Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yes, You Can Win

Back in December I reported about a problem we had with a pipe in the street and how we ended up having to pay for the pipe replacement and the subsequent street repair, a $3500 cost. I also reported that the plumber who did the work pointed out that the problem was not ours but was a case of inferior materials being used by whomever did the repairs.

Yes, we went after the City to pay us back, and we kept at it. The amount and type of paperwork was ridiculous. But I can now announce that we have deposited the check finally sent to us by the City. Back when all this first started more than a few people told us not to bother; we were never going to win and then it would take forever to get the money if we did win. If we'd had that attitude we never would have gotten our money back. Just because something takes work and lots of effort doesn't mean it shouldn't be attempted. We considered it personal activism, and it paid off. There's a lesson in there to be learned: don't give up and don't give in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Then and Now----The Holocaust Generation

The separations between the generations all living side by side today are more than ones of age. The Holocaust was a defining moment for my parents' generation and for some of us in my generation as well. It plays almost no role but a historical one for the generations after mine. And in a way the Holocaust is responsible for the widely divergent parenting approaches between my parents' generation and mine, and between some of my generation and the generations that follow. Let's call my parents' generation the Holocaust Generation. My generation is known as the Baby Boomers. Following my generation is Generation X, fondly also known as the "Me" Generation. And then there is Generation Y or the Millenials. How do they differ?

The Holocaust Generation literally came back from the dead. And the world they found after the war had no relationship to any world they had ever known. Families were destroyed, and those members who remained were dispersed to the literal four corners of the earth. Immigrants who arrived to the US, regardless of what kind of home they had come from in Europe, arrived with nothing more than could be carried in a few valises. Everything in this country was strange to them and yet here they were, expected to rebuild their lives.

One hallmark of this generation was a fear of absence, of people and things. Money was not all that easy to come by for most of the immigrants and they saved diligently, against some time when maybe they would need to take the money and run. They wasted nothing, ever. Throwing away leftovers? Didn't happen. They wrote notes on the backs of old envelopes and reused and reused the bags that came from the grocery. Clothing? If you weren't naked then you had enough clothing. And when children outgrew something it was diligently passed along because why would someone want to spend precious money on new things when the old things still had plenty of use to them? They watched over their children with an eagle eye; they knew exactly where they were at every given moment.

This generation also wanted better for their children, a lot better. And they looked at education as the tool that would make things better. There was a great respect on the part of this generation for education and for educators. Being a teacher was an honored calling. And this generation was mostly unanimous in one aspect: the school was always right. Heaven help a student who came home and complained that the teacher yelled at him for doing X,Y or Z. If a student brought home poor marks it was the student who ended up in the doghouse, not the teacher. Homework was assigned and homework was done--in this the teachers and parents were united partners.

And yes, for the Holocaust Generation new technology and new innovations came along slowly and were accepted cautiously. And no, the Holocaust Generation did not run en mass after every new doodad that came on the market. Old is what was precious to them. They bought things to last for years, if not for a lifetime. They moved out of tenement and project housing, much of which had no private bathrooms or that had shared kitchens, into roomier quarters, more spacious apartments and homes they purchased with hard earned money. They put plastic covers on chairs and couches so that the furniture would last "forever." Going into debt was rarely heard of; you bought what you could pay for, and you saved up so you could buy. Wildly expensive bar mitzvahs and weddings? No way. Birthday parties for children with entertainment and catered food? No way.

This generation did fairly well for itself here in the US. Most of the immigrants made enough money to give them a sense of security; some did extraordinarily well for themselves. Yet, even those who did that well economically were usually careful to avoid real public ostentation. Many gave tzedaka generously and also became movers and shakers in the Jewish communities, but few made public "spectacles" of themselves, throwing their wealth into others' faces. There was both the European idea of its being vulgar to flaunt money and possessions and its being dangerous for Jews to call too much attention to themselves. These Jews did not live in 1/4 acre palaces. They may have had "nice" homes but not the kind that would raise kinah in other Jews, certainly not in goyim. What they wanted was to blend in, because standing out could be dangerous.

Family life was central. Cousins, no matter how far down the family tree, were kept in touch with. Privacy was valued, and family matters stayed in the family. No, not all marriages for that generation were happy ones, and some should have been dissolved but weren't. Divorce was considered a busha, both among the frum and in the general society at large, and people suffered, for the most part silently.

What did this generation do when it came to getting their kids married? With the exception of the Williamsburger chassidim, they pretty much did nothing more then tell their family and friends that Yankele or Sarale was looking to get married. And the single children had friends from the neighborhood and from school who they asked about a possible fix up. The Boro Park of today that is so restrictive would not be recognized by the Holocaust Generation. In the old Boro Park Friday night was shpatzeer (stroll) night and groups of boys and groups of girls would stroll up and down 13th Avenue to see and be seen. Sometimes groups stopped to talk to each other. And if they didn't stop to talk, they sure stopped to look. Shabbos afternoon the process repeated itself on 14th Avenue. And there were hundreds of shidduchim that came about because a boy and a girl met at Brooklyn College or at Queens or at City Uptown. Sometimes you had already met the person who asked you out and other times it was a blind date. If I had a quarter for every boy I went out with who I passed on to a friend if it wasn't for me, I'd be retired in comfort by now.

For most of the immigrant Holocaust Generation their major criteria for a possible shidduch for their children was that the person come from a heimishe home. By this they meant of European extraction also with an immigrant background, and from the same general geographic area of Europe--either Eastern or Western. But even here heimishe was not carved in stone. Many a child of the Holocaust Generation married an Amerikaner or someone from out of their geographic area. One of our closest friends is a couple where he is a born and bred Breuer Yeki and she is a Hungarian. Caused just a little bit of a stir when they got married but the marriage is at over 40 years and still going strong.

Add as a second criteria that the person had to be frum. And everyone understood what that meant without needing to read 4,895 pages of info on the person. How close together a couple was in their frumkeit was something that generally they found out about while dating.

What kind of investigation did the parents do before a couple went out? You have to be kidding. Investigating? Usually investigating was limited to asking someone who might know the family if it was a "nice" family. So what kind of information did you get about someone who was a blind date? If you were lucky the person doing the fix up actually got the name correct. And maybe if you were really lucky they got the age and height correct. Sometimes you even found out what city the person lived in. They might tell you the person was in college and what they were majoring in, or they might tell you what job the person had. If a guy or girl had already dated the person they might tell you a little bit about his/her personality. And that was it. All the other personal information was considered dating fodder.

Dating was a new experience for the parents of the Holocaust Generation. They mostly had nothing to compare it to in Europe, a Europe where shadchanim were a "treasured" part of each community. As they said "Siz ah niyah velt."--it's a new world. But here is the funny thing: these parents let their kids date because they knew they had raised them right and that they weren't going to do something crazy while on a date. Okay, honesty compels me to admit that there were some "wild things" in the frum community who took full advantage of the 60s attitude prevalent while they were dating. But they really were the exception rather than the rule. Did my mom and countless other moms ask how a date went? Sure, but that was basically the extent of it. Only at the point where a relationship was really getting serious did some parents ask for more information on the family. When I decided that my hubby was "it" my parents did not question my judgement nor ask me to prove to their satisfaction that I knew what I was doing. I do believe they asked if he was making a living. Yeah, he was, at least enough for us to get married on, certainly if you counted in my graduate fellowship as well. The Holocaust Generation, knowing how they had raised us, let us be the adults they knew us to be.

For the Holocaust Generation there was a sometimes role reversal, although always with the greatest kovod going to parents. The children, born, schooled and raised here, were sometimes better at navigating this strange new world. Their English was more proficient. They were out and about sometimes more than the parents were. There were parents who depended on their children to translate for them when dealing with financial matters and government matters. These were adult concerns and they came early to many of the children of this generation. While the children of this generation were protected in many ways, they nonetheless knew a great deal about "adult" requirements and concerns.

There were many, many working wives and mothers in the Holocaust Generation. When the immigrants arrived here most qualified only for minimally paying jobs, and two people working was a necessity for survival. Many of these women had to leave their homes to work; some were "lucky" and got piece work to do at home. Either way, children were involved in helping out at home, offering whatever service they were capable of. The children of the Holocaust Generation very early on learned that if they wanted spending money they were going to have to earn it. And if you were looking to buy narishkeit with that earned money your parents were going to sit you down and explain the facts of economic life to you.

So, was this generation perfect? No, in the way that no generation is a perfect one. And quite inadvertently they planted the seeds for some of the problems that are seen in the generations following them. While what I have written above applies to the children of this generation in general, it applies most specifically to the oldest of the children more than the youngest. By the time the youngest children were born their parents were already established here and life was far easier than it was when the oldest children were born. The parents had "Americanized" a bit and were less likely to frown at things that the children wanted. They took it as a matter of pride that they could provide these things, although still with a shiur. While these families were "child concerned" they weren't "child centered."

A recent comment on a different blog referred to the children of the Holocaust Generation as "fragile," that the Holocaust Generation babied their children and overprotected them. Sorry, the wrong generations are being referred to. The Holocaust Generation raised a generation of "survivors," and fragile hardly describes them. It is the children of the Holocaust survivors, the Boomers, who became the activists of their time period. Unlike our parents, we Boomers were not afraid of getting up and being counted. We marched, we bussed, we sat in, we protested, we wrote petitions and we signed them, we let our voices be heard--and we were part of the groups that changed a whole lot of practices that were prejudicial to anyone who was not a white, Protestant male. Are you a Sabbath observer who can apply for virtually any job you want and not be told "Sorry, if you don't come in on Friday night/Shabbos, don't bother to apply here"? Thank the boomers for that. Are you female with a wealth of opportunities available to you, both in education and in the general world? Thank the boomers for that. Ever hear of the quota system that was used in universities and in the corporate world? It's mostly disappeared, and you can thank the boomers for that.

And yes, fairness also requires me to admit that the Boomers raised the next generation, the "Me" generation. And somehow, in getting rid of all the old iniquities that were present during our younger years, we also got rid of some of the child rearing practices that were used on us. And the result, in many cases, is a generation that thinks of itself as entitled to get anything and everything that it wants, without counting the cost. Some of us toed the line and raised our children mostly along the lines of how we, ourselves, were raised (mostly those who fall in the older portion of the Boomers). Yes, we had more money available to us, thanks to the insistence for getting an education that our parents had, but we passed on the idea that with money comes responsibility. The idea took with some of the next generation, but, unfortunately, it didn't take with a whole lot of the rest.

Let me end with this. A friend, a few years older than I am and the child of Holocaust survivors, finds herself in an awkward situation, one she never dreamed she would find herself in. She and her husband, both college educated and both professionals, raised three children. She saw to it that all of her children would get a college education and become professionals themselves. And then there are her grandchildren. She has 19 of them. And the oldest one is getting married soon. Ask her male grandchildren what they are going to do/be "when they grow up" and the answer is "We're going to sit and learn." Ask them who will take care of the mundane matters of providing food and shelter and even the youngest will tell you "Mom and Dad will take care of it." Sometimes they'll substitute "the in-laws" for mom and dad. And worse, they tack on "Bubi and Zayde will pitch in, just like they are doing now." My friend's mother hears all of this and shakes her head often. She has no idea how this situation came about. SHE didn't raise children who were takers, who were dependent long past the age of dependency. She's fairly certain that her children didn't inculcate these ideas into their own children. So where did all this come from? As to my friend, she and her husband are at an age now when they would love to slow down, to cut back, to relax a lot more. And they find that they can't.

At Shabbos lunch a few weeks ago someone at the table asked if I was still working. Yes, I am. Her comment? "The kids still need supporting?" No, but the fact that she could ask that tells me a whole lot about what is going on with the following generations. My generation, the children of the Holocaust survivors is fragile? Try frazzled and you'll be getting it more like it is.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

It's Peanuts

At a large gathering recently where the attendees where people in my general age bracket, I asked a question of as many people as I could, and asked others in attendance to ask as well. The question, actually questions, were simple: 1)How many of you have a peanut allergy? and 2)How many of your children have a peanut allergy? and 3)How many of you know of someone our age or our children's ages with a peanut allergy? The answers were awfully easy to record. Not one person there had a peanut allergy, had children with a peanut allergy or actually knew of anyone with a peanut allergy.

An awful lot of media time over the past few years has been spent on reporting that "large numbers of children suffer from peanut allergies." A number of school boards across the country have banned children from bringing peanut butter sandwiches for lunch or from bringing any peanut product to school because of the "danger" this poses for those massive numbers of kids with peanut allergies.

Now it just so happens that I do know someone whose child has a peanut allergy--along with an allergy to every other kind of nut, to wheat, to milk, to chocolate, to gluten, to perfumes and to at least half the substances that comprise the things we eat or use in daily living. Yes, this parent has a real problem. For years this child was basically housebound because just walking out the door could cause an allergic reaction. I am not pooh-poohing this child's medical condition. But this child is unique in her family and the only child in her yeshiva with this kind of a problem. Thanks to advances in medicine and doctors who are on top of things, they've gotten her to the point where she attends school and can go out in the world.

What I'm asking, as regards peanuts, is do we really have the widespread problem that the media have been telling us we have? If so, why? Why should the third generation from mine have developed this allergy? How? PBJ was a staple of school lunches when I was in school. Why did none of my classmates or schoolmates have a peanut allergy? Let me anticipate a comment here, that comment being "Just because you didn't know it didn't mean that some kid didn't have the allergy." Children can be such morbid little creatures sometimes. They may say "Oh gross!" if an action takes place that is less than wonderful, but they don't stop looking, and they remember the action well. Frankly, if a child allergic to peanuts had been present in my school lunchroom and had had an allergic reaction of the type the media describe as common today, we would all have remembered and reported it back to our parents. Someone turning blue in the lunchroom and requiring EMS to come? Kind of memorable wouldn't you say? It didn't happen back then.

The reason I bring this up is that peanut butter is an inexpensive but nutritious choice for school lunch sandwiches, one that is being banned right and left. Schools are faced with providing alternatives that cost a lot more. Are the numbers of children allergic to peanuts, who can't even be in the room with peanuts, so large that they justify removing this staple for everyone else? Is there a better way to handle the situation?

So what do you know about this, or what do you think?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

No, We Do Not Have A Tuition Crisis

I abhor, detest, despise and just plain hate the way that the word "crisis" is thrown around today. The minute a problem raises its head, someone will whip themselves into a frenzy and yell "Crisis!" It's akin to yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. All it does is start a panic.

We do not have a tuition crisis in the frum community today. What we have is an education problem. And tuition is only a symptom, not the disease. A large part of that education problem centers on yet another problem, that of lack of transparency on the part of yeshivas as regards their actual expenses and income.

Our yeshivas tell us a lot, but they show us virtually nothing. They tell us that money is tight and people who could be counted on for donations don't have the money to give. They tell us about parents in financial trouble who can't cover the cost of tuition for their children. They tell us about rising expenses for providing an education. But they show us nothing that would back up what they are saying. Our schools expect us to take everything they are telling us on trust. Well, why not? For decades that is exactly what we have done. And look where all that trust has gotten us.

It's more than time that we stop placing our efforts and our raised voices into complaining that tuition is too high. It's time that we place our organized efforts into demanding that the schools that count on our children--and our money--for their continued existence show us precisely where and how they are spending that money. Please don't show me petitions that demand a tuition freeze; instead, show me petitions that demand that the books be opened. Schools are quick to ask parents to open their books to the school when calculating how much parents can pay in tuition. Well, I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours.

A school in New Jersey has announced that it will have to close the school lunch program as a cost cutting measure. It is also considering selling off some of its athletic fields for the same reason. So how much will closing the lunch program actually save the school? What does the lunch program actually cost? The school has 700 students. Does it cost the school $1.00 a day per student to serve lunch? Remember that "lunch" includes the personnel to prepare that lunch, serve that lunch, and clean up after that lunch in addition to whatever food is served. Does lunch cost the school $2.00 per day per student? $3.00 per day? And what about any school personnel that also eat lunch in the school, such as teachers and administrators? Do those people pay for their lunch, or is it thrown in as a benefit because they work there? Is lunch on Friday the same as during the rest of the week?

Let's estimate the costs for that lunch program. 700 students plus 25 administrative personnel who also eat lunch in school. Let's make it $3.00 per day, and let's even make Friday a full lunch. That's a cost of $2175.00 per day for the lunch program, if you assume that all costs for that lunch are included. That's a cost of $10,875.00 per week for the lunch program. Because of vacations and holidays, let's say that program runs for 37 weeks during the year. That would make the price for the lunch program $402,375.00 for the year. If tuition for the school was in the $11,000.00 per student range, this would mean that it takes the full tuition money from 37 students to pay for the lunch program. So, 5% of the tuition money taken in is used for lunch.

Now here is the problem--the figures above are all guesswork. As long as a school does not make its actual income and expenses open no one can say how much lunch costs or how much would be saved by eliminating lunch. What if lunch only cost $2.00 a day per person being fed? What if lunch cost $4.00 or $5.00 per day per person being fed? What if there are more administrative personnel who should be counted in for free lunches? What if some of the students qualify for the subsidized federal food programs, so that the school's expenses for lunch are reduced? The only fact that we know for sure is that we don't know any of the facts.

Accountability is a key word in all business environments; it should also be a key word in our yeshivas. If we're going to expend effort and energy in doing something about the high cost of yeshivas then let's start where it makes sense to start--what are the yeshivas spending, on what and where is the money coming from? Let's not frame the issue as a tuition crisis, which puts the onus on us as parents. Let's frame the issue as a school problem. This is a forest and trees situation; we're looking at the "tree" that is tuition when we should be looking at the forest as a whole.

Are you a parent with children in a yeshiva? Are you upset by the high cost of that yeshiva education and don't know why it is costing this much? Do you know other parents who are also wondering where the money goes? Then unite your voices and get a petition signed by the school parent body that demands that the books be opened. And please, could we stop worrying about how this may impact our children's shidduchim somewhere down the road? I would imagine that having parents who are in mega debt or who have declared bankruptcy would have a greater impact on shidduchim. Do you daven in a shul that is in the community where the yeshiva your children attend is located? The rav of your shul is a contracted salaried employee of the shul. As his employers, shul members could and should ask that he make it publicly clear he supports his members in asking that a yeshiva open its books for perusal.

It's going to take clear heads to dig us out of our financial mess, not "Crisis!" yelling. It's going to take action, not grumbling. It's going to take work on everyone's part, not leaving it to someone else. Until we are willing to commit ourselves publicly and with sustained effort then we, too, are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

On the English Language

Linguists are in agreement that the English language is the richest of all extant languages as regards vocabulary. One of the reasons lies in the history of English. Originally an offshoot of German, with the Norman invasion English found itself borrowing many words from the conqueror's Romance language families. Another reason is that English is quite egalitarian about borrowing words from here, there and everywhere. Thirdly, there is more than one "English," and speakers of one dialect of English frequently borrow words from other dialects of English.

There doesn't seem to be any great agreement on the number of words in English. Estimates run from about 300,000 to 1,000,000 words in the language. Part of the discrepancy in the numbers is due to what certain groups consider a unique word. The Oxford English Dictionary does not count as separate words those words with diverse meanings. They will, for instance, list the word "bear" only once as a word heading; however, under that heading will come many different definitions for that word. Also, if a word may be used as an adjective, as a noun, as a verb, as an adverb, there will still be only one counting of the word as a word. Other major dictionaries use a different formula. Some dictionaries and/or organizations whose business is the words of English will not include words that are considered as slang or jargon or technical terms. Others may not include in the English word count those scientific terms that derive from Latin, whether spelled identically to their Latin roots or not. Some words may be considered as archaic and are not included by some in the count of words in English today. Others will include these archaic words in their word count, or at least some of them, as those words can be found in printed material that is still available to us. Even if we split the difference from the lowest to the highest count we come up with about 500,000 words for English.

Those same people whose business it is to determine the number of words in the English language have also done some research on how many of those words are actually known or used by speakers of English. A distinction should be made here, which is not always done when the number of words in use is calculated, between our reading vocabularies and our spoken vocabularies. We recognize far more words in reading than we actually use in speaking. The figure usually given is that an educated English speaker knows 20,000 words, of which he/she will use about 2000 in any given week.

I would add that there is a third division of vocabulary that should be taken into consideration: our writing vocabulary. While we may not make use of the 20,000 words we know in writing, the number is still considerably higher than the 2000 of our spoken vocabulary. Or at least it should be. There are no guarantees today that this will be so.

Once upon a time the printed word was a true learning experience for the reader in so many ways. Not only was one exposed to new ideas, new concepts, new ways of looking at things, but that same reader was exposed to a plethora of vocabulary that would increase the reading vocabulary and the writing vocabulary. Today we are seeing what is, for me, a disturbing pattern. Writers are no longer reaching for the perfect word to say precisely what is meant. Writers are not choosing from among the riches available to them; they are mining on the surface instead of digging deeply for the pure ore that requires some effort to expose. Many will excuse the dearth of vocabulary in their writings by saying that they want to make sure that the reader understands exactly what is meant by their words. Horse manure. If they were truly worried about making sure that readers get exact meaning then they would be spending more time with a dictionary and a thesaurus, not less.

It used to be axiomatic that good writers were also avid readers. Through reading they would expand their vocabularies and thus enrich their own writing. But for this to remain true, reading material has to contain a rich vocabulary. If authors are going to write the way they speak, limiting themselves to their spoken vocabulary, then readers will have nothing of true value to carry away from their reading.

There are any number of issues of importance that are being discussed in Klal today. And there is also much confusion about just what is being said. Arguments ensue when nebulous statements leave themselves open to multiple interpretations. English is not being used with specificity in so many cases. Readers are being left with the job of interpreting vague statements, when such interpretation is even possible at all. Applying Shakespeare to much of what is in print about issues in Klal that deserve so much better from those who are writing about them, they are "...A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." We have a language rich beyond our imagination, and it is more than time for us to use it rather than abuse it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How Do Wars Start? Stay Tuned

As far as the City of New York is concerned the house and property listed at my address belongs to my husband and I. While we agree that the house, or at least the inside of the house, is our private, personal property, the same cannot be said about the outside areas of our property. We share these areas with a wide variety of wildlife, all of whom consider us as the interlopers, not themselves. We've had a truce in place for many years; we don't go after them and they mostly don't come after us.

This spring is shaping up to be just a tad different. This morning there was a preview of World War III going on in the yard, along with a reenactment of West Side Story. Some of those involved are residents of long standing in our yard and in the woods that border the back of the yard. Some of the actors were newbies to the 'hood, a few seeming ready to take up permanent residence, and a few who dropped in for a while to be where the action is. It's been raining for a few days and the grass is lush with delicacies for our feathered residents. Most of the trees have started to bud out and many of the bushes are wearing a new spring coat. The yard seems to be proclaiming "Let all who are hungry come and eat." There is surely enough out there for everyone.

This spring one of the squirrels who resides in a tree at the back of the property has been acting really squirrely--in common parlance, he's got a screw loose. The squirrel has taken to haunting the yard, digging frenetically every few feet. We have no idea what he could have buried or hidden under the grass; frankly, we don't think he knows either, but dig he does. Under normal circumstances our squirrels have no problems when the birds come down to feed; there's plenty of room for everyone. But this squirrel has been acting decidedly territorial. He's basically telling the birds that they are no longer welcome in what he has claimed as his country. And the birds aren't buying this. Until this morning they more or less were responding with a lot of raised voices and birdly cussing. You could almost imagine them singing "There's a place for us. Somewhere a place for us." They grumpily would wait until the squirrel moved off up the hill until they entered the yard.

I've seen a lot of robins in my lifetime and they can vary in size, but generally they are what we recognize as robin-sized. This morning an uber-Robin showed up, a robin on steroids. Think of those big pigeons that populate parking lots and you're still not thinking large enough. And this robin came loaded for bear--or squirrel as the case may be. Hostilities were no longer going to be of the verbal kind.

The robins were gathered on top of the fence and the squirrel was foraging on the lawn when the muscleman robin decided that it was time for action. He hopped down onto the grass and began looking for breakfast. The squirrel, tail raised high as a battle flag, began his approach to the robin. And the robin didn't budge. Not only didn't he budge but he managed to spear one of the largest worms I've ever seen. And calmly and in seemingly no hurry he began to enjoy his breakfast feast. As the squirrel approached the robin, the robin flung what was left of the worm at the squirrel and flew back up to the top of the fence. I'm not sure who was more surprised, the squirrel or I. This was an "in your face" gesture of ultimate magnitude.

At this point I decided to play the allied forces or Officer Krupke, depending on which scenario appeals more to you, and I went out into the yard. The two warring parties were not yet ready to flee but they did retreat a bit. And there I was, a rational human being (at least that's what they tell me) lecturing furry and feathered warriors on the behavior I expected of them if they were coming into MY yard. My neighbor, taking out her garbage, was convulsed in laughter on the other side of the fence. Well, let her laugh. It worked. As I write this the squirrel is off in one corner of the yard and the birds are in another corner. On consideration, both sides decided that waging war over a few yards of ground was just not worth would it might cost them.

Now if only human beings could learn that lesson.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lest We Forget

When I was much younger I used to be puzzled by the statement so often applied to the events of the Holocaust: "Lest We Forget." How, I wondered, could anyone, anywhere, ever forget this dark period of our history? How could any Jew fail to be affected by the horror that was the Holocaust?

Time has brought me wisdom and a different perspective. For me, with a birth certificate that reads "Loheiden Home Kampf, Bergen Belsen, Germany" the Holocaust can never be forgotten. The Holocaust shaped my parents and it shaped my life as well. It gave me voids where there should have been people, where there should have been grandparents and aunts and uncles. It gave me a younger childhood that was a conflict and contrast between what was and what could have/should have been, had there only not been the Holocaust. It gave me looks of pain on the faces of my parents that no mere weapon could have produced. It gave me a yearning for what I knew I could never have, and a determination as I grew older that my children would never suffer this loss as I had.

When I was younger there was no formal Yom HaShoah. It would have been redundant, surely so for those of us that were the children of the survivors. Was there ever a day, a week, a month that was not a day of remembrance? Was there ever any occasion which would have been shared with a full family that was not a day to remember those who were absent? We lived a life of remembrance.

And then time brought along another generation to follow mine. And this generation was fiercely loved and fiercely protected. This generation would not live in the shadow of the horrors of the Holocaust. This generation would bring some solace at last to their grandparents. This generation would prove the truth of the saying "The best revenge is living and living well." My children's generation would be a fist in the face of the European beasts who set out to slaughter and annihilate the Jewish people. But in the midst of this celebration of life came the realization that the same passing of time that could ease, if only a little bit, the pain inflicted on my parents and, by extension, on me could also erase the remembrance of those who were the victims of the Holocaust. And thus was born "Lest We Forget" and thus was born Yom HaShoah.

I will smile on Yom HaShoah, even if that smile is bittersweet. My great grandmother Gittel bas Hershel a"h may have been butchered by the European sub-humans, but there isn't a one of her great great grandchildren who does not know who she was and who cannot tell a Baba Gittel story. My siblings and I, my first cousins, and all of our children carry the names of our grandparents and aunts and uncles whose lives were so tragically cut short. And while there are certainly stories of the here and now they are woven together with the stories of there and then. The tapestry that is our lives is our answer to "Lest We Forget."

So on this day of remembrance I will make it my business to tell my children some bit of information passed on to me by my parents about their parents and grandparents and siblings. I will weave another thread into our family tapestry, knotted tightly. I will see to it that the children phone and speak to their grandmother, a gift far beyond the price of rubies. And I will tell my children what I say to you now: Today is only one tiny fraction of not a day of remembrance but of days of remembrance. That remembrance of the Holocaust is something we must do kol yomai chayechoh.And we must pass on this obligation to remember those who died in the Holocaust to our children and our children's children down through the generations "so that their names shall not perish from the earth.'

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Vaad Regulation

My posting on the vaadim of Queens and The Five Towns versus Streits got me thinking in a different direction. In American jurisprudence there is the idea of conflict of interest. A judge or attorney is expected to recuse themselves from a case when there is a relationship between them and any member of either side of the case. It might be possible that the judge or attorney could be completely partial despite the relationship; it is also possible that the relationship would influence or color the thinking of the judge or attorney.

Comments were made elsewhere about a possible financial connection between a member(s) of the vaad and a national kashrut certifying agency. I have absolutely no proven facts that this is or isn't the case. However, even the possibility of this being the case is troublesome, whether applied to this particular case or to any other case. I would expect that members of a vaad, like a judge or attorney in a civil case, would be neutral, basing a decision on only the facts of a case without any undue outside influence. Perhaps what is necessary is any/all of the following as rules for a vaad to work under.

1) No member of a vaad may have any financial arrangement with any kashrut certifying agency.

2) Any member of a vaad who has a financial arrangement with a kashrut certifying agency must make that information publicly available and readily accessible.

3)Any member of a vaad who has a financial arrangement with a kashrut certifying agency must recuse himself from voting on any issue in which the agency with which he has a financial arrangement is in competition with a different agency or individual involved in the case before the vaad.

4) Votes taken by any vaad must be available to the public in itemized form. Which rabbis voted for something and which rabbis voted against it? Which rabbis had to abstain because of financial relationships with a certifying agency?

5)All vaadim should be required to publish not only their decision regarding a kashrut matter but the specific reasons the decision is based on.

6)Vaadim should be required to have in written form and readily available to be read by the public the specific rules and regulations that have been established by them for deciding on the kashrut of an item/place.

I am aware that the members of a vaad are volunteers and put in many hours in maintaining kashrut standards for their communities. But the word "communities" is key here. These rabbanim are, in a very real sense, employees of the communities they serve. They are not, and certainly should not consider themselves to be, an elite group with no responsibilities for clear and complete reporting to those of the community. A community needs to be able to trust its vaad, and such trust is built not through secrecy but through openness.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

When Words Go Forth

This post was fulminating over Pesach. I was not sure it was ever going to see the light of day. But I finally decided that it should be posted, perhaps not for the reasons I originally had. It concerns the Streits company and the vaadim of Queens and The Five Towns. Much has been said on this subject already and The Rebbetzin's Husband put out a posting last night as well. Feelings are running high. Why add to the bonfire? Not being a Rav I'll keep away from any halachic issues regarding the kashrut of the Streits product as well as any other halachic issues that may have been raised. Being an English teacher, I'll restrict myself to those parts of the issue that fall within my experiential purview.

We live in the information age. As such, words have particular import in and on our lives. We also live in an electronic age. Information, and the words used to supply that information, is no longer a slowly transmitted item. Nor is that information limited to the local venues where it originally comes forth from. We can and do access information from across the globe, and we do so instantly. For the most part, our lingua franca is English, regardless of where we may be residing. I don't believe that anyone can argue the factuality of the statements above. And it is precisely English--how it is transcribed, how it is sent out, how it is understood--that is at the crux of this problem.

A statement was made by the vaadim of Queens and The Five Towns that they would not be allowing Streits matzah to be sold for Pesach in the stores under their supervision for this past Pesach. An article in The Jewish Star reported on this decision. All material that was direct quotes from those involved in these two vaadim was placed in quotation marks, giving proper attribution to those who said the words published. In the heated discussion that has followed publication of the article not one person quoted in the article has protested that their words were incorrectly reported; in fact, such a protest has not been made anywhere. Absent any protestations that someone was not correctly quoted, we can assume that what was said has been accurately transmitted. We can do so because we are also quite aware that when words have been inaccurately quoted in a publication, the person/people being quoted have quickly and vociferously protested that they were not correctly quoted. Retractions and explanations come quickly on the tail of false information. So, the words of the article stand as written.

I'm quite aware that a firm command of the English language is not a requirement for getting smicha--neither is a course in the principles of Aristotle's Rhetoric. Perhaps they should be. It's my personal opinion that no rabbanim should be making pronouncements of any kind unless and until they work through the import of the English words they are using on the readers/hearers of those words. Rabbanim in particular should be aware that it's not what they MEANT to say that will be judged but what they actually said. I've drilled into my students thousands of times that it is not the writer who must be first considered when penning words but the reader: How will the reader see what is being said?

One key point in writing is to anticipate the questions that the reader will have. If a pronouncement is made, the first question that will arise in the readers' minds will be "WHY?" It is not enough to say "We will no longer be doing X"; it is equally as necessary to say why X will no longer be done. And the supportive reasons for why X will not be done must themselves be clear and unequivocal. And these reasons must be framed in a positive mode rather than a negative one: you don't recount the reasons which aren't being used to support your statement, but you are required to recount the reasons which are being used to support your statement.

In brief, Aristotle put forth three artistic methods for rhetoric and argumentation: ethos, pathos and logos. Ethos deals with the ethical standing of the speaker and of those he refers to. Pathos is an appeal to the emotions of the reader/listener. Logos is the use of reasoning and facts to support a statement. Effective written and spoken pieces will use all three judiciously.

The problem, as I see it, is that the statements made by those quoted in the article are awfully heavy on the ethos, both pro and con, are awfully heavy on the pathos, and fail to give any logos.

The answer to "Why are you not allowing in Streits for this Pesach?" should have been a logos statement, positively stated: "These are the reasons we are not allowing Streits for Pesach: X, Y and Z." This was not done. What was given as an answer to this question? "R' Soloveichik doesn't swim in the kashrus world. We just don't know." Yes indeed, a statement to gladden the heart and expand the mind. Lots of ethos and lots of pathos. Logos? In what world?

Further, as the old saying goes, timing is everything. The article came out four weeks before Pesach. By the time the article came out stores across the country had already made their orders from the various purveyors of Pesach products, including the Streits company. In our neighborhood three of the five major supermarket chains already had their Pesach food products out for sale before Purim. Many people had already begun their shopping for Pesach non-perishables before the article came out. The producers of Passover products use last year's sales and this year's orders as a guide to how much of their Passover products to produce. I would imagine that the Streits company is no different in this respect. Because of the timing of the statement by the vaadim it was not only a spectre of halachic malfeasance that was raised by their statement, but the statement had a very real economic impact as well.

In short, the statements made by the vaadim were not based on clearly stated facts. There was no attempt to clearly give the reasons for the actions of the vaadim. There was a whole lot of emotion being presented. There was a lot of ethical innuendo. There was disagreement among members of the vaadim as to the correct choice of action. What there was not was information of any use to the readers of the article.

Frankly, the choice of wording in some of the statements was execrable. From an English and rhetorical and argumentational point of view, the quoted material in the article deserved an "F" grade. Actually, it deserved worse than that. I have a grade that is "Returned--please see me." This is for material that goes beyond failing. It is for work that does not fall anywhere within the guidelines for an assignment. It is for work that needs to be completely rethought, rewritten, reedited. Were some of the comments that abounded on the blogosphere in reference to this article over the top? Yup. But much as it may gall me to say so, the quoted material in the article invited this kind of commentary by itself being "over the top." You reap what you sow.

Perhaps I'm being overly optimistic, but it would be nice to believe that those involved in making the statements reported in the article have learned something from the ensuing brouhaha: beware when you send forth words--someone just might point out that "The Emperor is naked."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Make Them Go Away, Please!

I turned on my computer after the first days of Pesach were over and went to check my email. I've got four accounts, each used for a different purpose. Most of those who might be sending me "social" email are also frum, so there weren't any messages that I expected to be there from these people. So, please explain how I ended up having to delete almost 500 messages that arrived during one three-day period?! This got me thinking about email in general, the result of that thinking below.

Many of today's technologies use as a selling point that they are great aids to communication. Communication is faster and better if you use them. Let's take a look at email.

Okay, it takes less time to receive an email message then it does to receive a letter. That's a plus in many cases. The rain and snow won't blur the ink on an email message the way they can on a regular letter. Another plus. If you have lots of people that you would be writing to every month then email can be cheaper. Here's where things become a bit blurry. Would you actually be sending 300 or more letters every month? Perhaps if you are in business you might, or maybe not. Maybe, just maybe you might make a phone call. Maybe, just maybe you might go and see someone in person.

My husband's company, like many/most companies today, has an open floor plan consisting of mainly cubicles, with a few offices on the periphery of the space. These cubicles are completely open--no doors, no ceilings, and walls that aren't as tall as most people when standing up. And yet, driving my husband totally nuts, people working on the same floor send each other multiple emails on a constant basis. No one thinks to pick up a phone and certainly aren't just getting up and going to another cubicle.

One business magazine has estimated that working people spend from 2-7 hours PER DAY sending and responding to emails. Just when is it that they are taking care of the "real" business? And you would think that working people who deal with email constantly would be efficient at using it. Afraid not. The following is a fairly typical exchange, and should illustrate why a whole lot of what is done by email would be done better on the phone or in person.

Email#1: Hey Yankele, we need to get together to discuss the ________ account.

Email #2: I thought the ________ account was going just fine?

Email #3: Pretty much so, but there are a few things _________ wants to change.

Email #4: Like what?

Email #5: Too complicated to get into by email. When can we meet?

Email #6: I'm pretty flexible. What's good for you?

Email #7: I was thinking lunch.

Email #8: Sounds fine. Tuesday?

Email #9: Hmmm. Wednesday would be better for me.

Email #10: Can't make it on Wednesday. How about Monday or Thursday?

Email #11: Monday would work. 12:30?

Email #12: I'll have to check with Moshe. He should be there too.

Email#13: So check with him and let me know.

And now the whole rigamarole is going to start all over with Moshe. Quicker? More efficient? Not really.

Email is one of those two-edged swords that has many positive and also many negative points. If it's going to be of real benefit then someone has to think about teaching business people when it is appropriate and when other modes of communication make more sense. And not just business people either. Plenty of "social emails" that follow the scenario above, driving me totally bonkers. The phone company used to have as its slogan "Reach Out and Touch Someone." Email providers seem to have as their slogan "Reach Out and Bury Someone."

My favorite email received over Pesach? An advertisement for a special email filter that will pre-sort your emails for you and delete those you have no interest in before they get placed in your mailbox. Ironic really that this ad arrived via email.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Free Jewish Community Services Expo

Please check out the following information and pass it along to any and all you believe might benefit from the program.

A free Jewish Community Services Expo, presented by the OU Job Board and over 30 Co-sponsors, will be held on Sunday, April 26, 2009, from 12:00 to 4:00 PM.

Place: Lander College For Women, 227 West 60th Street (at West End Avenue), NY, NY.

Program: Learn about free services for you and your family--Meet one-on-one with people who can help--Government agencies with free benefits--30+ social service and chesed organizations.

Special Events: Expert Resume Check--by reservation only--Workshops dealing with empowerment, motivation and employment develpment6 to be presented throughout the day--walk in to attend these: no reservations needed for this workshop.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:go to or send email to

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Shalom Bayis and Pesach

Husbands, even of many years standing, and who should know better, sometimes take a look at what has been purchased and/or cooked for Pesach and utter these disastrous words: "I think you bought/made too much/not enough__________(take your pick for the item(s)." For these husbands I'm offering the following advice from a poster that someone once bought me.

Rules Concerning the Bossabusta:

Rule #1: The boss is always right.

Rule #2: If the boss is wrong, see rule #1.

Adhering to these rules might go a long way towards keeping shalom bayis in the stressful days before Pesach.

Okay, So Maybe One More Posting

A pre-yom tov call was winding to an end when the person I was speaking to asked me, in all seriousness, if I was an up-to-down peeler or a down-to-up peeler. It says something about all the chumras that have materialized among us because my first question was, "Did someone say it's ossur to do it one way or the other?"

Apparently it's not a question of halacha but one of energy conversion. Someone (who reallly, reallly needs to get a life) was watching another person peel potatoes and felt the need to point out that pulling the peeler towards you takes more energy and work than pushing the peeler away from you. It is also possible to establish a faster rhythm and thus save time. An argument ensued as another highly educated person posited that the first person had the physics wrong: pushing the peeler up clearly takes more energy than pushing it down. He pointed out that things fall down, not up. An airplane requires more speed and energy to go up than it does to land.

To those learned gentlemen debating the energy output required if you are an up-peeler or a down-peeler, I say you are both wrong: THE most energy efficient way to peel a potato is to get someone else to do it. It is why God gave women husbands and children. I might further add that having a male-chromosome gives you a 67.09563% greater chance of finding yourself with a peeler in hand.

I don't think that the potatoes care in which direction they are peeled; I surely don't care either. I have only one requirement for peeled potatoes that can be summed up simply: do it now!

It's a Different World

One of my daughters was helping me unpack the Pesach dishes last week when I noticed and mentioned that the juice glasses were missing. Clearly they had been packed somewhere and I needed to find them. My daughter laughed and said: "You and Babi. Those are yahrzeit glasses mom." It's a new world all right.

Back when my husband and I were young the word gleisele (little glass) had exactly one referent: a yahrzeit glass. There was only one kind of yahrzeit candle available and it came in a glass size equal in volume to the kitchen dixie cups made today. They had a pretty border etched into the glass. I can't remember any house I was ever in back then that did not have a complete "set" of those glasses that had been carefully cleaned and then used for drinking, both for Pesach and for during the year as well. We were ahead of the times in recycling back then.

They were also an important element in any cooking project. We had a neighbor when we first moved to NY who was an incredible baker. I spent one afternoon with Sharinene, a"h, getting all her recipes. And that's when I truly learned the "Jewish" method of food measurement. Her recipes weren't given in measuring teaspoons and tablespoons, nor in gradated cups. She differentiated the cup sizes as follows: shnaps gleisele, gleisele, vien gleisele, vasser gleisel. She talked to me about loeffelach (the spoons in a set of silverware used for stirring tea) and loeffelen (the soup spoons from that set.) Spices were added as follows: ah tropeleh, ah kleine bissele, ah bissele, ah bissele mer, ah sach. Nothing was exempt from the measuring process. Ah handt was a perfectly legitimate measuring tool. How big were the blintzes leaves supposed to be? Ah fleish teller in size. How many beans went into the cholent? Ah zuppen teller's worth.

I've standardized my recipes pretty much over the years, particularly when I'm giving a recipe to someone else, except when I actually have someone standing next to me and watching me cook. Then the answer to "How much?" goes right back to my growing up days. I pour the salt into my palm until it is just enough. Measuring spoons? When God provided us with "built ins"?

I did find the gleiselach and so everything is right in my world now. Just in time, too, because the big kugel roaster requires a halb gleisele (half a glass) of oil.

Pesach Greetings to All

The next few days are going to be filled with all kinds of things and won't include posting on the blog. So let me take the time now to wish all my readers a Chag Kasher V'sameach. Wherever you are for yom tov, I hope that you will have a joyous one. I hope that you will be making memories that will be taken out for years to come and savored. For the gentlemen among you, a kindly "thank you" won't come amiss to the woman/women in your life who have labored to make this yom tov a special one. For the ladies, remember that we are doing all this work for a reason, a good reason, and don't lose the forest for the trees.

See you all later, way later.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Not Add to the Insanity?!!

Someone near and dear to me was aware that I had somehow gotten myself way ahead this year and was having a kind of boring day with nothing to do. She called to let me in on the newest "shtick" making the rounds. I could tell you that people have singly and collectively lost their minds, but I'll let you decide.

It is not only in Israel that there are hagoloh stations for kashering chometzdike keylim for Pesach; they exist in many of the NYC communities. A friend of the person who related the story to me was in a hurry to get to one of these local hagoloh stations. "What are you kashering?" was the question asked.

"Oh nothing. I need to get some of the t'veelas kaylim water."

"Whatever do you need this water for?"

"Well, you bring the water home and make sure it has cooled down. Then you use it to wash nagel vasser. Then you take some of the water and pour it over your right knee and down your leg and then over your left knee and down your leg. It's a segulah for a shidduch."

I was floored when I heard it the first time, and typing it now I am still floored. I have spent the last few hours trying to find a connection, any connection, even a tenuous connection between this water and shidduchim. I can't even make up a far fetched connection. My opinion? This one ought to come in the area of "kishiv machen"--witchcraft--and wherever it came from it should have been killed at birth.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Haveil Havalim--Pre-Pesach Edition

Looking for a few moments of relaxation in the midst of Pesach preparation?

A very lovely edition of Haveil Havalim, the Jewish Blog Carnival, is now up over at Ima on and off the Bima. Check it out!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

This Year, Next Year and All the Other Years

If you're reading this then you have a computer. The subject of this posting is a simple one: a computer should be a balabusta's best friend. And there is no time like the present to cultivate this friendship.

I keep a file for every yom tov. In this file is everything I need to know about what I'm going to have to do for that yom tov. I've been doing this for years and those files are a treasure trove of help. There are shopping lists, divided by categories of food. There are cleaning lists. There are food preparation lists. There are menus from one year to the next. There are recipes for regular and in-bulk cooking of food items. I use these lists both before and after a yom tov. After yom tov is over I go back to the lists and strike any items that didn't get eaten, adjust amounts for those that too much of was made, or that were not a hit with my family. The shopping lists tell me exactly how much of all the items I need to get for the things I'll be using and preparing--no guessing from year to year how many eggs or how many of anything is needed. I have also already created the lists for next year. If anything is left over from this year that can be carried over to next year, such as certain spices, after yom tov I enter the number and where they are stored on next year's list so I'll know what I have.

I looked back at the lists from the last time that Pesach went straight into Shabbos and found a sign I had made to post on the fridge: MAKE AN ERUV TAVSHILIN. A reminder we all should keep in mind if we're outside of Israel.

I have friends who have jokingly (or maybe not so jokingly) called me just a tad anal retentive or perhaps O/C in my habits. Shrugs off comments. I just don't like surprises of the negative kind. I'd rather be ahead of the game then behind going out of the gate. Those computer lists make life easier, and I highly recommend them. If you don't already store this kind of info on the computer I'm suggesting that you start this year. I truly think you'll find Pesach a lot easier next year if you do. A few minutes this year can save you hours and hours next year--what do you have to lose?

Friday, April 3, 2009

You're sending ME Shopping?!!!

I may have mentioned once or twice that I believe that God has a sense of humor. It's been directed towards me a good few times. Today was one of those times.

Just this week I had a post up on my feelings about using European ethnic tags to identify various groups of Jews here in the US. Ironic that I had the following conversation today just this week. My daughter, overhearing the conversation and having read my post, was in stitches.

A friend sent me an email that the son of another friend was engaged. This group of friends has on many occasions joined together to buy one engagement or wedding gift. The email asked if I'd like to participate in the engagement gift. I called the friend and asked how much we were all chipping in and said, sure I'd join. I also asked if she would like me to send her a check now or could it wait until after Pesach. She then informed me that everyone else was going to be sending their checks to me. Now I don't mind having to buy the gift, but I had just done so for the last occasion we grouped together for and couldn't understand why it was my "turn" again.

My friend began her answer this way: Listen, friend Q is going to have enough trouble with making the wedding with this new mechutanista. Let's make sure that the gift we buy is not going to be a problem for her. The girl's mother is very, verrrrrrrry Hungarian.

Sigh. For this group I'm the token Hungarian, despite any protests I might make. And yes, unfortunately, I have a very good inkling of what my friend means, as it impinges on buying a gift, by the girl's mother is Hungarian. I so wish I didn't. Now it well could be that this mother will turn out to be just plain-Jane American. But that Hungarian "code word" has come attached to her, and the others in our group have turned to me to make sure that no social faux pas is committed. I believe the idea is "It takes one to know one."

Might as well put it in now, as some commenter is sure to ask: an appropriate engagement or wedding gift for that "Hungarian" among you is Czechoslovakian heavy, hand-cut crystal (24% lead crystal is a good sign) in one of four forms: a tall wine decanter with stopper, a footed fruit bowl, a basket with a high arched handle, a large vase. If the price of those items makes you gulp you can get away with a smaller, liquor-sized decanter. Silver, carved and with plenty of detail work, is also appropriate, but only if you've robbed a bank lately. For china you can't go wrong with anything Rosenthal in a footed cake platter or vase. Strange, but my acquaintances who all identify with other ethnicities all seem to have items like these. I wonder if they are hiding a Hungarian somewhere in their past?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dining Like a King

There have been any number of comments on the blogs and in conversations elsewhere about how Pesach is a killer holiday because there is nothing to eat. There have been many complaints about the spices we can't use, and the vegetables we can't use and the grains we can't use and everything under the sun that we can't use. Pesach food tastes terrible and is bad for you and there is no variety. Kugels are yucky! The kids hate Pesach food, my husband hates Pesach food, I hate Pesach food is commonly heard. Sorry, but what planet are these complainers living on?

Let me use a moshul here to make my point. Those of you who know the Avenue J area in Brooklyn also know that it is jampacked with eateries of every description, fast and otherwise. There are a zillion fruit and veggie markets and groceries. There are lots of coffee houses. Turn on to Coney Island Avenue and the bounty continues. No way are you going to go hungry in this area. A few years back one of the eateries on Avenue J closed down for about a week for renovations. You had to see the tumult among the students in my college. Faces were downcast and people walked around complaining that the place was closed. All everybody wanted was what that place served. Why? Because they couldn't have it. Suddenly everyone was feeling deprived. Now it's not that this was the most popular place in Brooklyn, nor was the food the best ever seen either. But it was there whenever you felt in the mood to go there, and then suddenly it was not.

Our attitudes about Pesach are a lot like the students' attitudes about that eatery: we want what we can't have. Suddenly those items are endowed with all kinds of wonderful characteristics that place them above anything else that there is to be had. For heavens sake, lighten up! You can't have cumin for a week? There's no corn, no rice? And this is a tragedy just how? A tragedy is c"v someone falling ill. A tragedy is someone c"v losing a job. It's not a tragedy if you lose mustard seed and celery seed.

If you want variety on Pesach there are a zillion things to eat and a zillion ways to prepare those things. If you're stuck in a rut, that's what cookbooks are for. And if you are reading this then you have access to a computer and hundreds, if not thousands, of recipes are available for just a little clicking. Some of those recipes are going to require a little patchking around to make--what, you thought you'd have to expend no effort? Want additional inspiration? The menus for some of the restaurants which have hashgochah for Pesach are posted online. Le Marais has on its menu "Poached white asparagus, tomatoes,
almonds, arugula vinaigrette." Sounds intriguing.

My family loves the meals on Pesach. Some of the things I prepare I only make for Pesach or for yom tovim and they look forward to seeing them on the table. The problem in our house is not that there isn't enough to eat but that it's hard to limit how much I'm making.

And just a final word about those kugels: if the kugel you are eating/making tastes yucky then the problem is not in its being a kugel--this is a cook/recipe problem. I've got dozens of different kugel recipes and when made right they are ta'am gan eden. But if you truly don't like kugel no matter how it is made, then what is the problem? As far as I know Hilchos Pesach does not specify that we have to eat kugel.

Go ahead, sling those arrows--I can take it, but if the food on Pesach is boring don't blame the food--look at the cook.

Plug In, Tune Out

It has happened to me frequently that I've purchased an item for my use and, after having used it for a while, I've found ways that the manufacturer could have improved on the product. Sometimes a design flaw becomes obvious on first use; other times the flaw only becomes noticeable with continued or heavy use. Some manufacturers know that certain parts of an item they produce will become worn out before the rest of the item and they let you know that up front. Sometimes the item comes with a replacement part right from the beginning. Sometimes there are special attachments that can be used when needed.

Given the past few weeks and the lead up to Pesach, I've been spending some time thinking up improvements on an item that has become indespensible but that could use a bit of re-design. That item is me. Last I looked human beings come fully loaded and ready for use, but with no attachments to deal with special situations. I sure wish they did. Right about now I could use an extra arm/hand combination, maybe even two. And yes, I could surely use those vaunted "eyes in the back of my head" for 360 degree vision.

I surely wish that I had come with a battery charger included, one that would guarantee that I would have all the bars needed to function at top form. Perhaps the "manufacturer" could have included a warning on the original packaging: "Not for continuous use. Product must be allowed to rest between usings to allow for energy re-buildup. Failure to observe this will result in product's not working to full capacity. Furthermore, excess use will void the warrantee."

No matter where you are holding in the preparations for Pesach, you need to heed one basic rule for machine usage: When your get up and go has gotten up and gone, take a break and let your "power" build back up. No need to feel guilty, no need to feel as if you should be doing something--you are doing something: you're recharging your batteries. And as every owner of electronic doodads knows, you can't hurry the recharging process.

Sorry, I have to sign off now--I've got to go plug myself into a cup of coffee. Maybe even two cups.