Monday, May 31, 2010

In Memoriam

For many, Memorial Day and its three-day weekend represent nothing more than a time off from work, a vacation day the federal government has given us. But there's a reason we have Memorial Day.

Feel free to celebrate (or not celebrate) the day any way you wish. But keep in mind that the freedom you are enjoying comes at a price. This day is dedicated to the memory of those soldiers who fell in the line of duty during wars that protected our rights and our freedom. Of all things freedom is not "free": it can come with a heavy price tag, a price paid by many soldiers over the centuries.

I got up this morning free to make whatever plans I want, to do what I want. And I did so because those who are in our military forces are out there watching my back and your back as well. They are on the firing line so that we don't have to be. And for some this has come at the cost of their lives.

It's altogether fitting and proper that we take a moment to think of those whose lives were given in the service of our country and to say thank you for this ultimate sacrifice.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

It Only Takes A Minute

Jameel is asking us to take some action to save someone from being deported from the US, someone who risked his life for Israel and who our government now is calling a terrorist. For the full story please go to

Friday, May 28, 2010

An Option to Think About

I posted once before about a community that was looking for new members and which was willing to help out families who would move there. The following came to me via email and may offer a viable solution to the "Where are we going to live and how can we afford it" question.

If you are looking to buy a home in a welcoming, thriving, modern orthodox community in central Long Island, join us for Shabbat, June 4-5, for an exciting program and a chance to experience our warmth first-hand.
WHEN: Shabbat June 4-5
WHERE: Young Israel of Plainview 132 Southern Parkway, Plainview, NY
RSVP: send your questions or reservations to or call (516) 433-4811 ext. 108 to learn about our New Family Initiative and our upcoming shabbaton.
$25,000 interest-free loan
Discounted shul dues for the first 10 years ($10,000 value)
Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (HANC) $7,500 New Family Tuition Discount per child over the first 3 years (kindergarten through 6th grade)
First year shul membership FREE
Broker referrals, discounted mortgage brokerage and closing services, and many more supplementary services to make your move as easy as possible.
Beautiful & safe suburban community located in central Long Island just 40 minutes by LIRR to Penn Station (NO changing trains)
Modern Orthodox shul with over 180 families
Encompassing eruv
Under the leadership of Rabbi Elie Weissman, 2010 recipient of the Yeshiva University High Schools Young Leader of the Year Award
Daily minyanim, Popular Young Adult minyan on Shabbat plus exciting Youth, Sisterhood & Educational Programs
Numerous classes/shiurim for all levels of learning
Local mikveh/ kosher butcher/take-out/bakery/pizza/JCC
For more information about the program download our brochure here or contact us:email: hospitality@yiplainview.comphone: (516) 433-4811 EXT. 108Check us out on Facebook: Plainview YIP Group

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On School Calendars

There has been some heated discussion of late about the calendar of school days in the yeshiva system. The most concern about the calendar is expressed by those where both the husband and the wife work, although they aren't the only ones complaining. Even where only one spouse is working, many people feel that the calendar is not family friendly.

So what is being complained about? In no particular order the complaints follow.

First, some schools give off not only for a Jewish yom tov but for the day before the yom tov and possibly also for the day after a yom tov. In other cases there is school on the day before or day after but it is only a half day.

Also complained about is that schools give off for chol hamoed even when that chol hamoed falls during the week.

Another complaint is about the winter breaks given by the yeshivas. First, those breaks are usually a full week long, even if they may go from midweek to midweek. Second, those breaks fall in January, rather than during the secular holiday breaks that tend to go from December 24 until January 2.

Also complained about is the fact that many yeshivas either do not give off for the standard federal/state holidays, leaving the parents off but not the kids, or that they give the federal holidays off but the rest of the calendar does not mesh well with parents' schedules.

A different complaint is that there are too many half days in the yeshiva schedules, resulting in parents having to make expensive child care arrangements. Included under this complaint is that yeshivas do not adjust their Friday early dismissal schedules in early fall and late spring when school could be held for longer or for a full day because Shabbos starts later.

Under the heading of miscellany are complaints about teacher education or in-service days and about only partial school days on designated parent conference days.

There are also complaints by some parents about there being school on Sundays for some yeshivas, thereby taking away the one day when families could do things together, because the parents aren't working on Sundays. [Note: there are some parents who work on Sundays so this complaint is not universal.]

Many of those complaining have cited the following: some people are still at that point in their careers where they are only receiving two weeks of paid vacation, 9 federal/state holidays and perhaps two personal days. When they add up their paid days off they are insufficient to cover all the days that their children are off from school. And these parents also have to worry about a child possibly being sick, thereby necessitating that a parent take off and stay home.

One major complaint that you hear is that because parents have to use their vacation days to cover the days when their kids are off from school there are no days left to take an actual vacation with the family.

And there is plenty of complaining about the fact that the teachers in the yeshiva system, who already have the summer off, get all those vacation days that the school is closed for with pay.

I have no intention of offering a facile solution to this problem. For one thing, there is no easy solution. But let's get some facts on the table, untinged by high emotion.

First, speaking about a "yeshiva calendar" isn't at all accurate. Every yeshiva, taking into consideration the number of state mandated teaching days in states with mandated days, sets its own calendar. Schools in the same geographic location may not all be following the same exact calendar. In addition, elementary schools and high schools will not be following the same calendar. Thus, if one school should adjust its calendar that would not necessarily make things perfect for parents who have children in more than one school. At one point I had a boy in elementary school in SI, a girl in elementary school in Brooklyn and a girl in high school in Brooklyn. None of the three calendars was identical. Add in that I was teaching in a fourth yeshiva with a different calendar from that of my children's schools and yes, I did a lot of tap dancing to figure out who was going to be where when. My experience is not a unique one; there are many other parents out there now juggling the different calendars of different schools.

Second, let's look at some "immutable" days that the yeshivas will be off. When a yom tov falls on a weekday the yeshiva will be closed. In years that the holidays all fall during the middle of the week parents are going to be using up their own vacation days even if no other days are given off by the school. That is the case this year. Not counting in any days off for chol hamoed, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, the first and last days of Sukkot and Pesach and Shavuous account for 13 days of school closing. Note: this is assuming, as is mostly the case, that the mother will be the one taking all of her vacation days to watch the kids when they are off. This would leave the family in something of a conundrum. The mom has no vacation days left and the dad has all his vacation days left but with no wife that could take those vacation days with him. It would make more "mathematical" sense for the husband and wife to equally take those days off to watch the kids. Doing so would allow the two of them a few days left over to actually take a vacation when they choose to do so or to cover any other days the school is closed.

For years now the yeshivas have been giving chol hamoed yom tov off for Pesach and Sukkot. It's hardly a secret. Thus, parents don't even need to see a school's calendar to know that those days will be off. Just why is that the parents who work are talking about having to "scramble" to find child care options when they know well in advance that the schools will be closed? With many months prior notice parents have more than enough time to work out alternative child care arrangements

Just a note: what are some of those alternative arrangements? First, you could hire a baby sitter to be there for the children. Second, you could arrange with others in the neighborhood to alternate watching each other's kids. Third, since the high schools are also off it should be possible to talk to a few high school girls who might run some kind of chol hamoed program for the younger children or even to straight babysit. Fourth, there is no reason why local shuls could not be used for such a chol hamoed program; many larger shuls already provide such programming. Fifth, it is possible that there are family members who might watch the children if given sufficient time beforehand to prepare their own schedules to accomodate. Sixth, there are some businesses that would accomodate a parent by allowing that parent to bring a child with them to work if need be.

There are inevitably going to be days off from school that aren't directly for holiday observance. Some of those days are state/federally mandated. [Note: even here not all schools will give off on all of these holidays or may only give a half day, usually with limudei kodesh studies still taking place in the mornings and a half day off for secular studies in the afternoon. Many yeshivas are not closed on Thanksgiving Day or Christmas or New Years or Martin Luther King Day etc..] Some days off are not holiday related but are for school business, such as testing days or conference days. Again, these are usually not "state secrets" but are known well in advance, such that arrangements for child care can also be made well in advance.

About those early Friday dismissals and readjusting them as the time for Shabbos grows later. At least in NYC, the yeshivas receive bus transportation through the city board of education. The arrangement works out mostly because yeshivas and the public schools don't run on the same time table for arrival and dismissal. The bus companies can do their public school runs and then come pick up the yeshiva students Monday through Thursday. On Friday they pick up the yeshiva students and then do their public school runs. If a yeshiva changes its times of dismissal such that the time overlaps with the public school dismissal time, the yeshiva won't have any transportation for its students. This would mean that parents would still be making "child care" arrangements in having to find people willing to pick up their children and deliver them home.

About giving off on a taanis. Elementary schools have a problem in that some of their students will be fasting--those in the upper grades--and some will not. Some schools solve this problem by giving a full day or a half day off only to the upper grades; some schools find the scheduling and transportation easier if they simply don't have school at all for anyone. High schools presumably have everyone fasting so they do the kids a favor and let them off for the day. Yes, yes, I know, working parents are also fasting and don't have any options but to go to school so why should the teachers in the school get off easy and not have to work. Hello, people, those are your kids we are talking about, not a handful of teachers.

Here's the thing: working parents are going to have a problem with the yeshiva calendar no matter what the schools do. Could some of the calendars be constructed better? Sure, but no school calendar is going to be a "perfect" solution for any given set of parents, certainly not for all the parents in any given school, and certainly not across all schools in a given city.

Let's face some unpalatable facts. When both parents work there is NO yeshiva calendar that is not going to play havoc with their work schedules. Working parents with young children who cannot be left home alone are going to be in for child care expenses no matter what the yeshivas do. Yeshivas/schools, like any other business, have days that are only partial days for the students because of legitimate "business" concerns that require those half days. Some parents, and that is only some parents, would find that having the calendar adjusted so that the winter break coincides with the secular holidays would be beneficial. I've heard a lot about how the offices these parents work in are so unbusy during that time that taking some vacation days would be just perfect then. Could we keep in mind that not all yeshiva parents work in the exact same fields and that for some parents the time period of the secular holidays is not only busy but way busier than usual?

In short, yes there could be some areas of a yeshiva calendar that could be tweaked by some yeshivas to provide some relief for working parents. But there is never going to be a wholesale calendar that will make everyone happy. Working parents are always going to find themselves having conflicts between their work schedules and the school schedules. And yes, there are always going to be conflicts between what one set of parents wants/needs and what other sets of parents want/need. Even if the schools could manage to make the majority of parents happier, there are still going to be lots of parents who aren't happy. Fact of life.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's Love Got to Do With It?

For this posting it will be you, the readers, who write the bulk of it. Read on. A friend who just loves to ask strange questions of anyone whom he meets posited this one to a group of men: When did you first know that you loved your wife? The question engendered some off the wall comments and some straight answers, as well as raising some additional questions. The wives in question, after hearing the question, also had some comments to make.

Among the comments/questions:

I knew before I asked her to marry me or I wouldn't have asked.

Wasn't sure when I asked her but I knew for sure by the time we went to the chupah.

On our first anniversary when I realized.

You want the answer the wife wants to hear or you want the real answer?

Plenty of marriages where the couple didn't love each other before they got married and maybe don't love each other now but the marriage works.

Not sure if I'm defining love but I guess I loved her when I realized that no one else would do as a partner for marriage.

When I figure out what love is I'll let you know.

Love is a secular marriage idea. It doesn't figure as so important in a frum marriage.

What has love got to do with having a lasting marriage?

Women are more hung up on love being a part of marriage then men are.

You asked a man about love and you expect a serious answer?!

More important to ask when a person first realizes that they respect their wife. The love bit is just Madison Avenue hype to sell perfume and chocolate and flowers.

Sex and kids are why most people get married. I guess love comes when the first two aren't as important any more.

So readers, what say you? If you are single, are you looking for love to be there before you get married or after? Married readers, just how do you put love into the marriage equation?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Back in Shidduchim--Selling a House

Our house has been on the market for what will be a year the beginning of July. People warned us, including our real estate agents, that this is a bad time to be trying to sell a house, thanks to the economy and the job situation. Still, the house had to go on the market because we are serious about making our move to LV in what we hope is the near future. During the time the house has been on the market I have come to realize more and more that shidduchim and selling a house share the same modus operandi.

First, the "product" goes on the market when IT is ready regardless of what else is happening in the outside world. When outside conditions are not at their most favorable that "product" may sit around, still looking for buyers. After all, it only takes one to make a "shidduch," and there is every reason to believe that shidduch is out there somewhere. As the Lottery says: "You've got to be in it to win it."

Second, you spend a lot of time "dressed up" in "dating clothes" that should appeal to the type of buyer you are looking for. You are constantly doing "make up" touch ups, adjusting your hair style, maybe getting new "shoes" that will make the total look appealing. Yeah, and maybe doing a little cosmetic surgery to get that look just right. It doesn't matter if the shoes pinch or you can't do what you really want to do when you've got that "date" with someone. (And the same way that men and women may agonize over a perfume or cologne that will smell just right without being overpowering or sending the wrong message, you have to have seen us with the house deodorizer hunt until we found one that said "homey and sophisticated" both at the same time.) And then they walk in the door and you start the conversation and you know 5 seconds in that this is not a shidduch, but you continue the date anyway, because just maybe this person might know someone who would be right for you, and you're not about to burn your bridges.

Then there are the financial questions that keep popping up. You've told your "agent" precisely what you want, but in the back of your mind, particularly after you have been dating for a while, you also have the figure that you would be willing to accept--below that figure you won't go. And then people chide you for your decision. And some people offer a price so far out of the ball park that it's on a different planet altogether. And yes, there are some people that want that "shidduch" so badly that they change their pricing structure and take whatever they can get. Some of them are happy in the end; a whole lot aren't.

One thing for sure: let us have something that we must be doing, that is going to require all our time and attention, and the "shidduch dates" start piling up in droves. It's post-Shavuous, post-Shabbos and pre-final exams and the end of the term for me. If I had nothing else to concentrate on but school I'd be busy 60 hours a week for the next few weeks. So of course the calls are coming in to make a date to see the house. And as everyone out there will tell you, it's verboten to say "I'm sorry, I'm busy, could we make it next week."

Another parallel with dating: we've told our agents what our sell figure is. They've seen the house from top to bottom. They've taken pictures of the house for prospective buyers to see before they make an appointment. And yet...we've had people who show up who in no way, shape or form want what our house is or can afford the price. Some of these people seem to be house viewing junkies; they know they are supposed to be looking for a house so they make appointment after appointment to see houses that aren't a good fit for them, but they seem to have these high blown hopes that the house will somehow miraculously morph into their dream home by the time they arrive. And then they complain that there is nothing out there for them.

While I'm generally satisfied with our agents, they, too, sometimes act like many shadchanim do, redting a shidduch that they know does not meet the requirements of the buyer or of the seller, but hey, you never know.

So yes, home sellers and those looking for shidduchim have an awful lot in common. It seems sometimes like no one is listening when they say what they want. Some of the dates are clearly not shayich and should never have been redt. And yet, what we also have in common is the hope and dream that some day "Mr./Ms. Right" will be standing on the other side of the door. That old saw is right: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince.

You'll have to excuse me now: our house has a "date" this afternoon and it needs me to put on the finishing touches to the dating outfit. And wouldn't it be nice if this were to be the right one and I'd never have to do this again.

Haveil-Havalim 268th Edition

The 268th edition of Haveil-Havalim is up at the Rebbetzin's Husband--the Victoria Day Edition. Thanks to Rabbi T for some interesting reading material.

Monday, May 17, 2010

A gutten Yom Tov

Life is going to be just a tad busy around here so let me be early in wishing you all a gutten Yom Tov.

The first day of Shavuous is also the yahrzeit of my father, Yecheskel ben Yitzchak a"h. It is the 34th yahrzeit and it hasn't gotten any easier over the years. But I am ever so thankful for the wonderful memories that I have of him and the stories that I can pass down to my children. I learned much from my Tate and I hope that he approves of what we have all become and of our families.

May he be a meilitz yosher for us all and may his neshomo have an aliyah.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Whither the Weather

If we are all going to spend time complaining then let's at least make those complaints about something that we can do absolutely nothing about. Yes, the current weather pattern in the NY area is unfair, seemingly with no logic, and seems to be targetting frum Jews. There, doesn't that sound sane and logical?

For the last 4 weeks we have had rain/storms/thunder/lightening arriving on Shabbos at some point, usually just when someone has to be walking to or from shul. Wet coats drying around the house give the house a damp-dog smell. In addition, let someone even whisper that they have to go out and shop for Shabbos, no matter what day of the week, and outside temperatures raise or drop inhospitably.

Every week is an amalgam of the four seasons, bringing heat, cold, wet and wind. We've been blessed with a record 93 degrees on a Monday only to be reduced to 39 at night a few days later.

Shavuous is in a few days and, sure enough, they are forecasting rain storms for yom tov, with almost a 20 degree spread in temperature across Tuesday to Thursday. I've got about 100 people coming for Kiddush to the house on the first day of yom tov and the weather is making me nuts. Where are wet coats for so many people going to be put? And with that many people in the house, plus an oven and stove that is staying on over all of yom tov, keeping the air conditioning on seems like it will be necessary, only we might need to dress for winter indoors given the temperature spread.

So there you have it--we can't control the weather, can't predict what season will show up tomorrow or even this afternoon. Anyone looking for safe dating or mealtime topics of conversation can easily spend hours discussing the weather this year.

It does, however, make for a welcome change to be discussing the weather we can't do anything about instead of all the other problems abounding in Klal that get plenty of heated complaints with very little action taken.

You'll have to excuse me now. I need to go grocery shopping while it's still fall and before winter decides to come back and visit or summer comes along and melts the frozen items.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Talking about Sukkahs....

I found what I thought was an interesting competition which has been announced regarding the building of sukkahs.

From the website:
"Historically, the sukkah's permanent recurrence is not as a monument, archetype, or typology, but as a set of precise parameters. The basic constraints seem simple: the structure must be temporary, have at least two and a half walls, be big enough to contain a table, and have a roof made of shade-providing organic materials through which one can see the stars. Yet a deep dialogue of historical texts intricately refines and interprets these constraints--arguing, for example, for a 27 x 27 x 38-inch minimum volume; for a maximum height of 30 feet; for walls that cannot sway more than one handbreadth; for a mineral and botanical menagerie of construction materials; and even, in one famous instance, whether it is kosher to adaptively reuse a recently deceased elephant as a wall. (It is.) The paradoxical effect of these constraints is to produce a building that is at once new and old, timely and timeless, mobile and stable, open and enclosed, homey and uncanny, comfortable and critical.

'Sukkah City: New York City' will re-imagine this ancient phenomenon, develop new methods of material practice and parametric design, and propose radical possibilities for traditional design constraints in a contemporary urban site. Twelve finalists will be selected by a panel of celebrated architects, designers, and critics to be constructed in a visionary village in Union Square Park from September 19-21, 2010.
One structure will be chosen by New Yorkers to stand and delight throughout the week-long festival of Sukkot as the Official Sukkah of New York City. The process and results of the competition, along with construction documentation and critical essays, will be published in the forthcoming book "Sukkah City: Radically Temporary Architecture for the Next Three Thousand Years."

For more information and/or to register for the competition, please go to

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

About That Crisis

Thomas Paine penned some words back in 1776 that can also apply to shidduchim in the here and now. As Paine put it in his article entitled The Crisis, "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated."

Now substitute marriage and shidduchim for freedom and the ideas still apply. Too many who are looking for shidduchim today who are like those "summer soldiers." They've come up with the "perfect" formulas for finding a shidduch, even though they don't seem to be all that perfect in reality, and then they complain that finding a shidduch is too much work. They throw the word Crisis around. And yes, far too many who are summer soldiers, who expect that finding a spouse is going to be easy shmeezy, and when it isn't they retire into a blue funk, pointing fingers everywhere.

Yes, shidduch making has its "King George" figures who need to be deposed--the ones whose words to singles always seem to begin "You can't do this/you must do this or it will be bad for shidduchim." And those King George figures are surrounded by others whose joy seems to be in establishing rules that are senseless at best and debillitating at worst. But if all the American colonists had done was complain, we would still be part of the British Empire. It took words, but words married to actions. It took hard work. It took time, lots of time. And yes, making a shidduch requires concentrated effort that may sometimes be painful. Paine wasn't wrong--what we obtain too cheap, we value too lightly.

Yes, the colonists had a crisis on their hands, and they rallied and struggled and persevered. We don't have a full-fledged shidduch crisis right now, but we have one in the making if we all adopt the role of summer soldier. More than time to rebel against "unlawful" restrictions and senseless regulations and get on with the business of establishing a new country--the country of your marriage. What's the worse that could happen? "King George" might shun you? It turned out that the original King George was of no importance to the emerging US of A, and his clones in the shidduch world truly don't have the actual power we seem to give them credit for.

And just as an aside, Paine's advice would apply to a whole lot of other areas in Klal where we are being held "prisoner" with no representation or input and where complaining alone seems not to have made a difference.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ahhh, Those Frenchmen

A while back I posted about one of my students who got stuck in France after Pesach because of the volcano that exploded. He finally made it back to the US and, being serious about doing well in his classes, he asked to meet with me to go over some of the material he missed.

As it turns out I had to be in school on Mother's Day to meet with a different student whose schedule and mine precluded anything but a Sunday meeting. Since I was coming into school to meet with that student, I told my French student that I'd meet with him as well, and we did.

Last night, at the end of class, this student approached my desk, put down a package and offered a merci beaucoup. In the package was a thank you note and wishes for a happy mothers day, along with a scrumptious box of chocolates. You can make whatever remarks you want about French politics, but there is a very real reason why women smile when they say of someone "He's French." Manners and charm? Mais oui. And a truly lovely ending to a long day.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Why God is M'Zaveg Zevugim--Part #1

Have you ever looked at a particular married couple and wondered how or why they ever got married? Being honest, sure you have. Sometimes you wonder about just the outward appearances--one partner so much more obviously "attractive" than the other. Sometimes you look at the personalities, seemingly total opposites of each other. Sometimes you look at the whole package and you just plain can't figure out how this particular match up ever got out of the starting gate, never mind actually getting married and staying happily married for some time.

And if you are being really honest, sometimes you have looked at your parents or grandparents or aunts and uncles and wondered the same thing. Who, back then, looked at these people and decided they were "perfect" for each other when all you can really see is how different they are one from the other? Yes, you will concede, the match up works, but how is this not just one great cosmic fluke? Were you to have two friends, male and female, who were duplicates of your parents, as you see them, you would never think of pairing them up. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why God is m'zaveg zevugim.

Go ahead and fill out every shidduch questionnaire possible to be devised by the mind of a human being. Sit for hours, days, weeks, months and come up with just the perfect list of attributes that you feel will be necessary in your future spouse. Spend sufficient time in checking out the "facts" about someone to qualify for senior FBI agent status. Consult all the "experts" and then consult them again and yet again. And then finally walk out the door with this "perfect" match and watch the consternation grow as perfect doesn't turn out to be so perfect after all. And then back you go to your list of "must haves" and "absolutely may not haves" and start the process all over again.

When people ask me what my children are looking for in a shidduch I reply as follows: I'll let you know when I see them under the chupah. Until then it's all a blind guessing game. One young lady in the neighborhood was absolutely adamant about what she wanted in a husband and in a marriage. She refused to accept a date with anyone who did not fit exactly into the parameters she had established. And then she got stuck having to accept a date with someone who didn't fit those parameters, and she sure wasn't happy about having been pressured to accept the date. Three children later even she laughs about it. Someone else in the neighborhood was a bit miffed when he heard what type of person this young lady had chosen. He said, "If I would have known this was what she really wanted, I could have redt her this type of guy years ago." Well no, he couldn't have. It's not just being able to see the right zivug when he or she is standing in front of you; it's also about its being the right time for that shidduch to come to fruition.

So go ahead, do your hishtadlus as they say. But keep this in mind as you do so--"Mann tracht undt Gott lacht"--man tries and God laughs. Look at all those couples around you where the partners seem to be so different from each other in so many ways and learn something. The make or break in a marriage doesn't seem to be if the kipoh is the right color or material. It isn't about what yeshiva or seminary was attended. It's not whether the centimeters align right, horizontally or vertically. It isn't about an exact congruence of interests. It isn't about scintillating conversation of just the right type either. It just may be about opening your eyes truly wide and actually seeing the person in front of you, not the one you've fantasized about seeing. And it surely is about respect. You don't have to be the same as your significant other but you need to respect the person he or she is, and he or she needs to respect the person you are. If that respect is present a whole lot of other things don't have to be.

Friday, May 7, 2010

About those oil spray bottles

Lion and others have asked me about which bottle to buy to use for spraying oil. The ones I have don't have a brand name on them and were purchased at a local hardware store. I do know that Home Depot occasionally sells the bottles as well as the garden supply stores. The key is to get one that has a mist setting, not just a spray setting. The bottles run in price from $1.99 to about $6.

However, bottles made expressly for food oil purposes are sold online also. They are not quite as cheap as the plastic bottles but they are manufactured specifically for food oil so there is no problem with clogging of the nozzle. Those prices run from about $10 for the bottle up to the sky is the limit for the "fancy" designer-named bottles. For the $10 bottle please see

Before you dismiss the $10 price, keep this in mind. Those ready prepared spray oil cans sold in the supermarkets cost from $2.99 to $5.99 per 3-ounces of oil. At the lowest price that is $33 for a quart's worth of oil. Buy that $10 bottle from Amazon and buy a quart of oil for even $4 and you have already saved yourself $19. And the empty bottle that you buy is reusable. If you should use 3-4 quarts of oil a year? A savings of $57 to $76 a year. And let's not forget that using the sprayer allows you to use less oil in food preparation.

Addendum to the Original Posting: In doing some checking on the commercial spray oils I found that soy lecithin is a standard ingredient. While there are some health claims made for the addition of the lecithin and a few references to the non-stick qualities of the lecithin, most cites referred to the fact that the lecithin is used to thin down the oil so that it will spray correctly. However, the spray oils available for Pesach DO NOT contain the soy lecithin for kashrut reasons, nor any substitutes for it, and they spray every bit as well as the non-Pesach products do.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Handling Food

Food handling procedures should be of concern year round, but with the weather finally warming up in NY and elsewhere these procedures rise in importance. Temperature is one of those key items in making sure that food stays fresh, edible and without bacteria that could be avoided. For many people food shopping is a round of heading from store to store, and purchases are left in the trunks of cars or in a wheeled shopping cart for hours.

I think it's time to familiarize ourselves with the best/proper ways of handling food and storing it. Sometimes those lapses in food handling may "only" result in an upset stomache of fairly short duration, and we don't assume, wrongly in many cases, that the way we shopped, prepared or held the food in our homes has anything to do with that tummy ache. And sometimes those lapses in handling can result in some truly serious illness.

As a start, you can head here for some tips we all should know. There are also links there to other articles that contain info we should know, such as At-Risk Populations, Meat Preparation, Poultry Preparation, Egg Products Preparation, Seasonal Food Safety, Appliances & Thermometers, Foodborne Illness & Disease,
Emergency Preparedness.

There's also some important information to know at

With summer soon to be here, try this site for some important information on barbecue safety

And you might want to apply some of what you read above to places where you purchase ready made food, such as take home food stores and restaurants. How are they storing and preparing the food you are going to be eating?

Better safe than sorry.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A Natural Time Out

Thank you nature for providing a distraction from all the other weighty matters this week. Our backyard menagerie is finally reaching completion: our blue jays are back. And they are truly in fine form. They showed up yesterday morning and it did not take 5 minutes and they were in a slanging match with an assortment of other birds taking refuge in the shade of a corner of the garden. No other word to describe the way they were going around the garden other than strutting. It's obvious that they believe that fine feathers make fine birds. So far they have not faced off with the cardinals already in residence. That should be a battle royal. Once again I can see that I'm going to be spending some time refereeing our feathered residents.

Adding to the fun and games is the fact that two pairs of blue jays showed up, although not at the same time (easy enough to tell because of the size and patterning of the feathers). So, are those two pairs going to join together to terrorize the rest of backyard residents or are they going to fight each other for supremacy?

Yes, when we move I'm definitely going to miss having a ringside seat for the goings on in my backyard.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Savlanut--the Lack Thereof

Ever take a very little child on a very long trip to somewhere? Young kids have no real sense of time, so telling them "we'll be there in just three hours" has no effect. Every five seconds or so (or so it seems) they ask "Are we there yet?!" In addition to their lack of time-telling ability, they also lack savlanut--patience. If you've told them you are going somewhere they want to be there NOW, not later. Waiting to see the results of something is also foreign to them. I remember when we were young that my mom planted some vegetable seeds together with my brother and I. Every day, multiple times a day, my brother would go and uncover his seeds to see the vegetables that were supposed to be there NOW.

In many ways the adults of today have not changed from the children they were yesterday. They still lack patience to wait for anything. It is no longer just children whose time apparatus is not fully developed, whose ability to be patient has never grown and flowered. What we want we want NOW, not later. Stand on line and wait for a check out line to progress forward? All you hear are the complaints about how slow the line is moving. Tell someone they will need to spend 4-10 years studying in college/grad school in preparing for a career and their eyes roll back as they chant "No, no, no! TODAY!" I'm sure you can fill in with many more examples, hundreds of examples, thousands of examples.

But what, to me, is possibly one of the most egregious examples of this lack of savlanut? The shidduch scene today. This lack of patience is seen in every single aspect of shidduch making. "Someone" has decided that all people looking for shidduchim have a limited, very limited time frame in which to get married or they are out of the race. The concept of waiting, never mind waiting patiently, does not exist. And the side affects of this lack of patience are horrifying to see. We live in a time that a woman of 20 has already begun to worry that she will never get married. A girl of 21 becomes frenetic every time a shidduch is suggested because she knows she is on a very limited countdown clock and her clock has almost stopped ticking. A girl of 22 believes that she is in deep trouble and hysteria ensues. And our so not benign society refers to unmarried women of 22 or 23 as older singles, as if it's some kind of terminal medical condition. Pass 23 or 24 years of age and you know for sure that life has passed you by and marriage is such an out of sight possibility that the only way it's going to happen is if you close your eyes, point at just anyone and say "I'm desperate so someone get that one to propose and I'll accept, although I know that I'm just settling and this isn't what I really want deep in my heart."

Hello, reality check time. We are told that Hashem is m'zaveg zevugim. What we are not told is when that zivug foretold for us is supposed to arrive at our doorsteps. And please forget that shemoneh esrim l'chupah nonesense for a moment. I'm sorry, but which of our avos and imahos got married at precisely 18 years of age? And then there was Yaakov avinu who put in 14 years of hard labor before he managed to marry both Rochel and Leah. Talk about having patience!

By today's unfortunate standards of telling time, I should never have gotten married, nor should a whole bunch of other people that I know. We were over that dreaded 21 mark and we should have buried our marital ambitions by that point and prepared ourselves for a life of spinsterdom. What utter and complete nonsense! Not once in all the time that I was dating and looking to see what God had prepared for me did anyone around me every suggest, in word or deed, that I was "over the hill" and headed for a life alone. What they all did counsel, however, was patience. I got married when I was 24 1/2 and just what is it that I am supposed to have missed by getting married at that "ancient" age? I missed nothing, absolutely nothing. And what I did get was the gift that God had prepared for me, at the time that He had prepared to give that gift to me.

We don't have that blasted shidduch crisis today--what we have is a crisis of faith. We have decided to over ride God's plans and institute our own instead. WE have decided that there is a time limit and only the "first horses out of the gate" are going to win the race. We have set ourselves up as the ones who know just how and when a shidduch is supposed to come about, and oh boy are we failing miserably in our attempts to over set God's timetable. We have decided, contravening God's intentions, that if you are over 22 you are going to be just "settling" for something, anything, instead of actually being paired up with your basherte shidduch. We are meddling in God's business, and the results aren't very gratifying. What unadulterated gaivoh on the part of mankind to think that plans hatched by humans, and not awfully well-made plans at that, can easily replace what God has in mind.

Our job is to have bitochon, and in that we are failing miserably because we have attached an illogical, artificial timetable to that bitochon. Our job is to have savlanut, and in that, too, we are failing miserably.

What set me off? A posting on Bad for Shidduchim floating the idea, perhaps tongue in cheek and perhaps not, that women in their early to mid twenties who are not yet married might want to consider joining together commune-style and at least have the joy of raising children with those other women. After all, they are over the hill and marriage is unlikely, even if you find someone that would just be settling instead of what you really want. My generation may be guilty of an awful lot but that is one thing you cannot lay at our feet. We understood patience far better than today's younger people do. And even if we sometimes wondered just what was taking so long for Prince or Princess Charming to show up, we didn't throw in the towel and say we were defeated. What we did do was trust that God knew what He was doing and that eventually we would reap the goodness of His decision.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Recycling Computers for the Benefit of Klal

With all the talk about cutting costs for yeshiva education there have also been plenty of comments about "unnecessary elements" that should/could be cut from a school's curriculum. A number of people have commented that this demanding of "extras" is what drives costs up. Some place this demand firmly in the MO camp--MO parents are looking for a "Rolls Royce" education for their children.

So, are they? What is it that an education is supposed to give to students? First, let's keep in mind that what might once have been the answer to this question has evolved over the years. What is necessary for students to know today may not be what was necessary in the past.

We live in a highly technological age. Computers have become a key part of our lives, not peripheral to them. There is virtually no job today that does not in some way rely on computers. The way that our everyday lives are lived has changed because of computers: we talk to each other via computers, we get information via computers, we shop via computers, we pay bills via computers, our household and commercial machinery is run by computers etc.. Having computers available in our schools is not a matter of luxury, but of necessary exposure to ensure that our children will come out of school "fully" educated and capable of taking their place in the working world. Yes, every one of our yeshiva classrooms should contain at least one computer at a minimum. Yes, teachers should be updating and learning about how to utilize the classroom computer for the maximum benefit to the students in the class. Yes, two computers or three or more would be better, but one has to be there. And yes, computers cost money. But this is one area where yeshivas could be a lot better at if they thought creatively.

How many of you have owned more than one computer? How about more than two? I'll venture a guess that you may have replaced a computer because there was a "faster" model out there, or a model with more bells and whistles. How about if you own a business? How often do you replace the computers? Now here's the key question: what do you do with the computers when you replace them with a different one? This is where schools could save money. If parents were to donate used but working computers to the schools, that would be computers that don't have to be purchased by the schools. If yeshivas would do the legwork and contact businesses and ask for donations of computers the businesses are replacing, that, too, would be computers the schools wouldn't have to pay for. And yes, businesses will do this. How about schools putting up notices in the stores where the frum community shops asking for computer equipment to be donated. Again, people will donate if they know that someplace can use their computers.

At the last electronic equipment junking day that the Sanitation Department held here on SI, they got an amazing 127 computers that were brought in. Assume that maybe 1/2 were not in working condition, even assume that 2/3 may not have been. That still would leave 42 computers being junked that could have been useful to a lot of places, schools included. When our shul needed another computer a while back we donated one that was no longer being used by us but that was still usable. Senior centers are always short on funds but could use the computer equipment. When my mom was in the rehab center last year I noticed that there were no computers for the use of the residents. Now granted, a lot of these residents are elderly and may not be particularly computer savvy. But there were plenty of residents who did know their way around a computer and didn't have laptops and so couldn't access their emails or do anything else that is computer dependent. When I happened to ask why there were no computers available the answer I got was basically "donate some computers to us and there will be computers." I mentioned this to my cousin when she came to see my mom and she mentioned it to her husband, whose firm is huge, computer dependent and always upgrading. The company said that at the next upgrade time three computers would go to the rehab facility. Yes, it's as simple as that--ask and you may get.

When the company my husband was working for at the time was replacing computers I was teaching in a yeshiva high school. I brokered the deal between the company and the school. The company donated 19 computers for a tax donation letter, and the school got 19 computers free of charge. You don't need a bells and whistles computer to teach basic keyboarding and basic computer functions or to access the Internet. The educational programs that NYSTL provides in NY will run just fine on an older computer.

There are so many places that would welcome a used but working computer--senior citizen programs, after school programs, school classrooms, day care centers, shuls, community centers etc. Instead of just junking that computer you no longer want, find it a home where it will be warmly and gladly adopted. Save the environment and do a mitzvah at the same time--what could be better?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Further Word About Kugel

My Friday posting was about kugel and how to make it in a healthier way. I'd just like to add a couple of historical footnotes here to broaden our knowledge of what was cooked and when in "the old country."

There seems to be an assumption that kugel, potato kugel in particular, was a staple of Shabbos eating in der heim. Was it? Let me begin by asking how many of you who enjoy a piece of kugel on Shabbos would also enjoy it if it could only be served cold or room temperature? We, today, have available to us, to all of us, the means for keeping food hot on Shabbos. Our stoves can remain on over Shabbos, providing us with ovens/warming drawers. We have stove tops over which a blech can be put. We have a large variety of crock pot type of cookers that can be on over Shabbos. We take hot food on Shabbos for granted. This was not the case for large segments of the European frum population., certainly not all year round.

Stoves in pre-War Europe were coal fed or wood fed. The more time you spent in cooking, the more fuel you had to feed that stove. Those home stoves could not be fed fuel right before Shabbos and remain hot until after the mid-day meal on Shabbos. Some people, those with more money, would have special niches built into the side of the fireplaces they used for heating their rooms, niches that a pot could go into to stay warm. Those fireplaces were larger and before Shabbos wood could be added and the fire banked so that there would be warmth throughout the night and into the next day. That was during cold weather. When the weather turned warmer, such that the house was not being heated, there was no fireplace niche to keep food warm.

Some people would rely on a local bakery for warm food for Shabbos. The fireplaces in these bakeries were oversized, resulting in large baking slots above the fireplace. Many people would bring their pots of food to the bakery before Shabbos to be inserted in one of these slots to keep warm over night. There was a charge for this bakery use, and not everybody could afford it.

Kugels were not wrapped up in foil paper as many are today--ask your grandmother if she had foil paper at home in Europe. The kugels were placed into the cholent to keep warm, for those who had cholent. They were not the consistency of the kugels we see today.

And yes, another method of keeping things warm was to take a hot pot right before Shabbos started and wrap it up in a feather bed. Also not available to everyone, because a feather bed, certainly an extra feather bed, was a luxury.

So, did our ancestors in Europe eat kugel every Shabbos, and we're just continuing their custom? Not likely. Some may have eaten it on Shabbos during cold weather, or maybe not. The "kugels" that ended up inside of a cholent pot for Shabbos did not resemble what we call kugel today, and many of those cholent kugels were not made with potatoes at all, but with flour. The wealthy or well to do had some options that whole swathes of the rest did not have. And in the hot weather months cold food on Shabbos was the rule and hot the rare exception.

Yes, kugel was made in that Europe of long ago, but it was not the "rule" to serve it on Shabbos and more people didn't have it than had it.

And speaking of cold food, let's keep in mind that they did not have today's modern refrigerators to keep food in. Those with money would have ice boxes--metal boxes into which slabs of ice were placed to keep food from spoiling until it could be eaten. And getting that ice cost money. Some, outside of the large cities, had underground storage cellars into which produce could be put. So even cold food on Shabbos might be a misnomer. A lot of what our ancestors ate was room temperature, and limited in scope.

Funny how in der heim so rarely resembles in fact the stories so many tell about it, people who were never there.