Monday, August 30, 2010

What is a Necessity?

The discussions that take place about problems in Klal all seem to contain the words necessity and luxury. In fact, many of these discussions are specifically trying to determine what things that Klal wants/has are necessities and which are luxuries. So many of the discussions flounder because there is no one clear definition of just what a necessity is or what a luxury is as it applies in every case. Let's see why that is so.

According to the dictionary there are multiple definitions of necessity. A necessity is: "something indespensable for life; an imperative requirement; an unavoidable need; something dictated by invariable physical laws; a force exerted by circumstance;being essential, indispensable, or requisite; required by obligation, compulsion, or convention; applies to what is thought necessary to fill out, complete, or perfect something; needed to achieve a certain result or effect."

If a necessity is seen as something without which there can be no life, then food, water, oxygen and sleep are the basic necessities. But even here there is a caveat: is simply living enough? I can't think of anyone who would not say that they want a good life. Is there anyone who wilfully chooses a bad life? The deprivations of the Holocaust showed us that life was still possible even if food, water and sleep were minimal at best and eratic in delivery. Is there anyone who would live in such a way if they were given a choice? No. So, even with necessities we see that there are degrees based on the constructs of good and bad, and good and bad are subjective in nature rather than objective. We may all have enough of the required elements to sustain just plain being alive, but we can differ in how good or bad we consider that life.

There is also this definition of necessity:"required by obligation, compulsion, or convention." Now we come into the area that so much of the arguing is about. How do we fall under an obligation or a compulsion or a convention? We live in societal groups. Those groups have requirements for membership. The requirements may be governmental, geographic, monetary, ethnic, racial, gender-based, age-based, educational attainment-based, marital status-based and yes, religion-based. These requirements themselves have multiple divisions within them, divisions whose obligations, compulsions and conventions may be radically different from the other divisions.

There is a government in Iran; there is a government in the US. Both may be governments, but what they require of the people who fall under their aegis has almost no point of similarity. But there are even further divisions that can change what a necessity is. Here in the US there isn't just one government. We have the federal government, state government, county government and city government. Each of these has their own sets of obligations, compulsions and conventions. Someone living in Nassau County, NY may have different necessities re government than someone living in Richmond County, NY. Someone living in NYC may have different necessities than someone living in Los Angeles. Someone living in Florida may have different necessities than someone living in Montana.

To further complicate things, we are members of multiple groups, some of whose requirements, compulsions and obligations may be identical and some of which may not be. The characteristics of any individual member of a group may differ greatly from the characteristics of other members of that group precisely because of other groups they may also be a member of. Therefore, even membership in one particular group does not mean that a person will view what is necessary in the same way as other members.

Jews form one grouping in society. Degree and type of observance of Judaism form many subgroupings. If those were the only groupings we had to consider when deciding what is a necessity and what is a luxury we'd have plenty of disagreement. Now add in that, like it or not, we have multiple memberships in other groups outside of our religious group, memberships that bring with them certain necesssities, certain obligations or compulsions.

If we are going to argue, for instance, that parents who are receiving ANY kind of tuition assistance should not be indulging in luxuries but should only be buying bare necessities, just what is it that we are arguing? For tuition aid receiving parents a school could impose rulings that certain items are not considered necessities and should not be indulged in. Yet, some of those parents fall into many other groupings other than yeshiva parents, and for those groupings some of what the yeshiva considers luxuries rather than necessities may be considered as necessities, not luxuries.

Two parents, both working. It's quite likely that two cars would be viewed as a necessity in this case by some, and as a luxury by others. And since both parents work and there are children who cannot be left alone, babysitting is necessary. And some type of continuous childcare during the summer months when school is not in session will be necessary. Many of these types of parents opt in for sleepaway camp. And many of their critics point out that this is a luxury, not a necessity. Day camp at home is the better choice. Un huh. That would be day camp plus babysitting to cover the hours between when camp ends and parents arrive home. And quite possibly other paid arrangements to take the children to and from camp. And the very real probability that with this many caretakers involved at least one arrangement is going to fall through fairly regularly. There are zillions of examples that could be given, and no doubt in my mind that there would be an argument about the necessity of each and every one.

So, to end off, a whole lot of the arguments that go on in Klal are never going to solve anything, are never going to come up with new ideas of how to proceed because the things being argued about are looked at differently by differing parts of the community. Some groups and some individuals are defining necessity in one way while other groups and individuals may be defining necessity in other ways. What's more, some groups are defining necessities for themselves differently from how they would define those necessities for someone else. And yes, in some cases, never the twain shall meet.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

English? What's That?

A friend, retired from the public school system, has been teaching a while in a chasidishe elementary school. He reported back on a conversation he had with his fifth grade and my husband shared that conversation with me.

Our friend was giving the boys a mussar shmooze on the importance for them of learning at least English, if they gave no importance to history or science. Basically he told them, "You need to be able to read a contract for business reasons, you need to be able to understand what you are signing and what that obligates you to. You need to be able to communicate with various business authorities and you need to be able to not only understand what they say to you but you need to make yourself understood to them."

One of his fifth graders responded: "Far dos vell ich hobben ah veib"--for this I will have a wife. Chasidishe secular education philosophy in a nutshell.

I'm old enough to remember when a large part of my parents' generation was referred to as "greenuh." The newly arrived immigrants from Europe were particularly characterized by their poor skills in English. But here's the thing--that generation struggled and worked hard to attain English language skills, to be able to function as a "regular" member of American society. To be complimented on their English usage was a compliment of the highest degree. A scant 3-4 generations later we've got a new generation of greenuh, born and raised here and less fluent in English than their grandparents and great grandparents were, and it bothers them not at all.

Just what is the frum veldt coming to?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What's In a Name?

We spent last Shabbos in Las Vegas. There is a La Quinta Inn that is right next door to the Young Israel shul with all sorts of conveniences for the frum traveler. There are kitchenettes in each room and the automatic door cards are replaced for Shabbos with plain room keys. In addition, as you check in they remind you that breakfast is served free every morning to hotel guests, and that everything is kosher with the exception of the cake.

But the best line of the entire trip was uttered by the reservations clerk who was checking us in. As he was giving us the keys we requested for Shabbos, he asked, in all seriousness, "Are you Sabbath preservers?"

Yup, that's us all right--Sabbath preservers.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

On School Supplies

Stores all over our area have been busy touting the sale of school supplies already beginning in July. It matters not what type of store--they all get on the school supply bandwagon. Of course, what many of them think of as "incredible sales" and what I think of that way have no relationship. School supply selling is just one more item in the calendar of seasonal sales, and it's big business at that.

But with all the hoopla about this season's must have back pack or rollaway, with all the stress on having just the right pen or notebook or folder, we've lost sight of the most important item that needs to be "purchased" and "packed" for school--attitude.

It's not what shiny new items you bring with you to class that will determine your success in school; it's how you mentally and emotionally view school. View school as something that you have to do and if you just take a deep breath and plog on you will persevere until you can be freed again in June and you're going to have a self-fulfilling prophecy of a year--you'll be miserable for 9 months but then freedom will beckon. If that's the attitude then all the fancy crayons, all the multi-hued markers in the world are just thrown out money.

Where can you "buy" the right attitude? Sorry, it's not sold in the stores but is strictly home-made. For younger students and yes, even some older students, that attitude is a family project. When a family is planning a trip to somewhere, excited talk permeates the house. There is wondering about what will be seen/done on the trip. There is anticipation that the trip will be a great experience. Smiles break out at the thought of the treats to come. Now mention that school is starting in a few weeks and watch the faces fall all around the table. The same sense of excitement that a trip to Orlando and elsewhere generates is obviously absent.

For many, there is the attitude that school is a type of forced work. All that is required is to keep remembering that this, too, shall pass. Many a parent that has commiserated with his or her children about the onset of school. Many a parent who's approach is to say that school is something we have to do, are forced to do, so just go and try and find something good there. Something good there? As if school is some great garbage pile in which there might, just might be a buried treasure somewhere?

I seem to be an oddity--I love being in a classroom. Taking courses for me is all about possibility and delight. Even with the strangest of teachers and the most esoteric of subject matter, I always manage to find items that delight me, that catch my imagination, that get me thinking. Yes, even in the most boring of lectures I always manage to find at least one nugget of gold. But that may be because I expect that those nuggets will be there, and I go in like a prospector with a pick axe and determination. And yes, like a prospector, I dream that I might stumble upon a vein of exposed gold laying open before me, or a cache of diamonds strewn on the ground where I can easily pick them up. And like that same prospector I understand that those exposed veins and those diamonds just laying there are not the norm but the exception. Prospecting for gold or for rare gems takes work, a whole lot of sweat equity. And it also takes time.

I've tried to instill in my own children a love for the process of learning. School is not a prison--serve your time, slog through and they'll give you freedom at the end. School is that pristine mountain range just ripe for exploration and discovery. Those peaks are filled with treasures to discover. But I've also tried to teach the practical: it takes work and effort to bring those treasures to light. You know that old saw: Rome wasn't built in a day. Well, obtaining an education doesn't happen in one day either. It's a long process, sometimes hard, but the end results are more than worth it.

So please, while you are being busy with buying school supplies, take some time, a lot of time, in laying the foundation for success in school for your kids. Work on establishing the right attitude towards school. Sparkle and smile and wax poetic if need be about the possibilities that await your children in the new school year. Remind them, and yourself as well, that anything worth having is worth working/fighting for. And an education is definitely something worth having.

This year make sure that a positive attitude gets packed before you fill up your child's backpack with what are really non-essentials. It's not which pen goes into that pack that will determine how good a school year your child will have--it's all about the right attitude.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Time Out

The blog will be on its own through next week as hubby and I fly the coop. I hope that you all stay healthy and happy during this time and that all the news is going to be good news.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Three Days...Heaven or Hell? You choose.

This year yom tov falls out so that it heads into Shabbos, giving us what we refer to as "three-day" yom tov. For some people, the groans have already started regarding this. There are a number of complaints of the "practical" variety, and a number that aren't.

In the practical vein, you might hear that shopping, preparing and storing the amount of food needed puts a strain on resources. You might hear that eating seven festive meals in three days strains our ability to provide something different at each meal. You'll hear that eating that many large meals in close order is not healthy and results in upset digestive systems, never mind weight gain. I've heard, when the calendar has come out like this, that we're going to run out of clothes before we run out of yom tov.

Then there is the following: spending three days together with no chance for a respite has the makings of a stick of dynamite with a lit match next to it. As much as families may love each other, un-relieved proximity can be mentally/emotionally wearing. Maybe you might, perhaps, make it through Rosh Hashanah packed in together, but by the time you reach the last days of Sukkot there are some whose attitudes can best be described as desperate to get it all over with.

I have heard before how some people miss Shabbos when the calendar comes out like this. When it comes as the tag-end of yom tov, for some its specialness is lost.

And yet, I have also heard those who look forward to these three-day occurrences. They love the idea of being together with family for an extended time period. They love the idea of sitting down at the table together for many meals instead of only a few. They love the idea that Shabbos has company, two connected joyous celebrations.

What makes the attitudes so different when it comes to a three-day yom tov? I believe a lot of it is in how we prepare ourselves for those three days, practically and emotionally. Yes, having X number of people in one house for three days could lead to some friction--so what have you done to prepare for that contingency? How can you build in some "neutral corners" and some private or down time? As to the practical, what can you do now, ahead, so that you aren't extra frazzled in those few days before yom tov starts and on yom tov itself?

Then ask yourself this: is it really necessary to have seven different menus for those seven meals? Is it really necessary that all dishes at any given meal be different from those served at a different meal? Before you make up those yom tov menus ask yourself the really hard question: are you looking to impress someone or to feed someone?

How our families will get through yom tov will depend in large part on how the balabusta in the house sets things up. A little thinking now can avoid a lot of bad feelings later on. Do you really want the only statement you can make after all the holidays are over to be "I lived through it"? You want a heavenly holiday? What you do between now and then, the plans you make, any chores taken care of now, spending some time in thought, can truly make the difference between heaven and hell. Your choice.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

On Being Fortunate Beyond Measure

Hashem has given my siblings and me an incredible gift: our mother is still with us, ken yirbu. I know myself to be oh so fortunate that every day I can pick up a phone and speak to her, business as usual.

Today is Ima's birthday, her 88th, and we look at this number with deep thanks to Hashem for having blessed us in this way. So many of our friends and family are yesomim, and they look at my mom's presence as the wonder it is.

What can you give an amazing woman who is used to giving, not taking, and who will tell you and mean it that she has everything she wants or needs when her family is around her? The simple words "I love you mommy" are worth more to her than the most priceless jewel ever found.

So Ima, the happiest of birthdays. May Hashem shower you with his blessings and keep you safe and whole, for your sake and yes, for ours. May you be zocheh to arichas yomim, and may we be deemed meritorious enough to keep you with us ad mayoh v'esrim.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Media Objectivity? In What World!

Yet again the media are showing that the words fair and objective cannot be applied to them. We now have the case of Elias Abuelazam, a serial killer, whom the media are identifying as Israeli. So, what comes to your mind immediately when you hear the word Israeli? That's right, Jew. And that connection isn't an accidental one on the part of the media. It's what they want you to think.

Only it happens that Abuelazam is an Arab Christian who just happens to live in Israel. That's not the picture the media want you getting. Amazing how they can spell the word Arab when it suits their purposes, particularly when they want to show those "poor" Arabs as the victims of Israeli/Jewish aggression. But let the shoe be shown to be on the other foot and suddenly they find that Israeli is just the right word to use. Do they truly believe that the whole world is that dumb?! Apparently they do.

For the Rebbetzin's Husband's take, go to

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Known and the Unknown

We live in the information age--never before have so many known about so much. And yet, for those Jews who are descendants of Holocaust survivors, there is so much that we don't know. A whole lot of those who were the survivors of the chorbon in Europe did not talk about 1)their experiences during the war and 2)about life as it was lived before the war. For some families, there are huge gaps in their personal mesorah.

For many, the pain of what they had lost was simply too great, and talking about any of it, even the parts that were good before the war, exacerbated that pain. They were trying to forget, not remember. Many of the children of these survivors have minimal knowledge about what their parents' lives were like, if even a minimum. Clearly their grandchildren and great grandchildren may have even less knowledge. My in laws for the most part fell in this camp. As my husband mentioned recently, if it weren't for the fact that he knows that he was named for his parents' fathers, he wouldn't have known their names. His parents didn't give the kids a full genealogy of all the family, beyond the members who survived and were around. Any info about his parents' growing up years was really hit or miss. I remember one Pesach after dinner when my mil and my mom were at the table and my mom began asking my mil questions about what life was like for her growing up. Somehow that question and answer session lasted for hours, and my mil admitted that it was the first time that she had ever mentioned some of the things she was talking about.

And then there were those who did talk about life in Europe. Even here there were two camps: those who spoke of life only pre-War and those who would also share their war experiences. As we were growing up, my mom and her sister told us all myriad stories about their growing up years. They shared memories of what life was like day to day. They talked about what Shabbos and yom tov were like. They told us about the neighbors, about the friends, about communal life in their town. They told us about school. In short, they tried as best they could to give us some connection to a time and place that we would never experience ourselves. They were particularly good at making the family members come alive.

They did not, however, talk about their camp experiences during the war, beyond perhaps mentioning the names of camps that they were interred in and when. It was only when I was much older that my mom opened up to me about those experiences. I have some 12 hours of tapes of my mom speaking about all the particulars. My dad, on the other hand, would gladly talk about his life before the war and never once mentioned anything about his war-time experiences.

That Holocaust generation has become a tiny one now. So many of the personal experiences of that generation are going to remain unknown to us, their descendants, unless we act quickly, and act now. Don't wait to be told--ask now! Distance has given some of these survivors the ability to speak in a freer fashion than was the case many decades ago, but someone has to be willing to listen. You want to know about where you came from? It's not just a matter of genetics but also one of upbringing, of experiences. Jewish history is not just what is written about in a textbook somewhere. Each of us, and those who came before us, are part of that fabric. If we want to keep that fabric strong and resilient, we need to have all the threads woven in. And for those who are lucky enough to have had family members who were willing to talk to them, don't count on your memories alone to pass down your family mesorah--put it in writing, so that future generations will have the knowledge of who they are descended from, and not just the names.

In English we have the statement "The saddest words are 'It might have been.'" Don't let that apply to you. If you still have family members living with knowledge of that long ago Europe and the events of the times, both personal and historical, NOW is the time to gather together and find out all about where you came from.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Children and Money

Many parents have debated the idea of allowances for their children.

First, they question the whole idea of giving children money that is unearned or not for a special occasion such as a birthday. The key argument parents use against allowances in this instance is that the children will get used to having all their needs met without any input of their own, of relying on handouts rather than their own efforts.

Second, there are parents who tie the giving of an allowance to the doing of household chores. In short, the kids are being paid to do these chores. Those who are against allowances based this way point out that children are just as much a part of a family as parents are, and that all parts of a family have to work--without payment--for the benefit of the whole family. Nobody pays dad to mow the lawn or pays mom to cook dinner so why should dad pay junior to mow the lawn or mom pay him to cook dinner? Those who do believe in tying allowances to the doing of chores believe that it is good practice for when the children are grown up; they will understand that money comes to them only when they make an effort, only when they earn it.

Some parents recognize that there are expenses, albeit small ones, that even small children could incur. Those expenses might occur weekly or only occasionally. It may be more convenient for all concerned to have that money given on a regular basis so that both parents and children can plan for it.

I'm one of those parents who is in favor of allowances, and we gave them to our children until they reached the point of being able to provide some/most/all of the money needed on their own. We considered it as chinuch for the kids of a positive sort. They received X amount of money and they needed to cover Y with that money. It was a perfect time to discuss budgeting, savings, delayed gratification and planning for the future. (See my previous posting on home checking accounts.)

And yes, the kids "earned" their allowances. Not for making their beds--that was a requirement. Not for clearing off their individual dishes after a meal--again a requirement. We had a list up on the fridge of "extra" jobs that could earn stars, which translated into "earning" their allowances. What kinds of jobs were they? Jobs that benefited the entire family. Setting the table and bringing all food items to it. Clearing off all dishes and food items from a family meal. Loading all dishes into the dishwasher or unloading and putting away the clean dishes.Gathering together the whole family's dirty laundry and taking it down to the laundry room. Folding everyone's socks. Vacuuming the living/dining room. Watering the plants in the living room. For somewhat older children, mowing the lawn or raking leaves. Yes, even polishing certain pieces of silver. And yes, even a five year old can use a scrub brush and clean out the toilet.

What any individual set of parents might be willing to pay an allowance for is up to them. For those who are inclined to give children an allowance, based on whatever they choose to base it, that allowance allows for an early discussion on finances and how money can/should be apportioned. It takes some of the "magic" out of the appearance of money in their hands. The discussion of money--how to use it/save it wisely--should start young if we want good habits to take hold.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Yes, the "Y" Word is Coming

It's still early in August and a whole lot of people wouldn't mind if August lasted another 60 days. No one really wants to give up the idea of summertime. Even for those working full time there is a somehow more relaxed attitude. I hate to be the bearer of non-summer tidings but we are now less than one month away from Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the fall holiday season. Yup, yom tov is coming. Usually we get a bit of a respite between Labor Day and school starting and the onset of yom tov; not this year.

So yes, I'd like to remind all those who would rather not yet be reminded that there is a lot of preparation that goes into making yom tov--and this year yom tov goes straight into Shabbos. Don't want to be frazzled erev yom tov? Get some things out of the way now. At the least, make up your shopping lists/menus. Thinking of inviting company for yom tov or for some of the meals? No time like the present to do so. Are there items specific to yom tov that will need to be purchased that will do just fine waiting in your kitchen instead of on the store shelves, items such as honey? Buy now and it's one less thing to have to worry about later.

Obviously not everything can be prepared ahead but some food items can be. I finished my baking for yom tov this week--it will all taste perfectly fine after only a few weeks in the freezer, and it's one messy job that I won't have to be doing in the middle of everything else.

No time like the present to be thinking about the future, a future that will be arriving sooner than we'd like to think it will.

Seeing is Seeing

I have posted before that many of the older members of Klal have vision problems. For them reading a siddur or chumash or bencher is difficult to impossible. There are many large print seforim available. In addition, the Jewish Heritage for the Blind has such material available at no charge for those who are legally blind--an opthalmologist's written certification is necessary. All contact information is at the link as well as listings of what material is available. If someone in your family or a friend or neighbor requires this large print material, please tell them about the sources to get it. Or be a really good friend and buy them the gift of comfortable reading.

In addition, for those who may not qualify for the free large type seforim, Art Scroll publishes a variety of siddurim and machzorim in large print editions.

Note: in order to facilitate the larger print size, the size of the seforim is far larger than the regular-sized equivalents, resulting in many more pages and a heavier sefer. You may also need to keep the weight/size of the sefer in mind when choosing for an older person with vision problems.

Friday, August 6, 2010

On Leaky Faucets and Hissing Philosophers

Some words to ponder.

"The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exaulted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy... neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water."
Dr. John W. Gardner

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Times Might be a'changin'

A professor on one of the professional online groups that I belong to caused something of an uproar yesterday. He teaches at a University generally located in the Southwest region of the US. His school is seriously entertaining changing college requirements for students.

Back when I was in college CUNY required 128 credits to receive a BA or BS degree. There were some colleges and universities that required 132 credits. There were a whole slew of required courses not in the major without which you could not graduate. There was virtually no way to negotiate your way out of taking the required courses, AP exams already existed, but they did not exempt you from courses the way they do today in many cases; they simply placed you into the next level of course. You still had to show the requisite number of credits in the required subject area. In addition, CUNY had a grade point minimum that had to be maintained or you could be de-registered and would not be eligible to receive a diploma. There were no formalized remedial classes in any of the subject areas.

Today the situation is quite different. Virtually every university and college finds itself giving remedial courses of one type or another to students they have already admitted. The skill level and knowledge level of many students who have been admitted to college falls far below that which was required back when I was in college. Yes, in a whole lot of cases we have seen a "dumbing down" of the college education process.

What did that professor report yesterday? His university may be going to tiered requirements for students. Those whose skill sets/knowledge sets won't meet the required minimum for admission to the "regular" college programs will be placed into a 5-year program instead of a 4-year program. They will be required to take a year of instruction specifically geared towards making up the deficits these students have in basic required subject matter and skills. If at the end of the year the students can show that they are now at "entering college" level, they will be allowed to continue in the regular 4-year programs. If they can't so demonstrate they will no longer be registered in the university. For these students there will be a 154 credit requirement to graduate with a degree.

The professor said that his university is considering this program because the caliber of many students entering college is sub-par. The university says that there are many reasons for this. One is that high schools are doing a lousy job of educating their students, particularly those who are looking to go on to college. For these students the college finds itself giving all kinds of remediation courses to cover material that should have been covered in high school while still attempting to have the students finish in 4 years. Another reason is that students in high school are being told that college is a "right" rather than a privilege and are not preparing themselves for success in college because they know they will get in anyway. A third reason was also given: there are many students who are ESL--English as a Second Language--who can't adequately perform in their classes because of English language problems in listening, speaking, understanding and writing. There are also EPL students--English as a Primary Language--whose families may speak another language at home or in social situations and again, they can't adequately perform in college because of language difficulties.

The university's possible solution to their problems is not all that radical except for one thing. Students who cannot make the grade in college because of deficits are now going to be paying for all that extra teaching the college's have to do--there is going to be another year of tuition those students will have to pay. There are those in the university who believe that the new requirements would not be "fair" to all students. Surprisingly, the teaching staff believes, for the most part, that it is a great idea. Me personally? I'd love to see this program at all colleges and universities, except perhaps the Ivies, which don't have the same problems that most other colleges do because of their more selective admission standards. I'd love to see college come back to being about being educated instead of being about grabbing a piece of paper with some letters on it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

When the Stores Don't Get It

Shopping nowadays has gotten both easier and more complicated. Easier in the sense that there are far more places where we can shop for things we want or need, both online and in regular stores. More complicated in that comparison of prices is a necessity if you don't want to be overpaying, and overpaying by a lot.

I've been doing a lot of freelance work this summer and as part of that work I needed to prepare a lot of printed material. A check of our printer showed that it would be a good idea to have an extra toner cartridge in the house. I was near Staples so I walked in hoping to get the cartridge in one easy step--didn't happen. The cost of that cartridge was $126 in the store. My eyes bugged open. How much was that cartridge at Staples' online store? $123. Okay, not going to happen. My husband was working from home so I called and asked him to get online and find a cheaper source. By the time I got home he'd found the source and ordered the toner. At a reputable site a comparable cartridge to the "name brand" one sold at Staples was a whopping $29 including the shipping charges. Even if we were to surmise that the comparable cartridge was not going to give me as many copies as the more "reliable" branded one was going to give me(and in my experience they DO work just like their branded cousins), it would make no difference--the off-brand one was the best buy by far--4 for less than the price of one.

And then there was the printer paper. As I walked into the store they were showing a "mega sale" on individual packs of paper. Full price was $7.79 per pack. Minus "sales savings" that price dropped to $7.19. Minus a mail-in in-store rebate of $5.00, the price dropped to an "amazing" $2.79 per pack, limit of one pack per customer. Checking in the paper aisle I found no individual packs of printing paper of any kind that were less than $$5.69 per pack. However, if you bought a full case of paper you were going to save money--maybe. Those cases of paper all used to contain 10 individual packs of paper, so figuring the price per pack was really kind of simple. But not all of those cases contain 10 packs any more. Some of the cases have as few as 6 packs per case. The 10-pack cases were going for about $34-37 per case, a cost of $3.40 to $3.70 per pack. But those "cheaper" cases, going for $29 per case, only contained 6 packs of paper, an actual cost of $4.83 per pack.

Down the block from that Staples store Shoprite was having a school supplies sale. Printer paper was on sale for $2.71 cents a pack, limit of four. Regular price of that paper in the store? $2.99 per pack. King Kullen also had the paper on sale. Spend $25 in the store and get a pack of paper for only $.99. Regular price $2.99.

I had to be back at Staples a few days later because they are the only ones locally that carry the grading/marking book that I like using. Surprisingly the cost of the marking book was more than competitive, and I bought it. I did, however, mention to the manager who was up front by the registers that the store was not awfully competitive on a whole lot of other items. He shrugged his shoulders. Basically his comment was that the people who want the Staples "expertise" and quality merchandise aren't going to take a chance on inferior material sold at who knows where on line, and they prefer the ability to see what they are buying and get it right away. I couldn't help it--I had to laugh. I told him, politely of course, that he and his store really didn't get it if they have that attitude.

Oh that Staples were the only store that hasn't figured out yet that customers have a choice today, and many of them are using that choice to save money, money those stores are not going to see as long as they believe that they are still the only game in town.

Monday, August 2, 2010

In Hot Water Once Again

I have three times before posted about those hot water urns that are used on Shabbos and the fact that the majority of them, particularly the ones sold in the "frum" stores, don't have the UL on them.

I tried being a good samaritan and sent some letters and emails to the various anglo-Jewish publications, asking that they inform people that most of the urns are not UL approved and why they should buy only UL urns. In addition, I wrote to the company that manufactures many of those urns that you see for sale in the frum stores.

So far the response to my correspondence is zero. Not one paper decided this was important enough to even put in a small boxed item in their publication. The manufacturer never replied. I can almost understand why the manufacturer didn't reply--sales are brisk on urns and it seems obvious that people are buying them without the UL, so why bother changing.

Here's what my next step is: it's time for the smaller publications. Does your shul have a newsletter or bulletin or Internet site? Does your area have a news list? Please ask them to put in a small announcement to check that any urns have the UL and to urge people to only buy the UL urns. If you're in one of your local stores that carry the urns, and they don't have any with the UL, tell them you won't be buying from them until they start carrying UL urns, and that you'll be telling your friends not to buy either. Social networking sites are always so full of chatter--why not do your friends a good turn and post something that warns people that they are taking their lives into their hands if they buy the non-UL urns? Wondering whether you should tweet and twitter about your upset stomache or your hemorrhoids? How about a brief warning instead to only buy UL urns. And yes, please, if you are a blogger, regardless of the subject matter of your blog, please post a public service message for the frum olam about the urns.

We've got three-day shabbos/yom tov coming up. Those urns are going to be plugged in and on for three days at a shot. Sure, the non-UL urn you have now has never blown all your circuits, has never shorted out, has never had its thermostat malfunction so that it heats water above a safe temperature. Sure, the outside has never gotten so hot that it could burn you if you touch it. Sure, the circuitry seems perfectly insulated and protected. Aren't you lucky--and how unlucky others have been.

Here's the thing--Jews are forbidden to rely on miracles, and that's what you're doing when you use those non-UL urns. If you enjoy playing Russian roulette, I've got a Colt 45 to lend you. But please, stop playing the game with those urns. Please help to get the word out that urns need a UL.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chochmas Noshim

We have a posuk that states: "chochmas noshim, bonsoh baisoh"--the wisdom of women builds their houses. The draft of a speech on this topic came my way for editing and I was taken by a few of the points made, hence my sharing them with you.

First, to what does the posuk actually refer? We can take it on its most literal level to mean that a woman's wisdom builds her personal household. She is both wife and mother and her wisdom creates for her family a solid home. We can look at the statement as applying only to one woman and her highly personal home.

We can also expand the way we look at the posuk. We can look at "baisoh" as being a family line. Thus, it is the wisdom of a wife/mother that builds up a family, for now and for the future.

Expanding even further we can generalize across Klal--it is the wisdom of women that have built/are building/will build the House of Israel, that will build Klal Yisroel.

The posuk assumes the following: 1)women have chochma, 2)they can/do use that chochma for building up, a positive action, 3)women have responsibility for building up Klal Yisroel, not only men.

Even were you to apply the posuk only to the first case--building up an individual home--the chochma of women would be of incredible importance. Without the individual families of Klal having strong homes and families there would be no Klal. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Women keep those links strong and firm. And because of the relationship necessary among those links, if there is to be a chain at all, the wisdom of women has to extend outside of their own personal homes to build the greater home that is Klal.

There are so many pieces written today and so many words spoken today about how frum women have overstepped their bounds, how frum women have no place in the public arena, how frum women have no place in communal life. There are those who see the place of women as neither being seen nor being heard. There are those who question why frum women should be educated--after all, how much education does it take to cook and have babies? Even those rare few who admit that if women are going to be financially supporting their families while the husbands sit and learn they should have some "training" are quick to point out that they might be bringing in the parnoseh but that should not give them swelled heads about their importance nor should it give them ideas that they are "equal" to the menfolk.

Not be seen and not be heard? Do we hire a contractor to build us a house and then take away the tools he could use to do so? Of course not. We expect that contractor to not only have all the tools necessary to build a solid house, but to have those tools be the most modern ones available. No one today builds a house using a stone for a hammer and tiny shards of iron as nails. We expect that that contractor will be experienced and will have gotten the full training necessary.

How much more important is the building of the homes and families of Klal. For us to survive as one "house," we have to have solid foundations that will support us, that will allow us to grow as we should. All those "contractors" who put down the role of women in building Klal? They're building houses on shifting sands, missing huge chunks of the foundation.

Yes indeed, chochmas noshim bonsoh baisoh--an idea to be celebrated and to be thankful for.