Sunday, January 31, 2010

Surely You Jest?!

Someone sent me the link below, thinking I'd be interested to see the state of today's shidduch world, the insane state. Please, someone tell me that we haven't finally come down to this. It's not enough that we have shidduch resumes today, turning the whole finding a spouse idea into a business deal. It's not enough that the CIA couldn't possibly ask as many questions of as many strangers of every stripe when developing a dossier on a prospective shidduch as we frum Jews do. It's not enough that we have turned the whole process of finding a marriage partner into such a scrambled mess that I'm not sure that shidduch crisis even describes it accurately enough. Now we've got "professional" relationship coaches. And prepare yourself people--this service isn't free and it's going to cost but good.

I browsed the site and I still am shaking my head. Among the things they will help you with is figuring out what to look for in a spouse, what you should be looking for and what not. Okay, let me shortcut what could otherwise be an extended rant: if you need someone else to tell you what to look for in a spouse then you are just plain not ready to get married. If you can't trust your own judgement about what qualities are right for you in a marriage, then you are just plain not ready to get married. If you need coaching by a "professional" (and reading the qualifications for the two people on the site, that "professional" designation is theirs, not mine) on what to talk about, about what to do, about how to act, about what to think when on a date, YOU ARE JUST PLAIN NOT READY TO GET MARRIED.

Every day I understand better and better that old saying that common sense is the least common of the senses.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Shabbos Shira and our Feathered Friends

This Shabbos is Shabbos Shira, and as I wrote last year, it is a custom for some to put out food for the birds on this Shabbos. To avoid any problems I put out the food before Shabbos. This time of year the birds are really having to scrounge to find food, so be generous if you can. I put out some tins containing a mix of bread crumbs, crushed cereal, seeds and bits of dried, chopped fruits. I also make some balls to hang on the trees, using peanut butter to hold the dry mixture together.

Why feeding the birds? Apparently somewhere it is written that our feathered friends joined in in singing the Shir Shel Yam. Regardless, this has been minhag in our families forever, and I love watching the birds as they find their winter treats. Amazing what little it takes to make them super happy. Hmmm, might be a lesson to learn in there.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

By Hand

A comment a while ago made by NMF7 on Israel Chronicles sent me back into the past. She was asking how someone finds a way to be able to contribute to others ( she was speaking in reference to those who have been declared "heroes" because of their service to others).

A huge number of postings ago when cooking and machine sewing were being discussed as "virtues" that a married woman should have, I made the comment that the decorative needle crafts was what I liked doing. I also referenced knitting and crocheting.

Back when I was young and still spending summers up in the Catskills, we women spent a lot of time in knitting and crocheting. Granted, some of that handwork was for our own families. Why would I buy scarves and mittens and hats for my kids when I could make them myself? Why would I spend huge sums on handmade baby blankets and afghans when I could custom make them myself? But in addition to the items that we made for our personal families, we also knitted and crocheted items to be given to charity and chesed programs. There are plenty of new mothers who come from the poverty sector--yes, I'm referring to frum mothers here--and whose babies are not going home to 13th or 18th Avenue European layettes. There are plenty of newborns for whom a warm and snuggly baby blanket would be an incredible gift. And yes, there are plenty of seniors stuck in nursing facilities and long care facilities who would welcome those blankets or afghans as well.

Sometimes each of us would make a full blanket on our own. Other times we would work as a cooperative team; each of us would knit or crochet a square and then the squares would be joined to form a blanket. We for sure could finish one blanket a day, and sometimes we'd even finish two. One summer we made 67 blankets. Some went to the Ohel Children's Home for their younger placements. The others went to a Bikur Cholim that presented them to the new mothers. A different summer we knitted and crocheted 236 pairs of warm socks, some adult size, some children's sizes. The adult sizes were sent to the IDF. The children's socks and booties again went to organizations that dealt with needy mothers and children.

One really memorable winter I spent once a week visiting in a local nursing home. But it wasn't just talking we were doing. Many of the senior women themselves knew how to knit and crochet. We brought the yarn and needles and the company and we companionably knitted and crocheted together. Some of the items made went to the seniors themselves. A special few others were made for donating to charity. One of the yeshivas held an auction and pride of place at the auction was the full size afghan that had been made by our visiting knitting circle. It was absolutely stunning, and the money that the afghan brought in funded a whole lot of extras that the yeshiva couldn't afford otherwise.

So, if you aren't sure just what you could do that might make a difference in people's
lives, that would allow you to contribute, even if your time to get out is limited, then consider the things you could produce by hand. Work alone, work with a friend or a few friends, work when you can--the end result is welcome by so many people.

Supplies and patterns are available in a lot of places, but you might find of interest the Lion Brand Yarn site They offer free patterns and suggestions for which types of charities might welcome handmade donations. They also offer a discount on yarn that is purchased for charitable purposes. To access the patterns you have to register, but registration is free.

Plenty of people who donate money to organizations. Making something by hand for someone else who needs it, to use and enjoy, allows you to donate a little bit of your heart as well.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It's Not Fair!!!!

I supervise the second level writing courses for my college. One of my responsibilities is to choose a theme and associated readings that all second level courses will use for the year. This year the theme is "It's Not Fair!!!" The readings chosen, both fiction and non-fiction, all deal with some element of "fair." The handbook for the course reminds students that "fair" has many definitions and that how fair is applied, to whom, when and where can differ from situation to situation, from time period to time period.

One of the problems with the word fair is that some of its underlying concepts are seen as universal and some are not, or at least not by all people. There are mutiple definitions for fair, some having to do with equality, some with justice and legality, some with morality, some with desire and jealousy. This is where some of our problems in Klal stem from. Some of the issues that concern some/all members of Klal fall under one definition of fair while others should and do fall under other definitions. Yet, many people apply only one definition to all the situations.

Let me illustrate. It is offered that all Jewish children should have access to a Jewish education, to a Torah-based education. The model that is in place, for the most part, is a full-day yeshiva/day school form of education. That is, both secular studies and Jewish studies are handled within the same school setting. Most people, when asked, prefer this type of education for their children. And if asked, most people would say that all Jewish children should have this type of education, that it is "only fair" that all children, regardless of circumstances, should be given this type of education. If you mention money, many people get huffy. "Money should have no place in the discussion of a child's education" is a frequent rejoinder. Makes for nice philosophy, but as a practical matter money not only has a place in discussing education, it takes first place.

One solution to the money issue in yeshiva education has been to introduce a type of fairness that we can call "forced equality." If parent X does not have the money or all of the money to pay for yeshiva tuition then fairness demands that someone else put up that money. If parent Y does have the money to pay for tuition, then Parent Y is not only going to pay his children's tuition, but Parent Y is going to be forced to throw even more money into the school so that Parent X's children will be equal to Parent Y's children. If this also results in Parent Y suddenly finding himself with less money to spend on himself and his family, if it results in Parent Y's finding himself in a financial pinch, this is all fine. After all, fairness isn't worried about what other things Parent Y could find to do with the money (Note: those things to do with the money are not about buying luxuries but could very well be helping out elderly parents, funding a retirement account etc.); fairness is interested in having Parent X's children on par with Parent Y's children.

In the above situation fairness and equality are using a lowest common denominator approach. No one has a right to be "more" equal than anyone else. Equality has a low baseline. No one seems to care, or at least only a few people seem to care, that beggaring Parent Y to be fair to Parent X is itself unfair to Parent Y.

We have the Jewish concept of tzedaka and of giving ma'aser. Ma'aser is calculated as 10% of your earnings, or sometimes at 20%. Nowhere have I read, however, that we are required to beggar ourselves in order to give tzedaka. Nowhere have I read that 50% is a requirement. Yet, that is the outcome when Parent Y is supporting an alphabet of other parents' children.

At some point, and it had better be sooner than later, Klal is going to have to redefine its use of fairness as it applies to tuition. Is it a fair, just idea that all Jewish children receive a Jewish education? I won't argue that. Is it fair that only a small part of Klal is being forced to pay the tab for that education? Nope. Is it fair that people who could presumably work so that they could pay tuition or at least part of tuition are routinely let off the hook? Nope. Is it fair that people who routinely work hard, very hard, and make money, sometimes a lot of money, that could be used for their family--immediate and extended--are looked at as rashayim who need to be "equalized"? Nope. Yes, it is fair that Klal extend a hand to those who, through no fault of their own and with plenty of effort put in, cannot pay the tab for educating their children. But where is the seichal in deciding who pays and how much? There is something more than a little off in any society that villifies those with money while at the same time reaching deeply into those people's pockets.

Monday, January 25, 2010

It's Raining, It's Pouring

As I write this, NYC is getting drenched. Of course it is--the new term starts today and I'll be teaching. I seem to be batting 100%. It has either rained or snowed every day that I have taught now for years. It doesn't matter what days are on my schedule--if I'm teaching the weather will be icky. The only time this doesn't happen as a regular occurrence is if I'm teaching summer school, and even there, the summers I taught were unusually rainy ones. I actually once had a student who told me that he'd love to take another course with me but he couldn't deal with the weather I seem to bring in my wake.

Everyone in my family frowned at me this morning, either in person or over the phone. They looked out their windows and then put 2+2 together--clearly I'm back to work.

You think I don't bring rain in my wake, that it's a joke? Last week we were in Las Vegas for five days--and it rained all five days. Not just rained but poured. The local weather forecasters were announcing that this was the rainiest week in LV history since they've been tracking the weather. In five days they got six months worth of rain. I made the mistake of bringing a few papers to revise with me to LV--clearly Mother Nature considered this as
"working" and let it pour.

If you're considering making a simcha in the next few months let me give you a weather thumbs up--I'll be working Mondays and Wednesdays and alternate Tuesdays. Don't say I didn't warn you.

On Family Relationships

Everyone living can attest to the the highly complex relationship among siblings and between parents and their children. Siblings, despite having the same parents and living in the same home, are not clones of each other. Even identical twins, while physically the same, need not have identical outlooks and personalities.

Some siblings appear to be quite close to each other; no one has ever seen or heard a bad or nasty word pass between them. Some siblings are in the main quite close to each other but have been known to disagree with each other or argue with each other or even fight with each other over specific items. Some siblings seem to have nothing in common with each other as far as personality or outlook goes but they share a loyalty to the family that is theirs; they can fight with each other but heaven help the outsider who tries to do that. And a few siblings seem to have no kesher, no liking and no interest in protecting the family as a whole--if their siblings fell off the earth that would suit them fine. These siblings form a dysfunctional family.

The various divisions of Klal Yisroel are siblings, whether some of them like the fact or not. We share the same "parentage." Our Father has told us and told us "Kol Yisroel areivim zeh lo'zeh." Yes, well. As in any other very large family, there are going to be smaller groups of siblings who find more in common with each other, who react better, who get along better with each other than they necessarily do with all the others. But regardless of how they may align themselves they cannot abrogate the fact that they have a common parentage, that they are members of the same family. The problem arises when one such group of siblings has decided that it is the only legitimate sibling grouping and tries to put down or get rid of all the other siblings. Such a group is trying to be an only child when the facts don't support the contention. Such a group believes that they are their parents' favorites. Such a group believes that it is their right to rule over all the other siblings.

Now imagine the chaos when two groups of siblings, or three or more groups of those siblings, each have decided that they are "King of the Mountain" and all the others better buckle down and do what they say. Time and effort that could be spent in strengthening the family is wasted on internecine warfare. When such groups badmouth each other to outsiders they destroy the fabric of family life. Instead of protecting and defending their siblings they cheer when trouble finds these siblings.

Klal Yisroel is B"H too large to assume that every single brother or sister will have a close, loving relationship with every other brother or sister. But what is possible and is not being seen is that every brother and sister in Klal will fight to protect the right to life of all the other siblings. These siblings don't have to adore each other; what they have to do is recognize their kinship and obligation to protect the family unit.

Shalom should be possible even when siblings don't like each other's practices. Shalom recognizes that there is mutual benefit in all siblings remaining well, even if they can't live together under one roof. There are enough enemies of Klal Yisroel out there who would rejoice in our downfall. Must we give them fodder for their evil intentions? There is real truth to the saying "United we stand, divided we fall." It's more than time to leave the childish squabbling to little kiddies and start acting like the grownups we're supposed to be. No, I don't love all my brothers and sisters in Klal equally, but I sure don't want them facing down the barrel of a shotgun. I wish I could say with certainty that that is not what they want for me.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Be It Ever So Humble, There's No Place Like Home

I have done my share of NY bashing--I admit that freely. There is much about the place that I don't like, that doesn't make me happy, that makes my blood boil. But.......I'll freely and gladly say that, given most of the rest of the city, I have been blessed to be living in Staten Island.

No, the Island is not problem free. The City of NY has long treated it as both the unloved sibling and a handy cash cow. We don't have the less expensive public transportation that the rest of the city has. What's worse, the MTA uses all the monies collected from our various bridges to support mass transit in other parts of the region rather than using the monies to build up our local system.

But as a frum Jew, I give thanks every morning that I am living on the Island. No, we are not malachim here. There are individuals who have had and have fights with other individuals--we're human beings with human foibles. But as a community we are so much a live and let live type of place. The shuls--every last one of them--work in cooperation on community issues. It matters not a whit what your hashkafa is or what label you wear--we simply don't divide ourselves into little warring enclaves. We run the gamut here from the left to the middle to the right. And no one is turning up their nose at anybody else's practices. If privately someone feels that another type of practice isn't the way to go, still, you won't hear this publicly.

This is a place where you know your neighbors, all of your neighbors. This is a place where kids on the same block go out in the street and play with each other, regardless of what school or shul they go to. This is a place where everyone, but everyone, says good Shabbos or good Yom Tov when you are walking on the street, regardless of lavush or of sex. This is a place where achdus is not just a word in the dictionary but an everyday occurrence. This is a place where when trouble strikes one of our residents we all pitch in.

And here's something else that makes me thankful to be living here. This is not a place where money is the deciding factor on your "status" in the community. Sure, there are a few people who are first out of the gate to wear the latest fashions or to buy the latest doodads. So? They don't set the tone for the community. There is very little of keeping up with the Schwartzes going on here, certainly not as a community mindset. Just for the record, there are some seriously monied people living here, the kind of money that would get these people anything they wanted relating to "kovod" in other communities. [Note: and yes,they do get kavod from us when they give tzedaka with an open hand and are active in our community organizations.] And yes, a whole slew of upper middle class incomes being made by those in the highest paying professions. And also yes, lots of people in the middle class, and a fair amount of those who haven't got a lot of money. And for the most part everyone is living in the same types of houses as everybody else does, and living the same type of life. Do those with more money than some other people in the neighborhood spend more? Spend more on what are considered luxuries? Quite probably, but who cares? People here don't pick friends based on the contents of their wallets.

I believe it was mentioned on another blog that we have Joseph Avenue, and this equates to "Winthrop Avenue" in Teaneck or back bay Lawrence. Let's put that myth to rest. Joseph Avenue has one block, and a short block at that, of over sized houses on it. Are we talking gazillionaires row here? Nope. Some of those living there are just plain comfortable--they were lucky to get the lots and build when housing did not cost what it costs now, and the lots are not mega-sized. The rest of Joseph Avenue has attached row houses and attached two-family houses on it. There's no "rich enclave" isolated in our community.

The insides of the Island houses? Whatever you want. Frankly, no one judges you on how you have decorated or on what brand names are attached to your furnishings. Someone buys or leases a luxury car? So? Someone buys a dining room set? We hope they use it for lots of simchas. Someone is taking a "fancy" vacation? We hope they enjoy it. If there is kinah in SI you'd need a super power magnifying glass and Sherlock Holmes to find it.

And have I mentioned that yeshiva tuitions here are fairly reasonable when viewed against tuitions in the rest of the city? And that the schools in our area know they are dependent on the good will of the community so they work together with the parents? And that the community supports the schools, even those members who don't have children in them?

There isn't a required simcha style here--you do what you want and what you can afford and nobody looks funny at you for doing so. Sure, there have been some megabucks simchas made by people in the community--exceptions rather than the rule that everyone "must" follow. And those making those simchas had the money to pay for them without going into serious debt. They weren't made by families giving in to community pressure to conform, since there isn't any such pressure.

You would think that a community the size of ours would have at least 1/2 dozen restaurants in residence. Wrong. Over the years some restaurants have opened and have pretty much faded away soon after. The pizza shop/dairy restaurant stays in business. There's still a small cafe type of place around after a few years. Last year a kosher Duncan Donuts opened. That's it. We aren't an every day into a restaurant type of place. If you don't feel like cooking or get stuck there are always the two butchers/take home food places for some take home food. This is a place where people, for the most part, eat at home, with their families. Women--yes, and some men as well--cook here.

To sum up, Staten Island isn't a place overloaded with the trappings of a forced, conspicuous consumerist attitude. You don't have to be anything but yourself here, and you choose that for yourself. It's a frum neighborhood where I live (there's more than one neighborhood but Willowbrook is generally what people refer to when they talk about SI) and you are free to define frum any way you want to.

So yes, there's one really great thing about NY, and I'm living there.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Imagination? What's That?

Yes, back when I was young things really were different from how they are now. For one thing, the world was a safer place for children. I'm not making it out to be that there were no crazy people back then, but there truly were far fewer of them. Children routinely walked to school and back, and at fairly young ages, without an adult being present. Children walked over to friends' houses to play, and not just next door.

But safety was not the only difference. I'll go out on a limb here and say that we were far more imaginative than most kids today. When mom told us to go play, we didn't head for a computer or computerized game. Mostly we didn't stay indoors. We'd head outside, and what magical worlds awaited us out there.

We didn't have fully equipped play yards with every outdoor toy known to man. We had grass, for those who had yards, and sidewalks and each other and our imagination. One of my neighbors had an oak tree with a branch at the perfect height, and the parents hung an old tire from the branch--voila! A swing--excerpt when it was a rocket taking us far into outer space or a throne or a magic carpet. A piece of chalk and a small pebble and the sidewalk was just perfect for hopscotch, or creating artistic masterpieces. Sometimes we'd play "real" games such as Red Rover and sometimes we'd make up a game as we went along. We could spend hours in games of let's pretend and never get bored. Sometimes we'd just lay down on the grass and investigate the magical world among the blades. We could sit and play with a ladybug for as long as she'd deign to stay with us. We scouted out dandelions to blow at the thistles and watch them dance around the yard. We'd search for the perfect blade of grass to make a magic whistle. We'd play with any sand and dirt available, and oh boy did we get dirty. And no mom complained about that dirt because we were outside, moving around, having fun.

My house was on a higher elevation than my neighbor's house. If you sat on the edge of my yard and shoved off you had an incredible sled ride down to the neighbor's yard. We could do this a zillion times and not get bored. Sometimes we were magical beings, pretending we were flying down the hill. And sometimes we'd just sit on the edge of our yard and talk to each other, munching on apples.

On a trip back to Oregon a few years ago I took my husband to see the home where I grew up. As we moved around the side of the house I was suddenly convulsed with laughter. There, in the space between the neighbor's yard and our yard, were two beautiful apple trees. The people who own the house now told me that they couldn't understand quite how or why anyone would plant apple trees right in that spot, on an incline. Well, I could. You see, we'd have a contest about who could spit the seeds from our apple the furthest, and we had that contest many a time. And now years later there are apple trees to attest that we were there.

Yes, many of the toys and games and gizmos available today can be called imaginative, but they are someone else's imagination. You play the games someone else has thought up, and play by their rules. And so many of those toys and games don't require or won't support more than 1 or maybe 2 people at a time playing them. And they are sedentary, requiring no movement. (And please, no comments about playing tennis using the Wii--for the price of the thing you could buy a few racquets, some balls and actually be out there playing tennis with your friends instead of pretending you are playing tennis.)

A catchword in today's business world is that you have to learn to "think out of the box." How sad that we need to be told that, that we need to be told to be imaginative. How sad that imagination is not the fuel that play runs on today. Some day I hope to be able to take grandchildren out to my backyard and plop down with them on the grass. Maybe we'll lay back and stare up at the clouds and imagine where those clouds have been on their journey and what they've seen. Maybe we'll imagine what happens in that great grass blade metropolis. Maybe we'll run about playing tag or jumping just for the joy of it. Maybe we'll get good and dirty. And maybe we'll just let our imaginations soar and fly where they will. There is something incredibly freeing about getting outside and using the world as your toy box. I truly wish that freedom for my grandchildren and for all the children out there. Just imagine what that could be like.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Those Crazy Questions? Nothing New

Those inane questions that seem to get asked when people are redting shidduchim? Not all that new really. Oh, the particular types of questions may be different, but the question asking is well-rooted in our history.

The song Tumbalalaika, a yiddish folk song out of Russia, illustrates perfectly that men have long been asking the strange questions and women have, somewhat impatiently, long been answering them.

Original lyrics in Yiddish

שטײט אַ בחור און ער טראַכט,
(או: שטײט אַ בחור, שטײט און טראַכט)
טראַכט און טראַכט אַ גאַנצע נאַכט:
וועמען צו נעמען און ניט פֿאַרשעמען,
וועמען צו נעמען און ניט פֿאַרשעמען?

טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַלײַקע
טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַ, טום־באַלאַלײַקע
טום־באַלאַלײַקע, שפּיל באַלאַלײַקע,
טום־באַלאַלײַקע, פֿריילעך זאָל זײַן!
(או: שפּיל באַלאַלײַקע, פֿריילעך זאָל זײַן!)

מיידל, מיידל, כ'וויל בײַ דיר פֿרעגן:
וואָס קאַן וואַקסן, וואַקסן אָן רעגן?
וואָס קאַן ברענען און ניט אויפֿהערן?
וואָס קאַן בענקען, וויינען אָן טרערן?

טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...

נאַרישער בחור, וואָס דאַרפֿסטו פֿרעגן?
אַ שטיין קאַן וואַקסן, וואַקסן אָן רעגן,
ליבע קאַן ברענען און ניט אויפֿהערן,
אַ האַרץ קאַן בענקען, וויינען אָן טרערן!

טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...

וואָס איז העכער פֿון אַ הויז?
וואָס איז פֿלינקער פֿון אַ מויז?
וואָס איז טיפֿער פֿון אַ קוואַל?
וואָס איז ביטער, ביטערער וי גאַל?

טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ...

אַ קוימען איז העכער פֿון אַ הויז,
אַ קאַץ איז פֿלינקער פֿון אַ מויז,
די תּורה איז טיפֿער פֿון אַ קוואַל,
דער טויט איז ביטער, ביטערער וי גאַל!

טום־באַלאַלײַ, טום־באַלאַלײַ... Transliteration

Shteyt a bocher, shteyt un tracht
Tracht un tracht a gantse nacht
Vemen tzu nemen un nisht farsheimen
Vemen tzu nemen un nisht farsheimen

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, shpil balalaika
Tumbalalaika freilach zol zayn

Meydl, meydl, ich vil dir freigen,
Vos ken vaksen, vaksen on reigen?
Vos ken brenen un nisht oyfheren?
Vos ken benken, veynen on treren?


Di narisher bocher, vos darfstu fregen?
A shtein ken vaksen, vaksen on regen.
Liba ken brenen un nisht oyfheren.
A hartz ken benken, veinen on treren.


Vos iz hecher fun a hoyz?
Vos iz flinker fun a moyz?
Vos iz tiefer fun a kval?
Vos iz bitter, bitterer fun gal?


A koymen iz hecher fun a hoyz.
A kats iz flinker fun a moyz.
Di toyre iz tifer fun a kval.
Der toyt iz bitter, bitterer fun gal.


A young lad stands, and he thinks
Thinks and thinks a whole night
Whom to take and not to shame
Whom to take and not to shame

Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbala, Tumbala, Tumbalalaika
Tumbalalaika, strum balalaika
Tumbalalaika, may we be happy

Girl, girl, I want to ask of you
What can grow, grow without rain?
What can burn and never end?
What can yearn, cry without tears?

Foolish lad, why do you have to ask?
A stone can grow, grow without rain
Love can burn and never end
A heart can yearn, cry without tears

What is higher than a house?
What is swifter than a mouse?
What is deeper than a well?
What is bitter, more bitter than gall?

A chimney is higher than a house
A cat is swifter than a mouse
The Torah is deeper than a well
Death is bitter, more bitter than gall

Friday, January 15, 2010

Up, up and Away

Hubby and I are taking a few days of R&R. I've left some posts to pop up, but I won't be popping up with them. Have an enjoyable week and I'll see ya soon. You might all spare a moment of pity for us as well--we're going to have a firsthand look at just what security measures are like now at the airports.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Inanimate Rebellion

Remember when the controls on the electronic items we owned were basically a knob that said "on" or "off"? Sometimes those knobs might get wiggly and require you to bang them back in. And that was pretty much all the maintenance required.

Despite having warned my inanimate objects that this was so not the time for any of them to give me grief, we awoke this week to a refrigerator whose thermostat was reading 72 and heading up. Miracle of miracle I got a repair person in within a few hours. But that was the end of the miracles. As he was adjusting something or another in the fridge he made the comment that he hates the computerized appliances. Why? Because the first thing that will break in these appliances is the computer. And then he said the un-magic words: we'll try this and see if it helps. If it doesn't, I'll have to replace the motor for the computer section.

Yup, you guessed it: his fix didn't work and he had to come back and replace all the computerized controls and the special motor that runs them. I asked him why, if the companies know that the computer controls won't last as long as the fridge is supposed to last, they don't develop computer controls that can stand up to the use a fridge gets. He laughed and said: "You know how much money these companies make manufacturing replacement parts?" Right about now "on" and "off" and a little knob are looking really good to me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Music from In Der Heim

That place we fondly call In Der Heim doesn't exist anymore, and hasn't for decades. But thanks to the wonder of computers and the Internet, bits and pieces of that In Der Heim are available for us to see and hear. The music linked to below is accompanied by pictures of Jews and life in the shtetls of yesteryear. Not a comprehensive listing by any means but certainly a flavorful bite. Just a suggestion--share these with your children. And while you are at it, tell them the stories of their great grandparents and great greats and and the bits and pieces of your personal family history that are going to form the family mesorah that is their inheritance.

rare old Russian Jewish songs and dances, with a video of pictures from life in Russia 100-200 years

1938-9 Jewish Life in Cracow (Kazimierz)

Jewish folklore from Romania before WW2

Boris Savchuk - Oyfen Pripitchik - Authentic Jewish melody This song illustrates the Jewish community life in Eastern Europe, most of which was destroyed in the Holocaust.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On Israel

I was taken to task by a commenter on a different posting as regards Israel. That posting was on OOT as a viable alternative to living in the NY Metropolitan area.

I can't officially say why others are not considering a move to Israel (although unofficially I really could as this has been the topic of conversation more than once). I do know, however, why we are not there. And even as I write this I also know there are going to be people who are sneering self-righteously and saying that living in Israel tops any reasons I have. So be it.

When I first got married it was my husband's and my intention to make aliyah. Early on I was sent to scope things out and see which community would be good for us to live in. We ran into a big stumbling block. The profession my husband had trained for and was working in was simply not available in Israel back then. That was a major problem. The profession I was in paid half a pittance. We weren't going to have parnoseh if we moved. And then there was family that was in Israel at the time. Some of that family was plain and simple not frum. The other part of the family was frum out of sight, and to them we were not exactly what they were looking for. It was going to make close family relations difficult. We weren't going to have a reliable family safety net. And then my father died and left my mom a fairly young widow with youngish children. And my father in law got ill. In short, real life got in the way of any plans we may have had.

Fast forward to now. We are nearing retirement. Why aren't we moving to Israel instead of the wilds of Nevada? Which part of my mother's being 86 do I have to explain? We are going nowhere that is more than a few hours traveling from where my mom is, and since she is planning on spending a good portion of the year with us, that traveling is as far as one bedroom to another. And no, she is not making aliyah at her age, and she isn't leaving her kids, her grandchildren and her great grandchildren behind.

And then there are our children. They, too, love Israel but they, too, have professions that are hard if not impossible to transfer to Israel. The difference in living costs from Israel to here would not make up for that drop in salary. And no, I don't wish those commuter marriages on them. One younger couple from our neighborhood who made aliyah with the husband commuting back to the states is now divorced. A second couple moved back here to solve the real shalom bayis problems. No, I don't wish poverty and dependence on state services on my children, nor being married but only sometimes. And if I then suddenly had to kick in the money so that they could have a secure financial footing, my financial footing would go in the toilet.

So yes, job and earning opportunities and close family relations are key factors as to why my family is here, not in Israel. Not every dream comes true--grown ups know this; children assume they can have everything they want.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Money Talks

You know that old saying that money talks? Well, today money is not just talking, it's shouting, and a whole lot of people aren't listening to what it says.

Fact: some frum communities take a lot of money to live in. Housing costs may be expensive, relative to other communities, taxes of all types may be high, basic services may cost more than they do in other places, and the costs of being frum--shuls and schools--may be expensive relative to other places. Add up all these costs and then look at after tax income and an incontrovertible fact may become clear: there are people who cannot afford to live in these communities. Yeah, so? The unfortunate fact is that there are people who ARE living in these communities who don't have the money to do so. And because they do, they become a drain on the resources of the community. And the more of these people who there are in a community, the harder it becomes for even those who do have the money but are finding it being drained away.

Yes, thanks to the economic downturn, there are people who are finding themselves in financial difficulties who normally would have little problem in affording these more expensive communities. They are hopeful--and so are their communities--that their financial woes will be of a temporary nature. But there are also a whole lot of people who never should have chosen the communities they did because they are never going to have the money needed to just survive there, never mind thrive. Whatever their reasons for choosing these communities, what they did not do was look at the money they had versus the money they would need.

Granted, there are some communities--not exactly cheap to live in but not requiring megabucks either--that have become gentrified. Real estate prices and the concurrent costs of taxes and services have risen so steeply that what was an affordable neighborhood, relatively speaking, no longer is one. There are a few people who suddenly find themselves living in areas that they once could afford but no longer can. But there are also plenty of people choosing these neighborhoods not based on what it costs to live there but based on the frum character of the neighborhood. They are in trouble before the moving truck pulls up to their new living quarters.

There is also this: parents would love for their children to live in the same neighborhood that they do. They'll get to be a part of their grandchildren's lives and see them often. They don't want their kids living in Yuchipitzville somewhere. And yes, there is the non-familial aspect as well: schools in the neighborhood will continue in existence because there will be a steady flow of students coming in, shuls will remain healthy. But established neighborhoods whose pricing is on the high end are the worst places for these young couples to be living. If parents X are in the $250-300K range in earnings and their children are in the $50-100K range at that point in their lives, then how are they living in the same neighborhood?!

There are some established frum communities with a real mix of housing opportunities and schooling opportunities. There are areas of these communities with inexpensive (relatively speaking) housing so young couples first starting out can, with care, afford to live. There are yeshivas in these communities who understand that they have a mixed crowd money wise and are not priced on the highest end. Such communities will have a fairly steady existence pattern--older couples may move out as they retire, couples in the mid-range move up but not out and young couples move in. With care, those on the lowest end of earning capacity can exist in these communities.

What this all boils down to is that THE factor that must be looked at before choosing a community to live in is not the frum character of the neighborhood nor the types of yeshivas available. The first thing must be earning power. If you are in a profession whose earning potential is X then you can't be looking to move to a community where the costs to live are 3 times X. And such communities need to be open and forthright when they look to attract newcomers to move in. They need to say the words "It takes X to live here. If you don't have X this is not the place for you."

These communities also need to open their eyes and face some hard facts: they may not be growing all that fast in the future. They may not be able to expand. Their yeshivas may not have a large influx of students coming in to replace those graduating, just a trickle. In point of fact, some years down the road they may just be a footnote in history: a community that was but whose time ended. Perhaps some of those communities will be able to stem the tide and remain in existence; some will not be able to do so.

But for all of us, we need to remember that money talks, and we need to listen and listen carefully to what it is saying.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Not the Promised Land

Just a few thoughts to ponder. Why are so many determined to fight for and protect a few hundred square miles of territory? No, I'm not talking about Eretz Yisroel--I'm talking about the East Coast regions where the majority of frum Jews in the US congregate. That a whole lot of frum Jews are here is purely an accident of bureaucracy married to a physical feature. The port of New York and Ellis Island were the designated arrival areas on the East Coast for immigrants coming to the US. Boston Harbor was also an entry point--it's where my family entered through. Mostly the immigrants arrived sans money and ended up settling in close proximity to their arrival point because they couldn't afford to be anywhere else. Yes, some of these immigrants obviously started shuls and schools and communal organizations. But please, let's not endow these places with some sort of holy significance. There is no "kedusha" in living near these places now. And yet, there are some people who act as if there is.

There have always been some brave souls who pushed west and north and south, evidenced by the fact that there are frum communities spread across the US. But could we please have some perspective here. Those aren't communities "in exile" from the great promised land of NY/NJ. They aren't lesser in any way because they fall far from New York City. There are an awful lot of people who are confusing the fact that we face to Mizrach when we daven with the geographical fact that NY is also in the east.

The urban frum centers, and yes, some of the suburban centers, in the East are at present riddled with problems, many of which are an outgrowth of their being in the East to begin with. New York and New Jersey fall in the designation of 5 most expensive states to live in in the US. Massachusetts falls in the top 10 most expensive states to live in. New York City is the most expensive city in the US to live in. Warning lights blinking like crazy--is no one looking at what is so clearly obvious and right there in front of them?! Where people are living is impinging on how they can live and do live. Mention a problem in Klal and money raises its head immediately. And a whole lot of those money problems are tied to geographical location.

The way I see it, until people are going to lose the blinding mindset that New York and its Metropolitan satellites are "irim ha'kedoshim," a lot of Klal's problems are not going to be solved or reduced in scope. Living elsewhere is NOT an action of last resort or of desperation--it may be the only sane and doable solution.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Mad Rush

It's the end of term and finals coming up and I'm practicing breathing just in case I forget how. Student papers are pouring in. Some of my panicked "children" are expressing worry about what grade they might be getting and require some serious calming down. As with any other bureaucracy, the required paperwork is going to take hours and hours to complete. Strangely enough, my family still insists on eating during this time period, and that means shopping as well. My inanimate objects have been well and truly warned that any misbehavior on their part will result in permanent banishment from the house. And into this mix add in that one of my children is moving to a new apartment next week--sigh, wonderful timing not.

The postings for the next couple of weeks are decidedly going to be in a lighter vein. Here's hoping that no new scandal or public announcement of the "you-have-to-be-kidding-they-said-that?!" kind will erupt to sidetrack me.

Excuse me now while I go practice saying this too shall pass, this too shall pass.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Brevity--the Soul of Wit?

There have been over the years some comments that I tend to write my postings too long. Well, here's the thing: I don't do short, by choice; that doesn't mean that I cannot do so nor that I haven't done so on occasion. And I can prove it. Okay, it happened a while back, but it happened. In a graduate school writing seminar we were asked to write a streamlined piece based on the writing style of an author we admired.

So readers, if you want short, then short you shall get. (And how would you like to pay $150 a ticket for this on Broadway? Didn't think so.)

In the style of Hemingway by way of Elmore Leonard.
One Act Play: Working title—The Old Man and the She or Get Shortened.
(Stage directions: A man, a woman, a place.)

She: Surely . . .

He: Perhaps

She: And yet . . .

He: Not certain.

She: But what?

He. Your guess.

She: If only . . .

He: Again?

She: Not that!

He: Agreed

She: Then how?

He: No clue.

She: No wonder.

He: Don’t!

She: Too late.

He: Never!

She: Indeed?!

He: Oh god!

She: Exactly.

He: So...

She: So.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Show me the Money

There is a posting up on Orthonomics talking about whether or not shadchanim should have to wait for their money until a shidduch is made or should they be paid an "hourly wage" prior to this such as other "professionals are paid.

Okay, may be just a little while since I've been officially active in shidduchim, but I think this idea is a poor one for a whole bunch of reasons. And I've got some questions for you, the readers, that should illustrate my reasons.

1. Was your marriage redt or the marriage of your children by someone who gave you an actual money figure when you first contacted him/her as to what you would have to pay if a shidduch was made? Did the shadchan explain why the sum was what it was? Did you think the sum was reasonable?

2. Was the person who redt your shidduch or that of your children a professional shadchan or a "talented" amateur with altruistic leanings and no fee?

3. If someone redt your shidduch or the shidduch of your children and did NOT name a sum or mention money when the process started out, did you nonetheless give them money or an item as a gift once the shidduch was made?

4. If yes to #3, how did you decide how much to give or how much to spend on a gift? What type of gift did you buy?

5. Was your shidduch or a shidduch for your child made by a shidduch group that takes no money but does suggest/request that you donate money to tzedaka, particularly a tzedaka that facilitiates weddings? Did you feel that this was a reasonable request?

6. Did your shidduch or a shidduch for your child come about because a friend or relative fixed you up and it worked, with very little involvement on the part of the person doing the fixing up? Did you offer money or a gift to this person after the shidduch was made?

7. Was your shidduch or a shidduch for your child as the result of you or your child meeting your/their spouse on your/their own?

I'd really like to hear from my readers how it was that they found themselves engaged and married. So much is being said about "professional shadchanim"--those for whom shadchanus is a business occupation. A lot of people talk about shadchanim that charge a set fee. Are there really so many of these people out there? Are they making the majority of the shidduchim being made today? Is money being required or is it something that people are offering on their own?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Yup, the Ps are coming

What I'm about to write may be Painful for some People or Perhaps Puzzling (amazing how many P words English Produces). Now that January 1 has come and gone I've taken a look at my Purim and Pesach lists and made the decision as to which items should not under any circumstances be left to do immediately before those holidays. The time to do them is now, when, relatively speaking, I have time for them.

So much of the panic that ensues in the time period between pre-Purim and Pesach is totally and completely avoidable. If we become frazzled during that time, the cause is ourselves.

So, do you have some idea about where you will be having Purim Seudah? If it's going to be in your home a bit of thinking now saves a lot of aggravation erev Purim. Are you going to be serving on china or using disposables? If disposables, buy them now and put them away. No reason to make that a trip when you are going to be busy cooking. Do you know to whom you are going to be sending Shalach Monos? Why not? Talk to your family now, type up the list, put it in a file in the computer and breathe easier when it's the week of Purim. [And if that shalach monos list seems to resemble the population roll of a small urban city, you might want to give some thought to reducing that list.]

As for Pesach, take a deep breath and think of all the work that you do every year right before the holiday. How much of it really needs to be done then? Probably a lot less than you figure. Do you wash your bedroom curtains every year for Pesach? Why? Or polish and clean your chandelier? Or rearrange your linen closet? Or alphabetize your bookshelves? (never mind removing all those books and cleaning and polishing all the shelves) Do you find yourself up on a step ladder peering into the uppermost regions of storage areas whose contents have not seen the light of day for years? Do all the windows in the house require washing only when Pesach is imminent? Ladies, we are guilty of producing some of that pre-Pesach hysteria, and there's no reason for it.

As I'm writing this the bedroom curtains are merrily twirling in the washing machine. They have nothing to do with having a kosher Pesach and a lot to do with housekeeping madness. They are getting done now, not when they become yet one more item on an impossible to do list. And no, I'm not calling these cleaning chores Pesach preparation. They have zero, zip, nada to do with Pesach, except where we have somehow inscribed them in our minds as being "necessary" for having a Kosher Pesach.

So yes, I'm recommending a P word--planning. And I'm also recommending another P word--purging, such as in purging from your erev Yom Tov lists those items that can be done at some other time, waaaaay in advance of the holiday, or long after it is over.

Perhaps if people would Plan ahead they might find themselves experiencing another P word that some balabustas never get to--Pleasure in the holiday.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

In God we trust

Personally, I have never understood how people can NOT believe that there is a God. I look around at the world and shake my head--none of this is even remotely possible as an "accident." And then there is this.

Not long ago friends of ours got the kind of news that no person and certainly no parents should ever have to hear: their child had contracted a deadly disease. The doctors were not optimistic. They would try but did not hold out much hope. The parents dealt with the doctors and pushed for anything that might help, but their prayers went winging heavenward, as did all of ours. They put their faith in He who is rofeh cholim.

Tonight we will all gather to celebrate with that family, celebrate with hearts that are overflowing. What are we celebrating? The engagement of the child the doctors were so sure was not going to make it. You want to call it a vort that we will be attending, fine, do so. But we are all calling it a seudah ho'doah. Truly, "hodu la'shem ki tov." Tonight there will be no person looking at this engagement and sniffing about outlay and expenditure. Tonight there will be no discussion about the overly extravagant engagements in Klal. Tonight what there will be is joy and happiness and tears of gratitude that such an occasion came to be. Tonight there will be thanks going upwards to God for bestowing blessings on this family.

To choson and kallah I wish the abundance of blessings that God holds ready to bestow. May they be zocheh to build a bayis ne'eman b'Yisroel. May they be zocheh to arichas yomim. May their parents and all of us see much nachas from this couple. And may all of us be zocheh to see our children married in freiden and in gezundt, with God's help.