Friday, December 31, 2010

Celebrating New Years

Someone asked me yesterday how I was going to be celebrating New Years. Did I have a party and all the trimmings? Errr, well sort of depends on how you define it.

Yup, I'm going to be all dolled up in a long hostess robe. And there is going to be a festive meal with company. Yup, I'm going to be serving wine in silver goblets. There's going to be some joyous singing as well. So, am I celebrating New Years? Nope, I'm celebrating Shabbos.

So let me put this in the order of priorities. First, a gutten Shabbos to all.

Next, I hope that 2011 will be a wonderful year for us all, filled with the best that life can offer us and none of the sorrows. May we all be zocheh to smachot in abundance this year. And when we gather next year at this time to celebrate yet another new year unfolding, first, may we be zocheh to be doing so, and second, may our stories of 2011 bring a smile to our lips.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


For a while there I wondered if the blogosphere was slowly dying and no one bothered to tell me. A whole lot of blogs that were around when I first started reading blogs and became a blogger are no longer around. There are others which post only rarely now. The past two weeks have shown me, however, that there is new blood being infused into the blogosphere, and I think the prognosis is that this "patient" is recovering and will be better than ever.

Please take a moment to scroll down the list of blogs on my home page; some are new, and you might take a moment to go and visit. Giving chizuk to new bloggers by visiting their sites and commenting is one way to guarantee that the blog world will stick around.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

No, Letting Go is not Easy

It has ever been thus, that mothers do not find it easy to let go of their children and let them spread their wings and fly free. But yes, eventually all those little "birdies" find their wings and off they go. And yes, those mothers end up facing their empty nests, with sighs for what once was and deep hopes for what will be

As children my mother and my aunt sang the old lullaby to us, "Ofyn veg steyt a boym." (Ever notice how a whole lot of those Yiddish songs and lullabies for children have some seriously depressing and/or sad elements in them?) For all moms who wonder what will be I offer the following (Hebrew subtitles).

For the Yiddish lyrics and English translation, go to

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

If You're Getting Tired of the Snow

In case the aftermath of our recent blizzard is getting you down, take heart from this: the blizzard didn't make the top five of blizzards. According to the National Weather Service this year's blizzard was only the sixth-worst storm since the agency began keeping records in 1869.

As a resident of the city's forgotten borough, I also am going to take exception to the way the city measures its blizzards. Official measurements are made in Central Park in Manhattan. That's the Manhattan that is chock full of cement and high-rise buildings, all generating sufficient heat and physical blockages so that the numbers seen in Central Park are so not representative of much of the other boroughs' accumulations of snow. Central Park recorded "only" 20 inches of snow for this blizzard. If only. Add another 10 inches or more and you get the picture in vast parts of SI. Lots of other places in the city that topped that 20 inches by a whole lot. If we are really, really lucky we might see our backyard again by Pesach--with the drifts we are topping 5 feet in some places.

Snow removal and ploughing has been hit or miss, to say the best you can say. It's Tuesday and I'm hoping and praying that tomorrow I just might be able to get my car out and drive--not a surety given the dismal showing of Sanitation in getting even secondary routes plowed. My college cancelled classes yesterday (I remember only two snow days in almost 11 years I'm working there) and for today as well, testimony as to the condition of the streets and the lack of above ground subway service in Brooklyn. A snow plough working to clear the parking lot of one of the major supermarkets was building a snow mountain on one end of the lot. 50mph winds toppled the mountain and buried the snow plough with the driver trapped inside--pretty typical of the horror stories that drivers are telling about this storm. Let's not even mention that garbage collection might, just might, resume next Monday if we are lucky.

New Yorkers who got stranded out of town due to the closing of our area's airports just might be lucky to make it home for New Years.

I've said it before and I'll repeat it now: snow is beautiful when seen in the pages of a travel magazine or in a film. The reality has far less to do with beauty and a whole lot more to do with frozen fingers and toes, disrupted lives, safety issues (and just how is an ambulance or fire truck supposed to get down unploughed or barely ploughed streets?) and a whole lot of frustrating inconvenience. One of my kids, in Teaneck, has been without her landline phone, Internet and television service since early on Sunday. The cable company finally showed up at 10am today and basically told her that it could be another 48 hours until any service is restored. So traveling in her area is iffy due to cancelled or highly delayed service, roads are treacherous, and street parking doesn't exist, making getting to the office a highly debatable undertaking, and working at home isn't an option because of lack of the Internet. Wouldn't ask my daughter about the "beauty" of this blizzard.

To paraphrase that old kids rhyme:
Snow, snow go away
Please don't come back another day.

Money is Funny

I had reason to find out who the richest women in the world are. Truly amazing what sums these women have. But I really did a double take when the compiler of one such list was speaking somewhat disparagingly of Queen Elizabeth's monetary worth. As he put it, "the Queen is worth only a paltry $7.4 billion in American dollars." Paltry?!!! Did you ever imagine living in a world where $7.4 billion dollars would be a paltry sum?

Let's see, $7.4 billion invested at even only 1% interest would give interest income of "only" $74 million a year. Now imagine that at 4% or 8% or 10%. Okay, if this is a paltry income then please, please, please may I be zocheh to this kind of paltriness. Truly, one woman's poison is another woman's meat.

Please note: before some finance-type of person hastens to tell me that the Queen's worth is not strictly one based on money but also on tangible items such as real estate and other possessions, I already know that. And if her monetary holdings would be only 1/10 her worth? And I would only be getting a couple of million dollars a year in interest? Anyone here who would seriously turn down that kind of money and consider themselves poor for getting "only" that amount? Didn't think so.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Does Anyone Know What This Is?

Someone asked me if I could offer any tips for her child who was going to be taking the BJE exams. I'd heard of the exams but did not know what the specific format was, so I did some research online. Yes, I found a sample copy of the test and directed my questioner to it. But I did some further viewing on the site and eventually ran across the following, which confused me no end.

First, what is the BJE? According to its website "Founded in 1910, BJE serves the entire metropolitan area, Nassau/Queens and Westchester County, and every denomination - Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and unaffiliated - with sensitivity to each. We provide comprehensive services to more than 700 Jewish day, congregational and nursery schools, serving 176,000 youngsters, as well as group leaders from community centers and camps."

Now the statement that has me puzzled. "KOSHER ONLY PRODUCTS
"Kosher Only" products must be certified by the Board of Jewish Education of Greater New York (BJENY) in accordance with the applicable dietary (kosher) laws as established by the "613 Council of Kashruth." Note that this level of kosher is stricter than many other nationally accepted kosher certifications (such as "O-U" of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, or "O-K" of the Organized Kashrus Laboratories). Potential offerors’ manufacturing plants must be certified by BJENY for compliance with the aforementioned requirement. Failure to obtain such certification will result in an offer being deemed non-responsive. Additionally, there are kosher requirements applicable to the ingredients used to manufacture the final end product; this requires adherence to kosher requirements throughout the supply chain. […regardless if whether earlier steps in the supply chain are the direct responsibility of the Governments’ prime contractor.] (See bullets below.) Interested offerors should contact the USDA at 816 926-6050, to arrange for a rabbinic supervisor to be sent to certify compliance of the manufacturing plant with the dietary (kosher) laws. Contractor is not liable for fees associated with initial BJENY certification or with fees associated with the kosher certification of the plant or product."

I've never heard of the "613 Council of Kashruth" and can't find any info on it online either. And to read that it is of a kashruth level stricter than the OU and the OK is kind of puzzling as well.

Anyone out there actually know what this Kashruth Council is and what it does? If I am reading the other information correctly, BJE affiliated programs have to follow its guidelines.

Note: the following schools use the BJE exams. Does this also obligate them to the kashrus rulings of the BJE?

Bat Torah Yeshiva High School for Girls (Suffern)
Bruriah High School for Girls (Elizabeth)
Davis Renov Stahler Yeshiva High School for Boys (Woodmere)
Hebrew Academy of Nassau County (Uniondale)
Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway (Cedarhurst)
Hillel Yeshiva High School (Ocean)
Ilan High School (Elberon)
Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School for Girls (Teaneck)
Magen David Yeshivah Celia Esses H.S. (Brooklyn)
Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School (South River)
North Shore Hebrew Academy High School (Great Neck)
Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School (Livingston)
Ramaz Upper School (Manhattan)
Rambam Mesivta (Lawrence)

Rav Teitz Mesivta Academy - J.E.C. (Elizabeth)
SAR High School (Riverdale)
Shaare Torah High School, Boys (Brooklyn)
Shaare Torah High School, Girls (Brooklyn)
Shulamith High School for Girls (Brooklyn)
Stella K. Abraham HS for Girls (Hewlett Bay Park)
The Frisch School (Paramus)
The New Haven Judaics Academy
Torah Academy High School of Brooklyn
Torah Academy of Bergen County (Teaneck)
Westchester Hebrew High School (Mamaroneck)
Yeshiva Derech HaTorah (Brooklyn)
Yeshiva Or Chadash (Valley Stream)
Yeshiva University High School for Boys (Manhattan)
Yeshiva University High School for Girls (Holliswood)
Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman HS (Brooklyn)
Zvi Dov Roth Academy (Brooklyn)

So, at least technically, admission into these schools is based as much on what your exam scores are as they are on whether or not the school "likes" you and thinks you fit what they want to be known for.

The exam covers both secular and Judaic studies. The secular portion, one hour and 40 minutes in length, covers vocabulary, verbal analogies, grammar and word usage, reading comprehension and mathematics.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Tidbits from the Past

Some tidbits from the past that happened in the week of December 25-31.

25 William the Conqueror is crowned the King of England. (1066)
26 James Mason invents the coffee percolator. (1865)
27 Radio City Music Hall in New York City opens. (1932)
28 William F. Semple patented chewing gum. (1869)
30 Edwin Hubble announces the existence of other galactic systems. (1924) Yes, the Hubble telescope was later named after him.

Note to readers: Hopefully the calendar function is going to cooperate and stop mixing up the postings scheduled. I've fixed today's posting--here's hoping about the rest.

Words to Ponder

"If money is your hope for independence you will never have it. The only real security that a man will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability."

Henry Ford

Saturday, December 25, 2010

On Snow and Chesed

It had to happen sooner or later, although later, waaaay later would have been my preference--yes, a goodly accumulation of snow is on its way to the Metropolitan area. Estimates range, depending on your location, from 10 to 18 inches of snow to fall, beginning tomorrow afternoon and continuing through Monday's morning hours.

If you are running out tomorrow morning to pick up any needed supplies for yourself to get through the nasty weather, please don't forget about any neighbors and friends who might be ill or elderly and who may not be able to do that "running" early.

And when sidewalks and walkways and steps are being shoveled and cleared, please remember those who may not be able to do this work for themselves, or even walk out and grab one of the crews that will be around offering to shovel.

They say that New Yorkers show their best colors in times of adversity--let's make that be true tomorrow and Monday.

Just as an aside, I truly feel for those who have simchas planned for tomorrow. Any of you in that position, or who are attending smachot tomorrow, please, please drive safely and carry a shovel in the trunk of the car.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Addendum on Friending

You think that taking "friending" out into the regular world can cause verbal confusion? There are other examples that bear thinking about. Yes, some strange tales result when we take the language that applies to our electronic pursuits and use that language in other circumstances. Hat tip to my sister for sending me this one.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Not Gun Shy

Yes, we old married women still occasionally like to bring out the weird date stories from the past. Granted, some of what constitutes dating today in shidduchville is just plain weird altogether, but I'm referring to those no one could possibly imagine happening dates.

I recently met a woman and we did the usual, including exchanging what our maiden names were. When she told me hers my eyes suddenly lit up and I asked her if she had a brother or cousin named X. Indeed she did. Then she asked me why I was asking. It turns out that her first cousin was involved in my strangest date ever (although a couple of others came close).

Back in the day, inviting a girl out for 6:30 meant you were going to be providing a dinner meal. Dress at the relatively few kosher restaurants available back then was fairly formal, so I dressed accordingly.

Once in the car the young man explained his dilemma to me. He had recently been given a rifle by someone--yes, that's rifle such as in gun. The only thing was that he had to take a class to get the licence to own that gun. The class was being given that evening and would I mind going with him to the class. Yes, we went to the class. I learned more about guns than I ever thought I would know or would want to know. And not only did we take the class, but it was being held in proximity to a firing range, and we spent about an hour decked out in gigantic earmuffs and firing at targets. (I'll tell you in case you are wondering--GSR as an aroma is not going to outsell Chanel.) Nothing like target practice decked out in high heels and a fancy outfit.

Okay, weird enough as dates go, but the best (or worst, depending on your gender at the time) part was that I passed the test given at the end of the class and my date didn't. I arrived home starving and headed straight for the fridge with my mom trailing behind me asking how the date went. I handed her my newly acquired gun licence and dove into the leftovers. You should have seen the look on her face. She quite seriously wondered if this was something she needed to share with my dad, because she had real doubts about how he would take the news that his oldest was ready and able to fire at will.

Needless to say, there was no second date--not my decision, but his. I think there was a bit of injured masculine pride at work there. So yes, weird dates are not some new invention of today's generation.

PS: I asked his cousin and she volunteered that he did eventually get the gun licence, much to his parents' dismay. The rifle, however, disappeared upon his marriage, his wife believing that it wasn't a necessary part of the furnishings for their first home.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

On Friending

A discussion ensued in class last week about the Facebook-centered verb form "to friend." Most of my students were of the opinion that not only is this "new verb" here to stay but that in a few years time no one will remember a time when it wasn't a verb in common use. They believed the same would be true of "to facebook" as a verb. Then they asked my opinion, and I gave it to them.

Yes, over the centuries we have added new verb forms to the general fund of English words. Most have come to us from the specialized jargon of sub-groups of English--think "to mouse" entering the language from the language of computers. Some we borrow from other languages.

Re "to friend," it may indeed enter general English and remain for a while, as a specialized form of "to befriend," referring only to befriending someone on Facebook. I don't think, however, that it will replace "to befriend" in general usage. For one thing, despite Facebook's desire for it to be otherwise, there are more people who are not on Facebook than are on Facebook. For those not on Facebook, the use of "friend" as a verb will raise eyebrows. For another thing, I believe that it will remain as informal usage and won't be accepted in "official" writing, such as that required in academia. And for another thing, I think this will be a generational divide, with those who grew up without "to friend" as a verb generally not using it in regular parlance.

As to "to Facebook," it's not going to be even as much accepted as "to friend" might be. Generally, trademarked item names that have entered the language and have survived in common usage are for items in a general class of commonly used things. Thus, many people today tell you to go get a kleenex when you sneeze, even if that isn't the brand of tissues you use. The same used to be true for the items that keep food cold in your kitchen--for decades those items were referred to as fridgidaires, no matter whose brand they were. A lot of people, when asked if they would like a cup of coffee, will respond with "Do you have Sanka?" It's not that they are asking for that brand in particular; they are asking if you have decaffeinated coffee available. Could be the time of day, but I'm having trouble thinking of even one product that has come into the language as a verb other than "to hoover" as a substitute for "to vacuum."

My students looked at me with disbelief when I gave them my opinion. And they were totally disbelieving when I told them that 20+ years from now they will find themselves in the awkward position of having to explain to their own kids and grandkids just what Facebook was. It's a fad, and like other fads in the past, it will have its time and pass into oblivion. No one wants to hear that the world they count on being there may only be temporary. I left them with this thought: Do you believe that technology has reached its zenith? Do you believe that all that is possible to be invented has already been invented? Do you believe that computers as presently constituted are the end of the line? Is there something better, something different beyond computers as we understand them today?

Perhaps I should have given them that old saying I grew up with: here today, gone tomorrow. If it could happen to me, it can happen to them.

Just a little note on all that "friending" that goes on and wanting everyone to "friend" you.
Be thou the first true merit to befriend; His praise is lost who stays till all commend.
Alexander Pope

Monday, December 20, 2010

I Didn't Say a Thing

A recent quotation highlighted in the JWR caught my eye as good advice for all of us, certainly for those of us who tend to write and comment on the various online sites and social networking sites. And it definitely applies to writing in the "outside" world as well.

"Often the best thing about not saying anything is that it can't be repeated." --- Suzan Wiener

Certainly what has not been said cannot come back to bite you. Perhaps one reason why some consider silence as golden.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tidbits from the Past

Readers: please note that I published in error the events that happened for the week of January 19-25. I apologize if anyone got a bit confused. (And thanks to my son who pointed out that the Super Bowl would not have been in the middle of December.) Below are the corrected events for December 19-25.

21 Disney's "Snow White" premiered at theaters. (1937)
23 The transistor was invented by U.S. physicists John Bardeen, Walter H. Brittain, and William Shockley. (1947)
25 William the Conqueror is crowned the King of England. (1066)

Addendum to posting: for Jewish events in history for this week, please go to

Words to Ponder

On playing follow the leader and letting others' words and choices replace our own.

"He never chooses an opinion, he just wears whatever happens to be in style."

Leo Tolstoy

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Black's not Beautiful

I hate, despise, abhor and every other negative term in existence having to drive at night on the streets and avenues and parkways of frum Brooklyn. These frum pedestrians, dressed in head to toe in unrelieved black, black gloves on their hands and black mufflers shading their faces, so that even what little light there is has no skin to reflect off of, have zero regard for the cars on these streets and whatever is less than zero regard for things like stoplights. And yes, they clearly have little regard for their own safety, and no knowledge of their own mortality.

On the highways and byways
That snake along and through
The Valley of the Dark Ghosts
I travel uneasily.
And yea though I travel through this Valley
of possible Death,
I shall fear that evil,
Feel it creep up along my spine
As I slowly inch forward
Through the spectres lurking.
There and yet not there,
black ghosts darting across streets
barely lit,
snaking in and around cars
parked and moving,
uncaring and unconcerned that death goes hunting
those of black garb,
in the murky shadows of darkest night.

Ebony ghosts that know not what they do,
that believe themselves above the fray,
oblivious to the turmoil left in their wake
as they pass at will,
not captives to red lights.

Yet once again I emerge out of that Valley,
and breath returns to lungs,
and hands lose their tension.
God has granted me safe passage,
and the Black Ghosts move on,
firm in their belief that they are invincible.

I beg of you God,
let me not be your instrument
to teach the folly of their ways
to the Black Ghosts.

Coming soon to a label near you

Way back in early 2009 I posted an advisory about carmine and cochineal, common colorants used in food stuffs and in make up--link below.

A law, going into affect in 2011,which is right around the corner, requires that all products that use carmine and cochineal must list them by name on the label, rather than just calling them color additives. The reason? They are derived from insects. Yup, crushed bugs as beauty enhancements. Doesn't that make you feel all warm and cozy about the products that you use?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Foibles of Spell Checking

At the beginning of the term I give a short lesson on why not to rely on the spellcheck function of your word processing program. I emphasize that using that function is not a replacement for word by word personal editing.

So there I was, reading student essays when I had a sudden burst of laughter, spraying coffee in all directions. My hubby, working from home today, wanted to know what was so funny. This is the line that caused the laughter: "Patrick Henry's call 'Give me puberty or give me death!' caused Virginians to be in favor of revolution." I'm pretty sure there were other reasons; in fact, I'm pretty sure this was not a reason at all. What it was was spellcheck at its worst.

Look at a keyboard; where are the "L" and "P" keys located? Yup, one almost over the other. I was fairly certain I knew what had happened to my student. He must have typed a "p" instead of an "l." Obviously spell check came up and the first word on the list of choices is puberty. It's not just my student; many, many people assume that spellcheck has ordered the words it presents with the most correct word at the top of the list. They click on this word almost without reading it.

My hubby couldn't believe this was the case so he went to his keyboard and typed in "piberty." Yes, spell check highlighted the word. And yes, the first word on the list was "puberty." Spell check goes by the first letter in the word you have typed when the word is incorrect and there is more than one choice. So, poverty and piety were also choices for replacement.

Obviously there's going to be another lesson on careful editing. Oh yes, and just try to imagine what kind of comment I could possibly write next to this error. I could have copped out and simply put "word choice" next to puberty. I compromised by putting "spellcheck error" instead.

Poor Mr. Henry--all grown up and still missing puberty.

Tidbits from the Past

Not all that much of interest happening today, in 2010, but there were some interesting events on December 15 in other years.

1791--The Bill of Rights took effect with Virginia's ratification of it.
1890--Sioux Indian chief Sitting Bull was killed by Native American police.
1916--The French defeated the Germans in the Battle of Verdun.
1939--The movie Gone With the Wind premiered in Atlanta, Georgia.
1944--Band leader Glenn Miller disappeared in a plane crash over the English Channel.
Adolf Eichmann was sentenced to death by an Israeli court for organizing the deportation of Jews to concentration camps.
1964--Canada adopted its national flag, a red maple leaf on a white background.
1966--Animated-cartoon pioneer and movie producer Walt Disney died in Los Angeles.
1989--A demonstration that turned into a popular uprising in Romania began the downfall of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

On Yerusha

The idea of inheriting wealth from parents is not a new one, nor is it limited in any way to the frum community. At one time it was land ownership that was what was being looked at by children. Owning your own piece of property, particularly if that property were also income producing, gave you stability and status. Land remained in the hands of a single family down through the generations.

That is not now the case in the same way. Yes, people still own land, but for most people what is being talked about is a house and the property it sits on. And that house is seen as a source of cash rather than something to be passed on from generation to generation. When parents die their homes are mostly sold to get the money out.

Sometimes inheriting wealth can mean getting money, not just land. Parents with savings obviously can't take those savings with them when they die. In addition to land and money there are items of worth that may be left when parents die, items like jewelry and silver and other valuable items.

An awful lot of people aren't just anticipating that they will get a yerusha from their parents when those parents die--they are counting on it. Frankly I find that more than a little macabre.

Yes, as a parent I want to leave something to my children. But my priorities may be a bit different than others. The first and most important thing I want to leave them with is a passel of great memories, memories of time spent together as a family. I want to leave them with a clear idea of where they came from and how they got here.

Next on my list are the sentimental items that spell family time to me and to them. Yes, I want to leave them my mother's first lachter, purchased in Europe when she first got married. And I want to leave them the various other "precious" items that are tied in to our holiday and Shabbos and family observances. And yes, there is jewelry that I want to pass on. I wear my grandmother's engagement ring on my right hand, a grandmother I never was privileged to meet. It is my hope that one of my kids will, after I'm gone, also wear that ring as a connection to the past and in honor of that grandmother of long ago.

Leave them a house? Well, maybe. Maybe, unless I sell it and move elsewhere. Maybe, unless I'm no longer able to live in it and need to sell it to meet my own needs at some point in the future. And money? Hmmm, maybe. It certainly is a nice dream to think that I could leave my kids much better off by leaving them a pile of money. It's a nice dream to think that I could be guaranteeing them a secure retirement through my efforts. But it's a dream, not necessarily a reality, because here is what I know in the here and now: I do not, while living, want to become a financial burden on my children. Given spending my own money to provide for myself while I'm living and leaving over money when I'm not, spending while living wins.

And then there is this. What constitutes living? There is an attitude that is far too prevalent that once you've passed your 60s you've done and seen and bought all that you really need to sustain you or make you happy. 70-year-olds are supposed to live a sedate lifestyle. Certainly 80-year-olds should be doing so. What is there left for people in their 70s and 80s to "need" to spend on, other than a bit of food, a few pieces of clothing and plenty of gifts to the kids and grand kids and great grand kids?

The widowed mother of a friend here in the neighborhood answered that question in her own way. All the years of raising her children she was frugal while still providing everything she could for her family. Yes, she and her husband indulged occasionally in something just for themselves, but mostly after the kids were married and not too often. A few years ago she talked to her accountant, they went over what she had available in funds, and she went on a buying spree. She furnished her home with all the things she didn't "fargin" herself when she was younger. She bought an incredibly beautiful (and yes, expensive) Persian carpet for her living room, and every morning walked barefoot over that carpet for the lovely feeling it gave her. She bought pictures for her walls based on how beautiful she thought they were, not on how cheaply she could get them for. She treated herself to a magnificent set of expensive china dishes, and how thrilled she was when family came over and she could serve them on those pieces of fine china. And yes, she exchanged her 40-year-old dining room set that she had hated from day one for one she loved. Her feet had always given her trouble and she indulged herself in pairs of handmade, custom made shoes. She liked to do needlework, and she indulged herself in buying pure cashmere to knit with. Yes, in about two years she seriously spent down a lot of money. And she only had those two years to enjoy the rewards of her spending. So? Who was better entitled to enjoy that money than she was?

One of her kids was not awfully happy with the mother's indulgences (and yes, a few others in the neighborhood thought she was "going batty"). She thought of those purchases as being squandered money and was seriously doubting that her mother had all her mental faculties working. Her other children applauded their mom's actions. Who better deserved to reap the fruit of decades of labor than their mother? If this made her happy then who were they to be nay sayers? And yes, money--expectations of inheriting money--caused a sibling divide.

I like to think of that old saying as applying here: "It ain't over 'til it's over." This woman clearly understood that.

For children to not only assume that a windfall yerusha is coming down the road but to expect that it will be there is not being realistic, and certainly not altruistic. Assuming that parental largess will be forthcoming, thereby obviating the need for these children to prepare themselves, by themselves, for their own expenses, is a recipe for disaster.

And yes, I'm being cynical enough today to wonder just how this idea of "mandatory" yerusha effects decisions that some children will need to make about medical care for an elderly, sick parent.

NOTE: I am not forgetting that parents may have special needs children who, even as adults, may require special facilities and services that the children may not be able to provide for themselves because their situation prevents them from working and supporting themselves. Obviously such a situation requires long-term planning on the part of parents and yes, on the part of siblings as well. Such a situation, however, is outside of the norm and does not usually enter into the discussion of parental yerusha.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Yeah, I Have Oil on the Brain

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a proponent of using sprayed oil instead of poured oil wherever possible in cooking. Less oil used equals less fat calories consumed. For Chanukah this year I decided to get everybody into the spray oil mode but with a difference: I bought for the couples who would be in my home for Chanukah and for the singles living on their own stainless steel spray bottles made for spraying oil. It's funny how many didn't know that such bottles were available or who were meaning to buy such a bottle but never got around to it.

Sure, Chanukah has passed, but there are still many gift giving occasions during the year where this type of bottle would be a great gift. And if you need a more expensive gift, buy that person a couple of bottles. Some of us use more than one kind of oil in our cooking. And then there is Pesach, where such a bottle comes in handy as well. I bought extras to use as hostess gifts. Unlike a bottle of wine that is here today gone tomorrow, these bottles are the gifts that keep on giving.

Note: these bottles work equally as well in spraying the various types of vinegars people might use. To find the bottles, head on over to

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Art and Jewish Art

This Motzoai Shabbos there's an interesting program taking place at The Jewish Alliance. If you're looking for a way to spend the evening, read on. From the advertisement:

What Does it Mean to Be a Jewish Artist? When Does Art Become Jewish Art?

Poetry, Film Screening, Discussion, Q & A, Book Signing

Yehoshua (Josh) November, author of God's Optimism, and Ari Mark, film director & writer of "The Gift," are reunited 10 years after college graduation for a reading, screening and conversation about their award winning work. Catch these two artists with strong connections to our Lower East Side. Moderated by David Deutsch, Humor Editor, Heeb Magazine.

8pm Wine & Cheese Reception
Program begins at 8:30pm

Join author Yehoshua (Josh) November as he reads from his debut poetry collection God’s Optimism, which was selected as the winner of the 2010 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, nominated for an LA Times Book Prize, and named a finalist for the Tampa Review Prize for Poetry & the Autumn House Poetry Prize. November’s work has appeared in The Forward, Zeek, Prairie Schooner, The Sun, & more. His poetry has been anthologized, nominated for Pushcart Prize, and selected as the winner of the Bernice Slote Award.

Join film director and writer Ari Mark’s as he screens and discusses his new short film “The Gift,” which was recently acquired by the Sundance Channel and will air in 2011. His previous film, “The Metamorphosis," screened at more than 15 film festivals around the world and was winner of the Audience Film Award at Washington Jewish Film Festival, Honorary Diploma for Best Short Film at Warsaw Film Festival, was selected by PBS' Independent Lens festival, and was licensed & broadcast by Sundance for the past 3 years.

For more information and for pre-payment ($7 charge) go to:

Note: For those who may think of it as not exactly being an "artsy" kind of place, please note that Josh November is also a professor of English at Touro College.

Words to Ponder

"Money is in some respects life's fire: it is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master."

P(hineas) T(aylor) Barnum

Friday, December 10, 2010

Mother Nature, Take Note

It does not comfort me whatsoever that the weather forecasters are saying that the type of frigid temperatures being seen in the Northeast are unusual for this time of year and are only seen about once every 10-15 years. The instruction manual for my freezer explains why I'm not comforted.

The ideal freezer temperature is 0 F (-18C) for long term storage of food. However, most food freezes solid at any temperature lower than 32 degrees. The higher the liquid and/or fat content, the faster the food will freeze, and at temperatures close to that 32 degrees. Meat will freeze solid faster than sugar-based items such as ice cream, and again, will freeze close to that 32 degrees.

Human beings have high amounts of liquid and fat as part of their makeup. I'd say that our bodies qualify as "meaty." Ergo, human beings begin to freeze as temperatures go below 32 degrees. When I got into my car yesterday morning the outside temperature reading was 24 degrees--it didn't get all that much warmer during the rest of the day. And it got a whole lot colder in the evening. Unfortunately, unlike with our freezers, when the weather gets too cold and we get over-frozen, we can't call a repair person to adjust the thermostat.

It's going to be a lonnnnnnggggg, cold winter this year, and I, for one, am miffed with Mother Nature. If she is going to give me a "gift," shouldn't she first make sure that I'd like it and would welcome it? If only weather could be returned like unwanted presents, even I would brave the crowds in the malls this time of year.

Have a warm and toasty Shabbos and keep repeating through chattering teeth and with a semi-frozen tongue "This won't last forever, this won't last forever!"

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Chanukah may be over but the memories of latkes and doughnuts linger on. One of my foreign students and I were having a discussion about Yiddish this week and some of its perceived foibles. Then he asked me, "What's the Yiddish word for doughnut?" Okay, searched my memory and the best I could come up with was "doughnut" said with a decided Yiddish accent. Later on my mother informed me that she had never seen that item we refer to in the US as a doughnut until she immigrated here. Having no referent for it, she called it by its English name. My student, from Antwerp, remembers hearing the word "pontchkes" referring to small balls of fried dough--neither doughnut nor Israeli sufganiyot. And is sufganiyah truly a Hebrew word or did it, too, get borrowed from elsewhere?

Oh come on, admit it, you are now dying to know just where that word came from and why we call those jelly doughnuts sufganiyot. For a discussion on the origin, please go to

It's all Greek to Me

Who said that being stuck at an overly-long red light could not be an educational experience? Thanks to that red light I learned something I didn't know before, and I thought I'd pass it on.

While waiting at the red light at the exit from the ShopRite plaza I had nothing to do but stare ahead. Across the road from the exit is a large cemetery flanked by a small apartment complex. There is new construction being done in that area, although it's not absolutely clear whether it's the cemetery being expanded or the complex. What got me thinking, however, were the trucks parked on the road in front of the construction area. Emblazoned on the side were the words "Thesaurus Construction Corp."

That was my first blink. Someone named a company for a book of synonyms? As the light turned green I continued thinking about the name. I was pretty sure it was a Latin word but enough of the spelling might also make it a Greek word. And I wondered what meaning that word might have that I didn't know and that was different from the "common knowledge" definition so that someone would choose to name a company using it.

Once home I did some research. First, the company, based in Brooklyn does indeed have an owner with a Greek name. So what might thesaurus mean to someone of Greek extraction? The following is what I found (thanks to Websters Dictionary).

The word "thesaurus" is derived from 16th-century New Latin, in turn from Latin thesaurus, from ancient Greek θησαυρός thesauros, meaning "storehouse" or "treasury" (and thus the medieval rank of thesaurer was a synonym for treasurer). This meaning has been largely supplanted by Roget's usage of the term. [Note: this is how we get our English word "treasure": Middle English tresure, from Old French tresor, from Latin thsaurus, from Greek thsauros.]

Thesaurus (thêsauros). The Greek term for a room in which all kinds of objects, provisions, jewels, etc., were stored; hence a treasury or treasure-house. In ordinary life the underground store chambers, circular vaulted rooms with an opening above, similar to our cellars, were thus named. The same name was given to treasure-houses which each State maintained within the precincts of Panhellenic sanctuaries, as repositories for their offerings to the gods. Such were those at Olympia and Delphi.

The subterranean tombs, shaped like beehives, and of a construction dating from remote Greek antiquity, which have been found in various places, have been wrongly described as “treasure-houses. ” The most celebrated of these are the so-called thesaurus of Atreus at Mycenae (see Cyclopes; Mycenae), and that of Minyas at Orchomenus (see Trophonius). The latter is only partly, the former wholly, preserved. The ground-plan of these structures is circular, and consists of one enclosed room with a domed roof, constructed of horizontal layers of massive stone blocks, projecting one over the other. This circular chamber was used probably for service in honor of the dead. The actual resting-place of the body was a square room adjoining. The large room at Mycenae is fifty feet in diameter, and about the same in height. It consists of thirteen courses, the uppermost of which was only a single stone. It was decorated with hundreds of bronze plates, the holes for the nails being still visible.

For a teacher of English a thesaurus, modern meaning, is certainly a treasure store of language and a place where words may be said to be buried. And now I know why Roget used the term to title his work.

I normally don't consider a trip to the market as an educational experience of the higher kind. Live and learn.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

On 'English' Names

A comment that LOZ made on a different posting led me to this one--the use of "English" or "outside" names. One of the reasons for Klal's continuance is that we didn't change our names to blend into the nations where we found ourselves--Moshe ben Tzvi or Sorah bas Tzvi was a person's "real" name and we didn't lose that practice. many places and at many times Jews have had and still do have additional "working" names that many parents give their children. Call them "IRS" names if you will.

Some people will take the Hebrew name of their child and give it an anglicized spelling--thus Avraham may become Abraham on the birth certificate. Some will have the anglicized spelling completely follow the Hebrew name, so you'll see Avraham written out on the birth certificate. Some will look at the Hebrew name and see a problem for the future because of the nature of the phonetic spelling of the Hebrew name--let's say Chaya or Yechezkle (native English speakers have problems with pronouncing a chet)--and so they give a somewhat related, at least by some sounds, English name for government reporting purposes.Some Hebrew names are difficult for non-Hebrew speakers to pronounce: Nechemiah for example. We have a nephew, born in Richmond, Virginia, who was called by "outsiders" as Ne-keh-MIYah or Ne-KEE-mee-ah.

Now granted, "ethnic" names are now visible all over, but there are some parents who worry that an obviously ethnic name might be problematic in the future; someone may decide to accept or decline their child's application--whether to university or to a job--based on pre-conceptions about an ethnic name.

Then there is this: some parents are naming their children after others, feel the need to give that name, but are not enamored of the name. Perhaps the name is a Yiddish one, like Shprintze or Faigel or Hertz, and they want to give their kids options for how to call themselves in the outside world.

Some of us in the older generations who immigrated to the US got our English names thanks to the immigration officials when we arrived--something, by the way, that the immigration department kept denying but was so obviously done. Otherwise, how would an Usher Yaakov end up as Eugene, or a Liba as Lydia or a Faygie as Frances?

Every once in a while someone decides to make an issue of this giving of English names. My feeling? What, we don't have enough other important things to worry about that this, too, needs to be put on the agenda? Yes, we have to give our kids Hebrew names and we have to use them for certain Jewish purposes. But we might also consider that there might be reasons for having an easily pronounced English name as well. I had a friend when I was younger whose given Hebrew name was Tzirel Basha. You can't begin to imagine how many mispronunciations and misspellings of her name she suffered through while younger. When she got married she legally adopted a plain, simple English name to use at work.

Each to their own.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Technology and Religion

An interesting article in the JWR on the use of apps for handheld devices and their place in religion. Particularly interesting because of the attitude of some in the frum veldt towards computers and anything that is computer-like. Rabbi Bentzion Twerski makes a particularly interesting point about the use of these apps as regards his work as a mashgiach/kashrut supervisor--almost instant access to product/ingredient lists and explanations, making kashrut decisions quicker and more accurate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Weathermen Got It Right

Couldn't those weather forecasters have been wrong today, something they are quite frequently? Right now, outside of my window, there are snow flurries going on. Remind me again about how it was in the 60s last week?

Personally, those P words that some of my readers get upset about don't bother me much. What I truly hate are those W words, like winter. And those S words like snow and slush.

Oh well, fits right into this particular Monday morning--the "icing" on the cake so to speak.

Come My Love, Grow Old With Me

When Robert Browning penned the words in the title of this posting he was addressing another person. Well, there are some semi-inanimate items that we ought to be addressing those words to as well, particularly adding on the rest of Browning's sentiment--"The best is yet to be." Oh that this were the case.

What am I babbling about? Our bodies. Despite the fact that people are living to ever longer ages, our bodies are not keeping pace with our years. It would seem that our bodies are not designed for the long haul. Many of our parts start to wear out, wear down and generally stop functioning at optimal speed long before we are ready for that to happen. And in some cases, we are helping those parts to wear out faster.

My readers know my sentiments about dentists and dentistry. Despite that I have been spending way more time at the dentist than I would like, and it's basically age-related. As my dentist told me, our teeth are not made to withstand the rigors of life and growing older. Enamel wears down; roots get weakened through constant use; gums wear down through that constant use. And we don't help matters with some of our habits. No, eating foods that will produce plaque that erodes enamel and gums is not something we should be doing, and we are. Yes, dental hygiene should be part of our daily routine. However, my dentist also feels that our increased dental hygiene is part of the problem.

Do you have any of those cooking pans that have non-stick interiors? When you buy those products they tell you that using harsh abrasives and cleaning pads should not be done; they wear down the coating and can damage it. Now think teeth. Toothbrushes come in soft, medium and hard bristles. It's the thinking of many that hard bristles are the way to go--the teeth get cleaner. They also wear down faster. According to my dentist no one should be using anything but a soft bristle toothbrush--they're kinder to the enamel on the teeth and kinder to our gums.

Now look at your toothpaste. Just how abrasive or harsh is it? If it's advertising itself as doing a super job of cleaning then it is most likely highly abrasive. What is to abrade? To wear down/file down. Some of those toothpastes are removing far more than any gook on the teeth--they are removing enamel with each brushing.

And then there are all those whitening products. Again, many of those products work precisely because they are either abrading the enamel on teeth or are penetrating the enamel, making it more susceptible to further damage.

And this is only teeth I'm talking about. The rest of our body parts aren't any less susceptive to wear and tear.

Not enough to have to think about during a jam-packed day, and then add in wondering when your body is going to start giving up the great race. With all the scientific/medical technology we already have available, with more to come, and our increased years of living, the spectre of The Bionic Man has moved out of the realm of television fantasy and into the realm of the possible/probable.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

When Families Grow

In the distant past times of celebration were a shared occurence--my side of the family and my hubby's side all together in one place. Relatively speaking we were a fairly small group, requiring space for "only" 15-30 people to gather together. This group would include all the siblings, aunts and uncles, and also whichever first cousins were in town (and yes, sometimes a second cousin or two with whom we were very close). Not only did we each get to see our nearest and dearest, but we also got to know the extended family on both sides.

Well, things have changed, and that type of a gathering is just simply not possible any longer, at least not at one time in one person's home. B"H the family has grown even as, sadly, members of my parents' generation are no longer here. And as the family has grown it has also dispersed, some living far from NY. Last night we gathered together "only" 19 people from my side for a Chanukah celebration--and that was short 4 people who were out of town, my brother's family, also out of town, and only included one first cousin and her family. Today is the gathering for my husband's side--"only" 44 people, and no cousins included.

Yes, I enjoy each and every one of the times we get together, while still missing the chance for all the sides to mix together. At other times during the year we make the time to connect to all the cousins, to let our children know the rest of the family. Still, it becomes a question of time and space. And it explains, at least in part, why the invitation lists for "major" simchas, such as brisim and bar mitzvahs and weddings are as long as they are. None of us want to lose that special connection to our family members, want to lose being able to celebrate together, even as practical considerations say it's just not going to happen on a regular basis.

So yes, families growing is something to be joyful about, while still recognizing that as each individual family grows, the ability to gather everyone together at the same time decreases. Whomever you are celebrating Chanukah with this year, I hope that you are making wonderful memories together, memories that form the tapestry that is family life, with all its various threads and colors.

Words to Ponder

Putting money into perspective

"He who loses money loses much. He who loses a friend loses more. But he who loses faith loses all."

Henry H. Haskins

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Words to Ponder

Why read books?

"The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man that can not read them."

Mark Twain

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Freilachen Chanukah

Once again we are zocheh to celebrate Chanukah, beginning this evening. To all my readers I wish a light-filled celebration, one of joy and happiness.