Thursday, July 29, 2010

Java for the Garden

Are you a coffee drinker? Are you a gardener? Perfect! There's a way you can "justify" all that coffee you have been drinking: the grounds are a real treat for your outdoor and indoor acid-loving plants. Among these plants, shrubs and trees that are acid lovers are all conifers, azaleas, hydrangeas, rhododendrons, ferns and most vegetables and fruits.

One way to use the grounds is to just sprinkle some around each plant--gently rake into the soil with your fingers or a small trowel. Another way is to mix the coffee grounds in with any top soil you are using to top dress a bed or into the soil you are preparing for planting.

I don't drink brewed coffee at home but I have a deal with the parent of someone I once tutored, who owns a restaurant. I bring them a bunch of cans/resealable bags and they dump the grinds from the coffee they brew into the cans for me. I give my garden this "coffee fest" in the spring, midsummer right about now and in the early fall. It's recycling with lots of advantages for the garden. And if the wind blows just right after I've given my garden its coffee dressing, the smell is so unbelievable.

I save a spoon or two for my indoor plants and gently scratch the grounds into the surface soil. And sometimes, in the fall and wintertime for my indoor plants, I'll mix in a few spoons of instant coffee into my watering pot and water with this brew. They seem to love it. Recycling isn't just about plastic and paper--coffee grounds count too.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Nose Knows

Science and scientific study may not be important in some sectors of Klal, but in others it's alive and well. Scientists at the Weizman Institute in Israel have invented a new mobility device for those whose ability to move has been destroyed by illness or accident. Imagine being able to manipulate a wheelchair or a computer just by sniffing through your nose. A link to the article below.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What's In a Name?

Someone once asked me in an email, referring to the blog, what my real name was. I answered "Prof K." He responded that no, that was my fake name, one taken to provide anonymity. He wanted to know what my real name was. Again, I responded "Prof K." Let me explain why I consider that answer as 100% correct.

We seem to think that we have only one name that we go through life with. Really? Let's take the case of a female born into a Jewish family. After birth that child is given a name by her parents. When the name is given that name will be Rivka Brocha bas Ehpraim Anshel HaLevi. Is that her name? Yes and no. That full name will be used when a mi'sheberach is made. It will be used under the chupah. But does anyone ever introduce themselves to others in a group in this way? No, they likely use one of their other names.

Perhaps her father calls her Rivka Brocha, and she answers to that name when she is talking with her dad. Perhaps her mother calls her Rivkale, and she answers to that name when with her mom. Perhaps her father's mother calls her Brochie and perhaps her mother's mother calls her Rivchu. Perhaps her youngest brother calls her Ribi and her oldest brother calls her Riv. Now imagine if we add in all the names that the aunts and uncles and cousins might call her.

Her best friend calls her Riki. One of her not so best friends calls her Ribs. Her teachers may call her Rivke or they may call her Miss Brown. One of her neighbors calls her sweetpea. Her pediatrician may call her Rebecca. The government calls her Rebecca Betty Brown. You think I'm finished? Nope. Rivka Brocha has red hair. There are some who are going to call her gingy, and she will respond to the name.

Then she grows up, goes to college, gets a job, gets married and has children. She will now be answering to a whole new slew of names. Our little Rivka Brocha Brown is now the wife of Moshe Sofer. Among her new names will be Mrs. Moshe Sofer, Mrs. Rivka Brocha Sofer, Mrs. Rivka Sofer, Rivka Sofer, Mrs. Martin Sofer, Mrs. Rebecca Sofer, Rebecca Sofer etc.. Some will refer to her as Rivka Brown Sofer or perhaps Rebecca Brown Sofer. Her husband may add in some new names as well--honey, sweetheart, Brooks etc.. To her in laws her new name might simply be shneer. Rivka likes to cook and is darned good at it. Some people refer to her as chef Sofer and she answers.

Now she becomes a mother. Enter more new names. She may be mommy or mom or moms or ima or mumsy or mama or any other construction that appeals to her kids. Let's say that she becomes a college professor. She will add Professor Sofer or Dr. Sofer to her list of names. Should she assume additional responsibilities in the college she may now add Dean Sofer to her names. But let's give Rivka incredible talent in computers. Now we can add in the name of geek, uttered affectionately by those who appreciate that talent.

Let's let Rivka be a talented writer on top of everything else she is good at. She has written some textbooks in her field. Her author name for those textbooks is Rebecca Sofer, PhD. But she also has a great sense of humor and has written some humorous books for kids. There her author name is R. Brown-Sofer. And our multi-faceted woman also has a blog, maybe even two or three blogs. The first blog is about her personal musings about the world in general. For that blog her name is MyView. Her second blog is one that deals with the subject matter she teaches. On that blog she is Prof B. Her third blog is about household matters and cooking. For that blog she is called ChefaLicious. Now sometimes our Rivka comments on other blogs or on sites online or perhaps writes letters to the editors of newspapers. Sometimes she uses the name Anonymous, sometimes Irate Reader, sometimes Stop the Madness, sometimes a whole lot of other names.

Have I covered all of Rivka's possible names yet? Not by a long shot. Rivka is only forty and she has many years more to collect a whole slew of names that she will use and answer to. She has yet to add in all the names for mother in law, grandmother and great grandmother. And then there will be what the machatonim will call her.

We all of us have a wide variety of names that we use and that we answer to, mostly depending on whom we are talking to, where we are and what we are doing. Sometimes, when being introduced to someone new, we proffer one name, sometimes another. What name we use and when and where we use it is not a question of hiding our "real" name--all of our names are our real names. Sometimes the name we give is a way of establishing how we wish to be thought of in a particular situation/time period. Other times we proffer a name because we want those we are speaking with to concentrate on our words, not on what a different name might bring along as baggage.

I know that there are readers here who know some of my other names. So? I'm not in the Wit Sec program, and I'm not hiding out from the bad guys when I use Prof K here. I know of some readers who associate that Prof K with other situations as well as with the blog. So to the reader who was insisting on knowing my "real" name, Prof K is the correct answer, for here and now. Meet me in other places, other times, other situations and you may hear other names. Just keep this in mind--they are all mine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Cut Above

Now that the three weeks are over everyone seems to be lining up to get haircuts. Someone sent me the link below and thought I might be interested in seeing just how those haircuts are handled in some areas of Klal. The link is to the Kosher Haircut Guide, and you will be happy to note that posters of the page linked to are available for public display. i am making zero comments--I'll let the page speak for itself.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Some Bird Brained Guests

It's quiet in the house and I'm not up to finishing all the cooking yet. I head to the computer to check emails and to take care of some odds and ends of business. Frankly, I'm bored and the view outside the sliding doors is of foot after foot of grass and no living creatures. I've been saving a large bag of some odds and ends of challah and rolls and cereals and assorted goodies. I go outside, spreading the wealth across the lawn and planting beds. I head back inside and wait to see what will develop.

Boredom banished as the yard comes to life. Chickadees and starlings arrive first, yapping loudly to spread the word that the K yard is where it's happening now. A small bevy of quail also drop in. In one corner a group of robins is eating with gusto. A squirrel comes down the hill to see what all the fuss is about. He snags a piece of roll and sits and munches while he observes.

Some of the pieces I put out are larger than others and I watch as the chickadees play grab and snatch with those pieces. They head for the patio to duke it out over who has territorial rights to those larger pieces. One piece of bread has been grabbed and then grabbed again by 7 different chickadees. A whole yard's worth of goodies to enjoy and they are getting territorial over one relatively small piece.

On one of the fences I count 17 starlings who have grabbed their snacks and are sitting high up to enjoy them out of the traffic jam the lawn is becoming. Our chipmunks have ventured out to see what all the noise is about. One of the chickadees left a largish piece on the patio where the chipmunks are watching and they grab it and head for their home to eat in comfort at their own "table."

The bluejays are being uncommonly reserved. They sit on the edge of a planter wall and watch their cousins at work. It's almost as if they won't deign to eat what a mere chickadee will eat. I know from experience that that attitude won't last. In the end, wanting that treat will win out over artificial ideas of whom you will socialize with during a meal and whom you won't socialize with.

We also have a visitor who arrived last week from way out of town--its colors are a vibrant green and yellow. This has to be a pet of some type that escaped its cage and is now living free. So far it's doing fine mingling with its cousins, but I worry about what will happen when the summer ends and colder weather arrives.

Amazingly a mother and young baby bird, about the size of a large egg, land right near the doors. I watch as the mother fusses around that chick, dashing around to gather bits of bread and bringing them back to feed the youngster with. As the chick turns and attempts to walk out onto the lawn, the mother grabs at its tail and pulls it back. Only when she is side by side with it do they proceed to the grass. Doesn't seem to matter whether human or otherwise--a mother is a mother.

Sure, the lawn is a treasure trove of worms and bugs, and I didn't need to feed my backyard neighbors for fear they would go hungry. But everyone, wildlife included, sometimes likes something different, likes a snack of a different flavor. As for me, there's a smile on my face and my boredom is gone. There is simply nothing like a hearty dose of nature to banish the blahs and to put everything into perspective.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

These Inventions Above all Other Inventions

Note: the subject for this posting came about because of an article in the local paper. A family's home was destroyed by fire and those in this family's neighborhood were being called on to help them in replacing "essentials" that had been lost. When I read the list of items needed I sort of scratched my head, thus this post.

There's a lot of talk around that we all own too many things, and that there are just too many things out there clamoring for us to buy them. There's talk about paring down our lives to the real basics, to only those things that are truly important.

Okay, let's get a start on paring down. But first, how are we going to judge which are the things that are truly important for us to own? Which things are really necessities as opposed to luxuries? Keep in mind that necessities may or may not be societally determined and may or may not be the purview of the individual. Also, the definition of what is a necessity can change over time or from place to place.

There are many items that have been invented and are available for public consumption in roughly the last 50-60 years. If an accident happened and you needed to replace everything that you owned previously, but you were to be limited to having only five of those items replaced first, as being the most important for you, which five would they be? Why? Give it some thought and let us all know. I have a feeling that opinions are going to be widely divergent.

Note: I am excluding medications and medically related items from the choices. I would hope that all would agree that the invention/discovery of antibiotics, of hearing aids etc. would be considered as societal necessities above and beyond the items we can purchase for our own use. I am also excluding a basic stove and refrigerator in a kitchen. I don't believe that anyone in the US would consider those as optional.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Yup, It's English

Thanks to one of my colleagues who sent me an email in which the following was present. Sometimes a new language invention catches the ear and tickles the funny bone. Either that or I have to start getting out more this summer.

"Supermarkets are becoming concerned about the effect of all those plastic shopping bags on the environment. Some of them offer a choice of either paper bags or the plastic bags. Now I toss it back to them. When they ask me, "Paper or Plastic?" I just say, "Doesn't matter to me. I am bi-sacksual.""

Monday, July 19, 2010

Meaningful or Easy?

Quite a while ago, in reference to Yom Kippur, there was discussion going on in the blogosphere about whether or not to wish someone an easy fast or a meaningful fast. With Tishe Ba'Av beginning tonight, I'm coming firmly down on the side of easy. My reasoning is simple: if the fast isn't easy the meaningful isn't going to happen.

I fall in the category of really lousy fasters. It's not the lack of food that does me in but the lack of liquids. We've all had days when things piled up and we somehow find ourselves at the end of the day noticing that we haven't had time to eat anything. But we did all find time to drink something, because liquids are necessary to keep the body going. And when a taanis falls in hot muggy weather the effect of that lack of liquid is magnified for me. It really doesn't matter how much I have to drink today. Thanks to the efficient human plumbing system that liquid is going to be old news tomorrow.

It's been suggested many a time that keeping busy takes ones mind off the fasting and its side affects. Right. Try concentrating on reading when you have an incipient headache. Even when I've had summer school classes that coincide with Tishe Ba'Av and I've had to be in class, I am never sure afterwards if anything I taught that day was totally coherent. Certainly by early afternoon my voice starts getting raspy. And I'm not the only one who finds getting through a taanis a tirchah.

So yes, I'm wishing you all first an easy fast, and then I'll add on a meaningful fast. And some day I'm going to ask someone to explain in detail to me why our fast days include no drinking. To my knowledge we are the only religious group that requires a 25+hour fast with no food or drink. Why? But please, don't give me the explanation tomorrow--my brain will simply not be up to absorbing it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Bathing and Clean Undergarments

Those of us in NYC right now are none too happy with the weather we have been having. Way too hot and way too muggy for this time period of summer. Outdoor activities, whether for work or play, are energy depleting to say the least. You walk outside and the air is heavy, hot and humid. Clothing sticks to the body as if it were saturated with glue. As one enterprising drugstore put it on an in-store placard next to deodorants that were on sale, "This is the Summer of Sweat! Be prepared!" There's no real problem of using up the hot water in the tank for multiple showers for everyone each day as it is cool/cold water everyone seems to be looking for.

A short while ago, on a posting elsewhere, someone quoted directly from a Rav a couple of statements that have me flabbergasted. The statements were about showering and laundry during the three weeks/nine days. One was, "if you are accustomed to regular bathing during hot weather," and the other was "if you are accustomed to changing your underwear every day."

You know that old acronym TMI? Yup, those statements really gave me too much information. Given the weather we are dealing with right now (and, to be truthful, summer in NYC is never mild and balmy), just to whom are those statements applicable? On second thought, I don't want to know. But I might mention that over the centuries practical day-to-day halacha has been adjusted to take into consideration what is available/necessary during more modern time periods. Rabbanim giving out psak today on things like showering and laundry and clothes wearing habits and habits of personal hygiene/grooming just might want to take into consideration that regular bathing and changing of undergarments is a given in the US today, and pasken accordingly. You want me to forgo certain pleasurable activities during this time period? Okay. You want me to curtail certain activities of an entertainment type? Okay. You want me to go 25+ hours without food or drink? Okay. But in this I believe I can speak for all women of my acquaintance and probably all women, and I'd bet for most men as well--do not tell me that the answer to not doing laundry during this time period is to re-wear already worn undergarments! And yes, ditto for the showers.

Yes, I'm aware that even making the statements I just made puts me outside the pale for a whole lot of people in some of the groups of Klal. So be it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A Different Rendition but the same Melody

I received a phone call today and, not recognizing the number or the caller's name, I was prepared for some kind of sales pitch. I wasn't disappointed, but the caller was trying a different tack than the one such calls usually take.

When I answered in the affirmative that I was Mrs. K, the caller began by asking me the following: If your brothers or sisters or your parents were starving, if they struggled every day to put food on the table, would I help them out? Obvious answer: Yes, as much as I would be able to. Next question: Would I extend that same help if it were my aunts or uncles or cousins who were starving every day? Again, obvious answer: Yes, as much as I would be able to.

The caller then segued into the following: Are you aware that Kol Yisroel Areivim zeh lo zeh? That all members of Klal are brothers? You have just told me that you would help your brothers if they were starving, so shouldn't that apply to all your brothers? At this point the caller had still not identified for which organization they were making an appeal, although it did flit through my mind that the use of the word "starving" meant they were from some type of organization like Tomchei Shabbos.

Before I could even get out my sentence asking what organization they were soliciting for I got the following spiel: We Jews know all about feeding the body but we also know that the soul and heart must be fed, and for that to happen we must feed our hearts and souls Torah. Many Jews do not, themselves, feed themselves Torah but it is surely their obligation to help those who starve the body so that they can feed their souls Torah.

I had hit saturation point and broke in with "What organization are you collecting for?" Again, no truly straight answer but I got the following: We believe that all of Klal benefits from those who starve their earthly bodies and sacrifice to fill themselves with Torah. It is all of our obligations to help them in the ways we can so that they do not face an empty table. May we put you down for $54 as your chelek in supporting those who feast on Torah at the sacrifice of regular food on the table?

I told the caller that he had 3 seconds to name the organization he was calling for or I was hanging up. He responded with Yeshiva X. Then I responded that if the yeshiva were truly worried about giving real food to these people they might try training them to make a parnoseh, that God does not require us to starve our children so that their fathers can sit and learn. And then I hung up.

Somewhere "out there" there is someone cursing my name and probably wondering just what kind of Jew i could possibly be if I am refusing to give tzedaka, particularly to Yeshiva X. How can I ignore people with no money to buy food? What kind of person am I? The kind that believes in the old maxim "Give a man a fish and he'll eat today. Teach a man how to fish and he will eat all the tomorrows." And I also didn't appreciate the roundaboutation of the caller. If you're calling to get a donation to a yeshiva say so up front--I'll either give or I won't. But please don't fold in the old "children are starving in India" approach and expect it to pull the wool over my eyes. If learning in a kollel program means you are going to be starving there is something seriously wrong with that kollel program, not with me.

I'm sure there are many good reasons to own a telephone, but I long ago realized that phone solicitations is NOT one of those reasons.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Starting Early in Teaching Financial Responsibility

In a recent discussion on Lion's blog about children and money I made a suggestion based on something we did with our own kids. Lion suggested it would make a good post here, so here goes.

When they are young children often receive money from others, be it for birthdays or Chanukah, or losing a tooth or what have you. In addition, some families give their children allowances--a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly sum, sometimes based on their completing certain household chores, sometimes not. And what do the children do with that money? If they are typical, they think of things they want to buy with that money. And they want whatever those items are NOW. And then tomorrow comes and they just may not have any money left to buy what they want tomorrow, or the tomorrows that follow.

We took a different tack with our kids. We set up home checking and savings accounts for this type of money. Yes, we made them formal. We got blank checks from the bank and each child got a check book. They also got a computerized savings passbook. If the children wanted to buy something, they first had to look at their checking balance/savings balance and see if they could afford the item. If they couldn't, they didn't get to buy the item at that minute. Our home bank was not in the business of giving out loans nor of covering overdrafts.

My husband taught each of the kids how to write out a check, how to enter it in the check registry and how to balance that check book. Each month they got a statement of deposits and withdrawals. They could see in black and white what they received and what they spent on. Yes, and they also learned to check that the bank had not made any errors on their statements.

Items that cost more than they had in the bank? They had to save up for those items. And yes, we discussed with them the idea of spending everything on one item versus having the money for smaller, less costly items.

Lion asked me what we did if the kids wanted to buy an item, one they might have had money for, that we didn't want them to have. We used two approaches. The first was the "age appropriate" approach. We pointed out that in the "real" world there were age requirements in place in some areas. You couldn't vote when you were 12, you couldn't drink at 13, you couldn't be under 16 in our local mall and be in the mall on a school day unless accompanied by an adult. You couldn't get into certain movies unless you were a certain age, or go to a movie by yourself if you were under a certain age. Certain items they wanted to buy we, the parents, put into "your not old enough to buy that" categories.

The second approach was an economic one. We introduced the kids to the idea of service charges and taxes. Just because an item says on the price tag that it costs X amount doesn't mean that is what it really costs. There are taxes to be added in. There may be shipping and handling costs. Sometimes there really were these charges on items that we were letting the kids buy and they learned early that what is on the price tag may not be the bottom line. We also used these extra charges and taxes when we didn't want them buying something, as a way to discourage the purchase. By the time we added on luxury taxes, sin taxes, sales taxes, shipping/delivery charges, reservation charges and the like, the price of the item usually at least doubled. And the kids lost interest in the item in a fairly short amount of time--spending $10 was one thing; spending $20 was quite another.

Yes, on occasion, a child would hit the middle of the month and have nothing left to spend until the next "pay day." This was the point where we could point out that planning ahead was important, that budgeting was necessary. They could have $5 worth of ice cream one week, or they could have $1 worth of ice cream each week of the month with a little left over in savings. One upshot of this system was that the kids also learned to parcel out what they purchased. Buy a pack of gum for a nickle (yes, that's what it cost back then) and chew all five slices today and you had nothing else to chew for the rest of the week until you had that nickle to spend again. Parcel out that gum across five days and you could have enjoyment over a longer period of time.

Eventually all the kids got the skills and got the idea that money is not fungible, and that budgeting is a necessity, not a parental evil. We believed then and still believe now that economic/budgeting skills need to be developed young and worked on until the child becomes older and independent. To leave any financial education until the point that a person is engaged to be married is a real disaster in the making. Learning to budget money, to spend wisely, to conserve funds, to delay gratification is something that CAN be taught to even young children, and the sooner you begin, the better off both you and the kids are.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What's on the Agenda

I received an announcement about a convention being held on Shabbos Nachamu. The convention is being held by the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. What interested me was the listing of some of the topics that will be covered at the convention. From the advert:

Alcoholism in the Jewish Community
Alternative Health Care in the Jewish CommunityRabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt
Who Invented the Search Engine?Dr. Bella Weinberg
Epigenetics: The Maternal Influence on the 12 TribesRabbi Dr. Nachman Cohen
Conflict Resolution: Fighting Fair, Making Peace & Getting AlongDr. Samuel Juni
The Evolving Jewish Family: New Social, Financial & Technological ChallengesDrs. Sylvan & Marcy Schaffer
New Health Care Legislation: The Jewish Perspective Rabbi Dr. Moshe D. Tendler
Medical Care & Hysteria: Vaccines, Autism & the Jewish CommunityDr. Allen J. Bennett
Shabbos & Pikuach Nefesh Dr. Robert Schulman
Improving Exercise in the Developing Child Dr. Susan Schulman
The Ethics of Blogging Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Goldberg
Is Our Maror Really what the Torah had in Mind? Dr. Jon Greenberg
The Psychology of Jewish Guilt Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Lasson
Homosexuality in the Jewish Community Dr. Arthur Goldberg

These all seem to be topics that I've heard people express interest in hearing about/talking about, at least in the J-blogosphere and in the world that leans towards orthodox rather than further right. I'd hope that those giving the various speeches would publish them for a wider audience than just those attending the convention.

I've known about the AOJS for years but I also know that many have no idea that such an organization exists. Sadly, for some people you can't put Orthodox Jewish together in one name with Scientist. If you're interested in the convention or just finding out about the AOJS contact info is: 718.969.3669 or

Monday, July 12, 2010

Money and Klal

I was going to pussyfoot around the topic of this posting and build up to breaking the bad news, but there really is no way to cushion this news. It's not that Klal is going to run out of money to support itself soon--it's that Klal has already run out of money to support itself. And it's all our own fault. We've taken to heart the injunction to give tzedaka and give generously. However, it's not hearts that are needed at this point but clearly thinking heads.

As Klal has grown the number of institutions and organizations of Klal has also grown, but that number has grown at a far faster rate then Klal, as presently constructed and organized, can adequately support. The problem is simple if you look at it objectively and use a calculator instead of wishes and hopes. There are X number of Jews. Those Jews do not all have the same amount of money. It's a fact of life that some people will have more money and some will have less or no money--always been that way and always will be. Even if those in the top money levels were to contribute far in excess of 10-20% in charitable giving, there is not enough money available to sustain what we have created.

Now granted, there is an awful lot of tzedaka money being given, huge sums of it. But a lot of that money is being flushed down the toilet rather than doing any good. Why?

First, a duplication of services. Blink twice and a new tzedaka organization will come into existence. I'll acquit the people who start them of nefarious motives, but some of those organizations have no business being in existence. They aren't fulfilling an unfulfilled need of Klal but are duplicating a service that another organization, sometimes many organizations, is already fulfilling. For example, how many hachnosas kallah gemachs and funds are truly necessary for one town, even one the size of NYC, to have? Each of those gemachs has X amount of overhead, even if 100% staffed by volunteers. The more of these gemachs, the more overhead, the less money going to help the people the gemach is supposed to help. Some of these gemachs work on sound economic principles, and a whole lot don't. And the kallah gemachs are relative small fry in the tzedaka world. In virtually every area we have multiple groups all collecting for the same things. There is a great deal of waste of Klal's resources because of this duplication.

Second comes handling money in an appropriate fashion. Far too many of the organizations of Klal are headed by people who may have good hearts but who also have no idea about economics. The organizations are poorly organized and run. Their budgets are seriously out of whack. Check the state records for those organizations that do report their finances and you will see operating expenses in too many cases that exceed 40 to 50 to even 90 percent of funds collected. And if that is only 30%? That still means that for every dollar donated, only 70 cents goes to the stated purpose. And speaking of those state records, just why is it that every tzedaka organization does not register itself with the state as a 501(c)3, so that people could legitimately take off any deduction to that organization as a tax deduction and/or see the organization's financial reports? Call me a cynic, but they don't do so because then their finances would come under scrutiny and some wouldn't pass the test as financially stable, well-run organizations.

So why are we in this position? It has to do with arithmetic. We've got addition down pat and multiplication too--the number of organizations attest to that fact. What we don't seem to have mastered is subtraction--once something comes into existence we are not only loath to get rid of it, but we don't have in place any mechanism that could do so even if we wanted to close down an organization. Nor do the organizations seem capable of subtracting some services, once given, despite there being no money to provide those services to the number of people requiring them.

Yes, I know, I missed an arithmetic function--division. Here we are the star pupils. As Klal has grown, we have divided ourselves into ever growing divisions of yiddishkeit. To speak of one klal is a misnomer. And each division of Klal believes itself entitled to all the charitable services, uniquely constituted to serve just that division of klal. Now granted, in some instances geography does play a part in these divisions. For example, Hatzolah of Williamsburg cannot be expected to also service Forest Hills or Flatbush or SI--it's not physically possible. And yes, the various Tomche Shabbos organizations also function along geographic lines, except where they don't.

Sometimes those lines are ideological rather than geographic. Group A and Group B and Group C, all basically in the same geographic area, all have the need for a particular type of tzedaka organization, or believe they do. Logic would dictate that ONE organization would come into existence that would service the needs of all three groups. And logic has nothing to do with it--politics and quasi-hashkafic differences do. Groups A, B, and C don't all share the same hashkafah or philosophy and each looks at the other with more than a dollop of suspicion and dislike. So each group opens up an organization to provide the service needed. And then what do they do? They go outside of their group to ask for funds to support that organization. So now you have three groups with three organizations all competing for the same limited tzedaka money in Klal. And yes, expenses will be multiplied because Klal is divided into so many little pieces.

And then there is another major reason for the proliferation of tzedaka organizations specific to Klal. There exists in many sectors of Klal a distrust of the secular world. These sectors attempt to cut themselves off from the secular world. Granted, some of them are perfectly willing to take SOME government money, particularly in the areas of housing assistance and food stamps. But when it comes to services that may generally fall under the rubric of counseling, they refuse to use the services. Unless a service is under "frum" auspices it won't be used, won't be recommended.

Let me leave you with this: whatever I said about tzedaka organizations above applies equally well to the schools we have. We're long overdue to have some of the less efficient, more costly schools close down. We're overdue for mergers between some schools that are offering identical services, competing for the same students and the money that comes with those students. We're overdue for better fiscal organization and responsibility. We certainly are long overdue for a common, unified purchasing entity that would allow the schools to get better pricing on the things they buy. And the divisiveness that exists for the tzedaka organizations exists for the schools as well.

But soon, verrrrrry soon, it all won't matter because the well is dry and pumping harder isn't going to help--only cutting down and cutting back will.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Come Fly With Me? Maybe, Sometimes

Our scientists, our engineers, our inventors have come up with some truly marvelous creations that are of help to humankind. They have helped make the science fiction of not so long ago into the reality we live with now.

Take for example the wonder of flight. Airplanes, jets, rocket ships, all a boon in expanding where we can go. When I was a young girl people may have dreamed of inter-planetary flight but that's all it was: daydreams that were highly unlikely to come true. And yet, we've sent men to the moon, to outer space stations. We've sent rockets and probes to our outer planets. And yes, we can send someone to the moon but can't seem to send someone from Newark airport in NJ to Arizona without taking that person on a convoluted, time consuming trip around the country.

Friends and family have been flying, both nationally and internationally, in the last few weeks. The tales they are telling aren't pretty, and they aren't isolated incidents either. Not one person who has had to go to an airport and take a flight has not been faced with one type of glitch or another. Lost luggage is the least of the horror stories. Flights taking off on time? What's that? Crowded flights in planes whose seats have shrunk way down in the last few years are now commonplace. I'm not 5'0" and neither is my hubby. Clearly those who are redesigning the interiors of planes are doing so for 3 foot tall people whose legs are retractable and who are no bigger than a size 2. Free luggage has become a thing of the past, as have free meals. And now there is talk that all drinks, including water and soda and juice, will be charged for as well. What's next? Bring your own toilet paper flights?

Perhaps one of the greatest horrors to face travelers is the connecting flight, a total misnomer. A family member had a connecting flight to Tucson a few weeks ago. The flight left Newark at 7:00am EST. It should have arrived in Tucson 7 hours later, including the connection in Dallas. Right. The connection left without waiting for the arriving flight. Passengers were told they would be put on the waiting lists for any other flights that day, but that those with tickets for those other flights would be accomodated first. And all the flights were full. Just where did they think they were going to put a whole planeload of people who were now stranded in Dallas? And yeah, they were sooooo upset that they had inconvenienced the passengers that they didn't so much as offer anyone a voucher for a drink or food while they were stranded. They didn't open up the better lounges to those stranded passengers either. Somehow our family member got on a connecting flight that evening and arrived in Tucson at 10:15pm EST. That was 15 hours and 15 minutes of travel time for a flight that should have taken 5 hours in flying time.

The return trip was no picnic either. This time the passengers from Tucson were heading towards Atlanta for their connecting flight. And they arrived in Atlanta to find that the connecting flight had been cancelled. They told the passengers not to worry--they'd get them on a flight some time the next morning. Strangely enough the words "we are sorry" never appeared on the lips of anyone connected with the airline in question.

With the pending merger of Continental Airlines and United and the host of problems that all airlines seem to have developed, don't expect that taking an airplane ride is going to be easy or fun. And certainly don't expect anything approximating service. Three people flying to three different destinations on three different airlines: Italy, Israel and California. And in all three cases the luggage didn't arrive with the travelers, nor did the travelers arrive anywhere near when they were scheduled to arrive. One such incident could, perhaps, be deemed an accident, but three (and I bet there are millions more like these) is indicative of a systemic failure and/or a "we don't give a damn" attitude on the part of the airlines.

I'm not particularly gung ho about governmental involvement/interference in the marketplace, but the airline industry is ripe for something or someone to say "Enough of this baloney, here's what you have to do." For those who don't know it, there is one regulation that you should keep in mind. If an airline on which you have a ticket for a flight screws up and doesn't get you to your final destination within four hours of your stated arrival time, they owe you money and/or goods, such as a free ticket. There are a few exceptions to this rule (Acts of God), but it pays for travelers to know what their rights are and to insist on what is coming to them.

We have tickets to fly in August and experience has taught us that we don't take connecting flights no matter what the incentives offered to do so. Even with a direct flight scheduled we've warned the hotel that we might be late arrivals. Might be late? Sigh, sure to be late. And it's why we have learned to pack essentials, such as hubby's talis and tefillin, and any medications, and spare toothbrushes in our hand luggage. And just to end off with another glaring note, some of the airlines are discussing charging for hand luggage. Have a happy summer travelers!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

It's a Bird, It's a Plane....

I once had up a posting on how I love the fact that Staten Island uses names for its streets instead of numbers or letters. Today one of those street names put a smile on my face.

Our DMV office moved and finding the new one had me traveling all over. Since I didn't want to repeat this on the way back home, I asked them at DMV for instructions. The person at the information window seemed to know what he was doing. His first instruction was to exit the parking lot and go up to the light and then make a right turn. That's when the smile started. That street I had to make a turn on? Lois Lane. I guarantee I'm not going to forget the name of this street. Would have been fun though if there had been a cross street named Kent or Clark. Go figure--having to spend time at the DMV for licence renewal can produce an unforgettable moment.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ortho What?

A firestorm of sorts has erupted over a new blogger who signs himself as the Orthoprax Rabbi. For some background reading head to the Haveil Havalim link from Sunday or go straight to The Rebbitzin's Husband.

I'm going to pick nits about his self-styled title. You have Ortho and you have Prax. Those who have previously written on this subject, including the Orthoprax Rabbi himself, define this as one who practices orthodoxy, visibly, in public, but who is not a believer. In this Rabbi's case he admits to not believing in God, in being an atheist. He admits to not "obeying" every law. Key here, however, is that it is all a sham, undertaken for purposes of keeping a job. Were this man not a pulpit rabbi I would imagine there would be many more laws that he would openly not keep and would, perhaps, stop identifying himself using "ortho" in the label he chooses.

But now that the label has been co-opted by this rabbi we're kind of stuck for anything to call a different type of problematic orthodox Jew: the one who believes in God, who has faith in God, but who does not wholly practice orthodoxy. Perhaps this person adheres to enough outside, visible, practices that he is not questioned as to whether he belongs in orthodoxy or not, and perhaps he doesn't. He is the opposite of the Orthoprax Rabbi in that he doesn't have a crisis of faith but a crisis of practice. So what are we to call this person? He is someone whose beliefs are orthodox but whose practices are not fully orthodox. You know, the person who cries to a God he believes in but doesn't worry about cheating on his taxes or cheating his fellow Jews or committing all kinds of financial or legal misdeeds or covering up for sexual predators or other liars and cheats? For me he, too, is an orthoprax--one for whom orthodoxy and practice do not align straight. One who talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk.

If we are going to use the label (and I'm not actually in favor of that label) perhaps we need to rethink our use of it, so that it covers all the possible conflicts between faith and practice. Yes, those who outwardly profess to be orthodox but who inwardly aren't are a problem--and I would opine that a rabbi of a congregation who does this is a realllllly big problem, but so are those who inwardly have faith but don't practice orthodoxy outwardly, or pick and choose what they are practicing.

There are some who have shown by their comments that they are horrified by what the Orthoprax Rabbi stands for. If we expand what that term orthoprax covers perhaps there will be more people who will also be horrified by what those other orthoprax followers are doing. Can we really continue to call someone just plain orthodox, to talk about that person's emunah and bitochon, to talk about that person's tzidkonius, and let slide that he breaks government laws or the laws of morality, such as the sexual predators do?

Open that box of orthopraxy and you are going to find yourself with a lot more in that box than you might have envisioned.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

That's Color, Not Black and White

Please pop on over to Ser and Ez to see 1948 Israel--in Color. A treasure trove of color film from the 40s through 60s documenting life in Israel during this time period, as well as some footage of post war Europe.

One Man's Meat is Another Man's Poison

Months ago a comment on a different blog had me seeing red. That condition has not abated despite the passing of time. Perhaps the three weeks is the right time to deal with that comment publicly.

The discussion was about parents who get tuition breaks from yeshivas. Many were railing about the "obvious" luxuries that many of these parents were indulging in despite their receiving tuition reduction for their children. It seemed like anything and everything that tuition assistance families owned was under attack--cars, homes, tv's, jewelry,furnishings etc.. Also under attack was anything that smelled like a vacation, camps for the kids, household help of all stripes etc.. What the comments boiled down to was "How dare these people have X, Y and Z if they are getting tuition assistance!"

Just what is with all the kinah and sinah that is being shown with those comments? Yes, kinah and sinah. Only rarely was a comment heard that mentioned that many of the items being railed about were purchased before some of these parents had fallen on hard times. Never was mentioned that the vast majority of parents on tuition assistance are not gaming the system, are not asking for tuition breaks but still living a "rich" lifestyle with the intention of defrauding the yeshivas. I looked for and found exactly one comment among hundreds, among thousands, that had any pity for those who find themselves having to ask for tuition assistance. No one wondered or cared about how those people must be feeling to have to ask for tzedaka. Basically the comments boiled down to "Let them sell their houses and their cars and their tv's and their wives's engagement rings and let them live poor if they dare to ask for tuition assistance."

But the creme de la creme was the following: "And those people better not be having any meat in their Shabbos cholent!" Whatever credibility that the arguments had (and it was scant credibility) totally flew out the window with this comment.

We are supposed to be an Am Rachamim. We are supposed to consider all those of Klal as our brothers, not metaphorically but literally. We are supposed to be a people concerned about the welfare of our fellow Jews. And then meat and cholent get thrown into the discussion? How far have we fallen that there can be jealousy and hatred over a bite of meat on Shabbos?

Yes, tuition in our yeshivas and day schools is a big problem. Yes, there are people in our communities who cannot pay all of what is being asked in tuition. Yes, the money has to come from somewhere. But just what solutions are going to be possible, what rational approach, what logical thinking, when kinah and sinah are the organizing principles?

During the three weeks introspection is appropriate. We need to make a personal cheshbon and see where our attitudes and actions are not the ones expected of us, required of us. We need to look at our actions and feelings bein adom l'chaveroh. We need to hold ourselves in tight rein and "judge not lest ye be judged."

How sad, and how enraging as well, that we have come down to being angry and jealous about a bite of meat in another man's mouth. Is this who we are?

Monday, July 5, 2010

About That Derech

We have all heard a lot of derech talk. A lot of it has been about people going off the derech. But what do we mean by that? I posted quite a while back about a woman who believes her daughter has gone off the derech because she is no longer following the exact same derech that was followed in her parents' home. I have a feeling that a lot of the derech talk we hear, although not specifically designated as such, is of this type of "offing" as opposed to the other type of off the derech, which is leaving religious observance entirely. So yes, some of the off the derech discussions (and predictions of woe) could use better definitions for just what off the derech means in that particular context.

I spend a lot of time on NYC's highways and byways going to work and visiting friends and family who live spread around the city. It occurred to me yesterday, while driving on one of those highways, that right in front of us is a way to clarify the off the derech discussion.

Let's take the Belt Parkway (and oh yes, you can keep the darn thing). It snakes its way from Brooklyn into the far reaches of Queens. Along the way people from Staten Island connect to it. It's a three-lane major highway--a right, a middle and a left lane. Sometimes the highway goes straight and sometimes it twists and turns. For most of it the exits off the highway are via the right lane; however, in some cases the exits are to the left (the same with many other of our city's highways). Sometimes you have other highways of 2 or 3 lanes merging into the Belt, causing clear congestion whenever the merges take place.

And then there is driving on the highway. Pretty much those who are slower know to keep in the right lane. Those who are in a real hurry and want to thread through traffic are going to head to the left lane. The middle lane is for those who aren't speed demons but aren't turtles either. Now it happens frequently enough that drivers and their lanes are mismatched. You'll find a turtle in the middle or left lanes who clearly doesn't belong there. You'll find a speed demon in the right or middle lane who also doesn't belong there. Eventually most of those people find the correct lane to be in. Sometimes they don't. When that is the case one of two things happens: either they cause an accident or they can't take it any more and get off the whole highway completely.

Some people eschew the major highways altogether; they don't like the congestion, they don't like the tolls on some of those highways, they don't like the frustration. Their preferred mode of travel is to use less congested byways. They may travel on roads that have only one or two lanes. They may travel using the streets instead of the highways. Some of those streets are two-way and some one-way. Some of those streets are single-lane and some are multi-laned. Those streets generally have stoplights or stop signs that stop the driver at intervals along the street. Sometimes this frustrates drivers and they start turning left and right, snaking through the side streets to avoid the stop and go traffic elsewhere.

Okay, not to belabor the point any further, let's get to the tachlis. Just what kind of derech and what kind of driver are we talking about when we say "off the derech"? Are we talking about highway drivers or street drivers or some combination of the two? Are we talking about constant lane changers? Are we talking about those who enter on the right or left but then spend the rest of their journey in the middle lane? Are we talking about those who followed a particular highway only to discover that the destination was the wrong one and they take a different highway seeking the right destination? Are we talking about people who have become frustrated by the constant red lights when they are on a particular street and who opt for a less controlled byway?

In short, let's finally recognize that throwing around "they'll go off the derech" as a threat if someone doesn't buy into a particular practice or belief of a particular family or community or rabbi or geographic area is meaningless. In NYC there are any number of highways and byways that can be used to get from point A to point Z. Each of those roadways is different in nature and character (although sharing some characteristics) but they will all get you to Point Z. Just as getting from SI to Far Rockaway offers many,many traveling choices, there are many ways to "travel" the observant life.

Next time someone throws out that "off the derech" comment hand them a road map and make them point out what that means in detail. I have the feeling there are going to be a lot fewer people who are totally lost than we are being led to believe.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Haveil Havalim #274

The latest Haveil Havalim, #274, is up at the link below. Rabbi T did a fine job and introduced some new categories. Enjoy the reading!

I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy....

Not the country of my birth but the country to which I owe allegiance and a multitude of thanks as well. To that grand country that made good on its promises, as inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:

By Emma Lazarus
The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

With a full heart of gratitude that our Founding Fathers (yes, and Mothers too) followed the path away from servitude and the gnarled, twisted way of thinking that had held us in thrall, to deliver a resounding blow for life, liberty and freedom for all. No, not a perfect place but always reaching, always searching to perfect itself.

Yes, it is only right and proper that those who enjoy the prosperity and freedoms purchased through the bravery of those who put themselves on the line those centuries ago, who lived these words of Patrick Henry's-_-"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"---take a moment to celebrate our "home of the brave and land of the free."

Friday, July 2, 2010

A July 4 Posting of a Different Stripe

With July 4 in only two days, you might find of interest the article at the following link, about Francis Salvidor, the Unsung Martyr of the American Revolution. And yes, he was Jewish.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

...lovely as a tree

Sometimes I can read news reports objectively; other times I have what I feel is a personal stake in what is happening and yes, my view is more subjective than objective.

This week there were some major fires in Israel. While the reports I read did say that some firefighters had to be treated for injuries, there were no reported deaths. But yes there were, even if they weren't the kind that news people usually consider deaths.

I remember the efforts of the JNF when I was a child to get trees planted in Israel. Certificates to plant a tree were sold, and I remember getting some of those as gifts from my parents instead of yet another toy or tchatchke. Growing up in Oregon we were very tree oriented, and I remember being happy that the desert would, at least in some places, be planted over with beautiful trees. We considered those our "personal" trees, a part of us that was growing in our medinah.

The Jerusalem Post reported that "The fires consumed more than 3000 dunams (300 hectares/750 acres) of forests and open spaces and 300,000 trees went up in flames." 300,000 trees died this week, trees that took years to come to maturity. And yes, I wondered if any of those trees were "my" trees, the trees of my youth that I had such happy thoughts about. To try and imagine how much effort and time it will take to try and replace the burned out forrests is just mind boggling. And then to read further that it is believed that most of the fires were as a result of arson?

This wasn't the end I ever visualized for my trees, and I imagine that no one else who contributed to their being planted did either. The poet was not wrong when he penned the lines "I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree." How sad that nature should have been defiled in this way.

What Use the Labels of Klal

In my posting listing the labels that are applied to various segments of the Jewish population, someone asked why I would be gathering the list. Of what use are the various labels? Forthwith some thoughts on that.

In a most basic sense, we use labeling as an organizing tool. Let's take fruit as an example. A general labeling would give us apples, bananas, cantaloupes, grapes, oranges, watermelons, pears etc.. The labels help us to identify fruits that are sufficiently uniquely different one from the other that they cannot be substituted one for the other in most cases. Try baking an apple pie substituting bananas or watermelon for the apples--it can't be done. The unique quality of apples is not present in the other fruits and viceversa. There is a good reason for applying the labels to the fruits. The labels show us distinct, unique differences between one fruit and another.

We also use labels within labeled categories. Use the fruit example again. Let's take apples, the general label. Within that label are many varieties of apples--world-wide there are 7500 varieties of apples grown; in the US 2500 varieties of apples are grown. You could eat a different apple every day for more than 19 years, and never eat the same kind twice. Yet, with all the different varieties grown and available, the "Delicious" apple variety is the most widely grown variety in the United States. And even here we have to add more labels--not all Delicious apples are exactly identical; there are some 50 cultivars of this type. In some cases the differences are only skin deep--the outside peel is of different colors or color combinations while the inside is basically the same, both taste and texture. In other cases the outside peel may look the same but the inside taste and texture differs,--some sweet, some sour, some mealier some juicier. In some cases the size of the mature fruit is different--some huge, some large, some medium sized, some small. But for all their differences, both in the Delicious family and the other apple families, consumers know they are all apples. There is no variety that we can objectively call a better variety of apple or the best variety of apple because it is all a matter of personal taste and what we have become accustomed to. And, in truth, if we are looking to buy apples in the store, and there are only red Delicious apples available, most of us will buy them. If only gala apples were available when we needed apples, we'd buy them. If you are looking to make apple juice any juice apple will do, not just one out of those 7500 varieties.

Now let's look at those labels we apply to Klal. The list in the posting is hardly all inclusive. And, as was pointed out by a commenter, there are other labels that are applied to members of Klal living in places outside of the US, labels that aren't exactly equivalent to Jews living in the US. But for some--many--who use those labels for Klal, they would benefit from looking at those fruit labels.

First, all members of Klal are "fruits." There is a general shared characteristic that puts us all in this category. Second, there are different varieties of fruits, and they can't all be used for the same purpose, nor do they taste identically. Okay so far. Now is when things start to break down. For arguments sake let's call those of Reformed Judaism grapes, those who are of Conservative Judaism oranges and those of Religious/Orthodox Judaism apples. All three are fruits, yet I don't think anyone would argue that they don't have real differences.

Now let's look at those "Orthodox" apples. Here is where the labeling we apply to Klal gets sticky. Yes, there are some differences among Orthodox groups--some are juicier, some are mealier, some are sweeter, some are more sour, some are larger, some are smaller in size. Some have different colored peels, ranging from a red so deep it looks black to a yellow so pale it looks white. But in the end most of these differences are a matter of personal taste, not real category distinctions. They may not like it, but they are all apples. In too many cases those labels have no meaning of importance outside of marketing and market positioning. Is a Washington State Red Delicious apple really any different from a New York State Red Delicious apple? Those trying to sell apples to the public would have you believe they are different, but scientific analysis would show you there is no real difference between them, except for their labels.

Yes, granted, there are some apples that are better for baking than other apples, and some apples that are better for making applesauce than other apples, and some apples that are better for juicing than other apples. But what unites these types of apples is greater and of more importance than what divides them--they are all apples.

Let me end off with this. Too many of the labels that are applied to Klal are attempting to market the groups so labeled as uniquely different fruits rather than just garden varieties of the same fruit. You have a personal preference? Fine, but don't kid yourself into thinking that those varieties of apples are anything other than just that--varieties of apples. They aren't cantaloupes, they aren't carambolas, they aren't persimmons--they're apples.