Sunday, October 31, 2010

Shabbos Starts When?!

Next motzoai Shabbos the US will finally go from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. Obviously some of our clocks will need to be changed next week to show the correct time. But there's another issue coming up as well. There are going to need to be some scheduling/shopping/preparing changes also made. With the change to Standard Time, Shabbos is going to be starting very early--4:30 in the afternoon. Plan ahead! Leaving everything to do on Friday could result in some very frazzled balabustas.

Sitting down now, before the clock change, and rearranging your household schedule just might save you from "fear inspiring" moments after the clock changes. No, even if you put the oven on its highest heat setting, you are not going to be able to roast a chicken in 34 minutes. No, if a soup takes 3 hours to cook, it won't be ready in time for Shabbos if you first put it up at 2:00. No, if your shopping takes you about 2-4 hours to conclude, you are not going to have plenty of time to shop if you first go out at 1:00 pm.

Leisurely Fridays are soon to become a thing of the past. How well or how poorly you do in coping with those short Fridays could well depend on how much thought you give now to how you do things.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Err, What Season is It?

I was thrilled to be out shopping yesterday, and yes, coming from me that is an amazing statement given my feelings about shopping in general. Why was I thrilled? Because finally I saw some indication that Autumn had finally arrived in New York. Everywhere you look in SI you are going to see trees, lots of trees, and finally those trees are beginning to look like they should, decked in shades of gold and burgundy and caramel. Finally the wind has brought a shower of leaves down to the lawn. And finally those summer blooming plants are taking a hint and winding down. There's something disconcerting about knowing that you've been back in school for two months, that the holidays are long past and that your petunias are still pouting prettily.

Figuring out what to wear may finally get easier. When you leave early in the morning and don't return until late at night, how to get dressed lately has been an issue. Truly strange to have a heavy jacket on the seat next to you while you need to turn on the air conditioning in the car. Shivering and sweating because you are suddenly not dressed right for the weather, both on the same day, is not fun.

The weather forecasters are saying that they believe New York will get a much milder winter than last year. So, autumn will first arrive in November, and winter will arrive when? And it's not just us. Denver, Colorado is expecting 77 degree weather tomorrow. That's Denver where snowfall at the end of October is common.

It's bad enough when balabustas sometimes rearrange the furniture in their homes. Family members stumble around, bumping into furniture that is suddenly where it doesn't belong. When mother nature rearranges the weather we also stumble around. Is it really too much to ask to have one week--okay, even one day--where the weather is as expected?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Organized or OCD?

One of the differences between the years when I was growing up and now is in the scientific/medical/psychological terms that have come into general usage. Way back then there were far fewer of these terms both around and in general use. I'm referring to things like ADD, ADHD, OCD etc..

I come by my sense of what organized means quite legitimately--I got it from my mom. Unlike many back when I was young, my mom was working outside the home as well as running the family. She did both in an incredible fashion. Not one of us in the family lacked anything that a mother was "supposed" to provide--we thought, and still think, that our mother was the best mother ever. She spent time with us (although as an adult I still can't figure out how she carved those hours out of a 24-hour day), was involved in our activities, was active in our schools, was active in the community, did all her own cooking and baking (we had no take-out available in Portland), kashered her own meat, did needlepoint and embroidery, did all of the routine and not so routine household shopping and cleaning and yes, worked in the business she and my dad had. Because of the nature of the business my dad traveled for months out of the year, so mom was also the only parent around for a lot of the time. How did she manage all of this while still keeping her sanity intact? She was organized and she was a list maker.

Everything in the house had its own place, and all of us were trained very young to put things back where we found them--no wasted time trying to find things this way.

I used mom's principles of organization in setting up my own home. I did some thinking about where the best place would be to put the things we use, put them there, did any minor adjustments that were necessary and then stuck to the plan.

A funny thing has happened, however, to the idea of organization. Set up a system that is tightly organized, that attempts to account for all activities and items, and in some people's eyes you have crossed the line from organization to OCD--Obsessive/Compulsive Disorder. Far from being something laudable, something to be emulated, those whose lives are less well-ordered or who won't/can't make the effort to get organized now can wave the pathological flag in the air.

I make a "To Do" List for each day that I type up and print out. There are seemingly zillions of things that have to be done in the house, there are the same zillions of things I need to do for work, there are errands to run, calls to make, places to be. Having that list lets me see just what my day is going to be like and to plan accordingly. No forgetting things this way, especially if I'm tired or distracted. When I'm outside of the house, I carry that list in my purse. I was standing in the check out line at the supermarket one day and was checking over the list as I was waiting. The person right behind me noticed the list and asked me, in an incredulous voice, if I really needed and/or followed a list that specific. Simple answer? "Yes." She shook her head and out came the whispered "OCD." On another occasion the reaction was "Control Freak."

Where once those designations truly miffed me, my answer now is to smile and say, "Why thank you! What a lovely compliment!" When being well-organized is looked at as a mental disorder, I have to wonder just what has happened to our society.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who Owns Klal?

The question in the title is not quite as inane as you may think. What I'm referring to is who owns the physical infrastructure of Klal and the organizations and institutions? So many of the complaints about what is wrong in Klal end up saying "They won't listen." So, who is this they?

In some cases it is easy to say who owns the infrastructure. Many of the summer camps that abound are owned by individuals and/or family groups. These camps are a business venture, and decisions about pricing and about services provided are decided by the owners. If you like the product being offered you pay what is being asked; if you don't like the price you shop elsewhere. A few of these camps are direct offshoots of existing yeshivot; decisions about pricing and about services are made by the sponsoring yeshiva.

But what about the rest of the infrastructure? Take shuls first. A few of these shuls, chassidishe/litvishe shtiblach for the most part, are owned by the rabbis who opened them. The shul is their business. Should the rabbi decide he no longer wants the shul the mispalellim have no say in the matter. Should a rabbi die it is his heirs who will make decisions about the future of the shul, again not the mispalellim. If the rabbi decides to sell his shul to another rabbi, he makes the decision. That the mispalellim pay dues and give donations to the shul is irrelevant as it is the rabbi's name on the deed of ownership.

Then there are community shuls, and here is where things get murky. Who owns these community shuls? Saying "The community does" gives no information whatsoever. First, you want to define community for me? Just what is a community? And if we are able to define community is some useful way, are we talking everyone in the community? Are we talking about only paid members of the shul or everyone who lives in the community, regardless of whether or not they are paid members? Are we talking about past and/or present paid members? It can't be the rabbis of these shuls that own them because they are salaried employees of the shuls. Most of these shuls have elected boards. The boards are entrusted with making day to day decisions about the practical matters of running the shul. They may use surrogate administrators, paid for by the shul, for the day to day running of the shul. But what if something arises that is not an everyday occurrence? In many shuls it is necessary to have a vote of the full membership for items outside of the ordinary.

Okay, but what about a wholly different scenario--a shul is losing its membership; maybe the community is shrinking or maybe the type of people that shul appeals to aren't moving in etc. The shul gets to the point where it is no longer viable for the shul to remain in existence. Is it that the full membership votes and agrees that it just isn't possible to keep the shul open any longer; the members left simply cannot pay what it costs to keep a building of that size open for only a handful of people? Or is it a different process? So the shul is going to be sold. So, when the building is sold, who gets the profits? "The community does" is a common answer, and back we are to defining just what that community is.

Now the sticky part--who owns the schools in a community? If it is a chabad school that has to close down then there is a national chabad movement which will make that decision, and if a sale is forthcoming, they will make the arrangements and get any monies from the sale. But what about other local schools? What if your kids go to the Derech HaDerech School, a legacy school from 30+ years ago? What will happen to that school's property if the school goes below the numbers needed to keep the school open? We know that school boards can vote to spend money for the school, but what is the financial/legal procedure when a school closes? And who or what is liable if legal action is taken against a school, such as a foreclosure on the school property because a mortgage is not paid? Who, in actuality, owns the schools?

Why am I asking (harping) on this? Many schools today are in financial trouble. We've seen/heard news all year about schools saying they may not be able to open or continue due to financial troubles. Sometimes, if that school is the only school in a community, that closure could be very problematic for parents in the community and for the community itself. Take away a sole local school and you may kill the community. You don't attract new people to revitalize a community if there is no school available for the kids. And you won't attract people to a community if they know ahead of time that tuition at a local school (or schools) is out of sight and growing by leaps and bounds. So yes, the question needs to be asked and answered: who has the authority to increase tuition at a school, and how is it that they have that authority?

If the answer to the question is "school boards have that authority" then show us where that is stated. Where are the schools' official regulations published? What are the actual by-laws? And if a board serves because it has been elected by the parents in the school? Do those same parents have the authority to recall that board if the parents believe the board is working against the interests of the parents? We keep complaining that yeshivas in particular need to give full disclosure about the workings of the school and the way the finances are run. We keep complaining that we are not getting that full disclosure. Well, why aren't we getting that disclosure? We keep saying that "they" won't give it to us, but until we can clearly say who that "they" is we are going to get nowhere. If "they" is a private individual or group with legal entitlement to the school's property that is one thing. But if "they" is really all of us in a community then why aren't we claiming our legal rights as "owners" to full disclosure?

This is very murky water we are swimming in. There are institutions that have been around seemingly for ever. But if change is needed, who has actual authority to make that change? Who can "force" that change? Who can deny that change? Yes, once again, who owns the institutions of Klal?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Taking Inventory

A lot of people who own a free-standing freezer pretty much ignore that freezer until the time is approaching for Pesach and they may need to use up any chometz in it. I'd like to recommend a different approach.

Before and during the chagim of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot a lot of freezer inventory may have gotten used up. Now is a good time to clean the freezer and reorganize the contents, making a list of what is in there. Come the end of this month and the beginning of November a lot of people will start stockpiling freezer items. Colder weather brings with it less of a desire to be constantly out there and shopping. Inclement weather may make shopping difficult or impossible for some. Hearty soups, not all that much in demand during hot weather, are appearing back on menus. Most of those soups are excellent candidates for freezer storage--make the kitchen messy once and have the benefit of soup for 4-6 weeks.

But it's not only freezer inventory that you should be taking--it's a good time to get into your pantry/food storage areas and see what you have. If there are staples that you use on a consistent basis, check out the sales, clip those coupons and stock up now. Do the same for other types of goods such as cleansers and paper goods. And as with the items in a freezer, make a list of what you have on hand, and check items off that list as you use them.

A friend admitted that she had had to ditch a whole bunch of grocery type items she had in her pantry because she didn't know how many she had, bought too many replacements and ran up against a lot of products way past their expiration and/or use by date. And a little note about those expiration dates on products: while you're doing your inventory move those products that will expire soonest to the front of the shelf so they get used.

There's no chag coming up until Chanukah so we're not busy now with the extra preparing for a yom tov. Use this "free" time to save yourself aggravation and loss of money, not to mention avoiding running out of things you use regularly. Make up an inventory of what you have, and then actually use it to control what goes out of and into your house.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

News Junkies

I admit it freely--I get uneasy if I don't check my news sources daily, sometimes many times during the day. We live in a society with instant access to knowledge available 24/7. Where once we had to wait hours, days or weeks to hear the news from around the world, we see that news as it happens.

Yes, that instant access can have some positive benefits for us. Knowing what is happening elsewhere can help us to plan ahead, to cry out if that is required, to help when help is needed. But it also has some drawbacks. There is a certain anxiety that comes with having to know what is doing everywhere at every second. Our minds and bodies are on constant alert, and there is a wear and tear price to pay for that. Where once our priorities were first with our families, then our friends, then our community, then our country and then the world at large, everything, everywhere has now become a top priority. No matter what we may have personally to deal with, we are expected to dedicate time and effort to the world at large.

I'm not saying that caring about the world at large is a bad thing, but at what price and to what degree? Our insistence, fostered by instant communication, that we be instantly reachable by everyone, at any time, for any reason, has splintered and fractured far too many of us.

During our last power blackout there were an awful lot of anxious people. Was that anxiety fueled strictly because people were worried about how they would cook or heat their homes or see inside their homes? Only some of it. A lot of that anxiety came because our instant communication devices lost power, and suddenly we were faced with a world only as large as our homes or blocks. We lost access to the torrent of knowledge and contacts we have become accustomed to, and many didn't know how to live in a world like that, were scared of a world like that.

I'm trying to get out of that rut, and to that end I've decided to make Sundays a fairly news-empty day. Okay, I have a way to go, and maybe I'll never get to a totally-news-free day, but I'm trying. Short of a real catastrophe, and news of that will travel by word of mouth no matter what I do, I want one day not to worry about whether a Japanese beetle invasion is going to impinge on avocado production for the next ten years. I do not want to think about whether or not global warming is merely cyclical or created by man. I do not want to think about who has the right to Antarctica or how to define a liberal. I don't want to think about how "they" are trying to take over the world. For one day out of the week all I want to think about is what am I doing, where do I want to go, what do I want to be. For one day I'd like to concentrate on my family and my personal interests to the exclusion of all else. For one day I'd like no more on my plate than will fit comfortably.

What are my chances of this happening? Probably a safer bet to just plop down money on a roulette wheel and set it spinning. Already this morning I've visited a few blogs and news sites, mostly frum ones, and my teeth are already grinding and gritting. And yes, here I am on my own blog, in conversation with that "outside world." Hmmm, perhaps next Sunday.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Show Me the Money

We keep a detailed accounting of all of our tzedaka donations: date of donation, amount, name of recipient. For one thing, it allows us to see how much tzedaka we are giving and to make sure that we are giving what we need to give. We have been keeping the records for many years now and I recently took some time and looked back through those records. I noticed something quite interesting that has happened over the past 20+ years. The way we give tzedaka has changed.

What do I mean by this? The first year that we started keeping formalized records I showed 78 different charitable organizations getting a donation from us. No charity got a particularly large amount of money, although some got a bit more and some a bit less. The organizations to whom we gave ran the gamut as far as what type of service they offered. We still had our children in high school so there were also checks made out for PTA functions. The organizations were not all local but spanned the globe. And yes, there were more than a handful of secular organizations that received donations from us.

A glance at this year's donation list shows that it is radically different from that first list. For one thing, there are far fewer organizations to whom we donate, about 15+ as compared to the original 78. Also obvious is that 20 some odd years ago we had less in salaries coming in ergo less money available for tzedaka. We are giving more tzedaka today than we gave decades back. More money coming in plus fewer organizations being donated to equals more money being given to each organization.

Given the economic situation right now we made the decision to keep the majority of the money given local; our goal is to help our community first before giving to anyone outside of the community.

But what has also changed is that we have become more knowledgeable over the years and more informed. All tzedaka organizations are not created equal. Some are far better run than others and make better use of the monies collected. There is a duplication and overlap for many organizations which are all basically purporting to provide the same service to the same clientele. This duplication of services produces more overhead and reduces the actual amount of money going to those who need it. Then there is this. In some cases organizations under frum auspices have come into existence which basically are offering the identical services that are already provided by secular organizations already in existence, and these secular organizations are better run and provide better services.

And then there is this point that we came to realize: there is only X amount of money in Klal that can go for tzedaka. Even if you donate 10% or 20% or 30% you are never going to be able to cover all the organizations that are in existence. The budgets of all the frum organizations alone exceeds the amount of money that we in Klal have available to support them. No, I haven't counted all the money in Klal, but I have been keeping track of the number of tzedaka organizations and they number in the thousands. Just run down a list of yeshivas and day schools alone and you will account for hundreds of organizations. Know of any yeshivas that will tell you that they don't need donated outside money just to keep afloat? Now add in all the various other types of organizations and I believe you will come to believe as I do--we haven't got enough money to adequately support them all. And perhaps what is worse, there are certain types of organizations that we don't have enough of to meet the needs of Klal--think services for the elderly. How will we pay for these services to be put into place when we cannot afford what we already have in place?

We have plenty of talented and knowledgeable financial mavens in Klal. What we need them to do now, and I do mean NOW, is to run an analysis of all the frum tzedaka organizations (even a general one will do) and come up with the 1)how much is Klal is spending to keep up these organizations and 2)how much of the donated money actually goes towards the objective of the tzedaka organization. I believe that the analysis will show that it is not only individuals who are deficit spending but that Klal as a group is doing the same.

Everyone needs to learn to live within their means, and that applies to our Klal in general. We cannot afford to support as many organizations as we have in place. The obvious answer should be reduce the number of organizations. But that would be logical, and frankly, the dealings of Klal are anything but logical.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

To Friend or not to Friend, That is the Question

An interesting question raised by The Rebbetzin's Husband as to whether or not Rabbis should be friending their younger congregational members on Facebook. Pop on over and give your opinion if you're of a mind to do so.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Keeping Track of the Money

One way that people keep track of what they are spending is to wait until the end of the week or usually the end of the month, take all their receipts and bill statements, add them up and get a total. This works for some but does not work for others. Small amounts that are in cash may end up being guess-timated, and some receipts get misplaced, and again there is guessing as to the amount.

A method that might be useful because it truly "visualizes" spending is to use a calendar on a daily basis. Microsoft Publisher gives you a calendar function and downloading the plainest version, adjusting the size margin to margin, gives you plenty of writing space.
Some people may find it useful to have a weekly calendar and some a full monthly calendar--whatever works best for you. If you are using the weekly calendar (perhaps to allow more room for writing) then download a full month at a time and staple them together.

First, do you have any bills that are the exact same amount each month and that are automatically paid? Enter them in the appropriate space in the calendar. Do you have any simchas that will require a gift? Enter them on the calendar with either the amount of the gift that will/was given or the amount spent on buying a gift. Do you have appointments scheduled for the month, such as a dentist appointment or haircut appointment? Enter the event on the calendar and then fill in what you either know you will be paying--such as a co-pay for the doctor--or enter the amount on the day you use the service. If it's something like a haircut, don't forget to include the tip.

Each night enter in what you spent that day. Don't forget to include that cup of coffee you got in the morning or that magazine you bought. Certainly don't forget any out-of-home eating expenditures. And don't forget any other cash expenditures, such as giving a meshulach a few dollars, or giving the kids a few dollars to put in the pushka during school davening, or that few dollar collection at work for someone who just had a baby and there is a group present being purchased. Also include any savings you did, whether by deposit or by direct deposit or payroll deduction--this, too, is an expenditure.

If you are married then both of you should have a calendar. It's amazing how even the non-bill paying member of a couple can spend money during the month. At the end of the month you simply tally up all the expenses and can see the total spent that month. If your spending is within your budgeted limits then fine. If you are pushing the budget or exceeding it, the individual expenditures are there in one place so that you can see where you might have overspent and where you can cut down for next month. It's also simple with this method to note the categories that you are spending on.

It would also be helpful to find a spot on the calendar for noting your income as you get it. If you are getting a paycheck from your company, note any savings and then note the net amount left for your use. If you are getting cash then note when and how much.

This method will work for some and not for others; what's the worse that can happen if you try it? It might not work for you? And just maybe it might work for you.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Side Note on Reading

Speaking of reading...........

One of my friends has children who seem to represent many of the major distributions of the frum world. A married daughter considers herself as yeshivish and to the right. This friend has had to adjust her thinking when trying to buy gifts for her grandchildren because what she considers as fun and/or useful does not always meet with the hashkafic guidelines this daughter has.

My friend was quite pleased, however, to find that her daughter was reading secular material with her younger children. The book she noticed was an anthology of fairy tales and folk tales. She overheard her daughter reading "Little Red Riding Hood" to her daughters. And then she overheard how her daughter was "taitching" the moral of this story. Was it that you should never speak to strangers? No. Was it that you should always obey your mother or grandmother, even when they are not right there with you? No.

The lesson to be learned was that even "goyish" writers knew that if a woman wears red clothing she is going to attract wolves, she is going to attract trouble. Red is the color of pritzus and black is the color of tsnius. Frum girls keep away from red clothing.

My friend didn't know whether to laugh or cry when she told me this story. Frankly, I can't decide which to do either. What's next? "Hansel and Gretel" as the ultimate example of why mixed activities between boys and girls, even brothers and sisters, is forbidden, because such activities always lead the participants to lose their way and go off the path?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Not Convinced that Reading Skills are Necessary?

In case you think I'm being alarmist about the poor reading/writing/comprehension/vocabulary skills of our students today, let me give you a few examples taken from last years GED exams. Yes, I checked with Snopes--no one is challenging that these did not come from the exam.

Q. Name the four seasons.
A. Salt, pepper, mustard and vinegar

Q. What does the word 'benign' mean?
A. Benign is what you will be after you be eight.

Q. What is a terminal illness?
A. When you are sick at the airport

Q. What is a turbine?
A. Something an Arab or Shreik wears on his head

Q. What guarantees may a mortgage company insist upon?
A. If you are buying a house they will insist that you are well endowed.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reading? Rest in Peace

This past decade has given us many new devices to make communication between people faster and easier. Walk into any electronics store or browse online and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of these time savers for sale. Where once computerized communication devices were the purview of adults, mostly those in the work world, these devices are now seen in use everywhere by everyone. Yes, even three-year-olds know how to turn on a computer or fool around with a cell phone or PDA. And virtually everywhere you will hear people applauding the success of these devices, you will hear them lauding all the benefits of the devices.

Well, let me be one to take the opposite stand: these devices have caused us, as a nation and as a world, to lose something very precious. We are no longer readers. But wait you say, you have to read to use these devices. Well, you have to scan letters, I'll grant you that, but reading? Nope.

Educators from nursery to post-college are all bemoaning the fact that students' reading skills have dropped, and with that drop in reading skills, their writing skills have also deteriorated. Many an employer has pointed a finger at the poor job that schools are doing in educating their students, evidenced by the poor reading, writing and speaking skills of those who apply for jobs and/or who are in the work place. Employers are pointing a finger at the wrong place in attempting to place all the blame on the schools. The blame can be squarely placed on the general society that is involved in a hot and heavy love affair with technology, with communication devices.

How do people develop solid or stellar communication skills? One way is by observing others, listening to how they speak and copying their inflections, vocabulary and speaking style. Yet another way is to be taught the basics of English grammar and syntax, to be taught vocabulary, to be given practice in writing across many different subject areas. But perhaps the best way to become an excellent writer is to be a reader.

Why is reading books an excellent developmental tool for the skill of writing? In reading well-written material from a variety of print sources a person is exposed to the patterns, cadences and usages of standard English. They are exposed to a diverse vocabulary and how that vocabulary is used. There is a patterning that takes place when someone reads, a patterning that can be used when that person writes.

The English that appears in the writings on most of the electronic devices we use for communication is a truncated form of English, more patois or jargon than standard English. The purpose of this jargon is a simple one: give information using the fewest number of words (or letters) possible, reducing the amount of time spent in communicating. Everything connected with these devices is about short and quick.

But not everything that people might have to write in the academic and business worlds is going to be about shortness or quickness. There are still a multitude of situations where in- depth analysis and critical thinking skills are necessary. There are still a multitude of situations where being able to write flowing English, with all its complexities, is required. And to write that more complex English, reading is a key tool.

There is no reason to be a Luddite and decry that all those electronic devices be banished so we can return to a "better" way of doing things. What we do need to do, however, is recognize that those devices are only a few of the ways that we need to communicate with each other, and that the approaches that are useful when using those devices are not correct or useful in other writing situations. And yes, we need to once again stress the reading of books as a necessary tool for an educated person.

Let's be honest here--when an occasion arises to give a gift to a young person (and yes, to an adult as well) is your first thought to head to a bookstore, or is it to head to an electronics store or toy store? As a society we have come to value those electronics more than the printed word as found in books, and therein lies a ticking time bomb. Those who still read, and who reap the benefit of that reading as seen in their writing, are going to be the cream that rises to the top. The rest are going to be literal skim milk.

Like the ubiquitous fast-food meals so many rely on, those "fast-reading" devices aren't going to deliver any "nutritional" benefits to the readers who use them. Keep them in their place, as one type of tool that is available today. But bring back the reading of books for the much more "nutritious" benefits that they can give us, as readers, as writers and as educated communicators.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It All Worked Out in the End

I just got an interesting message about the engagement of a former student of many years past. The message can be condensed to one line: "You were right." Six years ago I tried and tried to get this young man to take out a particular girl I thought would fit his personality to a tee. I tried and got nowhere. The girl in question did not fit what the boy said he was looking for, what his parents said he needed, what his rabbaim said he needed, what his friends said he needed and what the man behind the counter at the local corner grocery store said he needed. And to be truthful, the young lady was not herself enthusiastic about going out with him--see all the reasons why the boy should not date her and substitute she for he.

I've mentioned before that for a shidduch to come to fruition it has to be not only the right person but happen at the right time. Apparently six years ago was not the right time. Earlier this summer the boy and his parents were in Israel and staying at a Jerusalem hotel. On their second night there a table for three was not available in the dining room they wanted to eat in. All that was immediately available was a larger table, and they'd have to share with another family. They were hungry so they agreed to the share. Yup, you guessed it. The new kallah's family was that other family, kallah included. The meal went so well that they arranged to spend most of their meals together. And a funny thing happened during those meal times: all the previous reasons why this couple should not go out, could not possibly be a couple, dissolved into thin air. Reality took over and bumped conjecture out of the picture. Apparently "a jug of wine, a loaf of bread and thou" did the trick.

Nope, this wasn't a shidduch that I can take credit for. The "shadchan" credit here goes to the Ribboneh Shel Olam. Without exception and with no caveats, He is the Chief Shadchan, and does a so much better job than His sometimes human helpers do. Now if only others, stubbornly holding to the idea that only today's convoluted shidduch methodology is the right way to make a shidduch, would take heed of the lesson to be learned here. They need to understand that "there is more than one way to skin a cat."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Last week I posted on the necessity of having a will, living will and medical proxy drawn up, regardless of your age. What I didn't mention was what should be in that will. Now obviously no human being is identical to any other human being; they don't have the exact same family dynamics, they don't own the same possessions etc. Thus, their wills will be different in content as well. However, there is one element that should be present in every will, and it's an element that most people find rather macabre to be discussing. The subject? Where would you like to be buried?

I certainly hope that I will be zocheh to many more years on earth, and I wish that for my husband, my children and all my loved ones. But the truth is that our time on earth is finite, and eventually that time will be up.

For many Jews, their preference is to be buried in Israel. If that's the case, then make your wishes clear. If you don't care which cemetery in Israel then say so. Should you have a preference--perhaps you already have family members buried in a particular cemetery--then say so. If you have already purchased a plot then make that clear and give all the information.

This is a conversation that married couples should be having with each other--it's not always as simple as it may seem. The other day someone actually asked me "Do you want to be buried next to your husband?" Err, yes I do. And this has engendered some strange conversation in our house. My in laws are no longer living and are buried in Israel in the Beit Shemesh cemetery. My father is no longer living and is buried in Har Ha'Menuchot, where my mother has already purchased a plot next to his. Both my husband and I would like to be buried near family. So, which family? (Note: until you have had this discussion you cannot begin to understand just how strange it can be.)

And while we are being macabre on a Monday morning, let's also mention the cost of burial. If Israel is your choice, be prepared that this is a costly decision. Many people, when they are still relatively young, purchase plots in Israel. Yes, this is a lot of money to be committing now, when money may be tight and needed for other things. But as with everything else, the price of burial plots only goes up, not down, and if you don't pay ahead the costs down the road will come out of anything you are leaving to your children, assuming there is anything left to leave. In Har HaMenuchot the cost of a single plot is $15K+, and that is only for the plot. That doesn't include a matzeivoh, nor does it include transport from the US. The Beit Shemesh cemetery "only" charges $5K+ for the plot. 34 years ago that plot in Har HaMenuchot was "only" $1700. Imagine what it might cost 30, 40 or 50 years down the road (even assuming that any plots would be left there).

So, not to disturb your enjoyment of that cup of coffee you've just poured, but the discussion of where to be buried is another one of those responsible things adults are supposed to do. So pick your moment and sit down with your spouse. Should your spouse wonder why you are raising the subject, you can always blame me for having brought it up--I won't mind, as long as the subject is raised.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Yes! Shabbos is Coming!

Before someone chooses to remind me that Shabbos comes 52 times in the year, let me explain why this particular Shabbos has me so excited. Apparently, despite all the shopping, cooking and hard work that Yom Tov brought for the past weeks, I am going through Holiday Withdrawal Syndrome. It felt so strange to me this week not to be hurrying on Sunday or Monday to get the grocery shopping done. Somehow the kitchen looked so empty without all the pots bubbling on the stove and the island looking so vastly empty. The refrigerator looked so huge inside and so empty--where were all the containers of goodies that everyone would stop and sample? I found myself at work on Wednesday night instead of bentching lecht for yom tov, and I confess I missed that yom tov feeling.

So that's why I'm so happy that Shabbos is coming. Yesterday I went grocery shopping and when I entered the supermarket there was that feeling of coming home. I'm back to planning menus. The pots are once again where they should be--on the stove, not in the cupboards. I will stand in front of my lachter once again ,and when I open my eyes and see the flickering candles I will immediately be washed over by that feeling of peace and rightness that always comes with bentching lecht.

So yes, Shabbos is coming! And I, for one, can't wait.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It's The Law...Full Stop

There are any number of laws that I don't particularly like or even agree with. But, they are the law, and my full compliance is required. I don't get to pick and choose which laws I'll obey fully and which I will fool around with when I don't think I'll get caught. I have the choice of contacting various public officials and lobbying to have those laws changed which I don't like. But until or unless those laws are changed or eliminated I MUST obey them.

The last few weeks have presented us with two tragedies, tragedies that occurred because two young people went against the law governing their behavior in the situations they found themselves in. In the first case, an 18-year-old girl was texting while driving her car, against the law in NY, and hit and killed someone. In the second case a 13-year-old girl died when she was a passenger in a van being driven by a 16-year-old who was speeding and driving without an adult licensed driver in the car, in violation of his permit and the governing law.

Now granted, young people are not renowned for their maturity and logical thinking in many cases at many times. Both of these accidents might have been about an individual just plain not thinking correctly at one given time, with disastrous results all around. It is possible that these were both just isolated incidents. And it is also possible that these incidents were exemplars of a systemic disregard for the law on a pick and choose basis.

If I had just a nickle for every time I've seen a driver on the road using a hand-held cell phone or texting or operating other devices that occupy that driver's hands and mind, I'd be retired and living the life of Reilly in sunnier climes. Such drivers create an unsafe driving climate for all of us. And the law is clear and well-publicized--the mentioned activities are illegal. Let one of these (frum) drivers have an accident or get caught by the police and a brouhaha erupts that the police are unjustly targeting these people, the law is coming down unnecessarily hard on these people, and, after all, "everyone" does it so why be so harsh in punishing the ones who are caught? There's one answer for that question that says it all: it's the law, full stop. If you break that law, be prepared to suffer the consequences.

Re the 16-year-old driving without an adult licensed driver with him, 16 may be young, but I'd be willing to bet that any 16-year-old with a driving permit is quite aware that he/she is NOT allowed to drive by themselves without adult supervision. It's breaking the law to do so. And I would also imagine that the law was the last thing on this teen's mind when he offered to drive home his friend and his friend's sister. After all, what could possibly happen on a short trip in the neighborhood? Well, that unthinkable happened, and a young girl died. Not only was he driving without supervision, but he was going twice the posted speed limit, also against the law. And then there was the issue of the killed passenger not wearing a seat belt. Not answered but a question that many have is did the driver's parents know that he was getting in the car to drive, and did they allow this?

I am not trying to pour salt in the wounds of the young people and their families involved in these two incidents, and yes, I cry for what the outcome might be for those arrested , but I am also concerned about the implications community wide. There are far too many people who look at the law, any law, as a maybe I will or maybe I won't obey it situation. The news media have been full of coverage about those in Klal who have been caught violating any number of laws governing money/business practices. The recent discussion about alcohol being provided for those who are underage on Simchas Torah and at other times clearly points to violations of the laws governing alcohol use. People jokingly discuss openly how they've managed to get around the law on reporting income or paying taxes. School administrators, legally mandated to report abuse of children in their schools, routinely cover up those abuses.

There seems to be an attitude on the part of some members of Klal that if it is "their" law we can take it as only a suggestion rather than a requirement. That our own halachah also governs many of these actions, which are clearly against halachah, seems to be besides the point for too many people. They "simply" interpret the halachah to match what they want to do. We are forbidden to engage in enterprises that are clearly a sakonah. How are the two incidents described above anything but a sakonah?

I wouldn't have thought it necessary, but it clearly is, that parents and schools and shul rabbis need to stress that the law is the law and we all have to obey it. Parents and adults in the community need to set better examples for our children by themselves obeying the laws of the land, and they need to do a better job of supervising their children and stressing that breaking the law has serious consequences, so we don't break it.

The result of breaking the law can be deadly literally, and we surely do not want to have to mourn any more children whose lives have been tragically lost because of an attitude that obeying the law is optional.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Now, not Later

When I first started this blog I had a posting up on the controversy surrounding the idea of retirement as a "non-Jewish idea." Buried in the comments of that posting were some excellent suggestions that, unfortunately, a whole lot of people are either unaware of or don't want to think about.

I'm talking about living wills, medical proxies and regular wills. Granted, none of us want to spend our days focused on when our lives will end or the possibilities of being medically disabled, such that we can't make decisions for ourselves. But we don't have to spend all that time thinking morbid thoughts if we have prepared ourselves adequately.

Having a will is absolutely incumbent on each and every one of us. Parents of young children are concerned about the here and now--but what will happen to those young children if one of the parents dies intestate? For one thing, someone else just might be making decisions for that group of youngsters, someone the parents wouldn't have chosen. For another thing, most of the states will get a far larger portion of any monies/properties/investments that the deceased owned than those states would if a duly registered will was in place.

Yes, there seems to be some conflict in some cases between the wording that some rabbanim want to see in a "kosher" will and the wording in a standard secular will. But now is the time to work that out, not when it is too late.

As to the living wills, a whole lot of people carry all kinds of medical and life insurance. A living will is just another kind of insurance. It allows a person, while still in full possession of their faculties, to say what they do or don't want regarding medical treatment should they be unable to make decisions at the time the medical treatment might become necessary. A friend and I have been having a discussion about this recently because a third person we know is now in a true mess due to no living will having been filed. This woman's husband is mortally ill. Although this woman and her husband had discussed his feelings about certain medical procedures and interventions, they never got around to putting these feelings down on paper. Now this poor woman is in a battle royal with her husband's parents and siblings, who differ a great deal on what should be done for this man. The lawyers on both sides are going to be making a fortune. All this could have been avoided if that living will had been filed. It also could have been avoided if a medical proxy had been filed, allowing one to decide before it becomes necessary or impossible just who will make medical decisions for you if you aren't able to make them yourself.

Do yourself a favor, and your loved ones as well, and get those wills and living wills and medical proxies filled out now, when you don't need them. Some people will opt for a lawyer to do the filing: there are also any number of places online which have forms you can fill out and then have witnessed. Whichever way you choose to do things, now is the time.

Addendum to Posting: for a free site to fill out a living will and also a medical proxy form, go to

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Suddenly at "Leisure"

It was a bit strange this morning to wake up and suddenly remember that there was no reason to jump out of bed and straight into the work harness of shopping and cooking and preparing for yom tov. And yes, despite some kvetching about the sheer number of meals that were going to be prepared, served and eaten, I miss yom tov's not being just even a few more days. The family will be heading out to their own nooks and crannies today and the house already sounds too empty. We're going back to being governed by the requirements of the workday calendar, and although I'm not dreading that, it's going to take some getting used to after a month of yom tov.

Of course, some elements of yom tov linger a bit even if yom tov is officially over. Thankfully, there are some cook aheads in the fridge, so dinner is already prepared. And then there is the sukkah. Bets are already being taken as to how many more weeks it's going to remain up--not because our men folk are too lazy to take it down but because of the predicted weather. Our sukkah is all wood and putting it away wet is not an option, unless we plan on going into the mold-selling business. The decorations can come down today but the walls are too wet to put into storage as yet. And rain is predicted for all of this week. One year the sukkah finally came down over the Thanksgiving break from work--only week with no rain for months. It looks like that may be the case this year also.

I know tefilas Geshem is for rain in Eretz Yisroel, but we seem to have derived some benefit from it here as well. And yes, I shouldn't be complaining when we truly need the rain here also, but I'm so tired of the smell of wet raincoats and jackets and the dreariness of a sun-less sky. On Friday, when a sudden bright spot appeared on the front window, we all yelled "sunshine" and went to look. Darn, only a large truck whose fog lights when to bright and bounced off the window glass. Want to know how large this country really is? Speaking to my brother on chol hamoed, living in the San Diego area, he reported that they had had a record breaking temperature of 108 degrees, and that was at the bay--hotter inland. Downtown Los Angeles got a record breaking 113 degrees. We got boiled by the rain and he got fried by the sun. Once again proof that man doesn't control nature despite his mistaken beliefs that he can control it.

Oh well, time to shed the yom tov mantle and see if I can remember what "real life" is supposed to be like. I've a feeling that by Wednesday yom tov will be firmly back in the memory folder as preparing for Shabbos takes precedence. Enough dallying by the keyboard--I know there is something that I really should be doing this morning and have been stalling getting to. I think I've gotten up the courage to open the laundry hampers--are we sure that we can't hold yom tov for at least a few more days?!