Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Freilachen Purim


May the joy of this holiday fill our hearts and our lives, and may it carry over to all the rest of the year. As to sampling all the shalach monos, I have a friend who insists that any food eaten because of a mitzva will not add calories or pounds, so go ahead and enjoy the goodies of the day.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Snow? Nooooooo!!!!

Once again Staten Island has shown its determination to stand apart from the rest of New York City. Only this time I would have given a lot to be just like everyone else. The snow that began yesterday was not supposed to bury NYC, being only peripheral to the Snowacane's path. That was at least the theory.

It started snowing here really early yesterday morning, and except for a brief respite of a couple of hours in the early evening (just enough time to try and dig out some paths) it hasn't stopped. Because the old snow had not completely disappeared, my yard is now about 2-2-1/2 feet higher than the base of the house, and that's not counting the height of the drifts. My crew is out there for the umpteenth time trying to clear paths to get us to the street. And more snow is still predicted here for today and tonight, with "only" 2-4 inches expected tomorrow. Local forecasters are saying we will definitely have a 16" accumulation, if not more.

It picked a great weekend--not--to have this weather. Tomorrow is parshas Zochor and tomorrow night the megilla leining. Sunday morning megilla and then delivering shalach monos and getting in company for the seudah. Through a fluke, all my company for seudah is from SI this year. Hopefully they will be all dug out by then.

I can take comfort in this, however: it's worse, way worse in Teaneck and northern Jersey. Luckily my daughter from Teaneck arrived yesterday before the worst of the storm hit or she never would have made it home for Shabbos. And there is a real possibility that two couples who were supposed to head out to Teaneck may not be going, so my Suedah may get larger. So yes, here I am giving thanks for living in SI even while I'm complaining.

Have a safe Shabbos as you are out and about walking.

I think we have to change the words to that old song to read "Snow, snow, go away. Don't come back another day."

Naming Names

To the pantheon of things intolerable that women bring with them just by living has been added that they have names. Already last year many Jewish publications, who had already banned pictures of women, were also banning mentioning their names. This lead to some very skewed announcements of the following kind. "Mazel tov to Rabbi Meir Yungerman on the birth of his son." "Thanks to Meir Baal Tzedaka and the person he is married to for donating a new Aron Kodesh to the shul." "Mazel tov to Meir Bochur on his marriage. May they be zocheh to build a bayis ne'eman b'Yisroel." I made a comment on a different blog on a tsnius posting that I'm surprised that someone hasn't legislated to change the name from Megillas Esther to Megillas Mordechai. Someone else commented that hadn't I noticed but the trend now is just to call it the Megillah, no name attached. (Wonder just what they would do with Megillas Rus?)

But I do have a solution to the problem--give women numbers instead of names. Can't be anything untsniusdik in saying 258893 [note: this is her nickname; for the real name see below]and I will be happy to come to lunch at your home. Not only that, but it would be of undoubted help in shidduchim.

The system could be set up as follows. The first two numbers would represent the year of birth--no more being told someone is one age and they turn out to be another age. The next five numbers would represent the zip code where the girl is presently residing--boys would know right away whether or not the girl lives in the right area. The next three numbers would be the first three digits of the zip code where the father grew up and the three digits after that would be the first three digits of the zip code where the mother grew up--no getting stuck with family not to your liking.

Ah, but we're not finished yet. The next two digits would represent the girls height in inches. This would be followed by the digits representing her dress size. (This is a slightly problematic set of numbers as a change in dress size would also mean a change in identification number, but I'll let the computer geeks work on this part.)

Still not done. The next digits would represent the amount of money a girl's parents are willing to give in support of a son in law. These digits would be followed by the mean top salary for the profession the girl is preparing for/has prepared for so as to be able to support her family. This would be followed by the digits representing how much money the girl has saved up towards supporting her husband.

To be a really useful name we would also have to include the digits representing the elementary school, high school and seminary that a girl attended. Also useful would be the digits representing the camp or camps attended.

Of course, once married there would need to be additional digits added to the identifying number. Certainly we'd need to add the letters/numbers of the car purchased for the husband by the in laws and/or the wife. You'd need to enter a digit for the number of boys the woman gives birth to (obviously no need to add a digit for the number of girls). For really older couples we would also need to include digits representing the number of grandchildren, with separate letter identifications for those who are sitting and learning. And if a man really wanted to "brag" about his wife, we could add a digit for the number of times in one week she cooks the husband's favorite foods. Note: this would have to be a single digit--making it a two digit number would be a breach of tsnius.

So congratulations Meir Bochur on your marriage to 91-11230-112-112-63-6-30000-68000--27934--17-17H-46-390. May you have years of happiness together. Meir's grandparents are celebrating their 50th anniversary today but our newspaper has run out of room to print his grandmother's identification number, so we'll just say congratulations Sholom Zayde on fifty years of marriage.

Purim Torah? Maybe.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Alas, No Trumpets

It's our anniversaries tomorrow (both Hebrew and English, a really rare occurence) and someone asked me a kind of strange question that relates to them. She asked me if there is anything that I would have done differently at my wedding if I had it to do over today. Well, there is something that I regret didn't happen at our wedding, but I'm not sure that it would be any different if the wedding were first taking place tomorrow.

Young girls have all kinds of dreams. They play wedding at the drop of a hat. And yes, I had one dream that sprouted when I was very young. A bit of background necessary. Both of my parents loved classical music and opera in particular. I can still see our first record player--one of those old RCA Victor turntables with the wide horn speaker. And the first record bought for that machine? An operatic recording. I could sing in Italian before I could parse verbs in English. And I fell in love with Verdi's Aida. And somewhere in my mind lodged the notion that the Triumphal March from Act II was the absolutely most perfect music for a kallah to come down to the chupah to.

Now it happens that my mother also loves the music from Aida, but...when it came time to choose my chupah music I was steered in a different direction. Mom agreed that a kallah coming to the chupah would certainly deserve a triumphal march, but it was going to be just a tad difficult to hire a full orchestra plus all the extra trumpet players, not to mention an 80 member chorus. I was willing to compromise and do without the chorus, but alas, "saner" voices prevailed. I came down to Dodi Li, and yes, the music is beautiful, but Aida it isn't.

So yes, if I have any regrets about my wedding it's that my dream music and my real music were not one and the same. We got married when wedding films were without sound. I'm going to be having our wedding films put on a DVD, and they are offering an option to add sound. And oh yes, I am so tempted to finally get what I wanted then. Wouldn't change the husband for any money on earth, but the music? Hmmm, I wonder if they would make me two copies: one with Aida and one with Dodi Li.

You'll have to excuse me now; I've just put on a copy of Aida, and I'm not missing those trumpets for anything.

If you have never--gasp--heard the Triumphal March you are in for a treat. The entire march is gorgeous but the part that I wanted for the chupah can be heard here And for any opera buffs out there, just get a load of the pictures of La Scala in the accompanying slides.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ad lo Yodoh

There are lots of practices, things we are told to do, in yiddishkeit that we simply do without ever asking why. Then there are a few that totally raise questions in our minds. Purim, for me, brings one of those practices--ad lo yodoh. We are told to drink sufficient wine so that we don't know the difference between blessed Mordechai and cursed Haman. In other words, we forget that there is a difference. Why? Many other times we are told zacher--remember. Why now are we told to forget?

We read Megillas Esther twice on Purim. It's very clear from the Megillah that there is a huge difference between Mordechai and Haman. Mordechai is clearly the good guy and Haman clearly the bad guy. When the Megillah is studied I know of no one who teaches it who makes excuses for Haman's behavior, who refers to him as anything but Haman Ha'Rashah. Pick up that same megillah on Shushan Purim and there Haman is--still a Rashah, and Mordechai still the good guy. We have the holiday of Purim so that we will never forget what happened. So why, for the brief period of the Purim seudah and the hours that follow it do we suddenly change course and tell people to drink to forget that there really is any difference between them? What benefit is there to us in forgetting the difference?

Our history is unfortunately replete with any number of times that others have meant us harm, have attempted to c"v eradicate the Jewish people. That same history is also replete with "heroes" who have risen to the occasion and helped, with God's help, to save us from this intended harm. No one ever tells us to forget the difference for a few hours between those who intended the harm and those who averted it. Yet on Purim this is precisely what we are told. To not know the difference between Mordechai and Haman is to confuse who is who.

And it's not that we are told just to mentally tell ourselves that there was no difference between Mordechai and Haman--we are told to "eradicate" our memories through the use of alcohol. So again, why? There is more than one mishteh mentioned in the Megillah. Certainly the first one mentioned brought nothing but trouble in its wake. We see Ahasueros befuddled with wine and clearly not knowing the difference between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" when he listens to Haman. Ad loh yodoh, at least to me, seems to be establishing that we, too, have a mishteh that will make us befuddled. Why? Ma nishtanah ha yom hazeh mikol hayomim?

We are told that alcohol "gladdens the heart." Yeah, and I suppose that one glass of wine could do some gladdening and mellowing. Three or more glasses could make you far more than gladdened, particularly for those not accustomed to this much consumption at one time. But it isn't gladdening that we are solely instructed to do--it's forgetting the difference between two people that it's really hard to confuse. Again, why?

My confusion is further heightened by this: if enough is drunk to make someone unable to tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman there are also an awful lot of other things that will come along with this--the lack of ability to tell the difference between many other good and bad things. Get in this condition and you also can't tell the difference between right and wrong either. You can't tell the difference between "I'm impaired and should not get behind the wheel of a car" and "I have all the mental faculties and physical abilities needed to drive a car." Get in this condition and many a tongue has been loosened, saying things that in no way would be or is acceptable in polite company. Get in this condition and certain inhibitions as regards behavior get forgotten about.

So yes, I'm asking why we Jews need ad lo yodoh? Why for this holiday would we be instructed to get into a condition that is so opposite of the behavior expected of us all the rest of the year? Why for this holiday do we advocate a condition that surely is going to have many people doing and saying things they may live to regret? And yes, what are we supposed to learn from this?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Road to Hell...

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes. Here's the thing, that road is paved with lots more than just good intentions. It's paved with words uttered in haste, and no, there won't be any leisure to repent them. It's paved with public posturing and willful loss of seichel and common sense. It's paved with acts that scream "chillul HaShem" from their inception but that are committed anyway. It's paved with blind acceptance of what cannot be justified halachically no matter how some people try. It's paved with hatred and kinah towards our fellow Jews. It's paved with incredible arrogance. It's paved with duplicity of the "do as I say, not as I do" variety. It's paved with religious one-upmanship. It's paved with misinterpretations of how our Holy writings should be understood and applied. It's paved with incredible gaivoh. It's paved with the willful forgetting that we are told "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," and yet we have elevated some to what can only be described as a god-like status (and some who have self-elevated themselves to this status).

Rachmonah l'tzlan, what have we done to ourselves?! Is this the road that we are supposed to follow? The one that leads to Hell? Have we so lost our seichel that we cannot see the dangers of this path?

I'm too sick hearted to elaborate on the news that has so disturbed my joy in Adar, that has made me wonder if this is not just some impossible nightmare that I'm sleep walking through. You want to know what set me off? Read here and here

Whatever happened to the idea that once was so central to frum life--"Kedoshim t'hiyu ki Kodesh Ani"?

Trimming the Fat

The cost of yeshiva tuition seems to be the number one topic of conversation. I can see why. Given the amount of money that many yeshivas are charging, parents are being priced out of this education, many of whom are making salaries that place them high on the earning scale. There's lots of talk about wholesale changes to the system to bring it into line with what just about everyone could afford. But such wholesale changes haven't been made by even one yeshiva, to my knowledge, never mind across the board. So then, where are we headed?

Perhaps, instead of advocating for complete change, something yeshivas don't seem capable of delivering both because they can't and they don't want to, those who are paying the tuition, or trying to, should be concentrating on just one area of change, and pursuing that area zealously and steadily.

But how to pick that change, that is the problem. It's not only yeshivas which are stubborn about change to the system: parents are as well. What parent A sees as a "piece of fat" that could be trimmed with no loss of "flavor," parent B sees as absolutely necessary. Parent C will pick a wholly different item to be cut, and so will parents D,E,F and so forth down the line.

However, what if we could get parents to all agree to the following: there will be no tuition raises for the next X years--4-5 years as the range? That's right--a tuition freeze. I'm guessing that even those parents who can pay the high tuition would not complain if tuition did not go up: who in their right minds complains when something doesn't raise its prices?!

What does this gain us? For one thing, it would give back parents the ability to plan a bit long range. If tuition remains steady in the budget it's easier to allocate your funds, knowing that you won't be hit with a hike and thus destroying your budget. For another thing, it would force the yeshivas to make decisions they have been avoiding making. It's one thing to fight the parents when the parents are complaining about specific things THEY want changed. But a freeze on tuition puts the ball squarely back into the yeshiva's hands. They would not be getting any additional funds--now where are THEY going to cut in order to hold the line? They couldn't exactly blame the parents (okay, yes they could but hey, who promised them life would be easy?) because the parents would not be fixated on dozens of items they want changed--the change would be left up to the yeshivas.

Yes the yeshivas would bluster and claim that it can't be done, that it's going to be painful, that a few years of no hikes and the yeshiva would be forced to close its doors, that expenses go up, not down. So? The mantra would be: read my lips--you're not getting any raises, so live on what you have.

Why pick this one item to be THE item of change? As mentioned above, even the wealthy could get behind the idea of not paying more. Certainly those who are pinched would get behind it. I think that communities could get their otherwise recalcitrant community rabbanim behind it--after all, parents aren't talking about taking over the yeshivas or undue meddling. It's far easier to get a large group behind you when you are advocating only ONE change than when you are advocating for dozens of changes. The perception is different to the public. In checking with some people who are still in the tuition paying years I've gotten the information that the yeshivas their children/grandchildren attend have raised tuition over the last five years anywhere from 11-29% across those five years. A tuition freeze for an extended period would mean that parents would not have to find an extra 11-29% more money to pay for their kids.

I'm not saying this plan is foolproof and will magically solve all the problems in the yeshiva system. But it is a place to begin, and though boards may bluster and harumph that it can't be done, it CAN be done. It's one item, not dozens. Could you see yourself getting behind such a plan? Would you advocate for it? Would you join others in saying "That's all there is--make do"?

Monday, February 22, 2010

When Did It Die?

Lots of conversations about Purim this time of year, at work, in the community, online. Some of that conversation centers around the excessive lists for shalach monos giving that have become prevalent for large parts of Klal. Some of it is about giving more for matonos l'evyonim and less for shalach monos. Some of the conversation is about the cost of all these shalach monos packages purchased ready made from bakeries, stores, schools and organizations.

But with only two exceptions in my forays around online or in my questions in "real" conversations has anyone mentioned that they are preparing their own shalach monos, that they are baking. Last year SL at Orthonomics mentioned that she does her own preparation. And G6 at Guesswho'scomingtodinner already had pictures up last week of some of the home baked goodies that are going to be given out for Purim.

How, when, why did baking come to be looked at as unnecessary, as burdensome, as old fashioned? When I first got married EVERYBODY baked for Purim, and for other times as well. Sure, some people did a better job of it than others. Sure, some items were better tasting than others. But they were all home made. And then suddenly the tide turned and home baking was passe, from another time period, out of favor.

One reason that occasionally raises its head has to do with kashrus. Okay, here is the thing. I don't give shalach monos to strangers, and every single one of the people on my list has eaten meals in my home. No one is going to be questioning my kashrus regarding the shalach monos. Then someone piped up that they give shalach monos to every one of the rebbeim, moros that their kids have and have had in yeshiva and you can't send home baked goods there. I'll leave this particular "custom" to a different rant.

So why aren't people baking any more? It's not even just the Purim baking that isn't happening--it's baking in general. Give it another generation or two and baking is going to be just another strange, very strange hobby, practiced by a few. I have seriously been asked why I still bake when bakeries are plentiful in New York. Okay, I may not be the biggest maven when it comes to baked goods but I'm big enough, and across the board I've eaten from a whole slew of kosher bakeries here and in other parts of the country. Yes, on occasion there have been some well prepared, tempting pastries provided. But in general the bakery baked goods are just average--nothing special to write home about. Why are we so willing to settle for mediocre when much better is available for only a little effort?

So, why aren't people baking for Purim anymore? Why aren't they baking in general?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Some More Ammunition for the Anti-Drunk Battle

G6 has up a posting on alcohol with an excellent link to what Rav Shmuel Kaminetsky says about Purim and Alcohol And thanks to Staying Afloat for giving this link in one of the comments. Click on Lechaim video on the left to watch the movie.

On Costumers and Customers

There's a particular spelling error that Spell Check loves to catch and "correct." Make an error in spelling the word customer and 99 out of 100 times the word will be corrected to read costumer. You know--the costumer is always right. This used to be just a minor annoyance in marking papers but I'm beginning to think that there is something else going on with this word confusion.

It's almost Purim, and costumers are in great demand right now. There are any number of places which rent out costumes for Purim and any number that sell the costumes outright. I took a look at the prices of some of those costumes, both through the gemachs and those being sold. Guess what? There is sometimes mega money involved. Yes, I consider it mega money when you rent a costume for one day for a 2-year-old that can cost you $30 and up. Yes, I consider it mega money when buying a "super duper" costume can run $50 and waaay up. (One gemach had the "fancier" costumes for $65 and up, and they had been reserved for months already.) Take four kids and rent/buy their costumes and begin at $120 and head for the stratosphere. Let's not even mention what adult costumes can cost.

This is one place where homemade definitely beats out what can be gotten "out there." This is one place where buying/renting can put a crimp in the budget. Yet again, there is a competition to see who can find the "best" costumes, can make others say "Wow!" You think those costumes are all going to be recycled among the kids? Uh huh. You tell your little Yankele that he has to wear his big brothers "old" costume while that older brother gets a new one--watch out for the tears and fireworks.

There has been so much talk this year about cutting down on Purim expenses, on giving more to matanos l'evyonim instead of to shalach monos and/or other Purim expenses. Costumes have been mentioned by no one, and yet they are an obvious place to save.

Instead of heading for the checkbook, head for scissors and paper and tape and glue. Let your kids get creative. And let's head away from the costumer/customer confusion. You don't need to be a customer of a costumer to have a great time on Purim.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bring Back the Football

I've admitted here before that I just plain don't get all the hoopla about football. I don't see the real athleticism in the game. And baseball? The action can be so slow sometimes that watching grass grow represents more excitement. I'm about to do teshuvah however; I've found some athletic endeavors that make football and baseball look positively uplifting and "sane" by comparison.

The winter Olympics are being televised now. Among the sports that athletes from around the world are competing in are a few that have left me wondering about human intelligence. First, let's take curling--okay, you take it because I sure don't want it. How did this become a competitive sport?!

And then there is the luge. The first day of competition was marred by the death of a luger. Basically this young man was laying down flat on his back on a sled that weighs 50 pounds and speeding down a pure ice track with serpentine curves at over 95 miles an hour. For protection he was wearing a helmet. When his sled spun out he was thrown through the air and crashed head first into a large steel pole supporting the track structure, an unpadded steel pole. Was the answer to say that maybe this "sport" was a tad too dangerous for any rational human beings to participate in? Nope. The answer was to shorten the course a bit and pad the poles. Oh joy. So now the lugers were "only" going at 90 mph on the track. We get into cars that are safety engineered to protect us in case of accident--seat belts, air bags, padded insides--and then we don't travel 90 or 95 miles an hour as a matter of general use. But we let people slide down mountains at this speed with nothing but prayers to protect them? And we call it a sport and give medals for it.

Super Bowl Sunday is looking a lot more acceptable just about now

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In the Spirit of Purim

This year Purim will fall out on Sunday, February 28. For many people this is a wonderful thing. Because most people will not have to worry about going to work and then having a seudah, the day will be more relaxed. That's the good part. The not so good part is the part that takes some of the pleasure out of the day for me: alcohol.

Now, I could let loose with a really strong rant here--and I've done so before-- and I could tell you what the Rambam says about drinking on Purim-- and I've done so before. But I won't rant at you (at least not much) this year. Instead I'm going to appeal to the adult in all of you to give some thought to what you really gain by getting drunk on Purim, and what you lose.

Here's what you gain, if you can call it a gain: a few hours of being anesthetized such that you have no idea what is being said and done around you nor any idea of what you are saying and doing. Oh joy.

Here is what you lose: everything not covered in what you gain. If you're a parent, you lose the right to be considered an upright and outstanding role model for your children. Your self respect gets flushed down the toilet along with the inevitable vomiting. You miss out on all the joy of the holiday, of participating fully. If you take your guests along with you on your inebriated journey, you surely don't get host of the year award. You really think you have celebrated Purim the way it should be celebrated when the next day you are hung over and can't remember quite what you said and what you did the day before? You think you make a cute drunk? Think again! There is no such thing as a cute drunk.

There will be no drunks at my Purim table because that is not what Purim is about. There will be no shots of anything poured in my house for those boys who come collecting. Yes, there will be a glass of a fine wine--that's ONE glass--at the start of the seudah--and that's for the grownups, those legally allowed to drink. When people think back to my seudah they will actually be capable of remembering what went on.

The choice to act in an adult manner is yours to make. The choice to be a responsible adult is yours to make. All I can hope is that you make that adult choice not to get sloshed on Purim. You haven't got a halachic leg to stand on, and frankly, society doesn't much love a drunk.

Perhaps this year that vaunted fine behavior that Klal is supposed to be noted for will actually be visible among the males.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It Comes From Where?!

There are all kinds of minhagim and practices, both personal and communal, whose origins are lost back in the mists of time. They've become "traditional," and no one seems to need to know any more than that.

One such custom that I've seen at virtually every type of Jewish wedding, from the most to the left to the most to the right, is the playing of the Misirlou for a circle dance for the women. And this is one custom that truly has me scratching my head. Ask the guests at these weddings where the song came from and 99 out of 100 answers are going to be "It's an old Yiddish folk tune from somewhere in Europe." Oh boy, not.

Now granted, I know that the tune happens to have Yiddish words (first written about 1940)that go with the melody but there is no way that those lyrics are going to be sung at a Jewish wedding, certainly not at a frum wedding. Never mind how I learned those lyrics, but putting it in neutral terms, they are about the unrequited love of a man for his Eastern princess, hardly the thoughts we want to be encouraging in a choson at his chasoneh. I did some searching online and found the lyrics in Yiddish published in many places. As a "public service" I'm publishing one verse. The following verse is typical of the whole song.

Miserlou mayne, meydle fun orient,
Di oygn dayne hobn mayn harts farbrent.
Mayn harts vert a kranke,in khyulem ze ikh dikh,
Tants far mir shlanke
Drey zikh geshvind gikh.

While there is a lot of back and forthing among music historians about the exact origins of the melody, most people credit the Greeks with the version most popular today. Even if they based the melody on a folk tune of the Middle East (the "miser" being pronounced "mitzer" in Greek from the word "Mitzrim" or Egyptian), they created the dance that is traditionally done to the tune. So popular is the song "out there" that it was even featured in the movie "Pulp Fiction." **

So, we have a Jewish wedding minhag of a melody and dance that is Greek referencing an Egyptian temptress. And I'd be willing to bet that some people would tell me I'm wrong, wrong, wrong because this tune came from "in der heim." And just where did those "in der heim" get it? Ah, heresy! No questioning of minhagim allowed, full stop.

**Note: there are those who believe that the melody/lyrics arrived to Ashkenazic Europe via Sefardim from the Middle East who would have been familiar with the melody there.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

First Grade and Rocket Science

A comment on a schooling thread on another blog stated "after all, teaching a first grader chumash doesn't take rocket science." Well yes, it's hardly necessary to have a PhD. in aero-dynamics or any other PhD. to be teaching the first course in elementary school. However.....

Ever have a bad teacher in your elementary school days? You know the kind I'm talking about. Perhaps that teacher gave you tummy aches every time you thought about him/her and you headed for your bed and told your mom you were too sick to go to school. Sometimes it even worked out that you got to stay home. Sometimes a teacher scared you and you couldn't concentrate on what you were supposed to be learning and maybe fell behind or developed a real dislike of the subject matter. Sometimes the teacher merely bored you to death with a bland and energy-lacking approach. You tuned out and thought your own thoughts just to have something to do. Sometimes the teacher was a real homework fiend--didn't teach much during class and left it all up to you at home. You resented having to be both teacher and pupil at one and the same time.

Whatever your reasons for designating that teacher as a bad teacher it didn't end there. It wasn't just the teacher who was bad--school was bad. Perhaps if you were older when you had this bad teacher you already would have developed enough smarts to separate out the teacher from school in general--you would place blame where blame was due...maybe. But first graders don't have the experience or the maturity to evaluate a teacher clinically. Hand a first grader a bad rebbi/morah or a bad secular studies teacher and you may be setting the tone for how they will regard school for years to come.

PhD no, but talent and ability and dedication yes. I remember two first grade rebbis with a smile on my face even now, and they weren't my rebbis. The first was my sister's first grade rebbi at the then HILI in Far Rockaway. Rebbi Mandel a"h (yes a brother to the R. Mandel who began YOB--readers should note that chareidi rebbis in MO schools is NOT a new phenomenom) was a joy and a wonder to behold. Students couldn't wait to get to class so they could be with him. All of us eagerly awaited my baby sister's coming home from school so that we could hear some more Rebbi Mandel stories. It was said by many in the Far Rockaway area, and not as a joke, that if Rebbi Mandel every decided to retire HILI would fold up. What made him so special? You have a month to listen? He loved children, loved learning and had the talent and dedication to turn antsy first graders into eager learners.

The second first grade Rebbi I remember with fondness was my son's first grade Rebbi at RJJ. I remember thinking before he entered into first grade that it would be lovely if he could have a teacher like my sister's, but what was the chance. And then my son came home on the first day and eagerly started telling us Rebbi Pollak stories. And that eagerness and enthusiasm carried over for the whole year. I volunteered through PTA as the class mother for my son's class and got to interact with Rebbi Pollak as well, and yes, I, too, have wonderful memories of "being in his class."

It's not a question of rocket science when you look at teaching chumash to first graders, but it is a very real question of talent, dedication and personality. If that "first step" into education is boring or scary or difficult or any other negative term, you run the risk of having your child turned off by school, with many years yet to go. So yes, having an extraordinary first grade teacher means that person is worth his/her weight in gold, if not diamonds and rubies. Oh that there were more Rebbis like Rebbi Mandel and Rebbi Pollak out there to inspire our children. Imagine that your child has a day off from school. Now think of your first grader's Rebbi/Morah. What are the chances that your child will complain about the vacation day because it means they don't get to be with Rebbi that day? I heard that complaint from my sister and I heard it also from my son. Halevi that all parents should be so lucky as to have first grade teachers like they were.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Presidents Day? Errr, which one?

Today is Presidents Day (also spelled President's Day or Presidents' Day) here in the US. But just what is it? Lots of confusion out there. Officially, at least federally, the day is meant to commemorate George Washington's birthday, whose actual birthday is February 22. In the long ago past of my youth there was no Presidents Day. Washington's birthday was actually celebrated on the 22nd. It was the first federal holiday to honor an American citizen. Abraham Lincoln's birthday is also in February, on the 12th. It, too, was celebrated.

There was a push, beginning in the 50s, to have a federal Presidents Day that would honor all of our presidents. It didn't work on a federal level but there were some states who adopted the idea, either for all presidents or for those with roots in a particular state.

In 1968 the government established a uniform federal holiday system whereby all federal holidays would fall on a Monday, allowing Americans to have a long weekend to celebrate and eliminating the chaos that sometimes occurred when days off fell in the middle of the week. At that time some wanted to name the official day celebrated today as Presidents Day, indicating both the birthday of Washington and that of Lincoln. It failed to pass in Congress, so officially, today celebrates only Washington's birthday.

Unfortunately, for most people, today isn't a celebration of Washington's birthday, of Lincoln's birthday or the birthday of any other president. Where once this day was really a day off for all American citizens, with government offices, schools and businesses closed, it has become synonymous with "Big Shopping Day." If there is any excitement about the day at all it is because sales abound; shopping uber alles.

Back when I was in elementary school and high school, the 12th and 22nd really were celebrated for their intended purposes. Every school taught all about Washington and Lincoln and pageants and presentations were the rule of the day. We weren't off from school but had a grand old time anyway. My elementary school used to bake birthday cakes for those two days and everyone joined in to sing happy birthday and remember what these two men did for this country. I attended a high school named Abraham Lincoln High. The school presented a pageant every year with Lincoln's accomplishments highlighted. There were knowledge bowls based on Lincoln's life, there were songs and there was a real sense of what the day was about.

But since today is regarded, at least federally, as still in celebration of Washington alone, perhaps we all should take a moment out of our busy shopping schedule and ruminate about what this Founding President did for the country, who he was, what he thought.

Since 1862 it has been a custom in the US Senate to read Washington's Farewell Address on this day. If you remember the President no other way, then you might spend a moment reading his words.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Adar! Yesssss!

Without a doubt Adar is my favorite month of the year. Lots of reasons to feel that way, starting with my hubby's birthday today, our anniversary coming up and lots of other significant days across the family. And of course there is Purim, also my favorite holiday if only for the exuberance and happiness that permeates the day.

Is it too much to ask that just once in my lifetime outside events could manage not to disturb my joy in Adar? Could we hold off on the bad news for a few weeks? Could Klal somehow manage not to screw up something for this one little month? Surely we are capable of holding things down to no roar for a few weeks.

I know, I know, somewhere there is a storm coming, but could we please have the lull before the storm first? Let's see if we can have a month in which we count our blessings instead of our lack. Let's give praise for what we do have before we cry about what we don't have. Who knows--if we find our "positivity" this month it just might carry over to other months, and just think of what we might accomplish.

So go, greet your family with a smile, greet the world with a smile. Wish all you know a gutten Rosh Chodosh Adar (Sunday and Monday this year), and stretch your lips wide when you say it. What's the worse that can happen? Being positive about things just might get to be a habit. That's a habit I'd gladly get addicted to.

A gutten Rosh Chodosh Adar! :) :) :)

Haveil Havalim Rosh Chodesh Adar Edition

Latest Havel Haveilim is up at

Not in the usual format due to computer problems, but just scroll down and you'll find all the listings.

Defining Large

There has been a lot of talk online and in the "real" world about Jews and large families. Many people who are upset about the cost of yeshiva tuition point to that cost as a reason for why they aren't having a large or larger family. Some will tell you that Jews need to have large families so as to replace the numbers lost during the Shoah. Some will tell you that you are supposed to have as many children as you can, citing the edict that we go forth and multiply. But in all these discussions no one has ever put forth any figures for what constitutes large.

So what number is large? From some comments I've read, 3 children does not constitute a large family. It doesn't? So is 4 a large family? Is 5? And if 4-5 is a large family, how do you describe 6-12? What would you call a family with over 12?

If a doctor told us that it's healthy to drink a large amount of water every day we'd push him to quantify that. We'd ask for a figure. When we are told we are not exercising enough each day/week, the first question is how much is enough? What's the amount in minutes/hours? So, what quantifiable number is there for a large family?

And in this discussion, where is it mentioned that childbirth is not a given? You can want a large family (again, what defines that) but nowhere is that guaranteed. Plenty of couples who find themselves unable to have any children. Some are thankful just to have been able to have one. And lots of hurtful comments by the uninformed that they aren't doing their job.

And while I'm at it, large for one couple may not be large for another couple. There are some couples for whom 1-2 kids is about all they can handle, in every way. There are some couples for whom 3 kids seem like an immense responsibility--they consider this a large family...for themselves.

And if we add into the large family equation that being able to take care of that family--in every way--is also part of the definition, then one couple's large family really may not be another couple's idea. What might parents owe to those children of theirs already born when they think about having another child? Should that be part of the equation?

In short, when we keep talking about large families just what is it that we are talking about or should be talking about?

Just a thought: if it is to Klal's benefit that frum families be large, then what is Klal, as a whole, willing to do to make sure those large families can function fully in Klal? Is Klal willing to offer them reduced or no tuition to yeshiva? Is Klal willing to say they don't have to pay the full dues to shuls nor pay fully or at all for shul seats for yom tov? Is Klal willing to pitch in, or is it only willing to say that large families have to be there, no matter the cost?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Gone and So Not Forgotten

Today marks the yahrzeit of Liba bas Tzvi a'h, my mother's sister. She was an incredible person both for her family and for Klal. So many places and organizations owe their "lives" to her ongoing, continuous efforts. Tante Libby stories still abound all over my family, yes, even being told by great grandchildren who did not have the zechus to know her alive.

She still "lives" for me in so many ways. After her petirah her children asked if there were any things that we, her nieces, would like. No one else was going to take her everyday pesach dishes for fleishig. It turns out that my everyday dishes had over the years dwindled down and needed replacing. I gladly took those dishes. Now, every day, I "have dinner" with Tante Libby. Their value? The memories they bring to mind.

May her neshoma have an aliyah.

Tomorrow also marks the yahrzeit of Tzvi ben Binyomin Zev a"h, my grandfather. I never had the zechus to know this grandfather in person--he was one of the victims of WWII. But thanks to my mother and the stories she told of her father I could almost swear I must have met him, I know so much about him.

I posted earlier about our family motto, a motto that comes to us from the last words spoken by this zayde to my mom and my aunt. He told them "hahtz eich leib"--love each other. Zayde, your words have been taken to heart by all of us, and it's how we live.

May his neshoma have an aliyah.

The Deep Freeze

Looking out the window all that can be seen is a snow-covered frozen landscape. Officially Staten Island "only" got 17 inches of snow with this past Wednesday's blizzard. That doesn't include the drifting that 50 mph winds created. It has been a few days where staying indoors has been the way to go. But I know myself pretty well and my boredom quotient was reached fairly quickly. Yup, baking for Purim has taken up a lot of that free time and kept me busy. But the baking brought me square up to where all those baked goods were going to be stored, since it's still a little early to just leave them in containers, sealed or not. Off I went to rearrange a few things in the big freezer so the baked goods could go in.

And that's when Purim temporarily fled from mind and Pesach jumped right in. The number 6 took root, such as in only 6 weeks to go. Where did all that food come from that was staring me in the eye?! Better yet, where was it all going to go? Deep breath and I relaxed just a bit. Time to be cooking almost exclusively from what is on hand. Checked my freezer contents list and relaxed even more. Nothing in there that can't be taken care of with a little planning.

I didn't really intend to bring up the dreaded P word quite this early, but here it is. Now is a good time to inventory that big freezer, if you have one. Those six weeks have a tendency to fly by quickly and then suddenly there you are, a week before Pesach, and your freezer seems not to have gotten the message that it needs to empty out. I'm really big on avoiding agony if at all possible. Have a free minute today? Check the freezer--one less thing on that long list of to-do things that creep up this time of year.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Definitely not the Stork

A major snow storm, no school and a bit of free time to to sit and shmooz on the phone with friends. A friend who still lives in the area was reminiscing with me about the old Far Rockaway, the one that existed before I got married. In going through some of our favorite shared memories she reminded me of one story that had us rolling back then and that still gives us a chuckle now.

NYC was hit by a major snow storm (sound familiar?). Somehow the area from Beach 9th to Reads Lane never got plowed until at least a day after any storm, and this time was no different. Everyone was outside trying to dig out their cars. Suddenly a man was seen running up to one of the garbage truck/plows that was on Beach 9th, waving his hands frantically. In a second the truck had turned around and was following the man down the street, plowing as it went.

The story? A woman went into labor and could not drive to the hospital because of the snow, so she and her husband started walking towards a main street. She managed to get as far as the house of the Rav of the White Shule and could go no further. She delivered in the Rav's house. But she and the baby needed to get to the hospital. The garbage truck managed to get down the Rav's street and the driver bundled up the new mother and baby and put them into the cab of the garbage truck and took them to the hospital. Okay, an unusual enough development in the giving birth story. But the best was yet to be.

Apparently babies who were not born within the sterile confines of a hospital delivery room were isolated from those born in the hospital. The records had to indicate the circumstances of their birth. The local newspaper printed an entry from the new baby's hospital record (twas the days before HIPAA). The hospital record clearly stated: "Delivered by garbage truck." Gee, most people had to settle for being delivered by an obstetrician.

It's items like this that remind me that it's not just my students who occasionally twist the English language into strange shapes and amazing statements.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Program Announcement--Purim, Alcohol and Kids

Honestly Frum has up a posting about an upcoming--tomorrow--interactive program on Purim, kids and alcohol. All the info can be found at

This is a problem that we can be doing way more to combat. Get some info and then get busy protecting your kids and, yes, your adult males as well.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pre-Snow Neighbor Alert

I meant to post this earlier but there is still time. If you have any elderly/widowed/ill neighbors, please make a call or knock on the door and make sure they have what they'll need to get through the coming storm. And when you're all digging out after the storm please give a thought to clearing a path for those same people. It's hard enough to be in a position where you might not be able to get out easily, never mind adding snow, wind and icy conditions to the mix.

How a Knowledge of Vocabulary is Going to Save the Yeshiva System

A comment on my grandparents posting brought up once again the idea that yeshivas are private schools, and that the private school model is losing ground in the frum community as it becomes more and more unaffordable. It stated that private school is for the wealthy and that many members of Klal simply can no longer afford this type of schooling, if they ever could. I've read comments similar to this on virtually every other blog that has covered the topic of the tuition crisis in yeshivas. And something has always niggled at me when I read these comments. I finally figured out what has been pushing at me.

An awful lot of people are mixing up the definition of private school with PRIVATE school. What's the difference? In the first case we are talking about schools that are not public schools. There are many of these types of schools around the country. They aren't prep schools and they don't cater to the desires and whims of the uber wealthy. They are private because those who start them and those who send their children there have particular concerns that they want stressed in the schools their kids go to, they want an environment that mirrors their homes, or they want to avoid particular things that are in the public schools. Obviously religious schools of all religions can fall into this category. There are others as well. In some cases the public schools in an area have a particular problem that parents want to avoid, like drug problems or a poor rating by the state or low graduation rates among the students. In some cases the parents feel they want a separate sex education for their children, not usually available in public school (and yes, there are secular schools like this). In some cases there are things taught in the public schools that some parents don't want their children exposed to.

These private schools don't promise their parents really anything more than a safe environment for their kids, exposure to belief systems important to the parents and a solid education. Notice that is solid education, not necessarily a Rolls Royce of education. They will meet a state's standards and sometimes exceed them but they aren't promising your kid will be the number one pick for entrance to Harvard--that's not their function.That's not to say that children from such a school aren't admitted to Harvard, but that's not the stated goal; having the children in a particular environment is the chief concern.
Parents may want a good education but their first concern is a "philosophical" one, if you will.

And yes, to be honest, there are some schools under this definition who stress the belief systems at the cost of the education. The students in these schools aren't getting a solid education; it is minimalist at best. But there are some parents who consider this a fair tradeoff for having the kids in a religious environment. And such schools tend to be on the low end of tuition costs--think chassidishe yeshivas.

Then there are PRIVATE schools. This is the type of private that the wealthy choose. This is the prep school model. This is the school with every new educational tool available. This is the school with every conceivable kind of extra that a parent could want. In this type of school extra curricular activities aren't really extra--they are built into the school. This is the type of private school where keeping up with the Joneses may be part of the fabric, because to a whole lot of the parents who send to such schools Jones-ism is a large part of life. They are highly competitive in all other parts of their lives, and the schools they send their children to are a part of that competition. A solid education is not acceptable to the parents in such a school. They want a braggable education, one that is in the outer reaches of educational possibility. These parents are aiming for the moon for their children and will pay heartily to achieve that.

Now, there are a few schools which combine the attributes of being both a private school and a PRIVATE school. I'm personally acquainted with a few of these types of school that are under Catholic or Jewish auspices. I believe that the RAMAZ school could quite comfortably fit into this limited model. I'm not sure where it would fall right now but once Flatbush Yeshiva would have fit into this model. I'm sure that you readers might have others to add to the list.

So where is the problem? What too many people are doing is mixing up the two types of private schools. They are trying to have schools that are an amalgam of private and PRIVATE while still maintaining the type of tuition that would apply to private alone. It can't be done. And it's one reason why yeshiva tuitions of the private school type are reaching PRIVATE yeshiva levels or close to them.

There are a number of reasons for why this blending of the two types of private schools is causing problems for Klal. One should be obvious: not every member of Klal is making high six-figure incomes or above. Wealthy Jews are living side by side in the same communities with Jews whose income levels are not as high. They may be sharing the same yeshivas. Those on the wealthier end want that PRIVATE yeshiva and push for the amenities they want for their kids. And these amenities cost, and can cost a lot. This has resulted in the less wealthy members of a community, whose children also attend these yeshivas, to be slowly but surely priced out of a yeshiva education for their children. The answer has been to give tuition reductions to such parents, but all this has done is cause a financial problem for the yeshivas. Unless a school has a significantly large majority of parents whose incomes are super high, such that admitting a small number of students on scholarship does not rock the money boat, the school is going to be in trouble, sooner than later.

There are still some yeshivas which fall squarely in the private school camp, not the PRIVATE one. Many of these yeshivas are not in the Metropolitan New York region, some are. In these yeshivas the cost of tuition is still within the capability to pay for of the majority of parents in the school. (Think the Jewish Foundation School in SI as an example.) I'm not saying that some sacrifices might not be being made, but those sacrifices are usually in the luxury area rather than the necessity area. These yeshivas offer a solid education without shooting for every school luxury known to mankind. Some do offer one or a few luxury items, but they don't lose track of the idea that they aren't prep schools, and they watch the bottom line. Yes, there are scholarship parents in such schools, but they aren't there in such overwhelming numbers that the schools are in danger of going under.

So, is Klal's desire that every Jewish child receive a yeshiva education an impossible dream that is now coming apart at the seams? That depends. If you define yeshiva education as private school education I believe that the model can be tweaked and that it is salvageable. It's going to take hard work and lots of input by financially knowledgeable people. And it's certainly going to take the admission that you can't buy a 1982 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Pauillac Bordeaux when all you have money for is a Kedem Cream Malaga. If you define yeshiva education as PRIVATE school education then no, not every Jewish child is going to be able to get that type of education. The cost is already too high for many parents, and it's only going to get higher.

Note: One thing at a time--I have purposefully omitted mentioning large family size in the text of this posting. Yes, the number of children you have certainly affects how much you will be paying in tuition. Tuition in a PRIVATE school might run you from $100K to $250K per year for 5 kids. Tuition in a high-end private/PRIVATE school might run you $$60K to $90K a year for those 5 kids. And tuition in a lower-end private/PRIVATE school or a just plain private school might run you $33K to $50K for the 5 children. Yes, the total amount of money matters, but first you have to decide on which model of yeshiva you are looking for: private or PRIVATE.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Boruch Dayan Emes

Touro College has announced with much sadness the petirah of Dr. Bernard Lander, founder of the College and its President since its inception. Information on the leviyah and the shiva will be available from either the Touro website at, or by calling the main office.

May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion.

On Jewish Standard Time

Okay, G6 is right--somewhere in my background and that of my hubby there has to be a whole passel of Yekis. When it comes to time we are punctlich to the nth degree. Unfortunately, this is an area where we are tested and tortured on a constant basis.

Many of you have been hosts or hostesses with invited guests. The first thing a guest asks is what time they are expected to be there. Why do some of them bother?! It does not matter what number you give them, they are going to be late. They are constantly and continuously late, and offer that as an excuse, always with a smile. The rest of us, or at least those who seem to be able to tell time, are expected to understand that some people are just time challenged, yet another disability we pay tribute to.

A vort a few weeks ago, not a come whenever you want to affair but a sit down, catered dinner with a definite starting time. It was held locally, a maximum of a five-minute drive from anywhere in the neighborhood. So hubby and I arrive as requested and who do we find at our table for 10? One other couple. When did the others finally arrive? Between 7:20 and 8:00. None of these people have little children in the house. None of these people work on Sunday. No one had another simcha that they had to attend first. No one was off the Island and fighting traffic to get back. By 7:30 the caterer began serving the meal. And these latecomers were surprised at that. "Everyone" knows that hours on an invitation are only a suggestion of a general time range. Who comes precisely at the hour requested?!

It really isn't any better when it happens privately at gatherings in a home. How many times have I planned out just precisely how long a turkey needs to roast and then been torpedoed by guests who may first be leaving their home at the time that they are already supposed to be in my home.

I can still remember back to my carpooling days for school for my kids. Inevitably there was always one parent in the carpool who couldn't manage to be ready on time or couldn't pick up on time, and our whole group got the lecture from the principal about getting to school on time when it was really only one person's fault. I remember quitting a carpool when I was in college because two of the other drivers could not, even with a gun to their heads, get us to college on time for classes.

I know it may not be PC, and so be it, but perhaps it's time to get rid of the myth that there is such a thing as "time challenged," and that this is a "condition" that those afflicted with it cannot help. Perhaps if those so "challenged" were actually penalized in some way they would suddenly discover that with some effort on their part, they can make it places when they are supposed to be there. We once attended a performance the tickets to which clearly read "no patrons will be seated after the start of the performance." And the theatre kept to its word. Anyone arriving late had the choice of waiting until the intermission to be seated or they could go home--and no, the tickets were not refunded. The instructions had been clearly stated, and if you were late YOU took the consequences, not the rest of us. Of late I have begun my own personal rebellion against the procrastinators. If I call a meal for 12:00, by 12:30 the latest I begin serving to those who have made it on time. The rest, when they arrive, play catch up as best they can.

Getting places on time is not just the fetish of a few hosts and hostesses. Our world is organized along time principles. Bosses are notoriously finicky about employees showing up when they are supposed to. Schools have begun cracking down on the continuously late. Planes, trains and buses don't sit and wait for those who have purchased tickets but are nowhere to be seen. Overdue library books come with monetary fines, as do late bill payments. If you really do like the late-comers among you, you are doing them no favor by excusing their tardiness as "they can't help it." Instead, make it clear that this is the year of the clock. Nudge, prod and pester until they manage to get the idea that "late" may be a word in the dictionary but it's not an acceptable method of operating in the real world. Sigh, and good luck to you. Probably easier to design a new rocket ship than to get these people where they need to be when they need to be there.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Haveil Havalim

The latest Haveil Havalim is available here. Some good reading so enjoy.

Super Sunday

Some readers here may remember from last year how I feel about Super Bowl Sunday--I didn't get the hoopla last year, and I still don't get it. But I've decided to be gracious about things this year. I may not get it, but if you are a Super Bowl fan, then please have a nice day and enjoy yourself.

Me? I did learn something from last year's Super Bowl madness--I am not stepping near a supermarket today. The mad rush of people buying things for the Super Bowl parties is not something I want to contend with.

I'm having a Super Bowl party of a different kind today--I've decided to bake for Purim. And yes, those are "super bowls" I've taken out of the cupboard. Soon enough they will be full of the batters for the goodies I bake this time of year. My mother's "super" hamentaschen filling sits in the biggest bowl, in the place of honor. Each to their own.

Our local newspaper was full of articles on the football Super Bowl Sunday. I was glancing through the paper and caught the title of one of those articles--I convulsed with laughter. The title read "Super Bowel Madness." Could be a typo not caught by an editor, or maybe there is someone else out there who just doesn't get all the hype.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

On Being Grandparents, not Cash Cows

On an Orthonomics posting on school tuition woes the comments thread ran over 250 responses. And what raised its head yet again were the words "grandparents" and "trips." Pretty much a whole bunch of people said that grandparents have no business paying for luxury trips to go away for Pesach when their children aren't paying full tuition in yeshiva; that money should go directly to the yeshivas to pay the deficit in tuition. Having had some time to calm down a bit, let me give you my two cents worth.

It is time, long past time, that everyone, EVERYONE in Klal takes grandparents out of the school tuition payment equation. Those grandparents are, for the most part, seniors heading into the retirement years, if not already there. They no longer have children in yeshiva. Their children are married, parents and on their own. What these seniors do with their money is absolutely no one's business but their own. If they CHOOSE to help out their kids with tuition it is just that--a choice, not an obligation. If they are able to and want to be with their children, all their children for a yom tov, and going to a hotel is the best way to achieve this, and THEY can manage the money, then just why is this anybody else's business? Those who insist that this money must be given to their grandchildren's yeshivas are being just that bit ignorant, not to mention downright nasty at times. They look at an outlay of $10K and see that as reducing the burden on the yeshivas by quite a bit. Wrong.

Fingers walking through my address book, I take a count of grandchildren. One first cousin has B"H 5 children and 26 grandchildren and his youngest kids are just beginning their families. Let's see how that Pesach money would play out for these people, should this cousin decide to go to a hotel. My cousin has his children living in four different physical locations, none of them where my cousin lives; none of their children all attend the same yeshiva. In point of fact, there are 11 different yeshivas involved, with a twelfth to be added next year. So let's take that $10K Pesach expenditure; in fact, let's even double it. Should my cousin decide not to get the whole family together for Pesach he would have $20K to give to a yeshiva--wrong. That's 12 yeshivas that would have to split that $20K. One yeshiva might only be getting $1K; another might be getting $3K, but no single yeshiva would be getting $20K. Now go back to $10K as the figure and one yeshiva would be getting only $500, while another might be getting $1500. Only that is wrong too. Because if they don't go to a hotel for Pesach there is still Pesach to be made.

That cousin wants to be with his family for Pesach. Because they are all so spread out it is hard to find a way to see them all at the same time. He wants his children to remain close to each other, and he wants the first cousins to get to know each other. And yes, he wants his family around him. He worked hard his whole life, paid full tuition for his children in yeshiva, gave tzedaka generously and now, in his older years, he wants this for himself. He's not getting any younger, and who knows how much longer any of us have on earth. So, let's say that he doesn't go to a hotel. Let's say that he manages to figure out how to house 10 adults and 26 children, in addition to his wife and himself. You think that feeding 38 people for an entire Pesach can be done for $2.99?! And with that many people coming and all the cooking and other work that is going to be necessary, do you suppose his wife "deserves" to have some cleaning/preparation help? She, too, isn't getting any younger. Do you suppose that Pesach just might cost him a bundle even if he stays at home? And please, no snide comments from the peanut gallery here, but the minhag in his house is for hand shmura matza only. And yes, as far as I am concerned he is entitled to spend the money he earned and worked hard for on something that makes him happy right now.

So my cousin stays home and making Pesach and all the sundry items for an olam the size he will have, in addition to in town guests, will run him about $4K if not more. And then, because he is not going to a hotel with the added expenses, he's going to help out the kids in buying their air tickets, because he wants them to come. And you can add to his $4k anywhere from $3-14K. Hmmm, seems like he is going to be spending about $20K for Pesach. And under crowded circumstances that may not be comfortable for anyone. But here's the irony. None of those whose noses are so often poked into everyone else's plates will say one word--that's right, not one word, because those scholarship people aren't going to a hotel for Pesach; they're going home to their family, a trip being paid for by their parents. And not even these people can be so silly and stupid as to make complaints about going home to parents for a yom tov re yeshiva tuition, or about a grandparent paying for an airline ticket so that a child can come home l'kovod kibud av v'aim. Or at least I hope that they won't comment.

Let's also add this in: my cousin is still a staunch supporter of the yeshivas in the town where he lives. If his community is to remain a solid one then there is no excuse for saying "my kids no longer go there so I no longer have any reason to give money there." If the people living in a community do not continue to support the yeshivas, just who do we expect will do so?

Just a note for clarification: my cousin's children all pay full tuition for their children in school. I used him as an example only because many others just like him, with large families and large numbers of grandchildren, have children who cannot pay the full tuition.

So, to sum up I have a very simple "suggestion" for a whole lot of people out there: keep your eyes and hands out of the pockets of grandparents everywhere. You have NO idea of what they can and cannot afford, what they have to spend, where they have committed their tzedaka dollars, and what money is being used to fund a Pesach trip, or anything else for that matter. They don't live in your community; their children do. Don't expect them to bail out your yeshivas just because they have grandchildren going to them. Maybe they can, and just maybe they can't. Maybe they will want to and just maybe they won't. And when you go searching through their pockets don't be surprised if they want to go searching through yours as well. And they will posit that they would find things that you are spending on that they don't approve of. Only they will be mentchlich and not look in your plate and pockets and comment. It would be nice if you would return the favor. And if I'm going to be blunt then let's tell it like it is--for the most part that is not concern about what tuition scholarship parents are doing that they shouldn't be doing--it's kinah, plain and simple.

And to the commenter who ranted "And these people [scholarship recipients] just better not be putting any meat into their Shabbos cholents," well words just fail me--fodder for a different posting.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Money and Klal

I know that a whole lot of members of Klal have majored in the finance related fields. Plenty of people out there who have both knowledge and experience of financial modeling. That being the case, why aren't we seeing any of that knowledge being put to work re solving some of the financial problems of Klal's organizations? Let me get specific here: the number one question that needs to be asked and that has not been asked or answered is: "How much money is there in Klal?" That's right, what is the specific number as relates to money?

But the questions should not stop there. If it might indeed be possible to come up with a specific figure--not some generalization made on the basis of who knows what--as to how much money Klal has, the next required question would be: "How much of that money is realistically available to fund the organizations of Klal?" (Yes, realistically. People have needs that they are going to take care of for themselves and their families, and those needs are going to be funded before any money goes out.) And a related question would be "How is any money realistically available apportioned in support of which organizations of Klal?" There is an assumption in so many of the solutions put forward that there IS enough money to fund all that is needed/wanted by Klal but it needs to be accessed better, distributed better. Wrong.

What we aren't looking at is cost versus income across ALL of Klal's organizations. We many times focus on only one particular organization, shoving all the others to the side. Certainly school tuition is a major concern to Klal. But it is not our only concern, certainly not if we judge by the number of tzedaka organizations in existence, the number of community help programs, the number of places people give tzedaka to. And looking at school tuition as isolated from all the other concerns of Klal means that we will have a skewed view of what is possible or probable in dealing with the money needs of our schools. The schools aren't "only children"--they belong to a large group of siblings, all with funding requirements.

I'm going to present this anecdotally as I do not have all the figures in front of me, nor are all the figures actually available. I'm even going to be very conversative in my apportionments. However, I believe my conclusions will still hold true. Klal cannot afford itself right now. In point of fact, Klal has not been able to afford itself for a while, but it's been able to punt on credit for some time now. What the bottom line is showing us now, however, is that the point of reckoning has arrived.

Let's say that we determine that X amount of money is actually available to fund Klal's organizational needs. And let's say that we come to the conclusion that our schools as they are presently structured need 1/2 of that X in order to continue. No problem, right? Wrong. What do the other organizations need in order to continue?

Not included in the discussions about school tuition are the expenses for any specialized schools dealing with physical/learning problems. There aren't all that many of these schools but they do exist and they do provide a necessary service to Klal. Let's say those specialized schools need 1/8 X to exist. Still no problem. We also haven't mentioned any schools of advanced learning, whether yeshivas or colleges. Just where is their funding coming from? Let's give them 1/8 X as well.

Well then, let's look at poverty. There are those in Klal poor enough to need outside help to provide just the minimum basics of a roof over their head and something to eat. They, too, need part of that X--let's apportion 1/8 X to them as well. 7/8 X has been allotted to Klal's needs and has only covered four areas where Klal needs to put in money for support. We're doing just great, right?

Nowhere have I mentioned any support for the vast number of organizations which deal with specific medical problems or health issues, and there are dozens if not hundreds of these organizations. Nowhere have I mentioned the various organizations which provide services to the shut-ins and elderly among us [note: with the boomers aging there are going to need to be more such services put into place, not less]. I haven't mentioned various community structures, such as shuls, mikvaot and the various regulatory groups. I haven't mentioned a whole slew of specialized organizations already in existence that provide worthwhile services and that require Klal's monetary support to stay in existence. Let's say that all these various types of organizations and programs need 2/3 X to be able to function right now, never mind expanding in the future as Klal grows. Guess what? The total of monies needed exceeds X.

And that is just with my guesstimating how much money is needed. I am quite sure that I am underestimating how much of X each organization is in need of, and it well could be that all these organizations need a total of 2X to function or maybe even 3X or perhaps even 16X.

To sum up, we in Klal are guilty of air-dreaming. We build community structures and start organizations, all of which provide necessary or desireable services to Klal, and we have no idea, none, as to whether there is enough money available to maintain them now and in the future. We don't know how much money is available in Klal to support what we have created. We create first and worry about money later. We assume there is plenty of money only we just haven't tapped it yet. We are guilty of ignoring a basic fact: money is finite, not infinite. It is more than just possible that there is going to have to be an across the board reorganization of the various structures of Klal. But we will never know just what we need and what is possible if we keep grabbing the wrong end of the stick.

Any balabusta knows that first you look at the budget, the funds available, and then you go shopping--you can only buy what there is money to buy. Klal needs to start acting like a responsible "purchaser"--just how much money is there to fund what we want? Until you answer that question the rest is all hot air and daydreaming.