Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Money and Religion

Interesting article on religious communal life and the economic downturn. Hat tip to my daughter.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A New Year...and a New Chumra...maybe

Jameel (and others) posted the following as regards the use of what is called "Shabbos Elevators." I certainly cannot post with 100% assurance that the psak shown is actually the psak given nor whether it was in answer to a specific question or concern, which is also not given. However, my complaint is that anything with such possible major effect on frum lifestyle ought to have been publicly discussed well in advance of such a psak. We should have heard these words spoken and the subject spoken about well before we ever got to four signatures on a psak. And yes, the reasons, in detail, into why this psak was given should also have been stated. The Gemorah and other of our writings are chock full of the reasoning behind rulings. A psak is not just a psak but also a chance for real learning to take place, but only if all the parts are shown.

There are whole swaths of frum Jews in the US (and elsewhere) who are affected by this psak. NYC in particular is a place of apartment dwellers, mostly in high rise buildings. Any number of people who are going to find themselves "trapped" in their apartments on Shabbos if this psak is true as written. The elderly and infirm will find themselves prisoners of their apartments come Shabbos, with no way to get out and no way for others to get in to see them and care for them. Shabbos hospital visitation will dwindle down to nothing. Nursing home residents will be stuck in their rooms over Shabbos, including no davening and no communal meals. No, it is not realistic to assume that it's "no big deal" for people to walk down 5,6,7 or more flights of stairs and then walk up them again, and do it at least 3 times on a Shabbos. It will be interesting to see how the American rabbinate responds, as well as rabbanim in Israel and elsewhere.

A Family Motto

Look at any of the heraldic shields of old and they share one characteristic: each has a motto engraved on the shield. These mottos were the rallying cry for their particular family/clan/tribe. Warriors facing battle found strength in the words as they entered battle. The mottos were a way for families to place meaning behind their names, for stating what they believed.

Today there are few families or family groups that have specific mottoes attached to their names. What few mottoes remain are usually attached to larger groups or organizations. We see the motto in play in the US Marines--Semper Fi (semper fidelis)--ever faithful. But there are a few families today that are the exception, that still adhere to a family motto. Mine, for one example.

In the dark and horrifying days of WWII the Jews of Visuel de-sus, Marmorish, Romania were living under the oppression of the Nazis, may their names be cursed for eternity. The beasts had taken over the town, bringing their evil with them. They took over my grandparents' hotel as their central headquarters. Yes, there was hope that God would end the oppression, that He would remove this pestilence. But there was also fear, based on the knowledge of what the beasts had done and were doing to the rest of European Jewry. And one morning the dreaded fear became reality. The Jews of "de Vishevis" were to be immediately deported to the killing camps to the west.

What does a parent say to a child in a moment of such terror? What words of wisdom or comfort can there be when family members are about to be ripped from each other's protective arms? "Al achas regel" what words could a parent utter to his children?

My zaydie was an educated man, legitimately known as Herr Doktor Rabbiner. There were many things he could have told his children, and did in the days leading up to the deportation, but there was only one thing that he said in that last moment together. The last words that my mother and my Tante Libby a"h heard their father say were burned into their consciousness. He told them: "Hotz eich lieb"--love each other. And to my mother, the eldest by four years, he added: "Pas oif off dein shvester"--take care of your sister. And then life as it had been known was torn asunder and the terror days escalated.

Throughout the plague years of the camps, my mother and my aunt never, ever forgot the words their father had given them. They clung together, two against the world, loving each other fiercely and without exception. Their love for each other provided the warmth in the chilling emptiness of their lives.

And finally the war was over. And zaydie's words still provided the blanket of strength that helped them to rebuild their lives anew. They went back to de Vishevis and then to the larger cities to build a life again. And yes, they married and began families. But the terror was not yet over. They escaped over the border barely a few hours before the advance of the Russian armies. They found themselves once again in Bergen Belsen, this time as a DP camp. They struggled to get papers to leave the hellhole of Europe.

My father and my uncle on the surface had seemingly nothing in common; their personalities, interests and abilities were totally different. And yet, these two so very different men forged a strong, loving bond. Why? Because their wives, my mother and my aunt, made it clear from the beginning that they had better get along, that they had better forge a bond, because if they were marrying my mother and my aunt they needed to know that "Hotz eich lieb" was the rallying cry. And the men listened.

People have commented over the years that they have seen many close siblings but nothing that came near the obvious love and devotion that existed between my mother and my aunt. They often wondered at how such a love came into being. "Hotz eich lieb" and "Pas oif off dein shvester" were the mottoes they held dearly when they faced life's adversities. There was nothing they could not overcome as long as they wrapped themselves in their father's words. There was nothing that they would not do for each other.

My oldest first cousin and I were born 11 weeks apart. My aunt was still not completely back to her physical well being and she could not produce enough milk to nurse her new baby. Problem? Not for these two sisters. My mother, gladly and with love, nursed both infants. Others wondered at this selfless act. Those of us raised by these two amazing women didn't wonder at all; it was exactly what "Hotz eich lieb" and "Pas oif off dein shvester" was all about.

We are seven first cousins, children of my mother and my aunt, and our childhoods were molded by my zaydie's words. There is not a one of us that does not remember his words, and does not live by them. We are seven so very different people, like our fathers before us, but we are united by what is our family motto.

Over the years I have seen so many squabbling siblings, so many siblings in outright war with each other. And yes, I have seen many of the groups in Klal act like those warring siblings, competing to be number one and with little or no care for their "siblings" in Klal. C"v we should ever be faced again with the events of WWII, but are the problems that Klal faces today not bad enough? Must we add to those problems, cause those problems, because of Sinah? So much of what is wrong in Klal today could be obliterated if only we would heed those words of my zaydie.

Our gedolim utter so many words to us about so many things. They preach to us and teach to us. If only they would utter the words that might finally make the difference. If only they would tell us, and then tell us again "Hotz eich lieb." The modern pop song asks "What's love got to do with it?" What? Everything!

So yes, I'll gladly lend out our family motto. Just repeat it every day, as many times as is needed: Hotz eich lieb.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

They are Puzzled

A quick trip to the market this morning, downpour and all, and then an excruciatingly slow wait on line. Luckily someone I know from the neighborhood was also on line so we talked to pass the time. Now, what else do you talk about eruv Yom Kippur if not the fast? So we commiserated that it was going to be miserable walking to get to shul with all the rain and storms predicted. And she offered that her doctor had told her to drink lots of those sports drinks with electrolytes before the fast to help with dehydration and the inevitable headache.

And one of us mentioned the 25 hours the fast would take--and suddenly others on the line, including the check out person were staring at us. "You have fasts that last 25 hours?!" "What do you mean you can't drink--that's not eating?!" One person commented "At least you can get into bed and sleep through it if you have to." Should have seen his face when my friend explained that we were in Synagogue for the evening and for most of the day. Then he made another interesting comment: "Just how much praying to you get done when you're feeling lousy from fasting? Doesn't the fast defeat the purpose of all that praying?"

There was no way to get into an answer to that and still get home to cook, so we didn't bother. How do you explain the power of tefillah on Yom Kippur? How do you explain kavanah in davening? How do you explain knowing you are standing to be judged and opening your heart to God? How do you explain that hope and faith, and yes, fear, get you through the day? And no, I'm not forgetting that many, myself included, do not fast well. How do you explain that prayer trumps pain and you do what you have to, need to do? And then there is this: God said to do it this way, so we do it this way.

That being said, a G'mar Chasima Tova to all. And yes, an easy fast.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Yes, Tate, It was the Best

So, it's in the days before Yom Kippur and I found myself in a far corner of the King Kullen parking lot listening to Yossele Rosenblatt and letting the tears fall. No, no need for concern on anyone's part: I'm perfectly sane. I should have known how that CD was going to affect me and left it for listening at home. But I wanted, no NEEDED to listen to Yossele, because that's what my father would have been doing right about now.

Anyone who has lost a parent will understand when I say you don't really get over it, nor should you. There will be moments when suddenly you are whisked back in time. Sometimes those moments seem so real, so much in the moment now. But they are not. And the tears can flow.

My father, Yechezkel ben Yitzchak a"h, was the middle of five children and the son of a Rosh Yeshiva and rebbi. My zeidah was one of those for whom the beis medrash was truly the right home. That same spark that lit his path to learning was not there as strongly in his sons. They were frum, could pick up a sefer to learn, but were not driven to it in the same way as their father. Zaidah knew his children well, and so each of the sons was sent to learn a trade.

But God put a different spark into my father, gave him a beautiful gift of his own: his voice. Tate had a lyrical tenor voice, one capable of producing chazonish "kopf shtimeh." But it was not only that beautiful voice that was the gift; it was much, much more. When my father was a Baal Tefila he sang not from his voicebox but from his heart and soul. When he davened, the words of the tefilos came alive and took flight, yes piercing the sky and the shaarei shomayim. When my father davened on Yom Kippur falling tears was common enough. When my father was the chazan there was no talking in the "audience." My father was a shaliach tzibur in the best and highest sense of those words.

Tate loved chazonish music and I came to love it too. I remember many an hour sitting by his feet as he listened to Yossele Rosenblatt and Moishe Koussevitzky and the rare recordings of other of the great chazonim. You would not hear in our house the types of comments just too common now, about how the chazon shlepps out the davening and who needs all that gorgling.

So yes, I listen to Yossele Rosenblatt and his beautiful renditions of our tefilos in the days before Yom Kippur, and yes, I am once again sitting next to my Tate and watching the feelings of his heart play out on his face. From others I learned the halachas of Yom Kippur and the other holidays, I learned what tefilos to say when. From my father I learned what those words sounded like and looked like and felt like when heart and soul sent them soaring. Tate gave to me and to others many gifts while he was alive, but among the most precious of those gifts is the memory of what kavanah in davening sounds like when it's more than just words being mouthed.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"Shul Shame"

There's an interesting article in the JWR today about "Shul Shame." For a group of people who can play a solid game of Jewish Geography with strangers met in distant parts of the country or globe, we tend to be far more blase about those who we encounter on a regular basis, or who are our neighbors. And possibly a reason why hachnosas orchim in our own neighborhoods sometimes suffers; you'd have to know someone's name to be able to invite them to your home or to offer them some help.

Community Centers

Once long ago in the wilds of Oregon my family took up residence. Despite the relatively small frum community present at that time, there were two "orthodox" shuls, one barely hanging on by a thread. There was a very large conservative shul. I do vaguely remember there being a reform temple, but I have zero knowledge about it. But what I do remember, and remember vividly, was that Portland had a large Jewish Community Center. Think YMHA without the affiliation. The building contained anything and everything to provide services for ALL of the community. There were two gymnasiums and every type of indoor sports and recreation activity was provided. There was an indoor handball court. There was an Olympic size swimming pool, with both instructional swim and free swim. And, strangely enough given the lack of frum Jews, there were separate men's and women's swim times as well as mixed swim times. There were steam rooms and a sauna. There was fitness equipment. There were rooms for arts and crafts. There were a variety of meeting rooms, from large to small. Some of the rooms could be opened up to form a much larger area for meetings or for catered events.

The center ran all kinds of after school programs and weekend programs. The Jewish youth groups available at that time were the Bnai Brith groups--BBG and AZA--and USY, and they met in the Center. There were all kinds of men's and women's social groups that met there. Every summer the center ran a day camp. You could even arrange to get music lessons at the Center. There were speakers and presentations that were of interest to the Jewish community.

When the day school was begun in Portland no one was worried about having to provide facilities for all the extracurricular activities--what would be the point when the JCC had all of them already and was more than open to scheduling for the kids from the day school?

Then I came to New York. I do remember that there was a YM/YWCA in Boro Park--14th Avenue I believe. They, too, ran a day camp program in the summer. They also had all the sports facilities. And a lot of the people whom I know who were in BP in the 50s and 60s used those facilities. The local yeshivas, what there were of them, didn't have gargantuan facilities. If a school actually had a small gym area it was way ahead of a lot of the others.

After my marriage and when I moved to Staten Island I also found a highly active Jewish Community Center here. It was an older facility, but with all the sports and fitness areas and a pool. It had nursery and day care facilities. It ran a day camp up in the Willowbrook area in a campground that some sleep away camps would love to have. A few years ago the Center moved out of the area where it had been for decades (no long a center for Jewish life in that community) and built a beautiful facility adjoining the Willowbrook campground. It also built an annex on the other side of the Island.

The center in Willowbrook has a strictly kosher cafe, under the SI Vaad, and also has separate men's and women's sports programs as well as mixed programs. They present a lot of programs of interest to the general Jewish community as well as to the frum Jewish community. When my son was in high school at YTT they had arrangements with the Center for swimming and sports nights for the students. The local yeshivas in SI aren't endowed with multi-acre sites, multiple playing fields and state of the art sports venues. When needed, that's what the JCC is for.

It's a shame that more communities don't have Jewish Community Centers. They are an excellent way of providing all kinds of activities without there being duplication on the part of the schools in a community. And yes, I know why a lot of those communities don't have the centers: politics and hashkafah issues. For a center to work, ALL parts of the community would have to cooperate. Far too many groups that would insist that they don't want members of their groups mingling in any way, shape or form with members of the other groups. After all, if boys from yeshiva X and boys from yeshiva Y were to actually find themselves together in the same swimming pool, who knows what strange things they might pick up floating in the water.

I don't think that putting a number of yeshivas all into one mega building would work out, in the Brooklyn area for sure not. However, having one center containing gyms, pools, arts and crafts etc., with the expenses divided among all yeshivas as well as the community at large, and used by all those yeshivas and community members would have a cost benefit. There is way too much duplication of services that one Center could help to eliminate.

Right, yeshivas in a community cooperating for the good of each of them. I know, I know, I'm dreaming again. Well, I don't think that Hertzl was wrong--"If you will it, it is no fairy tale."

Friday, September 18, 2009

Better Than the Lottery

G6 turned what was a crazy day with lots of glitches into a really super day. Why? She nominated me for a Kreative Blogger award. Nicest thing that has happened to me in a long time. And that it comes from G6 makes it even better. I love reading her blog and am pleased as punch that she likes reading mine. So thank you G6. And readers, if you haven't visited her blog yet go on over to for some warm hospitality.
Of course there are some rules attached to getting this award so I'll try and fulfill them in between stirring the pots preparing for yom tov and preparing for school.

You must thank the person who has given you the award. (Okay)

Copy the logo and place it on your blog. After a couple of dozen frustrated attempts at doing this I finally got it thanks to G6.

Link to the person who has nominated you for the award. (Done)
Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

1. I'm beginning to dislike the number 7. Ever meme asks for 7 things and even this reward requires 7 things. I vote that we go back to no more than can be counted on the fingers of one hand, excluding the thumb. My only exception is going to be the seventh day of the week--Shabbos. There I love the number 7.

2. I like thinking in my mind and listening to people speak but for absolute clarity I have to get things down on paper so I can see them. I was the student who always took notes because that was the way I remembered and made sense of things.

3. I believe 100% that birth order affects personality and characteristic development. I'm a first born and I believe I can spot "first born-itis" in others. I don't think it was an accident that my husband appealed to me--he, too, is the oldest child. We share certain characteristics that I've seen in other first born children. Not to say that only first born children can have these characteristics, but mostly they do.

4. I hate lateness of any kind! (see characteristics of a first born child) Being on time for me means getting someplace 10-20 minutes before the time I need to be there. I'd rather sit in the car for a few minutes than risk being late. When I'm invited to someone's home for a meal at X o'clock I expect not to find my hostess just heading into the shower when I arrive.

5. I'm with G6 on this one--I do NOT take out the garbage. Fairly sure there's a codicil in my Kesubah that covers me on this one: I shall create the garbage and he/they shall remove it from my presence.

6. I'm a deeply rooted sentimentalist. I don't believe in new just because it IS new. New will have to prove its worth to me before I'll replace what I know, use and like. However, that being said.....

7. When it comes to labor saving devices, especially the ones used for running a household, I'm all in favor of the ones that have made life simpler and easier. Don't even think of saying to me that a food processor or microwave oven or vacuum cleaner or washer and dryer aren't necessities.

Nominate 7 other Kreativ Bloggers.

This one is not quite so easy as the others. For one thing, a lot of the people I'd have nominated have already been nominated. And for another, some of the blogs I read I think don't quite fall into the category that's being looked for. But I'll give it a try, and apologies ahead of time if I don't quite make it to 7--see my comment above about my feelings about the number 7.

If you haven't been there yet (and why haven't you?!), I hereby nominate SerandEz for this award. Never know quite what I'm going to get there, but it's always interesting. (And before you yell Ezzie, the maxim says that if you want something done, ask a busy person: they know how to make time: ergo, I'm nominating you.)

A blogger fairly new to the circuit is Harry-er. I like his use of quotations and stories to build a post around. I think that good bloggers should be encouraged to develop. Looking forward to seeing his blog grow.

I know that she has already been nominated, but if she hadn't I for sure would have nominated bad4 for this award. And yes, the same goes for G6 And anyone who thinks that these two "non" nominations don't count for the seven required, well, I wasn't a math major and I can add any way I want to.

I seem to have an affinity for learning-type blogs. Two I particularly enjoy are Matt at and The Rebbetzin's Husband at I believe that both of these bloggers offer creativity along with their content. And interspersed between the Divrei Torah are some really interesting personal takes on a lot of ideas and topics that we all can chew on. And whatever their reactions are to these awards, I just know they are going to forgive me for adding to their busy lives right now; after all, it's almost Yom Kippur. (At worst, they'll both produce a derasha on why blogs with divrei Torah should be exempt from blogging awards, and I'd bet they would be interesting derashot too.)

I'm also nominating SuperRaizy over at She's got an eclectic group of postings, which I like. Reading her blog also reminds me of why God, in His wisdom, gave the raising of children to the young. I surely remember some of the child raising situations she writes about, and I'm surely happy that I'm reading about them instead of still doing them.

Yup, that's seven, fuzzy math and all.

Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate. (Done)

* Leave a comment on all 7 blogs to notify them they have been nominated. This is the chicken little moment and I'm definitely going to do this, but I'm going to plead erev yom tov-itis. Right after yom tov--I promise!

Tagged: Superpower meme

Bad4 and frumsinglefemale both tagged me for the superpower meme. At first I was puzzled: you mean I don't already have all the superpowers I want and need? Given how I feel about keeping my feet on the ground, leaping tall buildings in a single bound isn't something I want. As a mom and teacher I already have the power to move objects and people without touching them--one glare/stare and off they go. I can cause the world to go silent just by walking into class and saying "We're having a quiz tonight." And some of the things I would really love to be able to do I wouldn't be able to do because no superpower is going to circumvent God's power.

But if I could have "another" superpower, one that would make me happy, it would be the power to eliminate emptiness, where ever I hear of its being present. The emptiness of a child who goes to sleep hungry because there is no food in the home to eat. The emptiness of a refrigerator in a home where there is no money to buy food. The emptiness of a person's heart who has no one to care for them or about them. The emptiness of a wife's arms because she cannot have children. The emptiness of an older couple's home whose children no longer come or call. The emptiness of the hours of the day that stretch out seemingly forever for the person who has lost a job and cannot find another one. The emptiness that hollows out a person who has nothing to look forward to today, and tomorrow won't be any better.

Come to think about it, that eliminating emptiness superpower is actually out there somewhere and available to not just me, but to all of us. Maybe the superpower I should be asking for is the power to find that emptiness eliminating superpower, to recognize it when I see it. Maybe I don't need a superpower at all but need to open my eyes and really see, open my heart and really feel, open my arms and connect.

Maybe not what bad4 and frumsingle had in mind when they tagged me, but that's what I want. And I wouldn't mind sharing that power with all the rest of you either.

I'm going to break the rules of this meme a bit (hey, it's erev yom tov and you want me to think?!) and for right now I'm going to tag anyone who is reading this and who has a blog. Let us know what superpower you would want.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Marshmallows huh?

If you need a few minutes to relax in the midst of the yom tov preparations, head on over to Matt's blog and watch the Marshmallow video. Bet you know some adults just like these children.

Blessings of the New Year

A Shana Tova U'mesukah to all of you and your families. May we all be zocheh to see a year filled with a multitude of blessings. May all those whose hearts are full of joy find themselves with with that joy multiplied. And may all those whose hearts have pain see that pain exchanged for joy. May those in need of one receive a refuah. For all the parents among you, may you see much nachas from your children and may you be zocheh to celebrate simchas with them. To those married but not yet parents, may you soon see the incredible joy of holding a child in your arms. For those who are single, may your zivug arrive this year and may you dance in joy and in happiness at your wedding and for all the years of your marriage.

With thanks to Hashem Yisborach for letting me come to this new year, to celebrate it with my husband and my children and with the zchus of having my mother here as well.

A zissen yom tov and a gutten Shabbos.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Someone is Going to Hurt: Who is it Going to be?

I am just stating the obvious when I say that in bad financial times people have to cut back, cut down and cut out. You can't have it all when there isn't enough money to pay for that "all." An interesting discussion ensued in school on just this idea. One person, however, seems to have put his finger on one of the reasons why a lot of Klal either can't do this cutting or doesn't want to do this cutting.

In the frummer neighborhoods services are provided by other frum people. Let me use Flatbush/Midwood as an example. Go up and down the various shopping areas and what you see are dozens of stores that are owned by frum people, and whose target audience of shoppers is the frum community. Clothing stores of all types whose merchandise is strictly aimed at frum consumers. Kosher restaurants in abundance. Bakeries and butchers on seemingly every block. Seforim and gift shops. Candy and nut shops. Kosher grocery stores carrying no treif merchandise. Now expand your looking a little and you will see catering halls of every type and description, from the very small to the gigantic.

There are also obviously frum stores which aim at a broader customer base, carrying items suitable for everyone, not just frum customers. However, at heart, they count on the frum community to be their base support. Appliance stores are the prime example. Everyone can be a customer for a microwave. But Shabbos urns? Shabbos clocks? Shabbos mode appliances?

Cutting back, down or out on any of the goods and services mentioned above (and others not mentioned) means that your savings will result in less money available to another frum person. And where there is less money available to that frum person, that person will have less to spend in the other frum stores. And will have less money available for tzedaka purposes. And will have less money available for school tuition or donations to a school.

Those communities that have made themselves dependent on only frum providers of goods and services have placed some people in a sticky financial situation. They have only X amount of money right now, and X amount will only buy them 30-80% of what they need or want, if they shop at the frum stores. But supporting their fellow Jews is a mitzvah and a requirement. They continue to shop only at these frum stores. And because they don't wish to cause financial harm to another Jew, they cause themselves some financial harm.

Let me get more specific. I have posted before about the price of clothing in frum clothing stores. Frankly, it's obscene. No, every general clothing store may not carry an abundance of choice in clothing that is tsniusdik. But they do have some, and have the clothes at prices so far below the frum stores that the differential is really not funny. A beautiful tiered, long denim skirt, up to the minute "modern," purchased online for $12.99 including shipping, on sale. Seen that price in a frum store lately? A beautiful patterned, lined, long skirt, up to the minute modern, purchased at Today's Woman on sale for $16.99 with a $5 off coupon from the newspaper, for $11.99 total. 3/4 sleeve cotton tops with high necklines on sale at Kohls for $6.99 each. The list could and does go on and on.

Yes, there are some types of stores that we need to be under frum ownership and supervision. But just how many bakeries does a frum community need? How many butcher shops? How many seforim stores? And just how many kosher restaurants and caterers are "necessary"? Do we truly need a pizza shop on every corner?

For business owners, limiting themselves only to a frum clientele works only some of the time--the financial boom times. But when things get tight financially these business owners are going to suffer--maybe. They'll suffer if their frum customers look at their personal finances and say "I can't spend as much or I can't spend at all." The problem is where the customers have rachmonos on the store owners, because they are a fellow Jew, and spend money they really can't afford to spend.

With only a few exceptions, it's a bad business model to base all your possible sales on one specific sub-group, particularly if you are in competition with many other stores targeting that specific group. Frum store owners need to learn how to diversify if they are going to keep earnings steady. And it wouldn't hurt if they had competitive prices with the "outside" world either.

There's an English saying that covers what I've just said: "Don't put all your eggs in one basket." It applies to customers, who should be looking all over for the best prices available, and it applies to stores, which need to expand their customer base.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Real, The Imagined, The Censored

The fact that many yeshivas stringently censor the reading material allowed in their classes is well known. The yeshivas are worried that much of what is available in secular reading material is not supportive of frum ideals and ideology. In many cases whole genres of reading material are censored. I recall mentioning on this blog that a RW yeshiva I taught in ossured a math workbook in which a father was washing dishes--this was not the image the school wanted their students to have of what a father does.

But it's not just the yeshivas that are fooling around with what is read in the classroom. And some of what is going on in the outside world is a bit scary. The link that follows is to a 5-part video series of a Fox News report on textbooks in the classroom. I'm not 100% in agreement with everything in the report, but there is sufficient there to make me wonder about just what constitutes an education in at least some parts of the US today.

Why post this on the anniversary of 9/11? Revisionist history is nothing new. Even in the few years since the events of 9/11 there are already some people who have been changing around the facts of what happened to fit a different agenda. What will people learn about 9/11 fifty years from now? Will our textbooks then tell it like it was, or will they rearrange, change, and eliminate the "facts" to present things as they want them to be?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Answer is to Tax it to Death?

The Governor of NY had an idea of how to raise funds while ostensibly providing a health benefit to the citizenry. He proposed putting an 18% tax on sodas and all other sweetened drinks. "Studies show" that there is a link between soda and sweet drink consumption and obesity. [Just an interesting side note: studies also show that there is a high correlation between obesity and lack of physical movement--couch potatoes are fatter than those who are physically active. So of course it makes sense that school boards across the country have for many years been shortening or doing away with recess time during school hours, and have shortened the number of times a week that students get physical education classes.] The legislature turned down the proposal.

Yesterday no less than our President was floating the same idea, only with the intention of doing this nationally, connected to the new health plan that our government is wrestling with. It was also reported that some of the most vocal proponents of the new health plan stepped away quickly from this idea and said "No way!"

If we learned nothing else from Prohibition then we should have learned that government interference in the consumption of legal products results in chaos and crime. And this is not alcohol and tobacco that is being talked about: it's Coke and lemonade and iced tea and fruit punch and ALL sweetened drinks. So if grape juice has sugar in it then it, too, would get the tax? And here's a question: are products like Coke Zero or any of the other diet sodas and drinks which don't use sugar as a sweetener then going to be exempt from the additional tax? What about "natural" products that are naturally higher in sugar, like orange juice?

I understand the government's having concerns about the health of the country's citizens. But shouldn't education be their front line weapon? Develop a module for the country's schools about the "evil" of sweetened drinks and the possible health affects. And for heavens sake stop selling those same sodas and sweetened drinks inside of schools if you are really so worried!

What's going to be next? A proposed 27% tax on all bakery goods? A 22% tax on cake mixes? A 30% tax on chocolate bars? The amount of sugar in those products is far higher than in the drinks. And if we are going to tax sugar out of existence, can salt and fat be far behind?

Yes, I realize the government needs money in order to function. Yes, it has expenses. Yes, it does provide services for its citizenry, services that have to be paid for. But could that government please stop treating us like congenital idiots and stop supposing that we won't see through something that would be obvious to a vision impaired person?! An 18% tax on sweet drinks has very little to do with health concerns and an awful lot to do with revenue sources.

Please note: I am not a proponent of loading ourselves up with excess sugar. I am also not a proponent of loading ourselves up with excess taxes. You know how we are all complaining about how yeshivas are usurping our roles as parents? I don't like it any better when the government plays "Big Brother" or "Big Father."

Repair or Replace?

I imagine that we've all been faced in our lives with an item that we own that is not working as well as it should be. Cars frequently fall into this category, so let's look at those cars.

You're driving along and a warning light suddenly flashes on your dashboard. What do you do? You pull into a gas station and put in gas, if that is what the light is warning you about. Or you put in oil if that's what the warning is about. You're driving and the car seems to be listing to one side. You pull into a station and check your tires, putting in air where necessary. These types of car repairs are the obvious ones and also the ones for which there is an immediate fix. Mostly we take care of such minor repairs immediately. They cost us little in terms of time and money. Sometimes we ignore those warning lights. Who really worries about putting freon in the airconditioning system when it's 42 degrees outside and snowing? We put the freon in the back of our minds to be dealt with at some point in the future.

You're driving along and your car suddenly starts making a weird groaning sound. Now you have a problem of a different kind. When you pull into the station you are not quite sure what you are going to have to fix. The mechanic listens to your car and tells you the words that strike terror in your heart: it could be the starter or it could be the engine block or it could be the brakes or it could be the exhaust system or it could be none of these or all of these. So you leave the car with the mechanic and pray a lot. Will this be a cheap repair? You hope so. But what if the repair is going to be costly? Is it worth putting in all that money into your car? Now you have to figure differently. How old is your car? Is it otherwise in great condition? How many more years could you reasonably expect to get out of the car? Does the car seem to be spending more time with the mechanic than it does with you? And yes, do you have the money to repair the car right now? If the repair will seem to cost more than the car is worth, do you have the money to buy another car? And if you have money neither for the repair nor for a new car, what alternate means of transport are available to you?

Some car owners are very good about doing routine maintenance on their vehicles, whether or not the vehicle is "misbehaving." They reason that a little preventive maintenance now will help them to avoid major repairs or replacement later. Other car owners take the attitude of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." Some car owners are truly clueless about what it takes to maintain a car in top condition. Their attitude is that cars, once they leave the factory, should remain in perfect condition for the rest of their long, long lives. They place cars into the same category as things such as pictures framed and hung on the walls. Those pictures don't require maintenance so why should their cars?

Some cars fall into a different category than that described above: they are leased vehicles. You are paying to use that car but major problems with the car are not your responsibility; the leasing company needs to take care of these problems. Sometimes you may not like the way the car is driving but the leasing company either says there is no problem or there may be a problem but they're not going to fix it; if you want it fixed you're going to pay extra for that. You may or may not agree to pay that extra money. Maybe you'll just continue to drive that car, problems and all. And then the car has a major breakdown. You look to place the blame somewhere. The leasing company points the finger at you and you point your finger at the leasing company. Maybe it is the fault of the leasing company or maybe it is your fault. Or maybe it's both of your faults. Either way, there is going to be money and work involved in getting the vehicle back into working order. And sometimes that vehicle has gone as far as it is going to go and it's time to replace it.

Now imagine that it is not your car that you are dealing with. Maybe what needs repair or replacement is the yeshiva where you send your children. Maybe it's the way that vaads of kashrut are organized and run. Maybe it's how shidduchim are made. Maybe it's any one of the other issues on the agenda for Klal. We assumed for too long, way too long, that these organizations of Klal could run at optimum efficiency with little or no maintenance. We assumed that these organizations were the best vehicles we could buy. We seem to have gone to wholesale leasing when it comes to these organizations and let them dictate to us the terms of usage. And we're letting our past behavior dictate how we are responding to some real malfunctions. Some of the organizations of Klal are in need of complete overhaul, or maybe even replacement. Some have gone way beyond their logical years of use and need a new model in place. To be honest, we've spent more time in the past worrying about the state of our cars than we have in worrying about the state of Klal's organizations. And we have surely gone beyond the stage of merely talking about there being problems. Painful as it may be, it's time to yank out some old parts and replace them with new.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Public Service Announcement

NY State has a program that more people should be taking advantage of (I believe that some other states offer this program as well). The State offers a 6-hour Defensive Driving Course. Now the course all on its own is a good idea but it brings some added benefits with it. For one thing, upon course completion a certificate is sent to the state DMV and one is mailed to you to send to your insurance company. The certificate is good for three years. It will result in a 10% reduction in your car insurance (or at least the liability, no fault and collision portion of it--check your insurance company) for each of the three years. In addition, if you have points on your licence it will reduce/remove up to 4 of those points.

These courses are offered in a number of physical locations. However, they are also now offered online. This is a blessing for many people. You can now take that course 24/7 from the comfort of your own home--no trying to fit in when a course is given outside into your living schedule. In addition, you don't need to sit through the six hours straight when you take the course online; after you finish one of the modules (there are four of them) you can log out and log back in as your schedule and sitting power allows. Oh yes, there is no final exam in this course, although there are very short quizzes at the end of each of the four study modules, so breathe easy.

If you want to find a state-approved site for the course in your state just google "defensive driving class online." The site I'm using offered a reduced rate of $34.50 for the course. You can check it out at

Given today's climate for "short-cutting" everything, please note that the course verifies who is taking the course at various points throughout your taking the course. Before you begin you get a phone number to call and they log a voice recognition on your voice. At some point in each module you have to call the phone number that flashes on the screen and you are asked to give a voice sample again to match with the original sample. (and this is timed--about 75 seconds to respond or you are logged out of the module and course.) There are also a few factual questions that you are asked to answer before the course begins. As you progress these questions are flashed on the screen and you have only a few seconds to answer them. In short, the person registering for the course is the person who actually needs to be taking the course.

Confusion Without Measure

G6 mentioned on a recent posting Zwetschgenkuchen a problem that has faced many of us who do our own cooking and baking. This problem is seen in particular when we are talking about family/heirloom recipes. The problem is not in the taste; it's in how to duplicate that taste when we go to make the recipes ourselves. And the problem has to do with measurement.

Years back I served on the PTA board of my daughters' high school. Our big fundraising project for the year was to equip a home economics room. I was asked to give a speech at a PTA meeting in support of the project. As part of it I mentioned just how much "traditional" Jewish cooking has changed since the time of our grandmothers. One of the things I talked about was how measurements were referred to "in the olden days."

Before I got married I sat with my mom and with a set of standard measuring spoons and measuring cups. I spent hours translating "traditional" measurements into something I could make sense of. Why? Because my mom, and the women of the generation before hers, used the following measurement system.

Recipes told you to add "a bissele" or even "ah klein bissele." Sometimes they told you to add "a tropele." Sometimes you needed only "a spritz." Sometimes you were told to add "a pinch." Then there were the instructions to "add a handful," "add a small handful," "add a large handful." As G6 pointed out, sometimes the instructions said to "add a loffel (spoon)." How big or small a spoon?! My favorites were the instructions to add "a vasser glessele," "a vein glessele," or a "bronfen glessele." These "glass" measurements were further complicated because many a household used empty glass yahrzeit candle glasses to drink from. Sometimes a recipe would tell you to "add a few____" into the pot? Any idea of how many "a few" is?

To confuse matters even more, some of the recipes said to put in a "zuppen teller's" worth of an ingredient, or perhaps a "klein shussel's" worth of something. I've owned many a set of dishes over the years of my marriage, and all the bowls in the different sets held differing amounts of content.

My mom has now for decades used standard measuring cups and spoons in her baking. Even with her doing this, recipes she gives out may not always taste the same when someone else makes them. This is because of a different "unmeasurable" rule that is in place. Some of the recipes say to taste before cooking, and if necessary to "adjust the flavorings to taste." Yup, really quantifiable.

But being really honest here, some of my own recipes are in the "old style." When I'm sprinkling spices on the chicken I sprinkle until the chicken "looks right." Unless you've been standing next to me when I put on the spices this is not going to be awfully informative. And yes, I've been known to use the washing "teppel" to add water to a pot. The size of these washing teppels can vary greatly. Maybe some day I'll actually measure out how much liquid I'm talking about. Otherwise, my daughters are more than welcome to do that measurement for themselves.

My aunt a"h made the most incredible carrot cake I've ever eaten. Unfortunately none of us have been able to duplicate it exactly (although I came awfully close last year) because the recipe her kids found used the old fashioned measurements for all the ingredients. You may know what you are talking about when you say "a bissele," but do future generations a favor and pass down recipes in standard format.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hands Off My Kids!

A blog posting on Sunday disturbed me greatly (what else is new). I've posted before on the topic of "Whose children are they?" Yeshivas seem to be in direct competition with parents for who will influence the children, who will decide what derech they will take, who will decide what is right and wrong. Well, camps have, for some time, been part of that equation. But the action by an employee of a day camp that Super Raizy wrote about goes beyond the pale. To see the whole posting "Big Sister is Watching Us" go to

The line that makes my blood boil is this one: "It turns out that one of the girls invited their former counselor to join, and this counselor called the director of the day camp and told her that the girls had started a blog. The director then asked the counselor for the URL and password, and deleted the entire blog without warning. "

Camp was over. A group of CITs began a blog, not mentioning the name of the camp in the blog title. They were chatting and basically saying "camp was so much fun." The director, their FORMER employer, clearly had problems with this. Did she call the parents of the children involved? Did she present to the parents her concerns? Did she ASK that the blog be taken down? Nope. She unilaterally deleted the blog. What's more, she was not given the password and url for the blog by those who put it up. They asked their FORMER counselor if she would like to post and gave that counselor the password for the purpose of posting. Instead, the counselor went straight to the camp director.

First, I am concerned that any camp director would behave in such a fashion. It is not the director's right nor responsibility to monitor what the children do outside of her tiny domain, and certainly not when they are no longer in camp. She placed her judgment above that of the parents of the children involved by never even contacting these parents. She took it upon herself to act as judge and jury.

But what truly worries me is the reaction of one of the children. She asked her mom not to say anything or do anything about the situation. Now, why do you suppose she would do so? Take away a favored toy from a child and you are going to hear complaining right and left. You're going to hear "Ma, do something! ____ took my toy!" But this is a blog, and by extention the Internet, that you are talking about. There are those whose religious viewpoint is decidedly anti-blog. They don't allow blogs for their children nor for themselves. They view the Internet as the Great Evil Empire. They are hardly quiet about making their views known. Maybe the child who didn't want mom making a fuss has got a grasp of there being something "off" about blogging that some people are going to react to negatively. Maybe this child got the idea that if she wants to work at this camp again next summer she had better keep quiet and keep her mom quiet now. I can't tell you if this is what went through the child's mind, but it's a plausible scenario. Maybe she didn't want to rock the boat. But here's the thing: she should never have been placed in this position to begin with. And oh what a lesson she may have learned.

Nonetheless, that this happened at all goes beyond disturbing. If you don't like what one of my minor children is doing, you come to ME and tell me. And if I tell you to go fly a kite, then grab that kite and go fly. This is MY child you are talking about. She is MY responsibility. You want to share parenting duties with me? Really, truly? Let's start with the basic parental responsibilities then. Hand me over a check for her tuition for next year. Pay for her braces and her glasses and her shoes. You be here to welcome her home from school and you cook supper for her. You do the laundry. She's not feeling well? You take her to the doctor and pick up the prescriptions and pay for them. You talk to her when she's in the dumps. You be the one to cheer her up. You be the one to stay up nights doing homework with her. You be the one to give her chizuk that life is going to be fine. Because if you don't do these things and all the others of millions of things that a REAL parent does for their child, you haven't the right to have a say in what she does in MY home. You surely have no right to second guess ME. If I say it is okay for my child to be doing X, how dare you say no!

There are different ways that this situation could be handled, and not every parent would choose the same way. I am not (in case you haven't noticed) the type to let something like this go. When you allow bullies (and yes, this director qualifies for the definition of bully--someone bigger/older who beats up on you) to commit such an act then they believe that no one will stop them or can stop them and they will not only continue but escalate their acts of terrorism.

It's a truism that parents say they would take a bullet for their child. They would place their life in danger to save the life of their child. No, the loss of the blog was not physically life threatening. But it was a poisoned arrow aimed directly at parental authority and control. I have gone beyond sick and tired when it comes to this type of unwarranted and unwanted intrusion into family life. When YOU, out there, no matter what position you may have in a camp or school, tell my child that she is wrong for doing something that I have allowed that child to do, you are clearly telling that child that her parent is wrong, is faulty, is not a good parent. What sniveling cowards! This camp director didn't have the guts--and maybe not the brains--to go to the parents and present her case.

I know one thing: none of mine are ever going to go to a camp that she is a director of. She clearly has an agenda that doesn't mesh with mine. And she clearly lacks mentchlichkeit.

Enough said--your turn.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Where Else But Staten Island?!

Today Hatzolah of Staten Island had its second annual Family Day. There's a local public school with a humongous play yard. They get the use, not only of the play yard but of streets surrounding the school, which are blocked off. They brought in every kind of kiddie ride and climbing construction, but they also had Uncle Moishey and three other live performances. They also had mini exhibitions--like a science teacher doing all kinds of kid friendly demonstrations about fire safety for one. And then there was the food. Barbeque and salads and fruits and drinks and deserts. One admission gives you all day access. (Yeah, and you got a Hatzolah t-shirt and fabric back pack just for paying the entrance fee.)

The place was packed all day. Why not? There was something for everyone there. Lots and lots of people from outside of Staten Island were there. A chance for the family to have fun while supporting a worthwhile tzedaka. All the food and rides--everything that was provided--were donated to Hatzolah, so the money charged for entry all went to Hatzolah.

We were sitting under one of the canopies erected to shade the eating areas when a person at our table made an interesting comment. She said that this couldn't happen in Brooklyn. We asked her to explain and she did. This was a mixed attendance program--males and females of all ages. The kids' activities were not segregated by sex. Little boys and girls waited in the same line to get on a ride. There weren't separate table areas for males and females. The food area didn't have separate sides for males and females. As people walked about they stopped to talk to others they knew, frequently introducing people who were with them; again, no separation. The funny thing, though, was that you had plenty of people there who had the Brooklyn "look." I guess if it takes place in Staten Island it's okay that it's mixed.

Strange thing though. There was someone at the other end of the table we were sitting at who had overheard the comments. She piped up that she was from Brooklyn. Her husband didn't come with her and the kids because it was kind of iffy for him because of the mixed sexes, but he had no problem with his wife taking the kids and having a good time. Especially since they could use the "teretz" that it was a tzedaka gathering. She didn't bring her 9-year-old son though. He is already old enough to "feel uncomfortable" (her words) in such a mixed environment.

Really, truly, I'm beginning to think that you should need a passport and visa when crossing over the Verrazano Bridge. Brooklyn and SI so do not occupy space in the same universe.

Tuna Patties

A reader asked for the recipe I use for tuna patties but didn't give an email address, so I'm posting the recipe here. I've adjusted the recipe because of the change in tuna can sizes.

6 cans of 5 oz. tunafish
6 eggs or the equivalent in egg substitute
2 heaping tablespoons of dried chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of dried dill
1 heaping tablespoon of onion powder
1 scant tablespoon of garlic powder
1 tablespoon of paprika
3 cups of any of the following: soft fresh breadcrumbs (challah crumbs work fine), corn flake crumbs, matza meal.
Oil for frying (I use canola or grapeseed)

Drain the tuna fish, reserving some of the liquid. Flake or mash the tuna until in fine shreds. Sprinkle the crumbs and spices over the tuna and mix well. Add in the eggs and mix until completely incorporated. If the mixture is very stiff add in a bit of the reserved tuna juices to soften. If the mixture is too stiff the patties will be too dry. the mixture should be soft but not runny.

Pour in enough oil into the pan to coat well. Heat over medium heat. Using a standard soup spoon, place a spoon's worth of mixture in the palm of one hand, and flatten and shape into a round patty with the other hand. Place the patties into the fry pan and fry until until medium golden brown on one side. Flip over and do the same for the other side.

The patties can be served warm, room temperature or even cold out of the fridge. My kids like any extras to take for lunch to work.

The recipe will give you about 30 small patties.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Easy Shmeezy

I am not, under general circumstances, a violent person. I've learned to smile at provocation rather than indulge in a slanging match. I've been told I can be quite diplomatic. I also know which buttons, when pushed, are going to have me seeing red and acting accordingly.

A lot of people at this time of year aren't just pushing the buttons--they're banging on them with sledge hammers. You see, I teach. And teachers seem to be everybody's favorite whipping boy. There is no aspect of a teacher and his/her teaching that doesn't come in for a lot of criticism, none of it thinly veiled or concealed at all.

We teachers have the cushiest jobs in the entire universe. We don't work very many hours and get paid as if we did. We roll out of bed at about two minutes before the school bell rings. We walk into class and then sit and stare out of the windows for the rest of the day. Or even better, we sit on the computers in our classrooms and check our email, pay bills, chat with friends, read blogs, play games and shop. Preparation to face 20-30 students every day? Nah, why bother. The answer to parents' homework with the kids dilemma? We teachers don't give any, and therefore have none to mark. Tests? We buy those ready made. Lesson plans? We buy those too.

Our perks are absolutely the greatest perks ever seen in any profession anywhere. If we work in a yeshiva setting, we get parallel vacations to our own children. Sure we do--ever seen the wide differences in the school schedule from one yeshiva to another? They exist. Look at that--yeshiva teachers get all the Jewish holidays off with pay. That they don't get the regular legal holidays off is way beside the point. And yup, yeshivas just throw the benefits at us. Free health care? How about any health insurance. Retirement accounts? In what universe? And the size of our salaries? Wow, wow, wow!

And facing those 20-30 students? Hey, that's the easy part. Every one of those students comes in every day with the most perfect attitude. They are eager to learn anything and everything that you want to teach them. They never, ever come in in a bad mood. They never, ever form cliques. They never, ever argue with their fellow classmates. They always exhibit the highest level of behavior. They never, ever come in too tired to concentrate because they haven't gotten enough sleep. They never, ever cheat, with or without the assistance of their parents and siblings and fellow students.

And every one of them is super bright--Einstein pales in comparison. They all learn quickly and easily. There is no subject that gives any of them any trouble. Every assignment is done to perfection, meaning no input necessary from us. No one ever fidgets during class. No one ever reads a comic book hidden behind the gemorah, or sits with their cell phone in his/her lap text messaging and playing games. Not a one of them ever leaves to the bathroom and comes back 30 minutes later.

And you know what else? Every one of those students that I should be paying the school for the privilege of knowing them has the most incredible parents ever seen. Those parents always volunteer when asked. Those parents are themselves trained teachers and so offer their suggestions to me on how to improve based on experience, education and acquired skills. Those parents have 100% realistic expectations of what I'm going to do for their children. They know without a doubt that their children are just perfect, and if I don't think so, the problem is all mine. Those parents are 100% realistic in how they view their children. Those parents never tell a teacher "Chaim is an A student in every class but yours. What are you doing so that he isn't an A student by you?" They also never say "Chaim gets straight A's in history. Why isn't he getting straight A's in English? It's not like it's so hard like history."

I've been teaching college for the past ten years and I was thankful because I knew that I wouldn't have to deal with parents any more--yeah, right. I teach at a college under Jewish auspices and the parents of the students still have not gotten it through their heads that college is not like elementary and high school--they call, and call, and call. And by law, I can't talk to them about their children.

In the course of my career I have taught every grade from nursery through seniors in college, excepting fifth grade. I've taught English as a second language students and English as a primary language students. I've taught accelerated classes and I've spent time teaching students with learning disabilities. I've been a Vice Principal, a department head and a program supervisor. I have spent enough years in the classroom to make a definitive statement about what goes on in a classroom: it isn't easy. Those of you who think it is, put your money where your mouths are. Quit whatever job you are doing now and come and be a teacher. Don't worry about any training or education; after all, you already know how to do our jobs better than we do. And God have mercy on you--you're going to need it.

Just a little note: Anyone here work at a job where, when you need to use the bathroom, you aren't "allowed" to go? Any office you know of where the employees can't just go when they have to go? Teachers have to develop "directed bladders." Leaving a classroom unsupervised can't be done.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Numbers Speak

After I had been blogging about 4 months, my sister began nudging me to get a hit counter and put it on the blog. To keep her happy I did. I'm still not sure what the numbers really say about the blog, but I hit one just now that seems to have weight--100,000 hits. This will probably make my sister really happy. Just keep in mind that the 100,000 hits and a small inheritance from a wealthy uncle might get me on the subway (unless the MTA decides to reach into my pocket yet again).

Nonetheless, to those who have come to read here and have kept the numbers flowing upwards, thanks for "hitting on me."

And the Blogger is........

Nefesh b'Nefesh has made its decision and the blogger chosen to accompany the new olim on a flight next week is bad4shidduchim. Applause! Her reporting should be interesting to say the very least. (Preening a little here at having a student who is the Chosen One.)

Speaking of Innovative

I received the following via email this morning. There's been some talk on the blogosphere about financial incentives, whether for students or parents. This raises things to a new and different level.

Fleetwood Synogogue
Modern Orthodox--eruv--kosher shopping
25 minutes to Grand Central
Closer than Teaneck!
Up to $30,000 move-in bonus!
Discovery days: 9/6 & 10/25 @ 1PM
120 East Broad Street Mount Vernon, New York

Need a bigger place to live?
Want a Shul where everybody knows your name?
Fleetwood Synagogue, a modern Orthodox shul in Westchester County, NY, is offering a $30K bonus to families who buy a house.
Go to to learn more.

The World is not the Only Thing Getting Smaller

Shopping is frustrating enough without getting mad and aggravated during the process. Yesterday I couldn't help that aggravation. I noticed in one of the supermarket circulars that solid white tuna was on sale and at an excellent price. Add in that I had a couple of coupons for the tuna and I should have been a real happy camper--NOT. Looking at those cans--and I'm talking national brand here--something just seemed a bit off. Now granted, I stocked up on tuna a few months ago so I was even being l'chav z'chus that it was me, not having shopped for tuna for awhile, that was having a problem, not the tuna.

But the niggling persisted and I started to scrutinize the can. Lo and behold I found the problem. You know those six ounce cans of tuna that used to be standard? Well no more. Those cans are now only 5 ounces. A check of the tuna shelf showed that all those big name brands were now coming with less tuna in the can. So a sale, yes, but getting less for your money. Time to adjust my recipes as well. I make tuna patties and/or loaf for the yom tovim. My recipe calls for 5 cans of tuna, but that's 6 oz. tuna. To get the same amount of tuna I'm now going to have to use 6 cans of that 5 oz. tuna.

Some companies try to con the consumer by announcing that there is a benefit to the consumer from some new type of packaging. They gloss over the fact that there is less product in the package. One orange juice company went to a 59 oz. bottle this way. Lots of shampoo companies that have changed to a grip-friendly bottle and are giving you less shampoo at the same time. Reynolds went to a smaller box for its 200-foot roll--they boast that the box will take up less room on the shelf in your kitchen. And the foil takes up less room in the box because it's not as thick as it used to be. Apparently the tuna fish producing companies couldn't think of a good enough con to make consumers think there was a benefit to less tuna in the can, so they just snuck it up onto the shelves.

And so the consumer gets rooked yet once again.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Yeshiva Business Model?

I've been thinking about how Yeshivas can change the way they do business so as to effect cost-cutting measures. What popped into my mind was the airline industry, and in what ways yeshivas parallel that industry and in what ways they don't. Amazingly, there was a lot of congruence between these two seemingly disparate organizations. In no specific order, here's what came to mind.

1. Airlines come in all sizes. Some are quite small; some are quite large. Some of the smaller airlines provide niche services; they may get private executives and those with money to pay the huge fees to where they want to go in luxury and real comfort. Other of the small airlines provide a service in a geographic area that would otherwise not have air travel available. They may be "the only game in town," and they may either keep their prices low, needing the good will of the people they service, or they may keep their prices high, reasoning that their customers have no other options. Some smaller airlines clearly have less expenses than the larger airlines because they have less planes and less personnel; on the other hand, because they are smaller they may not qualify for the reductions in purchasing costs that a larger airline can negotiate through size alone. Obviously, some yeshivas are larger and some are smaller. Some serve niche purposes. Some charge more than others.

2. Frequent Flyer Miles: Some airlines offer points for traveling which can translate into reduced price tickets or free tickets. Parents with many children in a yeshiva get these types of frequent flyer miles in reduced or no tuition. Each airline has a different policy of how and when such miles are earned and how and when they may be used. Ditto the yeshivas. But one thing anyone trying to use those frequent flyer miles for free or reduced tickets knows is the airlines offer very few of these types of seats on any given flight. There may be only 2-4 of these seats on a flight, out of 300 available seats. Hey, the airlines aren't in business to lose money. The yeshivas shouldn't be either.

3. Free Travel to Personnel: Those who work for an airline can get free travel on that airline. They aren't traveling first class, nor is the free travel available on every flight. The free seats are limited in number and will depend on whether or not a flight is full. Nonetheless, that travel is available and is considered a perk of being in the airline business. Yeshiva personnel get the same "free travel" in that they may receive free tuition for their children. Some yeshivas will offer this perk to only some of their personnel; others are doing away with this or severely limiting it. About time. Airlines don't give that free travel to their employees in unlimited amounts, nor can they take all their family members with them for free, just themselves. And you don't hear the airline industry saying that it is making free travel available sometimes in lieu of higher salaries, or because their employees make such low salaries. If and when this free travel cuts into paying business or threatens the airline economically, it will be "gone with the wind." Most yeshivas can no longer afford to offer this perk to their employees.

4. Space Utilization: Specific classes of airplanes (a 747 for instance) all have the same outside dimensions; they may, however, differ in how the space is configured on the inside of the plane. Some of these planes have less seats, but this results in higher fares to make up for the lost revenue. Other airlines squeeze as many seats as is possible into this space, thus producing more revenue for the airlines. Sometimes the airlines may pass along some of their extra money to the customers by reducing fares; other times they don't. Some yeshivas have more students per class, some have less. The less students in a classroom, the lower the revenue produced, in general.

In addition, some airlines which are smaller have joined together with other smaller airlines, or even sometimes with larger airlines, to purchase or rent terminal space. The amount of money in overhead to maintain a terminal for their own, small usage is too prohibitive financially to make sense. Do we really need all the yeshiva buildings we presently have, with their duplicated expenses? Wouldn't one larger building hosting many smaller yeshivas make more sense?

5. Classes of Service: Many airlines have at least three levels of service on any given airplane: first class, business class and coach. Coach may be further divided into a whole alphabet soup of fare classes. Thus the same exact seat that you are sitting in may have cost you more or less than your neighbor in the next seat paid. Those in the higher fare classes are paying way more than those in the lowest coach seats; their payments help to subsidize the lower fares in coach. Airlines seem to have no problem in raising first class fares; they reason that those with the money to pay those fares aren't going to cavil about a "little" extra cost. Yeshivas also seem to have developed this kind of a "fare" policy. Some people with children in a yeshiva are paying a lot more than others are. Even in the yeshiva "coach" pricing there are many different variations. All children are sitting at the same exact desks, but not everyone is paying the same price for that privelege. And unlike the airlines, those parents who are paying the full first class fare don't get anything extra for doing so. Note: there are a few yeshivas in which all the seats are "first class," and parents pay accordingly.

6. It may not be much, but first class and business class passengers get lots of little perks that make the flying easier. They get wider, roomier seats with lots more leg room. Depending on the plane and the flight, these seats can recline into sleeping cots. They get free Internet connections in some cases. They get meals served to them with no extra charge. There is no charge for alcohol. They get wet, warm washclothes with their meals to cleanse their hands and faces with. They have a steward or two whose only job is to make the first class passengers comfortable and happy. They get to board first and deplane first. They have private lavatories that only they may use. Those first class and business class passengers in a yeshiva aren't accorded any special services; if anything, the yeshiva looks at them as cash cows and milks them accordingly.

7. Food Service: Domestic flights in the US have all but done away with regular meal service. Some airlines still serve free snacks to their passengers, mostly on longer flights. Some airlines will serve meals but only if you pay for them extra. Some airlines are even doing away with free beverage service; again, if you want a soda on these airlines, you have to pay for it. Airlines looked at meal service and saw where they could trim money from their operating budgets. Yeshivas might want to follow the airlines' example and either get rid of meal service altogether, or charge separately on a pay as you go basis for meals ordered.

A thought: airlines, for security reasons, don't allow you to bring onto a plane bottles of drinks purchased elsewhere. Only when you have gone through security and entered into the general boarding area may you purchase those drinks for sale there. And oh boy do they charge through the nose for those drinks. There are some yeshivas which have a similar policy. Students cannot bring in food from home: only that food purchased from the school is okay. They have kashrut "security" concerns. Either way, parents are being gouged. (Last January at Newark airport our flight was delayed and my husband and I went to get something to drink. I don't drink soda usually so I headed for the bottled water. A 20-ounce bottle of water was $3.15 for one bottle. My hubby's bottle of Coke was even more. Obscene? You bet! That same week I had purchased a 24-pack of 16 ounce bottles of that same brand for $2.99! The school where I teach has a drink machine where a 12 ounce bottle of water is "only" 75 cents, and they are actually cheaper than many of the stores right down the block.)

8. Customer Service Satisfaction: Almost all airlines send out surveys to their customers asking them about customer service. They ask to hear what they are doing right and what they are doing that could be improved. They ask their customers which services the airlines offer that the customers value. They ask for suggestions as to how to improve customer service. Any one here ever get such a survey from a yeshiva? Airlines look for customer input, but yeshivas seem to refuse to see parents as paying customers. The last thing they want is for parents to "mix in" to their business.

9. Routes: Airlines are in business to make a profit; at minimum, they have to cover their expenses. They take a look at all the routes they fly and the number of daily flights on that route. Sometimes they see that certain flights are underutilized and they cut that flight out of the schedule; it's just not cost affective to keep it. Sometimes they will find that they have too many flights on a given route per day, and they cut down the number of flights. Sometimes they even cut a day out of the flight schedule. We have yet to see yeshivas consider cutting out a period every day, or cutting out Sundays, both of which would cut expenses.

Maybe some of these suggestions would be easier to impliment than others. I'm not suggesting that everything an airline does could be utilized by yeshivas with exact correlation. But a whole lot of what airlines do could be utilized to good affect. People who fly may not be 100% happy with some of the cost cutting measures the airlines have put into affect, but those measures did what they were supposed to do: they controlled costs. We can't lose anything by giving some consideration to the airline model.