws and rules. These laws and rules touch on all aspects of life. But despite their thoroughness, there has always been a great deal of leeway for personal choice. In addition to the laws we live under there have always been community standards or community minhagim that we have generally abided by. There were, however, any number of minhagim because of the number of communities. And a whole lot of those minhagim have waxed and waned over the centuries.

Today, however, we are seeing something new that has arisen. There is a push to institutionalize the practices of Klal down to the smallest item, such that personal choice is being pushed out of existence. There have been communal minhag changes that boggle the mind of anyone with even a modicum of common sense. And we are all at fault for letting this happen.

Once upon a time what you could afford monetarily was a measuring stick for what you would do. Those with more money made weddings with more people in attendance, at least sometimes. And those with less money put up a chupah and got married without all the extras. Once upon a time a Bar Mitzvah was an aliyah for the bar mitzvah boy--maybe--and shnaps and cake in shul at minyan, if you could afford it. Once upon a time summer camp was the purview of the rich. Once upon a time you lived where you could afford to live and you furnished with what you could afford to furnish. Once upon a time what you wore was a matter of what you could afford to buy. Not anymore.

Today we are seeing an institutionalized list of must have/must do items, regardless of personal feelings or money available. The fanfare surrounding an engagement and wedding has created some real resentment in some people, but for the most part everyone complies with the l'chaim, the vort, the showers, the shabbos kallah, the aufruf, the elaborate and large weddings, the sheva brochas and the myriad gift expenditures for choson and kallah, not to mention the "must provide" items for the home. Bar Mitzvahs? Also a multi--affaired rite of passage, from breakfast given in school on the day a boy first lays tefillin, to a seudah "boh b'yom," to a shabbos kiddush in shul, to an elaborate seudas mitzvah around the same time.

Dating has become highly regimented, from the resumes that have to be submitted by both sides to the allowable number of dates, to the duration of those dates, to what is permissible to talk about on those dates, and certainly to who is acceptable for a date. No seminary for the girls and no year in Israel learning for the boys? Tssk, tssk, not done. There is a hierarchy that has been established with sitting and learning boys on the top, and anything else is second best. Independent thinking is so not encouraged when it comes to dating and getting married.

Head coverings for males and females, and yes, they are both included here. Tichlach and hats and sheitlach for the women, in multiples. Yeshivas that make school rules that mothers cannot come to pick up their children wearing tichlach. Society yentas who have declared wearing a tichel outside in the street as not acceptable. Thirteen year old boys who have purchased for them a Borsolino for everyday wear and another one just for Shabbos wear. And a year later, when their heads have grown bigger the purchases can be repeated. And then repeated and repeated again.

Schools that are so worried about their kavod that they cannot allow or tolerate anyone in the school who will not be a perfect exemplar of what the school wants the public to see it as. Like early factory assembly line plants, the schools want all their finished products to be identical. They "lay down the law" on everything from shoe style to what kinds of barrettes a girl can wear in her hair, from what activities a child can participate in outside of school to which types of people a child can associate with. Not content with dictating what children can or cannot wear in school, they extend those rules to what a child can or cannot wear when out of school. Imagine the horror! A young single girl wearing a ponytail and a denim skirt walking around outside; truly world-destroying behavior. Nor are the schools content with merely manipulating all aspects of a child's in-school life; they also dictate to families what they are and aren't allowed to do, say, and think. The push for seminary and learning in Yeshiva in Israel? A "direct order" from the high schools. And the punishment for not obeying this order? It's going to hurt for shidduchim, hurt reallly badly.

The style police are also out in full force. Your house had better look the "right" way, your clothes had better conform to what this gestapo has declared is acceptable, and you'd better be members of the "right" shul, in the "right" neighborhood, with the "right" friends and indulging in the "right" activities. And, of course, you had better be a member of the "right" family.

There is a bare tolerance in some circles for the idea of a man's working to support his family, with a concomitant push to indoctrinate the boys while in yeshiva that working somehow makes a man less "choshuv" than those who do not work. There is a stigmatization of the working women of Klal, even though in many cases they are the sole support of their families, or the only way that a young family can afford to pay school tuition. There is a changing of traditional family raising patterns so that parents are not only expected to raise and provide for their own children while young but must also provide and pitch in when these children get married and have families of their own. Retirement is viewed as an un-Jewish idea: older people have to stay in work harness until the bitter end.

This substitution of institutionalized behavior for personal choice hasn't enriched Klal in any meaningful way either. There are far too many people who have said "No!" to this infringement into private decision making and have taken their disenchantment and themselves all the way out of the frum world. There are people who simply cannot take the artificially imposed stress and choose to leave yiddishkeit rather than make themselves ill trying to fit standards that make no sense to them. There are families suffering from any number of ills, financial and otherwise, because they can't cope with the "communal requirements." Along with the loss of personal choice has also come a loss of common sense.

And one side affect, I would hope not an intended one, of this constant feeling of having to be just like everyone else is a raising tide of kinah. If you buy into the idea that you have to be just like everyone else, then seeing someone else with something you don't have raises jealousy to the flash point. When institutionalized "equality" replaces common sense and personal choice then there is no way to point out that people have different amounts of money, which will affect what they may or may not do. Kinah has always been with us, but never to such an extent, and never so entwined with the idea of entitlement.

When "they" push to institutionalize areas which have in the past been a matter of personal choice, no matter who "they" are, they are not doing Klal any favors and are laying the groundwork for some severe eruptions coming soon down the road. I'd venture to say that some of the financial woes that face Klal today are directly correlated to this idea of institutionalizing the minutiae of personal thought and behavior. Those who push for this institutionalized behavior have given little or no thought to the cost to Klal of this behavior, not the emotional cost and certainly not the monetary cost. To the outside world Jews are seen as being really smart about money--if only that were true right now.

I would like to add this caveat before finishing off. Even those of us who see that the way things are being run right now are not beneficial are not always helpful when we bring up the issues. Why? Because sometimes the discussion focuses on one practice alone. Excoriating people for the wastefulness of lavish weddings and pointing out that they could afford to send a child to Israel if they didn't make that lavish wedding does not deal with the idea of personal choice. Assuming that money is actually available to pay for either the wedding or the year in Israel, how that money should be spent should be a matter of personal choice. But when people feel forced to provide both the wedding and the year in Israel and have the money for only one or for neither, then we are coming closer to the heart of the problem. No one should feel forced by societal expectations to have to make either of these choices. It's not for any of us to stigmatize the choices that someone else makes freely: it is for us to discuss that such forcing is going on.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Age and Wisdom

I've been told for forever that age brings discretion with it. I'm not sure I believed it until just now. I am definitely practicing discretion right now. I am not pouring out the post I would so like to. I'm going to calm down first. But even before that I'm going to spend about an hour rinsing with an antiseptic mouthwash to get the bad taste out of my mouth of one of the postings that appeared in the latest Havail Havalim, the one about "Hot Chanis." Just typing that label has now sullied my fingers and I'll have to spend some time with an antiseptic soap as well.

Sinas chinam, kinah, lust and degradation all go hand in hand with talking about "Hot Chanis" and I refuse to dirty my keyboard or myself with having anything to do with a label that casts vile aspersions on the person so labeled and that shows the labeler to be no better than what he/she is pointing out in that person so labeled.

Sorry, it may take two gallons of the mouthwash, that's how bad the taste of one part of Klal attacking another part is to me.

Time is of the Essence

People's being busy with all the must-have match points when redding a shidduch, like are their tablecloth preferences in sync, means that they overlook one very key point that can make or break many a marriage and cause untold agony. This point is time, and the two people's attitudes towards it.

There are people who are punctlich; they are punctual, organized, and when they tell you they will be someplace at 7:00 they are there ten minutes early so as not to be late. These tend to be people who not only own watches and clocks but also use them. They have an affinity for calendars and make notes of when they need to be certain places and at what times in the calendar boxes. These are the same people who send back invitation response cards the day they get them. These are the people who make organized lists and methodically work their way through all the listed items until everything is completed. Items that are needed for an occasion, such as yom tov, are carefully purchased well in advance.

Then there are the other people. There is a Yiddish saying that describes these people to a tee: "Kim ich nisht un hant, kim ich un morgen"--If I don't arrive today I'll arrive tomorrow. These people also own watches and clocks but there seems to be a disconnect between the numbers they see on the watches and the requirement to move their bodies to another location. They also own calendars, when they can find them, and either forget to mark something on those calendars or cannot read the hieroglyphics they did scribble in the date box. Some of these people also make lists, although they usually get written on whatever is handy, such as used napkins and the backs of envelopes lying on the table. Their lists have a tendency to migrate to points unknown. To give them some due, these people are interested in lots of things, perhaps everything, which can sometimes, many times, result in their going from Brooklyn to Queens via Tulsa, Oklahoma with a small layover in Thailand.

Were it only time at issue there would still be a lot of friction that can arise when a punctlich person marries someone who so is not. But there is another dimension to the time issue and that is money. Most of those who are punctlich are also excellent budgeters and financial planners. They see a definite relationship between time and money: waste one and you could well be wasting the other. Because they plan ahead when they need to arrive somewhere time wise, they also see the merit in planning ahead for when they need to "arrive" somewhere financially. Their counterparts are not awfully good at budgeting, time or money. They know there is a future coming but they frequently feel they can worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes. They don't always see a connection between what they do today and what will happen tomorrow.

I was raised by two punctlich parents, as was my husband. We both of us carried forward this trait with us into our marriage. I am convinced that is one major reason for why the two of us, very different in some other ways, have managed to have a successful marriage for all these years. But in our extended families we have some prime examples of non-punctlich siblings, cousins, and yes, friends. And I'll tell you now, they drive my hubby and me crazy. Because we love them, and because we are not married to them, we manage to get along fine, even when they frustrate us beyond belief. Fortunately for the marriages of these people, they are mostly married to other people just like them. In only a few cases did a punctlich person marry someone who is not, and there are occasionally some real exciting fireworks when their attitudes clash.

So yes, I'm suggesting we add something else to that already overburdened shidduch resume. In fact, it could replace most of what is on that resume. What is a person's attitude towards time? Are they punctlich or not?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Please, tell me it just aint so

I'd really love to be able to say that it was the codeine in my cough medicine that was giving me hallucinations, but the evidence is there in full living color in front of me. The catalogs for the holiday shopping season have begun arriving en masse. Given some of the items that are being touted as "must have," I think that manufacturers have finally gone over the edge. I leafed through the catalogs wondering what sane person would come up with the ideas for some of these products, and wondering if any sane person would really buy them.

One nifty little catalog was chock full of buying ideas all centered around legs and feet. Never mind the tights that can be personalized with your name embroidered up the legs of the tights. Never mind the adult slippers in the shape of reindeer with bells attached to the antlers. Never mind the sports socks that can be personalized with your photo on them. And never mind something they call "Eau d'ped"--a unique perfume blended, as stated in the product description, to "especially enhance foot aroma." How about special order neon pantyhose in all the colors special for the season that will glow when exposed to fluorescent lighting? And my all around favorite was the glow-in-the-dark polish for your toenails. It comes in 16 "fabulous" colors and, as the ad stated, the polish guarantees that "you will never lose track of where your feet are again."

Please tell me it isn't so, but have any of you in the present or in the past ever lost track of where your feet are? Even with a codeine buzz I am 100% certain my feet are still at the ends of my legs. I have misplaced many things in my life but I can't even begin to imagine how I would lose track of my feet. I do believe that these products are manufactured in China. Clearly someone whose grasp of English is tenuous at best wrote the blurbs for the catalog. At least that is what I'm hoping. Because if not, somewhere in this world there must be someone searching desperately for the feet he/she has lost track of. If you locate that person you might want to do a chesed and send them a bottle of this miracle polish. It's only $3.95 a bottle plus shipping and handling. A bargain in any language.

What's that old saying about there being a sucker born every minute?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Culling the Weeds in the Closet

Horticulturalists have a pretty simple formula for keeping a garden in top form and for providing viewing pleasure for the owners: plants are in, weeds are out. When a bush or tree dies they plant another one, knowing that the absent plant can cause an imbalance in the garden plan; when a weed gets pulled out, they don't rush out and plant another weed to replace it. To try and extend their lives, some weeds present a beautiful outside, hoping the gardener will overlook them. But letting weeds in based on their looks alone spells disaster for the garden. They soon overtake the better plantings and create havoc in the garden.

Sometimes a gardener will have been seduced by the beautiful plants in a nursery and brings home more than will grow successfully when crowded all together. In that case even beautiful plants will have to be removed for the good of the garden. Those beautiful plants will have become a burden on the garden, on the gardener, and ultimately a costly mistake. Gardeners know that the size of the growing plot cannot magically be extended to accommodate yet more plantings. They know this, and yet, they somehow cannot resist when faced with the new selections in the nursery.

All garden plantings have a "shelf life," the amount of time it takes for a plant to grow to maturity, to go through all its stages, before it dies. Some plants have a brief showy season before they go dormant. Other plants provide visual interest all year round. Some plants are relegated to the background, where they fill in the gaps and work hard but are not as visually arresting as their more flamboyant cousins. Some plants have intense visual interest; they are the real prima donnas of the garden. But every gardener knows that having too many of those focal plants disturbs the balance of the garden. And then there is the cost of the plants. Gardeners think long and hard about spending megabucks on a plant with a short life. They think long and hard about the sometimes exorbitant costs of a prima donna plant--is the cost worth the once in a blue moon show the plant puts on?

And then we have the closets in our homes. I have yet in all my years of living heard anyone complain that they have too much closet space; the opposite is always true. Closets, even those already stuffed to overflowing, are constantly being rearranged to take "just one more item." And like weeds, many of those items multiply incredibly quickly.

An article I read on closet management suggested that people need to make a plan for their closets and stick to it. The first thing it suggested was to find a classification system for the closet. Some people use a cold weather/hot weather system to begin with. They further divide the closet contents into at home/casual clothes, clothes for work and clothes for special occasions.

The next step is to assign a usage time to each classification. If you live in a cold weather area you will spend more time in cold weather clothing; for hot weather areas you will spend more time in hot weather clothing. If you work a 5-day week you will spend more time in work clothing than in casual clothing. How many special occasions have you attended in the last year? Now enter onto your list the amount of time that the clothing in each classification is actually worn.

The article ended with a suggestion that people remove from their closets multiples of types of clothing that are not worn often enough to justify their taking up closet space. I think the article should have gone further.

Take all those classifications of clothing and at least estimate how much the clothing for each classification cost. Now divide the cost of the clothing by the number of times each piece will be worn. Let's say that a skirt for work will be worn 16 times during the year. It cost you $64. That skirt would then have cost you $4 per wearing. Hold on to that skirt for 4 years and the cost drops to $1 per wearing. But what if that skirt is dry clean only? Add $5 to each wearing. Hold on to that skirt for only one year and that skirt will cost you $9 each time you put it on. And that $64 skirt actually cost you $144 for the year. Hold the skirt for 4 years and your cost drops to $32 per year, or $2 per wearing. But what if you have two dozen skirts? What if each skirt is only worn 6 times instead of 16 times in one year? The cost per wearing jumps to $16.50 per wearing if held for only one year.

And where there are skirts there are tops. Check out your closets carefully and you may notice a strange phenomenon. You may have 6 tops that all only go to the same skirt. Or you may have 6 skirts that all look best with the same top. Either way, most tops will only be worn a few times during any season; wear a top more often and the other tops stuffed on the shelves and in the drawers won't get worn as much or at all. The more tops, the higher the cost per wearing. Bring in a new skirt and it is inevitable that no top you already own will fit that skirt perfectly, thus necessitating the purchasing of yet another top.

Now look at your special occasion clothing. Look at your calendar for the last year and add up how many of these occasions you actually attended, and what type they were. An average figure would be one such occasion a month. Let's even say you have a busy social calendar and you attended two such occasions each month. And let's say that some were during hot weather and some during cold weather. How many special occasion pieces of clothing do you need to own to cover the number of occasions attended? In reality, only two, but let's be generous and say four: two for hot weather and two for cold. Now let's look at the cost of those items. Let's be "thrifty" (sarcasm intended) and make the cost only $200 per outfit. That's $800 in special occasion clothing. Divide by the number of wearings and each outfit costs you "only" $33.33 per wearing. Now add in a $10 dry cleaning charge for each wearing and the cost goes to $43.33 per wearing, if you use the outfits for one year. Imagine--gasp!--if an outfit costs more than $200.

Somewhere in the back of our minds we know that clothing costs more if we wear it for less times and so we hold on to that clothing, but instead of wearing the clothing more often it gets pushed to the side as we bring in replacements. Green is in this season so last season's blue clothing isn't "wearable" any longer. But not to worry, because next season green will be out and pink will be in. And so it goes season after season, shopping trip after shopping trip. And the closets are stuffed to overflowing with clothing that we can't bear to get rid of but that we don't really use often enough to justify the price. And like weeds in the garden, those unworn clothes overrun the space available to store them in.

Ever notice that mother nature doesn't designate that one flower color and that color alone is the "in" color for any given season? That plants come in all kinds of "styles" and "lengths" all existing harmoniously? Fall flowering bulbs in purples and yellows and pinks and blues exist side by side with fall foliage in reds and oranges and yellows and pinks of all shades. Green never goes out of fashion. Brown remains basic throughout all the seasons.

Perhaps if we considered our closets as gardens we would have less weeds growing in them. Perhaps we would be more concerned with the long term and less concerned with the short term. Perhaps we would have room enough for what really looks good in our gardens without burdening ourselves looking for storage space for the extras that just don't fit in. Perhaps we should look at gardens and notice that most of what is in them is there for the long haul. Paying loads of money for short-lived annuals that come and are dead a short time later makes no gardening sense. Wise gardeners know that spending more on those annuals doesn't give the garden any more pizazz; inexpensive annuals perform the same tasks as their more expensive relatives.

Maybe, just maybe, if we followed the advice of horticulturalists instead of the "advice" of Madison Avenue and the clothing retailers our closet "gardens" would be in better shape and able to hold just the right number of plants. We are long overdue to cull the weeds in our closets.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Just Keep Thinkin' About Tomorrow

A friend who reads this blog called me that she was so happy my mom was feeling better. When I asked her how she knew that, she said that she had noticed that I was spending more time on the blog than I had been in the past few weeks. Sigh.

Yes, I have been present here at what may seem like all hours of the day but certainly more then I have been recently. I truly wish it was because mom was feeling better, but I'm having a bit of an enforced vacation from work, mom and just about everything else but the round after round of phone calls. It seems that what I thought was bronchitis turned out to be pneumonia and I'm house bound for a few days until the antibiotic makes me no longer contagious. I'll admit my mood has been decidedly down and grumpy (in case you hadn't noticed, my last few postings have not been upbeat) and I put on a CD this morning to make myself feel a little better. I hadn't even noticed which one I pulled out and I clicked on a track at random. And oh boy did I get a reminder that no matter how bad things seem today, well tomorrow is full of all kinds of possibilities. A good word no matter where it comes from ought to be heeded. Maybe we all need to let a little "Annie" into our minds.

The sun'll come out
Bet your bottom dollar
That tomorrow
There'll be sun!
Just thinkin' about
Clears away the cobwebs,
And the sorrow
'Til there's none!
When I'm stuck with a day
That's gray,
And lonely,
I just stick out my chin
And grin,
And say,
The sun'll come out
So ya gotta hang on
Tïll tomorrow
Come what may
I love ya
You're always
A day
A way!

But if Annie doesn't do it for you, there's always Fleetwood Mac

If you wake up and don't want to smile,
If it takes just a little while,
Open your eyes and look at the day,
You'll see things in a different way.

Don't stop, thinking about tomorrow,
Don't stop, it'll soon be here,
It'll be, better than before,
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone.

Why not think about times to come,
And not about the things that you've done,
If your life was bad to you,
Just think what tomorrow will do.

An Addendum to "The Sem Years"

I'd like to clear up some confusion about yesterday's posting on sending girls to seminary. First, the main purpose was to point out that seminary is a luxury, a highly expensive luxury, and in today's economic situation it is a luxury that needs to be done without. Sending girls to seminary, as the previous posting pointed out, was not because of some great outpouring of concern for the Jewish education of our daughters. The sudden rise in interest in girls seminaries coordinated with the "problem" of what to do with girls for that post high school year until they were ready to be pushed into the shidduch parsha. It was not my intention to leave the impression that only girl's seminaries should be considered as luxury items we need to do without now.

Let me be clear: in today's economic situation sending boys to Israel to learn for a year or more is also a luxury that should be foregone. And please let us not kid ourselves either. Many of those boys are not in Israel poring over their texts yomom v'loyloh. As is the case with many of the girls, many of the boys are there for the "fun" of it. Away from home, no supervision, all expenses paid--what's not to like?

A commenter yesterday raised a good point. She said that if you don't have the money to send your daughter to seminary in Israel then you should not be sending your son there. I agree. Today's parents don't look at the tuition bills for their daughters' schools and the bills for their sons' schools and say there is only money for one so our girls will not go to yeshiva. And the post high school years should be treated no differently. If I take my kids shopping and one buys an apple for 50 cents and one buys a banana for 45 cents I'm not going to be worried about parity, and my kids are not going to be worried that I'm showing favoritism. But if I buy one of the kids an apple for 50 cents and I buy the other child a Lexus for $33,000 then I am sending a message that one child is worth more to me than the other, that one child has higher value to me than the other one does. What a horrible message to be sending our children. Saying that you will find the money somehow to send your sons but saying that the money can't/won't be found for your daughters is to create two tiers of children, one more privileged than the other.

Let's keep this in mind: both seminary and yeshiva are luxuries--they are wants that need to be paid for. If money is tight, as it is for many people now, then it is common sense to say that the Israel year--both for the boys and for the girls--is off the table as a consideration. Even when money is more freely available I would question the real value of making the Israel year post high school a "requirement," particularly a requirement for a shidduch. For some students the year is a worthwhile one; for some students it is not. We need to look at that year as optional.

Common sense says that when money is short, rein in your spending. Common sense says that when money is short, skip luxuries and spend only on necessities. Common sense also says don't spend what you don't have. Seminary and yeshiva in Israel fall squarely in the column marked "Luxuries."

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Sem Years

Before someone decides to hand me my head on a platter, let's make clear that I am Tzioni in that I love Eretz Yisroel and yes, I believe that living there should be what Jews yearn for. Having said that, I am also willing to say that actually living in Israel, right now, is not possible for many Jews who live chutz l'aretz. Some of the reasons for not making aliyah right now are not being able to make a parnosah and leaving close family behind. The first is a real area of concern; no job available means no money to support a family. The second is pooh-poohed by far too many people. They give their answer that being in Israel trumps kibud av v'aim. Sorry, but my Rav sees that differently. And given the age and situation of my mother, my Rav's opinion makes much more sense than those who say "Aliyah today no matter what."

But we do have one way that we are sending out people to Israel, even if temporarily, and that is the vaunted Seminary Year, parallel to the boys' years of learning in Israel. And I am still scratching my head and asking why we are doing this.

Not all that many years ago a seminary year abroad was a rare thing relative to the size of Klal. And Israel was not the only choice or even the main choice. For the few girls whose parents sent them, Gateshead and Switzerland were top choices. Then there was Michlala and BJJ. That was it. You know who went abroad for seminary? The daughters of rich families. And there were plenty of people who wondered why they bothered.

The girls who stayed in the States, what did they do? Some went to full-time seminary here, many of them going to college at night. Others went to half-day seminary and either went to college the other half a day or worked the other half a day. And some girls didn't go to seminary at all. "Where did you go to seminary?" wasn't a question asked in all that many shidduchim. It was also fairly well assumed that the girls who were going to full-time seminary and not also going to college at night were preparing themselves to become teachers of limudei kodesh. The out of country seminaries? If Israel, again the assumption was that a girl was studying to become a teacher of limudei kodesh. If Europe, well seminary was the frum version of a finishing school. In addition to Hebrew studies the girls learned cooking and baking and how to set a gracious table, and some practical subjects like typing. Gateshead was for those more to the right, Switzerland for those more to the middle or left.

One thing most people agreed on was that girls needed a year out of high school before they were ready to go on the marriage market. Some people then thought that two years was a better idea. But what most parents thought then was that sending girls out of country where they would be away from their parents' influence was not the best idea. And yes, for most parents the thought of spending "all that money" to warehouse the girls until marriage was just not possible.

Fast forward to the present day. Suddenly seminary has become a "necessity." Mothers who themselves did not consider seminary in Israel an option or a necessity are preaching that only Israel will do. And the number of seminaries has multiplied according to the demand. There is now a competition for which seminary is the "best" seminary, which seminary will give you the best credentials for the type of shidduch you want to make. And the cost? $15K plus. The more "choshuv" the seminary, the more its charges have risen.

There are parents who "reasonably" point out that a year in seminary in Israel is not more expensive then a year in a private college here in the States, and the credits from seminary are transferable for those girls going on to college when they come home. Well yes, some of those credits are transferable, but the only colleges that take the maximum number of transfer credits are those that are private and under Jewish auspices: YU and Touro. And those two places can hardly be considered as "cheap" when you look at tuition and board.

Above I mentioned that once upon a time out of country seminary was limited to families of financial means. That is not the case today. Somehow going to seminary has become a requirement for making a shidduch. Somehow every family now has to consider how to pay for that seminary year, wealthy or not. Seminary in Israel has become another "must have" purchase, affordable or not.

Proponents of the seminary year in Israel point out that the girls who go to seminary are better educated in limudei kodesh than those who do not go to seminary. Okay, but can they also say that the girls in Israeli seminaries are better educated than those who go to American seminaries? So all girls who spend the year in Israel are super serious about their studies? Take off the blinkers, please. For many girls the year in Israel is about socialization, not studying. They do the minimum necessary to keep the school off their backs but it is the extra curricular activities that they are most interested in. And why not? You ever hear of a seminary that sent a failing transcript for any of its students? The "Gentleman's B" is alive and well in these places, as long as the tuition checks keep coming.

Why harp on seminary right now? In case you haven't noticed we're in something of an economic turn down right now. This comes in addition to skyrocketing yeshiva tuition for elementary and high school. This comes in addition to having a part of the frum population that is not working to support itself but is supported by others. This is coming with an older generation that is heading into the "golden" years and which is going to have to concentrate on itself instead of spending lavishly on the younger generations. Quite frankly, seminary is an expensive luxury right now, one that not too many families can readily afford. What we need right now is a retrenching to the ideas of the past, where seminary was not a requirement, and seminary in Israel certainly was not a requirement. We need to unequivocally say that seminary as a requirement for a shidduch needs to be ousted.

I'd be willing to wager money that there are a lot of parents who don't know how they are going to pay for that seminary year but who are going to go into debt for it anyway because they are fearful of making their children into some sort of social pariah. I'd also be willing to bet that those parents would breathe easier if "the powers that be" would make it clear that seminary is only an option, and only an option if you can afford it. It is more than time for girls' high schools to stop holding the Damocles Sword of seminary over the heads of parents vis a vis making a shidduch. And I also believe that it is time for parents to stop cowering in the corners and giving in to demands that make no financial sense.

And while I am laying myself open for some of the lambasting I'm sure will come, we might also want to look at the practice of sending our boys to Israel post high school for one, two or more years. These yeshivas are hardly free institutions and the same financial concerns that apply to seminaries for girls also apply to Israeli yeshivas for boys.

What ever happened to common sense and being sensible? What ever happened to financial responsibility? What ever happened to not biting off more than you could swallow?

Children and Money--Part #2--Introducing the Terminology

Children learn about the world around them in many ways: they listen to what is being said in a variety of circumstances and coming from a variety of sources and they observe what is going on. But the vocabulary that they need to make sense of their world and surroundings is often not there or is imperfectly understood. In the same way that schools and parents patiently teach other types of vocabulary, parents need to teach the vocabulary of money and finances.

Young kids have a vague idea of what money is and where it comes from. They may understand that mom and dad work and that brings in money, but they do not necessarily see money as a finite substance. For most kids, all their needs and a lot of their wants are being met by their parents. They are fed and clothed and put to sleep in beds in homes with solid roofs and with heating or cooling. Their school supplies are purchased. They go on school field trips. Most frum kids attend yeshivas. They go to their friends' birthday parties and they go carrying a gift for the celebrant. They get Chanukah presents. They get birthday presents. In their minds money shows up, is spent and replaces itself.

Any conversation with young kids should start out with defining terms. Money needs to be defined as something that is earned in some way and that is limited rather than infinite. The idea of budgeting** can be introduced, as well as the idea of wants and needs. Certainly the term "savings" should be introduced and defined.

**A package of cookies can work as a tool in teaching budgeting. Take 4 children* and a package of cookies containing 32 cookies. Have some sandwich bags handy. Now, announce to the children that the package of cookies is the only package that will be available for the week. Viewed as an unopened package at the beginning of the week it sure looks like a lot of cookies. Now open the package and start dividing it equally among the children. Point out that each child will get 8 cookies for the week. Suddenly that package of cookies is starting to look smaller, but still, 8 cookies is a lot of cookies. Now start talking about how those 8 cookies are going to be eaten during the week. Inevitably there is going to be one child that says he/she wants to eat all the cookies today. Put the 8 cookies into a bag and place it in front of the child. Other of the children may be able to reason out that they would like a cookie every day. Place one cookie into each of 7 bags and give those bags to the child. Point out that there will be one cookie left over. What does the child want to do with that cookie? You can point out that the child could have one day that week where he/she gets 2 cookies instead of one, where one of the bags has two cookies in it. You could also point out that the child could put that cookie away in a separate bag and save it for the future.

There is going to be a child who looks at one cookie in the bag and says "One cookie is not enough for a snack." Fine. Ask how many cookies would be enough for a snack. Say the child says "two cookies." Put two cookies into each of 4 bags and place in front of the child. Have the child count the bags. Point out that there will only be 4 days during the week when the child can have cookies if they are divided this way. Another child may say "three cookies." Place three cookies in each of two bags and two cookies in a third bag. Point out that by dividing the cookies this way there will be only two days when the child can have three cookies and a third day when only 2 cookies will be available. Now put 4 cookies into each of two bags. Point out that if someone wants to eat 4 cookies there will only be two days that cookies will be available.

Keep in mind that some children will opt for more cookies but for less days, and some will opt for less cookies but for more days. Either choice is fine as long as everyone understands that this is all the cookies that are going to be available. Inevitably at least one child is going to say "Just buy more cookies." This is where you explain that only one package of cookies has been budgeted for. If you double the cookies for the week you will have to take away something else that has been budgeted for for that week. If they want more cookies what are they willing to give up in order to get those cookies?

Now take out a large bag of pretzel sticks. Point out that the bag of pretzel sticks costs the same as the package of cookies, and there is only one bag of pretzels budgeted for for the week. Have the children help you to divide the pretzel sticks into 4 even piles. (The bag I divided had 151 sticks in it.) Each child will have 37 sticks, with 3 left over. Divide those sticks further and each child will have 7 piles of 5 pretzels each with two left over. Point out that those two extra pretzels could be added to one or two of the piles or they could be put together with the 3 leftover sticks and put into "savings." If the extras are put into "savings" there will be 11 pretzels in the savings bag.

Now, have the kids look at the bags of pretzels and the bags of cookies. If they want one of each type of snack each day then they are going to be limited to 5 pretzels and one cookie each day with very little put into savings. If they alternate the cookies and pretzels, with two cookies three times during the week and six pretzels four times during the week they are going to be able to save two cookies each week and thirteen pretzels each week, with a savings of 8 cookies and 52 pretzels across the four kids. Now point out that their "savings" for the month will be 32 cookies, or a whole package of cookies, and 208 pretzels or 1-1/3 bags of pretzels. By dividing their cookies and pretzels in this way they not only get both snacks each week but they also save money the second month because they don't have to buy pretzels and cookies again because they already have the items. What could be done with the saved money? You might also point out that if they opt for only one snack item each week instead of two the same savings could be realized.

Depending on the age of the children, you could also introduce the idea of "unexpected expenses." What if the kids have company at some point during the week and want to offer their guests some cookies or pretzels? How are the cookies and pretzels going to be divided to cover the "day to day" cookie and pretzel expenses of each child while still covering the guests? How might savings help here? Or what--gasp!--if mom or dad want some cookies or pretzels?

So, budgeting is what you do so that both what you need and what you may want can be purchased. Budgeting says that there is only so much that can be spent and makes sure that spending covers all items, even if some items may not be seen as frequently as other items. Budgeting is thinking about money before it is spent.

*Note: Obviously if you have more or less than four children, how the cookies and pretzels get divided will be different, and will definitely impinge on how much can be eaten and how much can be saved. And this, too, should be pointed out as part of the budgeting lesson.