Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On Fire, Flames and Chanukah Safety

With Chanukah beginning tomorrow, please take a moment now to make sure that your house will be "fire proof." Far better to be safe than sorry. For some tips on what to do please see



Monday, November 29, 2010

What are the Schools Serving?

My posting on budgetting and nutrition took a detour into the area of the school lunches provided by yeshivas for their students. I've been in a fair number of yeshivas during the lunch hour and I was underimpressed to say the least. For many of the schools, eating school lunch is mandatory. There are still a few where that is optional, but they are in the minority.

So, I decided to see what I could find out about the school lunch menus without leaving the comfort of my chair. Amazingly enough there was information to be gotten online. Some yeshivot have websites on which they post their monthly school menus. This much I can tell you; there is a huge difference among the menus posted. I'm posting links to the sites I found so you can see for yourselves. Only one of the sites actually stated that school lunch is optional.

Granted, a lot of yeshivas were not online with their menus (or with anything else--they don't "believe" in the Internet). I suppose if I were being l'chaf z'chus I'd say that those yeshivas not represented online must be fine exemplars of nutritional meal planning--however, telling a lie is even a worse aveiroh, so I won't say it.

The following is a sampling of what I found online, both for NY and out of town. A few of these schools fall into the mega-expensive range so you'd think their lunch menus would reflect that. Some of the schools are more modern in outlook than others are. One of the schools is a Sefardic day school, so you'd think they would differ considerably in their food offerings. I've given a bit of info on all the schools presented as well as a link to see the complete menus offered.

Now granted, this is only a handful of schools but just how different do you think all the others are? And if this is the state of the nutrition offered to our children vis a vis the lunch meals, there is room for vast improvement.

Manhattan Day School: fleishigs one day a week, fresh fruit offered daily; Bread, Whole or Lowfat Milk & Tuna offered on Dairy Days; Bread, Apple Juice, & Tuna offered on Meat Days


Yeshiva of Manhattan Beach (Brooklyn): fleishigs two days a week; fruits appear to be mostly canned and appear every day but Friday; Bread, Whole or Lowfat Milk & Tuna offered on Dairy Days; Bread, Apple Juice, & Tuna offered on Meat Days.


Yeshiva of Flatbush: pre-school through high school. Menu offerings for lunch all seem to come from local Brooklyn restaurants. Fleishigs is available once a week. Pizza is available up to three times a week. A salad is a choice only once a week. The first link is for the 1-8 menu, the second for the nursery/kindergarden menu, which differs from what I have described above.



Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Baltimore: elementary school for first link; middle school and high school for second link. There is no fleishigs on the menu.



Yeshiva Har HaTorah (Littleneck); fleishigs twice a week, pizza once a week; Milk is provided on all dairy days. Juice is provided on all meat days. Always available:Whole Wheat Bread, Jelly, Eggs, Tuna, Pasta


Lubavicher Yeshiva Academy (Springfield): school has two options to main school lunch, one of which is lunch brought from home: menu at link is not expansive but does say "All meals are served with a minimum of 2 vegetables, 2 fruits or 1 of each. Milk is served on non meat days and 100% juice is served on meat days. Every meal is served with either bread, roll or pita bread."


Hillel Yeshiva of New Jersey: Interesting to see the distinctions between the various divisions; the first link is for the pre-school, the second for the lementary/middle school menu. Fleishigs twice a week sort of. Can't describe this one--go see for yourselves.



Tashbar Torat Hayim Hebrew Academy (Los Angeles): This is a sefardic day school. I mention this only because a great deal has been said online about how Sefardic eating habits are better than Ashkenazic ones. Not judging by this school's menus they're not. Fleishigs 3-4 times a week and pizza once a week and not one fruit offering ever. The first link is for the pre-school, the second for the Pre-1 through 8.



SAR Academy: menu covers preschool through high school and is only served Monday through Thursday. Fleishigs Twice a week. Available Daily:Fresh Fruit,Salad Bar,Oil, Vinegar;Choice of Dressings Include: French, Italian, Creamy Italian and Russian. Nursery-2nd grade students are served fresh cut vegetables,Whole Wheat Bread. Available On Dairy Days Only:Cottage Cheese, Milk (1% and Fat Free),Yogurt,Tuna Fish


Sunday, November 28, 2010

On Leaves

It's kind of ironic really that I'm going over the O. Henry story "The Last Leaf" with some of my classes right at the time that the shrubs and trees in my yard are valiantly trying to hold on to their last leaves.

There's one small bush that has lost all but one of its leaves and it's holding on to that leaf as if the world depended on its keeping it in place. It's a bright beacon of glowing red on an otherwise brown and bare tangle of branches.

Definitely a lesson to be learned, both from the story and from my bush, a lesson about determination and not giving in. A lesson about keeping the faith even when the odds seem to be against you. A lesson about how even something as small as one little leaf can have far reaching consequences.

For a view of some of those "last leaves," may I suggest a look out your window. For the story, please go to http://www.online-literature.com/donne/1303/

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On Giving Thanks

For observant Jews, every day could be called Thanksgiving. We are adjoined to thank Hashem each day for the blessings he has given us. But yes, it is nice that our secular tradition sets aside a day each year just for the purpose of giving thanks and remembering the past.

It's so nice that most of the family does not have to work today and so we can get together to see each other and share a meal. As the family has grown, with children and grandchildren and great grandchildren added, it is harder for everyone to be together over a chag. Contact is limited to what is still the impersonal method of phones or computers. So here we have a day when we can travel by car and all meet in person. A time to ooh and aah about how the little ones have grown. A time to see where the bigger ones are heading to. A time to look at the generations present and marvel that this is possible. Four generations present at the same table--yes, something to truly give thanks for.

I hope you enjoy your day today, however you are choosing to give thanks. And yes, dear sister, I am truly thankful that it's you who will be cooking instead of me.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On Using Given Names

Someone in a comment many postings ago asked how I felt about younger people calling older people by their given names, without honorifics attached. Giving some thought to the question, my answer is "It depends."

What does it depend on? For one thing, it depends on the familial connection. For me, no grandparent is ever going to be called by a first name without either Babi or Zaydie attached before that name. In one branch of our families even that is too informal for the relationship, and the children there call their grandparents Babi Smith or Zaydie Smith. Now go to the next level of relationship--aunts and uncles. Growing up we called all of our aunts and uncles by their first names with an honorific coming before--Tante Libby and Uncle Shlomo, or Mima Rivka and Fetter Boruch. Even when we were speaking about them rather than to them we always included the honorific. Things got a little less formal the further up the family tree a relationship was. We called our parents' cousins, who were, after all, our cousins as well, by their first names, no honorific used. Their children did the same to my parents. But we also did so because that was THEIR preference and they let us know that.

Now move out of actual family relationships. When I was younger society in general was more formal. We called our parents' friends--and indeed all adults--Mr. X and Mrs. X. For a few who were very close to the family, we attached the honorific of Aunt or Uncle in front of their first names--they had honorary family status. And there were a rare few who themselves insisted that we call them by their first names, no honorific or title needed. Today there are many adults who don't want that level of formality; their preference is to be called by their first name, and they let you know that.

And then there are some of us, me included, who prefer to have an honorific attached to our names. And sometimes we get what we want, and sometimes not. I've found this is much less a problem with those not related to us than with our relatives. There is not a single one of our children's friends who calls us by our first names. Yes, some have shortened the name to Mrs. K rather than the full name, and there's the one who, as a gesture of the degree of friendliness, calls me Momma K. And then there are a few of the nieces and nephews whose parents decided that being called Aunt and Uncle was just too formal and they didn't want it. Unfortunately, they also included us in that dictate, even if it's not our preference. No, I don't like being called by my first name without the honorific attached by nieces and nephews. And no, the relationship with those nieces and nephews is just not as close as with the ones who see us as something special, who see us as Aunt and Uncle.

My personal feeling is that we, each of us, should have the right to decide by what name we will be called in any given situation. And if we want an honorific attached then that's how it should be. Can you really imagine going up to a Rosh Yeshiva and addressing him "Hiya Roshie" or "Hiya Yankie"? Of course that wouldn't happen--it would be highly disrespectful. Well, there are others for whom respect should be shown as well, and using an honorific is one way of according that respect. And not just respect, but love as well.

Feel free to disagree with me, but this is my opinion and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why scammers should pay attention in school

Most of the email providers have put into place junk mail filters to keep the worst of the obvious attempts at scamming out of your in box. Hotmail, however, seems to have missed one area. If an email has Hotmail in its subject line they somehow let it through, legitimate or not. Sometimes Hotmail does send its users informational alerts. How can you tell which ones are legit and which ones aren't? Okay, the email address is one obvious place to look--Hotmail doesn't use readmylips5938 at Yahoo to send official mail from. But it's the English that is a dead giveaway.

This morning's scam began its message "Due to the congestion in hotmail users." Now granted I really do have a cold, I'm congested and I'm a hotmail user, but my physical problems should in no way be a reason to send someone my personal password information. And that opening sentence was only one of many, many English usage errors.

If the grammar and usage on a purportedly official email make you blink it's time to hit delete.

Monday, November 22, 2010

When is Ivy Not Ivy? Or is It?

A lot has been said about the benefits of a college education. Germane to many of those discussions has been the tiering system of colleges and universities. Yes, systems. There are many different systems out there that rank colleges and universities, and they don't all use the same criteria. However, a whole lot of people will agree that the Ivy League schools are at the top of the heap. Ask someone why and they will tell you about the selective admission process, whereby the Ivies skim the cream and admit only the best and the brightest. They will tell you about employers who take graduates of the Ivies before they consider applicants from anywhere else. They will tell you about the stellar professors and the incredible facilities available to students. They will tell you about the academically superior courses that are given. Well yes, they also will talk about the huge tuition costs at these Ivies.

Because the Ivies do not admit all that many students each year, the number of graduates is small by comparison to other, larger universities that graduate students in the multiple thousands. Ergo, employers and graduate schools will "fight" to get these graduates.

Yes, in many ways the Ivies deserve their academic reputations. So, the only way to get that stellar education is to kill yourself throughout your high school years, to sweat bullets to get the highest possible SAT scores? If you aren't in the top 1-3% of your high school graduating class don't even bother to apply? If that stellar Ivy degree is going to mean something--and seemingly it does--then the schools should be mega-selective in admitting students? In short, you get what you pay for when you make it into the Ivies? Or do you?

The information below was fairly accessible online. Read on.

"Believe it or not, there’s a little-known back door to getting a Harvard degree: the Harvard Extension School. Designed as a continuing education program for adults, the Harvard Extension School is a degree-granting program within Harvard University designed to meet the needs of non-traditional students.
All you need to do to become a student at the Harvard Extension School is
pay a course fee and show up. There’s no SAT or ACT requirement, no admissions process, and no up-front bureaucracy. Each class at the extension school costs approximately $1,000, and anyone can sign up. Many courses are offered both in-person and online.
If you’re able to complete 3 Extension School courses with a GPA of at least 3.0, a change from the 2.5 that was in effect until now, you’ll be able to petition for acceptance to the degree program. The
admissions criteria are straightforward: if you meet them, you’re in. Going through the Extension School is trial by fire: if you can prove that you’re up to the challenge by excelling in actual coursework, you’ll be accepted.
The diploma that you receive upon graduation is issued by Harvard University, and there is absolutely no difference in the quality of the courses. The curriculum is the same, the requirements for graduation are the same, and the courses are taught by the same professors. You’ll also have the same perks: a student ID that gives you access to Harvard libraries, museums, and events, as well as access to the Student Employment Office, Career Services, and other Harvard student programs and services.
You’ll also have the same benefits of the Harvard reputation “halo” and network. If you want, you can rent an apartment in Cambridge and hobnob with other Harvard students – after all, you’ll be one. If you don’t want to live in Boston, you can take courses online as long as you complete the 16-hour residency requirement before you graduate, which can be done in a single summer. When you graduate, you’ll be a member of both the Harvard Extension Alumni Association as well as the regular Harvard Alumni Association, which provides access to a vast network of previous graduates.
The total cost of an undergraduate program at the Harvard Extension School is ~$35,000-$40,000. For perspective, the cost of one year of Harvard College’s “normal” bachelors program is $33,696 for academic year 2009-2010. Assuming it takes four years to complete the program, attending the Extension School allows you to get essentially the same degree at ~25% of the retail price. According to the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, the average tuition for private universities in 2008-2009 was $25,143, and costs are rising dramatically, so this option blows away every other private alternative by offering more benefits for 1/3 of the price.
That’s just considering the undergraduate program – Harvard Extension School also offers Masters and Professional degree programs (including a Management/MBA program), with similar cost/benefit characteristics.
If you’re going to go to college, be a smart student – find a better way to get what you need, and never pay retail."

A Harvard degree taken in the comfort of your own home if you so desire, except for a 16-hour residency requirement. And the diploma you get will read Harvard University with no mention of just how that degree was achieved. If you had read the first sentence of this paragraph with the Harvard name omitted would you be thinking "Ivy League College"? Or might you think "diploma mill"? Kind of makes you wonder if Shakespeare didn't have it right when he said "What's in a name?"

Note: I haven't yet done the research, but it would not surprise me in the least if other of the Ivies have the same or similar programs.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Petition Worth Signing

No one has ever called the UN a bastion of objective truth. UNESCO, as part of the UN, clearly needs an "English teacher lesson" on the difference between fiction and non-fiction. The link below is to a petition protesting UNESCO's "ruling that Israel has no right to add the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where almost all of Israel's patriarchs and matriarchs are buried, to the National Heritage list. It also protests " the decision by UNESCO to re-label as an Islamic mosque the tomb of Rachel, Israel's other matriarch, and to demand that Israel remove the site from its National Heritage list."

There are almost 23,000 signatures to date. Whatever the outcome will be--and given that this is the UN we are talking about that outcome may not be what we would want it to be--let the UN clearly understand and see that thousands upon thousands of people know the truth and are willing to say so. Whatever UNESCO is peddling, truth isn't it.

And please take a moment to send the link to those on your email list. This is one way to let our voices be heard.


Words to Ponder

"Happiness is not so much in having as sharing. We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give."

Norman MacEwan

Friday, November 19, 2010

7 Reasons to Love Chocolate Once Again

It's been one of 'those' weeks and really nice news has been scarce. In addition to everything else, nutrition and healthy eating has been on my mind. I was pleased as punch, therefore, to read the following. At last, someone speaking up in defense of chocolate!


Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Creative Gift for Kids

A local discount card shop had a small table of gift items for kids and I found one I really like. Yes, a lot of kids like to color pictures and there are some interesting coloring books. But, those coloring books don't require much imagination beyond choosing the colors. I found a book called Beautiful Doodles, by Nellie Ryan. The book has over 100 full-sized pages with part of a drawing on each page as a basic background. Each page has a suggested idea of how the child can complete the drawing. For example, one page shows a shopping cart in front of shelves and suggests to the child "Fill your cart and stock your shelves." The child gets to use her/his imagination.

The book is published by Running Press. They have a website at runningpress.com. If you type "Beautiful Doodles" into the search box you'll find the book on the first page shown. There are also another 5-6 books of this type on that same page, including a Hello Kitty Doodle Book and a Farm Animal Doodle book. Barnes and Noble online also has the book at less than the publisher is selling it for. I'm sure other stores also sell the doodle books.

Not only do the minimalist drawings in the books encourage a child to be creative and let the imagination soar, but they are adaptive to other types of arts and crafts. If your child has some stickers and sparkles they could also be used in completing the pictures--the sky's the limit as to what could be used to be creative.

The Best Present

With Chanukah coming out early this year a lot of people are already busy shopping for presents. Toy stores are overflowing with wares. Shopping carts are being piled sky high. But I'd like to recommend a different type of gift, one that is great for both the giver and the receiver--books. Why? Let me repeat a posting from a few years ago for the answer to that.

On True Wealth for Children

You may have tangible wealth untold;

Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.

Richer than I you can never be—

I had a mother who read to me.

—Strickland Gillilan

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Reason Why I Hate Shopping

Prior to last Sunday, I can't remember the last time I went shopping at the SI Mall. There's nothing that I needed that required heading out to the Mall. However, I was gifted with a nice-sized gift card to Macy's. I did have a few things that were possibilities for purchase, so out to Macy's I went.

Once upon a time Macy's was really a middle of the road department store, and a fairly middle class one at that. It was considered more expensive than Sears or Penney's and carried certain brands that those stores didn't, but "normal" people shopped there. It was quite possible to get what were really good bargains, especially during sales. However, judging by the prices and by the brands being sold, Macy's would far rather find itself in company with Bergdorfs and other stores of that ilk.

I walked that store from end to end, from floor to floor, and despaired of ever finding anything to spend my gift card on. Not only was my eye not captured by most of the merchandise, my "careful with money" hackles were being raised. In the purse department I tried and failed to find any purse smaller than a suitcase in size. I really don't like those mega-sized purses. Finally one caught my eye because it's size was only a bit out of the range I prefer. So I opened it up, and I saw a yawning chasm--no dividers, no compartments except for one tiny slot to put a cell phone into. I closed the purse and glanced at the price tag just out of curiosity. Holy moley!!! That purse was $428 dollars, and advertised as a spectacular price. The brand? Coach. The department was full of this brand's offerings, and $428 was not the most expensive of the purses offered.

Throughout the store I was faced with the same dilemma--merchandise at prices I was not going to pay because in no way, shape or form was what was being sold worth that kind of money to me. I finally took a breather outside of the housewares department and literally found myself leaning on a solution to my what to spend the gift card on dilemma. I was in the luggage department. No, virtually all the suitcases on display were way more money than I was going to spend. But there, in a corner, a "special sale before 1:00PM" sign caught my eye. Finally, an item at a price that was acceptable for that item, that was actually a good buy. We killed a suitcase on our last trip and it needed replacing. I bought the suitcase, but even with the tax I still have 1/3 of that gift card remaining. I have no idea what I'm going to get at Macy's with the $35 left. No, a pair of polyester gloves made in China are not going to get me to shell out $39 a pair, I don't care whose label is in them.

The funny thing though was that the parking lot was jam packed. Someone mentioned to me that people are already starting their holiday shopping. So yes, someone is going to buy all that way overpriced "labels-to-die-for" stuff. I just wish I understood why. I think of all the things that $428 could buy, and a purse just isn't first on the list; in fact, it doesn't make the list at all. And yes, I imagine there are a whole lot of people who are going to consider that I am the oddball for thinking that way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Money and Health

Budgeting is a word on a lot of people's lips. They know that they need to be able to account for where their money is supposed to go. Many of those who are tightening their belts are looking to the area of grocery shopping and meal preparation as a place to save some money. Granted, there are certainly ways to save in this area. But along with the monetary aspect of meal preparation and food ingestion has to come another consideration: nutrition.

A lot of Americans are not getting proper nutrition or anything close to it. Can that all be blamed on not being able to afford sufficient food to eat? Nope. It can be blamed on not knowing what it is that we are supposed to eat daily/weekly, on not knowing how much of a food constitutes a portion, and on not knowing which foods provide which nutrients. Even where money to buy food is not problematic, nutritional needs may not be being met. And no, simply switching to vegetarianism instead of being a meat eater--often touted as a budget helper--will not guarantee that you are getting all the nutrients you need. All this is further complicated by the fact that different people require different nutrients under different circumstances. A two-year-old does not have the same nutritional requirements that an eighteen-year old has. So, add in age differences across the spectrum. Now add in gender differences as regards nutritional requirements. Add in that how much exercise you get can change your nutritional requirements. Add in that your physical condition can change the requirements--e.g., pregnant women have different requirements from non-pregnant women, those with certain physical ailments require different nutrients etc..

So yes, before you tinker around with the money in the budget for buying food, first educate yourself on what you should be eating and in what quantities. Educate yourself on what nutrients are needed, and how you can provide those nutrients. When you have this knowledge you are going to be more knowledgeable about what can and can't be trimmed from your food budget.

To get you started, the following links are useful:

How to read the nutrtional info on a food label: http://www.fda.gov/downloads/Food/LabelingNutrition/ConsumerInformation/ucm120909.pdf

2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans: http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-DGACReport.htm

Information on the Food Pyramid:http://www.mypyramid.gov/

The Healthy eating Pyramid: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/pyramid/

Eating for nutritional health: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/index.html

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Porcelain Unicorn

Ezzie may not be posting all that often but this post is so worthwhile seeing. You might want to have a hankie with you when you view it.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Haveil Havalim #291

The latest edition of Haveil Havalim is up at The Rebbitzin's Husband. Pop on over for some interesting and stimulating reading.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Not the Same People

It's that time in the term when my students have to do a research project--a type of academic trivial pursuit game. A comment made on another blog leads me to mention this now. Absolute care must be taken when presenting material as true that that material is actually true--solid research is key.

Let's see how you do with the piece of information I'm referring to. Francis Scott Key and Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald--are these the names of two separate people or two names for the same person? Go ahead, take a moment.....

Okay, the answer is that the names refer to two different people. Francis Scott Key was the composer of the lyrics of "The Star Spangled Banner." Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was otherwise known as F. Scott Fitzgerald and is perhaps best remembered as the author of The Great Gatsby. Francis Scott Key Fitzgerald was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 24, 1896, the namesake and second cousin three times removed of the author of the National Anthem.

So what's the problem? F. Scott Fitzgerald was known as a drunkard--the first Francis Scott Key was quite the opposite: a man of solid character, highly religious and not an inbiber of alcohol.

A highly respected Rav apparently made a comment a few decades ago that is remembered by some today. Unclear from the comment on the blog was whether or not the Rav was referring to The Star Spangled Banner or to Hatikvah when he said that it is kefira because its author was a drunkard. If this was said in reference to The Star Spangled Banner I'd like to believe that that Rav, were he living today and were it pointed out to him that he was mixing up two different people, would have retracted his statement. Unfortunately the Rav is not living, but it seems that his words live on after him. If the statement was made referring to The Star Spangled Banner it's time for a correction.

So, lesson of the day: check your sources, and then double check them, or triple check them if need be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Veterans Day

To those men and women who put their lives on the line so that we may sleep easily in our beds, secure that the American way of life will remain strong, I say thank you. Thank you for being the front line protectors of our liberty, and for what you do so that others, too, may experience relief from despotism and oppression.

For those who came home after serving, thanks go to God for watching over them and returning them back to their loved ones. For those who gave their lives as the ultimate sacrifice for others, no words can say how much what they did resonates with us.

It would be altogether fitting and proper to take a moment and "salute" our veterans in recognition that we can take that moment freely and with no coercion because they did what was needed.

Words to Ponder

"Often, the less there is to justify a traditional custom, the harder it is to get rid of it."

"Sacred cows make the best hamburger."

"A crime persevered in a thousand centuries ceases to be a crime, and becomes a virtue. This is the law of custom, and custom supersedes all other forms of law."

Mark Twain

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Defining the (almost) Undefinable

For many things, providing a definition of that thing is a simple matter of going to a dictionary. If you want to know the definition of "salt," the dictionary will tell you that it is "a crystalline compound, sodium chloride, NaCl, occurring as a mineral, a constituent of seawater, etc., and used for seasoning food, as a preservative, etc.; Chemistry . any of a class of compounds formed by the replacement of one or more hydrogen atoms of an acid with elements or groups, which are composed of anions and cations, and which usually ionize in solution; a product formed by the neutralization of an acid by a base." This is the denotative or straight definition.

Other things we wish to define are not quite this straight forward. We may be able to get a clear denotative definition that all will agree with, or maybe we won't. In addition, we can add the connotation of the thing being defined, loosely defined as where that thing being defined falls on the sliding scale of good to bad. Words such as "slim," "trim," "thin," and "scrawny" all fall within the same denotative definition and are considered synonyms of each other. Where they differ is in their connotation. Call your wife/mother or whomever "slim" or "trim" and you get points for having said something positive. Call that same person "thin" and you are skating on thin ice. Call that person "scrawny" and you are in the doghouse.

Now let's look at some words where the denotative/connotative divide causes some real problems in our society--let's look at the words "wealth" and "wealthy." Denotatively, the dictionary tells us that wealth is "a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches; an abundance or profusion of anything; plentiful amount." One who is wealthy, therefore, has an abundance of money and/or possessions. But let's also look at the word 'abundance.' Denotatively abundance means "an extremely plentiful or oversufficient quantity or supply." In plain English, abundance means having more than is needed or sufficient. Because abundance is part of the definition of wealthy, things start to get sticky.

Try and define precisely what is meant by an "oversufficient supply" of money and you run into a real problem. First, no one can agree what a sufficient amount of money is for a family to have. Oh, we can talk about what constitutes necessities for life, and those necessities cost money to provide, but try and get people, all people, to agree on how to define necessity--can't be done. So, if we can't decide how to define necessities then how are we ever going to be able to define sufficient, how are we ever going to decide what an oversufficient amount is? How are we ever going to be able to use the word wealthy applied to anyone?

John Doe makes $200K a year in salary. Is he wealthy? Does he have an oversufficient supply of money? Our government seems to think so. But is that true in fact? What are John's expenses? Is he married? Does he have children? How many? Does John have elderly parents? Does his wife? Does his wife work also or is she a SAHM? Does John carry credit card debt? Is John saving towards retirement? Is John putting away money to pay for his children's college education?

Now let's make John Doe be Yossel Shwartz. Let's make Yossel be a frum Jew. Now let's look at that $200K again. Do Yossel's kids go to yeshiva? Will Yossel's kids go to Israel post high school? Does Yossel give at least maaser in tzedaka? Lots of other things that could be added.

Point being made? We talk a lot about how wealthy people should be doing more for the frum community, about how "the wealthy" should be making up the deficits when yeshivas can't collect full tuition from everyone, for example. Frankly, some people have a really snide attitude towards those they perceive as being wealthy.We have some pretty negative attitudes that pop up when talking about people we perceive to have money--'They' have it so easy, 'They' aren't suffering like the rest of us do, 'They' don't have any problems. Really? Based on what?

Never thought I'd live to see this day, but $200K if you are a frum Jew in 2010 may not make you wealthy (okay, it doesn't make you impoverished but wealthy doesn't apply either). In some cases you are barely making it. So, $400K would make you wealthy? Errr, don't be so sure. That amount might make you comfortable, or maybe not, depending on just how many people and what requirements the family has.

So please, if we are going to throw into the discussion of solutions to Klal's problems that the "wealthy" could solve most of the problems, let's understand that wealthy is a slippery term to define and not one on which there is anything near 100% agreement.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New for Email Users

A new program is out there to help the users of email. Called Nudgemail, it can help you with handling your email by resending emails to you at the times you specify, so you don't forget to do any follow ups necessary. Worth a look.


Monday, November 8, 2010

News About Gaucher Disease

Gaucher disease is one of those diseases that affects Jews at a greater rate than the general population. From the article linked to below: " In the general population, one person in 50,000 is affected by the disease. Among people genetically connected to the Ashkenazi Jewish population of central and eastern Europe, it's one person in 750. "


What Price Choice?

Choosing is an integral part of life in the US (yes, in some other parts of the world as well, but not all). Sometimes the choices we make require no input from anyone but ourselves; other times there may be others to consider when making our choices, whether as an individual, a group, a family, a community or the government.

Choosing what to have for breakfast is something that most people consider a personal choice. You open up the pantry or fridge and make your decision, no one else required or even welcomed. But even there there are others whose desires or wishes may become part of your choosing. A parent or spouse may have limited your choices by only buying and having certain things in the house. A medical concern or health issue may limit your choices. What's available when you shop may limit your choices.

Now open up your closet and choose something to wear today. Suddenly the 'free choice' gets murky. Where are you going today? If it's to elementary or high school, the school may have rules in place that limit your choices; the school may have a policy in place stating what can or can't be worn, and your choice comes down to what the school wants, not what you want. The weather can influence/change what you can choose. Activities you are going to participate in can limit and/or define your choices; the workplace has a number of rules about clothing, and participation in certain social events, such as a wedding, also limit your choices. Religious observance can limit your choices.

So, choice is not all that free after all. There are many other people and groups who have an interest in what we, as individuals, choose to do. And in the same way that others impinge on our choices, we also impinge on their choices: they may sometimes have to take us into consideration when making the choices they make.

Choice comes with a price tag. If your choice makes "everyone" happy then fine. But what of when your choice makes someone/everyone unhappy, angry or hurts them? What price are you willing to pay for having free choice then? Is there a price too high to have to pay for having choice? How do you decide when that is? At what point do the wishes/expectations of others become secondary to what you want? Is there such a point? Where do you draw the battle lines?

Most people move into a community expecting that they will become a part of that community in some way. They hope to make friends in that community. They hope to become members of a synagogue. They hope to send their children to the local school(s). Perhaps some have family living in that community. Many hope that they will never have to move again, putting down strong roots. Moving to Community X is a "free" choice on their part, but will it remain free? Are these people happy with the price they pay for moving to Community X? Some are, some aren't. Some are happy only some of the time. For some, the price becomes too high to pay, both literally and figuratively.

For some, it is the cost of the commute to work, in time and money, that becomes too high a price to pay. For others, the convenience of a local school or schools becomes too high a price to pay when tuition costs go spiralling upwards. Still others find themselves knuckling under to community social mores that they don't really agree with, a high price to pay for some when considering the benefits. Sometimes the municipal/governmental costs of a community become too high to pay.

We in Klal certainly have some experience with the problems of making choices. Community Y may be perfect for us in a dollar and cents way, but there is no shul in walking distance, so we can't/don't choose that community. Community Z has all the community enterprises we want, but the amount of money necessary to live in that community is far more than we know we are going to be able to manage given the things we want or need. Community Q is manageable from a money standpoint and it has the amenities we want, but it's 1000 miles away from our families and friends. Community R has all the amenities, we can afford those amenities and it's located a fairly short drive from family and friends; what it doesn't have are jobs that pay sufficient to pay for what we have to pay for. If we move to Community R then our sahm is going to also have to go to work, or one or both parents are going to have very long commutes to and from work, meaning less time spent with the family, or the working parent(s) are going to have to put in more hours to make the money needed, again meaning less time spent with family, or we are going to be able to afford less than we want/need and will have less choice.

A lot of the complaining you hear about school tuitions, about housing costs, about living costs, about just about everything is about the price we are willing to pay for our choices. If you complain about the price of a choice, then why make that choice? If a school's tuition is too high for you, why are you paying it? There are, for most people, other choices. However, what price are you willing to pay for making those other choices, and are you willing to pay it? If you are not willing to pay the price for making a change, then stop complaining about the choice you did make. You cannot have things both ways.

To get a bit specific, if you don't like the community pressure to conform that Brooklyn offers you as a choice, leave Brooklyn. If you don't like the cost of the schools in BC, commute your kids elsewhere or move out. If you don't like the 'keeping up with the Shwartzes' in the Five Towns, leave. If you don't like the high cost of living in the NY area, move oot. And if you believe that changes could be made to the place where you are residing, changes that would make you happier, then get up off the chair and work hard, harder, hardest at getting those changes instituted--don't expect the other person to do things for you.

Yes, choice is something we all want. The question is, what price are we willing to pay for it?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Words to Ponder

"If money be not thy servant, it will be thy master. The covetous man cannot so properly be said to possess wealth, as that may be said to possess him."

Sir Francis Bacon

A Daylight Reminder

Just a reminder that we are now back on Standard Time instead of Daylight Savings Time. There may be a whole lot of clocks in your home that do not automatically set back for Standard Time, and you'll need to manually adjust the time. Most shabbos clocks fall into this category. Failure to adjust the clocks just might lead to having a "romantic" Friday night dinner by candlelight next week. Also, the clocks in your cars won't reset themselves, nor will most wristwatches.

From personal experience, having used a clock that wasn't set back and having arrived an hour early for a simcha, go room by room and make sure all the clocks read the same. And yes, the rule is "Spring Ahead, Fall Back."

Friday, November 5, 2010

Words to Ponder

Some words from Shakespeare about household finance and money practices.


"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."

Hamlet, Act I, Scene 3

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beware of Whom?

The night before election day I took a moment to encourage my students to vote the next day. I was not shilling for a particular party or a particular candidate. My intent was strictly to make my students see that they, too, were part of the process.

A student asked if I had any particular candidate that I was recommending for office. Another asked who I was going to vote for. No, I do not "recommend" candidates to my students--I'd consider that an abuse of my role as teacher. No, I don't share who I am going to vote for--that's between me and my ballot. One student did, however, ask a question I would answer. He asked, "Do you have any advice to give us in making our own decisions?" My advice was simple: Beware Greeks bearing gifts. And what was a brief reminder to vote carefully turned into a brief lesson in the origin of that phrase, as blank faces stared up at me, no comprehension visible.

The phrase references the mythological wooden horse brought by the Greeks to the city of Troy. It is recorded in Virgil's Aeneid, Book 2, 19 BC:
"Do not trust the horse, Trojans. Whatever it is, I fear the Greeks even when they bring gifts."

The same thought was also recorded by Sophocles (496 - 406 BC), in Ajax:
"Nought from the Greeks towards me hath sped well.So now I find that ancient proverb true,Foes' gifts are no gifts: profit bring they none."

So many of the references to the characters of classical works aren't understood today. The Classics are no longer widely taught or read, so this phrase is now little used, but it does remain with those of us educated in earlier times. [Note:when I was in high school a year of Latin was a requirement.] I guess for most/all of my students Ajax is a household cleanser and Achilles is the name of a tendon in the foot, if they know that much. Mention Dumbledore, however, and faces light up. "That champion of commoners, of Mudbloods and Muggles" I am told. And the certainly respond to Grindelwald, the most dangerous Dark Wizard of all times. I wonder how they would feel if I told them that I knew all about Grindelwald decades before they were born, and certainly decades before the Harry Potter series was written. Grindelwald, a village in Switzerland, and which was considered back when I was young as one of "the" places the wealthy went to for incredible winter skiing, something it is still known for now.

It's not just age that separates the generations. It's what we know and who we know and what we say.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Non-Political Political Statement

Our newly elected officials would be wise to heed that old statement: "A house divided against itself cannot stand." The House of Representatives now has a Republican majority. The Senate has a Democratic majority. What that is going to mean for "we, the people" will yet have to be seen. I hope that none of those elected takes a look at the "politics" of Klal to use as instruction on how to proceed for the good of the country as a whole.

None of the "parties" of Klal seems capable of working in tandem for the good of all. Each of those "parties" seems hell-bent on achieving its own agenda, None of those on the right, the left or the middle seem to be able to work in cooperation. Instead, each side, certainly the extremists on each side, seem more than willing to see the others fall into the sea and drown. Heck, they won't even sit down at the same table to hammer out a policy that would be all-inclusive--certainly not if at that table there is going to be a meal served. You'd have to get everyone to agree on the kashrush of the food served, on whose hashgocha to use, and we all know how well that would work out.

I shudder to think what might happen if the leadership of Klal were to be decided by election instead of our present method. You think local politics can sometimes get dirty? Twould be nothing as compared to what would happen in the "my gadol is better than your gadol" race to the top. And in the "swing state" of New York matters would be truly impossible. Just deciding who has the right and privelege to vote would take those in Klal living here the rest of this century and beyond to decide, and I'm not convinced that a decision would be reached at all.

By comparison to "Jewish" politics, the political manouverings in the secular US are a walk in the park.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Today's the Day

Frankly, I don't care which political party you favor or which candidates. What I do care about is that you get up and go vote. Being able to vote is both a right and a privelege, and not exercising that right makes no sense. Plenty of people around the world who would give everything to have the right to decide what goes on in their country.

There are so many people who spend a lot of time complaining about the condition of our country, about the condition of our government, about the people in Congress. You can't complain about what goes on here if you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Well, now's the chance to actually do something instead of just talking about it. Go out and vote!

Monday, November 1, 2010

One Solution to the Tzedaka Problem

It is meritorious to want to dedicate a tzedaka organization in the name of one who is no longer living. There are lots of this type of organization. However, many of those dedication organizations are identical to others. One example is the Hachnosas Kallah type of tzedaka fund. People who knew the deceased are likely to give to a fund named for that person. But the opposite is also true; people who didn't know the deceased might not be interested in donating. In the first case, some people are donating not because the organization helps out kallahs but because of the name attached to the fund; were the name not attached to the fund, hachnosas kallah might not be tops on their list of places to donate to.

One solution to having so many different funds all dedicated to the same purpose is as follows. A community decides that hachnosas kallah is a type of tzedaka fund they want in their community. They also decide that only ONE such fund will be allowed. However, within that single hachnosas kallah fund there are sub-funds. There are dedication opportunities; however, that dedicated fund would be "The Sarah Imainu Memorial Fund of Hachnosas Kallah of Your Town." You only need one central office to handle all the various funds. Thanks to computers, sending out mailings to those on one of these sub-fund lists is a snap.

We ran into a problem locally that could have been solved if such an approach had been utilized. We have both a local Bikur Cholim and a Tomchei Shabbos. About 10 years ago the Bikur Cholim was renamed after someone in the neighborhood was niftar. Yes, a fairly large donation was made by the nifteres' family. The same happened with the Tomchei Shabbos. But there are two problems that have arisen. First, everyone still calls these organizations Bikur Cholim and Tomchei Shabbos without the added names; in fact, there are many people who don't know and aren't interested that the organizations also carry someone's name. The second problem is that there aren't any dedication opportunities left, and there are a few people who would have donated generously for such a dedication but there was nothing locally left to name. Having memorial funds under the rubric of Bikur Cholim or Tomchei Shabbos would have solved the problem.

One central office, not two dozen. One administrator--whether paid or volunteer. One bank account containing far more than any individual organization has in the bank. Elimination of duplication of services. More chances to honor people through multiple memorial funds. So, what's not to like?