Friday, October 30, 2009

Elections and Selection

In concert with many who teach, regardless of subject matter, the idea of participation in a democracy through the act of voting is stressed to students. Voting is both a right and a privilege. We tell people that they can't complain about the results if they don't take part in the process. Well, yes and no.

Sometimes I wish that there would be a line on the ballot which says "None of the above" and that "none of the above" would win, causing political parties to go back to the drawing board to have to present a new slate of candidates for our selection.

For too many people the act of voting has become about who they don't want to see elected, not who they do. They realllllly don't want candidate A elected, so they go with candidate B or candidate C, even though they don't really like either of these candidates either. However, they dislike A far more than either B or C, so they pick what they see as the lesser of two evils. They aren't so much voting for someone as voting against someone else.

Some people abstain from voting altogether because they don't want any of the candidates presented. They don't want the "winner" to think that he/she got put into office because they were the right person for the job, voted for because they were the best candidate, when that "best" is highly doubtful.

With election day coming up next week a lot of people are praying for an early blizzard to close the polling places so they won't have to make an uncomfortable decision. The comments I've been hearing have disturbed me. Many people are going to vote so that candidate A cannot be elected or reelected, even if they don't like the other candidates. Many people are voting for a party, never mind that the candidate fielded by that party has yet to put together one coherent thought. What I've heard far less of is that someone is voting for a particular candidate because they fully believe that candidate is the right person for the job, is capable and clearly the person to be in that position.

When I was much younger we heard a lot about how the best and brightest people gravitated to public service, to running for election to office. I'm not sure just how much truth there was in that statement then, but I've become far more doubtful about its veracity now. Regarding this upcoming election I would caution political pundits about how they are going to view the election results. Just because a candidate wins doesn't necessarily mean that people wanted that candidate to win, are behind his/her political stance. They may have hated the other candidate more than this one. What you are going to hear, after the election is over, is "Candidate B's election shows the overwhelming support of the electorate for what the candidate stands for." Just once I'd like to hear the truth: "Hey we won, and we know you really don't like Candidate B but you hated Candidate A more. We hear ya. We'll try to become the person you would have wanted to choose to vote for." Uh huh, and next someone will be telling you that the tooth fairy really exists.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Yeshiva Growth in the 60s--Not a Recreation of Europe

Back in January of 2008 I put up a posting about the relationship between yeshivas today and the Vietnam War. Frankly, I'd all but forgotten about the posting until someone in a conversation yesterday made the statement that our explosion of yeshivas back in the 60s and 70s was direct proof of our understanding that we needed to be living a frummer life, one based on Torah study for long periods. That we were "going back to our roots" when we extended the learning time for young men.

The statement that sent me scrambling to find the old posting was "B"H, we saw what we needed and we provided it. If we were going to recreate European Jewish life we needed to recreate the yeshiva system that nurtured it and sustained it and was central to it." I'll leave the history of that Jewish Europe to another posting (and the recreation of European Jewish life), but suffice it to say that whole swathes of the frum population were not sitting in yeshiva for years on end, certainly not after marriage. The yeshiva system in place today may carry the names of many of the yeshivas that existed in Europe--and a whole slew that did not--but they are not parallel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Flu Revisited

A few weeks ago I did a posting about some basic hygiene methods to use in helping to prevent the spread of the two types of flu expected to hit us full force this year. Well, that flu onslaught has begun, as reports are pouring in about those who have gotten the flu, particularly the H1N1 version.

Herewith a few pieces of information that you may not know about. First, there is a test that can show if you have the H1N1 flu. However, that test goes through three stages in the process of "percolating." It is possible for the first stage or even the second stage to show no flu while the third stage will. This just happened to one of my nieces. At the point that the test said this was definitely the H1N1 my niece didn't need the information any longer; it was obvious that she, her husband and her two kids all had this flu. But, and here's where you need to watch out, during the time when the doctor said she didn't have the H1N1, she spent a lot of time in her mom's house. The result is that now everyone in my sister's house has also come down with the H1N1. According to the doctor, the contagious period of the H1N1 is about 5-7 days, possibly even a little longer, so long before you might get back any positive test results you can be infecting others.

I recommended in the previous posting that hands and sinks should be routinely sanitized to guard against spreading the flu. There are a few other areas that would benefit from constant sanitizing: light switches, telephones and control boxes for various pieces of equipment such as computers and televisions.

Re schools, it would be a really good idea if schools were to report to parents immediately if there are any cases of H1N1 among its students. If someone in your child's class has the H1N1, it might be beneficial to put a moratorium on group activities outside of school with fellow classmates for a week or so.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Few Worthwhile Reads

Wolfish Musings has up a posting that I recommend you go read. Wolf's examples and commentary are right on the money.

"What do you do when there is an incentive to be irresponsible?"

There's also a good read up at Harry's "Critique of Pure-Unreason." Ezzie has reposted the whole article as well.

I'm a New Yorker??!!!!!!

It's hardly a secret that New York and I have a love/hate relationship. Despite having lived here for more years than I lived out of town, I still consider myself an out of towner, although a displaced one. I don't consider myself a "typical" New Yorker--whatever that is. So you can imagine my surprise when, in the midst of a discussion on community stability and community services, I got told by someone--a "real" out of towner"--that I simply don't understand the dynamics of living out of town, that I'm too much of a New Yorker to "get" out of town living.

I laughed when she said that, but I admit to being just a tad worried afterward. Is it--gasp!--possible that I have somehow developed a New Yorker facade that is what the world sees? Has my out of town gene become diluted? I know I still sound like an out of towner, my accent never having adopted New York pronunciation. Ask me to say chocolate or orange or pauper or roof and you'd understand quickly that I'm not from here. And yes, I would have sworn that I don't think like a New Yorker.

But here's the problem. To New Yorkers I'm not a real New Yorker. And if, as this woman stated, I'm not a real out of towner, then just what am I and where do I "belong"? I'm beginning to feel rather Shakespearean--"neither fish nor fowl nor good red meat."

Elevated to the Front Page

Thanks to my daughter who brought to my attention that the Shabbos elevator story is still riding up and down, even if some people aren't riding on them any longer. It made the front page of Yahoo news. I don't think this story is going to die down all that fast. Want to bet that some time in the near future this story will get skewed so that some people will be claiming that Daas Torah forbids Jews to ride in elevators?

Monday, October 26, 2009

God as the Ultimate Artiste

Of all of the boroughs of New York City, Staten Island has the most green area, the most parks and natural woodlands. While the population of the Island has more than doubled since we moved here, we are still a feast for the eye when it comes to nature.

Many of our streets and boulevards, particularly the older ones, are wider than in other parts of the city. And those streets are a riot of greenery. Trees have been planted by the city about every 20-25 feet on every block, including those with stores on them. And individual home owners have added tons more trees and shrubbery. Add in our natural woodland areas, part of The Greenbelt, with the wide variety of greenery, and we really do present a natural wonderland.

Many of the trees have grown to incredible heights, and you drive down our streets under a living canopy of greenery. This time of year, though, we get another wonderful visual treat: the leaves of trees and shrubbery are turning colors. Driving down the street presents you with a riot of color. We're not going from green to brown. Magenta, bright red, pink, orange of every shade, gold, bright yellows--all are present, and present in wondrous amounts. Glance down a street for a few blocks and houses disappear as mother nature catches and holds the eye.

Forget the things we buy--the most precious items right now are on display for anyone to see, free of charge. It's impossible not to praise the hand of God when faced with the wondrous sights of autumn unfurling. Many a painter has attempted to catch the vibrant colors of autumn on canvas, and some have done a fairly good job. But there is nothing like the original for beauty to take your breath away. Maybe not the season to stop and smell the roses any longer, but yes, stop and view the foliage.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I may be slow, but I finally got it

I don't ignore the years on the calendar, nor do I hope that somehow the calendar will reset itself and I'll find myself back in my 20s again. I know exactly how old I am, and yes, I am thankful that I've come to this point. Far too many people I can think of who never made it to this age, and who would have given a whole lot to reach it.

But I've apparently been more than a little myopic in judging the significance of what my age means. With all the yom tov preparations of the past few weeks I finally had my "duh!" moment.

Maybe it's my being the European-born child of Holocaust survivors, with all the disruption that signifies to what was normal family living, but I place a premium on not just family but on tradition. I'm not looking to make each yom tov a new and different experience. I'm not on the lookout for dozens of new recipes to cook. What I want is continuity. What I want is for someone to see what is coming out to the table and say "Of course we're eating this--it's yom tov!"

There are items in my china cabinet that have "celebrated" 37 repetitions of the same yom tov. There are also items there, from my mother and my aunt and my mother in law, that have celebrated a lot more years than 37. Each item that comes out and gets placed on the table tells a story. And these are stories that never grow old to me, that get more precious with each retelling.

So yes, it finally hit me that there is one reason why I may have been given the blessing of getting to this age. I'm the next link. My parents' generation is sadly disappearing. I know just how lucky I am to still have my mother with us. It is an extra special gift from God, one that I give thanks for each and every day. But my mother didn't raise me to be a fool. She has told me time and time again that her years will have been productive ones if what she has done and said, seen and heard in her parents' and grandparents' and even great grandfather's home, will continue down through the ages. The stories she told me as I was growing up about life as she knew it? It's my job to pass those on to my own children, to my nieces and nephews, to their children. It is becoming and will become my job to serve as the link between the generations that were and the generations after mine. If there will be family history that is known in the future, it's now becoming my job to preserve that history and pass it on.

And it's not all about the "big" things but also about the little things. Like knowing why a beloved uncle who died a few years ago was known as "fahtsich." (And thereby hangs a tale) And the story of the Baba Gittel and the sheitle and the jump rope. And the story of the Mima Dobresh and the Cossacks and the Borsht.

Those of my generation are slowly but surely becoming the elder statesmen of Klal. Yup, we're now becoming those at the top of the family tree. And with that advancement comes responsibility. We are the new guardians of the flame, the keeper of the memories. Yes, every new generation makes a name for itself, finds a way to distinguish itself from the preceding generations. But making a name is not and should not be wiping out the names of the past, wiping out the history of the past, wiping out the connection to the past. Every link in a chain has beauty and usefulness, but a link without a chain is just another hunk of metal, possibly useful, possibly not.

Upset to be this age? Not me. It is only now that I have been deemed old enough to carry out the important job that older age brings with it.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

Once upon a time I remember when the seasons followed each other in regular order. If you looked at the calendar and then out of the window, you knew precisely which season you were in. Okay, on rare occasions you would have a day that didn't seem to fit the expected weather. But it was unusual enough that everyone was in amazement. I remember back in 1964 that NYC had a late December day that hit 62 or thereabouts, and it was the lead on the evening news, it was that unusual.

It's not so easy today to know what season you are in, despite the calendar's saying it's the end of October. Years back all the summer and lightweight clothing would have been put away already. Apartment buildings and office buildings and schools had on their schedules that the heat needed to be turned on somewhere between October 1 and October 15. Lots of apartment dwellers and office workers and school employees this year who were freezing in that first week of October. And lots of them yesterday, with the heat already turned on, who were sweltering as outside temperatures went over 70. (Ironic really as there was snow seen in Westchester County last week.) After sitting out for a while in an open parking lot yesterday, my car was hot and stuffy--I had to turn on the air conditioning for a few minutes to get the temperature down enough to make driving comfortable. This week alone NYC seems to have run through the four seasons.

The weather man has announced that we are in for a drop in temperature for a few days, as well as pouring rain. Of course we are--it's Shabbos and everyone is going to be walking around. And that same forecaster said we are going to be in for a bad winter here--expect lots and lots of snow and freezing temperatures. Except, of course, for those days when it's going to seem like June in January.

I'm thinking that Global Warming may be a misnomer. Maybe we should talk about our weather as being "Calendar Challenged," incapable of doing what's expected in any given season. I'd put away my light weight clothing today except that I'm a proponent of the Maternity Clothes school of weather forecasting. Any woman can tell you that you hang on to those maternity clothes until you are a grandmother; otherwise, the minute you give away those clothes you are going to find yourself pregnant. Pack away those lightweight clothes today and next week you are going to find yourself needing them, or even next month.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Being a Couple

Bad4Shidduchim had a post up entitled "You Know Your Parents are old When...They go on their own chol hamoed trip." Now granted, bad4 tends to write tongue in cheek rather often but this little gem caught my eye: "I mean, there are stages in life. You get married, and you go on trips like they’re dates. Very cute. Then you have little kids, and you take them places that are fun and educational. Then you have big kids, and they inform you where you’re taking them. Then you have teens, and they’re planning the trips, often leaving you behind. Then your kids are all out of the nest, and you get to sit at home sipping green tea and reading the Jewish Press Chol Hamoed Trip supplement, very happily enjoying not being at any of the places listed. And then when you’re really old you get nostalgic and bored and decide to go on a trip together. Like old times. Very cute."
I'm not sure whether to laugh first or to howl. Amazing just how different the perspective is depending on how old you are and where you are holding in life. "Like old times"? Nope, more like new times and a new stage in life. "Bored and nostalgic"? Hardly. Try finally having some time together as a couple with no one else around. Try having conversations with each other without having lots of other ears that could be listening in. Try two adults who have spent years in a mediated togetherness, never truly being alone, suddenly redescovering why they married each other to begin with. We frum people spend so much time emphasizing that the purpose of marriage is to have children so klal may continue that we've lost track of the fact that child raising and day to day involvement with children on a basic level comes to an end. We are living longer and longer today and there is going to be a time period where marriage is NOT going to be about having and raising children. It's going to be about building the somewhat interrupted relationship of two people, not seven. It's about preparing for the future, not staring bemusedly and wistfully at the past.

My husband and I have been going away together on vacation about twice a year for some time now. When we first went away someone asked me in all seriousness what we had to talk about for a week. Didn't we find ourselves getting bored without others around us? Honestly, boredom never enters the picture. What we did discover on that first trip, and on the others since then, is that we do pretty well as just the two of us. We have time to talk about whatever we want to. We can go and see any place we want to, without anyone voting but the two of us. We have time to figure out where we are going to go from here. What we've both discovered is that we still have dreams of things to do and places to go: life didn't end for us when our kids hit adulthood. And yes, one very important thing we discovered: absent children we function perfectly fine.

Not to say that we still aren't involved with our kids and our extended families--we are. But the years that are coming up for us aren't about raising children any longer, and they very much are about us. Whatever spark drew us together many years ago is still burning bright. Far from being something to joke about kinderlach, those "little excursions" that parents go on by themselves are something to file away for when you get to our position in life.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Thanks to Dave for bringing up a subject that happens to be one I use in my Advanced Expository Writing class--DHMO--dihydrogen monoxide.

We like to think that we are sophisticated thinkers, people who can read, observe and synthesize the massive amounts of information we are presented with on a daily basis, particularly in the scientific arena. We place faith in science and scientists and the facts and figures they give us. We tend to believe that a lie would not be published and be believed because of all the access we have to media information. We tend to believe in our own infallability and our ability to tell the real from the fake, the truth from a hoax. Oh that that were 100% true.

Well, Professor Tom Way, building on the prior work of others, decided to put our abilities to the test. He began an organization and put up a website for that organization, a website that meets the highest standards for what a website should be and do. It's masterfully created and organized.

Please go to the website at And after you've gone there, please do come back and tell me all about how infallible we are as information gatherers and synthesizers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There's a Recession Going On?

Browsing online at a site that is supposed to have somewhat reasonable prices for their merchandise, I ran across the following. Reasonable prices?!!! Are you sure there is a recession going on? And these prices are supposed to be heavily discounted; the price of the merchandise in the stores that carry them is far higher.

Site Advertisement:
Cause a riot of radiance! Join the gang of gorgeousness brandishing this bold boot by Giuseppe Zanotti™!
Be dangerously divine! Rock out in rich resonance with these exquisite boots from Giuseppe Zanotti™!
Only $1,104.00 per pair for either boot style.
Boycott boring fashion! Provoke prolific flair with these amazingly audacious boots from Giuseppe Zanotti™!
Only $1364.00 per pair.
Passionately provoke the perfect ensemble! Orchestrate an opulent array of visual mastery with these wondrous boots from Roberto Cavalli™!
Only $1029.00 per pair.
You're an alluring ace in the hole! Confidently come full circle wearing these decadently divine boots by Alexander McQueen™!
Only $1144.00 per pair.
Get on your high horse! Gallop into gratifying gorgeousness with the equestrian elegance of these exciting boots by D&G Dolce & Gabbana™!
Only $1124.80 per pair.

Just a note: I've put in bold portions of the ads above. Does someone seriously get paid for producing such drivel?

The Fallacy of Either/Or

Among the logical fallacies identifiable in an argument is the fallacy of either/or. This fallacy assumes that there are only two possible positions, usually polar opposites of each other. In fact, this fallacy assumes that the world is divided into such polar opposites. The fallacy assumes the world to be A or Z, no other choices available.

Plain common sense should show up the fallacious reasoning in the either/or construction. On a really simple level, look at the alphabet; it does not contain only an A or only a Z. Those may be the outside parameters but there are lots of other letters in between A and Z. We talk about things being clearly black or white, but there is a whole rainbow of colors and shades between "pure" black and "pure" white. Even "yes" and "no" can be mediated by "maybe" or "perhaps" or "not now but later."

Even with less clearly definable things either/or is a problem. Take the idea of "good" and "bad." Are they the only two choices? Is the situation truly that you are either good or you must be bad? Aren't good and bad points on a sliding scale? And don't good and bad, and all the permutations between these polar points, also depend on a number of other outside factors? Good and bad for whom? When? Where? Under what circumstances? In conjunction with what else? For how long?

Possibly the most used drug in the world is the simple aspirin. The discovery of acetylsalicilic acid and its synthesis into easily ingested tablets was considered a true blessing for mankind. So aspirin is good? Well yes, and no. Like virtually every other discovery and invention of mankind, aspirin has its pluses and its minuses, its good points and its bad points. Where aspirin falls on the scale of good for you or bad for you is influenced by a multitude of factors. When it comes to aspirin and other medications, scientists and health professionals don't buy into the either/or fallacy; they recognize a number of points along the scale. And they recognize that those points on the scale can change in response to other, outside factors.

A recent article in the Jewish Press, "Are Blogs Good for the Jews?," by Rabbi Gil Student, brought to mind this either/or fallacy. Blogs, and the Internet in general, seem to be problematic for many in the frum world. The words "good" and "bad" are the preferred terms to describe blogs and the Internet, as are "necessary" and "unnecessary." And it is the rare, rare article that doesn't look at blogs and the Internet from an either/or position. There is almost no objectivity when discussing blogs and the Internet, no attempt at dis-interested analysis.

Here's how I see it. First, using Rabbi Student's title (and the title is a question that many others are asking) let's leave aside the question of good or bad for a moment. Instead, let's look at the word Jews. It's my feeling that the word that was needed was not "Jews" but 'Judaism." A great deal of the article, and others as well, deals with how the use of blogs and the Internet may contravene halachic requirements, may lead to aveiros, may prevent people from observing Judaism correctly and fully. One concern is the issue of loshon ho'rah. Rabbi Student does point out that there are a few positive things the Internet and blogs can be used for that can enhance Judaic observance; nonetheless, blogs and the Internet come off as far more bad than good.

Why distinguish between Jews and Judaism? Judaism is the term for a belief system, for a modus operendi for organizing life. Practitioners/believers of Judaism go by the term "Jew" to recognize their membership in the group that practices and believes in the tenets of Judaism. But.... Jews, in addition to Judaism, are also human beings with shared characteristics with other human beings. They live in the same world with others who are not Jewish. They engage in many of the same activities that those who are not Jewish engage in. They do so mostly out of necessity. We don't have our own planet, completely cut off from contact with other "worlds." We work, shop and live in neighborhoods peopled by those outside of Judaism. While Judaism may organize our spiritual lives and determine our actions for day to day living, we also live under the authority of secular governments, with their requirements. We exist in a secular world that we must participate in. And in participating in this secular world we need to have the tools that allow us to participate as equals and to take advantage of the benefits possible for us in that world.

The Internet is already a vital and necessary part of modern life. It is only becoming more and more necessary as time goes on. In a very short while anyone not connected to the Internet is going to be living in the "dark ages," literally, not figuratively. Those who frame the discussion about the Internet in terms of necessary/unnecessary, a real either/or depiction, are missing the point that the discussion has already moved beyond this and is squarely in the necessary camp. And talking about the Internet in terms of good/bad also misses the point. Good for whom? When? Under what circumstances? The Internet is shades of grey, no black or white at all.

If there are elements of the Internet that are problematic for Judaic observance, address those specific elements, not the Internet in general. Put into place safeguards for those problem areas. Teach people about them, rather than preach abstinence completely. Let's stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Public Service Announcement Regarding Email

In under two weeks two people who I regularly correspond with via email have been hacked. In one case an urgent plea for money went out to all those on the hacked email list. Hacking is an unfortunate byproduct of living in a technological world.

There are a few things you can do to protect yourself. For one thing, report the hacking to your email provider. For another, change your passwords regularly--every 4-6 weeks. I know, changing those passwords is a pain in the patoot. And remembering all those passwords is also frustrating. However, better safe than sorry. Other tips given out from my email provider: don't keep a list of your passwords in a file in your computer, and don't recycle those passwords every other month. Another important tip: don't use the same password that you use for your email as the password for other accounts that you may have online. Finally, make those passwords as long as allowed by your email provider, and make them a combination of numbers and letters, including capital and lower case letter combinations.

That's English for You

Thanks to my sister for calling this to my attention. I decided to save it for after yom tov was over. Most of these are just too good to miss. A few are just that bit over the line, but I'll let you be your own censors.

Once again, The Washington Post has published the winning submissions to its yearly neologism contest, in which readers
are asked to supply alternative meanings for common words. The winners are:

1. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.

2. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight
you have gained.

3. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever
having a flat stomach

4. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.

5. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.

6. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which
you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.

7. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.

8. Gargoyle (n), olive-flavored mouthwash.

9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you
up after you are run over by a steamroller.

10. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.

11. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.

12. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified bearing
adopted by proctologists.

13. Pokemon (n), a Rastafarian proctologist.

14. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation
with Yiddishisms.

15. Frisbeetarianism (n.), (back by popular demand):
The belief that, when you die, your soul flies up onto
the roof and gets stuck there.

16. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer
shorts worn by Jewish men.

The Washington Post's Style Invitational also asked
readers to take any word from the dictionary,
alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter,
and supply a new definition. Here are this year's winners:

1. Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people
that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer,
unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near

2. Foreploy (v): Any misrepresentation about yourself for
the purpose of getting laid.

3. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which
renders the subject financially impotent for an
indefinite period.

4. Giraffiti (n): Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.

5. Sarchasm (n): The gulf between the author of
sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.

6. Inoculatte (v): To take coffee intravenously
when you are running late.

7. Osteopornosis (n): A degenerate disease.
(This one got extra credit.)

8. Karmageddon (n): its like, when everybody is sending
off all these really bad vibes, right? And then, like, the
Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.

9. Decafalon (n.): The grueling event of getting
through the day consuming only things that
are good for you.

10. Glibido (v): All talk and no action.

11. Dopeler effect (n): The tendency of stupid
ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.

12. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance
performed just after you've accidentally walked
through a spider web.

13. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that
gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot
be cast out.

14. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding
half a grub in the fruit you're eating.

And the pick of the literature:

15. Ignoranus (n): A person who's both stupid and an asshole.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Haveil Havalim Post Chagim Edition

The Post-Chagim edition of Haveil Havalim is up at the following link:

It's a rainy day today--what could be better than some good reading to curl up with?

Errr What?

Thanks to multiple generations living at the same time, we get some rather funny English language usage. Two examples come to mind.

Jacob did a post recommending the debut album for Shua Kessin. Album? Someone is still putting out 33-1/3rpm albums? Nah, didn't think so. But the word still being used is album. For my generation that denotes a record, clearly not what can be being referred to here.

The other example is one I point out to my students. Get online and go to your email page. Under the from/to/date/subject you will find "cc" and sometimes "bcc." I ask my students what this indicates. Some of them know this means you are sending a copy of the email to someone other than the person in the "to" space. So I ask them "Why cc then? Why not just c or maybe the word copy?" And then I explain to them what "cc" meant and still means to millions of living people--carbon copy. And then I have to explain typewriters and sheets of carbon paper. There is a certain irony in having technologically advanced tools such as a computer and the Internet using the abbreviation for a product long gone obsolete. They could envision and design and produce computers and email but their thoughts stopped cold at what to title the line for sending copies?

Note: there can also be some cross generational, cross speaker confusion when more than one language is involved. G6 posted some pictures of bathroom doors in Switzerland. In one picture a dooris marked as WC. I am going to guess that native speakers of American English are going to look at this marking and get confused. The WC does not refer to a woman's bathroom but stands for Water Closet, the British word for what we call a bathroom. The marking "closet" has nothing to do with hanging up your clothes--pronounce it closet (accent on the last syllable), and again, it refers to the room where the toilet is, as opposed to the "badeh tzimmer," where the bathtub is. Yiddish speakers here in the US can get strange looks if they use "closet" to refer to the bathroom. I remember once having a friend ask me why my mother would excuse herself to use the closet. My parents eventually dropped using both German/Yiddish words, particularly since American bathrooms do not, for the most part, get divided into two separate rooms, one for the toilet and one for the bathing area.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Why on a Friday?!

Unless it continues to puzzle me and no one reading here can give me a clear chapter/verse explanation, I'm going to have another question for my LOR--local orthodox rabbi. They always seem to come up on a Friday.

Our bakery, as mentioned before, is a perfect place to pick up info you won't here anywhere else. Two bochrim clearly picking up orders for their wives and/or mothers. One bochur tells the woman behind the counter to please just put the bag on the counter and he will take it from there. She complies and he picks up the bag. He waits for the other bochur to get his order packed up. The second bochur also asks that the bags just be placed on the counter.

After they left someone else on line asks if this is a religious thing about the bags. An older man, also in the line, answers that yes, it is. Men and women are not allowed to hand each other things. When one gives an item to another it should be put down and then picked up by the other person. After all the men were out the women continued talking. One wanted to know if this included married couples as well. A different woman said yes, depending on the nidah cycle of the woman. Another couple of women said this is the first they are hearing of this. A few others said they don't believe that this is truly the law.

So, somebody out there with more knowledge than I have, can a man hand something to a woman or a woman hand something to a man? I'm not talking here about a situation where touching each other would be part of passing over the item. Think a newspaper or a dinner plate or a box. And as a teacher I am also curious--does this mean, if it is the case, that when I hand out papers to my male students I cannot give the paper directly into their hands? And if this is the case, or partly the case, then why is it the case? I can think of so many and varied situations where men and women are handing things to each other that would become not only awkward but rather difficult if they are not allowed to hand each other things. So when the UPS man comes to my door and gives me the clipboard to sign I would have to tell him to put it on the porch floor and then pick it up? Ditto if the mailman rings the bell to hand me something? My dentist can't hand me a cup of water to rinse with? And what about the meshulach who comes to the door collecting for tzedaka--I can't hand him the check?

Please, someone put me out of my misery and answer.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Being Tagged

A little bit ago I got tagged both for a meme and for the Kreativ Blogger Award. So, I followed the rules, more or less, and did my own nominating and tagging. I was pretty sure that at least one of those whom I nominated would NOT go on to do his/her own nominating. That's fine too. Not like the government is breathing down anyone's neck to have to pass along the praise.

However, a comment on one of the blogs whose author I nominated didn't resonate well with me. The comment is as follows (no, no public embarrasment possible with the reprinting as the author posted as anonymous).

maybe Im a cynic, but aren't blogger awards such as the one above, or the superior scribbler awards ( just glorified chain letters?

"Dear _____,
This is a chain letter. Everyone who is part of this chain gets put in the guinness book of world records! All you have to do is send it to 5 friends, (telling them that I sent you), who will then each send it to 5 of their friends, who will then send it to 5 of their friends, et cetera, et cetera)."...I fail to see a difference.

Your blog____ is excellent. You present ideas in clear and thought-provoking ways, and hopefully wake people up from their "slumber." However, the blogger award nomination means absolutely nothing- (the threshold criteria is that one person likes your blog. One.) It is nothing more than an illusion that the kreators try to perpetuate by gaining mass-acceptance. But that would be mass acceptance of the award, not that it specifically applies to your blog.

Well yes, there is an element of a chain letter present in a meme or award, in that you are asked to pass it along. However, there is also this, which is not present in a chain letter: there is an element of hakoras hatov, and an element of acceptance/approval. Someone, out there, has come to your blog, has read your blog and has chosen you to be part of a "thank you" system. The anonymous writer says that "the nomination means absolutely nothing--the threshold criteria is that one person likes your blog." So?

Those who blog learn pretty fast that if you are counting on the readers to give you impetus to continue writing that impetus may or may not come, and may not arrive steadily. People often read and leave no comment. Some comment once or twice and are never heard from again. Some people become your "steady customers" and are heard from often. Your favorite posting may not resonate at all with the readers. So yes, even one reader saying "I really love what you are doing here and please continue because I like it" is more than just an impersonal chain letter. Sometimes one person is all it takes to give chizuk to someone. Sometimes just one person is all that is needed to sit down and stare at the keyboard again.

The anonymous above paid a beautiful compliment to the writer of the blog. What I'm left to wonder is, would he have paid that compliment absent the prod that the blogger's getting nominated by me seemed to have given him? Would he have randomly decided on Tuesday to say "I like what you are writing"?

And are any of us, really, so blase about blogging that we don't feel a tickle of pleasure that someone out there likes what we are doing?

I am not so naive that I believe that being tagged or given a blogger award is on par with receiving a Pulitzer Prize or a Nobel Prize in Literature. What it is is a nice gesture on someone's part that says I like your blog, full stop. Nothing wrong with saying "thank you" in this way, even if it can be a pain in the neck to get everything you need together. Or maybe we can think of it as a way to remind people not to take for granted those who produce the blogs by recognizing them, if even for a moment, as providing something that one someone out there responds to.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I Guess It had to Happen Sooner or Later

I am not adverse to letting others practice Yiddishkeit in their own fashion as long as they let me practice mine in my way. I understand that we might be coming from different approaches. That doesn't mean that I am not sometimes puzzled by others' actions.

I happen to teach at a college under Jewish auspices in the men's division--and no, I'm not naming names. I am one of the few female teachers who teach in this division. I can't say that I've ever run into a problem with my being female, despite my being the first female teacher many of these young men have ever had. My students are aware that I have something of value for them to learn and so they basically get over their "female aversion" rather quickly. Yes, this includes the chassidishe students we sometimes get as well.

The school building has only two elevators and at any given moment one of them is not working. I suppose I could drag myself up four flights of stairs pulling my briefcase with me, but I don't. Once classes are in session I'm going to be sharing that elevator with any number of male students. Yes, I try to be accommodating, and squeeze myself into the corner by the controls. The students also are accommodating and leave me my space. But we all share that elevator, males and females alike.

This week, however, I finally ran into a wee problem. One student and I were waiting for the elevator to arrive. When it did and the doors opened I headed straight for my little corner. The student, however, did not follow me in to the elevator. I must have looked puzzled but he smiled and said that he would wait for the next one.

As the doors closed I had my duh moment and suddenly realized that he would not get into the elevator with me, just the two of us alone. I'm sure he was thinking of a yichud situation. For the four seconds that it took to get to my floor I actually smiled about that. I don't think it was his intention, but I was actually flattered. I guess I must not be as old as I always thought I was if a younger male can consider me in the light of yichud. Of course this raises a different question as well: what is going on in our world that a young man can consider a woman about 40 years his senior in light of yichud? I'm sure his rebbi would have been pleased, but are we really producing generations of young men for whom sex is the organizing tool for every action that they take?

Speaking of the Flu

With fall here and winter not far behind, it's important that we should know what to do about the h1n1 flu virus expected to hit full force this year, as well as the "regular" flu. The following link has information about what the virus is, how to treat it and what to expect.

Note: cleanliness is always something we should be concerned about but it's even more important during flu season. I refer to both personal hygiene and home surface cleanliness. This flu is passed by touching, which passes along the virus. Thorough hand washing is a must. Not sneezing out into the open air is a must. Keeping hands away from eyes, nose and mouth are a must. Keeping counter surfaces disinfected is a must.

In a large group your chances multiply to be exposed to and/or to be passed the virus. Extra care needs to be taken at work, at meetings, when shopping in crowded venues and certainly in school. School maintenance workers do not routinely clean the tops of students' desks as part of daily maintenance. They don't do so in work venues either. I suggest that parents speak to their children's schools and find out what means and methods the school has in place for flu prevention vis a vis cleaning the obvious surfaces where children's hands go all day. One possibility is for parents to send in a packet of alcohol-based wipes and to instruct their children in how to wipe down their desks each day. Adults at work should also do this each day. At home, bathroom and kitchen faucets and counters should be thoroughly wiped down after each use. Keep the proper cleanser out on the counter and visible so that everyone will be encouraged to do their part.

Those particularly at risk for getting the flu should speak to their doctors about getting the flu vaccinations.

When it comes to the flu, better to be safe than sorry. Better to take the extra precautions than to suffer from the flu.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Build Up or Tear Down

My hubby is a real do it yourself type of person. I've joined him on many occasions in watching some of the instructional shows on home building/home repair. The host on "This Old House" once made a comment that has stayed with me for years. A couple was considering buying a really old house. It was clear that it was in disrepair and would need mega work. The couple asked him where to begin the repairs.

His answer was: "First assess if it's repairable; not everything old is." He then went on to talk about making an honest inspection of the structure. Was the foundation solid, or did it show cracks? How many cracks and how deep? Were the support beams still solid or were they rotting? Was it a question of one beam, which might be repaired, or were there many? And yes, he talked about money. Estimate what it is going to cost to repair an old house, to remodel it so that it can function with today's necessary items (electricity, indoor plumbing etc.) Now estimate what it would cost to tear down the structure and build a new one in its place.

Another interesting comment he made on a different episode was that people need to develop patience if they are going to deal with "old houses." It takes time to make sure that any changes or repairs are done correctly. Too many people dive in and try to do everything at once. Again, he said that you have to look at the foundation first--if that's not solid, if that's not correctly repaired then all the rest of the work is thrown out effort.

He also said this: lots of people won't buy an old house and do the necessary repairs or remodeling precisely because it is old. They can't see that some of the workmanship of the past was superbly done and needs only some basic refurbishing to continue giving value for years to come. They head straight for new without considering that the old will cost less to repair than the new will cost to build from scratch.

Not bad advice when it comes to houses---and not bad advice when it comes to community structures and infrastructure as well. It well could be that some of our community structures are past the point of repair. It could be that it would be cheaper and more beneficial to just start over and build a new model. Or it could be that some basic repairs would bring those structures back into solid working order.

And then there is this piece of advice that the show gave, useful to house buyers and useful when applied to community structures as well: If you don't do routine maintenance it isn't going to matter if your house is old or new--it's going to develop problems.

At last, proof that you can learn something of value from television.

Guests and Cooking

There's an old Yiddish idiom that "deh cholent kimpt arois azoy vie de gasten"--loosely translated, your cholent will turn out as good as your guests. Bad guests equal bad cholent, good guests equal good cholent.

That idiom has been somewhere in the back of my mind but I don't take it out every week to check on the condition of the cholent made. Shmini Atzeres, however, the idiom came out front and center. I had a full house for Shabbos lunch and cholent was on the menu. Lunch was a lively, friendly affair that lasted until 3:30. Everyone seemed to be having a really good time. I was a happy hostess. And then I noticed the cholent pot. I have never seen a cholent pot that empty--it almost could have gone back into the cupboard without washing, it was scraped that clean. And there were disappointed faces that there wasn't still a spoon or two or three remaining. Even as my company left motzoai yom tov they were still rhapsodizing about that cholent.

So to my guests, thank you for being wonderful guests and for making yom tov so special with your presence. And thank you, because if the cholent came out well, it is all to your credit.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Hell of a Carrot

Yes, as I mentioned when I began this blog, I try to avoid political discussions. We are all entitled to our opinions about who is running, who won, who should have won etc.. But occasionally something happens that has me breaking my "no politics" rule.

I woke up to find some truly startling news: Barak Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I thought I must not be awake yet when I read that. What was he awarded the Prize for?! The nominations closed on February 9, a scant few weeks after the President took office. Was I drugged or in some other universe with no communication to this one? Did something happen during those few weeks to advance the cause of world peace? Correct me if I'm wrong but Obama is still Commander in Chief of the US armed forces, and we are still fighting a war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Yup, a war is truly an act of peace--fight two wars and you'll get the "top" peace prize.

Yes, Obama has said that he hopes to see world peace. So he got the Prize because he has publicly stated that peace would be a good thing? Or are the Nobel Committee members offering him a carrot as a "bribe" for going forward with peace (whatever that is)?

Were there truly no people this year who advanced the cause of peace worldwide? If so, why was the prize given out altogether? You don't award an Olympic Medal to an athlete who has announced that he intends to win that medal; you give out that medal only when it has been earned through action, not words.

I've always said that someday I'm going to write a Nobel winning novel. I guess I don't have to write that novel anymore--all I have to say is that I'm going to do it someday, and keep on saying it. And then I can start writing my acceptance speech for that Nobel in Literature.

Just what kind of example does this set? Do we really want to teach our younger generations that all they have to do is hope that they will accomplish something and we'll reward them as if they actually DID accomplish something? Awarding the Peace Prize to Obama is bad chinuch.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Someone Speaks up for the Victims

Ezzie has posted an article about a judge who sentenced a "frum" pedophile to jail time, and the judge's comments about a community that protects the perverts while further victimizing the victims.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Simchas Bais Hashoeva

There have been a lot of announcements about which shuls, yeshivas and private citizens are having a Simchas Bais Hashoeva and when. The celebrations, during the interim days of Sukkot, are in commemoration of the Nisuch ha-Mayim which was performed each morning in the Bais HaMikdosh during Sukkot.

However, growing up I was also told that the Simchas Bais Hashoeva was a time for the girls to "eye" the boys for the purpose of shidduch making. (And yes, I'm sure there was some eyeing back.) An awful lot of shidduchim came about because of the Simchas Bais Hashoeva. The weird part is that almost all the Simchaot that are being advertised are for men only. I honestly think that Klal is missing out on a great opportunity when they segregate the sexes this way. Just think of it ladies: all the bochrim lined up and in one place so that you can say "yea" or "nay." And yes fellows, you could strut your stuff for a whole group of eligible women. No more dates that end up going nowhere because one or both of the parties wail "You didn't tell me he/she looked like this!"

If it worked way back then, why shouldn't it work now?

Defining Hiddur Mitzvah

I've mentioned before that I like to shop locally. For one thing, it's a savings in time not to be running around all over the city looking for something that is available in my backyard for less expenditure of time, and yes, sometimes of money as well. For many years I was the one to buy our lulav and esrog for Sukkot, and I bought at the local seforim store. Because I was the one to buy these things I was also the one who noticed that the price was going up and up from one year to the next. Granted, everything seems to have gone up in price, so it wasn't a surprise that a lulav and esrog should also be getting more expensive.

But the lulav/esrog buying expedition was further complicated by the idea of hiddur mitzvah. There were the "ordinary" lulav/esrog sets and then there were the "extraordinary" ones, the ones for hiddur mitzvah. And then there was the price differential between ordinary and extraordinary. I will admit that on my last buying expedition I was truly getting fed up with what those extraordinary esrogim cost. The store clerk had placed a number of esrogim out on the counter in front of me, with a price differential of well over $100. So, I decided to test out something. When the clerk turned to serve another customer, I switched around a few esrogim out of their original boxes. When he came back to me I asked him to explain in detail why one esrog should cost so much more than another. He picked up what should have been the more expensive esrog and began to wax lyrical about its "hechsher," about its physical beauty and perfection, and then pointed to what he thought were the less perfect esrogim and showed me how they had a tiny flaw that made them less expensive, less "beautiful." Yes, I let him talk and then pointed out that I had switched the esrogim and even he, supposedly a maven, didn't know which was which. And yes, I put back the esrogim in their original boxes.

The upshot, however, is that I decided that I was going to expand my shopping area for lulav/esrog sets. I reasoned that Brooklyn would be a better place to shop for them. I reasoned that with more people in Brooklyn, and more seforim stores and more trailers set up selling the sets, the prices would be better. Yes and no. I walked into the largest of the seforim stores in Flatbush and asked to see the lulav/esrog sets. And again hiddur mitzvah raised its head. The ordinary sets were a bit cheaper than those being sold in my neighborhood, but those "extraordinary" sets were with prices off the wall. I also looked at some of those sets being sold on the busy street corners. Yes, some sets were way less than those in the stores, but I'd never seen a lulav only two feet long before. And I've seen grapes bigger than some of those esrogim.

I came home and told my husband about what a lulav and esrog would cost us, on average, and his mouth fell open. He happened to speak to his best friend about this and the best friend laughed. He told us to leave the lulav/esrog buying to him. Starting last year that's what we did, and oh what a surprise we were in for. He buys not only for himself but also for his sons in law and for his neighbors and then there was for us.

He bought for us again this year. We purchased two sets, one for my husband and one for my son. The esrogim are absolutely beautiful both in shape and in skin condition. They carry an Israeli hechsher. The lulavim are full, tall and supple. And each set cost $11, purchased in Boro Park on the Thursday before yom tov. Yes, you read that correctly--$11. No one, looking at these sets, would be able in any way to find a flaw; in fact, the opposite is true--there are those who kidded my husband that he finally spent the money to get a real hiddur mitzvah set.

The talk in the neighborhood was that the "better" sets were going for $120 and way upwards. One person mentioned a set that his son in law had purchased for $275. A nephew in Israel called his mom to discuss which set he should buy--the one for $100 or the "better" set for $130. And one person mentioned a "top of the line" set that ran over $500.

In a time period where people are desperately looking for ways to cut down on expenditures, where they are searching for ways to pay the bills, where money is in short supply, what real justification is there for spending the kind of money being asked for hiddur mitzvah lulav/esrog sets? Especially when the same beauty can be purchased a bit later for pennies on the dollar? Especially when most people couldn't tell the difference if you switched the esrogim? Yes, a really poor esrog may be obvious. But when you get to those being sold as good and as extraordinary very few, if any, people can tell the difference physically; the difference is all in the price being paid.

Frum Jews have gotten a reputation--not all that deserved--for being smart about money, about getting more for less. Not, apparently, when it comes to buying lulav/esrog sets. There it seems to be the operative statement that "a fool and his money are soon parted." I understand in theory the idea of hiddur mitzvah, and yes, there are some esrogim and lulavim that look more beautiful than others. But at what cost and at what price?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

The nice thing about having two New Years to celebrate is that you get to make two sets of personal New Year "resolutions." Of course, the downside can also be that that is two sets of resolutions that you may not actually fulfill.

I decided to make my personal resolutions list a bit smaller this year in the hopes that I'll actually accomplish everything on the list. One thing I did promise myself and, bli neder, I'm going to push to get it done. I resolved to go through my address book and contact some of those "long lost" friends and relatives with whom I have lost regular contact. I'm not necessarily trying to get back to a talk-to-them-every-day kind of relationship but yes, we once had that kind of relationship and I'd really like to know that all is well with them. I'd like to be able to say mazel tov for all the good things, like children and grandchildren and yes, even great grandchildren. Our relationship may have changed, for a whole slew of reasons, but that doesn't mean that at least a once a year contact shouldn't be there. Hopefully this is one resolution that won't get broken.

About some of the others I'm not so sure. I tried the "add 10,000 steps a day" resolution a while back and it faded into oblivion. I'm going to be more realistic and try for increments of 2000-2500 steps (equals one mile). Here's hoping that the temperature and the weather will cooperate, as well as home, work, health and life in general. And yes, I noticed that I just gave myself some outs if I don't reach my goal. 'Tis the nature of New Year's Resolutions. Hmmm, do I get to count going up and down the steps as actually being double steps, particularly if I'm carrying two baskets of laundry? Maybe that should be triple steps. Can I double the steps if I'm carrying a pot of soup to the sukkah?

What is it about human beings and resolutions? Why is it so much easier to make the resolutions than to keep them? Why do we insist on making resolutions that we know, somewhere inside of us, we aren't going to be able to keep or carry out fully? So many of the resolutions are "piecrust promises"--easily made, easily broken. Others of the resolutions are complex, requiring a great deal of thought and action. We start out okay and then get bogged down. We have such good intentions--but you know what they say about good intentions and the road to hell.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

And All That Jazz

A posting before Sukkos last year on Imamother (hat tip to Wolf) gave a picture of of how to prepare for Moshiach's iminent coming and what we would be doing once he arrived. I didn't post about it last year, but it has been niggling at me since then. I'm really hoping the author was writing tongue in cheek or as a parody--and I'll be l'chav zchus that she was--because there was something disturbing in that posting. For one thing, she ordered us to leave our electric/electronic gadgets back in chutz l'aretz and not bring them--they won't be necessary or available in yomai hamoshiach. Say what?

I briefly took a trip around my house to see just what kinds of electronic "gadgets" we own. Let's start with the most obvious--electric lights. Sorry but I'm not going back to living by candlelight. There there is my furnace, with its electronic starter. And then there are my washer and dryer--I'm not going back to beating clothes on rocks in a stream. There is my refrigerator and stove and crock pot. There is my toaster and dishwasher. There are all the clocks and radios. There are the air conditioners and fans. There are the shabbos clocks on the appliances. There are my phones and yes, my computers, which she also says won't be mutar. Of course, there are also cars, with their electronic systems, and buses and trains and subways. And then there are those airplances she says we should all hop on, which are going to disappear in yomai hamoshiach.

And if we are getting rid of electronic systems, that means that all our manufacturing plants are going to have to go--no more ready made anything. Want to get dressed? First, catch and shear a sheep, then comb the fleece, then card the wool, then spin into thread (by hand, of course) and then weave into material. After that, cut the material, and sew by hand. And if you happen to get a headache, or the flu, or have asthma or allergies? Sure hope you know which plants in which places you might gather to make some kind of infusion that might or might not work. Need an exray or MRI or CAT scan? Uh uh, we're going back to touchy/feely medicine practice.

I admit that before reading this piece I didn't really give any serious thought to what actual living practices might be like after Moshiach comes, but I do know I never envisioned a life that would plop us straight back into the pre-dark ages, literally and figuratively. Is there anyone out there who can give any true, actual, authoritative references that might say what our lives might be like after Moshiach? I've ridden a horse and also a mule, I've slept in a tent and I've cooked on a campfire under the stars (although I did use modern matches to start the fire with). They aren't experiences I'd be looking forward to on a daily basis. Please, tell me I won't have to do these things.